Acts 20:35 – In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." (NIV)
"But, dad, we ginned cotton straight through the Thanksgiving holidays," I moaned. "Can't we at least get off a few days for Christmas?"
"Son, we finished early last year, and you hunted all winter," he answered. "Be thankful for that. Fall weather hasn't cooperated this season, and harvest is far behind schedule. The gin has got to run — can to can't. This dry spell won't last long, and we simply cannot afford to have cotton pickers stopped, waiting for empty trailers, when the ground is dry and the sun is shining."
It was a time when picking two rows at once was harvesting's latest technology. It was a time when flat belts and line shafts powered gin machinery, to separate cotton from its seeds. It was a time when dumping enough seed cotton to make fifteen or more bales in hydraulic-powered boxes was unheard of. Downtime or the threat of bad weather put unrelenting pressure on those who worked in cotton gins. Trailers had to be available at all times, meaning my gin crew and I had to roll night and day, sleeping in snatches.
When I returned from overseas military duty, dad hired me as his farm manager and ginner, and because he had managed the gin for twenty years, he knew full well what we faced.
"Well, fellas, it's Christmas Eve, the weather forecast is good, the yard is covered with full trailers, and dew is the only thing stopping the pickers," I said to the crew as we huddled around the gin office heater early that morning. "We've got no choice but to run 'round the clock," the last thing that exhausted bunch of men wanted to hear.
The door creaked open, and a tiny, white-haired lady carrying a large covered tray made her way through the group. It was my grandmother. In her eighties, she steadfastly refused to retire, insisting that she do her part for the family farm by running the country store, across the road from the gin. She was renowned for her strong work ethic and outright famous for her "cathead" biscuits. Well before dawn that day, she had cooked a batch for us.
"Eat," she ordered.
Inspiration is a beautiful thing, especially when it comes at precisely the right moment. Here we were, strong, able-bodied young men, bemoaning the fact that we had to work during the holidays. And here was a frail old woman, stooped by years of toil, who had risen hours before we had, to stand before her stove and prepare this Southern delicacy just for us. Sheepishly, we ate, and fell to our tasks.
In the wee hours of Christmas morning, as I brewed a pot of coffee, I saw lights flicker on in grandmother's apartment behind the store. Later, as frost glittered in dawn's first light, I watched as she slowly plodded toward the gin, carrying another large tray of cathead biscuits, piping hot.
What I witnessed that cold morning so many years ago was the true spirit of Christmas: it is in giving that we receive.
Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for loving us so much that You gave Your unique Son that we might not perish but have everlasting life. Fill us with Your Spirit, that we might focus more on the blessings of giving. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.