First Presbyterian Church – Cedar Rapids

December 5 – Christmas Eve 1983

Christmas Eve 1983. We were gathering from two states at my mother’s house in northeast Iowa. One daughter was already home. Another came with her fiancé from Minnesota. Bill and I drove through snow and a frigid wind to arrive mid-afternoon. Now only one more sister and her husband to make it south, then we’d have chili supper before candlelight service at the Presbyterian church where we’d grown up.

We played games and visited. We prepared the chili. As darkness fell, so did the temperature. The TV weather report said roads were closing and travel was not advised. Still no Vicki and Mike.

The happy clatter of Christmas Eve dinner was replaced by tense conversation. Our usual prayer of thanks was replaced by a plea for our loved ones’ safety.

We stayed off the phone, lest we miss a call from Vicki and Mike.  The one exception was to call the pastor to say we would not be in church, and to ask for prayers.

We waited. Did the dishes. Tried to converse.

Church would have been over by now. Still no word.

Mother called the Highway Patrol to ask if their car had been found. No, but the road they would take was closed. What did that mean?

More waiting.

About 11:30 the phone rang. It was Vicki. They had been tucked into a motel since late afternoon, but the one pay phone had been available only intermittently, with long waiting lines.

We practically danced. Mother saw the time and declared we would go to church, after all. We made our way to the Catholic church’s midnight mass, late enough to force all six of us into the only space left unoccupied, the very front pew. We were hopelessly out of place, couldn’t follow the missalette, didn’t know when to kneel or stand. We didn’t care. We were in church, thanking God, for our family and for the world.   

Laura Behrens

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