Our bags were packed. Our vehicle was too. And two out of my three kids were jumping around inside our no-longer spacious van counting down the hours until they would be in the same city as “THE” Mickey Mouse. Not only had the day arrived that we were to embark on our trek to Orlando, but the hour and minute had too. After gathering a few final necessary items, taking a quick restroom break, and strapping the kids in their seats, we were set to leave on time, a rarity for my immediate family.
I packed the cooler at the last minute to ensure that our perishables would stay was cold, and I was dragging it out of the house to place in the last open spot in the van when I heard the tears. That’s not really that unusual for our family – while we aim to please, no matter what someone always wants what another has. I had hoped we could hold off a bit longer for any meltdowns, praying that the multiple movies would elicit sleepy kids, and we could get a few hours of driving under our belt. But in reality, I figured this tear-fest would be the first of many over the 13-hour family car ride.
But several things seemed out of sorts. I noticed someone I had never seen before running up the driveway. My youngest was crying as he was trying to crawl up into the van while the older two stared at him perplexed. Outside of my three kids, there wasn’t a familiar adult in sight. My mom had been with us helping to get everyone ready for our trip, and my husband is normally no more than arms-length away from a kid at any moment. But I couldn’t find either. No one except this stranger asking if she could assist us in calling for help.
Those moments felt like hours and I remember each as if they are now etched in my brain someplace that no eraser can ever undo. Panic set in as I grabbed my youngest and thanked God that I arrived just in time to catch him before he tumbled off the van onto hard concrete. Panic deepened as I turned and saw that the woman who was running toward me didn’t see me as her end destination, but rather was conversing with my husband, who was only a few feet away crouched down on the side walk. Our eyes met and I saw something in his that I have never seen before. He too was panicked, but for a whole different reason.
I saw her legs first, as stiff as boards, and her feet bare, no sandals covering them. My husband was inadvertently shielding me from what would momentarily shift my panic to fear. My mom was lying flat on the sidewalk leading up to our front porch. My husband was calling her name and, while I could tell that fear wasn’t only consuming me, he kept his tone calming so as to not create mass chaos. The moments drug on as if Father Time pressed the pause button on the clock of life. She was unconscious and unresponsive for only a minute, but it felt like lifetime. It could have been.
I was torn. When you become a mom yourself, you no longer live your life for anyone but your kids, and at that moment, I struggled juggling my many hats. I needed to be a daughter first; a mom second. But the onslaught of questions from the kids became unbearable amidst the trauma that was unfolding merely feet away. “Why aren’t we leaving?” “Why is Mimi laying there?” “Are we going to get to see Mickey?” For once, I didn’t have answers. I had more questions myself.
During all of this time, she stayed with me. She knew what to do when I didn’t. This woman whom I had never met, and I later learned was named Debbie too (that’s my mom’s name as well), didn’t leave our sides. She pulled out her phone and called for help. She held my youngest so I could attempt to help my daughter inside the house to use the bathroom. She played with my kids as we tried to keep Mom awake and aware. She let me cry to her when I ran out of words. She let me be terrified and concerned. She offered a shoulder and an ear to me, someone she never met and knew nothing about. That evening, Debbie put on her walking shoes and plugged her earbuds in her phone to prepare for a brisk exercise effort around the neighborhood. She never dreamt that would entail being the glue for my family.
As the ambulance made its way to my house and my kids were corralled inside watching a Disney show, I grabbed her and held her close. I buried my head in her shoulder and through the sobs I thanked her for her big heart and for being just what we needed when we needed it. I told her she was our angel, and I asked as she unwillingly left to finish her walk that she pray for my mom.
Four years prior, I found myself in a similar conundrum. It was a Friday, and I was in a rush to make an early morning television interview promoting an upcoming breast cancer awareness event in our community. I was meeting others, and since my tardiness would have an impact on many layers, I decided to take my breakfast on the road.
I’m a multitasker to the nth degree and this morning I was testing my skills to their fullest. I was driving my Honda Pilot down our windy country roads while talking to my dad on the phone, which had become a regular part of my morning routine. The new addition? Eating yogurt from a cup while managing the rest all at the same time. While our ground needed the recent rain showers, my situation didn’t. The road glistened from the recent downpour.
I looked down for a second to get a scoop of yumminess with some extra strawberries in it and when my eyes made contact again with the road I realized I had strayed too far to the right. I meant to slowly inch back to the left but my nerves caused me to overcorrect. Instead of one tire falling off the curb, my entire car plummeted off the left side of the road, straight down a 10-15 foot drop off deep within wooden terrain. I was jostled and my yogurt and that yummy strawberry bite went flying. I remember each bump and how useless the breaks were. The SUV had a mind of its own and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Yet again, those few seconds felt like eternity. My phone fell to the floor and my shoes were knocked off. My seatbelt was tight and inching its way into a cut made from it on my chest. When the car came to a halt, my first reaction was to get out as quick as possible, for fear the car would catch fire. But when I opened my door, I felt lost, literally.
Then I saw them… two sets of hands followed by the voices of two earthly angels yelling down at me directions on how to climb out. I grabbed my shoes and my phone, and left behind what was sure to be a totaled vehicle and inched my way up to safety. Except where I wrecked was anything but safe. I was between a blind spot and a hairpin curve, yet somehow the normally sparse road had two cars that witnessed the experience, and two willing individuals who put their life on the line to save mine.
I don’t remember their names but when I close my eyes I remember how they made me feel. I was panicking… about the cost of the car or the fact that I had a 9 month-old at home that could have been in the car with me. I was stressed to the max, yet these two women held me close and feed me thankful thoughts. They were thankful that they were there to see me fall off the road, because if they weren’t no one would have found me. They were thankful that if I were to have a wreck that morning, that I didn’t veer off the road a foot more in either direction, since there were established trees on both sides that would have halted my journey and probably wouldn’t have boded well for the overall situation. They were thankful that there was no on-coming traffic that I hit in the process. They were thankful I was alive, and walking, and only had one small scratch to show for it.
They stayed by my side. They got me a jacket from an old man whose yard became my safe-haven until the police and my husband arrived. They prayed with me. Not once did they lecture me for my poor behavior but rather lifted me up, realizing I was alive by the grace of God.
I must have a curse with cars and it started decades earlier. My grandma had picked me up from school, which I always loved because she would not only bring a special treat, but her car would be prepped with a large pillow for this shorty to sit on and easily look out the window. A practice that I am sure would be ticket-worthy these days was a God-send to this girl who would take up motion-sickness if road visibility wasn’t feasible. The two of us were enjoying time together running errands when her silver Thunderbird broke down on the side of a busy road.
These were days before cell phones and internet capacity. It may have even been before AAA was around! We got out of the car and my grandma held me close, and knowing her, I am sure she was praying to figure out what she should do. She was so stoic, though, not to frighten me one bit, but as a mom now, I have no question that she herself was frightened. It wasn’t long before he showed up. He pulled his clunker off the side of the road, and asked us if we needed help. In today’s world, I would shrivel up and die before saying yes to this man, but back then, you followed Grandma’s orders. If she wanted to take him up on his offer, we did it. No questions asked.
We got in the car, which had taken more of a beating inside than out, and this man, who could use a nice shower and some dental work, offered to drive us wherever we needed to go. My grandma had him take us to the nearest payphone, a frequent sighting those days – an antique today. The drive wasn’t far, maybe a few miles, but time again stood still. A stranger, and a male one at that, had our lives in his hands. We arrived, said thanks, and as quick as he showed up he disappeared. An angel he was, for sure.
Debbie was an angel, there is no doubt in my mind that is truth. People walk in our neighborhood, but the odds are slim that one would be where she was during dinner time that evening. Outside of the fact that she did so much for my family, I know she was an angel because when I asked her to pray, I believe in my heart she did, the moment she walked away, and didn’t stop for several hours. I know this because her prayers worked. A week later, what could have been a tragic ending to an unfortunate situation wasn’t. My mom is suffering some mild effects to a concussion and some expected bruising. Yes, we had a slight delay in our vacation travels, but I couldn’t be more grateful that I still have my mom.
A few days after my wreck, I heard on the news that the exact same thing occurred that very morning on another back country road in my town, except instead of dealing with a small scratch and some embarrassment, lives were taken too soon. I was able to walk away and my car was still drivable, somehow with minimal damage. The could haves and would haves of my situation were just that, unnecessary worries.
And my grandpa, a man who loves his wife more than anything, bought my grandma a car phone. You know, one of those overpriced black bags phones that only a handful of your acquaintances had 25 years ago. There was no price tag that would come between my grandma and her safety, and while she was now set for any possible incident in the future, her intuition, perception and faith in God came in extra handy that day.
They are all around us, you know. Angels, they are. Sometimes we see them and remember their names or the smell of their perfume. Other times, we only remember the feelings they elicited their brief time with us. They don’t have visible wings or iridescent halos hovering. They come in all sizes – some with big tasks and others with small duties. Sometimes you don’t know they are there until they are gone. But they are no doubt sent from God to help us through whatever predicament we have gotten ourselves in.
Sometimes, you are one and don’t even know it. Did any of these people wake up that morning knowing that they were meant to save someone? I venture to say, probably not. But when the time came, they listened to what God put in their hearts, and they made a difference in the life of another. While it may not feel this way, our lives are purposeful and calculated. God doesn’t plan our days but gives us the tools to navigate them safely if we so choose to believe and act on what we know is right. Will you listen to what he puts in your heart? Will you allow him to act through you and be an angel to another? Who knows, someone’s life might just depend on it.