As Russell Arben Fox noted in his review of Little Way, my own religious life has been characterized by a strong bent towards the mystical. I have had a penchant for synchronicities — Jung’s word for meaningful coincidences — seeing in them a sign of God’s presence, and of spiritual order and meaning beneath the surface of things. I certainly believe there is such a thing as confirmation bias, but there have been occasions in which coincidences have been too strange to ignore. And I’ve noticed that they usually cluster around events that turn out to be particularly meaningful, in a spiritual way. For example, I knew something big was coming just days before I met the woman who would become my wife, because I had several powerful synchronicities, and vivid, highly symbolic dreams.

What I didn’t know until after she died was that my sister, who was by no means a mystically inclined person, also observed synchronicities, and believed that they came from God. In this passage from The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming, we see that when Mike was away from home serving in the military in Iraq, both of them had a series of synchronicities around the number 709:

An eerie thing happened in that race. Ruthie ran wearing Mike’s 769th Battalion t-shirt and his dog tags. Her official race number, printed on her paper bib, was 709.

Months later, Mike learned he would be sent home for an R&R break at Easter. He sat at the kitchen table in Starhill unpacking the small bag he had with him on the plane, and took out the bib numbers he had saved from the 5Ks he ran in Iraq.

“Ruthie said, ‘What are you doing with my number?’ I didn’t know what she was talking about,” says Mike. “‘She said, ‘That’s mine.’ I said no, I just took it out of my backpack. She took off running to the back of the house, and came back with hers. They were exactly alike, with the number 709.”

She thought it was God winking at us, letting us know that there is a hidden order running deeply beneath the surface of the world.

“My car died after Mike went back,” Abby says. “I had to buy a new vehicle, so she let me borrow Mike’s truck while I was shopping. I was headed out to her house one day, and she was headed into town. We passed each other going opposite directions. In front of me was a van from the penitentiary with the number 709 on the grille.”

Adds Mike, “The weird thing was that my rotation in Iraq was officially called OIF – for Operation Iraqi Freedom – 07-09. In her mind, that meant something. And believe it or not, I happened to arrive back home in the U.S. from Kuwait on July 9 — another 07-09.”

After a few days of demobilization, Mike and his men made the last leg of their journey home, to the Baton Rouge Airport. Dignitaries and the media awaited them on the tarmac, but more importantly, so did their families. A photographer from the Advocate shot the moment Ruthie and the girls embraced Mike. It would be on the front page of the next day’s newspaper.

Because Mike was an officer, the Lemings lingered at the airport for an hour, until he had seen all his men off safely home. Meanwhile, Abby was frantic. They had planned a surprise party for Mike in Starhill, but Abby’s flight home from a Florida vacation had been delayed into New Orleans. She threw her luggage into her car and flew north, hoping to beat the Lemings to Starhill.

As Abby sped past the onramp near the airport, Mike and his family were at that moment pulling onto the interstate.

“That’s a 709 moment right there,” Mike said. Then they looked at the truck’s digital clock.

It read 7:09.

See that photo above? [I’ve taken it down, just to be on the safe side, security-wise — RD] It was the receipt from my niece Hannah’s lunch yesterday. Notice the total. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but Hannah had the idea that it was her mother giving her a gentle sign on the day before the book in which Hannah plays such a big part is published. I’m inclined to think Hannah is right.