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Angel in Rags

by Leonard Day

It was the Christmas season, and like many of the past years, I was booked with speaking engagements on angels. As I looked at my calendar, I found little time to complete my Christmas shopping. Overwhelmed, I closed my calendar and left for the ride to my evening lecture.

The lecture was being held in a local church so the drive was short and I arrived in plenty of time without feeling rushed. The room was decorated in the spirit of the Christmas season, complete with a Christmas tree and angel centerpieces on every table. I was greeted by the woman who was chairman and then I was promptly introduced to some of the members of the congregation. Everyone was excited about the program and how appropriate for Christmas. In fact the chairman was expecting a large crowd since the public had been invited.

Suddenly our conversation stopped due to a loud noise at the back of the hall. At first it sounded as if someone in the kitchen had dropped a large pan on the floor, but that was not the case at all. To the surprise of many, the side door opened, announcing the newest guest. I could see by the turned heads and the rolling eyes of those around me that this was not a welcome sight, but nobody seemed to know exactly what to do.

Entering the door was one of the most haggard women I have ever seen. She was wearing a plaid skirt and a cotton blouse covered with a dark green sweater. Her hair was gray and matted, tied with a flowered scarf. She carried a large straw purse that seemed to be stuffed with rags and everything else that you could imagine.

"This is Ruthie Wise. What is she doing here?" a woman close to me exclaimed.

As these words were being uttered, several others walked away to the front of the hall and I felt like I was being urged to do the same. Our conversation continued and soon the meal was being served. I could not, however, stop myself from glancing to the back of the room to check on Ruthie. She had been given a seat at the back of the hall and she seemed to be enjoying her meal. I also noticed that no one was seated close to her, which didn't seem to bother her in the slightest. Soon the meal was completed and the program was to begin.

According to the printed program, several holiday songs containing angels were to be sung by the group, followed by an introduction and then my lecture. The first song was announced, but before the piano began the melody, Ruthie began to sing in a loud voice that rolled through the hall. Several of the people around her tried to get her to stop, but she was in her world and there was no stopping her. So the music began and the entire group had to catch up with Ruthie's pace. I looked over at the chairman and her face was as red as a Christmas bulb, and I could feel her frustration. The first song was completed, then the second melody started and Ruthie again led with the words, "Angels we have heard on high", echoing into the rafters. There was no stopping her now; she was on a roll. Finally, when the third song was finished, the chairman stood up and began my introduction.

As she began, I saw her eyes and those of several other glance to the back of the room. Expecting some sort of disturbance, all were pleasantly surprised. Ruthie was quiet. I presented my lecture telling of the world and the message of the angels. Then I opened for questions from the audience. After answering several questions, I noticed that Ruthie had raised her hand. I pointed to her and she stood and said, "Mr. Leonard, I don't really have a question, but I want you to know that I believe in angels because I have seen them before. Angels have taken care of me for a long time. They are my friends and I know that no matter what I can always depend on them."

I wanted to thank her for her comments, but before I could get out my next word, she continued. "I used to live in a big house and had clothes and chairs and a bed to sleep in every night. Then my mother died and nobody came to see me, and I was afraid to stay in that big house alone. So I went outside where the people were so that I could see people, but many of them would run away from me. Then the angels came and they helped me find food and clothes and sometimes they helped keep me warm at night. I love the angels and I love God. Oh yes, Mr. Leonard, it was an angel who told me to come and listen to you tonight and to bring you one of the angels that I make out of rags."

Before I knew it, Ruthie was bounding between the rows of chairs, making her way to the front of the hall. Soon she was next to me, and reaching into the bottom of her straw bag. Feeling into the bottom of the bag she pulled a small angel figure made of twisted rags. The angel's head was bent as if in prayer and her arms were outstretched and giving. Small wings fashioned in the same manner were attached with twine and a ring of yellow thread formed a crude halo.

"I hope you like it," she said. "I made it with things that I have found. I just finished it yesterday and the angels said it had to be yours."

I stood speechless in front of the crowd. I looked into Ruthie's face and saw the beauty of this innocent selfless woman. I bent down and hugged her and I felt a warm energy flow from her through me. Then she pushed me back and, as rapidly as she came, she ran back to her seat. She sat down in her chair and began pushing the rags back into her bag. I looked up and gazed into the crowd and to my amazement many were crying and wiping tears from their eyes.

I closed the program that evening with a simple prayer followed with a chorus of "Away in a Manger". As I sang the words I thought how wonderful it was for God to send someone from the streets to share the true message of Christmas, that of sharing and hope. As our voices blended, I listened for Ruthie's distinctive voice but it was not there. I looked up and her chair was empty.

Today, that small angel made of cloth, with tethered wings and outstretched arms, is one of my most treasured pos- sessions. I have never again seen Ruthie, but I know that wherever she goes and whatever she does, she will be pro- tected by God and surrounded by His angels. That is the message of faith given to me by an angel in rags.

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