On a windless winter day high above Spanish Harlem, New York, intricately perfect six sided flakes form in the water vapor, before gently tumbling toward the surface of the earth. A flash of feathers, armor and the glint of metal disturb the serene atmosphere causing the flakes to swirl in the turbulent air left behind.
Anton the Guardian angel has his wings tucked to speed his descent toward Spanish Harlem and to his assignment: a fifteen-year-old boy named Jesse. The Guardian extends his wings to full position, like a plane’s wing flap slowing its speed on landing. As light as a snowflake Anton touches the ground –– target acquired –– assessing opposition. The eight-foot angel with flowing brown hair watches as many dark and slippery imps hover around Jesse’s head. Watching over Jesse since his birth, Anton rarely gets to intervene on his behalf. His visit just now to the throne of the Most High God, Yahweh, was not his first, nor will it be his last. Anton’s refreshing in the presence of Yahweh was greatly needed. Jesse’s life so far is taking its toll on his Guardian angel as well as on Jesse. The Guardian is now ready to continue his task.
Five Latino intercessors have prayed together for an angel to bring them the “Chosen One.” Now, Anton is commissioned to do just that. He is observing closely, all the while fingering the handle of his sword in readiness to protect. One prayer from a saint and he can scatter the imps in a thousand directions.
The young man braces against the cold air, before walking into it hunched over, appearing more like an old man. Jesse is alone on the sidewalk because it is just too cold for any reasonable person to be out. Jesse cups his hands around his face, trying to thaw out his stinging nose. He stops trudging through the crunchy snow and looks down at a kid’s fast food meal box, hidden halfway in the snow. The food is still warm inside and the smell of the fries and hamburger easily consumes his senses. He reaches for it just as a snarling brown and black dog runs up, bearing his teeth. They both have plans for the food. Jesse holds his ground with his heart beating out of his chest. How hungry is he? Is it worth a mauling from such a savage beast?
He tries yelling, “GO AWAY!” But the dog remains in attack position and grows, its hair prickling up on its neck. Jesse kicks snow at it, but it does no good.
Just down the street a man steps out of his doorway, calling for his dog. Hearing its master, the dog turns instinctively, darting away, going back inside the apartment building. The man locks his eyes on Jesse kneeling alone in the snow. The man sees a teenager with cold, dark, sad eyes with straight black hair hanging in his face. Jesse’s soiled coat and his position over the discarded food gives away his desperation. Jesse just freezes in embarrassment. Finally, the man slips inside too. Jesse snatches the still warm box. It feels good on his numb fingers. Even better, with a quick glance he finds that a few fries and a small portion of a hamburger are still left inside.
Jesse walks into the alley next to the apartment building to enjoy his victorious meal. He sees a stray grey cat with her litter of kittens mewing in a pile of dirty rags. The mother is scrawny and her ears are notched out from fighting other alley cats.
Aw . . . Jesse loves animals. He slides down the brick wall next to the cuddling batch of kittens; their eyes are still closed having been born only a few days ago. The mother rubs against Jesse’s leg.
“You are tame . . . must’ve belonged to someone once.”
Jesse looks at the unwrapped hamburger and the fries.
This smells so good!
Then he looks at the mother cat. She is painfully thin, her big amber colored eyes gaunt.
“Okay, here ya go . . .”
Jesse pulls the meat off the bun and drops it in the snow in front of the cat. She gobbles down the hamburger patty as Jesse eats the buns and fries. Jesse virtually swallows what little remains without really chewing. He is still hungry, even more so now that he has tasted something. He strokes the cat and tries to warm up against the wall.
“You and me are both on the street. Maybe our luck will change huh grey kitty? The dog is lucky he has a place to stay, and plenty to eat,” Jesse complains to himself and the cat.
“If I find more food, I will bring you some, okay Smokey? You look like a Smokey to me.”
Jesse knows he needs to move on. He gets up and braces for the cold breeze that awaits him past the alley. The snow blanketing the park is like a Christmas card, untouched, except for Jesse’s own footprints. The snow is fluffy and blaringly bright in the morning sunshine. Jesse squints through loose fingers just to gaze towards the morning sun. Every color possible sparkles in wondrous shades of pastel on the blanket of white. Christmas decorations poke out of the snow on top of the lamp stands. Jesse looks at the footprints that he made, seeing where his own brown treads were pressed into the pristine ground. His labored breath blurs the images about him as he huffs with frozen breath.
He stands for a minute and then mumbles despairingly, “I can even ruin snow by just walking on it.”
Jesse is skilled at brooding, and today he is planning a marathon.
Anton focuses on the haze of depression that clouds about Jesse’s head; he is not free to clear the air. The darkness is drawn to the boy by his own continual thoughts of dismal gloom and doom. Anton has seen the cloud over Jesse off and on for years, but this is the strongest it has ever been.
Jesse isn’t aware of what day of the week it is. It doesn’t matter since he isn’t in school anymore. He does, however, like weekends because school kids will leave more food behind at the mall than adults do. The last three years were hard on Jesse and his eyes have seen a lot in his young life, and most of it has been bad. As he walks on he tries to make himself stop clinching his fists by intentionally releasing his grip and shaking out his fingers. It really just made his hands ache more in the cold December air. Jesse is a city kid, but longs for large open spaces with grass, trees and sunshine. But that’s not where he is; instead he is nowhere and nobody. At least, that is how he feels. He leaves the park and goes in front of a humble café. He is deep in Spanish Harlem now. He sees his reflection in the café’s old French windows.
“I hate you,” he says to his own cold face in the reflection.
He is a survivor, but he hates what he has become as a result. Jesse talks to God often, but he never waits for a reply. He just wants God to know how he feels. Jesse started this habit when his mom and dad went on tour with a band, and he is left with his Uncle William. Jesse calls his uncle “Uncle Bill.” His uncle was always too drunk to know the difference anyway.
The smell of coffee captures Jesse’s attention. There in front of the café were an outdoor table and chairs with a cup of coffee and some food wrapped up in wax paper both abandoned in the chilly air. Glancing left and right, Jesse seizes the two items and walks briskly away. He wonders who would eat outside on a day like this but considers the food as unwanted by its owner.
The coffee has plenty of cream and sugar, so he can get it down. Inside the wax paper is some sort of tortilla rolled up with meat inside. Without hesitation he takes a large bite. After a few chews the sensation of jalapeno peppers begin to burn like fire in his mouth. He spits it out and paces around in pain. People from the store next door stare at him in his panicked state of “fire mouth.” The rest of the coffee does little to calm the burning.
“Aw man, that’s hot,” says Jesse as he blows out and fans his open mouth. He is even contemplating shoving some dirty New York snow in his burning mouth. Back at the café a man is looking for his lunch he left on the table while he dug in his car for his keys to his bookstore located next door.
People walking past Jesse make no eye contact, giving him that invisible feeling to what he calls the “normal” people, with places to go and people to meet. The tension in the area is high due to the terrorist threat being orange in New York City these days. Orange stands for “high”; the only color above that is red for “severe”.
Jesse has missed the last two months of school and become a runaway due to an unprovoked beating he took from “Uncle Bill” the prior Halloween night. He climbed out the second floor window, down the old tree, and launched out on his own. Uncle Bill’s house was well beyond too terrible. So, Jesse promises himself he will never tell anyone what happened there in his uncle’s home. Unfortunately, now on the mean streets of New York, things are worse.
Jesse’s bangs have grown over his eyes for the most part and he often pushes them back. He is muscular but thinly built like his father. His soiled clothing is a dead giveaway that he is not part of a loving home.
Jesse looks down at his stinging palms; he has bloodied his hands again after clinching so tight that his nails cut into the skin. To worsen the mood, he listens to the distant sound of Christmas music.
Jesse disdained Christmas ever since he was about nine. He remembers that his parents always joked that they were Jewish, and didn’t observe it. Jesse knows it is not true; we are nobodies, even less than nobodies. Christmas reminds Jesse of what he doesn’t have: a house, a tree with presents and a family who loves him.
Jesse kicks a small piece of loose concrete and watches it roll down the street. As he walks with a downward gaze, he doesn’t notice two people coming toward him. Jesse looks up at the last second and almost bumps into one of them. Jesse finds two smiling faces looking at him, a man with a red scarf and a teenage boy who he almost walked into. The boy is brawny about his age. He stands holding out a candy cane and says with a slight Spanish accent, “Jesus loves you.”
Jesse stares at him nervously. Then he grabs the candy cane and runs away leaving the guy with his hand out with a bewildered look on his face. Anton stands with his mouth open too; he expected great power to flow from the encounter with the two servants of God.
The boy looks one more time in Jesse’s direction before getting in the van. From behind a bush Jesse watches the two of them climb into an old blue van. They are almost certainly father and son; the resemblance is so clear.
Anton stands behind the bush also. It is too soon to go running back to the throne of Yahweh for refreshing, but he is already feeling weary.
Jesse is embarrassed that he panicked and ran away. He angrily argues with himself, I am not gonna cry, I’m sick of it . . . Tears will only burn my face and someone will see me and look at me as though I am crazy. I’m not crazy; I’m not crazy –– not yet anyway!
He peels back the clear plastic on the hook of the candy cane and bites off a piece to suck on. It is glorious . . . a few good memories with his parents flood his mind, until a cold blast of wind burns at his cheek . . . Jesse knows he needs to find real food, even though his stomach doesn’t bother to grumble anymore.
Jesse takes the long way to the shopping mall from the park to avoid a hangout of gang members. He enters the food court looking for left over lunch trays. A security guard recognizes him and points to the door. Jesse grabs a sack left on a table and bolts for the entrance. He doesn’t look inside the sack till he is in the parking lot.
“A half-cup of cold coffee and half a hash brown; not bad.”
Jesse is content with his breakfast. Jesse heads to the usual spots for the homeless.
Next on my list is getting warm. Today all the crazy people are out in numbers and I’m too scared to stand beside them at their trashcan fires. The thought of the warm flames is irresistible, but the strange expressions of the crazy people are too scary.
Jesse decides to return to his newfound cat and her kittens. He feels happy when he sees them. In his pocket he has five creamer packets he stole from the mall for Smokey. Just then Jesse spots the old blue van again, and wonders what they are up to.
It is parked in front of a Spanish church. The old Victorian style building is full of character.
Jesse, thinks, I don’t know Spanish, but that is definitely a Spanish church.
The church front has two bay windows on either side of the front door and the sound of a piano playing is heard from inside. Jesse walks closer hearing the song ‘Silent Night’ coming from the back of the building. Jesse cups his hands around his eyes and then presses his face up to the frosted glass to look inside. The people are practicing a play. There, Jesse sees the boy from the park that gave him the candy cane; he is singing the loudest, and, mostly off key. The adults seem to be humored by his loud off key singing. His voice is low, but his singing is much too high. Jesse laughs out loud; it feels good to laugh. Suddenly everyone stops, and turns back toward Jesse. The young man points toward him and the man with the red scarf starts to walk to the door where Jesse has his face pressed. Jesse walks back a few steps and freezes.
Anton strengthens Jesse so that he will not run in fear from the very church Anton is assigned to get him to. So Anton hushes the voices of fear that tend to dominate Jesse’s thoughts. Waves of power like rings of white light pour from Anton’s hand, floating into Jesse’s chest. Jesse doesn’t run as usual; instead he just freezes in place. As the man opens the glass door, a piece of paper in the shape of a Christmas tree un-tapes itself and drifts like a feather at Jesse’s feet. Jesse slowly reaches down and hands it to the man. As the man takes the green craft paper tree from Jesse’s hand he smiles anxiously at Jesse. He is a short Latino man with a bushy mustache and a bright red hand-knit scarf around his neck. His son, the fifteen-year-old boy, who gave Jesse the candy cane peers out curiously from behind him.
Guardian angels all over the church lean in to watch the unfolding scene. They are assigned to serve the saints, but rarely get any action; their saved humans rarely commission them into service. Various slimy creatures squirm their way out of the area. Anton notes the staleness in the air of the church. It is the smell of the Spirit of Religion. Anton wrinkles his nose.
The Spirit of Religion looks like a Medieval Crusader knight; he has a huge leather book belted to his waist, a shield and war hammer. Anton knows he might interfere and so he stands in the ready.
The man warmly takes the fallen paper tree and holds the door open.
“Come on in and warm up, you look frozen to the bone,” the man says with a distinct Spanish accent.
The young man, too, motions him in. Jesse has trusted people before and was always sorry later.
Anything is better than freezing to death, he tells himself.
It is risky, but Jesse is too cold to play it safe.
They motion Jesse up to the gas heater on the stage; everyone steps aside so that Jesse can get close. People stand all over and kids are in a circle on the stage. Whispers in Spanish fill the back of the room that he may be the one they are waiting for.
A lady with kind eyes and slow heavy accent asks, “Wwwwhat’s your name?”
She hands him a sandwich off a tray, next to a bunch of toddlers sitting at a bench on the stage.
“We are just stopping for a snack,” she tells him, her Spanish accent being the thickest.
The young man gives him hot chocolate in a paper cup. Jesse tries to eat slowly, but he can’t help but wolf it all down, burning his lip on the cocoa.
“Easy there man, no one’s going to steal it!” he says. “I’m Manuel, my dad is the pastor, and this is my family, all of them!”
Jesse looks around; there must have been twenty people. He is amazed that they are all related. His own family is small, with not many cousins or aunts and uncles.
Jesse swallows hard and says, “I’m Jesse, but you can call me Rocky.”
When the group hears that his name is Jesse they begin to respond with joy.
It is as if all the air is sucked out of the room, as the people gasp. To Jesse’s surprise they begin to weep and walk around with their hands in the air saying “Gloria a Dios” (Glory to God). Jesse begins to slowly step back to make a break for it.
Okay this is turning bad fast.
Jesse is getting freaked out.
“Jesse!” the pastor puts his hand on Jesse’s shoulder. “You are the one we have been waiting for . . .”
Jesse squints his eyes at him, “What do you mean?”
His heart begins to beat wildly.
The pastor wraps his red scarf loosely around Jesse’s neck.
“We were told by the Lord that one would come whose name means “God is.” Jesse that is what your name means! We are going to take care of you; you are the ‘Chosen One’!” the pastor declares.
Jesse steps away from the warm heater closer to the aisle.
“No I am no one; you got the wrong guy.” Jesse pulls the red scarf off his neck and holds it out to the Spanish pastor.
I don’t like mind games, and I don’t want to play. What does my name mean anyway? For all I know they can be making it up.
The lady with the kind eyes walks closer to Jesse, tears now streaming down her olive skinned face.
“Jesse, just stay awhile, that is all we ask. Stay through Christmas, Okay?”
Her voice is quiet and gentle.
Jesse surprises himself with a quick “Okay.”
She puts the scarf back on Jesse.
Anton filled with joy over this small victory, does a back flip and a victory dance like a football player after a goal.
Phase two: help Jesse accept kindness and help from the Yahweh’s servants, and ultimately get him born of the Spirit, and part of the Kingdom of Elohim.
After the Christmas play practice, Manuel’s aunts, uncles and cousins leave for their own homes and it is just the four of them: Jesse, Manuel, the pastor, and the lady with kind eyes, the pastor’s wife, Ana. Jesse tries to return the scarf to the pastor.
“Oh, no. You keep it; my gift to you,” the pastor insists.
“Jesse, this is where we live!” Manuel says as he motions Jesse up the noisy wooden stairs.
He shows Jesse above the church where they have their home. Manuel is stocky with a handsome face, and his eyes show compassion that Jesse has not seen anywhere else.
They all gather around the kitchen table for supper. Ana has baked cinnamon rolls, and beef stew simmers on the stove. Jesse is ecstatic. The smell of warm food makes Jesse feel grateful, and he, finally, is warm. The joy rises up inside him like a water fountain. It is all he can do to keep from weeping over his bowl of stew. The sensation of the soup in his mouth gives him overwhelming joy. He wonders if they notice his hand shake as he takes a cinnamon roll. It is a big deal to eat this well. It is a shift in his complete outlook. Maybe things can turn around for a kid who has no family that loves him.
Don’t cry, it’s just food, please eyes don’t tear up. I am in heaven right now, pure heaven.
Jesse manages to keep his composure during the meal but the feeling of gratitude is strong.
“Thank you for the food. It is very good,” is all Jesse can manage to say.
Inside he is screaming to God; “I AM SO THANKFUL FOR THIS MEAL.” After everyone has eaten, and Jesse is gorged to the point of hurting himself, the room becomes silent.
Okay . . . this is awkward; Jesse thinks looking at the door leading downstairs.
Jesse thinks about bolting again; also wanting to go feed Smokey the cream in his coat pocket.
He feels out of place as everyone looks at him as though he is something special. The family notices the scar on his lip and cheek and that his hands are banged up like a mechanic’s.
“Soo . . . ,” says Ana, “tell us about yourself.”
Leaning in, she looks in Jesse’s dark eyes. Jesse sees her graying hair betraying her age, braided and rolled into a bun. Her expression is so tender that he longs for a kind word and the absence of any more drama.
Is this what a grandmother is like? I wish I knew.
“Like I said in your church a little while ago, I’m nobody,” Jesse speaks out of the coldness of his heart. “I am nobody from nowhere.”
“Well,” the pastor talks softly but with a serious tone. “You can call me Papa. Everyone else does! This wonderful cook is my lovely wife Ana, and our son’s name you know already, Manuel.”
Jesse looks around and sees old dark wooden walls that are plain and aged, with modest furniture scattered around the room. The place is spotless, however. There is some vintage charm to the old building. Construction paper decorations are taped everywhere; some have glitter glued on them.
“Check it out. I made the decorations because I got bored being out of school this week. I took art this year and my teacher says I need to explore my creative side,” Manuel says with a smirk.
Jesse can tell they are close to the same age. Jesse smiles.
Ana stands up from the table and walks towards Jesse. She brushes his hair away from his face and says, “Let’s get you cleaned up!”
Jesse feels panic and his heart pounds again. She shows Jesse the shower, turns on the little heater for him, and then points to the towels.
Manuel holds out to Jesse a pair of his sweat pants and t-shirt from the hallway.
“They may be kind of short on you, but you can sleep in them anyway,” Manuel treats Jesse like some kind of VIP.
As Ana leaves him alone in the room and shuts the door, she says, “Tomorrow I’ll cut jour hair for you, won’t that be nice?”
Jesse leans against the wall; it is so nice and warm.
So far so good, a hot shower is going to feel so good, Jesse tells himself. Then he whispers to God, “Hope these guys don’t turn out to be freaks. I have had my fill of freaks . . . Good ol’ normal people for once, would be nice.”
The evening goes by fast and Jesse finds himself standing in the hall in front of a door with Manuel. He can sense that Manuel is in a somber mood.
“This is your room Jesse,” says Manuel as he opens the door across from his.
What a wonderful thing, a room of my own, a bed, nightstand and a lamp.
To Jesse it seems like forever since he has slept on a bed. Three months is a long time to be homeless and alone. Jesse walks over and pushes on the mattress.
“Feels soft,” Jesse comments.
He wants to say thanks, but it just won’t come out. Jesse is still waiting to see what the catch is.
“Buenos noches boys,” says Ana and Papa as they pass by, off to their own room.
“Oh, yeah . . . um . . . good night,” Jesse speaks up after thinking what Buenos noches meant.
Manuel waves as he leaves the room and shuts the bedroom door behind him. Jesse opens his door just a crack to the hallway. Jesse finds himself alone with his thoughts, while staring at old buildings through a single window from the humble bedroom. He thinks of Smokey and the kittens still out there braving the cold. He decides to get the cream packets to her tomorrow.
Why didn’t I run today? My feet froze to the sidewalk . . . what do they mean I am the “Chosen One”? This could be a problem . . . are they going to turn me in to the authorities for money?
Jesse plops down on the bed, putting his hands behind his head, and lies back looking at the ceiling. He can hear the washing machine down the hall as it runs with his clothes in it. He can’t believe everything is so different from just that morning.
How long will this good streak last? Jesse’s thoughts are interrupted when he hears the door creak open and Manuel pokes his head in the room.
“I can’t sleep, too excited you are here.”
Jesse motions him over as he sits up in bed.
Jesse leans forwards with a serious look on his face and asks, “Manuel, what does it mean, I am the ‘Chosen One’?”
Manuel jumps on the far end of the bed and thinks for a second before he answers.
“Well, it’s like God gave us a mission to fulfill, and He will bless us for it. You will bring us a blessing, comprende?” explains Manuel as best as he can.
“Doesn’t make any sense to me,” Jesse says looking out the bedroom window.
He feels strange that they have all these expectations about him.
“Blessing . . . like, blessed or cursed, good or bad. Something like that,” Manuel says. “Why do they call you Rocky?”
Jesse’s memories still carry too much pain to talk about, even to a really nice guy like Manuel.
“Oh,” Manuel stares out into the night.
“Do you think I am the ‘Chosen One’?” Jesse gets some boldness to ask.
“Sure, the Lord told me when I gave you the candy cane.”
“So you hear God talk to you?” Jesse asks in surprise.
“Yeah. Can’t everyone?” Manuel responds casually.
“Well, see ya in the morning. Buenos noches Jess,” Manuel whispers as he tiptoes back to his own room across the hall.
“Yeah, good night,” Jesse calls back softly. This “Chosen One” thing could become a problem, but for now I am going to give them a chance . . . I can’t believe I am this excited over sweats and a t-shirt. Things have really been crazy the last three months. I hope Uncle Bill doesn’t find me here.
Jesse’s emotion rockets back and forth from sheer joy to morbid dread, but at least his feet and hands have fully warmed up under the blanket and handmade quilt. The thick heavy quilt was made from squares cut from men’s plaid shirts. Jesse can tell it took someone a lot of work to make it. Little ties of yellow yarn have been attached at each corner of every square. It isn’t long before Jesse is overcome with tiredness and quickly falls asleep.
At three o’clock in the morning a voice startles Jesse and he nearly jumps clean out of his blankets. He sits straight up in the bed and looks anxiously around the dark room. A scratchy voice booms loud and deep like someone who has smoked all their lives.
“THERE IS A RAT IN THE HOUSE, AND IT IS YOU. STREET RAT! YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS BEING AMONG NICE PEOPLE; MAKE A RUN FOR IT, GO WHILE YOU CAN. GET OUT OF HERE NOW!” the voice yells through the darkness.
Jesse opens his eyes; his heart is pounding loudly, when he realizes it was only a dream. He puts his hand on his chest, as if it will help keep his heart from bursting out. He looks around; he is still alone. Jesse drops back down on the pillow. He has never had a nightmare like this before.
Now I am hearing voices. I guess going crazy happens all the time to street rats. I must have got it from that mean bag lady in Central Park. She hears voices and talks back to them all the time. God, if You are real, I want to ask You for something. I have never asked before, cuz You were more a pretend friend. But now I am talking as if You are real, so . . . if You are, please don’t let me go crazy in front of these good people.
Jesse pushes the thoughts out as each one gets heavier in his head. He slips off into a deep sleep.
Anton manages to muffle the imp that startled Jesse, but he does not have the authority to send him away. Jesse’s thoughts are food for it and it is growing stronger.
Anton remains by Jesse’s side as the imp cowers in the farthest corner away from him. The two super natural creatures do not mix words. Angels see imps as traitors and mutants, and imps distain anything pure and holy.
In Jesse’s deep sleep another dream unfolds. He feels a breeze and the smell of pine trees, as the sound of the wind in the trees grows stronger. He finds himself on a bridge in the mountains over a rocky crevasse with a tiny stream at the bottom. He is facing an open gate between two massive stone towers. There are stone walls to each side and a deep ravine below the bridge. Sitting on each side of the two towers on the walls are four stone creatures. A lion in full roar is frozen with an eagle to his side. On the other side a massive ox statue sits on the wall and beside it is a statue of a bearded man in a flowing robe.
“Jesse, son of Allen, wake up!” Jesse hears a deep male voice, and feels a hand touch his shoulder. Jesse rolls over and opens his eyes, leaning up on his elbow.
“No one here . . . fantastic . . . I am going crazy,” Jesse whispers. Looking down he sees a big feather by his pillow.
“Hmm, that’s too big to come out of this pillow.”
Jesse puts on the jeans that Manuel gave him; they fit well, just a little on the short side. His own jeans are just now rolling around in the family’s old dryer. It is the sounds of home. Sounds he has long forgotten. He puts the feather in his back pocket, and follows the smell of eggs and tortillas to the kitchen where he finds the family sitting around the table already.
“Sleep good Jesse?” Papa asks.
“The bed felt great,” Jesse replies, not wanting to think about the voices he heard last night. Jesse sits down at the table and is about to dive into the fried potatoes with sausage and eggs when the family bows their heads. Jesse quickly places the plate back down.
“Father, thank you for Jesse, bless our food, bless Jesse today. Help him to hear Your voice above all others, in Jesus’ name, amen.”
Papa grins at Jesse who still has his arm out over the platter.
“Now, Jesse, now we can eat!” Papa says with a spark in his eyes.
Everyone puts the food in the tortillas and makes burritos out of their breakfast, smothering it with grated cheese. Jesse simply piles it all on his plate, wishing he knew how to fit in better. At first he tries to eat like them, slow and polite, but he finds himself gulping down Ana’s good cooking.
“Jesse,” Papa speaks up, “have you heard from the Lord today?”
Jesse swallows hard thinking, Okay, now it starts . . . it’s gonna get weird. I just know it. What do they want from me?
Jesse reaches into his pocket and pulls out the feather. He looks around to see if this will freak them out. He wants to see what they will do. He holds out the feather, but instead of being freaked out, all three of them seem delighted with it. Ana’s eyes well with tears like the day before.
“This is an angel feather Jesse. An angel visited you! And what did the angel say?” she asks.
Jesse draws the feather back and looks closer at it.
“You mean this isn’t something Manuel decorated for Christmas?” says Jesse avoiding the question. “It’s covered in strange gold dust!”
Manuel wants Jesse to answer the question, so he asks his dad’s question again.
“So, did you hear anything from God?”
“Umm . . . well . . . I . . . uh . . . I did hear a voice just say, ‘get up, Jesse son of . . . of Allen’. My dad’s first name is Allen. Did I tell you that?”
Jesse doesn’t tell them of the other voices or of the dream in the mountains. He keeps them to himself. He still doesn’t trust them completely. He doesn’t dare tell them his dad’s last name; he doesn’t want to be sent back to Uncle Bill.
“Can I touch your feather Jesse, son of Allen?” Ana says this with a serious tone, as her hands tremble slightly in awe of the feather. “This is real gold dust Jesse; it was an angel of prosperity that woke you up.”
Jesse doesn’t say anything; he just watches them admire the feather, trying to decide if they are serious, or just playing with him. Papa gets a plastic zip-lock sack and puts the feather in it for safekeeping.
“Here, this is yours,” he says as he hands him the sack with the feather.
“And this is too!” Manuel says excitedly.
He gives Jesse a box, wrapped in pastel blue tissue paper. It is wrinkled as though the paper was used before.
“It’s not Christmas day. Is this a present? “Jesse fingers the top of the pretty blue paper.
“Jesse, this is a Bible. You will need it where you are going.” Papa grins encouragingly.
“Where . . . am I . . . going?” Jesse braces for the potential dreaded answer, which he fears, will ruin everything.
Ana stands up from the kitchen table, unties her apron and begins to exclaim with excitement, “You . . . are . . . to go to Spirit Wings Academy in the Rocky Mountains! We have it all arranged! You will start this fall. The Lord told us to save up money and be ready to send you.”
“A school . . . that far away? Is Manuel coming with me?” Jesse feels a bit of dread come over him.
Papa leans over to Jesse. “No, Manuel isn’t. We can only afford one, and you are the ‘Chosen One’.”
“It’s okay Jess,” Manuel speaks up. “I hope to live there when I graduate and be on staff as a councilor.”
Manuel’s parents both nod with approval.
“No need to worry about that so soon. We have time to tell you everything. August is months away. We are just so excited,” Papa says.
Manuel wants to settle Jesse’s nerves. He can see he is alarmed at the thought of being sent off to an unknown place. After all he barely knows them, and they are already planning his future for him. They show him a pamphlet with photos of grandeur: castle style buildings, pine trees, and six story towers with arched windows. It is unreal to Jesse. The pamphlet says: “Spirit Wings Academy” Warriors In God’s Service. (WINGS). The front photo on the brochure shows a bridge leading to a twin tower with stone walls. There is a photo of four creatures on the walls just like in Jesse’s dream.
Jesse freezes, examining the image closely.
Is this Your way of telling me this is Your plan for me to go here? Jesse asks the Lord. Silence . . . It has to be a sign from You, right?
“Spirit Wings Academy, is this a flight school for pilots?” Jesse asks innocently.
The family suppresses giggles and Papa elaborates on the school.
“This is a high school for radical Christian youth. They teach spiritual warfare, prayer and fasting. Powerful young leaders like you go there to learn the ways of the Lord and grow closer to Him. You have a purpose Jesse, a calling. The Lord instructed us to pay your way because He chose you to be a warrior in the last day’s army.”
“Looks like a resort or something, all these fancy castles.” Jesse is amazed. “This is all just for rich young people, right?”
“No, Jesse, it’s for all young people, many from all over the world. They say a rich eccentric millionaire built it. It’s in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The Lord told us you are to go there, and that you will bring us great blessing. All we know is that your name means ‘God is’. We looked it up in Hebrew; JESSE means ‘God is’. You are our ‘Chosen One’, Jesse!”
“How can I bring a blessing? I barely know what a blessing is –– and a warrior? What am I fighting?”
Papa pats Jesse’s hand, “You are fighting against the rulers of darkness, wickedness in high places. You are fighting to bring light and truth to a lost and desperate world. We all are doing our part.”
Jesse wants to be something special for them, but he knows he is not special.
Jesse looks at Ana; she is beaming with joy. He wants to make her proud; he wants her to always look at him just like she is doing right now.
Manuel stands up from his chair and leans down on the table toward Jesse.
“All we have to do is send them your parent’s full name so that they can contact them for permission. We know the Lord will work it out for you, Jesse. Just trust the Lord with this Jesse, trust Him,” Manuel says with urgency in his voice.
Then Jesse’s thoughts flip and all his focus is on the chance for things to go wrong.
But find my parents? Are they dead somewhere? Why did they not call for three whole years? What if they demand I go back to live with Uncle Bill?
Questions like these are a heavy chain around Jesse’s youthful neck. It is all he can do to keep himself from bolting out into the cold streets again.
Manuel picks up on Jesse’s mood and decides to break the tension. He knows they can still lose Jesse.
“Come on, Rocky, let’s see the rest of the church and I’ll show you the bell tower on the roof.
Manuel takes Jesse to his dad’s office. In the ceiling is a pull down ladder leading to the roof. The boys climb up the old wooden ladder to the open air bell tower. Pigeons flutter noisily away as the hatch door swings open. It is cold up here and the wind is brisk.
“This bell came from Spain and it is one hundred years old.”
Manuel looks at the bell with pride knowing it is a part of his heritage.
“Do you ever ring it?” Jesse asks gazing out over Spanish Harlem.
“Yeah, Christmas Day, Resurrection Day, and stuff like that,” Manuel says jumping up and down to keep warm. “It’s cold, let’s go back in!”
Manuel climbs down the ladder back into his father’s office, and Jesse follows. As they shut the door to the tower, and stand in the Pastor’s office, Papa is sitting in his antique upholstered chair. The chair has a faded fabric of landscaped scenes with pastures and trees. But it looks quite worn.
“Jesse, it’s time for you to learn about the Lord,” Papa says as he opens Jesse’s new Bible and motions for the boys to sit.
Jesse sees the intense look on Papa’s face and he realizes Papa has passion about the Bible. Papa opens to Genesis chapter one.
“In the beginning, Elohim . . .”
Jesse finds the Bible mystical and interesting. Elohim, Jesse learns, is Hebrew for God.
After lunch Papa and Ana have their own project, so the boys have some free time. Papa needs to get ready for the Christmas play that night. Jesse feels like a normal person again. He is keeping track of time and eating regularly. His heart swells with joy, but in the back of his mind he is still waiting for it all to end. He is expecting the bad that always shows up in his life to ruin it. For now things are good, and he is going to make the most of it.
The boys go outside and walk toward the park; it is cold but sunny out.
“Hey Manuel, there is a mother cat and kittens in the alley across from the park, wanna see?”
Jesse feels the cream packets still in his coat.
“Sure,” Manuel is game.
They find Smokey and her brood still in the pile of rags.
“Look what I have for you Smokey, cream!” Jesse peels back the top and she eagerly laps up the first packet.
“I want to feed her!” Manuel puts his hand out for one of the packets.
Jesse hands one over.
“I know mom will let us keep them in the garage in back,” Manuel suggests.
He knows his mom’s tender heart couldn’t turn the cats away. The boys find a box and place the kittens inside. Jesse carries Smokey out of the alley and Manuel follows with the box of mewing kittens. An older gentleman is in the park feeding the birds.
“Ola Mr. Hernandez,” Manuel greets the neighbor.
“What have you got here boys? A mama cat and her litter of kittens?” the man, bundled up to his nose with his scarf, pets Smokey. “Aren’t you a proud momma? Now make sure you don’t handle them too much; the mama might abandon them. Hurry and get them settled.”
The man’s eyes lit up talking about the cats. Jesse senses Mr. Hernandez is lonely and would love to have them.
“Can you give them a good home? They need a lot of care from someone who knows what they are doing,” Jesse says.
Manuel nudges Jesse with his elbow and whispers under his breath, “Jesse, what are doing; giving away ‘our’ cats?” Manuel tries to keep his lips from moving. He is already attached to the feline family.
Mr. Hernandez claps his hands in surprise. “You mean it? My apartment allows pets, and it is so empty since I lost my wife Rosa,” the elderly man says as he leads the boys to his apartment next to the park.
“Just set them down anywhere. I will get them comfy as bugs in a rug. Don’t you worry . . . and you can come visit any time! Any time, you hear?” He rambles on with joy and excitement.
“Goodbye Mr. Hernandez,” the boys say in unison and set back out into the cold park.
“Jesse, I thought they were our kittens. Why did you give them away?” Manuel wants to be charitable but he is enamored with the cute fuzzy kittens.
“He is lonely. Did you see how his eyes lit up? He needs them more than we do,” Jesse explains.
Manuel is impressed with Jesse’s kindness to the old man. He senses Jesse is someone special. He must be if he is the “Chosen One.” He is also quick to forget the kittens and Ana calls the boys inside. “Jesse, come to the kitchen and let’s cut your hair. We have church tonight; you should look your best.”
After supper everyone goes down to the ground floor to the church to prepare for service. Papa and Manuel have put on dress shirts, and Ana changes clothes too. She has put Jesse’s clothes on his bed so that he will have something proper to wear.
“Tomorrow we’ll buy you everything you need,” Ana promises him. “We’ve been saving up money for some time now. Everyone at church has given offerings just for you, when you would come to us.”
Jesse remembers yesterday when everyone reacted emotionally upon seeing him. The pit of Jesse’s stomach becomes queasy again. He feels a sharp pain in his side. The kind of pain he has felt before, off and on, in the last few months. He thinks it will go away now that he is eating regularly.
Downstairs people drift in through the front door, out of the cold evening air. Most of them are family members. The atmosphere is nothing like Jesse expected. No organ music, no whispering somber conversations, no dignified silence. Everyone prays out loud, and walks around as they pray, and some even weep. Jesse sits on the front pew with Manuel and Ana. Papa stands behind an old pine pulpit.
“We are Pentecostals, Jesse,” Manuel tells Jesse quietly.
“Plenty-cost- what-als?” Jesse didn’t know the word.
Manuel just smiles and starts to pray. Jesse just watches him. Suddenly Manuel turns over to Jesse and lays his hand on his shoulder.
Manuel says “God bless Jesse . . .”
Jesse doesn’t hear the rest of the prayer, but he feels a hot liquid flow over him, even though there is no water on him.
Jesse shuts his eyes. God, if this is You; I want all You have for me.
Music and singing fill Jesse’s ears. He opens his eyes. He and Manuel are sitting on the edge of the stage.
How did we get from the pew to the stage? I don’t remember walking over here.
People are singing and playing guitars, drums, a violin and tambourines and some are dancing. Jesse feels his face; he has been crying, and so has Manuel. Jesse uses his shirt to wipe the tears off his face.
Jesse looks and sees a lady leading the songs at the old piano. The music is simple but Jesse finds it sincere. A young boy strums a guitar awkwardly. There is an older man on a violin and a teenage girl on the drums. The songs are in Spanish, so Manuel tells Jesse what they mean.
Anton is still beside Jesse when he spots the five intercessors that prayed for Jesse to come to their church. Anton knows they are devout women but not too developed in the faith. They are all elderly widows who live in the same apartment building. He watches the Spirit of Religion as it tries to whisper accusations to one of the intercessors. She is ignoring him for now; Anton is relieved.
This is a meager fellowship of angels in such a dark region. Anton realizes everything could soon change and the rafters could fill with Guardians.
Everyone sits down on the well-aged wooden pews with nicks, chips and rounded edges; they look as though they are made by hand many years ago. Papa says a few words before the Christmas play starts. He explains that today he will speak in English, and Ramón, his brother, will translate to the older people who speak only Spanish. Little toddlers in angel costumes are taking their places in the back of the stage.
“Jesus died that we might have life . . . He rose again, that we might raise up too . . . we were all dead in our sin . . . but He lifted us up out of the pit . . . Through Him is life and life eternal,” Papa speaks, pausing for his brother to translate.
Jesse closes his eyes and feels the same hot liquid love flowing over him as before. There is a flash of red and a vision of a man. It is Jesus on the cross. Then comes another flash . . . It is Jesus coming out of a stone grave.
“Jesse, son of Allen, believe in Me and you will be saved.”
I do. I believe in You now.
“Jesse, oh Jesse,” someone is touching his shoulder again. He expects it to be an angel, but it is Papa. Jesse doesn’t know whether to call him Pastor or Papa in church.
“Jesse, you were out in the Spirit; tell the people, tell them,” he urges.
Jesse realizes he is flat on the floor of the stage. Everyone is sitting quietly in their seats and the music has stopped too. The little angels still stand in the choir seats on stage, fidgeting. Jesse’s face flushes with embarrassment.
Jesse sits up. He feels a newness inside.
Papa urges him again knowing something powerful has happened in the spirit realm. “Tell us, Jesse.”
Jesse steps off the platform and walks down toward the first row of seats and all eyes are on him. The Spirit of Religion begins to pace desperately about the stage, looking for a way to shut Jesse up.
Anton has a grin a mile wide. From birth he has been with Jesse and finally now a testimony will be his. He rejoices; Jesse is now a child of the Most High Yahweh! Anton runs around the room giving all the other angels “high fives.” All the demonic creatures now see Jesse is marked as a member of the Kingdom of Elohim. The Spirit of Religion is now starting to panic. He is losing his influence in the church and shrinking in size.
“You’re looking to me for something,” Jesse states. “It’s Jesus you should be seeking. I saw Him suffer for us . . . I saw Him; it is beautiful and terrible at the same time. I saw the love in His eyes. I know what it is to feel His love. I . . . will . . . never be the same.”
The congregation erupts in celebration and worship. Then they get still again to hear more from the “Chosen One”.
Jesse is emboldened and paces back and forth; he feels power and energy run through him. The Spirit of Religion begins to cry out in anguish. Anton is hoping it will leave forever but several elderly ladies still cling to the stale Spirit of Religion.
“I did some really bad stuff . . . but Jesus loves me . . . He is so real to me now. He changed me on in the inside, you know?”
Jesse gets light headed again and sits down.
Papa stands up and says, “We were expecting a young man of God, a prophet of reputation. We see dimly as in a glass. God will not share his glory with another; through this boy, God receives all the glory. He is the ‘Chosen One’; he sees in the spirit, both the good and the bad. His nickname is Rocky –– like Peter the Rock of Revelation, isn’t that wonderful?”
Papa knows Jesse sees things in the Spirit; he just doesn’t know what Jesse sees. It is something Papa has not experienced himself and longs to. It gives him hope that he might have encounters and experience greater things in the Lord.
The church breaks out in excitement and worship again, and Jesse sits on the pew –– a new creature, the old has passed away, all things have become new (II Corinthians 5:17). Anton knows Jesse is now one step closer to fulfilling his calling as a child of Elohim.
Phase Three: Training . . . Anton anticipates it with joy.
Jesse looks back at the front entry door and sees leaning against the doorway a small imp-looking creature with deep burrowed angry eyes. Jesse’s heart begins to pound. Their gazes meet and the imp points at the door for Jesse to leave and then he vanishes. Jesse is beginning to make sense of it all –– the Bible will show him and the Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh) will teach him. He shakes off the surprise and fear the imp gave him so as not to embarrass himself in front of the nice people. He realizes that no one else saw the demon but him. Jesse did not see the Spirit of Religion, but he could smell the stale air as Anton did.
Anton observes that the stale smell is almost completely gone; only a remnant of church people hold on to the Spirit of Religion. It is small now and fading from sight. Anton can hear it moan as it struggles to keep his place in the church. Religion held an ornate war-hammer. He is now smaller than it and has to let it go. His shield is a large white shield with a red cross in the center; the shrinking spirit also abandons it. The spirit now just stands on his huge book, with “the Letter of the Law” inscribed on it.
The Christmas play goes off without a hitch. Manuel doesn’t sing loud as in rehearsal, which relieves Ana. At the close every family is given a paper sack with fruit and candy in it; a tradition the church has done for years, even though it is costly for them. Papa and Ana filled the sacks earlier that day, and the scent of orange flooded their humble home all day long.
Jesse gets a sack too. Simple things are now a great joy to him. He looks through the sack, and finds mini candy bars, hard old-fashioned ribbon candy, one apple, one orange, and nuts still in their shells.
Later that night Jesse lay in his room on the second floor in the pastor’s house. The day has been full and he is exhausted. His eyes are still hot from crying. He has peace and a sense of how he fits in the world. He spreads the ribbon candy out like a display on the bedside table.
There, now my room is ready for Christmas.
He thinks of the crazy lady who is a “bench dweller” in Central Park. Can God fix her? Sure He can . . . Jesse is ready to sleep.
Will the dark voice torment him tonight? Jesse only wants to hear from Elohim (the Lord).
Tomorrow maybe I can learn how to make those devils shut up.
“Thanks for the pillow and this blanket, God, and the Bible is nice too,” Jesse whispers to the Lord.
He feels guilty for loving the bed more than the Bible, but he knows that will change in time. There is no moonlight from the window tonight making the room pitch black. A cold breeze blows across Jesse’s face. He sees a red glow in the corner of the room and he forces himself to look in that direction.
A voice whispers from the corner.
“You’re a fake. These people are using you, just like the rest. You’re making a fool out of yourself. Jesus doesn’t want a street rat like you.”
The voice is cold and indifferent.
Anton sees several fallen creatures, gray hairy imps that slobber around Jesse. Anton shoos them away.
Vile creatures, Anton thinks. Their master must be near.
Belial’s dark workers return to their commander in defeat, accusing each other for the failure. Belial is a dark master spirit ruling over a hoard of imps. Like flies they whisper twisted tales in the ears of humans. Belial is a king with minions all over the earth that do his bidding.
The red glow fades and Jesse closes his eyes. . . back to . . . sleep . . . too tired to be freaked out right now.
During Bible study that morning Jesse finally decides to call the pastor, Papa. He and Manuel sit down with Papa to read:
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
there is none who does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven
on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.
“So,” Jesse frames a question, “a fool says there is no God, so I’m not a fool, right?”
Papa responds kindly, “No, Jesse, you are no fool.”
Jesse leans back in his chair and Papa continues. “No matter what others say, you must believe what God says above all others.”
Afterwards, Ana takes the boys in the old blue van to buy clothes for Jesse. He feels weird at the East River Plaza Mall when security officers do not run him off as he used to for scouring for food. Some plain white t-shirts, jeans and a pair of boots are all Jesse will let her buy. With some convincing from Manuel he also picks out a new coat. Jesse is not disturbed by the cheery Christmas music anymore. The mall’s decorations match Jesse’s festive mood and he takes in the atmosphere of the holiday with newfound joy.
“Your old coat is trashed, dude. We need to bury it in the back yard,” Manuel jokes with him.
“Sure, if we can put your shoes in there too,” Jesse retorts.
“My shoes aren’t that bad,” says Manuel wishing that he had put powder in them today.
That afternoon, when everyone is back from the mall, Ana hands an old cardboard box from the attic to the boys. The box jingles with Christmas bells inside. Manuel is excited to unwrap antique ceramic figures and set them inside a manger made of sticks and straw. Jesse examines the old newspaper crumpled inside the box; it has yellowed with age. All the writing is in Spanish, but he finds a date of 1950 in the corners.
“Now,” Manuel interrupts Jesse’s inspection of the paper. “Put Joseph, Mother Mary, and baby Jesus in the middle,” Manuel feels the need to instruct Jesse on all things ‘spiritual’.
“Joseph is Mary’s husband, right?” Jesse asks, as he makes the lamb run across the cabinet. “This lamb has lost its leg!”
The ceramic figures are old; many are glued back together, as Manuel had played with them when he was just a toddler.
“Remember how Joseph marries Mary, but he’s not Jesus’ father. The Holy Spirit is, got it?”
Jesse can’t help but think how badly he wants to be back with his own parents. The fact that his family abandoned him always haunted him. Even now, when things are looking up, his heart is with them. Surely he had some issues with dad being mean and controlling, but Uncle Bill was a nightmare.
“Manuel, you got some paper I can draw on?” Jesse asks as he unwraps a king perched on a camel.
“Sure . . .” Manuel jumps up and opens a cabinet with art paper in it. “Here are some pens, pencils and markers. You want glitter?” Manuel asks jokingly.
“No glitter, that’s your department,” says Jesse with a playful smirk.
Jesse takes a pencil, eraser and the paper to the kitchen table. He draws for over an hour without saying a word, and then finally he leans back. He sketches portraits of his parents, as he remembers them from three years ago.
Jesse can remember his dad’s eyes. For some reason, it remains a clear image in his head.
“Jesse,” Papa picks up the drawings. “These are good.”
“It’s my mom with her hat on and dad,” Jesse replies looking down at the table. The room falls silent. Everyone realizes Jesse is sad and withdrawing. He wants to belong somewhere but he is not ready to be a part of Manuel’s family yet. Jesse still has a hard time trusting people. His father’s angry eyes fill his mind.
Why was dad mad all the time? What’s so wrong with me, that they don’t love me? I wonder if they even know I ran away. Uncle Bill may not even care that I am gone; he is so stoned all the time.
Jesse has to shut down the frame of thoughts he is on or he will be enraged. He likes the calmness of Manuel’s home. He is getting to like Manuel and his family quite a lot.
After supper they all go down the block to get a Christmas tree. Holiday lights are all around Spanish Harlem and the snow reflects beautiful colors. The old part of town is charming at Christmas. The snow has a way of hiding peeling paint and aging buildings. Jesse feels as though he is in a new world.
The boys throw a few snowballs at each other as Papa and Ana pick out a fresh cut Christmas tree. Manuel takes cover behind the fence of the Christmas tree booth to make more snow balls while Jesse lies in the snow catching his breathe. The smell of fresh pine catches his attention.
“Dude, do you smell that?” Jesse calls out to Manuel in the chilly night air.
“Yeah, I love the smell of pine. The whole house is gonna smell like this when we take one home!” Manuel calls back.
The family stuffs their new tree in the back of the van and head back home.
They manage to get the tree on a stand and place it in the living room. As the boys admire the tree, Ana and Papa pull out boxes from the attic. They unpack the Christmas decorations and Jesse finds brass angel ornaments with names engraved on them inside one of the boxes. He finds the names of Manuel, Ana, José, and Rudy. Jesse curiously hands the ornaments to Ana. A larger one reads “Perez Familia”.
Jesse looks up and asks, “Who are José and Rudy?”
Ana replies sadly, “José is Papa, and Rudy is the son we lost when he was born two years ago. You are staying in his room.”
Jesse now understands Manuel’s mood change when he first showed Jesse the room. Ana leans her head over on Papa’s shoulder, and he wraps his arm around her.
“We have another son. He is waiting for us with the Lord,” Papa says softly.
Jesse wants to ask how the baby died, but he doesn’t feel it is the right time. Everyone is happy and so he wants to protect this wonderful atmosphere. Still it is sad to think that this wonderful family has lost a child.
I’m not lost; I’m just forgotten by my family.
His thoughts are distracted by the wonderful smell of pine that fills the air. Jesse never wants it to fade.
Papa picks up a large worn Bible from the small table by his easy-chair and reads the Christmas story out loud from the book of Luke:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee
to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.
And he came to her and said,
“Greetings, O favored one,
the Lord is with you!”
But she was greatly troubled at the saying,
and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. . And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
And behold, you will conceive in your womb
and bear a son, and you shall call
his name Jesus.
He will be great and will be called
the Son of the Most High.
And the Lord God will give to him the throne
of his father David,
and he will reign over
the house of Jacob forever,
and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And Mary said to the angel,
“How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And the angel answered her,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy— the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who
was called barren.
For nothing will be impossible with God.”
And Mary said,
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord;
let it be to me according to your word.”
And the angel departed from her.
The boys look at the manger scene lost in the story, and the delicious smell of sugar cookies in the oven fills the room as Papa continues to read:
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the
world should be registered.
This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
And all went to be registered,
each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town
of Nazareth, to Judea,
to the city of David,
which is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary,
who was with child.
And while they were there,
the time came for her to give birth.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths
and laid him in a manger,
because there was no place
for them in the inn.
And in the same region there were
shepherds out in the field,
keeping watch over their flock by night.
And an angel of the Lord appeared to them,
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were filled with great fear.
And the angel said to them,
“Fear not, for behold,
I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host
praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among
those with whom he is pleased!”
When the angels went away
from them into heaven,
the shepherds said to one another,
“Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened,
which the Lord has made known to us.”
And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.
And when they saw it,
they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Jesse thinks about the angel and Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) in Mary’s life. Jesse, too, is treasuring up many things and meditating on them. Now he knows Elohim for himself. Maybe he can finally accept that the Heavenly Father really told the Spanish church to take care of him, and maybe Yahweh does love him after all. It is a lot to soak in, but he is getting there. Jesse will think about that for a long time: Jesus is not like his parents; Jesus loves him the way he is.
Ana pulls out some little candles and some brass pieces from a star shaped velvet box. Manuel knows just how to put it together, four angels with horns to their mouths cut out of thin brass spin around in a circle as candle flame moves a fan on the top with their heat. A tiny bell rings as each angel turns and taps it with their trumpets. Jesse sits and looks at it for a long time: the colored lights on the Christmas tree in the background. Jesse’s heart is warm and full. He wants to jump up and say, “I love you guys!” But he sits in the warm living room of a humble church family maintaining his newfound dignity. The frozen cold of two days ago is a fading memory. The thought of his troubled family causes Jesse to be grateful and enjoy every moment of kindness and consideration the family shows him.
Tonight I am going to pray for mom and dad for the first time, Jesse purposes.
To pray for “Uncle Bill” is out of the question. Jesse hopes he is frantically searching for him and regretting what he did to him. He never tells the Perez’s much about his Uncle Bill and his difficult past, the beatings or the details of his old life. He lies in the nice bed and looks out his window. Frost takes up most of the glass but up at the top he can see the stars. Christmas day is almost here. For the first time in a long time, Jesse likes Christmas, and Jesse likes himself. Large fluffy snowflakes drift silently down through the night.
Jesse made it all night without any bad dreams or demons. He looks at himself in the mirror in the morning as he brushes his teeth.
You are going to be all right after all.
He checks his palms; they are almost healed up from when he clinched them too hard and they bled.
Hope these don’t leave scars.
Jesse is nervous about giving presents; he can’t buy any. What if they give him something and he can’t give them anything in return?
That day everyone is commenting on the beautiful Christmas Eve snowfall. No wind to disturb it; it piles up like cotton outside. Manuel and Jesse go out in front of the church to shovel snow off the sidewalk and sprinkle it with salt to keep it from making icy patches. A shop owner from next door sees their good job and comes over to hire the boys to shovel the snow in front of her store as well. When they are through, giving her the same level of superior service, she happily gives both boys twenty dollars each.
“Wow, thanks,” Manuel says. “Christmas snow and Christmas money!”
Jesse stands looking at the cash in his hand, stunned because he has never earned that much before. Usually people just gave him food or candy when he worked for them.
Jesse is excited! Now, he can run to the variety store down the street to look for gifts for the Perez’s.
For months Jesse had no one to be accountable to, so he feels funny asking Ana if he can go to the discount store. Ana says “Okay” and the boys tear off to the store. Jesse wants to get a gift each to all three of them with his money.
Manuel whispers to Jesse, “Don’t forget God gets ten percent, so that’s two dollars out of the twenty. It’s called tithes.”
“Okay. I have eighteen dollars to spend. I don’t know what tithes are, but I will pay it just in case,” Jesse states.
Manuel smiles feeling that he is really making an impact on Jesse’s life.
The boys walk up and down the aisles in the store. The colors and labels of many of the items are fuzzy under a layer of undisturbed dust that has set it as they had sat on the shelves a long time. He finds a yellow glass rose; this is pretty, for Ana. In the office supply area Jesse picks up a metal lighthouse that has a button to turn on a little light inside. Jesse gets that for Papa’s office. Manuel is harder to shop for, plus he is in the store with him, and harder to surprise. Manuel picks up a soccer ball and bounces it a few times. Jesse remembers how ratty Manuel’s ball that they play with is, but it is twelve dollars and Jesse just has six left.
It is Christmas Eve night and Jesse is wrapping his gifts in his room. He uses a paper sack from the grocery store, a red marker, and tape. He draws Christmas scenes on the brown paper bag and uses it to wrap with the gifts. For Manuel, Jesse places the six dollars he has left in an envelope and wraps it up. Jesse takes his little gifts and places them under the Perez family tree.
There is that wonderful pine smell again!
Jesse sees shiny gifts in fancy foil paper.
I see two with my name on them! I can’t remember the last time I got Christmas presents. The ones from Uncle Bill don’t count; they were always board games to the whole family.
Jesse remembers how his mother’s uncle, “Poppy,” as Jesse calls him, always took them out to eat for the holidays. Poppy had raised his mom when her parents died in a car wreck; it was as close to grandparents as Jesse got.
Jesse and Manuel lie on the floor by the Christmas tree while they choose to just listen to the Christmas specials on TV. Ana makes cookies in the kitchen and Papa sits in his worn down recliner. Jesse’s heart swells with love and joy and again he wants to shout, “This is great!” but he fears he will cry and doesn’t want to embarrass himself by showing emotion.
The night grows late, and all the shoveling from the day has drained his energy. Fighting to focus through weighted eyelids, Jesse just gives in and goes to bed. As Jesse crawls in his bed, he pulls out a paper he had written on during Bible study with Papa. He begins to read and pray:
Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Jesse feels his eyelids getting even heavier. “Father God, send an angel to tell my parents about You, okay? And please don’t let Uncle Bill find me.” Then Jesse thinks, where are you Mom and Dad?
Jesse sees another white feather fall down by his feet but this one is longer than the other. He puts this feather with his other one in the plastic bag.
Does this feather mean an angel is going to my parents? Jesse wonders, his faith rising.
Jesse feels a stirring in his heart but shakes off the emotion before it can fully develop. It requires more strength than he has right now.
Tomorrow is Christmas and Jesse experiences happy dreams that night due to a recent peace in his heart.
Jesse hears the sound of the bell ringing above him in the bell tower. It is barely dawn, to make a guess based on the dim light of his window.
“Wake up Rocky, wake up!” It is Manuel shaking Jesse to stir him from sleep. “It’s time to open presents, dude, hurry!”
Manuel is halfway down the hall as Jesse steps down on to the cold wood floor. Papa is just coming down from ringing the old bell.
In the living room everyone comes together. They all join hands and Papa prays.
“Father God, Jesus the Son, and Holy Spirit, thank you for sending Jesus to earth, and sending Jesse to us. This is a special day we will never forget.”
Suddenly Manuel bolts to the tree and grabs some presents. He makes sure everyone has one, and then finds one for himself.
Papa says “Okay, go!” and everyone tears open their first gift together. Jesse opens a drawing set with different pencils, sketchpad, and erasers all in a beautiful wooden case. Manuel hand painted Jesse’s name on the case in fancy lettering.
Jesse hears himself saying, “Thank you very much.” Then he realizes he said it out loud without crying –– good deal.
When Ana opens her present from Jesse, she gasps and says, “Oh Jesse, how did you know? It is beautiful.”
Tears run down her face again, as she is known to tear up a lot.
“Yellow roses . . . ,” Papa explains, “. . . were the flowers we put on Rudy’s grave. They mean HOPE, the hope that we have of seeing him again in eternity.”
Ana adds with her thick accent, “And now you are a son to us also!” Ana hugs Jesse for what he feels is a long time. He isn’t used to it and he just stands there being squeezed. Papa opens his next, from Jesse.
“Oh José, a lighthouse!” Ana exclaims looking at Papa’s gift.
Papa tells Jesse, “There is a prophecy that our church will be a lighthouse to help people find safe shores from darkness. Jesse, has the Lord told you?”
Jesse just shrugs his shoulders. Did the Holy Spirit lead me to buy these things, he wonders?
Jesse is about to apologize for giving cash when Manuel cuts in.
“DUDE! Six bucks, thanks Rocky. Now I can buy that new soccer ball!”
Manuel continues, “Jesse, you didn’t have to spend that money on us. That is very unselfish of you. You really are someone I admire and look up to.”
Jesse looks deep into Manuel’s eyes trying hard to accept the complement.
“You look up to me? Wow!” Jesse says, his voice trailing off with emotion.
After all the gifts are opened there comes a knock on the door. Soon Manuel’s family fills the house with joyful voices as they come for Christmas dinner. One of Manuel’s Uncles, Ramón, kisses Jesse and Manuel on the forehead. Jesse thinks that Manuel’s family is very passionate like the Italian families he’d seen in the movies. He imagines large families in dressy suits all at a wedding, hugging and kissing and showing emotion. He thinks that is so opposite of his own small stoic family.
Papa tells everyone how Jesse’s presents to them are so special and he and Ana carry on about it all during dinner. There are about twelve cousins for the two boys to hang around with. The little parsonage is full, like Jesse’s heart.
That night, as Jesse lies in his humble room, he begins to pray with conviction and knowledge. His faith blossoms and Jesse is using it the best way he knows. Manuel hears him praying and comes in to pray too.
As time goes by Jesse grows attached to the Perez family. There are days when he fears it will all end and he will be homeless again, but those days are getting farther and farther apart. After a few weeks there, Jesse finally tells them his last name so that they can search for his parents.
“Logan. I’m Jesse Logan, my dad is Allen Logan and my mom is Dana Logan.”
He has trusted them with his parents’ name; it is a huge breakthrough for Jesse. Still in the back of his mind he is afraid it will come back to bite him.
That night Jesse decides to read the Bible on his own. He had heard Papa say Psalms is a good book of the Bible to read every day, so he randomly opens up to a chapter in Psalms. Jesse is moved by what he reads.
Give ear to my prayer, O God,
and hide not yourself from
my plea for mercy!
Attend to me, and answer me;
I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
because of the noise of the enemy,
because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they drop trouble upon me,
and in anger they bear a grudge against me.
My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah
I would hurry to find a shelter
from the raging wind and tempest.”
“Wow, it seems this is written just for me, as if God knows ahead of time what I will be going through. . . . Jesse is enthralled with what he is reading. He reads on down the page:
But I call to God,
and the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he hears my voice.
He redeems my soul in safety
from the battle that I wage,
for many are arrayed against me.
God will give ear and humble them,
he who is enthroned from of old, Selah
because they do not change
and do not fear God.
“What a powerful book, and God speaks right to me from it . . . So You heard all my complaints, this whole time? Thank You Jesus, thank You,” Jesse tells the Lord.
He reads the last verse in the chapter:
But you, O God, will cast them down
into the pit of destruction;
men of blood and treachery
shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you.
Emotion wells up inside and Jesse lets a few tears run down his face. His heart is softer now, so he can be touched. It wasn’t long ago that Jesse was cold inside, feeling nothing but dullness. Now that he knows what it is to be alive on the inside, he realizes how awful it is to be dead inside.
Jesse remembers how he used to “talk” to Adonai before he was saved, how he suffered in the hands of evil men, and how Elohim heard his cries. He is greatly touched by the verses. The Bible becomes a great joy to him, as he reads for hours at a time in the peaceful Perez home in the heart of noisy New York.
Jesse not only stays for Christmas but he remains into the New Year. After Christmas break it is time to start Public School again and they enroll Jesse at Manuel’s public school. Papa sits Jesse down in his office and begins to talk to him about finding his parents and contacting his uncle.
“Jesse, we have found out your uncle had a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a drug rehab center just about a week after you ran away. Your parents could not be contacted having no phone and no forwarding address for several months. They finally called your Uncle Bill at the rehab and he had them get in touch with us.”
At this point Jesse has a knot in the pit of his stomach having to deal with the prospect that his parents still do not want him. He realizes his hands are in tight fists, and forces his hands to relax.
“Jesse, your dad signed the permission form for you to go to Spirit Wings, and gave me legal guardianship due to Uncle Bill’s drug and alcoholism issues. This is a note your mom wrote for you.”
Papa places a crumpled piece of paper on the desk in front of Jesse that has coffee stains on it. Papa knows that Jesse wants some privacy, so he leaves the office so that Jesse can read her letter.
Your dad says he is on the verge of a big record contract and he will buy you a car when the deal is final. All our dreams are about to come true! We will make up for lost time when the record label pays us. Until then study hard and don’t be a bother to the nice people.
Jesse let a single tear roll down his cheek. Is it worse to know they are alive and don’t want him or not to know anything? It is as if an invisible knife is stuck between his shoulder blades and he can’t reach it to pull it out. Jesse lets out a heavy sigh and stares out into space. Then his eyes focus on Papa’s Bible that is open and facing Jesse’s direction. Jesse reads what is underlined in yellow:
For my father and my mother
have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me in.
Jesse sits in silence, the tears roll down his face. After another heavy sigh Jesse gets up, wipes his face and then goes to find Manuel.
As he opens the office door it bumps into Papa who is standing right behind it along with Ana and Manuel.
Jesse looks at them and smiles a feeble sad smile. Papa is the first to grab him and hug him.
“I’m sorry Jesse, I know it hurts. It will get better in time, you will see,” Papa assures him.
Jesse presses his face into Papa’s shoulder and holds on to him. He looks up to see Manuel bursting into tears.
“Aw . . . you big lug,” Jesse turns to him for a hug.
They embrace like brothers. Manuel is still crying, feeling sad for Jesse. Jesse finds himself comforting Manuel.
“It’ll be okay, I’m okay, man, I’m okay,” Jesse reassures him.
Ana has that proud look on her face that Jesse loves. Her handkerchief is cupped over her mouth.
“You dear boy, I know we can never replace your parents but you are part of our family now,” Ana says still drying her eyes and pulling Jesse over for a hug.
“Yeah, dude, we got your back,” Manuel states regaining his composure.
During the rest of Jesse’s stay at the Perez’s in New York he begins to open up a little to Manuel and they grow close. Manuel knows Jesse still has some walls up. He is aware of the fact that Jesse carries some dark secrets, and he is willing to give him all the space he needs. Manuel tells Jesse all about his own childhood so much that Jesse almost feels he has known him his whole life.
On the first day of school, Jesse isn’t nervous.
Compared to being homeless this is a piece of cake.
Jesse’s excuse for not fitting in with Manuel’s Latino friends is that he can’t understand Spanish. He never really gets to know any of the other classmates that much, so he is content with reading his Bible and living a life free of drama.
There are days when Jesse will get quiet and pull away to dwell on his painful past by himself but not very often anymore.
He realizes that in six months he will be leaving the Perez’s and will be going to Colorado to the Spirit Wings Academy. He doesn’t know what to expect but he knows he is not alone anymore no matter where he goes. He is leaving his troubled past far behind, hoping it will never again catch up with him. He is righteous now and the enemy will not shake him. At least that is his hope. He is now somebody with somewhere to go!
Yahweh- Hebrew, from YHVH; also Jehovah, God
 Elohim-Hebrew for God
Ruach HaKodesh- Hebew for Holy Spirit