Six-year-old Emily showed up at our house because she was hungry. She became a wonderful part of our lives, and when she asked me if she could go to church with us, I braved my way past her stepdad’s dogs to get permission.

But now came the hard part – getting Emily ready for church. I knew I needed help in this endeavor, so I approached our old Polish landlady, Mrs. Salak, about it. She was a very proper woman, and her eyebrows always raised when she heard Emily’s swearing. So when I asked Mrs. Salak if she’d help, her ready agreement to do so caught me by surprise.

“I would love to take on that challenge,” she said.

She searched through the dresses from her own daughter’s youth, and found one, probably from the 50’s. It was a beautiful flower print. Emily began to question whether she wanted to go through with this when Mrs. Salak announced it was bath time. Emily probably hadn’t bathed more than once in any given month, and from her hollering and swearing, I was sure she got a first rate scrubbing. But that paled in comparison to the brushing of her knotted hair.

“My heavens, Emily, how often do you brush your hair?” Mrs. Salak asked.

“Ain’t never had need of one of those *#&@ things,” Emily replied.

They were both stubborn, and though Mrs. Salak was firm, and Emily complained, I sensed that Mrs. Salak enjoyed the progress, and Emily enjoyed the attention. I left them to their task and finished my work. An hour or so before church was to start, Mrs. Salak invited me in to see the transformation.

And what a transformation it was. Instead of a little girl with long, knotted hair, wearing worn out blue jeans and a t-shirt, there stood a beautiful young lady. I moved Emily to a mirror and stood behind her.

“So, what do you think, Emily?” I asked.

“I think I look *#&@ stupid,” she replied.

“Well, I think you look like a beautiful young lady,” I said. She beamed at the compliment, as did Mrs. Salak.

My colleague, Henton, and I had an early meeting at the church. We were waiting in the foyer when Mrs. Salak and Emily walked in. The Bishop came over to meet Emily.

Emily shook his hand. “I’m *#&@ glad to meet you,” she said.

The Bishop smiled and welcomed her. Emily then turned to me. “So when do I get to meet God?”

“Well, you don’t actually ever see Him here,” I replied.

“Why?” she asked. “Is He off to a meeting, or helping someone like you always are?”

I laughed. “Something like that.” But I knew I had a lot of teaching to do.

Emily sat with us through part of church, but then she went to the children’s classes. I had her meet the lady in charge of those classes, Mrs. Stanton, and Emily shook her hand.

“It is nice to have you here, Emily,” Mrs. Stanton said.

“Thank you,” Emily said. “It’s *#&@ nice to be here.”

Mrs. Stanton smiled and glanced at me, and I knew it was past time for me to visit with Emily about her language. I knew it even more so after church when Mrs. Stanton kindly, but firmly, mentioned that the other children were repeating what Emily said.

Later, when I mentioned to Emily that it would be best if she didn’t use certain words, she looked surprised and asked why.

“Because our words reflect the kind of person we are,” I replied. “And a beautiful young lady doesn’t speak that way.”

Emily agreed to do her best not to swear, and then she asked, “When can I find out if God will let me be one of his angels to help other people like you do?”

“He has called everyone to be one,” I told her. “A person just has to find out how and where.”

“So why do you go to church,” she asked, “to be better than other people?”

“No,” I replied. “Going to church doesn’t help a person be better than someone else; it only helps them be better than they themselves currently are.”

Emily smiled. “Then I hope I can keep going to church forever.”

Daris Howard, award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author, can be contacted at [email protected]; or visit his website