Strange Signs and Silver Linings

Every cloud has a silver lining

It had been years since I’d spoken to Larry when an email popped up about his new position.  As quickly as it arrived in my in-box, I picked up the telephone to ask him about his new job.  It was an exciting position that allowed Larry to return to his journalism roots and run a news editorial operation.  We dished about our early careers in writing and Larry even asked me contribute on a freelance basis to his new news outlet.

When he asked what I had been up to lately, I told him about my Anne on Fire blog.  It was then that our conversation took a different and wholly unexpected turn.  He had never known about my accident.  Telling him about my experience jogged something in him and his story unfolded.

Larry was 15 when he came home from school and heard a knock on the door of his Iowa home.  A friend told him his younger sister had been hit by a car.  By the time he ran the half-mile and found her, she was fading in and out of consciousness.  Larry asked someone to call and ambulance.  As they sped to the hospital, Larry’s sister moaned in pain, her pelvis and internal organs shattered.  As doctors worked to save her life, Larry called his parents and told them what had happened — as his sister walked home from school, a run-away kid they knew had stolen his parents car and hit her at about 50 miles an hour.  Larry’s sister died 48 hours later, never regaining consciousness.

Larry sunk into a period of grief that seemed to never end.  “It was totally unfair.  My sister was only 13.  It was the worst thing that had ever happened to me in my life and it left an incredibly deep scar that I had no way to deal with.  I was too young to know how to grieve,” Larry told me.  “I became obsessed with getting revenge against the guy who killed my sister.”  The bitterness that rose up in Larry create a hair-trigger temper as he grew older.  “I could go into a complete rage at the snap of a finger,” he said.  It seemed only natural that the unresolved anger also lead Larry to drink.  “When you drink a lot, you don’t care and the pain goes away.”

Even by his mid-30s, the grief remained unbearable.  “I was in a lot of pain and it would surface as anger.  I would hang on to every frustrating thing that happened at work and in my fury, I would plot to get back at the person.  This backfired on me a lot and I got to the point where my life was not working and I had to do something,” he said.

In addition to being involved with a religious woman at the time who helped guide him to a new sense of faith, Larry found the courage to see a counselor.  “I started to get the feeling that my sister sensed my anger over what happened to her.  I felt that she didn’t want to be the cause of all the pain in my life.  This is very difficult to articulate but I started sending prayers to her and I got the distinct feeling that she received my messages and would send back her own messages to me in the form of coincidences and serendipity.”

Even though Larry had gone through anger management programs before, this counselor seemed to have a profound effect on him.  Under the counselor’s direction, Larry gathered up everything he had about his sister — photos, newspaper articles, letters — and re-lived the whole horrible experience by writing down all the details he could.  “The counselor told me that I had to grieve the experience so I could release it, that when things happen to you as a child, you have no filter and the experience goes right to your emotional core.  The impact lives on when you are an adult until you can sort it out and understand it,” Larry said.

“There is no question in my mind that my sister guided me to this counselor.”

I’ve known Larry for 15 or more years, always in a professional business capacity.  As he told his story, I couldn’t believe what I was learning and how we were connecting on a personal soul-to-soul level.  The details of Larry’s story were very different from mine but I could not deny the similarities in spiritual guidance.  I too felt guided to explore my own childhood experience, though I’ve always believe my guides have been my deceased parents.  “What they cannot tell us in life, they bring to us in death,” kept running through my mind.

“You know one of the most important things I’ve learned?” Larry asked me.  “You have to be open and aware.  Spirit speaks in whispers and quiet messages.  Now, I’m always looking for the small things to guide me,” he said.  “You know, I’m kind of guy’s guy and this has all taken a lot of work on my part and more than a little faith.  Whatever you call it — god, spirit, a higher power — it’s out there.”

Larry survived the worst experience of his life and that resonated with me.  “Larry, when you look at it all in retrospect, would you ever say that your experience was a gift?” I asked, mostly because that is the way I’ve come to think of my own accident.

Larry paused.

“I’ve never thought of it that way before but it’s true.  The key part of my story is that I survived.  It’s made me more confident.  When I am in a situation where I’m over my head, I can handle it.  I’d much rather have my sister here with me, but if that isn’t possible, I’m open to the gifts she keeps sending me,” he said.

The more I talk to people, the more certain I am that we all share the same experience.  The details are different and our solutions may vary.  More often than not, it seems as if the guides to a better, richer experience are there for us when we open the door.

Sister Mary Pastry and the Virgin Mary’s Appearance

French Fruit Tarte

As regular visitors to Chesterton, Indiana‘s European Market (www.chestertonseuropeanmarket.com) on Saturday’s, we’ve seen the pastry stand for years, nestled among the fruit and vegetable stands and directly across from the cheese stand.  It’s a curiosity in the heat of summer, staffed by a nun in full black habit and displaying an array of delicious French pastries, brioche, croissants, fruit tarts and the like.   When we passed by the stand and my kids asked, “Who is that nun?” I said the first thing that came to mind, “Oh, why that’s Sister Mary Pastry,” and immediately felt the heavy burden of Catholic guilt for making fun of a nun in full habit.  The name stuck.

When we visited the market last, I brought Mack my older son who usually prefers to sleep in on Saturday mornings.  As we passed the pastry stand, he paused to inspect the goodies and that’s when we realized that Sister Mary Pastry was French but spoke English well.  Excited, Mack turned to me and said, “Mom, speak to her in French.”  I hesitated, not wanting to pull out my limited French from study abroad in Paris and Aix-en-Provence from years ago.

“Oh, you speak French?” Sister smiled and we began a conversation in mixed French and English.  “How did you come to sell pastries at the market?” I asked.  Sister’s story unfolded.  Fraternite Notre Dame (www.fraternitenortredame.org), a French-based order with a mission of serving the poor, has its mother house in Chicago’s underserved Austin neighborhood.  As a way to raise funds for the order, the nuns began baking pastries to sell in the Chicagoland area.  The proceeds support their soup kitchen and other ministries for the poor. 

Jean Marie, the order’s bishop, is a mystic with internal stigmata.  Sister told me that in 1977, the Virgin Mary appeared to Jean Marie with spiritual messages to pass along to the faithful.  Now, on the 14th of every month, the Bishop celebrates the Mass of the Apparition at 5 a.m. at their Chicago church, 502 N. Central Avenue.  During the mass, Virgin Mary appears to the Bishop, delivering messages, graces and often miraculous healings.

“Would you like to come to our mass?” Sister asked me.  “Please come.  You would like it.”

The next mass is July 14th.  I plan to attend.

Meaning in the Limbs

Depending on your spiritual orientation, you might see meaning in everything, nothing or a smattering of things of your choosing.  I tend to see meaning in nearly everything.  That doesn’t mean I agree with everything whole cloth however.  You have to take what works for you and discard the rest.  As I thought about this, Louise Hay‘s Heal Your Life yellow book caught my eye perched on the bookshelf as it was.  Ah yes, I thought, Louise Hay believes that dis-ease is the result of our mental patterns.  “I believe we live in a ‘yes’ Universe.  No matter what we choose to believe or think, the Universe always says ‘yes’ to us.  If we think poverty, the Universe says yes to that.  If we think prosperity, the Universe says yes to that,” she writes, explaining how we are co-creators of our own reality.  I thumbed through the book again, drawn toward her list of life’s problems and their probable mental cause.  “Leg(s),” it read.  “Probably Cause:  Carries us through life.  New Thought Pattern:  Life is for me.”

I never thought life was against me at any time.  But I could certainly affirm more often I guess that “life is for me.”  Simple. 

Many years ago, I went to a psychic with a couple of girlfriends.  I didn’t have a burning question at the time but I did ask, “What lessons should I have learned from burning my leg?”  “There are some,” the psychic replied, “such as personal humility and compassion for others.  But have you come to understand that the accident did not happen for your purposes?  The accident was for your mother and the lessons she had to learn in her life.”

I was stunned.  In all the years since the accident, I had never thought there might be a message or learning for anyone else than me.

And that’s what I mean about meaning.  There are so many ways to look at nearly everything (if you are interested in the exploration of course).  What it has meant for me ever since that day is that I look for meaning in different ways and different levels.  More importantly, every time I think I’m just doing things for my independent self, I have to remember how inter-connected we all are.

Rain on the Scarecrow

Scarecrow (John Mellencamp album)

Image via Wikipedia

Saturday night we went to the John Mellencamp concert at the Chicago Theater and when he sang, “Rain on the Scarecrow”*, I remember us playing that song after my dad’s funeral in December 1993.  When the funeral ended, we drove aimlessly around the Green Bay farmland.  The snow barely covered the ground and you could see the fallow dirt.  The crops were long gone and what remained looked sad and straggly, drained of moisture and color.  It was fitting for that day.  During his entire life, my father never once mentioned my accident.  He was doggedly supportive of me; never turned down a good idea if I had a plan to go with it.  He became ill when I was only 17 , and when that happened the focus shifted to caring for him as his health and mental acuity diminished.  I wish now I had the courage to ask him about the accident, to understand his thoughts and feelings.  When I heard that song Saturday night, I remembered the aimless farmland drive as well as all the things I hadn’t had time to ask him before he died.  I wondered then if he ever wanted to talk to me about it.  Many years later, I got my answer by going to a woman who channelled guides.  Out of the blue, she told me she had a message from him and I got the answers I had been wanting.  It felt like a miracle.  When the universe has a plan for you, there is no stopping it.  Have you ever felt that?

Rain on the Scarecrow

Scarecrow on a wooden cross, blackbird in the barn

Four hundred empty acres that used to be my farm

I grew up like my daddy did, my grandpa cleared his land

When I was five, I walked a fence while grandpa held my hand

Rain on the scarecrow, blood on the land……….

Defining Moments

Without question, I believe everyone has defining moments in their life. For me, my burn injury was one of these moments but I never felt it was “the” thing that defined me. After my last post, a couple high school friends independently sent private emails essentially saying the same thing, “When we thought of you, we didn’t think of your injury.” Understanding the accident decades later is not the reason I’m writing the blog. It’s just the starting point for the storyline. When my own kids asked me, “What happened to your leg, Mom?”, there was a story to tell. Since my parents didn’t talk about the accident while they were alive, there were some missing pieces and I wanted to see if the story I thought I knew was the one that actually happened. Added to that was the fact that I thought my parents were sending some signs from beyond for me to explore the past further. And thus I began putting together the pieces of the puzzle.

Have you had a defining moment that became your starting point?