Bethia had known Honeysuckle was precious to her dad ever since he turned down Mr. Stanley’s offer to buy her.
“Sell Honeysuckle to you?” His intonation and wide open eyes plainly said he would as likely sell one of his booted feet.
Mr. Stanley—who could easily afford it—offered more and more money, up to five or six times the value of the horse, but her father didn’t waver.
After Mr. Stanley left, Dad went over to the fence and patted Honeysuckle’s neck, running his fingers through her golden mane. Coming over to join him, Bethia caught his whispered words.
“Sell you, Honeysuckle? The horse my wife loved so well? I can still imagine I smell that patch of honeysuckle near the pasture where she picked you out. No amount of money could change my mind about you, Girl.”
That had taken place a year ago, but it flashed through Bethia’s mind as she pulled down the drive, looking out the car window. The last thing she saw before turning onto the road was the golden mare grazing inside her fence.
Inside her fence. Bethia smiled. She was now outside the fence, free to do whatever she wanted and make a life for herself.
Bethia intently tried to erase the pleading tones of her father. “Don’t go. Please stay here with me.”
It was her life, and she had a right to run it the way she wanted. She would make a success of it—he would see.
With most of her worldly goods in the trunk of her car and a fat wallet in her purse, Bethia headed to the next state. It was hard to forget the hurt she’d seen in her dad’s eyes when she asked him to give her the money he’d carefully laid by to provide for her after he was gone.
“I’ll make good use of it, Dad, and you won’t have a care in the world for me.”
She wanted new scenery and a brand new start—doing things her way.
The first night away from home was spent in a comfortable hotel room. She tried to believe she was enjoying the trip, but though she would not admit it even to herself, she was already missing Dad. There was an emptiness inside that the new experiences and sights could not fill.
The next few days, Bethia hunted for just the right job. She wanted something that appealed to her artistic side, wasn’t too difficult, and paid well. Surely that wasn’t too much to ask, right? As her supply of funds dwindled and no such job appeared, she found herself accepting a position at a fast food restaurant.
When her first day on the job arrived, she was both annoyed at where she found herself and nervous about her new responsibilities. Until she was paired with Jessie.
“Hi, I’m Jessie, and I was the new girl once upon a time. I’m sure you’ll do fine.” She handed Bethia an apron as she spoke.
Bethia slipped the red apron over her head, trying not to knock down her loose bun. “Thanks. I really don’t want to be here, but I’ve gotta have money, you know?”
Jessie laughed. “Oh, don’t I though. This place isn’t much fun, but I go somewhere else for money and fun in the evenings.”
“Where?” Bethia fumbled with the apron strings behind her back.
“Casino. Lots of fun and games, and sometimes I add quite a bit to my paycheck. You’re welcome to come with me.”
Bethia smiled. “Really? That sounds more like what I’m after. A lot more exciting than fixing greasy food for impatient customers.”
“Well, I’d better get to showing you how that’s done before the manager shows up, but tonight we’ll have some fun. I promise.”
Jessie kept her word. She took Bethia with her to the casino, and it was fun. Jessie lost over fifty dollars, but Bethia left with her wallet a bit thicker than when she arrived.
She couldn’t wait to get through with her shift the next day so she could go back and repeat the good time. She did go back, but the good time wasn’t as easy to come by. The lights flashed as brightly, but their brilliance seemed a mockery when she lost. The games were also just as enticing as they had been—maybe more so after a day of anticipation, but they didn’t seem as easy to win this time.
Jessie cleared the night by earning back half of what she’d lost the night before, and she left very encouraged. Bethia won a little here and there, but overall it was mostly losses. Not only did she lose everything she had earned the previous night, but she lost quite a bit more in her determination to just keep trying until she could catch a break.
“You win some, you lose some,” Jessie said, as they walked across the parking lot together. “The fun is in trying. Tomorrow you could win it all back and more.”
“I’d better not lose that much too many times,” Bethia grumbled. “Money doesn’t grow on trees around here and not very much of it is found in flipping burgers.”
The next night Jessie was busy, and Bethia took the opportunity to look for an apartment. She found one in close proximity to both the restaurant and the casino. It was a bit out of the price range she’d been hoping for, but what did that matter? It was well-furnished and convenient, and soon money wasn’t going to be an issue anyway. She was on her way to earning her fortune!
Since everything was not yet finalized with the apartment, Bethia spent another night in the hotel room. Once the light was out, she couldn’t get to sleep for a while.
Dad keeps texting and calling every day. I should answer him so he knows I’m okay. But he won’t think I’m okay anyway. He won’t be happy with any of my decisions. It’s better not to talk about it.
The quiet of the night let in the thoughts and emotions the busyness of the day kept away. She wasn’t willing to admit it, but she missed her dad.
By the end of the week, Bethia was in her new apartment. Life settled into a routine. Two or three nights a week she and Jessie visited the casino. Other nights they partied with friends, and once in a while, they had a quiet evening in Bethia’s apartment.
Almost two months slipped away, then one morning, Bethia pulled her wallet from her purse and opened it. She leafed through the three or four flimsy bills it contained. Surely this wasn’t all the money she had left! How was she going to pay her rent?
I’ll just have to hope I win it big tonight. If not, I don’t know what I’ll do.
She did not win it big. When she left the casino that night, she was penniless and nearly in tears.
“Next time it will be better,” Jessie said, in what was supposed to be an encouraging manner.
“That’s what we’ve been saying for a month,” Bethia said bitterly.
“Here.” Jessie held out a fat wad of bills. “Pay your rent with that.”
Bethia stared. “Where’d you get all that?”
“Never you mind. There’s more where it came from. Take it and pay your rent. When you hit it big, you can pay this back and remember me, if you know what I mean.”
“Of course!” Bethia put the wad into her purse. “I’ll remember you. You’re a real friend, Jessie.”
Life rocked along in that strain for a few more months. Sometimes Bethia scrounged up part of her rent money but never enough to cover all of it. Jessie always willingly gave her what was needed, and they continued their gambling routine together. When Bethia won more than usual, she made sure to share part of it with Jessie, but even so, her debt rose higher with every month.
One day, when Bethia arrived at work and put on her apron, she could immediately tell Jessie was upset about something. As soon as she could, she got her friend aside and asked her about it.
“Um, I’m afraid I need you to pay back all the money I’ve loaned you by the end of the week.”
“End of the week?” Bethia squeaked. “But it’s Thursday! How do you expect me to do that?”
“I don’t know. You mentioned one time that your dad lives in another state. Maybe he could bail you out? I don’t like to do this, but I have to have the money.”
Several customers streamed in, but when the next lull came, Bethia was ready with a question. “What is so important that you have to have all this money so suddenly?”
Jessie dropped quarters into the cash register tray, one by one, pursing her lips. Finally, she leaned in close to Bethia’s ear and, in a voice so low Bethia could scarcely catch the words, whispered, “I’ve been stealing money from my dad, and I think he’s on to me. I have to put it back before he figures it out. I kept thinking we’d strike it rich and be able to put it all back that way, but so far that hasn’t worked out too well.”
“You stole money from your dad?” Bethia stared at her friend in horror, then dropped her eyes to the floor in misery. I didn’t steal from my dad, but I begged him for the hard-earned money he was saving for me, which isn’t much better.
“Hey, you enjoyed using it as much as I did,” Jessie said defensively.
“We just have to win tonight then.” Bethia squared her shoulders. “I’ll earn that money back and then some if it’s the last thing I do.” And with that, she went to fill the ketchup dispenser.
That night, Bethia took every last penny with her to the casino. And unlike normal, she threw caution to the wind, recklessly putting everything into it. She still had most of her last paycheck, so she had more money available than usual.
After they had both lost several times, Jessie moaned, “I’m going to the vending machine for snacks. My nerves are shot, and that’s one slot around here where you’re guaranteed to win.”
“Bring me back some chips and soda,” Bethia said, focusing on her next attempt.
It was nearly midnight when the girls left. They had their fill of snacks—and empty wallets.
“Well, are you going to contact your dad?” Jessie asked as they walked across the parking lot.
“Why do you keep bringing up my dad? He’s not rich, and I’m doing things my own way, without him.”
“Your own way, huh? Well, how does your own way plan to pay me tomorrow? I need the money.”
“Look, I didn’t know when I took that money that it was stolen.” Bethia climbed into the driver’s seat of her car.
“Did you ask?” Jessie questioned in a provoking tone of voice.
“Of course not! What kind of person asks their friend questions like that?”
“Look, you’re skirting the issue.” Jessie slammed the passenger door. “I have to have that money by tomorrow, and I’m not so sure you didn’t know it was stolen. I’m pretty sure you were in on the whole thing and that my dad will be a lot more likely to prosecute you for stealing from him than he would me. In fact, it was your idea to begin with. I shouldn’t have gone along with you.”
Bethia was backing the car from the parking space, but she pressed on the brake suddenly, jerking to a halt. “What are you talking about? Have you gone crazy?”
“No, but I’m a pretty good storyteller. And I know my dad will believe me against you. Besides, you have been spending his money you know.”
“But I didn’t know. I thought you were my friend, Jessie.” Bethia helplessly clutched the steering wheel.
“Oh, but I am,” Jessie said calmly. “Didn’t I share that money with you all these months? I’m just trying to encourage you to come up with the money by tomorrow. There’s a good girl.”
Her soft voice was infuriating. Refusing to say another word, even ‘goodnight,’ which it wasn’t, Bethia dropped Jessie off at her house and headed to the apartment.
She did not sleep that night. Despite everything she tried, she couldn’t get the image of her dad to leave her mind. She could see him at home, alone, worried sick about her. She could also see the disappointment in his eyes if he heard everything she had done since leaving.
“I’m a terrible daughter,” she said to herself. “I don’t deserve for him to help me out of this mess.”
Bethia tossed and turned, then finally gave up and moved from her bed to the couch.
“I wish I hadn’t left.” She dropped her face into her lap and sat there, still. Finally, she raised her head. “I wonder if Dad would want me to come back after everything I’ve done. Clearly, I’ve shown that I can’t make a wonderful life for myself on my own. I’ve just made a mess. And now my one friend has even turned on me. I miss dad and just want to go home.”
She looked at the clock on the wall. Three forty-five. After a fierce wrestle within, she reached for her phone and pressed the call button beside the name Dad.
After only one ring, Dad picked up—almost like he’d been waiting for her call. He didn’t sound as if he’d been asleep.
“Bethia, honey! Are you okay?”
“No.” That was the only word Bethia could get out of her tight throat before the tears came in a gush.
“Oh, honey. It’s okay.” Dad’s soft voice soothed.
Bethia could only sob for a minute as Dad continued to speak encouragingly. Finally, she took a deep breath and wiped a few of the tears streaked across her face.
“I’ve made a mess of everything, Dad, and I really want to come back home. But—I’m in debt really bad. I don’t have any money to pay it or even to get back home. I know I’ve been a horrible daughter, and I don’t deserve—”
That was as far as she got before Dad cut in. “Honey, tell me how much money you need, and I will get it to you. I can’t wait to see you, Bethia.”
They talked a little longer and made the arrangements about the money. After the call ended, Bethia texted her boss, letting him know she would be late to work that morning. She didn’t want to show up until she had the money in hand for Jessie. Besides, this was going to be her last day at work anyway, so there wasn’t much he could do.
It was two o’clock by the time the money went into Bethia’s account, and it was almost three when she got the cash and arrived at the restaurant. She was greeted at the door by the smell of burgers and fries she’d grown so accustomed to over the last few months.
First, she spoke with her unhappy boss and told him she wouldn’t be working there anymore. That didn’t improve his mood any, and he relieved her of her responsibilities for the last two hours of the shift. She turned from the interview and searched for Jessie.
“There you are.” Jessie spoke from right at her elbow. “I thought you chickened out and weren’t coming. I should have known better about you. Do you have the money?” All this in a bubbly voice.
“I have it,” Bethia said stiffly, holding out the envelope. “You’re welcome to count it.”
Jessie proceeded to do just that. When she finished, she frowned. “That’s exactly what you borrowed.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“No interest. You didn’t pay me anything for my efforts and to make up for what I lost.”
Bethia swallowed. “Look, I didn’t make it big. I failed miserably. My dad gave me that, and it’s all I have except the money in my wallet, which is just enough to pay my rent for the month and get me home.”
“Home?” Jessie raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, home.” The word sounded luxurious and made Bethia’s eyes water. “I’m through here, and I’m going home.”
“Oh, but I’ll miss you so much,” Jessie said in a pathetic tone.
Bethia couldn’t honestly say the same, though she did manage to keep from saying that she was sure Jessie would survive. Instead, she simply smiled.
When she returned to her apartment, she quickly packed her few belongings, went to the office, paid her bill, and explained her departure. Then with a mixture of fear and delighted hope, she climbed into her car and pointed it in the direction of home.
Bethia drove through the night. When she finally pulled onto the familiar dirt road, the sun was just rising, touching the leafy branches arched above the road, brushing them with gilded edging. Another minute and she would be on the driveway. But before she could turn in, she saw a figure standing beside the mailbox. Stopping the car, she jumped out and ran to her dad who rushed to meet her. He caught her in a hug and held her close for a long while, their tears mingling. Finally, Bethia pulled back and tried to speak.
“I don’t deserve this. I’ve been so wrong and hurt you so much.”
“Bethia.” He said the name softly, as if fingering a delicate treasure. “Do you know why we gave you that name?”
“Yes. It’s a very unusual one, but you said you liked the meaning.”
“Do you remember what it means?” Dad asked earnestly.
“Daughter of Jehovah.”
“Yes. We wanted you to belong to God. He forgives and restores his children. You are my daughter, Bethia, and I forgive you.”
Bethia buried her face in her hands and sobbed. She didn’t deserve forgiveness or a second chance, and it melted her heart. When she finally started regaining her composure, she glanced around, surveying the pastureland, the dewy grass sparkling in the soft glow of sunlight, and the gravel drive inviting her home. She looked at the fence, and a thought crossed her mind.
“I’m surprised Honeysuckle isn’t over here to welcome me home.”
Her dad made no answer, but the look on his face made Bethia’s heart jump. “What is it? Is something wrong with Honeysuckle?”
“No, Honeysuckle is just fine. Like you, my honey,” he said, trying to speak playfully and change the subject. It didn’t fool Bethia.
“Then where is she?”
“I don’t have her anymore.”
“Oh, Daddy.” She pressed her lips together, trying to gather strength to ask the question. “Did you have to sell her to pay—my debts?”
“It’s no matter. You’re home now, and the past is the past.” He smiled tenderly, a genuine smile with no regret that pierced straight into Bethia’s penitent heart.
She was crying on his shoulder in a moment, mumbling incoherent regrets and apologies as he tenderly attempted to comfort her.
When she was all cried out, he suggested they go to the house. Once they were both in the car, Bethia drove slowly down the lane, her eyes filling again at the sight of the empty pasture and barnyard.
They went up the walk, side by side. Reaching the porch, Bethia immediately noticed the table standing between the two rocking chairs. It was spread with a blue tablecloth and held lemonade, biscuits, butter, jam, and several other of her favorites.
A faint smile crossed her lips but faded when she turned to her dad.
“I don’t deserve this. I ruined everything.”
“My girl, you did mess up, but all is not ruined because you’re everything to me. And you’ve repented and come home. That was my greatest wish, and it has happened.” He motioned a hand toward the little feast, and they took seats in the rocking chairs.
Releasing a deep sigh, Bethia leaned her head back against the chair. She was where she belonged.
Dad smiled tenderly. “I have someone to share a meal with again. Welcome home, Bethia.”
I hope you enjoyed that story. Before you go, please let me tell you a quick story about my Father. My Father in Heaven created me and gave me life. He wanted to have a close relationship with me and share every part of my life, but like Bethia in the story, I turned away from Him and went my own way instead. That’s what all of us do.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6
Because we turned against our Father and sinned, on our own, we are unrighteous and no longer fit to enter God’s holy presence. We are all guilty of doing wrong, and the penalty for our wrongdoing is facing God’s justice and an eternity of punishment and separation from Him. But there’s more to this story. God was not willing to let us go. He loves us so much that He sent His only Son, Jesus, to take our punishment.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16
As Bethia’s dad was willing to sell his most valued possession to bring his daughter home, God sent His Son to earth for you and me. Jesus was fully God and fully man, and He died on the cross, bearing the sins of everyone in the world. He died for your sins. He died for my sins. And He rose from the dead, defeating death forever! He is now in Heaven with His Father again, making intercession to the Father on our behalf.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
Because Jesus paid our “debt” of sin, we now have forgiveness offered to us and the opportunity to escape the coming eternal judgment. But it’s our choice. Forgiveness is not forced on us. We have to ask for it, confessing to God that we have sinned against Him, asking Him to forgive us, and turning from our wrongdoing to Him.
Though I was undeserving of His mercy, my Father freely forgave me and welcomed me as His beloved child. He is so good!!
He that hath the Son that life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. 1 John 5:12
After all God has sacrificed for us so that we could come to Him, how foolish would it be for us to turn from Him and keep going our own way! If you are not right with the Father in Heaven, today is the day, Friend. You’re not guaranteed tomorrow. He’s waiting and watching for you right now. Don’t keep going your own way. It only ends in death. Talk to the Father right now. He’s right there with you and hears everything you say. Right now, confess your sins and ask Him to forgive you.