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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Coincidence or Providence?

(Photo by Johannes Plenio – Pexels)

I served as novice director for my community from 1982-1988. One of my “jobs” was to get a retreat director for the novitiate retreat in August. Back then, the director had to be a priest. I dutifully booked a wonderful Franciscan a year in advance. But two days before the retreat was to start, he called me with bad news. There was an emergency, a sudden death. He could no longer give the retreat–and his attempts to find a substitute were unsuccessful. I extended my sympathy to him and assured him not to worry. But when I hung up, I panicked, saying to myself, “Where in the heck am I going to find a decent priest at this late date?”

I began calling priests all over the place. Though everyone was sympathetic to my plight, no one could help me out on such short notice. But one Jesuit I called said, “Melannie, there’s a Jesuit new to the Cleveland diocese, Fr. Tim Shepherd. Perhaps he would be available.” I called Fr. Tim and had to leave a message for him. That evening, he called back. Yes, he could fill in for five of the eight days. I knew I could cover the other days, so I booked him on the spot. He came, he served, he was an instant success. But the real story is this: Through this chance encounter, Tim and I became very good friends.

Tim and I in the ’90s. Sadly, he passed away in January 2019.

Was it coincidence that brought us together? Or was it divine providence? Certainly, coincidence was involved: that sudden death, his newness to the diocese, the Jesuit giving me his name, his availability that week. But I believe something more was involved, namely, something we Christians call Divine Providence.

I like what the writer Dennis Covington wrote about coincidence and providence in his 1995 memoir, Salvation on Sand Mountain: If “you accept the idea of a universe set in motion by an intelligent hand, then it seems to me you need to consider the possibility that the hand may still be at work in its movement.” I agree! And one way God’s hand is still at work is through events we call coincidence or providence. For example, we have a parent who imparts to us their love for classical music, a love we carry with us our entire lives… or we have a dynamic teacher who impacts the trajectory of our life… or we meet our future spouse at a party we almost didn’t go to… or a serious illness as a child leads us into the field of medicine… or we read a certain book, by chance, and find the very words we need to hear at that time in our life.

Coincidence doesn’t determine our lives, but it can open a door to possibility. Tim and I were not predetermined to become friends. But our chance meeting gave us the opportunity to establish a deeper relationship if we chose to. Fortunately, both of us chose to–and we were both greatly enriched by our friendship. As the writer James Silas Rogers wrote, “coincidence can open a window on providence.”

Our Creator’s loving hand is gently guiding our earthly steps.

Not all coincidences have a profound meaning, of course. Some coincidences are just coincidences. But others can carry profound meaning for our lives. After describing a “chance encounter” with someone that led to a “transforming moment” in his life, Dennis Covington writes, “Things happen. But chance and coincidence don’t mean much to me anymore. I believe there was a reason I ran into him that day… Mystery, I’d read some where, is not the absence of meaning but the presence of more meaning than we can comprehend.” Maybe in heaven, we will discover profound meaning in mysterious events we had dismissed as insignificant.

I believe it is vital to the health of our spirituality to reflect regularly on our personal lives. In doing so we may realize that some of the coincidences in our lives were really providential. The Creator’s hand is still involved in the movement of the world and our individual lives. I suggest you take a few minutes this week to reflect on the role of coincidence and providence in your life. Here are a few reflective questions that might help:

Has a “chance encounter” ever led to a “transforming moment” in your life? That encounter can be with a person, an event, a place, a book, a song, a movie, an animal, etc.

Have you ever realized that a coincidence was really Divine Providence in your life?

Were there events in your life that initially appeared to be “bad luck,” but, in time, became a “blessing”?

Here’s something fun to reflect on: What role did coincidence and/or providence play in Jesus’ life?

(Photo by Sr. Sandy Nativio)

P.S. Thank you for your prayerful support for my recent hip replacement surgery last week. Everything went well, and I’m in our health care center here in Chardon recuperating. The experience gave me a greater appreciation of the gift of life, our health care professions, our compassionate care givers, and the support and encouragement of family and friends like you!

As I said earlier, I liked what Dennis Covington said about mystery: Mystery is not the absence of meaning; it can be the presence of more meaning than we can comprehend. When I searched for a music video, I found (by chance?) this hymn, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” written in 1773 by William Cowper. It is sung here by Graham Kendrick. I love the poetry of some of the lines: “God treasures up his bright designs… The clouds you dread are big with mercy and blessings… Judge not the Lord by feeble sense… the bud might have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower… I will trust and not be afraid, for all his ways are love.”

I invite you to respond below… You words enrich my blog!

31 Responses

  1. I first heard this definition 45 years ago, in a twelve step program:
    “A coincidence is a minor miracle in which God chooses to remain anonymous.”

  2. Beautiful words and music. I do believe that God’s love for us is engraved in the palms of His hands and will lift us up when we are wearied.

  3. When I was in my first year of college (1949) at Marquette University, I was required to choose a book to do a written book report in my English class. By coincidence, I chose Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain. That book convinced me that my vocation was to becomes a Jesuit priest. So I entered the Jesuits in 1950, but after seven years I discerned that my vocation in life was to have a family and become a doctor. I am very grateful for the spiritual life and education I received during those seven years as a Jesuit. My life has been a blessing and joy ever since that “coincidental” requirement to do a book report. My wife of 64 years passed away one year ago, and I thank God for the blessing she was, and still is, to me.

    1. I’m sorry to hear of the loss of your wife of 64 years! While it was a blessing to be together for so much of your lives it must now be difficult on some days to go ahead without her.

      I often wonder how many people were changed in some way by reading “Seven Storey Mountain. I was.

  4. Melannie, I am glad you are finished having your knee surgery. Thanks so much for the picture of you! One of our sisters here in Great Bend had knee surgery last Friday and some of the sisters starting today to get her to therapy so that her knee heals well! And please pray for our oldest sister, Sister Alvina Miller, 106 years old, and she got Covid yesterday. I got it on December 18th and I had Covid for three weeks because the doctors tried three different medications and none of them were working. I finished the fourth one last night and now I can go down to the dining room and eat with everyone. The hardest part that I was isolated in my room and couldn’t hear any of the music for Dec 24th and 25th. I was in isolation but praying for all the people in Gaza, especially the little children! Many of them have lost both of their parents. Some of them are being taken to the US. I continue to pray for those families and especially for the children! And Melannie, I hope your healing will go well and we look forward to seeing you in April! Peace, dear one!

  5. So happy to hear your surgery went well and pray for continued healing. The questions after your blog gave me a chance to remember and thank God for all the coincidences and providences in my life. They have all made my life more meaningful and kept me grounded, especially in times of sadness. Thank you Sister and God Bless you!

  6. “….the presence of more meaning than we can comprehend.” No truer words. A number of years ago, I had a sudden death experience due to cardiac arrest. I have survived quite well, thank you, God. My point is that many of the friends and family that witnessed my survival and recovery have called me a miracle man. I like to remind them that it was God that blessed me (and us) with this miracle and I am just the instrument He chose to remind everyone of His Love and Presence. Definitely more meaning than we can ever comprehend.

  7. Thank you for your blog today. It hits home I am currently looking at the next chapter and I feel somewhat lost. Your blog reminded me of those places where God has led me. After a particularly bad transition from a job I believe it was divine providence that I was led to do work with the Sisters of the Redeemer Health System in Huntingdon Valley, PA. I did not want to do it but visited at my friend/business colleague insisted. I felt immediately at home and in a place where I could heal and gain back my lost confidence. This experience also has enriched my faith and realizing the importance of spirituality in my life. I am so grateful for this experience. Now I am at another cross road and trying to figure out what is next. Your words reminded me that I need to release, renew and receive whatever God has planned in my next chapter. Thank you

  8. Sister, I’m so glad to hear that you are recovering well.

    This post reminds me of how much the Lord has blessed my extended family. In 2017 my father passed away. He had been the manager for his families’ properties since 1964. It was time to do something with the properties because there were about 40 heirs – and counting (we are up to 50+ now – a lawyer’s nightmare for title work). With no real estate person, I was blessed with the task of trying to sell them (13 properties). The Lord, in His wonderful, mysterious way of working things, brought buyers for 11 of the properties. We have two to go. Some of the family members said we were lucky-I said we were blessed. One morning while praying it occurred to me that there was nothing I had done to sell the property-God had done all the work-in His mysterious way. He blessed all these people and it has been life changing for so many of them. I don’t believe in coincidences much anymore-I believe in what a friend calls God whispers. Most of the time I don’t notice as it’s happening, but when I stop to reflect, the “light bulb” turns on and I am overwhelmed by His blessings and workings in our lives.

    Thank you for your blog. It’s the best way to start the week. Take care and continue to recover well. May God bless you in a special way.

  9. Dear Sister,
    I am glad you are recovering well. Sometimes recovering from surgery is God’s way of getting us to slow down and give more attention to Him and less to our ‘work’. Of late I have been bothered by a sore foot which forces me to sit more and I think this may be partly God’s way of making it possible to pray more and read more and not run about so much. I have always been impressed by that 12 step saying ” Let go and let God”. THis past weekend there was a 12 step group here in our guesthouse and the theme of their retreat was “Let Go and let God”.
    Was this a coincidence or Divine Providence or both? It was a reminder to me to let go and let God in my own life.
    Br. Luke Couillard, OSB

  10. I often think God takes charge and slows us down when we don’t realize our needs. Such as knee surgery, in my case hip replacement. And I believe God puts into our lives the one who needs to be there at the time. I just consider it God taking care of me. Years ago I was principal of a huge school. The pastor and I worked well together. He was asked to be in charge of the spiritual life of the diocese. He took over a former novitiate building and made it into a retreat center. He asked me to be his assistant. I was leaning toward that work and joined him. We were the best of friends. Today when I have a care or a fear I say ok Bill help me and he does. Thank you for your sharing. I love reading your books and your blog.

  11. Good evening, Sr. Melannie…
    Good evening, all…

    Okay, so I’m not sure what this is or what it means, but here it goes. Last year on my way to school, I stopped at a local coffee shop, got out of my car, and headed for a cup of coffee. Just as I got to the door, a woman was on her way out. She held the door and I said, “thank you,” but then she said: “You look familiar. Do I know you?” I had been teaching for over 40 years, and this woman looked to be in her mid to late thirties. I immediately thought: “former student.” I asked, “Did you go to Hanover High School? Had a Mr. Hopkins?” She said no. She then asked if I had ever worked in another town, and I said no. I asked her name. She told me: “I’m Sarah_____________.” I said, “I went to college with a John _________.” She quickly replied, “He’s my dad.”

    I was stunned! Her father and I were in several classes together as undergrads. We both ended up teaching English in high school. But that was it. We never socialized or anything like that. I asked how he was, and she said he was going through a bit of a rough patch health-wise. I told her I’d keep him in my prayers and we went our separate ways.

    I will most likely never see Sarah again. For one thing I never stop at that coffee shop anymore. But I’ll never ever forget that mysterious morning encounter that holds more meaning than I can ever comprehend!

  12. Dear Sister,
    So glad to hear your surgery went well and you are recovering in a caring environment.
    35 years ago, a friend asked me to attend a township meeting with her because she did not want to go alone. She did not know anyone there. A gentleman sat down next to me and asked me for a pen and a piece of paper. I thought he was unprepared and annoying!
    3 months later I again met him at a different meeting the same friend asked me to attend. The same man came to that meeting, having been invited by his friend. The 2 of us ended up being the 2 people this group asked to work on a project for them. We agreed. This started a friendship, that progressed to marriage. He is my best friend, my partner, my confidant, and my biggest cheerleader. He is more than I ever thought was possible to have in a husband. I tell him all the time, “God bless the broken road that lead me straight to you!”
    Coincidence – NO. Providence – YES!
    Thank you for the wonderful blog. Blessings and good health to you!

  13. My favorite daily prayer is,”Surprise me Lord, thy will be done. It’s all about trust and the moments that are providential. Our lives are a series of these events. Reaching out with confidence to others. Hearing stories from strangers. God gives us the environment and then leaves us open to how we handle it. Compassion brings joy from lived hardships.

    I’m praying you continue to gain strength and full recovery. Thank you for your goodness.

  14. At the time I thought it was “bad luck” to be laid off my part-time seasonal job. It was November, and the job was preparing tax returns during the upcoming tax season starting in January. I went on many interviews in November and December seeking a tax season job. The last CPA firm I interviewed with called me back within an hour after I left. I have been there 7 years now as permanent part-time, working full time hours in the spring when it’s busy season. I feel very blessed to have my job and enjoy the work I do. I know God had His hand in this.

    Continued prayers for your healing, Sister Melannie!

  15. So thankful your surgery went well, and you are recovering back in Chardon! You have added so much to my spiritual life, and I don’t believe it was just coincidental! Thank you!

  16. Blessings to you Sr. Melannie!
    I’m praying your hip replacement recovery will be a special time for you. You are in Good Hands!
    Thank you for this reflection! It makes one realize how God has His Hand in everything…and that is fine with me!
    God bless you always!

    Nancy Frederico

  17. Hello Sister Melannie,
    I just recently started receiving your blogs on my email. I just opened this today as my first one, but saved the others to go back to. What a bright, encouraging start to my day. Thank you so much for doing this. I hope you continue your speedy recovery from hip surgery. And thank you again for what I consider a great blessing to my day.

  18. Sister Melannie,
    Your writings are heart changing! I was your student at NDA, a freshman in 1968. All of us loved your enthusiasm and joy as a 1st year teacher.
    What a blessing that our youngest son, is a Catholic writer who touches many lives. “The parents of the Saints”, “Courtship of the Saints” and “Grief of Dads” are a few. Thank you Sister that you continue to bring God-instances to many.
    Maureen Vidmar O’Hearn
    NDA 1972

    1. Maureen,
      I remember you so well! So kind, eager to learn, involved in all kinds of school activities. I enjoyed connecting with you throughout the years since your graduation too. seeing you raising your family and so active in your parish was a blessing for me. How proud you must be of your writer son, Patrick. Thanks for reading my blog and responding! Melannie

  19. Sister Melanie. I’m happy to hear your surgery went well and that you are on the road to recovery. The definition of mystery you mentioned really hit a cord in me. It made me resolve to open my mind and heart to events that do not make sense to me. Instead of just dismissing them or being irritated by them, I need to trust that God is in charge and his plan for us will always be victorious.

  20. Dear Sr Melannie,
    Today’s Reflection was SO inspiring.. my husband and I spent 1 hour in discussion regarding Providence and Coincidence in our Life Journeys….
    A priest i knew once said it is not “coincidence “But “God- incidence”—Interesting perspective.
    May your recovery from hip surgery go smoothly. Rest and Rejuvenate.

    Thank you again for all of your Inspiration throughout the years.
    With love and healing Prayers,
    Ann S.

  21. You’ve heard the saying “that was a God thing”. Well, I started thinking about all those times God was with me in good times and bad…. and started writing them down in a book. I now have 40 pages up to date when i started around 2003. No matter what you name them, it’s just heart warming to know how spiritually and amazing God works through us. Sometimes before going to bed, I’ll read a few and am still blown away.
    Get well fast.

  22. I really appreciate receiving these “Sunflower Seeds”. I find something personal in each and every one of them. Thank you.
    Can’t help but wonder – I went to school (Holy Name High School, Cleveland, Ohio – class of 1958) with a boy named John Svoboda and if he was any relation to you. John was a wonderful friend..

    1. Marcella,
      Thank you for your response. Although I had a brother John, your classmate John is not my brother. I had Svoboda cousins at Holy Name, but they were Bill and Rich. Svoboda is a very common name in Czech. It means liberty. melannie

  23. Dear Sister Melanie, I’m very glad you are recovering well. I love your weekly blog- thank you.
    I’ve had a number of “coincidences” in my life that are difficult to imagine being anything other than God’s work. I spoke with a Dominican Friar friend after one of these coincidences and he said there are no coincidences, it is all God’s doing. As an example, the day after my father passed, I was sitting in our kitchen thinking about when he was a young man serving on a ship during WWII. I was drinking from a tea cup he brought back from England and reflecting on his life in Britain and his stories about the locals who were so kind to the servicemen. To still my grief, I switched on the radio and they played the British National Anthem. I reflected on his happy marriage with my mother and how their favorite song was Glen Miller’s Moonlight Serenade. (The day prior, while my father was near death and I played Moonlight Serenade on my phone for him and I heard his breathing quicken. I’m sure he could hear.) After finishing my tea, I decided to turn on TV to calm myself and there was a scene showing a woman walking down a dock (we live near the water) and she walked into a building where a 40’s band was playing Moonlight Serenade. Coincidence? I think my father and the Lord were telling me that he is safely in heaven.

  24. I’m glad your surgery went well and you look great! I have some family in Chardon and a few of them went to NDA. Although I am a vegetarian, I remember going there for the chicken dinners.

  25. Dear Sr Melannie,
    This is my first time reading your Blog. I have been receiving Living Faith daily meditations for well over 15 years, I’ve especially enjoyed your readings over the years!
    I wanted to share with you and others what I know was Divine Providence and not a coincidence
    3 days ago I was waiting for my Dr’s response in my email as I requested an appointment for a medical issue I have been having, I was hoping to be seen as soon as possible, I had been in pain the previous night and was hoping to be seen by her as soon as possible. I was worried and a bit anxious
    I was getting ready to begin my day and remembered the “Surrender Novena” I have been praying on and off for many years… O Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything”
    I had taped the show “The View” from 1/30, I knew that Jonathan Roumie, he played Jesus on the series The Chosen,
    Would be on and I wanted to hear his story. He talked of a time when he was at a very low point in his life and had nowhere else to go but to prayer
    Then he said, He got on his knees and prayed, “Jesus, I surrender myself to you take care of everything”
    My husband was sitting with me as I began to repeat the words with Jonathan, i began to cry, and my husband asked how I knew the words, I took out my printed sheet with the Novena, I have been saying that Novena in my lowest points over many years,
    I was overwhelmed with knowing that this was absolutely Divine Providence and Jesus was filling my heart with love and hope!
    Within an hour after listening to Jonathan Roumie, I received an email from my Dr
    That she would see me at her office the following morning, all of this happening within a span of 3 hours
    Thank you all for listening, always be open to the presence of God, He is always waiting for you, you just need to ask!
    Sr Melannie, Best wishes and prayers for your continued recovery and being chosen
    To do God’s work in this wonderful Blog and sharing your words of kindness, compassion, hope, love and peace 🌻

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Meet Sr. Melannie

Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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