Christmas Lullaby


A Blessed Hearts Story
by Andrea Lena DiMaggio

Lay me down to rest,
Sing me a sweet lullaby,
When will I see you again?
Sleep come over me,
Can't keep from closing my eyes.

The Ardelino home, Oakland, New Jersey, December 23rd…

“Donny? You need to get to sleep, honey,” Caroline called out to her son from the hallway as she headed to the kitchen. At nearly one in the morning, she was struggling with sleep herself, but for entirely different reasons than him.

“Okay, Mom,” the voice sounded reasonably cooperative if somewhat subdued; a resignation of sorts as the boy was giving into the exhaustion one can only feel when fighting one’s self.

“Sweetie? I promise your Dad will be home, okay?” Bruno was at the church office in the strip mall down the street, working on the sermon; a long-abandoned habit that raised its marginally acceptable head after several years due to the urgency of the day. Caroline prayed he wouldn’t be too late, given how intense things might get.

“What if they…” The boy called out; this time louder and with much more emotion, with nearly all of it seemingly hopeless anxiety. A moment later Caroline entered the room carrying a tray with two mugs of cocoa and a plate of Toll House cookies.

“They will, Donny. That’s just the way of things. Let’s just hope your father can get the amount of ‘they’ reduced enough to be manageable.” She shook her head; no more convinced of her own hopeful words than her boy….her child.

“I…should just go live with Aunt Marla, Mom. You can tell everyone I’m ….. make something up!” Donny looked at his mother as if to plead with her to disagree. She shook her head again and laughed softly.

“I suppose we could all move in with your Aunt; it’s probably better if I just don’t try to be myself either and just leave. Your Dad could probably get a job working for your Uncle Tony as well. Your sister could share a bedroom with your cousin Lorie….unless you want to?” She grinned. Most boys would shudder at the prospect of spending time with a girl cousin, but then again Donny wasn’t like most boys.

“Stop it… this isn’t funny.” Donny protested, but Caroline just pointed to his closet.

“You wouldn’t even have to worry about clothes.” She teased. She hadn’t meant to be cruel; sarcasm seemed to never be in short supply in the Ardelino household, even if she was a Murphy herself. And at times, Donny could give just as good as he got, but now wasn’t the time for ironic contrasts; not when the boy had almost given up hope. Hard enough to feel bad about one’s self; much worse if being one’s self put the whole family in such…trouble.

“Honey…you’re not going anywhere…at least not without us, and certainly not without a fight. Your Dad is more than capable of dealing with what comes about.”

“But he’s worked so hard… this is his home.” Caroline knew he meant much more than the house they lived in; home was so much more…a community he had come to serve and cherish.

“But that’s just it, baby…. (She nearly added a modifying noun, but it was still too soon with Donny trying to understand what it all meant.)

“What makes being a shepherd so important to your father is how his own heart is …well, how you and your sister mean so much to him. How he loves me…. It all flows out from the family and how he treats us, okay? So if you’re important to him….since you’re a part of his life and his heart, then his flock needs to know that; he doesn’t just serve them, but it’s important for them to know who he is and what he stands for. The house isn’t as important as the people inside, like your grandfather used to say.

“And ….” The boy put his head down. Nothing hurts more than feeling like you’ve let someone down that you love. To fall short of expectations and dreams and hopes, as if to be a disappointment for things that were never demanded. Donny fell into his pillow and began to hit the mattress and the head board of the bed; hard. A moment later he felt a hand squeezing the back of his neck. He relented just enough to replace the pounding with sobbing intense enough to shake the bed.

“I promise….as God is my witness and your father’s heart, honey. We will get through this, and not just get through it. What was that song your grandfather used to love? Come on…watching?” She rubbed his back. He looked up at her and tried to smile.

“Pr….protecting me into the dawn….” Between his mother’s care and the realization that he believed what he had just tried to sing, the boy was able to nestle in her arms and weep in a tentative peace.

There’s a hope in my heart….

Hope Fellowship, meeting at Indian Hills High School, Oakland, New Jersey…Sunday morning, December 24th

Bruno Ardelino walked to the podium. The church….the school auditorium, in fact, was less than half- full; probably due to the heavy snow that had continued to fall since the night before. He took a swig out of his water and set the bottle on the floor.

“Please open your Bibles to Psalm Thirty? I’ll be reading from The Message for the sake of the poetry. You can pick up the notes at the back of the auditorium if you’d like to continue looking at this during the week, okay?“ A bit of soft laughter and one hearty chuckle came from the back.

“Psalm 30, alright? Only one point today; and depending upon how it goes, the theme of God’s grace for our lunch afterward just might stay as the focus.” He smiled nervously.

All you saints! Sing your hearts out to GOD!
Thank him to his face!
He gets angry once in a while, but across
a lifetime there is only love.
The nights of crying your eyes out
give way to days of laughter.

“Now it does say ‘angry once in a while,’ but notice that the heart of the matter is that across a lifetime there truly is only love…“ Bruno looked over at the family. Lucy sat next to her mother, but the older of the two Ardelino children was conspicuous by his absence….his…..absence.

“We’ve had a few nights lately where we were crying our eyes out. I’d love to be able to tell you we were laughing this morning, and maybe we will later. But the crying has been very painful and worrisome, and I apologize for that. I want to trust God and I certainly value your trust as well, but you never know, right?” A few folks turned to each other; he seemed to be rambling a bit, and it wasn’t clear at all what he wanted to say. It changed a moment later.

“I was up most of the night, over at the church office; trying hard to write a sermon that would convince you… maybe sway some of you and maybe even encourage and solidify how others already might feel. But it wasn’t going to come together. My job isn’t to convince you of anything. Last time I looked, someone much smarter than me had that job. My job is to just tell you as your pastor what I think God might be wanting for us to know, and for you to listen and decide for yourself.” Caroline put her head down and began to pray softly.

“I got home about five-twenty or so this morning… the crying all night thing was at work with meand at home. Caroline was asleep in the recliner; she must have waited all night. And Lucy was asleep on the couch. Donny wasn’t up, or at least I though he wasn’t until I walked down the hall to catch a shower and get ready for this morning. I walked by his room and I saw someone sitting on the bed…. Guitar music… nice to come home to, you know?” What was the point? Some quiet murmurs seemed to accompany his narration.

“An old song… one of my favorites, and my Pop’s all-time favorite song. I’m not all that good, but I’ll try to sing it….

“Lay me down to rest….sing me a sweet lullaby…..over and over again.” Nothing in the lyrics seemed to approach any story of Christmas, or even of Christ; especially on a Christmas Eve Sunday sermon. Maybe a stretch; was it about the Christ child asleep in a manger? Bruno continued.

When will I see you again?

“ A reasonable question, wouldn’t you folks agree?” He continued the song but paused, looking to the back of the auditorium at the doorway.

“There are times like what my family has been dealing with the past few months… really heavy stuff.” A few gasps from the back.

“Oh, geez…no…don’t worry. Nobody’s dying…yet. At least hold off on it until I’m finished. I might gasp myself depending, you know?” He paused for the few laughs he expected.

“When we go through rough times, it’s like we don’t know how to look past the stuff to see God. He’s there all along, but maybe our eyes are so blurry from crying and maybe we just can’t see anything but his feet because our heads are down? But he’s there… waiting to rejoice over us, like we learned last week… rejoicing with great joy enough so that He and we are even laughing, like the Psalmist says here?”

A figure caught Bruno’s eye; standing at the back of the church trying to be brave and inconspicuous at the same time.

“Any way, the song goes on…”

Watching, protecting me into the dawn.

“Like what He did for me and Caroline and my kids.” He put his own head down and offered up a very quick prayer. A voice came from the back. Lifted in song might be too strong a phrase; timid melodic whispering seemed more appropriate.

There’s a hope…in my heart. And I believe the day is coming when we’ll never be apart.

The voice was clear if a little quiet; sweet and as pretty as any father would wish for a daughter. The girl began to walk; brave if slow and cautious steps toward the front of the church. Bruno began to sing again; a rich tenor (much nicer than he would claim for himself) that blended his melody with the girl’s timid harmony.

Just to be where you are. And to spend my life with you would be a perfect start.

The two finished only the beginning of the song before the girl stopped abruptly and started walking back toward the exit. As frightened and even ashamed as she felt, she walked very slowly; a last mile of sorts. A woman in her seventies stood up as the girl passed her, holding out her hand.

“Don’t, honey. It’s a very nice song.” She smiled and winked; a gesture and expression that told the girl the woman knew and understood.

“Yes,” a man on the other side of the aisle. He walked to where the two were standing.

“Hey, kid…you okay?” A not unfamiliar soft laugh accompanied his broad grin; the man knew and understood. Of course it would be lovely to say everyone stood up and made the girl feel welcome. The best that could be said, and it was a lot to be said; few disapproved and not a single face turned away. Several smiles greeted the newest member of the congregation along with a bit of hesitant applause.

A boy about the same age as the girl stood up and went to leave, but his father grabbed him by the sleeve and pulled him back; with a half-frown, but not without understanding. The boy shook his head ‘no’ but his father insisted and pulled him closer as he sat down, leaning near and whispering something in the boy’s ear; something that they’d talk about much more in the coming days. The boy put his head down and didn’t lift it once to witness his best friend’s brave act. Another time and another place after the shock would wear off; friends can be forgiven fear and ignorance when they do choose to move past those and remain friends, aye? Bruno spoke again.

“There’s a verse in that song that touches me every time, you know? ‘Wash me in resplendent love…’” He used his hand in a broad gesture to indicate above and then the congregation.

“What the birth of Christ means…. The love of God…the love of sacrifice and acceptance and care… the love of forgiveness and new life… some newer than others, and some in a brand new way, right?” He looked at the girl and smiled a very proud smile.

“My other kid… you already know her, but most of you don’t quite know her in exactly this manner, right? But like I said, it’s all about love. My older of two of the most precious daughters a man could ever have; Dana Ardlelino.”

Bruno stepped away from the podium and walked to the middle of the aisle where the girl stood with the others. He held out his arms and his oldest child walked quickly and fell into her father’s embrace.

“Merry Christmas, Dana.” A ‘parting’ blessing for that part of his child he wouldn’t see again ever even as he held his daughter in the same way as he had always held her since her birth. Lucy and Caroline joined him and he welcomed their embrace as well. He waved for attention. When it quieted down, he spoke.

“Service tonight starts at six-thirty, prompt, okay. This gives all you dawdlers time to get here by seven.” A lot of laughter and a few sighs. He turned and nodded at the sound guy at the back of the church. A moment later the mike was off and the sound system replaced chatter with music. An old favorite; great guitar and a humble but powerful voice.

Lay me down to rest….sing me a sweet lullaby….

Spend My Life With You
Words and music by
the performer
Phil Keaggy

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