PETE: Your book Five Years in Heaven: The Unlikely Friendship That Answered Life’s Greatest Questions, is a wonderful look into the unlikely friendship you, a 31 year old man seeking direction in your life, had with an 87 year old nun. What drove you to publish this story?
JOHN SCHLIMM: Sister Augustine once told me, “Every story has its time to be told.”
Just as I was at a crucial crossroads in my life when I met Sister, and she helped me to navigate the pathway to self-discovery, the world now is also at a crossroads. Everyone is searching for answers and ways to live life to the fullest amidst everyday craziness.
Over the course of our hundreds of visits, Sister Augustine and I discussed those universal questions we all have in this life, whether you’re 20, 50, or 90 years old. No topic was ever off limits, from death, forgiveness, and even the existence of God, to sin, creativity, rejection, and how best to use the daily challenges we all face to make us stronger, better people.
I wanted to share these answers and lessons, so every reader – no matter who they are or where they are – can also benefit from them.
Ultimately, Sister Augustine gave me a glimpse of Heaven right here on earth, and it was way too good to keep all to myself!
PETE: Your first meeting with Sister Augustine was entirely by chance and influenced by a friend. It could have been the only time you ever spoke with Sister Augustine but you returned often and built this chance encounter into a friendship. What drew you to Sister?
JOHN SCHLIMM: From the moment I met her, I knew she was special. Sister Augustine had the voice of a beloved grandmother, an endearing chuckle, and a twinkle in her eyes that I’ll never forget for as long as I live.
There was a pull within my fractured heart and soul at the time – like a magnet – that drew me back to her shop and studio for a second time, and for hundreds of visits after that. Something deep within me made me realize that Sister had the answers and wisdom I was in need of learning.
My friend was a beacon of light in the darkness that engulfed me at the time.
PETE: You mention in the early chapters of the book how, at the age of 31, you were basically a “ship lost at sea” so to speak. Your life was not exactly what you had hoped for and you were basically stuck in a rut. What did Sister do that “righted your ship”?
JOHN SCHLIMM: Sister Augustine provided a humble and loving sanctuary for me for a few hours each week – a quiet and colorful place far removed from the frenzy and demands of the outside world – where I could ask any question, confide any secret, vent any frustration, or just sit quietly. And we always filled the room with laughter. I can still hear the two of us laughing!
She always had an answer to share and wisdom to impart. In this way, my friend gently took my hand and showed me the way to move forward, one step at a time and with my head held high, no matter what.
PETE: For others who find themselves in similar situations as you did at 31….how can this book help them?
JOHN SCHLIMM: Sister Augustine taught me how “each step in this life, whether in happiness or in sadness, is a gift. What we do with those gifts is what makes all the difference.”
In Five Years in Heaven, I invite every reader to pull up a chair to the table with Sister and me in that happy and peaceful place. Readers of all ages can then draw their own meanings and inspirations from the answers and lessons that are revealed.
Every reader will find a part of themselves in this story and journey. The questions about life, faith, belonging, direction, rejection, hardships, and so much more are issues we all face in our own ways, often many times throughout our lives. But now, each reader will also have Sister Augustine to help guide and mentor them as well, just as she once did for me.
My friend always reminded me, “In this life and beyond, each one of us is each other’s responsibility.”
Five Years in Heaven is my way of reaching out to my brothers and sisters across the globe to help add a bright light to their lives.
PETE: If Sister were here with us today what do you think her reaction would be to your story being published?
JOHN SCHLIMM: I have no doubt that she has guided this project from the very beginning. In fact, in the Acknowledgments section of the book, I write about the very special sign I received from Sister Augustine that let me know the time was right to share our story with the world. It was a beautiful allusion to Ecclesiastes 3:11, “God makes everything beautiful in its time.” The journey I write about in Five Years in Heaven is very much a reflection of those sacred words.
I can see Sister Augustine smiling now that Five Years in Heaven is available for everyone to enjoy, just as surely as I smile every time I look Heavenward.
PETE: Time for my signature ending question. This is a blog about books. What books are currently on your bookshelf to read?
JOHN SCHLIMM: I just finished Mother Teresa’s Come Be My Light, which had a profound effect on me. Her humility and devotion to God are so striking and inspiring. She reminds me a great deal of Sister Augustine.
Next up, I am finally going to read St. Augustine’s Confessions.