A bunch of women burst into the ladies room, giggling like teenagers, gossip pouring in torrents. “Did you see Bertha tonight? That red caftan made her look like a runaway fire-truck.”
“Oh Lord,” I sighed. “I’m not in the mood for this.” I lifted my hand from the bolt on the cubicle door and decided to wait until they had left the room.
“And did you see what she wore last Sunday? She has no dress sense at all.”
“Yeah. But with all that fat, what can you expect. I’d die if I looked like she does.”
I massaged my temples, trying to relieve the pain that was pinching my scalp. Being a pastor’s wife was not easy. I should really go and confront the gossips but I was tired. It had been a long Sunday and I just wanted to go home and put my feet up.
Laughter fluttered through the air accompanied by big stomping footsteps. “This is how she walked down the aisle tonight,” one of them cackled. “I felt my pew vibrate as she rolled past me.”
I leaned my head against the cool wall as a still small voice whispered inside my heart. You need to stop them. You need to go out there and say something.
I groaned. “Isn’t there someone else, Lord? I really don’t feel up to it tonight.”
“And have you seen how much she eats? She hogged down three slices of cake at tea-time. All that cream and icing. It’s no wonder she wears tents instead of dresses.”
Go and stop them, the voice persisted. Open the door and go and stop them.
“Why not another day?” I questioned God as I squeezed my eyes shut. “I’ll speak to them next week. I know who they are.”
His answer took me by surprise. A 3D movie playing on the inside of my eyelids.
In clear technicolour I saw Bertha walking into the ladies room, her dress a flamboyant splash against mounds of pasty skin and ropes of lank hair.
The gossips had disappeared into cubicles but the jibing and jesting continued. Bertha’s skin drained from paste to ashen as she stood frozen, disbelieving, listening to every word until she found her feet and lumbered away.
The backdrop changed and Bertha was at home, her pudgy folds hot with shame and humiliation. “I should never have joined that church.” She sobbed. “They’re just like everyone else, God. If they can’t stand with me and help me through my problems, then who will?”
The calendar pages rustled and it was a week later. Bertha alone at home, dejected, miserable, hurt that no one had missed her at church. That no one had called to see how she was. She sought solace in food, shoveling fistfuls of junk into her mouth to try and bring her comfort.
The pages flipped again and Bertha was wandering round the mall, lonely and sad. Walking towards her were a couple of the gossips. They nudged each other, laughing as they sidestepped into the nearest store to avoid speaking to her
A day later, Bertha sought help from her doctor. He listened; impatient, busy, tapping his pen. Then prescribed pills for weight loss, pills to make her sleep and strong antidepressants to numb her pain. She went away, her heart bitter and empty. “Does no one care?” she shouted to the heavens.
The calendar moved again and there was Bertha sprawled across her bed, unconscious and silent as paramedics worked frantically on her motionless body. Empty pill containers littered the floor.
I’d seen enough.
“No!” I screamed, flinging the door open. “Don’t say another word! This is not the way God wants us to talk!” There was a stunned silence as three surprised women looked at me. I softened my tone. “Imagine if she heard you. How would you feel? More importantly, how would she feel? What happened to loving and caring for each other?”
Just then the door swung open and Bertha struggled in. I saw the hope in her eyes. The deep craving for acceptance and love. “I’m glad I saw you, Bertha.” I greeted her. “I was wondering if you’d like to have coffee with me next week. I’ll come and pick you up.”
Later I wept with the gossips as I shared my story. As we prayed and repented for hard hearts and stubborn wills.
“Forgive us, Lord. May we never forget that love is the greatest gift of all.”
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