How a little charm, a chance encounter and a phone call helped her find her wings...
From her perch atop El Panecillo hill, the 148-foot winged Virgin kept watch over the city of Quito. I lingered in her shadow long after my classmates had snapped their photos and left. When the coast was clear, I stuck a crumpled note into a crack at the base of the statue.
I’d scribbled five simple words across it, my heart’s deepest desire: Please send me an angel.
It was week two of my college study abroad semester in Quito, Ecuador, 6,000 miles from my home in Norway, and I was desperately homesick. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for travel. In fact, at 21, I still really didn’t know what I was cut out for.
My parents were very logical, by-the-book people. They wanted me to pursue a practical career in economics or finance. While I studied numbers, I dreamed of becoming an artist, writing and painting, but I couldn’t tell my parents. I didn’t want to disappoint them.
Grandmother thought a semester in Quito might be just the thing—a complete change of scenery, a whole new culture, an opportunity to assert my independence. “Follow your heart,” she always said. “God has so much in store for you.”
But I didn’t know how to do that. Especially not in Quito, surrounded by American exchange students, unable to speak much Spanish with the locals. I couldn’t even get a good night’s sleep in this strange city.
If ever I needed an angel, it was now. Not a giant angel like Quito’s. A tiny angel would be enough for me.
I walked back to the tour bus, hoping no one had seen me leave my note. As we pulled out, I took one last look at the statue. A beam of sunlight caught on the metal, and Quito’s angel sparkled back at me, as if to say, Give our city a chance. I guessed that she and my grandmother had something in common.
The next day I determined to get to know the city a little better. I visited a market with some girls from my class. We found stalls brimming with treasures. I bought a turquoise scarf for my mother and a carved wooden jewelry box for my aunt. Just as we got ready to leave I noticed one last booth at the back. I had to see it. “Lina, where are you going?” one of my classmates called after me.
“I’ll be right back,” I said, not sure what drew my attention. Follow your heart, I reminded myself as I reached the run-down stall selling silver bangles, flasks and rings. I was examining a bracelet when the vendor shook her head and placed something else in my hand instead.
“Para usted,” she said with a cryptic smile. It was smooth and cool to the touch—a little guardian angel! “For me?” I wished I could tell the woman just how perfect the angel was, but my Spanish was too poor for that. When I pulled out my wallet to pay, she waved me off.
“Muchas gracias,” I managed to whisper. I looped the angel on the chain around my neck. That night, for the first time since arriving in Quito, I slept like a baby.
Instead of going to class the next day, I followed my heart to Quito’s historic center. I fingered the angel necklace and walked the cobblestone streets. In the distance, I could make out the winged outline of the Virgen de Quito. From a café, I watched the locals going about their business while I took a lunch break. As I was about to dig in, someone approached me.
“That’s a beautiful necklace you have there,” a young man said. He was tall and blond, and he spoke with an American accent. “I’m Ty.”
“I’m Lina,” I said. “Would you like to join me?” My own words completely shocked me. I never spoke to strangers. But today my heart—or my angel—had other ideas.
Ty asked me what I was doing in Quito. Before I knew it, I’d told him my life story. We talked about my grandmother and my secret dream of pursuing a career in art, despite my parents’ wishes.
“It’s your life,” he said. “You have to live it.”
“I dunno...” Ty really didn’t know me at all. How could he imagine I could do something so brave?
“You’re much stronger than you think, Lina,” Ty said, getting up from the table. “Your dreams are what make you, well, you.”
And with that he said goodbye and left me to finish my lunch.
I returned to my dorm feeling like a new person. Before I lost my nerve, I ran to the pay phone outside. Was I ready to do this? I’d never be more ready! Gripping my angel charm, I called home. Mother answered.
“Mom,” I said, “I’d like to make some changes in my life.”
We talked for over an hour. Really talked. I explained that I was bored and lonely at my college in Norway, that I didn’t like my financial studies. “I want to transfer to a new school, switch majors, do something artistic,” I confessed. Everything tumbled out.
“Do you think that’s possible?” Mother was quiet. Was she upset? Disappointed? Was she crying? I waited anxiously. But when Mother finally broke the silence, there wasn’t a trace of sadness in her voice. “Lina, your father and I just want what’s best for you,” she said. “But in the end, only you know what that is. We would never want you to give up your dreams.”
In my remaining weeks in Quito, I took every advantage of my adventure so that I had many stories to tell when I got back home. Since then, I’ve traveled all over the world, just like Grandmother imagined.
Today, I live in India with my husband and write children’s stories. No matter where I go, though, I’ll always have a special spot in my heart for Quito. Right over my heart, in fact—that little angel charm given to me in the marketplace still hangs around my neck, a reminder of my answered prayer. And angels who gave me wings to follow my heart.
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