Will the Circle Be Unbroken…Memories of Christmases Past

     Each year as Autumn slowly creeps towards the middle of November, I begin to eagerly anticipate the Christmas songs that will be soon blasting across the airwaves everywhere.  It seems that I can hardly go anyplace without hearing their joyful tunes in some form or fashion.  From sentimental medleys to lively numbers, these songs of the season have the ability to captivate us, transcend us, and usher us into this magical time called Christmas.  Recently, there’s been a song that I’ve heard played over and over.  It seems that no matter where I am, I’m constantly hearing this song.  From the grocery store, to the car radio, to the film scores of Hallmark movies…I’ve heard this song repeated more than any other since mid-November.  It is a song that talks about Christmas being the most wonderful and happiest time of all.  Yeah.  That song.  In many ways, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year.  It’s a time that brings together believers in the celebration of our dear Savior’s birth.  It’s a time that invites perfect strangers to unite in a sense of merriment with feelings of  peace and goodwill.  It’s a time that encourages communities, neighbors, friends and families to come together in a renewed sense of love and togetherness.  And it’s a time that invites intimate and personal reflection on the past year and on the years past.  Deep personal reflection.  For some, Christmas can be a very hard time.  Maybe they’ve experienced a personal loss…perhaps the loss of a job, a spouse, or a loved one.  Maybe they feel lonely.  Whatever the reason may be, Christmas for them is most definitely not the most wonderful time of the year.  It’s the hardest time of the year.

     My late grandmother was a lady who loved Christmas very much.  She had a favorite red suit that she liked to wear, and she would often put on her Santa hat to give everyone a chuckle as her way of spreading Christmas cheer.  I fondly remember the warm and inviting smell that would permeate her house as she baked many pies to give to others as Christmas gifts.  And I have wonderful memories of being at her house as a child when Christmas carolers would stop by on the cold winter’s evening, singing songs as Jack Frost nipped at their noses.  I remember going to Christmas musicals at church with her to listen to the sounds of the season…oh how she loved her Christmas music.  Yes, my sweet Maw-Maw loved Christmas and everything that it encompasses.

Maw Maw Santa Hat

My dear grandmother, Jennie Bryant – Christmas 2006

     Recently, I had to travel down south to the town where she lived and check on something at her old house.  The house is still in the family so I do go back from time to time, though not very often.  As I drove up to #517 with its long and inviting front porch, a wave of nostalgia and sadness hit me.  Each time I drive up and see the old blue house, my subconscious tricks my mind into thinking that I’ll somehow walk up the stairs, open the front door, and smell the wonderful aroma of pecan pie baking.  Memory is funny in that way.  But alas, it is no more to be.  This Christmas marks the 5th year that we’ve had Christmas without her.  But it’s not just the loss of my grandmother I think of during this time of year.  It’s the loss of my family and other loved ones who have moved on.

There are loved ones in the glory
Whose dear forms you often miss
When you close your earthly story
Will you join them in their bliss?

#517 Lee Avenue – My grandparent’s house for many many years

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, by and by?
Is a better home awaiting
In the sky, in the sky?

     Many Christmases were spent in that old blue house.  Even though it is by no means a large house, we still managed to gather the entire family under one roof and celebrate Christmas together.  When we were younger, my grandmother would bake a special cake, place a candle in it, and invite the grandchildren to sing happy birthday to Jesus.  That was always a special time for me as a child.  My family has not been together since 2007.  Nearly ten years now.  After my grandmother’s passing in 2010, things began to fall apart in a number of ways.  Nothing will ever be the same.  Some time ago, I was faced with a home repair project that required a strong adhesive.  I tried an ordinary glue at first, and it failed but a mere few days later.  I sent my wife to the store to get some Gorilla® brand superglue.  Not just any glue, but Gorilla superglue!  My repair was a huge success thanks to the amazing strength of that Gorilla glue.  I would like to think that if my grandmother were here, that things would be different.  She was the Gorilla glue that held our family together, and I can’t help but wonder if she could magically mend the shattered pieces back together if she were still here.  But I have my doubts.  You see, there is much hatred and animosity in my family.  And where there is hatred and animosity, the spirit of Christmas and the love which forms its very core cannot prevail.

You can picture happy gath’rings
Round the fireside long ago
And you think of tearful partings
When they left you here below

House and Sky

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, by and by?
Is a better home awaiting
In the sky, in the sky?

          Memory is a strange thing.  I could almost say that it’s like a curtain in wind; it flutters in and out with a life force of its own as it triggers our recollections of the past at the most random  and inopportune times.  In my own life, these recollections are oftentimes triggered by hearing a song, smelling a scent, or travelling to a familiar place.  For me, travelling back to my grandmother’s house always triggers memories of the past.  My grandmother always loved wind chimes.  As I sat down on the porch that day and listened to the wind chimes softly tinkling in the wind, my mind was transported back to another time many years ago.  I heard the voices of children as they played in the backyard.  I smelled the pecan pies baking, and I heard my grandmother’s voice as she talked to everyone who was visiting.  I sat there for a short while just reminiscing with my memories, listening to the ghosts of my past as they moved all around me, their voices swirling around like the dead brown leaves in the wind.

One by one their seats were emptied
One by one they went away
Now the family is parted
Will it be complete one day?

Through this door, I have entered many times.

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, by and by?
Is a better home awaiting
In the sky, in the sky?

     The old saying that time marches on and waits for no one certainly holds true.  The sound of the traffic travelling up and down the street eventually brought me back to the present day in December 2014, and I regretfully stood up and prepared to leave my silent reverie.  As I slowly walked into the house, I bid the ghosts of my past goodbye once more, locking the door of that memory for safekeeping until the next time I would have the opportunity to visit the past.  This Christmas, we have much to be thankful for.  We really do.  You see, over 2,000 years ago a baby was born.  He would one day become a man who would die to give us the gift of eternal life and to make us new creations.  And that, my friends, is the best gift of all; the gift of hope that we have through the reassurance that better days are yet to come. Our hope is in the eternal, and not the temporal.  There’s an old hymn that I was recently reminded of.  The chorus goes something like this:

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, by and by?
Is a better home awaiting
In the sky, in the sky?

As you  can see, the original writer of the hymn worded the chorus as a interrogative sentence.  My reference to the sentence type is merely the English teacher in me coming out.  For those of you who may not be familiar with English / grammar terminology, an interrogative sentence is simply one that asks a question.  A declarative sentence is one that asserts an argument or makes a statement.  Several artists who later recorded the same hymn took the liberty of transforming the chorus to into a declarative sentence:

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, Lord, by and by?
There’s a better home awaiting
In the sky, Lord, in the sky.

Because of the hope that we have through the birth of Jesus Christ and the miracle that is Christmas, we can joyfully sing this song as a loud declaration!  Yes, the circle will one day be unbroken, and yes, there IS a better home awaiting for us some day if we only cling to our hope in the eternal and believe that there are better days yet to come.  One day our circle will be held together with a love that cannot be broken – it will have been glued together with the Gorilla Glue of Jesus Christ!

One of the annual traditions that my family looks forward to at the beginning of each Christmas season is attending a touching Christmas service known as the Festival of Lights. This very touching service is performed by the Mississippi College Singers and incorporates staff and faculty members who serve as scripture readers.  This year, I had the privilege of being one of the readers in the program, held each year in the historic Provine Chapel on Mississippi College’s campus.  Each year, the service concludes with the singers singing a beautiful old hymn called Still Still Still.  As they sing the song, the chapel is illuminated only by the flickering candles held by the singers.  It really is a very inspirational sight.  The last verse of the song goes like this:

Dream, Dream, Dream,

Of the joyous days to come.

While guardian angels without number,

Watch you as you sweetly slumber.

Dream, Dream, Dream.

Of the joyous days to come.

This Christmas season, no matter where you are in your journey down the river of life, I challenge you to spread the love.  Call someone that you haven’t talked to in a long time.  Bake a pie and share the gift of your time with an elderly or lonely person that you know.  Give a hug to someone who may be struggling.  Make amends with those you may have had a falling out with, and let your hearts be light!  This Christmas season, may you hold fast to your memories.  May you cling to the eternal hope and joy you have through Jesus Christ.  And may your dreams be filled with visions of the joyous days yet to come!  One day, my circle will be unbroken, and yours will be too!

From my heart to yours,

Merry Christmas!

Stephen's Signature



Wiley turned 15 this December, and this is our 14th Christmas together!


Will the Circle Be Unbroken…Memories of Christmases Past — 6 Comments

  1. Stephen, I really enjoyed reading this. You are a gifted writer. God bless you and Denise and I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.

  2. Stephen, I graduated high school with your mother & knew your precious grandmother for many years. We went to the same church. You are definitely a gifted writer, but knowing your mother, I’m not surprised. I know she must be so so proud.
    I live right down from your grandfather & I pass the blue home you wrote about almost daily. It made your writing very dear to me.

    • Diane,

      Thank you so much for your kind words. My grandmother was definitely a very special lady. CS has always been like a second home to me. While we live in Clinton, we almost bought a house in CS several years ago. I still love the town, and you never know…we may move down there some day. We were married 7 years ago in my grandmother’s church! ~ Stephen

  3. Oh how I loved this story and yes it took me back to memory lane also. Keep writing and I will keep reading. You Have a wonderful gift of writing Stephen I am so glad you’re using it for the family and for others. Love you.

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