Always a shepherd
By: By Lisa Smartt
I’m a big woman. I’m six feet tall. I weigh … what a big woman weighs. I have always been big. I never went through a growing spurt. I never remember a time when I wasn’t bigger than other kids my age. I once said to my mom, while looking at a newborn infant, “Remember when I was that little?”
She smiled and replied, “Honey, you were never that little.” Forever destined to be on the back row of school class pictures, I learned to take my place in life. As a 44-year-old woman, I have accepted my destiny … and even embraced it. But it wasn’t always so easy.
When I was a small girl (small being a relative word), we attended a little church in our rural west Kentucky town. Every year, the children of the church put on a nativity play/musical extravaganza. Well, “extravaganza” may be a little over-stated. Nowadays, mega-churches put on huge productions of the nativity story, complete with camels and flying angels and a real live infant in the manger. Ours was the “small town, country” version. It was a wonderfully flawed but richly traditional Christmas pageant. Stuffed lions and polar bears served as the manger animals. A Chantilly dusting powder box covered with glue and glitter played the role of frankincense. Myrrh was a clear Avon bottle filled with Wesson oil.
I only had one goal in life when it neared Christmas pageant time. I wanted to play Mary. I wanted to look lovingly at the plastic baby doll wrapped in a light blue bath towel. I wanted to stand next to Joseph. I wanted the crowd to look at me and “oooh” and “aaah” about how realistically I took my maternal responsibilities as I gently rocked the manger bed. I wanted to be in the spotlight. But it was not to be.
Every year my dearest friend played the role of Mary. She was tiny and beautiful with big brown eyes and dark brown hair. It was clear to everyone that she much more resembled Mary. Everyone knows that Joseph and Mary were Jewish, not Swedish. A big blonde girl with a round face and pale blue eyes wearing a plaid housecoat would only get to play Mary if there were no beautiful little brown-eyed girls available. But, alas, that was not the case. I was cast in the same role every year, without fail. A shepherd. I was destined to be standing next to my brother and every other “Swedish looking” kid. Our costumes were carefully and consistently crafted each year. A parent’s housecoat. Head gear made with a brown-striped towel we had gotten free in a box of washing powders. A stick found in the woods. A stuffed lamb from the dime store.
I still laugh when I think about that brown towel wrapped around my head. But as an adult, I realize the magnitude of the shepherds’ presence in the nativity story. Shepherds were considered dirty and ordinary. They were not regarded as high-ranking members of society. God had called a young Jewish girl to bear His son. He had called wise men of influence to come and worship Him. But when He wanted to say, “I love you all regardless of rank or class,” He called shepherds.
If I could be in the Christmas pageant today, I know what role I would want. Gather round, fellow shepherds. The Savior has come!
Editor’s note: Lisa Smartt’s column appears each Wednesday in the Friends and Neighbors section of The Messenger. Mrs. Smartt is the wife of Philip Smartt, the University of Tennessee at Martin parks and recreation and forestry professor, and is mother to two boys, Stephen and Jonathan. She is a freelance writer and speaker. Her book “The Smartt View: Life, Love, and Cluttered Closets” is available at The Messenger, The University of Tennessee at Martin bookstore or by mail for $10, plus $2 shipping. Send checks to Lisa Smartt, 300 Parrott Road, Dresden TN 38225. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger on 12.19.07