I know some people who are always asking God (or some saint) for a sign. They ask God to send a bluebird, for example, to show that their deceased loved one is in peace. One woman told me she asked St. Therese of Lisieux (the “Little Flower”) to send a rose as a sign that she was making the right decision about a situation. Sure enough, the very next day she got a thank you note in the mail from a friend. On the front of the card was a beautiful pink rose.
A nun told me this story. I’ll call her Sister Irene. Her best friend, another sister in the community, had just died. A few days after the funeral, Irene was overcome with grief. She drove to a nearby park, sat in her car, opened her car windows, and sobbed. Suddenly a beautiful whitish butterfly fluttered into the car and landed on the steering wheel. Now Irene’s deceased friend was really into butterflies. She had butterfly pictures and images all over her bedroom. She often wrote notes on butterfly stationery and she occasionally wore a butterfly T-shirt or sweatshirt. Irene had not asked for a butterfly that day, but she was convinced her friend had sent the real butterfly into her car to console her in her grief.
I don’t really ask God for signs, but sometimes the signs fall right into my lap. A few weeks after my sister passed away, we members of her family met in her apartment to go through her belongings. My sister had died very suddenly and never had time to go through her things. Everyone knew that my sister’s favorite bird was the cardinal. As we gathered in her living room that morning, someone glanced out the window on her balcony. There perched on the railing was a beautiful bright red cardinal. He didn’t flit away either. He sat there for a good 30 seconds or so—time enough for all of us to see him. I felt that his presence that morning was a sign that my sister was somehow with us that day.
In her book, Gifts from Friends We’ve Yet to Meet, Virginia Herbers, currently living in St. Louis, tells this story about an unusual sign she received from God once. Herbers always asked God to send a cardinal when she was struggling with something—as a sign of God’s presence in her life. One time when she was driving alone in her car, she was overwhelmed by the terrible things that were happening in her life and in the world: her mother had just experienced heart failure, her best friend was struggling with cancer, there had been another school shooting, the clergy sexual abuse crisis was rocking the church, and on and on the bad news went. Herbers writes, “I took advantage of the privacy of the car ride to have another out-loud conversation with God about the current state of affairs.” She ranted and raged at God demanding that he send a cardinal to prove that he was still present and acting in our crazy, mixed up world.
Herbers got so worked up, she had forgotten that she needed to make a left turn at the next light—but now she found herself in the far right lane instead. As she neared the traffic light, it turned red. She huffed in exasperation. Then she describes what happened next: “When the car came to a halt at the intersection, Fredbird (the mascot of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team) jumped into the crosswalk right in front of my car as part of a promotion the team was having at the corner gas station. Fredbird himself proceeded to motion for me to open the window so that he could toss in a Cardinals’ hacky sack.
She concludes with these words of amazement: “Fredbird. The biggest, fattest cardinal a girl could ask for.”
Let me conclude this reflection on signs with the words of Ethel Pochocki, a poet in Maine. One bleak winter, she too asks God for “a sign of approval,” that the step she was taking “was sure.” In the morning, she looks out the kitchen window at the bird feeder “on the railing of the deck” and spots a chicken! In the middle of winter! Now, what is a chicken doing on her bird feeder “amidst the jays and mourning doves squabbling and feasting in the twelve-below freeze”? She stares at the chicken “in disbelief.” Then she thinks: “I know God sends the portents we crave in our neediness.” To some, God sends a “flurry of doves,” an angel, a visit from the Little Flower. But “to me, he sends a chicken.” She ends with these insightful words: “I deduce I am dealing with a prankster.”
Have you ever asked God for a sign? If so, what happened? If you never ask God for a sign, why don’t you?
Are there any “unasked for signs” in your life that offer you the assurance of God’s presence in your life—especially during difficult times?
PS: Thank you for your prayers for my retreat last week. It what a real blessing for me. Next week, I hope to share a few thoughts from my retreat with you.
Our video is a song called “Gifts from God” written by Chris Tomlin and sung here by Chris Lane. It reminds us of the gifts God sends into our life that money can’t buy.
I welcome your responses below. We all love to hear from our readers!