As a child I grew up in a religious household. My mother was a free will Baptist and often she sang in front of the entire church. Her voice was powerful and enhanced with the Holy Spirit. She was a pious woman and was determined to raise her children in Christ. Momma wanted us to grow up moral and strong. We went to church as often as possible and prayers at dinner and bedtime were a time honored tradition.
I loved going to church, especially Sunday school, every chance I had. I loved God and His Son and my belief was complete and immovable. As a small girl in a big world, I loved the idea of a Loving Father watching over me at all times. Or that if He was too busy, He would assign me a “guardian angel”. I prayed and spoke to the Lord often and I read and reread my Bible storied everyday.
Oh, how I loved Sunday school. We had the sweetest, most beautiful young teacher. She was one of those people who are naturally great with children. She had a lovely smile and she used it often. To me as a child, she looked very TALL, but in a safe, comforting way. Her long, thick blond hair swirled around her life a cape as she bustled about our various activities. To my eight year old self, she looked just how I imagined angels.
She was extremely patient but rarely needed to be in class. Her sunny disposition, natural kid skills, and sincere interest in all she conveyed enthralled us. Every week she would read and act out different stories from the Bible. She would teach us various songs and then lead us in them in a sweet, high voice. She never got upset or criticized us if we forgot or sang the wrong words. Sometimes she would laugh delightfully. Somehow you just knew she was never laughing at you. She just loved so much and life to her was great fun. All of us kids loved her and I’m sure more than one boy was in love with her.
It was the last Sunday of May that she inadvertently sent me on a month long obsession. I remember every thing about that day. Momma made us pancakes for breakfast. My brother and I got a little rowdy over the syrup. Momma was dashing all over the house with her hair in curlers. Tempers got to be a little short that morning because we ended up behind schedule. Of course, Murphy’s Law began to apply. Suddenly, our faithful dryer had turned on us (Momma discovered she had accidentally changed the setting while unloading it the next day) and our clothes were still damp. They needed an extra fifteen minutes to dry. My own long hair was being difficult and took an extra ten minutes to dry. All of us children were getting grumpy and upset and wanted to call church off, I recall. But Momma would have none of it. She said it was the mean Ol’ Devil working on us. We made it just in time.
“Faith is always rewarded.” Momma revealed a smile on her lovely face.
Ms. Julia looked absolutely lovely that morning. With a bright sunny smile she ushered me into the medium sized room. It always had many different colored kid-sized chairs set up against both walls while the back housed the tape player, crayolas, and children’s Bible’s stacked on a tall antique oak table. Up front, there was a full sized chalkboard where Ms. Julia had already written out our songs to learn today. There was also a podium, seldom used, and an adult chair. There, we’d find Ms. Julia holding her storybook, and ignoring the chairs, we’d circle around her on the plush blue carpet. She always announced the story of the day. Today was the story of the angel that visited Mary. In her soft, well rounded voice she held us enraptured with Heaven visiting Earth. And for such a reason! I remember thinking how lucky Mary was but not with real envy or spite. It was more akin to awe. My child mind didn’t quite register the prices she would have to pay for her gift.
Then Ms. Julia did something here too unprecedented. She apologized and informed us that she had gotten a little ahead of herself. There was another visit from an angel before Mary’s and the stories actually went together. Intrigued, we waited. She went on to tell us of another important visit to a man named Zechariah. She joyfully expressed the meaning and the significance of the visit. But my childish mind was overwhelmed when she went on the explain Zechariah’s doubts and his punishment. I could not imagine angering the angel Gabriel who stood in the very presence of the Lord. She finished by admonishing us to carefully watch for the Lord’s sings and to accept them gratefully and with grace. She finished with the same statement by mother had uttered that very morning. Faith is always rewarded.
I miss many words in our morning song as my little mind swirled with this new information. I certainly had faith. I loved God with all my heart. I had done my best everyday to obey his every commandment. I went to church as often as possible and made a point of reading his word at home. I made sure to honor Him in prayers everyday. I was very faithful. So therefore, if I believed hard enough and kept that faith, I just knew He would let me see an angel. I was so excited I could barely keep from wiggling out of my skin.
I became even more devoted, praying often, reading every angel and bible story that I could find. I didn’t quite get exactly why it was so important that God’s angels had made these visits but I reassured the Lord that it was ok. He didn’t have to send His angels. I just wanted to please, please, please see mine. I knew I had a guardian angel out there watching over me. I could imagine her vividly. Of course, she had hair just like Ms. Julia.
I never lost faith because it didn’t immediately happen. Instead, I would increase my efforts, prayers, and work on doubling my faith so that the Lord would reward me. I never doubted He would fail to see what all I had accomplished. Any second now. I knew He wouldn’t want an angel exposed to everyone so I took to playing by myself. Every time I would round a corner alone my hopes would be flying high. I could almost see the pearly white wings, the shiny halo, and a beautiful face with a welcoming smile. Undaunted, I believed one day it would happen. The Lord chose to reward in His own time.
It went on almost a month before I started to get discouraged. I started to doubt my faith. Then I began to worry about myself. I even wondered if maybe I was wicked and going to hell. I begged God to give me a sign. Please, please, please, let me know He was real, I was a good girl, and that I had not angered Him in some way. My everyday routine suffered, including my appetite, and even my sleep. My mother grew concerned but I dodged her questions concerning my dilemma. I was terrified to admit to her I was a disappointment to the Lord we both loved so much. I slumped around for a few more days, dejected and heart broken, singing psalms to a Lord I thought I had lost.
I stopped looking when I came around corners. My faith had not been strong enough. That Sunday I felt too sick at my stomach to go to church. I didn’t believe I was worthy to be there in the first place. Still, I missed school and especially Ms. Julia. I was too young to realize what the Devil was doing. He is the master of deception and I’m sure he had a good laugh at silly eight year old me. My Lord didn’t leave him laughing long.
That next day my Mother did something quite unexpected. After breakfast and chores she announced that I was coming with her. Puzzled, yet pleased, I hastily dressed and accompanied her outside. My brothers were none too pleased I was getting to go with Momma while they had to stay home. I overheard Momma say something to my Daddy about my needs being “greater.” Daddy must have agreed as he rustled the boys out into the yard for an afternoon adventure of their own. My need must have been great if Daddy was missing a half day of work.
I was thrilled to get to ride up front with Momma in her big silver Monte Carlo she loved so well. That was a pleasure usually reserved for my older brother and he taunted the rest of us unmercifully about it. We rolled the windows down and enjoyed the bright, sunny day along with its sweet, fresh breezes. I pestered Momma some about where we were going but she just laughed. I was informed it was a surprise and I would know in good time. I knew better than to argue and sat back in the plush seat to enjoy the ride. We sang gospel songs together and I thought that maybe I hadn’t been too bad. My thoughts on that made my heart fill a little lighter. I grinned as I sang a little louder. That was definitely worth praise to my God.
I squealed in delight as we pulled into the parking lot of the mall. I was jumping a little in my seat while Momma laughed at my excitement. I unbuckled my safety belt and waited until she exited the car first. Then I got out myself and she came over to give me the once over. She licked her thumb and rubbed a little dirt off my chin. She was always doing that. But at that moment I would have forgiven her anything. I was a simple child to please. I skipped beside her, hand in hand, on our way to the large glass entrance doors. I loved the mall with its massive ceilings and multiple bright overhead lights. There were over a hundred different stores on the many levels it contained. At the very top it had numerous restaurants. There were also vendors outside. I could smell so many mixed aromas- hotdogs, popcorn, pizza, and my stomach rumbled in response.
We had progressed almost to the door when the woman approached us in a shy manner. At first, I didn’t know she was a woman. Her hair was pulled back severely from her face in a ponytail. The ponytail hair was dank and matted and it looked brown but I wasn’t for sure. Her clothes were loose, baggy, and dirty in numerous places. I tugged on Momma’s hand wanting to get away from her. I didn’t know there was a recession going on. I didn’t know she was hungry and without shelter. I didn’t understand a lot of things at that age. Thank God, my Momma understood. She dropped my hand and dug her wallet out of her purse. She gave the woman what she could and asked her for her name. She assured her that our family would keep her in our thoughts and prayers. With a shy smile and tears in her eyes, she told us her name was Gabby, short for Gabrielle. Then she profusely thanked us both and offered her well wishes for blessings of our own. She disappeared and Momma began explaining to me about looking out for all our brothers. In turn, she said, the Lord would always provide for the faithful. My heart sank again. I wasn’t sure if I was on that list.
I smiled and waved at Gabby as we made our way towards the entrance once again. The vendor was handing her food and despite her hunger she took the time to wave back. I felt good that Momma had helped her and bad that I had wanted to get away from her. I asked the Lord to please bless her and keep her. I hoped my request would get to Him. My happiness cracked a little and I knew I’d never get to see an angel. My despair had returned. The mall offered me some condolences in dulling my senses for the moment but nothing more.
Hand in hand, my mother and I continued our journey in the mall. Knowing my absolute LOVE of all things animal our first stop was the extensive pet store. I had to play with almost everything in the place once if not twice. It always made me a little sad to have to say goodbye and see them unable to be free and play. I loved the fish because they seemed more comfortable in their captured environment. Plus, row after row of tanks looked fifty feet high to me, and it was a beautiful collage of multi-colored glory. I would peck softly on the tanks and watch as they took flight. It was a great cure from senseless depression.
After that we went by and window shopped a few dresses at the fancier stores. We were making our way to the bookstore as Momma and I were both avid readers. The bookstore was really packed though so we only spent a few minutes there before Momma asked if I wanted to eat. I nodded and we left the overcrowded store to hurry over to the nearest escalator. It was a thrilling treat for me. Momma said I was silly to think I would get my foot stuck there but the thought always crept up on me when we were on one. It was still neat getting where we were going with the help of technology even if it might eat my foot. Sometimes, children can be a little crazy in their thoughts but that’s alright.
There were people milling about in droves at the food court. Momma and I quickly decided to split a thick crusted cheese pizza and frothy delicious root beer floats. They always came in these huge, frosted mugs and you could draw in the mist on the outside of the glasses. I would crookedly write my name out on mine, J..a..i..m..e, and make Momma write “Momma” on hers. That always made her laugh out loud and she use to jokingly say she did have a real first name other than Momma. I would give her a scandalized look that made her laugh even harder.
We were waiting in line, and my mind had wandered back to angels, and when I heard Momma gasp in horror. She began to frantically paw through her over-sized hand bag. Panic was beginning to swallow her features. “Oh NO” she whispered and dumped the contents of her purse out on the nearest table. I was starting to catch the fear she was exposing. I heard myself swallow then made myself ask “What’s wrong, Momma?”
She didn’t answer right away. She just began to slowly place her belongings back into her purse while horror continued to suffuse her expression. I was beginning to get a little impatient. I didn’t understand what the issue was and I was tired, hungry, and thirsty. That will turn even the best kids into temperamental brats at times and I opened my mouth to protest only to leave it dangling wide in shock as I observed a new change in Momma. Rarely unhappy, I watched now as she shed silent tears of distress.
My mouth, finally. “Momma?”
She took my hand, brushed away her tears, and briskly commanded me to hurry. Perplexed, I knew better than to do anything other than obey. As we hurried down the stairs she hurried us back down the aisle we had just came from in what felt like moments ago. I started to cry a little myself as we walked far away from the food court and back towards the bookstore. Seeing this, Momma stopped and took a big breath, trying to calm herself.
“I’ve lost our money”. She stated simply.
I gasped. That was horrible. I knew our finances were tightly conserved even if we didn’t exactly hold weekly family budget meetings. We were fortunate enough to afford a few luxuries but basically we had to stretch every dime. My mother made many statements about pennies earned, thrift, and so forth. I followed her blindly, hoping and praying, with a growing sense of despair as we explored our prior locations. She and I were both near tears as we left the pet store. All hope was lost. We made our ways out, dejected and forlorn, and headed for the car. Defeat never entered my mother’s face however and I knew she was praying. I was mainly upset because of childish notions. I wanted to eat pizza and maybe get a doll or a book. I guess I was wicked after all. It must have shown on my face.
“Chin up, child, Momma replied to my anguish, God will prevail.”
We had made it to the car when we heard a shout. Turning, we were both amazed to see Gabby running full speed towards us. Momma and I exchanged a puzzled glance. I remember thinking I was sorry Momma wouldn’t be able to help her again. She had a big, bright smile on her face even though she ran as if to beat the devil. She made it to us, nearly skidding to a halt, gasping and panting. She was bent over and coughing a little. But her smile returned as she straightened up, still wheezing, and handed Momma that old familiar wallet. I felt my heart flutter.
“Thank God.” They both said in unison and next thing I knew they were hugging and Momma was weeping for joy. Gabby said she had been waiting for us, scared she would miss us, and Momma must have dropped it right in front of the store. The reason she picked it up was because she was fairly certain it had been the same one she had just seen. She promptly reassured Momma she had not looked inside and that she was scared it might have belonged to someone else. Momma just hugged her again.
“Oh Gosh, Momma spouted, as she let her go, thank you! Thank you so much! This was everything we have…. Oh, I was so worried… I can’t possibly… thank you!”
Gabby smiled and gave her another smile as she replied. “Not everyone is nice enough to help someone like myself out. It was great to be able to enjoy a nice hot meal today. I wouldn’t know how to begin to express the gratitude that comes from having one’s simple needs met.”
Momma stared at her as she said that and I could tell that she was thinking hard. Making her mind up, Momma insisted Gabby come with us and shot down her protestations as they occurred. I gave her my front seat with a smile. Then we buckled in and were on our way again with the sweet breezes in our face. Gabby looked happy as she and Momma chatted nonstop almost the entire time. It turned out Gabby was in a really rough situation. An orphan without family she was living on the streets to avoid going home to a man that was abusive to her. She didn’t want to tell too many details with me in the car. I didn’t know what “abusive” meant exactly but I knew it must not be nice if she was willing to be outside and go hungry. My belly growled again and I looked at it in response. I couldn’t imagine not being able to fill that noisy, ill tempered part of myself. I looked at Momma hoping she could make it better. She was very reassuring and comforting to Gabby. Not only would we help but the church would be more than willing to assist as well. I smiled to myself at the happy expression Gabby now wore and I silently thanked my Lord.
Finally, we stopped to get pizzas for everyone, and then we made it home. As Gabby slipped out the car and went to exclaim over Mom’s prize tulips, I helped her get our dinner from the backseat where it sat next to me. Momma had jokingly called it a place of honor. I smiled remembering that as she smiled at me for helping without having to be told. It was a happy moment and the devil sent a lance of pain through my stomach. I was still unworthy.
“I’m really glad we’re helping her, Momma” I said, inhaling the thick garlic aroma, and wanting to just dive in. Again, I hated the thought of Gabby going hungry.
Momma cocked her head to the side and observed me. The Lord must have been talking to her and ready to defeat His enemy that was making his child so miserable. She had me stop in the middle of the yard and I’ve never forgot the words she said. This was years ago, and she has went to be with Our Lord since, but I can still recall her every word, in her soft lovely voice.
“Sweetie, I would have loved to help her regardless. I should have done more from the beginning and the Lord has chastised me and made me humble. I’m glad He has sent her to remind me of how blind to the suffering of others I had become. I had lost most of my faith in the actual goodness of people. Yet, I was assured that I was a good person. That is pride, Jaime, and it goeth before a fall. I hope you never have to go through or even imagine what Gabby has went through but I do want you to imagine that plight. Imagine being in the dark, in the cold, calling out, and going hungry. “
She paused to peer at me as if to assure herself that she had my attention. She surely did. I could imagine calling out to God and going unanswered. I took a moment and imagined the rest of it. Tears misted in my eyes and Momma hugged me.
“I’m not trying to upset you. I want to mark this upon your conscience. There was a lot of money in that walled. If someone would have taken it we would have been done for basically. I was going to run errands and pay bills after we were finished. But the Lord has provided for us all. You must remember that. He Loves us as we are no matter what and He provides for us so we can know his Love. Faith is always rewarded, Jaime. He has sent us one of His angels to make sure now that we never forget.”
My jaw dropped and I stared at her in disbelief as the shocking realization made its way all over me. Then a huge smile devoured my face. God did LOVE me. I wasn’t wicked or bad. I was still worthy of Him. I wanted to hug myself in that moment and I did. It was one of the most intensely happy moments of my life. I had wanted a traditional angel, with wings and a halo, and maybe a harp. The Lord in His infinite wisdom had sent me something better. He had provided for both His faithful servants. He had proved Himself when he didn’t really have to save but to end and ease my silly distress. He is a great Daddy that way.
Of course, in the future, there have been more times when I have missed the message that He has been trying to send me. Or I mistake it, trying to put wings and a halo on it, and miss the simple picture. He is patient and loving. I stumble into despair and He picks me up, dusts me off, and sends me out to try and try again. I’m very grateful for it. Because I know He Loves Me. And I know that I Love Him. I also know that faith is rewarded. If we are lucky, we can see signs of it everywhere. Without even knowing it, we may be entertaining his angels. Even more so, we may be even entertaining Him. Be mindful of every gift that heaven has ever sent.