Dorothy Pilarski: Coincidence, 35 tons of sardines and a blessing and grace

By  Dorothy Pilarski
  • April 12, 2011
A bishop once told me there are no coincidences and what people call coincidence is really just God’s providence unfolding before our eyes. So what happened to me on a recent family vacation to Los Angeles can only be described as providence.

We were scheduled to depart just days after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. So I was nervous. The Internet was little comfort. If California’s tsunami warnings weren’t enough, the eight-foot waves that caused millions of dollars in damage to Crescent City Harbour and the 35 tons of sardines that washed up on California’s Redondo Beach seemed to affirm a fear that the West Coast was no place for a mother to take her two children.

I turned to my husband. “So, what do you think we should do?”

The ensuing conversations were sometimes heated.

“I have no idea if the tsunami is going to affect our vacation,” he said, in a calm, rational tone that left me exasperated.

“I have no way of predicting the future. In all likelihood, they will have cleaned up the sardines before we get there. If not, we’ll drive to another beach. Let’s look at it as an adventure.”

What then ensued were several he-said, she-said exchanges, along with much prayer, before we finally decided to leave for California.

Besides visiting Universal Studios, Disneyland, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Malibu and Beverly Hills, we explored dozens of magnificent beaches, went whale watching, walked along coastal cliffs and took great delight in watching surfers surf. It was an unbelievable trip, funded entirely by Air-Mile points. The kids loved it, we loved it and we felt blessed beyond belief.

Catholics aren’t always comfortable talking about blessings. We’re better at discussing suffering,   tribulations and the crosses we bear. But why shouldn’t we discuss the gifts the Lord bestows on us? We should be sharing these with others. It’s also amazing how God makes His will so clear, as I was reminded on my vacation.

We stayed at a hotel just a stone’s throw away from St. Lawrence the Martyr Church in Redondo Beach. While  there, David Wells, the Religious Education Director in the diocese of Plymouth, England, was facilitating a parish Lenten renewal.

Grateful to be on such a wonderful vacation, thankful for so many blessings, I decided to embark on a spiritual adventure of sorts and plunged into the parish mission.

It was absolutely amazing. God’s timing was brilliant.

After coming home I remembered a Catholic parenting course I had facilitated a few years ago at a Toronto parish. The course was based on a DVD series called Parents: You, your children and their Catholic faith. It turned out that the presenter featured on the DVDs was the same David Wells who I’d just encountered in California.

His DVDs had been inspiring. It is unusual for a lay Catholic man to talk so openly about his faith. His words back then had affirmed my own faith journey and inspired me to facilitate the parenting discussion groups.

Now all these years later it was remarkable that I should get an opportunity to meet him and ask him dozens of questions. His style of catechizing combines dry English wit, delightful humour, profound humility, inspiring stories and brilliant quotes that are rooted in Catholic tradition and spoken from the heart. To actually meet him was, in my mind, more than a coincidence.

In the corporate world, that is called serendipity. I have learned to call it providence.

I have since been in touch with David. He told me the Redondo Beach parish mission was his first and only one in the United States, and agreed the sequence of events that brought us together was remarkable. Meeting him and attending that parish mission was a blessing and a grace hard to describe. In just a few exchanges I have already learned so much.

And to think I came close to letting 35 tons of sardines derail my vacation.

All I can say is, praise God for His marvellous deeds!

(Pilarski, a professional speaker and consultant, can be reached at

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