Friday, October 23, 2009

Not in God's Vocabulary

The sun rising in the east as I flew west to Cincinnati.

I enjoy flying. I think it's in the genes. My maternal grandfather was a pilot and co-pilot on a B-24J Liberator bomber during World War II. Even though he did not pursue flying after the war, his fascination with planes remained. In his post-war career, he supported the aviation industry as a sheetmetal technician and even made parts that went to the moon. Continuing down the line, my mom also enjoys flying and I believe has passed down that delight to me.

I find it thrilling to go to new places and often the quickest way is by plane. I am intrigued by the different airports I pass through, even though I may never walk out their doors to explore the sites beyond. There is a sense of exhiliration as the plane takes off and gains heights among the clouds, and then when it drops again and comes to a brake-slamming, nearly heart-stopping halt at its destination.

You can also see and meet some interesting people while traveling the skies. I had three most interesting experiences during my recent travels.

As I left Tupelo, Miss. early Saturday morning, Oct. 10, following my missions training, I boarded the small plane (the kind with only three seats across). To my surprise, there on the same flight was a man I had met in Tupelo the Sunday before. He was the teacher of the Sunday School class I had attended at the church I visited nearly a week prior. It was a fairly large church and I had had the option of going to another class, but had opted for the older singles class, which he was teaching. He recognized me on the plane and we exchanged greetings.

Believe it or not, this brought an assurance to my soul that God was with me and in charge of my travel plans. You see, I had nearly missed boarding the plane just minutes before because of a miscommunication about my departure time with my ride. But, I made it onboard, with a few minutes to spare.

As I settled into my seat and waited for takeoff, I pulled out "Streams in the Desert" to read the selection for the day. I found the highlighted scripture to be very appropriate. "Do not fret. (Psalm 37:1)." I thought to myself, "If only I had read that earlier," when I was stressing about how I was going to get to the airport. It seemed to be a message from the Lord that although the day had started rocky, He would be with me and all things were under His control.

I had two layovers that day as I traveled from Mississippi to Pennsylvania - one in Memphis and one in Cincinnati. I grabbed some breakfast in Memphis and as I sat watching the people bustle about, I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be funny if I saw someone I knew?" I figured this was highly unlikely, considering I was in an airport I had never passed through and I didn't know a soul in Memphis. A few minutes later I moved to my gate to wait until boarding. After unsuccessfully trying to access the Internet, I looked up as I closed on my computer. There, down the row was an old friend. Since Sheri had moved several years ago from Oregon to Florida to attend school, I hadn't seen her much. In fact, the last time was more than a year ago, although we are friends on Facebook. I was shocked to see her and I believe it was the same when she saw me. We had a nice chat for about 20 minutes, catching up on each other's lives. (Even on Facebook, you don't always get a good idea of how your friends are or what they are up to.)

Sheri and I had the same flight from Memphis to Cincinnati, though we didn't get to sit near each other. Again, I marveled at God's mysterious ways and was blessed that He arranged our meeting. Both of us later noted that the encounter made each of our days.

Flying into Cincinnati.

Flying over the Susquehanna River that flows through Harrisburg, PA.

The third experience came as I was flying home from Pennsylvania this past Sunday. I again had a layover in Cincinnati and this time was flying to Salt Lake City before continuing on to Portland. I boarded the plane fairly early and watched as it filled up. As travelers continued trickling on, I kept glancing at the two seats to my right, wondering if anyone would claim them or if I would have a nice place to stretch out for a nap (especially since I had arisen at 3:37 a.m. that morning).

When nearly all of the passengers were on the plane, down the aisle came a familiar face. I knew this man and his small daughter in tow. I had met them more than three years ago on a different continent. It was Shem, of Shem and Catherine who ran the YWAM base on the island where I stayed for nearly five months when in Uganda. Shem and his young daughter had spent the last month in Ohio as the little girl had required surgery. They were now on their way to Montana to meet up with the rest of the family for the remainder of their furlough. Shem and I chatted for a bit and caught up on each other's lives and families.

I also could have missed that "chance" encounter as there were a couple of opportunities to give up my seat as flights were overbooked. Yet, I am glad I didn't.

I have heard and do believe that coincidence is not in God's vocabulary - not when we serve a sovereign, all-knowing God. Although I don't know all the reasons God orchestrated these encounters, they serve as reminders of the caring, loving and detailed Creator whom I serve.
I was doing a bit of research for this post, I came across an article by Joe Stowell that I enjoyed. He wrote:

"First, it’s important to know that the words luck and, for that matter, coincidence are not in God’s vocabulary. God’s hand is at work in every situation, coordinating every detail to accomplish His purposes for His glory and our good. No event is random. No moment is beyond His notice or beyond His control...He (God) doesn’t give a play-by-play on everything He is doing to coordinate the details of His providential plans. In fact, often His work is most clearly seen in the rearview mirror. But I’ve looked back enough times to see and trust that my life is not a product of good or bad luck, or of random coincidences. It is divinely shaped and guided by the providential hand of God toward a wonderful conclusion."

I also enjoyed this quote by writer Emma Bull (who is not a Christian, but I thought made an insightful statement).

"Coincidence is the word we use when we can't see the levers and pulleys."

Knowing that God is the Master Weaver, gently pulling through His large loom all the circumstances, encounters, relationships and experiences of our lives and weaving them into His master plan, gives me a peace and an assurance. Even the seemingly small and insignificant strands, like chance encounters on airplanes, He sees as important and for a purpose.

Mt. Hood - a beautiful site upon returning to Oregon.
Note: The photos don't necessarily have much to do with the topic of this post, but I thought they were pretty and I was blessed that God arranged some great views from my airplane seat. : )


  1. I loved hearing about all your adventures! I, too, love flying, and although a few more red-eyes and stressful encounters may convince me otherwise, I highly doubt it. Isn't Mt. Hood the most beautiful thing in the world? When I came home from UT, I was ecstatic beyond belief to see it! (-:
    I guess flights from Mississippi to Pennsylvania aren't too popular, huh? (-:
    The quotes you shared are also wonderful--just the other day I used the word "coincidence" and afterwards I thought, "You know, I should have used 'providence' instead." Unfortunately, it is a hard habit to break! God's providences on your trip, though, were amazing!

  2. Thanks for the nice comments, Lauren!
    Yes, flying does have its drawbacks (like cramped seats and too few snacks), but I think the advantages outweigh the drawbacks. : )
    It was so cool to see Mt. Hood on the flight - I think that is only the second time I have had that view. : )
    Well, let's just say, flights out of Tupelo aren't too frequent. It is a small regional airport, so I think only a few flights a day leave from there.
    Glad you enjoyed the quotes, too. : )

  3. Beautiful post, Ruthie!! And beautiful pictures!! Oh, we have a wonderful God!!