Mercy Sings at Midnight

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Chapter 8

After dropping Gabriel off, the ride to Dixie’s house was quiet. She and Kenny were lost in their own thoughts.

What had Mr. McAllister seen in Gabriel and Kenny that had caused him to take the time to be kind when no one else was? Or, maybe, the better question was, what had he seen in Jesus to cause him to be kind? Where was that confidence she had felt in church? What was the passage she had read? The Word dwelt with us… glory… from the Father… grace and truth.

What was the truth? What was grace? All Dixie knew was that she was about to get people’s backs up, and if she was, she had better know why. Sighing, she shook herself loose from those heavy thoughts.

Kenny seemed to take her cue and surfaced from his thoughts as well. He looked over at her. “I’m glad Gabriel came with us today. He’s a cute little fella’.” He cleared his throat, “What’s wrong? I mean what’s the matter with him, his legs I mean?”

“Oh, I should have explained that to you. He has cerebral palsy. He was born that way. It affects his movement. In Gabriel’s case primarily his legs. He can explain it better.”

“Well, I really like him. Maybe his whole family will come to church next time.”

“I hope so too, Kenny.”

The conversation lulled again as they drove by a yard lit with the color of a stunning dogwood in full flame. The Mississippi Delta wasn’t painted with the full colors of fall that her northern neighbors displayed, but a few trees put out an effort to mark the season. The Delta didn’t get a lot of things her neighbors did, come to think of it.

Looking out the window as they drove, Kenny asked, “Do you believe what your daddy was talking about today? That Jesus really is God? I don’t know how I missed that before. But it makes all the difference, don’t it?”

“Yeah Kenny, it does make a difference. And I do believe it. I trust what the Bible and my daddy say. But I’ve also experienced God’s forgiveness because of Jesus. I don’t think any ordinary man has that kind of power.”

“Your dad, he’s real smart. I wish I knew as much as he does.” Kenny’s voice sounded wistful.

“He is smart, but everything he knows can be found in that Bible you’re holding. Start with the book of John, Kenny, and see what you learn,” said Dixie.

Regardless of his rough past, and unpopular lifestyle, Dixie couldn’t help but be drawn to Kenny’s sincerity. She found herself rooting for the underdog.

They pulled up to the Lees’ immaculate home. She parked her old Chevy alongside her mother’s white Toyota Camry and took a deep breath. Whatever it was Jesus and Mr. McAllister saw in Kenny, she wanted to be brave and see it too. She just hoped she could help her family see it as well.

Dixie and Kenny entered the house through the kitchen. Sunday’s pot roast filled the air with a rich aroma that made her stomach rumble. She hoped Kenny didn’t sense her nervousness. Voices drifted from the dining room. Dixie led Kenny through the hall, and into the room that her mother had decorated, in keeping with her good taste.

The family was seated around a large cherry table laid with her mother’s Sunday best: a grandmother’s silver and her mother’s old-fashioned Lenox china in Brookdale with dainty flowers and silver trim. Daniel and his wife Muriel were seated to the right of Dixie’s dad. Her mother to the left.

Had Dixie understood the undercurrent she was trying to swim against in her family, and small community, she may have hesitated. Instead the force of her personality led the way. She stepped into the dining room with confidence, and said, perhaps a little too loudly, “Hey folks! Daniel, Muriel, I’d like you to meet Kenny.”

The room was hushed as Kenny stepped forward smiling, “Nice to meet y’all.”

“Dixie, dear,” her mother’s hand gestured to the chair beside her, “Have a seat, and your friend can sit at the end there.”

Daniel and Muriel both murmured polite hellos to Kenny, though Dixie noted veiled animosity behind her brother’s eyes. Dixie’s dad, Richard, who was in the process of serving the excellent pot roast, smiled. “Kenny, good of you to join us. It was a surprise to see you in church today.” He shot his daughter a meaningful glance.

Dixie felt the heat rise to her cheeks. Her Daddy was such a good man, she hated for him to be disappointed in her. It was thoughtless of her to have surprised him. She shoved the thought to the recesses of her mind. “Daddy,” she said, her freckles popping and green eyes flashing, “Kenny enjoyed your sermon today. I thought he might enjoy dinner and further conversation. We were talking about the importance of Jesus being not only a man but also God.” She looked between the two of them.

Dixie tried to read the expression playing across her father’s face. It looked like he didn’t know whether to chuckle or to sigh. He probably thought she would be his undoing.

She waited, expecting her father to take the bait of conversation. Kenny’s face was eager. Across from her she noticed her brother’s brows knitted together, quizzical and disapproving.

Dixie nudged a little further, “I gave him one of the pew Bibles, Daddy, I knew you wouldn’t mind. He didn’t have one of his own.”

He bit. “Well, son, I hope you’ll take the time to read the book of John. It answers just about any question regarding Jesus you may have. John knew Jesus personally, we can trust his account. His gospel begins by establishing Jesus’ divinity. That is, that Jesus is God. And it also reminds us that he became a man. Why do you think that might be important, Kenny?”

Dixie smiled to herself in triumph. Her father couldn’t fight who he was, a teacher through and through. There was nothing he loved more than to explain the Bible to others, especially those in need of direction.

“Well, sir, I suppose it’s ’cause if Jesus was just a man, when He died on that cross He would have just stayed dead.”

“Good observation, Kenny. Of course God can raise any man from the dead, but the death of Jesus, had He been only a man, would have been ineffective for us. One man can hardly die for the sins of the whole world and be an effective substitute. Only a pure sacrifice, who had never sinned, would do. And only Jesus fit that bill. Jesus is where God and man meet and the issue of separation from God is finally settled.”

“Richard, I do believe you’re on the verge of preaching another sermon. Why don’t you say grace for us, and we can eat.” Sharon placed a slender hand over top of her husband’s as she spoke. A hand of restraint, Dixie observed with frustration.

“Good idea, Sharon,” he said, taking her cue. Looking at the people gathered he said, “Let’s pray. Gracious Father, thank You for this food that You have provided and for the people around this table. We pray our conversations would be seasoned with truth and we would be ever grateful for the gift of Your Son. Amen.”

Plates had been passed and filled with pot roast while the conversation was unfolding. Now rolls, homemade applesauce, mashed potatoes, and pea salad were passed around the table.

Sharon directed her attention to her side of the table and asked Muriel how baby Jackson had been sleeping. Soft spoken Muriel confessed he was a restless sleeper and she was worn out. To which Sharon proceeded to offer advice and opinion on how to get a baby to sleep.

Richard asked Daniel, junior partner at a law firm, if he had had any difficult cases. Daniel began a storied answer about disputed boundaries between some colorful locals.

That left Kenny and Dixie enjoying their pot roast in silence. The window for conversation with Kenny had passed and an awkward chill had settled over their end of the table. Dixie doubted that Kenny realized he was being snubbed, but she could, nevertheless, read his discomfort.

“Your mom makes a great pot roast, Dixie.”

In that moment Dixie noticed how out of place Kenny looked in her mother’s fine dining room with his country ways and unique appearance.

“I agree Kenny, I love her pot roast!” She wished she could say or do something to make him feel more at ease.

Under his breath, as he studied the contents of his plate, Kenny said, “Don’t think I’ve ever been in a home this nice or with a family so fine.” She wasn’t sure if the comment was directed at her or to himself.

Dixie’s heart ached. Why couldn’t everyone else see what she saw in Kenny? Not a threat, but a great need. A human.

The rest of the meal passed in quiet conversation. Her brother never spoke to Kenny but kept himself involved in other conversations, none of which Kenny could follow. Dixie consoled herself with the fact that at least no one had been overtly rude. Dinner was followed by dessert, old-fashioned caramel cake. As soon as dessert was finished Muriel and Sharon began clearing the table. Dixie noted the meal had not been lingered over as the family often did on a Sunday afternoon.

Dixie took her cue and stood, saying, “Well Kenny, I should get you home.”

As the young man stood to follow her, Richard and Daniel interrupted their conversation to say goodbye. She led him back through the hall and into the kitchen where Muriel and her mother were putting away leftovers.

“Thank you Mrs. Lee for the delicious meal, that was the best pot roast I’ve ever ate.”

Her mother turned from the kitchen counter. “You’re welcome Kenny, I’m glad you enjoyed it.” Then she moved back to her task.

“Goodbye Kenny, it was nice to meet you. I hope we’ll see you again soon,” offered gentle Muriel.

Dixie could see her mother’s back stiffen at Muriel’s words. She led him out of the kitchen and into the warm afternoon air. Bees droned and children laughed in the distance. A sudden weariness descended on Dixie as she opened the pickup door.

The pair rode in contented quiet, fighting off the drowsiness of the afternoon. As Dixie crunched into the gravel drive in front of the trailer, Kenny turned his sincere blue eyes on her. “Dixie, thank you for bringing me with you. I really enjoyed it. Maybe I can go to church with you again next Sunday?”

“Of course you can, Kenny. I’ll talk to you later this week.” He slipped out the door. Why shouldn’t he? She had already waded into that muddy water.

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