There are seasons when people mysteriously just show up in your life. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but there is an unmistakable sense of a deeply meaningful purpose. The thought occurs to you that perhaps you’re actually entertaining an angel, not a person. The following story is an example of one such time.
It was the end of the school day and I had time to kill before the bus came to shuttle me the hour long drive home. Never one to be part of a huge crowd, I had a few select school friends, but none of them remained in the building at the end of day; most of them lived near the school and went home directly or they took off to their part time jobs. My usual habit was to go into the gallery overlooking the gymnasium to watch whichever team was practicing and complete the homework that had accumulated in the course of the day. Today it was the senior boys volleyball team and ancient history. It was mildly amusing to glance up from time to time to witness testosterone at its finest, but for the most part, it simply filled time until I was breathing in diesel fumes on the long bus ride home. Today though, one particular kid caught my attention. I didn’t know him by name, but I knew he rode the same bus as me. He was an Aboriginal guy from Winnipeg who apparently was living with his aunt, uncle and nephew in a modest home in a little hamlet along our bus route. He was tall and lanky and didn’t carry himself like most of the jocks in our school. He was nonchalant and casual at first glance, and to most, he wouldn’t even pass as being athletic.
I slid my history homework into my backpack, not taking my eyes from the court. Without any perceptible effort, his fingers shot the ball across the net like they were spring-loaded. A set-up for a spike would see him slam the ball down on the other side of the net without an ounce of exertion. What really got me was the smile that never left his face. There wasn’t a trace of determination or striving; he was simply in the moment.
Within a half hour, this volleyball prodigy is tossing his gym bag into the seat in front of me. He’s changed into his street clothes, but beads of sweat are still glistening along his hairline. He glances back at me and smiles a warm greeting.
Shyly, I lean forward. “Hey, I was watching you guys practicing just a while ago. What’s your name?” Immediately I felt like an idiot; he probably thinks I’m hitting on him. Why did I say that I was watching him? Ugh.
If I come off as awkward, his response doesn’t show it. He extends his hand to shake mine, and with the same warmth introduces himself. “My name’s Alden Red Crow. Nice to meet you.”
“You play really well,” I continue. “Where did you learn to play like that? It’s like your fingers just send the ball across the net like a cannon with no effort at all; it’s crazy!”
I wasn’t at all prepared for his response. “It’s a gift from my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Same smile, same eye contact.
“Oh. Uh, cool….” I had never heard anyone give anyone else credit for their talent, much less God. I turned away to mask my look of confusion and surprise.
“Does that surprise you?” he asked, as if reading my thoughts. “I’m sure the Lord has put some talents in you as well, Monica.”
He already knew my name! I wasn’t sure what it was about this guy, but his candor and his confidence had me intrigued. I had to know more about this mystery guy.
This chance encounter began a curious friendship between Alden and me. While I was already attending a church with my family, I was discovering that I hadn’t been taught nearly a fraction of what this guy was uncovering and sharing with me. Over bumpy back rode bus rides, he would gently challenge what I believed of God, of one’s identity and purpose in this life. I had never really given these questions much thought; I went to church every Sunday, but it was more out of that’s what you do on Sunday than out of a desire to go deeper in the things of the Lord. The idea of a relationship with God was a foreign concept to me; I saw God as this stern bearded patriarch who sat on his throne watching and waiting for us to screw up. So when he asked me if I’d like to visit his church with him, I jumped at the opportunity.
Attending his place of worship was just that–a place of worship. There was neither a red hymnal nor an organ to be found. Hallelujah. There was a guy with a guitar and the songs were put up on an overheard projector and people sang with passion and conviction. Hallelujah indeed. Before the service even started, people gathered in smaller groups and talked. To one another. They shared what was on their hearts and people actually prayed for those that were going through difficult times and in need. They didn’t just offer a benign, ‘I’ll pray for you brother’ ; they prayed right then and there. There was a sense of community I hadn’t experienced in my own church. Of course when I was grilled by my parents about going to a Pentecostal church, I had to remain aloof about the whole experience and assure them I wasn’t leaving our local parish; Alden’s was just another church.
One day when he and his extended family picked me up for church, he slid a bible across the back seat to me. “Here,” he said. “this is for you.” He’d inscribed the following verse in the front cover: Psalms 19:14 :
When Alden asked me if I had received Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior, I was confused. What did that even mean? He explained it to me on a day when our cross country team was travelling to another school for a competition. “It’s about being upfront with God, Monica. It’s you telling Him that you want what He died to give you. It’s confessing to Him that you believe in Him, asking Jesus to come into your heart, forgive you for all your failures and to become the Lord of your life.”
It seemed too easy–one simple prayer and I cash in on eternal life? But Alden had a way of planting an idea in your head that you just couldn’t shake off. So one day after school, I headed up to my room, yelling to my Mom over my shoulder that I had homework to do. This barely got any response beyond a shrug–good. Nervously, I knelt by my bed with my new bible open before me. I didn’t know exactly what to say; it felt a little bit like a formula that one had to use to get an audience with the King (a false belief that years later, I would need to rid myself of). I just began talking to God, or whoever I thought was listening. I recited the prayer of salvation, as best as I could remember, and then I waited. I’m not sure what I was waiting for–an angelic host singing the Hallelujah Chorus or for fireworks to begin exploding in my head or my bedroom. But on this side of heaven, seemingly nothing had happened. I didn’t feel any different. To be honest, I was a little (okay, a lot) disappointed. I would need to discuss this with Alden; I must have done something wrong.
My concerns were met with Alden’s trademark wide grin and twinkling eyes. “Monica,” he assured me, “trust me, if you said it, He heard you. There isn’t a fanfare–at least on this side–but He heard you and He and the angels are rejoicing in your decision. It takes a while to mature to a place where you’re aware that you and God are talking; that you’re having an actual conversation. You’ll get there.”
Well, it took me several decades to get to that place. Alden and I remained friends, but the world and all of its temptations were in front of me. Instead of sitting with Alden, I found myself sitting at the back of the bus with the ‘cool’ crowd doing stupid things like sipping Canadian Club from the coke can that was passed to me far out of the watchful eye of the bus driver. (Turns out she knew all along). I knew I was heading down a slippery slope, but every time my eyes met Alden’s and I would feel the weight of conviction fall upon me, he would just give me that smile that said I could do no wrong. When our final year of high school arrived, Alden and I parted ways. Never wavering, he continued to see the best in me. I was planning to go into horticulture (never happened, thank God!) and in my yearbook, he wished me well and left me with Proverbs 3:6:
“In all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make straight your paths”
I never saw Alden again, but thirty-five years later I still carry his high school picture with me. I’ve moved several times over the years, but he’s always come with me, packed in box, or shoved in a secret compartment of my wallet to later be showcased on the fridge as a reminder of who introduced me to Jesus . There have been many detours and wrong turns along my life’s path, but I have matured into the woman Alden always believed I could be; one who hears the voice of God and listens. While certainly not perfect, I am still on the Potter’s wheel being formed into a useful vessel. Like many readers, I remain a work in progress and I know that He Who began a good work in me will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6)
There have been times when I’ve wondered if Alden really was a boy I met in school, or whether he was an angel sent by God to start me on this journey. Over the years I’ve asked old school friends if they remember him, if anyone knows where he is. Most don’t even remember him, which leads me to wonder if perhaps it was the latter rather than the former. Is it even possible to have a picture of an angel? I don’t know. All I know is that this young man with the spring loaded fingers and a twinkle in his eye lead me on a journey that has, and will, last a life time. Thank you Alden Red Crow, wherever you are.
Yes and amen.