The smell of manure infiltrated my nostrils as we walked through the doors. A sideways glance told my husband Dennis how I felt about visiting a Cowboy Church – and for Easter morning services no less.
Managing to not exhale a sigh to push away the loathsome fumes, I guided my two daughters carefully around the manure booted man. He was crowding the space we needed to reach the cushioned metal chairs filling the “sanctuary”, though I hesitate to use the word. Exposed iron beams contrasted the white plastic covered insulation in the large metal building. I knew the minute we pulled through the rutty dirt parking lot this was unlike any church my parents had raised me in.
It was impossible to pass the man without coming eyeball to eyeball as he tipped up the brim of his cowboy hat before spitting into the cup he held. I did not need to see the drippings he wiped with the back of his hand to know what his mouth contained. I just hoped to get Tina and Mellie past before they heard what else that mouth contained.
“Before she died, Mama made me promise to go to church on Easter Sundays. I’m just glad Rex here told me about this place, 'cause I don’t have no suit and tie. Why the–“
“Why don’t we sit on the other side?” I spoke louder than necessary, hoping my ears were the only ones to catch the latter part of his sentence. Thankfully, Dennis was making a clear path to a vacant back row. I sat our daughters between us, inspecting the people with some trepidation.
“Mom,” Tina whispered as the first strains of guitar music filled the building, “I thought you weren’t supposed to wear hats in church?”
Oh why did we have to go through this process of finding a new church home? And with the town’s population at less than twenty-five hundred, our choices were very limited.
I shifted around to eye Dennis, but he was watching the settling congregation with approval. The jingling of spurs made a judicious reply impossible so I motioned my wide eyed girls to silence.
The odor of manure took away my breath as the cowboy parked himself two seats upwind of me.
It was too late for musical chairs. I sought my only recourse. Lord, You know I love You and would do anything You ask. Go to China as a missionary. Put up with an atheist neighbor. Walk barefoot across the desert to give someone a cup of water. But please, Lord, don’t ask me to sit next to this foul mouthed cowboy with manure splattered on his boots…not on Easter Sunday. Oh Lord, You know I’m not judging him, but I just can’t stand the smell!
The sermon began, but I found it more difficult to focus than any other in a lifetime of Sunday services. My senses were being assaulted. I knew it must be an attack of Satan.
I opened my Bible, mechanically searching for the scripture just read. Great. Every time I read my Bible now I’ll smell cow manure. Or maybe it’ll be the other way around.
“It really is that simple, folks,” the pastor was saying, “Christ died on the Cross for your sins and was raised again on the third day. If you had been the only one on earth, He wouldn’t have done things any different. He loves you that much. You can pray this simple prayer to ask Jesus into your heart, right now where you are…”
My oxygen level was dipping below normal as I tried to avoid the smell and taste of the manure. The girls’ fluffy purses blocked my escape in that direction, leaving only one route.
I eased myself around and stood part way, a polite “excuse me” ready on my lips. But as my eyes moved from his manure sprinkled boots to his bowed head I could see an earnest drawing up of the cowboy’s face as his lips moved silently, repeating the pastor’s words of prayer.
As gently as possible, I lowered back to my seat and bowed my head. The smell wasn’t so bad anymore.
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