A Precious Little Angel

One angel figurine was picking flowers, one was petting a kitten, and one was...shooting hoops!

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Posted in , Jun 30, 2009

Jake Ness chills out in his bedroom

Mike and I were psyched. Our families were taking a golf vacation at Hot Springs Village together.

The Christophersons lived down the block from us, but they were more than neighbors. Cindy and Dale were like an aunt and uncle to me.

In fact, we even figured out we were related—Mike and his sister, Amy, were my second cousins several times removed. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but we got even closer to the Christophersons after my big brother, Andy, died in a car accident. They were always at our house, bringing over food, asking if we needed anything.

They really encouraged us to take the vacation to Hot Springs Village too. You see, my family had been there before; it was the last vacation we took with Andy before he died. In a way, I felt like this trip was all about remembering him. And there was a lot to remember.

By the time Andy was a sophomore, he was already developing into a fine point guard. I was in eighth grade then. There was nothing like watching Andy in his white uniform with the big red 20 on the back, doing some fancy ball handling, dribbling downcourt for a three-point shot. The crowd learned to keep its eye on number 20.

When Andy died, the school gave us his uniform. Two years later, though, part of me was still scanning the court for him, or thinking that he might suddenly show up and shoot some hoops with Mike and me in the driveway. Our minister said I'd see Andy again one day in heaven, and I wished I could believe it.

I mean really believe it. Andy hanging around the court in a white uniform was one thing, but with a bunch of angels in white robes? I just couldn't picture it. For now I had to settle for reliving some of the good times we had golfing at Hot Springs Village.

Mike and I helped our dads load up. We put the TV and PlayStation in the back of our van, and Mike rode with us. "I brought plenty of games and a stack of DVDs," I said. "We're set for the next two days." Mike gave me a high five as we rolled down the driveway. Dale, Cindy and Amy followed in their car.

"Hey, guys," my mom said. "We're going to make an extra stop tomorrow. Cindy and Amy want to visit the Precious Moments Inspiration Park."

I looked up from the game, completely blowing my next shot. "Precious Moments Inspiration Park?" I said. "You've got to be kidding."

"Nope," said Mom. "It's in Carthage, Missouri. Right on our way."

Mike and I looked at each other in horror. Precious Moments theme park had to be a drag any day, but on this trip especially. This was supposed to be about Andy! Andy did not "do" Precious Moments.

I threw a pleading look at Dad, but he shook his head. We all knew if Mom wasn't happy, no one was happy.

Mike groaned. "It's settled," Dad said. "We're going."

I slumped back against the side of the van.

Early next afternoon, I spotted the sign for Carthage, Missouri. Precious Moments Inspiration Park—Next Exit, it proclaimed. I hoped Dad would just whiz by it, but he turned the wheel. In no time we had come to a stop in the parking lot. The Christophersons met us at our van. "Jake and I will stay here and chill," Mike said.

"Oh, no, you won't," said Cindy. "You're coming in and you're going to like it!" Mom gave me that look, and I followed her to the ticket booth. We paid for seven tickets and entered the park. Everywhere you looked there were statues with huge heads and eyes. A fountain sprayed water in time to classical music. Benches lined the walkways so visitors could stop and peacefully take it all in.

It was just about the last place on earth I wanted to be. After about an hour of Amy and the moms cooing, Cindy pointed up a stone path. "Look," she said. "There's the chapel."

Mike and I rolled our eyes. "Come on, boys," Cindy said, giving us a push. "This is supposed to be the best part." Right. It was crowded inside. We moved through the sanctuary into a room called Hallelujah Square. While the rest of us hung back in the doorway, Amy and Cindy milled around, inspecting the mural of heaven that completely covered the walls.

Hundreds of Precious Moments angels danced, hugged, twirled and skipped hand in hand. That's where Andy's supposed to be? I thought. Looks like a guy's worst nightmare.

"Jake! Over here!" Cindy called from across the room. "You have to see this!"

I can only imagine. I made my way through the throng of tourists, to the far corner of the room. My dad pointed to the wall. More angels. What else was new? One was picking flowers, one was petting a kitten, and one was...shooting hoops!

"Whoa!" said Mike, coming up behind me. The angel held a basketball. The number emblazoned on the front of his robe: a big red number 20.

"I can't believe I even noticed him," Cindy said. "I guess that number really caught my eye."

The seven of us stood around for a while staring at that angel. Somehow it didn't seem that far-fetched anymore that that was exactly what my brother Andy was doing at this very moment. Shooting some hoops up in heaven. And it was as real as when we played one-on-one together in the driveway.

I'd planned on this trip being about remembering Andy. But now I knew for sure that Andy wasn't just a memory. I would tell him all about this trip one day in heaven. Maybe over a game of one-on-one.

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