"I thee her," lisped little Joshua, as he pulled his thumb out of his mouth. "Withabeth ith under da coath." He pointed to the row of coats near the kitchen door.
Sure enough, I saw movement among the crowded jackets. A pair of stocking feet shuffled amid the jumble of boots and sneakers. I parted a hooded sweatshirt and raincoat to find two five-year-old pigtails, two blue eyes, and two puckered lips that looked a little shinier than usual.
"Elizabeth Ann, what are you doing under there?"
"Josh, told on me!"
"I saw you. Why didn't you answer me? I wanted you to help me."
She held her arms behind her back.
"What do you have in your hands?"
She reluctantly placed a pink and white chapstick tube in my outstretched palm.
"Where did you get this?"
"Over at Tammy's house... under her bed."
"Elizabeth! Did she give it to you?"
"Mama, she has so many, she won't even know it's gone. I don't have any!"
Spending money on Barbie chapstick was definitely a luxury in our household. Every dollar went toward groceries and clothes and doctor bills.
"You can always use my chapstick; this is Tammy's."
"Tammy gets whatever she wants because she doesn't have any little brothers or sisters. I wish I was Tammy!"
I cringed at the words! Yes, with two younger siblings and another one on the way, Elizabeth certainly knew what it meant to share her toys, her room, and her mother's attention. Her cousin Tammy had a whole room of toys, Cabbage Patch dolls, dress-up clothes, trikes, games, and jewelry.
I sighed. Elizabeth was right. Tammy wouldn't miss it. She had everything
... everything but someone to play with, someone to take turns with, someone to teach her patience and longsuffering. "Lord, give me wisdom."
"Elizabeth, there are more important things than toys and jewelry and chapsticks. It's wrong to take something that isn't yours. It's stealing. It's sin."
Her clear blue eyes filled with shame and tears and dread of a punishment. "Mama...no..."
"You need to take this back to Tammy and Aunt Debbie and tell them that you are sorry."
"No, Mama! Can't you just give me a spanking? I'll put it back when I play over there again."
Now my eyes were filling with tears, too, as I picked up the phone. "Debbie?...Elizabeth has something she has to tell Tammy. Will you be home?... She'll be over in a few minutes....Also, would you call me back?...Yes... Thanks...Bye."
"Mama, do I have to say anything?"
"Yes, you need to apologize."
I stood at the kitchen door and watched my little girl trudging, scuffling next door to her cousin's house. I'm sure that driveway looked a mile long. She turned and looked back, silently pleading with me. She wiped the steady trickle on her cheeks.
"Go," I insisted, blinking away my own tears.
In a few minutes, the phone rang.
"Hello, Debbie....Yes, that's good....No... Thank you, but I don't want her to have it...She needs to learn this... Thank you...Bye."
Soon I heard running feet, happy feet, relieved feet pattering down the driveway and up the back steps.
"I did it, Mama!"
I held her close. "I love you, but what you did was wrong, a sin against God. You need to tell Him that you are sorry, too."
Again those blue eyes swam, and she buried her face in my breast. "Oh, Mama, I'm sorry!"
"I know, but you need to tell God."
With a sniff and a swallow, she clasped her hands together and bowed her head. "Dear God, I'm sorry I took Tammy's chapstick. I won't ever, ever, EVER do it again! Amen." She lifted her face to me and smiled.
"Now, I need somebody to help me make cookies."
"Can I make cookieth, too?" asked Joshua, climbing on the stool.
"You can stir first," said Elizabeth, as she handed him the wooden spoon.