Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: BLESSED (03/07/19)
- TITLE: The Last Performance
By Betty Castleberry
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Dolly scoffed. “You ain’t never done nothin’ but take the money when they pass the hat. I’d like to see you actually do what you claim you can. Marvin Reynolds, don’t you ever feel bad?”
“Don’t call me that. I’m Ed Bless now.”
"Okay, Ed, but you don’t think it’s dishonest makin’ folks think you’re helpin’ them?”
“Now, sweetheart, I’m not hurtin’ no one. Maybe I’ve led someone down a better path. As long as you’ve traveled with me, you’ve never gone hungry. Besides, you love me.”
She sighed and gave him a half smile. “I can’t deny that. If I didn’t love you, I would’ve left a long time ago.”
“That’s better. We’ve got to get ready for tonight’s performance.”
He stepped up on the makeshift stage and tested the steadiness by bouncing his feet against the boards. There would be no repeat of Centerville when his boot went through the stage. It had almost ruined the act when several people had rushed up to help him. No, he was bringing the blessings, not his audience. He had to be in control, or it would ruin everything. In twenty years of traveling and bringing his brand of healing and salvation to the world, it was the only time he’d lost control. A man couldn’t look weak. If he did, it might seem as if he didn’t have the power of God, and if that happened, the offering wouldn’t be as generous.
The tent was small. He hoped the crowd would spill out beyond it. More people, more money.
It wasn’t long until people started to trickle in. He stood inconspicuously in the back with his hat pulled down low, catching snippets of conversation. Someone suffered from a stomach tumor. Someone else had crippling arthritis. He would remember these things and bring them up while he was speaking. It always made the crowd gasp that he could possibly know such things about people he’d never met.
When the tent was almost full, he slipped out the back and went around to the front, waiting on Dolly to announce him.
Upon hearing his name, he stepped forward shouting “Join me, folks. Everybody knows this song.” With that, he began to sing “I’ll Fly Away.”
When the audience was thoroughly impassioned, he slowed things down and began to preach. He went through his sermon, pausing at just the right places for effect. Then he invited anyone who wanted healing or salvation to come forward. He bent his head down and raised his hands. “There’s someone who has a painful stomach tumor.”
The expected murmur rippled through the audience. He continued. “And someone has horrible arthritis. Come on up, folks. Get your blessings. Jesus is waiting.”
When he looked up, a young man approached him. He did his best not to gasp, because he looked an awful like he had twenty years ago. Even his gait seemed familiar. When he stood before him, Ed saw the emptiness in the young man’s eyes. He felt a deep, sad void within himself. It was something he couldn’t explain, but he genuinely wanted to help this man.
“Mr. Bless,” the young man said, his voice trembling. “I have to change my life. I’m not proud of what I’ve been doing. Please, pray for me.”
Without a word, Dolly stepped forward and laid her hands on him. She’d never done that before. For that moment, he, Dolly, and the young stranger were the only ones in the room.
Hesitantly, Marvin Reynolds began to pray. Soon, the words flowed freely but he wasn’t sure where they came from. On second thought, he did know where they came from, but why now? What was it about this young stranger that convicted him? A warm feeling spread through him and escalated until it was a pleasant fire, burning steadily and warming his soul. He knew he had to make some changes as well. He prayed sincerely for the young man and for himself. It was then he realized he was not delivering a blessing at all. Instead, he was being blessed.
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