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    One Inch off the Ground

    A child meets her guardian angel at a live Nativity.

    By Maureen Swinger

    December 26, 2023

    Available languages: Deutsch, español

    • Mark Vanskiver

      Such a wonderful description of innocent child-love and wonder. Thank you, Maureen, for taking the time to share this wonderful Christmas memory. Jesus told us that children are the messengers of the divine, your daughter's prophetic imagination warmed my heart.

    • ruth m sill

      just beautiful. Thank you for sharing. My son, now 30 is ''Uncle D" to seven nieces and nephews....and although we can't "explain" his extra sense of the divine, we have witnessed many times when God has used him. What a beautiful testimony of how you have continued your brother's legacy of that it was completely natural for your daughter to ''see'' him embodied in this way. Oh for the faith of a child.

    • Theresa Robberstad

      How glorious that this promise of Jesus - Mat 18.10 - is so tangible for your daughter. Checking my Bible app, I find that angels are mentioned over 170 times in the New Testament! It shouldn’t be your daughter’s awareness that Uncle D is looking out for her that’s unusual; what is odd is that the rest of us aren’t as enthusiastic and sensitive as she is regarding these God-made creatures. Thank you for this touching reminder.

    • Gerry VanHorn

      Very heart warming I almost cried I sometimes remember sitting on my grandmothers lap and feeling that I was in the arms of JESUS.

    This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of Plough Quarterly: In Search of a City.

    “Mom, why does nobody else in my class know the name of their guardian angel?” She’s at it again – the five-year-old with the unanswerable questions. She’s never been puzzled for a moment as to the identity of her angel. He’s her “Uncle D” – whom she has never met, unless you count two years of hangout time (supposing you measure time at all, up there) before her birth and after his death.

    Duane Bazeley

    The author’s brother Duane, 1980–2011. Image courtesy of the author.

    I did not give her the idea. But I have told the kids countless stories about my brother Duane, who never spoke or walked, but lived thirty-one years and lived them well. Our family’s hearts were shaped around him, and we were so ­accustomed to one-way conversations that I often find myself talking to him in my head still, with a sense that he’s quite close, tilting his chin and quietly listening. That’s not just because of the photo on the living room wall.

    I’m aware that we small humans can never understand the world of angels – great, inscrutable beings created before our time. Still, not only the child beside me, but the child within clings to the idea that God takes care of guardian angel duties in the here and now. And he might just delegate an uncle to watch out for a small niece with a penchant for accidents.

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    Duane was no stranger to accidents. He had severe seizures all his life, and no level of precaution spared him his share of tumbles, bumps, and chipped teeth. Who better to keep an eye on a child who in her first two years managed to rack up a concussion, a choking episode, and a tooth chipped into a triangle reminiscent of a klutzy baby vampire? Her equally adventurous brother and sister have managed to reach tween-hood without any natural disasters. This one – she needs eyes on her. And she knows they’re there.

    When I tuck her into bed, she says good night to me and then to any angels who might be in the room, starting with Uncle D. On the way to kindergarten, she talks about how the sky ends one inch off the ground, so our angels can fly along next to us. A golden winter sunset means D and crew are baking Christmas cookies. (Maybe he’s baking them – not sure if he’s eating them. He wouldn’t let anything sweet pass his lips back when I knew him.) It never bothered her that she couldn’t see him, and she never expected to – until last Christmas Eve, when she did.

    a live Nativity with Joseph and Mary, angels and three kings

    A live Nativity scene at a Bruderhof community. Image courtesy of Bruderhof Archives.

    The live Nativity was out under the stars that night, with a steady wind flickering the candle flames. Our entire community stood in silence before a shabby stable, listening to the Christmas story. My little girl’s head kept turning from the well-swaddled baby, snoozing in Mary’s arms, to a tall, dark-haired angel standing just outside the stable, with a big torch that flared in the wind. As we began filing past the tableau, singing carols and sheltering our candles, she suddenly tugged me out of the line. “I think that’s Uncle D,” she said, her eyes outshining the candles. “Please, Mom, can we go and ask him?”

    I felt my heart thud. On the holiest night of the year, adults know that we stand before a beautiful symbol. What a time for a child to find out too. I tried to formulate a reason why we should not approach the angel. If she saw Duane, I saw a high-school student who had recently moved to our community. But I could not say no to those eyes.

    He was a very tall angel; we both had to look up. She tugged at my skirt. “Ask him, Mom!” she whispered, not taking her eyes off his face. I didn’t see that I had a choice. With an apologetic smile, I muttered: “My daughter wants to know if you are her Uncle D.” Between the wind and the singing, how could he understand such an obscure question? But I guess angels can hear into a child’s heart. He smiled down at her and said, “Yes.”

    The child glowed. She stood and beamed at him until the singing crowd jostled us onward. Away from the torches, our candles snuffed out, it was pitch dark and bitterly cold. She didn’t notice. I didn’t care.

    She didn’t say anything till bedtime. As I tucked the quilt up around her chin, she gave me a sleepy smile and said, “Isn’t it nice that it was his turn to guard baby Jesus this year?”

    She didn’t need to see him to know that angels are real. And I’m not worried about what will happen when she’s old enough to realize that the Nativity figures on Christmas Eve are people she knows and loves here on earth. That moment comes for all of us, along with the deeper knowledge that God is still with us, all around us, one inch off the ground.

    Before I went to sleep, my thoughts went out to thank the young man who said yes to a child on Christmas night. But I ended up thanking my brother.

    Contributed By MaureenSwinger2 Maureen Swinger

    Maureen Swinger is a senior editor at Plough and lives at the Fox Hill Bruderhof in Walden, New York.

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