[Symbol] The Angel
[A Story relating to the Symbol]
Angels Bending Near Earlene
I’ve seen Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life at least a dozen times, but I’d never experienced a holiday miracle of my own until one dark December night a few years ago. On that almost-Christmas Eve I encountered an angel—a couple of them, in fact—and learned a lesson in faith, prayer, and God’s love that I will never forget. This is a true story. Only the names have been changed—but not all of them!
“It’s Christmas,” I reminded myself under my breath. “Peace on earth. Goodwill to men.” Supposing the heavenly exhortation extended to children as well, I looped the piece of cloth around a little shepherd’s head instead of tying it around his mouth as I’d have liked to.
It was already December twenty-somethingth, and I had yet to bake a tray of cookies or wrap a single gift. Instead, I’d spent most of the month writing a Christmas pageant, assigning parts, sewing and refurbishing costumes, building a stable, affixing a star in the cultural hall firmament, and directing twenty-some kids who were all now sugar-filled and giddy at the thought of Santa’s imminent arrival.
Despite being on the verge of a nervous breakdown, I was pleased. It was our night of nights at last, and we were ready. By the time the bishop stood to welcome the audience and announce the opening prayer, the set was decorated, the choir assembled, and the characters in place. Everyone and everything looked wonderful.
Having just completed my last task—shoving a crown on a wise guy’s little head for the umpteenth time—I slumped against the wall in the back of the cultural hall to enjoy the fruits of my labors. Just then a door flew open and an excited, windblown little girl ran into the room and grabbed my hand with her icy fingers. It was Earlene. As if the name alone wasn’t enough for a ten-year-old to contend with, this little girl was painfully thin, wore thick glasses, and had incredibly prominent teeth. She also had one of the strongest, sweetest personalities I’d ever encountered. I wondered if that was the reason she’d been sent to the family she had—one that seemed to have more than its share of trials in life.
“How do I look?” she asked breathlessly. “Where do I go for my part?”
She looked like she’d just tumbled off a hayride, but I didn’t tell her that. Nor did I mention that she might have known what was going on if she’d made it to even one practice.
After assuring Earlene she looked beautiful, I nudged her toward a children’s choir that was assembled around the piano. At least I tried to nudge her. She wouldn’t move.
“No!” she cried, pushing her heavy glasses back up the bridge of her nose. “I’m an angel!”
People in the last few rows forgot that Brother Crawford was now pronouncing a blessing upon the proceedings and turned to look at us instead.
“You’re not an angel,” I whispered. I had no idea where she’d gotten the idea in the first place. Then I added encouragingly, “But you’re a very important part of the choir.” Never mind that she wouldn’t know any of the songs since she attended Primary too seldom to learn them.
I’d dragged her about six inches closer to the choir before she yanked her hand from mine. “You said!” she insisted. “You said in church that I’m supposed to be an angel!”
My mouth opened, but no words came out of it. I was trying to remember just what I’d said to her and when. I seemed to recall speaking to Earlene in the hallway a couple of weeks previously. I’d been in a rush to get to Sunday School before my students and had practically knocked her into a wall. Whatever I had said then had been an apology . . . and perhaps a platitude.
“You said I’m an angel!” Earlene wailed.
As the audience uttered a resounding, “Amen!” I hoped it was in response to the end of the prayer.
I looked down into two myopic little eyes and knew it was possible—probable, even—that I had called Earlene an angel. But I certainly hadn’t meant she was a Christmas-pageant angel. I’d meant she was a . . . well, you know.
Earlene didn’t know. She only knew that since I was director of the pageant, God had given me the right to appoint little girls to be His heavenly messengers for ten or fifteen minutes in that particular ward on that particular night. Clearly, being chosen as an angel for the Christmas pageant—or believing that she had been—was the best thing that had ever happened in her short and surely difficult life.
Earlene clasped my hand again with both of hers, and her eyes shone. “I’ve asked Heavenly Father every night to help me be a perfect angel in His pageant. He will help me. I know He will.”
The thought of Earlene’s sweet, fervent prayers brought tears to my eyes, but there was nothing I could do. The pageant would begin any second. I prayed for words to explain to the little girl that she had misunderstood, but there were no words in any language that could fix this. No matter what I said, Earlene would still believe in her heart that God had handpicked her to be an angel.
She looked from me to the softly-lit stage and back again, wondering when I’d produce that white robe and silver garland worn by the other pageant angels.
At any moment, the welling in my eyes was going to run down my cheeks. There was no doubt in my mind that this misunderstanding would drive her parents even further from the Church. Worse, might the awful disappointment cause Earlene to wonder if God heard her prayers? Would she now wonder why, if God did hear her, He would ignore her hopes and happiness . . . and at Christmas?
Despite my fears of a family’s impending apostasy and a child’s crisis of faith, I simply didn’t have an angel costume—or any way to come up with one in two minutes or less. My thoughts raced. Earlene wore a dirty orange sweatshirt and tattered blue jeans. No way could I slip her onstage with the robe-clad girls without evoking stares and giggles that would break her heart. I looked frantically around the room, hoping to spot a shirt or a sweater or anything white that I could strip off an unsuspecting ward member. While everybody looked festive, nobody looked angelic.
The Relief Society room was locked or I would have ripped the tablecloth out from under the pot of poinsettias and improvised. At that point I might have considered packing Earlene in snow, but we were in Arizona, so I didn’t have any of that either.
Heedless of Longfellow’s bells tolling despair back here in the corner, the pianist broke into “Joy to the World,” and the first narrator entered. The play had begun.
An awful understanding began to creep onto Earlene’s face. The census was going forth from Caesar Augustus, and she was going nowhere. “Hurry!” she said. “I need my costume now! I have to go be with the angels!”
I wanted to “go be with the angels” too, but my wish was metaphorical. I simply wanted to die before I had to witness the shattering of Earlene’s heart.
Just then, Sister Morgan appeared in a doorway not six feet from where Earlene and I stood. If she had been the angel Moroni materializing with a golden trump in hand, I couldn’t have been more surprised. In her hand was a hanger, and on the hanger was a clean, white angel costume that was exactly Earlene’s size.
Earlene had her shoes off, her jeans rolled to the knees, and the robe on before I managed to draw a single breath. With a dazzling smile on her face, she raced across the room and hoisted herself onto the stage. Although clearly surprised at her sudden arrival, one of the “regular” angels ripped half the garland from her own belt and used it to adorn Earlene’s long, hopelessly-tangled hair.
Angels are like that. Bless their little hearts.
When the program ended, I was still standing in the same spot, and I was crying in earnest. It was the best Christmas pageant ever. Mary and Joseph had made it all the way to Bethlehem without bickering as they had done in every rehearsal. The shepherds had neither dueled with their staffs nor played keep-away with their stuffed sheep. The Wise Men had found their way from the East without a detour to the drinking fountain. And above them all stood the angels—beautiful, bright, beatific—with Earlene in the very front. I will always believe there was a surreal glow—and maybe an extra angel or two—around her.
When I could speak again, I sought out Sister Morgan. Sue had no idea she’d just pulled off the biggest Christmas miracle since Clarence earned his wings. When I asked her where she’d come up with the costume, she reminded me that I’d given it to her daughter the year before. Only then did I remember being impressed to let the little girl keep the robe when she asked, but I certainly had never expected to see it again.
Several times during the year, Sue told me, she’d almost thrown away the angel costume, but something made her stuff it back in the closet instead of dropping it into the wastebasket. The same something had urged her to find it after dress rehearsal and wash and press it. In the end, she’d left it behind in her haste to get her children to the church on time, but that stubborn, blessed “something” intervened one last time. Sue had gotten up out of her seat, hurried home to grab the costume, and then returned just as the pageant began.
I was awestruck by the heavenly machinations. I had been prompted to give away a costume I wanted to keep. Sue had been impressed to keep a costume she didn’t want. These minor miracles, set in place hundreds of days before, wouldn’t impact the world. They were all for the benefit of one little girl—a child who loved her Heavenly Father and put her trust in Him. Because of her prayers, Earlene was a perfect angel that night. Or at least she was a pageant angel . . . with perfect faith.
The real miracle, of course, is the one of which prophets and apostles testify: the infinite love God has for each of His children. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “I do not know exactly how He does it, but I testify to you that He knows us and loves us individually and that He hears our prayers. My testimony is that nothing in this universe is more important to Him than your hopes and happiness.”
[Holland, Jeffrey R., “Considering Covenants: Women, Men, Perspective, Promises,” in Susette Fletcher Green and Dawn Hall Anderson, eds., To Rejoice as Women, Talks from the 1994 Women’s Conference (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1995), 96–97.]
I gained this testimony firsthand one beautiful, blessed near-Christmas night. Our Father—who loved us all enough to send His Son—loved odd little Earlene enough to send her an angel robe. He had known her prayers months and months before she uttered them and had set in motion a plan to reward her innocent faith before she exercised it.
And so it is with us. Each year when children sing, “Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay close by me forever, and love me, I pray,” I feel the warm, prickling confirmation of the Spirit and think of Earlene. I don’t know where she is now, but I suspect that she is still a perfect angel, still close to her Heavenly Father, and still looked over and loved by He who blesses each of us so perfectly.
I like to think that Earlene still has her white robe. I gave it to her, of course. It’s all she asked Santa for that night when she sat upon his lap. Besides, “something” told me that angel costume had been made and preserved and protected just for her.
Just like her.
[Song] Hark the herald Angel’s sing / Gloria (In excelsis deo)
[Scripture] Luke 2: 10
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.
[Challenge – Be Joyful] – In the scriptures it tells us that the angels and the heavenly hosts sang with joy at the good news of Jesus’ birth. angels are messengers from heaven that often bring joyful news. Angels told Mary and Joseph of their calling to be the earthly parents of Jesus. Angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. The angel is a symbol of dignity, glory and honour. At Christmastime, the angel reminds us that we are watched over by a loving Heavenly Father. Find one thing to be joyful about today.
[Article/Story relating to the challenge]
Without Christ there would be no Christmas, and without Christ there would be no fulness of joy.—President Ezra Taft Benson
Christmas is another word for joy. Children and adults alike feel an extra measure of joy as they celebrate the birth of Christ. Each carol, wreath, and sparkling light recalls the majesty of the Son of God and His good tidings of great joy.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. —Luke 2:10
As a child, President Thomas S. Monson discovered the real joy that comes from giving.
He recalled a Christmas, probably in his tenth year, when he wanted an electric train more than anything else. He did not want the less expensive and easier-to-find wind-up train. He wanted a train that could be plugged into a socket and run by the wonder of electrical power.
The economy was still depressed at that time, and asking for an electric train was asking for a lot—probably even requiring financial sacrifice by his parents. Nevertheless, Tommy hoped and dreamed and, much to his surprise, found an electric train under the tree on Christmas morning. He immediately put the train together and operated the electric transformer. He loved watching the train go forward, then backward, and all around the track.
Hours later, his mother interrupted Tommy at play by showing him a wind-up train she had purchased for a boy named Mark Hansen who lived down the street. The train for Mark was not as sleek or as long as his train, but Tommy noticed an oil tanker car in Mark’s set that was unlike anything he had. Even though he had a better train set, Tommy began to feel envious of Mark’s oil tanker. Tommy pled with his mother to let him keep the tanker. She responded to his fussing: “If you need it more than Mark, you take it.”
President Monson recalled how he added the tanker to his set and felt very satisfied—at least for a little while. Later, he walked with his mother over to Mark’s home and presented him with the wind-up train, minus the oil tanker. Mark was thrilled with the generous gift. He put the train cars together and began playing with them. Then Tommy’s mother wisely asked, “What do you think of Mark’s train, Tommy?”
Tommy began to feel guilty about the tanker he had confiscated. He asked his mother to excuse him for a moment, and he ran home as fast as his legs could carry him. He detached the oil tanker from his set, along with another car from his own set, and ran back to Mark’s home.
Beginning to feel the joy of giving, Tommy burst through the door and said to Mark, “We forgot to bring two cars that belong to your train.” He gave Mark the oil tanker and another of his own cars and helped attach them to Mark’s set. President Monson remembers how he watched the trains go around the track and “felt a supreme joy, difficult to describe and impossible to forget. The spirit of Christmas had filled my very soul.”
Media link: [The Real Joy of Christmas]
10th Anniversary Advent Throw-Back :
[A Favourite from Previous Advents]
The Christmas story is a story of a family that connects heaven and earth. Each member of Jesus’s earthly family—Mary, Joseph, and Jesus—stands as supernal examples of God’s Christmas gift to all mankind. The Christmas story should spiritually motivate us to emulate the attributes of this holy family. This family was unified in seeking God’s glory; unified in serving one another; unified in fulfilling God’s will; and unified in sacrifice, obedience, and love. This holy family provides us a pattern of attributes that, when emulated by our own families, will enable us to enjoy the same blessings of unity and love they enjoyed.
Christmas Angel [by Jeanette Miller]
As a child, I loved my younger brothers, David and Michael, but really wished I had a sister. This wasn’t the typical hope many girls have when they’re young; it was a longing so strong I couldn’t explain it. I’d often pester my parents with requests for a new baby sister, but it didn’t seem like it would ever happen. Mom didn’t feel like she could handle more children, and while David was adopted, her other two deliveries had been brutal.
So, in that secret place in my heart, I imagined a tiny porcelain figurine I had to be the sister I wanted. No more than two inches high, the figure was a sweet little girl kneeling with a blankie, looking cuddly and angelic. I’d take her off the shelf and hold her in my hand, envisioning the love a sister might bring. I knew she would love me and that I would love her back.
When I was nine years old, my mom announced that she was pregnant, and I was ecstatic! She knew how much I wanted a sister and even promised me that this baby would be a girl. In my youthful innocence, I never questioned her. I knew Mom was right! It wasn’t until years later that I learned about the recurring dreams Mom had had of a little girl with big brown eyes and soft brown curls. For over five years, these dreams had troubled her, not only because she didn’t feel capable of having more children or adopting again but also because we were all blue-eyed blonds. Even my father had had a few dreams of the same little girl, so they assumed the dreams were Heavenly Father’s way of letting them know Mom was supposed to have a baby girl.
My parents talked about girl names they liked and prepared for a baby girl to be born. If anyone even suggested it might be a boy, we got a little ruffled because we knew it was a girl—my longed-for sister. When Joseph was born, I was devastated. I wept inconsolably. But as soon as he came home from the hospital, I fell in love with him. I mothered him, changed his diapers, and often got up with him at night. I went as far as to hold up a hand to tell my mother “I’ve got him” when she’d come for him. I adored that baby boy.
It didn’t make any sense why Joey wasn’t a girl. Mom almost died giving birth to him. But in the hospital, while holding her new baby, Mom saw his little eyes look straight into hers and had a powerful spiritual experience. Joey’s adult spirit communicated to her, saying, “Please accept me. I cannot explain to you why I am not who you were expecting, but someday you will understand. Just please love me!” And we did love him, without exception.
Life progressed as usual for our family—we moved around a lot due to my dad’s work as an auditor and controller for Del Monte Corporation. We had already lived on a banana plantation in Guatemala and then in Puerto Rico before Joey was born. In 1979, we moved to Costa Rica, where Dad became the financial director for Bandeco (Banana Development Corporation), a subsidiary of Del Monte.
I was thirteen but still had my tiny figurine of the little girl, a tangible reminder of a never-ending wish. Every once in a while, I’d hold her in my hand with tender thoughts before placing her back in my room. In 1982, Mom had a hysterectomy, a final assurance that I’d never have a sister and our family was complete.
After summer vacation and our annual trip to California, I began my junior year of high school. One day when I came home from school, I found my mother crying, and I asked what was wrong. She told me something had happened that she hadn’t told anyone about yet. She’d been visiting an orphanage in Santo Domingo de Heredia with some sisters in our ward, our good friends Ella Mae Nájera and Joy Wingo. Joy had adopted a little girl in Utah and was hoping to find a second child to adopt, and Mom had gone along to help out at the orphanage and support her friend.
The orphanage was a small, two-bedroom house with five cribs in each bedroom. As Mom walked inside, she noticed a child still in her crib in the first bedroom. When she turned and looked into the bedroom, goose bumps prickled over her. There, in the crib, sat a one-year-old little girl with big brown eyes and soft brown curls! Mom learned that the little girl’s name was María de Los Angeles, which meant “Mary of the Angels.” She was called “Marielos” for short.
Mom tried to ignore the stunning resemblance to the little girl in her dreams from years before, but it didn’t work. “I just can’t stop thinking about her,” she cried in confusion.
My immediate response was, “Let’s adopt her!”—certainly not what Mom was hoping to hear. But when I suggested that she talk to Dad, she agreed. My dad, a quiet giant, who, in my eyes, could make anything right, simply said, “Well, let’s go see her.”
The next Saturday, my parents drove to the orphanage in Heredia. When they arrived, something amazing happened. Marielos and a few other children were playing with some of the people who were visiting the orphanage that day. As Dad came inside, Marielos turned and saw him. For a moment, their eyes locked. Then, with arms outstretched, she rushed into his arms with abrazos y besitos (hugs and kisses) and didn’t let go. It was love at first sight for them. A week later our whole family went to see Marielos, and the same sweet reception occurred. We were all enchanted with her.
I loved babies anyway, but I adored this little girl. She was the life of the orphanage—vivacious, happy, and full of personality. I used to hold one end of a sash with Marielos at the other end, following me around and giggling. When it was time to go, I didn’t want to leave her.
As we knelt around my parents’ bed for family prayers at night, we often had to count heads because it felt like someone was missing. Mom and Dad . . . me . . . the three boys . . . . We were all there. But it still felt like someone was missing. Could Marielos really be meant for our family? The thought was thrilling, overwhelming, and hard to believe all at the same time! But the more we prayed about it as a family, the surer we felt that this precious little girl was supposed to be ours. She was my sister!
As the holidays approached, we continued visiting the orphanage, expressing our deep interest in Marielos. But we were told she was not up for adoption and that we should forget about her. “Sería imposible,” they said. “You will only get hurt if your family continues to see her.” Foreigners were allowed to adopt only older children or siblings from the orphanages through the Patronato, the government adoption agency in Costa Rica. If Marielos were to be given to anyone, it would be a Costa Rican family. Forget her? That was the impossibility! Nothing could keep us from visiting this beautiful olive-skinned child who had captured our hearts. We loved her and believed she was meant to be part of our family.
When I was growing up, my Dad seemed invincible. He could do anything in his quiet strength: he was fluent in Spanish, well respected among his peers, and, at the time, the bishop of our Zapote Ward, Barrio Uno. I trusted him completely with the tremendous task of trying to influence the Patronato to reconsider Marielos’s case so she could be put up for adoption. Dad’s friend, Hernán Robles, the general manager of Bandeco, also began helping us. He knew a woman named Mabel, who was a council member for the Patronato and was on the adoption board. Mabel met with my parents and liked them. She said she would put in a “good word” for us and do all that she could to help us try to adopt Marielos.
One day while Dad was on lunch break, he told us that he had gone to the orphanage to see our little girl. She’d slept in his arms as he’d pled for Heavenly Father’s help, promising to do everything in his power to make Marielos ours. He began paperwork with the Patronato, but once again, we were informed that adoption was impossible.
December arrived and, with it, the holiday spirit. Fruit stands popped up on street corners, selling bright red imported apples. Families made preparations for traditional tamales steamed in banana leaves. And the arrival of the dry season brought warmer weather and the lure of sandy beaches for vacations. But that year our minds were focused in another direction, especially with the arrival of wonderful news: Marielos had been declared up for adoption! That Christmas held special meaning to us as we pondered the possibility of bringing home our little girl. It would make it the best Christmas of my life.
We eagerly waited for updates from Mabel about the adoption committee to see when they would review Marielos’s case and make a final decision. Although some committee members were opposed to and almost hostile toward us, we knew Heavenly Father heard our prayers, and we trusted Him to bring about a true miracle.
On December 14, Dad got a call from Hernán, who told him the committee had met. By a split decision, they had given Marielos to another family, an older Costa Rican couple with no children. The adoption was final.
There were no words to describe the shock and devastation our family felt. How could this be? It wasn’t right! She was mine—my sister! Those people couldn’t have her; she belonged with us. I knew that as well as I knew my own heart. How could Heavenly Father let this happen? I wondered. How could He do this?
I was wounded, distraught, and angry with God. Going to church on Sunday, I could barely choke out Christmas carols. My life had been destroyed. How could I sing, how could I go on when everything I’d hoped for had been taken away? I didn’t want to celebrate Christmas. But I still had to go through the motions with a cold, heavy heart. The worst thing I had to do was go Christmas caroling at two other orphanages with the Young Women . . . three days before Christmas. How could my heart take such pain, singing “Gloria a Dios” to those beautiful children who reminded me so much of Marielos? As Mom drove me home, we both wept over everything we’d been through. Nothing seemed to make any sense.
When we got home, my dad was quick to greet us at the door. He was acting a little funny. “I have a Christmas present that has to be opened early,” he said with a silly grin. “It’s in your room, Jeanette.” I didn’t know what Dad could possibly have bought that needed to be opened before Christmas morning. Shoes? Clothes? Certainly nothing that could compensate for the emptiness I felt. Mom followed me down the terrazzo-floored hallway to my bedroom. I peeked inside. There, in my bed, was a sleeping little angel . . . Marielos! I burst into tears of joy and confusion. What had Dad done? Had he stolen her? I could hardly believe she was there, her curly brown hair poking out of the covers. My baby sister was home . . . but how?
Dad explained that the Costa Rican couple didn’t want Marielos after all and had dropped her off at the Patronato offices. They claimed she didn’t “adapt.” Iris Brenes, the president of the Patronato, who had been so against us from the beginning and had negatively influenced the voting committee, had called my dad at work to say, “If you still want Marielos, she’s yours. But come immediately, or she’ll be taken back to the orphanage and you’ll never see her again.”
Dad dropped everything, enlisted the help of his secretary, Indiana, and raced through town to pick up our girl. Señora Brenes reluctantly conceded, “Well, Señor, some things are just meant to be.” Then she went into her office and closed the door.
I’d never felt this kind of joy before at Christmastime! Now I knew that Heavenly Father did listen to our prayers and knew all along that there was only one way we could get my sister; even though it didn’t happen the way we had planned, it was the way that it needed to be to make her ours.
In Costa Rica, Santa Claus doesn’t bring the Christmas presents; the baby Jesus does. And that was exactly how this gift had come. By heavenly miracles, we were given the best Christmas gift of my life . . . the brown-eyed angel who became my sister.
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