Out of Sight – Lessons from a Storm, Part 1

Part 1 of 2

My fingers gripped the steering wheel with a tenacity they had never known before. I was late, but that was the least of my problems. I took a deep breath and held it in, feeling the tires slipping beneath me once more.

A heavy, white fog had settled over the mountain and seemed to meld into the snow-covered world. Everything was white: The ice and packed snow under the car, the mountainside, the cement barriers between the highway lanes, the air. I knew the long, descending grade in front of me curved off to the right at its end, but that end was nowhere to be seen. I swallowed hard, wondering when the world would come back into view.

 

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“What am I supposed to do?” seems to be a question running through my mind often these days. “How do I balance everything?” follows right after it, dragging along, “What is really important?”

I love what I do—all of it. (Well, except for financial reports. I’m not a fan of those.) But, even with all the juggling skills I’ve learned over the years things are still falling to the wayside—important things.

I’ve always believed that investing in people is one of the most important things in life; but what if, in trying to make sure I’m always putting the needs of others first, I’m neglecting the responsibilities God has given me? Is that possible? Do they sort of equal each other out? Do the needs of others trump the long-term work God has called me to? Or do I need to be saying “no” to immediate needs more often until some of the long-term has been brought to an end?

And, how do I balance all of that with work and writing?

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that some of these questions are always there. We’re always looking for ways to bring more balance, be more circumspect, and do exactly what God has called us to. Life’s interruptions, challenges, and the unexpected tend to cloud our vision, so we cannot see the path for the circumstances.

I’ve been thinking about that path from many different angles lately, but the memory of that snow and fog obscured road between Helena and Great Falls, MT seemed to best depict the past few months. I know the road twists and turns ahead, I know the general direction it’s supposed to take—but I can’t see it.

Every time I turn around some new circumstance is clouding the view. Life has begun to feel fragmented; a few moments spent here, a few there, but no concentrated effort anywhere. The edges are beginning to fray. I find myself praying, “Lord, something has to change,” but not even knowing specifically which area to pray about changing.

What do you let go of when everything you do involves people? You can’t say, “Well, this person is more important than that person”…because that just isn’t true.

Then I was reminded…It isn’t what you let go of, it’s WHO you take hold of that matters.

If you’ve known me very long, you’ve probably heard this story before, but I’m going to tell it anyway. Many years ago, some friends and I were traveling to church in Russia by train. When we reached our stop the doors didn’t open. We were unable to get out. We hurried to the next car, hoping to get to a working door in time, but our hurry was unnecessary. The train skipped the next stop and took us a full half hour past our destination. Incredibly late, we finally disembarked in a little place called Odintsova.

While the rest of us meandered down the platform, one of the guys in our group jumped down to the ground, crossed the tracks, scaled the other platform, and checked the schedule. We had barely made it half way to the bridge (the proper way to cross) when we heard him yell, “It’s coming! Get over here! It’s coming right now!”

In a panic, we followed our leader’s example, jumping down to the ground and crossing the tracks to the other platform. We all looked over our shoulders to see the train rounding the bend behind us. From that quick glance we surmised the train would come to the inside of the platform, so my friends and I lined up on the outside edge and began our single-file ascent.

Now, you must understand that the platform was at least chest high on most of us, and most of us were young women wearing long dress coats and skirts, not to mention our heavy winter boots. The climb up was awkward and cumbersome.

Just as I tossed my backpack ahead of me and reached for the platform, I heard someone say, “It’s coming to this side!” Out of the corner of my eye I saw someone being pulled back from the tracks behind me. I pulled myself up, one shin resting against the platform’s rough edge and the fingers of my right hand curled around its outermost corner. Then I felt the rush of wind. I could not see the train at first, but I could hear it. I was not about to let go of that platform. It was steady. It would not move. I heard its whistle, but still I clung to the platform. The train flashed by, just inches from my head and fingers. Not until it had raced by did I draw myself up, get to my feet, and run for the rest of the group.

I could not have clung to that platform if I hadn’t first freed my hands of the backpack. If I’d been grappling with it, I would have fallen—most likely I would be dead. But, because my hands were free of everything else I could cling to that cement platform for all I was worth.

When we let go of things it enables us to take better hold on Christ. Just like that platform, Christ is steady, He will not move. He also possesses a beauty the platform could never boast: No matter how strong our grip on Christ, His grip on us is always stronger.

Balance is never easy to maintain. Even as I clung to that platform, I could feel myself tottering. It was that same head-swimming feeling I get when I stand on the edge of a cliff. But, I knew that as long as I kept myself centered over the platform, I would be safe from the oncoming train. The same is true with our relationship to Christ. We may not be able to see what is coming. We may feel like we’re about to teeter into the path of the storm, but so long as we keep our focus on Him we will have peace and assurance.

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength.” – Isaiah 26:3,4

In Part 2, we’ll look at some “whiteout lessons”, things we can learn from those moments when our path is out of sight. But for today here’s a question: Has life ever led you through a whiteout? What did God teach you about letting go and taking hold of Him? Please, share in the comments—it’s how we help each other grow!

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ABOUT RACHEL MILLER

I am the author of three books, including the Walking in His Presence Devotional Journal. 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.

 

Faith in the Forest

Last week I spent three days at a carefully chosen little campground near Laramie, WY. It was supposed to be a working vacation, but a bazillion things, expectations that I’d had of the place, didn’t come true. It wasn’t a quiet spot. In fact, it was practically in the I-80 barrow pits. Every time the wind blew, which was constantly, the swing on the front porch of the cabin swung back and forth, causing the ceiling timbers to click rhythmically. It was like being imprisoned with an overactive clock. The internet was sporadic, the water pump didn’t work, the list goes on…

My first task was to write a letter. Sounds easy enough, right? I mean, on the average day I put out between 1,000 and 4,000 words. What’s a letter? But it just wasn’t that easy. I prayed over it, wrote it, read it, and moaned. I prayed some more, rewrote it, read it, and moaned again.

After more than three hours spent with non-cooperative words and sentence structures and that constant clicking overhead, I needed a break. I knew the weather forecast for the rest of the week was bad. They were even calling for snow on Friday. So, I decided if I was going to see any of the countryside, this was the time to do it. The fresh air would help clear my mind. I could pray over the project and ask the Lord for clear direction—I had no idea how literal that prayer would become.

I headed out to a recreational area in the Medicine Bow National Forest. Once there, I parked my car and set out to find a good hiking trail. The first one came to an abrupt end after about ½ a mile. So, I went back through the parking area to a trailhead someone had mentioned along the way. The trail was beautiful: Groves of Aspen, thick underbrush, fall colors sneaking in among lush greens.

Turtle Rock Trail West

Turtle Rock Trail West

I saw a little sign that read “Campground gates close at 8pm.” It was only 2:15. I wasn’t worried about the closing time anyway. I had promised myself  I would only hike 2 hours from the time I arrived at the recreational area. I would be done by 3:40. I passed through a gate a few steps further and assumed this was the trail leading to the campground which seemed like a good target. I’d hike to the camp, turn around, and hike back.

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I was amazed at how much distance I was covering, even stopping to take pictures here and there. When I reached the halfway mark in my time, however, I still hadn’t reached a campground. I knew the first short hike had taken about 30 minutes, so I figured I could do about fifteen more before I needed to turn around.

But it was in those fifteen minutes that the trail started going places I hadn’t expected.  It started going up, then down, through boulders and around the banks of beautiful little ponds. I thought that was a little strange, but I had a good idea of where I was and wasn’t too concerned about it.

One of the most beautiful spots along the trail.

One of the most beautiful spots along the trail.

By the time the fifteen minutes were up, I had gone so far around the rock formation that I realized I wasn’t on a trail to a campground. I was on the trail that circles the rock. I decided I might as well just go on around; it would probably be shorter that way.

Turtle Rock - That's one big turtle!

Turtle Rock – That’s one big turtle!

Before long, however, I started having doubts. The trail went higher and higher. Sometimes it would disappear for ten or twenty feet, but I always seemed to find it again. I knew where the sun was and had a good idea of the direction I was headed. I knew I was going the right way, but I couldn’t figure out how the trail leading up the mountain, was going to get me back to my car 8,500 ft. below.

I walked on, and as I did the song the pastor had chosen for the prelude on Sunday floated through my mind:

“Be Thou Exalted forever and ever,

“God of Eternity, the Ancient of Days!

“Wondrous in wisdom, majestic in glory,

“Humbly we come to Thee our homage to bring.”*

I hummed it. I whistled it. I sang.

On and on the trail went, always bending just enough in the right direction to encourage me, but never quite convincing me it was going where I was going. Finally, I came to a fork in the path. It was a pretty spot. A small waterfall cascaded into a little pool of water that spilled into a creek, which tumbled down the hillside. Here, after nearly two hours of walking, was the first trail marker I had seen on the entire trek. But it was pointing in the direction from which I had come. I looked at it from several different angles, trying to decide which trail was supposed to be seeing it. It seemed like you should see it coming from the falls, but I didn’t see a path there. On the other hand, a very clear path came up behind it. So, deciding this was a switchback in the trail, I followed that clear path.

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In just a few minutes, I began to feel a sense of relief. I was going down! I rounded a corner and found myself at a small dam. I crossed the dam and instantly realized I was not on the trail. I was on a service road. At first, this fact encouraged me. I might meet up with other travelers on this road. But the further I went, the more I came to realize that the road had been abandoned. Grass, horsebrush, and sage were thick between the tire ruts. The bushes along the road showed no evidence of having been snagged by a vehicle. I tried to convince myself that one bush had lost the leaves on the tips of the branches hanging out over the road, but—it’s October. I walked on, still singing:

“Be Thou exalted by seraphs and angels,

“Be Thou exalted with harp and with song;

“Saints in their anthems of rapture adore Thee,

“Thine be the glory forever, Amen.”

The road opened out onto a large, spreading meadow. As I jumped over a small stream, I looked ahead. I could see the dirt road following the eastern most edge of the meadow and then curving around to go full west on the other side. By now, I was convinced I was not where I was supposed to be. It was well past the time I’d allotted myself. I had work to finish up and I HAD to get to my car before 8 p.m. I didn’t want to sleep in my car in a campground that I had yet to find. I looked at the meadow and made the decision any person who knows the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, would have made—I cut across the field.

The place where I had crossed the stream was its regathering point. Upstream the creek had spread itself across the full width of the lowest part of the meadow. The part I was crossing. Soon I was ankle deep in cold, mountain spring water.

Even though I came out wet, when I looked back across the meadow,  I realized that, just like many of life's trials, it was one of the most beautiful places I had seen.

Even though I came out wet, when I looked back across the meadow, I realized that, just like many of life’s trials, it was one of the most beautiful places I had seen.

Soon enough, I slogged back up onto the road and trod on, my feet sopping. After about ten minutes, I came to another fork in the road. Here, there was a sign. It had numbers on it: numbers that wouldn’t have helped me even if I had brought along the rather useless map provided at the park entrance.

I continued west, knowing that was the direction I needed to go. About ¾ of a mile and one very long hill later, I saw a gate, a parking lot, and a black truck…

Just beyond the parking lot was another crossroad. Again, I continued west, praying, “Lord, please help me to know which way to go. Help me to see familiar rock formations or landmarks.” I came through a shallow valley with several roads and paths leading off of it. I ducked down a short trail to see if I could see anything from the top of the ridge, but all I could see was trees. Wasting no time, I hurried back to the road and resumed my original direction.

By this point, I was seriously beginning to think I would be spending the night at the recreational area. I knew enough to understand that the service road had brought me much too far east to be anywhere close to where I had parked my car. I had followed it for close to two miles. I had no idea how far off the actual trail I had been when I had started down the road. I knew I had probably averaged a 22 or 23-minute mile pace. Which put me about 6 miles from my starting point. I guessed that I was probably about 3 miles east of where I was supposed to be. The road was good, but the climbs were steep. I guessed that I had a minimum of two hours back to the point where I was hoping the road would come out. By then it would be nearly seven and I would have just shy of a mile to walk to my car. I could still make it by eight…There was just one other thing…it would be dark long before eight o’clock.

As I neared the top of a long grade, I thought over the options. I had prayed everything I could think to pray, except for one thing.

“Lord,” I said out loud, “I really need a Forest Service truck.”

I walked on, but then, about 30 seconds later, I heard something. At first, I thought I was just imagining it, but then I heard it again. It was the distant rumble of tires on gravel. My first thought was the black truck in the parking lot. But then I remembered what I had just prayed. I heard the vehicle round the bend behind me, stepped off the road, and turned to look. It was a beautiful, white, Forest Service pickup…and they had an extra seat.

My estimate was about right. It was close to three miles to the place where the gravel road met the pavement at the gate to the recreational area. The FS crew dropped me off there, and I walked back to my car. It was 4:40. All that, and I was only an hour later than I had planned.

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As I thought through the day, I realized a few things. That little adventure, was very similar to many moments in life. We step onto a path, knowing God is leading in that direction. The signs are very clear. But as we continue on, we realize that we don’t know exactly where it’s going. Sometimes we lose sight of it, and we wonder if we have missed it, but then He makes it clear again.

Sometimes we get bogged down in the mire of muddy meadows, we get caught in a tangle of trees, we come to a fork and have to pray long and hard before choosing which way to go; and yet, because we let Him lead us, in the depths of our heart we know we’re going in the right direction. God’s provision to get us to the end of that path, is always just on time. And in that moment of provision, we see we did not sing in vain. In that moment, the prayer, “Be Thou Exalted” is answered.

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Are you on a path that seems to be leading in a direction you didn’t expect? Is it the way God led you? If so, just keep trusting. Keep following through the mud, the trees, the steep inclines—He never fails.

What’s your story? I’d love to hear in the comments below how God is leading you.

*Be Thou Exalted – by Fanny Crosby

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Blog Cover Pic WIP  ABOUT RACHEL MILLER

I am the author of three books, including the Walking In His Promises, devotional journal. You can check them all out here. I also run a Christian editing and writing service. I hope you all you writers will check it out and let me know how I can help you.

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.

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.