Dr. Rhonda Milner is a poet and licensed therapist with a passion for sharing God’s love. She founded the Healing Presence Ministry in 2015 and since then it has touched more than 2 million readers. She is an advocate for shallow water blackout awareness, has been interviewed by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and speaks her testimony around the world. She lives in Atlanta with her husband of over 30 years, Gene W. Milner, Jr., and her 5 beloved dogs.
Testimony of Faith—A Light Shining into Darkness
“to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in
Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment
of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”
Our anguish can be transformed into joy by God.
I am Rhonda Milner, and I gave my testimony over 10 years ago. I thought God was done with me, but He was not, and He is still not. I am going to tell you a story, my story. It is a story to give you hope and promise. I come to you today posing the question: What if our pain, sorrow, and suffering were God’s invitation to draw us closer to Him and were actually blessings?
Let me begin with a time line of my story so you will know who I am. As a little 5 year-old only child my parents divorced. My dad was a victim of alcoholism. My loving mother raised me by herself giving me the best life she could. Despite the divorce, I was not protected from the harm of alcoholism. I remember my dad would get drunk and call me up threatening to kill my mother and finally one day he did beat her up in front of me, scaring me so that I ran and hid at the neighbors. I later had to testify against him in court fearing that he might be sent to jail, and it would be my fault. He did not end up going to jail, but the experience traumatized me. My dad had many faults and made many mistakes because of his addiction, but the one person he loved in the world was me. In hindsight, I have come to recognize that my dad suffered from depression and post traumatic stress disorder from the war. He flew “the hump” in WWII and was shot down over enemy lines having to use the map sown in his flight jacket. He is now dead, dying over 20 years ago a painful slow death from cancer related to his smoking and drinking. When he was dying, I was blessed to have written him a letter of love and forgiveness. All of us deserve mercy and forgiveness for our mistakes as Christ extends to us. My dad was no exception.
Continuing on with the challenges of my childhood, at age 10 I was molested by a babysitter. I suffered from shame and guilt thinking I was to blame. It was a deep dark secret that perpetuated shame and guilt. Secrets need to be exposed by the light with acknowledgement to have healing. I discovered 40 years later after therapy that it was never that little 10 year old girl’s fault what she received and endured. She was an innocent victim. Letting go of the shame and guilt gives us freedom. It is amazing that we accept Christ’s forgiveness of our sins, but we find it so hard to forgive ourselves. We are told by Christ (John 15:12) that we are to treat others as Christ treats us; this includes ourselves. If we look at the statistics, many of us have suffered undeserved abuse, both physical and emotional, as children and continue to harbor guilt, shame, and un-forgiveness that hold us captive preventing our wholeness and our holiness. By choosing not to forgive we allow those who have harmed us to continue to harm us giving them power over us. Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves. It is a gift of freedom from bondage. We can either be victims of our circumstance or victors over our circumstance. It is our choice.
My high school years were relatively trauma free. I had friends and 2 serious boyfriends during those years. I drank, partied, and smoked pot. Then one day, I stopped drinking and smoking pot not liking how it was affecting me, and I was worried about following in my Dad’s footsteps. I was a survivor, and my way of handling things was to put a smile on my face and pretend everything was fine. I thought if I believed it enough I could make it true. If I was always nice to everyone, I would be accepted and liked. If I worked really hard to do well in school, I would make everyone proud and feel good about myself. That was how to be happy. These attitudes I carried with me to college.
So when I got to college I developed an eating disorder actually getting down to 100 lbs trying to be perfect, to be good enough, not recognizing in Jesus’ eyes that I was always perfect and good enough. I thought if everything in my life felt out of control and overwhelming, I could get control of my life by controlling my body. Finally, one day without therapy, I just gave it up realizing that it was unhealthy and that it took way too much energy and effort. I then by accident became pregnant and panicked that it would destroy my dreams of medical school so I had an abortion taking an innocent life. Statistics show that 50% of pregnancies are unintended and 4 in 10 or 20% end in abortion. I am not alone, and I stand before you a sinner, but I have received God’s forgiveness. There is no sin too big for God to forgive. We are all sinners in need of forgiveness because all sin is sin; even a little sin is not good enough to get into Heaven. There is no condemnation in Christ, only redemption.
Later after college during my second year of medical school, I married a sweet man who became an alcoholic and a womanizer. From this relationship I suffered the emotional abuse and rejection of chronic infidelity. We divorced after 4 years of marriage. I was dating different guys for the experience when one guy became aggressive and I experienced “date rape” __having someone force themselves on you against your will. He also would not leave me alone becoming a stalker. He would park outside my house and watch me. I then started dating my future husband and he finally left me alone. I then married at age 28 a wonderful man to whom I have been married to for 30 years. We have had much joy and happiness, as well as much pain and sorrow. That is what it means to be human. There would not be mountains without the valleys. The low valleys are green and fertile because that is where growth occurs, and it is the same in life that we grow the most during those low periods of our pain and suffering.
After less than a year and during my last year of medical residency, I got pregnant and miscarried. What was unusual was that I miscarried during the middle of my radiology written boards that were given only once a year. It was probably related to all the stress that I was under, but God still provided in this difficult situation by allowing me to pass my boards. He also then gave me 4 children within 5 years.
My youngest daughter was 3 months premature, and we almost lost her from apnea and her low heart rate, but God intervened for her several times during that year. He also intervened during her birth as He prompted me to buzz the nurses in the middle of the night. When I was checked, she was being delivered at that moment weighing barely 2 lbs. If I had not summoned help, she would either have died or had cerebral palsy from the lack of oxygen. Going through this experience, opened my heart to the Holy Spirit, and I became “born again” on Easter Sunday 1990, 3 months after her birth. This began my Christian spiritual journey although Jesus was always with me waiting patiently for me to respond to Him.
6 months after our little premi was born, in a weird circumstance my youngest son at age 2 crashed our family’s Suburban totaling the car, but miraculously he remained unharmed, and he could have easily been killed. I remember looking out my bedroom window that day seeing it happen thinking I have to call 911. Once again, God provided and protected one of my children.
All 4 of my precious children were challenged with ADHD and learning disabilities. Related to his, my oldest son developed discipline issues having to leave his school, and at the same time my oldest daughter developed an eating disorder. Her eating disorder became severe requiring her to be sent away for treatment at age 13 to Arizona. From her eating disorder she developed a drug addiction which has almost taken her life; in fact, in 2005 I resuscitated her from an overdose. God provided because, it was as if, all my training as a physician had all lead up to that moment in time when I was able to save my daughter’s life. I was the only one who knew CPR in my family, and I knew to get her on a hard surface to perform chest compressions. God provided even in the horror of finding my daughter dead. The paramedics said her respiratory rate was so low that they could not believe I had gotten her back. I still live with the uncertainty of addiction not knowing when a relapse may occur, but I know my daughter loves Christ and will have eternal life. That is the most we can ever hope for our children.
Then came the trials and tribulations that my oldest son went through in college; some were his own fault and others he was a victim of unfair circumstance. These challenges grew him in character and most importantly in faith. Although my son lost his life in 2011, God had provided by saving his eternal life in the 2 years that preceded his death. Once again, God had chosen me to discover a child of mine dead. This time I found my 25 year-old son on the bottom of our pool. He had died from practicing breath-holding for a spear fishing trip he was planning on taking with his friends. He died by accident, at the prime of his life, not knowing the risk of shallow water blackout from breath-holding. He was on top of the world and so very happy. God blessed us to be able to see him become such a fine young man. He died on Palm Sunday, and, like our precious Savior, his death has brought many to Christ. He has left an indelible imprint on our hearts and lives forever. God could have intervened as He had so often in my life, but His focus was on how this tragedy could bring so much good to so many for eternity. My mother is now 97 with dementia and probably will see her 100th birthday. She does not know her grandson has died and will not until she is greeted by him in Heaven.
Since my son’s death, I have experienced what Beth Moore calls the dance of anguish and joy having joy in the midst of my sorrow. These experiences are affirmations of God’s love and affirmations of eternal life--from finding pennies from Heaven to red cardinals, dragonflies, yellow butterflies, tree frogs, and most recently doves to those unexplainable experiences and coincidences. God speaks into our physical realm through His creation. Nature can be sacramental as an outward visible sign of an inward spiritual grace. If you become open, you may experience the Incarnational—the eternal spiritual realm being revealed in our temporal physical realm. If you have your God antenna up, you can receive these wonderful gifts of love. But, we must have eyes not just to look, but to see and ears not just to hear, but to listen. Some people call these signs and experiences God winks, but I call them God kisses.
I wish I had not gone through all I have, but I did. I can say that God is faithful in the midst of our pain, and I have grown to be a stronger person of faith, but the message of my story is that God does not cause our suffering and pain, He transforms it, and He can bring good from it. So what if our pain, sorrow, and suffering were God’s invitation to draw us closer to Him? --to know Him in a personal and intimate relationship; to rely on Him, and to trust Him even in our greatest pain and suffering knowing He will not forsake us and He will provide.
It means that our pain and suffering can be a blessing and a gift from God. Blessings are the silver linings of adversity. We can know with confidence that He will walk with us through every valley of our suffering and even carry us in His loving arms when needed. I visual God pulling me close to Him under His mighty protective wings tucking me close to Him drawing me to Him to be in a loving intimate relationship as I go through the trials and tribulations of this world. It is in our pain and suffering that we find ourselves so deep down in a hole of darkness that the only way we can look is up to see God’s face shining His light into our darkness.
We cannot control our circumstances and what happens to us in life, and if bad things have not happened to you yet, they will, because we live in a fallen world that we created, not God. God gave us perfection in Eden; we are the ones that brought pain, suffering, and death into the world by turning away from God towards ourselves in pride and selfishness. So when we finally recognize that we have no control of what life will bring us, we will find that we can only control how we react to our circumstance. We can control where we will turn and place our trust and hope. When we turn to God and stay focused on Him, He transforms. We hold the paradoxes as the ordinary becomes the extraordinary; our pain becomes our solace; and our sorrow becomes our song. It is our faith that becomes our hope.
We see the world differently. We recognize this visible world as temporary as a training ground for our invisible eternal life in God’s Kingdom (2 Corinthians 4:18). We become aware of the spiritual realm that surrounds us, Now in this very moment, as the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) cheering us on to victory, to finish strong, and to receive our eternal reward. I actually feel that we provide great entertainment for them as they see us trying the same thing over and over again hoping to get a different result.
As we face adversity, our lives become permanently changed because we know we can survive all the storms because our centerboard is the Lord keeping our little boats on the sea of life upright in all weather. He is our rock and our Savior in all times of trouble. So we Can confidently look at things differently, we Can even see our pain and suffering as a blessing and a gift of love from God.
God’s focus is on eternity, not the temporary of our world, to have us with Him in His Kingdom forever. We are His objects of love. “God is love” (1 John 4:16), and He can be nothing but pure love--love that is eternal and everlasting. God’s heart is the wellspring of love. God can only love us and want the best for us even if it is not what we desire, but God sees the big picture that we cannot see. God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son so that we may have everlasting life with Him (John 3:16). Knowing all this we can claim as truth that in All things, even our pain, hurt, fear, sorrow, and suffering, God works for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). There is redemption in our brokenness.
We can believe the words of Paul to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 4:16-18), “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
May you find joy in God’s love, peace in God’s presence, and hope in God’s promise.
- Rhonda Milner
The Wandering Sheep: That would be me.
I am Rhonda Dawes Milner. The idea of Healing Presence Ministry was conceived in 2013, the year I graduated from Richmont Graduate University (RGU) with a Masters in Professional Counseling with specialties in Addiction and Spirituality & Counseling which I had started in January of 2008. During the summer of 2013 I completed 2 years of studies in Spiritual Formation with The Renovare Institute being fortunate to train under the late, great Dallas Willard. I then began my Masters in Ministry at RGU and completed my training summer 2015. I also recently completed my training as a Spiritual Director. I am a physician having graduated from Emory U School of Medicine and a retired Radiologist. I am from Atlanta, GA graduating from The Westminster Schools years ago and from UGA in Microbiology. I have been married for over 30 years and had 4 children. My oldest son, Whitner, died in 2011 from practicing breath-holding in our family pool. I subsequently founded a nonprofit to raise awareness. The website is shallowwaterblackoutprevention.org and we are on Facebook if you want to like us.
My background has led me to be fascinated with the mind, body, spirit connection that provides our health and wellbeing. I love connecting with others on the interpersonal level and helping them in any way I can. My counseling practice is geared towards those who cannot afford regular counseling so this has been a ministry for me. I am also a spiritual director walking with people in their growth and movement towards God. I have kept my medical license current just in case I might need it in the future or rather if God sees I need to use it in the future. I never know what's up His sleeve for me so I try to keep all doors open that He might want me to walk through, sometimes over and over again until I get the message, finally. I can be a slow learner...ha!...to say the least.
I want everyone to know who I am and to especially know that this new outreach ministry is nothing about me. In fact, if I had been truly obedient to God and not a Wandering Sheep, this would have happened in 2013. But, God's persistent unfolding continues as He prods and prompts waiting patiently on me to get His message and take action. I am just trying to be discerning and obedient, the best I can "doing what I can, not what I can't." I have always been a bit strong-willed and rebellious, even as a child, so He has had to use persistent pushing at times until I finally become compliant and agree to see the door He has opened. He continually pulls me back into His fold, and fortunately He has not given up on me yet, even with my challenges. Hence, the title of my history, "The Wandering Sheep." I can say without a doubt, God is merciful and generous in His forgiveness and constant love of us. I must add, as I shared with a friend today, sometimes God leads me where I don't want to go like I go "kicking and screaming" saying, "God you got the wrong girl," but He has His own ideas as always....lol. I finally just give up and say, "Yes, Sir, You want me to do What?? Ima gonna need a lot of help here." Then He just miraculously does it for me.☺ So this is to say, Healing Presence Ministry is all about God and what He can do and what He does. I am just along for the ride and am often reluctant at that. This Wandering Sheep can give anyone hope and promise of God's love and forgiveness along with His endless patience. God is good & kind, and I am grateful every second of each day for that.
This is a prayer-poem written in church on Oct 4, 2015. As I reread it I realize God's sense of humor since this is The Wandering Sheep's prayer that I wrote. So I am changing the title from "A Prayer of the Blessed" to "The Wandering Sheep's Prayer." I feel sure that there are many other Wandering Sheep like me that feel and need God's blessing.
The Wandering Sheep's Prayer
My heart opens up and sings
I wait patiently to see what You bring
You inflow filling my soul
Once again You guide me back to Your fold
I wander like a lost sheep
I repent once again and I weep
Your loving kindness grants me Your grace
My spirit so yearns to see Your sweet face
I trust You to show me the way
I pray dear Lord don't let me stray
Help me to see my path You chose
I praise and thank God for the day You rose
The sinner I am would remain forever lost
I am only saved at Your sacrifice and cost
Release me from bondage to fly free like a dove
Blessed am I to know Your eternal, everlasting love
- RHONDA MILNER