Almost eight years ago, I was presiding at our early morning outdoor service. As people were moving through the line for communion, one woman held out her hand for the bread and said something I did not expect, "Will you bless my baby?"
She was 9 months pregnant with her first and very eagerly awaited child.
I will admit, this was a new request for me. I had never been asked to bless a baby before he or she was born. But I thought for a moment, and I said a few words of blessing.
A few days later she had her baby: a girl. I visited them in the hospital. Later that summer, I got to baptize her.
She will be eight years old this month.
Yesterday, she came up to me before the church service and she hugged me and said she would miss me. She told me she did not want me to go. I hugged her back and said I would miss her too. Maybe we could write each other letters.
She thought that might be all right.
She has always had a special place in my heart, for some reason or another. Maybe it was her fearless singing when she was three years old. Maybe it was the funny responses she would sometimes make during the children's message. Maybe it was just the fact that I blessed her before she was born.
On Sunday, near the end of the church service, the congregation had a prayer of blessing for me. Someone from our synod came as an official representative. The president of the congregation spoke. The other pastor prayed. He also invited people from the congregation to come forward and lay their hands on me, if they wanted.
Not everyone came forward. But some people did. Michael, who is in high school, a couple of people from my book group, some members of the choir, a couple of knitters, some others I didn't see.
And this little girl, almost eight years old. She came forward, and she grabbed my arm, and I held her hand, while the congregation prayed.
I blessed her before she was born with words I didn't know I had until I said them.
On Sunday, she blessed me.
It is the way of God, somehow. We were meant to hold hands, to pay it forward, or back, to receive more than we ever gave, to be humbled by someone small.