Sept. 4, 2006
This short story is dedicated with love to Bob and Mary Blattner,
who took us with them to Israel twice!
Ida Mae Magillacutty was bored, and so she did what she always did when she had nothing else to do. She signed on to the Internet and logged on to a Poker Game site, where she had an account. She told herself as usual, that she'd only play long enough to win back what she had lost, IF she lost anything. She never bet much, but this evening, she couldn't lose. Winning hand after hand after hand added money to her account, until she had the unbelievable amount of $400 in her bankroll. This was making her as nervous as losing usually did, because that's a lot of money. What would her friends at the Third Baptist Church think of her now?
The slightly wicked thought crossed her mind that maybe one of them was playing in this very game. Who would know? She smiled, remembering the old joke that Catholics don't recognize Protestants; Protestants don't recognize the Pope, and Baptists don't recognize each other in Liquor Stores or Online Poker Games. Chuckling to herself at how easily she dodged that bullet of guilt, she looked at the cards she'd just been dealt for the new hand. Ida Mae gasped out loud when she saw she was holding 4 Aces! Four Aces, how rare is that?
The Aces on the screen actually caused her hand to shake slightly as she clutched the computer mouse. She worried, "Oh my, what shall I do now?" She got up and hugged her kitty Miss Priss, who purred contentedly, but offered no advice. She stroked her other kitty's head, but Taffy had nothing to say either because she was having, well you guessed it, "a cat nap." Ida Mae picked up her half drunk cup of tea and gulped it down, trying to think what to do next. "If I bid right away, they'll know I have Aces," she reasoned, since bluffing was a skill she hadn't learned, and she was so new to the game, she was sure the other players had guessed her good fortune. Good thing they couldn't see her, because she was decidedly NOT wearing a poker face.
She decided to just bide her time and play along, making small bets, to let the pot get bigger. Another player must have had a good hand, because he or she kept bidding it up. "Surely, nothing would beat 4 Aces, would it?" she worried. She looked it up in her "Beginner's Guide to Poker," and was relieved to see that she did have a winning hand. So, when it came her turn to play next, she bet her entire pot, $400 big ones. She was so nervous, she could scarcely breathe. The guy or gal who had been betting the most called her hand, but when she revealed the 4 Aces, she was the winner of the entire pot, $5,000!
That was an enormous amount of money, and Ida Mae knew she had to stop right then! She elected to take her money and run. She logged off, turned off the computer, and sat there stunned for a minute. After making herself another cup of tea, into which she put a drop or three of brandy, she had a terrible thought: "My God, I'm a gambler. Horrors, what if someone finds out?" And right after that, a worse thought hit her, "Does this mean I'm going to hell?" Her friends from church were VERY big on hell, not to mention her boss, Miss Upchurch, who seemed to think that any infraction of the rules would send you there in a quick hurry. This was horrible!
Ida Mae wasn't sure what she thought about hell, but she surely didn't want to become known as a gambler. It would get her tossed out of church and probably fired from her job as well. Worse, what would God think of her? What to do? What to do?
She hardly slept that night, dreaming she was tossing and turning on a huge poker table with green baize covering, surrounded by poker chips; the devil was lurking nearby, pitchfork in hand, grinning and saying, "Come on down. The weather's fine down here, Ida Mae honey. You're mine now." She woke up with a start, covered in sweat, trembling from head to foot. She had to deal with this like a good Christian should, but how?
Perhaps God took pity upon her; yes, let's just say that. What happened was that the next day, when she went to work, she saw a flier on her desk, faxed to her by the Pastor of her church, Rev. Gooddeeds. It was an announcement of a trip to Israel the church was sponsoring, and offering a discount on the trip to the first 10 people who signed up. Would you believe that her $5,000 winnings would be just enough, with a little spending money left over? "Wow," she thought, "This is just what I need. Maybe if I go to the 'holy land' God will forgive me for this terrible thing I have done." So, she called up Pastor Gooddeeds and told him to count her in. She was among the first 10 who called and thus qualified for the discount.
That decisive action eased her guilt over the gambling for quite a few weeks, but then when the war started between Israel and Lebanon, she was terrified. Who knew that bombs could reach all the way from Lebanon to the Sea of Galilee? Or maybe even further? Maybe this was God's way to punish her. What if she was killed in Israel, and then went to hell anyway as judgment for the sin of gambling? "Oh horrors, this is awful!" she moaned, but she'd already paid her money, and couldn't back out. And the worst part was she couldn't tell anybody what was troubling her.
One good thing was that Mrs. Goodie and Miss Percy, her friends from church had signed up for the trip as well, so if she died, she wouldn't be alone. Finally the trip was upon them. She packed carefully, only taking what she wouldn't miss if a bomb blew up her bags.
Much to her surprise, the flight over was long, but uneventful. She couldn't sleep on the plane, however, and was really punchy when they arrived in Tel Aviv. She and her two friends finally got through customs, and after some rude questions and much bag and purse searching by the Israeli officials, they boarded the bus to take them to their hotel. Because of the bombing in Northern Israel, the tour guide explained they'd be starting the trip in Jerusalem and hopefully, the war would be over in time for them to visit Mount Carmel and the Northern part of the Sea of Galilee. He assured them that the Israeli Defense Force was competent, diligent, and perfectly able to keep them safe. He added, "No terrorists are going to keep us from living our lives or you from seeing our beautiful country." It sounded good and Ida Mae was reassured, slightly.
They stayed the night at the Jerusalem Hilton Hotel. No bombs were forthcoming; the food was excellent; the beds soft, and tired from the trip, Ida Mae and her two companions slept very well indeed.
The next morning, after a marvelous buffet breakfast featuring Israeli produce, including a zillion kinds of olives, many types of breads and rolls, cereal, yogurt, eggs, smoked fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, and lots of coffee, they boarded the bus for the Old City of Jerusalem. Ida Mae and her friends loved all the items for sale and the vendors hawking their wares. It was sort of like a Walmart outside, she thought, because you could buy almost anything from padded bras, to fresh spices, bread, clothes, shoes, luggage, and souvenirs, most of them made of olive wood.
They had lunch there at a little outdoor deli. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was fine. After walking the stations of the cross, and visiting several holy shrines, they finally boarded the bus to go back to the hotel.
Driving along through the streets of Jerusalem was an exercise in repentance and faith, for never had Ida Mae seen such wild and reckless driving. The little cars whizzed along so close to the bus that she was sure they'd be crushed under its wheels. At one point, at an intersection, the bus driver opened the door and the Israeli guide began to shout and gesture at another bus which was blocking their way. He spoke Arabic, which she didn't understand, but from the gestures and smoke pouring out his ears, she was sure a fight would ensue. The fracas passed as quickly as it began, and they drove on peacefully.
When they passed through what looked like another urban neighborhood, their guide stood up, turned on his mike, and announced, "Well, now you can tell your friends back home that you've been to hell and back. This is Gehenna." Ida Mae didn't understand what he meant and so she stuck up her hand and asked.
"Oh," he explained, "Gehenna is the Greek word for the Valley of Ben Hinnom, where we are right now. It's what your American Bibles refer to as 'hell,' but in the time of Christ, it really was the city dump where the garbage was incinerated. The fire was kept burning day and night."
Ida Mae was stunned, because if hell was where the bad people (probably the gamblers) went when they died, how could this be hell? "Why didn't Pastor Gooddeeds tell us about this? Doesn't He know?"
She stuck up her hand again and asked, "You mean THIS is hell?"
"Yes, ma'am," the guide answered with a wicked grin on his face. "This is 'hell.' You're driving through it. Now you can say you've been to hell and back."
He laughed out loud at his joke, but Ida Mae was confused and more than a little angry. She felt duped, relieved too, but boy did this raise a lot of questions.
She thought of nothing else as they drove back to the hotel, enjoyed a delicious dinner buffet, and then prepared for bed. She couldn't talk to her friends about this because they didn't know any more than she did, and they were as afraid of hell as she was. After they fell asleep, she got out of bed, put on her clothes, and went down to the hotel lobby where she found a comfortable seat hidden behind a plastic palm tree. She whispered, "Lord what happened today?"
She was hoping He would show up in person like He did at Christmas, but this time, she heard His voice in her mind's ear.
"Ida Mae, do you really think I failed in my mission on earth?"
Not knowing exactly what He meant, she asked, "Which one?"
"Taking away the sins of the world."
"Oh, no, Lord. You couldn't fail," she stammered.
"Then why are you so afraid you'll go to hell when you die? Didn't I die for your sins?"
"Yes, You did, Lord, and we all appreciate it so much, but well, I keep sinning, like that gambling stuff, and the brandy and all that. And sometimes, I don't really want to go to church, but I do it because I'm afraid You'll be mad at me if I don't. For sure, the Pastor will."
"Ida Mae, do you think that my blood is a sufficient antidote for your sins? Or, did I waste my time and yours on the cross?"
"Of course You didn't; I mean Your blood is sufficient to take away sins, but what if I keep on sinning?"
"Then my blood keeps on taking away the sin, but you know what the real problem is Ida Mae?"
She shook her head "No."
"The problem is," the Lord continued, "that you don't know that I'm the one who keeps you from sinning from the inside out. When you depend on yourself, you will always fail, but I can't fail. Can you trust me?"
Ida Mae feared this might be a trick question, because if she said she did trust Him, and kept on sinning, then she had lied to God, but if she said she didn't trust Him, then she had insulted God to His face.
She put her head in her hands and began to cry softly, "I don't know, Lord. I don't seem to be able to do anything very well by myself."
"That's the point exactly," the Lord said, and though she couldn't see Him, she knew He had a smile on His face. "I love you; I died for you; I live in you, and I am going to personally see to it that you make it to heaven when you die, which by the way, isn't going to happen on this trip."
"But why have You let Pastors scare us to death with hell?" she protested.
When He didn't answer, she knew that the conversation was over. She would liked to have that question answered, but really, she had the best answer of all, which is that Christ died for her sins; hell was a literal place on earth, not something she had to fear after she died, and that made her very happy, and Christ Himself had promised to bring her safely to heaven when she did die.
Ida Mae went back to her room with a smile on her face, put on her night gown and crawled into bed for the best night's sleep she could ever remember.
The next morning, she told her friends, "It's a beautiful day to see Israel. Let's enjoy this trip and not worry about bombs or sin or hell, for God is going to take care of us now and forever. Amen."
Until the next time....
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
1178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Mrs. Magillacutty Collides With Christmas
The Glory Road
We're always happy to hear from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 9/04/06
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 12/29/08.