Mercy Sings at Midnight

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Chapter 21

Dinner had come and gone by the time Dixie pulled into the driveway. Inside would she find anger tucked in bed like a worn out child, or coiled like a snake about to strike? She was uncertain. Hopefully the house would be quiet, and she could slip upstairs to rest after grabbing a bite to eat.

The last of the evening’s faint rays slanted through the kitchen window as Dixie opened the back door, careful not to make a sound. A television’s muffled noise traveled down the hall. Her dad must be watching the news. She set her things quietly on the table and went to the fridge. After making a ham sandwich, Dixie padded down the hall to the den. She knew she would find her daddy in his favorite chair.

Richard looked up as Dixie came in. She plopped down on the brocade loveseat opposite the leather armchair he occupied. Turning the sound of the television down he asked her, “How was your afternoon, sweetheart?”

Dixie balanced the plate and sandwich on her lap and took a minute to finish chewing the bite she’d taken. “Fine I guess. I went over to Bo’s. He was working on his car and I just hung out in the barn with him. I took Kenny’s things over to Joe’s after I left there.” She shrugged. She didn’t feel like mentioning her conversation with Sadie.

“How is Kenny doing?”

“I guess okay. He was sleeping when I got there, but Joe said he was doing all right.”

Her dad nodded. “I talked to Sheriff Walters this afternoon about what happened.”

Dixie raised an eyebrow. “Oh yeah? What did he have to say?”

“Well, Pete was sympathetic. He was sorry to hear what had happened to Kenny. He wanted me to tell you that if you’re interested you are welcome to go down to the sheriff’s department and look through his book of mugshots to see if you recognize anyone. Maybe these fellas have caused trouble before. Then Kenny can press charges.” Richard shrugged. “He recognizes the social difficulty. I expressed your concern that Kenny wouldn’t be treated fairly, and he understood why you would feel that way. He’s not unaware of issues of prejudice, and even agreed some of the boys on the force wouldn’t be sympathetic. But Pete said he would do everything in his power to make sure Kenny was treated with fairness.” He thought for a moment. “I guess it’s up to you and Kenny if you want to try to identify his attackers.”

“I doubt Kenny will want to fool with it. He talked about leaving town. I discouraged that idea, but he’s interested in avoiding negative attention if he can.” Dixie exhaled and shook her head. “He’d like to just be a normal part of our community. I’m not sure he’s holding out hope for that now. I’ll ask him if he wants to press charges. I don’t know. I may go down and see if I can identify those brutes without telling him about it.” Dixie sat quiet, reflecting for a moment. “I’d like to go drag those guys out from their hole and tar and feather them publicly! But I do want to be sensitive to Kenny. What would give me satisfaction isn’t necessarily what would be best for him.”

“I know, honey. I guess my main concern is for his safety right now. If these young men haven’t been dealt with, then what’s to stop them from looking for him in the future?”

“You’re right, Daddy. For the time being I don’t feel like he’d be safe in public by himself, and I’m not sure how much protection Joe would provide.” She smiled wryly. “Though goodness knows he would try to protect him!”

Her dad chuckled. “No doubt he would.”

“Which reminds me. I don’t know if Kenny will be at church tomorrow or not, but I want you to be prepared that Joe will bring Kenny if he wants to come.”

Her dad nodded running a strong hand through his thick sandy hair. “Fair enough. I appreciate the warning. I don’t know if his being there will create a stir, but I’m not going to prevent him from coming. If I need to address the issue I will.”

“What will Mother say if he comes?”

“I don’t expect she will create a scene at church if he shows up. She’ll do what’s necessary to be civil and dignified. She always does.” He sighed. “It’s after we get home that things may get unpleasant. Although, I don’t suppose she can be mad if it’s Joe that brings him, and not you.” He looked at her pointedly, his words deliberate. “I would suggest Dixie, if he comes with Joe, let him sit with Joe, and you sit where you normally do.”

“Yes, sir, I will.” Her dad was being fair and she would do all she could to cooperate with him. “Daddy, do you hate Kenny? Does he disgust you?”

Her dad’s eyes softened and he gave her a sad smile. “No honey, I don’t hate Kenny. I guess he makes me a bit uncomfortable, but I certainly sympathize with the young man’s difficult situation.” He sat quietly for a minute. “Dixie, God sets those he loves apart for holiness. Not so that they can be better than others, but so that they can be what they should be; His. Kenny makes me uncomfortable because he challenges my understanding of holiness and grace.”

“Me too. But I like the challenge. In the first sermon on John you preached, you said Jesus came in grace and truth. I’ve been thinking. What does that look like? What does that mean? It can’t be easy to live in the balance of grace and truth.

He smiled at his daughter who had grown into this spunky young woman. It pleased him she was paying attention. “No, not easy. But possible. The Holy Spirit shows us a new way to live. He reminds us of Christ’s example.”

Dixie fed off of conversations like these with her dad. She’d always been able to ask him questions about faith and life. He was her rock. “I don’t understand, Daddy. Why doesn’t Mother seem to get that? Why is she more concerned about being perfect than being kind?” She cocked her head and looked intently at her dad. “Is she afraid that Jesus doesn’t love her? I mean, if she was convinced of his love she wouldn’t be so afraid of messing up or being human, would she? It seems like the good things she does are more from a desire to measure up, than out of a grateful heart for God’s mercy toward her. I think there’s a big difference, between doing good to be accepted and doing good as a way of saying thanks. Isn’t there?”

“Yes, Dixie, there is.” Her dad’s voice was gentle. “I suppose I’m partially to blame. It’s easy to lose that balance. A very moral person can still be a very hurt , lost person. Maybe I haven’t realized your Mother’s morality was poorly motivated.” He sighed. “I suppose it comes out in the way we treat others. If we insist upon others measuring up, instead of being comfortable with allowing them to wrestle with God’s love and authority, then we’re most likely acting out of fear. Not love. I just hadn’t seen it in such contrast until recently.”

A comfortable silence fell between them as they contemplated the nuances of faith.

“You know, Dixie, your mom hasn’t had this kind of relationship with her father. There wasn’t a lot of freedom between them. He expected her to measure up.” His expression was serious. “I think it’s been hard for her not to be jealous of what we have. I know you have a lot of compassion for Kenny. Maybe you should ask God to give you compassion for your mom as well.”

Dixie nodded. “You’re right of course. I haven’t even wanted to have compassion for her. I guess I need to start by asking God to help me want to care about her.”

“That’s my girl.” His green eyes sparkled at his child.

Where did his gentleness come from Dixie wondered. He had borne with her mother’s critical, uptight attitude for so long. “Daddy, what was that in the kitchen this afternoon with Mother? Why did she fall apart? I had no doubt she would be mad at me. I did not expect her to get hysterical and break things.”

“Dixie, I don’t feel like your Mother’s story is mine to tell. I think you need to know about it, but she should be the one to tell you.” He gazed off in consideration for a moment. “She is afraid of losing control. She’s afraid of being seen as less than perfect. It breaks my heart to watch, but until she’s willing to embrace God’s unconditional acceptance of her, his grace for her failings, she will continue to hold herself, and everyone else, to impossible standards. I know it isn’t easy to live with those expectations. But I want you to continue to respect her, and give grace to her. Even when she’s unreasonable and it’s hard.”

“Yes, sir, I’ll try.”

“Now. Why don’t you go get some rest. It’s been a very long day, and tomorrow may be as well.”

Her red head bobbed in agreement. It took energy to stand up to kiss his forehead goodnight. She hadn’t realized until then how drained she was. After putting her plate in the dishwasher Dixie made her way to her room. Pumpkin trailed behind her up the stairs. At the landing he ran ahead, his tail at full attention. It didn’t take Dixie long to fall asleep to the sound of her friend’s gentle motor.

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