FARGO — Marilyn Kram has received hundreds, if not thousands, of gifts from grateful students in her many years of teaching. But none have been as endearing as the one she received last Christmas from 11-year-old Megan Suppes.
Her Jesus cradle comprises a wooden crib, or creche, like the one in which Jesus was born, along with a doll representing baby Jesus, designed and constructed solely by her young tutor.
“She also made the baby Jesus and bought the straw, so he’d stay warm,” Kram says. “My heart is just bursting with love for this little girl who has given me a gift beyond any other — the gift of the love of her heart. When I asked her why she built this for me, she said, ‘Because I know you love Jesus.’ Isn’t that beautiful?”
Kram placed it right outside her front door, she says, and every time she sees it, she pauses — to think about Megan, baby Jesus, and Christmas.
“I think of him being cold and warmed by the animals, and about Mary, and how she held him and held him, knowing how you never want to let them go; you hold your child so close,” Kram says. “And I think about Megan and the love she has for me.”
‘Like an adopted granddaughter’
Megan’s mother, Jill Suppes, affirms that her youngest daughter, now 12, designed and completed the project all on her own, beginning in October last year.
“Megan loves to make gifts for people, and she spends a lot of time thinking about what would be meaningful to them,” she says. “She knows Mrs. Kram has a very strong faith; they talk about Jesus sometimes when they’re visiting.”
As the project commenced, Jill says Megan “went out to the garage and was sawing and hammering, and refused any help whatsoever, even when struggling, because if anyone helped her, she said, the gift wouldn’t be from just her.” Initially, Megan had a different, tinier cradle in mind.
“I was going to make it out of Popsicle sticks, but then I realized I wanted to ‘go big or go home,’ so I decided to make her one out of wood,” she says.
After acquiring some boards, Megan began the construction, experimenting to get the look she wanted.
“I got really frustrated, so I stopped for a while. But I wanted to finish what I started,” Megan shares. “I tried to finish it up by gluing it back together, but finally, we had to nail it together.”
But the manger alone wasn’t adequate for Megan.
“I wanted to give her a Jesus, too,” she says. “So, I put together this little fabric thing with a little ball for the head, and blue fabric for the blankets. It’s simple, but it’s technically what Jesus had.”
Their relationship began years ago when Megan’s older sister, Anna, had Kram for her third grade teacher. Later, when Kram retired, she began tutoring in people’s homes, and Megan’s brother, Sam, was one of her first pupils.
“When she was tutoring our son, Megan was so envious from him getting one-on-one attention, she begged to be ‘tuted,’ as she called it, by Mrs. Kram,” Jill says. “Mrs. Kram has a special place in our hearts and family, and Megan just adores her.”
“When I was younger and I first met her, I didn’t appreciate God,” Megan says. “But every time I saw her, she’d talk about God, and she has helped me appreciate God and Jesus and Christmas a lot more.”
“Every time I came to the door (to tutor), she’d run and jump into my arms and give me this hug and say, ‘I love you Mrs. Kram!’” Kram says of Megan, who was 4 at the time. “When I was reading, she’d sit on my shoulders. After tutoring her brother, I’d tell her, ‘Go brush your teeth, put on your pajamas, and I’ll read you a story.’
“I don’t have grandchildren yet, so she’s like an adopted granddaughter to me,” Kram continues. “I’ve taken her to a couple of movies, to the mall to get a pretzel, or to Dairy Queen, since our birthdays are close together. She’s become a special little girl in my life.”
A special gift
Still, Megan couldn’t have known just how special her gift would be to Kram, who appreciates it not only because of its beloved maker, but also her longtime love of Christmas.
Kram recently found a letter she’d written to her parents as a little girl, thanking them for the Christmas gifts. At the bottom of the letter, on lined paper in pencil, the young Marilyn had drawn a picture of Mary and Joseph smiling down on their new baby in his wooden creche, complete with straw.
She also uncovered an old children’s book, “When Joy Came: The Story of the First Christmas,” which her mother used to read to her every Christmas. But her memories hold even more evidence.
“Jesus has always been alive to me because of my parents, Pershing and Bernice Sims,” Kram says, noting that, in raising their nine children, they always shared of Jesus’ love and the importance of Christmas.
“I remember always going to church on Christmas morning, and how anxious and excited I was to see the baby Jesus in that stable,” Kram says. “After all this time, I’m still excited to go to church on Christmas morning and see the baby Jesus in the stable.”
Megan recalls presenting the cradle to her tutor. “She came over to my house, and I had it all in a huge box and wrapped. When she opened it, she got really teary-eyed and made me feel really good about it.”
When Megan apologized for some of the imperfections, noting that some of the boards didn’t match, Kram set her straight.
“I said, ‘Honey, that’s probably exactly what Jesus’ manger looked like,’ and she just smiled,” she says.
The best thing about Jesus, Megan says, is “knowing that he’s there for you whenever you need him” and that you can pray to him “whenever you feel down or sad or mad or have any of those emotions.”
Kram says Christmas isn’t so much about acquiring “presents, and all the baking and the glitter — the materialistic parts of Christmas.”
“If Christ hadn’t come, we wouldn’t have Christmas,” she says. “Christmas is about baby Jesus, and I want people to drive by and see this gift, to look at him and think about how baby Jesus came to us that night so he could grow up and die on that cross and save us from sin.”
Jill says though her daughter has always been very thoughtful, she’s not the only young person with such compassion.
“When you see kids making that card or whatever, even in the preschool years, their faces light up in giving… because it’s from their heart,” she says.
“We are given many gifts at Christmas,” Kram affirms, “but the greatest gifts are those from a child because they come with genuine love, deep within the heart.”
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Dec. 13, 2019.]