Northwest church of Christ in New Hope, Minnesota

Heather grew up about 45 minutes northwest of Minneapolis-Saint Paul in a small town called Monticello. She enjoyed school, especially science, and though her parents were not believers, they worked hard to give Heather a stable life and loved her very much.

In her junior year of college, Heather was knee-deep in her biochemistry classes learning, on a microscopical level, about the incredible complexity of living cells, DNA, and how no human-made machine works with more precision, speed, or efficiency than the molecular machinery in our cells that replicate our DNA. The undeniable evidence of intelligent design she was daily seeing firsthand under a microscope was beginning to wage war in her mind and heart with the worldview she’d grown up around all her life. “It was just so perfect”, Heather told me. “I was like, there's just no way that the human cell and the human body and biology, in general, is an accident. This cannot be chance. There's just no other way. There has to be a Creator. I was studying the handiwork of God!”

Deep inside, Heather started craving truth more and more (Matthew 5:6), so she started praying fervently, “God, if you're there, then why are You so hard to find? If You're really there, I'll follow you. But I don't understand why You don't make Yourself more easily known. Can't you just show up?” (Acts 17:27) And God, in His wisdom, answered Heather’s prayer (Matthew 7:7) by placing in her life a fellow student named Melanie, with whom Heather had struck up a friendship during their science classes together. She’d figured out Melanie was a Christian because of her character, the casual mention of attending Bible studies, and her gentle request that Heather refrain from swearing around her (1 Peter 2:12).

Around that time, many of the friendships that Heather had with worldly friends began to fall apart, yet the qualities that made Melanie different from everyone else, also made her a great friend, so much so that Heather became more and more curious about her worldview and started asking Melanie why she believed both in God and in the inspiration of the Bible. Melanie’s answers were so logical (1 Peter 3:15) that Heather’s questions started multiplying about what God says on various moral topics such as drinking, premarital sex, and why He says what He says on these topics, until finally Melanie asked Heather if she’d be interested in sitting down with her and Kieran Murphy, the preacher from her congregation, to see for herself God’s answers. “I kind of do”, was Heather’s reply.

When they sat down together to dig into the Word, Heather noticed something quite different from the youth group gatherings among the denominations she had visited back in middle school. This preacher pointed to scripture after scripture for all her answers, including those related to why the church does what it does, (1 Peter 3:15) and what God says He wants us to do to be saved eternally (Matthew 28:19-20). Since she’d already weighed the objective evidence for the inspiration of the Scriptures, her conclusion was “Well, I can't argue with that!” She went on to explain, “ I just remember after some Bible study and thinking about it, I was like, you know what? I am not okay. I don't think I'm safe and I really don't want to go to hell (Mark 16:16). I need to be baptized” (Acts 22:16), and so she was soon baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of her sins (Acts 2:38).

In nature, predatory animals often set their sights on the most weak, especially babies. Sadly, such is also the case for many “newborn” Christians (1 Peter 5:8). Immediately, the flaming darts of Heather’s spiritual enemy began to be hurled her way (Ephesians 6:16). Having grown up without the Lord and the good habits established during her formative years, and because of the strains of her college environment, repentance was a long, grueling journey for Heather, and for a few years she lived with one foot in the church and one foot in the world. “I had a lot of ugly things in me that the Lord was trying to work out, like selfishness, bitterness, and anger issues. I was just really unhappy and I kind of hated myself at that point” (Genesis 4:7). Sometimes she’d think to herself, “I don't want to change” but other times she thought, “You know, I really need to stop drinking. I like the thought of giving that up”, only to fall back into thoughts like, “Do I have to stop being who I am?”, because, she said, her sin by then had somehow become a part of her very identity — a trap that can be one of the most lethal of all.

In 2016, while still in her early twenties, Heather realized that in order to shake her old self, with its self-destructive ways, she would need to change her environment. Her friend (and mine) Daniel Reeves, knew a single Christian girl in Monroe, Washington, named Sarah Fisher (also my friend) who he thought would not only click with Heather’s outgoing personality and love of adventure, but happened to also own her own home where she lived alone. Heather took a leap of faith, called her up and long story short was soon on a train with her six boxes of belongings, headed for the home of a hospitable, kind soul in Washington State, and began making some wonderful friendships and memories there.

One of their hiking trips was to our neck of the woods in Oregon, where we often offered our spare bedroom to various single Christian girls in the Northwest. Heather and Sarah stayed at our place and worshiped with us at our congregation in Beaverton. That evening they chowed happily with us on some Goan Style Shrimp and Beef Kati Rolls at our favorite Indian restaurant in Portland called Bollywood Theater, desserting afterward across the street at Salt & Straw where they have a knack for making ice cream taste delicious, even if it contains bone marrow, bacon, sea urchin, cap mushrooms, or dill pickles (You can believe most everything you hear about weird Portland). It was at that dinner that we learned Heather’s inspiring conversion story for the first time and have told so many people since about the girl who essentially “found God by looking in a microscope”!

About five years after our meeting, we’d sold our home in Beaverton to live nomadically, and among the congregations we wanted to visit, were the ones in which we have brethren we’ve bonded with in the past, and among those brethren is Andy Cantrell, who would from time to time come to Oregon to preach a gospel meeting. Over the years he had stayed in our home in Beaverton and at our beach house on the Oregon Coast, and I even managed to draft him a time or two to climb Cooper Mountain or take a run. When I passed through Minnesota on a road trip in 2017, I stayed a night with Claire and Andy. When I pulled in, “Handy Andy” noticed I had a headlight out, picked one up from the auto parts store, and presto-chango, I was ready to roll in an instant the next day. Our conversations were always deeply spiritual and inspiring, but sadly, the timing of this first visit to the congregation where he preaches did not jibe with his schedule, so while Andy was out of town we plugged the Fresh Prince into his electricity, and enjoyed the warm hospitality of his wife Claire and son, Chay.

On Sunday at the Northwest church of Christ in Minnesota, we enjoyed Rick Lanning's good sermon and sitting next to some Christians who had recently emigrated from Liberia with all their beautiful children. While being treated to a nice lunch by Rick and some of the other friendly brethren, we learned that these immigrants are so skilled at finding people in the community who are wanting Bible studies, that he often has at least three of those studies going on each week!

This thriving group was as warm and welcoming as we had expected any group to be under Andy and Rick’s long-term influence. We had several in-depth conversations with brethren we met for the first time, but most special of all was the delightful surprise of seeing Heather again, and learning how beautifully things had fallen into place for her!

She’d been married for four years, had a beautiful son named Henry and another soon-to-be-born son named Oliver. We talked a little about her spiritual journey and how the congregation had contributed in helping her become more grounded spiritually in her faith (Colossians 2:6-7). She expressed her deep appreciation for how very patient everyone had been with her, and how the older women of the congregation took the time to listen to her talk about her loneliness, and to help her find wisdom, strength and comfort in the scriptures. Heather not only received the love from her sisters in Christ, but also found souls upon whom she could pour her own love, including a girl she knew named Olivia, who has Downs Syndrome. Olivia and Heather became good friends and would get up most mornings and go to “the Y” to work out together, or if Heather was going to take a trip up north to Duluth, she’d invite Olivia to come along so she could get to know her more.

About the time Heather and her husband, Theo, paid off their student loan debt and were able to save enough to purchase a home, Olivia finished her own schooling. This left a social void in Olivia’s life and fewer activities to help her continue to acquire the life skills she needed to add to her personal growth and fulfillment. It was difficult to find suitable employment and the uncertainty her parents had over what Olivia’s life would look like without them one day was beginning to weigh on them more and more as they aged.

And then, because Heather had found God in a microscope and had overcome the challenges during the first few years of her walk with God, and because of the loving support of her church family and her having chosen a godly man to build a life with, the hand of God caused something uniquely beautiful to begin to blossom. Heather suggested to Olivia’s parents that perhaps Olivia could live with her and Theo’s growing family. Olivia’s parents were overjoyed with the idea, as was Olivia!

The arrangement has turned out to be a win for Olivia because there’s always a lot going on at home and about town with the children, in her full life! It’s a win for two-year-old Henry, who loves who he calls his “Llama” and if she goes out of town with her mom and dad, he misses her. What a blessing that Henry will grow up understanding all the beautiful things that people with disabilities teach us, such as grace, humility, patience and compassion. It’s a win for Olivia’s parents whose hearts are now at rest knowing that no matter what happens to them, Olivia is as safe as she can be within the security of a Christian family she loves. And with an extra pair of eyes on Henry and Oliver, and an extra set of helping hands to meet the needs of this bustling household, Heather sees Olivia as “a huge blessing” to their family. Although family life can be challenging and is certainly no utopia, Heather sees that Olivia was clearly placed in her life by God and even when it’s a little difficult, she says she wouldn't trade it for the whole world.

“My life now is just so much better than I ever could have imagined. And that's all God's doing, you know, and it's fun to think about. I give Him the glory and I mean, really, before becoming a Christian, I was probably the exact opposite. You would've looked at me and thought, ‘That girl is never going to be a Christian. Don't even try to talk to that chick about God, because that will never happen.’ Yeah. Don't count anyone out. I really hope Christians who hear my story will be encouraged to not count anyone out.”

To new Christians, Heather wants to support you by saying, “At the time I was baptized, it seemed like a big deal to give up a lot of things. I think what I have in Christ now is just so very good (Philippians 3:8). I can't imagine where I would be without the Lord right now because of what God has done in my life (John 8:36). It might be hard to give up certain aspects of who you are or your lifestyle but it's just so worth it. Come to God. He’s real. If you want to look at science honestly. He's there. The theory of evolution has so many flaws, and there are many people holding multiple PhDs that have come to the same conclusion.” Heather and I both recommend to any agnostic reading this, who is humble and open enough to look at some evidence for God’s existence, to read the book written by Francis Collins, called The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. He was the director of the National Institutes of Health under Obama, Trump and some of the Biden administration, after heading up the Human Genome Project that unlocked many of the mysteries in DNA. In the course of doing so, he decided to be forthright with the evidence of God’s existence that he simply could not deny, despite pressure to walk in lockstep or be “expelled”. Don’t believe the worn-out narrative. The truth is that intelligent, logical (Psalm 14:1), humble people believe in God (James 4:10) for good reason.

To those who have the opportunity to engage those with special needs similar to Olivia’s within their congregations and communities, Heather encourages beautiful hearts to get outside your comfort zones and interact with the kinds of people you perhaps don’t yet understand very well. Talk to people like Olivia about the things they love, have them into your home, ask them to go out to lunch, and find something mutual to enjoy together. “Inviting Olivia into our lives has given me so much more than I had ever anticipated”, Heather told me, and she hopes that others would welcome these dear ones into their lives as well. After the last amen of Sunday worship, let’s take the time to have a short, meaningful conversation with these souls. It means so much to them, their families, and all the others looking on who cherish them.

It’s amazing what can be orchestrated in your life and mine through the Lord’s providence, especially when we see how many unlikely elements He can make come together to create such beautiful, meaningful relationships. Keep your eyes open to it. I personally find providence to be, without exception, my favorite thing about being alive.

Northwest Church of Christ
8624 50th Avenue North
New Hope, MN 55428
(763) 533-3336