The semi final was over and Dan had scored the winning goal. He felt like a real hero as he walked into school the next day. Even some of the girls in year 6 who would have ignored him the day before were saying "Well done Dan!" as he walked through the school yard. It was all Dan could do to keep himself from blushing when his name was read out in assembly that morning.
But, as Mr Williams said as they met for their first practice to prepare for the final, "The semi final is history now boys, and the final will soon be upon us. You did well, but let’s not get too big headed we nearly lost the semi final and the final is likely to be even tougher."
"Let's not get a big head”, The words flew around Dan mind like a bee stuck in a jam jar. It was pretty easy for him to get carried away with his own ability when the truth was he really had Mr Williams and the rest of the team to thank for his winning goal, and any way without the strength that came from God he wouldn't even have been on the pitch. It was so easy for him to forget that he needed God's help every day.
It was only a week to the final and Mr Williams had so many things he wanted to remind the team of before then.
After the Wednesday night practice Dan came home really muddy and pretty cold so while his Mum got his tea ready he went upstairs to have good soak in the bath. As he started to take off his football kit he couldn't help thinking about the story of Naaman in the Old Testament, the first half of the Bible.
Dan had been called 'a hero' by a few of his friends in school and Naaman too had been a great hero. Of course he wasn't a footballer, he was a general in an army. In the days of horses and chariot and swords and spears.
Dan looked at the mud which covered him from almost head to toe. Naaman too had been covered, but not with mud, with a terrible skin disease. Dan remembered what it had been like to have chicken pox, but the sad thing for Naaman was that his skin disease wasn't getting better, but year after year it got worse.
Dan picked up the flannel and rubbed off some of the mud. Naaman had tried everything to get rid of his skin disease but no matter what he tried nothing worked, until one day his wife's little servant girl had an idea. She came for Israel and in her country there was a man named Elisha. He wasn't a Doctor, he was a prophet. But God had used Elisha to do some incredible things.
The servant girl had told her mistress about Elisha and suggested that Naaman should go and see him and perhaps God would help Elisha to make Naaman well again.
Dan slid into the bath and the bubbles covered his muddy body. “Poor old Naaman” he though. “What had happened when he went to see Elisha?” Then Dan remembered that by the time Naaman had reached Elisha's house he was expecting him and he had sent his servant to the door to tell Naaman what he should do. "Go wash yourself seven time in the river Jordan." is what the servant had said. Naaman had been furious. He had though "What a cheek, Elisha hasn't even come to talk to me and he wants me to go and wash in the smelly river Jordan."
That reminded Dan that Naaman had another problem which really was worse than his skin disease. It was his pride. In fact Naaman was so proud he had almost gone back home without doing what Elisha, well actually God, was asking him to do!
Dan started to rub the dirt off in the water and saw how the water was gradually changing colour. Naaman pride had almost stopped him doing what God had asked. But Dan knew that eventually Naaman men had managed to persuade him to do the right thing. Dan knew there were many times then his stubbiness had stopped him doing what he knew was right.
As Dan soaked in the bath he thought how Naaman must have felt as he began to wash himself in the river Jordan. Dan held his nose as he dipped his head again and again under the bath water and counted as he did it, "Once, and nothing happened, twice and nothing happened, three time and nothing happened, four times and nothing happened, five times and nothing happened, six times and nothing happened, seven times and...." Dan jumped up in the bath and grabbed the clean towel. On the seventh time Naaman had been healed. Dan tried to imagine what it must have felt like. I bet Naaman was glad he had swallowed his pride.
Dan dried himself off and put on some clean cloths. Then he ran down stairs for his tea. “You look as clean as a whistle Dan”, said his Mum.
Dan started eating his tea, he was starving. “Clean as a whistle” he thought. “Just like Naaman.” Dan tried to remember a verse about that from the Bible, then he remembered one from another story. It was something about “People look at the outside but God looks at the heart”. Everyone had seen Naaman's spots but God had seen the problem of his pride on the inside as well.
The days coming up to the final whizzed by and soon the day arrived. Everyone had been invited to the big match. The whole school was aloud to watch and all the teachers. Even Dan's Mum and Dad had taken the afternoon off to come and see him play.
Mr Williams gave the boys a really good team talk and everyone went on the pitch ready to do their best, win or lose.
The first half was 'end to end' play but it didn't matter how many chances both teams had they just couldn't seem to score. At times Dan thought both goal keepers must have had super glue on their gloves!
The half time whistle blew and both teams had a few minutes of well earned rest. Mr Williams said “Its really important that you concentrate in the second half as the first goal could well be the winner.”
The second half started and after about ten minutes Dan couldn't believe it! It was almost like an action replay of the semi final as the ball landed a few metres in front of him. He was already running flat out towards the ball, and for the first time in the match the goal keeper was out of position. It looked like it was going to be a certain goal. There was only one problem. There was one other player also running as fast as he could towards the ball but Dan hadn't seen him. As Dan got closer to the ball it was obvious that Dan would reach the ball first, but only just. As Dan swung his leg back to kick the ball the defended realised Dan was certain to score, so he dived feet first at Dan's leg. It was like two express trains hitting each other and Dan went flying and crashed to the floor in a heap.
Dan didn't hear the referees whistle blow. He didn't see the other player being sent off for dangerous play. Dan just lay on the ground holding his leg. It was more than he could do to hold back the tears.
Everyone crowded around him and his Mum shouted "Oh, Dan!" Normally Dan would have been embarrassed but he was hurting too much to care! Mr Williams took control and realised that Dan needed to go to hospital. In a few minutes the ambulance was there and Dan was put on stretcher and bundled off the pitch. That was the last he was to see of the final!
In Hospital things calmed down a bit and his Mum and Dad wheeled him along to the X Ray department so they could find out what the problem was.
The X Ray machine was amazing. It took an picture of Dan's leg. The person taking the X Ray tried to get Dan to smile by saying “Smile please” as she took the X Ray, but Dan wasn't really in the mood for smiling. A little later they returned and put the X ray picture on a special screen. As they looked at the bone they could see the reason for the pain. The leg was broken!
Dan sat and looked at the picture of his leg. As he did it reminded him of the Naaman story he had thought about earlier in the week as he had been lying in the bath and then about the verse “People look at the outside, but God looks at the heart”. As Dan looked at the outside of his leg all he could see was a few bruises but the X ray machine could see inside to the real problem. God like a heavenly X ray machine had seen Naaman's real problem. His pride on the inside.
Dan though how amazing it was that the X ray machine could see inside Dan's leg to the broken bones but even more amazing God could see inside Naaman's life, and for that matter Dan's life as well, and see the real person!
Once the Doctors knew the problem they could do something about it and so they gave Dan something to ease the pain and gave Dan’s leg a new shinny white football boot! They put his leg in a plaster cast!
When Dan got home he was pretty stiff as he lay on the settee in the living room. Just as he was getting comfortable his Dad came running in.
“Guess what Dan?” Dan wasn't really in the mood for guessing so his Dad continued, “Mr Williams has just been on the phone. He wanted to know how you were. He was really sorry about the broken leg but thought you would want to know what happened in the rest of the match.”
Dan looked a bit sad, he thought it might be bad news, after all Bushby Primary had lost their star player! Dan's Dad kept explaining. “When you were injured you were fouled and the good news is you were in the penalty area. So Bushby primary had a penalty kick.” Dans eyes started to sparkle again. “And Joseph took the penalty and scored what turned out to be the winning goal!”
Dan felt like jumping round the room he was so happy but it was a bit difficult with a broken leg! But then as he thought about it he started to laugh.
His Dad looked at him, “Dan why are you laughing?”
“Well Dad it's like this a few days ago I was in the bath thinking about the story of Naaman in the Bible and how he was healed. Well in the story he had to take a dive in the river Jordan, and he didn't want to do it but when he did he got a new skin. Today, I had to take a dive on the football pitch, and I didn't want to do it either, but when I did we got the winning goal! So I suppose we both got what we were looking for in the end.” Dan's Dad just looked at him with a puzzled look on his face and smiled.
As Dan though about the day he couldn't help remembering what he had thought as he looked at the X ray and remembered the story. God could see into Dan's life. He knew how Dan felt that moment as he sat in his chair. It was great to know that God had a heavenly “X ray machine” and could see everything, good and bad, and still loved Dan enough to care.
Even thought the match had resulted in a broken leg Dan knew he wouldn't forget that days "Amazing Discovery". Although with the plaster cast he had on his leg it would be a little while before he’d be able to take another dive!
Copyright Steve Harris