Thursday, August 20, 2009

Friday Fiction for August 21, 2009

Friday Fiction is hosted this week on Lynn’s Fact, Fiction, Fun and Fanciful blog. Look there for MckLinky, and more fun fiction to kick-start your weekend.

I had hoped to have a new, original story for this week’s submission, particularly since Nancy’s birthday is this week. Alas, things have been very busy preparing for a trip this week, and I have not had a chance to compose anything.

When I finished the first draft of Precocious by Design, I found that a couple of the characters had really grown on me, and had developed to play much larger roles in the story than originally intended. One of these was Katya, and the Epilogue revealed how her life had changed after the events of the story. Later, though, I found that I needed to show that moment in her life, and not just let one character imply it in retrospect. The result was the addition of the following chapter.

As a reminder, Katya worked as Katy, a “performer” for the Pretty Baby Dolls Agency, which was a nice euphemism for a highly specialized prostitute.

Chapter 43
Summer, Monday morning

The summer day was milder than expected, bringing a short time of relief from the heat and the possibility of a pleasant Independence Day coming up. Faye sat at her desk, processing the various donations that had arrived over the weekend, and wondering how Lloyd’s first day back at full duty was going. The police psychologist had taken a while to finally clear him for a full return, and the desk job had been driving him crazy the whole time.

Ralph would be back to work soon, though the current prognosis was that he’d never go back to field detective work. Lloyd had probably found out who his new partner was already that morning, and she hoped God had graced him with someone easy to get along with. Barring unforeseen circumstances, he would probably keep the same partner until his retirement.

Her phone warbled with the pattern of an in-house call. “Donations accounting, this is Faye,” she answered.

“Faye, this is Melissa in the lobby. There’s a visitor here for you.”

“A visitor? Who is it?”

“She says her name is Katya, and that she knows your husband.”

Katya? She tried to connect a face with the name, but came up blank. “I’ll be right out,” she said. Saving her work first, she toggled the computer over to the log-in screen and took off her phone headset. Melissa would have sent the visitor back to her desk if she’d asked, but until she knew who the person was, she didn’t want to okay someone to wander unescorted through the offices.

Rounding the corner into the lobby, Melissa met her at the door. “I don’t know about this girl,” she whispered. “She showed me some ID, but it had to be fake. There’s no way this girl is as old as she says she is.”

Katya stood as Faye stepped in front of the reception desk. “Mrs. Timmons; I don’t know if you remember me,” she said.

“You… were at the funeral, weren’t you?”

“Ilsa’s funeral; yes. I’m Katya Polinichenko. I was one of Ilsa’s… friends.” She looked down at the floor. “I’m sorry to bother you at work, but I didn’t know who else to talk to.”

“Polinichenko; okay, now I know who you are. I don’t think I ever heard you referred to by your first name. You were the one at the hospital that night. My husband went to see you and – was it Gary?”

“Gary, yes.”

“How did you know I worked here?”

“When your husband took Gary and me in for questioning, I saw your picture on his desk. You were standing in front of the sign for this building, so I checked the website and found you were listed as staff.”

Talk to her, the thought crossed her mind. “Why don’t we go someplace quiet, where we can talk without risking interruption?” She smiled and led the way to a modest room. A single circular table sat in the middle, surrounded by chairs, and she switched off the overhead speakers that played the Christian music from the central address system. “Have a seat,” she said. “Would you like something to drink? We have cold water, some juice, and a few sodas in the fridge, if you’re thirsty.”

“Nothing, thank you,” Katya said, settling into one of the chairs. “What is this room?”

“We call it the Prayer Closet,” Faye said, flipping the sign to ‘occupied’ on the door before closing it. “It’s kind of an all-purpose meeting room. We have Bible studies in here, prayer meetings, counseling sessions – pretty much anything that someone might want a peaceful place for.” She took a seat a couple of chairs over from the girl – woman, she reminded herself – close enough for caring, without potentially crowding her. “Why did you want to talk to me, Katya? May I call you Katya?”

She nodded. “I wanted to know about this God that you and your husband believe in – this God that Gary now believes in.” She looked up from a face devoid of emotion. “We weren’t taught about religion when we were growing up; our overseers mentioned it only in the context that we might have clients of various religious persuasions, or we might be asked to perform a role from a religious context.”

“Haven’t you ever known any other Christians?”

“Some; the agency even had a few prominent church leaders among our clientele, but there is something different between them and your husband, and I want to understand it.”

“Katya, it’s not that hard to understand. The men that came to your agency were not living the way God wanted them to live. What you see in Lloyd is a man who truly wants to be surrendered to God, and no one can be that kind of person if they’re willfully indulging in things God has commanded us to not do.”

She remained quiet for a moment. “Gary changed that night in Dille’s building. I think some of it was happening before that, but when we left the hospital the next day, it was clear that something was different. I thought maybe it was just the experience, and it would change back before long, but it hasn’t.”

“Lloyd told me Gary gave his life to God that night. If he really did, then he can’t go back to what he was before.”

“Gary said something similar to me a few days later. At first, I didn’t think much about the changes in him. Then, I started to dislike them. Yesterday, I figured out why the changes bothered me.”

She pulled the tissue box closer to them, and took one for herself. “Why is that?”

“Because I went through the same things that night, and those changes haven’t happened to me. The Agency is gone. I don’t have to live that way anymore, but I still feel like a whore. My entire life has been nothing but one performance after another, and now it’s just a different kind of performance.” She closed her eyes and lowered her head. “Gary said he’s been set free from his past. Everywhere I go, though, it’s like I’m still Katy. Even the lady in the lobby here looked at me like people looked at Katy. When do I get set free from her?”

Faye shifted to the closer chair, and drew the young woman into her arms. “When you ask God for it, Katya,” she whispered.

“I don’t know how to ask.”

“Would you like me to tell you?”


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Monday Manna - Persuaded


By Rick Higginson

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38, 39 NKJV)

Many years ago, God impressed this sentence on me as one of the greatest things I could hold onto. So much of what we are confident of in this life is fragile – our health, our livelihood, our trust in other people. Circumstances can change in an instant, and what we depend on could vanish without warning.

A co-worker once spoke about his philosophy class in college, and how the professor stressed the idea that we cannot know anything for certain. We could only attest to what we perceive or think. Yet, in these two short verses, the Apostle Paul declared something that we as believers should know for certain – that there is nothing in all of creation that can separate us from the love of God.

This is beautiful, because in all of human knowledge there is only One not created. God Himself is the only being that could separate us from His love, and yet He promised He would never do so (Hebrews 13:5, 6). If nothing else can sever us from Him, and if He won’t, then our place with Him is assured.

When the Philosophy Professors ask what I know, I can say with confidence, “I know that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

There’s another aspect to this verse, though, that I think often gets overlooked, and that’s the word, “persuaded.” It’s also translated in some versions as “convinced,” which can carry a little different connotation. The Greek word we take this from is “peitho,” and it conveys the idea of someone who was won over to a point of view. If I said that Acme brand widgets aren’t worth the trash bag to haul them away, and you proceeded to show me all the reasons that Acme widgets were terrific so that you changed my mind, it would fit the word “peitho.” I am persuaded that Acme widgets are the best widgets anywhere.

I believe that Paul resisted the idea of nothing being able to separate us from the love of God, and in his position, it’s easy to understand. Paul was a Pharisee, and as such would have known not only the Torah, but also the Talmudic laws that went beyond the Mosaic Law, and which (in theory) kept the people from inadvertently transgressing Torah. Even while teaching the concept of Christian liberty, Paul also exhorted believers to holy living. He taught of the forgiveness of sins, along with not committing sins that would need to be forgiven in the first place. As such, it’s a logical step to think of him seeing the idea of consequence for willful sin to be a powerful motivator. Along with this, it’s also logical for us to think in terms that someone who leaves God behind would likewise leave their salvation behind. If I turn away from Him to live a sinful life, willfully rejecting God’s standards, how could I expect God to still hold me in His love?

I think Paul wrestled with this same question, and resisted the idea that we now state as, “once saved, always saved.” As Jacob long before, though, Paul learned that wrestling with God is always going to result in God winning out. Whatever his original hypothesis, Paul was brought to the inescapable conclusion that nothing could separate us from God’s love – not even ourselves.

This is important, because it’s easy for the enemy to plague us with doubts. What if I die at the moment I’m having a sinful thought? John wrote that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). But what if I don’t have a chance to confess? If I don’t confess, am I not forgiven and therefore stained with the sin that will bar me from the Holy Presence?

Not if we accept what Paul wrote. First, confession isn’t saying to God that I did something. Admitting to a deed isn’t truly confession, and besides, God already knows what I’ve done and what I will do in the future. While acknowledging our failures is good for helping us to bring our lives into conformance, that isn’t the kind of confession we need. True Biblical confession is agreeing with God that what we have done is sin, plain and simple. We can admit to something without truly confessing, because we have a remarkable ability to rationalize and excuse. “Yes, Lord, I got angry, but…” isn’t really confession.

True Biblical confession can occur long before we ever commit the sin. It’s making that conscious decision that God’s ways are right, and when we fail to live up to them, we are wrong and sinning. I might not remember every time I have or will indulge a lustful thought, and were I to think that every single incident must be acknowledged or else I will retain unforgiven sin in my life, my confidence and assurance would be lost. I could even be afraid to do anything, for fear that I might sin in the process and forget to confess it.

God knew this about us. He knew the tactics the enemy would use to inhibit us by fear or by suggesting that we had been so bad God had cast us away, and so He persuaded Paul of the truth.

When I’ve turned aside, and haven’t cared if I held onto Him; when I’ve fallen, and felt unworthy to be His child; when the world has assaulted me and tried to carry me away on distractions and pressures; Romans 8:38 and 39.

Years ago, there was a poster that read, “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” When I reached the end of my rope during one of the darkest times in my life, I didn’t have the strength to hold on. I learned during that time that the knot wasn’t tied by me; it was tied by God, and the rope was tied around my wrist. When I couldn’t hold on, He wouldn’t let go, and these words were written on that knot:

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Like Paul, He persuaded me with the truth of His promise.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Friday Fiction for August 14, 2009

Welcome to Friday Fiction, hosted this week by Yours Truly (provided I can figure out McLinky and make it work correctly). Please post your links, and enjoy the submissions now that everyone is home from the Faithwriters Conference.

This excerpt is from The Eridanus Dream, and takes place the second morning following Y’La’s arrival at Pisces.

Morning Prayers

From The Eridanus Dream

By Rick Higginson

Morning disturbed him far too early, and he dropped to the floor to see Rory sprawled haphazardly in the middle bunk, his bare bottom protruding from beneath the disheveled bed linens. Sean faced the other way as he pulled his jumpsuit on, having seen more of the commander already than he would have preferred. He felt Y’La calling to him from just outside the door, and found her waiting in the corridor for him to emerge. He made her wait long enough for him to use the CF, and then allowed her to take him out to the edge of the slate where she had gone the previous morning.

She lifted her face and began her morning prayers with him listening uncomfortably. While she spoke congenially with God, he had wondered until just two days before if God existed or even cared anymore. Even so, as she canted the traditional liturgy he found himself longing for the feeling of peace she exuded, and clumsily began a prayer of his own. Silently in his mind, he ventured a petition while feeling much like someone who was trying to reconcile with an offended friend.

She finished her first prayer and waited with her eyes still focused on something unseen. When he finished his own awkward attempt, she gently took his hand and began her next prayer, an exuberant one of praise and thanksgiving. He was aware from her touch that men did not recite these and that in many ways she was flouting centuries of tradition by including him in the practice. Turning his eyes to look in the direction she was looking, he hoped to catch a glimpse of whatever held her attention so firmly in the distance.

Seeing nothing but empty sky, he closed his eyes. In the phrases that rang in his ears and in his mind, he found a memory.

“Why, honored priestess, do we stand and look towards what we cannot see when we pray?” the little girl asked.

“It is an exercise of faith, Y’La,” the elder woman answered patiently and kindly. “We look to what we cannot see because we know it is there, and we direct our prayers towards that place where God has planted Her Name. If we cannot have faith enough to direct our prayers towards the Temple, which we or our mothers have seen, how can we direct our prayers towards God whom we have not seen?”

“But the Temple is so far away,” Y’La objected. “How can God hear us through the deep forests?”

“The Temple is far away, but God dwells wherever Her people call on Her. You cannot go so far that God cannot hear you, child. If you could travel to the farthest reaches of the sky, God would still hear you.”

He didn’t notice that she had finished canting the prayer as his mind wandered to a memory of his own. He recalled sitting in the church as a young teen-ager, attending more to make his mother happy than for any reasons of his own. He could not remember what the pastor had been talking about, but his attention had been attracted when he heard the stars mentioned.

The words that had followed rang clearly in his memory all those years later.

“Where can I go from Your Spirit?

Or where can I flee from Your Presence?

If I ascend to the heavens, You are there.

If I make my bed in the depths, behold, You are there.

If I take the wings of the morning,

And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there Your hand shall lead me,

And Your right hand shall hold me.”

Her thoughts gently interrupted his memory. It is a beautiful psalm; perhaps you will share more of them with me later?

He nodded agreement, and she began the next prayer. He yielded to her memory, and his voice joined hers in the words.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Friday Fiction for August 7, 2009

Friday Fiction this week is hosted by Stina Rose, at her blog Scroll Bag. Look for McLinky on her blog, to read the great submissions from other Friday Fiction participants.

I was interviewed by Peej over on her Patterings blog this week, and in one of my answers I mentioned Snickers candy bars and Diet Pepsi. The first time I played this running gag was in the following mock interview I wrote for my April 2007 column on Collector Times. This was before the finalized and published version of Cardan’s Pod, and before I managed to get anything put together for a website. This was just a fun, silly piece, and ran the same month as “The Sound of Her Voice” on CT.

Confessions of a Newbie, April 2007

Narrator: This month’s episode of Confessions of a Newbie will not be seen today, so that we may bring you the following special program.

Host: Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to our special Collector Times Anniversary Edition of “Meet the Stars”. I’m your host, G. Howie Fonzonem, and today we’re pleased to welcome our guests, Eva and Marta of the Pod. Ladies, welcome to the show.

Eva: Thanks.

Marta: Good to be here, Howie.

Host: Let’s dive right in, shall we?

Eva: Watch it, Howie. Any more puns like that, and we’ll replace you with a flatulent gerbil.

Host: Er, uh, right. Anyway, so tell our audience today. What made you decide it was time to tell your story to the world?

Marta: Well, part of it was we figured if so many people were bored enough to pay attention to Paris Hilton, we might actually have a chance of generating some interest.

Eva: Money. Maintaining an island gets expensive, you know.

Host: But isn’t Josh Cardan wealthy enough to handle that?

Eva: With the uncertainty of today’s economy? Sure, he’s handling things now, but what happens if his company gets hit with some huge lawsuit, or the market crashes, or he gets hooked on eBay? We need some income of our own.

Marta: I like eBay.

Eva: Shh.

Host: So why did you decide on an unknown author to tell your story? Why not some established writer with a reputation and following?

Marta: Well, Rick sent us some samples, and we all really liked his writing. We’d read him on Collector Times for a couple of years –

Host: You read Collector Times?

Marta: Why not? We’re collectors, too. Eva’s sister collects beer bottles she finds, and we all like to collect books. Anyway, why we decided on Rick –

Eva: Allen Dean Foster and Piers Anthony were busy, and besides, Rick works cheap. We locked him in a room, gave him Snickers candy bars and Diet Pepsi, and refused to let him out until he’d finished writing. No other writer was dumb enough to get lured into the room so we could lock the door.

Host: I see; so what do you think of his work so far?

Marta: I’m enjoying it.

Eva: You would not believe the number of times I’ve had to nag him for rewrites. You’d think after this much time, he’d have everything correct, but I’m still finding stupid mistakes. I should have stuck with my first instinct and went with Stephen King.

Marta: But you saw what King wanted to do with us; you’d have had six inch long fangs, octopus tentacles for fingers, glowing purple eyes, and needed human livers to survive.

Eva: For a Stephen King best seller? I could live with that.

Host: So what does the future hold for the Pod?

Marta: Well, we have a web page in work.

Eva: We have a domain name registered, actually. We haven’t seen one line of code yet for a web page, though.

Host: Who’s your web master?

Eva: Take a guess. Looks like we need to stock up on Snickers and Diet Pepsi again.

Host: I see; so what else does the future hold?

Eva: What do I look like? A psychic? Hey, if I was that good at seeing the future, would we be sitting here, three years after the first installment of our story, still waiting for a publishing contract?

Marta: I think a movie adaptation would be nice. We could get someone really cute to play Josh, and I think maybe Will Smith to play Bill Williams…

Host: Who do you see playing you?

Marta: I’d play myself, of course; who else has the look for the role?

Eva: You just want to kiss some cute actor.

Marta: Oh, and you don’t?

Eva: It’s not like my character would get kissed in the movie.

Host: Ladies, please.

Marta: Sorry; what were we talking about again?

Host: What the future holds.

Eva: I think our best bet right now is to take things one day at a time. I’m told we’re still looking for a publisher, so for now we’ll have to wait and see on that. It’s a pretty good bet you’ll see more of us here on Collector Times.

Host: Do you enjoy appearing here on CT?

Marta: Very much so. Sheryl is always a gracious host.

Eva: I don’t think it matters whether we ever make it big or not, we’ll always have a special place in our hearts for Collector Times. This was where we first went public, three years ago this month in fact, and while it’s certainly not big or flashy, it’s always warm and friendly here.

Marta: I think Josh and I have an appearance here this month.

Eva: If Rick got off his butt and sent it in. You never know with him. It took him long enough to get around to some good parts for me.

Host: Well, thank you for talking with us today, ladies, and I hope you and the Pod make a big splash in the entertainment world real soon.

Eva: Flatulent gerbil, Howie; it’s still not too late to replace you with a flatulent gerbil.

Host: Er, yes. Um. Well, thank you, audience, for tuning in today. I’m your host, G. Howie Fonzonem, saying congratulations to Collector Times for another wonderful year. We hope you join us again for another unscheduled episode of Meet the Stars.