And the Winner Is…
by James R. Aist
“The Lord works in mysterious ways!”
When I was ten years old, my family was living on a dairy farm in rural, central Arkansas. Daddy had been studying to become a Methodist minister for some time, and he finally was ordained, making him eligible to become a Pastor. So, for the next eight years of my life, my family moved from little town to little town in Arkansas, staying in one place for only 2-3 years (that was the custom in the Methodist church back then). The second move was to a very small little village in North Central Arkansas called Evening Shade, population exactly 315. Now in Evening Shade, everyone knew almost everyone else, and everyone for sure knew the Preacher’s family. Becoming a Preacher’s kid had made me even more self-conscience than I was before, because it seemed that everyone now expected me to be a perfect specimen of holy living, especially since I had just reached the age of accountability. So I made doubly sure that my public behavior was stellar. Didn’t want to embarrass the family, you know.
As you might well imagine, small churches in rural Arkansas back then could not afford to pay their preachers very well, so we were, in effect, a financially challenged family, to put it in contemporary, politically correct lingo. Now, to help the local, financially challenged families keep food on the table, the village grocer, Mr. Shaver, would extend credit to them as needed. To reward and encourage their efforts to reduce their tabs, the grocer would award one raffle ticket for every dollar owed and would hold a drawing each month to determine who would walk away with a free bag of groceries that month. Well, the time had come for the month’s drawing, and we happened to have paid off our entire debt that month and had a very large number of tickets. So, Mama sent me down to the store with tickets in hand to represent our family and witness the drawing, thinking that we had a pretty good chance of winning the prize this time, and I would be there to carry it home to her. I was already beginning to feel some apprehension about this developing scenario, but I didn’t yet know why.
A large (for Evening Shade, that is) crowd had already gathered in the store by the time I got there, so I weaved my way through to the front of the store and put our family tickets into the bucket with all the other tickets. It looked to me like we must have had about 25% of the tickets, and suddenly I, too, became excited about our chances of winning; that would really be something! Mr. Shaver stirred the tickets and announced that the drawing was about to begin. A hush came over the eager onlookers. And that’s when things began to go south for me.
To my shock and chagrin, Mr. Shaver picked me to select the winning ticket out of the bucket! Already I was beginning to feel a major public embarrassment coming on. Why did he choose me, of all people, to pick the winner? Didn’t he know that we had a huge number of tickets and, therefore, a good chance of winning? Wouldn’t it at least look better if someone else drew my winning ticket? Nonetheless, the die was cast, and I approached the bucket with great trepidation, saying to myself, “I know we could use the free groceries, but please, Lord, let me draw someone else’s ticket!” I thrust my sweaty, trembling hand into the mass of tickets, all the way down to the bottom of the bucket, somehow hoping that this strategy would spare me, the Preacher’s kid, the embarrassment of drawing my own winning ticket.
Well, I don’t know if it was because I had unwittingly committed some unpardonable sin, or God just didn’t like me for some reason, but, alas, the winning ticket belonged to the Aist family, sure enough! It was one of those moments where you dream — nay, you hope desperately — that you are in some sort of nightmare, from which you will awaken shortly to realize that none of it is real. But alack, no dream; it was really real, and I felt humiliated in front of “the whole town.” In a flash, a series of thoughts raced through my mind: “Now everyone will think that the whole thing was rigged. They’ll think this Preacher’s kid must have been in on it! How can I ever live this down?” Of course everyone cheered when the winner was announced, pretending to be happy for us because they knew we could surely use the free food, but I knew what they were really thinking: “Well, isn’t that just peachy; and he’s the Preacher’s kid!”
As humiliated as I was, I was still eager to get home with a bag of free food to show Mama. My older sister spent most of the afternoon trying to convince me to not be embarrassed, but I was only 12.
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