We were in southwest Virginia.
The heart of Appalachia.
We were repairing the home of a young mom who struggled to meet ends meet. The walls of her home were blackened by coal dust left by the trucks which, every few minutes, would drive by on the road outside her house. And the floors in her bedroom and kitchen were rotted and falling apart. We spent the week tearing up the old floors and installing a new ones. And, we washed and painted the walls in her living room and kitchen. But, the one task we could not master that week was reconnecting the hot water heater which we had had to drain and disconnect in order to repair the kitchen floor. Try as we might we could not get the fittings connected without ending up with a leak somewhere. That is when he showed up. The only time all week. He walked in the back door, saw what we were struggling with, and in about 15 minutes had solved the problem. In conversations that evening, one of the high school students who was working with me said something like, “It was like he was an angel who appeared just at the time when we needed him most.” I remember replying, “Maybe he was just that…an angel.”
Renaissance artists have fundamentally transformed our understanding of angels giving them wings and having them hover, unseen, in the air around us. Before those famous paintings reshaped our understanding, angels were understood to be strangers who, unbidden and unexpectedly, showed up in our lives to help or to challenge or to offer a word of hope or advice. Like the man who appeared to help us out and to fix a neighbor’s hot water heater. I have never seen an angel hovering in the air around me, but I have had angels step into and out of my life. Everyday people, some I knew and some I didn’t who, while unrecognized in that moment, were angels whose presence provided me with exactly what was needed.
Those are the angels who matter.