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My Heavenly Visitors

The holidays were filled with anxiety and depression for one man. But a few Christmas angels might be just what he needs.

Christmas Angels

That Christmas got off to a promising start.

Alison and I and the children—two of our four were still at home—had picked out a tree and its lights were twinkling merrily in the living room. I had lit a fire to take the edge off our raw English air. And then 12-year-old Matthew hesitantly asked me a question that would have been perfectly natural in any other household: “Dad, would it be all right if I put on some Christmas music?”

“Of course,” I said, too quickly.

I braced myself. As strains of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” began to fill the house, a familiar gnawing sensation grew in the pit of my stomach. Not again, I thought. Christmas carols were one of the triggers that could inexplicably bring on a severe anxiety attack. I slipped out of the living room and met Ali in the hallway.

“Are you all right?” she asked. I shrugged. “Do you want to turn off the music?”

“I can’t do that,” I said. I went upstairs to my office. Work would keep my mind occupied. I tried to focus on a newspaper feature but succeeded only in staring at the impatiently blinking cursor of my computer.

I had hoped the old fears would not plague me this Christmas. All my life I had been beset with vague apprehensions and the awful depressions that followed.

The roots weren’t hard to find. Born prematurely 49 years earlier in the village of Styal near Manchester, I spent the first three months of life fighting to survive. I had been born with a shortened and twisted right leg that, later, made walking difficult. In my first week at school a girl pointed at me. “You’re a cripple!” she said. She hobbled off in a perfect imitation of my limp that set the other kids laughing.

Being lame of body was not half as bad, though, as being crippled in spirit. My mental woes may have been inherited. My granddad suffered from free-floating fears and so did my father. Dad was so tense that he and Mum were in constant rows, yelling at each other, slamming doors, hurling crockery, then continuing the battle with silence that could last for weeks.

My first serious depression occurred in my early teens. Dad was the village bobby and on his salary we couldn’t afford psychiatric help, even if he had believed in it. Antidepressant drugs were in use by 1960, but I was wary of trying these early experimental medicines.

There were glimmers of hope. I became a Christian at 18, and for a while I believed this commitment might help me get better. It didn’t—not for more than 30 years. Of course I prayed about my anxieties, always in private because I was far too shy to bring up my need at church.

When I married Alison I hoped I was beginning a new, healthier chapter in my life. But along with the joy of a wife and growing family came responsibilities that made the problem worse. Six weeks was the longest I could go without suffering an acute anxiety attack. Little things set the explosions off. A bill coming due. A Christmas carol.

The family was ready to leave for church one summer day when I realized my cuff links were missing. It didn’t matter because I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, but I held us up until the cuff links were found.

I was spoiling things for everyone. The best I could do was keep out of the way while depressed. Soon I was spending days on end in my room, as my family waited for me to come around again.

Then on December 15 last year, a few days after the renewed battle with Christmas carols, I was putting my good foot, the left one, on a step when I stumbled. Searing pain shot through my leg. Within an hour I could not use the leg at all. It was just the kind of incident that usually sank me into a depressive state. Ali offered to pray not only for the leg pain but also for the funk that would almost certainly follow.

What good would prayer do? We had asked God to help us so often. But this time he was about to answer, and in a fashion I could never have anticipated.

Ali prayed for me and my leg did get better, but not the signs of oncoming depression. That evening, just 10 days before Christmas, as we were getting ready for bed, Ali remembered that because of the cold weather she had not opened the windows as she usually did to freshen the room. She picked up what she thought was an air-purifying spray and sent a mist all over the room. But the spray turned out to be a sore-muscle balm with a dreadful menthol smell that I’ve always hated.

“Whew!” I said. “I’ll have to sleep in Daniel’s room if I want to get any rest.” Our oldest son, Daniel, was in London and his room was empty.

I kissed Ali good night, walked to Daniel’s room and turned down the spread on his narrow bed, which was right up against the wall. I climbed in, turned out the light and lay there staring into the darkness. I was unusually warm and comfortable but still fretting about all sorts of things…bills, a close friend in hospital, an assignment that was due.

At first, the way you can sometimes sense a person looking at you, it seemed to me someone was in the room, focusing attention on me. I thought Alison had stepped in. “Ali?” I whispered.

There was no answer, not a rustling of clothes, not a stirring of air, and yet I knew beyond a doubt I was not alone. A friendly presence was near me, at the head of the bed. Had Daniel come home unexpectedly? I whispered his name. Nothing. Maybe it was one of the younger children. “Matthew? Caroline?” No answer.

Slowly I became aware of a second unseen being in the room, this one at the foot of the bed. It seemed to me the two creatures were facing each other. And then I knew there was a third presence too, and a fourth one, these last two facing each other on the left side of the bed…impossible since there was no space between the bed and the wall.

I wanted to call Ali, but there was something so benevolent, so full of promise about the four lively presences that I didn’t want to do anything that might risk driving them away. I lay perfectly still, strangely warm and expectant.

And then—how did I know this, since I could not see them?—the four creatures began to move toward one another, two on each side of the bed. Their progress was slow and deliberate. They passed one another, turned and repeated the traverse three, four, maybe five times. Every time their paths crossed I felt as if I would burst with joy.

Then abruptly the room was empty. I knew it as surely as I had known a few minutes earlier that angelic creatures were there. The room was back to normal and I was alone again, yet still filled with ineffable joy. Should I go tell Alison? But tell her what? That I had been visited by four beings I couldn’t see? Still debating, I fell into a deep sleep, the best I had had in years.

By the time I surfaced, the children had already left for school. “You’ll never believe what happened last night,” I said to Ali. I told her as best I could about the mysterious visitors God had sent me. Alison did believe it and was delighted at my newfound joy and peace, though perhaps wondering, as I was, if this calm would last for more than a few days.

Our doubts were misplaced. I enjoyed every minute of the Christmas season. December was followed by a long gray January and February, two months that in the past had been times of distress but were filled with an exultation new to me. The joy even survived a devastating bout I had with the flu. Winter gave way to a spring, a summer and then an autumn of freedom.

Though I can’t be sure how long this freedom will last, I am beginning to believe the victory is permanent. It’s not that I’ve shed pressures like bills and problems at work. But today I confront these issues with a positive attitude unlike my past fearfulness.

Christmas is once again just around the corner. Thanks to my heavenly visitors, I’m anticipating another joy-filled season and I am going to make a statement to that effect. This year I have bought a present for the entire family, a small but very special gift I hope we will use a lot…a CD of the world’s best-loved Christmas carols.

Read more stories about heavenly angels and angels on earth.

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