Monthly Archives: December 2018

Away In A Manger


I love all the Christmas carols. I often set a cd to playing while I’m knitting or baking. I found a good station on the car radio so I hear carols wherever I go. They are all special, not only for their message, but for the memories I recall when I hear them. But I’ve chosen Away In A Manger to feature today because of two things.

First, recent renditions of that carol. My precious Charli (my youngest great-granddaughter, aged seven) sang Away In A Manger last week with the children’s choir at my church. It was so sweet it brought tears to my eyes. And today her little brother Kaison sang and did motions for Away In A Manger with our preschool choir. They were very active and cute pantomiming sleeping, rocking a baby in arms, and then with wonderful volume shouting the name of Jesus.

Second, I heard on the radio a new Christmas song in which the line “Away in a manger” is changed to “A way in a manger.” In other words, God made “a way” for us to claim a place in heaven through sending His Son Whose first night on earth was spent laid in a manger.

These two things led me to recall an early memory I have of feelings, imaginings, wonderings about what all Away In A Manger was about.

We had a stable at Pinedale, the home where I grew up. It was a small gabled building with stone walls and a slate roof, a tiny imitation of our own big house but with no windows and, of course, no stately chimneys. Inside the stable was a manger. We didn’t have donkeys or sheep or camels. But we did always have at least one milk cow.

Though the Bethlehem stable Luke described was probably not stone, my image when we sang Away In A Manger was of our own stable, its interior dark as a cave even at midday.  I imagined it as it was on Saturdays when my brothers had just shoveled out the muck and laid down a thick layer of fluffy dry oak leaves or hay.

The manger was in one corner, and it was a generous one, plenty big and worn smooth on the inside by the licking of many rough tongues. I examined it while Scamp the current cow was out grazing on a grassy slope. I ran my fingers over the boards where, between cracks, I found bits of sweet grain clinging. I squinted my eyes to picture hay cushioning the baby wrapped tightly in swaddling clothes. For a while I thought swaddling clothes were thick bunglesome things like some of our heavy quilts, wrapped around and around the baby until he almost smothered and would have “waddled” had he tried to walk. Then I learned the cloths were strips an expectant mother prepared in order to wrap them around and around the baby’s body, confining his limbs so they would not be crooked as he grew. With arms imprisoned, He wouldn’t be free to curl His fingers around mine as my baby sister did. But He’d smile even as a very tiny infant, I was sure, and His eyes would gaze into mine with recognition. Because He was Jesus, not just a baby.

Then I’d feel Mary’s warm hand on my shoulder, hear Joseph clear his throat, and there would be the soft thud of many feet approaching. I’d slip out the door and imagine the shadowy flapping of shepherd’s plain wraps as they approached up the hill. The stars would be so bright in the dome of night sky as to be almost touchable, even though in reality the sun was shining and there was Scamp lifting her head to look at me curiously as if to say, “You look as if you’ve seen a ghost. Somebody step on your grave or something?”

I could smell hay the instant we began to sing Away In A Manger. And maybe it’s not really surprising that I met the risen Savior myself at a very young age sitting on a rock just up the hill from our stable. An older sister, Ginger, explained to me how to become a Christian and prayed with me. I felt right then that I was one of the children sitting on Jesus’ knees after he scolded his disciples and told them to “let the little children come unto me.”

Today, Christmas Eve 2018, as I contemplate the dear old story of His birth, the tune we’re familiar with, Away In A Manger, hums through my mind. The significance of His birth is overwhelming, compelling, and so full of hope. He came once as a baby, He’s coming again as a King!

Lord Jesus, born in a stable where Your tiny limbs were secured in swaddling clothes, I thank You and praise You for becoming the Man of Sorrows on Calvary. Your little boy legs must have flashed so fast as you, when a young boy, ran just as our grandsons’ do. Yet then You, as a man, God/man, let soldiers nail Your feet to a tree. I can’t understand it. But I believe. Please accept my tiny grain of faith as I worship You this Christmas. Amen.



1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

With Every Christmas Card


I’m not just “dreaming of a white Christmas with every Christmas card I write.” I’m thinking of those family members and distant (geographically) friends, remembering good experiences, looking forward to anticipated meetings, and saying a prayer of thanksgiving for each one.

My address book is worn and pages are mottled with changes of address. But as I scroll from A to Z the faces of folks so dear, yet so absent, appear bright and clear in my mind. I can even hear their voices and see their characteristic body language and facial expres-sions. Some years life is so busy that I consider not sending Christmas cards. It is a huge job, especially if you enclose a letter and a picture. A few years I did just letters, but I love the pretty cards so I like to do both. One year I did actually skip sending cards or letters. But as each card from distant friends and relatives arrived, I felt a stab of guilt. How could I expect them to send us a card if I didn’t send them one? So the next year I gathered cards, Christmas stamps, return labels, typed a letter, visited the photo place to make copies of our best family picture–and sat down with a cup of coffee to enjoy once again the Christmas connection. Putting on a Christmas CD adds to the festivity.

It’s important to me to use stamps that depict the true meaning of Christmas. I always ask the clerk at the post office to show me all the Christmas stamps. I like to see the colorful Santa ones, or those showing a snowman wrapped in his bright scarf, but I always choose the Christ child stamps, happy that I have the choice, and happy to remind all who happen to see my letters, postal clerk or whoever, that “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

The price of stamps has gone up, in my lifetime, from three cents to fifty cents (as of 2019). But it’s still a bargain. Imagine what comfort, consolation, joy can pass through the mail service for only fifty cents!

I treasure each card and letter we receive. Every day there is at least one new one. We eagerly read each message, delight in the beautiful cards, try to tell who everyone is in pictures of people we haven’t seen in too long. It’s fun, each year, to see who sends the first card. This year it was my niece Emily’s card that arrived first. I  have, some years, covered the refrigerator in lovely cards, or displayed them on a bureau. This year we’re placing them in a Christmas card basket. Day by day, the top cards are different.

Christmas cards aren’t the only mail to land in our box. During the Christmas season other surprises can show up.

Today a package accompanied bills, Medicare statements, solicitations, and Christmas cards in our box. Not only was it fun to discover the thoughtful gift of four different kinds of English muffins sent to us by a dear niece in Potomac, but receiving the package reminded me of the spasms of glee we children at Pinedale went into when a package arrived in the mail.

Throughout the year we were eager for the mail to come every day. Older brothers and sisters wrote home often, one in the army stationed in Japan, another at Bible college in Alberta, Canada, sisters at college in Virginia and South Carolina, and our oldest brother, pastor of a church in Mississippi. Whenever a letter arrived our parents gathered us together for the reading of it.

But at Christmas…..

There were packages too!

Our parents shopped the Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck catalogs. I tried to eavesdrop and hear what they were ordering but their voices were so quiet. And somehow, no matter how quiet I was, they could always hear me! Some of us studied the catalogs later trying to discover any smudges or turn-downs on the pages. One brother was very sad when he discovered that the toy truck he’d drooled over was still in the catalog, therefore not coming to him.

Walking down our very long winding driveway to the mailbox was a favorite thing to do, especially in December. We hardly ever went alone because we were all eager to see the Christmas card envelopes and we knew that any day a package would arrive. Mamma received a yellow slip from our mailman, Mr. Morrison, informing her that there was a package and we should look for it the next day. In such a case, we would go down early, ready to “meet the mail.” Sitting on a cold stone wall or skipping up and down the drive to keep our feet warm, we’d wait for the sound of Mr. Morrison’s car leaving the next mailbox and droning toward ours. We’d choose one person actually to meet Mr. Morrison. Though I longed to do it, I was too shy, so someone else always got the job.

Walking back to the house, we examined that package on every side. If it indicated it was fragile or perishable we sniffed to detect the sweet smell of a bucket of hard candy or maybe the coconut bonbons Mamma only ordered at Christmas. We shook the box–gently, mind you–and speculated curiously on what might be inside.

When we arrived at the house Mamma took possession of the box and we knew nothing more about its contents until Christmas. Wrapped gifts might appear on top of the tall wardrobe or in the now-empty cradle but no amount of puzzling over them would get even a clue from Mamma. Daddy just said in a mix of humor and sternness that if we continued guessing, our gift just might disappear.

I’m glad that “Brown paper packages tied up with string” are still available, still intriguing!

I’m thankful for electronic mail which is just wonderful. It is fast. It is concise. It is friendly and easy. I dearly love to find messages on my phone or in my inbox. But still, there is something so special about a “real” letter–or card. “Hard copy,” it’s called. One can unfold a letter and read it over and over, cherishing each line. As I did the letter received from my niece Joan who told of her family’s plan to converge on Asheville NC where they will enjoy Christmas together, all of them including tiny new baby Eula.

Mail–letters, cards, and packages–wonderful anytime.

But especially at Christmas.

“May your days be merry and bright…” as you send out those Christmas cards. There’s still time if you hurry!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Yes, Joy!


Joy To The World, The Lord Is Come!

I used to think joy was a synonym fo happiness. Oh, I would have used it for extreme happiness, not just everyday cheerfulness. But it would be lined up somewhere in degrees of happiness. But joy is far more than happiness. Experience in God’s kingdom teaches us this more than His Word, though it is confirmed there.

In December of 1997 my 93-year-old mother lay dying in the hospital. I might have been guilty in prior years of thinking that the passing of someone over 90 would not bring forth strong grief as, after all, she/he would have lived a good long life. I was totally wrong.

All ten of Mamma’s children and nine chosen ones, as well as 33 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren expressed ourselves differently, but each was heart-broken at the thought of losing Mamma, Momsey, Mother, Grandmother, Great-Grandmother, “Miss Eula,” or whoever she might be to us. We couldn’t imagine ever finding full happiness again without this dear lady whose cozy bedroom had become a sanctuary for all of us. There we knew we’d find loving support, challenge to keep our chin up, boosts to our faith, spurs to fulfilling our dreams, or simply a refreshing catching of the breath. It was the place where we could lean over a game of Scrabble and lose our other concerns in whether or not we could brilliantly use our “Q”, or use it at all for that matter!

It seemed natural to sing around Mamma’s hospital bed. Gradually she slipped too far away for us to communicate in any other way. She’d always enjoyed her children being around her and so we sang, some of the boys strumming guitars. Those who had other obligations during the day would join us each night to sing even though for days there had been no response from the still figure in the bed. We sang all her favorite hymns, and, with Christmas approaching, felt compelled to sing carols too. It was apparent that Mamma wouldn’t be with us at the big Christmas tree this year. In fact, some of her last words had been that she wouldn’t be sitting in her big blue chair. “But,” she’d whispered, “I’ll see you.”

It was a struggle, even a battle, for me to sing Joy To The World beside Momsey’s silent form and to the accompaniment of her struggled breathing. But I was determined, we all were, to do it for Momsey. When one of us dropped out of the singing, others took up the slack. Nurses, who had ignored hospital rules to let us overcrowd Momsey’s room, told us with moist eyes how much our faith and–yes, joy–meant to them as we sang Momsey to heaven, her flight to perfect peace occurring in the wee hours of December 12, 1997.

For over a year I could not sing any of the Christmas carols without needing one of Momsey’s handkerchiefs. But I knew how much Momsey loved Jesus and loved Christmas, how she loved seeing the little ones sitting around the tree singing Away in a Manger. I knew how she’d always beamed as her youngest sons Stan and Charlie took turns emceeing, throwing in a line about how Santa had been delayed by a heavy snow but maybe he could still come. I knew how she enjoyed the incredible awe in the children’s faces when a real live Santa Claus actually came in our big front door, a pack on his back. It would have been a tremendous sorrow to her if she knew she’d laid a shadow forever over our Christmas spirit. So I kept singing. We all did.

And the joy of the Lord came to us even in the midst of grief. In the valley of the shadow He was always there.

Now years later I can sing more joyfully than ever. For there are even more memories–memories of Mamma’s sweet concern for us to the very last, of her dreams for each little great-grandchild, of her love of life. I remember vividly my husband’s tenderness throughout that dreadful-sweet time and my children’s thoughtfulness. William pulled on his dad’s boots and went out in a cold dawn to help his cousins dig Mamma’s grave in our family cemetery. They all wanted her place of rest to be personally and perfectly right. Julie reminded me: “Grandmother’s happy now and not hurting anymore. She’s singing with the angels. And you’re just going to have to learn how to make those good green beans she always cooked.”

So, yes, joy does spring up in the midst of sorrow. I know that is true.


Filed under Uncategorized