GOD STORIES: INSPIRING ENCOUNTERS WITH THE DIVINE, edited by Jennifer Skiff, 288 pages, Crown Publishing, New York, N.Y., $21.95, hardcover.
Michele Croan and her mother were extremely close. Like sisters is how the Seal Harbor shop owner described their relationship.
Croan’s mother died on July 3, 2006. The day after the funeral Croan sat on the deck of her home with her husband. Together they watched a mother bird teach her youngster how to eat from their backyard feeder. Eventually, the mother bird flew away and left the chick on its own.
“The mother flew off into the woods, and the little bird sat for some time by itself,” Croan wrote. “I felt alone, like that little bird. But I also felt that my mom was sending me a message: ‘It’s okay. You’re on your own.'”
Croan’s story is one of more than 100 included in “God Stories: Inspiring Encounters With the Divine,” edited by Maine native Jennifer Skiff. Skiff, 46, spent more than a year gathering stories about people’s encounters with God – 10 from other Maine residents – for the book that was published earlier this month.
The veteran journalist, who lives part of the year in Somesville and divides the rest of her time between London and Australia, grew up on Mount Desert Island. Skiff had her own run-in with God on her 12th birthday while riding the 10-speed bicycle she had received as a present.
“My mother told me not to go on Route 102,” she told the Bangor Daily News two years ago when she began seeking stories to include in the book. “So, I immediately went out onto Route 102. I was riding along when I had this extremely euphoric feeling. The next thing I knew, I was looking down at my body in front of a car. … I watched as a woman got out of the car and I saw my friend, who was riding her bicycle with me. Standing frozen next to her bicycle. The whole time, I felt absolutely wonderful.
“The next minute, I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off because I was back in my body,” she said. “From that moment on, I never feared death. I still don’t.”
Skiff had been struck by a car while riding her new bike. Much of her blond hair was “scalped” off her head. She had a concussion, and skin was scraped off her back. It took her months to recover.
Twenty years later, she faced death again when doctors found a tumor in the bone marrow of her right leg. In “God Stories,” she described that time in her personal life as one of “overwhelming sadness and disappointment,” although professionally she was thriving.
After surgery to remove the tumor, the doctor said that her leg had been saved temporarily but she had bone cancer. Within 48 hours of the diagnosis, Skiff was overwhelmed with cards, flowers, stuffed animals, gifts of food and affection, she wrote.
A week after the surgery, her stunned doctor told her that the tumor was benign after all.
“The entire experience was all the proof I needed,” she wrote in the book. “I had been given signs before, but this was obvious. There was a God for me, one who made it clear it was important I continue on with my life – to work toward positive change in the world and to see and understand all that I had been blessed with.”
It had not occurred to her to collect similar tales until a minister asked if Skiff had any “God stories” that she could use in an upcoming sermon. That conversation led to the book. If it is successful, she may continue gathering stories for subsequent collections.
Skiff described her own religious life as a combination of Christian and Buddhist. Like many who think of Maine as home, Skiff says her church today is the outdoors, although she grew up attending a Congregational church in Bar Harbor.
The stories in the book were written by ardent believers and spirited skeptics. They were submitted by ministers and rabbis, bankers and lawyers, sailors and real estate appraisers. The only thing they have in common is the time that they, like Skiff, encountered a divine presence they have never forgotten.
Meet the author
Who: Jennifer Skiff, editor
What: “God Stories: Inspiring Encounters with the Divine”
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 25
Where: Bangor Public Library
Info: 947-8336 or www.GodStories.com
Books: will be available for sale provided by BookMarcs of Bangor
Maine residents in “God stories”
Bill Butler, Lamoine
Marie Desjardins, Van Buren
Kathy Shields, West Tremont
Bonnie Baker, Blue Hill
Angie Butler, Lamoine
Larry Merrill, Orrington
Dave Hurley, Swanville
Earl Brechlin, Bar Harbor
Michele Croan, Seal Harbor
Lindsay Newland Bowker, Stonington