Sunday morning, Amber realized she hadn’t checked on the bird family for a while. When she looked out the window, she was disappointed to see that the nest was empty.
“I didn’t even get a chance to say good-bye,” she groaned to her family at breakfast.
“That’s the way children are,” her father said, pretending to be serious. “You dedicate yourself to feeding and sheltering them, and as soon as they get out on their own, they move away and forget all about you.”
“I’ll never do that.” Amber hugged her dad around the neck from behind his chair. “I’m going to stay right here in Bluesky for the rest of my life.”
“I wouldn’t plan so far ahead,” Mary warned. “Things change, even in Bluesky.”
Amber was wishing that she could avoid going to church that Sunday morning. She was convinced that the boys were responsible for everything that had happened at the senior center. After all, they started it. And she was feeling that her own actions were justified. She hadn’t told her friends that she was the one who cut the holes in the bags of shredding, and she didn’t see any reason why they needed to know. As far as they were concerned, it was them against the Three Handy Guys. Going to church might just cloud her thinking with talk about loving your enemies. She didn’t see how she could be expected to love those three guys after what they had done.
Pretending to be sick was an option Amber considered only briefly. She knew better than to try it. That was a lesson she learned when she was seven. Kyle had warned her to never try to fool their mother by pretending to be sick, but Amber still had to find out for herself the hard way. A book report was due, and Amber hadn’t even finished reading the book, let alone write the book report. She thought about asking her teacher, Mrs. Bennett, for more time, but she was afraid her teacher would figure out that she had put off reading the book until it was too late to finish it before the book report was due. Mrs. Bennett might even tell her mother. Then she’d be in more trouble. Staying home from school seemed like the perfect answer. It would give her time to finish reading and write her report. Her teacher would never know.
Amber stood in front of the mirror for ten minutes practicing her “sick face.” Finally, she thought she was convincing enough to go downstairs. Walking up to her mother in the kitchen, Amber held one hand over her mouth and gagged a little. With the other hand, she held her stomach. “I don’t feel good,” she said in a sad little voice.
Mary put her hand to Amber’s forehead. “You don’t feel hot,” Mary said. “Maybe you’ll feel better after you eat breakfast.”
At the words “eat breakfast,” Amber ran to the bathroom and made noises as if she was throwing up. “I don’t think I can eat breakfast,” she said when she came back into the kitchen. “I think I should stay home today.”
“Okay,” Mary said after a moment of thought. “Go upstairs and put on your pajamas. I’ll be right up.”
Amber was sitting on the edge of her bed in her pajamas when her mother came into the room. “I called the office to say I wouldn’t be in,” Mary said. “Let’s get you into bed.”
“I didn’t think you would have to miss work.” Amber sounded worried. “I . . . I can stay home by myself.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Mary assured her. “Now lie down. I’ll turn out the lights, and you just rest.”
“Can I read my book?” Amber asked.
“Oh, no, you’re sick,” Mary said seriously. “You need lots of sleep so you can get well. Now close your eyes. I’ll take your book so you won’t be tempted to read. You need complete rest.”
After a few hours, Amber was feeling very hungry. Much to her relief, her mom came in with a tray of food.
“Do you think you could eat a little now?” Mary asked.
“I think so,” Amber said weakly. “At least I can try. What is it?”
“Milk toast,” Mary announced. “It’s just what the doctor ordered.”
“He did?” Amber said, amazed.
“That’s just an expression,” Mary explained. “It means this is the perfect thing for you to eat while you’re sick.”
Amber stared at the soggy bread floating in warm milk. “Yuck,” she said after her mother left. She poked at it with her spoon and then put the spoon down on the tray. By the time her mother returned, the milk was cool and the bread had turned to mush.
“You didn’t eat much,” Mary said. “I guess you’re still not feeling well. A little more sleep will fix you up.”
An hour later, Mary returned with a glass of warm green Jell-O. “Still can’t eat?” Mary asked when Amber put the Jell-O down without taking a sip. “Not that,” Amber said, pointing toward the Jell-O.
Mary started out of the room. “Mom.” Amber’s voice shook. “I . . . I have something to tell you.”
“Let me guess.” Mary laughed. “You’re not really sick.”
“How did you know?” Amber asked.
“Kyle tried the same thing when he was about your age. I was sure he had warned you.”
“He did,” Amber said. “But I thought I would be better at it than he was.”
“Why didn’t you want to go to school today?” Mary asked. “I’m sure you must have had a very good reason.”
“I have a book report that’s due today. I didn’t get it finished. I thought I could finish it while I was home sick. Then I could take it to school tomorrow.”
“I guess it didn’t exactly work out as you had planned.” Mary laughed.
“No, it didn’t,” Amber sighed. “I would still like to finish my book report, though.”
“I hope you learned something from this experience.” Mary laughed again.
“I sure did,” Amber said. “I learned that pretending to be sick doesn’t work with a mom like you.”
“I was hoping you learned something like ‘Honesty is the best policy,’” Mary pointed out.
“I did,” Amber said. “I really did. I’ll never try that again.”
“Here’s your book,” Mary said. “Happy reading.”
“Mom,” Amber called as her mother started out the door. “Can I have something to eat?”
“Of course,” Mary said. “You must be really hungry. How about a nice peanut butter and jelly sandwich?”
“Thanks,” Amber said with a sigh of relief.
The next day, Amber proudly handed her book report to Mrs. Bennett.
“Wow,” Mrs. Bennett said. “You’re turning it in two days early.”
“What?” Amber asked, confused. “I thought the book reports were due yesterday.”
“Don’t you remember?” Mrs. Bennett reminded her. “I extended the deadline to Friday. You still have two more days. I hope that wasn’t why you were absent yesterday.”
Amber slid into her seat without saying another word.
Much to Amber’s relief, the topic of the day at church was stewardship. The Sunday sermon was the annual financial report and a plea for an increase in the weekly offerings. Pledge cards were passed out, and church members were asked to pray about how much to pledge. “Please be as generous as God has been to you,” Pastor Evans reminded them.
The Sunday school lesson had also been about stewardship. Their Sunday school teacher, Mr. Moore, told them that God gave us dominion over our environment. That meant that we have a responsibility to use God’s gifts wisely. It was obvious to Amber that even God agreed she was justified in being angry at the boys. She was thinking that she had been worrying for no reason until Mrs. Snow came in just as the class was ending.
“I have a little gift for each of you,” Mrs. Snow announced. Then she handed scripture cards to the members of the Sunday school class. She had hand-printed scriptures on the cards and stamped them with pictures of flowers and birds that she had colored with colored pencils. Everyone made comments about how beautiful the cards were and thanked Mrs. Snow.
Amber read the scripture written on her card. It was from Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” She looked across the table at Chris, who read his card and shoved it in his jacket pocket.
Elizabeth Sawyer, who was sitting on Amber’s right, handed her card to Amber. “Isn’t it gorgeous?” she gushed. “I’m going to keep it in my Bible.” The scripture read, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice in it and be glad. Psalms 118: 24.”
“What does your card say?” Elizabeth asked Melissa, who was seated on the other side of Amber.
“Here,” Melissa said, handing Elizabeth the card. “Read it yourself.”
Elizabeth read the card out loud. “‘And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the father through him. Colossians 3:17.’ Isn’t that beautiful? Don’t you just love it?”
“Yeah,” Melissa said. “It was really nice of Mrs. Snow to give me that card.”
The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon