|Photo by PawPaw|
I recently read somewhere that sometimes we just have to be thankful for what didn't happen in our lives, and I began to remember the number of near tragedies and catastrophes that almost occurred in my life. Even though I didn't grow up being told that I had a guardian angel, we had a popular print in our house of an angel watching over two small children as they cross a broken down bridge. Our sons now have that same painting hanging in their bedroom, and our family prays the guardian angel prayer throughout the week. There's one particular incident that stands out in my life that has been coming back to me lately for some reason, and it solidified my belief that there are celestial beings at work in our lives.
Over a decade ago, when we lived in the southeastern U.S., I dropped off my husband and our four oldest children at a local bookstore while I went to a nearby shopping center with our third daughter who was a baby at the time. I don't remember what I was buying or even the name of the store I was leaving, but my arms were full of shopping bags, my purse, a diaper bag, and our infant daughter as I walked through the parking lot toward our minivan. Everything kind of happened all at once, but as I was opening the passenger door of the van and placing our daughter in her carseat, a young man suddenly appeared around the front of our vehicle. He stood right next to me and nervously asked if I had the time. He was shifting his weight back and forth, looking around, and also eyeing my belongings. I don't remember what I said, or if I even had on a watch, but I remember the feeling I got in the pit of my stomach and the goosebumps that prickled on my skin. With our baby in the van but not yet strapped in, and my arms still holding some of our stuff, I was vulnerable. I couldn't leave and walk away, nor could I quickly get inside our van and lock the doors. He was close enough to grab me or any of my things, but then out of nowhere, a large beat-up, rusty van pulled up into the parking space on the other side of us. The stranger beside me paused and watched as one by one each member of the large family got out of that van and began walking behind us toward the store. There were lots of them. Children and parents and teenagers and grandparents and aunts and uncles. They got out and took their time, talking to one another and very gradually making their way past the rear window of my van. I don't know exactly what I was thinking or planning to do, but I was aware that this entourage was causing the stranger beside me to back up away from me a bit. From my peripheral vision, I could see him looking more and more nervous as he looked from them to me. Instinctively, I hurried up and strapped in our daughter and tossed our bags into the front seat while keeping my keys in my hand. At all times I was aware of this man's presence, but mostly what I remember was how amazed I was that people just kept coming out of the van beside me and walking slowly past us to the store. And somehow I knew that this extremely large family was giving me time. I slid the door closed and walked around the front of my van to avoid walking past the stranger who was still hanging out right next to us. I tried my best not to look nervous or afraid, but inside my coat I was sweating and shaking. I got in my minivan and locked the doors. At that moment, the last of those family members crossed the parking lot, and the strange man walked towards a red car parked in front of me. He got in, and I noticed for the first time that there was a woman in the driver's side waiting for him. She was sitting directly across from me, but she was hunched down, and she wouldn't lift her head to look up at me. I never saw her face. I put the keys in the ignition and got out of that parking lot as the whole event replayed in my head and I tried to make sense of it. Mostly, I just remember whispering "Thank you, God. Thank you, God." When I got to the bookstore with our baby and found my husband, it was then that I allowed myself to feel all the emotions of fear and anxiety and near-panic that I kept at bay a few minutes earlier.
My husband and I had no doubts that the stranger in the parking lot had ill intentions where I was concerned. I don't know why it never occurred to me to report the incident. I think I was just so grateful to get out of there that I hadn't looked at their license plate or even studied the man well enough to describe his appearance very well. What struck me the most as I reflected on it later was how peculiar that so many people could have gotten out of that van beside me. They just kept coming and coming and coming, this seemingly never-ending entourage of passengers who loudly made their way past us, taking their time and not paying any attention to us whatsoever. But I knew that they were placed there at exactly the right time that day by my guardian angel, and maybe my daughter's too.
I wish there was a way to let those people know what their presence in a parking lot did for me that day. Perhaps they saved a life. Maybe they kept someone from committing a felony and destroying someone's future. Who knows the ripple effect that family caused that day? But I am grateful for them and for guardian angels who work behind the scenes of our lives.