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Inspiration comes from many places. I’ve been a long time fan of Sarah McLachlan, and Angel has always been a favorite of mine. But it was not until I heard an interview with her on the radio yesterday that I learned the inspiration for this song. It seems she had been touring for 2 years straight and heard of the drug overdose of a member of the band Smashing Pumpkins. Reflecting upon how life on the road robs you of yourself, she penned the lyrics.

But you don’t have to be a touring recording artist for life to rob you of joy; to make you feel as though your dreams are beyond your grasp; to feel isolated and alone even when surrounded by people. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, I pray that you reach out to an angel. They walk among us–and we are each other’s angels. Reach out, not in.

Angel by Sarah McLachlan

Spend all your time waiting
For that second chance
For a break that would make it okay
There’s always one reason
To feel not good enough
And it’s hard at the end of the day
I need some distraction
Oh beautiful release
Memory seeps from my veins
Let me be empty
And weightless and maybe
I’ll find some peace tonight

In the arms of an angel
Fly away from here
From this dark cold hotel room
And the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage
Of your silent reverie
You’re in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort there

So tired of the straight line
And everywhere you turn
There’s vultures and thieves at your back
And the storm keeps on twisting
You keep on building the lie
That you make up for all that you lack
It don’t make no difference
Escaping one last time
It’s easier to believe in this sweet madness oh
This glorious sadness that brings me to my knees

In the arms of an angel
Fly away from here
From this dark cold hotel room
And the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage
Of your silent reverie
You’re in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort there
You’re in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort here

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.” ~ Hebrews 13:2-3

Angels Unawares (by Billy Coffey)

Over the years the day after Thanksgiving has become a holiday of its own sort in our house—we call it Time To Haul The Christmas Stuff Out Of The Attic Day. It’s just as festive and exhausting as Thanksgiving. Just as messy, too. But this yearly ritual serves its own purpose, and that’s to unwrap a little magic to offset the drabness that can accompany November in Virginia. And sometimes, many times, I manage to unwrap some wisdom, too.

For instance.

By my count there are seventeen angels on my Christmas tree. Each are unique from the others in sort of a heavenly snowflake kind of way—tall and short, baby and adult, ceramic and paper. Some are new, products of last year’s Christmas-is-over-and-no-one-bought-this sale at the Hallmark store. Others, like the ragged piece of felt with one wing and half a halo, have been around since I was in elementary school.

Our angels don’t simply grace the tree, though. They also flutter above our nativity scene, adorn our dinner plates, and stand guard in our front yard. These, too, have their tiny differences. Some are playing harps or blowing horns. Some sing. And some simply stand there with a stately and calm demeanor as if they have something important to say if I just took the time to listen.

But regardless of what these decorations look like or what they’re doing, one thing is supremely obvious—they’re angels, and there’s no mistaking them.

Others aren’t so easy to spot.

I was putting the finishing touches on the tree Friday afternoon when I spotted something a bit odd. I pulled a Winnie-the-Pooh ornament out of the box and found it was not Pooh at all. One of the two miniature Coffeys in the house had evidently disrobed his trademark red shirt and dressed angel number eighteen with it. I left the shirt on and hung the angel on the back of the tree where no one would notice, and forgot about it.

I went upstairs to write a while after that, first taking the time to go through a few emails. One was a continuing conversation that originated the day before by one of my online friends, who had taken a small part of her Thanksgiving Day to send a note of appreciation to a dozen or so of our shared acquaintances.

The email bounced back and forth between all of us and seemed to settle on this one question—was what we all shared really considered friendship? It was a valid question. By and large we were all separated by hundreds and even thousands of miles. Few of us had ever met, never even heard each other’s voices. Our interaction was limited to blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and email. We were words and avatars more than flesh and blood.

The consensus was that yes, we did share a friendship. Location and means of communication didn’t seem to matter. What mattered was what was said and when.

That’s when I remembered the angel dressed as Winnie-the-Pooh. And when I realized what a real angel was.

If you read the Old Testament in the original Hebrew (and I don’t), you’d find that the word for angel is mal’ach—messenger. No surprise there. But look a little deeper and you’ll find that word also used for anyone delivering any message. The thought is an amazing one. You don’t have to be a supernatural being to be an angel. You can be anyone.

I looked back over all those emails and realized everyone had been wrong, at least when it came to me. Because I don’t see angels just at Christmastime, I see them on a daily basis. These men and women whom I’ve never met and never heard are more than friends, they’re my angels. They encourage me when I’m doubtful, make me laugh when I don’t want to, and lift me up in prayer. They’ve given me more help than I could possibly say. There are other angels, too. Ones who take the time not only to read the rambling words that pop out of my head, but leave a comment or two behind. Or who email me just to say thanks for making them laugh or think or even shed a tear.

It seems pretty appropriate, then, that in this tiny window of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas I give thanks for my angels. We’re blessed every day, not so much with big things that matter much, but with small things that matter more. Which just might be why we’re called in the coming weeks to worship a child, the smallest among us.

And which is also why I went back downstairs soon thereafter, took the disguised angel from the back of the tree, and hung it on the front.

Where everyone would notice.


To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at at his website and follow him on the twitter at @billycoffey.

The Bench, Part 2 of 2 (by Billy Coffey)

In case you missed Part One of this story, you can find it here: The Bench, Part 1 of 2.

And now for the eagerly awaited conclusion to the story:

I smiled, satisfied that I had answered her questions and fulfilled my duty. I could send her off to her father now and have my bench to myself.

But Jordan wasn’t finished.

“Where are your wings?” she asked.

“In my pocket,” I answered.

“Can I see them?”


“Are Adam and Eve sorry?”

“Yes, and God forgave them.”

“Is Jonah afraid of fish?”

“Not anymore.”

“How old is God?”

“Really, really old.”

“Does He have dreams when He sleeps?”


“Why not?”

“Because God doesn’t sleep.”

“God doesn’t sleep?”


“Not ever?”

“Not ever.”


“Because He’s busy watching over you.”

“Why does He watch over me?”

“Because God loves you and He wants to keep you safe.”

“Then why did He let my mommy die?”

My mouth, open and ready to fire off another automatic answer, suddenly became very dry.


Jordan looked up to me then, her legs still. Tears began to pool in her little eyes. “I said if God loves me and wants to keep me safe, then why did He let my mommy die?”

She sniffled, then reached into her pocket and pulled out a tissue. She swiped at the tears trickling down her cheeks and waited for an answer. I had none. This was not a child’s question. This was an adult question. Serious stuff.

Why? It was a question I still asked myself, and often. A question I still often asked God, too.

Why does the world have to be so bad? Why do the innocent have to suffer? Why must good people have nothing and bad people have everything and why does it have to be that way? And now I could add another to the list: why would God take a mother away from her little girl?

Because bad things happened in this life, and to everyone. That was the easy answer. The world was a hard place. No one lived happily ever after. And no matter how wise we became, we would always leave with more questions than answers.

But how could I tell Jordan that?

My lips moved, but no words came. I knew this was one of those moments in Jordan’s life where she found herself at a fork in the road. One path led to healing. The other led to bitterness. And whatever I said next may well be the very words that pushed down either the one or the other.

I had gotten into this situation out of the goodness of my heart. I had no ill intentions, only concern. But this, this was too much for me. I couldn’t lie anymore. It was time to tell Jordan the truth. I owed her that much.

“Jordan?” I said.

She sniffled and wiped her nose. “What?”

“I’m not an angel.” I spat the words out as quickly as I could and readied myself for what would happen next. Tears, of course. Maybe a tantrum. Both of which would be completely justified.

But there was only silence. Finally, Jordan said, “I thought maybe you weren’t.”

“You did?” I asked.

She pointed to my hat. “Daddy says God hates the Yankees.”

I chuckled. She managed a weak grin, and then her steadfast countenance crumbled in a fit of tears. I wrapped my arms around her and she huddled into the crook of my shoulder and gently rocked her as she sobbed.

We sat for a long while on the bench, our bench, and looked out over the river. The ducks arrived, and we both took turns tossing bits of bread to them as they quacked and fought for each chunk.

I told Jordan that I didn’t know why God took her mother away, but that He must have had a very good reason, because He always does, and one day she would find out. “In the meantime,” I said, “your mom still loves you and she’s in a good place. The best place.”

When all the bread was gone and the ducks had waddled off, Jordan said it was time for her to be going. She thanked me, gave me another hug, and assured me that she felt better. I knew she didn’t. But I also knew that one day she would. I watched her walk toward the bridge that led across the river and to the soccer field and the houses beyond.

“See ya,” she said from the bridge.

“See ya.”

And she was gone.

I remained there for a long while, watching the river flow by. Jordan and I had a lot in common, I decided. Both of us were sitting in a big, dark room full of questions. Right in front of us was a window, and streaming through that window was the light of truth, all the answers to all the questions we could ever ask. But over that window was the shade of time, drawn tight.

As we both grew, learning and living more, that shade would ease up a little here and there and shed some light on the things that bother us so. We both want that shade out of the way. We want to see the whole view from that window, the whole truth. But, you see, if that shade were pulled up all at once, and all the truth shone through in an instant, we would be blinded by the light.

One day, I expect I will see Jordan again. Perhaps along some street paved in gold, beside a crystal sea. She will introduce me to her mother and I will thank her for bringing such a beautiful girl into the world.

And then Jordan and I will sit down on a bench and share all the answers we know, and we will laugh.

To read more from Billy Coffey, please visit him at What I Learned Today

The Bench, Part 1 of 2 (by Billy Coffey)

Billy Coffey submitted this story to me awhile back. While it is longer than a typical blog post, I honestly think it’s one of the best things I’ve read from him – and I’ve read quite a bit – an entire unpublished book, actually. (Jealous much?) Anyway, I decided this was too good to pass up, so I have decided to post the first half of the story today, and the conclusion next Monday.

It was not merely a bench, it was my bench, and someone else was sitting in it. Someone whom I was sure did not appreciate my bench as much as I did, and surely could not. The bench, my bench, was in the park in nearby Waynesboro. It was in a particularly peaceful spot along the banks of the South River, where the water became tired of flowing fast and shallow and decided it would be better to go along slow and deep.

The grove of pines that surrounded my bench offered little in the way of shade but plenty in the way of privacy. It was not a new bench, nor was it particularly well made. The seat held a perpetual dampness due to the rotting wood, and whenever I sat I had to be mindful of the rusty nails that jutted up from the surface. When the city decided to fix up the park a few years ago, my bench was overlooked. No fresh paint, no new nails, no sturdy seat. I supposed they simply forgot it was there. Which to me meant that the bench really was mine, as I was the only one who would have it.

I went to the park that morning a few weeks ago with no serious business to tend to other than to enjoy a respite from the demands of everyday life. I timed my arrival just after the morning joggers had left and just before the lunchtime picnickers arrived. I never liked going to my bench with people around. They might see me and wonder where I was going, and they might get nosy enough to follow. As planned, the parking lot was empty by ten o’clock. Satisfied that no one was about, I grabbed my hat and a loaf of bread for the ducks and started out.

As I neared the grove of pines that hid my bench, however, I thought that perhaps I wasn’t alone at all. Amid the idyllic sounds of crunches and quacks and chirps I heard someone humming from the far side of the trees. I stopped for a moment to listen, then crept forward and peeked through the limbs.That was when I saw that someone was sitting on the bench. My bench.A little girl, blonde haired and skinny. Her feet swung back and forth beneath the rotting wood of the seat in an awkward cadence as she continued to hum an indecipherable tune, pausing only to take a breath to blow bubbles with her gum. I eased away, wondering where her parents were. No one else was around.

I decided that patience would be the best way to handle the situation. I would bypass my bench temporarily, stroll down to the picnic pavilion, and wait for her to leave. No child can sit in one place for more than ten minutes unless it’s in front of a television. So I slung my loaf of bread over my shoulder, took two steps, and landed on a large and noisy twig.

She wheeled around in mid-bubble, her long hair following close behind. Her legs froze in a scissor, and she greeted me with a strange combination of shock and amazement.

Then she smiled. A big, toothy, Christmas morning smile. I smiled back. She raised the fingers of the hand the gripped the back of my bench and waved. I waved.

And then she screamed.“I knew you’d come!” she yelled, her voice cracking with excitement. “I knew it I KNEW it!”

“Pardon me?” I asked.

She turned fully around and raised up on the back of my bench. Her smile grew wider. My eyebrows furrowed more.

“I knew you’d come,” she whispered.

“How did you know I would come?” I asked.

Because,” she announced, as if that one word would make everything clear.

“Because why?” I persisted.

“Because that’s how it works,” she answered, raising the palms of her hands in a how-do-I-know gesture.

“Because that’s how what works?” I asked, thinking that this was beginning to sound a lot like an Abbot and Costello routine.

“Prayin’,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

She took a deep breath and exhaled like a frustrated parent trying to explain the plainly obvious to a child. “Last night I prayed that God would send an angel to me at the park, so I came here to wait.” She paused, then leaned farther over the back of my bench. “You are an angel, right?”

My first reaction was to laugh, and I almost did. But then I saw the expression on her face had turned from joy to disappointment. Something was obviously wrong with this child, and laughing at something she said wouldn’t be very appropriate. Or helpful.

“Does your daddy know you’re here?” I asked.


“Don’t you think he’s worried about you?”

“I told him I was going to a friend’s house,” she answered, slowly chewing her bubblegum. Watermelon, by the smell of it.

“How long have you been sitting here?” I asked.

“All morning,” she said.

“How long were you going to wait?”

“Until you came.” Then, “You are an angel…right?”

I looked around again and still found no one in the park, not even a police officer I could pawn her off on. I gazed into her innocent eyes. They gazed back.

“Of course I’m an angel,” I said.

“I knew it!” she sighed. “I’m sorry I kinda doubted.”

“That’s okay,” I said, moving to my bench and sitting beside her, “I get it all the time. My name’s Billy.”

“I’m Jordan,” she smiled. “Guess you already knew that, huh?”

“Sure,” I answered, though I was beginning to feel as though I had just taken the first steps upon what was surely one of the straightest roads to hell.

“Want some gum?” she asked, holding out a half-chewed package.

“Sure. Thanks.”

“What’s that for?” she pointed.

I looked down to the loaf of bread on my lap. “God wanted me to feed the ducks while I was here,” I said, suddenly very uncomfortable at how well and how easily I could lie.

“Where’d you get it?” she asked.

“I brought it with me.”

“From heaven?”

“Yes.”“You mean,” she said, eyes bulging, “Jesus made that bread?”

I looked down at the bread again. Fittingly, the big red letters spelled out WONDER.

“Absolutely,” I answered.

Jordan began to swing her feet back and forth again, studying me. “Are you sure you’re an angel?”

“You don’t think I am?” I asked.

“No. I mean, yes. I mean, I don’t know.”

We sat in awkward silence for a few moments and watched a family of ducks that waddled nearby. Finally, she asked, “Do you know why I prayed for God to send you down here?”

“Well,” I said, not sure what to say next, “God didn’t get real detailed. He just told me I needed to come see you.”

Jordan gave a satisfied nod, blew another bubble, then asked, “Are angels smart?”

“Sure they are,” I said. Then, catching myself, I added, “We, I mean. Sure we are.”

“So if I asked you some questions, you would know stuff?”

“Shoot,” I said.

Jordan looked down, as if embarrassed by what she was going to say. “Well, I guess I just want to know what heaven’s like.”

The question took me by surprise. Heaven? All I could think of was the streets-of-gold, mansion-in-the-sky description. That may not appeal to a person of her age. But what else could I say? That heaven is where God lives? True, but not very descriptive. That heaven is paradise? That sounded a little better, but what is paradise to a kid?

“It’s sorta like every day is Saturday,” I said.

Jordan offered a small giggle and nodded. “Good,” she answered.

(to be continued next Monday)

Visit Billy at What I Learned Today.