There is something about the sweetness of Christmas that brings out pangs of sadness in many people this time of year. I know that feeling quite well.
For me, Christmas evokes memories of being at my grandparents’ house in Memphis, Tennessee. Ever since my parents moved us away to South Florida when I was five years old, my family spent weeks at a time at Nanny and Pop’s during the summer and the holidays.
During those precious weeks, my sister and I would spend hours playing games, reading books, and pretending with vintage dolls that belonged to my mother. Pop would take us to museums or movies and Nanny would play airplane with us on the staircase or patiently teach us a new card game. Sometimes we would spend a whole afternoon in Nanny’s kitchen watching her cook. Other times she would push us on the swing underneath the beautiful Magnolia tree in their backyard.
Our time was so sweet in Memphis that I would often wake up before dawn because I was so excited to see Nanny, partly because I knew she would make me a James Beard-worthy breakfast, but mostly because I longed for her to embrace me in one of her comforting hugs and tell me that I was her treasure, like she did every morning. I remember like it was yesterday, lying in bed while it was still dark outside, waiting to hear the train cross over Goodlett Avenue, like it did every morning, blowing it’s horn as if to say “You can wake her up now.”
There was something so comforting about that train, that room, that house…
* * *
Christmas in Memphis was particularly magical for wide-eyed little girls. My grandmother always had a beautiful tree with elegantly-wrapped presents spilling out from underneath the branches. Handmade Bucilla stockings – each one perfectly embroidered with our names – hung from the mantle. Smells of homemade deliciousness came from Nanny’s kitchen throughout the day. And everything in the house just seemed to glow.
On Christmas Eve, our family always read Luke 2 and sometimes my sister and I would act out the nativity scene with our baby dolls (and maybe do a little dance routine, too!). We would then snuggle up to our sweet grandmother as she sung and read to us. Christmas Day was even more magical.
After Christmas, when it was time to head back to Florida, we would spend all morning crying – all the way until Nanny and Pop walked us to our Northwest gate at the Memphis airport. I am sure we made quite the scene: my mom, sister, and I just sobbing as we had to go back to God-forsaken place (as my grandmother jokingly referred to South Florida!). I cried because I feared never seeing them again.
I think deep, deep love can bring on fear like that. I just could not imagine my life with Nanny and Pop in it.
* * *
As we got older and became teenagers, our visits at Nanny and Pop’s weren’t as long, but our relationship still grew deeper. In college, I would drive three hours from Nashville to spend the weekend with them. Not something that most college kids would think a fun weekend, but for me it was nourishing to my soul. I remember after my grandmother turned in for the night, I would often contemplate knocking on her door because I longed to be with her for just a few more minutes. To pick her brain for just a little more wisdom about this scary thing called life.
It may seem strange to some, but my grandmother and I grew even closer after I got married and my husband moved me to even more foreign places (like California and Connecticut!). She encouraged me through some of my hardest times. She empathized with me when my husband had to work 100 hours a week and she listened to me sob and scream after we suffered loss after loss. Through the phone Nanny poured out wisdom and guidance and beautiful Scripture to encourage me.
But even thought she was just a phone call away, I still longed to be in her home and in her arms, because being with Nanny just made everything seem alright in the world.
* * *
The last time I was at Nanny and Pop’s home in Memphis it was when my husband and I took our children to visit for the weekend. As we were about to leave to drive back to Dallas, Justin offered to take the girls to go fill up our car with gas so I could spend a few quiet moments alone with my grandparents. I remember sitting on the couch next to Nanny, holding her soft, perfectly manicured, hand and snuggling up to her, just as I had done as a child. I remember hoping that Justin would take a long time getting gas because I just did not want to leave her. It was that same childhood fear creeping in: what if this was the last time I saw her?
I can still see Nanny waving and kissing and we drove away that day, pulling out onto Highland Ave in our Yukon, me wanting to hop out and run back to the comfort of her embrace and Southern drawl once more.
I so wish I had.
* * *
I don’t write all of this to bring on sadness, but just to encourage everyone to remember those who are sad. Don’t think of Christmas Eve or Christmas Day as a day when you shouldn’t call someone because they are “special” days. In all actuality, those are the days that are sometimes most meaningful to hear from people.
My family is so close and we have each other to lean on as we mourn our grandmother’s passing, but not everyone is as blessed with that support. So think about those you can call, text, or email an encouraging word or prayer. Or maybe even drop off a thoughtful little something. Whether it’s someone who’s lost a child or a parent, or a family that is dealing with an illness or divorce, think about reaching out in love. People that are hurting or missing someone will not be offended if you do; in fact, they will be so thankful.
* * *
And one more word about my grandmother. At her funeral, the minister talked about how right before Nanny died, everyone in Memphis was talking about Prince William and Prince Harry’s recent visit to Memphis. The minister said that all the crown jewels, wealth, and status of the royal family could not compare to the gift we were given in Nanny, who loved us all with every ounce she had in her and devoted her entire life to making sure her children, grandchildren, great-children knew they were loved by God and loved by her.
And he was right. If you are familiar with the Bible and Deuteronomy 6, Nanny pretty much lived that out her entire 83 years.
So let that be an encouragement to you mothers and grandmothers out there, that your hard work and love and devotion to your children and grandchildren will not be fruitless. The fruit of Nanny’s prayers and love is still begin seen long after she is gone and boy is it beautiful to see…
Merry Christmas and May Your Days Be Merry and Bright,
Resting in His Comfort,
Thrill of Hope print linked here.