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November 12, 2007, Neosho, MO


Ida Mae Magillacutty was a changed woman when she returned from her trip to Israel. She'd seen the light; she'd had a "come to Jesus" meeting (literally, as it happened), and she was transformed from a nominal sit-in-the-pew-do-nothing Christian into a zealot! She'd fallen in love with Jesus and she planned to share Him with anyone who would listen. She was still amazed to know that hell was an actual place right there outside of Jerusalem, and even more than a little angry that her pastor hadn't told her that. Never mind, the wonderfulness of the Lord's presence still lingered with her like the sweet perfume of a gardenia tree on a summer night.

The first thing she did when she got home was pour out her brandy, and cancel her on-line poker account. No more vices for her, she decided. She was going to be a pure woman from now on. She missed that little drop of brandy in her evening tea, but she knew God was pleased and probably adding stars to the plus side of her ledger. The gambling had just been to pass the time anyway, and it had scared her so badly when she won all that money that she was just as glad to get it out of her life. So far, so good. The straight and narrow wasn't very exciting, but she knew she wasn't supposed to sin.

Determined to be a pew sitter no longer, she decided to get involved in everything the church did. The other members of the Third Baptist Church were astonished and a tiny bit amused at her enthusiasm for every project. She joined the Ladies' quilting circle, making quilts for the needy. Alas, she wasn't skillful with needle and thread, and finally quit because she stuck her finger one too many times. Blood is very time consuming to get out of fabric.

Next, she joined the Ladies' Visitation team. When she wasn't volunteering at the Library, she went with the team to call on prospective members who had visited the church. That didn't work out very well since all she knew to talk about was how precious Jesus was and how much His personal visits had meant to her. The Baptist ladies with her were uncomfortable at her emotional description of Christ; the women being visited were at a loss as to what she meant, until finally, Ida Mae decided to find something else to do.

She joined the church's soup kitchen crew who fed the homeless once a week. Her soup recipes were uninspired and too salty; she broke quite a few bowls and glasses while serving up the meal, and again, found that enthusiasm alone didn't quite cut it. Her fellow cooks were relieved when she quit, sad to say. What to do now to show God how much she loved Him? There must be something she could do. "What would Jesus do?" she wondered.

She decided to read the Bible. She had different translations, didn't know which one to read, but finally just picked one. She hadn't a clue where to begin, but her philosophy was to just do it. She began at the beginning, but soon enough, she got to "the begats" part, which frankly, was very boring. She found herself nodding off. A few days later, she got to Leviticus, which made her want to tear out her hair and run screaming into the night. She waded through Job, which also depressed her out of her mind. Those comforters of his reminded her of some Baptists she knew, always carping about sin and repentance.

When later in the week, she got to Ezekiel, she just about lost it. The man was mad; a little Prozac could have helped him, she thought, not having any idea whatsoever about the meaning of the book or how it could possibly help her be a better person. Wheels???? What's with the wheels?????

On and on she trudged, plodding through the Bible, book by book, night after night, until her eyes were red and watery. "What does it mean?" she asked no one in particular? She was too embarrassed to tell the pastor what she was doing, because at her age, being a Christian as long as she had been, she knew she should know this stuff already. She didn't want him to know how ignorant and clueless she really was.

Time rocked slowly on until a visiting evangelist came to hold a "gospel meeting." Fortunately, this one was in the church building, not in those dreadful, drafty tents Ida Mae remembered in her youth. The pastor admonished the congregation to bring everyone they knew to attend, in hopes that someone would get saved, adding liberal helpings of guilt as motivation.

Ida Mae's two best friends, Miss Percy and Mrs. Goodie, already belonged to the church, but her boss, Miss Upchurch was a fanatic Fundamentalist kind of Christian, who thought Christmas decorations were pagan. Since it was Christmas time, the church was all decked out for the holiday. Not wanting to hear her rant about it, Ida May just skipped her. This meant that on the first night of the meeting, she showed up without a visitor in tow. She quietly went down front up the left side isle and sat at the far end of the pew, hoping no one would notice she was alone.

The visiting fireman ("gospel preacher"), set about to warm up his audience. He told them what he was going to tell them, i.e., that all of them needed Jesus as their personal Savior. The reason they did, he said somberly, was because anyone who did not make a decision for Christ would be forever lost, roasted over the spits of hell fire for all eternity. "And you'd better do it tonight because you could get hit by a truck on the way home. If you don't believe me," he said grimly, "read the Bible!"

He quoted several very scary scriptures about unquenched fire and undying worms, everlasting flames, weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and the fiery fate of the tares and the goats. Several women wept silently, heads were bowed, eyes closed, as he droned on and on, threatening, cajoling, insisting on an immediate response from his listeners.

Ida Mae just could not stand that nonsense one more second. She leapt to her feet and screamed, "Stop this right now. You're telling lies! Have you never met Jesus personally? Don't you know that hell was a burning pit outside Jerusalem in Jesus' day, NOT a place for us after we die? He told me Himself that He died for the sins of the whole world! I suggest you check with him and get your story straight!"

Her face was red; her voice was shrill, but she spoke with so much authority she scared herself. Seeing the startled faces of the congregants, she quickly sat down. The pastor mumbled something about an invitation hymn; the organist began to play loudly as if to drown out further outbursts, and after singing a couple verses, they passed the plate, said a prayer, and ended the service.

No one looked at Ida Mae; no one spoke to her, not even the pastor. They all filed out silently, leaving her sitting alone in the pew. She knew she was in the soup now, but she couldn't have stopped herself from saying that if she'd tried, and to tell the truth, she didn't try.

Finally, she got up, walked out with as much dignity as she could muster, passed by the few who were still whispering outside, and drove herself home.

She really wished she hadn't dumped out all the brandy as she could have used a wee drop right then, but all she had for comfort were her two kitties. Taffy and Miss Priss purred contentedly when she patted their heads, but not being well versed in theology, they had no advice for her.

Finally, she got up, put on her nightgown and went to bed. She slept fitfully, dreaming the pastor and the visiting evangelist were pointing their fingers at her from the pulpit and telling her she would burn in hell for her outburst.

She fell into a deep sleep about 5:00 am and slept until 8:00. She was loggy headed, troubled and confused. What she had said seemed so right at the time, but now, in the light of day, she thought she'd been a fool.

At 9:00, the phone rang. It was Pastor Gooddeeds saying he would be by for a visit at 1:00 that day. She was shaking in her boots as she showered and dressed. The time passed slowly and painfully. At 12:59 precisely, Pastor Gooddeeds and two deacons, Brother Pain and Brother Keeper pulled up out front, got out of the car, and walked up to the door, Bibles tucked properly under their arms.

She opened the door and invited them in, trembling inside. After declining a cup of coffee, they sat on her couch and said nothing at all for at least 30 seconds. It seemed an eternity to Ida Mae.

Finally, Pastor Gooddeeds cleared his throat and said abruptly, "Ida May, what got into you last night?"

Brother Pain added, "We were all aghast at such rude behavior."

"But it was the truth," stammered Ida Mae. "Jesus told me so Himself."

"Now Ida Mae," said Brother Keeper, "you know we don't believe Jesus talks to us today, except in the Bible. You do read the Bible don't you?"

This really put her on the spot. How did they know? She said nothing.

"My dear sister," intoned Brother Pain, "You'll just have to come forward Sunday at the altar call and repent before the congregation and say you're sorry. I'm sure they will forgive you, and God probably will as well."

"We simply won't tolerate this kind of chaotic behavior," the pastor added. "God likes things done decently and in order."

This just couldn't be happening to her, and it really got her Irish up. "Are you telling me you have never spoken to Jesus personally?" Ida Mae demanded.

"That's not the point here," the pastor hedged.

"It most certainly is," she exploded. "You talk constantly about how we all need a personal relationship with Jesus and you don't even have one yourself? Isn't that a wee bit hypocritical?"

Shocked at her boldness, the pastor and the deacons rose to their feet. "We can see that you are unrepentant, Ida Mae, and until you are willing to recant your outburst, don't bother to come back to church."

They walked to the front door and left without another word. Ida Mae sat in the chair, stung, hurt, confused, and very angry.

She got up and stormed around the room hissing, "I tried to read the Bible to find out what You want, and what did it get me? Not much. I tried doing good deeds for others to please You, God, and what did it get me? Not much. I threw out my brandy and canceled my on-line poker and what did that get me? You've got it. Not much! What do You want from me already?"

She threw herself face down on the couch, pounded her fists into the pillows and sobbed and sobbed, until she had no more tears to shed.

She felt a hand on her shoulder and heard the Lord's voice say, "Don't cry, Ida Mae. I love you unconditionally."

"Well, they don't love me at that church I've been going to."

"Never mind them. They are doing the best they can."

"But Lord, what do YOU want from me?"

"Ida Mae, I don't want anything from you. I want YOU."

"Your standards are pretty low. I'm not good for much of anything."

"It's not about what you can do, but about what I've already done for you and everyone who has ever lived. I died that you may have life, my life."

"But Lord, that won't cut it in church these days. You've gotta work, and talk like them, and act like them, and think like them. They don't care about my feelings. They just want me to behave according to their rules"

"Ida Mae, this is not about them. They are not your problem. They are my problem and I'm taking care of it my way. This is about you and me. So simple."

"Was I wrong in what I said in church?" she asked timidly.

"Technically, no, though you could have been a tad more loving when you said it. Still, you have the right idea, but that's because I shared it with you. If you want to know the truth, come to me; churches are built on man's idea of what I want. That's OK. People come into truth at different times. Their progress is not your concern" He said kindly.

"What should I do about that church, Lord?" she asked sadly.

"What do you want to do about it?" He replied.

"I'd like them to love me the way I am, but since they can't, I don't want to twist myself into their mold, if that's OK with you."

"Ida Mae, whether you go back or don't, isn't important to me. Perhaps you've outgrown the nursery. What I want is for you to realize that I'm with you 24/7, there for you, protecting you, forgiving you, guiding you, leading you, and loving you. Does that help?"

"Yes, it does, Lord, so much. Thank You for sharing Your life with me, and please share Yourself with my friends at church as well, but until You do, I won't bother them with what I know and what I think. It's between me and You."

"And Lord?" she added.

"Yes, Ida Mae,"

"I love you more than I can say."

"I know, child. I know. Oh, and the Bible is not a 'how-to-get-to-heaven' manual; it's a record of my relationships with men and women down through the ages. You can't figure it out without my help." And He was gone, but not really, for the sweet scent of His presence lingered with her and comforted her when she thought about man's inhumanity to man, and pastor's inhumanity to parishioner.

She picked up the Bible again and whispered, "Now, Lord, maybe You can show me what this means." She felt Him smile and nod, and heard Him say, "It's all about relationship," as she began to read the Gospel of John.

Until Next Time...

"Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).

Jan and Lenny Antonsson

17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)

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We always enjoy hearing from you!



This writing was uploaded to the web 11/12/07,

by Jan Antonsson, webmeister,

and last updated 12/12/09.