Crown of Righteousness: A Short Story

images (1)Josiah’s chair clattered to the floor, and he shot from the kitchen like a stone from a sling. He reached the far side of the yard before the screen door popped against its frame. Too upset to heed his dad’s calls, Josiah raced down the path through the woods. Shadows deepened with dusk, but he didn’t slow. He knew this path so well he could find his way in pitch darkness, but how many more times would he follow it? A writhing, churning ache began in the pit of his stomach.

Minutes later, his chest rising and falling in violent heaves, Josiah tore into Uncle Peter’s yard. He raced down the path lined with Aunt Mary’s tulips, thriving despite her death the previous spring. Soft mooing came from the barn behind the house. His feet pounded up the blue-painted wooden steps illumined by the circle of light pouring from the kitchen window. Without knocking, Josiah burst through and halted beside the small table where Uncle Peter and Baby Sarah sat eating supper.

“Well, hello, Josiah.” If Uncle Peter was surprised he’d crashed in on them, his face didn’t show it. Instead he smiled, stood, and pulled out the third chair—Aunt Mary’s seat. “Join us.”

Sarah banged her spoon on the high chair tray and grinned, her small teeth gleaming. “’Siah!”

Josiah couldn’t help but smile at his motherless little cousin. “Hi, Sarah.” He patted her blonde curls, still damp from a bath.

“Hungry?” Uncle Peter crossed to the stove and lifted the lid of a pot filled with macaroni and wieners.

“No, sir. Thank you.” With what felt like rattlers coiled in his gut, there was no way he could eat. Besides, he wouldn’t take their little bit of food, especially not now. Josiah sank into the seat beside his cousin, who’d just turned one a few weeks before. He sighed as his dad’s announcement at their own supper table replayed in his mind. “Peter’s losing his place.”

He caught his uncle’s eye. “What are you going to do?”

Uncle Peter put the lid back on the pot and moved to the table. His broad shoulders drooped as he sank into the chair, but he smiled at Sarah, who rounded her blue eyes at him and squealed “’Siah!” again, as though to inform her daddy of Josiah’s visit.

“Yes, Sarah. Your big cousin came to see us.” He kissed her forehead then scooped some macaroni onto her spoon before answering Josiah’s question. “We’ll be fine. We’re moving in with Grandpa, aren’t we, sweet girl?” He looked at Sarah again.

The baby jabbered something about “Papa” and let out a giggle.

Josiah felt a hot stinging behind his eyelids. It wasn’t right. First Aunt Mary and now this. “They can’t do it.” He gestured toward the spotless kitchen and the happy baby. He couldn’t keep the anger from his voice. “You work hard. It’s not fair.”

“Josiah.” The single word was a warning: it wasn’t the proper time to discuss the situation, not in front of little Sarah.

Josiah released a long breath and mumbled, “Sorry.”

Uncle Peter’s smile softened the rebuke. “Why don’t you come and help me with the cows in the morning? Grandpa’s driving over to play with Sarah.”

The little girl gurgled something at his words, and Josiah nodded. The writhing snakes in his stomach would just have to stay there awhile longer. But he was going to figure out a way for Uncle Peter and Sarah to keep their home.

imagesJosiah straggled from bed as the sun peeked over the horizon. He scrubbed at his gritty eyes. Had he slept even an hour? Before bed, he’d talked with his dad about Uncle Peter’s dilemma, but that hadn’t helped. Josiah still burned to make the bank see things his way.

He threw on some clothes and snagged a piece of bread on his way out. His parents had agreed he could help Uncle Peter this morning instead of caring for his usual chores. Josiah emerged from the path into his uncle’s yard just as he walked from the barn with the Widow Thomas. Josiah moved behind a tree and peeped out at the pair.

“Here you go. I hope this helps.” Uncle Peter handed the woman a good-sized pitcher.

Her grin revealed gaps in her teeth, and she reached up a gnarled hand to pat his cheek. “Thank you. You’re a good man.”

Uncle Peter smiled and dipped his head. “You’re welcome, ma’am. Glad to do what I can.”

She hobbled away cradling the pitcher to her chest.

Josiah shook his head. How many times had he witnessed such a scene? Maybe if Uncle Peter didn’t give away milk to anybody who needed it, he wouldn’t be losing his dairy farm.

The rattlers in Josiah’s stomach began to bite as he watched his uncle go back into the barn. Josiah stalked after him. He passed through the cool, bright milk house to the milking parlor and peered around for his uncle. There he was, hooking up his favorite Jersey cow to the milking machine.

Josiah waited in silence until he finished then said, “Why’d you give her free milk?” He heard the accusation in his voice and added, “Sir.”

Uncle Peter’s sigh joined the gentle wheezing pulse of the milking machine. “Because she needed it. God’s Word says to help the widows and orphans.”

“But what about Sarah? She’s an orphan.”

Uncle Peter’s look speared him. “She has plenty of milk. I see to that.”

Josiah grunted then whirled to snatch up a shovel. “How can you keep a home for her if you give away your profits?”

“I won’t turn away someone in need, Josiah.” Uncle Peter’s voice was firm. He turned to check the Jersey.

Josiah crossed through to the nearest stall and began scooping manure. The acrid, earthy scent reminded him this place wouldn’t be his uncle’s much longer. “What if you ask the bank for more time?”

“I’ve already had a couple of extensions.” Uncle Peter spoke softly to the cow and patted her brown flank. “There’s nothing more they can do for me.”

Another snake bit Josiah’s stomach, and the poison spread through his veins. “Nothing more they will do, you mean.” He tossed the shovel into the corner with a clank that made the cows kick and low.

Uncle Peter shot him a reproving look. “Anger does nothing but produce bitterness, Josiah.”

“Maybe my anger will make the bank see sense.” Josiah stomped toward the barn door.

Uncle Peter crossed to him in three long strides and took hold of his arm. “It’s not worth fighting for, son.” He pulled Josiah closer and bent to meet his gaze. “God didn’t promise me ease on this earth. He didn’t promise I’d be rich or that I’d always have this place, much as I love it.” He gestured around the barn. “He didn’t promise I’d never have sorrow.” Tears filled his eyes.

“That’s what I mean.” More bitter poison coursed through Josiah. Aunt Mary never should have died so young, and with a baby, too. “How could God let all this happen to you? You’ve always served Him and helped people and done your work.” His throat clogged. “It’s not fair!”

Uncle Peter hugged him close, and Josiah cried until he’d soaked the front of his uncle’s work shirt. Some of the poison in his heart seeped out with the tears. Finally, sniffling and hiccupping, Josiah pushed back to search his face. “How can you just stand there and take it? One blow after another, without getting mad?”

His uncle’s sad eyes met his. “It hurts, Josiah, I won’t tell you it doesn’t. But I can’t forget what the Word of God says in 2 Timothy 4:8: ‘Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.’”

Josiah thought about the verse a moment. “So because you get a crown of righteousness in Heaven one day, you shouldn’t be upset when God lets you lose everything?” He shook his head, lips pursed. “I just don’t see how you can do that.”

Uncle Peter stood to his full height and rested a hand on Josiah’s shoulder. “It’s not easy, but it’s a lesson we have to learn. To fight God for what we think is best, to struggle for what’s passing away, that’s pure foolishness. Wisdom says to let God be God and simply obey His Word. Trust Him to know what’s best to fit us for Heaven.”

“But what about here on earth?”

Uncle Peter’s smile barely lifted his lips. “Life isn’t about getting the most stuff and having fun all the time. It’s not about being comfortable either. It’s about being made holy.” He gave Josiah’s shoulder a squeeze. “Remember God’s plan for a person is that they’ll be like Him.”

“Without anything to show for it?”

“Oh, there’ll be plenty to show for it. We’ll get to spend eternity in His presence. That’s a pretty good reward, don’t you think?” Uncle Peter raised both eyebrows at him.

Josiah blew out a breath. “But what about you and Sarah?”

A peaceful look settled on his uncle’s face. “Don’t worry about us. God’s taking care of us, even when it doesn’t look like we think it ought to.”

Josiah felt the snakes in his belly shrink a little, and the poison eased its grip on his blood.  “I guess so.”

Uncle Peter gave him a full smile. “Well, I know so.”

Josiah saw the sincerity in his uncle’s eyes and nodded. “If you can trust God in all this, then I’ll try to trust Him, too.”

Uncle Peter gave him one last hug and headed for the milking parlor. Josiah followed.