Lasting Impression: How an 87-Year-Old Nun Changed a Life

Now Featured in the Patheos Book Club
Five Years in Heaven
The Unlikely Friendship That Answered Life's Greatest Questions
by John Schlimm

Q. What was the single thing you loved most about Sister Augustine?

That's like asking someone what they love most about a sunny day in paradise. Everything!

I loved Sister's humility and simplicity, her grace, the peace that surrounded her, the divine wisdom and answers she was willing to share with me, and her witty sense of humor (I can still hear us laughing!).

She reminded me on a daily basis that life is beautiful. No matter what joys or sorrows come our way, she taught me to approach every situation with a smile and gratitude, and the understanding that life is precious and beautiful, in all its many forms.

Q. What are some of the most important lessons you learned from Sister Augustine?

To forgive. To be grateful for everything in my life, even the challenges. To laugh a lot.

Q. When you first met Sister Augustine, you were 31 and she was 87. What did your friendship teach you about the value of intergenerational relationships?

Sister Augustine and I were separated in age by fifty-six years, which was very easy to forget since she was so young-at-heart. She would have been 100 years old this year (2015).

Our unlikely friendship taught me that you are never too old or too young to be both a teacher and a student. Life is about learning from one another, and sharing lives—the good and the bad. We are each other's responsibility. I also learned how to be quiet and listen when an extraordinary teacher is sitting across the table from me.

Q. Early in the book you write about the date you met Sister Augustine and how you will always remember it. You write, "…I realized how rare it is to know the exact day you met someone who would change your life so profoundly. That date is now circled on my calendar and marked with a little star every year. Like a favorite destination on a map." When you first met Sister Augustine, did you know she was going to be such an important part of your life?

I will forever see that twinkle in Sister Augustine's eye from the first time I met her, and every one of the hundreds of our visits thereafter. She was barely over five-feet tall, slightly hunched, dressed in a full, traditional habit along with a denim bib-apron smeared with paint, and she had the voice of a loving grandmother.

From the moment I met Sister Augustine and walked into her extraordinary world, I knew I had been blessed with a very special teacher and friend. I'm so excited that now every reader will also get to meet her and have that experience when they enter "Five Years in Heaven" with me!

Q. In chapter five you share a quote from Sister Augustine about God's timing. She said, "God has His ways. His reasoning may not seem obvious to us at the time, but someday you'll look back and say, 'That's exactly how my life had to happen, good and bad, right down to the second, to get me where I am.'"Have you had moments of revelation like that in your life?

That beautiful lesson from Sister Augustine was always on my mind as I was writing "Five Years in Heaven." The book itself and my transformation throughout that period and in the years since have confirmed what she was telling me. In fact, that lesson revolutionized how I look at every moment of my life, especially the challenges. I am now grateful for those challenges and hardships, and embrace them as stepping stones in my journey ahead.

Q. What do you hope people will take away from the book?

The questions that Sister Augustine and I discussed are universal. No matter who you are or where you are—regardless of age and circumstances—the questions are ones we all struggle with throughout our lives. I invite readers to pull up a chair and glimpse Heaven on earth as I once did in that sacred place and to find their own inspiration, peace of mind, and meaning in the answers that are revealed. 

Q. How long did it take you to write the book? What was the writing process like? How did you decide on the title?

Sister Augustine once said to me, "Every story has its time to be told, John." As readers work their way through "Five Years in Heaven," they will eventually learn the extraordinary and divine reason why this book is in their hands. In fact, it almost didn't happen. But then there came a moment when I knew it was time to share our story with the world.