Entertaining Angels

Entertaining Angels

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

Entertaining Angels

Do not neglect hospitality for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.

Hebrews 13:2

RITA—Relentless! Intense! Terrible! Awful! Words used to describe the Category 5 hurricane that bore down ruthlessly on the Texas coast in late September 2005. It was headed for Houston, and the projected path predicted her blowing right through my hometown of College Station.

As the evacuation of more than 2.5 million people from the Houston area began, horror stories from the massive gridlock poured in from people confined for hours in vehicles that ran out of gas and overheated. Evacuees turned off the air conditioning to conserve gas and then sweltered in over 100 degree heat. Not only was gas unavailable, but also many necessities. A journey normally taking two hours now required twenty-two, and Rita kept coming, moving steadily, faster than the traffic in the gridlock.

My church was designated as an evacuee shelter, and I became caught up in the innumerable preparations required for such an undertaking. Evacuees streamed in, each with a heartbreaking story: hours on the road, nowhere to go, sick with worry over their homes and their livelihoods. We had anticipated housing 225 people, but in less than a day, we had opened our doors to more than 370. And still they came. We faced the unthinkable task of turning some away.

When I arrived at our church refuge shortly before noon of the second day, hauling in blankets and electric cords, the harsh sound of a horn brought me up short.

“Are you still taking evacuees?” A handsome Hispanic woman leaned out of the window of her car.

“I don’t know. I just got here.” I walked closer and saw a woman reaching the end of her rope.

“Where do you go to find out?” Her voice was steady, but her eyes were welling with unshed tears. She was trying very hard to hold on.

I gave her directions and then encouraged, “I’ll meet you there.”

“Thank you so much.” A beautiful smile crossed her fatigued face. “I’m worried about my aunt. She had a stroke a year ago and is on a walker. I left my family in the parking lot of Motel 6 while I try to find shelter. We’ve been on the road for twenty-six hours. We went to Brenham, but all the shelters were full, the motels, too. They sent us here, but I can’t find anyplace that will take us.”

“Let’s go see.”

I made my way through the madhouse of confusion and looked for her at the registration table, but she was not to be found. Then, I saw another worker leading her to the area.

“There you are,” I called out. Once again I was graced with that beautiful smile.

“I couldn’t find you,” she responded and grabbed me into a tight bear hug, her eyes once again glistening with tears about to brim over.

I took her to the registration table, only to see her shoulders slump as they informed her we were full. Graciously, they told her where she might go, where there might be room for her. I faded into the background and went about delivering my supplies, haunted by the look in her eyes. I could not forget how she clung to me.

When I walked back through the intake area, she was still there getting directions to a special needs shelter where she might find a place for her aunt. Our eyes met and I knew, without a doubt, what I had to do.

“Never mind, Eleanor,” I said to the registration volunteer. “She’s coming home with me.” I put my arm around her and felt the relief pass through her body. “Let’s go get your aunt.”

Walking to our cars, she said, “I can’t believe this. You’re so wonderful.” Then she stopped short and looked me directly in the eye. “There are five of us, you know.”

No, I didn’t know. She had said her family was waiting but had mentioned only her aunt. “We’ll manage,” I replied, surprising myself with my confidence. I was committed to this course, and with God’s grace I would complete it. I had adopted Naomi and her family who I was about to meet.

Forging our way through heavy traffic, we finally reached the hot, tired, hungry family consisting of her son, Fabian, a handsome young man of about thirty, whose smile was to die for; Aunt Eugenia, four feet tall and a former mariachi singer; sister, Sylvia, thin and willowy, who later revealed to me that she was seventy-one; and friend James, an oil rig worker with long hair and turned around baseball cap, who volunteered to come along to help drive.

Three jammed-full vehicles fell in line behind me as I zigzagged home, avoiding further traffic. I no sooner got my adoptees home than I had to go back to church to fulfill my commitments there, so I said, “Here’s my home. Welcome. See you later.”

I returned several hours later to a delightful surprise. It seems when they left they had cleaned out their freezer, knowing the contents would spoil if there was no electricity. They packed it all in ice chests and threw in a portable barbeque pit. I arrived home to the marvelous aroma of grilling chicken and to a smiling family gathered around my picnic table. For the first time since Rita threatened, I found myself relaxing.

Silvia spoke up. “I was thinking I would have to shower at a car wash.” We all broke into laughter at this visualization. Slowly, I began to learn about my new family.

Naomi was a pipefitter, working in various refineries. A former law enforcement officer, this woman could handle herself. She loved motorcycles and didn’t mind at all if her luxurious, long black hair was tangled beyond combing. Her goal was to own her own Harley. Watching her laugh, I realized where Fabian got his killer smile.

Naomi described her son, Fabian, as quiet, but he had a depth to him that might not be apparent at first. He worked for ten long years to get his college degree and was unassumingly proud of the accomplishment.

Aunt Gina not only was a mariachi singer but also she had her own radio show for a while. The first thing she did when she arrived at my home was to pull out her Bible, lay it on the hood of the car, and pray. “I always pray when I come to a new place.” Sometime during the course of that first day, she pulled out her drivers’ license and showed me. “This is who I really am.” Pictured was a striking woman with long black hair.

“You’re the only person I know who has a good-looking driver’s license picture,” I said.

“I used to wear spike heels,” she proudly claims. “I even had house slippers with high heels.”

“She’s the only woman I know that dresses for bed. She even fixes her hair before going to bed,” chimed in Sylvia.

“I want to look good. I might die,” was her response.

Aunt Gina wore a brace on her right leg, and she had little use of her right arm. She used a walker most places, but not in my house. One of the rubber tips was missing and she would not take the chance of scratching my floor.

Sylvia loved the Dallas Cowboys and television, especially the soaps. She also loved the outdoors and spent as much time as she could in the wooded area around my house. Naomi liked my little piece of heaven, too. In fact one of her first comments was, “I think I’ve come home to heaven.”

James’s muscle shirt showed off the pecs he gained in his profession. We talked sports as he barbequed. This big hunk of a man was gentle with Aunt Gina and never failed to respond to me with a “ma’am.” He was respectful of me and my belongings, even asking if it was okay to get a glass of water. In a quiet moment when only the two of us were in the den, he shyly said he would like to leave his cash as a thank-you to me.

“Nonsense,” I reply. “But I tell you what you can do for me.”

“What?” His eyes light up. He’s ready.

“When you have the opportunity, pass this on. Pass on a kindness.” Understanding, he made the connection.

My guests remained for three days and two nights. Mostly we were glued to the television, seeking information on the status of their hometown and the traffic, but we shared a lot of conversation, too. The capricious storm turned. It was going to miss us. A cheer went up. Later, when we learned my granddaughter lost the roof on her home, they commiserated with me.

On Saturday evening I went to Mass, leaving my new family to relax. Relax, my foot. Naomi cooked up a feast, while Sylvia took my radio on the deck and, in her words, “danced with the broom.” In my words, she swept every bit of the debris off the deck.

Sunday, my orphans decided it was safe to go home. While we all wanted our lives back to normal, I was surprised at the sadness I felt at their leaving. In a flurry we exchanged addresses and phone numbers, promising to keep in touch.

“Promise me you’ll call when you get home. I want to know you’re safe.”

“I will, I will,” vowed Naomi.

“Let’s pray before you go.” So we stood in a circle and I offered a prayer in thanksgiving for their presence in my home, for their safe journey, and for the security of their homes. “In Jesus’ name,” I concluded. But there was more.

“And for this lady who took us in when she didn’t have to. Bless her always.” It was James who offered the prayer for me.

“Not everyone would do this,” he said.

“Well, I’m a little crazy.” I laughed.

“And, we’re so glad you are,” Sylvia joked.

My new family arrived home safely. All was well. I know this because Naomi kept her promise to call.

I shall not forget Rita and the opportunity God gave me to take strangers into my home, the opportunity to be God’s hands. I think I may have entertained angels named Naomi, Fabian, Sylvia, Eugenia, and James.

Nancy Baker

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