By Katelyn Johnson
The more experiences I have, the more I realize there are hardly any coincidences in life.
Christian leader Neal A. Maxwell once said “You and I may call some intersections in our life a coincidence. This word is understandable for mortals to use, but coincidence is not an appropriate word to describe the workings of an omniscient God. He does not do things by coincidence but…by divine design.”
This quote resonates with me. Not only do I believe God exists, but I also believe he orchestrates our lives. Some things people might call coincidences, random, good luck, or fortune are what I know to be tender mercies, blessings, and miracles. Perhaps a better word than coincidence is divine design. Looking back, I see how God designed aspects of my life to come together that couldn’t have happened without him.
One particular design I saw come to life through the Lord was with a conference I put together called Sisters Of Strength (or S.O.S) for young, single adult women striving to come unto Christ.
Although I technically created and led the event, there was someone else who was in the details even more than I.
It all started one summer after leaving a church camp I work for called Retreat For Girls (RFG). The camp gives girls ages 11-16 the chance to learn about Jesus Christ during a week of fun and spiritual nourishment. Each year, my fellow counselor friends and I say that although we are there to uplift these young girls, it always spiritually feeds us as well. Driving away from the camp, I wished there was something similar to this program for young, single adult women.
There is a lot of emphasis on youth in our culture (which is of course needed), but there aren’t conferences and camps for the specific stage of life my friends and I are in (young adulthood). In my opinion, this is the time that a conference is most needed. Statistically, 18-30 is the demographic who’s at the highest risk of losing their belief in religion, God, meaning in life, self-confidence and hope. From personal experience, my friends and I struggle with all the realities of being a young adult in this world.
I’ve always had a strong testimony and belief in God, but I’ve definitely felt more beat down in this stage of life than any other.
We’ve all moved away from home, but don’t have a family of our own yet. We are enduring constant changes in terms of friends who are moving in and out, getting married, studying abroad, and doing internships, while we ourselves are trying to figure out classes, what job to get, what to major in, who to date, who to marry, and who we are as people.
Insecurities, doubts, discouragement, questions, loneliness, helplessness, hopelessness and the unknown are at an all-time high during this stage of life. I really saw and felt a need for support for this demographic of women, and desperately wanted to help.
If only I could create a spiritual recharge—a day to escape from the world and come unto Christ together. I felt empathetic and passionate about this cause. I couldn’t get this thought out of my head, so I decided to do it.
While there were a million reasons to start this conference, there were also a million reasons not to. I was twenty-two with no money, no business experience, no advertising experience, and no event planning or speaking experience of any kind.
I was a full-time student, and working as a nanny on the side, so beside not having any real qualifications for any of this, I didn’t have much time to spend figuring it out either!
All odds seemed against me, and when I told my friends and family about it, many asked me the same question:
There were so many logistics that made the whole idea of it seem impossible. There had never been anything done like this before, and who was I to start it?
But the idea persisted. In fact, I felt The Holy Spirit tell me stronger and stronger to go forward with the idea and act in Faith. To this day, I truthfully cannot think of any impression I had that felt stronger than this particular one. I know many times The Holy Spirit can be described as a still, small voice, and almost all times in my life it is like that, but not in this case.
I felt this impression very LOUD. It was sort of like a, “Duh!” Because even though it didn’t all add up on paper or make sense to everyone else, I realized God had actually been preparing me for this experience my whole life. I had faith that His hand would guide me, and that through Him all things were possible.
One of my favorite scriptures that I feel summarizes this entire experience, is Matthew 19:26:
“But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, with men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”
S.O.S was way too big of a project to carry out on my own, but I believed in that scriptural promise. I knew it was a good thing and I knew with God anything is possible, so I went ahead. As I did, I saw how exceptionally the Lord’s hand was in the details of every aspect. There were so many tender mercies, miracles, and answered prayers I saw in the process of planning as well as the day of the conference.
I realized that through all my past experiences, God had prepared me to have a vision, and be capable of accomplishing that vision. Being a part of the retreat for girls program, as well as other creative programs and leadership positions I had in high school, college or through church assignments gave me important foundational experiences.
I had made a lot of friends in college, and built connections and relationships with girls my age as well as Christian speakers and performers. I had friends and family in the area who were willing to help me figure out logistics. I have always been creative and outgoing and loved bringing people together. Above all, I had a deep love for my friends and an understanding of what they were going through. I loved the Lord and knew there was value in growing closer together with Him.
So many people in my life brought their time and talents to this project. So many people knew people (who knew people) who were graphic designers; who made t-shirts who had equipment, who had a truck to help me move things, who knew speakers and singers, who had a discount at the printer place or at the caterers, who were good at decorating, who knew ways to advertise, and who were good writers.
One of the greatest blessings was that the speakers, singers, and panel members I was able to secure were absolutely amazing and shared the inspired messages that needed to be shared. They didn’t coordinate their talks, but each one complemented each other perfectly and were so unbelievably inspired to provide faith and strength to every woman who came.
Countless attendees expressed to me how S.O.S blessed them, and why it was specifically what they needed in their life. So many panel members, singers, and speakers answered their questions and prayers that day, and that was completely and entirely out of my hands.
I truly believe these examples are each proof that the Lord’s hand was outstretched and working in the details of every aspect of this conference.
I’ll never forget the sight I saw in that church on February 4, 2017. Hundreds of women sitting down, taking notes, looking at the speakers. Some nodding, some with tears in their eyes. Love and hope filled the room and the Holy Spirit had never felt stronger to me than it did in that moment.
I didn’t have the feeling “I did it.” But I remember having a prayer in my heart saying “We did it. You did it. Thank you, thank you thank you!”
Oh, I was so grateful. S.O.S was a success and a complete miracle!
Because of Him and through Him, S.O.S was made possible and I feel so blessed that the Lord helped me blue print such an amazing experience.
Not only did my testimony of God and my relationship with Him grow, but I was able to see how He divinely designs each of our lives. I know the Lord is in the small details, and that the things that happen to us, and opportunities we are given, are to prepare us to lift others.
So, if I ever thought there were coincidences before, I definitely was reminded through this experience that our all-knowing God is the one orchestrating great works all around us and through us.
If we look closely we can see His hand, and when we are lucky enough, sometimes, He uses ours.
“One day when we look back at the seeming coincidences of our lives…we realize that perhaps they weren’t so coincidental.”
—Religious leader Thomas S. Monson