Caught unaware

Years ago as we were beginning our family, and my wife was adjusting to being married to an Episcopal priest, she was diagnosed with an illness, one contracted during her first pregnancy. This was an illness that threatened her life, and the lives of our two young children. The diagnoses came as we entered into a new community, and a new parish. We lived under great pressure and fear while it was all unfolding — at the time, to be honest, it seemed a death sentence. Still, for our children, and those around us, we were trying to create a “normal” home life — and I was trying to be about the duties associated with my new position.

In a previous rectory (the name given the homes of Episcopal Rectors/clergy), my wife’s grandmother had given us a set of bookshelves that were built into the wall. For sentimental reasons we brought them to our new home, but it was going to take a lot of work to get them fixed and fitted — carpentry work, for which, unlike our Lord’s earthly father, I have no gift. One morning I went to the parish office promising again ( I kept forgetting) to find someone that day to get to work on the bookshelves so we could unpack what seemed like hundreds of boxes of books cluttering up the house.

Around 3 o’clock in the afternoon I got a call from my wife telling me how she loved the sweet older gentleman I found to do our carpentry work, and how beautiful the shelves looked, newly painted and in place. I thought she was being sarcastic because I had once again forgotten to call around and find someone to do the work. I questioned her and she said, “No, he has been here almost since the moment you left for work until now. …” I hurried home.

As I entered the house, my wife greeted me and then showed me the bookshelves. They were indeed lovely, only awaiting the paint to dry for our books to be added. The carpenter had also touched up and fixed other things around the house. A huge amount of work in a very little time. Only taking time out for lunch he “went home” and came back with vegetables from his garden that he asked us to prepare for our dinner, later that evening. Also when my wife asked if he could stay to meet me, he told her we had “already met” and he would see me later. She left him, for just a moment to call me, and he was gone before she came back.

When I told my wife I had not hired the man, she was surprised. He did not leave a bill or ask for a check or payment. She was sure I had talked to him because he knew of her illness, and our fear. They had a wonderful visit while he worked, and he seemed to know a lot about us. Before he left he had also been insistent that she get our oldest son out of daycare so that he could meet him. He gathered my two sons together with my wife, laid hands on their heads, gave a blessing, and told her, they would be well, not to fear. My wife said that she immediately felt a peace, even more pronounced than she had felt when she first met him and he asked to come into the house to see what needed to be done. He also told her that he was there “at your husband’s request.”

As my wife recounted all of what had happened, somehow forgetting the man’s name, “though I am not sure I ever asked, or he ever offered it,” she said, the phone rang. It was our specialist calling, he lived in a bigger city some 80 miles away. He told us the report had come back on the blood work, and that our children would be fine. While my wife would have to undergo a year of chemotherapy and an experimental treatment, she would later be declared free of the illness that threatened her.

In our stunned state, we decided to take the children to go for ice cream cones, my answer to all situations I am having trouble defining. As we were backing out of the driveway in our ancient Suburban, my wife said she wanted to tell me something but she was afraid I would laugh. I asked what? She said, “I think the little, old, gentleman was an Angel. …” I asked her why she thought I would laugh. She said, ” I didn’t think you would take it seriously.” I looked at her and said, ” I believe in Angels, and I very much believe our house has been visited by one. I am sure this was an Angel.”

At that very moment the car’s rear tire went flat with a “pop.” We laughed, and prayed right there, not a care in the world, for a time at least…

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2)

The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.

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