The Christmas I was twelve was not turning out to be a thrill. Gone was my usual excitement. Vanished was my sense of wonder. And their absence troubled me a lot. I’m not talking about being sad that I no longer believed in Santa. I had figured that out a couple of years before and I was fine with it. No, I’m talking about awe–an expectancy that anything could happen, that miracles still walked the earth.

“God,” I prayed the week before Christmas, “do something. You don’t have to do anything big. I’ll settle for something small. Just make it special so that I believe again that you’re still here.”

All that week I watched. But nothing special happened–no rushing sound of angel wings, no brighter than usual star in the sky, no baby crying in a manager. Nothing. (OK, I agree. The twelve-year-old me had a totally strange sense of small.)

Then Christmas Eve came and I was in a funk. I had given up expecting anything. God was only for the long ago and faraway. My life was unimportant, ordinary–too ordinary to attract His interest or attention. I flopped into the big chair in our living room and sulked.

This wallowing must have really disturbed my mother because before I could mount a good argument for staying home, I was out the door into the cold, dark night and taking my kid brother to Christmas Eve services at our neighborhood church.

My brother didn’t seem to mind my less-than-cheerful spirit. All day he had been talking about going to the candlelight service and he was just happy that he was. It made me feel a little guilty. I decided I should try to make the best of it.

But when we arrived at church, it was packed. Now, I was annoyed, really annoyed—my brother and I would have to sit together. That wasn’t the usual. Most Sundays he sat two rows ahead of me with other little kids while I sat with my friends two rows behind. But that night those rows were already filled with families. Grumpily, I took the two small candles the usher offered me, handed one to my brother, and headed for two seats together. Scooting into the row, I noticed something else—only one of the chairs had a hymnal on it. My brother and I would have to share. Life was definitely hard.

The organ began. My brother handed me the hymnal–which had been on his chair–and together we rose with everyone else to sing “O Come All Ye Faithful.” I knew all the words, but I wasn’t sure my brother did. Ignoring the thought that he probably couldn’t read them, I quickly paged through the hymnal until I found the song. As I held the hymnal so he could see it, he smiled up at me. I noticed his pudgy hand holding one side of the hymnal and my slim­mer hand holding the other, and something began to happen in me. It was only a quiet feeling, but warm and satisfying.

I enjoyed that service. My brother and I sang the old carols at the top of our lungs and giggled as we flipped pages searching for the next song. As he carefully lit my candle, I realized God had answered my prayer. Something special had happened.

Walking home in the icy December air, my brother and I watched our breath before us, sang snatches of the carols again, and wondered out loud about our presents. That night we didn’t tease or squabble or try to outrun each other. There was no bossy older sister and no pesky younger brother. There were only two kids enjoying themselves and each other.

I don’t remember what presents I received that year. I’m sure they were great and I enjoyed them, but I don’t remember them. I only remember being with my brother. And that God answered my prayer. He still does answer prayers. May we have the eyes this Christmas to see that He has come and that He is still here.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest work for children is We All Get a Clue, a mystery novel for girls 10-13. It is the second book in the series that began with I Get a Clue. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.