I do realize that it has been several months since I last blogged, and during my hiatus I’ve contemplated writing on multiple occasions. Each time I would log onto my account and sit staring at the computer screen, feeling neither inspired nor motivated to write. It was almost depressing how little I cared, and no amount of pressure could make the words come.
Then as God is often able to do, I received encouragement today from an unlikely source. Through a series of connected websites I stumbled across a semi-stranger’s (sister to an acquaintance of mine) blog. I’ve never met this girl, but her writing has inspired this latest entry.
What profound thought did she share that encouraged me so? It’s so simple, yet so amazing, she wrote about God’s love for me. Her words were a gentle reminder of all that God gives us.
As I read her stories of God’s love my thoughts drifted to stories in my own life where God expressed His love for me in amazing ways. Any attempt to put to paper ALL these thoughts reminded me of the familiar hymn:
The Love of God
Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
The imagery in that last verse has always stood out to me, it’s vivid and incomprehensible. It’s how I felt this afternoon as I began contemplating how I might share in writing the love God so often gives to me. Though I won’t be able to do it justice; I, like my new friend, will at least attempt by sharing a few stories.
God’s love inspires my awe…
In May of 2004, I found myself traveling with several other peers in Lesotho and South Africa as part of our college cross cultural program. I could share from a wealth of experiences from that trip alone how God showed His love to us, but one day in particular stands out from the others. We had arrived in the outskirts of Cape Town, and were preparing for our last host family stays. Late in the day, many of the other students had been assigned host families; yet there was a small group who waited for hosts arriving late, and I was among them.
We waited in the home of a South African man (and his family) who had at one time studied at our university in Virginia. Almost six years before he had taken classes at the seminary, and was now back in his home country leading a local congregation. As the wait for hosts to arrive extended he offered us dinner, and I offered to help him prepare in the kitchen. I was placed in charge of getting drinks from the refrigerator. I still remember that moment of absolute shock, when looking among the pictures posted on their refrigerator I found my Granddad Heatwole starring back at me.
It took me several seconds to even register what it was I was actually seeing. My mind couldn’t process the absolutely incredible happenstance, that my Granddad, a simple dairy farmer, from a Conservative Mennonite church, who had lived in rural Virginia (and had been deceased for four years prior at that time) was in a picture hanging from a refrigerator in Cape Town, South Africa. In fact, this was all so farfetched that I didn’t believe it at first.
At first I thought I hadn’t recognized Granddad, and it was someone else. No, after a closer look it was definitely my Granddad. Then I thought maybe someone was playing a prank on me, and I turned around to where our host was preparing pizzas and asked him where he had gotten the photo. He began telling me of James Heatwole, a man he met while living in Virginia, and how Mr. Heatwole, as he called him, had been a welcoming person to him. He had met Mr. Heatwole while on a drive one morning. My host had gone for a scenic drive early one morning to see some farm land, but had gotten lost, until he came across a man sitting in his truck by the side of the road. They talked briefly and Mr. Heatwole did more than just give him directions back, he just had him follow his truck back to the university. From that time forward, they met on several occasions.
My host’s story might have seemed odd to someone else, but the tidbits made complete sense to me and my memories of Granddad. In Granddad’s later years, he and Grandma moved from their home near our farm to another home in town near Eastern Mennonite University. Each morning (with the exception of Sunday), he would drive out to the farm, and often in the early hours he would park his truck off the side of the road and enjoy the quiet of the new day. This must be where my host met him that day, near the very farm I grew up on. And that day, instead of giving him directions back to the university he went home early so this man from South Africa could follow him and not lose his way again.
That day in South Africa I was able to tell my dinner host that I was Mr. Heatwole’s granddaughter and that he had passed on to his’ heavenly home. How AMAZING is our God? He orchestrates even the smallest details for His people.
That same day I was placed with a host family. My host family had arrived later in the day due to activities they had been involved with as youth leaders for a local congregation. They explained to me and my other classmate that the local Baptist Youth Groups were meeting for a weekend convention. Even that evening they had a meeting planned and as part of the host family we would be attending.
My classmate and I didn’t know what to expect that evening, and I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what we encountered. We were brought into this large gathering place (almost like a remodeled gym). Immediately the speaker, who had been previously speaking Afrikaans, changed over to English for the “American Sisters”. Jokingly, I thought it was pretty obvious who the ‘american sisters’ were, considering that everyone turned to look at the only two white people in the room.
The preaching that evening was lively and intense, and kept me from falling asleep after what had already been a long day. What woke me up completely was the moment the speaker called out that he’d like to hear the testimonies of the ‘american sisters’. SAY WHAT?!? My classmate and I were brought forth to the front of the gathering, and took the stage. We were easily standing before a couple thousand (we were told there were others in rooms throughout the building). My classmate was prompted to the pulpit and microphone first, she wrapped up her “testimony” within seconds, briefly telling everyone her name, state she was born in and where we attended university. I could tell from the speaker’s face he was hoping for something more than an introduction, so I spoke on...you guessed it…God’s Love.
God wasn’t finished with this day yet, after the service the speaker came to us and introduced himself. He explained that he had a nephew who lived and worked in Virginia and had married a local woman there. Something about what he was sharing struck me as familiar, and after a few questions back and forth, we soon realized that his nephew’s wife was actually a high school classmate and neighbor of mine.
That day I stood amazed at the work of our God. The details that went into those two encounters are unfathomable. Our God loves us enough to work out the smallest details.
God’s love prepares a way…
In the Spring of 2005, I was preparing for a move across country to Utah. I was leaving Virginia with a strong sense of God’s calling and faith to keep me along the way, plus my few belongings packed into my four-door car. In my mid-twenties, this was a relocation of a magnitude I had never experienced before, and I had moments of uncertainty.
I was certain that God was leading me to Utah, but the details of the move, where I would be living, working and attending church were fuzzy at best. In the weeks prior to my move I solicited the support of friends and family through their prayers. I remember one evening in particular when I asked my biblestudy group to be in prayer that God would lead me to a local congregation in Utah to fellowship with.
That evening one of my friends mentioned that though there weren’t any Mennonite churches in Utah, they had experience attending a Christian and Missionary Alliance congregation. He told me I should do a search and see if there were any CMA churches in the Salt Lake City area. One quick Google search later, and I had turned up a, as in singular, CMA church in Salt Lake City.
Thus, Discovery Christian Community church was on the top of my churches to visit list. As it turned out I really didn’t need a list, I found a home at Discovery almost immediately. During my years at Discovery the body of believers I fellowshipped with became dear family to me, in a time of my life where my immediate family lived over two thousand miles away.
Now, even years after I relocated back to Virginia I thank God for His wonderful provision for me during my time in Utah. Most special among all that He provided was the fellowship of believers at Discovery Christian Community. In God’s encompassing love for me He prepared the way…
God’s love is a refuge during the storm…
I, like everyone else I know, am not immune to difficulty. There have been numerous occasions when I’ve struggled with hardships, grief, and disappointment. Yet, through all life’s valleys I am able to depend on God’s presence walking with me.
Most recently, I’ve been dealing with disappointment over broken relationships. Through the brokenness I’ve seen God bringing about new relationships and healing. I’m learning how powerful the love of God truly is, that He is able to bring joy from sorrow and healing from pain.
If you, like I, have been inspired by God’s love recently or in the past I encourage you to share it with someone. You might want to write your own blog :)