The other day at Bible study, we sang Away in a Manger, all the verses.
The song came easy to my throat, and I heard my voice caressing it; unusual, since I am not much of a singer. Especially these days when my voice wavers, warbles and cracks more often than not, and my family puts their hands to their ears saying, "Please!"
But when we sang Away in a Manger at Bible study, I sang it, and in my head I could hear a beautiful tenor descant over my low melody.
I started to remember, and then we came to the last verse.
Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay
Close by me forever and love me, I pray.
Bless all the little children in your tender care
And fit us for heaven to live with you there.
It all came flooding back to me: bedtime, night after night, all the years we lived on Homeland Road, and many of the years we lived on Sugar Pine. Tears stung my eyes and my voice, which had been doing so well, warbled and dropped out in a little choking sob.
That was our last lullaby, every night. Bedtime was such an event. First there were warm baths with bubbles and toys. Then came the naked romp in the living room. They wore their towels on their heads and ran, towels streaming behind them, around the WW1 army trunk. That trunk presented itself as a coffee table, but really served as a base for many block towers.
In the midst of the chaos, we caught them and stuffed them into pajamas, soft and clean, if a bit ragged, often blanket sleepers with the feet cut off after holes had worn through the toes.
After that came tooth brushing, stories on the sofa, Bible stories in bed, songs we sang together, and at last the final "tucking up," Be Near Me Lord Jesus, and whispered prayers for God's blessing and the protection of His angels over our home and surrounding each child's bed. Soft cheeks accepted our kisses and little bodies snuggled secure under the covers.
It happened every night, Shawn blending his voice with mine, making me sound good, the children listening with love and trust, the first music they were ever exposed to.
When you sing something every single night
for years upon years,
and then life changes,
more years pass,
more changes unfold,
but one day you come back to the song
after -- perhaps --
not singing it even once in two years or more,
amazingly, it comes back like riding a bike,
it's there in the deep parts of the muscle memory.
Your voice, although it has not been often singing, finds its way until the other memories, the ones springing in your mind rather than your body, overcome it.
Three more connected memories:
(1) I chose this song to be my children's last lullaby because I wanted them to learn it and internalize it, the promise of the presence of the Lord. "I will never leave you nor forsake you, " He says. Personally, I was traumatized by this children's prayer: "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." Who puts in children's minds, "If I should die before I wake"? What a terrible thing to do to a child trying to fall asleep in the dark. As a result, I chose Be Near Me Lord Jesus instead.
(2) Shawn always did travel a lot. When he was gone, I struggled through bedtime as best I could alone, and I sang the lullabies by myself. They never complained. Once, uncharacteristically, I was the one to be gone (at a church meeting or some such thing) at bedtime. I told the children that Shawn would put them to bed. Shannon burst into tears. "But who will sing to me?" she sobbed. I told her, "Don't worry. Daddy will sing to you." She replied, distraught, "But then it won't be pretty!" If you know how beautifully Shawn sings, and how strained and awkward is my own voice, you will understand what a treasured memory this is about a little girl's uncritical love for her mama.
(3) When Shannon was two, probably the first Christmas she was sentient, we went to church on Christmas Eve for a simple yet touching Christmas program. At the point in the nativity where Jesus was born, the congregation sang, "Away in a Manger." Hearing the tune in the piano's introduction, Shannon squirmed, and as the song went on, she began to writhe and protest. "What, Shannon?" I asked her. "Why are you acting like this?" She looked up, sulky, and blurted out, "I don't want to go to bed right now!"