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Sunday, December 24, 2006

By Any Other Name

Chris Mikesell sent this to me and I asked him if I could feature it in our Carnival Of Christian Writers.

Chris is out of town and didn't get it posted on his site, so I'm posting it here until he gets back and can get it up on his blog.


By Any Other Name
by Chris Mikesell


Josh looked like any other eight-year-old boy on the outside, and that suited him just fine. On the inside, though, he was convinced he was something special. He tried not to let it show, but at Christmastime he could barely contain himself. He wasn't sure what he was going to do with his life, but the joy that filled his heart during that special time of year told him the sky was the limit.

The rest of the year, though, he had his doubts. Lying in bed at night, restless, trying to find sleep, dark voices would prey on his mind. "You're a loser. There's nothing special about you. Your folks keep moving all the time – it's because of you, you know. And whatever happened to your dad – your real dad? He probably left because he couldn't stand the thought of life with you. Probably knew you'd turn out ugly."

It was true; he had never known his birth father. Some primitive part of his brain echoed with the last words his dad had spoken to him while he was still in the womb. "It's a tough world, kid. It'll wear you down – kill ya, even. You gotta be tough, okay? I can't be there with you; someday I hope you'll understand. Be cool. Don't cry – you cry and that'll be all someone ever remembers you by. I love you, kid; you've got to believe that. See ya around."

Or maybe that was just the night voices again.

Josh was raised by his mom and Stepdad Joe. Joe didn't seem to mind being a stepfather; Josh guessed that showed how much Joe loved him and his mom. A lot of men wouldn't even think of marrying a woman with kids; Josh's friend Dave told him lots of guys would take his mom out to dinner, but when they found out she had a kid it was "So long. Thanks for a wasted evening."

The things the night voices said about Joe were as bad as what they said about himself: "Unemployed jerk. He doesn't really care about you. God knows why Joe even tolerates you." Josh tried to counter with the fact that his stepdad was self-employed, not unemployed, but the night thoughts said they meant the same thing. "Manure is just cowflops by another name; same thing with your stepdad," they said.

But Josh loved his stepdad. And while the traitorous night voices might try to tear him down, Josh wouldn't listen to what they said about Stepdad Joe. He knew his stepdad loved him. He knew that Joe did the best he could for the family. Unemployed people begged for easy cash by the side of the road. Stepdad Joe proved his love by hustling up work one way or another. He wasn't manure. Josh knew Joe wasn't that other word either, the one his folks didn't like him to say.

But at Christmastime the voices quieted down – Christmastime was the best. People celebrated at that time of year for a lot of different reasons, but for Josh it was always about the Christ Child being born in the manger. Even Josh's own birthday party at that same time of year paled in comparison. The angels, the shepherds, the mysterious Wise Men who left in secret so as not to betray the location of the Holy One – each made the story more exciting.

Stepdad Joe had made a set of figurines in his workshop, nothing fancy, just carved dowels that he and Josh painted and embellished with scraps of silk and burlap. Every year Joe told the story of the baby's miraculous birth, beginning with Mary on the back of a donkey, Joseph walking alongside. Then came their arrival at Bethlehem – Josh wanted a city full of inns and shops and houses, but his stepdad was too busy lining up work to make anything so elaborate. All they had was a single inn and a stable. So the expectant parents moved from the one to the other and – hey, presto! – there was Baby Jesus in the manger.

Josh wasn't sure exactly what "hey, presto!" involved. Some kids in his school had told him what their parents said happened at birth, but that just sounded gross. Surely the Christ Child hadn't had that happen to Him.

Then the angels appeared to the shepherds and they went to the stable to worship the newborn king. Then the Wise Men brought in their precious gifts: Josh had never seen much gold, certainly not around the house; he wasn't even sure what frankincense and myrrh were. But the Wise Men were beautiful, decorated with purple and gold silk, with glitter on their little urns and boxes. Josh liked the arrival of the Wise Men the best; he made trumpeting noises when they entered. Stepdad Joe said the Wise Men hadn't actually come until a year or so after the Christ Child was born, but it made for a better story with them coming to the manger. After a final appearance by an angel, the Wise Men departed "by another route" – this last was always whispered, so wicked old King Herod wouldn't find out what had actually happened.

And so Josh sat, looking out the window at the light dusting of snow on the ground, anxiously waiting for the day when the Wise Men, shepherds and Holy Family could come out of their box and the story would be told all over again. He had asked his parents to tell him more about Jesus and what He did in His life, but they always told him, "When you're a little older, dear. We'll tell you when you're older."

Josh felt he was older now. An eight-year-old, he thought, can do a lot of things. He could read, for instance. Maybe he'd find a book on his own about Jesus and read that; why wait for his parents to get around to it in their own time? He'd take initiative – that's what Stepdad Joe called it when he convinced a customer to have a little extra work done: "Why settle for plain cabinet doors? For just a little more I can put some moulding and trim on them and give you a kitchen you can be proud of. What do you say?" Take initiative, that's what he'd do.

Josh, lost in his thoughts, hadn't heard his mom come into the room. When she cleared her throat, he looked up at her sheepishly.

"Why aren't you paying attention? I called you four times, and here you are just staring off into space. Next time I call your name, please listen."

"Maybe if you'd call me 'Josh' like everyone else, I'd hear you better."

His mom refused to call him by his nickname, though. It bugged him, but he knew it was out of love that she always called him by his given name.

"Yeshua," she said. "Go tell Joseph it's time for dinner. Then come back inside and help me set the table."

He hurried to obey.

The future savior of the world was like that as a boy.

3 comments:

Chris said...

Thanks for posting this, Mich. FWIW this is the first thing I submitted for publication after I started writing in 2004 (for the Faith in Fiction Christmas story contest). I'd do a few things differently today, but 2 years after the fact, who wouldn't?

Have a great Christmas.

Jenny said...

Chris,
This is wonderful and I'm glad I got to read it Christmas morning--just made it more appropriate. Wishing you and Michelle a very Merry and blessed Christmas!
Abundant blessings,
Jenny Cary

Gina said...

Thanks Chris and Michelle!