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.

——-

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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Unfinished Stories

Unfinished Stories

Life doesn’t always go the way we think it will. …Scratch that. …Life RARELY goes the way we think it will. We make plans, but they change, unravel, and sometimes just plain fall apart. Some people bounce back quickly or just go with the flow when this happens, but even the most fluid people eventually reach that point when they don’t know how they got where they are or where they’re supposed to go next.

Those moments can be terribly disheartening.

About a year ago, after years of painstaking work, I dared to send out a book to a group of friends who agreed to provide feedback on the novel. Their insight was amazing. They helped me spot numerous typos, found a few structural and conceptual issues, pointed out that a couple of characters needed more memorable names, and so on. I was very excited. I was sure that in a month’s time I would have the edits finished and be on my way to publishing the book.

And then, life happened.

With almost no warning, my writing time was suddenly gone (as the scarcity of posts to this blog bears witness). The few moments I had to work on the book here and there were usually interrupted, overwhelmed by other needs, or so far apart that I felt I had to start all over just to figure out where I had left off.

Talk about a plan gone wrong!

Week after week, I was editing someone else’s writing to make a little extra income, while my own writing sat in a pile of edits and drafts and notes—untouched. It was discouraging.

Finally, over this past Memorial Day weekend, I had time to make huge progress. I finished most of the changes and then started reading back through the book. But I only made it halfway before the weekend ended. Once again, the manuscript sat—always open and ready on my computer, but stuck on Chapter 22. The process seems to drag.

We all have “unfinished manuscripts” in our lives, whether they be actual books or some other goal or hobby or passion. Some of them we have pursued with every ounce of energy only to have our plans thwarted in some way or by someone. Sometimes it’s not just one manuscript; in fact, if you know many writers, you know that we usually have piles of manuscripts in progress. Even if those “piles” are organized neatly in our computer, they are still there.

Sometimes the unfinished or the failing or even just the faltering dream can weigh down on our spirits. We begin to let them define us. “See,” we say, “I’ve never finished this project or that one.” Or, “Look. Everything I’ve tried to do has failed.” Or, “Nothing every works out, so why should I try?”

That’s when it’s important to remember that what we accomplish is not who we are.

I’m sure you’ve heard people say that before, but we live in a culture that denies it. We expect perfection from ourselves because our culture has set a very high standard of achievement before us, and to “be anyone” we must attain. This isn’t just a trait of our world. It has also crept into our service and worship. We mean well, but sometimes our expectations of service or participation or behavior just aren’t attainable. And the next thing you know, we’ve got everything upside down. We schedule every moment with so much “service” that we forget to take time to simply walk humbly before our God. We work so hard to keep ourselves unspotted from the world that we forget we must sometimes go into the hard places of the world to touch those in need. We overachieve when God simply wants us to be.

Sometimes, we just need a reality check. We need to remember that who we are is not what books we have written, what jobs we have worked, what programs we have developed, what ministry we have carried out, what businesses we have started, what businesses we have lost, how many children we have had, how many marriages we’ve had, how large a house we own, or if we can pay our rent. None of that makes us who we are. Those are a part of us. They have helped to shape us. They are the circumstances that help to form our character. Our world may identify us or classify us by some of them, but they are not what is important. One thing matters:

Who I am before Christ.

When He looks at me, what does He see? A lost sinner? A child that has wandered astray? A repentant heart? A labor-weary servant? A redeemed and precious child?

When He looks at my heart, is it pure? Is it a place where He has full reign? Is it growing to reflect and resemble more of Him and less of me?

One thing is sure—we are loved with a love that will pursue us to the end of the earth. When we fall, He will be there to lift us back up, brush us off, and set us on the right path—or to chasten us if need be. When we feel we have failed in an assignment, He is there to pull us back on track and to remind us that, just like my manuscripts,—our story isn’t done. There is still time to edit. We may not be able to change things in the past, but with God’s help we can do right in the future. One little decision, one little commitment to let God lead and to follow Him no matter what can change the plot lines we thought were already set. And then, the next thing we know, an adventure has begun.

So, to all of you who read my book last spring, thank you again, and please know that your labors weren’t in vain. The book is so much closer, and so much better, because of you.

And to those of you who are feeling like your “pile of manuscripts” will never be complete, rest in the Lord. Let Him guide you to the next step. After all, “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it…” (Psalm 127:1)

And to those of you whose lives seem to be falling apart, remember that the Author and Finisher of our faith can restore all things. He does not leave us, nor does He change. In fact:

He writes the best stories.

 


Coming Soon:

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

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When the cruel elements of the Montana Territory inflict tragedy on the Bennett family, life 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.

Amidst the constant battle for survival and the conflict in their hearts, both siblings stand at the threshold of surrender to God. What will they choose?

A Burden Not For You

As I drove home one evening a few years ago, I was praying. My prayer went something like this, “Lord, I know You have given me the ability to write. I want that writing to count for you. I want it to honor you. Please, do whatever it takes to use it for your glory.”

Three days later…

My hard drive crashed.

I don’t mean a little crash. I mean the kind of crash we all dread. I cannot begin to tell you the heart- and gut-wrenching feeling when I realized that computer was not going to restart. When I learned that because I had tried to restart it there was less chance the data would be retrievable, my heart sank even deeper. In addition to hundreds of pictures, that hard drive contained Bible studies, books (my own and others’), outlines, and ministry DVD files. In short, it contained LIFE.

Lightning over Lake

I had been preparing to start out on the road to share my ministry with as many churches as possible, hoping to gain some support both in co-laborers and finances. With no computer, I had no presentation and no display materials. So, the money I had saved for the trip was instead set aside to try to fix the computer. My plans were set aside with it.

All this time, I was trying to figure out how this fit into anything in life. How did it fit into growing the ministry? How did it fit into finding the support the ministry needed? How did it fit into my writing bringing glory to God? None of it made sense.

The time to leave on the trip came and went while my hard drive sat in a lab somewhere in Georgia. Finally, one afternoon, I received a call from a very friendly man.

“Miss Miller,” he said in a southern drawl, “I am so sorry to tell you this. We tried everything, but we just couldn’t get anything off of your hard drive. I saw from your paperwork that this is a ministry computer. We were going to give a discount, but we just couldn’t get anything off of it. Of course, the deposit is non-refundable, but you owe us nothing else. I’m very sorry.”

I told him I understood. I thanked him, but my heart was broken and my stomach was churning. So much lost. So many hours of work—months and years worth of work! Lost.

As I once again began to pull together pictures and text to recreate my presentation and display materials, I still wondered about the purpose in all of this. Was God displeased with me, with my writing, with my presentation? Had I gone about something in the wrong way? Why such a huge delay in everything?

One day during my quiet time, I came across Ephesians 3:13,

 

“Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulation for you, which is your glory.”

 

Paul’s tribulation wasn’t something he was undergoing for his own sake. He didn’t even identify it as suffering for the sake of Christ or of the Gospel, which he did in other places. No, this time his suffering was for the sake of the Ephesians.

As I read that, it occurred to me for the first time that maybe, just maybe, my trial had nothing to do with me at all. Maybe God had allowed this in my life for the sake of someone else. Maybe I was being too nearsighted.

The next verse says, “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I realized that I could do nothing else. I had asked God to use my writing, to use the ministry, to use me. Somehow, this fit the plan, even if the loss was the only part of the good and the glory that I experienced. The right choice for me was to bow the knee and trust that God would bring glory to Himself through it.

This fit the plan

Two months later, I got on a plane bound for Kenya. The trip I had originally planned to visit churches had not happened. The writing on that hard drive, much of it, was lost. Most of it has never been rewritten. But God used the funds that had been set aside when the computer crashed to buy the tickets for a trip I had hardly dared to dream could happen. In the month that followed, we saw God do amazing things. God had a blessing He wanted to impart on the missionaries there as well as on the orphans, women, students, and churches with whom they were working. The loss of all that writing was required on my part, so that they (and I) might receive the blessing. Furthermore, just over a year after I returned, my first book The King’s Daughter: A Story of Redemption was published, due in great part to that trip to Kenya.

The burdens we bear and the losses we incur are not always for our sake, nor for our chastisement. I was reminded of this again this week. Circumstances, which I did not understand, overwhelmed me. A bit like when my computer crashed, except now there are so many more of those confusing situations.

At a critical moment, my mom handed me a print out of an email, which a friend had sent to her. I had received the same email, but hadn’t had a chance to read it yet. The email told the story of a woman who had gone rock climbing for the first time. In the process, she lost a contact lens. She searched for it, but could not find it. She was disappointed that when she reached the top she could not see the view clearly. As she and her friends hiked back down the mountain, they heard another climber yell to his buddies, “Hey, did anyone lose a contact?” The contact had been found—carried on the back of an ant!

The young woman’s father was a cartoonist. He heard the story and later drew a cartoon of an ant carrying a contact lens. The caption on the picture read,

 

“Lord, I do not know why you want me to carry this thing. I can’t eat it, and it’s awfully heavy. But, if this is what you want me to do, I’ll carry it for You.”

 

That little ant had a heavy load to bear, but he wasn’t bearing it for his own sake. He was bearing it for the sake of the woman who needed the lens. Likewise, sometimes God gives us burdens to bear that aren’t for our own sake. Yes, we can always learn from any situation, any trial, any burden; but the overall need may not always be our own. Whatever burden weighs us down, may be for someone else, someone who needs what we are bearing.

Consider Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21. None of it was for himself. Instead he endured tribulations so that the Ephesians might:

  • Be strengthened with might in their inner man by God’s Spirit,
  • Have Christ dwelling in their hearts by faith,
  • Be rooted and grounded in love,
  • Be able to comprehend and experientially know the breadth, length, depth and height of the love of Christ,
  • Be filled with all the fullness of God.

What an amazing purpose! What a gift he desired to give!

Sorrow, loss, sacrifice, difficulty, poverty, illness, persecution, rejection, and misunderstandings—none of these are pleasant. But what if your endurance of these things will bring about the above gifts in the life of your child, your church, your coworker, your spouse, or your friend? What if your burden has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them?

“Great!” you might say. “That gives my trial meaning, but it is still so heavy!”

To this the Lord says, “Come …

 

“Come unto me, all ye who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

 

Perhaps, God has given you a burden not for you—A burden, which must be borne for the sake of those around you. Let Him bear you up and carry the load. All that remains for you then is to be faithful.

Come unto me -bench~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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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. Check it out and let me know how I can help you.

 

 

 

Getting Up Off The Floor

Crushed. That best describes it.

Crushed. That would best describe it.

Never in my life have I felt so repeatedly beaten down as I have over the last nearly nine months. Crushed. That would best describe it.

Time…

after time…

after time.

Some days it comes in the forms of little disappointments that have huge ripple effects. Some days it comes in the form of massive assaults, be they accusations, betrayals, failures, loneliness, or barriers to communication.

Today it was a project into which I have poured huge amounts of time. Everything seemed to be going so well, and then…bang. It all came to a screeching halt. Not because of anything I did (as far as I know), but because of something someone else did. Had it been just that one thing, it might have made less of an impact. But the day had pretty much already derailed before I even finished my breakfast. It’s amazing what one text or one email or one phone call…or one of each…can do to a day.

I’ve never been a quitter. In fact, I’ve usually been the one to say, “Hey, stop giving up, we can do this”…and then go out and get a technical foul because I tried too hard. I’ve never been one to run away from problems. Although, there was that one time when I was tempted to get in the car and drive as far as could…but that’s the thing, I didn’t do it.

For the first time in a long time, this week has brought that temptation. Never seriously, just that little thought, “If I was the kind of person who runs from difficulties, this would be a good time to start running.” Not because things are so much more difficult than they were a few months ago, but because one moment, one day, one month, have all melded into a blur of long weary moments, days and months. Just when things seem to start falling into place, something happens and they tumble out all over the floor again. Just when you think your heart is starting to heal, it bubbles up and you’re crying yourself to sleep again.

And then there are the questions, questions that probably will have no answers between now and eternity. Other questions I dare not even ask because the asking genders unwarranted rebukes, sniffling offenses, patronizing smirks, and accusations of faith undone. They are not questions of faith. They are not questions that challenge the sovereignty of God. They are simple questions, like “What?” and “How?” and “When?”. They are questions of direction and of a heart seeking to understand.

When I was working with the children in Russia, my least favorite words were, Ya nye magoo (I can’t.) Something about their pronunciation in Russian makes the whine behind them so much more evident than their English counterparts. But, have no doubt, it’s there in both languages. When someone would come to me with those words, I almost always gave them the same answer,

“You’re right. You can’t. But God can.”

Today, as I’m scraping myself off the proverbial floor, I must remind myself of that once more. I can’t, but God can. I can’t fix everything that has fallen apart over the last nine months. I can’t be everything that I want to be for everyone. I can’t do everything that needs to be done…But God can. With God nothing shall be impossible. The things HE wants me to do, He will give the grace to complete. Some days, I’m not even sure I know what those things are; so I will seek Him and let Him lead and trust that at the end of the day I will have done what He wanted to be done.

So, if you’re on the floor with me, let Jesus pick you up. Let Him hold you in His arms. Let Him whisper His words of comfort,

“I’m here.”

 

Storm Hebrews 13-5~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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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. Check it out and let me know how I can help you.

 

 

Out of Sight—Lessons from a Storm, Part 2

Part 2 of 2

As I clutched the steering wheel, straining to see into that storm, I wasn’t really thinking much about the spiritual benefits of the situation. I was thinking about getting down that mountain alive! Whiteouts, however, provide some good lessons for those moments when our path is obscured. Here are just a few:

 

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1. Follow the leader.

Have you ever navigated a storm by following taillights? It’s frightening. What if the taillights disappear in the snow? What if the other driver stops abruptly, and you run into the back of him? What if he turns and you miss it? At that point, the tension level in the car is directly related to how much you trust the other driver.

When our path is obscured by the constant storm of activity and responsibilities around us, it’s easy to start gripping the wheel, pumping the brakes, and squinting into the fog in an effort to get ourselves through it. But, we’re putting out needless effort. We have a steady light to follow—one we can trust implicitly.

If we’re following God, we have no need to worry. He will guide us past the dangers along the edge of the road and lead us through any sudden turns. We can trust Him because, as Job said, “…He knoweth the way that I take: when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10) God is the One who set the path in front of us in the first place. He knows where it is leading. It may lead through storms and fires, but as a result we will come out as purified gold—a treasure in God’s hand.

This fact, however, does us no good if we don’t acknowledge Him. We can say, “Yep, God knows where I’m headed,” and at the same time be plowing our way blindly through the storm because we’re not willing to follow His lead. We act on our own instincts because we’re not willing to trust the taillights in front of us.

Proverbs 3:5-7 says, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways, acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.” We have to let it all go: Give up our understanding of things, commit our works to God, and allow Him to establish our thoughts (Proverbs 16:3). When we let go of the things we’re holding onto then we can take hold of His hand, and let Him lead us through the storm.

 

2. Don’t get off the path.

I knew that icy road was lined with steep drop-offs—whether I could see them or not. I wouldn’t have had to worry about my car spinning out of control and going over the edge if I had pulled over, gotten out of my car, and attempted to walk down the highway. But, more likely than not I would have blindly stumbled over the edge. I might have been struck by another vehicle. Chances are I would have wandered off the road and gotten lost. Who knows how long it would have taken me to get back to the road or to be found once the storm cleared. People die that way.

Sometimes God puts curves in our path. Sometimes they are sharp and sudden. But, unless He is telling us to make a turn, switching directions in a storm can be dangerous. We panic when we can’t see the road, and we start looking for a new, safer path. All the while God is saying, “Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand, nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.” Instinct tells us to find shelter, but we often forget that God is our shelter in the time of storm. (Ps 61:3)

Once we’re off the path, we’re headed in the wrong direction. That icy highway was still leading to Great Falls, neither the destination nor the road itself had changed. They had simply been obscured. The same is true in life. Don’t leave the path just because you can’t see it; you’ll be headed the wrong way. Keep going in the direction God has given you.

If we’re listening, we’ll know when God is leading us into something different. He promised in Psalm 32:8, “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.” What a precious promise in a storm that blocks the path from our view! He doesn’t leave us to blunder about, He asks us to trust His direction—to keep following the taillights. In Isaiah 30:21 God said, “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” When it’s time to turn, God will let you know; until then stay on the path.

 

3. Slow down.

As the rear end of my car tried to overtake the front end, I knew immediately what I needed to do. It makes so much sense when we’re driving. You can’t see anything, you don’t know what’s coming or what’s around you, your car is about to do a 360, so—slow down.

Somehow in life we get it all mixed up. The storms come, the responsibilities, the constant pressure and activities, so what’s our solution? We try to do it faster. We add more things in, thinking they will eventually lighten the rest of the load. We rush things. We rush people. We become distant, distracted, irritable, and impossible to be around. All because we’re trying to barrel our way down a path we cannot see in hopes of getting through the storm sooner.

I don’t remember Jesus rushing around very often. His day was filled with busyness, still the only time the word “haste” is ever linked to Him is when He was telling Zacchaeus to get out of the tree. I don’t remember Jesus running everywhere like a crazy man trying to pack all He could into those 3 ½ years. But, I do remember Him walking from one place to the next, teaching and healing as he went. I remember Him slowing down at the end of a long day to spend time with his Father in prayer.

God did not intended for us to heap massive weights upon ourselves and carry them alone into the storm. Nor did He intend for us to rush through the storm. God wants us to slow down, but we must learn how.

Had I slammed on my brakes as I was coming down that mountainside, I would have spun out. In my mind, I can still see the exact trajectory the car would have taken. I had to first lift and steer. Then I could ease into the brakes.

Slowing down on icy roads takes practice, fortunately, as Christians, we have a good Teacher. God longs to spend time with us. Just as the bridegroom in Song of Solomon sought to be with His bride, God knocks at our door in the still moments of the day. He waits there and whispers, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

The question is “Are any quiet moments left?” Do we fill them all up, so we have no time remaining for Him? The rest we long for is found in those moments of learning from Him. The desire to rush through the storm diminishes as we take His hand and find comfort in Him. But, if we rush through the day and lock the door of our heart as we slip beneath the covers, then, like the bride, we may finally drag ourselves from our beds to answer his knocking, only to discover that He has withdrawn himself. (SOS 5:1-6)

 

4. Stop.

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This is where I find myself.

That day on the highway, the storm never got so bad that I couldn’t keep creeping along. By the time I reached the bottom of that horrid sheet of ice, I had nearly driven out of the worst of it. But, sometimes, the storm comes against you so hard that you have no other choice. You have to stop.

We each go through different kinds of storms: Storms of sickness, of financial pressures, of job difficulties, of relationship problems, of time pressures, of loss. Sometimes more than one storm strikes at once. We’re tempted to do all the wrong things to navigate the fury around us. We start spinning like a whirling dervish (or a car on ice), trying to manage everything…It doesn’t have to be that way.

Sometimes we just need to stop.

We may compare our lives to someone else and say, “I have no excuse. If they can do that, then I can handle this.” It’s good to be encouraged by what others are doing, unless in attempting to do likewise we take our eyes off of our Leader.

It doesn’t matter if your storm is no more than a sprinkle and a breeze—if it has distracted you from Christ and made it impossible for you to clearly see the path He has laid out before you: Stop. Find a quiet place. Step away from the storm. The place of greatest peace is in His presence. Wait on Him. Let Him take all the elements of the storm, whatever they may be, and say, “Peace be still.”

Does this mean we disengage from life? No. The disciples’ ship didn’t stop sailing because they left their posts and went to Jesus, but it would have sunk if they hadn’t gone to him. The few moments they took to seek help from the Savior was the step that eventually saved them and the ship.

Stopping is a choice. Occasionally, God stops us. He says, “Okay, if you’re not going to stop yourself then I’m going to help.” Usually, the circumstances are not too pleasant. Most of the time, however, stopping is up to us. God doesn’t force us to pull away from the mayhem around us. He waits. He drops hints and clues. The Holy Spirit prompts us that we have lost sight of things and need to step back, but He doesn’t usually force us to stop. He wants us to choose to seek Him.

Some of God’s greatest works were done while His people were standing still. (Check out Exodus 14:13.) Ruth’s redemption came as she sat still. (Ruth 3:18) We try to force our way through the storm, thinking once we’re on the other side we’ll be able to figure everything out. It rarely occurs to us in those moments that perhaps God wants us to quietly sort through things with Him, so once the fog lifts we’ll already be headed in the right direction.

I’ve recently taken time to slow down. To reflect on where things are and where God is leading. But, I can clearly see I also need to take time to stop. Sometimes, stopping has to be orchestrated, and I’ve begun looking for places in my “score” where I can put a several measure rest. I don’t know exactly how or when or where, but I’m looking forward to those extra moments with the Lord!

How about you? Where are you right now? Do you just need to keep following the taillights? Have you gotten off the path? Is it time to slow down?

 

Where is your favorite place to spend time alone with the Lord? I’d love to hear about it!

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ABOUT RACHEL MILLER

I am the author of three books, including the In All Thy Ways 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.

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.

 

Choosing Where To Jump

“Just breathe!” I told myself, still grappling with the straps on my helmet as the sled lurched toward the first drop in the track.

I’ve never been one to risk life and limb for a thrill. Never. But, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and for $6 who could pass up a chance to make a run on an Olympic bobsled track.

“What was I thinking!” I screamed inwardly as we rounded the first curve, and I felt my helmet, still not fastened properly, scrape against the ice. “Breathe! Just Breathe!”

With that breath, the fear melted away. The sled, a conglomeration of what appeared to be PVC pipe and gymnasium exercise pads, skated over the ice faster and faster. It handled each turn with jolting grace, gliding first to one side of the track then the other. Happy butterflies flitted about in my stomach. The cold, Latvian air rushed across my face, followed closely by kisses from the bright, winter sun. It was amazing!

Last week, a blog by author Josh Irby set me to thinking. The blog starts at the edge of a cliff. The Adriatic Sea spreads out in front of him, and he must make a choice. Will he take that one step, that leap into the sea one hundred feet below, or will he walk away from the edge? (Read Inaction: The Secret to a Disappointing Life here.)

I would never make that jump. As I read his story, I thought of a moment in my own life. Two friends and I stood on a platform about twenty feet above the crashing waves of the Black Sea. Every inch of my body trembled at the thought of jumping; even my insides were quivering. I’m a wimp when it comes to heights, and I know it. I would have trouble even walking close to that hundred-foot drop, let alone jumping off of it.

But, as I read the remainder of Josh’s blog, a conversation I once had with my Grandmother came to mind. My grandparents always worried about the time I spent in Russia. Grandpa once tried to talk me out of going. He told me I’d be eating dog meat and drinking reindeer milk. Someone had given him bad information. After I had already spent several years in Russia, my grandmother expressed her concerns.

“I wish you wouldn’t keep going back. It’s dangerous. I worry about you when you’re over there.”

I thought about that for a moment. Was it dangerous? I considered my cousins. One of them had recently taken me up an enormous, wooded hill in his jeep, thrown it into neutral, and scared me half to death as he allowed it to roll down the hill—backwards! Other cousins routinely went skydiving, and the whole family thought it was great. For me, going to Russia wasn’t risky or dangerous. It was life. But then, life is dangerous.

“How is what I do in Russia any more dangerous than my cousins jumping out of airplanes?” I finally asked. “Both involve getting onto planes, but I stay in mine until it lands.”

“I hadn’t thought of it that way.” She replied, laughing.

And, that’s what it all comes down to: Perspective.

What seems incredibly dangerous and frightening to one person may be right up another person’s alley. I may not be able to jump off a hundred-foot cliff, but challenge me to conquer a language and you’re on. I might not grab up the opportunity to go bungee jumping; but suggest a five-mile hike up a mountain, and I’ll be packing before the words are out of your mouth.

It’s easy to look at other people and think, “Wow, I could never do that. I’m such a loser.” We forget that God didn’t choose us all for the same task. God has given each of us abilities and gifts in different spheres. He’s given us different interests, strengths, and weaknesses, all of which he intends to use. Our weaknesses are His greatest opportunity to show His strength. And often, our strengths are His greatest opportunity to show us our true weakness.

But, even when we are following our own path and not trying to jump off of cliffs intended for others, we may occasionally run into a hundred-foot drop. That’s when we have to make the decision: Am I supposed to jump? Am I going to jump? Why?

When I stood on that platform at the Black Sea, I had to make up my mind. In the end, I did it. Why? Because of the line of people waiting behind me? Because I’m very competitive and didn’t want a particular friend to think I was a wimp (even though I am)? Those aren’t good reasons for taking the plunge.

There was, however, one other factor that pulled me over the edge: I wasn’t alone. To my right stood a friend whom I not only trusted but who had also been in the Coast Guard. I knew if something happened, they would be there with all that training and experience. I knew if I jumped, they would be jumping with me.

Jumping is easier when we’re not alone.

I still remember the fearful tightness in my stomach and the ache in my heart when, for the first time, at nineteen years old, I boarded a plane bound for Russia. I had never flown. I had never been away from all my family at once for more than a few days. I had never spoken Russian. Yet in that same moment, I had a peace that passed understanding and overwhelmed the fear and the ache. I was not alone. God had led me to this cliff, and He was jumping with me.

Eleven years later, however, as I prayed about another ministry opportunity, the experience was quite the opposite. Each time I prayed, I was overwhelmed by a strong sense that if I jumped over this cliff, I would be jumping alone and the bottom would be dry.

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After two weeks of prayer, I wrote to the ministry and told them I didn’t believe the Lord was leading in that direction. That weekend everything became clear. An unforeseeable situation arose in the ministry I was already working with, and I knew I couldn’t leave. It was unforeseeable to me, but God knew and he kept me where I needed to be.

God led me away from that cliff. Sometimes, I wonder if He was protecting me from a danger none of us could see. Or, perhaps, He simply wanted to bless me with the thrill of jumping from the cliff a little further down the path. You see, He used it to acquaint me with missionaries whose ministry profoundly affected the eventual establishment of Forbid Them Not, my current sphere of ministry.

A friend of mine used to call me the “Queen of Predicaments,” and rightly so. It seems I have a way of blundering right into them: riots in the subway, riots in the street, nearly being run over by a train as I dangle from the end of the platform, jumping from a (slowly) moving train, blowing an engine 800 miles from home and 1,000 miles from where I was going in a place I’d never been, the list goes on. But one thing I know: When each of those predicaments came, I had been doing what I was supposed to be doing, and I wasn’t alone. God was there as He promised.

“…I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Hebrews 13:5

You may never jump a hundred feet into the Adriatic Sea, or even twenty feet into the Black Sea. You may never cross oceans or leap from moving trains. That’s okay. Some cliffs belong to others, and we were never meant to jump over them. But, when God puts a cliff in your path, and you know He put it there, don’t hesitate. He will go with you. And, even if a predicament waits at the bottom, He will sustain you.

The key is discerning between the two. Learn to ask the right questions as you stand at the edge of the cliffs along your path. Not “Will it hurt? What will others think of me?” but “Did God put this before me? Is it in line with His Word? Is He asking me to simply trust Him?”

Then, when you know the cliff is yours, don’t hesitate.

Take a deep breath.

Jump.

What cliffs has God put in front of you? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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ABOUT RACHEL MILLER

I am the author of three books, including the Walking in His Promise 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.