By Sue Tornai
After the Cherub Choir’s dress rehearsal, I headed over to the nursery to pick up my 2-year-old son, Jason. Some parents were picking up their kids and others were dropping theirs off for the evening. It was dinnertime for the children, and the aroma of tomato meat sauce and spaghetti sparked my appetite.
I waited a long time for Jason that night. Finally the attendant came to the front desk. She looked frazzled. “Sue, we cannot find Jason.”
“I know how awful that must sound to you, and I’m sorry. Please come in and look around our facility. Maybe you know the types of places he likes to hide.”
Shocked, my knees turned to rubber. The woman reached out and invited me into the play area. Where could Jason be? The room seemed to be spinning. I tried to keep calm. My heart in my throat, I peeked around one corner and then another.
“Jason, it’s Mommy!” I called. “It’s time to go home.”
Lord Jesus, please help us find Jason, I prayed.
Far from Home
During the Christmas of 1970, our family lived in Wiesbaden, Germany, while my husband served in the United States Air Force. The first time away from my parents, I grew homesick under gray skies, in unfamiliar surroundings, and facing a language barrier. I felt alone and isolated when I shopped in the downtown department stores. It was difficult for me to get into the holiday spirit. Silver garland, white lights, and colored ornaments on our small Christmas tree did little to lift the shadow of my loneliness. To escape my feelings of being lost in a faraway land, I had volunteered at the American Chapel to lead the Cherub Choir.
Twelve squirmy little angels, ranging in age from 5 to 7, met me Wednesday afternoons in the choir room. Early in November we started singing Christmas carols. The adult choir director, Mrs. Berg, introduced the children to child-size handbells. She arranged them by size and note, number and color, and assigned two bells to each child. In their enthusiasm the cherubs rang their bells all at once. I wondered how anything musical could come from that cacophony of sound.
The choir director led the excited children to a long table covered with a black velvet cloth. “Put your bells down like this,” she said. They followed her instruction and the chaotic sound stopped. “Now ring your bells,” she said and the noise returned. “Now put them down,” and the room returned to silence. Mrs. Berg held up signs with colors and numbers to the music of “Joy to the World” and “Away in a Manger.”
“When you see your number,” she said, “ring your bell until you do not see it any more.”
The children began to make beautiful music, even though Joey rang his bell longer than he should have and Emily missed all her cues. The patient director worked with each child over the next few weeks until she obtained perfection. Although skeptical at first, I was proud of what the cherubs accomplished. They did their best at the final practice. The carols they sang and the harmony of the bells created a little bit of wonder. It was what I needed to take my focus away from feeling lost in a foreign country.
But the feelings of wonder soon changed to fear and anxiety the night when we couldn’t find Jason.
The attendant called the Air Force Police. “He must have slipped out the front door when we released the children to go to the dining room,” she said.
The police arrived in minutes—wearing guns. Guns? Could Jason be in more danger than I thought? Neighbors in that American community joined the officers and me in the cool night air to search for Jason. Flashlights pointed in every direction. Cars zipped by, and I prayed with more urgency for God to keep my baby safe from racing cars and anyone who might hurt him. Afraid and alone in a crowd of searchers, tears began to roll down my cheeks. My legs grew weak. Although sick with worry, I repeated the name of Jesus over and over and knew he was with me.
Minutes seemed to turn into hours. Then out of the darkness I heard a young girl’s voice above the others. “Are you looking for a little boy in a gray hooded sweatshirt?”
“Yes,” I cried. “Have you seen him?”
“My friend, Jennifer, found him on her way home from Girl Scouts. He was out here, wandering around, all by himself. She thought he must be lost and was afraid for him.”
“What did she do?” asked the policeman.
“She took him home with her.”
“Where is that?” I asked.
The girl led us to where young Jennifer lived. The loud music of “Rocking’ Around the Christmas Tree,” echoed down the stairs. The officer knocked, and Jennifer’s mom invited us in.
A Christmas Party
Flickering lights and toy ornaments hung on a Christmas tree. A beautiful angel dressed in white satin and lace stood at the top, and presents wrapped in tinsel and ribbon crowded the bottom. Jason was bobbing up and down to the music and munching on popcorn. Tears welled up in my eyes and soul, and I thanked God for protecting my son.
“We’re having a little party,” said Jennifer’s mom. “Would you like to join us?”
I smiled and sat down next to Jason, who wasn’t lost at all. Awed by the pretty paper and ribbon, he ducked under the tree and picked up a present.
Then 10-year-old Jennifer turned off the Christmas music and sat down on the piano bench. She invited Jason to sit with her. “I will tell you about the best gift ever.” She told the story of Mary and Joseph and their long journey to a faraway city. “There was no room for them at the inn,” she said. “Joseph pleaded with the innkeeper, ‘My wife is going to have a baby.’
“The weary man led them out to the stable behind the inn. That night a bright star shone in the sky, and a host of angels announced the birth of Jesus. The shepherds in the fields ran to the place where the angels said they would find a newborn King. There, in the stable, they found baby Jesus, the gift of God’s Son.”
Jennifer smiled at Jason and turned toward the piano. He stayed right with her. I was surprised by how lovely the young girl played Christmas carols. We all sang along and my anxiety changed to joy. After a cup of hot chocolate and a candy cane, Jason walked down the stairs with me, and we went home.
I warmed SpaghettiOs® for our late dinner. Jason’s sleepy little eyes closed while he ate. I put his jammies on him. He crawled up into my lap and I held him close to my heart. I rocked him and sang “Silent Night.” He pulled his yellow blanket up close to his face and fell asleep.
I closed my eyes and imagined Mary holding her Son in swaddling cloths as she sang sweet lullabies to him that first Christmas so long ago. The stinky animals, the majestic angels, and the curious shepherds joined her, baby Jesus, and Joseph on that holy night. Mary was young and far away from home and her family—like me. She gave birth to our Lord without the help of her mother. How afraid she must have been! Yet God called her to rise above her fears to bring his Son into the world. She had to trust him. I did too and found God was with me through my anxieties.
Jason was warm in my arms as I pondered the miracle of Christmas. The lively little cherubs sang their songs and rang their bells. Jennifer rescued Jason from his wandering, took him home with her, and shared the meaning of Christmas with him. Through her actions, I found the greatest gift of all—the gift that keeps on giving—the love, hope, peace, and joy Jesus brings every day of the year. I didn’t feel lost or alone anymore but bowed my head and prayed, Thank you, Lord Jesus, Emmanuel—God with us.
Sue Tornai is a freelance writer in Carmichael, California.