Angels Around Us
There is a passage in the Book of Mormon where Jesus Christ appears to the people of the American Continent. It takes place after He has been crucified, resurrected and returned to His Father in Heaven. The record says that this was just one of His visits to God's children around the world. I have always found the account very touching, reading how Christ interacts with His people. They have just endured extensive natural disasters, losing many of their loved ones; they gather together for comfort at the temple. As they speak of Christ, they suddenly see Him descending from heaven. He radiates love to each of them, calls them to Him one by one, then asks them to bring their sick and afflicted to him and heals all of them. His followers bathe His feet with their tears in gratitude and love. Then He calls the children to him- these same children who have lived through horrible things and had likely lost many of their own family members- and He prays for them. The scripture says, "And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak." (3 Nephi 17:17) He then blessed the little children, one by one. After He was done, Christ says, "behold, your little ones." As the people look toward their children, they see the skies open and angels come down and encircle the children, "ministering" to them.
I have wondered many times what it would have felt like to be there for this event. I have imagined bringing my pregnant belly and sick daughter to the Savior and watching Him heal Frederick and Madi with a touch of His hand. I let that feeling of relief and gratitude wash over me and can think of no more appropriate response than pushing forward to bathe His feet with my tears. To be so close... to feel His presence...to witness healing like that would be so marvelous.
But I was not there, nor is He here now. And it stinks.
There is one aspect of this story that pops up consistently throughout the scriptures: the appearance of angels. Angels are always close to wherever Jesus happens to be. Sometimes they come before Him, sometimes they come after Him, sometimes they come instead of Him. But wherever they are, Christ is not far distant.
I believe in angels. I do not think they are an ancient remnant of biblical imgining. I think angels still come to us, and they come for two primary purposes: #1 to bring messages from God, and #2 to communicate love. They can be mortal or immortal, ethereal or fleshy. Sometimes we see and hold and feel them physically, and sometimes we don't. But just because we cannot see the wind as it cools us on a warm day doesn't mean it's not there cooling us. We can still see the effects and feel it around us and know that wind is a real thing. Angels help us know of God's existence the way rustling leaves signal that it's windy.
It is no secret that my relationship with God has gotten more complex and challenging this year. I have struggled to trust guidance and direction that I have never doubted in the past. I have wondered if my ability to communicate with Him is broken or if maybe what I said or felt in prayer could not get through for some reason. Especially after Frederick's death, I felt like suddenly what I'd always considered a two-way communication had shut down. My heart thoughts whisped away to some unknown place, and all I heard was silence. When I think about Christ saying on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" my heart just aches. It aches because I heard my own tiny echo of his pain the day I sat sobbing in my bathroom after a particularly trying day watching my daughter vomit repeatedly, lose the ability to use the left side of her body, and try not to move because of the excruciating pain in her head. And I whispered, "Why do you hate me?" I did not say "us" because even in my darkest place, I could not bear to question His love for Madi. I always seemed to know she was precious to Him.
What I have realized as the relationship has started to change is that I am the one changing, not God. And what is most touching to me about it is that my Father in Heaven in His patience switched modes of communication so that I would know- be sure- that He is listening and that He IS aware of our hardships and He doesn't hate me. :) As soon as I started struggling to feel Him close, He began sending His angels to me. It felt like He wanted me to know that we did not have to endure all of this alone.
At moments when my I did not even have time to pray, but instead just think of what we needed, people began appearing to answer our needs and wants. Here are just a few stories, in no particular order:
- One morning when I woke up this summer, the burden of Frederick's pending loss weighing heavily on my heart, I thought, "I think I need pictures of his birth, even if he doesn't survive." Within the hour and without my saying anything to anyone out loud, my dear photographer friend who has captured so many beautiful moments in our family's life texted me asking if I wanted her to be at the birth. I did and she was. She spent hours waiting with me in the delivery room for Frederick to arrive, knowing he was already gone, and documented the most difficult moment of our lives up to that point. She also took pictures of our family- the only real pictures we have of our complete family- several weeks before. She did all this as a friend, free of charge. These pictures have been a lifeline for me as I have looked at them over and over again.
***I knew I really wanted to make impressions of Frederick's hands and feet since I would not have them for very long. I got online and started looking at plaster kits, quickly feeling overwhelmed by all the kits with mediocre reviews and reports of cracking, etc. I felt too tired to continue, vowing to revisit it when I had more time and energy to find a kit that would adequately preserve the only physical memory I would have of Frederick. That same day in the afternoon, a friend brought me a plaster kit saying she wasn't sure if I would want it, but had "spent a lot of time reading all the reviews" and she felt like she got the best one, one that "wouldn't crack or split." Then she and another close friend came the night of his birth to help prepare the kit. They were there immediately after Baby Frederick was born and I did not realize until later how much I would need witnesses to that night. I needed to know that others had seen and felt him.
I am a huge fan of the artist Brian Kershisnik. He is an incredible artist and an impressive person. One of his paintings shows a host of angels blessing a woman praying. One day I saw this painting again and thought, "I really love that piece. I really want to buy a print of it to display in our home." The thought quickly got buried under all the pressing things we had going on. Just a few days later, a friend brought a framed print of the exact picture to me. She said she had purchased it months ago with the intent of giving it to me, but was "waiting for the right moment."
Two days after we found out that Madi's tumor was not responding to the immunotherapy, and the day before we left for Indiana, we hustled to the car to go to church only to find that our car battery had died. Neither of us had any idea where our jumper cables were or if they had even survived the move from our old house. We had barely turned the van key discovering the battery was dead when a dear friend (who incidentally lives 30 minutes away) came marching down the driveway with a Christmas present. And of course she had brand new jumper cables in her car. I was astounded. Clearly she had left long before we even knew our car would be in need of a jump; but I think our Father in Heaven knew and sent her to be there right when we needed her. Within five minutes, our car was up and running and we were off to church. I said, "this is just getting weird now."
Another friend rescued the envelope containing JK Rowling's signed photo from our porch after we'd left for Indiana, then overnighted it to us. It got lost in the mail and her twelve year old son spent two hours on the phone with USPS explaining to them that Madi NEEDED this package to brighten her life a little. They put a special search on it, located it, and it was delivered the next day, a day when Madi was having a very difficult time.
***After a particularly hard night of vomiting and painful headaches, we could not get the IV medicine fast enough that we needed to help Madi find relief (since she could not keep any of the oral medications down). She was not well enough to make another trip to the hospital. Early that morning, our neuro oncologist drove 30 minutes from his home to the hospital, picked up the medicine, drove 30 minutes to our house to deliver it, returned to the hospital, then later that day came back with Madi's favorite nurse so she could re-insert the IV (always an anxiety-provoking experience since her port is in a difficult position and hard to get on the first try). Madi breathed a sigh of relief and remarked at how comforting their presence was. This, by the way, was not a singular experience with this team of doctors. I could devote a whole blog post to their loving ministrations on Madi's behalf.
After coming home from the hospital this last time, Madi was really low emotionally. She was frustrated with how her body was degrading and felt like she had nothing to look forward to. The next day, her small group of friends showed up to comfort and laugh with her (we did not ask them to come, they just came because they wanted to see her). One of Madi's favorite doctors, (who also has made several house calls to visit with Madi), remarked that it was unusual for peers Madi's age to be so proactive and engaged with a friend who was at Madi's stage of struggling with cancer. Madi absolutely loves these girls and looks forward to their visits every time, which is nearly every week. They seem to show up right when Madi needs them most. They even came to visit in the hospital after her first surgery.
The same day, about an hour after her friends left, about half of the teachers and staff from Burbank Elementary came over and performed a flash mob for Madi outside of our house. I was so overcome at the work and planning and preparation that went into this act of love, and Madi thought it was the coolest thing ever and it really brightened her day. If you want to see for yourselves:
On the day in December when the doctors told us the medicine wasn't working and Madi had just a few months left to live, Kurt and Madi went to Trader Joe's late that evening. As they were checking out, one of the clerks came up to them with a bouquet of flowers in her hand and said to Madi, "It looks like you might be having a hard day, so I wanted to give these to you." She could not have chosen a better moment to give them to her.
***Kurt's mom felt, before we even knew about Madi's diagnosis, that they should come visit for a while in May. She and Kurt's dad arrived two days before Madi's second surgery and stayed the entire duration of Madi's radiation treatments. His brothers and sisters also have uncanny timing for offering help, sending gifts, or making visits. My siblings, too, have been my lifeline emotionally throughout this whole ordeal. They make me laugh daily, which is one of the ways I have dealt with grief this year. My older brother has given me support and advice, many times saying things I know my dad would have been saying, had he been here. My younger brother gave me and Madi incredible blessings over Christmas that have been a great source of comfort to me. My sisters have all swooped in to help me in very individual ways that only each one of them could offer, and all at critical moments for us.
My mother has dropped everything six times this year and flown on her own dime to help our family. Kurt and I both spend all our time taking care of Madi right now, who needs constant, two-person help at this point. My mom runs the household. She will be 70 this year and she has more energy than I do. She is funny and kind, often the only thing that lifts Madi's spirits. Madi just adores her.
Twice now, I have wondered how I would handle life after all of this is over and still function. And twice now, my dear friend and babysitter from grad school has within a couple days of my prayers for guidance emailed and offered to come live with us for a while to help with my kids. This last time, she flew "home" to us from South Korea where she went to watch the Olympics. She offered it as a gift saying that her heart was already in Boston with us and so she was just bringing her body back to be with it. She is here at a critical time, helping us. She was also here for Frederick's passing and has strength that I have rarely seen in others her age.
Honestly, I could keep listing example after example of people who have come, letters or packages that have arrived, texts that show up right at a moment when one of us is struggling or losing hope. They often come after I pray for help, or pray for strength, or pray because I felt pushed past my limit. Then there are the friends who show up to take my kids or laundry with equal gusto (some even making me feel like I am doing them a favor! ha!), and return them with food and gifts. Or the friends who come and sit with Madi during the middle of the night so that Kurt and I can get some sleep. Or Kurt's colleagues who have sent packages, flowers, meals, notes, emails, connections, and all kinds of help without any request on our behalf. Sometimes I am able to tell people how timely their help is and other times, I am not. Almost always, these angelic ministrations address specific concerns we have or something specific we had prayed for. This continues to happen on nearly a daily basis. This happens with friends who are members of our faith and friends who are not. There are strangers who also respond to the call.
In a moment where I needed to feel God's love, but felt incapable, God sent his angels to give us comfort and love and messages from Him.
But I am certain our angelic visitations have not just been earthly. As our dear Madi gets closer and closer to the end, our connection to those beyond this world grows stronger and stronger. Humans have a sense, all of us, that isn't one of our five senses, but every bit as real. It's our "sensing sense," for lack of a better term. If you are in doubt, close your eyes and tell someone to approach you silently. You know where that person is. Your sensing sense can feel someone close. It's like the wind.
My sensing sense has been feeling others in close proximity for months. The room sometimes feels crowded with others. Yes, this could be my imagination, but given the concrete way God has shown his love to us through his earthly angels these last few months, I firmly believe that these spiritual wind gusts are ethereal angels God has sent to comfort and help us from the other side.
I have no doubt that my family who has gone before, especially my sweet Frederick and my ancestors who also lost children during their time in mortality, have been surrounding us and lifting us in ways that we cannot see right now. I sometimes just close my eyes and feel and let the warmness of support sink into me. I often wonder (and hope) if I will feel Madi like this when the time comes for her to pass over.
These angels- both mortal and immortal- are what keep us going. If that reality does exist- if life really does continue beyond death, then saying good-bye will be painful, but hopeful. I think often of that prayer Christ prays with the children on the American continent and wonder what he said. Did he bless them with strength? Did he tell them what powerful things they would do in this life? Did he pray that their knowledge of life beyond would be sure and steadfast? I also think often of those angels who swooped down after Christ's prayer and ministered to the children. Maybe they were those recently departed family members who came back to console their beloved children. Maybe they smiled and laughed and comforted those kids, reminding them that the separation was temporary.
All I know for sure is that we are surrounded by angels, seen and unseen. Thank you to those of you who have been angels in supporting and sustaining our family.