BLOG TOUR: Five Years in Heaven, Apr. 29-May 6, 2015

To celebrate the release of FIVE YEARS IN HEAVEN we’re setting off on a virtual book tour to six of the blogosphere’s finest Catholic blogs! Stops on the tour will feature author interviews with John Schlimm, behind the scenes photos of Sister Augustine and her famous pottery, and a chance to win a copy of FIVE YEARS IN HEAVEN!

We’re grateful to our blogging friends for sharing their thoughts and hosting stops on the tour. We encourage you to visit their sites (links below) and read their reviews.

4/29 – Catholic Foodie (podcast)

4/30 – Catholic Book Blogger (review)

5/1 – Catholic Book Blogger (giveaway)

5/2 – Catholic Drinkie (interview)

5/3 – Amazing Catechists (review)

5/4 – Catholic Book Blogger (interview)

5/5 – Simple Mama (review + photos)

5/6 – Seasons of Grace (review)

 

About the Book

In his new memoir, FIVE YEARS IN HEAVEN: The Unlikely Friendship That Answered Life’s Greatest Questions, award-winning author John Schlimm writes a poignant and heartfelt story of friendship and second chances not seen since Tuesdays with Morrie.

At age thirty-one, lost and alone at a crucial crossroads in his life, John found Heaven on earth. On the grounds of a 150-year–old monastery, he met 87-year-old Sister Augustine, the wise and humble artist at the convent’s ceramic shop. Over the next five years, John visited Sister just about every week. Their hundreds of visits became a master class in the meaning of life, love, and starting over, with a lot of laughter along the way.

 

 About the Author

John Schlimm is a Harvard-trained educator, artist, and award-winning writer. He has traveled the country speaking about inspirational/motivational topics, cooking, entertaining, and public relations, including his “Embrace Compassion, Change the World” keynote address on Capitol Hill. He has appeared on such national media outlets as The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, NPR, Martha Stewart Living’s Everyday Food, The Splendid Table, QVC, and Fox & Friends. John also recently debuted his participatory art piece THE SMILE THAT CHANGED THE WORLD (is yours) with installations in Canada and Washington, D.C.

To request a review copy or to schedule an interview with John Schlimm, please contact Katie Moore, publicist, at kamoore@penguinrandomhouse.com or 719-268-1936.

 


INTERVIEW: 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.

As for the actual writing process, from start to finish, the book took just over a year to complete. In this case, I had lived the story and it was still crystal clear in my mind, as if it had all just happened yesterday. I tend to write in marathon sessions. Once the words start flowing for a book project, I barely get up from my computer—only to eat, sleep, and shower.

The title, FIVE YEARS IN HEAVEN, is meant to convey how we all have the opportunity to glimpse Heaven right here on earth. In Sister Augustine’s studio and shop, during those heart-to-heart discussions as well as the lighter moments of laughter, I grew to have a better idea of what Heaven is. Of what the reward is that Heaven promises for each one of us. This book will also give readers that glimpse of Heaven, and will inspire them to recognize the same rare moments and people in their lives.

To request a review copy or to schedule an interview with John Schlimm, please contact Katie Moore, publicist, at kamoore@penguinrandomhouse.com or 719-268-1936.

 


Video: Broken Gods by Gregory Popcak

“You are gods.” Blasphemy? No, those words, spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of John and alluded to in Psalm 82, convey the holy longing many of us experience in our day-to-day lives. We are little gods in search of a big God. We want more. More love, more power, more peace, more joy, more satisfaction. Eventually, we tell ourselves that we need to stop listening to that ache in our hearts, which so often leads to disappointment and brokenness. But in Broken Gods, a new book by Gregory Popcak, he shows there is another option. Inspirational and practical, Broken Gods helps identify what our aches tell us about our destiny and demonstrate a commonsense means for fulfilling it.


Reading Guide: Five Years in Heaven

Five Years in Heaven presents several launching points for discussion about the numerous questions and topics we all confront in our lives every day. From forgiveness, death, and even the existence of God, to love, success, creativity, sin, relationships, and numerous other daily challenges, the following discussion questions will allow you to further explore and actively engage with the wisdom, humor, and lessons shared throughout the book. This companion guide will direct you toward discovering your own Heaven on earth, and your own meanings to the universal questions and topics that Sister Augustine and John discuss.

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 For more information about Five Years in Heaven, or to inquire about scheduling an appearance by John Schlimm via Skype or in person, please contact Katie Moore at 719-268-1936 or kamoore@penguinrandomhouse.com.

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  • At the beginning of Five Years in Heaven, John finds himself at a crucial crossroads in life. When in your life have you found yourself at a crossroads like John did?
  • John initially questions how sorrow can be a “gift,” as Sister Augustine calls it, which should be greeted with gratitude. Have you ever found sorrow to be a gift in your life? Explain.
  • Just as John experienced, when have you realized that a great teacher entered your life? What lessons did you learn from that teacher?
  • Sister Augustine says of creating ceramic pieces: “This process is a slow one that tests each piece along the way over time. More often than not, they’re tougher than you’d think by just looking at them.” How can you relate this sentiment to your life?
  • Sister Augustine says: “That’s when gratitude counts the most. It’s in those challenging moments when we get a little closer to our true purpose in this life. We need to be thankful for those challenges.” Think of a disappointment or challenge in your life. How can being grateful for that situation help you to move through it into a better place?
  • John writes: “It’s so hard to have faith in a greater purpose that you can’t see or easily explain. Or to find belief in a world that no longer seems to believe in you.” Have you ever felt this way? Explain.
  • Sister Augustine tells John: “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.’” How does your life journey so far support this sentiment?
  • Sister Augustine tells John: “Forgiveness is an act of love and compassion. Yes, it is a gift we give to the person who hurt us, which is often the hardest part for people to understand. In our minds, that often means we’re letting that person off the hook for whatever they did to us. But ultimately, when we forgive someone, that act is also a gift of love and compassion, and freedom, that only we can give to ourselves.” How did this statement support or change how you view the act of forgiveness?
  • In discussing our pursuit to know God, Sister Augustine says: “We have to see, with our entire bodies and souls, before we can truly understand.” Besides your eyes, how else can/do you “see” God at work in your life?
  • While at one time or another we all stand before a wall of fear and challenges, Sister says: “The difference for some, though, is that they look upward and think, I can climb right up over this wall. Or they look to the sides, and think, I can go around this wall. Or, if nothing else, they take a step back and carefully examine the wall, thinking, I can smash right through it!” When in your life have you taken this proactive approach to overcoming fear, change, or some other challenge?
  • Sister Augustine says: “One of the most important things in this life is just showing up… That speaks for itself, where words never could. Just like a smile does.” What is an example from your life when “just showing up” made an important difference?
  • Sister Augustine says: “That’s what life is meant to be: an unfinished piece of work that others carry on in some way after you’ve gone. That way there truly is no beginning and no end.” Did this statement influence your own views on living and dying? Explain.
  • John writes about how his friendship with Sister Augustine ultimately transformed him. Think of a close friendship you have or had with someone. In what ways did that friendship transform you for the better and help guide you along life’s journey?
  • From the beginning, Five Years in Heaven has explored the topic of Heaven on earth. When in your life have you had an experience that you would describe as Heaven on earth?
  • John ends the book with a very simple sentence. Why in that moment do you think this was his reaction? How does this seemingly simple reaction reflect his growth in the five-year journey he just completed?


Reading Guide: Between the Dark and the Daylight

Between the Dark and the Daylight explores the concerns of modern life, of the overworked mind and hurting heart. These are the paradoxical—and often frustrating—moments when our lives feel at odds with everything around us.

With her signature elegance, wit, and spirit,  bestselling author  Joan Chittister opens our eyes and hearts in these times of confusion. With simple and poignant meditations, Between the Dark and the Daylight reveals how we can better understand ourselves, one another, and God.
Go deeper with this reading guide for Between the Dark and the Daylight which can be used for individual reflection or group discussion.
  • Chittister begins the book by describing the literal affects darkness has on human psychology. By losing a sense of our physical space, eventually light deprivation leads to losing our sense of self. Chittister then explains how in times of spiritual darkness, we must find our own inner light. She writes, “The stars that come with darkness are the new insights, the new directions, the new awareness.” Can you recall a time when you felt emotionally dark? What served as your light? How has your point of view changed after experiencing hardship?
  • Chittister writes that “frustration” is often a mask for deeper concerns. Have you complained of feeling frustrated in the last week? What was it? Consider if the annoyance is a clue to a greater concern.
  • Reflect on a time in your life when adversity was necessary to finding peace.
  • According to Chittister, risk is “the willingness to accept an unknown future with open hands and happy heart.” Is there a risk you have been afraid to take? In what way can you open your heart to uncertainty?
  • In the chapter, “The Emptiness of Accumulation,” Chittister writes, “We invest in things as trappings, as signals, as badges of success when we lack the confidence to believe in our self.” Have you ever been tempted to “keep up with the Jones’s”? What motivated you to chase material items?  In what ways can you nurture “things of the soul” like friendships, beauty, nature, and joy in your life?
  • Reflect on a time you failed, or simply didn’t win first place. What did it teach you about yourself—about your energy, endurance, your natural talents, your likes and dislikes?
  • “Exhaustion drains us physically; boredom depletes the soul,” writes Chittister. How do you balance between the adrenaline rush of over-working, and the necessary calm that follows? Do you have a favorite activity that helps clear your head? Have you ever had an “ah-ha” moment while relaxing, taking a walk, cooking, or gardening? List ways you can better incorporate relaxation into your routine.
  • Do you consider yourself a perfectionist? What makes something “perfect” to you? How can you better embrace imperfections, both in yourself and others?
  • Reflect on a time you felt shame. By examining what you feel guilty about, what is revealed about your own morality, conscience, and values?
  • Confusion gives us “cosmic permission to think differently.” Reflect on a time you felt resistant to a new idea. Consider ways you can approach new, different, and radical change with vitality, rather than fear.
  • If you identify as a man, consider what typically “feminine” traits compliment your masculinity, such as sensitivity, empathy, or childcare. If you identify as a woman, what “masculine” traits enhance your life, like assertiveness, strength, or leadership? By balancing these qualities, Chittister contends that we all become more fully human. Consider ways you can balance expectations around gender.
  • “Loss is not meant to ruin us or our sleep for the rest of our lives. It simply prepares us to lose better the next time.” Reflect on a time you experienced loss. In what ways has that better prepared you for future pain?
  • Chittister writes that, “What we learn in loneliness is that everybody needs someone.” Consider who might be lonely in around you. A niece who moved away to college? A widowed neighbor? Residents at a local nursing home? How can you reach out to those who are experiencing isolation?
  • “Love is not a mold that makes two people the same person,” Chittister writes. “Love is the dream that enables both of us to be our own best person—together.” Reflect on a time you fell in love or a couple whose love you admire. How can you better support your loved ones to be their best selves?
  • Have you ever been in a crowded place—a restaurant, a theater, an airport terminal—and felt isolated because you were surrounded by strangers? Have you ever been home alone or in nature, without another soul around, but have felt satisfied by your own company?  Contrast how these experiences make you feel.  What can they teach you about companionship?
  • Some people who live in abject poverty report feeling hopeful, talk of being happy, and feel close to God, while others who have great health, political freedom, and comfortable lives describe feeling despair. From this, Chittister concludes that, “hopelessness has at least as much to do with what we bring to life as it does with what life brings us.” How can you cultivate hopefulness in your own life? How can you better use what you have—education, money, talent, a heartbeat—for growth?
  • “Without doubt, there is little room for faith in anything,” writes Chittister. How has doubt played a role in your faith?
  • Chittister describes attending Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Jewish religious services, and feeling certain that “these people were just as deeply involved in the search for God as I am.” Have you ever attended a religious service that was not your denomination? If so, what did you learn about faith from others’ practices? What can ecumenicism teach us about God?
  • The salve for spiritual pain, according to Chittister, lies in the knowledge and experience that God is with us always. How is this illustrated in the parable of Babel? Reflect back to you time of spiritual darkness described in the first question. How is that experience altered by the knowledge that God was with you in that time?



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