Guardian Angels: True Stories of Answered Prayersby Joan Wester Anderson
These remarkable stories of answered prayers remind us that we are never alone
In this inspiring collection, the work of angels takes many forms, including miracles, healings, and heavenly visitations. These events all convey a single, urgent, and loving message: God answers prayer. “There’s real power in prayer,” writes beloved New… See more details below
These remarkable stories of answered prayers remind us that we are never alone
In this inspiring collection, the work of angels takes many forms, including miracles, healings, and heavenly visitations. These events all convey a single, urgent, and loving message: God answers prayer. “There’s real power in prayer,” writes beloved New York Times best-selling author Joan Wester Anderson. “We can trust that God’s intense love for us will carry us through.” Help is at hand when we need it most.
Anderson’s astonishing first-hand accounts testify to the hope that prayer offers: a dying infant inexplicably recovers after an encounter with a mysterious visitor; a long-lost son suddenly returns home for Christmas; a young man drowning in an icy river unaccountably finds himself on shore; a grieving widow, alone and far from home, receives comfort and counsel from angels in disguise. These stories and dozens of others reveal the care of a loving God who touches the most intimate parts of our hearts.
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Read an Excerpt
With hurricanes, earthquakes, fires out of control, mud slides, tornados, flooding and severe thunderstorms tearing up the country, with the threat of bird flu and terrorists attacks, are we sure this is a good time to take God out of the Pledge of Allegiance?
When Hurricane Katrina roared across Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama in August of 2005, leaving unbelievable destruction in its wake, many people wondered if God had forgotten us and had left us unprotected. If so, why? Was this a punishment of some sort, or a warning? Or was our heavenly Father allowing us to experience, in a limited way, what life might be like without his constant care?
Such a premise is hard to accept, given our view of God as a loving Father. What parent would deliberately send pain to his children? As C. S. Lewis pointed out, “Pain is God’s megaphone.” In trauma, whether personal or global, we truly refocus on what is most important. Survivors of destructive events rarely mourn the loss of a plasma-screen television or a new car. Instead, in the shocked aftermath they almost always praise God for sparing them and their loved ones. They focus on the essentials, the gifts of life and health that can never be replaced.
We might ask, then, why we can’t maintain this same attitude through the ordinary times. Could it be that God has given us the blueprint for a happy life, a peaceful sojourn, in just a few biblical verses? “If my people . . . humble themselves and pray, and seek my presence and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and revive their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Prayer. It must be an important activity if God holds it up as a remedy for a country’s woes. It must mean that even our most generous acts of love and support for one another must be based on a foundation of prayer. Why? Prayer is the beginning, the moment in which we acknowledge our relationship with God. We put God first in our hearts. We offer him our lives, our will, our trust. Once brought into God’s arms, we are energized, ready to continue our work in this life.
I suspect that the prayer God is asking of us—especially at this critical time in history—may also involve an element of risk. Perhaps simply praying in the safe confines of our homes or churches is not enough right now. Maybe we are being asked to reach out, to pray in a public manner, to acknowledge a sovereign God as our forefathers did, even to do it as a matter of course, before the next earthquake or hurricane heads our way. During the Mississippi river floods of 1993, one mayor announced that, “We’ve run out of options. There’s nothing left but prayer.” People of all faiths then gathered in the town square and asked God to stop the rain.
The rain continued. But for some inexplicable reason, the flooding ended. It was an awesome event, largely ignored by the media. But one wonders what might have happened if prayer had been the first option rather than the last.
One magnificent facet of prayer is that anyone can do it. From a toddler singing “Jesus Loves Me” (and didn’t St. Augustine point out that “He who sings prays twice”?) to the Presidential Prayer Team, with over three million participants praying for the president’s intentions every day, we all have equal access to the Father’s heart. Moms In Touch International is one of many groups formed around a single theme, to protect their children from moral and physical danger. Membership can involve meeting with one or two neighbors each morning or attending a large church prayer service. There are also solitary “prayer warriors,” people who feel occasionally summoned to put aside their own work or recreation and pray for a particular situation or person, even someone they’ve never met. Occasionally one will also hear about a “victim soul,” someone who—by suffering—is bearing burdens for others in a far higher form of prayer that most of us ever experience.
There’s true power in prayer, even though we’re not sure exactly how it works. Has someone ever told you, “You’re in my prayers,” and you actually felt that strength and comfort while you underwent a medical procedure or took a test? It happens to us all. Even hospital researchers have done studies in which some patients were prayed for (by strangers) and some with similar maladies were not; invariably the prayed-for group reported fewer surgical aftereffects and quicker release times. We have things in the right order when we pray first.
“I wish I could contribute some school supplies,” a reader wrote me as a group of us launched a drive to help disadvantaged students. “But my budget is too tight. There’s nothing I can do.”
“Can you pray that these children receive what they need?” I asked her.
Of course she could, and did. And she most certainly shared in the successful results as much as if she had donated a truckload of merchandise.
Praying, of course, doesn’t always bring about the results we expect. For “no” or “not yet” can be an answer to a prayer as well as “yes.” God has a plan for each of us, and timing is a critical element in building our own characters and bringing this plan to fruition. As a loving Father, he must sometimes nudge us along his path rather than pamper us in a temporary indulgence. Nor should we expect that God’s answer to a prayer will always conform to our ideas. John, an elderly gentleman in mid-Florida, was concerned about the roof on his mobile home. It was leaky and definitely needed replacement, but he had no money to do it. Instead, he prayed, informally as he had always done. “Don’t forget the roof,” he’d remind God at night, just before bedtime. “Whatever you decide will be fine.”
Maybe John should have rephrased that, because one night a tornado swept through the area, touching down here and there. The next morning, although several of the mobile homes in John’s area were spared, his was not. The entire roof was ripped off and broken into pieces. People felt sorry for John, until he smilingly reminded them that the insurance company would have to provide a new roof. Like John, perhaps our best prayers are those in which we ask God to direct our lives, when we pray for the answers that are best for us and trust that God’s intense love for us will carry us through.
So this is a book about prayer. It includes angels, of course, for angels are masters at prayer. (In fact, the primary work of the highest-functioning choirs of angels is to praise and worship our God.) Angels can take our deepest yearnings, our brokenness, and our confusion to the throne of the Almighty. “See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared,” says the book of Exodus, chapter 23, verse 20. “Be attentive to him and heed his voice. . . . If you heed his voice and carry out all I tell you, I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes.” This is their purpose, these beautiful beings who have been given to us as our lifelong companions. If we don’t know them already, we should make it a point to do so.
This book also includes almost all the stories first published in Angels We Have Heard on High, an earlier book of mine, because so many of them involved prayer. But there are new entries, too. Some of the people you’ll meet recited formal prayers; others rambled incoherently at a moment of extreme stress. Some prayed for themselves; some interceded for others. Some prayers were active rather than passive. Some were prayed in solitude, while others were links in a prayer chain or were part of a religious function. The format of the prayers wasn’t significant. The acknowledgement that God was in charge was all that seemed necessary. So, may prayer become a more significant and rewarding part of your life:
May you pray for those you love in the quiet peace of the night, and may you do it with confidence and trust.
May you find something to celebrate about each new day, not merely those circled in red on your crowded calendar.
May you greet the seasons of your heart with enthusiasm, ready to learn and love ever more deeply.
May you acknowledge the pressures in your life, unburden yourself of those that can be eased, and let the angels help you carry the rest.
And may you remember God’s age-old promise, “I will never forsake you or abandon you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Now, let the praying begin.
Wonders of Prayer
My Sister, My Friend Hold a true friend with both your hands.
When sixteen-year-old Susan Kelly* felt blue or wanted to celebrate, she turned to music first. She and her sister Cathy, just two years younger, had had a gift for singing from the time they were toddlers growing up in Iowa. The entire extended family looked forward to get-togethers because Susan and Cathy needed no encouragement to sing for them. And when there wasn’t an audience, “we harmonized around the house while doing chores,” Susan says, “and to all the oldies our mom taught us,” as well as hymns from the church songbooks. Both girls felt that singing had drawn them close and allowed them to avoid most of the bickering and rivalry common to many teenage sisters.
*last name changed
Now, however, Susan needed more than a song to solve her problem. She was pregnant. Her parents had been devastated at the news, especially because they did not like her boyfriend at all. But they stood by her with encouragement and helped provide a beautiful church wedding. Susan felt like a hypocrite. She had always had a close relationship with God. But now she felt he must be disappointed in her, not only for her own actions but because she had let down the family that loved her. How could God bless this union? How could she even ask?
But Cathy wouldn’t accept Susan’s assumptions about how God—or others—must think of her. She popped in often to give her sister a hug and a word of support. “God loves you no matter what,” she reminded her sister over and over again. On good days, Susan could almost believe it.
However, there weren’t very many good days. She was not long into her marriage before Susan discovered that her new husband was not as enthusiastic about impending parenthood as she was. He, too, had dropped out of school and was now working two jobs, one full-time in a factory and the other part-time at a gas station. As her due date grew closer, Susan hoped with all her heart that the baby would bridge the growing gap between them. Baby Bryan was born healthy and strong after a long and complicated labor. Susan’s husband and her entire family were with her throughout it, but Cathy seemed to bring her the deepest peace and consolation, holding her hand and praying. After the birth, Susan’s husband never returned to the hospital.
At home, motherhood was fascinating, scary, and amazing, all at once. Susan had planned to return to her job, but her husband was completely disinterested in the baby and would not take care of him. “I would come home, and the baby would be in the crib, wet, hungry, and screaming,” she says. So she became a stay-at-home mom, and from the start, she sang to Bryan. When Cathy came to visit, she would join the song, too. Soon the girls had an entire repertoire of harmonized songs, everything from nursery rhymes to his apparent favorite, “Rock and Roll Lullaby,” which never failed to put him to sleep. Susan’s husband, however, was becoming more distant than ever. Susan wondered often what would become of them. Perhaps God had abandoned her after all.
When Bryan was nine months old, he developed a cold, his first real illness. By the third night, after singing countless lullabies and giving the baby one sponge bath after another, Susan was very worried. Infants’ Tylenol wasn’t bringing Bryan’s fever down, and her husband was working late at the gas station that night, so she was alone. She had called the doctor earlier, but he had reassured her that infant colds were rarely serious, and she should relax. But now, as she felt the baby’s flushed face, Susan took his temperature again. One hundred and six degrees!
“I was a little hysterical, I think,” she says. “I knew I had to get Bryan to the hospital quickly, but after I strapped him into his car seat and roared off, I realized I should get his father, too. So I drove to the gas station first.” But when she got there, she saw her husband standing outside the station, kissing a young woman.
This discovery was too shocking and huge to deal with just then, so Susan shot out of the gas station lot and sped down the highway. By the time she reached the hospital emergency room, Bryan was having trouble breathing, and his fever had spiked to one hundred and eight. Dehydration had set in. When the nurses started an IV in each arm, he didn’t even move.
Susan sat, exhausted and terrified, outside the intensive care unit, watching through the window at the nurses’ station as the baby’s chest barely moved. “Please God, save him, save him” was all she could say. At some point, her family members came, except for Cathy, who was too young to visit the ICU. Susan’s husband also arrived. She couldn’t think of anything to say to him—everything seemed vague, as if she were in some kind of fog. All that mattered to her was Bryan.
But would God answer her prayer? Was he still disappointed in her? Finally, with the nurses’ consent, Susan climbed into the oxygen tent, lay on the bed beside Bryan, clutched his little hand, and continued to pray. But after five hours and several bags of fluids, his temperature had dropped only a degree. The doctor told everyone to go home, and everyone did, except Susan. “There has to be something I can do,” she begged the nurse on duty. “Anything.”
“Well . . .” The nurse looked around and then quickly left the room. She returned with a pitcher of cool water and a syringe with the needle detached. “Fill the syringe with the water from the pitcher,” the nurse instructed Susan, “and slowly drip the water down the baby’s throat.”
Susan got back under the tent and lifted Bryan into her arms. She would do this. She had to! Somehow she knew it was Bryan’s last chance. But it was so hard to reach the pitcher, then dip and fill the syringe with the baby in her arms. Susan struggled to balance everything, but the water dribbled out of Bryan’s mouth. She was so intent on her tasks that when the nurse came back, Susan didn’t look up.
“Here, let me fill the syringe and hand it to you,” a woman said. But it wasn’t the nurse. It was Cathy!
“Oh, Cathy, I’m so glad you’re here!” Susan’s eyes filled with tears. How had her sister managed to sneak in, despite being underage? And wasn’t it awfully late? Who had driven her? But this was not the time for questions. Calmly, Cathy bent over the pitcher and filled the syringe, handing it to Susan, then taking it back to refill it. The baby settled down, swallowing each drop with his eyes still closed. Peace—in this unlikely and desperate place—began to move across Susan’s heart, banishing her terrible fear. She wasn’t alone anymore.
Softly she began to sing Bryan’s favorite, “Rock and Roll Lullaby.” Within seconds, Cathy’s voice joined hers, easily harmonizing as they had always done. From “Lullaby” they moved to other favorites as they rhythmically passed the syringe back and forth. No conversation was necessary.
An hour passed, then Bryan fell asleep. Almost immediately the nurse came in the room to check him. “His fever has broken,” she smiled at Susan. “That’s good news.”
Susan looked for Cathy, but she had apparently slipped out of the room. Exhausted and relieved, her hand cramped, Susan lay back on the bed.
For three more days, Susan stayed at Bryan’s bedside. Her husband visited, too, but both of them knew now that their marriage had ended. Separating was the right decision, but Susan couldn’t help but feel sorrowful. Once again, she had failed at something important. God must be so dissatisfied with her.
Finally, Bryan was discharged, and Susan drove with him to her family’s home. Cathy was waiting at the door to greet her. “Oh Cathy . . .” Susan hugged her. “Thank you so much for coming to the hospital that night! You were wonderful!”
Cathy hugged her, then stepped back, a puzzled look on her face. “What are you talking about, Sue? I was never at the hospital. You know I’m not old enough to visit the ICU.”
Had it been a dream? No! Susan had taken the syringe home with her, and would never forget it passing between them, holding those tiny drops of lifesaving water. She remembered how cramped her own hand had been. But she would say no more until she had visited the hospital staff to thank them for their care.
A few days later, she did, and the same ICU nurse took her aside. “I’ll always remember how you stayed up all night alone with your son, singing the whole time,” the nurse said.
“But I wasn’t alone,” Susan pointed out. “Don’t you remember the younger girl, the one that sang with me?”
“There wasn’t anyone with you,” the nurse insisted. “I could see you clearly through the window, dropping the water into the baby’s mouth. You were the only one in the room.”
Suddenly, as if a warm blanket was settling around her, Susan understood. Cathy had been right all along. God loved her now, and had always loved her, just as she loved her baby. It was he, her Eternal Parent, who had arranged for an angel to watch with her that night in the hospital. Not just any angel either, but one who resembled the person Susan had always been able to trust and depend upon most: her sister.
Susan went on to become a much-cherished wife and the mother of five children. Like all of us, she has encountered trouble and disappointment along the way. But she has never doubted God’s forgiveness. And, whenever they can, she and Cathy sing praises to him.
Faith in the Fire
When we dream, the soul transcends the limits of the body,
and holds divine communication with the angels.
When Carolyn Shafer moved to Tempe, Arizona, as a young mother, she had never heard of intercessory prayer, that is, praying specifically for another person’s needs. But she wanted the companionship of other women, so she joined a Bible-study group at a nearby Methodist church. “We were all pretty uninformed about God and spiritual faith,” she says. “We had no idea how powerful prayer could be.”
In the middle of one night, Carolyn was startled into wakefulness. “I had a strong conviction that something bad was happening to Jackie, one of the women in our group. I knew her only slightly, but someone had mentioned that she had bronchitis.” Was that the problem? And what should Carolyn do about it? Phone Jackie? This late? Surely the woman had a family to rely on. And wouldn’t it be embarrassing to awaken Jackie and discover that this strange feeling was only Carolyn’s imagination?
Carolyn plumped her pillows. She would forget it and go back to sleep. But the unease persisted. “Because I didn’t know what else to do, I finally began to pray for Jackie. Again and again I implored God to protect her from whatever was wrong.” Gradually, the urgency disappeared, and Carolyn finally fell asleep.
The following morning, Carolyn was still puzzling about the episode. Jackie would probably think she was odd, but she needed to touch base. “Good morning,” she said, smiling as Jackie answered the doorbell. “I just came by to ask . . . well . . . did anything happen to you last night?”
“Yes. Were you in trouble, or sick?”
Jackie looked astonished. “How did you know? My bronchitis flared up—it was the worst attack I’ve ever had. I was gasping for air and trying to wake my husband to take me to the hospital. But all of a sudden, everything seemed to calm down.”
The women looked at each other. “I was praying for you,” Carolyn admitted. “I think God woke me and told me to do it.” She almost expected Jackie to laugh at her.
But Jackie’s eyes were filling with tears. “Would God do that for me?” she asked.
Then she confessed to Carolyn that she had been wrestling with a quiet fear that God didn’t really care about her. But this tender gesture, brought to her from someone she barely knew was all the reassurance she needed.
“We went on to become the dearest of friends,” Carolyn says today. “God can use anyone to touch another, if we’re willing.”
Intercessory prayer, as Carolyn discovered, is very powerful. We are all intercessors when we pray for one another, even when there’s no emergency involved. (And it appears that angels often intercede for us, too.) But intercessory prayer can also be a specific ministry to which a person is compelled on occasion. Such people are rarely willing, nor do they consider themselves worthy of such a daunting task. But it is just that willingness to serve, despite feelings of inadequacy, that graces the plans of God.
The fire call came in on April 3, 1995, at about 1:00 a.m. A blaze in a two-story apartment building. Fairly routine, thought firefighter Paul Grams, of Rockford, Illinois. He and his partners, Ron and John, were the first to arrive on the scene.
The first floor was unoccupied, the firefighters learned from neighbors who were gathering to watch the drama. But then a bystander ran up. “I think there are people living upstairs!” he shouted. “A lady and her little grandchild.”
Possible victims! The scenario shifted as the three men raced into the building. “The smoke was so thick that it blocked any light, and even muffled sound,” Paul relates. “We searched the apartment, but we couldn’t find anyone.” The atmosphere seemed strange, even surreal, as they crawled around in darkness. Paul bumped into someone. “John, is that you?” he asked.
But there was no answer. “Ron?” Paul questioned. Again, no response. But the presence had been moving, not lying still like someone overcome by smoke. Who was it?
Again, Paul crawled along, feeling his way. Long minutes passed. Once more, he bumped into something right in front of him. Had other firefighters come into the apartment without the three men knowing it? “Who is this?” Paul demanded.
“You will never get out of here alive.” The menacing message emanated from whatever was in front of him. It was not in audible words, but somehow it permeated his spirit, bringing fear and peril into the murkiness. “John!” Paul called again. “Is that you?”
No one answered. Paul felt terribly alone. Something was wrong. They had been crawling for almost fifteen minutes, and their air supply would soon be exhausted. But where was the exit? The smoke was even denser than before, and nothing could be seen in this heavy gray fog. A chill went through Paul as he realized that he and his companions were lost.
“You’ll never get out of here alive.” Again the threatening words came. Paul’s skin prickled. Although he couldn’t see anyone speaking, he recognized the voice now. It was Evil.
Sherry Zahorik, of nearby Machesney Park, Illinois, was having a dream. She was in a room, a foggy room. Three people were crawling in front of her, frantically searching for something. Sherry felt as though she were in their midst, watching them go through this terrible assignment. She could feel their confusion, and something more as well. “There was a terrible demonic presence permeating the room,” she says. “Whenever one of these people would bump into something and call the name of his friend, this presence would laugh. And it would say, ‘You will never get out of here alive.’”
Abruptly, Sherry awakened, sat up, and peered at her alarm clock. Just a little past 1:00 a.m. Her chest felt heavy, as if a huge weight was lying on it, and she could hardly breathe. Sherry blinked. She was definitely awake. Yet it seemed as if she was still in the dream. “I knew in an instant that I should start praying.”
Every now and then, Sherry is awakened by an urge to intercede for someone. On the face of it, the impulse seems a bit strange. She doesn’t know exactly what the situation is about or who she is praying for. And why, she has often wondered, should she be tapped for this job? Surely her prayers are no more powerful than anyone else’s.
However, Sherry wants to be obedient to God whenever he calls on her. And so, despite her questions and her fatigue, she prays.
Tonight, however, the circumstances were different. As Sherry began to pray, she continued to be aware of her dream and the scenario it had presented. Perhaps this time God was showing her something specific so her prayers could be more focused. “Oh God,” Sherry began. “You know where these people are. Save them, Lord. Remove them from this danger . . .”
It seemed to Paul as if he had been crawling in this blackness forever. Where were the others? Although he couldn’t see anything, Paul heard Ron calling the chief on his radio. “Ladder Company Number One is lost on the second floor! Someone needs to ventilate the building immediately, so we can find our way out!”
“Ron!” Paul called. “Where are you?”
“Over here!” Ron sounded far away. But as Paul attempted to crawl toward him, he bumped into the presence again. It was laughing, a sneering, depraved sound. “You will never get out of here alive,” it said.
Where was the chief’s answering radio transmission? Where was the sound of glass breaking as other firefighters smashed windows to remove some of the smoke? Paul strained to hear, but there was no sound at all. An image came to him, photos that had accompanied a recent article in a firefighter magazine. “It was about a firefighter who had gotten lost in a smoky room and died when he ran out of air,” Paul says. “The pictures showed handprints in the soot on the wall, where he had searched in vain for the window—which was just inches away.” Would their deaths be written about in a similar way?
Paul heard a faint warning bell. It sounded like John’s air tank, out of air. Was John already lying unconscious on the floor? Obviously, the chief hadn’t received Ron’s message. Paul grabbed his own radio. “Chief, where are you? We’re trapped on the second floor; we’re lost in the smoke and almost out of air. Break out the windows!” But no answer came. Except the now-familiar whisper of the gloating presence in the room. “You’ll never get out,” it said, “never, never . . .”
An hour had passed. Assuming that her prayer time wouldn’t last too long, Sherry had begun while lying in bed. But each time she tried to finish and fall asleep, she’d felt the same weight on her chest, so heavy that she could neither sleep nor even easily breathe. So she was now in the living room.
Her husband had come out to check on her. “Are you all right?” He was used to her night vigils, and was himself an intercessor, but this situation was lasting an unusually long time.
Oh, how she wanted the comfort of her bed, and sleep. But God had not released Sherry yet. She knew he was telling her something. The Lord of the Universe, the All-Powerful One, still requested her effort, her love and sacrifice poured out for others in his family, even though she didn’t know who they were. Standing in God’s presence on behalf of someone who needed help—that was what being a prayer warrior was all about. If she was called to this work, she didn’t need to understand the “why” of it. Only obedience was required.
Nor did she understand the role of demonic presence in this terrible event. While praying, she had sensed a vision of firefighters, one of them clawing blindly at a wall, thinking it was a window. They were in mortal danger, both physically and spiritually, and it would take strong prayers to save them. “I need to keep going,” she told her husband. He nodded and went back to bed.
Help would come. It had to. But as he waited for an answer to his radio call, Paul quietly resigned himself to his death, and Ron’s and John’s, too. What a tragedy for the engine company, for all the families and friends involved, especially his youngest daughter, who would turn thirteen tomorrow. But if it was God’s will, then maybe death was inevitable. Paul remembered the voice’s sinister whisper: “Never, never . . .”
Suddenly, as if a cool refreshing wind was blowing through the room, Paul knew that the voice was wrong. Someone somewhere was wrestling with this evil presence, doing battle for him and his buddies. Someone was covering him with prayer power, sending reassurance and hope. He felt it, in the most tangible way. Peace filled him.
Seconds later, John, now completely out of air, found a window and broke it out with both hands. Firefighters on the ground placed a ladder to the window, and John scrambled to safety. Paul and Ron were next, their tanks barely functioning. On the ground, the men filled their lungs with clean pure air and related what had happened, including the mix-up over the messages. No tenants had been home on the second floor, they were told, nor had other firefighters come to the apartment.
Relieved, the men went back to their work. Later, however, as Paul stood in three feet of water in the basement, he again felt a sense of danger. Looking up, he saw the charred joists, the huge sections of floor burned completely through, and realized that everything could collapse at any moment, trapping him yet again. I’ve faced enough hazards for one night, he thought as he clambered up the basement stairs. Whoever was praying for him must still be on duty. He glanced at his watch: it was almost 5:00 a.m. He should call his wife, Val, before she left for her secretarial job at Rockford’s Christian Life Center School, and tell her not to worry if she heard about the fire on the morning news.
Sherry was exhausted. Long ago, she had run out of words, and was now praying in tongues, a wordless plea arising from somewhere deep in her soul. The evil presence was still there, she knew. And, although she no longer envisioned the firefighters crawling in smoke, she knew they were still depending on her. She wouldn’t weaken, she told herself. She would go on, as long as necessary, because God had asked her to.
Then, unexpectedly, Sherry felt a lift within her spirit. “It was like something being released,” she says. “The situation was over, everything was all right, and I was no longer needed.” She would probably never know what had happened. But perhaps she could catch a brief nap before going to her job at Rockford’s Christian Life Center School. She crawled into bed, glancing at her clock. It was just before five.
What a hectic day! School secretary Val Grams hadn’t had a chance to tell coworkers about her husband’s ordeal at the fire. But between phone calls and office details, she continued to give silent thanks to God for sparing Paul and the others. It had been such a close call.
At one point, Val thought she heard Sherry Zahorik, one of the day-care workers, telling the principal about being up half the night praying for some people in a fire. Val knew Sherry only slightly, and Sherry had never met Paul, didn’t even know he was a firefighter. What a strange coincidence.
It was not until the school day was over that Val had a chance to go out to the playground and ask Sherry to tell her the story. Only then, through their tears, did both women realize what God had done.
Paul Grams and Sherry Zahorik never determined the reason for the evil presence in the burning building that night. Perhaps the site had been used for witchcraft or occult purposes, and spirits continued to linger. Nor do they understand fully how prayer works, how it protects others, or why God chooses to communicate through dreams. The link Paul and Sherry shared on one fateful night remains a mystery now, and may be one forever. But they are grateful. And they believe.
The Welcome Visitor
It was first whispered among the seraphim and cherubim,
and then said aloud among the angels and archangels,
that he didn’t even look like an angel!
—Charles Tazewell, The Littlest Angel
About twenty-five years ago, Dr. Clyta Harris and her husband separated. Clyta was left with three young children and a fourth on the way. “I was devastated and so lonely I was physically ill,” she says. “I was in a graduate program, working full time, and trying to provide a secure home for my little ones.”
Due to financial problems, Clyta had sold their nice, large house and purchased a smaller, not-so-nice one that she could afford on her salary. When the weather got colder that year, a family of mice moved in, plaguing Clyta and the children. Clyta was brave most of the time, but the sight of a mouse sprinting across her living room floor reduced her to a bowl of mush. One evening she awakened her oldest son at 3:00 a.m. to help her find a mouse—she could hear it scratching but could not locate it. Her son found it in a small wastebasket, anxiously trying to climb the slick sides and run for safety. “Another night I awoke, and in the light from a street lamp saw a mouse sitting on my big toe on top of the covers,” Clyta recalls. “I kicked as hard as I could, and I never did know where that little critter landed.” Once, Clyta went into her living room just after dark and surprised not one but five baby mice scurrying across the floor.
Clyta panicked. “I had known almost all my life that God cared for me, but I had never thought to ask him for help with this problem.” Frustrated beyond imagination, she raised her voice and her hands toward heaven and implored, “Oh, God, please help me with this mouse problem!” She wasn’t sure she really believed God would. Within minutes of that plea, the doorbell rang. It was a student who had arranged to drop off a research paper Clyta was going to type for him (one of her many part-time jobs). As she opened the door to let him in, a large white and black cat moved stealthily around the door and into her living room. The student seemed as surprised as Clyta was at the sight of the animal. Had it been hanging around her door, waiting for it to open? How odd, even amazing, that a cat had appeared almost immediately after she had prayed.
“Kitty cat,” Clyta spoke to her, “are you the answer to my prayer about the mouse problem?” She had never allowed an animal to stay in her house, but it was a cold night, so she let the cat stay in the garage. “The next morning I let her out, and she went on her way. “The following evening I heard her meowing outside the front door. Once again she spent the night in my garage. This happened daily for about two weeks.”
Clyta noticed that the cat was not especially affectionate or playful with her or the children. On the contrary, it seemed to be on a mission and, although it would accept a saucer of warm milk occasionally, it was otherwise completely focused on the presumed task.
The furry visitor arrived each evening like clockwork. And then, one night, the cat did not appear. Amazingly, neither did the mice! “We never spotted another sign of a mouse in the two years we lived in that house,” Clyta says. “Nor did we ever see our angel cat again.”
Did God really send that cat? Was she an angel in disguise, sent to answer Clyta’s prayer? “Did God know that in my time of weakness I needed him to show me how much he cared for even my ‘small’ problems? I believe the answer to all those questions is a resounding Yes! God knows and cares and meets our needs, sometimes in the most unexpected ways.”*
*In fact, Clyta and her husband reunited, and will celebrate their fortieth wedding anniversary next year.
Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
As we have seen, prayer, whether for ourselves or intercessory, has real power, and everyone should belong to a group that can pray together. One of the largest prayer chains on the Internet, prayervine.org, was started by Marlene JuHaros, whose own story is an inspiring one.
After Marlene converted to Christianity many years ago, she met a minister and his wife who needed a place to stay. Marlene invited them to share her large house in Scottsdale, Arizona, rent free. The three of them decided to hold a Bible-study group on Friday and Saturday nights, hoping that a few street kids in their area might attend. One thing led to another (as it so often does when God is doing the leading), “and before I knew it, I had let a couple of homeless young women move in,” Marlene recalls. “The Bible nights attracted about fifty young people, many of them drug addicts and runaways, most of them homeless and troubled. We took many of them in until every vacant spot in the house was filled.” Marlene named the ministry Harbor House.
It took faith to do this work of mercy, and Marlene is convinced that faith in God can be as natural as breathing. However it isn’t until we begin trusting God that such faith is activated. “As long as I could do it myself, I didn’t look to God to do it,” Marlene explains. But once her savings were gone and she was in real need, it wasn’t long before she began asking for mini-miracles—every day.
The young people were grateful for the shelter and the warmth of Marlene’s welcome, and they obeyed the few rules she insisted upon—no drugs, no alcohol, and everyone sharing the chores. “We didn’t even require them to attend Bible study and prayer meetings, because I felt that the Holy Spirit had to move upon them before they would have the desire to change.” Marlene says.
The praying irritated a young biker named Freddie. One day, as the prayer meeting began, Freddie started mowing the lawn. Then he stomped into the house, picked up the telephone book, and started reading out names, with a mock prayer for each. People just went on praying. “By the time the meeting was over, Freddie had given his life to God and was a changed man,” Marlene recalls. “Little did we know that Freddie had escaped from Folsom Prison. He turned himself in after that.” Eventually, Harbor House received a letter from Freddie. He had started a prayer group at Folsom, and they had just held their first all-night prayer vigil. Freddie went on to lead many prisoners to Christ. (In fact, according to Marlene, more than 300 young adults who spent time at Harbor House became Christians, and many went on to become ministers.)
Although there were numerous challenges in living with that many young adults, perhaps the most difficult for Marlene was feeding a crowd of at least thirty every evening. There were no outside sponsors to ask, no organizations set up to help. Marlene let the neighborhood grocers know of her need in case they had any leftovers, but the responsibility was hers.
“We lived on faith,” she says. “I taught the girls how to cook, and also to ‘pray in the food,’ or the money to buy the food for all these appetites.” Amazingly, it always worked. There was never a time when the cupboards were completely empty—although there were a lot of close calls. Young Marla, the first girl to move in with Marlene, realized at about 5:00 p.m. one day that it was her turn to provide the food. Marla had been so busy ministering to people that day that she had forgotten. She grabbed Marlene and a few others to pray. “Lord,” she began, “I was busy doing your work today. Can you send someone with food for tonight, already cooked?”
This was getting pretty specific, and Marlene admits her own faith wasn’t as strong as Marla’s was right then. But the women continued to pray, and at five-thirty the doorbell rang. A man they didn’t know was standing there, holding huge buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken, with all the trimmings. He had been on his way home from work, he explained, when God spoke to him, asking him to buy food for the kids at Harbor House.
On another day, it was Marlene’s turn to pray and to make dinner that evening. The kitchen was completely bare, so Marlene started with prayer the first thing that morning. “As I prayed and asked God what to fix, I was confident that I heard ‘fried chicken, potatoes, broccoli, and strawberry pie,’” she says. Almost immediately the phone rang. It was the local grocery store, letting Marlene know that an anonymous donor had just come in and purchased six chickens for Harbor House. Marlene was pleased; God was obviously answering her prayer and would certainly supply everything for the evening meal.
Her faith was strengthened when potatoes and broccoli arrived in the daily box of vegetables that another supermarket saved for them from produce taken off the shelves.
Nothing left now to “pray in” except the pies. Confidently, Marlene baked the crusts.
At about four-thirty however, she became a little concerned. No strawberries (or any money to buy them) had yet arrived. Marlene had a dollar, so she asked one of the young men to go to a nearby fruit market and buy as many strawberries as the dollar would provide. Just a few moments later, he called her. “A pint of strawberries costs $1.49,” he reported.
Disappointed, Marlene told him to come home, and went back to the prayer room. “God,” she began, “I already told everyone that you were going to supply our strawberry pies. They’re going to lose faith in my judgment if you don’t.”
The Lord interrupted. “Oh ye of little faith.”
Marlene stopped. She should be praising and thanking God for whatever he was about to do, praying in the food as she had taught the others to do, not complaining. And so she did, until she heard the young man she had sent to the fruit market. He was in the kitchen, calling to her.
What now? Marlene went to the kitchen. There on the table was a large battered crate. “I was following a truck on the way home, and a box fell out of it,” the beaming young man explained. “The truck kept on going, but I stopped to get the box out of the street so no one would hit it. Look what was inside!”
Marlene already knew. Not one pint, but twenty-four pints of fresh, plump, and (as everyone discovered at dinner) the most delicious strawberries they’d ever tasted. “My God will fully supply whatever you need . . .” (Philippians 4:19). It was a wonderful meal.
“There were many miracles there,” Marlene says. “Once we see that God does hear and that he does answer, faith becomes second nature. Yes, having faith is difficult at times, but the more prayers God answers for us, I suppose the more we expect him to do so.”
One of the neighbors who had been a faithful attendee at the Friday night Bible studies was Steve JuHaros. He had recently returned home from a stint in the marines and was living with his mother, about a block away. During the next months, seeing what Harbor House was trying to accomplish, he began collecting food for the residents. He and Marlene were the perfect couple, and by the time the minister and his wife had decided to move on, Steve and Marlene were engaged to be married. Of all the men in the world, Marlene was convinced she’d found the only one willing to help her keep Harbor House open. “How are you going to manage?” friends asked her. “If you and Steve are both working in the ministry, how will your bills get paid?”
From time to time Marlene thought about that, too. But she had lived these past years with prayer and faith as her support system, and God had never failed her. Yet it would be nice if he sent her a sign. As the wedding date approached, however, no miracles occurred.
Marlene had dreamed of an elaborate wedding. Financially, of course, it was out of the question. So the couple decided to elope. “Some friends made arrangements with their local pastor to marry us,” Marlene says, “so that afternoon there were just the five of us in church.”
Marlene and Steve were standing in front of the pastor, ready to recite their vows, when Steve felt an overwhelming feeling of regret. “Lord,” he prayed silently, “Marlene loves people so much, and she has so many friends. They should all be here today. I wish I could have given her that kind of wedding.”
Steve, turn around. Steve heard the unmistakable command in his heart. Turn around to a deserted church? He wouldn’t. But the little push came again, and reluctantly Steve obeyed. Amazed at what he saw, he began to sob.
For the church wasn’t empty at all. From one wall to the other, and from front to back, every pew was filled with angels. Each of them was dressed in what appeared to be their Sunday best—beautiful white garments trimmed in gold. There was an air of excitement about them. Many were good-naturedly pushing each other aside so they could see better, while others jostled for positions in the very first pews.
In the center of the angels, Steve saw a bright light shining down on Jesus, who stood in their midst. Why was the Lord so far back in the crowd? Steve wondered with part of his mind, while the other part registered astonishment and incredulity at the scene. Slowly the thought came to him that Jesus could certainly see everything no matter where he stood, and Jesus wanted Steve to be able to see him, to know absolutely that he was there, witnessing this special occasion. For this reason, Jesus was allowing the front row view to the angels.
Meanwhile, Marlene had noticed that Steve was crying. “I thought, He is either taking this very seriously or he’s changed his mind and doesn’t know how to tell me.” But when the ceremony began, Steve was as attentive as any bridegroom. His eyes filled with tears again several times—especially when the angels in the front came even closer, almost gathering around the little knot of people. It wasn’t until that evening that Steve was able to share his vision with his bride.
Marlene and Steve would go on to attend Western Bible Institute, develop a kids’ crusade and a television series, and grapple with health problems. Marlene would form a prayer network, which has been in existence for eleven years and has over twelve hundred branches, each with groups of their own, ranging from five members to five thousand. (When a request is posted at the Web site, many from all around the world can be praying immediately.)
All of these future events were hidden from their eyes when the angels came to attend their wedding. (And perhaps, as with all couples, that is a blessing.) But it was certainly a sign for Marlene. “I’ve never once doubted that Steve was the man that I was supposed to marry. And I’ve never once wished that I had any other wedding than the one the Lord organized for us.”
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