By: F. Leslie Spangler
There was no love, no peace, no joy, no fulfillment of THE PROMISE. What Ned knew was the conviction a sinner knows. Trapped in his body, his prison, with only one way out.But, Ned, was not ready for escape, not yet. The hall would be jammed with simple folks like Ned. “A room full of Neds.”
Long tables with folding aluminum legs had been set up hours earlier in a large room used by the church for many purposes other than this Sunday feeding by eager volunteers, ready to serve the Lord. The needy were kept outside behind the locked wrought iron gate while preparations for the Sunday meal was taking place.
The interior courtyard, the campus as it was called by the parishioners, was kept pure and clean like they believed the Lord had kept them.Their campus wasn’t a place for them, the needy.They would somehow damage it as they had their own lives.
When the gate was unlocked and opened, the needy flowed into the room covering every seat as an in-flowing tide covers the sand. A grossly fat young man sat next to Ned.His girth protruded into Ned’s space.The young man was warm and fluid, but he was unaware of his sweaty brow or his damp tee shirt with the faded words across the back, “Jesus loves you.” The shirt clung to his body. He smiled, a few smoked stained teeth betrayed his youth. Ned’s soul cried out, “What was my crime? What was their crime? And the punishment is it just?”
Those knowing the procedure at an unknown signal quickly formed a line, the others followed the herd. The servers were generous with the portions. Spaghetti with thin tomato sauce, a tossed green salad made earlier that day, warm now and wilted with a concocted ranch dressing that merged with the tomato sauce in luke warm swirls on the plates. A hard roll with a patty of soft butter flattened in its wrapper from the heat of the warm room and a slice of heavily frosted homemade cake were all stacked one on top of the other.
Ned turned his attention to his plate with its mound of food, unaware of the loud hot room. “Coffee,” said a man holding a pot waiting. Ned held up his cup. The coffee was poured. Ned added three packets of sugar, tasted the coffee, then added a fourth packet. He hadn’t eaten since Saturday morning. “Praise the Lord,” a man that was the leader of the musicians shouted standing a few feet in front of him. A sudden blast of music by a trio of musicians, filled the hall. The music stopped suddenly, just as it began.
“Just say it and believe it in your heart. Just say it, Lord come into my heart, and now let us pray. Lord, Father, God heal all the sickness in Africa, stop all wars, bring our soldiers home and help the President make all the right decisions and thank you for this bounty. A-men.”
Immediately the room was filled with blaring gospel music. Ned ate without looking up or speaking. The people around him were of no concern. To survive he had forgotten time relationships, especially these. He was just another man deserted, unaware of a yesterday or a tomorrow. He would eat, he would be alone, he would
find a place to sleep.
Prior to his fall, Ned had tried to escape, burying himself in his work, but alcohol and bad fortune had accelerated his downward spiral. His only sanctuary remained in his mind.
He reminisced about his childhood. His only suit, blue wool with a tight fitting vest, this he wore every Sunday to Sunday School. The long uninterrupted row of
gold stars, one for each Sunday’s attendance. Miss Wister, the spinster Sunday School teacher with the long plain face and faded straight pale flowered dress. The only dress he had ever seen her wear. That was before the birds of the air devoured him. He could still hear the words from those times. “God loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so. God loves me this I know.” Then marching out in his blue wool suit that he had outgrown year ago singing.
A server standing in front gave her testimony, then another. Each telling how their life was before they found Christ, and how Christ changed their life. The man in front asked for another to give testimony. Ned stood up.
“I remember the day I asked Jesus to come into my life. That Sunday I turned eleven. The minister asked all those who loved Jesus to come forward. I went to the front of the church, knelt and prayed with my dad, an elder. Afterward, it was the only time I can remember going out to breakfast with my mom and dad and Richie, my little
brother. The restaurant even had a special high chair for Richie.
Later that afternoon my dad had gone out “for a while.” My mom had put Richie in the old chipped clawed-legged enamel tub when she discovered she was out of soap. I was listening to my favorite program, “Twilight Tales.” Mom said as she left, “I’ll just be gone a minute. I’m going to borrow some soap from Alice.” Alice was our neighbor. “Keep an eye on Richie.”
It must have been twenty minutes since mom left. I could still hear the water running when mom returned. I heard her scream. Richie had fallen under the water. Richie was dead. He drowned. After that everything changed. Dad blamed mom, mom blamed me. Later after the divorce I found out dad had a girlfriend. He had been with her that afternoon.
Mentally I never grew much after that. I never blamed God. I figured God was punishing me for my father’s sin. Something like god punishing all of us for Adam’s sin.
I never turned against God. I never rejected God. I’m here to tell you, “God loves me. This I know.” What I don’t know is what the words of the song mean. Can anyone help me? The room was still.
A voice came from the back of the room. “Ned, you have been tempered as a fine two-edged sword for a moment in time on the clock of eternity. You have not been found wanting. You have never denied the Lord even in your darkest moments, you have always trusted even when you had reason to doubt. You have glorified God by your actions. Now, you will witness God’s love. The Lord will be with you and protect you from evil. He will take care of your every need. You will now know only his love and the joy that it brings forever, then the room was still.
Some of the servers and needy said they heard a voice, others said there was no voice. Some said they saw an image of a man at the rear of the room. Others said
there was no image of a man. The music continued to blare. The fat man added two more packets of sugar to his coffee. The servers began clearing tables as the needy left. Sadly, no one noticed that Ned was no longer among them.