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Fear Not: Angels We Have Heard On High

December 14, AD2015

CS Chritmas Angel_Pixabay

[Editor’s Note: This article was first published on Catholic Stand, December 13, 2013. We are republishing here for your holiday enjoyment.

Click here to listen to this essay read by the author.


Whenever I hear the carol, “Angels We Have Heard On High”, I am reminded that we never travel alone in this journey called life. There are angels among us who help us along the way, whether or not we recognize them. And I have proof.

The year was 1980 – Houston, Texas – the fourth largest city in United States at the time. The cultural trend for the moment was set in motion by a movie – Urban Cowboy. The trending fashion was Stetson hats and cowboy boots, tight fitting jeans and belts with eye catching buckles. Now in Houston, where men and women have been dressing in western fashion for generations, Urban Cowboy just dialed up the wardrobe a notch. Snake. Ostrich. Alligator. You name the exotic animal, their skin could be your next pair of boots. City slickers were learning to dance the two-step while holding a long-neck beer in one hand, a partner in the other, while circling a honky tonk dance floor twenty miles south of Houston. And everyone I knew was living large. Big cars. Big jewelry. Big lifestyles. Big bankrolls. The oil industry drove the market, and everyone was “looking for love in all the wrong places”.

Now I was a naïve twenty-something living the high life that I never really felt comfortable embracing. Raised to believe that you could marry a rich man as easily as a poor man, character was secondary. My circle of “friends” relished at seeing their name on the society page; their companies listed on the NASDQ. Like a fish out of water, I was ill-equipped to navigate in an environment that cared less for me than I did for myself. You see, abused and battered human beings have a warped view of their self-worth. We tend to gauge our self-respect based upon the approval of others whom we mistakenly consider to have better judgment than ourselves. We seek validation for our broken spirit. Fear is our mantle. Pain our confessor. Masquerade our trademark. And God? He’s there. But when the environment you live in doesn’t include Him, neither do you. Yet, He was about to reveal Himself to me at the lowest point in my life.

The Struggle

One unseasonably warm morning in March 1982, I woke with the symptoms and yet another cold – the fifth one since January. But this time, my breathing was labored  and an excruciating pain pierced my chest with every deep breath. The doctor requested to see me immediately.

Upon arriving at the Texas Medical Center, I waited about an hour before being called back to the exam room. The doctor expressed concern that I might have pneumonia and ordered a chest x-ray. She diagnosed the fluid in my lungs as pleurisy; not a condition typically seen in young active adults. She gave me a powerful antibiotic and sent me straight home for several days of bed rest.

Now if you’ve ever lived in Houston you know that the interstate highways are a motorist’s version of The Wide Wide World of Sports. The “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” are never far from your bumper. A healthy person has a difficult time dealing with the traffic and congestion. And when you are sick . . .

By the time I navigated home at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, feeling miserable, all I could do was literally fall into bed fully clothed, propping myself up in order to breathe. I had only been home for an hour and was trying to get comfortable when the phone startled me. The ring caused me to jump and gasp for breath. The wrenching pain was still there. It was my doctor, asking me to return to the medical center that same afternoon. She justified her request with a sense of urgency, saying that they wanted another x-ray, and asked if someone could come with me. How I wished I had someone who was willing to go with me and advocate on my behalf. In my world, illness was unacceptable.

The Encounter

As I backed my car out of the driveway, I noticed a disheveled woman walking up the street towards me, balancing a small toddler on her hip. When I glanced back a second time, she waved in my direction and trotted faster towards me, yelling for me to stop. Feeling the growing anxiety of navigating back to the medical center in rush hour traffic, I did not want to stop. But the woman was persistent, waving and yelling to get my attention. There was no one else around.

Why didn’t I just drive off?

She approached the driver side window, explaining that she and her son had just walked from Walgreen’s pharmacy on Westheimer Parkway. That was over a mile away. The poor boy was visibly sick: green mucus draining from his nose, red cheeks, coughing. She pleaded for me to give them a ride home. But I was hesitant. After a series of robberies in the area, everyone was leery of strangers, including me.  To compound my reluctance, she would not look me directly in the face, always focusing her attention on the child as she spoke. It made me uncomfortable. I proceeded to fabricate a plausible excuse, since I was still wearing my Brooks Brothers suit, and said I was running late for a business meeting. I apologized for not being able to do more as I continued to slowly back out of the driveway.

But it was the little boy who got to me. I could not escape the sad look in his eyes. He never took his gaze off me. So I opened the passenger door – saying a quick prayer under my breath for protection, hoping the child was not some decoy. The drive was quiet. Neither of us said a word. I was too focused on the drive that lay ahead of me. After less than a minute, the woman abruptly said, “Here we go. You can pull over here.” The woman opened the door, stood the little boy outside on the grass, and then paused. That’s when I got that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, certainly I was about to be robbed. Instead she turned toward slowly toward me, and placed her right hand on my right shoulder. She looked me directly into the eyes, and said in the most loving, reassuring tone, “No matter what the doctors tell you, don’t be afraid. God loves you. You’re going to be alright.”  She then exited the car, closed the door and walked toward the house. I drove away stunned.

What a strange statement to make to someone? I didn’t tell her I was seeing any doctor. I made an explicit point of saying “business meeting.” But her eyes were so blue. Her face was so beautiful. I just dismissed the encounter as peculiar and proceeded on to my doctor.

The Diagnosis

This time as I entered the same exam room, I was greeted by three doctors, all posturing to prepare me for their revised diagnosis. Placing the x-ray film in the light box, they explained that the second x-ray revealed something more serious, using terms I didn’t understand. Lymphoma. Hodgkin’s. Non-Hodgkin’s. Form of Leukemia. White count. Blood levels. Grapefruit sized tumor. 50-50 odds. Percentages. Oncologist. I wasn’t comprehending any of it until they said the word… cancer. I froze. From that moment on I didn’t hear anything else except for that voice,“No matter what the doctors tell you, don’t be afraid. God loves you. You’re going to be alright.”

I immediately left the medical center to return home, but not before returning to the place where I dropped off the woman and child. Curiosity got the best of me. Of course, they were nowhere to be found. In fact, further investigation revealed that they didn’t live in any of the houses near where I left them.

Who was she? How did she know?

For the following year and a half 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 treatment alone (4 days on/3 days off), every follow-up appointment, except for occasional help offered by a neighbor, who also provided me with meals when I could eat, as well as help from my parents when they could travel from Tennessee to Texas. I knew exactly how much time I had from the moment the machines were turned off to navigate through Houston traffic and get home before becoming sick. I lost hair, of course. Radiation treatments required me to wear permanent marks on my neck and chest drawn by a Sharpie pen for alignment. I looked like a tattooed disaster. I was 5′-8″ and weighted 110 lbs. I vomited almost every day and struggled to find foods that didn’t taste like metal, even on good days. And I prayed more than I had in my entire life. I knew just how many Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glory Be’s it took for each treatment. And how many Memorares I required to stay calm. And I was a Protestant at the time. (But that’s another story.)

To compound my treatment and recovery experience, AIDS was the big news in the early ‘80s. People were paranoid. Anyone that looked sick with suspect. I lost the “friends” I thought I had. The “friends” that remained served me drinks in paper cups, and refrained from hugging me, or even standing too close for fear that cancer was contagious. Yet, the experience allowed me to form new friendships – genuine friendships – that still exist today. Iconically, the abuse stopped. Apparently,“in sickness” was interpreted as an optional vow, so cancer provided me with the peace I deserved.

I Am Not Who I Was

Of course, I was forever changed by the experience in 1981 to 1983 that merely fortified me for what lay ahead in my life’s journey. I learned that I am not a survivor, but a prevailer. Since then, I continued to prevail through eight surgeries, the loss of a child, cared for and witnessed the death of both my father (lung and brain cancer), which was incidentally shortly after my remission (lung and brain cancer) and later my mother (Alzheimer’s). And I learned the reward of forgiveness. I have witnessed discrimination, abuse and vindication, and lived to retell the story. And throughout it all, I heard the woman’s soft voice, “Don’t be afraid. God loves you. You’re going to be alright”.

Today, I am married to my soulmate with a daughter who reminds me to find joy in each new day. I came into full communion with the Catholic Church in 1998, while bringing my husband back to his cradle faith, and having our precious daughter baptized.

Whenever I share my experiences, I feel as if I’m talking about another person. A woman once approached me after hearing me speak and said, “After all you’ve been through, I’m surprised you still believe in God.” I laughed and said, “It’s because of God that I am able to stand here and talk about it with a smile.”

I have learned that this world is filled with voices that tell us we are not worthy. Our self-worth is predicated on what others think of us, when in fact, there is only one voice that knows us best. We must find those moments of silence in life where we can listen to the only voice that really matters, and that is through prayer.

And sometimes, when God knows that we need a little extra reassurance, He sends an angel our way to remind us that we are not alone, if we care to look and listen.

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

Peace be with you.

© 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.

Inspiration:

“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]

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Diane McKelva is the Executive Editor of Catholic Stand. She has served in every position with this publication since its launch in 2013. She now directs the content, branding, and mentors the staff. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts (College of Arts and Communications) from the University of Memphis, and has an accomplished career as a writer (35+yrs) producing market collateral and featured articles in consumer and trade publications. For the past 20 years, her creative and inspirational work has been utlized by secular and Christian publications such as Catholic Online, Shalom Media, The National Catholic Register, etc. Her work as also been presented at the Mid West Writers' Conference. Diane has three books in production - the first to be released April 2017. She writes and produces an online ministry entitled "Writing In the Dirt". You can learn about about Diane there, or here.

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  • 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.

    • 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^

  • Beautiful testimony Diane!! Thank you!

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

  • 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!

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

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  • 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.

    • 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^

  • 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!!

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

  • 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.

    • 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^

  • 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! 😉

  • 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.

  • 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!