by Rev. Cindy Parker
Originally published in October 2013 issue
“I believe that there are angels among us, sent down to us from somewhere up above, they come to you and me in our darkest hours to show us how to live, to teach us how to give, to guide us with the light of love.”
The country group Alabama sings these words and they have been on my heart and in my mind lately as I prepare for a bible study on angels for the women at Redstone Highlands Senior Living Community in Murrysville.
Every Friday I drive from Latrobe to Murrysville to meet with a group of beautiful women, most of them are in their 80s and 90s and over the last four years we’ve shared and studied together from both the Old and New Testaments. Sometimes we laugh and sometimes we cry together and we are constantly amazed at the way God speaks to us through Scripture.
Last year while we were working our way through the Acts of the Apostles, we came across a few passages that mentioned angels—and we were intrigued! We had many discussions about angels–and each member brought her beliefs about angels to the table. Some believe in guardian angles, others believed that after we die we become angels. I knew from my years at seminary that the Greek word ‘angelos’ means messenger from God and I shared with them a few of my experiences with God’s messengers.
The first came when I was 10 years old. My mom, dad, sister and I flew down to Mexico for a tropical vacation. We began our trip in Mexico City, visited the pyramids of the Sun and the Moon in Teotihuacan and then went on to Acapulco. One evening we went out to eat at a restaurant that was right on the beach. While my parents lingered over their coffee, my sister and I begged to go out and play in the surf. They finally relented and we ran out of the restaurant and on to the soft sand, failing to notice the sign stating there were dangerous riptides in that area. We weren’t in the water long before I got pulled under. Even though the water wasn’t deep, I couldn’t find my way out and I panicked, screaming for my sister to help–which resulted in a mouthful of salty water.
Wave after wave of water pounded over me as my nine-year-old sister watched helplessly. She didn’t want to leave me there by myself so she yelled for help. All of a sudden I was pulled out of the water by strong, brown arms. There was a native boy, maybe 17 or 18 years old with the most beautiful smile and white teeth. I hugged him tightly and thanked him as he put me down safely on the beach.
I ran to my sister, who was crying by this time. She hugged me fiercely and told me she thought I was going to die. I told her I thought I was going to drown and would have if it wasn’t for the boy who saved me. “What boy?” she asked. I turned around to point him out, confused that she hadn’t seen him, and there was no one there. The beach was empty, no one except the two of us–and no footprints in the sand other than our own. We walked back to the restaurant and never told my parents, afraid that we would get in trouble!
Fast forward to the year 2007. I had just quit my full-time job and enrolled at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary to study for a Masters in Divinity. If I went to school part time it would take 6 years to complete my degree! I decided to go full-time (which would only take three years) and I needed a job to support myself and my three girls. I answered an ad on the seminary’s bulletin board for a chaplain intern at Redstone Highlands. They had three campuses: in Greensburg, Murrysville and North Huntingdon. I would be responsible for visiting the residents and praying with them. After following the chaplain for two weeks I was on my own. I loved the visits! The people were so nice, and I’m sure that I was blessed so much more than the blessings I gave out.
After I had been there a few months, one of my favorite residents passed away. Her daughter came to me and said, “I have a crazy story to tell you, I don’t know if you’ll believe it, I hardly believe it myself!”
“Try me.” I answered back.
She proceeded to tell me about a conversation she had with her mother the night before she passed away.
“Cindy, she insisted my father had come to visit her! She said they visited, and ate dinner together, and the hours flew by! My father couldn’t have visited her–he passed away three years ago!”
I didn’t know what to say to this woman. So I nodded and said, “Perhaps the visit brought her peace.”
I think she could tell I didn’t really believe her story. We prayed together, and I lifted her family up in prayer. I thought about her and her story for a few weeks and then I forgot all about her.
Months later I was walking through the lobby when one of the staff members at Redstone stopped me. Her mother had passed away the week before and she was just returning back to work. “Do you have a minute?” she asked.
“Of course!” I answered and motioned to her to sit down in the over-stuffed chairs scattered around in the lobby. She told me that her mother said her brother (the woman’s uncle) had come to visit her. He reassured her that all was well and that she would be well soon too. A few days later, her mother passed away.
“That’s absolutely impossible, Cindy! My uncle has been dead for over 10 years! Do you really think he could have visited her or do you think she imagined it?”
I was at a loss for words. What did I believe? Not knowing what to say, I turned the question around and asked her what she believed had happened. I could tell that she wanted the story to be true, but she simply said, “I don’t know what to believe!” Too afraid that she would think I was crazy, I kept my mouth closed and prayed with her. It is easy to turn to God when you don’t what to say!
I served as the chaplain intern at Redstone Highlands for over five years, and I lost track of the number of times I heard that story or a version of it. I have come to believe that God does indeed send God’s messengers to us: “they come to you and me in our darkest hours to show us how to live, to teach us how to give, to guide us with the light of love.”