When Life Doesn’t Turn Out the Way You Planned

Two years ago my husband and I made one of the most radical decisions in our twenty-five years as a married couple.

We decided to leave a fulfilling job, secure paycheck, most of our possessions, and a spacious house on an island a stone’s throw from the Atlantic to move to London. Except we didn’t have visas or jobs or a place to live; all we had was faith in what we heard God say to us.

Friends watching our waiting season to London called me brave but behind the scenes, in the privacy of my bedroom, I wasn’t brave at all. A year after that radical decision I became weak, cowardly, and a full-fledged doubter.

When I said yes to God, I thought that meant He would take care of all the details falling neatly into place with swiftness. But instead, it felt like He walked off and forgot about us. Paychecks ceased, our house wasn’t selling, and a bureaucratic process made obtaining visas difficult.

Familiar faith transformed into pleading prayers for signs to quench my endless thirst for preferred outcomes.

Over time, my faith strengthened as a job was offered, anonymous checks appeared in the mailbox; when I landed a book contract and our daughter was secure in her first year of college.

But that faith quickly vanished when our needs became greater than the amount in our bank account; when our daughter experienced a car accident in the US while we were living in London and her secure plans for the future were no longer preferred.

I became one of those Israelites Moses was talking to God about when he was leading them out of the wilderness; to a place where there was no water to drink.

Rephidim, the place God had pre-ordained for the Israelites to camp had no water. And instead of trusting that God knew what He was doing, the Israelites demanded, “Give us water to drink.”

And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?”

In the same way the people grumbled against Moses saying, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst? Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:1-7) I was saying, “Surely you didn’t bring us to London to make my daughter’s life miserable.”

Sometimes we thirst more for preferred outcomes than we thirst for God.

God took the Israelites to a place without water and my family to a place far away from my daughter for the same reason. He longs for us to believe Him; to believe that His plans for us are good because He loves us.

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38, ESV)

Choosing to follow Christ doesn’t mean everything will fall into place like you imagine. And just because you experience hardship, disappointment, and lack doesn’t mean it’s the enemy trying to mess with you.

Waiting for God to act is as much His will as the calling He purposes for you to possess.

As physical thirst increases with a lack of water, spiritual hunger intensifies with an absence of God. The wilderness of a waiting season plays an important role in our lives in the same way it did for Moses and the Israelites. The barrenness of the wilderness makes us thirsty for God.

We are brave when we believe He loves us, no matter the circumstance. And He promises to quench your thirst.

If a lack of water was God’s divine design then perhaps whatever you are thirsting for is His plan too. Testing reveals willfulness and waywardness of the heart and it reveals that God blesses us, not on the basis of our works, but on the foundation of His grace.

His ways are good.

Will you believe that?

How have waiting seasons in the past provided clarity about God’s plans for the future? Let’s encourage each other with our stories in the comments.

What are you thirsty for today?


  1. Lynn D. Morrissey January 14, 2016

    Shelly, I witnessed all those things you lived through, all the mountains and valleys, and the wide, weary wilderness you endured. And time and again, as you waited on the Lord, I watched Him quench your thirst with water from the Rock. I’ve seen your faith and your trust grow exponentially. And now you are in some ways living in your promised land having crossed a sea….maybe not the Red Sea, but a vast ocean nonetheless. (Wow, is just that amazing….and now two books are on their way, and who, but God, knows what else?!) I too have lived in wild, wide wildernesses (and in the current one the longest), and indeed it is during those times that I have drawn nearest to God, and He has revealed His plans for me in the greatest detail (dreams He instilled, such as writing a book about my deepest passion). Perhaps we gain greatest clarity, b/c the wilderness is quiet and stark. God strips away all the excess, distractions, busyness, and noise which blur our vision and blunt our senses. When there is nothing else upon which to lean, you begin to see with clarity that sure Foundation which has supported you all along. You see only God. Thank you for sharing all the nuances of your journey. Testimonies such as yours make us stronger because they cause us to lean on God harder.

    Bless you, with love,


    1. Shelly Miller January 14, 2016

      I think you are right about your assessments regarding the wilderness. The barrenness helps us to define or clarify what matters. You helped me out of my wilderness season and I’m so grateful.

  2. Michelle S January 14, 2016

    Wow, this one was definitely for me.  I’ve been walking through one of those times of taking a huge step of faith…and then not seeing God “come through” the way I expected.  His will hasn’t matched my preferences and expectations, and I’m tempted sometimes to question His goodness and faithfulness…to feel as if He’s brought me here and “dumped” me.  “Sometimes we thirst more for preferred outcomes than we thirst for God.”  So true.  Through my circumstances God has been stirring a deep hunger and thirst after Him…but I was convicted again as I read this that I still want God AND….(my preferred outcomes).  But He ALONE can satisfy the thirsting of our souls.

    Thank you for sharing, Shelly.

    1. Shelly Miller January 14, 2016

      Michelle, thanking God with you that what you read here is timely. Praying that God continues to give you the grace to wait knowing His plans for you are good. And worth waiting for!

  3. karuna January 14, 2016

    before i had a destination, i heard god’s calling to sell my things, move a roommate into my house, quit my full time job, and prepare to become a cross cultural worker. i began that process while not knowing a single person who lived as a full time overseas worker. i thought maybe i was crazy- but trusted in god and knew i heard his call loud and clear… but the waiting time for a destination and for solid plans was much longer than i was comfortable with. in my excitement to finally know what i was called to do, i was desperate for a view of the bigger picture. i wanted to know where i was headed. god told me to wait. it was nearly 2 years before my destination was revealed to me. that said, i just celebrated my 2 year anniversary of moving to nepal as an overseas worker. thanks god! he really is faithful.

    1. Shelly Miller January 14, 2016

      What an inspiring story of faith Karuna! Thank you for sharing it here with us. You have brought to mind the scripture verse that describes the way God views time . . . A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. 2 Peter 3:8. 


  4. Michele Call January 14, 2016

    I can remember a time when I couldn’t relate with the grumbling of the people of Israel…but then I left everything to follow God’s call as an overseas worker And like them, no matter how God provides in amazing ways I am one trial away from doubt. We have had some big trials over the last few years and I can honestly say having the opportunity to exercise my faith has made it stronger. Those times of fear and doubt force me to sit at the feet of Jesus and receive from Him. Thank you for your encouraging words. Although exercising faith is painful it is also full of rich spiritual blessing.

    1. Shelly Miller January 14, 2016

      Michelle, I can really relate to what you said, “I am one trial away from doubt.” My prayer lately, after coming out of each trial, is for my faith to become more resilient and my mind to be steadfast in remembering his love never fails. Exercising faith IS painful but also rich.

  5. Mary January 14, 2016

    Walking in the wilderness is hard and scary. Just this morning I wrote a prayer for your daughter in my journal. The older I get the more I believe that His plan RARELY looks like mine, but his is always better!  Thank you for sharing this part of your story…it was good for me to read today!

    1. Shelly Miller January 14, 2016

      Mary, I’m truly touched that you actually wrote a prayer for Murielle, what a gift!! Thank you! And yes, His plan are always better than we imagine.

  6. brooke January 14, 2016

    I love the quote, “Sometimes we thirst more for preferred outcomes than we thirst for God.”

    We can pride ourselves in the adventure of following the Lord into “the wilderness”. We can get excited about the adventure ahead and the “Promise Land”. But along the way we lose perspective, we lose focus, we forget to trust that miraculous God who has done so much thus far.  We will be in a dry and thirsty land sometimes. We will have to patiently wait for the miracles. We will have to push away the doubts that arise in our minds. We will have to Trust.

    1. Shelly Miller January 14, 2016

      True and wise words Brooke! And written like someone who knows what she is talking about by living it. Am I right?

  7. ro elliott January 14, 2016

    Testing reveals willfulness and waywardness of the heart and it reveals that God blesses us, not on the basis of our works, but on the foundation of His grace… Wow… I wish you could read my journal entry this morning… I wrote of this same thing…These hard places are God’s gift to let us see what we truly believe… All the gray is gone…and it can be boiled down to God is who He says He is or He is a lair…these times are the Jacob wrestle… When we are changed by His love and our souls become anchored deeper in His Love for us… I am sorry to hear about you daughter…that freshman year can be tough… It’s like a roller coaster ride…they can be up and before you know it they are down… And how this must be compounded by the miles that separate …praying for grace to fill that space for you both!!!

    1. Shelly Miller January 14, 2016

      Ro, what a gift to see  you here! I know you’ve navigated this season with your kids and I find comfort in your words. Thanks for adding your wisdom.

  8. Penny Lucas January 14, 2016

    I didn’t read this until right now. God’s timing. We are waiting for results for my sister – cancer or no cancer…4 more hours until the appt although the biopsy was a week ago. A peace came over me when I read “sometimes we thirst more for preferred outcomes than we thirst for God.”. So, so true. God never promised an easy path, just that He will always be with us no matter what the journey brings. I am going to thank God for the news I receive about my sister, no matter what it is. I long to grow closer to Him every day even when  life doesn’t go my way!

    1. Shelly Miller January 14, 2016

      Oh Penny, I’m praying for you right now, that God has given you and your sister the grace to accept whatever the result is on her biopsy.

    2. Janet K January 16, 2016

      Penny, I pray your sister’s answer is no cancer.  But if cancer is the path she is on, know that God will walk her through it.  Of course the ending only God knows.  I am a cancer survivor, having battled it 3 times.  God has always been with me, and He has used my struggle and my faith to encourage many other women.  God bless you for supporting your sister.  Don’t stop praying for her.

  9. Jody Lee Collins January 14, 2016

    Father, keep me thirsty, is a constant prayer.  Good word here my friend. Thank you.

  10. joni w January 14, 2016

    i am knee deep in the mire of this waiting; the way is through, which means just got to keep looking up. That’s all i know since there is no road map. I can’t seem to get it right, just counting the years, not knowing what the breakthrough is. Desperately waiting to hear from God.

  11. Kathy Schwanke January 14, 2016

    Beautiful Shelly,

    What we live in the ‘birth canal’ – the place between the comfort of the familiar and the wild new world we enter is so . . . dark. And narrow.

    We are in such a time. And you are right about the preferred outcome – oy!
    May all my springs be in God. Amen. [I’ve continually said to Him, “I didn’t realize I’d become so spoiled…” and “Thank you for loving me enough…”]

    1. Kathy Schwanke January 14, 2016

      Oh my goodness~!!! How did my face get so big on here??? I can’t find how to delete it. Could you do it for me? LOL!! I’ve never seen that image option before and didn’t read it well. I thought it was for my gravatar. OY!

      1. Amy Young January 15, 2016

        No worries 🙂 . . . your face is lovely! But I did delete it 🙂

  12. Amy Young January 15, 2016

    This title is a great summary of my life 🙂

  13. Nancy Ruegg January 15, 2016

    Shelly, your observations about waiting times closely match mine own, especially that spiritual hunger intensifies when God seems inactive, and seasons of waiting play and important role in our lives.  Indeed, my preferred outcome is relief and rescue when trouble strikes and no end is in sight.  But my human viewpoint is blurred and short-sighted.  Only God sees the whole picture, and only his way is perfect (Psalm 18:30a).  (P.S.  Please remind me of these truths the next time I’m in the midst of a season of waiting!)

  14. Nancy Ruegg January 15, 2016

    Amy!  I did the same thing as Kathy, above!  HELP!!  Please remove picture!  Thank you, friend!

  15. Aliyah January 15, 2016

    Hey Shelly. Thanks for sharing your story, I enjoyed it. I am sitting here this evening embracing Sabbath and crying out to God for this sense I have inside. This sense of thirst I have tried to ignore for so long. This sense of thirsting for purpose. My husband and I have a great ministry and I have a book coming out this year and a second one at the publishers – these are all part of God’s purpose for me. And yet I am still thirsty. God is everything to me and so much more, my life is positioned around being with Him. I feel as though this thirst inside of me, is placed there by God, perhaps its a way He is calling me to come behind the curtain and seek what this place is inside. Perhaps He has something new to give me, a different calling, a new mandate. All this pretty much came to me while I was writing this. Does it make sense? I am hoping so, cause I am getting really thirsty over here!

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