On the ride to church Kenny and Gabriel chatted with ease. Dixie was surprised how comfortably Kenny interacted with Gabriel. It seemed he was good with kids.
By the time the trio pulled into the church parking lot, her two guests had become friends. Dixie’s heart was racing. They were late. Any hope of hiding in a back pew was gone. Kenny helped her get Gabriel out of the truck, and situated with his crutches. They crunched their way across the gravel parking lot at an agonizing speed, with Kenny and Dixie on either side of Gabriel to help steady him.
Everything in Dixie was straining to move faster. But there was nothing to be done about it. Gabriel set the pace. Finally they made it to the white, frame church’s double doors. They were opened by deacon Peal. He smiled and offered a bulletin. “I see you brought a little friend with you today Dixie.” Leaning down towards Gabriel he said, “Hello son, glad to have you.”
The three made their way to the doors of the sanctuary. Organ music was filtering into the small lobby. Dixie peered through the narrow windows in the doors. Everyone was standing, she couldn’t tell where any empty seats were. Straightening her shoulders she pulled open one of the doors and let Gabriel pass through, followed by Kenny. A couple of ushers came toward them. She didn’t need to be told where the empty seats were, she knew, but she greeted them warmly and followed one of the men down the center aisle. They moved at the same agonizing pace. First Dixie, then Gabriel, followed by Kenny. Every head turned and followed their progress down the aisle until they came to the second pew. Dixie’s mother looked up sharply. First confusion, then surprise flashed across her face all in one brief second. She checked her response and set her jaw. Dixie saw the steel come into her eye as she moved down to make room for Dixie and her entourage.
The song leader finished “’Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus” and asked the congregation to be seated. Dixie helped Gabriel get situated on the smooth wooden pew. Her father stood to welcome the congregation. She caught his eye. A question flashed across his face as he took in the scene before him. In that moment Dixie’s heart caught. She was ashamed. It was inconsiderate of her not to have told her dad that she was bringing Kenny and Gabriel. After all these years as a pastor’s daughter she should have known it was unfair to surprise him. How many times had she seen people approach him with a concern or complaint right before he preached and watched as he struggled to regain his composure?
Dixie’s heart sank, she cast a sidelong glance at the little blonde boy and young man beside her. Maybe this was going to be harder than she thought. She could feel the eyes of a hundred people boring into her back. Her father began preaching. His words floated around her. Kenny’s head was back lit by one of the stained glass windows that lined the white sanctuary walls. It was the one with little children all gathered around Jesus sitting on a rock.
Dixie had always loved the simple, old fashioned building. The pews were satiny from years of use, glowing with a rich patina. Her dad’s pulpit was solid, timeless. They matched the two sturdy chairs on the platform behind him. She doubted much in the sanctuary had changed in the last century.
Again she cast a sidelong glance at Kenny. His face was intent, taking in her dad’s words. It had been such a busy morning she hadn’t taken time to notice his appearance. She hoped no one else would notice the earrings and eyeliner he was wearing. Her eyes swept over him, assessing the situation. Was he wearing nail polish? Yes. Yes, he was. Dark brown that matched his tan striped shirt. Great.
Sighing, Dixie looked down at Gabriel. Sweet little thing. His hands rested in his lap. Dark lashes blinked solemnly over bright eyes. His face looked as intent as Kenny’s, though perhaps more peaceful.
Turning her attention back to her dad, Dixie tried to ignore the ramrod straight figure of her mother to the left of her. Her dad was saying, “John had walked with Jesus, touched Jesus, loved Jesus. When we read his Gospel we know we’re hearing from someone who has the inside scoop. Right from the first verses of his Gospel, John tells us that Jesus was no ordinary man. He’s the one through whom the whole of creation was made. He is very life and light itself. God had put on skin and moved into our neighborhood. Darkness has not overcome the light, John says. But the light has come to point the way.”
Dixie remembered her dad telling her he was starting a new sermon series on the book of John. As she read along in the first chapter, renewed confidence surged through her heart.“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Could that not be the answer? Grace and truth. Jesus was full of both. Not sacrificing one for the other. What if we were full of the two? Isn’t that what Kenny needed from God and from people? Truth to make sense of his life and help him find his way, and grace to meet him where he was and heal his heart. The hesitation and doubt left Dixie, and courage flickered, brightening her face.
She turned her eyes back to her dad and listened with renewed interest. He concluded his sermon and the song leader, Mr. Jenkins, came up to lead them in “Blessed Assurance.” At the end of the song her father stood up and prayed over the congregation, blessing them for the week ahead.
Dixie turned to Gabriel and helped him with his crutches. The little boy turned his sweet face up to her and said, “I liked the singing a lot. I’ve missed singing in church.” Dixie smiled and squeezed his shoulder. She turned toward Kenny.
“I had never heard that about Jesus before. I liked your dad’s message,” Kenny said.
“Do you have a Bible Kenny?” Dixie asked him.
“Not with me. My Mom’s Bible is somewhere at my dad’s house.”
Impulsively Dixie grabbed one of the Bibles from the pew and held it out to him. “Here take this one.”
Kenny looked surprised. “I can’t take that, it belongs to the church.”
“Nonsense, Bibles are for being used. If you need one that’s what it’s for. Take it and read the book of John this week for yourself.”
He hesitated and then smiled reaching for the book. “Okay, I will. Thank you.”
Dixie’s mother, Sharon, was engaged in conversation, so the three headed down the aisle toward the back doors. Dixie glanced up and caught Sadie’s eye. In a moment she read her thoughts. Sadie made her way to them and stood by Dixie’s elbow. Under her breath Sadie whispered in Dixie’s ear, “Dixie, what are you doing?”
Dixie turned to her friend and said, “Sadie I’d like you to meet my friends, Gabriel and Kenny.”
Dixie could see Sadie was caught off guard for a moment. Before she had time to think her good manners took over and she said, “Hello, it’s nice to meet you.” She turned her attention to Gabriel. “Dixie’s told me about you. I’m glad you could come to church with her this morning. How is school going for you?”
Gabriel responded with his own good manners. “It’s going real well. I like Manning Academy.”
Sadie smiled at him, then turning back to Dixie said, “Well I’ve got to get going, I’ll see you later.” And she hurried to join her family. Dixie’s heart sank for just a moment. Sadie would come around. She was the sweetest person Dixie knew.
As the three continued down the aisle Dixie caught Bo Sheridan’s eye. Dixie stopped beside him. He was handsome in his light blue oxford shirt and khakis, his gray eyes twinkling. “Hey Bo. How are you?”
“Good Dixie. I haven’t seen you since the race the other night. You been workin’ too hard?”
“No, not really.”
“Well how about after the race next Friday we grab something to eat?”
“All right, I’ll plan on it.” Turning to Kenny and Gabriel Dixie said, “Hey, Bo, I’d like you to meet my friends, Kenny and Gabriel.”
Bo turned his attention to them. Dixie saw his face cloud as he took in her guests. He hesitated, then replied, “Nice to meet you boys. Glad you could come today.” Turning back to Dixie he said, “Well Dix, guess I’ll see you Friday then. Looks like the family’s leaving without me.” Dixie knew he had driven separately, she’d seen his truck in the parking lot. But she told him goodbye as he moved to go.
Mr. McAllister was standing by her elbow as they turned again to head to the door. “Oh Mr. McAllister, how are you?”
He reached out both of his bony, age freckled hands and clasped one of hers in a hand shake of genuine warmth. “Good, Dixie, I’m good. I see you’ve brought some guests.” With eager eyes he stuck out his hands to her friends. “I’m Joe McAllister, so glad to have you.”
He was a small, old gentleman, clad in a light brown suit, three decades out of style. Wispy white hair was smoothed back over his age spotted head. His watery blue eyes were smiling at Kenny and Gabriel.
“Mr. McAllister, these are my friends Kenny and Gabriel. Gabriel is in my music class at Manning Academy.”
The old man was patting Gabriel’s shoulder. “Good, good. Dixie’s a fine musician isn’t she young man? So glad she brought you along with her today.”
He shifted his focus and reached up to rest his hand on Kenny’s shoulder. “And how do you know Dixie, Kenny?”
Dixie held her breath. “She gave me a ride home last week, sir. I was havin’ kind of a bad day and she was a good friend to me,” Kenny answered.
“Well now that’s our Dixie, isn’t it? I hope you’re doin’ better now, son. I’ll be praying for you. I’m very glad you joined us today and sure hope you know you’re welcome back any time.”
“I appreciate that Mr. McAllister,” Kenny said, and Dixie saw he meant it.
“Joe. Call me Joe, young man.” To Dixie he said, “Well, little lady, I guess you need to get these young men home, but I’m sure glad you brought them this morning.” He reached out and cupped Gabriel’s fresh cheek with his worn hand, “sure glad.”
Dixie could feel the tears pushing a lump up in her throat. “Thank you, Mr. McAllister,” she said with feeling.
The three had just turned to head back to the door when Dixie’s mother approached. “I’ll see you at home Dixie, once you’ve dropped your guests off.” She didn’t greet either of them.
“Mother, this is Gabriel,” Dixie said smiling down at the boy, “And you know Kenny.” They both smiled at the commanding woman dressed in an elegant suit of plum colored wool. “I’m going to drop Gabriel off,” Dixie continued, “but I thought it would be nice if Kenny joined us for lunch. He enjoyed Daddy’s sermon and I thought he may want to discuss it with him.” She had her mother cornered, and she knew it.
“Very well.” Sharon’s tight lips clipped out the words. Her green eyes were impenetrable depths. She moved to go. “I’ll see you at home.” Dixie knew so much lay behind those words.
“Alright, guys, let’s see if we can make it out the door this time.”
Dixie and Kenny loaded Gabriel in the truck and headed to his house.
“I like Mr. McAllister,” Kenny said. “He was kind.”
“Me too,” piped up Gabriel. “But my favorite was the singing. I loved the singing.”
Dixie smiled, she was glad Gabriel had found such enjoyment in the hymns, and she was touched and relieved by Mr. McAllister’s kindness. Had he not noticed Kenny’s appearance? Maybe he didn’t see well enough to notice. Or maybe he had and didn’t care.