Angels Among Us (Part 1)

By Rachel, age 26, Connecticut
Sweet Designs Featured Writer

Featured Gold Star Writer Bio

Editor's Note: This is Part 1 of a two part article. It will conclude with Part 2 in next month's issue.

I recently heard a song on the radio titled "Angels Among Us." This song has the most beautiful lyrics I have ever heard. As I listened to these lyrics, I could not help but think of the angels who have come into my life, beginning with the day I set foot on the campus of Anna Maria College. I began to reflect on the blessings each of them as individuals and collectively as a group have brought me over the last six years. I was once again reminded of the fact that the angels you will meet in this piece saved my life. Here are the lyrics that inspired this piece:

I was walking home from school on a cold winter day
Took a shortcut through the woods, and I lost my way
It was getting late, and I was scared and alone
But then a kind old man took my hand and led me home
Mama couldn't see him, oh but he was standing there
And I knew in my heart, he was the answer to my prayers

Oh well I believe there are angels among us
Sent down to us from somewhere up above
They come to you and me in our darkest hours
To show us how to live, to teach us how to give
To guide us with the light of love

When life held troubled times, and had me down on my knees
There's always been someone to come along and comfort me
A kind word from a stranger, to lend a helping hand
A phone call from a friend, just to say I understand
And ain't it kind of funny at the dark end of the road
That someone lights the way with just a single ray of hope

Oh well I believe there are angels among us
Sent down to us from somewhere up above
They come to you and me in our darkest hours
To show us how to live, to teach us how to give
To guide us with the light of love

They wear so many faces, show up in the strangest places
To grace us with their mercy, in our time of need

Oh well I believe there are angels among us
Sent down to us from somewhere up above
They come to you and me in our darkest hours
To show us how to live, to teach us how to give
To guide us with the light of love
To guide us with the light of love

(Songwriters: Don Goodman and Becky Hobbs)

I met my first angel while interviewing to be accepted to Anna Maria College. I had no way of knowing at the time that the man who interviewed me would turn out to be the first of 13 angels on that campus. I met Dennis Vanesse in April of 2005. I was sitting in the learning center on campus waiting to meet with him, having no idea what to expect. After a few minutes a very large male came bursting out of this tiny coat closet of an office, serenading me with the show tune "Getting to Know You" from the musical The King and I, complete with jazz hands.

I wasn't sure whether to be really weirded out about the fact that this six-foot-something man was serenading me with a show tune or to simply laugh. He ushered me into this tiny office which admittedly caused me some anxiety right from the start. Once in his office we sat down to chat. As it turned out, Dennis and I had grown up just 20 minutes apart in neighboring towns. It also turned out that we had several mutual friends and acquaintances in common, including the priest at my church who was his teacher in high school. That meeting would ultimately seal my fate.

After the meeting I received a letter in the mail congratulating me on my acceptance to Anna Maria College. If it were not for Dennis Vanasse I definitely would not be where I am now in my life. His decision to accept me to Anna Maria College under my learning disability documentation would be the first step in regaining my life. A couple of months into my stay at Anna Maria something Dennis did scared the daylights out of me, and without thinking I swung at him. That night Dennis was the person on campus to reach out to me and to offer me help, knowing through his line of work what had obviously taken place in my past.

Dennis, I know that I was not the easiest student or person to deal with most of the time. The approach that you took in your role in trying to save my life may not have always been what I felt was right, but it worked. The confidence in my ability to succeed that you displayed, along with the endless amount of patience you showed when dealing with me over the course of the last six years, are more appreciated than you will ever know. Thank you for taking a chance on me and giving me the opportunity to receive the help I needed to get my life back on track and to heal.

On the 10th of October, 2005, I was wandering around my new environment during some free time I had that morning. I exited Trinity Hall (one of the classroom buildings) and came to face to face with what appeared to be an old but beautiful farmhouse. The house on the outside looked as though someone might be living in it. Upon closer inspection I figured out that the old converted farmhouse in fact housed the most vital college administrative offices. As I continued through the buildings I found more offices. I was about to leave when a woman stepped out of her office. This woman greeted me; she welcomed me to the Molly Bish Child Advocacy Center.* She looked me up and down and then told me that she knew I was a survivor of trauma in my past. She told me outright that she could help me, and she wanted to help me, but that I needed to want the help.

All of a sudden I felt I was put on the spot. My face felt hot. I was embarrassed that my survivorship was so obvious. I agreed to the help. Within the next hour this woman, whom I would come to know as Patty and who became my mentor soon after, freed me from my abusive relationship with my then-ex-boyfriend of three years who still had a hold on me. After that day I began working with Patty around the traumas that had taken place in my past,** which were still affecting me a great deal. Working with Patty was the first time I felt safe enough to begin to verbalize what had happened to me. That feeling of safety and security made it easier for me to talk. Patty taught me how to connect my emotions with the words.

Working with Patty was the first time I had cried about any of the trauma I'd survived, the first time I learned how to get angry. Feeling my emotions again after so long was painful and difficult, but Patty taught me that feeling and releasing these emotions were vital to my healing. Patty also helped me to get my weight under control. With Patty's help I lost 70 unnecessary and unwanted pounds. Today I am still working with Patty from time to time which I am proud of. Patty taught me how to stand on my own two feet. She has given me the confidence that I need to continue this journey one day at a time. She knows that I do still need her, and she makes herself available in the moments when I struggle a bit to cope and when I need support.

I would never have met Patty if it were not for the couple who opened the child advocacy center where Patty was the director, and where I would spend five years as a volunteer. John and Magdelane Bish are the two most amazing people I have ever been blessed to meet. The strength they have shown throughout the trials they have had to endure* never ceases to amaze me.

During my first year at Anna Maria, Magi and I were conversing when the subject of learning disabilities arose. I shared with Magi my own struggle with my own learning disability. I shared with her my fear of not being able to keep up and failing out of Anna Maria. Magi told me that she would not allow me to talk like that. She told me that she knew I was smart. She told me that she believed in me and that John did as well. She told me that I had the ability to succeed, but needed to change my thinking. I promised her that I would work on changing my thought patterns. Not long after that conversation I also shared with both John and Magi my own experience that I survived at the age of 14. It was fairly soon after that conversation that I found myself traveling with Patty, John, and four other interns across the state of Massachusetts conducting identification kit programs. I became one of the five "John's Angel's," as John nicknamed myself and the other four interns.

While the traveling and hanging out with my four friends, Patty, and John was fun, each trip provided me with much more than a good time out. Conducting the child identification kit programs gave me a positive way to fight back against my experience. Conducting each identification kit program helped me to channel my anger and to use it for the purpose of empowerment and advocacy. John and Magi giving me the opportunity to volunteer at the center they opened on my campus made me realize that I wanted to focus my professional life on advocacy. As a result of being invited to volunteer for them I changed my major from education to social work. Between volunteering at the child advocacy center and concentrating my studies in social work, specifically in child advocacy, I began to not just survive in my life but to thrive and flourish. I cannot thank John and Magi enough for what they have done for me and for my life simply by providing me with an opportunity to volunteer.

Academically I had six different angels, each of whom brought a unique lesson to my life that cannot be learned in a textbook, starting with my English professor, Virginia Heslinga. Writing has always been something I have enjoyed throughout my life. Through all of the various traumas happening in my life, writing was the way that I communicated, though never successfully. I was never confident in my writing ability. My writing was simply something that I enjoyed. In my first year (at a different college), an English professor tore my writing apart and made it clear that my writing was garbage. I stopped writing for a while after that, believing that I was talentless when it came to writing.

Upon arriving at Anna Maria and walking into Professor Heslinga's classroom, the first emotion to hit me was trepidation. Within the first couple of weeks, as I received each paper back that I had written for her class, my emotions changed from that trepidation to confusion. The comments I was receiving back were "superb," "thought provoking," "I felt what you must have felt during this experience," "you have a talent," and "keep writing." With each paper I received back my self-confidence was bolstered. To receive validation regarding my writing meant the world to me. I actually began to believe that the professor at the previous college was not being truthful about my writing.

The comment that stands out to me the most was written on a paper that Professor Heslinga had assigned to our class. The paper was titled "What do you know about the world? How do you know it?" I answered the question in my paper, but I answered the question by making very vague statements and at times using hints of sarcasm. I never came right out and shared any of my experiences. I received the paper back at a later date, and written across the top of my paper were the words "I understand." My defense mechanism was to become snarky. My initial thought was, "You haven't lived my life; you could not possibly understand my perspective."

As I was leaving class that morning I made eye contact with Professor Heslinga. The look in her eyes stopped me in my tracks. All of a sudden it hit me. She did understand. She knew I was a survivor; she was the first person to read between the lines. She was the first person to comprehend what I was not saying. I was no longer carrying my burden alone. Over the next four years Professor Heslinga continued to encourage me to write more. She encouraged me to explore and to find new venues for my writing. I took her advice, and here I am writing for Sweet Designs Magazine. Thank you, Professor Heslinga.

This article concludes next month in the March issue.

* In 2000, Molly Anne Bish, a 16 year old girl from Warren, Massachusetts, was abducted and murdered while working as a local lifeguard. Her body was found three years later after the largest search in Massachusetts history. Molly's parents, John and Magi Bish, started The Molly Bish Foundation in Molly's memory with the goal child safety education, and subsequently the Molly Bish Child Advocacy Center at Anna Maria College.

** See "Teen Dating Violence - A Teenage Epidemic: My Story" (SDM, Apr 2011)

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February & March Magazine Issues

March 15, 2012

The February and March issues of Sweet Designs Magazine are now online, featuring a combined 53 new articles and features!!

- Cover: Stephanie Lynn reflects on 5 years
- Cover: India (of Darn-licious knitwear)
- Life in the dumps (moving in with my bf)
- The difference between men and women
- Angels among us (parts 1 and 2)
- Arts graduates & the dark night of the soul
- Triple threat (how I survived my teen yrs)
- Dating isn't easy (my true story)
- How to turn not-so-great gifts ... (fashion)
- Ten reasons to love being single
- Taking the big leap (college)
- Valentine's Day (not what you'd expect!)
- The last of the cold (hopefully) (fashion)
- A month full of love
- Ten tips for successful airline travel
- Reasons I love writing for SDM
- Who needs love?
- They're not all the same
- The life I'm glad I don't have (fiction)
- Professional dress/ finding Fendi (fashion)
- An airport anniversary: a true story
- Inappropriate Facebook photos
- The perks of a big city (college)
- A night(mare) to forget (part 2)
- The Anita Blake series (book review)
- Saving June by Hannah Harrington (book)
- Under the Mesquite by GG McCall (book)
- The Lullaby by Sarah Dessen (book)
- If I Stay by Gayle Foreman (book review)
- My sweetheart (original poetry)
- Isn't it funny (original poetry)
- The stranger (original poetry)
- A winter wonderland (original poetry)
- One night valentine
- The thick envelopes (college acceptance)
- Southern love
- Healthy hair and vitamins
- It's a date (dating idea alternatives)
- The 30 hour famine
- School's out forever!
- Marching right back into spring? (fashion)
- Dear John
- When TV shows depict your life
- 3 Fun ways to rock spring's hottest trends
- Neglected teeth
- Starting something new
- Guy movies
- To hesitate or dive in?
- Deadly, by Julie Chibbaro (book review)
- Beastly, by Alex Flinn (book review)
- I don't care (poetry)
- Together, alone (poetry)

Sweet Designs Magazine
The Magazine You Can Write For
The Voice of a New Generation


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