Today’s post is written by Matthew Delaughter. Matthew and I have been friends since kindergarten, and it’s a joy to serve alongside him as one of the pastors of Immanuel Community Church.
Pillar. What comes to mind when I hear that word is not a column-like structure that supports a building. Rather, the word reminds me of how my Mamaw (Grandma) pronounced the word “pillow.” This never dawned on me until I moved away from my hometown in Mississippi to Louisville, KY. There, I became more conscious, not only of my family’s accent but of my own Southern drawl, even though I was technically still south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Now when I say self-conscious, I do not mean that my speech was corrected by elites living in the Highlands of Louisville. More humbling than that, I was laughed at by chain-smoking, uneducated, career waiters at the Ruby Tuesday where I waited tables during college. Until this day, words still flow out of my mouth like molasses, but due to the kind, honest souls of that Ruby Tuesday, I now pronounce oil, foil, and spoil with adequate precision.
We also had some neighbors who were close friends and would have a good laugh at my inelegant tongue. One time, when my Mamaw rode up with my mom to visit, I was going out to the car to greet her and my neighbor happened to say, “I bet your grandma has a strong accent.” In my ignorance, I said, “Yeah, I don’t know.” Lo and behold, the first thing Mamaw said to me when I opened her car door was, “Lord, that was a long trip. I don’t believe I would have made it without my pillar.”
On Monday, November 25, 2019, at 6:15 am, I sang “Give Me Jesus” to Mamaw as she lay in a hospital bed—eyes faint, breaths slow and heavy. At 6:22 am, a nurse came and placed a cold stethoscope on her motionless chest and looked at me and other family members with eyes that were sympathetic and experienced in delivering bad news. Mamaw was dead.
In the days following, my mind has been consumed with all that I miss about Mamaw. One experience I miss and will continue to miss is hearing her tell stories of her humble life as she gazed at her massive magnolia tree from her front porch. Like a stained glass window in the afternoon sun, those stories were illuminated by her unhurried and imprecise dialect. What I will probably miss the most, though, is that she was content in that accent. I don’t believe her contentment was easily obtained, though.
Mamaw didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in her mouth, nor did she die with one. Some in her family knew a life of crime. As a matter of fact, that life of crime resulted in the death of two of her uncles. She was considered “just” a housewife—bearing children, raising children and grandchildren, and even burying two of her own children. Yet, she was content.
Irma Jean Smith was content. What a treasure in a world of comparison. What a gift in a world where fleeting pleasures pass us like sunlight on a winter day. But why? Where does such contentment come from? Christmas. And by Christmas, I don’t mean a season of festivities and gatherings that can superficially medicate our weary souls with holiday busyness. No, her Christmas contentment was deeper than that. Her contentment came from her humble Savior. He who took on flesh and weakness, even the perceived weakness of an inferior dialect.
Jesus’ disciples—as well as their Master—were marked by their Galilean drawl. This is the beauty of the incarnation. God condescended to not just look like a man, but to experience the ailments of humanity. And not just the ailments, but even the perceived weaknesses that can categorize us as lesser. Imagine Jesus as a young boy, longing for the trip to Jerusalem for Passover but dreading the fact that many in the big city would jeer at that hick accent from Nazareth.
Accent can make one feel different, inferior, and even excluded. But the glory of Christmas is that when my grandmother breathed her last breath, the unpolished Galilean accent that greeted her assured her that she was welcomed. His accent assured her that his humility now meant her exaltation.