Sometimes, angels appear in the most unlikely places.
While John was on his lunch break, he overheard a man discussing a medical condition on the phone. It was a loud conversation, and the man was obviously stressed about what was going on.
John felt himself being drawn into the discussion, the louder the man got and the longer it went on. He discerned that the man was from another city and that his wife was in the hospital and very ill. Finally, the man hung up and slouched down in the booth. Things grew much more quiet, except for the clanging of the silverware being washed in the back.
John felt compelled to do something. This wasn’t something he would normally feel or get involved with, but he couldn’t let it go. So, he got up and walked over the man.
“Sir” he said cautiously. “I overheard your conversation, and while I don’t want to be nosy, I would like to offer my help.”
The man looked up at John curiously. “Thanks, but…” The man couldn’t finish before the phone rang again. It was the hospital. This time, the man talked in softer tones and took notes. He hung up and looked back to John. “I don’t even know where to begin to ask for help,” he confessed.
The two men talked over coffee. It turned out the man on the phone, whose name was Mike, had been in town for vacation with his wife, Kathy, when she developed an infection. She had been in the hospital for over a month and nearly died twice. To make matters worse, Mike had been unable to leave her side or to return home and, as a result, was close to losing his job and benefits if he didn’t get back to work soon.
His credit card was maxed out from the hotel stay, and the hospital bills would be coming in soon. Needless to say, Mike was overwhelmed. John did a lot of listening, and when Mike finally had said his peace, he sat there searching for some wisdom to share. Nothing came to his head; he couldn’t relate. So, instead of offering advice or counsel, he simply reached over and patted Mike’s arm.
“Sir” he said, “I don’t know exactly how to help you, but I do know that when I get overwhelmed, I make a list so at least I know where to start.”
Mike could wrap his head around this, so he flipped over his paper and, at the top of the list, wrote: “Pick up Kathy from hospital.”
The list seemed to draw both of the men in and energized them. They talked excitedly about each item which, after nearly half an hour, had grown to 20 items. Everything from airline tickets to medical supplies was accounted for. When complete, Mike pushed the list to the center of the table before the sadness crept back in around his eyes.
“All is fine and well, except for the fact that I am broke,” he said. “No place to stay, no way to get her home just yet. I’ve been sleeping at the hospital; the rental car is long gone.”
The same undeniable feeling came over John that he experienced when he had been compelled to engage with Mike in the first place. He wiggled in his seat and fought the urge to speak. Finally, John said, “Well, I need to call my wife, but I think we can make a spot for you until you get things figured out.”
Mike’s eyes welled up. John wondered just what kept getting into him.
John’s wife, Rebecca, silently listened on the other end of the phone. John was prone to impulsiveness, but more along the lines of cutting work during deer season or buying something for himself when the money should go to the house or kids. Offering to let complete strangers stay in the guest bedroom two days before Christmas, especially someone who had been very ill with an infection, was totally off the charts for him. While she had been praying for years that he would think of someone other than himself, she was thinking more along the lines of getting involved with a charity, not this. Even still, she heard in his voice a conviction that had not been there in a long time. She gave her blessing. John walked back to the table and shared the news with Mike, who still had tears running down his face.
The men pulled up to the hospital entrance and met a lady in blue scrubs who pushed a thin woman in a wheelchair toward the truck. Mike and John tenderly helped Kathy out of the wheelchair and into the cab. Kathy seemed relieved that Mike was back with her. She fussed at him for being gone so long, but was quick to tug on his ear and kiss his cheek when he buckled her seat belt.
“So, I hear we owe you a huge debt of gratitude,” she smiled. Her voice was rough from the tube that had been down her throat helping her breathe. John nodded and shrugged, adding, “It’s really not a big deal.” Kathy doubled down on her compliment. “Oh, yes, it is a big deal,” she explained.
She was suddenly animated, her voice strong. “Two strangers, one sickly and the other looking like a mangy dog, two days from Christmas,” she explained. “That, young man, is the definition of a big deal. I hope you asked your wife’s permission or else she’ll have your backside.”
When they pulled up to the house. John noticed that his little girl had made a “Welcome” sign for their unexpected guests. It was hanging on the front door. He honked the horn and began helping Mike and Kathy out of the truck; both looked weary and pale. The door sprung open and out poured John’s three children. They introduced themselves and took Kathy by the hand to lead her into the house. John marveled at how well his children behaved. Were these the same children he left this morning, fighting and arguing over cereal and cartoons?
Mike put his arm around John as they walked to the house. “I really cannot thank you enough,” he said. “I have no idea what I would have done tonight had you not made a connection with me.”
John smiled, but was becoming more keenly aware that what was happening was truly impacting him on many levels. Why had he reached out to Mike and why in the world did he offer to feed and shelter this couple? Who were these people anyway? He pushed the thoughts to the side and showed Mike to the guest bedroom.
Rebecca had put on a fire, lit candles and prepared her signature white bean chili. The house smelled like Christmas and was warm and inviting. The tree cast a rich cascade of color throughout the living room. Rebecca and John sat down to talk, while Kathy took her first hot shower in a month.
“I have no idea what came over me” John said, his voice shaking. “I went to Charlie’s for a barbeque sandwich and ended up adopting two strangers and inviting them into my home!”
John spoke as he stared into the fire explaining that Mike, an engineer, and Kathy, an artist, were high school sweethearts. She got an infection. Something just pushed him to help. Rebecca, put her hand over his and said, “I think that’s what they call divine intervention; the spirit moved you.”
The table was set, and everyone sat down to eat. The children chattered as they normally would. The noise brought a smile to Mike’s face.
“Never had kids of our own,” Mike said, “but it makes me happy to be around such a joyful noise.”
Rebecca smiled too, and the color had returned to her face. “It’s amazing what a hot shower and a hot meal will do for the soul. This is the best medicine I’ve had in weeks.”
They talked and shared stories until finally Mike cleared his throat and stood up. “There is something I want to say,” his eyes searching for words. “Kids, what your daddy did today was nothing short of a miracle. Well, heck, he created a real Christmas miracle out of thin air. If it weren’t for him, we’d be at the homeless shelter tonight.”
Kathy spoke up, too. “We couldn’t ever repay your kindness,” she said. “We won’t outstay our welcome, but just know that what you’ve given us is the best Christmas gift we could get: kindness and love.”
That night as John lay in bed, tired but still abuzz with all that had happened, he felt a tug on his big toe. It was his youngest daughter.
“Daddy,” she whispered, “that man told me something about you.”
She smiled a big grin and stated, “He said that you are an angel. You drive around in your big red pickup truck and hand out miracles to the needy.”
John smiled, adding, “No, Baby, I’m not Santa or an angel—just your plain ol’ regular Daddy.”
The little girl put her hands on her hips and gave him a stern look. “No sir,” she insisted. “He said he had just prayed for a miracle. When he opened his eyes, he saw you asking how you could help. That makes you an angel.”
Be a Christmas miracle to someone this season. Invite someone in, make that connection and create that miracle.
By Gene Cashman, III