Serendipity (part 4)

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Immaculee Ilibagiza: Thank you. Thank you everybody. Thank you for your kind welcome. I know my story is a sad story, but it has been a story that gave me experience of great spiritual growth and different understanding of how what really matters in life. So I am really grateful for what happened and what I’ve learned from that experience. When I met Wayne, [she is speaking to Wayne Dyer here] thank you so much for giving me this chance to share my story, I read his [Wayne Dyer’s] books and I listened to his tapes, I kept asking myself why someone like this wasn’t in my country before the genocide because it was all we needed for people not to think about the killing. So what I mean is, I hope you know what gift you have to have people like him teaching what he teaches.

Like he told you, I was on Easter vacation, home and we heard that the president died. My parents and my brothers who loved me very much, I was their only daughter. They insisted that I go to hide with a Hutu neighbor they trusted. I went to him and told him what my parents told me. He took me to the bathroom in his bedroom and I found there seven other women. We were eight. The space was a little smaller than this table. We sat there and were told not to say a word, not to make a noise, because if anyone knows we are there, they would call the killers. He told us he won’t even tell his own children. We were happy for his generosity. All day long we were listening to a radio which was next door in his room. All the news was talking about was how to kill Tutsis. They say to kill children, not to forget the women, old people, that they had to cleanse the country. That was said by the new president who had just taken over. The ministers, the whole country was just going crazy. They killed in public places, even in churches and then they started to say on the radio, encouraging all the Hutus to go to each house and search to see if there is any Tutsis hiding.

Then they came to our home. I looked surprised. I remember I was stretching and I saw through a curtain of a small window. I saw outside like three hundred people. I fell down. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t talk. They started searching. I had the rosary that my father had given me when we were separated. I just started to pray. I couldn’t remember for a minute any words really, in my mouth. I was so scared. I could not even tell you how much you feel when you have to experience something like that when you know people are five inches away looking for you, and if they find you, they will kill you. They searched everywhere in the house, in the ceiling, in the top of the house, in every room, they went under the beds. They opened every suit case, saying that maybe babies are hiding there. I was so scared.

I was talking to God. That was my only refuge. I begged him to save me. There was no choice. I didn’t want to die . . . I kept saying that if you say that if we ask, You will give. This is the one thing I am asking you in the world. Please make it happen that they don’t find us . . . I was really praying so hard. I remember, and I don’t really know if this was my imagination or my mind, but it was almost like a vision. I saw Jesus standing with us and heard Jesus say, ‘I know you are praying so hard. Don’t worry. I will put a cross in front of the door. And no one will ever come across.’ I saw the cross. It was almost like I was helping Him put the cross on the door. I stood out of my body and I was feeling like a spirit, and pushed the cross on the door. I was happy. I knew that we were protected. And after that I could see the cross. It was a cross of light . . . There was just a light. I was happy and a few hours later, the killers left. The only room they didn’t search: it was that bathroom. The pastor came back two hours later and said that they would come back many times. We didn’t know when they would come back. It was so painful to wait, because we heard them singing all day long outside. And any time they passed by, we thought they were coming for us. I heard so many voices in my mind, so many bad thoughts of how I was going to die. That was the only pictures that were going through my mind. How they were going to rape me, how they were going to cut my hands and my head. Just the thoughts were so heavy, so poisonous to my body without anyone touching me, and I was asking God I just wish these thoughts can stop, but I couldn’t help it.

That was the moment I think I heard an angel make a suggestion to me. It was the best decision I ever took in my life. I told myself, maybe if I pray every minute of my life of the day, these thoughts might be able to shut down. It was such good idea. I told myself: okay, I’m going to do it. As soon as I got up, I used my rosary to say my prayers and meditate on the bible on the life of Jesus. As soon as I get up in the morning, I started to pray. I would pray from like 6 in the morning until 10 o’clock at night, to the minute I fall asleep. The next day, I did the same thing. It was so good. I was able to spend a day without having these thoughts that were burning my body. And then as I was praying, every prayer talked about love. Every prayer talked about forgiveness. I knew in my heart, there was no way I can forgive these people who are killing me. I hated them. I wanted them to go to hell. I was thinking that maybe they killed my mother. And I thought, I hope God agrees with me. I mean it was a good reason not to love them, not to pray for them. Any time I reach this part of the prayer, and for those who don’t know the rosary, on one rosary you say seven Our Lord’s prayer. And any time I reach this part, ‘Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,’ the first days it was okay. The next day I feel like I’m lying to God. I wish I could take this part out of the prayer. But yet it is God who say this prayer. It must be true.

So, one time I was really feeling like a liar, I sat there and I told God. ‘Look, I cannot pray for these people, but maybe help me out. I just want to be so sincere with you because I want your favor so much. That minute I surrendered everything. I give God all my thoughts, everything. Control me. Tell me what to do. I was praying one time, meditating, and I remembered the words Jesus said on the cross when He said, ‘Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they do.’ It was almost like I never heard those words before. It was so powerful. It was so clear to me that they cannot possibly know what they are causing. In that minute, I forgave them. We spent three months in that bathroom. We came out when the Tutsis liberals who have been in exile for thirty years, captured the country. And then we were able to come out. When we came out, I found out that everyone in my family was dead, my mom, my dad, my brothers, my neighbor Tutsis, my school mates. The whole country was dead bodies all over. I thought it was almost maybe the end of the world. Or the beginning, but one thing was real.

The forgiveness I’ve experienced, the love I got in the bathroom about God was so real, it was a gift that helped me relieve the pain of losing my parents. I am so grateful. I found out I was always the one concerning people. I even went to the prison to visit the killer of my parents. I wanted to find out how I would feel. As I saw him suffering, sitting down, a man who was respected. I really did feel compassion. I couldn’t believe that sin could bring somebody in a situation like that. If he couldn’t think of it himself, if he couldn’t love himself, to protect himself from coming into that situation, how can he think of me? How can he think of not hurting me? I knew for sure that he couldn’t know what he was doing. And I forgave him. My life today, all I want to do, all my thoughts, my decisions, I just want them to be based on love, on what God would do in my place if it was Him because I know as humans we make mistakes, and we can really make big mistakes. I hope and I think with forgiveness and love, unconditional love we can accomplish peace on earth. As Anne Frank said, the Jewish girl who was in hiding just like me, I really still believe that human beings I wouldn’t hurt and I hope we all help each other, pray for each other more than hating each other. Thank you for listening. Thank you. Thank you.

What a beautiful soul. What an example of life, love, mystery. By the time Immaculee reached the point in the story where she met the killer of her family and knew that he knew not what he had done, I was not ashamed of my anger and disappointment and antipathy toward my family, but moreover, I was gifted with an epiphany: It was in my power to find relief from the gnawing sensations of such negativity. The spiritual energy in that room was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I’ve never felt like I felt during the time this woman spoke. Never.

For the next ten minutes or so, Wayne Dyer spoke about the power of spirit and faith and the fact that that was the only reason Immaculee survived. She came back to the stage for few additional minutes and talked about how she had learned the English language while she was hiding in that bathroom from a French-English dictionary that had been left on the back of the toilet before the room had became a hide-a-away. Immaculee now lives on Long Island with her husband and two children. She works at the United Nations and will be speaking for the next year on the power of faith and forgiveness.

Just before closing the lecture, Wayne Dyer briefly mentioned that one of his eight children has suffered a great deal from drug addiction and that while she is doing well now, and in recovery, he would have approached that issue differently today. It was an odd aside because it didn’t fit with anything else he was saying. He even said that he didn’t know why he’d brought it up. Then he added he would stay for a while after the lecture to sign books. I looked over to my fiancé and my daughter. “No way,” I said. It was late and we were all exhausted and had a full schedule the next day. Quietly, we walked back to our room. I was still in awe and didn’t have much to say. I was trying to process the experience. My daughter asked me if I was okay. All I could say, “right now I’m overwhelmed.”

Once in the room, I made a visit to the bathroom. When I came out, I picked up my purse, Wayne Dyer’s children’s book I’d bought earlier and looked at my daughter and fiancé who had made themselves comfortable. “We have to go back,” I said. They both looked at me as though I lost my last remaining marble. “Let’s go before everyone is gone,” I insisted. “Something is telling me we need to go back and get our books signed.” While it is nice to have books signed, it is not my modus operandi to do so. We all headed back to the ballroom.

We returned to the lecture hall where about forty people remained. Twenty or so were gathered around Wayne Dyer, ten were huddled around Immaculee Ilabagiza, and the others seemed to be people who worked for the conference. We stood in line and listened to people praise Wayne Dyer for all of his contributions to helping people with spirituality and watched as he signed the books. Mary, my daughter, is generally quite shy, but when Dr. Dyer made eye contact with her, she immediately said, “I know what your daughter went through. I’m a recovering drug addict.” I had a knee jerk reaction of being choked up. I was very proud of her. Dr. Dyer looked at her with such kindness and said, “That’s why I said that bit about my daughter. I said it for you. I couldn’t understand why I brought it up. How long have you been clean?” Mary told him four months. He asked my daughter if he could hug her, which he did, and he kissed her—for a time she swore she was never washing her cheek. He then told her she now had a job to do, to tell others of her experience, and spent several minutes asking her questions. He did sign our books, and my fiancé took a picture of my daughter and me with him. We thanked him and began to leave.

rosaryI turned to my daughter and fiancé and said that I had to speak to Immaculee, that I needed to touch her, to hold her. I had no book for her to sign. We got in line to see her. I had no idea what I could possibly say to this woman. When it was my turn, I approached Immaculee and asked her if I could hug her. She opened her arms and we held each other. I said the only words I could utter: “Bless you.” She said, “You are so kind to me.” Then, a friend of Immaculee’s suggested to Immaculee that she might want to say/teach the rosary in the morning. I almost fell over. That’s why my computer bag made it to the conference. It wasn’t for the computer which didn’t work. It was for the rosary sitting in the bottom of the bag. I told Immaculee I would definitely be interested in saying the rosary with her. She thanked me and told me she would see me in the morning. What was happening to me? All of these “coincidences,” which coincidentally I don’t believe in, were occurring in such an orchestrated fashion that I knew I was in the mystery and part of something very extraordinary and sacred.

conclusion tomorrow

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Deeper into the Forest

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forest pathI experienced death for the first time in my life when I was eight years old, the death of my father. My father had what now is considered a fairly curable cancer. In 1956 when my mother was six months pregnant with me, the doctors told my father he had six months to live. He clearly wasn’t ready when the doctors said he would be.

Thankfully, both of my parents were two very spiritually enlightened individuals. My mother didn’t refrain from the truth about my father’s situation as I grew. What my mother did, something for which I will be forever grateful was ingrain in me that death was no less miraculous of an event than birth.

My father was going to a marvelous place where he’d see the face of God, his grandparents and his parents. My mother assured me (and my three siblings ages 6, 4, and 18 months) that when the time came my father would board a ship and while those of us on this shore would wave good bye for now and say “There he goes!” that those on the receiving shore would wave hello and say “Here he comes!” This painted a non-fearful picture of a journey. This is not to say I wasn’t profoundly saddened, but the brush strokes my mother used made death another chapter and not the end.

My mother, half Irish half Scottish, and my father, half Italian and half Scot/Irish both came from strong Catholic backgrounds and especially for Catholics at this time period they were very open minded. Two months before my father’s death, on Halloween, my 6 year-old brother and I visited my father in the hospital. During this visit, nurses rushed my brother and me from the room. What we didn’t know for a few days is that my father’s heart had stopped. As many who have experienced near death, my father’s experience was fairly typical. It was a place of intense love and comfort, but for four young children, he told us that where he was going you could eat hotdogs for breakfast, fish all day, swing on a tire in the moonlight, ask God anything you wanted, and best of all my father’s soul would watch over us all always.

Roland RogersA few nights before my father died, my mother sat in the hospital in a sitting room adjoined to the room where my father slept. My father’s voice in conversation distracted my mother. She rose from her chair and stood in the door way of the dimly lit room. My mother felt certain that someone else was in the room with my father. He spoke in answer to someone my mother could not see. His eyes followed the unseen presence around the room. It became clear at one point that the presence was standing right next to my father’s bed. My father held out his arms and cradled something which my mother could not see. Later my father explained to my mother that St. Anthony of Padua had visited him. He carried the Christ child. They spoke of many things, and during their conversation, St. Anthony asked my father if he’d like to hold the Christ child. My father accepted the invitation. While my father held the Christ child, St. Anthony told my father, that very soon he would begin a new journey, the pain would cease, and his family would be all right no matter what.

The morning after my father died, my mother shared this story and others in a way that cemented ourmom2004 universal view that life is eternal. Although my mother remarried a wonderful man several years later, and we were therefore blessed with a second father, and two more siblings, my mother often told me that my father was with her always. She told me she regularly dreamed that she would stand in a forest calling to him. He would come from behind a tree and embrace her. She would tell him she loved him and he would tell her that when she was ready, he would be waiting near that tree in the forest.

Five years ago today my mother walked deeper into the forest holding the hand of my father.

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Ask for a Sign

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cardinalmom(Regarding yesterday morning) As I prepare for this unbelievable trip to South Africa (now only two days away), I’ve thought of my mother quite frequently . . . how much I want to tell her about this opportunity, this gift that has been handed to me. I know she knows. I speak to her quite often. Yesterday morning I asked my mother for a sign . . .

Almost five years ago my best friend, my mother, died in June. In late August that same summer, I was still living in my mother’s home preparing to put it on the market. In 90 degree weather with 90 percent humidity, I’d picked up my then nine year old son, Casey from my sister’s home. Casey and I drove to my mother’s home with plans of going swimming.

The instant we walked into the house, we both realized the air conditioner was not working. After a few ughs and groans, Casey and I changed into our swimsuits. As we locked the front door behind us, I spoke aloud to my mother. “Mom, I have no idea what your plumber friend’s name is, have no idea whom to trust on air conditioners, and I hope this isn’t too expensive. Please give me a sign that this will work out.”

Within twenty minutes Casey splashed in the pool and I had made myself comfortable in a lounge chair. While relaxing, I heard my mother’s voice in my head. “Don’t worry. I’ve got the air conditioner covered.” I laughed out loud thinking that I was making this conversation up in my head. I opened a book, began to read. I couldn’t stay focused on the page and wondered who I would call in the morning. I heard my mother’s voice in my head again. “I said don’t worry.”

The next morning as I dried off from my shower, the door bell rang. I poked my head out of the bathroom and told Casey to answer the door. I could hear Casey talking to someone, but couldn’t understand what was being said. With a towel wrapped around me, I moved into the hallway and called down the stairs. “Who is at the door, Casey?” Casey didn’t answer, but a male voice did. “I’m Troy, your mother’s plumber.” I said, “Stay right there. I’ll be down in a minute.”

As I hurriedly threw on my clothes, with a total look of shock on my face that I could see in the mirror, I heard my mother say, “That will teach you to listen to me.” I laughed and said “thank you” to the ceiling and dashed down the stairs to meet Troy.

“What are you doing here,” I asked, sizing up Troy, who looked like a “biker”, beard, tattoos, longer hair.

Troy began, “I was driving a couple miles east of here and I just started thinking about your mother. And I thought, ‘you know I haven’t checked in on Barbara in a while.’ So here I am.”

“Well, Troy, my mother died two months ago, but she brought you here today.”

Troy looked at me kind of funny & made condolences. I then proceeded to explain how I believed he came to arrive there that day.

Troy removed his hat & scratched his head. “I don’t believe in this stuff. I’ve heard wild stories like this before and I’ve never believed in this kind of thing. The hairs on the back of my neck are standing. Now it’s happened to me. None of my friends are going to believe this . . .” Troy went on in his doubt and skepticism ending in surprising belief.

And the air conditioner, Troy did me a huge favor and didn’t charge me for the labor on a new air conditioner.

The day after the air conditioner was installed, I looked out on the patio and saw a sea of cardinals, more in one place than I have ever seen in my entire life, at least fifty of these gorgeous birds perched on the patio furniture. My mother always said she’d come back as a cardinal. Hmmm.

(Yesterday morning) I woke and the first thought on my mind, after thinking four more days until South Africa, I thought again of my mother, how excited she would be for me, how she would say ‘how brave I was’, how I’d love to hear from her.

I went downstairs, started a pot of coffee and sat at my desk. As I began to check my cell phone for any messages, my phone beeped telling me of a new text message. It was from my daughter Mary. The message read “I was taking Piper [my four month old first grandchild] into the next room and I looked out the window and in the tree sat three cardinals.” There is my sign. I live in Colorado; my daughter lives in Kansas City. Cardinals do not make their home in Colorado. Out of the blue, my daughter text messages me that she has just seen three cardinals. I write back: I love you, Mary. It is unusual to see more than two cardinals at once. It’s a good sign.

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