***Michelle Rayburn and Friends’ were honored to place as finalists in the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA) Golden Scroll Awards for 2024 for the ReNewed Christmas Blessings collaborative. I am honored to have a short story in this beautiful book, which also happened to be the 2024 Selah Award winner in the “Short Story” category at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. Because some have asked about this particular piece, I’m sharing it here–a Christmas in July gift to my subscribers. Thank you, dear friends, for continuing to read and encourage.***


Sweet Mother Mary–

Labored Life for all the world,

Rose daughter to Son.

My name is Mary.

Though I’m not yet fifteen, I’ve given birth to my firstborn son. Though there will be others, no doubt, there can never, never again, be a firstborn.

Joseph is my good husband. He works with wood much like my mama taught me to work with dough, shaping it into something life-giving and life-sustaining. So too, this man—shaping wood, giving it form…

Like this cradle.

Oh, this cradle. Each night as I swaddle my baby before placing him down in this bed made by Joseph’s tender though calloused hands, I remember again Jesus’s first bed.

Merely a manger, hard and cold under a starlit sky, it was made to offer sustenance to the spotless lambs—grain fed them by the shepherds abiding in the fields just outside Bethlehem. Particularly, these men and boys kept watch on the hillside near the Tower of the Flock, where the sacrificial lambs were born.

Just as I’ve done on so many occasions, these shepherds, too, would swaddle their newborns, then lay them in mangers with hopes to keep them free from bumps and bruises. After all, it doesn’t take the wisdom of a shepherd to know how playful a newborn lamb can be, skipping and frolicking almost from birth.

But not these lambs, not those born on the Midgal Eder hillside. They’re never permitted to play like all the others. Rather, from the start, they’re each kept confined that they might be perfect for sacrifice.

Thus, it’s no wonder the shepherds knew right where to find us, after the angels appeared to them in the night sky on the outskirts of that tiny town. The celestial being proclaimed–

“The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11, 12).

I’ll never forget—not as long as I live—how that throng of dirty men and boys, along with more sheep than I could count, approached the stable that starlit night. Tentative at first, they came, one by one, to see for themselves the baby we’d placed in the stable’s manger.

I was tired, and I’d just closed my eyes having nursed our son. From where I lay resting in the straw, I could hear Jesus made melodic noises with his little lips, smacking them so. Joseph, bending low beside me and brushing a wisp of hair from my brow, chuckled. “He’s content, Mary. Sleepy and content.”

Hearing a rustle at the entrance of the cave, Joseph suddenly rose. Instinctively, my husband raised a protective hand. “Who’s there?”

When no one answered, Joseph took the lantern from its hook, then, holding it up, took several steps toward the stable’s entrance. “Who’s… who’s there?” he called again

It was then we heard a quiet voice. “The… the angel… he told us to…”

Stepping into light, the shepherds’ leader squinted, trying to see for himself what the angel had promised. “We were told… we’d find…”

“A baby? Yes, our deliverer?” I’d found my voice, and I continued.

“Come. Come see for yourselves.”

And then, one by one they came—to witness what they’d been told that they, in turn, might go and tell, which they did, their message shared throughout Bethlehem.

Oh, I’ll never forget. After all, these lowly characters were our first visitors—the first to welcome our newborn baby to the world. And somehow, somehow, it just made sense.

But I won’t deny, being home is best. Having our son in this familiar space—the events of the not-so-distant past seem, well they seem almost like a dream.

Sometimes, as I rock my baby, watching his eyes fight off sleep—not wanting to miss a moment of the day—I sing to him of those shepherds and a sheep.

O Little one, my little Lamb—

Let not your heart be worried,

For angels announced your timely birth,

And thus, the shepherds hurried.


They knew just where to find the Babe

Wrapped in clothes of white,

For it was there that they, too, had

Swaddled lambs so tight.

There’s more to the song, this lullaby I often sing to my baby, but honestly, rarely can I get through the words, so choked on tears I become.

That salty sting–

It pierces my heart, truth be told, and it’s then I want to somehow forget the bitter truth. Only hold to the sweetness of his breath, breathe him in but never exhale for fear that, in doing so, I’ll have to share him with the world.

And it’s in such moments by his cradle when I feel I should never have been called the favored one—blessed among women. Because, another truth be told, I’m merely a selfish girl.

Nothing more.

So often my knuckles grow white from gripping the edge of his bed, this cradle carved by a good and decent man who listened to God when everything in him likely wanted to flee from the call to take me as his wife. But he’s a burden-bearer, my sweet Joseph.

Once, not long ago, he walked up from behind as I sat singing to our son. He must have known, sensed somehow, that his strong and weathered hands were needed for the task of removing the vice grip I’d placed on the cradle’s edge. He approached me silently, perhaps listening for a moment to the lullaby I sang until he heard my voice break.

It was then he knelt down and, placing his hands over mine, felt my fingers relax simply at his touch. He has a way, my Joseph, and his gentleness has often softened my heart which, quite honestly, threatens to harden so that no sword can pierce it.

After all, we both know, Joseph and me, what sharing our son with the world will mean. And even as I treasure God’s many good and precious promises up in my soul, there’s always that lurking shadow which tries to steal my peace and joy.

But just as I feel I’ll be overcome with sorrow, Jesus laughs and suddenly, the room is filled with light, and love spills over—liquid down my cheeks as the languish in my chest subsides, just enough. I release my grip on this baby who is God’s Son first—indeed, his only son. Because this is a fact I must never forget, though I fight to more often than I care to admit.

So today, on this day, I find the courage to sing the verse—that one which follows the first two, those words that sort of swaddle all the truth of my firstborn’s coming, wrap it up as the gift it is.

Yes, this Gift to the world.

As I hold the side of the cradle, fingers soft around its smoothed-out edges, sanded by good Joseph’s hands, I sing—

O spotless Lamb, my precious Boy,

You’ve come to save the world.

Please start with me, your Little Mom;

My heart to You’s unfurled.

And having mustered the strength to sing these words, this final verse, my soul feels at peace, and I bask for a moment in the light of Jesus’s joy before turning to tend to other duties that await, like baking bread to offer life to Joseph who is busy in his shop—shaping wood, giving it form.

Before I leave his little room, I bend low to kiss my baby on his brow. Jesus smiles sweetly, his eyes closed. And I wonder. Perhaps he’s dreaming of the day when he, too, will skip and frolic as all boys do. He’ll suffer his share of bumps and bruises, no doubt, but on this I’m choosing, at least for today, not to dwell. Instead, I watch as my lamb sleeps, seemingly in Heaven’s peace, for now.

And that—yes, this grace—is enough.

At Day’s end, He sleeps

Infant Word who spoke the world

Into form from void.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

***All scripture references are taken from the NLT. Photos are used with permission, of my new grand-girl Maci Lynn Miller. ***


Michelle Rayburn and Friends have a new collaborative coming soon–for those who are or soon will be empty nesters. The ReImagined Empty Nest will be available soon.