My ancestors arrived in Middle Tennessee with a large group of settlers in the late 1700s. Theirs was a planned settlement led by James Robertson and John Donelson. First they purchased land from a land speculator who had made an agreement with Native Americans. Then James Robertson led the men, including my ancestor Moses Winters and his son Caleb, from their settlement in what became East Tennessee through Cumberland Gap to the banks of the Cumberland River and the site of what is now Nashville. They arrived on Christmas Eve in 1779. John Donelson led the women, who included Moses’ wife and Donelson’s own daughter Rachel, who later married Andrew Jackson. After a long, hard journey on boats, they arrived in April of 1780.
I am descended from Moses Winters through my great-grandfather Joe Elliot, who married Olive Jones. Among Joe and Olive’s seven children who survived to adulthood was their oldest daughter, Lorene, whose oldest daughter is my mother Evelyn, whose oldest (and only) daughter is I. Every year on the last Sunday in September, Mother’s first cousins and their progeny get together for the descendants of Joe and Olive Elliott Cousins Reunion. On Sunday, Mother, Mary Evelyn and her family, and Ray and I were able to make the trip. These are the cousins who were able to come on Sunday.
Sweet conversations, encouragement, and, of course, good Southern cooking — I love the annual Elliott Cousin Reunion.
When Mary found out she was expecting Jesus, she hurried to the hill country in Judah to visit a relative. She went to see Elizabeth who was also expecting and in her sixth month. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s own baby leaped in her womb. Mary had a long visit with Elizabeth. She stayed three months.
We don’t know if Mary was still there when Elizabeth and Zacharias’ baby was born. One thing I’m sure about though. These relatives Mary and Elizabeth were a comfort to one another. We don’t know how much time Elizabeth’s son John and Mary’s son Jesus spent together as children, but surely they knew each other. Many artists have depicted together these related little boys who were only six months apart. Surely they at least saw one another during the Jews’ annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover, and perhaps they were together a great deal more than that.
I’m certain about something else: Jesus loved His relative John. When John died a tragic death at the hands of King Herod, Jesus withdrew by boat to a secluded place by Himself.
One hard thing about being a mama is that we don’t get to withdraw as much as we feel that we need to. Jesus understands that, just as He understands everything else about what it is like to be human.
When Jesus withdrew to that secluded place, the people heard about it and they followed Him. And this wasn’t just a few people either. “They followed Him on foot from the cities” (Matthew 14:13). When Jesus saw the large crowd, He had to do what mamas have to do — leave His place of quiet contemplation, His quiet place alone with God, and go do what had to be done. He had to do what His compassionate heart prompted Him to do. He remembered why He was here. He remembered the people He loved. He remembered the people He came to serve and to save.
Now when Jesus heard about John,
He withdrew from there in a boat
to a secluded place by Himself;
and when the people heard of this,
they followed Him on foot from the cities.
When He went ashore,
He saw a large crowd,
and felt compassion for them
and healed their sick.
And after Jesus healed their sick, He did something else that mamas have to do: He took what He had (in His case five loaves and two fish) and He made supper.
Ordering the people to sit down on the grass,
He took the five loaves and the two fish,
and looking up toward heaven,
He blessed the food,
and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples,
and the disciples gave them to the crowds,
and they all ate and were satisfied.
They picked up what was left over
of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets.
There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.