The Story Behind Winter’s Prey

The Story Behind Winter’s Prey

screen-shot-2016-07-12-at-10-30-24-pmYesterday, I shared a little about the background of Winter’s Prey in a post on Facebook—from a writing perspective. But I think it is important to share a little more about the background of the story.

I started writing the book when I was 14 years old. That’s right, 14. There are many reasons why it took 26 years to finish this book, but mostly I think it had a lot to do with God’s timing.

When I was a little girl, about 9, something happened that greatly upset me. It was a little something. In fact, it was so insignificant that it doesn’t even warrant mentioning. So why am I mentioning it? Because I held onto that something for a long time—and it made me miserable.

On the first morning of third grade, I got up, pranced down the stairs of our parsonage-home in Illinois, and walked into the living room where my dad was reading his Bible.

“Good morning!” he said, “and how is my big third-grader this morning?”

Those words made me feel loved. They made me feel that Dad was so proud of me!

By the next year, our family had moved. On the first morning of fourth grade, I walked out of my bedroom in our apartment on the campus of a Bible college in South Dakota and into the living room where Dad was reading his Bible.

“Good morning,” I said.

“Good morning,” he replied, not looking up from his Bible.

I waited. He said nothing more. My heart sank, having expected to hear those same words again. Instead of being assured of how much my dad loved me and was proud of me, I was now certain that he didn’t care.

I understand now that what was going to follow was one of the greatest displays of love and self-sacrifice my parents had ever shown to my sisters and me. You see that was the day they started homeschooling us. Dad’s new position with the college meant he would be on the road a lot, and he didn’t want to leave us behind. So they dedicated themselves to the labor and expense of making sure we could be together and still get the education we would need for life. It would mean long hours, lesson plans upon lesson plan, textbook purchases, and even coaching girls’ basketball at one point! (Can you imagine teaching 2nd and 4th grades while trying to wrangle a 4-year-old all in a 1981 Chevy Citation!!!) The entire day (and the years to come) was a display of love—but I saw only my disappointment.

My dad never could have met my expectation because he did not know it existed. He was one of the most loving, caring, and kind men I have ever known. He never would have intentionally hurt me, but my 9-year-old brain didn’t really understand life for what it was.

Years passed, and even though I had a good relationship with my dad that little seed festered in my heart. It grew into, as the Bible puts it, a root of bitterness. I heaped other disappointments up on top of it. I kept score. And, while I loved my dad very much, attitudes of resentment and even rebellion began growing in my heart.

When I was twelve, we moved to Billings, MT where my dad became the pastor of a church that was about to close its doors. For the first few months, we lived in an RV behind the church. IT WAS COLD!!!!! Do you know how cold it can get in a trailer when it’s 20 below? Let me tell you, it’s C-O-L-D!

In the spring, we moved a mobile home onto a piece of property outside of town. That summer on those 80 acres, I fell in love with Montana. We didn’t get to live there long before we had to move back into town, but I memorized just about every inch of that land. And talk about treasures! Someone had used part of the land as their own little landfill—a long time ago. I found antique medicine bottles, an old purse, junk I didn’t recognize—all kinds of things to stir up the interest of an imaginative 13-year-old.

That winter we went to a special meeting where the speaker talked about forgiveness. It wasn’t until that night that I realized that I had a very unforgiving heart toward my dad. I really don’t remember anything the speaker said. I just remember the ugliness that God revealed in my heart. I confessed it to God, and found a new freedom in my relationship with Dad in the days to come. But I never told anyone about what had happened, at least not for a long time. Instead…

I started writing a story. I didn’t want others to have the hurt of bitterness in their lives. I didn’t want it to destroy their relationships like it could have destroyed mine. I don’t know if most 14-year-olds think this way or not, but I did. So, in our little space of prairie “Barren Fields, Fruitful Gardens” and Marc and Jess and Jon and the whole Bennett family were born.

Obviously, the story doesn’t end there because it took me 26 years to get to this point! But I believe there were still things I needed to learn. Some of them you will see in this book, some of them don’t come out until the next book, or even the one after that. But Winter’s Prey is the beginning, and I hope it will do just what that 14-year-old girl—cuddled up on her bed with pen and notebook in hand and the relentless Montana winds beating and whirling about her mobile home—hoped it would do. I hope that it will bless. I hope that it will encourage. I hope that it will stir each of us to love when others are not lovely, to forgive when others seem unforgivable, to extend grace where judgment is more desirable, and to value our relationships with each of our family members to such an extent that we will work to make them what they ought to be.

I hope you enjoy Winter’s Prey and that it will bless many for years to come.

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SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAAbout Rachel Miller

I am the author of four books including my newest release, Winter’s Prey. I am also the Executive Director of Forbid Them Not Ministries, the happy aunt of ten nieces and nephews, and slightly addicted to life in Montana.

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The Gift Beneath the Wrapping

Yesterday morning as the children in our church and I were all walking out of the auditorium to go to Junior Church, our pastor stopped us and asked the children an interesting question.

“Do you like surprises—gifts—to be wrapped and done up all fancy, or would you rather just have them handed to you?” he said.

The children were a little surprised at first, and, to be honest, I was wondering if they would now be expecting a surprise when we got to class. I held my breath, waiting to see how this would all unfold. Eventually, most of the children said they would like to have their surprises wrapped up because it’s fun to unwrap the gift.

Pastor seemed satisfied with their answer, and I was relieved when he said, “I don’t think there are any surprises downstairs. I was just curious to see if kids still feel the same way I did as a kid.”

With that said, we all went downstairs and had our lesson, giving the conversation no further thought…until last night.

After Sunday night’s Christmas program, Pastor preached on seven gifts. As he began his message, he talked about wrapping gifts and how, in just a matter of moments, the hours spent on wrapping would be in a heap under the tree. This caught my attention because I love wrapping presents in a way that makes them special for each person. I love putting that little extra touch on it that makes it just perfect. But, as pastor said, the paper all gets ripped away because what we’re really interested in is the gift, not the wrapping.

That got me to thinking. Often in life, we’re handed gifts that come in packages that just really aren’t that appealing. Instead of the wrapping of success, joy, peace, comfort, and love we find ourselves being handed a gift wrapped in failure, loss, persecution, hate, or sorrow. No one wants a package like that. We did not expect or plan those things for our lives, but suddenly there they are. In that moment we have a choice. We can choose to stare at the wrapping and despise what has been handed to us, or we can tear back the paper and look inside to find the gift.

As I look back on 2015, I see some amazingly beautiful gifts, but I also see some very ugly packages. If I were walking through a store choosing packages to place under my tree, I would choose none of those ugly ones. They are wrapped in hurt, tied together with accusation, and ornamented with bows of betrayal, rejection, and failure. But if I walked by them, I would be missing gifts of grace, mercy, comfort, strength, and even hope.

Earlier this year, one of those packages left me feeling worthless. I felt that my whole life had been brought to ruins because of one devastating moment. As I drove down the road a day or two later, tears slipped down my cheeks, and I poured out my heart to the Lord. In those moments, that still small voice whispered into my pain, “You are still my daughter.”

Think of that! What a precious thought! Still His. Not worthless. Not rejected. Not forsaken. —LOVED!

Without the pain of loss, rejection, and false accusation, I would not have experienced God’s amazing love to the extent that I saw it along the road that day. Without the hurt of betrayal, I would not have discovered new depths of the peace of acceptance in the Beloved.

We easily forget that beneath the ugly wrapping is a pearl of great price. We forget that the greatest gift ever given was wrapped in a crown of thorns. So let me challenge you, before the year is out, take the time to look back, find the ugly packages, tear the wrapping aside, and find the gift within.

Remember that you are still the King’s daughter (or son). He has purchased you, adopted you, and given you a second birth. You are His three times over, and He will not let you go. He will run after you as no father ever pursued his child because God loves you more than any earthly parent has ever loved. He knows how to give us good gifts, so, go on—find the gift beneath the wrapping.

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King's Daughter: A Story of Redemption

King’s Daughter: A Story of Redemption

ABOUT RACHEL MILLER

I am the author of three books, including The King’s Daughter: A Story of Redemption. You can check them all out here. I also run a Christian editing and writing service. I hope you’ll stop by and let me know how I can help you.

Beta Readers Needed

Big Lake, aka Big Dry, Molt, MT

Big Lake, aka Big Dry, Molt, MT

So, I’ve let the cat out of the bag…My first fiction book is almost done! Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be making the final changes and looking for a few people to read it and provide feedback before moving on to the next step. There aren’t any qualifications for reading it, but there are a few things that I would like each reader to be watching for so they can answer a short (anonymous) questionnaire at the end.

Below is a short description of the book and a list of the question topics that will be on the questionnaire:

Barren Fields, Fruitful Gardens – Book 1 – Winter’s Prey

Description

When the cruel elements of the Montana Territory inflict tragedy on the Twin Pines community, life for the Bennett family is forever changed. Jessica is certain the answer to her pain lies in starting over. Her brother Marc is determined to stay true to what he has always known. Marc commits to show Jess God’s love no matter the cost; but when a courageous choice leads to disaster, he fears he has driven her further away. A crushing secret forces both to examine their lives: Will they choose to walk in God’s love and faithfulness, or to walk on in their own strength?

Winter’s Prey is the story of a pioneering family’s struggle not only to survive life on the frontier but also to maintain faith in the midst of tragedy. It is a story of love, surrender, and hope.

Approximately 285 (8.5 x 11) pages

Questionnaire Topics

1. First Impressions

2. Plot/Structure Development

3. Concept Development

4. Overall Readability

5. Character Development, Dialog

Don’t worry, the questions are easy, and you only have to answer the ones you are comfortable answering. If you’d like to be included in this fun, exciting project, just let me know via Facebook or at rmiller at gracewritingservice dot com as soon as possible, and I will send you the files as soon as they are ready. 🙂 I will be limiting the number of readers, so don’t miss your chance!

The Gift of Loneliness

3:45 a.m.

I slipped from beneath the heavy blankets, dressed in my warmest clothing, and quietly stole through the halls and staircases of the orphanage. A blast of cold air drove any remaining sleepiness away as I stepped into the dimly lit courtyard. I began walking, once around the large courtyard, twice, three times… For years this had been my favorite place and time for prayer. It was quiet, almost eerily so. The wind swayed the tops of the giant poplars that grew up between the buildings; but on the street level it was calm, sheltered from whatever storm was brewing.

Snow and ice crunched beneath my feet as I made my circuits. I prayed up and down both sides of a 3×5 card, prayed for each of the people still sleeping behind the dark windows above me, prayed for my family, for friends I hadn’t seen for years, for things in our ministry that were especially on my heart. As I finished and slipped the card into my coat pocket, a light came on above me. The world was beginning to stir.

As the trees creaked and groaned in the breeze, heaviness crept into my spirit. I reached into my pocket again, this time pulling out a set of 3×5 cards, laminated with packing tape to keep them from being ruined by the chaos of the day. I studied them for a moment, got my starting point, and quietly began quoting the verses I had been memorizing. The words came in rhythm to my steps, but my mind wasn’t on them. I heard a door open at the far end of the courtyard and turned to see a group of our staff headed out for their morning jog. I watched them disappear into the darkness beyond the front gate. I completed my circle around the courtyard, making one more attempt at the verses; but it was no use. I couldn’t focus on memorization with such a burning question in my heart.

“Lord,” the whispered word escaped as a vapor, rising through the cold air toward Heaven, “why is this school year so lonely? You warned me that last year was going to be lonely, but this year there was no warning…Knowing was much easier.”

The previous year had been difficult. The area of ministry that I had been involved in had taken me out of the normal circle of staff and friends that I had worked closely with in the past, but it had also been filled with joys and victories and approached with a heart prepared to endure the lonely hours.

This year was different. I was surrounded by people all the time, and yet I found myself deep in an incredible loneliness. Everyone was busy, having little time for real conversation. Those who did come to talk poured out their hearts but rarely asked about my own. It was the way it was. I was still content to be where I was, still happy in what the Lord had given me to do. I was just lonely—painfully lonely.

I don’t suppose I expected an immediate answer to my question, but it came. It was very simple, but so powerful it took my breath away. God said,

“Because I love you enough to want to walk alone with you.”

My eyes filled with tears as the meaning of the simple words sank into the crevices of my heart. God loved me. I knew that. But this was a new thought: He loved me enough to want to be alone with me. I had known He wasn’t allowing loneliness in order to make me miserable. I had also known that those lonely moments were opportunities to spend more time with Him. But I had never considered that He had allowed that loneliness specifically because He wanted to spend time with me. He wanted these early morning hours together as much as I did. He wanted the quiet moments as midnight approached and papers still had to be graded. He wanted the moments walking to widows’ houses with no one to accompany me. He wanted the lonely moments to Himself—because He loved me.

We all attempt to avoid loneliness. Even God said it wasn’t good for a man to be alone. That’s why He created Eve and established the institution of marriage—the supposed loneliness fix-all. Then sin came into the world, and that perfect union was no longer perfect. Loneliness found its way back in.

For some loneliness is rare, for others it may be almost constant. We try to push it away, but is it holding a gift we’ve been missing?

We each want someone who will love us enough to seek out opportunities to be alone with us. In those alone moments, we come to know one another. We don’t just learn one another’s habits or preferences—we come to know each other by heart.

That cold morning I realized that, even though loneliness was hard, God had given me a gift. He was setting aside time to be with me—because He loved me.

In Psalm 73:25,26 the psalmist says,

“Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon the earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.”

He had learned the beauty of walking with the Lord. He had realized that only God fills the empty space in our hearts. He knew that God was the only inheritance (portion) he needed.

Jesus frequently went out into the mountains or wilderness to be alone and to pray. His alone time was spent in the presence of God.

“And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.” Matthew 14:23

We live in a world of constant activity. Sometimes our society makes us feel guilty if we aren’t perpetually on the go, performing great feats, conquering worlds, and establishing kingdoms. But God said, “Be still, and know that I am God…” [Psalm 46:10]

The book of Hosea tells the story of Israel and her idolatry, but it does it through the story of Hosea and his wife Gomer. Gomer was constantly running around seeking satisfaction in the arms of men other than her husband. Hosea was constantly taking her back. Their story pictured the relational situation between God and Israel at that time. Israel was constantly running off to other gods, forgetting that it was their God who, as a husband, had cared and provided for them for so many years. All the while, God was pleading with them to come back.

In Hosea 2:14 God sets out a beautiful, tender plan to draw Israel back. He said, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her.” He tells of the hope and the song that He is going to restore to her. And that instead of calling Him lord she will begin to call Him husband. But to get her to that point, He plans to draw her to a place with no distractions where no one will pull her attention away from Him. He is going to take her to a place where they can be alone.

Does loneliness indicate that we have been pursuing false gods? Sometimes, but it is also part of our design. God allows us to experience the emotion of loneliness, so that we will realize how much we need both Him and those around us. Sometimes that aching in our hearts is just a goad. It is God’s way of pressing us closer to Himself. The wildernesses are the places in which He wants to speak comfortably, tenderly, to us. The lonely path is where God speaks to our hearts.

We don’t generally relish the lonely moments. We don’t usually pine for them or pray, “Oh, Lord, I would just really like to be lonely today, to have that deep aching feeling of being absolutely and completely alone, to hurt with the desire for just one friend.” We just don’t do that. But the lonely moments are places of learning if we allow God to turn them into such places.

Back in Psalm 73, the psalmist went on to say, “But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works.” (vs. 28) So often the lonely moments produce amazing fruit when we allow God to work through them. Have you ever thought of the grain of wheat Jesus spoke of, the one that must die to produce fruit? How dark and lonely in those moments before death! How quiet and still in those moments before new life and abundant fruit springs forth!

What of the loneliness for Moses or Elijah as they waited for God to pass by, to speak? Elijah had been so lonely and discouraged that he told God to just let him die. (I Kings 19:4) But then God fed him with a meal that lasted forty days and led him to an isolated cave. A wind so strong it broke the rocks came, then an earthquake, and then a fire; but God did not come in these. Instead, He came in a still small voice. It was then that Elijah wrapped his mantle about his face and went to the mouth of the cave. In that quiet solitude, he drew near to God. Just as God promised He would do with Israel in the book of Hosea, God came tenderly to Elijah. There God told him what he was to do next and revealed He had 7,000 other men in Israel who had not bowed their knees to false gods. Elijah wasn’t as alone as he thought. From that point, he went out and finished his ministry.

James 4:8 promises “draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” What better time to draw close to Him, than in those lonely moments, but how do we do it? From this passage we see the first step is repentance and submission to God. If we have never come to Him seeking salvation we cannot draw nigh to Him. Our sin separates us. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can cover that sin. And only calling on Him in faith and repentance will bring the salvation that will restore our relationship with Him for all eternity.

If we have already come to Him for salvation, then we must ask ourselves a very serious question:

Have I been resisting the loneliness God has given me?

Loneliness is a hard gift to accept. As I have written this over the last few days, God has shown me struggles in my life and ministry that were a form of loneliness I had never seen before. Frustrations were shadows and rejections faint reminders. Decisions were burdens. The void of companionless ministry became obvious when I spent a few wonderful moments with a friend whose joyful spirit used to be a daily encouragement. I had to ask myself, “Has God been offering me a loneliness that I have been rejecting at the expense of quiet, wonder-revealing moments with Him? Have I rushed around looking for answers and solutions, not realizing that He just wanted me to sit down and rest in Him?” While I can’t answer that fully, I know there have been moments of filling the gap with effort instead of quiet prayer. God’s desire is for us, like the psalmist, to find our portion in Him. How grateful I am that James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”

Loneliness isn’t a one-time test that we pass or fail. It walks a step or two behind us most of our lives, rushing forward at the most inconvenient and undesirable moments. If we let it drag us into self-pity, it will destroy us. If we let it press us closer to Christ, it is a gift.

Has God allowed lonely times in your life to show you His special love for you? What has He taught you in those lonely places?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

King's Daughter: A Story of Redemption

King’s Daughter: A Story of Redemption

 

ABOUT RACHEL MILLER

I am the author of three books, including the The King’s Daughter: A Story of Redemption. 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.

 

The Best Cracker EVER!

I want to share something very special with you, my friends. I want to tell you about a cracker. Yes, that’s right, a cracker.

But I have to tell you a bit of background story first. Five years ago, I was able to spend a month and a half at a children’s home in a former soviet country in Central Asia. Most of the children there are Russian speaking, so, since I speak Russian, we had an almost instant bond. For five long years, I have wanted to go back. Twice, one of the missionaries called me up and asked if I could come on short notice, but then they called back a couple days later and said issues had resolved themselves; we didn’t need to plan the trip. A couple of times, I have looked into going for summer camp, but it has never worked. This year was different. This year it looked like it might just happen…

$6000. That’s what the “direct” flight costs from my hometown. I put “direct” in quotes because there’s nothing direct about it (How many layovers was that again?). And then comes the indirect route, $4000—(Oh, and did we mention they’re rioting in the streets of the city where you’ll be changing planes?) Last is the, well, we’ll just call it what it is – the redneck route. Two, maybe three, separate itineraries that don’t quite meet up, all neatly pieced together with duct tape…Still nearly $4000, and it doesn’t quite work, even if you kick it.

That was the reality I faced Wednesday morning. My travel agent and I emailed back and forth several times until finally I had to say, “Well, we tried.” I knew nothing else could be done. We had checked every possible route and none of them were feasible. I hit the send button and stared at the computer. I picked up my phone and texted my sisters. I told my dad/pastor that the trip wasn’t going to happen. I messaged one of the missionaries (who is currently in the States), and then I found myself alone with reality slowly sinking over me. I wasn’t going. I wasn’t going to see the children, to find out how they have grown, to hear about what God has been teaching them or to share what He has been teaching me. I wasn’t going to be meeting the new children who have come since I was there last. I wouldn’t get to see the caregivers who made me feel so welcomed and for whom I have prayed so many times. How would I ever write that email…

I decided I needed to give it a bit of time. It was well past noon, so lunch would most definitely put me in better shape to take on the task. But as soon as I headed out to fix a sandwich, I realized I was in no state of mind to face people. My heart was broken, and no matter how hard I tried I wasn’t going to be able to hold back its weeping. I bowed to thank the Lord for my food, but I found that I couldn’t talk to Him without tears. I wiped my eyes with the napkin that had been under my sandwich and muttered something about needing a plate instead.

In a few minutes, the activity around me had quieted. I sat at the table with my tuna fish and my Cheez-its, struggling not to let the situation get the best of me, and failing miserably. Was it me? Had I done something wrong, or missed something that I should have done? This was the second time in two months that I’d had to cancel a trip. That’s close to 250 children I had just let down. I felt like such a failure. I wanted nothing more than to go hide in a park with my Bible, where I could figure things out, but it was about to rain. I also had emails to write, the kind I didn’t want to write. Like the showers that came later, tears were already splashing intermittently down my shirt and onto my plate. I kept wiping them away, hoping no one would notice.

I picked up a cracker and was about to eat it when something caught my eye. I looked again. The hole in the center of the cracker was misshapen – in the perfect shape of a heart. I knew it was a gift from my Lord. The tears won.

2013-06-12 13.36.25

I can think of few moments in my life when I have felt loved as strongly as I felt it in that moment. How undeserving of His love I am, and yet He loves me. I fail, I stumble, I plan trips that fall through, and yet He loves me… He loves you.

Don’t miss His love by staring into your failures, I almost did.

This is the first post on this site, but it is not the post I had intended to share first. That post was going to touch on the primary topic of the book I recently started writing: The purposes of the wilderness. But this illustrates it so much more beautifully. You see, one of the purposes of the wilderness is that we might come to know our God. And that little patch of wilderness, complete with its dry, ol’ cracker did just that – it reminded me of the depth of His love.

It brings Song of Solomon 3:6 to mind: “Who is that that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant?”

If you’ve read my first book then you probably already have an idea of why Wednesday’s events would remind me of this passage. In The King’s Daughter we saw the beauty of myrrh, in Where The Myrrh Grows we’ll see the beauty of the harsh climate in which it flourishes. SOS 3:6 connects the two.

I’ve always had a strange mental picture associated with this passage. Way off in the distance, just beyond the heat waves rising from the desert floor, comes a chariot with clouds of dust billowing up behind it. The driver is the Knight in Shining Armor, the Prince Charming to beat all princes charming – It is the King. He comes valiantly, ready to declare His victory and retell of His triumphant exploits.

I’ve always seen Him as being on the return from some great conquest, but Wednesday I saw Him coming to the rescue. I had just wandered into the wilderness of deep disappointment, and He, with that beautiful fragrance that marks Him as my King, came to wrap His strong arms about me and to strengthen me…there is no stronger embrace.

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King's Daughter: A Story of Redemption

King’s Daughter: A Story of Redemption

 

ABOUT RACHEL MILLER

I am the author of three books, including The King’s Daughter: A Story of Redemption. 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.