During a difficult stretch a few weeks ago, I found myself in an intense grieving space around losses and trauma, including painful childhood experiences. More sharply than in years, I had plummeted into a painful pit of revisiting the circumstances that ultimately led me to the false solution of sex and love addiction. Among other things, I was wrestling with where God was as I grew up without my mother, who died when I was three years old — and God’s sufficiency (or seeming lack thereof) sometimes today.

As part of my self-care, I decided some light entertainment was in order and persuaded my husband to join me in seeing a movie, which is rare for us these days. I picked “Mary Poppins Returns” based on reports it is enchanting and uplifting. Indeed, it was ….

Until (spoiler alert) I was ambushed by the central plot, which is that the children’s mother has recently died, and that’s why they need a nanny. Thus, Mary Poppins returns. In a poignant scene, she has a conversation with the children about their mom, and she sings an achingly beautiful song called “The Places Where Lost Things Go.”

It slayed me. And the lyrics got it just right:

“Maybe all you’re missing lives inside of you.
So when you need her touch and loving gaze,
Gone but not forgotten is the perfect phrase.
Smiling from a star that she makes glow
Trust she’s always there, watching as you grow.
Find her in the place where the lost things go.”

Mary Poppins told the little girl to look for the brightest star in the sky, and that light would be her mom watching over her. Reflexively, I gasped out loud because since I was a child I have done exactly that. One of the reasons I love being in the hot tub at night is to look at the stars. They remind me of my mother’s presence, which has remained like an angel hovering over me for nearly 60 years.

Despite the trigger and unexpected tears, the song was healing. I think God has a wicked sense of irony that I sought entertainment to take my mind off my profound loss as a little girl and wound up at a movie that was based on very similar trauma!

That night, though, and many nights since, I’ve paid special attention to the stars. The brightest one reminds me of my mother, as always, but all the twinkling lights have come to represent God’s presence and provision of other angels. I see the Little Dipper constellation and picture how God is ladling sweet seraphs into my life.

I think first of dear Bess, who was the angel that saved me, I believe. She came to live with my family when my mother was sick, and Bess stayed until her death when I was a college sophomore. I don’t speak or write of her much, and I think it’s because she was overshadowed by all the powerful males in my childhood. She was born in 1888 and was a woman of her generation – one not prone to emotion or deep conversation, one who stayed in the background and quietly, steadily met our family’s need for home-cooked meals and for an anchor among the comings and goings of our chaotic house. Although I took her stabilizing presence for granted, I knew she loved us dearly and I loved her, and as a child I called her Mama Bess. During this season of reliving the loss of my mother, I see how much Bess was a precious angel for me, for my brothers, and also for our dad.

Next, mental images of myriad other angels flash like shooting stars. I think of my beloved brothers, cherished sisters-in-law, and other family members who loved me. I think about the college students who filled our house – the ones I call my childhood “good guys” who loved me safely and well, a couple of whom are still important in my life today. I smile fondly at the memory of several horses, a pony, and two very special dogs who brought me such joy. I think of teachers, church folk, and friends through the years who poured into me. I think of the counselors, the first one especially, who saw and heard me with complete acceptance.

I think of dear ones today like my husband, grown children, their spouses, and my grandchildren. I think of the fabulous staff and board of Bethesda Workshops, of colleagues, mentors, and cheerleaders. I think of the dear women with whom I’ve done life for 20 years and who circle me with loving support. I remember other friends past and present who believe in me, encourage me, and coax me to play, something which I often let lapse these days. I think of my professional angels who tend to my body, emotions, and spirit.

Seeing the host of stars in the sky and the angels they represent, I’m filled with gratitude after recently feeling so alone. This searing blackness of loss and longing has brought me deeper into the heart of God. I’m more aware that God was with me after all, and God is with me still.

My encounters with stars and what they mean to me make me wonder about the angels in your life. Do you see them twinkling in your sky? Angels are all around us if we look for them. What might happen if we each took a bit of time and told some of those angels the impact of the light they shine? I expect some might not recognize themselves in that role.

Will you be an angel today and communicate with some of your special stars? Spread the light.

Marnie C. Ferree