Angel of Hope
LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS Suzie Merwine of Effort makes these beautiful ceramic angels she calls her Angel of Hope.
Suzie Merwine has a deep and abiding faith. She even believes in miracles, having experienced a few of her own.
But how does one go about getting a miracle?
"I believe in asking for it," she says.
Sometimes people need a little help in asking for a miracle. Sometimes all they need is a little hope. That might be the time for Merwine's Angel of Hope.
Her Angel of Hope is only five and a half inches tall. Made of ceramic, her head is slightly bowed and her hands are clasped tightly to herself. She comes in six different colors and Merwine says no two are painted the same.
But Merwine's Angel of Hope has something no other angel has a tiny drop of a miracle.
Merwine's friends, Margaret and Charlie, were world travelers. Fifteen years ago, having just returned from Europe, they called Merwine, inviting her to dinner. Margaret told her they had brought home something special for her. That night after dinner, Margaret handed Merwine a pretty bottle of water. Not just any water. It was sacred water from the sacred spring in the Grotto of Massabielle in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, France.
The sacred spring came about when in 1858, a young girl by the name of Bernadette Soubirous was out collecting firewood. She was visited by an apparition of the Virgin Mary who told her of the location of the spring, which she had to dig out of the ground herself. The apparition appeared to Bernadette 18 times.
She said the apparition, which she called "Immaculate Conception," told her to go to the priests and tell them a chapel was to be built there. As word spread of the visions, people began to visit the spring. Those who were sick, paralyzed and injured, drank from the spring or immersed themselves, hoping for a miracle.
And there were miracles. Many people have claimed to have been cured by drinking or bathing in the water. Only 67 of the thousands reported have been validated as miracles by the Catholic Church, but it doesn't stop millions of people visiting the sacred spring each year. It is free to any and all.
When Bernadette was told that people were claiming they were cured by the water, she said it was their faith and prayer that cured the sick.
But all those who come to Lourdes, also come with hope.
It was this sacred water of Bernadette's spring that Margaret handed to Merwine, who was overcome with emotion.
"I choked up. I cried," she says. She thought it was the most beautiful gift anyone had ever given her.
Margaret told her, "I just know you will do something very special with it."
Merwine pondered for a long time on what she could do that would be worthy of the gift.
Merwine has been a newspaper delivery person for the last 32 years.
"Seven days a week and never missed a day," she says proudly. In her spare time, she writes and sings country/western songs. She has made four CDs.
But Merwine is also the owner of "Created By You," a shop devoted to the making and painting of ceramics.
Over 31 years ago, her cousin called her and invited Merwine and her mom, to come paint ceramic figures with her. Merwine bought a large Santa and her mom bought a few small pieces. They had to go to Allentown to purchase what they needed.
"We had never painted a thing in our lives before. But when I was finished with mine, I thought it was the most beautiful Santa I had ever seen."
Two weeks later, she converted a small shop on her parents' property on Evergreen Hollow Road in Effort, into a small ceramics and plastercraft shop where people could buy anything needed to paint ceramics. She started holding painting classes, two nights a week, including classes for kids.
When the economy started going bad, plastercraft and ceramic shops began closing. She made, what she says, was the wisest decision she could have, by buying another business's 500 ceramic molds, slip and kilns and she began pouring her own molds. Today she has about 16,000 molds.
But it wasn't until two and half years ago, that Merwine finally knew how to use the sacred water that could benefit others. It involved one of her molds.
"I've never been afraid of anything. But with the economy the way it has been, I've become afraid for others. And I wondered, how could I use this water to help everyone? Then it hit me. I had a little angel mold. All I had to do was put one little drop of this special water in each angel to give someone out there the message of hope."
That very same day, she went to Rite Aid and bought a tear dropper. She began making angels and each one receives one drop of hope.
She has since made hundreds of them. Each one is painted one of six colors. She claims she is not a "glitter" person, but she thought her angels needed a touch of glitter so they could shine.
As she is pouring the mold and adding a drop of the Lourdes water, she prays that it will go to the right person who is in need of hope.
"I have hope and faith. It's the strongest medicine. I want others to have that too. My angels have become my babies. They're very important to me. In my heart, I believe they can touch so many lives."
Since word about her Angel of Hope has gotten out, she can't keep them on her shelves. She charges $10 for each, which she says only covers her costs, just barely. They are also sold in a Design Gallery store in Whitehall.
"A man read about my angels and tried to locate my shop but got lost. He finally stopped at Dale Kresge's garage in Mt. Effort and Dale called me and said this man wanted to buy one of my angels. I told him I'd be right down. I took several for him to pick from. When I met him, he looked at all of them and set one aside. He told me that he recently lost his mother to cancer and he wanted to give one of my angels to the cancer unit at St. Luke's hospital, to give all the cancer patients there hope."
Merwine is in tears as she relates the story.
"I do believe in miracles. I've received a few myself."
Every year at Christmas time, Merwine writes an inspirational story or a poem for all her paper customers, with Hope as the central message.
One year she wrote about her own miracle and titled it "The Man in the White Dress."
"When I was a very little girl I got very sick. I believe I went to Heaven and was visited by a man in a white 'dress.' He told me that I couldn't stay, that I had to go back to my mom and dad. I believe I had died and Jesus sent me back home."
When her dog Brandy was diagnosed with Stage 4 blood cancer and the vet told her there was no cure, Merwine prayed for a miracle. Brandy's cancer disappeared and the pet lived another 11 years.
A few years ago, her father was diagnosed with cancer and her family asked Merwine to pray for one of "her miracles." She did and her father recovered. Her mother is also in remission with cancer.
"I believe in asking for miracles. I believe in hope."
Life today is circled around caring for her mom and dad, her job and her business.
"But if I could, I'd be here in the shop all the time making my angels. It would make me very happy to be able to give hope to everybody."