ANGELS: The Grave Angel by John-Ray Johnson

The Grave Angel John-Ray Johnson

From Angelic Healing

I got kicked out of high school for good when I was almost eighteen for gambling.  The fact is I had my own private casino in my school locker – portable roulette wheel, cards, dice, and all.  I used to get a group together and we’d go out behind the school, cutting classes, and shoot craps or roll the wheel or even play a hand or two of poker.  I was crazy about gambling, and I was pretty good at it.  When I wasn’t so good I’d cheat.  Either way, I made money.  I suppose it would seem really penny-ante today, but in 1966, $100 in a week’s time for doing very little seemed pretty attractive.

Of course I didn’t get much out of school – when I showed up.  The reason for that was that I also liked to drink, and I was well on my way to becoming an alcoholic.  I couldn’t buy booze legally, but that was never a problem – there was a bunch of older guys who liked to gamble with me, and either they bought it for me or they used it to gamble with if they were short.  I had a real good stash of hard liquor that I kept in the garage at home.  I favored rum, the strong kind, and I would mix it half and half in a can of pop so no one would be the wiser, or so I thought.  The can went everywhere with  me; it even got to be a joke around the school, and kids called me the Can Man.

Anyway, one day in November of 1966 I showed up for school late and drunk and was immediately sent to the principal’s office.  It wasn’t the first time.  In fact, I had been suspended twice since the school year had started, once for passing my can of soda around during gym, and another time when my English teacher saw some of my gambling equipment that I had foolishly kept in an open duffel bag.

When I walked into the principal’s office, I found my English teacher waiting.  I had hated him for nearly two years; he picked on me every time I was in class, or so I felt.

“You’re in deep sh-t,” he announced with a certain glee.  “We know all about your roulette-wheel scams.  The principal’s calling the police right now.  You’re going to jail or reform school or wherever, but you’re never going to come back here again.”

“Sure, sure man,” I said. I had heard it all before, and I knew it was just a bluff.  I guessed I’d be suspended for another week, but I didn’t care.

Just then the principal came in, and I could tell he was angry.  In a very few words he told me to get my stuff and get out, that I was not being suspended but expelled.  “I called your mother; there will be a meeting about this, but you’re through here.  We’ve had enough….”  He went on and on.

In the middle of what he was saying I just turned around and stumbled out.  I didn’t even bother with my locker; I just went home and lay down on the couch.  I woke up about three in the afternoon, sober and angry.  Mostly I remembered the sneer on my teacher’s face as he gave me the bad news in advance.  “I’m going to have it out with that b–––––,” I muttered to myself.

I took Mother’s car, not that I had a license, and drove over to the school to see if I could intercept my nemesis.  I was in “luck”; as I pulled into the parking lot I saw him come down the school steps.

Suddenly, something inside me snapped.  I stomped on the gas and raced for where he was, meaning to run him over – and I did.  With the right front side of the car I came up behind him and knocked him a dozen feet into the parked cars on the other side of the lot.  Then I sped off home, where, fear and triumph mingling, I got good and drunk.

It wasn’t long before the police came – I hadn’t tried to conceal what I did.  Before I knew what was happening I found myself in handcuffs and on my way to jail.  I had never been there before, and it was frightening.  I don’t want to go into details.

The teacher was not badly hurt, for which I still thank God, but the charge against me was still attempted murder.  And although that was later reduced, I knew that my life was over.  I was facing prison, not just a youth facility.  Even my lawyer didn’t think I would get probation.  I couldn’t even get out on bail – the judge set it high because everyone was afraid I would go after the teacher again.  Maybe I would have, I don’t know.  Anyway, bail was too high for Momma to afford, so I stayed in the jail reading and watching TV with the other inmates.  It was boring, but after I managed to make some new dice out of bar soap, life became more enjoyable.  I had more IOUs by the time my case came to trial than anyone in the jail’s recent memory.

The day I was supposed to go to court, my lawyer spoke to me.  He had arranged with the authorities that if I pleaded guilty to a reduced charge, he could possibly get me out of jail – provided I volunteered for the army.  Well, that was a real surprise.  I didn’t like the idea of the army, but I liked the thought of the state prison even less, so I agreed, and that’s what happened.

The next three years were a nightmare.  Even now they’re tough to think about.  I tried to straighten myself out in the army, and I cut way back on my drinking for a while.  Everyone seemed to gamble, however, so I started up my crap games and all-night poker tournaments.  I had always had some skill as a cook, so in its infinite wisdom the army assigned me to the motor pool, where I was no use at all.

And then, the minute basic was over, my unit was sent to Vietnam, and I learned what hell on Earth was all about.

I was in ‘Nam for eighteen months, and what I saw there convinces me to this day that there is a devil and a hell.  I saw it – every day I was there.  For years after I returned I would wake up screaming, even after God’s angel helped me turn my life around.  There came a time when I did not know when the nightmares at night were over and the nightmare of daily reality began.  I was on the front lines for about fourteen of the eighteen months I was in ‘Nam, and I saw all there was to see, all the sickness and hideous wounds and bodies and death.  I tell people sometimes that I think I lost my soul in Vietnam, and it stayed lost until God’s angel found it ripped apart on the battlefield and reunited it with what was left of me.

To this day I don’t know how come I wasn’t killed or badly wounded during all that time.  Because after the first few months, I stayed as drunk as I could, as often as I could.  And I took drugs.  I had never really gotten into drugs when I was stateside, at least nothing major.  They just weren’t readily available in our small town back then.  But here it was different.  My whole being cried out for escape, so I took whatever anyone gave me – grass, hash, cocaine, heroin – or what I could gamble for.  There were a couple of times my company was in battle when I just lay down on the ground and went to sleep, with shells hitting all around me, I was so stoned.  By the time my enlistment was up, I was as addicted to drugs as any junkie on the streets of the cities at home.

When my enlistment was up (I still don’t understand how I managed to avoid being kicked out of the army), I returned home, where I sponged off Momma, gambled when I was sober enough to hold the cards without shaking, and slept most of the rest of the time.  I was in the local jail on a more or less regular basis for public intoxication and other small charges, and I did some time for drunk driving.  Momma tried everything to help me get sober but I just didn’t want to listen to anyone.  I know I once said some things to her pastor that were so awful she changed churches for a while.

I was in such pain inside that I didn’t care about anything in life.  I felt so empty.  I had no purpose, no energy, no mind.  It was as if I had no soul.  I saw myself as a worthless piece of junk, like a car in a demolition derby, not fit for anything except to be rammed again and again until it wouldn’t run anymore.

I know this long tale of all my troubles may seem boring, but it’s necessary for anyone to understand what happened to me when my angel touched my life.

In 1975 a cousin of my mother died.  She lived in a distant city, and Mother felt that she should attend the funeral.  For want of anything better to do, I went with her.  I figured I could always watch TV in the motel or maybe find a new bar.

I’m not sure how Momma persuaded me to go to the funeral with her.  Perhaps even then my angel was working on me.  I didn’t come into the church much; I just stood around in the vestibule or sat outside on the steps.  But I remember that the hymn singing sounded so peaceful I felt guilty.  Most of the time I tried desperately to avoid the burden of guilt and anger inside that made me want to drink and use drugs all the time.

When Momma came out, we got into the procession for the cemetery.  It was a hot, sunny day, very humid – it had rained earlier in the day – and the ground was soft and damp.  I could see that a canopy had been erected beside an open grave.

Suddenly, I knew that I could not go any closer.  I was so afraid I wanted to panic.  Any other time I would have reached for my bottle or snorted a line of cocaine, but in deference to Momma’s pleas, I had left them all back home.  I realized that I might be having sudden withdrawal symptoms.

“Momma, I gotta go!” I said, looking around to see if there were any stores in the vicinity where I might buy some cheap whiskey.  “I’ll be back soon, but I gotta go.”  I saw the hurt and fear in her own eyes as I loped off.

I soon realized I was in deep trouble.  My body was on fire with pain.  It was withdrawal.  I was terrified, but I didn’t know what to do.  As soon as I was out of sight of the funeral party, I fell to my knees, steadying myself on a tombstone, and threw up.  I was as sick as a dog.

When I had stopped retching, I sat up a bit, leaning on the granite monument.  My suit was covered with mud and dirt, but I didn’t care.  Turning around, I looked at the gravestone and got a real shock.  My name was on it!  Well, not my name, but the same name, anyway.  I later found out it was a cousin from my father’s side, whom I had never known.

It was a terrible moment for me.  It was like an omen, as though God were saying that I was doomed to die.  I was so depressed and sick that I didn’t care.  But I heaved myself up to my feet, shaking badly.  I believe I thought I would try to get back to the car and lie down.

It was then that I saw the angel who touched me and saved my life and my soul from hell.

I had been looking down at the ground, which was rough and uneven, not neatly manicured the way some cemeteries are.  I didn’t want to stumble.  All of a sudden, I felt as though I ought to look up.  When I did, I saw an angel standing about ten paces away, on a piece of ground that was slightly higher than mine.  He was looking directly at me.

The angel as I saw him was very tall, maybe eight feet.  He towered over me, even without the rise in the terrain.  He was very bright, but I didn’t see any light around him.  Instead he glowed from within.  I call the angel “he” because it seemed that way to me, but I don’t know that the angel was masculine.  He had short and curly brown hair and dark eyes that seemed to pierce me through, even at a stone’s toss away.  I felt like a rump roast spitted on a gas grill.  I didn’t see any wings, but the dazzling white gown he wore was so full and billowy that I could understand why people have always pictured angels with wings.

I was absolutely struck dumb at this apparition, and I remember blinking and turning away briefly as if to clear my head.  But when I turned back, the angel was still there, looking at me.

My instinct was to run, I have to admit.  I had seen some harrowing things in ‘Nam, and I had run away from it all, through dope and drink if not in actuality.  But this I couldn’t run away from.  It was as if my legs were rooted to the ground.

How long I just stood there looking at this vision I don’t know.  Finally, however, I seemed to come to myself a bit.  It was as though my mind woke up.  I’ve often wondered if the angel didn’t sober me up suddenly just so I could take in his message with a full deck.

Suddenly the angel turned away from me and began walking away.  Without thinking, I tried to follow and found that my feet worked normally once more.  I stumbled after him, fascinated and fearful.  I know I wasn’t really thinking about it or what this apparition meant.  I just had to follow.

The angel began to walk faster, and because he was so tall, with large strides, I had to run to catch up, until I was panting from the effort.  He led me to a far corner of the cemetery away from the monuments and the funeral service that my mother was attending.  And then he turned around.

In all my life I have never seen such anger on the face of anyone.  It was as if the entire angel was one gigantic rage.  The eyes were like two black pools, and the mouth was set in stern lines of anger.  I didn’t feel hate or antagonism or anything violent directed toward me personally, but the anger was unmistakable.

What do you want?  I remember thinking in the instant before everything in me turned to jelly.  But the angel did not reply.  He just stood there looking at me, waves of anger rippling off him and washing over me.

What do you want?  I asked again, wishing I could run away from this apparition.

Without saying a word the angel pointed solemnly down at the ground and looked briefly where his hand was pointing.  I looked down, too, and what I saw made my knees give way, and I fell to the ground in utter shock.

I had almost fallen into an open grave.  Apparently, the cemetery staff were preparing for another funeral.  I had not seen it because the sun was in my eyes.  And although the angel said nothing to me, I knew what he meant: if I did not turn my life around, I would die.

I began to cry in fear, and I sobbed as I had never sobbed before.  It felt as though my body and mind were being torn apart with convulsions, and I couldn’t stop.  I just collapsed on my side, hugging my knees and rolling on the ground in the loose dirt.

After some time I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I opened my eyes in panic, thinking that the angel had bent down to touch me.  But it was my mother, deep worry on her face.

“What’s wrong, Jack?” she said.  “Are you sick?”

How could I explain what had just happened?  How could I tell my mother I had just come face-to-face with an eight-foot-tall angel who looked like he wanted to punch my lights out for good?  But I had to tell her, and between sobs and outbursts of tears I told her in a very hysterical way what had happened.  I could see the lines of worry on her face deepen as shock and disbelief showed in her eyes.  Later she told me she feared I was having the DTs or hallucinating from drugs.

I was in something like shock as my mother drove us home.  I couldn’t get the angel’s eyes and anger out of my head.  I knew, although I had never thought much about God, that the angel was telling me that God was very angry at the way I had wasted my life, and that this was the last chance I would ever have to turn things around.  Just the whole idea was scary.

It was dark by the time we got home, and a part of me couldn’t wait to get to my bedroom and light up a joint and get drunk.  But when I reached for the bottle beside my bed, I just couldn’t pour it out.  I saw those angelic eyes and froze in terror.  I lay on my bed in fear and finally went to sleep.

When I woke up, it was morning.  I was still lying, all hot and sweaty, on my bed.  I stripped off my clothes and stepped into the shower, feeling the cool water pouring off me.  When I stepped out and put on fresh clothes, I realized how much better I felt.  The images of the previous day were not as fearsome; I could see the angel’s eyes in my mind without my stomach turning.  I brushed my teeth, but the vodka in the bathroom glass tasted god-awful.  I had forgotten it was there.  I rinsed out my mouth with water, wondering what had happened.  I had brushed my teeth with vodka for so long I had forgotten there was any other way!

And suddenly I found myself on my knees beside the bed, praying as I hadn’t prayed since childhood.  I told God that I didn’t understand what had happened to me since yesterday, but that I wanted, for the first time in many years to be clean and to live right.  “I’m sorry for messing up my life.  Help me, God, never to do drugs or drink again,” I pleaded.  And I felt better, as though one of the things the angel had meant by his appearance was to make me aware that I needed to repent of the evils in my life, not just stop doing them.

After a while I went downstairs.  Momma had long since gone off to work, and I fixed myself something to eat.  I wish I could tell you how weird a feeling it was, doing normal things like cooking eggs and washing dishes.  I hadn’t done any of those things in years.  Even getting up at a reasonable hour and putting on clean clothes was a new experience.  I spent the day downstairs doing some housecleaning and then weeding my mother’s flower bed out front.  I didn’t want to go upstairs where all my booze and drugs were.  I just didn’t want to confront it.

When my mother got home, I had already fixed some dinner – nothing much, but I was out of practice.  She looked at me strangely, as if she thought she could see a change but didn’t want to believe it.  That evening we spent together just talking about little things.  It was one of the most pleasant experiences I had had in years.

Soon it was almost midnight.  “I’m going to sleep down here,” I told Momma.  “I just don’t want to go upstairs, I’m afraid.”

With a hesitant catch in her voice, my mother said, “We could go up together and, well, we could get rid of it,” she said.

I knew that was what I needed to do, and strangely, I didn’t feel anything but the rightness of it.  “Let’s do it,” I said, heading for the stairs.  But when we got to my room, I still couldn’t go in.  “You do it, Momma,” I said.  And while I stayed outside, and told her where all my stashes were, she calmly took all the bottles of booze and what drugs I had around and poured them down the john.

“I wouldn’t have believed this yesterday morning,” she said to me; and soon we were both crying.

Now that all the liquor and drugs were gone from my room, I entered it, and I could see how dirty and shabby a life I had led.  I wanted to take everything in the room and throw it away or burn it.  I wanted to make a fresh start in every way.

I told mother what I meant, and she smiled.  “There’s no time like the present,” she told me, and she started taking down the curtains and stripping the bed.  I began to empty drawers, and I filled a big plastic bag with empty bottles.  It was nearly three in the morning when we finished, and during the process of stripping my room we found more drugs and more drink, which we disposed of down the drain.  We had a final cup of coffee together; then I went to sleep.  I saw the angel’s eyes in my mind, and, this time, he did not seem quite so angry.

“Momma, am I really different?” I asked her a dozen times the next day.  “Shouldn’t I be going through all sorts of withdrawal by now?”

And, of course, I should have.  Given the length of my dependency on both drugs and alcohol, going cold turkey could have even killed me.  But instead I felt an increasing sense of freedom, as though the angel’s message was not just, “Stop or you will be dead,” but, “If you want to stop and be healed, God can help you, just ask.”

For the first week after my life was so touched by the angel I stayed very close to home and far away from my old drinking buddies at the bar I used to favor.  I called and told the guys I used to play poker with that I had been sick and wouldn’t be around.

My energy level was incredible.  In four days I cleaned the house, reorganized the closets, cleaned out all the gutters, repaired the shutters, and repainted all the trim, besides a hundred other small things.  I was amazed at myself; it was as though I was finally coming alive.  Even the awful memories of ‘Nam that I drank to forget seemed to be starting to heal.  I seemed to be undergoing a rebirth.

On Friday night, after dinner, I broached a subject I had been thinking about to my mother.  “Momma, I think I want to go away to the VA hospital for some therapy.  They have some programs for people getting off drugs.  I need some help to get my life back together.”

She smiled.  “I never would have believed I’d ever hear you say that.  I guess it really must have been an angel you saw.  How else could you have changed so quickly?”

She drove me over to the hospital (my license had been suspended some time before) and I told them of my drug problem.  It was surprisingly easy to arrange for some inpatient therapy.  I needed help, not so much to break my addictions – the angel had somehow done that – but to help me learn to live again.  I completed the program successfully and returned home.  I never did talk about my experience with anyone at the hospital, though.  It was just too personal, and, besides, I didn’t think that anyone would believe that a drunken drug addict like myself could ever have seen a real angel.

That was nearly twenty years ago.  While at the hospital, I learned something about the plumbing trade and found it suited me.  In time I was able to earn my license, and today I am self-employed, happily married, and the father of a son.  I have never taken a drink of alcohol nor an illegal drug in all those years and have never felt the need to do so, nor have I ever spent a nickel on a wager of any kind.  I know that if I ever did, I would see those angry angel eyes that brought me the message I needed to save my life.  I became a committed Christian, and I try to witness in a quiet way to the love of God in sending his angel to heal me, not only of my addictions, but of the wounds of spirit that had led to them in the first place.

Was my life touched by angels?  It sure was, and not just touched, but changed totally.  That angel healed me of a way of life that would have killed me for sure, healed my vision, and gave me a chance to start over again.  When I was so far down that I didn’t even know which way was up, God sent his angel with healing in his wings, as the Bible says.

I’m not planning to leave this world for Heaven anytime in the near future, but I want to say that when I finally do, I hope to get the chance to thank my angel right in front of the throne of God.  He deserves it, he really does.


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