Christian Short Stories

Unwelcome Visitors
By Jim Cox

Jim writes: I'm a retired minister. My ministry now involves being active in the the arts. I write and perform original Christian poetry to "live" audiences, write non-fictional short stories, and paint landscapes and portraits. These abilities belong to the Lord, and I use them for His glory. The following is a true story.

On the show room floor at Wal-mart, the young inexperienced salesman and I stood in mutually agreed-upon silence as my short Welsh wife marched with determined step around and around, peering at the polyester fabric on the five-man tent with the intense, almost ferocious expression of a serious shopper. Her hard-edged intensity melted and became a soft, radiant smile when she noticed that the Coleman lantern hanging from the tent crossbar was within easy reach for her.

This shopping trip was preparation for our upcoming vacation. We desperately needed to get out of town and away from the smog and the crowds of people for awhile.

I’m an arm chair traveler myself and would have preferred to stay at home and watch towering mountains and roaring rivers on the tube, but she had us packed and out of town like the IRS was after us a short time later. During the days of travel across flat, non-descript country side, I couldn’t think of anything but how much I was missing my king-sized bed every night. We got to our destination at the Oak Grove campground in the high country of New Mexico and found a nice surprise. The campsites were far apart instead of being tightly sandwiched together like the houses in our overcrowded neighborhood back in southern California. Instead of the muggy gray-brown army blanket covering the city we lived in, the cool mountain air crackled with a brilliant blue color and had the fresh smell of pine and sage.

The brand new olive green tent looked so roomy and comfortable sitting with its sturdy aluminum poles and gently slanting polyester walls on the showroom floor at Wal-mart, but became a clinging garment three sizes too small when we were jarred from sleep that night by guttural growls in the darkness.

We usually threw out handfuls of sun flower seeds near our tent for large, bushy-tailed gray squirrels to eat wherever we went camping in California. Those critters were fun to watch while they scampered towards the treat from their hiding places. I didn’t realize the possible danger of doing this during the dry season that was plaguing this southwestern part of the country. I learned later from a Ranger that any exposed food source, no matter how small, will attract animals during a drought and bears have a keen sense of smell. They can be unpredictable and ill-tempered when food or territory is in dispute and their razor sharp claws can shred everything in their path. He couldn’t understand why we were still alive.

Tangled up in my sleeping bag, I was groggy but instinctively tried to focus my thoughts enough to pray as the bear snuffed and pawed the ground outside. For a brief moment, I remembered how excited I got when I first heard the Christian teaching that faith was more than just a passive mental concept, that it was a living active force in the life of every believer. God loved me and would always respond when I offered up “believing” prayer.

Growing up, I never had the luxury of anyone to lean on for emotional support or guidance. No one to tell my troubles to. After my conversion I wholeheartedly embraced this teaching and began spending a lot of time on my knees. Prayer became a place of communion and refuge during troubled times, as well as a place to just talk to my friend Jesus.

Then a second bear showed up. Immediately the two animals snarled defiance loudly at each other in a loud show of mutual hostility inches from the thin tent wall, and all thoughts of praying drained out of me. Paralyzing fear set in, diluting the strength of my faith like icy cold cream stirred into scalding coffee.

Accusing thoughts flooded my mind. “Where is your God? He can’t help you now. He doesn’t care!” Everything was happening so fast! I was painfully aware of my wife silently staring wide-eyed at my back and was growing desperate. The weight of my responsibility as a husband to care for and protect her seemed to have increased ten fold in the last few minutes.

I struck my forehead with the flat of my hand in anger and frustration and then slumped on my camp cot, staring at nothing. This “faith” challenge was proving to be more than I could handle.

In spite of many public confessions of trust in God, the old self-sufficient mind-set that I had when younger started to kick in. Had to do something....had to help myself! I glanced around the tent, searching for something to use as a weapon. A stray piece of firewood! Anything! There was nothing. I could only sit helpless, trembling and sweating, as Linda looked at me in the gloom with an undisguised expression of terror, silently pleading for help. My “I’ve got everything under control” male facade instantly crumbled into ruin before her frightened gaze. I turned away in confusion before she could see the stark fear in my eyes.

I glanced to my right. One of us forgot to tie off one corner of the green tent flap that hung down to insure sleeping privacy on the side window. I felt a vein pulsing somewhere in my neck as I inched forward to peer through a small triangular shaped section of the zippered mosquito screen outside the flap to keep from looking at Linda. The closely woven threads blurred my vision, but a musky smell assaulted my nostrils.

As I heard the scraping sounds of the bear’s paws on the ground in territory-marking gestures outside, I thought I caught a glimpse of the white of an eye.

A lopsided inward bulge appeared in the tent wall right next to me and after a few moments disappeared again. My muscles tensed involuntarily and I caught my breath, not wanting to think about what those animals ate to attain their massive body weight and size. I could only sit in stunned silence as a familiar scripture flashed through my mind, “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress...”

I fleetingly wondered if the Wal-mart warranty we had learned to trust over the years would cover the shape the tent was going to be in when this was all over. Suddenly it was quiet outside. Too quiet! It was eerie. I glanced at Linda huddled in her sleeping bag and motioned her to remain silent. We hardly dared to breathe or hope that it might be over.

A sharp snuffing sound next to my ear outside the tent wall let me know that it wasn’t. It happened twice. It was obvious the bear knew we were there and was deciding his next move. What little food we had was perishable and packed in ice in the tent with us. It was inside one of those sturdy white plastic ice chests with the snap-on red lid. In all the confusion, I couldn’t remember if I had snugged the lid down or not. What if he could smell it? Where was the second animal, had it been injured or scared off? We sat in heart-pounding silence, waiting...waiting.

We heard a few more muffled noises, but they seemed further away. For the first time, our hands connected between the cots in mutual white-knuckled assurance, but we didn’t make a sound for quite awhile. Finally, I unzipped the tent door and peeked out. Nothing was there.

The bear knocked over our camp table with the folding metal legs and the Coleman stove on it in his search for food but nothing else was disturbed.

We stretched and sighed in relief for a minute and then, needless to say, tore down our abundance of camping gear, stuffed it into our mid-sized Toyota Camry any old way we could and put the pedal to the metal!

Pale starlight accompanied our hasty journey as we wound our way down the steep mountain road towards civilization; away from our unwelcome visitors. We suspected that some concentrated Bible study and meditation was going to be necessary for us to understand the demonstration of God’s sovereign mercy that we had just experienced. One thing was certain. It had very little to do with our ability to “believe.”

The humorous thing about it all was that we gave all of our expensive camping gear away as soon as we got home. We were just getting to old to “rough” it any more, at least that’s what we told ourselves.

(© 2010 Jim Cox – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)

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