When they returned to their places near the altar, her tiniest cherub tapped her on the shoulder and pointed into the congregation, calling out a name she couldn't quite understand. Emily put her finger to her lips in a silent shush, and the little girl sweetly imitated her gesture. With a soundless laugh, she gathered the child onto her lap, hugging her close, but something made her look back in the direction Jenny had pointed. At the rear of the church, where several latecomers stood along the wall, she spotted Jack, rain glistening on his uniform jacket. She was surprised. He’d planned to attend the eleven o'clock service, she was sure. She wondered briefly if there had been some kind of emergency.
The congregation sat in rapt attention, all eyes focused on Pastor Mike as he read the final passage of the nativity story. The first chords of “Silent Night” sounded and Emily got to her feet, checking that the children were holding hands as instructed. When she looked back for Jack, the place where he'd been standing was empty. Still wondering about his disappearance, she started to sing, getting through the first measure before her voice caught in her throat.
She could see him clearly, framed by the heads and shoulders of rows of familiar faces. His eyes, fixed on a place somewhere above her head, were glistening with unshed tears. Jenny pulled gently on her hand, and she lifted the little girl to her hip. When she raised her eyes, he was looking straight at her, smiling tenderly. Jenny reached up and touched her face, and she realized tears were coursing down her cheeks. Lowering her head, she kissed the tiny fingertips, smiling into the little face beside her. The hymn ended and in the hush which followed, everyone stood with heads bowed, waiting.
Pastor Mike's voice rang in the silence with the words of the Charge. “Go out into the world in peace; have courage; hold on to what is good. . . .” Through the roaring in her ears, over the pounding of her heart, she could barely make out the familiar words. . . “support the weak; help the suffering; honor all men; love and serve the Lord.” In her arms, Jenny cuddled closer, resting her head on Emily’s shoulder with a contented little sigh as the service came to a close. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord be kind and gracious unto you. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace. Amen.”
The first notes of the postlude thundered around her. She stood still, her heart thumping against her ribs. Parents came forward, complimenting her and the children, collecting their offspring. She passed Jenny to her father's arms, accepted hugs from the other children. One of the mothers put a wrapped gift in her hands, but she was only vaguely aware of the activity surrounding her. Pastor Mike was coming toward her, a smile on his face, his hand extended.
And then he was beside her, his arm gently encircling her waist. Somehow, she found her voice. “Pastor Mike, this is my very good friend, Stani Moss.”