An Angel in the Room

I wrote another version of this story from my viewpoint in Spooked by An Angel earlier this year. I rewrote the story from the viewpoint of my mother who told me the story originally. I submitted this article to Guideposts Magazine. It’s been accepted for publication in one of their sister publications, Angels on Earth. 

Early one morning, my mother spoke. That statement doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. Mothers talk every morning, all over the world.

My ninety-three year old mother, Adele, hadn’t spoken in nearly three years. She had never been talkative, and as the years wore on, she spoke less and less. One day, she quit speaking completely. There wasn’t an obvious reason, like a stroke, to explain her silence. I think she just ran out of things to say as she got older.

Then, one morning, living quietly in a nursing home in Louisiana, my mother spoke. That morning her roommate had died. The nurse closed the curtain around the deceased woman. No one told my mother that her roommate had died.

My silent mother spoke.

“There’s an angel in the room,” she said to the nurse in the room.

In fact, every time another person entered the room, she repeated her words.

“There’s an angel in the room,” she said.

When I arrived later that morning to visit, my mother was still in bed, in her nightgown with long braids lying across her shoulders. I walked to the nurses’ station to ask why hadn’t anyone helped my mother that morning.

The nursing supervisor overheard me talking to the assistants at the front counter and walked out of the inner office.

“Mrs. Matherne,” she said, “we will attend to your mother shortly. Right now, I am having trouble finding a staff member who will go into her room. Let me explain to you what staff members are saying about your mother.”

During the morning, word had spread through the nursing home of the mute woman who had spoken of an angel. As I walked back towards my mother’s room, the daughter of the deceased woman met me in the hall.

“Did you hear about your mother?” she said. “I have been praying every morning for a sign that my mother would go to heaven. Your mother’s words were my sign.”

I didn’t know what to say. My mother was a spiritual person, but she had never spoken about angels or visions before. I thought about what I had heard. It seemed impossible to believe. Perhaps the story was just a result of overwork, lack of sleep, and excess emotion on the part of the staff, I reasoned to myself.

I questioned my mother hoping she would speak to me. She never said a word. Soon, two assistants came into the room to help change my mother into her dress and help her into her day chair. Still, my mother had nothing to say.

I stayed until lunch was served. As I helped her with the meal, I tried to engage my mother in conversation, asking her about her meal, the weather, and again, of the events of the previous night. She said nothing.

adele cropped
My Mother Years Before She Saw An Angel

I left the nursing home and drove home. As I drove, I thought about the morning’s events. I had studied the Bible throughout my life. I believed in God and angels. I had to admit that it was possible that the story of my mother speaking in the night of an angelic encounter was true.

For certain, I know two things. I know that the story brought comfort to a grieving daughter who saw the event as a sign from God. Secondly, I know that mother never spoke again after that morning. She died quietly at the age of ninety-seven.

December’s End in Louisiana

IMG_0190It’s December’s end at my place in Abita Springs, Louisiana. My family elected to not share gifts this year. That was fine with me. The presents that I received were a few small items from students and coworkers. I also helped myself to navel oranges from my mother’s tree that I picked on a ladder from the highest branches  It’s been a merry little Christmas.

Oh yes, another December gift was LSU clobbering Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl yesterday, 63-28. We’re on our way to a national championship. Our quarterback, Joe Burrow, won the Heisman trophy this year. The coach, Ed Orgeron, is also enjoying his time in the limelight. If you haven’t heard Coach O, as he is often called, you are missing a treat. He’s got the Cajun cadence of someone born and raised on the bayou. Here’s a clip of Orgeron speaking after a win earlier this year against the arch nemesis of LSU football, the reviled team from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Judge for yourself if the accent is out of the norm.

Coach Orgeron’s way of speaking is not odd to my ears. I’m a native of southeast Louisiana. Most all of my family speaks with a bit of Cajun in their voices, as well as a smattering of French words and phrases thrown in.

Coach O’s speech drew the curiosity of a Washington Post writer, Chuck Culpepper, He explained in fine detail the language peculiarities of Coach O’s diction. For a change, someone actually wrote an accurate and entertaining piece about our language and region. Culpepper writes better than I can:

Listen meticulously to the lionized voice of Ed Orgeron, and you might think you hear the gators sloshing, the mosquitoes buzzing, the oil-rig helicopters chuffing. You might picture the muskrats out swimming just before dawn, the Spanish moss hanging, the crawfish puffing through their gills, the shrimp trawlers’ outriggers above the bayou. You might even detect the French and the Southern in their singular dance.

This is December’s end for me in Louisiana: enjoying a few Christmas presents, some freshly picked citrus along with football. Coach O’s speech is lagniappe.

 

Christmas Eve In Jail

I have been thinking about helping women in jail as part of my church’s outreach. I have done it before, over twenty years ago. Here’s a story from a Christmas Eve visit to the local jail. I hope you enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed being part of this experience.

The buzzer sounded. The doors opened. I stepped into the confines of a women’s jail. It was Christmas Eve. I might have been late, but here I was, about to encounter thirty women prisoners. I thought about the conversation I had a few hours ago.

“Laurie,” Tina said, “I’m not going to the jail tonight. My sister and her family surprised me with a visit. They came all the way from Pennsylvania. I’m sorry.”

I still remember my thoughts as I hung up the phone twenty-five years ago. I had never led the Bible study with the lady prisoners, and I had never gone into the jail alone. In the few short months that I had been accompanying Tina at the jail in Houma, Louisiana, Tina had been the one leading the lessons, praying for the ladies, and generally taking charge of everything. I went along mainly to learn and give support to Tina.

What good could I do alone? And, would anybody truly expect me to come on Christmas Eve? I sat down on the couch next to the telephone. Maybe I should call the jail and tell them I wasn’t coming. After all, it was Christmas Eve, and I had family gathering that night. With a sigh, I decided to go to the jail even though I didn’t have a lesson or a plan. I would undoubtedly just be there for emotional support for the lonely women in jail.

After entering the jail’s doors a few minutes late, I walked into the commons area of the women’s jail. I expected to see a few stragglers with notebooks and Bibles at the tables. Instead, I was greeted loudly by a group of eager women.

“You’re here!” someone shouted.

“Sit down!” another lady said.

Most of the women were talking excitedly among themselves. Others were pulling bedsheets off the bunks. The ladies started wrapping themselves in bedsheets.

What was going on? None of this made any sense until Jenny,* a tall, commanding dark woman, stepped forward to tell me the plan. They didn’t want a Bible study. They planned to put on a Christmas play they had produced among themselves. The one thing they lacked for the drama was an audience. With my arrival, the one hindrance was eliminated. Now, the show could go on.

Mary and Joseph were wrapped in white sheets. A pillow subbed for the baby Jesus. Women standing in for shepherds and wisemen draped sheets over their orange jumpsuits, too.

One lady stood to the side, Bible in her hand. As she read from portions of the Christmas story from the gospels, different actors did their parts. First, Mary and Joseph, along with pillow-turned-Jesus, made their way to the front of the room. They put Jesus on a chair as they gazed adoringly at him. Then, the shepherds came, guided by angels robed in more white sheets. Next, the Three Kings came and presented their gifts of ramen noodles and bottles of toiletries, which I understood to be stand-ins for the more traditional gifts of the Magi.

Interspersed throughout the presentation, the ladies sang Away in A Manger, Silent Night and We Three Kings. At the end of the presentation, the narrator invited everyone in the dorm to kneel before the baby Jesus. The participants of the play readily kneeled on cue. Other women were cajoled, and some were threatened with harm if they didn’t kneel before pillow-turned-Jesus. One way or another, all the women in the jail that night knelt before the solitary pillow representing Jesus.

After a short but blissful moment of silence, I applauded. It was a fabulous, heart-felt performance. After the drama, the ladies were eager to hear my reaction.

“Did you like the play?” one lady asked.

“How were the songs? Did we get the tune right?” another said.

They had spent the entire day rehearsing, and then, waiting for an audience for their re-enactment. No one wanted prayer or counsel that night. No one talked about loneliness,  sadness, or bitterness about missing Christmas with family and friends. That night, they were singular in their purpose to celebrate the birth of Jesus in their own way.

As I left the jail, I thought about how happy the women had been. I expected sadness and loneliness to be the theme of the evening. Instead, the night was defined by a sense of purpose. The ladies seemed content and happy.

What happened that night? I went with the idea that the women needed me to bring inspiration and hope. Instead, they inspired me, and most of all, themselves, in their re-enactment of the first Christmas. The power of the good news of the birth of Jesus was on display that night as the ancient story was retold.

I’ll always remember that Christmas play performed in shades of orange and white on Christmas Eve twenty-five year ago. I’m glad I decided to go to jail on Christmas Eve. Jesus’ birth may have occurred over 2,000 years ago, but in places great and small,  whether it be in palaces or small town jails, his birth and life still influences our world today

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

Isaiah 9:6

* The name has been changed.

Signs of the Times

For your reading pleasure, I present the Signs of the Times of Abita Springs. As I have stated in other posts, I live in Abita Springs, Louisiana. We, the residents, are in the midst of a brouhaha.

Mayor Dan Curtis SignSign #1. It was posted at the entrance to a new housing development in Abita Springs. This sign is better known as The Original Sign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sign #2. Bad Ass for Abita Signage modified by unknown townsman (or woman). It’s better known as The Bad A** Sign. 

 

 

 

Scumbag developers

Sign #3.  The sign that expressed what Abita residents really thought the new housing development. It’s better known as The Scumbag Sign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abita Mudhole

Sign #4. This sign may or may not have been posted by the developers. Kenner is a working class suburb of New Orleans. This sign is also known as The Final Sign. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What prompted these signs? Let’s review the town’s history first. In the not so distant past, the town had a good sense of boundaries. It was bounded on three sides by piney woods and a fourth side was marked by the Abita Bayou.

The town came into its own near the beginning of the 20th century as a Gilded Age resort town for New Orleanians looking for a holiday or a health spa, seeking cures through the clean air and water. Then, the automobile made the boat and train ride from New Orleans less popular. A group of hippies found the dying town in the early 1970s, giving it a bohemian renaissance. Then, the citizens of New Orleans and the surrounding suburbs decided that the 30-mile or so commute to and from Abita was not a hindrance. They descended upon Abita as well as all the other small towns on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain.

Today, the town is stretching beyond its original boundaries. The outskirts and border areas near town are full of new housing and business developments. It’s harder and harder to judge where the town ends and begins even though the official population is about 2,500. With more people and buildings, there are more tensions.

In January 2019, a new mayor, Dan Curtis, took over Abita Springs City Hall. He inherited a boondoggle of a problem. The former mayor and council had approved a new housing development covering 162 acres that was zoned for 390 lots. Curtis ran and won as mayor on the platform of stopping the development, as the general consensus of the town was that the size of the new development would overwhelm the small town. The development is on hold as the two sides are waiting to go to court over the plan.

I don’t know what will happen now that The Final Sign has been posted.  Will the project begin with approval from the courts as the above cited project is now under court review? Will that mean The Apocalypse follows as hundreds of new residents descend upon our quaint town? Or, will the courts rule in favor of the town and the mayor. Will that make the town remain Paradise?

Only God knows.

 

 

A Mayor Named Omelette

mayor omeletteThis past Sunday, the mayor of Abita Springs, Dan Curtis, made an announcement at the weekly farmer’s market. At 11 a.m., as the market opened, Mayor Curtis introduced Omelette the hen as the honorary mayor for the day from the stage of the museum overlooking the market. Omelette is the local mascot for the Abita Cafe.

museumNormally, Omelette is a free range bird, who pecks for worms and scraps in the yard and near the outside tables of the cafe. However, for her honorary day as mayor, she appeared in a cage and was wheeled around the town’s center in a wagon. In addition to touring the market stalls of vegetables, prepared food and crafts, she viewed Rosie’s Tavern, Artigue’s Grocery and Deli, and the Abita Brew Pub.

I have never been inside Rosie’s Tavern, but I am a regular customer at Artigue’s Grocery and Deli, as well as the Abita Brew Pub. If you come by Abita, I recommend the plate lunches at Artigue’s Grocery. The Abita Brew Pub has great burgers.

Omelette’s political views are unknown. I have no idea where she stands on the local issues such as zoning or sewerage improvements. Heaven knows what she thinks about impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors. For one blessed Sunday, Omelette blessed us with her apolitical tenure as mayor. It was refreshing. brew pub

In the evening, after the market closed. the chicken returned to her home at the cafe. Dan Curtis resumed his mayoral duties. Such is the news of a small town on Sunday in Louisiana.

How Cool is Abita Springs, Louisiana?

How cool is Abita Springs, Louisiana? Well, let me tell you. Abita Springs, a town of about 2500 residents, made the list of 25 Top Coolest Towns in the US.* You can read the article yourself if you want their opinion. I won’t repeat the article here in this space.

However, I think this is a cool town. I live here, so I might be a bit biased. Let me give you my list on what makes Abita Springs a great place.

mapld bakery
The town bakery not only has great baked goods, but a great wrap-around porch and its own ghost.
  1. Abita Springs has quaint architecture. The town came into its own in the Gilded Age as a place to escape the Yellow Fever epidemics of nearby New Orleans.
  2. Abita Springs has the St Tammany Trace running through the center of town.  The Trace is a bike and pedestrian trail that replaced the train tracks in St. Tammany Parish.
  3. Abita Springs has two museums. One museum is devoted to the history of the town, and the other is a museum of oddities with things like a stuffed alligator and collections of glass shards.

    abita mystery house
    Entrance to UCM (You See ‘Um) Museum and Mystery House
  4. Abita Springs has the Push Mow Parade every Mardi Gras. I can’t add anything else to that – it’s just cool.
  5. Abita Springs has its own Opry. The Abita Springs Opry has six concerts a year in the town hall, dedicated to preserving bluegrass and country music.
  6. Abita Springs hosts an annual city-wide garage sale every spring. What can beat that? I don’t know, but maybe the beer. . . ?
  7. Abita Springs is home to Louisiana’s best craft beer.  The Abita Brewery sells thousands of barrels of beer and ale across the state and the nation.

    Abita Christmas Ale
    Christmas Ale from Abita Brewery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*The Matador Network, a digital travel magazine. 

Thoughts about Easter at Thanksgiving

Text_thanksgiving_clip_artThis week, Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving. I will spend the day with relatives at our family’s hunting lodge in Clinton, Louisiana. I  enjoy spending Thanksgiving Day at the family compound in the woods. The guys usually hunt, and the ladies do the cooking. We always pause and give thanks to God before we eat. It’s a good tradition. To stop and put into words that we are, indeed, thankful.

This week I am thinking about a lady named Easter. Until a few days ago, I didn’t know the story of Easter. I was eating tacos with my sister this weekend, and she told me the story. Over forty years ago, my sister, Jan, then twenty years old, was badly burned in a car accident. Jan spent many months recuperating in a burn unit in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Jan told me that Mrs. Easter was a burn patient, too. My sister kept hearing about Mrs. Easter from the staff. They would tell her nearly everyday, “Mrs. Easter wants you to know she’s praying for you.” Mrs. Easter was named for the holiday by her parents as she was born on Easter Sunday. My sister was young, a college student, and wasn’t all that interested in the woman with the strange first name and her reminders of daily prayers.

Then, one day, staff members wheeled Mrs. Easter’s bed into my sister’s room for a few hours while her room was being cleaned. For the first time, they met. Face to face, eye to eye. Jan saw that her fellow hospital patient was in far worse shape than she was. Her face was virtually gone. Yet, Jan told me, Mrs. Easter was quite interested in my sister’s well-being despite her own disfigured face and body.

Mrs. Easter didn’t leave the hospital alive. The story of the Christian holiday of Easter became a present reality for Mrs. Easter. She met her Jesus in whom she believed in with all her heart. She left a legacy of hope in my sister’s heart, who despite her outward protestations at Mrs. Easter’s prayers, had begun a journey of faith herself in that Baton Rouge burn unit.

Hope would carry my sister through surgeries, skin grafts, and countless hours of physical therapy. Eventually my sister returned to college, graduated, and became a pharmacist. She got married and had a family. Now retired from pharmacy, she owns and operates a small restaurant with her husband in Covington, Louisiana.

As I join with my family for Thanksgiving this week, undoubtedly I will have thoughts about mundane things like sweet potatoes, green beans. or fried turkey. I will think about the New Orleans Saints who are playing the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night. I know I will think of Easter on Thanksgiving, too.

 

Thoughts on Being Home

I’ve recently returned home from a trip to Disney World. After a week away, I had a list of tasks that are common when returning home, such as collecting the mail, watering houseplants, and answering email. All are part of being home again. There’s the rhythm of normalcy that comes from being home again. I like simple pleasures such as sleeping in my own bed and fixing my own coffee first thing in the morning.

While I was away cavorting with Mickey and his pals, Louisiana State University’s football team beat Alabama. That’s big news in Louisiana. The two football teams duked it out in Tuscaloosa, Alabama last weekend. We were the underdogs. LSU wasn’t expected to win, but we beat ‘Bama. Now, LSU is rated number one in the country. It was a good feeling when I came home knowing that my home state was first in college football rankings.

I want to hold on to some happy feelings about Louisiana because otherwise, the news about the state is alarming. This week an article from US News & World Report ranked Louisiana as the worst state in the nation. The magazine editors considered things like education, job growth, health care, opportunity and crime. There’s a US map on the magazine’s website with a big 50 emblazoned on my home state. We even beat Alabama for last place. Alabama is 49. Number one is Washington

A final note on being home: my dear friend, Sandra, passed away this week. She had battled breast cancer for over fifteen years. The cancer spread to her liver a few years ago, yet she had good health almost to the very end. She had been aware, as she told me a few months sago, “that the pages are turning faster.” She knew that even though her oncologist kept using different tools from his toolbox, as he phrased it, that her time was limited. She’s home now. In heaven.

IMG_0124
The Hardy Plank house that is my home, at least for now.

I believe in heaven. I don’t know a lot about it, as the Bible isn’t as specific as I’d like it to be on that subject. It’s just a gut feeling I have that heaven exists. Even when I am feeling most at home in my own house, comfortably settled in my daily routines, something seems not quite right. Something’s askew. That’s because there’s more.  There’s another dimension. There’s another reality beyond this one. There’s a place that God calls to me to my permanent home. When my thoughts turn homeward, I know it’s not just to a house made of Hardy Plank siding in Abita Springs, Louisiana, but to another home that is just beyond my grasp, where God dwells.

If you’re unsure how you feel about heaven, that old-fashioned solace of the ancients, I invite you to listen to this song with the refrain, You’re calling me, I’m coming home. It’s not too other-worldly, because as far as I know, heaven may be all around now, just in another dimension.

 

 

Dizzying, Dazzling Disney World

IMG_0118
My great niece with Cinderella in her castle. This was one of the happier moments of the trip.

I’ve just returned from nearly a week at Disney World. Four generations of our family converged in central Florida from Louisiana, Texas and Georgia. Our gang ranged in age from 86 to 5 years old.

From the moment I landed at the Orlando Airport, I was greeted by smiling, cheerful people eager to make my stay memorable. We were whisked off to our lodgings in buses with cheerful Christmas tunes over the loudspeakers driven by an incredibly effervescent driver. The place we stayed in was supposed to resemble Key West. I’ve never been to Key West, Florida, but the plantation style shutters on faux clapboard units were in place to evoke the southernmost Floridian vibe.

I have visited the Magic Kingdom before, once as a child, and twice as a young adult. The constellation of different resorts entertains on all levels. There are shows, rides, parades, concerts, gondola rides, boat rides, a monorail and a plethora of eating establishments.

I tried to participate as much as possible in the vast array of attractions and distractions. I rode rides. I watched street exhibits of acrobats, dancers and Disney characters. I ate and drank too well and too often.

I enjoyed the Magic Kingdom for sentimental reasons, seeing quintessential sights I remembered from my childhood visit in the early 70s. I recalled with fondness the Hall of Presidents and the Haunted Mansion. The youngest in our group enjoyed the princess and fairy tale venues.

Epcot was more enjoyable for the older members in our group. During our stay, the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival was underway. Country upon country were represented by cultural exhibits, as well as food and beverages from each nation. I enjoyed the French architecture and food. Mexico had a good gig, too, even if the Mayan ruins were a bit too fake and shiny.

The essence of Disney seems to be to make one excitably happy. For me, Disney was an exercise in flights of fantasy, surreal and strange scenes, bemusing and bewildering at times. There was almost a manic pace to the crowds searching for the next exciting moment.

Disney is an American spectacle to be sure. Thomas Jefferson famously wrote about the American right to the pursuit happiness, but happiness is an elusive goal. For me, all that work to be happy was a tad exhausting.

Things I Love about America

flagI live in America. I always have. I was born in North America. I lived here most of my life. For a very short period, almost a year, I lived in Mexico. I was in my late 20s at the time. I worked with a family of missionaries in Guadalajara. For nearly a decade, I lived in Central America, where once again, I did missionary work.

When I say America, though, I speak of the United States. We take ownership of the word, America, as our own. We’re a narcissistic bunch. Just look at our history. We believed in the Pilgrim’s dream of the ideal Godly Nation. We believed in Manifest Destiny, that somehow the United States should stretch coast to coast. We had no problem whatsoever in pushing out Native Americans from the land, resettling the remnants of great nations into reservations.

Back to my title. I love America, most specifically the United States of America. Having lived abroad, there are things that I truly appreciate. Here’s a partial list.

  1. Ice Cream. In Honduras, I had a hard time finding decent ice cream. The stuff manufactured in Honduras was a gelatinous, gooey gob of sugary nastiness. I finally lost faith in finding anything decent in the frozen dairy aisle there aside from Dos Pinos, manufactured in Costa Rica. However, due to the vagaries of shipping and electrical outages in Honduras, Dos Pinos often suffered from poor texture. Now, I can eat Ben and Jerry’s delicious pints, or when feeling the need to pinch pennies, I buy Blue Bell, which is a perfectly serviceable ice cream from neighboring Texas.
  2. Walmart Pick-up Service. I love using the Walmart phone app to select groceries, place an order, and voila, pick up all my weekly provisions in the parking lot. I don’t have to leave my car, as the Walmart worker does it all from selecting my edibles to putting them neatly in the back of my SUV, then presenting my electronic receipt to my car door. I believe only Americans could think up such an indolent way to get groceries.
  3. Streaming TV service. I used to have Netflix in Honduras, but what about Roku, Hulu, Amazon, and Apple TV?  Let’s not forget the the services that stream live TV. I use YouTube TV. I love it. I never need to leave my La-Z-Boy recliner to access thousands of TV shows, movies, and TV channels. Yes, I actually have 2 La-Z-Boy recliners.
  4. Mega-Everything. Costco, Sam’s, Lowe’s, Home Depot, SuperWalmart are all  examples of the American need for all-things-large. I now attend a megachurch complete with Jumbotron screens and stadium seating. Thousands attend every weekend, and thousands more watch the service at satellite churches across the region. Sometimes, when I leave, I can’t find my car in the massive parking lot.
  5. Libraries. I live less than 1/2 a mile from a public library, which I use regularly. There’s so much there: books, magazines, newspapers, DVDs, computers. I can download books to my e-reader from the library, too. Fantastic! There are meeting rooms for classes, conferences, and club meetings. How can a country not have libraries? Some don’t. Honduras didn’t have a government that supported public, lending libraries.

I love America. I don’t love everything about America, but, I do love a lot about this land of excess, indolence, consumerism and of course, libraries. We can’t forget libraries.