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SUBMITTED by Mark De Cracker, First Presbyterian Church of Lyons (24-Nov-2009)

“Angels Unaware”

The final thoughts of Rev. Andrew MacTaggart, December 25th, 1994:
It is always interesting to see what becomes new and renewed during the Christmas season. It seems almost every year there is a little different variation on the traditional Christmas stories. We emphasize something a little bit different. The Star, the Shepherds, the Wiseman... This year the emphasis is going to be on Angels. Even the Finger Lakes Times had an article in the Sunday paper, which was published yesterday on people in the Finger Lakes area who had encounters with angels. Some of them were really quite emotional and inspirational and others where kind of like almost flying saucer type stories. But they spoke about angels! And, within the Church, we have been rediscovering angels.

Angels appeared to the shepherds, and gave them the message that they took to Bethlehem when they went to look for Jesus. An angel told them what to look for. He told them where to go. It was an angel who told them the Good News that gets passed on to us though Mary.

We will never know whether those shepherds told how they had come to be in the stable. How they found Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus. Mary remembered it all, and eventually she told Luke. Luke wrote it down, and we read it today. Angels started the process off! Angels are an important part of Christmas.

When I was a youngster angels were a weird mystery. Nobody talked about angels. Angels were usually considered to be, something like the spirits of dead children, or Cupids, as most of you know. But today we have the different understanding of who angels are because we can learn from the scriptures. Angles are God’s messengers who bring Good News. Angels show us what we are to do. So today’s story is about an angel.

It is a story of an Angel who didn’t know she was an angel! A real life angel, not with wings, or a halo, not even with a message to be spoken. She was an angel nevertheless, an angel unaware. A real life angel!

On the third day of Christmas many years ago, not so many years ago that it is not in my lifetime, a little girl named Kathie was born. The delivery was not easy, in fact it was horrendous. Yet, when Kathie was born, it was a great gray day. The doctors said she would not survive another two or three days, at most. They were unable to determine how severe her brain damage was. They expected that, within the course of time, it wouldn’t make any difference anyway because, she would die. So we prepared everyone who knew about Kathie to expect the worst; but we prayed for the best.

I am going to say “we” because Kathie was my sister. Everyone who knows me knows I have two brothers. I'm the oldest. My sister Kathie was the fourth child in our family. She lived to be almost five years old. The prayers that we offered were heard. God had something He wanted to communicate to us through Kathie.

We took care of her back then, while I was only a young teenager. Our Church was like our family, as a community of faith, we took care of Kathie and she grew: If she had been brought in front of you, you would not think anything was wrong with her. She looked healthy. She looked well. But she was blind and she had Cerebral Palsy. She could not move. She wore braces as she got older. Every two days my mother would take her for physical therapy at the Cerebral Palsy Center. My family was not wealthy, by any means, but good people helped. The Church folks, they had a prayer service for healing, for help, for comfort, for an answer for why this child could be so hurt.

The Lions Club, wasn’t a social organization, they were a group who helped people who had lost their sight. So they helped with the braces. The Cerebral Palsy Association, the Easter Seals Campaign, the March of Dimes, all were helping to make things right.

As I said, Kathie lived for four years. Kathie lived almost to her fifth birthday; almost, because she was the full size of a five year old child. She lived almost to within a month of when my parents would have to make the heart rendering decision to place her in another home. We would have to put her in a State Institution, because she was too big for my small mother to carry, and my father had to work. She suffered with respiratory distress.

I remember summer days, when to feed her, you would lie her on the table, on the dining room table, and put pillows under her back and her head to try to get her to sit up. Kathie couldn’t sit up by herself. The braces sometimes helped, but they could also hurt. So every single meal she was fed by hand.

I remember the day my mother screamed and I came running in from outside. It was a summer day. I heard my mother scream! Kathie had some food caught in her throat and she had stopped breathing. Fortunately I had learned CPR. I managed to get her breathing before the ambulance got there. When she eventually died it was exactly the same situation. They told us that it was going to happen. They spoke of a tragic day that would probably come because her body was growing faster than her mind. Her mind would be unable to tell her body to do all the functions that she needed. They told us if she didn’t choke on food, it would be something else.

During the years when she was one, two and three, she acted more like a little normal girl. She would respond, she would hold your hand, and I would sit, literally for hours, with her cradled in my arms. Someone always had to be with Kathie. My parents would go to church one time, and I would go to church another time. Someone always had to stay with Kathie. There was not much time for a social life as a young teenager. These sacrifices were called for. Kathie would twits. We called it twits. Other people would call it a convulsion. We though “convulsion” was to an awful term! Doctors explained the “twits” as when her whole body would go into pain all a once. Often this would happen as many as many as two or three times in a five minute period. Pain would cover every muscle, and the only thing that we could do was to hold her until it passed.

When she died, the doctors said she had three times the amount of narcotics working like a medicine to keep the pain under control. That dosage would addict an adult. Kathie never saw pain as far as we know. She just lived in her world by the touch of our hands.

As I said, she died just at Thanksgiving. I was a teenager, still in High School. I remember the day, walking home from school and seeing the ambulance out in front of my house. I knew exactly what had happened even before I got there.

I think of Kathie at Christmas time, because it was close to her birthday. She was born on the 27th. All the joys and festivities of Christmas were a hopefully part of her vital birth for a few years. When I think of angels and my encounters with this angel unaware I think of a book entitled, Angel Unaware. The older folks in the congregation, and some of the older youth will remember Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. The Evans were high profile Hollywood personalities in a golden era of movies and TV. They will always be known for the difference they made as they lived.

In 1952, their small little girl died, much like my sister, but she was only two and a half. Dale Evans Rogers wrote this little book, Angel Unaware and it became an instant best seller. It describes the report of the angel unaware as she goes to heaven. When the angel goes back to her Creator, the one who sent her, she has a message to proclaim, in her own special way. Dale Evans Rogers closes her story by describing the report of the same kind of angel in her life that was part of my life as well.

Remember, this is the angel’s report.

“Well, that’s it Father, that’s what happened down there. That’s how I delivered your message and I am sure they got it. We taught them to see the purpose in pain, and the messages in the crosses they have to carry around. You know, when Daddy (Roy Rogers) sings now in his big rodeo show, he has a lot of big spotlights making a cross in the center in the arena. It’s sort of the symbol the great big thing in the middle of their lives. Everything else in their life now sort of moves around it, like a wheel around a hub.

They’re a lot stronger now since they have got our message. There’s a new glory inside them and on everything all around them, and they’ve made up their minds to give it to everyone they meet. The sun’s a lot brighter around their home since we stopped by there for a little while. And now Father, Please… could I just go out and try on my wings?”

After Christmas, on December 27th, 1994 Andy Mac Taggart suffered a severe heart attack, and died in transport to Cleveland for a Heart Transplant.

On December 21st, individuals from 152 Gibson Street, a group home with the Finger Lakes D.D.S.O., along with kids from the Lyons Presbyterian “Super Cool after School Bible School,” performed the Christmas Nativity scene with the help of the Revered Mac Taggart and Deacon Ed Sergent. It had long been a dream of Deacon Ed’s to have a fully integrated Christmas Pageant, and on this night it happened.

Andy told me, as he was clutching the book "Angels Unaware", with the photo of Kathie inserted into the book as a bookmark, that he decided to share his story. He had been moved so much that after the pageant with the kids, that he decided to share his story. He told me that it was because of Kathie, that he became involved in the ministry. Andy also shared with me, that his mother went on to receive a degree in Special Education, and to this day is still a volunteer in New Jersey. Revered Mac Taggart was an active member of the community. He was responsible for setting up a Food Cupboard for the needy.

He was always progressive when dealing with the handicapped. They were always welcome in the Church and participated in administration functions. I have been close to Andy through the years, leading youth canoe trips in the Adirondacks with him. He was a wonderful man, a leader and a spiritual guide.

Rev. Andrew Mac Taggart on a trip to the Adirondacks

On Tuesday, 9 December 2009 we will be celebrating the 15th annual Christmas Pageant in honor of Andy at the Lyons Presbyterian Church at 7:00 p.m.

While the above message is not the literal transcript of his final message, the few minor revisions remain true to his last words.

Mark De Cracker


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