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In “God Stories,” journalist Jennifer Skiff shares the extraordinary experiences of people who have felt the power of God's presence in their lives and been forever changed. An excerpt.
Why am I here? Is there more? Does God exist? These questions nag at us incessantly throughout our lives. But the answers are elusive, always just out of reach. Today we are fact-driven people: we need evidence before we form opinions and often dismiss events that can’t be logically explained. Yet we desperately want the security that comes with having a certain future. The search for that security has divided people into two camps: those who look for solace in organized religion and its promise of an afterlife, and those who consider themselves spiritual but not religious — they believe their souls are going somewhere, but they’re not sure exactly where. Regardless of what camp you’re in, we all want the same thing. We want confirmation that what we believe is true. We want proof of modern-day encounters with the Divine.
I’ve been offered proof of God’s existence at regular intervals in my life through experiences so profound they’ve given goose bumps to atheists. These epiphanies have blanketed me with an inner peace, washing away my fears and giving me hope for the future. The intense joy I feel at these times eventually dissipates and I drift into a safe complacency. As time passes and life events take their toll, I start to question again until yet another unexpected collision with the Divine awakens me like a plunge into cold water and replenishes my faith. I know I’m not alone. Because the proof we’re given is not tangible, it’s often held tightly for a short time and then released. But our appetite remains insatiable. Like ants to a grain of sugar, we crave more. And that’s what has brought us here.
As you turn the pages in this book, a chill may overwhelm you, your eyes may fill with tears, and the hair on your arms may suddenly stand as the answers to the questions you’ve always wanted to know become apparent.
My reason for writing a book of this nature is not the obvious one. I’m certainly not an expert on the subject of God or religion. The idea first came to me when a minister asked if I had any “God Stories.” I asked her what she meant, and she explained that a God Story was a miraclelike experience that proves God exists.
No one had ever asked me that question before. I did have stories. I hadn’t dared to tell many people about them, but I definitely had had what I believed to be encounters with the Divine. The concept piqued my interest as a journalist, and I wondered if many other people had stories too. To find out, I began to poll my friends, and what happened next surprised me most. I realized that a Divine intelligence that many call God is connecting with millions of people every day.
One of my own encounters happened when I was thirty-two years old. It was a time of overwhelming sadness and disappointment. Professionally I was thriving — working as a correspondent for CNN, the biggest news network in the world. But personally I was very unhappy and felt like a failure. I was married for the second time, and for the second time I was planning to divorce.
It was at this time that I began experiencing a debilitating pain in my right leg. After months of consultations with doctors who couldn’t determine what was wrong, I was sent to the chief of orthopedics at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where it was confirmed that I had a tumor in my bone marrow. I needed to be operated on immediately.
When I awoke from surgery, my doctor told me he had been able to save my leg temporarily, but I did in fact have bone cancer. And although it sounds terrible, I felt a sense of relief knowing I would no longer have to continue on with my life.
And then something strange happened. Within forty-eight hours of my diagnosis, I began receiving cards, flowers, stuffed animals, and gifts of delicious things to eat. I had no idea how so many people had learned I was in the hospital. A person I hadn’t seen since I was a young girl wrote to tell me how I had influenced her life. Notes arrived from different parts of the country from people I didn’t know telling me they were praying for me. My friends and family cried and overwhelmed me with their affection. I was engulfed by a warm blanket of love.
Nearly a week after the surgery, I was in my hospital bed envisioning my funeral when my doctor rushed into my room, breathless. He looked at me and smiled a big, wide smile. “I never get to say this,” he said, shaking his head and throwing his hands into the air. “Benign!”
“Benign? What do you mean, ‘benign’? I thought it was malignant.”
“It was,” he said. “The slide we looked at told us it was malignant. The lab results have just come back, and they say it’s benign. We’re going with benign!”
The entire experience was all the proof I needed. I had been given signs before, but this was obvious. There was a God for me, one who made it clear it was important I continue on with my life — to work toward positive change in the world and to see and understand all I had been blessed with.
Some people spend their whole lives questioning, while others are offered what they believe is proof. The confirmation for actress Jane Seymour came while she was filming a movie in Spain. She was given antibiotics for a bronchitis infection and immediately went into anaphylactic shock. “The next thing I remember, I was panicking and then I wasn’t panicking,” she said. “I was very calm. I was looking down at my body. Then I realized that I was out of my body and that I was going to die. So I asked whoever was up there — God, a Higher Power, whatever one wants to call it — I just said, ‘Whoever you are, I will never deny your existence. I will never let you down. I’m not going to waste one minute of my life if I have it back.’ ” In this book you’ll find out what happened next that changed Jane Seymour’s life forever.
"God Stories"is a collection of such Aha! experiences. The stories are told by people from every walk of life — all celebrating that breakthrough moment when they received dramatic confirmation of the existence of a Divine Power. The result is pure inspiration: a compilation of extraordinary experiences that have renewed spirits and affirmed faiths.
In California, Senator Dick Mountjoy’s spiritual awakening came at a time when he was embroiled in a political battle and in the depths of professional despair. A stranger approached him, put her hand on his shoulder, and asked if she could pray for him. His life changed in that instant. He describes how a warm feeling quickly spread throughout his body and a sense of calm fell over him. From that moment on, he felt a continuous sense of comfort and all his worries slipped away.
In Maine, a young mother describes the chilling moment she realized that she and her children were going to die. She was driving down a country road when two drag racers came over a hill directly in front of her, taking both lanes. She didn’t have time to avoid a head-on collision. In "God Stories," she tells how God intervened and saved her life.
Shirley Blake describes a brutal rape as her epiphany. She was fifty-nine years old. In what can only be described as the most frightening moment in her life, she says she heard God’s voice reassure and comfort her. In this book you find out why, today, she says the experience was enlightening.
I realized the significance of this project when I started collecting stories. My goal was to be interviewed by the media in hopes that the publicity would direct people to my website, where they could submit their stories. At the beginning of this process, I was interviewed by a newspaper editor in his office. When he wrapped up his questions, I asked him if he had a story. He did, and as he told it, he cried. I was completely taken aback and didn’t know what to do. And then, as I listened, I realized how privileged I was that he was sharing his story with me.
Little did I know that this profound experience would be repeated every day from then on. As the sun rose each morning, I found myself hopping out of bed and rushing to my computer to read the incoming stories. Some brought me to tears. Others simply surprised me, like the one my husband unexpectedly shared about the scar on his forehead.
When I began the search for stories, I said I was looking for one thing: the moment a person received personal proof that God or a Divine Power exists. People of many religions, cultures, and races responded. The stories they provided are true to them. There will be skepticism in response to this book, and I think it makes for a healthy dialogue.
I started the collection process by setting up a website, www.GodStories.com, where people could submit their stories. I then worked with the media to direct people there. At GodStories.com they were asked to provide personal details, declare that the stories were their own, and agree to their names’ being used. Those who were not willing to verify their credibility by using their own names were not considered for publication.
If I thought the story was right for the book, I contacted the person and often began a series of interviews via e-mail and over the phone. I was not always able to conduct in-person interviews, because the stories came in from all over the world. After the interviews, some stories were no longer considered, for various reasons.
Surprisingly, as the stories came in, similar themes emerged. These themes became chapters, and the book you are holding took shape.
I suspect your life will be changed by reading this book just as mine was after hearing these stories. I have been left with a sense of amazement and optimism as well as an abiding belief in something I once questioned. And it doesn’t stop on the last page, because once you give yourself permission to believe, you’ll find God Stories happening in your life every day.
"A beautiful design": Looking beyond
“God, please give me the words to say!”
Marian Brown, court reporter
As an adult, I drifted away from the Roman Catholic faith in which I was raised. I still believed in God and prayed on my own but was often skeptical that he was listening. His message on one special day wiped away all doubt.
My husband, Steve, and I lived with our two sons in San Diego County, California. Our home was the first to burn in what is known as the Firestorm of 2003 — the second-largest wildfire in U.S. history. It burned over 700,000 acres, destroying wildlife and 3,640 homes, and taking 15 lives in October of that year.
It would be several days after evacuating before we could return to the ruins of our home. A group of twenty of our closest friends spent all morning going through the ashes with shovels to see if there was anything salvageable before our lot was cleared for rebuilding. Their efforts were unsuccessful. There was absolutely nothing left; in fact, the fire was so hot that there were holes in the ground where trees had burned to their roots.
I decided to bring our two sons to the site later that morning. I wasn’t sure how they would react, but I knew they needed to see it with their own eyes in order to begin the healing process. My older son, Evan, was thirteen years old at the time and was very stoic. It was my younger son, ten-year-old Erik, who broke my heart as he walked through the ashes quietly wiping away tears.
I didn’t know what to say or do when my children looked imploringly to me, yet I knew that my reaction would be key to how they handled this disaster. I began to pray as I stood there: “God, please help me. Give me the words. What do I say to my children, who have lost the only home they’ve ever known, lost everything they have in the world?” At that very moment, Erik called out, “Hey, you guys missed something. There’s a book over here.” Our friends said, “No way. We’ve been sifting through the ashes for four and a half hours and there’s nothing left, certainly nothing made of paper.” But Erik insisted until we finally all trudged over to where he was pointing at the remains of a book. He bent over and picked up the book, and as he did, the layers of pages fell away, disintegrating in his hand.
Everyone shook their heads and began walking away. Someone said, “Oh, we’re so sorry, honey. There’s nothing left but ashes.”
“No. Wait. Look,” Erik said, extending his arm. There in the palm of his hand was the most fragile piece of ash, the size of a half-dollar. On it was a picture of a family holding hands and three words: count your blessings.
Paul Hammond, network administrator
My wife and I had been sending shoe boxes of presents for Operation Christmas Child for a few years. One year we had packed a really nice box for a young boy. As we finished packing, I looked at my wife and said, “I would love to see this little boy’s face when he opens this box.”
The following year we were preparing to do another box and happened to pick up a publication for Operation Christmas Child. My wife was reading it when she called me over to look at something. There, on the bottom of page three, was a picture of a little boy hugging a teddy bear he had just received in his Christmas box. Lo and behold, on closer examination of the box in front of him, we saw all the unique items (and wrapping) we’d chosen the previous year, including the very recognizable bear. It was our box!
Barbara Eikost, retired hospice volunteers director
I have always trusted my faith but had never experienced a “spiritual event” until the morning of January 5, 1998. My sixty-one-year-old husband, Bill, had gone to the hospital on New Year’s Eve when his multiple myeloma symptoms worsened.
For the next four days he seemed to stabilize, but we realized the treatment that had worked for seven years was no longer effective.
Our son who lived nearby had been very attentive, and on Sunday the fourth, our other son in Atlanta hopped a plane for Toledo because he sensed his presence was important. Bill was delighted to have his boys with him. He was lucid, mindful of the Rose Bowl results, and seemed peaceful as friends stopped in to wish him well. My sons and I went home in the late evening.
We were awakened suddenly at 4 a.m. with a call from the hospital saying that Bill was experiencing difficulty and was asking for us. We were at his bedside in fifteen minutes. He was in great distress, trying to get oxygen and struggling to live. Our physician was present, helping us to understand what was happening.
My sons and I surrounded Bill with passionate expressions of our love and gratitude for all he had meant to us. Just as he breathed his last breath, my son literally shouted, “Mom, look!” Right outside my husband’s large hospital window on that gray January day was a vivid rainbow! There was neither rain nor sun, but this ribbon of color in the sky told us in ways that defy explanation that our beloved husband and father was being escorted from this world to a better place.
I have never questioned this experience, and I have never expected to fully understand it. I simply accept it as a remarkable expression of the gracious mystery.
Adapted from "God Stories: Inspiring Encounters with the Divine" by Jennifer Skiff. Copyright (c) 2008 by Jennifer Skiff. Reprinted by arrangement with Harmony Books, a division of Random House, Inc. For more on the book, click here.