When our family got together for our reunion about a month ago, it was the first time I was even remotely aware that our nephew’s six month old daughter, Ariel, was possibly affected by SMA,(Spinal Muscular Atrophy) a genetic disorder that, in infants, is usually fatal within the first year. I’ve watched the faith journey of Jeremy and Cheryl in the years since they began their relationship, and have come to realize that God has chosen to do extraordinary works of Grace in their hearts and lives. They have yielded to Him in ways that speak of unusual trust in a God who makes no mistakes, but is always leading them on adventures that are challenging, scary to contemplate and volatile in nature. And it seems to happen with such consistent regularity that it cannot be a coincidence.
It was with a heavy heart that I realized that this much desired, greatly loved and precious daughter of a much loved nephew and his incredible wife was in need of a miracle. “A miracle of such magnitude,” I thought, but was immediately corrected in my spirit. A miracle is by definition always “of magnitude” or it isn’t a miracle. My thoughts were scrambling over themselves as I thought about this young family and their unwavering commitment to believe God for what seems (and is, by human standards) impossible. I decided that I would also pray for that miracle for Ariel. And that when I pray for her by name, specifically, I would also pray for Jeremy and Cheryl, and Max and Boaz, Ariel’s devoted brothers.
I shed some hot tears that evening after the reunion, and that feeling of heaviness, that something just wasn’t right woke me and followed my steps in the morning. I got my ladies ready for church, prepared lunch for family members who were passing through, and went to church. Our talented and animated song leader, Abi, was in charge of the singing for worship that morning and she did her usual exceptional job. We sang through several hymns, and then she announced #335 in the Mennonite Hymnal. I flipped the pages and read the title. “Children of the Heavenly Father”
My heart caught in my throat. “What an appropriate song,” I thought, “for little Ariel. How like The Father to lead Abi to lead this song this morning.”
Children of the Heavenly Father
Safely in His bosom gather.
Suddenly, it was like the Spirit of the Lord spoke to my heart and said, “This song isn’t for Ariel. It’s all about Jeremy and Cheryl.” I began to listen more closely to the words.
Nestling bird nor star in Heaven
Such a refuge e’re was given
I suddenly got at picture of this young couple, gathered close to God’s heart as the storm raged around them. It was an incredibly safe place, and a refuge that was theirs alone.
We began the second verse:
Neither life not death shall ever
From the Lord His children sever —
The tears began to prickle behind my eyelids, and the words stuck in my throat.
Unto them, His Grace He showeth,
And their sorrows all He knoweth.
Although my voice was clouded and I could not sing, my heart was singing. God is showing and will never stop showing and giving Grace. And He knows their sorrows, and their sorrows that have become ours as a family. “He knows! He knows! He knows!” The words permeated my heart.
Our congregation moved quietly and reverently into the third verse.
Though He giveth, or He taketh
God His children ne’er forsaketh
Precious promise! They (and those who love them) will never be forsaken. I knew this in my head, but on this uncertain day, my heart needed to catch up.
His the loving purpose solely
To preserve them, pure and holy.
The tears were more than prickling now. Coursing down my cheeks, but with no angst, no bitterness. I bowed my heart before the Sovereign Lord.
I will continue to pray for the miracle. I know that God does the impossible. But the thing that is clear to me is that God is working in the lives of this young couple (and in our lives as a family) in ways that go far beyond the here and now.
Ariel’s family rejoices over her. They celebrate who she is and what God is going to do through her.
This story is far from finished.
God is to be trusted.
My heart gives grateful praise.
Ariel Joy Yoder and Her Mommy, Cheryl Heatwole Yoder