Autumn Light

My choir was going to perform in a bad part of town and I had a special solo. I was nervous--until an unforgettable angel sighting helped me through it.

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Just for me, a special solo. That’s what Miss Van D surprised me with at the end of junior choir practice one late-autumn day. She had chosen me over the seven other girls I sang with. “Your hymn will close a service with Reverend Wilson next Saturday,” she said. “You’ll do a beautiful job, Virginia. I’m sure of it.”

My best friend, Alice, raised her hand. “Where will the service be?”

“At the Peoples’ Rescue Mission,” said Miss Van D. “On Water Street.”

A couple of girls gasped. Water Street was in a bad part of town. Dangerous people lived there, I’d heard. On the street, some of them. I’d never been anywhere near there at any time of year. But how awful it must look now, with the trees bare and winter on the way.

“We can’t go there, Miss Van D,” a girl named Annie said firmly.

“It’s scary,” said Jenny from the alto section. I kept silent, but I agreed. I didn’t want to sing a solo in such a place. Not for people like that.

Miss Van D pushed her dark-rimmed glasses up on her nose and frowned down at us. “You don’t want to sing for people less fortunate? Who don’t have warm homes or enough food to eat? Or the comfort of knowing that they’re loved as all children of God are?” It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t see how I could.

Before dismissing us, Miss Van D handed me a packet of crisp, new sheet music. I traced a finger over the lilies on the cover and the fancy green script that said “Leave It With Him.” Leave what? I wondered.

I ran outside into the autumn air, and kicked dry leaves all the way home. Up in my room I read through my song. It was about leaving our troubles to God like the lilies do. I thought about lilies blooming in a summer garden. What troubles did anyone have when the sun was shining and the days were lazy and long? The lilies had it easy. Everything changed in the fall. School started. Night came early and cold. And now this! I imagined myself onstage in front of all those scary people. I couldn’t sing in such a dreary place. Not alone. I was in big trouble, and there was nothing God could do. The night before the service I lay in bed, listening to the autumn wind whistle outside my window. God, how will I get through tomorrow’s solo?

By the time I climbed into the church van I was almost relieved. I wanted to get this over with. Nobody said much. I stared out the window, streaked with rain. The sky grew grey and dull. The farther we drove, the more run-down the streets became.

We pulled up in front of an old brick building and stepped carefully on the sidewalk covered in soggy leaves. In the meeting room, rows of folding chairs faced a makeshift stage with a piano and a wood table. A picture hung over the door, but the light was too dim to make it out. Nothing came through the dusty windows but gloom.

I took my place with the other girls onstage. A group of men shuffled in. None of them smiled. One man in an old baseball cap was waving his arms, talking nonsense. To my horror he sat down in the front row. He glared up at us, talking to himself. Finally Reverend Wilson came in. He spoke quietly to the man in the cap and ushered him out. The other men weren’t any less intimidating. They eyed us, mumbling and fidgeting in their seats.

Miss Van D played the first notes of our opening hymn. The room quieted. I sang fine with the rest of the girls, but what would happen when I was left alone? Reverend Wilson gave a short sermon. I was next! I swallowed hard when he finished his blessing. Miss Van D announced my name.

Clutching my music until my fingers hurt, I stepped forward. All eyes shifted to me. My knees trembled. Miss Van D taught us to look out at the audience when we sang. But when I did I saw wrinkled, scrunched-up faces. My throat tightened. God, please take care of me like you take care of the lilies!

I raised my eyes over the audience’s heads. My gaze fell on the shadowed frame over the door. I can’t do it. Sunlight flashed through the windows behind me. A single ray, like a spotlight, fell on the picture. For the first time, I could see what it was. An angel! A beautiful autumn angel, looking down on all of us in the room. A breeze lifted her hair, and she stretched her arm out, beckoning, her wings wide open behind her. Her beauty transformed that dreary room into something grand. Someplace peaceful and trouble-free. I opened my mouth, and sang. “Yes, leave it with him, the lilies all do, and they grow….” My voice was clear and strong. “For they grow by his might, sweetly grow….”

The last piano notes faded, and I dared a peek at the audience. The men were smiling. “They loved your song,” Alice whispered behind me. I looked up at my angel, but she was hidden once more in the shadows. The sun must have moved on. But God let the autumn light reveal her just at the right moment.

I walked off the stage and out of the room with a spring in my step—smack into the man with the baseball cap. I stepped back. He took off his cap. “Missy,” he said, “I listened from the hallway. You have the voice of an angel.” He ducked away, but not before I saw the tear in his eye.

Miss Van D slipped an arm around me. “Glad we came?”

I nodded. God loved these men, and he would care for them with all their troubles, just as he cared for the lilies. And just as he cared for me.

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