MRS. MAGILLACUTTY SEES the LIGHT
"Why is it" wondered Ida Mae on a crisp fall morning, "that when the Lord is present, I feel so happy and bright, see and understand everything clearly, and have love flowing in my heart, but after He leaves, it seems dark and dreary everywhere I look? No one else makes me feel the way He does, but He never stays long enough. Why is that?" she asked aloud.
Since no one but her kitties, Miss Priss and Taffy were present, and cats seem singularly lacking in theological insights, she heard no answer, felt no reassurance, and therefore, slid even further into her "What's the use?" mood. She didn't think it was real depression, but more of a "garden variety" blue funk.
She still volunteered at the Library, but that didn't cut it in terms of soothing the ache in her soul left by the Pastor's harsh assessment of her. Ida Mae knew she should forgive him for telling her she wasn't welcome until she repented of her outburst in church and she knew it was just his ignorance that made him call her Muslim friend Selima a terrorist, but still, he was the pastor and it was his duty to lead the flock, not drive them away, wasn't it? "Forgiveness is hard," she said to herself, "but I will forgive him if You help me, Lord."
Ida Mae knew she could probably find the answers she sought in the Bible, but she was still a novice at scripture, often not understanding what she was reading. Besides, she didn't know where to look even if she could understand it. Wasn't that what the Pastor was for to guide one's Bible studies? Even if the Sunday School teacher seemed to know everything there was about scripture, how could she ask her for help when she had been kicked out of the church?
"Lord, please come back and help me," she pleaded, but there was no light, no appearance and no sweet fragrance of His presence on this particular morning.
Pushing away these nagging doubts and unpleasant thoughts, Ida Mae finished the breakfast dishes, absent mindedly wiped the counter for the third time, and hurried to her bedroom to dress for her day at the Library. "At least it gets me out of the house," she thought to herself, "and there are nice people who come in sometimes."
When she arrived at work, she signed in, put her purse in a drawer, and began the process of entering the book identification codes into the computer. She sorted and stacked the returned books on the cart which she would roll back to the shelves to put them where they belonged. This job demanded her full attention and the angst she had felt at home took a back seat as she worked.
She became aware of someone standing on the other side of the counter. When she looked up, she was pleased to see her friend Selima with a stack of books from the religious section. Ida Mae greeted her warmly and asked, "How is your study of Christianity coming along?"
"Very well, thank you. Maybe we can have a cup of tea later and I'll tell you what's been happening in my life. You'll find it very interesting I believe."
"Wonderful! I need something to cheer me up," Ida Mae smiled. "I get off at 2:00 and if you'll come to my house about 2:45, we'll have tea and cookies."
"Thank you. I will. See you then," and Selima was off with a rustle of her long robe and a wave of her hand.
The thought of being with her new friend and hearing about her studies brightened Ida Mae's mood considerably, and the hours passed quickly, without even a peanut butter smudge left on a children's book to furrow her brow.
She stopped by the market on her way home to pick up a package of the buttery cookies that she liked to serve for company. When she got home, she put the kettle on for tea, set out some plates and cups and saucers and waited for Selima's visit. She was eager to hear what Selima had to say because they had not discussed spiritual matters since Ida Mae had told her about the Lord's visit with her the previous month.
Promptly at 2:45, the doorbell rang and Selima came in with a hug and a smile. The two women sat in Ida Mae's parlor with their tea and cookies and enjoyed a quiet moment together before Selima began:
"Ida Mae, when we first met at the Library, I told you I wanted to read books on Christianity. Then, you and I began to talk, and one day last month, you reported to me that the Lord had visited you in person when He told you that all people will be with Him in heaven because He paid the price for all our lives."
"That's right," Ida Mae nodded, "He came because I was so upset that Pastor Gooddeeds called you a terrorist and an evil person. I remember telling you that Jesus is the sweetest friend I have, and He is, though I wish He would come more often," she added wistfully.
"Well, Ida Mae, I wanted to know this Jesus the same way you do, and I thought that if He came to see you, just you, alone and without a Pastor, maybe He would come to see me as well. So I asked Him to come to me."
"And did He?" Ida Mae asked excitedly.
"Yes, He did! He came to me in my living room and told me He loves me and He died for me too, even though I am a Muslim." Selima was positively glowing.
"But why would you, a Muslim, ask for Jesus to visit you," puzzled Ida Mae. "I mean, I'm so happy you did, but just curious about why."
"I was a Muslim by birth, not by choice. In Lebanon, almost everyone is Muslim, but when we came to America, I saw that people are not compelled to all be the same, think the same, and dress the same. People have freedom to choose which religion suits them, or no religion at all if that's what they choose."
"Islam is not really a religion for women" Selima added hesitantly. "Oh yes, women are supposed to be pure and unspotted from the world, interested only in obeying their fathers and then their husbands, but no one cares what we think or feel or want. The Imam never pays a visit to the wife, only to the husband. The husband is encouraged to be a good man, of course, but if he strays, he strays and he is not stoned or publicly lashed. It is only the woman who suffers that atrocity. That pitiful woman in Iran is supposed to be stoned to death soon for adultery, but where is the man? Why is she guilty and he is not?"
Ida Mae was transfixed by this narrative, never having been aware of any of it. She poured them another cup of tea and said, "Please tell me all of it. I never thought about this before."
Selima smiled at her and replied, "Remember you told me how you stood to your feet in church, and told the Pastor he was wrong? That astounded me."
"I was a little astounded myself," admitted Ida Mae, "but it did no good because they tossed me out of church and told me never to come back until I repent, and they didn't change one eyelash for all my trouble."
"That may be true, my friend, but you were not stoned or beheaded, or lashed for your outburst. You are still living, working, going on with your life. If a Muslim woman did that, we would be shunned by the mosque, our family and society in general, punished by death or prison or the lash. At the very least, our husbands would be required to beat us. If that's all you know, that's all you have, but when you see something better, and have a glimpse of freedom, it calls you."
"But what about Muhammad? Isn't he your God?" Ida Mae wondered aloud.
"No, Ida Mae, Allah is our God and Muhammad is His Prophet. He did not die for our sins. He only gave us a holy book to live by and we're supposed to live by it on our own efforts based on what the mullahs tell us it means. And of course, women have no say in that; only the men do."
The two women sipped their tea and thought about what a difference there is between Islam and Christianity.
After a few minutes, Ida Mae had a radical thought, "But Selima, it's the same in some churches. Only the pastors and elders, almost always men, get to decide what is scriptural and what is not, and the congregation has to obey or else."
"Or else what?" demanded Selima with a slight edge in her voice. "Are you beaten or killed if you don't go along?"
"Of course not," protested Ida Mae. "That's murder and it is against the law, but sometimes when the people you think love you and care for you turn against you and throw you out because you don't agree with the Pastor, it feels like death."
The two women sat silently for several minutes as they thought about the injustices dealt to well meaning parishioners by religious institutions.
Ida Mae roused herself from the silence and asked, "What are you planning to do now? Where do you go from here?"
Selima smiled, "I have been praying about this for over a month and the Lord's visit confirmed for me that I want to become a Christian. Will you help me?"
Stunned, Ida Mae could only manage, "But what about your family and your husband? Won't they be mad at you or worse?"
Selima replied thoughtfully, "They will be shocked, of course, but they are not fervent Muslims. It's more a cultural obligation rather than a righteous persuasion. My husband is very tired from his job which we badly need, so he doesn't even pray toward Mecca five times a day anymore, lest he upset the boss and risk getting laid off. The mosque is a 45 minute ride from here and he seldom attends there either. He loves me and wants me to be happy so far from home. So, I think he will come around, and who knows..." Her voice trailed off.
"But what I need to know is how do I become a Christian?" Selima continued.
Since no one had ever asked her that before, Ida Mae was a bit flummoxed at first, but she rallied herself and said thoughtfully, "Since Jesus paid you a personal visit and told you He died for you, I think you may ALREADY be a Christian."
"Yes, but what do I need to do to belong to a church?" Selima persisted
Again, Ida Mae had to stop and think, and all she had to go on was her personal experience. "I went to church with a friend and when the Pastor asked if anyone wanted to give his heart to the Lord, I went forward. He asked me some questions, like did I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and did I repent of my sins, and did I
"Well, why can't I just do that?" Selima wondered.
"You can. In fact, they are having a gospel meeting at the Third Baptist Church on Main Street this week, and we can attend. Surely they'll let me in for that, especially if I bring a guest, which they stress is the purpose of the meetings. I'll pick you up tonight at 7:15 and we'll get there just after the service starts. That way, no one can question us before hand. When they sing the invitation song, you can go forward and I'll go with you. They want me to repent, so I'll repent of my behavior. That way, they'll get two at once which should make Pastor Gooddeeds happy, or as happy as he ever gets," she added ruefully.
"Are you sure you want to go back to where they treated you so badly?" worried Selima.
"No, but I'm sure this is what the Lord would have me do. If not, He can certainly stop me. If He does not, then I'll see you tonight. But, let's pray for guidance and help."
They both kneeled on Ida Mae's parlor floor. Ida Mae began, "Lord, Selima wants to follow you and she wants to become a church member. Will You help us? Thank you so much! Amen."
Selima added, "Thank You, Jesus. Amen."
They rose to their feet and Selima hugged Ida Mae warmly, saying sincerely, "Thank you for helping me. I'll see you tonight, and I won't be wearing my robe and scarf."
"WOW!" exclaimed Ida Mae. "That's radical, but very wise."
After Selima left, Ida Mae was restless and unsure of her decision to go back to the church which treated her so shabbily. Finally, she knelt on the parlor floor, and said, "Lord, I need help here. Am I doing the right thing to go back there? They really hurt me and I doubt they have changed their minds."
She didn't really expect an answer in person, but she felt His presence, and saw the Light in which He was standing. She bowed her face to her knees and wept because His presence always brought her to tears. "Lord, I've missed You so much. Thank You for coming today and thank You for calling Selima to You."
He touched her on the shoulder and invited her to sit on the sofa beside Him. "Ida Mae, I am always with you, always. Don't you know your body is my temple? I have filled you with my Spirit, not just so you can see me now, but so you can see and hear me all the time. You don't need a Pastor or Sunday School teacher to tell you what the Bible means. Ask the Spirit, He is always with you. He will lead you into all truth.
"I do call all men and women to me, but everyone in his own order, in Father's time. Selima is a beautiful flower in my garden and I thank you for overcoming your fears and loving her in spite of the fact that she was a Muslim."
Ida Mae was deeply touched by His words and it brought up the subject at hand. "Lord, why are You so loving and kind but the leaders at that church are so hateful? I'm sort of nervous about showing up there tonight."
"Fear not, Ida Mae. I've been working on them. They have confused my church with an organization, which is man's structure, rather than a living organism in which I am the head and they are the body. Most pastors are honest men trying to serve me the best they can, but they sometimes forget that it is MY church, not theirs. It is MY responsibility to present the church blameless and without spot and blemish, not theirs. They'll get it eventually, though probably not as quickly as you would like. Go in my strength, Ida Mae, for I am clearing the path ahead of you so you have nothing to worry about tonight."
He was gone and so was Ida Mae's anxiety and apprehension about encountering the church leaders and her estranged friends. Instead of dreading the encounter, she could now look forward to it to see what surprise God had in mind for her.
She dressed for the service in her new powder blue pants suit, and promptly at 7:15, Ida Mae parked her car in front of Selima's house. Her friend came out dressed in a pretty pink flowered dress and pink shoes. Her beautiful dark hair fell in waves to her shoulders. She looked lovely indeed and radiant as well.
"I'm ready," she said, "and thank you for helping me."
"Thank You, Lord, for helping both of us," added Ida Mae.
They parked in the church parking lot and made their way to the front door. The service had already begun and the congregation was standing, singing a hymn. Ida Mae led Selima to the end of the pew on the far left in the rear of the auditorium. No one noticed them as they joined in the singing. Ida Mae did get a glimpse of her friends Mercy Percy and Tru Goodie in their usual seats, on the isle about half way to the front. They did not see her however.
The church service proceeded as usual with the hymns and prayers until finally, Pastor Gordon Gooddeeds went to the podium to introduce the visiting Evangelist, the Reverand Roger Rightway, who would be speaking that night.
A pleasant faced elderly gentleman with snowy white hair and neatly trimmed beard came to the podium, made his introduction, told a little joke, and got to work preaching the gospel. He extolled the plan of God by which the world would be saved from their sins; he read Isaiah 53, and wrung out the gory details of the crucifixion until Ida Mae wanted to run screaming into the night. He explained how everyone needs Christ as their personal Savior because life is too difficult to endure without His help, and then we die. "If we don't have Him, then what?"
Ida Mae shuddered and steeled herself for a big rant about hell, but he stopped there and simply said, "Why do you want to continue fighting the battles of life alone when you can invite Christ into your heart where He will be your Champion? He will save you from your sins and yourself and He will be your very best friend forever. Do you really want to go it alone without Him?"
Several in the audience said aloud, "NO!"
Pastor Rightway replied, "Then come forward at the Invitation Hymn and confess Christ before this group and you will be saved."
The organist began the beloved hymn "Just As I Am," and the congregation rose to their feet to sing.
From their seats on the isle in the far left rear of the auditorium, Ida Mae and Selima began to walk toward the front. They were both short so no one could see who was going forward. When they got to the front, they turned toward the altar and Pastor Gooddeeds took two steps toward them before he recognized Ida Mae. Her friend looked familiar to him, but he couldn't remember where he had seen her. He stifled his retort, "About time you repented," forced a smile on his jowly face and said with forced enthusiasm, "Welcome, Ida Mae. Why are you here and who is your friend."
"I want to repent of my offensive behavior earlier," said Ida Mae. "The Lord has already forgiven me, and I want you to forgive me as well. This is my Muslim friend Selima Medine. She wants to become a Christian."
If she had punched him in the mouth with her fist, Gordon Gooddeeds could not have been more shocked. Momentarily speechless, he finally stammered, "Please sit here on the front row and I'll be right with you."
The congregation was still singing verse after verse of "Just As I Am," wondering what in the world was happening up front. Mercy Percy and Tru Goodie had finally realized that one of the women was their friend
Meanwhile, Gordon Gooddeeds was truly flabbergasted, unsure what to do next. So, he went to Pastor Rightway to consult with him. He said to the older man, "One woman wants to repent of her outburst at the last gospel meeting and the other one wants to become a Christian."
"That's wonderful," beamed Pastor Rightway.
"Yes, but the one woman is a Muslim" sputtered Gordon.
"What's the problem, Gordon?" asked Roger Rightway. "Jesus died for Muslims too, or hadn't you heard?" The older man had correctly discerned that Gordon had a lot to learn about the power of the gospel, and also about how to deal with people. "Shall I speak to them?" he asked.
Very relieved, Gordon jumped at the chance to get off the hot seat.
Roger walked over to where Ida Mae and Selima were sitting, took one of their hands in each of his as he knelt before them. "I understand you have business to do with God tonight," he said kindly.
"Yes, sir," began Ida Mae. "I stood up and yelled at the last visiting evangelist because he was threatening people with hell fire to get them to come forward. God loves us all and I couldn't stand to hear our Father reduced to a fearful monster ready to burn most of His children in hellfire for all eternity, so I spoke out, but I was rude and I offended everyone. They threw me out of church and won't let me come back until I apologize."
"It's wonderful that you came tonight to apologize," responded Pastor Rightway warmly.
"Well, I need to be clear," confessed Ida Mae. "I apologize for the WAY I said it, but NOT for what I said. God loves us all and He died for all people, and Jesus personally told me that no one is going to burn in hell because He paid the price for all men and women. That upset Rev. Gooddeeds so much, he and Deacons Keeper and Pain forbade me to come back to church until I repent! So I'm repenting of my behavior, but not my words, which came from the Lord Himself."
As Roger took this in, a great smile spread across his face. "I'm sorry for your pain, Ms. Magillacutty. Sometimes pastors' zeal to get folks into the Kingdom causes them to exaggerate and offend. Can you forgive us for that?"
Amazed at his candor, and astonished that a pastor had asked her for forgiveness, Ida Mae quickly replied, "Oh yes. Of course I can."
"Then that's all God wants and all the church needs," he assured her.
Turning to Selima, he asked gently, "So, you want to become a follower of Christ?"
"With all my heart," she replied. "He appeared to me and told me he loves me so much he died for me and all Muslims and all people as well. I've been studying Christianity for months now, and while I think Mohammed was a good man, he was NOT the Son of God and he did NOT die for my sins. I can't follow him anymore. I want to follow Christ and have him come live in my heart, like you said. What shall I do to accomplish that?"
Tears welled up in Pastor Rightway's eyes when he realized that these two women sitting on the pew before him were proof positive that what he had been preaching his whole life about the POWER of the GOSPEL is true. Holding Selima's hand, he said, "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, my child, but the Spirit of God. Will you arise and be baptized and enter into the death, burial and resurrection of our Savior and arise a new creation in Christ?"
"Yes, I will" she said.
Roger Rightway rose to his feet, took the microphone and announced to the congregation, "Ida Mae Magillacutty has come forward to apologize for her rude behavior at the last gospel meeting and ask you to restore her to fellowship with this congregation. Will you do that?"
The congregation replied enthusiastically, "Yes, we will. Amen!"
"Also," continued the visiting pastor, "Selima Medine has come forward today to become a Christian and a new member of this congregation. She has realized that Mohammed was not the son of God, nor did he die for her sins. Christ has appeared to her to tell her personally that He loves her and died for her. She wants to be His follower and have Him come live in her life. Will you join me in welcoming both women to full fellowship with this congregation?"
Gordon Gooddeeds had been sitting with his head in his hands, praying for guidance, throughout the encounter between Roger and the women. He slowly rose to his feet, took the mike and said in a meek voice, "I want to be the first to welcome these women to our congregation. May the love of God dwell in our hearts abundantly and help us to love and respect each other, and may their example inspire others to obey the gospel," he couldn't resist adding.
The organist began a closing hymn; the congregation rose to sing it, and Ida Mae and Selima rose to sing with them, filled with the love and forgiveness of God and men.
When the service and the baptism were finished, the congregation gathered around the women to greet and welcome them. Mercy Percy and Tru Goodie hugged Ida Mae warmly and even old Bertha Busy told her she was glad to see her again. There were many tears and tender hugs, something Selima was not accustomed to, but she thought she could get used to them.
"I have a lot to learn," she told Ida Mae as they drove home, "but I'm a quick learner and you can help me."
Ida Mae was amazed, because no one had asked for her help spiritually, ever, but she smiled and said, "I don't know much more than you, but the Lord will help us grow together."