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What Two Nuns On A Plane Taught Me About The Power Of Synchronicity

Woman on the Beach in Wintertime Soaking in the Moment
Image by BONNINSTUDIO / Stocksy
May 4, 2023

A few years ago, I was on a small commuter plane during a brief flight from Chicago to Peoria. We were jammed in so tightly that I had to check my computer bag. Two cherub-faced nuns in full habit regalia passed my seat giggling and sat down within arm's reach just one row behind me. I smiled warmly at them and wondered how their journey had led them to Peoria, Illinois, of all places.

I settled into my seat, happy to have a small coloring book stashed in my purse for just such occasions. I thumbed through the pages looking for a picture that spoke to me with just the right inspiration for the 25-minute flight and chose an image of a delightful girl riding a bicycle whose countenance was full of joy. Next to her feet was inscribed a verse from Joshua 1:9 (ESV): "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

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I chose a bright yellow sunshine-colored pencil to start. As I began to add color to the image, a small voice in my head, the same one that guides me when I'm still enough to listen, spoke clearly and plainly: Believe. Trust in the process. Even in small things. Color the picture. Give it to the nuns.

This triggered an immediate argument from the logical part of me

My analytical mind judged the idea to be ridiculous. What in the world would they think of me? The self-conscious scientist in me dug in her heels and tried to ignore the thought. My intuition, the faith-filled, trusting, spontaneous part of me, was delighted with the idea but was soon overpowered by the louder, more rational voice.

I let the argument recede, consumed in the therapeutic process of adding brilliant color to the picture. I colored the girl on the bicycle in a bright assortment of reds and greens and blues. I gave her golden hair and a bright smile so wide it lit up her entire face. By the time the pilot announced that we were about to descend, I was nearly finished. The voice inside spoke again, this time stronger:

Act. Give the picture to the nuns.

This reignited the argument in my head. How ridiculous! What will they think of me? Despite my self-doubt, this time I sided with my intuition. I gently tore the small four-by-six picture out of my coloring book and turned around and smiled at the sisters. I said, "Hi, my name is Jill, and I just colored this picture for you."

The sister closest to me reached out and took the picture, beaming with a huge, warm smile and a twinkle in her eye and said, "Oh my dear! Thank you!"

I could tell she was genuinely touched. A tear rolled down her cheek as she looked at the joyful girl on the bicycle and read the verse about God going with her wherever she traveled. She introduced herself as Sister Mary Rose and told me that she and Sister Cathy were flying to teach in the Montessori schools—and that the words inscribed couldn't have been any more fitting. "Sometimes travel really wears us out," she said. "We go and we go, and we serve the people we visit. We love teaching, but sometimes we get so tired, and I miss sleeping in my own bed."

I told her that I often felt the same way about my work as a doctor.

We shared stories of travel and teaching and agreed on the difficulties of not sleeping in our own bed, eating various foods on the road that didn't agree with us, and all the many things that could disrupt a refreshing night's sleep. Once the seat belt sign went off and we could get out of our seats, we stood up and hugged, laughing with joy and the unexpected connection. In a matter of minutes, I felt like I had known them for years. Sister Mary Rose printed my name on the back of the picture and said, "I will pray for you."

Now I was the one in tears

As I was walking through the airport, Sister Mary Rose asked me what kind of medicine I practiced. I softly said, "I am sure you haven't heard of it. I did my training in family medicine, but I now seek to find the root cause of disease in patients with complex chronic illness who have struggled to find answers in the current medical system. It's called functional medicine."

"Oh my!" she squealed. "I love functional medicine. I have been working with a practitioner near the monastery!"

Now it was my turn to smile. Even though functional medicine is changing the landscape of medicine, many people have never heard the term before. I handed her my card and said, "Well, if you ever need anything, will you please call me?"

We walked off the plane laughing like schoolchildren. I felt as if I were surrounded by angels. When my mother and father saw me walking out of the gate flanked on the right and left by the beautiful, beaming pair of nuns in their striking black-and-white habits, they joined in the laughter. We hugged and went our separate ways, but I felt like it wouldn't be the last time I'd talk to the Sisters.

Wait for the miracle.

A year later, I received an email: "I don't know if you remember meeting two nuns on a plane to Peoria...but I am reaching out to see if you might be able to help me."

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There are no coincidences

I believed the voice of intuition and acted upon it, even though my intellect told me the idea was foolish, resulting in an unexpected miracle. Let me take a minute to define the word miracle lest your first thought be, Well, that's fine for you, but what about me? I don't even believe in God!

According to Webster's dictionary, a miracle is "an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs." But if we look at the second part of the definition, it includes "an extremely outstanding or unusual thing, event, or accomplishment." Whether you want to call it a miracle, as I do, or just an outstanding, unexpected opportunity, either way it rings true!

The process of trusting my intuition and acting on it broke down barriers between Sister Mary Rose's habit and my jeans and T-shirt.

What we were wearing didn't matter: We were sisters serving a higher purpose, each of us weary and in need of encouragement. Some of the most unexpected friendships that help us on our journey come from believing, acting, and expecting beautiful things to happen as a result. As I worked with Sister Mary Rose to help her solve her health problems, I was reminded of this simple but powerful formula that has allowed me to witness amazing opportunities and unexpected miracles throughout my life.

Believe in what is possible.

Take action.

Wait for the opportunity; wait for the miracle.

Like hopping across slippery rocks in an obscure fog, I learned that I must have the faith to leap to the rock right in front of me before the next one reveals itself. But faith alone doesn't cut it. It is a three-part equation: First, I must believe that the desired outcome is possible even if I can't see it clearly; second, I must act by jumping to the next rock, doing things like creating healthy, sustainable habits, leveraging what is in my control, doing the demanding work, studying the material, and preparing for the desired outcome; and finally, I patiently wait for the resources, the relationships, or the opportunities to manifest my miracle, moving past uncertainty into joyful gratitude as if it has already occurred.

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Jill Carnahan, MD ABIHM, ABoIM, IFMCP author page.
Jill Carnahan, MD ABIHM, ABoIM, IFMCP

Dr. Jill Carnahan is Your Functional Medicine Expert® dually board certified in Family Medicine for 10 years and in Integrative Holistic Medicine. She is the Medical Director of Flatiron Functional Medicine, a widely sought-after practice with a broad range of clinical services including functional medical consultations, nutritional consultations, chiropractic therapy, physical therapy, naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, and therapeutic massage. As a survivor of breast cancer, Crohn’s disease, and toxic mold illness she brings a unique perspective to treating patients with complex illness. She specializes in searching for the underlying triggers that contribute to illness through cutting-edge lab testing and practicing personalized medicine.

Featured in People magazine, Shape, Parade, Forbes, MindBodyGreen, First for Women, ownsend Newsletter, and The Huffington Post as well as seen on NBC News and Health segments with Joan Lunden, Dr. Jill is media savvy and full of wisdom. Her YouTube channel and podcast features live interviews with many of healthcare’s most respected clinicians. She co-authored the Personalized and Precision Integrative Cardiovascular Medicine Textbook with Dr. Mark Houston. Her new book, Unexpected: Finding Resilience though Functional Medicine, Science, and Faith is now available for purchase anywhere books are sold. She is an executive producer, film writer and is featured in a new documentary about her journey overcoming illness called Doctor/Patient set to be distributed this year.

A popular inspirational speaker and prolific writer, she shares her knowledge of hope, health and healing live on stage and through newsletters, blog articles, books, and social media posts! Her patients and fans alike are encouraged by her science-back medical knowledge delivered with authenticity, love, and humor. She is known for inspiring her audience to thrive even in the midst of difficulties. Be sure to follow her @drjillcarnahan on Instagram.