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Taking nothing for granted this holiday season

It was Saturday and the kids were nearing the end of their church Christmas program rehearsal, not yet a full 24 hours since we learned the tragic news about the shootings in Newtown, Conn.

Up on the stage in the front of the church stood Carter, tall and proud in his Joseph costume, and near to him stood Ava, a shy smile adorning her face, but aglow nonetheless in a simple, but beautiful angel costume. And then there was Siri, sitting and fidgeting among the other young preschool kids on the floor, anxiously awaiting their turn to join the bigger kids on the stage.

I was sitting in the front row of the room, off to the right, but in view so that every now and again when one of the kids needed some silent encouragement or an affirming smile I was in plain sight.

All in all an exciting moment and beautiful memory for any parent, but on this Saturday, it was different. This Saturday, I couldn't help but shake the icky feeling I had over the haunting news out of Connecticut.

There on the stage stood our three youngest children, participating in a heartwarming annual Christmas tradition. And there I was to witness it all: Carter's annoyance with other kids who couldn't seem to line up just as the teacher had directed them to; Ava's shyness preventing her from completely enjoying her role as an angel, but smiling from ear to ear, nonetheless; and Siri's bewilderment as to when exactly she and the other little ones were to join the party on stage.

I knew I was witnessing one of the great memories of the holiday season that every parent should enjoy, and yet my heart ached because there were 20-some families in a small New England town that wouldn't be participating in this annual Christmas tradition this year ... or maybe ever again.

It was then, just when I was lost in my thoughts about those poor parents, at the moment when I felt my deepest sorrow of the morning, our little angel Ava looked out the corner of her eye at me and smiled again, a child's smile so full of grace and innocence that it took away what composure I had left.

Silently, the tears fell down my cheek, and then I prayed.

I prayed for all of those Connecticut parents who this year wouldn't get to see their little Josephs, or their little angels, or their little choir members perform in a play about the Christmas miracle.

I prayed that somehow, someway they would find peace this Christmas season and that God would be there to help with their confusion and misunderstanding.

I prayed that the community of Newtown would find the strength necessary to lift up their neighbors who had lost their loved ones and be there for them in the coming days and weeks.

And I prayed that all of us, in some way, would find the courage and strength to honor those who had died.

But most importantly, as I sat there in the church I love, watching our three cherubic children joyfully belting out "Away in A Manger," I prayed that I might never again take for granted how lucky I am to have four children who make my life brighter, sweeter and more fulfilling.

Devlyn Brooks works for Forum Communications Co. He lives in Moorhead with his two sons, and so do his newest family members Shelley, Ava and Siri.