Lying in her bed, staring up at the darkness in the room she shared with her older sister, Elizabeth kept thinking, I just can’t do it. Any other night she would have been fast asleep by now, but tonight was different.
“Why do I have to be the angel?” she had asked earlier that evening after she had said her prayers and while her mother was tucking her in. “Why can’t Alyson do it?”
Mama had smiled down at her. “I already told you, dear. Alyson’s white dress doesn’t fit her any more. But it will fit you. And it will make a perfect angel costume.”
“But I don’t want to be an angel!”
“Nonsense. You’ll make a beautiful angel,” her mother assured her. “And besides, Elizabeth, you’re the only one who can do it. We need you.”
“I don’t know what you’re complaining about,” Alyson piped up. “I have to be a shepherd! Whoever heard of a girl shepherd?” She moaned, wrinkling her freckled nose.
Elizabeth’s mother chuckled. “You girls sure are hard to please. I thought you would be excited to do the manger scene for the branch Christmas program. Don’t you think we should be proud and honored to take part in such a special program?”
The girls lowered their eyes guiltily, and Elizabeth whispered, “Yes, Mama.”
The two weeks until the program passed by swiftly, and Elizabeth had grudgingly practiced the song they were to sing as a family. Several times she had found herself in her room, staring dejectedly at the mirror. Her sad blue eyes stared back at her through thick lenses. “Whoever saw an angel with glasses?” she groaned.
Elizabeth had a hard time concentrating on her schoolwork the day of the branch program. When the final bell sounded, she slowly rose from her seat and walked halfheartedly to the hallway to put on her coat and boots.
Although Elizabeth lived only four blocks from school, she hadn’t arrived home by 4:30. Her mother phoned several of Elizabeth’s friends to ask if they had seen her. None of them had. Finally Mother saw Elizabeth trudging up the walk.
Elizabeth jumped as the door suddenly opened. Looking up, she saw her mother frowning at her.
“Elizabeth Anne!” she scolded gently. “Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick!”
Then Mama noticed the red, swollen eyes.
“Sweetheart, what’s wrong? Did something happen to you on the way home from school?”
Elizabeth shook her head.
“What is it, then? Come in and tell me.”
Elizabeth went inside and took off her coat and boots.
“Now,” Mama coaxed as they sat down on the sofa, “tell me what’s wrong, dear.” Elizabeth’s face sank. “Mama,” she said softly, “I can’t be an angel tonight.”
“Because … well, just because, that’s all.”
“Elizabeth, surely you have a better reason than that. Please tell me.”
“Mama,” she began, then sighed heavily. “Angels are perfect, aren’t they? In Primary our teacher told us that when we go to heaven our bodies will be perfect.”
“That’s true, dear, they will be. But what does that have to do with your not wanting to be an angel tonight?”
Elizabeth frowned. “Mama, did you ever see an angel with glasses?”
“Oh.” Her mother nodded understandingly. “So that’s what’s been bothering you.”
Elizabeth frowned again as her head bobbed up and down.
“Sweetheart, nobody is perfect in this life. We all have our faults. You’re very fortunate that you are able to wear glasses and see well with them. Some people can’t see at all.”
“I know, Mama.”
Mama squeezed Elizabeth’s arm. “Cheer up, honey. I’m very excited about the program tonight. Christmas is always my favorite time of year. You know why, don’t you?”
“Yes, Mama. Because that’s when Jesus was born.”
“That’s right.” Then Mama added softly, “Elizabeth, when it’s all over, you won’t be sorry you were the angel.” She bent over and kissed Elizabeth gently on her cheek.
Suddenly the phone rang, and Elizabeth was left alone in the living room with her baby brother, Alex. He wriggled in his sleep as he lay in the infant seat on the floor by the Christmas tree. She walked over to the tree and knelt beside it. Beneath the tree was the little nativity scene her grandmother had given her the year before. A beautiful white angel hovered over the humble stable.
Later that night the family climbed into the car and drove to the meetinghouse. They carried their costumes in paper bags. In the dressing room Elizabeth opened her bag and jerked out her sister’s white dress.
“Elizabeth!” Alyson cautioned. “Please be careful with my dress. I want to keep it.”
“What for?” Elizabeth asked. “It’s too small for you now.”
“I know, but it’s a special dress,” Alyson told her. “I remember wearing it in the temple the day our family was sealed forever. And Grandma made it for me. That makes it even more special.”
Elizabeth very carefully slipped the long white dress over her head and peered into the mirror. “I still don’t look like an angel, Mama.”
“You will, dear. Check in your bag. I made something special for you.”
Elizabeth’s eyes grew large. Quickly she opened the bag again and saw something shining at the bottom. She reached in and pulled out a bright gold tinsel headband.
Mama put it on top of Elizabeth’s brown, curly hair. “Now look in the mirror, Elizabeth,” she said.
Elizabeth blinked as the lights danced back and forth on the golden tinsel. “It’s beautiful, Mama! And when the stage lights shine on it, it will be even more beautiful.”
The curtains on the stage were closed as Elizabeth and her family quietly took their places for the manger scene. Elizabeth’s father lifted her up onto a table draped with a white cloth to make it look like Elizabeth was standing on a cloud.
The family could hear people on the other side of the curtains shuffling around as they laughed and visited. But a hush came over the audience as the pianist began playing “Away in a Manager.” The curtains slowly opened, and a bright light shone down on Elizabeth’s head.
Elizabeth couldn’t see anything except her own family. As she stood above them looking down, she heard her family begin to sing. Suddenly Elizabeth was frightened and couldn’t remember the words. She stood frozen, gazing down at her tiny brother wrapped in a soft white blanket. He seemed to see her standing above him, and he smiled up at her. She listened to the words of the song being sung by her mother, father, and Alyson as though it was the first time she had ever heard them.
“The little Lord Jesus”—Elizabeth repeated the words to herself with awe. Then as her mother began to sing the second verse alone, Elizabeth’s eyes blurred, and tears spilled slowly down her cheeks. The words of the song returned to her as her family’s voices rose once again in the last verse. This time Elizabeth joined in the singing.
Now Elizabeth was actually glad she was the angel. Looking down on her family and listening as they had sung was something she would remember the rest of her life.