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Fear Not: Angels We Have Heard On High

December 13, AD2013 21 Comments

Christmas is a reflective time for me for quite personal reasons.  When I hear the carol,  “Angels We Have Heard On High”,  I am reminded that we never travel alone in this journey called life.  I have proof.

The year was 1980 – Houston, Texas – the fourth largest city in the United States.  The movie “Urban Cowboy” set the cultural tread for the moment.  Stetson hats were  flying off the shelves.  Snakeskin.  Ostrich.   You name the hide, there was a boot to fit your style.  Everyone was learning to dance the two-step while holding a long neck beer in one hand, circling the honky-tonk dance floor of Gilley’s.  Big hair.  Big cars.  Big jewelry.  Big lifestyles.  The oil industry was booming, and everyone was “looking for love in all the wrong places.”

I was a naive 20-something living the high-life that I never felt comfortable embracing.  I was ill-equipped to survive in a world that cared less for me than I did for myself.   Abused human beings develop a distorted view of their self-worth, and often gauge their self-respect  based upon the approval of others whom they mistakenly view as more credible.   We seek validation.  Seduced by a captive lifestyle, my life was propelled by money and influence.  I was trained as a child to believe that money, title and possessions were a sign of importance and worth.  So to appease my “trainers”, I reluctantly accepted a relationship (I never call it a marriage) in order to seek approval and validation.

The Fiery Furnace

By 1982, I was living in hell.  Fear was my mantel.  Whenever curiosity prompts people to delve into my past, searching for salacious details, I tell them to just rent the movie, “Sleeping With The Enemy”.  That was my life.

One unseasonably warm morning in March of that year, I awoke with the symptoms of yet another cold – the fifth one since January.   My breathing was labored and painful.  I was fatigued, and had a  fever.  I didn’t look sick, but I had to see a doctor.  However, characteristic of my then people-pleasing personality, I made a brief appearance at work for everyone to see I was really sick.  We had a big deadline, and I didn’t want anyone to think I was faking it.  Back then I worried far too much about what other people thought.

Upon arriving at the Texas Medical Center, I waited about an hour before being called  back to the exam room.  The doctor checked me thoroughly, and then expressed concern that I might have pneumonia.  She ordered me to go straight to the Imaging Center on the first floor and get a chest x-ray.  Afterwards, I returned to the same exam room where she shared the results.  As she looked at the film, explaining the presence of fluid in my lungs, she advised me to go straight home and rest for several days.  The pain that I was experiencing in my chest was pleurisy, a condition not typically seen in a young active adult.    Handing me a prescription for a powerful antibiotic, I walked out the door on auto-pilot in a haze.

Now if you have ever lived in Houston, you know that the interstate highways are a  driver’s version of The Wide Wide World of Sports.  The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat are never far from your bumper.  By the time I navigated  home, all I could do was literally fall into bed, and prop  myself up with pillows in order to breathe easier.

The Encounter

Dosing peacefully, the phone awoke me suddenly.  A sharp pain  struck my right shoulder as I gasp for breath to reach for the phone.   It had only been an hour since returning home.  It was my doctor asking me to return to the Medical Center that afternoon for another x-ray.  Apparently, the one they had wasn’t good enough.  She said it was important, because I might need different medication.  She inquired if I could bring someone with me.  There was no one.  So, as I hung up the phone, I began venting the incompetence of the doctors and staff.

Backing out of the driveway, I noticed a disheveled woman walking up the street towards me, balancing a small toddler on her hip.  When I looked a second time, she was waving in my direction and trotting towards me yelling, “M’am!  Please!  Wait!”   Feeling the anxiety of traveling through peak rush hour traffic again back to the Medical Center, I did not want to stop.  But the woman was persistent, waiving and yelling for me to help her.

As she approached the driver’s side window, she began to tell me that she and her son had just walked from the Walgreen’s pharmacy  on Westheimer Parkway, which was about two miles away by my calculations.  The poor child was visibly sick, green mucus draining from his nostrils, red cheeks.  (I had no children)  She asked if I could give them a ride home.  She would never look me in the face, focusing all her attention on the child, which made me rather uncomfortable.  I proceeded to fabricate the excuse, since I was still dressed in my Brooks Brothers suit, that I was really late for a business meeting that I could not afford to miss, and apologized for not being able to do more, while continuing to slowly back out of the driveway.

She would not relent.  “Please, m’am, we don’t live that far.  It’s just around that corner.   I promise it will not be any inconvenience.  We just need to get home.  My son is very sick.”

I thought to myself, and yes, I need to  get to “my meeting.”  Yet, the poor little boy compelled me to aid them.  Being the skeptic I still am occasionally today, I opened the passenger door, while saying a quick prayer for protection and hoping the child was not just a distraction.

The drive was quiet.  Neither of us said a word.  The drive time was less than a minute, when the woman said, “Oh, here we are.  You can just pull over here.”    Meanwhile, I felt miserable.  Yet, as always, I kept up a convincing image of perfection.

The woman opened the door, and stood the little boy outside on the grass, and then paused.  I got that sick feeling in my stomach when you sense something is wrong, thinking I was about to be robbed at gun point.  She turned toward me slowly, and placed her right hand on my right shoulder.  I felt very uncomfortable.  She looked directly in the eyes, and said in the most reassuring tone, “No matter what the doctors tell you.  Don’t be afraid.  God loves you.  You are going to be alright.”

As I drove away, I thought how weird.  What a strange statement to make to someone.  I didn’t tell her I was seeing any doctor.  I made the explicit point to say “business meeting.”  But her eyes were so blue.  Her face was pretty.  I dismissed the encounter as just a bizarre incident from a disturbed individual, thanked God for my safety and proceeded to my destination.

The Diagnosis

Once  again, I navigated through the Houston traffic and arrived at the doctor’s office to be greeted this time by three doctors  in the same exam room.  They proceeded to tell me that my x-ray  revealed something more serious, and that they had brought me back to give me the diagnosis in person.  They began talking to me in that controlled consoling tone, using terms I didn’t understand.  Lymphoma.  Hodgkin’s.  Non-Hodgkin’s.  Form of Leukemia.  White count.  Grapefruit-size tumor.  50/50 odds.  Percentages.  I wasn’t comprehending any of it until they said the word . . . cancer.  Then from that moment, I didn’t hear anything else, except for the words echoing in my head, “No matter what the doctors tell you.  Don’t be afraid.  God loves you.  You are going to be alright.”

Despite the disbelief in my diagnosis, before I returned home, I returned to where I dropped off the woman and child.  Of course, they were nowhere to be found.  In fact, further investigation revealed that they didn’t reside in any of the houses near where I delivered them.

Who was she?  And how did she know I was going to see a doctor?

For a year of my life, surgeries, tests and treatments were my every day existence. Fortunately, I had M.D. Anderson and Methodist Hospitals taking care of me.   I drove myself to every appointment (4  days on/ 3 days off), except for occasional help offered by a neighbor, as well as meals.  I knew exactly how much time I had from the moment the machine was turned off in order to navigate through traffic and get home before becoming physically ill.  I lost some of my hair, of course, and had to walk around wearing lines and crosses  drawn by a Sharpe pen, which served as guides on my neck and chest for radiation treatments.  I looked like a tattooed disaster.  I vomited almost every day.  Struggled to find foods that tasted good enough to eat on a good day.  And prayed more than I had my entire life.  I knew exactly how many Our Father’s, Hail Mary’s and Glory Be’s it took for one treatment, and how many Memorare’s I required to stay calm.  The abuse stopped.  Sadly, it was perhaps the most peaceful time of my life.  I lost all the “friends” I thought I had.  The remaining few served me drinks in paper cups, and  refrained from hugging me, or even standing too close for fear of contagion.   However, throughout the ordeal, I gained a more genuine circle of friends in the most unexpected places, and faith that empowered me.

I’m Not Who I Was

Why do we have to travel certain paths in our life’s journey?  Are these events by choice, by chance or by circumstance?  I believe that we are like rocks, entering  this world formless and resistant.  Life’s experiences hones us into a brilliant diamond by the time we leave this earth.

I am not the person I was.  In my 50-something life today, I recognize that I have survived cancer at a time with lesser odds for success (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma), 8 surgeries, the loss of a child through miscarriage, cared for and witnessed the death of my father (Lung and Brain Cancer) and my mother (Alzheimer’s), learned the reward of forgiveness,  survived 3 tornadoes, one hurricane, and one earthquake.    And through it all, although fear was never  far from my experiences, I always heard the woman’s soft words in  my ears, ” Don’t be afraid.  God loves you.  You are going to be alright.”

Now here is the segment in the story where I impart my wisdom.  But honestly,  I’m still being educated.  I have about 30 to 40 more years to go before considering myself wise.  However, I have learned a lot about what God expects from us.  It’s an easy prescription.  Hope.  Faith.  Love.  Trust.  If we focus on Him in all things, never allowing fear to overcome our endeavors to live faithfully, the blessings He has stored up for us are incomprehensible.  No situation is ever hopeless.  As Ruth Minsky Sender always said, “Where there is life there is hope.”

For the past 30 years, I have traveled my paths in life with a purpose.  I have known great successes and great failures.  Today,  I am a blessed mother and wife; loved, respected and adored  by my little family, and extended family.  Often when talking about my experiences, I feel as if I’m talking about another person on another planet in another century.  I occasionally use my experiences to help others overcome and prevail through their own struggles and journeys.  Despite what I’ve endured, I have something that no one can ever take from me; a servant’s heart, greater understanding of my faith, and a deeper love of God and all things holy.

Were that woman and child angels, I have been asked?  I will let you be the judge.  I only know that at a pivotal moment in my troubled life, I felt God’s loving touch on my right shoulder, and His breath of life in my ear.  From that day forward, I was changed.

Merry Christmas.  May you always recognize the angels that God sends your way.

“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.”   [ Jeremiah 29:11 ]

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” [Romans 8:18]

© 2013.  Diane McKelva.  All rights reserved.

Resources:

The National Children’s Alliance

Resources for Abused and Battered Women

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

Angels among Us. Carmel, NY: Guidepost Associates, 1993. Print.

Anderson, Joan Webster. Where Angels Walk. New York: Ballantine, 1993. Print.

About the Author:

Diane McKelva is an American writer, essayist and columnist. Recognizing that we are all spiritual beings living a human experience, she shares stories that compel her readers to challenge their potential in life. Her work often reflects her Catholic faith, and frequently examines issues surrounding moral and ethical dilemmas, and conflicts in humanity. She is a Southern writer, born in Kentucky and raised in Tennessee, where she resides with her husband, children, dogs and lone cat. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Arts and Communications from Memphis State University. (University of Memphis) After achieving success in marketing, she began her freelance career in 1994. Her work has been presented at such venues as the Mid-West Writer's Conference. She is a contributor to numerous religious and secular publications such as Catholic Online, The National Catholic Register, Shalom Media, The Tennessee Register, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, to name a few. She is currently the Senior Editor of the online publication, Catholic Stand, owned by Little Vatican Management, founded by Tito Edwards.

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  • John Darrouzet

    What a beautiful story of your personal encounter with an angel of Our Father! I feel so blessed to know you. Our Father knows best and He has given you to us as yet another Christmas gift! Merry Christmas, my new friend!

  • jamey brown

    What a powerful life affirming story. Angels? I think so. And I have seen the gift you have received from your suffering of detecting other’s innermost cry for help. God bless you Diane McKelva. So many will gain strength from this story. I have gained it from your life.

  • http://www.dianemckelva.com/ Diane McKelva

    Oh, gentlemen, now I’m tearing up. Thank you. Christmas time is a tough time for a lot of people. If just one person reads this story and gains peace, strength, or whatever they require to cope with their life’s challenges, it was worth the effort. I have truly been blessed many times since those days. Have a blessed Advent. Christmas is coming! ;)

  • David Peters

    Wow, what an amazing article. Thank you for sharing this! I’m so glad that God has a plan for each one of us. Reading this is so encouraging and faith building!
    God bless you and have a blessed Christmas.

    • http://www.dianemckelva.com/ Diane McKelva

      Thank you, David, for the kind words. God bless you. I hope and pray that every person that reads my story appreciates that they are never….ever….alone in their life’s journey…. and that hope and God’s grace are never far away. Peace be with you. ^i^

  • Robbe Sebesta

    What a powerful testimony Diane!!! I absolutely believe as you do, that we encounter angels of this type more than we even know. What an amazing story, and I thank you so much for telling it here. I will treasure this as the gift it is. Thank you!!

    • http://www.dianemckelva.com/ Diane McKelva

      You are welcome, Robbe. Glad you enjoyed. Hope it inspired. Peace ^i^

  • ejoseph407

    Amazing testimony Diane! It reminds me of my dad’s experience while he was going through cancer treatment. At the time he was not a man of faith, and was extremely scared after the diagnosis. They had some technical problems prior to his first chemo, so he was all by himself in a dim hallway waiting to be rolled in. To calm his nerves, he began to pray. Immediately he sensed the hallway flooded with light and a calm voice telling him, “Do not be afraid, I am with you”. Then the bright light disappeared and all the technical problems went away, so did his fear. It happened seven years ago and it changed his life profoundly. Today he is leading a healthy and happy life as a follower of Christ.

    • http://www.dianemckelva.com/ Diane McKelva

      ejoseph407 – Your story gave me chills. God bless your father. I trust he prevailed and survived his cancer journey. My father was diagnosed with lung cancer during my treatments. He did not tell me until I received my prognosis and was considered in remission. Daddy passed away from his battle a year later. Thankfully, we were able to share quality time together, and he called me to be with him when he was in this last two weeks. But then that’s another story. ;) Peace be with you, and thank you for taking the time to share that experience with me. You only further confirm what many of us know. ^i^

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  • Debi Vinnedge

    Wow – just when you think you know someone, they go and share a part of their life you never knew. Beautiful story dear friend! Absolutely beautiful. No doubt you are surrounded by angels – you emit their love and grace!

    • http://www.dianemckelva.com/ Diane McKelva

      Debi, that compliment coming from you means more to me than you know. God bless you. And God bless your ministry. ^i^

  • http://www.davidlgray.info/ David L. Gray

    Beautiful testimony Diane!! Thank you!

    • http://www.dianemckelva.com/ Diane McKelva

      Thank you, David. Keep inspiring me with your ministry. Peace be with you. ^i^

  • Ezabelle

    Beautiful story Diane. I’m in remission for Hodgkins Lymphoma. I had my last chemo at the end of October this year. I’m a mother of 3 small girls (6, 2 and 1).

    It’s been an awful year, like you I have had friends that have abandoned me during my illness.

    I wander why I got sick, and probably haven’t really understood the meaning behind my illness. It would be good to find it, as I’m sure you have (it brought you back to God).

    Pray for me as Im at a crossroads in my life. I want to return to my career but am not sure if this is what God wants me to do. The doors don’t seem to be opening and Im constantly fraught with anxiety and confusion and desperation over it.

    I pray I find a balance between being a wife and mother and doing what I love in life- being happy makes my family happy. Praying I find that happiness that brings peace and contentment.

    God Bless you and your beautiful writing.

    • http://www.dianemckelva.com/ Diane McKelva

      Ezabelle, forgive me. I did not see your comment until now. I never received a prompt from Disqus. :( I hope you see this response. Of course, I will remember you in prayer from this day forward. I am pleased to hear that my story encouraged you. Please take comfort in knowing that you are not alone not even for a single heartbeat. “Fear not for I am with you even until the end of time.” It is so very difficult to feel God’s presence sometimes in the darkest hours of our life. But He is there. I genuinely appreciate your journey with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. You are blessed to be diagnosed at a time when the disease has a higher success rate than when I was diagnosed in the ’80’s. Please let that encourage you.

      Meanwhile, there is a Scripture verse that sustained me during my fight: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us.” [Paul's Letter to the Romans 8:18]

      Let the message of this verse empower you and know that what you are enduring now will seem insignificant in the future compared to the woman you will become, because of the experience. You are a daughter of the Most High God. He values you, as does your family. Call upon Him daily. Ask the Blessed Mother to comfort you and aid you. She is a mother. She gets your position of trying to raise three children and fight cancer at the same. Ask St. Peregrine [Patron Saint of Cancer Patients] to intercede for you in prayer. And above all, please give yourself permission to be human and cry on the bad days, and celebrate on the good days.

      May you and your family have a blessed New Year. I pray for God’s mercy, grace and healing in this new year for you.

      Peace be with you always,
      Diane ^i^

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