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Madonna in Blue Jeans

December 22, 2008

MADONNA IN BLUE JEANS

Clare and I have friends who have a remarkable story. Unable to have children, the couple decided to adopt three children from an Eastern European country. Before the adoption process was finalized, the young woman had to have a hysterectomy. As she went into surgery, she clutched a picture of the three children she intended to adopt.

 On the Sunday before Christmas four years ago, Clare and I had lunch with this amazing family. They came for a visit with their three adopted children.  We ate at Cracker Barrel.  As we waited on the front porch for our table to be ready, I watched this young mother rocking her children and reading to them. The tenderness in her face, the trust in her children’s faces, reminded me of the nurturing relationship that is at the heart of the Christmas story, the close bond between Mary and her child.

I have always been fascinated by the description of Mary as a woman with a pondering heart. As a teenage mother she had much to ponder; most of all, the miracle she held in her arms and the responsibility of being his mother.  In truth, the birth of every child is a miracle. Every child requires a lot of tending, even when that child is Jesus.

I miss my mother more at Christmastime than any other time of year. She loved this season, decorating her home, hosting friends and family, and as much as anything else, rocking her grandchildren.

One of the great comforts for me at Christmas is to see mothers and grandmothers holding little babies.  So many Christmas cards depict Mary and Jesus, Madonna and child, in soft pastel tones.  Many Christmas carols present the same picture.  “What Child is this, who, laid to rest on Mary’s lap, is sleeping?”  Little babies do sleep and are sometimes calm and peaceful. But they can also be quite demanding.  Though He was the Son of God, Jesus was also fully human.  In the familiar carol, “Away In a Manger,” I doubt that the line “no crying He makes” was true for very long.

The word Madonna is Latin for my lady. A part of Christmas for me is to take note of the real-life Madonnas in my world:  our nieces cradling a great-nephew or great-niece; a young mother sitting  on the front row of our Sanctuary holding her newborn as she listens to the Christmas Cantata;  grandmothers taking delight in their third generation offspring, giving new mothers a temporary break from the constant demands of parenting.

This year, one of the most precious images of a Madonna in my life is a picture of our daughter-in-law June holding little Virginia June. It is a vision of a sweet young mother cradling her newborn child. June is a Tennessee Madonna,  barefooted and wearing blue jeans.

As Christmas 1970 drew near, Clare and I waited. She was pregnant for the third time. The first two ended in a miscarriage. We had been told by one physician that we could not have children and should consider adoption. We had started adoption procedures and were close to adopting a child when we learned that Clare was pregnant for the third time. We terminated the adoption, and we waited.

The due date of December 18 came and went. Still we waited.

Unable to travel, we spent a happy Christmas Eve together. We opened gifts and called our families before turning in for the night. A little after midnight on Christmas morning, Clare had her first contraction. At 5:00 A.M. we drove through lightly falling snow to the hospital.

At 3:26 P.M. on Christmas Day our first child was born.  

Beginning Christmas1970, I have witnessed the love and care and constant attention of one of the finest mothers I have ever known.  When our children were very young, I would sometimes come home from a day of ministry to find a Carolina Madonna in blue jeans, faithfully carrying out the ministry God gave her.  I have seen her attend to our children at the expense of her own needs.  Though our two oldest grandchildren live in Michigan, Clare thinks about them constantly and wants to be with them whenever possible.  The longer I am with Clare, the more I appreciate her and see in her the same maternal love so beautifully depicted in the face of Mary.

There is a special place in heaven for women like this.  I imagine it to be a place that looks something like the front porch of a Cracker Barrel restaurant.  There are plenty of rocking chairs.  My mother and mother-in-law are there.  Both of my grandmothers are there.  Every woman is rocking and singing to a babe in arms.  Those babies, who in my mind have gone to heaven in what seems to us an untimely way, are bringing their own special joy to eternity.  And those women and those children experience Christmas, as one of our favorite carols puts it, “in heavenly peace.”

For those who have lost a mother or a grandmother, Christmas can be difficult, especially if the loss is recent.  It is my hope and prayer that all of you will catch a glimpse of a real-life Madonna and that you, too, will know the blessing of heavenly peace. 

Blessed Christmas!

Kirk H. Neely

© December 2008

 

 

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