Valleys, Holding Patterns and The In-Between

Several years ago, I boarded a flight bound for Russia. It wasn’t the first, and it wouldn’t be the last; but our approach to the airport in Shannon, Ireland makes it stand out from all the others. As usual the seatbelt light came on, the pilot told us we were beginning our descent, the flight attendants prepared for landing . . . but then something changed. The plane leveled off, and we began a new course. For an hour and a half, we circled Shannon, waiting for the fog to lift so we could land. Our constant change in direction could be seen in the sunlight coming through the windows: First from one side of the fuselage, then from the other. We were in a holding pattern, and all we could do was trust our pilot to get us there.

A few years later, my mom stood in our kitchen and made the frustrated declaration, “I feel like your life has been in a holding pattern for ten years!”

She was wrong…It had been thirteen years.

Just before I turned twenty, I went to Russia to spend a school year working in an orphanage. I fell in love with Russia and her people and decided to stay through the next school year as well. The following spring, I went home to Montana with plans to return to Russia in the fall.

My plans fell by the wayside when the unexpected happened. Over the next ten months, I helped my mother care for my grandfather. In those months, I came to know more about the man I’d always admired. We shared mutual interests and could sit and talk for hours. I often thought back to my childhood. I remembered arriving at his Indiana farm and rushing into the kitchen with its glaring, single light bulb dispelling the shadows of late evening. I remembered him stooping down with arms spread wide and then scooping me up into an enormous flannel-wrapped bear hug. I could still feel his end-of-the-day whiskers rub against my neck as he said, “OH, that’s a good one!”  But in those days, in-between trips to Russia, I came to know more than Grandpa’s smile and embrace; I came to know him.

In February, after Grandpa had gone to Heaven, I returned to Russia to finish out the school year. When I returned to the States three months later, I faced questions. What was God’s next step for my life? I waited and prayed and waited. I worked at Taco Bell. I took a training course. I waited. Then a phone call came, and I was headed back to Russia.

This process, sans Taco Bell, repeated itself time after time, each spring bringing new decisions. Would I stay? Would I go home? Would I come back? With each decision came times of prayer, times of waiting; times of trusting, learning, and growing.

One spring, I made the decision to go home for six months, the longest furlough since that first ten-month trip eight years earlier. I needed to go, to rest… but I didn’t know that I wouldn’t be coming back, not like I had before.

After 6 weeks at home, my “flight pattern” changed. It went into a much longer holding pattern than ever before. My grandparents needed someone to care for them. While my heart ached to be back in Russia, I was keenly aware that where I was, was special. In the months ahead, I would come to know my grandparents as never before. We would eat together, laugh together, cry over Hallmark movies together, struggle through falls and doctor’s appointments together. My heart would be pushed to new extremes of love, anger, hurt and compassion. And through it all, it would grow.

Fifteen months later, I moved back to Montana. I enrolled in a Bible college and hurried through a two-year course in sixteen months. Almost immediately, I headed back to Moscow to survey several ministries. I was sure by the end of the trip I would know exactly where God wanted me—but I didn’t.

I came home discouraged. I remember going to a conference and kneeling at the front of the church, weeping and asking God what I had missed, what I was supposed to do, what was wrong with me. I spent hours praying, searching the Scriptures, journaling and praying some more.

Days and weeks turned into months. I got a job. I started an editing business. I continued to wait, to learn, and to grow, taking little steps along the way as God directed.

Nine months after I had returned home, we launched the website for “Forbid Them Not” and a new ministry had begun—something I had never anticipated. What has followed was worth all the moments of living in-between “not knowing” and “knowing”.

Waiting can be hard, but in the waiting we grow.

I once stood at the edge of a wide mountain meadow. The grass was short. The flowers were delicate and grew close to the ground. Looking out from that vantage point I realized something—things don’t grow well on the mountaintop. If you want to find growth, you have to go to the valley.

We tend to dislike the valley experiences; they are darker, you can’t see as far. But the growth that takes place in the valley gives us the strength to make the climb to the peaks.

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Last week, I was blessed with the chance to read an advanced copy of “The In-Between: Embracing the Tension between Now and the Next Big Thing” by Jeff Goins. It has been a gentle reminder—Don’t forget to live “the in-between”. Live. Wait. Grow.

Three thoughts from Jeff’s book caught my attention:

“If you and I aren’t paying attention to our lives—if we don’t possess the patience to examine our gifts and talents—then we just might miss what we were made to do.” (pg. 93)

“The word “disappointment” comes from the idea of literally missing an appointment. It originally was used in the context of meetings and gatherings. If you disappointed someone, it meant you told someone you were going to do something and then didn’t keep your word. So what does it mean if we are disappointed with life? Did life make a promise to us that it didn’t keep? Did she promise to always meet our expectations or to keep us comfortable? Can we really be angry with God that things don’t turn out exactly the way we thought?” (pg. 129)

“Our problem, then, is not one of impatience, but entitlement.” (pg. 157)

Somehow, we seem to think we’re entitled to having what we want, when we want it. But that isn’t how God’s plan works. Like any other fruit, the fruit He wants to see in our lives must first bud, grow, and ripen before it is fully mature.

Don’t rush through the valleys, the holding patterns, the “in-between”. God has a purpose for you there. It may be simple “in-between” moments with family. Or, it may allow you to hear God’s still, small voice moving you toward the very thing for which He has prepared you—whatever the case, it is a gift.

Jeff’s Goins new book releases tomorrow, August 1, 2013! You can go here to FIND OUT MORE or GO STRAIGHT TO AMAZON.

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Moses and the Identity Crisis

IMG_1957This week, I have finally been able to add a little extra treat to my morning quiet times. I’ve been able to get back to work on “Where the Myrrh Grows.” As I’ve been working on it I have been struck by something I had never noticed before.

Moses has been one of my favorite Bible characters for a very long time. His desire to know God has always inspired me to seek to do the same. God honored him as a man of meekness, but He wasn’t always that way.

As I began looking at his days in the wilderness, I had to start at the logical place – the event that led him there. One impulsive act, which to him appeared to be the right thing at the moment, changed his life forever. But as I read over the story, I saw a heart conflict in him that I had never seen before.

Was Moses having an identity crisis?

Many years after Moses lived, Mordecai told his cousin Esther that God had brought her into the kingdom “for such a time as this.”* I can’t help but think that the same sentiment had probably surrounded Moses for most of his life. Rescued from the river by Pharaoh’s daughter, raised by his Hebrew mother, given a place of honor in the Pharaoh’s palace – he was positioned perfectly to relieve the persecution and affliction of his people. But how was he to go about it?

In a sense, he was what missionaries sometimes refer to as a “third culture kid.” He was Hebrew, but brought up in an Egyptian world. The result was that he didn’t quite fit in either world. His was a culture all its own. He had been raised among the judges and rulers of the land, but sought to identify with his own people who were little better than slaves. He wanted to fulfill the purpose for which God has rescued Him from the Nile. He seemed to know what that purpose was, but he failed in its application. Instead of bringing the Egyptian who was beating the Hebrew before Pharaoh and seeking justice, Moses killed him – and thus began his wilderness experience.

Many of us understand our purpose, but don’t know how to apply it. Fortunately, no matter how badly we mess up it doesn’t usually end in murder. But finding the application of our purpose – the way we’re supposed to work out whatever God has called us to – can be difficult, frustrating and even damaging to ourselves and others when we miss the mark. It can easily be the beginning of a wilderness.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Seeing how trying to reach the standards, guidelines, expectations, and methods for life and ministry set by others – though they be very godly men and women – can actually derail and hinder what God had planned. Not because there is anything wrong with any of those requirements and expectations. Not because they are unworthy goals, but because seeking to meet those expectations was a box into which my purpose and calling didn’t fit.

When Moses ran into the wilderness and finally had a moment’s rest, he must have looked back at the event that had gotten him there and thought, “Man, I really messed up. I completely failed at what God wanted me to do.” And he was probably right. But God took him into that wilderness to teach him what he would later need in order to fulfill that purpose. When he learned how to properly live out what God wanted him to do, God was glorified and the people of Israel were delivered.

The same is true in our lives. It is easy to look at what we feel is expected of us and assume that it is part of God’s will for our lives, but the expectations of others are not the guide God has established for our lives. He wants to lead us by His Word and the Holy Spirit. Though it is not always the case, sometimes when we add those expectations to the mix, what we are really doing is adding an unnecessary weight of stress.  God has laid out his guidelines for our lives in Scripture; that should be our first standard for living. Living a life guided by the expectations of others, no matter how good those expectations, can cause us to completely miss what God actually wanted us to be doing – trying to do both has the potential to destroy us physically, mentally, and spiritually.

How about you? Has God shown you His purpose for your life? Are you carrying it out in His way, your own way, or the way you feel others are expecting you to carry it out? Only one of the three options is the right way.

“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:6

*Esther 4:14

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ABOUT RACHEL MILLER

I am the author of three books, including the In All Thy Ways Devotional Journals. You can check them all out here. I also run a Christian editing and writing service. Check it out and let me know how I can help you.

 

 

 

To Infomercial or Not To Infomercial

IMG_2513Launching a new book and then disappearing from the internet for a week is not generally considered a good idea, but that is what I have done. It was a timing thing and couldn’t be helped. It was also very important. Now I’m back, and I’d like to tell you a little about my new devotional journal In All Thy Ways.

The other day I was joking with a friend about whether or not I should “go all infomercial” with the journal. The question came out of the process of writing the book description. Writing a book description can sometimes seem harder than writing the book itself. How do you tell what the book is about without giving too much, or too little, away? And how do you do it in a 100 words or less? In the process of trying to write the description, I decided I would do a little investigating. I wanted to know how other authors describe their devotional journals. So, I did the most logical thing I could do—a web search.

I went to Amazon.com and entered the search term “devotional journal”. It brought up 1,254 results. Obviously, I didn’t read the descriptions for all of them, especially since it was midnight, but I did read through 251 of them. As I went through the results, something became very clear to me: I was about to publish something that was just about as close to being “one of a kind” as you can get. The journals I was seeing were all topical: The leadership journal, the gratefulness journal, the insecurity journal, a journal about faith, a journal about hope, a journal about God’s promises, a journal for teens, for children, for men, for women, for pregnancies; the list goes on. There is nothing wrong with a topical journal. In fact, I would have bought a couple of them on the spot if I could have. But I saw a disturbing trend. Fewer than five of the 251 journals that I looked at were designed to take you through the process of personally gleaning something from your own Bible reading. The others all offered up a pre-cooked meal.

This was my infomercial moment. I could just see it: A heavy set, balding guy with a beard and a big grin steps out and says, “We’ve compared 251 journals and none of them offer what this journal offers!” I hate infomercials, so I quickly switched that guy off in my head. The instant I did, another picture came to mind: A gaunt, hollow-eyed Christian in blue-grey prison garb, standing alone in the rain in the middle of a muddy, Siberian prison camp. With that image came two questions: What if he had always been spiritually spoon-fed? How would he survive? My heart ached. What emptiness that would bring!

We live in a frozen dinner and microwave society: Push a button—get dinner. It’s convenient, but it isn’t the healthiest lifestyle. Sometimes we tend to approach our spiritual lives in the same way: Read a devotional, pray the prayer at the end and go on with our day. It’s satisfying for the moment, but doesn’t always stick with us.

The other problem with microwavable devotions—we don’t learn how to cook for ourselves.

Here’s a question: What if you suddenly found yourself all alone in a new place with no microwave and no frozen dinners, only fresh products, and you didn’t know how to cook? The first few days, or even weeks, could be a little stressful…And you could get a little hungry.

Now ask yourself this: What if you found yourself in a place with no spiritual fellowship, no teachers, no preachers, no devotional journals—just you and your Bible—and you didn’t know how to study on your own? What a sad day that would be.

You may be saying, “That could never happen. I have nothing to worry about.” But I wonder how many of the men and women who have been imprisoned for their faith over the centuries, or have moved to a place where there was no church, never thought it would happen. We have no guarantee that we will always have access to a spiritual buffet. God wants us to grow, to move from milk to meat. We won’t do that if we’re always depending on others to feed us. It’s important to learn to study God’s Word for ourselves, to meditate on it, and to apply it to our lives.

In All Thy Ways gives you that chance. It offers eight weeks of devotional pages, which are designed to assist you in your personal study. By the time you’ve gone through the process that many times, you should be well on your way to doing it on your own.

I first designed this journal in 2003, by that point I had been in Russia for nearly eight years. Over those years, I had led Bible studies, taught Bible lessons, had my own quiet times morning and evening, in which I had faithfully spent time digging into God’s Word as deeply as I could. I knew how to study the Bible. But I was also at a point of exhaustion. I needed something new, and I needed something relatively simple that would bring focus to my quiet times. This is what God sent my way. I look forward to sharing more about it with you in the days to come. It was an enormous blessing to me, and I hope it will be to you as well.

Wondering how that book description turned out? You can check it out here! 🙂