One of my favorite Bible quotes is from Psalm 103:20: “Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word.” One of my favorite lines from a worship hymn is from Chris Tomlin’s Whom Shall I Fear (The God of Angel Armies): “I know who goes before me; I know who stands behind; the God of Angel Armies is always by my side.”
I need to preface today’s blog with some information on me. I’m 46 years old but somehow have such debilitating arthritis in my neck that I need a neurosurgeon to remove one ruptured disc that is leaking into my spinal cord and also the one above it, which is basically dust at this point. Somewhere between them is a bone spur.
I haven’t been able to feel most of my right arm and hand since January, which makes caring for Caleb excruciating at times. Surgery is in a few weeks, but until then, every movement is pain. I’m tired all the time. I hate pain meds and even though I specified non-narcotic so I’m always able to care for Caleb, they make me feel, to quote my favorite Friend, Phoebe, floopy.
Last Monday was Caleb’s 19th birthday. He spent Saturday with his dad, so I took the opportunity to walk around our gorgeous downtown with my daughter Sophie and her sweet boyfriend Al. We didn’t get very far before both of my legs went numb and tingly. This had never happened before so we sat down and waited for it to pass. When I called my neurosurgeon on Monday, I was told this was the bone spur acting up. I’m not quite on bed rest but all of my activities need to be extremely limited because if I fall, I will need a completely different kind of surgery.
When I picked Caleb up on Sunday, I was super excited because I had rented a red SUV for two days. Whenever Caleb meets someone new, he always asks: “When is your birthday? What color car do you have? What kind?” He has hundreds of car brochures neatly filed in three bookcases in his room. On his walls, he has old-fashioned tin car signs and a brand-new Ford poster his grandpa gave him for his birthday. He can identify any car by their symbol.
Caleb was a little in shock about the car but then he began his happy growl. It’s a deep laugh, almost a purr, that crescendos into a high giggle. It is one of my very favorite sounds. He talked the whole way home about different parts of the car that he liked. He begged me to buy one in the future. Mostly he was just so happy sitting in the car.
So, here’s where the angel part comes in. On Monday morning at 10:15 I was supposed to arrive in Caleb’s class with cupcakes for everyone. I usually bake them, but with all my physical limitations, I ordered them from my favorite grocery store, Publix. I should mention one of the worst parts of not feeling my hand is that I’m clumsy. Exceedingly clumsy.
I went to the bakery, picked up two layers of confetti-covered cupcakes perfectly packaged in hard plastic so they each had their own little space. I couldn’t wait for Caleb to see them. I paid and made my way out to the parking lot. I was looking for my regular car, and holding the keys for that car in my hand. Duh. I put them back into my purse, then, carefully balancing the cupcakes, I searched through my purse to find the rental car key. I found it but I had to look at it to remember which button unlocked the car.
Door open, I set down the vanilla tier on the floor of the front seat. Because I can’t feel my hand, the keys fell on the ground so I stooped to get them and in the process dropped the chocolate tier of cupcakes. They landed with a soft thud. Not one of them managed to stay in their happy little cubicle.
I wasn’t able to form a thought. I wasn’t able to cry. I was staring at the mess, calculating that I needed to leave right that minute to get to Caleb’s class on time. I just kept staring.
That’s when I heard the sweetest voice ask from somewhere behind me, “Do you need help?”
My knee-jerk reaction to this question is always, “No, thanks, I got it.” But as I stared at those cupcakes I knew I didn’t have it.
I turned back to see a woman with a confident smile. I trusted her right away and I knew she could help me.
“I don’t know what to do,” I said. “I can’t feel my hand, that’s why I dropped them. I need surgery. These are for my son with special needs who turns 19 today. I have to get them there.” (Sophie will back me up here; I always overshare on first meetings)
“Let’s take them back inside. They’ll re-frost them and you’ll be on your way.”
“I’m Kate,” I said.
“I’m Kelly,” she said, and pulled me into a hug.
“Why don’t I carry those?” she asked. I swear, her eyes sparkled and it was like there was this heavenly glow around her. She was just that kind. In my cynical world-view I can only see her as an angel, though I know she’s real because we emailed and we have plans to meet.
Here’s where the story turns. Kelly politely explained what happened to the woman at the bakery. The poor decorator had just gone on break but they went and found her and she immediately fixed all of the cupcakes.
While we were waiting, Kelly told me that her son has high-functioning autism. She told me she’d been having trouble finding services for him. This is a subject I can discuss in my sleep so I instantly changed from the pathetic woman who dropped the cupcakes in the parking lot into someone who could help this darling woman. I rattled off a few agencies and doctors names that were new to her.
By then, the cupcakes were finished. We thanked the decorator profusely and Kelly wisely carried the cupcakes to my car. Then she said, “Hold on,” and went to her car to get a bag we could set the cupcakes in so I could carry them to Caleb’s class without further calamity. Pre-injury me would have done the same thing, but I’m just not me right now. And that’s a great thing because if I had been the regular me I would never have met Kelly.
I turned to hug her again and thank her for saving the cupcakes. “You’re an angel,” I said. “God knew I needed you right then. Thank you so much.”
And she said, “No, you’re an angel to me. I’ve lived here about a year and haven’t found anyone who knows as much as you do.”
When Caleb was growing up, there were, and still are, many dark days. I often wished that I could meet someone who’d been there before, who could lead me out of the dark days. I wished there was an Angie’s List for special needs doctors and schools and therapists. Like any other businesses, there are good places and not so good places.
I am not saying I’m an angel in any way, shape or form. I am ridiculously human and I mess up all the time. But I do have some knowledge that I pray will help Kelly. And it is my sincere hope that those who read my blog, even if they’re really far away, will find hope and the courage to go through another day. If they can see that Caleb and I have made it this far, maybe we can leave behind enough breadcrumbs that they can follow us through the crazy forests of Neverland.