As Rachel closed the door behind her, her ears were filled with sounds of laughter and squeals. The little children were climbing all over their father, chattering at him about all the excitement of the day, and John was trying to make his voice heard over the noise, telling Father about the loaves and fishes. Rachel felt a quick stab of trepidation. Would Father be angry that she had taken the children off without asking? Was he upset that she hadn’t been home, hadn’t made dinner? Slowly she removed her shawl, hanging it on the peg beside the door, before she turned to him, eyes lowered.
Before Mother had died, Rachel had never worried about how her father would receive her. He had always delighted in his children, had been the father chasing the boys down the street, catching them up into his strong arms, and tickling them till they begged for mercy. Rachel he had always doted upon, carrying her on his shoulders until Mother had said she was too grown up for such things. They had shared little jokes and secrets, and Father had always encouraged Rachel to share her opinions about whatever news or problems were being discussed at table.
But Mother’s death had broken Father, and though he continued to work hard to provide for his children, and had tried to be engaged for the sake of the little ones, things hadn’t been the same since then. Rachel tried so hard to do the work Mother had left, but she couldn’t support her father like Mother had. John grew wild and rebellious, and Father barely noticed, except to say he wasn’t ready to go out on the boats, to begin to learn to be a fisherman. The children’s religious training had all but fallen by the wayside, except for the weekly Sabbath readings and the annual trip to Jerusalem for Passover. And Rachel felt as though she had dropped far in her father’s esteem, from a beloved child to a servant.
“Children,” Father’s authoritative voice allowed no argument. “It is time to get ready for sleeping. You may tell me about your day tomorrow.”
With childish groans, the little ones made their way up the steps to the roof, where they slept when the weather was fine. Rachel could hear the noise of their spreading out their sleeping mats, the little squabbles over who would sleep where.
“Wait, John,” Father said, as the boy started to climb up the stairs as well. “What were you telling me, about fish and bread?”
With glowing eyes and words tripping over one another, John told the tale– how he had shared a noon meal with a friend and not eaten his own little lunch, how he had heard one of the disciples asking if anyone had any food to share, how he had so desperately wanted to share his food with the Teacher. How Rachel had said he could, and how he had raced through the hungry crowd to breathlessly deliver the little bag to the man. How he had stayed there, at the edge of the crowd, and watched as the disciple delivered his tiny meal to Jesus, and how the Teacher had come to him and put a hand on his head and blessed him and thanked him for sharing. Rachel gasped at this part of the story, for she had not heard it yet. To be touched, blessed by the Teacher!
John glanced at his sister and then returned to his tale– how he had struggled to make his way back through the mob, only to find his sister missing and Imma in a state of panic over Miriam’s birth pains, which were coming faster and faster. How he had stood among the people who were seating themselves and shouted again and again, is anyone here a midwife? How suddenly Miriam had cried out and then gasped, and he had turned to her just in time to hear her joyful laugh and her words to Imma– they stopped! The pains stopped! How Rachel had returned just then, and how they had sat in the grass and watched in amazement as the Teacher had taken those five little bites of bread and two tiny fish and fed the multitude. How he had eaten enough bread and fish to fill him up, and how the bread had tasted like Mother’s bread, and how he had seen the disciples carrying away basketfuls after everyone had had enough.
“It was amazing, Father! The most amazing thing I’ve ever seen! And the Teacher– Father, he’s the one that healed Miriam, I know it! And he did about a million other miracles, all morning long, and you should hear him teach. It’s not anything like the Rabbis at the synagogue, that make you fall asleep. The Teacher– you can just tell he knows what he’s talking about. It’s like he knows God personally. I’ve never heard anyone talk about God that way.”
John’s face was flushed with the excitement of it all, and Rachel felt it again– that feeling of overpowering joy filling her up. As she studied her brother, she could see that he was standing taller, looking Father in the eye, holding himself almost like a man instead of like a boy. Father must have noticed it as well, for he stood and considered his oldest boy for a long moment before finally speaking. “You shall join me on the boat tomorrow, John. I expect you to be ready at sunrise. And I expect you to work hard. No more behaving like a child. It’s time for you to be a man.”
The two stood and regarded each other for a long moment, and Rachel felt strangely out of place. Finally John squared his shoulders. “Yes, sir,” he responded, and then turned and climbed the stairs to the roof, where Rachel could still hear the younger children talking and giggling.
Father turned his face to Rachel, who held her breath, waiting. “It sounds like you had a day to remember,” he began, a little awkwardly. “I wish you had left a message for me, but as Joanna kept me informed, no harm was done.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t have your dinner ready, Father.”
“Rachel. How old are you now?”
“Sixteen. Nearly a woman, but still a girl. You’ve carried a heavy burden since your mother died.”
“I couldn’t have made it these years without you here, Rachel. You have taken on such a load as many girls your age could not have borne, and you have never lost the joy in your eyes.”
Rachel could feel tears welling up at this unexpected praise. Her father continued, “I’m glad you went up the hill to see the Teacher. I wish I could have gone with you, but it was good I stayed behind. Joanna and I had a long talk, and she made me to understand some things I had forgotten.”
He cleared his throat. “You are a young woman, ready to be married, and I have failed to seek a husband for you. I have been so caught up in my own grief–” His voice broke, and Rachel flew to him, throwing her arms around him and feeling his strong arms around her.
“I know, Abba. I know! I understa–”
“Now, though, it is time for me to face my reality like a man, as it is time for your brother John to face his reality like a man. The children in this home are my responsibility, not yours, and it’s time for me to let you move on. You will make an excellent wife, my dear. You have already proven your value is far above rubies.”
“Tomorrow, Rachel. We will discuss everything tomorrow. It sounds like those children need someone to remind them that they’re supposed to be sleeping.”
Rachel could hear the sound of her siblings, still rowdy and wild on the rooftop. She could understand their feelings, for sleep was far from her mind as well. She hugged her father one more time and brushed a quick kiss across his deeply tanned face. “Thank you, Abba.”
With her mind racing and her heart overflowing, Rachel made her way up the stairs to settle everyone in for the night.