“I’ll live for Him who died for me…”* Jessie sang while she washed the lunch dishes. Singing always made the work go quicker, and since she had given her heart to God the words seemed to mean a lot more. Now even doing chores and playing with her brothers and sisters was different because she wanted to please God. She didn’t complain or argue so much. At least, most of the time.
It has been a good morning, Jessie told herself as she finished wiping the counters. I’ve got my work done quickly and didn’t complain at all. Mama says I showed responsibility. Being almost twelve was quite a grown-up feeling, and this year she and her best friend, Melany, had planned a birthday party together. Just five days left—I sure hope Mama can get my dress done. Maybe I can work on a gift for Melany…. But Jessie’s plans were cut short when her little sister toddled into the kitchen, her face full of smiles and dirt.
“Where have you been?” Jessie scolded. Then she saw Mama’s tipped-over orchid plant—and the pink flower clutched in Betty’s hands. “Naughty girl—you ruined it!” When little Betty started to cry, Jessie realized how loud her voice had become. “See, you broke Mama’s plant,” she tried to explain, but the little girl went off sobbing. Mama came in to set things straight and in the end Jessie had to clean up the mess.
“It doesn’t seem fair that I get in trouble when Betty broke her flower,” Jessie muttered to herself. But she knew Mama was right—yelling had not helped. Well, I didn’t mean to get mad at her. It’s just, just, so aggravating how the little ones mess things up! Jessie excused herself. In her mind echoed Mama’s words, “Just think of how much God bears with us, and yet is always kind and loving. Do you like it when someone yells at you?” No, it always made her feel upset inside. Jessie thought about how Jesus had forgiven her and in her heart she prayed to be more kind and loving.
Mama met Jessie in the hall with a stack of dresses to hang up. “Anna needs help putting her clothes away, too,” she said.
“Okay,” Jessie said. She looked at the stack of faded prints and thought of the birthday party. “Have you started sewing my dress yet?” she asked hopefully.
“I’d like to, but I haven’t had a chance,” Mama said, with a sigh. “Keeping up with the house and the little ones keeps me busy until bedtime.”
“I have an idea!” Jessie said suddenly. “I can help with the little ones each afternoon so you can have time to sew.”
Mama looked at her oldest daughter and smiled. “I don’t know, Jessie. It seems like you would get tired of that pretty quick, and before long I’d be having to come and settle an argument.”
“I’ll be really patient and play things that they would all like,” Jessie said, eagerly. “I just want the dress to be done in time!”
“Well, we could give it a try. This afternoon Brian is helping Dad, so it might work,” Mama agreed slowly. “Finish putting away the laundry while I plan dinner. Then you can try to keep the younger ones busy and I will try to get some sewing done.”
“I can do that!” Jessie said, grabbing up the laundry basket. As she helped six-year-old Anna fit her clothes into the dresser, her mind filled with plans. “Wouldn’t you like to make cards? We could cut out pictures from the flower catalogs.”
“Can I make one for Mama?” Anna asked.
“Sure!” Jessie said. “And I’ll make one for Melany.”
At that moment four-year-old Stanley came into the room, dragging his box of toy animals. “Can you play with me?” he asked.
Jessie’s heart sank, but she tried to smile. “We are going to make cards. Won’t that be fun?”
Stanley’s big frown said that he didn’t think so. But it was little Betty who set him off. As soon as she spotted the animals, she began pulling them out of the box as fast as she could. “No!” Stanley shouted, trying to grab back his favorite tiger. “Betty, no!”
“Let’s give her one and put the rest back in,” Jessie said, quickly. She swung Betty into the empty laundry bin and smiled at Stanley. “You can play with the animals on the table. Remember how we made a zoo yesterday?”
Soon everything was set to rights again and Jessie sighed with relief. But the moment she had set up the card-making supplies, things began to go wrong. Betty began fussing and wanted up. Then she tore the prettiest flower in half, right when Jessie was cutting it out of the catalog. Jessie was trying to tape it back together when Anna needed help with the glue. “Wait a minute,” Jessie said, but it was too late. When she turned around the lid was off and a pool of glue was spreading all over the table.
Anna stared at the mess in horror, but Jessie was not impressed. “I told you to wait!” she said, jerking the bottle from her sister’s hands. Quickly she tried to scoop the glue back into the bottle.
“Get a rag so we can clean up this mess,” she commanded, trying not to sound as irritated as she felt. Anna slowly slid off her chair and Jessie watched her disappear into the kitchen.
“I want you to play with me,” Stanley called from the other end of the table. His bright eyes peered over his line-up of animals. “You have to come to visit my zoo, ‘member?”
“I can’t right now!” Jessie cried, feeling quite exasperated. Her hands were sticky with glue and Betty was still fussing, this time surrounded by pieces of catalog pages. Jessie wondered how Mama ever had patience. “Don’t be a slow poke, Anna! The glue is drying all over the table!”
“I’m not a slow poke,” Anna retorted, tossing a dripping rag onto the table.
“Look, you are making a bigger mess!” Jessie scolded, angrily. “And you’ve ruined my picture, too!”
“I’m going to tell Mama that you aren’t being nice!” Anna said, stomping out of the room.
So, once again, Mama had to come and set things right. When Jessie was sent off to change Betty’s diaper she felt like a failure. “Now Mama will never believe that I can do it,” Jessie moaned to herself. Soon Betty was clean and happy again, but even her chubby smile didn’t lighten Jessie’s heart.
“Dad just called to say tha he’ll be getting home early,” Mama said when she came back into the dining room. “Please finish cleaning off the table so Anna can set it for dinner. I’ll have to put the sewing away now and make biscuits.”
Jessie’s heart sank. Now Mama won’t be able to sew my dress. And there are only four more days left…. She tried to push the gloomy thoughts away. A brightly-painted verse hung on the wall—“In everything give thanks.” But all she could be glad for was that Dad was coming home. She would tell him all about the terrible afternoon. Dad always seemed to know what to do when things went wrong.
It was bedtime before she had time alone with him. Then the whole story poured out: her plan to help Mama out, and how everything had gone wrong when she had tried to be patient and kind. Dad gave her an understanding smile. “It sounds like the little ones made life kind of difficult for you.”
“No matter how hard I try, I get so frustrated with them!” Jessie burst out. “And now Mama won’t ever believe that I can do it!”
“Did you pray for help to love them?” Dad asked quietly.
Jessie thought back to her prayer to be more loving, and nodded. “I didn’t want to get angry, and I tried to be nice to them,” she said slowly. “Mama told me how God is so good not to get mad at us, and I want to be like that. It’s just—just so hard to keep my temper!”
“You are right, Jessie,” Dad agreed. “Keeping your temper with the little ones is too hard for you. You have so many good ideas that they mess up, and you want everything to go just right, and it doesn’t. It sounds like a recipe for a lot of frustration.”
Jessie bit her lip. Was Dad giving up on her, too? The tears spilled down her cheeks, and she tried to brush them away. Dad put his arm around her and pulled her close. “There is only one thing that is going to work,” he said gently. “But you are going to have to give up your big plans first.” Jessie thought of the dress and the party. The tears flowed faster now and her throat felt tight.
“Do you want to overcome your temper more than anything else?” Dad asked seriously. Then a chuckle came into his voice. “I believe Jesus has a better birthday plan for you than a new dress. He wants to give you a new attitude for service.”
“What do you mean?” Jessie asked, brushing the tears from her face.
“The only way you can not get angry with the little ones ruining your plans is to give up your plans,” Dad explained. “Instead of thinking of how to make them do what you want, you need to think about ways to bless them. Shall we ask Jesus to give you a heart to love them more than yourself?”
Jessie thought about it a moment, then slowly nodded. As she knelt down with Dad by the couch she felt like all her dreams were being dropped into a bucket with a big lid. Jesus was going to take them away somewhere. What would He do with them? She wanted to grab them back and make sure everything was going to turn out all right. “Help me to not think about any of my own plans,” she prayed instead. “Help me to love the little ones and make them happy.”
Dad kissed her good-night and Jessie went to bed. She didn’t feel excited or gloomy. She didn’t feel much like anything, except she knew that Jesus was happy. And somehow she knew tomorrow would be a better day.
All the next morning Jessie kept busy with chores and school work and so there wasn’t much time to think about anything else. It was early afternoon when Mama mentioned the dress. “I think I can get the bodice done if I had an hour and a half to work,” she told Jessie as they cleaned up the kitchen. “Betty and Stanley are still asleep. Would you like to make some play dough with Anna? It would be a fun activity for them.”
“Okay,” Jessie agreed, suddenly feeling a bit nervous. “Where’s the recipe?”
Mama showed her what ingredients to use and helped Anna tie on an apron. “I’m sure you will have a great time together,” she said, giving Jessie an encouraging look. “I know the Lord is going to help you.”
So Dad must have told her. Jessie took a deep breath and smiled at Anna. “Do you want to measure or stir?” she asked.
“Stir,” said Anna, picking up the wooden spoon.
Jessie carefully measured and poured the ingredients. “We only have green left,” she said, peering into the food coloring box. “We can make it peppermint-scented. Won’t that be nice?”
“I want to put the coloring in!” Anna said.
Jessie felt like saying she was too little, but Anna’s eager look changed her mind. “Okay, just be careful not to squeeze too hard.”
They were cooking the dough on the stove when a wail came from the bedroom. “Betty’s awake!” Anna said. “I’ll go get her up.”
“That will be a big help,” Jessie agreed. “Try to keep her happy while I finish cooking this.” But the next moment Anna came back with her fingers pinched over her nose.
“She is really stinky!” Anna said in disgust. Betty’s wails were getting louder, and Jessie knew that Stanley would soon wake up. Why couldn’t Anna just quiet her down? Just as the frustrated words came to her mind, Jessie remembered what Dad had said about loving. “Jesus, help me to be patient and kind,” she prayed.
“Tell Betty that I’m coming,” Jessie told Anna. She stirred the thickening dough quickly and then turned off the stove. It was time to take care of the little ones, and Jessie suddenly felt happy. She was triumphing over her temper!
That afternoon had plenty of challenges for Jessie. Betty needed a bath, and then Stanley wanted one, too. He had woken up in a sour mood, so Jessie decided to let him. “But I thought Mama said we could do play dough,” Anna said.
“I don’t think—” began Jessie, then stopped. Stanley was already pulling off his clothes and her arms were full of towel-wrapped Betty. She took a deep breath and smiled at Anna. “That’s right!” she said merrily. “Bring me Betty’s diaper and then you can get out the cookie cutters. We’ll play with play dough while Stanley has his bath.”
“No!” said Stanley. “I want to play with play dough, too!”
“Well, if you get your clothes back on,” began Jessie.
“But I want a bath!” wailed Stanley.
“How about play dough after your bath?” suggested Jessie.
“No!” Stanley said, stubbornly. He was so unreasonable that Jessie had to smile. But what could she do to keep him happy? He sat and pouted while she quickly dressed Betty. When she went out to help Anna, he began to wail again.
“Do you want animals in your bath?” she called, hopefully. Stanley didn’t answer, but at that moment Brian came into the room. He was holding a big Lego plane he had been building and suddenly Jessie had an idea. “Brian, can you help Stanley with his bath? Maybe if he sees your plane, he’ll get in a better mood.”
Brian frowned. “I don’t want my plane to get wet.”
Jessie felt a little impatient, but she kept her voice calm. “Just show it to him—he doesn’t have to play with it.”
“Okay,” Brian agreed reluctantly. Soon the wails in the bathroom stopped and the motor of an airplane could be heard instead. Jessie felt very thankful. She plopped Betty into her high chair and gave her cheerios while she watched Anna make mint-green pancakes and star cookies.
Jessie was pretending to taste a three-layer star cake when Mama came into the room. “How is it going?” she asked, with a smile. “I’m ready to check the sleeve length now.” Jessie looked up in surprise. She had forgotten all about her birthday dress!
“Perfect,” Mama said in satisfaction, as she held the bodice against Jessie’s back. “Do you think you can keep them busy another half hour? You are doing a great job, honey.”
“Oh, sure,” Jessie said, a warm feeling filling her heart. “We are having a good time, aren’t we, girls?”
Anna nodded and Betty smiled. Suddenly it didn’t matter whether she had a new birthday dress or not. Jessie had something much better. Jesus had given her victory over her temper, and that was the best gift of all.