Angels and Angst

Angels and Angst

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Book of Christmas Virtues

Angels and Angst

Another dull church meeting. I muffled my third yawn. The old geezer was still droning on about church involvement. Same-old same-old. I was taking notes, substituting for my mom, the group secretary. But I had other things to do. Important, sixteen-year-old stuff. I doodled on the edges of the pad.

Deep in daydreams, I nearly missed the good-lookin’ guy who walked in late and sat across from me. Tucking a wisp of hair behind my ear, I straightened in my chair and cocked a suddenly interested, furrowed brow toward Gramps, but sneaked a look from the corner of my eye when Mr. Cute raised his hand and took the floor.

I flashed him my most intelligent smile.

“I think more young people should be teaching in our Sunday schools,” he was saying. “Don’t you?”

I nodded wholeheartedly.

He continued, “It would be a good way for teens to feel like they’re part of the church. All we’d need are volunteers.”

Suddenly, with no direct input from me, mine was the first hand to shoot into the air. I hoped he noticed. A second-grade Sunday school class was assigned to me. On the spot.

Oops.

For endless months of Sundays, I forfeited sleeping late to serve my “term” with a rambunctious bunch of seven-year-olds. Term, I decided, was synonymous with serving a sentence.

Skimping lesson preparation, I taught my way. I marched them around the room tooting pretend trumpets until the walls of Jericho collapsed—thankfully, just before I did. I awarded tiny gold stars for memorized Bible verses. I celebrated birthdays by counting out a penny per year to give to the poor. But, mostly, I got headaches from their unbridled enthusiasm and off-key renditions of “Jesus Loves Me.”

The weeks plodded on, and so did I.

“Miss Whitley,” the minister asked, “would you direct the Christmas program this year?”

I would, I agreed. It would be my final sacrifice. Then— quite firmly—I would quit. Hand in my resignation. I’d be outta there.

On Saturday morning, mothers deposited angels, wise men, shepherds and donkeys. The dress rehearsal went poorly. The donkey girl got a sliver in her knee, an angel wept over a broken halo, and the shepherds engaged in an unholy brawl. I popped two more aspirin and shouted directions across the noisy room.

That night, my stomach churned. From backstage I spotted . . . him . . . the cute guy, in the front row. And I . . . very deliberately . . . stuck out my tongue. He didn’t see me—but the minister did.

The minute the curtain opened, my seven-year-olds were magically transformed. Shepherds, heads swathed in terry towels, stood ramrod straight. Mary and Joseph knelt; angels heralded; wise men worshipped; donkeys . . . well, everything couldn’t be perfect.

Except, maybe their voices.

“Si-i-lent night,” the little ones serenaded.

“Ho-o-ly night,” their sweet voices floated and filled the room.

“All is calm . . .” Sweeping the stage with a glance, I nodded in agreement. All was calm. And perfect.

Just like them.

By the end of the performance, I figured the gigantic lump in my throat might disfigure me for life. But, hey, I would learn to deal with it.

“Miss Whitley! Miss Whitley!” Matthew held onto his lopsided crown with one hand and a shoebox with the other. “My mom and dad came to see me! Both of them!”

“Both of them?” I marveled. I knew a neighbor brought lonely little Matthew to Sunday school each week. His divorced parents didn’t have time.

“Miss Whitley,” he tugged my arm for attention, “can I be in your class again next year?”

Ahhh, what a cute little fella.

And I agreed. On the spot.

“And, uh . . . Miss Whitley . . . thanks.” He shoved the shoebox toward me. “For you.” He ran to join his parents while I lifted the lid.

Oops.

But even as I stared at the ugly gift inside—aren’t all grasshoppers ugly?—I recognized the love in a little boy’s gratitude.

Someone walked near me and whispered, “God bless you, Miss Whitley, and thank you.”

I glanced up at Mr. Cute and shot him a foolish smile.

“Thank you,” I said. And meant it.

Sharon Whitley Larsen

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