So, is tonight when you turn into an angel?" Beth asked as she held up her friend Glory's flowing white costume. Beth propped the sanctuary door open with one hip as she ran her fingers over the diaphanous fabric. "Heavenly," she commented. "Maybe we should post a sign out front: Live Angels—One Night Only."
"Works for me," Glory replied as she breezed through the doorway. With a brief flashback to Christmases past, she added over her shoulder, "Anything's better than Girls! Girls! Girls!"
Their laughter echoed among the empty pews of Chesapeake Community Church as Glory made her way down the aisle toward the dressing room behind the choir loft. Having Beth for a friend was like celebrating Christmas every day of the year. Beth was funny and honest, and the girl flat knew how to listen. Over the last year, Glory had talked—a lot—and Beth had listened, nodded, and offered wise counsel. Now that the worst was over, they'd become simply friends. Glory took turns listening and, when she felt brave, threw in a word of encouragement.
Glorianna Wilson, giving spiritual advice? Talk about your basic miracle.
She walked into the chilly dressing room and hung her costume on a rack crammed with old choir robes. "The ghosts of Christmas past," she murmured, glancing at a pile of dusty shepherds' tunics and faded crowns from long-forgotten magi.
If she thought about all the Christmases she'd missed over the last few years, her costume would be soaked with tears. "You're here this Christmas," she reminded herself aloud, staring at the bright mirror edged with lights. "Today is what matters, Glory."
She slipped out of her sweater and jeans, hands shivering as she unwrapped the plastic around her angelic costume. White tights and a leotard came first. Nice, heavyweight material, she was relieved to discover. The more coverage, the better. The bold design of a lily on her thigh, compliments of Tattoo Charlie's, disappeared without a trace beneath the stretchy tights.
Rather than a stiff pair of wings, the costume had layers of white chiffon that floated around her when she moved. She eased the tea-length dress over her head and let it fall into place on her shoulders. Perfect. Lifting her hands above her head, she spun and swayed to an imaginary tune, thrilled to see how gracefully the gauzy material followed her every move.
Glorianna Wilson, an angel? Yet another miracle.
She was digging around in her purse for a brush when a knock at the door startled her.
"It's me, Glory." It was Beth's voice. "Are you dressed? Pastor Miller is looking for you. Says he needs to see you in his office."
Glory peeked around the edge of the door, her heart in her throat. "Is there a … problem?"
Beth shrugged. "He didn't say, but I wouldn't worry about it. I'll tell him you'll be there in a couple minutes." She winked. "You look great, hon."
Hurrying to finish, Glory brushed her pale hair into a simple French braid, then took off every bit of makeup until she was white as snow, from her blond head to the toes of her new ballet slippers. Clean. Pure. Not innocent, though. She could never be that. But she was forgiven. That's what Beth kept telling her: "That old you is gone, Glory. Your sins are forgiven, your past is forgotten, and you're brand new. Trust me."
She was learning to trust, but it was a slow process. Over the years, she'd made the mistake of trusting people who intentionally robbed her of everything that mattered most: her identity, her dignity, her sense of self-worth. Her old stage name—Starlight—was an ironic choice, considering she was surrounded by darkness.
When a high school friend had dragged her to Chesapeake Community Church ten months ago, Glory never could have imagined the changes that would take place—first in her heart, then in her life.
Trying out for the pageant was a huge step. The director, watching her dance across the platform and down the aisle, had pronounced Glory "a natural."
She smiled at her image in the mirror now, her lips trembling. Let them praise his name with dancing. When she'd found that verse in Psalms last week, she'd wept for an hour. To think of dancing for God!
Glory took a steadying breath, then left the cluttered room behind and padded down the carpeted hallway with floor-to-ceiling windows that looked into various church offices. Chesapeake was one of Baltimore County's fastest-growing congregations. She'd only connected with a handful of people so far, taking her time to get to know them before they found out too much about her. It was safer that way.
Pastor Ron Miller, standing at his office door, waved her toward him. Through the glass, she could see a group of men surrounding his desk. "Some of the elders," he explained in a low voice. "Everything will be fine, Glory. I promise. C'mon in."
An invisible knot tightened inside her. It didn't feel fine. Their faces were solemn, their postures stiff. Disapproval hung in the air.
Ron patted the back of his leather desk chair. "Sit here, Glorianna." He'd used her proper name. Not a good sign. Moving behind her, he folded his arms over his chest. "Now, gentlemen. You were saying?"
The men—half a dozen, mostly middle-aged—looked at each other, shifted in their chairs, but said nothing. Finally, one man in a striped sweater cleared his throat. "I want to know what you're going to do about this Christmas pageant, Ron."
"I'm going to attend, that's what." Pastor Miller's words bore the hint of a smile. "My wife's already bought our tickets for tonight. Do you fellas need seats?"
The man's chin jutted out. "That's not what I'm asking, and you know it." He looked directly at Glory. "Did you know about … about this young woman?"
"What do I need to know, Jack?"
"She used to be a … what do they call it?" He glanced at the others for support. "An 'exotic dancer.' Worked at one of those clubs on The Block, downtown on Baltimore Street."
A wave of heat traveled up Glory's neck and across her cheeks. The Block. Adult bookstores and peepshow booths, pornography shops and filthy strip joints, the Charm City Lounge among them. If Pastor Miller's hand hadn't lightly rested on her shoulder, she might have bolted from the room in shame.
Another elder spoke up. "I'm not sure it's wise to have this woman involved in our Christmas pageant—dancing, of all things, during Mary's song." His voice was sharp, accusing. "When did you know about this situation?"
"I've always known, Phil. Just like I know about your — ah, situation." The pastor walked around to the front of his desk, as though to protect her. "And yours, Carl." He nodded at one of the younger men, whose face surely was redder than her own. "And yours, Steve."
Silence hung over the room. When Pastor Miller spoke again, his words were tender and utterly without judgment. "Brothers, the fact is, Mary, the mother of Jesus, had a reputation, too. When word got around that she was pregnant out of wedlock. … well, you can be sure there was talk, not all of it kind."
He eyed Glory for a moment, then turned back to the elders, who looked duly chastised. "I know Mary was an innocent young woman, and the old Glorianna Wilson wasn't. But when Glory gave her life to Christ last January, and he told her to leave her life of sin … well … , " He glanced at her angelic attire, a broad smile across his face. "She did."
Jack sputtered, "But what if someone at The Sun finds out? We've got a reporter who comes to the second service. You don't want something like this all over the news."
Pastor Miller scratched his head in mock confusion. "Isn't sharing the good news the whole idea, Jack?" One of the others chuckled, and the atmosphere in the room grew noticeably lighter. "Glory's a great example of what this church is all about: hope and grace, not fear and condemnation. I can't think of anyone better suited for the part."
When Ron opened his office door, Glory realized the pageant rehearsal was already in full swing across the hall. Voices in harmony floated into the room. "That's my cue," she whispered, then made a dash for the door.
Behind her, the pastor swept the elders into the hall like a dusting of snow from his front steps. "Merry Christmas, fellas. See you at the pageant."
Michael Anderson hadn't darkened the door of a church in years, let alone one as big as Chesapeake Community. He sat in the last pew, feeling awkward and out of place. Whose idea was this, anyway? Courtney's.
He glanced at the dark-haired beauty next to him, then folded his hand around hers. He'd waited a long time to find someone this nice. If Courtney wanted him to go to a Christmas pageant, fine. Whatever. As long as he was with her, he was happy.
The place didn't look anything like a church. A huge stage set filled the front and sides, painted with tents and palm trees. He didn't know much about the Bible, but he figured it must be Bethlehem. O Little Town of … and all that.
As the lights dimmed and orchestral music filled the air, a woman playing the role of Mary came out on stage and an angel appeared with an announcement. "You're pregnant." Michael shook his head, feeling sorry for poor Joseph.
Another woman walked on stage, decidedly expectant. Michael tipped his head toward Courtney's. "Who's that?"
"Elizabeth," she whispered back. "The mother-to-be of John the Baptist."
He nodded, hoping she didn't realize he was clueless when it came to that stuff.
While Mary sang, a dancer dressed in white swirled onto the stage. Not dancing, exactly. More like floating. Michael sat up straighter, craning his neck for a better look. Was she supported by wires?
Her white dress was made of clouds, her feet had wings. While Mary sang, "My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior," the dancer rejoiced all around her, not with words but with movement.
He nudged Courtney, his gaze glued to the stage. "Who's the dancer?"
"I don't know," she murmured. "Isn't she glorious?"
Yeah, that was a good word: glorious. Her dancing was almost holy. Like a real angel had come to earth.
Too bad he hadn't steered Courtney closer to the front where he could see the dancer's face. Even from here, he could tell she was something to see. Not that he was attracted to her. It was more like he was drawn to her. Something about her innocence tugged at his insides.
Which didn't make sense. He was anything but innocent.
Wait. She was gliding down the steps toward the aisle. Toward me. Michael swallowed an uneasy lump in his throat. He sat, eyes transfixed, as she spun closer, bending low to touch the floor, then sweeping her arms up, up toward the heavens.
But it was her face that undid him.
No makeup, no lipstick. No color, except the clear blue of her eyes. She glowed as if she'd swallowed a star and it shone through her skin. What was this woman's story? How could anyone be so transparent?
She was right next to him now, oblivious to the crowd, her thoughts apparently elsewhere. As she swung in a slow circle, he looked at her face and their eyes met, just for a brief moment.
I know her, Michael thought.
But that was impossible. He shook his head as though some puzzle piece might fall into place. How could he know her? Courtney was the first church-going chick he'd dated since … well, since forever.
He glanced over his shoulder, his gaze following the dancer out the back door of the sanctuary. Maybe she'd appear again later and dance her way back down the aisle. She was vaguely familiar, though nothing he could pin down. Not somebody from work. A waitress, maybe?
He waited through the long program, glancing over his shoulder now and again, hoping she'd make a second appearance. Familiar carols he hadn't heard in years filled him with a forgotten joy. His squeezed Courtney's hand more than once, just to feel the warmth of it. It'd been a long time since he thought this much about Christmas.
When live camels with three wise men showed up on stage, he was so distracted by the spectacle, he almost missed seeing the blond dancer slip into the pew across the aisle from him.
No more white costume. Jeans and a bright red sweater now. Her hair fell across her shoulders. And she had makeup on. Not much, but a little. Red lipstick, to match her sweater.
Maybe it was a coincidence, or maybe she sensed him staring at her. She turned directly toward him, and met his gaze head on.
And then he knew. Knew where he'd met her, why she looked familiar. The Charm City Lounge. Last year over the holidays, he and some buddies from work went there on a dare. The place was dark and dirty, the liquor watered down, the music too loud, the girls hard-looking. Their bodies were inviting, but their eyes were vacant.
And this woman, this leggy blond, had been among them. He remembered her, not because she was prettier than the rest, but because there was something different about her. She hadn't looked tough; she'd looked broken.
He studied her out of the corner of his eye. She didn't look broken now. Just the opposite. Maybe his memory was playing tricks on him.
When the last chord rang through the sanctuary, followed by thunderous applause, Michael rose to his feet along with everyone else, clapping with more sincerity than he'd felt in ages.
Courtney touched his arm. "Michael, do you mind if I step backstage for a second and say 'hi' to one of my friends in the choir? I won't be long."
"No problem." Perfect, in fact. He'd been trying to figure out how he could catch the dancer before she left and not hurt Courtney's feelings. "I'll be right here, babe."
Courtney's dark head barely had disappeared into the crowd when he turned to find the dancer a footstep away, looking directly at him. Waiting for him, almost.
"Glorianna Wilson," she said in a soft voice, extending her hand to shake his. "My friends call me Glory. I noticed you were staring at me and thought we might have met."
He was speechless. It was her, no question. "We did. Sort of. Not … uh … " He glanced at the rows of pews and racks of Bibles. "Not here, though."
She tipped her head to the side, eyeing him with amusement. "At the Lounge?"
He poked at the carpeting with his toe. "Yeah." Those blue eyes saw too much. "How'd you recognize me?"
"Oh, I didn't recognize you at all." She shrugged. "After a while, you know the look. Men used to pass me on the street, do a double take, that kind of thing."
"Uh-huh." Overcome with curiosity, Michael lifted his chin and tried not to stare. "It is you, then? I can't believe you're the same woman."
"I'm not." Her radiant smile transformed her face. The dancer from the Lounge was gone.
"What … ?" Michael searched for the right word. "What happened?"
"Christmas happened." Her smile turned to laughter, ringing like sleigh bells. "Easter happened. Jesus came to earth a baby, and rose from earth a Savior. He lived and died and lives again for me. And for you." Her words were gentle. "What's your name, by the way?"
"Ah." She nodded, obviously pleased. "Like the angel."
"Listen." He leaned closer, keeping his voice low. "Aren't you afraid someone might recognize you?"
She leaned closer, too. "Someone has."
Slowly straightening, she looked at him as though she could see right through his tough skin. "Michael, you watched me dance once. But God watched me dance every night. I didn't know it then, but he was right there with me, waiting for me to open my eyes and see the truth."
Michael shook his head, confused by her confidence. "But don't people think less of you, once they know?"
Her shining hair framed her face like a halo. "I don't mind if people think less of me. Maybe they'll think more of God."
When someone called her name, she turned to go. "Merry Christmas, Michael. I hope I'll see you here again."
By the time he could say what was on his heart, she'd started down the aisle. "I think you will, Glorianna," he called after her. "And … Merry Christmas!"
Liz Curtis Higgs, is a speaker and best-selling author of more than 20 books. She lives with her family in Kentucky.
Copyright Â© 2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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