(Note from the author: I wrote this short story a few years ago and ran across it a few days ago. It struck a note in my heart as I’ve been struggling with the ambiguity found in the church. Blessed means one thing here and another there, and somehow I wonder if we’re not all missing the real point.)
Anni stood up extra straight and smiled. Mrs. Allen gave her a gentle nudge and then bustled around to guide her through the doorway.
“Here she is,” Mrs. Allen announced to the full room. “Our special guest from Bosnia. Ladies, this is Anni.” The fifty-something brunette marched to the podium, tapped the microphone, and then repeated the introduction.
Anni stayed off to the side and focused on Mrs. Allen as the tailored woman went on about how to pronounce Anni and how it wasn’t Annie, but Awwwneeee.
Ten tables filled the low-lighted parlor with eight middle-aged or older guests around each. White tablecloths decorated with elaborate center pieces graced each table. And trays of food lined four of the long tables on each side of the room. The guests wore nice clothes and big apologetic smiles. Every face seemed to suggest some hidden sympathy.
“Now Anni is mute.” Mrs. Allen paused as sighs blessed the room. The smiles took a downward turn. Anni’s benefactor continued, “So don’t expect a lot of chatter. She uses sign language or that nifty white board to communicate.” Mrs. Allen motioned for Anni to hold up the white board. “Poor dear. She’s been through so much.” The room waited while Mrs. Allen fought back tears. Anni hugged her white board and looked at her feet.
“Let’s all give Annie. I mean Aw-neeee a warm welcome.” Mrs. Allen started the applause and then whispered into the microphone and pointed to a table in the front. “You can sit over there, sweetie.”
Anni paused. She hadn’t felt scared in a long time, but now in this room, with all these people, she found herself not so sure and her smile not so certain. But she took a deep breath and headed for the empty spot at Table #9.
Mrs. Allen started talking again. This time about donations for the battered women’s ministry and canned goods for the food pantry.
“It’s nice to have you here.” A large man two seats over spoke slowly and loud enough for the kitchen staff to hear. He and one other fellow seated farther back were the only men in the room.
Anni nodded and smiled.
“So cute.” The woman next to Anni squeezed her hand, then turned to the loud fellow. “Poor girl. No parents, her home all torn up, and completely dependent on the kindness of strangers. I just feel so sorry for her. It’s just terrible. I know it can’t be easy on Ellen taking her in like this.”
Several of the other folks at the table contributed to the discussion of Anni’s plight and Mrs. Allen’s great kindness, but by the time the actual program started, they’d moved on to talking about someone whose nephew wouldn’t be allowed to come to functions if he insisted on bringing his partner. Anni listened and kind of wished she could be at a different table.
When the speaker read from 1 John, Anni checked the faces of those around her. Some fiddled with the food remnants on their plate, some tapped at their phones, and a few had their fancy Bibles out and followed along.
The holy words echoed around the room looking for a place to land. Anni reached for them with her heart and didn’t want the woman reading to stop with just five verses. The truths pelted Anni like raindrops on a hot day. They soothed her and convicted her all at once.
By the time the closing prayer began, tears flowed freely down Anni’s cheeks.
The large man from her table went to the podium and prayed. “Blessed. The Lord blesses us with so much. Let us not forget those around us who do not have the basic necessities of life. Those without a home or food to eat or clothes to wear. May we give out of our abundance and wealth. May we reach the lost all over the world and supply their needs and fill their hearts.”
He went on praying, and Anni cried harder. She felt a slight gasp when she went to wipe her nose with her sleeve and retreated to borrowing the napkin from the place setting next to her, since hers had gravy all over it.
When the amen sounded, Mrs. Allen left her table mates at Table #10 and sped over to Anni. “Oh dear, I believe this may have been too much for her.” She laid a hand on Anni’s shoulder as she looked around the table. “It’s got to be overwhelming to come from nothing and then to be surrounded by so much. Come, Anni. Let’s get you home.”
Anni signed thank you’s to those at her table, but they all thought she was blowing them a kiss, and they giggled and tossed one back at her.
Once home, she signed good night and retreated to her room. The solitude soothed her soul, and she melted to her knees.
In her heart she cried out to God, “Oh Daddy, I am so sorry. You have given me so much, and I am so blessed, yet I shrink back from sharing my wealth with others. I just sat there. I didn’t tell any of them what you’ve done for me.” Her hands raced to get the words out, then fell to her lap.
“Please help them Lord.” She cried again, still and raising her heart to the Almighty. “They need you. Their hearts hate and judge and are distracted by all their stuff. They speak freely of their good deeds, but they don’t seem to know how to love. Their ears are deaf to it. How can that be? They are surrounded by so much but have nothing.” The words of her prayer whispered to a stop, but Anni felt the holiness of love—the completeness of it—and knew she could take refuge there. Despite the decay, truth still survived. She nestled in its arms and tried to think of ways to share from her abundance.
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