- Those Christmas Angels
As little as a week ago, Shirley would have sharply chastised Mercy for even suggesting such a thing. This time she simply gazed at her. “What do you have in mind?”
“Have you noticed the ornaments hanging from the streetlamps?” Actually, they were pretty hard to miss. The town council had hung large wreaths, candy canes and candles, interspersed with a few unrealistic-looking angels.
“I was thinking,” Mercy went on, “of rearranging the ornaments, mixing things up a bit.”
“We could make all the ornaments that aren’t angels disappear,” Shirley said tentatively, entering into the spirit of the enterprise.
“I like it,” Mercy said excitedly.
“Let’s contact Goodness and get started.”
Tonight was December twenty-third, and they had one last day on Earth. Christmas Eve, they’d have to return to Heaven for the celebration. Only one day left, and Mercy intended to make the most of it.
Carter was tucked warmly in his bed when Rusty began to bark. The barking became louder and more frantic and it didn’t stop. At first Carter ignored it, trying to sleep. But when he finally forced open his eyes, he couldn’t see. The entire bedroom was filled with fog. There was a horrible smell. Like something burning.
The fog was so thick he couldn’t even see his sister’s bed. He choked. Taking a breath was painful.
Completely disoriented, he sat up.
His sister didn’t answer.
“Bailey!” He tried again.
All at once, the bedroom door burst open and was shut with a bang. Out of the fog, his father emerged with his hand cupped over his nose and mouth.
“Dad? What’s happening?”
“Fire,” his father said tersely. It wasn’t fog then, but smoke. Carter’s dad swooped him off the bed and into his arms. He stumbled across the room, carrying Carter, then set him down and reached for Bailey. Jerking open the bedroom window, he gently dropped her, bare feet and all, into the snow.
“Get away from the house as fast as you can,” he said. “Your mother’s out front waiting for you.”
Carter watched his sister race through the snow.
The smoke that was now pouring out of the bedroom window made Carter’s eyes smart. He was next. His father lowered him carefully into the snow, then looked over his shoulder and leaped out himself.
Father and son ran hand in hand around the side of the house.
In the distance, Carter heard the wail of a fire engine, the alarm piercing the night.
His house was on fire.
His mother cried out with relief when she saw Carter and his father. Sobbing, she held out her arms. She swept Carter into her embrace and started kissing him. He hugged her tight and felt the tears on her cheeks.
The fire truck arrived and suddenly there were all kinds of people in front of the house. The paramedic put Carter and his family inside the aid car and checked their vital signs. His father had to breathe into an oxygen mask for a few minutes.
When Carter looked out the back of the aid car, he saw flames shooting up through the roof. The firefighters had the hoses going, and there seemed to be a dozen men and women at work.
“What woke you up?” The question came from the man who’d given his father the mask.
Carter answered. “Rusty.” All of a sudden he realized he didn’t know where his dog was. Bolting to his feet, Carter screamed, “Where’s Rusty?” even though it hurt his throat to do that.
His father removed the mask. “My son’s dog was barking,” he said hoarsely. “If it hadn’t been for Rusty, I would never have been able to get my family out of that house.”
“Where’s Rusty? Where’s Rusty?” Carter cried, looking frantically in all directions. The thought of his dog still inside terrified him.
Then the sound of Rusty’s bark cut through the night.
“Rusty!” Carter jumped out of the aid car as the dog raced across the neighbor’s yard toward him. Getting down on one knee in the snow, Carter wrapped his arms around the dog’s neck and hugged him. “You saved us. You saved us,” he whispered again and again.
His father joined Carter and knelt down next to him and the dog.
“Well, boy,” David said and his voice was shaking. “We still can’t afford a dog, but you’ve earned your way into our home for the rest of your life.”
“Do you mean it, Dad?”
“Rusty,” Carter choked out. Rusty was his dog, just the way he’d always hoped, just the way he wanted. Tears fell from his eyes and Rusty repeatedly licked his face.
“All I can say,” the man inside the aid car told them, “is that you’re mighty lucky you had that dog.”
“It wasn’t luck,” Carter insisted. “Rusty’s the dog God sent me.”
The medic nodded. “You’ve got all the proof you need of that.”
Lorraine and her husband, Kenny, had arrived early on Christmas Eve. Now it was two o’clock, and Rosalie was busy in the kitchen with her daughters, getting everything ready for dinner that evening. Richard and Ken sat with Harry in the family room, watching a football game on television. Two of the grandchildren would come later that afternoon.
This was all the Christmas Harry needed. With his children and two of his four grandchildren close, he was at peace.
Rising from his chair was difficult, and embarrassed by his need for it, Harry groped for the walker.
“You need any help with that, Dad?” Richard asked.
“No, I’m fine. A little slow, but fine.” A bit wobbly on his feet, he glanced over at the two men who’d married his daughters. He loved them as much as he did Lorraine and Donna. They were the sons he’d never had. It was through their children that Harry and Rosalie would live on.
“Where are you going, Dad?” Lorraine asked, stepping out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dish towel. Harry didn’t know what they were cooking in there, but it sure smelled good.
“I thought I’d rest for a while before dinner.”
She put her arm around his waist and walked him down the hallway to the master bedroom.
Inside the room, Harry sat on the edge of his bed and Lorraine placed the walker where he could reach it once he awoke.
“I’m grateful to have this moment alone with you,” he said to his oldest daughter.
“What is it, Dad?” She sat on the bed beside him.
“After I’m gone, I’ll need you to look after your mother. You and Donna.”
“You know we will.” Tears filled her eyes.
Harry took her hand and squeezed it. “I don’t want there to be tears when I pass, understand?”
“Oh, Dad, of course there’ll be tears. You have no idea how much you’re loved. You’re the very heart of our family.”
Harry sighed, knowing their sadness couldn’t be avoided. Death for him, though, would be freeing. “Donna will be here to help your mother with the move.”
“Kenny and I plan to come, as well.”
“Thank you.” Harry wasn’t sure he’d still be around by then. But everything had been set in motion, and that brought him a sense of peace. “I think I’d better rest for a while.”
“Good idea.” When he lay down on the quilt, she kissed him on the cheek, then rearranged his pillows.
He’d just closed his eyes when Rosalie came into the room. “How are you feeling, sweetheart?” she asked.
“I’m tired, that’s all.”
She picked up the afghan at the foot of the bed and covered him gently. “Rest now, and I’ll wake you in time for dinner.”
Harry nodded, and then, as his wife of sixty-six years was about to leave the room, he reached for her hand.
Rosalie turned back expectantly.
“I’ve always loved you, my Rose.”
She smiled softly. “I know, Harry. And you’re the love of my life.”
“This life and the next.”
Rosalie bent down to kiss his cheek, and Harry closed his eyes.
“Harry,” Mercy whispered.
Harry Alderwood’s eyes flickered open and he stared at her in astonishment. “Am I dead? In Heaven?”
Mercy nodded. “Look,” she said, with a gesture that swept from his head to his feet. “You’re not old anymore. You’re young again.”
“You’ll see her soon,” Mercy promised him. “And when she gets here, she’ll be the young woman you met all those years ago.”
“I saw you before,” Harry said, pointing at Mercy. “That night I forgot my walker.”
Mercy smiled. “That was me.”
“You helped me, and I’m most appreciative.”
Shirley, Goodness and Mercy surrounded Harry. “Come with us,” Mercy said. “Your parents and your brother are waiting for you.”
“Mom and Dad?” he asked excitedly. “And Ted, too?”
Mercy smiled again. “Everyone. All of Heaven has been waiting for your arrival. We’re celebrating Christmas and you’ll see—it’s nothing like it is on Earth.”
Gabriel appeared before them. “Harry Alderwood?”
Harry, young and handsome, nodded.
“Welcome to Paradise,” Gabriel said. “I’ll take over from here.” The Archangel looked at the three Prayer Ambassadors, dismissing them. “I’ll be joining you shortly.”
Shirley, Goodness and Mercy stood in the choir loft at Leavenworth First Christian Church for the seven o’clock Christmas Eve service. Once they were finished here, they’d join Beth and her family at Midnight Mass in Seattle.
As the organ music swelled with the opening strains of “O Holy Night,” Goodness leaned over to her friends. “Just wait until these humans hear the music in Heaven. Boy, are they in for a surprise.”
“Like Harry,” Mercy said. She’d served God as a Prayer Ambassador but she’d never assisted in the crossing before now. Watching as the frail body of Harry Alderwood was transformed into that of a young man had been a moving experience. His spirit had been set free from his weak and failing heart, free from his pain and free from the restraints of the world.
“Like Harry,” Gabriel agreed, suddenly standing beside them. He focused his attention on Mercy. “You did well.”
“Thank you,” she said humbly. “I’m glad I was there to escort him to Heaven.”
“How’s his family doing?” Mercy asked, concerned for Rosalie and Harry’s daughters. She couldn’t imagine what it must’ve been like for Rosalie to come into the bedroom and find that her husband had died in his sleep.
“It’s never easy for those on Earth to lose a loved one,” Gabriel told them.
“They don’t understand, do they?”
“Not yet,” Gabriel said. “For now, they’re looking through a dim glass. Soon, each one will know, each one will have his or her own experience and understand that death is not just an end but a beginning. A true beginning.”