The holiday season is not only a time of mirth, it's also the time of year when individuals reflect upon miraculous, otherworldly experiences that have left them changed.
For many, that presence has the quality of an angel, real or imagined. In some cases, the angel manifests during a dangerous event and saves a life. For others, it is a flesh-and-blood individual who delivers an unexpected act of compassion or kindness, and frequently leaves before a thank-you can be tendered.
The Bee has compiled angel stories from readers. Each has two things in common: Something inexplicable happens in a person's life, and once that event occurs, the world is left a better place, if only for a moment.
These wide-ranging stories suggest that, even in our modern world, people experience favors, visitations or protection they cannot explain, often when they least expect it.
This angel had four legs
I spent 13 years with an angel. His name was Jack, and he was a black dog.
Jack came to me in 1997 as a tiny puppy, discovered in front of Safeway by my sister. With a 19-year age difference and an equally vast lifestyle difference, she and I were forging a new relationship after years of estrangement.
Jack bound us together until her death in 2000. Those were difficult years, with the added loss of our parents and other elderly relatives, and the failure of a long-term relationship.
Through it all, Jack was the source of smiles and an island of calm.
After ensuing years of trips to the dog park while I regained my equilibrium, I, on a whim, took Jack walking on the American River. There, I met the man who is now my beloved companion. Jack had again worked his magic.
I lost Jack last year, but he gave me one final gift. When I tearfully walked into the vet's office to pick up his ashes, on the counter was a homeless rapscallion of a rat terrier puppy. We call him "Jack's Revenge."
Joyce Lodwick, Sacramento
Years ago, while driving home at night during a torrential rainstorm, I was on a very narrow country road that didn't have any streetlights. I could not see the road because of the darkness and the force of the rain hitting my windshield.
I was terrified because mine was the only car on the road. So I said out loud: "Somebody, please help me."
Immediately after I said those words, a pickup truck pulling a horse trailer came out of nowhere right in front of me. I had to slam on my brakes to avoid hitting the trailer. Now, I was even more upset, I thought, "Excuse me! I asked for help and this is what I get."
Within a few seconds, I focused on the trailer in front of me, and what I saw brought a smile to my face. The trailer had so many bright lights that it could have easily guided Santa safely through any kind of treacherous weather.
I knew this was not an ordinary person driving the pickup truck. This was my angel who had come to guide me down this dark, lonely road on a stormy night until I could make it safely to the freeway. A half-hour later, while continuing to follow the horse trailer, I did make it safely to the freeway.
As I started to enter the freeway, I briefly looked back to check on oncoming traffic. After merging onto the road, I looked for the horse trailer. It was nowhere in sight. I continued to look for that trailer during the rest of my journey home.
I'm not surprised that I never saw it again. I was now safe, and so my angel's assignment was complete.
Peggy Mayer, Auburn
Uninjured by fall
A few years ago, I accompanied my parents to the Phoenix Veterans Administration hospital for an appointment. As we were leaving the office, my mother stumbled and fell into the hallway.
She hit hard, and people surrounded her to assess her condition. Suddenly, a man in a baseball cap approached my mother, knelt by her, made eye contact and made the sign of the cross before her. Without a word, he slowly rose, turned and walked away. My mother's eyes followed him as if she were in a trance, and then she asked where he went.
I looked up, and there was no sign of the man. He had disappeared. My mother rose from the floor with no injury and a feeling that she had been touched by an angel. There is no doubt in our minds that he interceded on Mom's behalf.
Kathy Steenson, Paradise
Warning from Michael
Feb. 9, 2001, is a day I will always remember the day the angel saved my life. I was 53 years old, very pragmatic and really did not believe in angels. But as I was driving my Jeep alone on Highway 65 at 60 miles per hour, a male voice called out from the passenger seat "Slow to 35!"
Within seconds, a car with young men inside zoomed past me and stopped at a green light at the Sunset intersection. As I approached, they turned in front of me. Both cars were demolished but I survived.
The California Highway Patrol came quickly. I told the officer the story. He said, "Mister, I see this all the time at 60, you would be dead."
I knew then that I had been saved by that voice.
In 2008 in Sedona, Ariz., that angel came to visit us. While my wife and I were walking a labyrinth, the clouds rapidly formed over our head and the angel appeared in the clouds. I had my camera. See for yourself. It is the Archangel Michael on a horse.
Tom Lumbrazo, Roseville
Coins from heaven
Yes, I believe in angels and pennies from heaven. I lost my two children in Athens, Greece, in 1978: Mark and Jan Granroth.
The story was in The Sacramento Bee at the time. They were scuba divers.
Then, in 2007, their remains were retrieved and returned to me in Minnesota.
Every day since they disappeared, I walk and find coins from heaven on the street, in the snow, in the stores, without fail nearly every day, so I know it is Mark and Jan's way of sending me a message that they are OK.
Fran Granroth Skalisky, a Sebeka, Minn., snowbird in Sacramento
No more searching
Rejected by many and hopeful for one, I had walked through most of my life with few people I could call friends. I'm probably not the easiest person to love, but I have a lot of love to give, if only given the chance.
Feeling hopeless and alone in my non-friendship season, I set out to serve at my local church in hopes of meeting someone who would understand the meaning of "forgiveness" and not "judgment."
During this time of serving, I met another woman named Debbie, my "angel."
Our friendship, our ups and downs, our life lessons and sharing have taught me to become a better human being, to see friendship in a whole new light, to accept differences as a way to grow and learn.
My lifetime goal is to walk a path of acceptance and gratitude and to be a friend to many.
Sherry Meyerhoff, Rocklin
Timely wake-up shout
I was returning to Los Angeles from a holiday visit with my college girlfriend in Santa Barbara very late at night, and I was driving on Ventura Boulevard when I fell asleep behind the wheel.
I was alone in the car, but I heard a loud, clear voice say, "BOB!" I woke up, and when I looked up, a car was stopped at a red light about 100 feet in front of me.
I jammed on the brakes and managed to stop just a few inches from doom. I know that God sent one of his angels to ride with me that night, saving not only my life but those of the people in the car ahead of me.
Bob Eitzen, North Highlands
Gift from a special child
Having taught elementary schoolchildren for more than 32 years, I have received hundreds of wonderful gifts from students.
I especially cherish one given to me in 1979 by Jennifer, an adorable 10-year-old who had cerebral palsy. Her physical limitations were so severe she was confined to a modified gurney, yet she maintained a wonderful sense of humor and an unbelievable spirit of joy and enthusiasm.
I recall Jennifer beaming as I unwrapped her present a small wax angel with a soft, cherubic face and tiny wings attached to a smooth, flowing gown. With a mischievous grin, Jennifer said, "See? She looks just like me."
When I moved to the Sacramento area, I stored my holiday decorations in the attic of my home. Imagine my disappointment when I realized the summer heat had dramatically altered the appearance of my treasured angel, still delicately wrapped in tissue.
She had lost her wings and leaned to one side. But, the changed expression on her adorable face remains priceless. And this angel adorns my living room mantel every Christmas, to remind me of a very special child, indeed.
Terri Barnard, Antelope
Boy's soul takes wing
It was May 22, 2002, the day after our son died of a brain tumor. He was 14 years old.
I was sitting on our front porch reflecting on the last five years of his struggle, when I looked up into the sky.
Right over our house was a flock of white birds.
I had never seen white birds like these in our neighborhood, nor have I ever seen them since. I did not tell anyone what I saw and felt for about a year because I thought they would think I had lost my mind, but I truly believe they were angels sent to let us know Nick had arrived in heaven and that he was going to be OK.
We still miss him every day.
Heidi Modeste, Roseville
Dream comes true
I was 8 years old when my career Army dad returned from Japan, and we were transferred to Fort Lewis, Wash. We moved into a little white house in nearby Olympia that Christmas of 1955.
Our furniture hadn't arrived. We had the bare minimum of food in the refrigerator, and we certainly didn't have a tree or anything beneath it. Somehow, my younger sister and brother and I knew things were pretty grim that season. We didn't ask for any gifts because we knew we probably wouldn't receive any.
We had moved to Washington state from the San Francisco Bay Area. Our first days in Olympia were extremely cold.
On Christmas Eve, the three of us kids huddled together on blankets in the bedroom, and we whispered about what we wanted for Christmas. I tried to assure them that we would get some sort of gift, but I had no idea what it would be.
Quietly, we bundled our blankets around us and sat by the window. I started to sing, "Angels We Have Heard on High," but my sister and brother couldn't remember all of the words.
Then I suggested we sing "White Christmas," since we had heard it often on the radio and knew most of the words. We sang the song over and over until Mama came into the bedroom and made us get back into our makeshift bed. Once we got warm again, we drifted off to sleep.
On Christmas morning, Mama came in and woke us up with a big smile on her face. She told us to hold hands and follow her into the living room. When we got into the room, it was still dark in the house.
She beckoned for us to come near the large living room window. She pulled back the drapes and we saw the most incredible sight. It had snowed almost a foot overnight, and the sight was as beautiful as a picture postcard.
We just knew that the angels had heard us singing "White Christmas" and helped us get the most beautiful gift of all.
Karin J. Fowler, Sacramento
Decoration from on high
Twenty-five years ago, our newly decorated Christmas tree sat in the second story of a 100-year-old Victorian.
The tree was 14 feet high and so wide it barely fit into the alcove. Thin, old-fashioned windows surrounded it on three sides. One night, a winter storm slammed into San Rafael with such explosive fury that the upper window pane was sucked out and away from the house.
I climbed around the tree and onto the window ledges to nail a blue tarp over the glassless window.
In an instant the tarp billowed and should have pushed me through the side window. Tossed against the fragile window, I asked myself: Why am I still here and not outside on the street 20 feet below?
I look into the living room to my wife who was also amazed I was still in the room.
She said: "Look what's hanging onto your jeans!"
From a tree with literally hundreds of ornaments, the one angel ornament, the one with a gown of purple sequins and a golden halo, had attached itself to the little brass rivet by my pants pocket.
Yes, I believe in angels.
Thomas O'Toole, Grass Valley
Angel hankies all around
My good friend, Dona, has a heart of gold and is always doing nice things for other people. She does beautiful embroidery, and when any of her friends or acquaintances needs a "lift" in their lives, she makes them an "angel hankie."
We have a group of 12 friends who gather for dinner once a month and Dona made an angel hankie for each of us. We all carry them the men, too! some on our person, some in our cars.
Claire Gliddon, Fair Oaks
A moving angel
In the early 1950s, our mother took my younger sister, Pam, and me to buy a Christmas gift for one another. We went downtown to Woolworth's on K Street. Hiding from each other and guided by our mother, we chose identical angel candles.
Christmas 2010 was our first without our beloved mother. I gave my sister an angel candle like those we had picked out so long ago. Mama was with us in spirit as we told our versions of that long-ago shopping day.
In 2011 Pam was diagnosed with breast cancer. She drew her angel family (loved ones who have passed on) close. In bed she thought of the angel candle on the dresser in her son's room. She fell asleep thinking she would move that angel into her bedroom.
When she awoke the next morning, the angel was in her room. It slowly dawned on Pam that her husband, Jim, had moved the angel into their room, not realizing she had intended to do so.
That morning, seeing her angel sitting across from her bed, my sister knew with peace and certainty that she would be OK.
Jennifer Cummings, Sacramento
Santa was here
After they attended Christmas Eve Mass in Chicago with us, our two daughters Chrissy, 6, and April, 3 were eager to see proof that Santa had visited our house.
They got excited when they saw a lot of presents, the half-eaten cookie and the half-consumed milk they had left for him on the table earlier.
My husband and I were delighted to see them jump up and down with joy. As I opened our patio drapes, Chrissy shouted, "Look, Santa and his reindeer really came over."
We were all shocked to see that the snow-covered patio had tracks of "reindeer hoofs" and "Santa's sleigh."
Our daughters continued screaming and laughing, while my husband and I stared at each other with wonder. I pressed my nose against the glass door to investigate.
Walking away was my old angel neighbor, Mrs. Violet, pulling her shopping cart, dropping little gifts in the neighborhood, while a little angel rabbit was hopping behind her. Not only did Santa come but also some angels, too.
Carolina Bautista, Elk Grove
My husband and I were touring New England by bicycle. It was a 1,000-mile circle tour from Boston.
We awoke one day to a drizzly rain in Bar Harbor, Maine. Our destination: Bangor.
The rain steadily increased until the highway was awash, filling potholes and pavement cracks, slowing our speed to a crawl. Repeatedly we were squeezed between two tractor-trailer rigs while bicycling along the business route.
It became a death-trap experience, frightening me until my tears mixed with rain. Up ahead, a green Jeep Cherokee pulled over and a woman flagged us to a stop. She was young and pretty braving the rain.
"You will die on this road unless you ride with me," she told us.
This was the first time ever that we accepted a ride. We loaded eight panniers, road bikes and two soggy cyclists into her car. She was a classically trained violinist on her way to a recital.
Reaching Bangor, she dropped us off in front of All Souls Church. We reloaded our bikes in the pouring rain and rode to find a hotel. I remember everything except her name. This angel turned this memory into a rainbow.
Judy Guiraud, Lincoln
Throughout my childhood, I would kneel with my parents at bedtime and recite the bedtime prayer "Angel of God, my guardian dear. "
When I was 16, we went to Maui for Christmas. How strange to sunbathe and surf in December!
Dad and I were swimming in Napili Bay when I noticed he seemed to be going farther and farther out. Something told me he was in trouble.
I started swimming out toward him as he gestured for me to go back. I discovered that a riptide was carrying him away. I grabbed him by the arm and started pulling straight back to the beach which is not what you are supposed to do. You are supposed to swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the rip, but I didn't know that at the time.
At 100 pounds, I was towing a grown 250-pound man to safety. There is no way I did this by myself. Two angels were helping his and mine.
Danalee Lavelle, Sacramento
Angel in the store aisle
When my daughter was a little over a year old (She's 7 now), times were really tough on my family, with the housing market crash and beginning of an economic crisis.
My husband and I had just opened a new bank account, and we were short on cash and decided to use the temporary checks to buy groceries.
We bought about $80 worth of groceries, and of course that supermarket did not take temporary checks.
My husband and I started arguing in the aisle, and my 1-year-old started crying. We had no choice but to put our groceries back.
Then this lady in her late 30s, with short, sandy-blond hair, approached. She had no grocery cart as far as I could see.
She tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Here, I'll pay for your groceries," and she gave me five $20 bills.
I just looked at her blue eyes, trying to recognize her. My husband refused her, but she insisted.
I started crying, right in the aisle. I did not understand why she would want to help us.
She just smiled and said, "Your baby is so cute."
I couldn't thank her enough. I asked for her name or phone number, so I could pay her back, but she refused. Then she walked away.
It brings tears to my eyes whenever I think of the story. As cynical as I can be at times, she reminds me that there are good people out there.
She was my family's "angel."
If she reads this story, I hope she would remember us and know that it was more than just groceries she bought us that day.
Sa Simon, Sacramento
Angel in white
It was 10:30 p.m. on a September night in 1975 when the phone rang. It was our 15-year-old daughter, who had run away six months earlier.
"Mom, I want to come home."
We arranged a meeting place. Even though I was in my robe and slippers, I grabbed my purse and took my husband's car because it was parked behind mine.
Twenty minutes later, it ran out of gas and I was stranded in an industrial area. I walked the streets looking for a telephone. I did not encounter one person.
Would our daughter leave, thinking that I was not coming?
I had one option: stand in the middle of the street and flag down the next car. I was very frightened. Who would be in the car?
When the next car arrived, I ran to the passenger window, and through my tears, I saw a vision in white behind the wheel. This angel took me to my daughter. She was a nurse getting off duty from a nearby hospital. She was dressed as a nurse, but she will always be an angel to me.
Sheila Hansen, Lincoln
Angels of survival
In 2001, I had surgery and was in the hospital on Christmas. Friends gave me angels to add to a collection that I would display every year at Christmastime.
While recuperating, I decided to leave the angels out for a longer time. In 2006, again I had surgery in December. That time I decided to leave the angels out all year.
I look at them every day and thank them for watching over me. My angels have helped me to be a cancer survivor.
Barbara Bevan, Sacramento