By the Grace of God

March 2008

Angela Williams

Angela Williams entered nursing school in 1953. She received undergraduate and master’s degrees and completed postgraduate work. Certified as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in psychiatric and mental health nursing, Angela’s dedicated service included work in veterans hospitals, cancer centers, psychiatric clinics, and hospice programs. After her retirement from hospice in 1999, she became a certified Doula, helping parents care for their newborns. Angela lives in California and has five children and eight grandchildren.

At age nineteen, I received a scholarship to nursing school, believing with all my heart that being a nurse was a wonderful way for me to express my spirituality. Taking care of God’s creations, I would be serving God and letting my life be one that was dedicated to Jesus.

Early on in my training, however, I faced a challenge that I thought might cause me to leave nursing school. I could not tolerate the distinct aroma of patients who were very sick. I would often have to stop caring for patients when I smelled an odor caused by illness emanating from them. Sick to my stomach, I would run to the utility room.

One day while preparing to bathe a gravely ill man, I felt my stomach begin to churn violently, and I rushed to the utility room. I became still for a few moments, and my own healing began with this declaration: I am going back to this patient, and I will care for him as if I were taking care of Jesus. And I did, bathing the man from head to toe without any difficulty. I then changed his bedding and left him in a beautiful state of dignity and peace. By the grace of God, I never again had a problem caring for a patient.

No matter how dire the circumstance may seem, God’s grace does flow through us when we are willing to put someone else’s needs ahead of our own. Grace comes through us when we have compassion for others that surpasses our own comfort level.

Healing Love

From early childhood growing up in church, I had two dreams. One was to serve God by caring for others, and the other was to marry and have a family of my own. Following my dream, I married a doctor, and we had five children. Over the years, however, my dream became a nightmare. Being in a marriage that my spouse did not honor, I found my marital situation unbearable. A divorce, however, meant that I would have to leave the church that I loved so much. I knew that in order to preserve my self-respect and even my sanity, a divorce had to happen.

During this time, I found Unity Magazine and upon reading it, I learned about God and the grace of God that was continually blessing all creation. Nurtured by an understanding that God accepted me as I was and loved me unconditionally, I felt a healing take place within me.

Several years after the divorce, still chasing the dream of a happy marriage, I married a second time. When I was diagnosed with cancer—just when I needed him most—my husband left me. I moved to California to be near my three daughters. I settled in San Mateo and began a new career by developing the first psychiatric home-care program for the county. Like working as a student nurse, reaching out to care for others helped me to heal; this time from cancer.

Many of my patients had AIDS and were in deep depression. The new program helped them cope with the disease and, when it was time, to die in a dignified manner. This work brought me into the hospice movement.

Over the years, I’ve been the director of four hospice houses in San Francisco. Through the hospice staff, who were angels in disguise, I saw grace in action. Their loving care created a beautiful atmosphere for both patients and their families.

People who were unfamiliar with hospice often asked me, “Isn’t your work depressing?” My answer: “No, because I have found that even the slightest intervention in the lives of people who are feeling such desperation makes a difference—the difference between their feeling total despair and retaining their dignity.” I have been at the deathbeds of hundreds of people in my work in hospice. I came to see the dying process as if it were the labor pains a person experiences before giving birth to new life.

Where God Leads Me

The grace of God was always there for me; however, when I pushed myself so hard by working 100 hours a week at the hospice facilities, I finally collapsed. Following my doctor’s advice, I retired. After retirement, however, I found myself with a lot of extra energy and time on my hands. So I did volunteer work with a homeless shelter and started taking care of babies. I even wrote a book to help guide new parents in taking care of their babies during the first three months of life.

Some new mothers and fathers feel terrified and vulnerable about being parents. They may not have their own parents nearby to help out or not have had the opportunity to observe their siblings parenting. They need support to take on their new roles. Now I go into homes to help care for the newborns for up to three months.

Going wherever God has led me by circumstance, I have loved every situation. I have found throughout my life that I have to be involved in some kind of action toward caring for others, but I see that can be a bit of a deficit. At times, I am more like Martha, who went busily about her work, than like Mary, who sat at the feet of Jesus.

Yet all the while prayer and meditation have been a very important part of my life. Even a few moments in prayer can be a blessing. When I am not able to spend all day in prayer, I reach out for prayer support to people who are. I call Silent Unity for prayers for others or give people needing prayer support the Silent Unity prayer-line number. What a blessing it is to know that there is a place where people are communicating on a deep level with God 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. I love Silent Unity, Daily Word, and whatever helps people to transcend the human picture of their difficulty at the moment. It’s when we transcend the temporal that we live in eternity, knowing we are never alone.