Two years ago I was the
happiest person on earth. I had just signed my first contract with a
wonderful publisher. I had five months to write the book.
I was not a complete novice. I
had spent ten years learning the craft and business of writing. I had
published multiple magazine articles and had hard copies of three
completed, unpublished inspirational novels residing beneath my bed. In
addition, my children were grown, self-supporting, and
maintenance-free. My husband was supportive. The church we had worked
with for fifteen years was doing great. I was healthy, my husband was
healthy, and I was free to devote myself to what I believed was my
The timing was perfect.
My husband and I immediately
took a holiday to Holmes County, Ohio, to research for the Amish book I
had proposed. I could almost hear background music playing as we drove
around Sugarcreek, taking pictures, meeting people, and making notes.
God was good. We were blessed. My lifelong dream was coming true—and it
was even sweeter than I had imagined.
One month later our world caved
I came home to find my
tough-as-nails husband lying on the floor of our living room, unable to
move a fraction of an inch without screaming. My son was kneeling
beside him. He said his dad had hurt his back cutting firewood. The
pain was so intense we called the ambulance. The hospital could find
nothing wrong, so they gave him a morphine shot and sent us home.
The next nine months was a
nightmare of the most excruciating pain I have ever witnessed. Multiple
doctors were unable to determine the cause of the many spinal fractures
they discovered. My formerly strong, healthy husband could barely move
without crying from pain. He could not shower or dress himself or get
out of a chair unaided. At night I dozed on a couch beside his bed,
hair-trigger ready to jump up and care for him.
I was terrified, exhausted, my
heart was shattered daily by my husband’s suffering; there were
doctor’s visits and tests—and I had an Amish romance to somehow
research and write.
It seemed that the Lord—with
whom I had been so pleased with back in September—had incredibly bad
Quitting was not an option. My husband
was a preacher for a country church. We did not know if he would ever
be able to work again. There were major out-of-pocket medical bills. I
had been away from the work force for ten years. My chances of getting
a job were remote—but I could not have left my husband alone even had I
gotten one. We had some savings, but there was a very real possibility
that the only income we would have in the near future would be whatever
I could make with my writing.
I made that deadline.
We finally found a doctor who
was able to make a correct diagnosis. My husband had an extremely rare
form of bone cancer. Our world imploded even further.
I signed a contract for a second
book and somehow met that deadline.
We spent this past Christmas in
the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, where my husband received
a bone marrow transplant. I wrote much of my third book on a yellow
tablet while sitting in his hospital room.
Although I knew something about
writing when I signed that first contract—I now realize that it was
only during our two-year trial-by-fire that I finally grew up, got
serious, and became a professional. No longer did I have the luxury of
going through my little rituals of lighting a scented candle, sitting
in my favorite chair, wearing my fuzzy socks, and being in the mood to
write. No longer did I throw a hissy fit if I didn’t have complete
silence and long, uninterrupted periods of time to gaze out the window
and sip tea while I composed.
Instead, I trained myself to
write wherever and on whatever I had available. I trained myself to
block out fear when I wrote, and to focus entirely upon putting words
on the page. I discovered that having a story-world into which I could
escape each day was a gift from God.
I also learned about the power
The day after the horrifying
bone cancer, diagnosis, I called a close friend who had been a family
doctor for many years. “How do I continue to do this? How do I take
care of my sick husband and write when I am
terrified? How do I manage to get through each day when I feel like I’m
drowning in quicksand?”
answer he gave me was two-fold: (1) prayer and (2) routine. He said he
had noticed that families who had faith—which we did—and who had
created daily routines for themselves got through major illness much
better than those who did not. He told me to build into each day a time
for a walk, a time to fix a
meal, a time for prayer, a time
for minimal housework. He said the more routines I could set up, the
better I would do as a caregiver, because once they were in place, I
could operate on automatic pilot while focusing on caring for my
husband. He said routines would take away some of the panic and chaos
and help me feel like I had some small amount of control over my life.
He thought it might even make it easier for me to write.
His advice gave me a tangible
direction. We were already praying, but the routine part? Not so much.
I started small. I began to
unload the dishwasher while I waited
for the coffee to perk in the morning, instead of just yawning and
waiting. That was a routine. I started walking—in fifteen minute
intervals back and forth in front of our house with my cell phone in my
pocket and the house phone within my husband’s easy reach. Being
outdoors—even for small amounts of time—made me feel better. I began
processing one small load of laundry each day instead of allowing it to
grow into a mountain. I made myself get completely dressed each morning
instead of spending half the day in the sweats I had slept in. And
every night, I would search the Scriptures for what I thought of as my
nuggets of gold—God’s promises—and I would capture them in a notebook.
Each small routine helped me
feel just a little more in control, a little more like maybe we could
get through this.
By the grace of a loving God, an
army of praying friends, and the work of a brilliant doctor, my husband
is now in complete remission. He is able to work full time again. He
feels well. The doctor says he is going to be fine, and that with daily
meds there is a very good chance he will live another ten to twenty
productive years. We are relieved and grateful—but neither of us are
the same people who went into that dark tunnel two years ago.
His sermons have taken on a
greater depth. Our appreciation for the gift of simply being able to go
to work is boundless. I have learned that I am capable of more
discipline than I ever dreamed possible.
Now that we have been given
remission and hope, things are getting back to normal. I have managed
to complete that third book and will have a fourth finished soon. I’ve
signed contracts for three more novels over the next two years. It
appears that I actually have a writing career. This would not have
happened had I given up during those dark days.
I still follow my routines. I
learned that a timer is a powerful writing tool—at least for me. I set
it for forty-five minutes and write. Then I set it for fifteen minutes
and do household chores or walk. I can do four to five thousand words a
day using that method. It helps me focus—and at the end of an intense
writing day, I find that those fifteen minute intervals have kept my
home and my life in pretty good order.
My first two books, to my
astonishment, have received wonderful reviews. I get frequent e-mails
from readers who say that they were moved by them. I marvel that either
of them is even readable.
I would not wish my husband’s
illness on anyone. But there is one thing I know—I am a better writer
because of it.
Serena Miller decided to get
serious about writing fiction while she was working as a court reporter
in Detroit and found herself developing an overwhelming desire to
compose a happy ending for every transcript she typed. She and her
husband live in a southern Ohio farming community in an 1830's log
cabin that has been in her family for five generations. She was
delighted when an Amish community formed not far from her home, and has
enjoyed getting to know these hard-working people. When she isn't
canning tomatoes, splitting firewood, shooing deer out of the blueberry
bushes, or feeding grown sons who drop by daily to see if she's cooked
anything good, she helps out at her church and sings at the drop of a
hat. She also falls in love with all her characters and writes as many
happy endings for them as she can.