Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Fiction: Risky Welcome

: Bear got so immersed in spring Den cleaning this week, that she missed posting on Word Filled Wednesday. But fortunately, while in the process of cleaning, she was sorting through years worth of old papers and ran across a short story that she had submitted to a magazine, but which was rejected.

So she did a major rewrite on it (and was concentrating on it so hard that the goat's milk she was pasteurizing almost boiled over on the stove -- she caught it just in time!) And she likes the story much better now, feeling it to be much tighter than it originally was. So likely will try submitting it somewhere again, although she may need to make some more adjustments before doing so.

At any rate, it got done just in time for Friday Fiction.

(And the Den is looking quite a bit cleaner, although it has a long way to go yet. That project may take several weeks! Hopefully though, more stories will turn up, as she sorts through more papers . . .)

Risky Welcome

"Heads up, Rico!" Nick called to me, stealing the ball from Mary and zooming down the sideline. He leaped into the air and made a perfect lay-up. The ball rattled the schoolyard hoop as it shot through.

"Yes!" he shouted. "Two points!"

Nick's a good friend, even though he ended up paired off with Craig, playing against Mary and me.

He hadn't seen the stuff Craig was pulling. Mary, my twin sister, hadn't noticed either. She was too busy trying to guard our hoop against Nick's onslaughts. She's fast, but Nick's taller.

I dribbled the ball, slowly moving towards the goal, trying to see past Craig, guarding me. Then, seeing Mary finally get in the clear, I bounce-passed under his waving arms. The slap he gave my forearm was so loud, it echoed across the concrete court.

Oh, he was a dirty player, all right. Closing my eyes, I waited for the sting to ease.

"Time!" I yelled, glaring at Craig. He looked back at me, dark eyes expressionless. Hands on my knees, I concentrated on catching my breath. My temper's my weak point, and I felt like I was about to burst . . . Even prayed silently the Lord would help keep me from slugging him.

It was a warm, sunny afternoon, like we sometimes get in Texas in late November. Dry leaves skittered past my feet, and the breeze cooled my sweat soaked T-shirt. Still waiting for my arm to stop hurting, I tried to figure how Mary had ever talked me into letting Craig play . . .

She, Nick, and I had been walkin' to the court last Saturday, when she'd spotted him hanging out in front of Braum's Ice Cream shop. He was wearing a denim jacket with a patch on one elbow, his ever present black baseball cap turned backwards, and old scruffy jeans. Looked like he was smoking somethin', but he put his hand behind his back quick when he saw us, so I couldn't be sure. Thought I smelled pot on his clothes in the hall one day at school too, but maybe not. It's hard to tell in a crowd.

"Hey, there's the new kid," Mary said. "He looks bored, and we could use a fourth for a change. I've seen him shooting baskets after school. He's all right."

"We don't even know him!" I protested. "And if you ask me, he's trouble. Always has that sneaky look about him."

She grinned, "Come on, Rico. He's just new and lonely. Weren't you listening when Mrs. Carey was talking 'bout how we should make new kids feel welcome?"

Mrs. Carey is our Sunday School teacher. Personally, I figured she'd cringe to hear Mary talkin' about her lesson, using it for a dude like Craig. After all, Mrs. Carey was always talking 'bout how the Bible tells us to obey parents and teachers. Would she really want us playing basketball with Craig? I so doubted that. What if it was a joint he'd just ditched in that garbage can behind him?

Nick shrugged. "I don't know, Mary," he said. "Craig's kinda rough, looks like."

She stopped walking and put her hands on hips, brown eyes flashing. "Well, what about when we rescued Gray-Boy last year? He was all dirty and growled at us at first, 'cause he was scared. But he turned out to be the most neatest, loving dog we ever had! Right, Rico?"

I knew that look. She wasn't going to back down an inch. But I tried anyway. "Craig's no lost spaniel. He was in a gang once, from what I hear. I doubt hanging with him is even safe."

She laughed in my face, hooting, "Not safe. You're scared of that lost-looking boy?"

I snorted. "He's no homeless puppy, I tell you!"

But she won Nick over, and 'fore I knew what hit me, I was in the middle of this game, with wonderful Craig fouling me right and left. My ribs still ached from where he'd elbowed me earlier.

Nick clapped his hands together. "Come on, Rico. End of time-out. Let's move it!"

We played hard over the next fifteen minutes, but neither team could hang onto the lead. Then, when we all were near the hoop and Nick was coming down from battling Mary for a rebound, his right elbow hit Craig on the cheekbone.

Craig yelped, slapping a hand to his face, then shouted, "You did that on purpose!"

Nick whirled, dropped the ball, and swung his hands up in the air, palms forward. "Sorry, dude! Didn't know you were so close."

Craig's face flushed deep red. "You knew, all right!" He dropped his hands to his sides, balling them into fists. His cheek was already starting to swell.

Mary and I just stared, it was all happening so fast.

Nick took a step backwards, warily. "Honest. I didn't mean to --"

It happened in a flash.

I couldn't tell you just how Craig got the knife into his hand. Maybe he pulled it out of a jeans pocket.

There was a loud click, and the long blade flashed bright in the sunlight.

"Run!" yelled Mary, grabbing Nick's arm to pull him away.

The three of us were outside the cyclone fence 'fore I had time to think. When I glanced back from the street, Craig was still standin' there, holding the knife. He seemed frozen, like I was seeing a snapshot, or somethin'.

It wasn't 'til we got to our driveway at home, that we finally stopped running.

"Did ya see the size of that knife?" asked Nick, panting. He looked stunned. "I thought I was dead!"

"Mary . . ." I tried to get my breath back, huffing. "If I ever let you talk me into anything . . . like that . . . again, you can --"

The words caught in my throat.

Craig had just run around the corner and was heading for us at top speed, arms pumping.

"Whoa, dude!" Nick shouted, just before he hit the end of the driveway. "Don't come no closer!"

Craig skidded to a halt. "I dropped the blade in a garbage can, man!" He shoved his hands deep into his pockets. "I'll never pack it again. I swear. I got mad, and it was like, there, you know? I wasn't even thinking. Before I knew it, you all were running and . . ." He swiped his eyes with a forearm, his tattered shirt cuff flapping open.

Was he crying? Mary, Nick, and I glanced at each other, then back at him.

He winced as his arm brushed the swollen cheek. It was turning purplish. Then said, "Where I lived before, you had to have a knife on you if you wanted to survive. It's like a habit. It gets you by, from day to day."

Nick said, "Right. Some habit. That's rich!"

But Mary cooed in her lost-puppy-dog voice, "Oh, you poor thing! Was it that bad in the city you came from? You can play with us any time you --"

I crossed my arms, still breathing hard. "He can not . . . What's gonna happen next time one of his . . . habits takes over?"

Craig looked down at the gravel, not saying anything.

To my surprise, Nick backed me up for a change. Usually he sides with Mary.

"Rico's right," he said. "Dude, if you're really sorry, you're gonna have to show it by letting us see you change for a while, before you're on the team again."

Craig's shoulders slumped, and he turned slow, to leave.

Before he got three steps though, Mary said, "Wait a minute! Couldn't he come play at the park games on Wednesday nights when we're with the Youth Pastor and the church team? Wouldn't that work? There'd be plenty of people around. And it would give us time to get to know each other in a safer --" She broke off, embarrassed.

Craig turned back, looking kinda hopeful for a second, but then shot a look my way and shook his head. "Nah! If you don't want me around . . ."

Well, my ribs still ached, my arm still stung, and it seemed like I was never gonna get my breath back . . . But it did sound like it might work, and the dude looked so down. Reluctantly, I signaled Nick with a nod.

So Nick said, "Right then. Let's try it in a bigger group. You can come Wednesdays."

That's when, for the first time ever, I actually saw Craig smile.

"Thanks," he said. Then repeated, "Thanks!" and waved as he walked away, saying over his shoulder, "I'll see you Wednesday."

So it worked out okay in the end. The dude really did change. Within a few months, the four of us were back to playing at the schoolyard again, regular, on Saturdays.

After some more months, he even started coming to church with us Sundays. Mary was the one that talked him into that.

And I never did end up slugging him. Which I guess just goes to show . . .

The Lord does answer prayer.

The End.

Rick over at Pod Tales and Ponderings is hosting Friday Fiction this week. So be sure and drop over there as well, to find links to the whole selection of entries by Christian writers, and/or to add a link of your own and join in the fun! We all welcome comments and discussion!
Bear's news and free multi-media Christian resources: Bear's Writing Den

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday Sharing: A Spiritual Secret

: (NOTE: The Bearmobile's fixed! More on that below . . . )

"The founder of the China Inland Mission was J. Hudson Taylor, a physician full of the Holy Spirit and of faith, of entire surrender to God and His call, of great self-denial, heartfelt compassion, and rare power in prayer . . ." *

Bear thoughtfully laid down the book at the midway point one recent Sunday afternoon, to take some time to think and pray about what she'd just read. Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret by Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor, (Moody Press) was turning out to be filled with much food for thought, despite its faded cover, deeply tanned pages, and slightly musty smell. This condensed biography of Hudson Taylor's missionary outreach to China back in 1853 - 1905 was definitely not something just to be breezed through, all at once, on a single Sunday afternoon.

Bear hadn't known much about Hudson Taylor, except that he was a famous missionary in China and that many people trace the roots of today's tremendous Chinese Christian movement back to him as one of its main founders.

And normally, Bear wouldn't be too interested in a book that was called someone's "Spiritual Secret," because Bear's not much of a believer in spiritual "Secrets" in general, feeling that the Lord has made things pretty clear in the Bible, and is not very secretive at all, for anyone who wants to take the time to sit down and listen to what He has to say by reading His Words.

However, she was certainly interested in reading about any man that could sail off to a place where the Gospel was almost totally unknown, back in the 1800's, and successfully plant churches across a whole huge country, on faith alone. Especially since the times were clearly not easy -- as an excerpt of a letter he wrote soon after his arrival attests (p. 50) . . .

My position is a very difficult one. Dr. Lockhart has taken me to reside with him for the present, as houses are not to be had for love or money . . . No one can live in the city . . . They are fighting now while I write, and the house shakes with the report of cannon.

It is so cold that I can hardly think or hold the pen. . . . Jesus will guide me aright . . . I love the Chinese more than ever. Oh, to be useful among them!

As Bear read the opening chapters of the book, she could see that his trust in the Lord just grew stronger, as circumstance pressed harder upon him. He wrote shortly after, in another letter (p. 51) . . .

What it means to be so far from home, at the seat of war and not able to understand or be understood by the people was fully realized. Their utter wretchedness and misery and my inability to help them or even point them to Jesus powerfully affected me. Satan came in as a flood, but there was One who lifted up a standard against him. Jesus is here, and though unknown to the majority, and uncared-for by many who might know Him, He is present and precious to His own.

He learned the language quickly though, and soon even dyed his hair black and began to wear a Chinese style braid and Chinese style dress in order to be less initmidating to the people he was reaching out to, despite the fact that men of his own society in those days frowned on that type of thing (to say the least). And as Bear flipped the pages of the book, reading descriptions of his daily trials, and challenges, and faith, and outreach to the people (as both a doctor and an evangelist), she soon forgot all about the book's title. Despite wars, riots, sickness, deaths in his family (including death of his wife and a couple of his very young children) . . . onwards he persisted, riding boats down China's waterways on long journeys with short rations -- as a 19th century Apostle Paul.

But then, near the middle of the book, when she least expected it, Bear came upon Hudson Taylor's "secret," and was surprisingly rocked by it.

It was an experience he had in the middle of his missionary years in China that he said totally transformed his life and walk with the Lord (even though he had already been a tremendously fruitful missionary over the years already). On September 4, 1869, he suddenly caught a deeper understanding of what it meant to be part of the Body of Christ; and he writes that he then entered into what he referred to as "The Exchanged Life".

In a letter to his sister he writes (p. 161) . . .

"Nor was this all He showed me, nor one half. As I thought of the Vine and the branches, what light the blessed Spirit poured direct into my soul! How great seemed my mistake in wishing to get the sap, the fulness out of Him! I saw not only that Jesus will never leave me, but that I am a member of His Body, of His flesh and His bones. The vine is not the root merely, but all -- root, stem, branches, twigs, leaves flowers, fruit . . . Oh my dear sister, it is a wonderful thing to be really one with the risen and exalted Saviour, to be a member of Christ. Think what it involves. Can Christ be rich and I poor? Can your right hand be rich and your left poor? Or your head be well fed while your body starves? Again, think of its bearing on prayer. Could a bank clerk say to a customer, 'It was only your hand and not you that wrote that check.' or 'I can not pay this sum to your hand, but only to your self?' No more can your prayers or mine be discredited if offered in the Name of Jesus, (that is, not for the sake of Jesus merely, but on the ground that we are His members) so long as we keep within the limits of Christ's credit -- a tolerably wide limit! If we ask for anything unscriptural, or not in accordance with the will of God, Christ Himself could not do that. But "if we ask any thing according to his will . . . we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. "

And farther along in the letter adds, (p. 162) . . .

"The sweetest part, if one may speak of one part being sweeter than another, is the rest which full identification with Christ brings. I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His Will, and His Will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient. It little matters to my servant whether I send him to buy a few cash worth of things or the most expensive articles. In either case he looks to me for the money and brings me his purchases. So, if God should place me in great perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength? No fear that His resources will be unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine -- for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me."

And he relates more about how he realized that he needed to stop focusing so much on his own shortcomings, sins, and failings (always feeling he was falling short in his own efforts of trying to strive towards holiness and unwavering belief), and the need to instead focus much more on the Lord Himself. And he went on and on for pages, writing how he found new rest, new peace, and a new strength for his work in that, and detailing more about it all.

And Bear has found herself praying on that much and asking the Lord to reveal to her more about it. Because she tends herself to get so discouraged with all her own shortcomings, failings, and sins of unbelief in various areas -- frustrated at how easily upset she can get in situations where she should just be resting and trusting the Lord.

In fact, reading that far into the book already helped some, making it a much easier two weeks than it would have been, while waiting to find out what was wrong with her broken Bearmobile, which was stranded in a mechanic's shop in a town miles away from the Den.

Even though Bear knows she doesn't yet understand fully how to enter that rest that Hudson Taylor found (in the midst of his trials and danger in war-torn China and in the midst of risking his life daily in evangelistic outreach), she did catch a glimpse of what he was driving at.

Enough of a glimpse to help much already.

And she's looking forward to reading more of the book this Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Bearmobile got repaired on Friday, finally, and is running "like a top" again, as the mechanic put it. It turned out that some sort of bearing assembly thing-a-mabob that is important to the timing belt froze up completely, and broke, which caused the timing belt to break.

But even though the repair job involved at least three hours of labor, (and likely more), and even though the mechanic towed the car several blocks to his shop; he only charged Bear for two hours labor and parts. Said that he was thankful that Bear had given him plenty of time to work on it, so he could do it between other repair jobs -- so was charging her less. Also said he had been in church a few times with Bear a few years ago (when she hadn't known it), and so had heard a couple of her testimonies (even though Bear hadn't known they'd met before). Said he wanted to help out.

So she felt overwhelmingly blessed, and thankful (to the mechanic, to the Lord, and to all those who prayed and helped these past two weeks in various ways) as she headed out to catch up on her shopping and errands.

Her trusty Bearmobile once again zoomed down the highway, its motor purring happily and steadily.

And she knew Hudson Taylor was right. She knew that he did have a "Spiritual Secret", after all; although in fact, Bear thinks maybe it's a Secret that's no secret at all . . .

But is rather another step in learning to lean on the Lord's power and strength daily -- focusing on His strength, rather than on one's own weakness . . .

A secret that whispers the truth of just how fully each branch in the Body of Christ is a part of the Vine.

"Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:" Colossians 1:26-27 (KJV)

Drop by Spiritual Sundays as well, to find links to the whole selection of this week's entries by Christian writers, and/or to add a link of your own and join in the fun! We all welcome comments and discussion! (NOTE: A small percentage of Spiritual Sundays' entries may be by writers of other religions or of the New Age -- Discernment is advised.)

* All indented quotes are from Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret by Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor, Moody Press, (Publication date not listed in the book).
Bear's news and free multi-media Christian resources: Bear's Writing Den