Running Towards Salvation

The air was stifling. Betty sat in the back of the old country church. In front of her old women waved fans in an attempt to cool their frail bodies. The double hung windows on both sides stood open. Betty wished for a breeze, but none was to be had. Although the old country church had lights, they remained off. Anything to reduce the heat and humidity in the full building.

In the front stood an old preacher. His country twang was almost impossible for Betty to understand from all the way in the back. She had slipped in during the singing and planned to slide out as soon as the service ended. Betty wasn’t even sure why she had decided to come to the old church. Maybe it was her loneliness. Her decision to walk out on her family two years earlier had weighed more and more heavily on her as the days had gone by. Betty chastised herself, I was a fool to run after a man who would seduce a wife and mother. He got what he wanted, and now I have nothing.

The preacher broke into the story of the woman caught in adultery. His small gray eyes stared across the congregation. He stopped to catch his breath. The woman in the story was being dragged out before Jesus. Betty swallowed hard. She was sure he knew her story. She wanted to run when their eyes met. Something in his stern look told her to stay. He continued the story. It did not end how Betty thought. Jesus didn’t convict the woman, He convicted the men who were ready to stone her to death. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” But there was the final line. Jesus tells the woman to go and sin no more.

Betty prayed in silence. “How am I supposed to do that. It’s been two years. I bet Frank hasn’t missed me since I left. My daughter will be four. She won’t even know who I am. This makes a great Bible story, but how does that help me?”

The old preacher scanned the church again. This time his eyes looked different when they landed on Betty. He seemed almost sad. How can that be? I’m so far back here. He doesn’t even know me.

The old man gave an invitation from the pulpit. That was Betty’s queue to slip out, but she couldn’t. The preacher kept looking in her direction. He prepared the congregation to pray, now was her chance. To Betty’s dismay, the old man left the pulpit and began walking down the aisle as he prayed. After the amen, the congregation started to file out and shake the Pastor’s hand. Betty maneuvered herself behind those trying to leave. She would just wait until he said his goodbyes. Surely, he would walk away before the whole church had departed.

But he did not. Instead, the old preacher turned and walked up to Betty. Now alone in the sanctuary with nowhere to go, she stuck out her hand to say hello. The preacher’s hands were cold and soft, although his grip was firm. His voice was softer and more gentle than in the pulpit. “Hi, my name is Pastor Jim.”

Betty smiled and said, “I’m glad to meet you. My name is Betty. That was a very nice sermon today.”

“Mmm hmmm.” was all Jim responded. He continued to hold her hand with both of his and look into her eyes. Betty was sure he could see all of her shame and was going to give her a good tongue lashing.

Instead, Jim let go of her hand and asked her to have a seat with him. “This is going to sound strange to you.” He said, “But when I was up there preaching God told me to talk to you after the service. Since you didn’t leave, I suppose he intends for me to do that.”

Betty felt nervous. She should be running from this madman, but instead, something inside her told her she needed to remain. “I’m listening.” was all Betty could say.

Jim took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He seemed as nervous as she felt. Then he said, “God told me you could identify with the woman in my sermon today. How you identify with her is none of my business. He wanted me to tell you that your family misses you. I’m not sure what any of this means, but I’m supposed to tell you that all you have to do is call.”

Betty broke down, and a woman who was evidently still in the foyer peaked into the sanctuary. Jim looked up and said, “Joan. This is Betty. I believe she is missing her family. Would you please join us? Betty, Joan is my wife.”

An older woman slid down the pew and sat on the other side of Betty. Joan held Betty while she cried. Once Betty composed herself she finally spoke. “Pastor Jim, I don’t know what is going on. I can promise you this. If I can call my husband, and he invites me home, I will fall on my knees and accept this Jesus everyone talks about.”

Jim sat there for a moment. “Well, accepting salvation is not something you bargain for. But, if that is the sign God has chosen for you, who am I to stand in your way. Why don’t the three of us go to my office, and you can call your husband.”

Betty called home, and Frank’s familiar voice answered her on the other end. “Hello, it’s Betty.” Was all she could manage to speak.

Frank’s voice began to break. “Betty? Is that really you? We were at church praying for you this morning. Where are you?”

Betty tried to speak through her sobbing. “I’m at a church. Why are you in church?”

Frank’s voice now sounded excited. “We joined six months after you left. I’ve been praying every day I would hear you are okay.”

Betty began to wail. Through her grief and stammered out, “I want to come home.”

She could hear Frank’s excitement even above her own sobbing. “Just tell me where you are. I’m on my way out the door with Daisy. She really misses you.”

Betty handed the phone to Pastor Jim. She could hear him giving Frank the address. They spoke a little longer, and he hung up the phone. Joan put her chair next to Betty and hugged her. Betty cried a few minutes longer and then let go of Joan and composed herself.

Betty wiped her face, looked at Jim and said, “I’m ready, how do I accept Jesus?”

He looked into her wet eyes again, his face concerned. “Are you sure you are doing this to start a relationship with God, and not out of some mistaken obligation that you “owe” Him one?”

Betty shook her head. “No. If Jesus can change my husband so that all he wants is me, then I know He can change me for the better too.”

Jim nodded, took her hand, and they prayed together.


Stifle

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