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Happy Families

Children's Story
One of Martha's earliest memories was of her little sister Mary singing and dancing in the middle of an admiring crowd of friends. Mary had always been a dancer, from the time she could walk. Privately, Martha thought she'd always been something of a show-off and ought to go on the stage, for Mary loved an audience.

Martha was very protective towards her brother and sister. She was the oldest of the three, and when their mother had died while Larry was five and Mary was three, ten-year-old Martha had naturally taken over. She'd always loved cooking and home-making, and had slipped easily into their mother's position.

Larry was the quiet one. Being a middle child and the only boy, he was something of a loner. Although he had a group of friends, he rarely revealed anything of his activities to his sisters or their father. But he had a great sense of humour, and at times, teased Mary unmercifully. Mary loved him dearly, and the whole family adored his company.

Martha sometimes worried about her young sister. When Martha used to cook meals for their father and his friends, Mary would often creep into the room and snuggle up beside her father. She was so pretty, with her long golden hair and dark eyes, that they all accepted her presence. And when she began to sing and dance, they'd all applaud. Part of Martha was proud of Mary, but another part felt quite shocked. Martha knew of no other girl who would dare to enter the presence of grown men like that.

As Mary grew older, so she became more provocative. Her dark eyes were enhanced by mascara, her lips glowed with bright lipstick, and her skirts became shorter and shorter to reveal her long slender legs. Now she not only danced for the men, but took part in their conversation as well.

Sometimes Martha remonstrated with her. "Really, Mary, you ought to be more careful. You're getting quite a reputation, down in the village. Couldn't you keep your hems just a little longer?"

But Mary would laugh, and cry, "Lighten up, Martha! Come on!" and would grab her older sister round the waist, and whirl her around until Martha was breathless and laughing too much to continue scolding.

One day, Larry brought some friends home. He'd come home quite animated once or twice, talking about a group of people he'd met, led by a brilliant healer. "You'd love him," Larry confided to Mary. "He's just your type. When he speaks, we can't help listening. There's something very powerful about him, a kind of restless energy. Yet he has this kind of deep peace inside, which just shines out of him."

Martha bustled about, cooking and cleaning, making sure the house was perfect. When she met the new leader, his eyes twinkled at her and she found herself blushing. He was so nice! But Mary was completely captivated. She hung on every word the leader spoke, she laughed at his jokes, she sat herself at his feet in the position reserved for special students. Martha was embarrassed for her sister, but nobody seemed to mind.

The little group of friends clearly enjoyed Martha's cooking and her hospitality, for they came again and again. They fell into a routine of food and discussion, and Mary was treated just like one of the men. Mostly Martha was pleased about that, for she'd never seen Mary so happy or so fulfilled. But it was hard work, looking after them all by herself, and she felt really tired. On one occasion her patience snapped, and she complained to the leader, "Can't you tell my sister to help me? She never does anything. I do all the work around here, and it's just not fair."

The leader had looked at her with compassion, and said gently, "You don't really need to go to all this trouble, Martha. I think perhaps Mary's got it right. I shan't be here forever, it's good to listen to what I say while you have the chance."

Although underneath she was pretty sure the leader hadn't meant it that way, Martha had felt snubbed, and had retired to the kitchen hurt.

On another notorious occasion, when they were meeting at a different house, Mary had suddenly appeared in the room with an expensive jar of scented ointment and started to massage it into the leader's feet! And worse, she'd then started to cry, and had mopped ineffectually at his feet with her long hair. Martha had been deeply mortified when she heard. Why hadn't the leader stopped her making such an exhibition of herself? Whatever would people think of her sister now?

But shortly after that, all such thoughts fled from her mind, for Larry was taken ill. Martha was worried right from the beginning, but after a couple of weeks when Larry seemed to be getting weaker all the time, she and Mary sent an urgent message to the leader, asking him to come and use his healing powers on Larry.

The leader failed to appear, and Larry died. Martha felt numb. She hadn't felt like this since her mother died, all those years ago. But Mary plunged deep into depression. She'd always been moody, up one minute and down the next, but Martha had never seen her like this. She lay with her face turned to the wall. She refused to wash, and refused to talk, and refused to see any of the friends who came to offer their condolences. Most of all, Martha had the feeling her sister was deeply disappointed in the leader. She had admired him so much, and been so sure of his love, and so certain of his ability to heal. But he hadn't come when he was needed so much. He'd let them all down.

He turned up a day or two later. When she heard he was on his way, Martha slipped on her coat and hurried out to meet him. She was determined to have her say, and she wanted him to know just what effect his absence had had on Mary. She barely waited to greet him, but allowed her suppressed anger to simmer. "If you'd been here," she said bitterly, "he wouldn't have died. And you should just see what you've done to Mary."

The leader had looked at her with such love and kindness that she felt tears rising, threatening to overwhelm her. He'd taken her hand and said, "Martha, don't grieve. It's going to be OK, just trust me. Where is Mary? I'd love to see her."

And suddenly, a burden had been lifted from Martha. Suddenly, she knew how the leader valued her, Martha. Suddenly it didn't matter what sort of a person she was, she knew he loved her, just as he loved Mary and Larry. And suddenly she realised how important her role of homemaker was. For she was the strong one, the one who could handle it, the one who could be relied upon. And that was special.

She ran home, on air, feeling a joy and a peace she never knew existed. She roused Mary, and told her simply that the Master was asking for her. And she didn't begrudge the light which immediately shone in Mary's eyes.

For Martha now knew her own worth, and the worth of her brother and sister. She knew the leader would restore Larry to them, but more than that, she knew he would somehow enable each of them to be the best they could be. It didn't matter any more that each of them was different, for she knew they each complemented the others, and that made them a very happy family indeed.
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