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ANGELS AMONG US
The Angels have wider spheres of action and nobler forms of duty than ourselves, but truth and right to them and to us are one and the same thing.
E. H. Chapin
The manner of giving shows the character of the giver, more than the gift itself.
John Casper Lavater
I spent the week before my daughter's June wedding running last-minute trips to the caterer, florist, tuxedo shop and the church about forty miles away. As happy as I was that Patsy was marrying a good Christian young man, I felt laden with responsibilities as I watched my budget dwindle ... so many details, so many bills and so little time. My son Jack was away at college, but he said he would be there to walk his younger sister down the aisle, taking the place of his dad, who had died a few years before. He teased Patsy, saying he'd wanted to give her away since she was about three years old!
To save money, I gathered blossoms from several friends who had large magnolia trees. Their luscious, creamy-white blooms and slick green leaves would make beautiful arrangements against the rich dark wood inside the church. After the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding, we banked the podium area and choir loft with magnolias. As we left just before midnight, I felt tired but satisfied this would be the best wedding any bride had ever had! The music, the ceremony, the reception—and especially the flowers—would be remembered for years.
The big day arrived—the busiest day of my life—and while her bridesmaids helped Patsy to dress, her fiancé, Tim, walked with me to the sanctuary to do a final check. When we opened the door and felt a rush of hot air, I almost fainted; and then I saw them—all the beautiful white flowers were black. Funeral black. An electrical storm during the night had knocked out the air conditioning system, and on that hot summer day, the flowers had wilted and died.
I panicked, knowing I didn't have time to drive back to our hometown, gather more flowers and return in time for the wedding.
Tim turned to me. "Edna, can you get more flowers? I'll throw away these dead ones and put fresh flowers in these arrangements."
I mumbled, "Sure," as he bebopped down the hall to put on his cuff links.
Alone in the large sanctuary, I looked up at the dark wooden beams in the arched ceiling. "Lord," I prayed, "please help me. I don't know anyone in this town. Help me find someone willing to give me flowers—in a hurry!" I scurried out praying for four things: the blessing of white magnolias, courage to find them in an unfamiliar yard, safety from any dog that may bite my leg and a nice person who would not get out a shotgun when I asked to cut his tree to shreds.
As I left the church, I saw magnolia trees in the distance. I approached a house ... no dog in sight. I knocked on the door and an older man answered. So far, so good ... no shotgun. When I stated my plea the man beamed, "I'd be happy to!"
He climbed a stepladder and cut large boughs and handed them down to me. Minutes later, as I lifted the last armload into my car trunk, I said, "Sir, you've made the mother of a bride happy today."
"No, ma'am," he said. "You don't understand what's happening here."
"What?" I asked.
"You see, my wife of sixty-seven years died on Monday. On Tuesday I received friends at the funeral home, and on Wednesday.... "He paused. I saw tears welling up in his eyes. "On Wednesday I buried her." He looked away. "On Thursday most of my out-of-town relatives went back home, and on Friday—yesterday—my children left."
"This morning," he continued, "I was sitting in my den crying out loud. I miss her so much. For the last sixteen years, as her health got worse, she needed me. But now nobody needs me. This morning I cried, 'Who needs an eighty-six-year-old wore-out man? Nobody!' I began to cry louder. 'Nobody needs me!' About that time, you knocked and said, 'Sir, I need you.'"
I stood with my mouth open.
He asked, "Are you an angel? The way the light shone around your head into my dark living room ... "I assured him I was no angel.
He smiled. "Do you know what I was thinking when I handed you those magnolias?"
"I decided I'm needed. My flowers are needed. Why, I might have a flower ministry! I could give them to everyone! Some caskets at the funeral home have no flowers. People need flowers at times like that, and I have lots of them. They're all over the backyard! I can give them to hospitals, churches—all sorts of places. You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to serve the Lord until the day He calls me home!"
I drove back to the church, filled with wonder. On Patsy's wedding day, if anyone had asked me to encourage someone who was hurting, I would have said, "Forget it! It's my only daughter's wedding, for goodness sake! There is no way I can minister to anyone today."
But God found a way—through dead flowers.
A Reason to Celebrate
Behold I send an angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place I have prepared.
Numbly, I left my husband, Marty, at the hospital where I had been visiting two of my children and headed for the grocery store. Since it was 11 P.M., I drove to the only store I knew was open twenty-four hours a day. I turned my car motor off and rested my head against the seat.
What a day, I thought to myself. With two of my young children in the hospital, and a third waiting at Grandma's, I was truly spread thin. Today I had actually passed the infant CPR exam required before I could take eight-week-old Joel home from the hospital. Would I remember how to perform CPR in a moment of crisis? A cold chill ran down my spine as I debated my answer.
Exhausted, I reached for my grocery list that resembled more of a scientific equation than the food for the week. For the past several days, I'd been learning the facts about juvenile diabetes and trying to accept Jenna's, my six-year-old daughter's, diagnosis. In addition to the CPR exam, I'd spent the day reviewing how to test Jenna's blood and give her insulin shots. Now I was buying the needed food to balance the insulin that would sustain Jenna's life.
"Let's go, Janet," I mumbled to myself while sliding out of the car. "Tomorrow is the big day! Both kids are coming home from the hospital." It didn't take long before my mumbling turned into a prayer.
God, I am soooo scared! What if I make a mistake and give Jenna too much insulin, or what if I measure her food wrong, or what if she does the unmentionable—and sneaks a treat? And God, what about Joel's apnea monitor? What if it goes off? What if he turns blue and I panic? What if? Oh, the consequences are certain to be great!
With a shiver, my own thoughts startled me. Quickly, I tried to redirect my mind away from the what ifs. I gave myself an emergency pep talk and recited what I knew to be true, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I can do all things...."
Like a child doing an errand she wasn't up for, I grabbed my purse, locked the car and found my way inside the store. The layout of the store was different from what I was used to. Uncertain where to find what I needed, I decided to walk up and down each aisle.
Soon I was holding a box of cereal, reading the label, trying to figure out the carbohydrate count and sugar content. Would three-fourths a cup of cereal fill Jenna up? Not finding any "sugar free" cereal, I grabbed a box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes and continued shopping. Pausing, I turned back. Do I still buy Froot Loops for Jason? I hadn't even thought how Jenna's diagnosis might affect Jason, my typical four-year-old. Is it okay if he has a box of Froot Loops while Jenna eats Kellogg's Corn Flakes?
Eventually I walked down the canned fruit and juice aisle. Yes, I need apple juice, but how much? Just how often will Jenna's sugar "go low" so she will need this lifesaving can of juice? Will a six-year-old actually know when her blood sugar is dropping? What if ...? I began to ask myself again.
I held the can of apple juice and began to read the label. Jenna will need fifteen carbohydrates of juice when her sugar drops. But this can has thirty-two. Immediately I could see my hand begin to tremble. I tried to steady the can and reread the label when I felt tears leave my eyes and make their way down the sides of my face. Not knowing what to do, I grabbed a couple of six-packs of apple juice and placed them in my cart. Frustrated by feelings of total inadequacy, I crumpled up my grocery list, covered my face in my hands and cried.
"Honey, are you all right?" I heard a gentle voice ask. I had been so engrossed in my own thoughts that I hadn't even noticed the woman who was shopping alongside of me. Suddenly I felt her hand as she reached toward me and rested it upon my shoulder. "Are you all right? Honey, are you a little short of cash? Why don't you just let me ...?"
I slowly dropped my hands from my face and looked into the eyes of the silver-haired woman who waited for my answer. "Oh, no, thank you, ma'am," I said while wiping my tears, trying to gather my composure. "I have enough money."
"Well, honey, what is it then?" she persisted.
"It's just that I'm kind of overwhelmed. I'm here shopping for groceries so that I can bring my children home from the hospital tomorrow."
"Home from the hospital! What a celebration that shall be. Why, you should have a party!"
Within minutes this stranger had befriended me. She took my crumpled-up grocery list, smoothed it out and became my personal shopper. She stayed by my side until each item on my list was checked off. She even walked me to my car, helping me as I placed the groceries in my trunk. Then with a hug and a smile, she sent me on my way.
It was shortly after midnight, while lugging the groceries into my house, that I realized the lesson this woman had taught me. "My kids are coming home from the hospital!" I shouted with joy. "Joel is off life support and functioning on a monitor. Jenna and I can learn how to manage her diabetes and give her shots properly. And just as God met my needs in a grocery store, He will meet each and every need we have. What a reason to celebrate." I giggled to myself.
"I have a reason to celebrate!" I shouted to my empty house.
"Why, you should have a party!" the woman had exclaimed.
And a party there would be!
Janet Lynn Mitchell
A Special Prayer
Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed.
My father is the most unselfish person I know—always thinking of others first before himself. Perhaps that is why he chose to be a rabbi, to serve God by helping other people.
Every Christmas, my father, Rabbi Jack Segal, volunteers at a hospital in Houston so Christian employees can spend Christmas with their loved ones. One particular Christmas he was working the telephone switchboard at the hospital, answering basic questions and transferring phone calls. One of the calls he received was from a woman, obviously upset.
"Sir, I understand my nephew was in a terrible car accident this morning. Please tell me how he is."
After the woman gave my father the boy's name, he checked the computer and said, according to protocol at that time, "Your nephew is listed in critical condition. I'm truly sorry. I hope he'll get better." As soon as my father said "critical," the woman immediately began to sob and she screamed, "Oh, my God! What should I do? What should I do?"
Hearing those words, my father softly stated, "Prayer might be helpful at this time."
The woman quickly replied, "Yes—oh, yes. But it's been ten years since I've been to a church and I've forgotten how to pray," then asked, "Sir, do you know how to pray? Could you say a prayer for me while I listen on the phone?"
My father quickly answered, "Of course," and began saying the ancient prayer for healing in Hebrew, the Mee Shebayroch. He concluded, "Amen."
"Thank you, thank you so much," the woman on the phone replied. "However," she went on, "I truly appreciate your prayer, but I have one major problem. I did not understand the prayer, since I do not speak Spanish."
My father inwardly chuckled and said, "Ma'am, that was not Spanish. I'm a rabbi, and that prayer was in Hebrew."
The woman sighed heavily in relief. "Hebrew? That's great. That's God's language. Now He won't need a translator!"
Michael Jordan Segal, M.S.W.
Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
At El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Southern California where my husband Joe was stationed, the clinic physician peered with a lighted instrument into my right eye. "Hmmm," he murmured to himself.
"What do you see?" I asked, anxious to learn the cause of my suddenly blurred vision.
"I'm ... not ... sure," he said, maneuvering his head for a different view.
"Is something wrong with my pregnancy?" I blurted out, near panic. Please, God, this is our first baby. Don't let anything go wrong.
"Mrs. Stargel," the young doctor's brow creased, "your vision has deteriorated. You need a specialist. I'm sending you to Camp Pendleton Naval Hospital." Then he added gently, "You'll need to go prepared to stay."
No, please, no. This can't be happening. Joe's getting discharged next week, and we're going home!
I was so homesick. It was my first year away from the rest of the family, and we hadn't told them about our baby due in four months. We wanted to surprise everyone, but now.... That afternoon, Joe and I drove down the Pacific Coast Highway toward San Diego and Camp Pendleton. Ordinarily, we enjoyed the spectacular scenery along Route 101—crashing waves on one side of the road, rolling hills on the other, wildflowers everywhere. But on this day, we saw none of the beauty—concern for my health and that of our baby nearly blocked out the sun.
I checked into the military hospital, a sprawling one-story structure painted battleship gray inside and out. The antiseptic smell assaulted my senses and threatened to reactivate my morning sickness. They assigned me to a ward with seven other women—eight beds lined up at attention, each with its own metal nightstand in which the washcloth and bedpan, even my toothbrush, had its precise location. Reluctantly, I changed from my fashionable maternity dress into gray-blue cotton pajamas bearing the stamp "U.S. Navy."
For the next eleven days doctors examined and X-rayed me head to toe, trying to locate the area of infection that caused inflammation of the choroid layer of my eye—inflammation that threatened blindness.
Meanwhile, they prescribed cortisone to be administered intravenously. My veins proved "uncooperative." Every day, the nurses probed with needles, again and again, while I cringed in pain.
Saturday night came. Joe had weekend duty at El Toro, fifty miles away. My closest neighbors in the ward had left. I hadn't even seen the IV team that day. Never had I felt so forlorn, so forsaken. As the outside darkness smothered the hospital, loneliness as thick as fog from the nearby ocean engulfed me.
Sometime after the ten o'clock "lights out," I heard the shuffling of padded feet and the rhythmic tinkle of metal hitting against a bottle. The sounds stopped by my bed. With lowered voices, working by flashlights so as not to waken the patients on the far end of the ward, the IV team started the vein search in my bruised arms. I bit my lip.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Stargel," one of the nurses said. "I wish we didn't have to do this to you, especially at this time of night. Several emergencies kept us from getting to you sooner."
I turned away and clenched my teeth, waiting for the next puncture. Finally, sounding relieved for both of us, she said, "This one's going to work." As she taped the offending needle onto the back of my wrist, she added, "I'm afraid, though, you won't get much sleep tonight."
Handing me a flashlight, she motioned to the bottle of liquid swinging above my head. "Remember to check from time to time the number of drops per minute. We don't want the medication to enter the body too quickly—nor too slowly. "With that bit of instruction, she retreated with the others.
I was alone again. With my free hand I hugged the sheet up under my chin, fighting an onrush of unspeakable sadness. Doubts piled on top of one another. What if we can't go home next week? What if I lose my eyesight? And our baby! What are all these X-rays and chemicals doing to our baby?
I wanted—needed—to pray, but was afraid to try. Would God remember me? After all, I had neglected Him this entire year. It was as if I had left God on the East Coast, too—rarely praying, let alone attending church services.
My arm throbbed. I reached for the flashlight, directed its beam on the bottle of medication, and counted the dripping clear liquid—one, two, three, four ...
I switched off the light and stared up into the black void. Sinking into a pit of despair, my very soul cried out to God. Lord, please help me. I know I don't deserve it, God, but please help me.
Soon after I couldn't believe what I was hearing! From somewhere out in the shadowy hallway came the hauntingly beautiful sound of a young woman's voice, singing that lovely Rodgers and Hammerstein song, "You'll Never Walk Alone."
Excerpted from Chicken Soup For The Christian Soul 2 by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, LeAnn Thieman. Copyright © 2012 Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC.
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Posted May 26, 2011
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