About Miriam

Who is Miriam?

Miriam Rockness is the author of a trilogy on home and family:  Keep These Things (Doubleday), A Time to Play and Home: God’s Design (Zondervan) and a biography, A Passion for the Impossible:  The Life Of Lilias Trotter and the companion book, A Blossom in the Desert:  Reflections of Faith in the Art and Writings of Lilias Trotter (Discovery House Publishers).

She lived in Lake Wales, Florida where her husband pastored the First Presbyterian Church for thirty-seven years and they raised their three children – David, Kimberly, Jonathan – now collectively the parents of their thirteen grandchildren.

Their home presently is in Mt. Dora, Florida where she continues to enjoy interests that have enriched her life through the years:  reading, writing, music, traveling (to visit family!), hosting friends and family – and savoring the unique beauty of Central Florida.

The short version and formal version “Who is Miriam?” is sufficient to explain her deeply vested interest in Lilias Trotter.  But for the longer and more personal version she will address the question most frequently asked regarding her interest in Lilias:

How did you discover Lilias Trotter?  

My introduction to Lilias Trotter was the result of a fortuitous encounter with two elderly sisters, Jane and Betty Barbour over two decades ago.  They were wintering in Lake Wales Florida, due to changes in their usual seasonal site.  Visiting the local Presbyterian church, of which my husband was minister, they noted his surname – the same as a woman who had befriended their eldest sister, many years before, while she was teaching English in Singapore.  The discovery that their sister’s friend was my husband’s mother led to a dinner engagement where, for the first time, I heard the name Lilias Trotter – a woman the sisters knew only through the beautifully illustrated devotional books she began publishing in the 1890’s.

I listened enthralled as they talked about this well-born daughter of a distinguished Victorian family whose heart led her into volunteer work in London while her artistic talent led to a friendship with John Ruskin artist, critic, social philosopher, and a towering figure in Victorian England.  They related more of Lilias’s remarkable life:  her involvement with the fledgling YWCA at Welbeck Street Institute in London and her eventual call to Algeria, where she served the Arab people for the remaining forty years of her life.  Their pressing concern, however, was their collection of her once-popular devotional books.  They were about to dissolve their library and feared that no one would appreciate Lilias’s work as they did.

Several months later, to my complete surprise, a package arrived containing a cameo biography with the title, Lilias Trotter of Algiers, embossed in gold on the white cover and a leaflet with a delicate cover sketch of a fir wood printed on ivory stock and bound by a slender cord:  Focussed:  A Story & A Song – a tiny devotional classic of rare beauty and depth.  Over the next several years, one by one, without announcement, other volumes appeared in my mailbox, until perhaps the loveliest arrived – an Algerian sketchbook, Between the Desert & the Sea – with a note from our friends informing me that this was the final volume of their collection.

By then I was totally besotted by Lilias.  I was determined to track down other out-of-print works alluded to in writings about her – and I longed to know even more about the woman behind the books.  A tantalizing reference by an early biographer to “thirty little diary volumes” seemed to hold the key to my questions.  But where were they located?  And what had become of the Algiers Mission Band, the organization of some thirty men and women who eventually joined Lilias in North Africa?  Unwittingly, I became a detective, following through phone or mail, any clue that might help me discover the fate of Lilias’s ministry – and those elusive diaries!  My search took me on a circuitous path which led, after five years, to Loughborough, England, to the UK headquarters of Arab World Ministries, a step-grandchild of Lilias’s mission band.  Here, at last, I discovered her archives: a rich reservoir of books and leaflets and most compellingly, her diaries and journals, illuminated by exquisite watercolors and a strong sketches!

This discovery convinced me that Lilias’s extraordinary written and artistic legacy should not be forgotten.  I began to see if I could arrange to have her books reissued and was told that the only way they had a chance of being marketable was if her reputation were revived.  With the encouragement of Marj Mead and Lyle Dorset of the Wade Center in Wheaton, Illinois, it was determined that I was the one to write it and that Harold Shaw Publishers, under the North Wind Books imprint, would publish it.  (It is presently in print and available from Discovery House Publishers.)

In 1995 I returned to England, this time to research for the writing of her biography.  With a full month stretching before me, I immersed myself in Lilias’s astonishingly beautiful diaries and travel journals, where she documented in words and watercolors the seasons of her life in Algeria.  Of course there was more sleuthing to be done.  Map in hand, I roamed London’s West End searching out her early homes and haunts.  Curator in tow, I hunted down the paintings Ruskin had given to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.  After my return home, over a period of time, with much transatlantic communication to Trotter family members and friends, Ruskin scholars, and the archivist for YWCA of Great Britain, piece by piece, I gathered more and more information about her life – the biography, A Passion for the Impossible being the result of these efforts.

In the summer of 2000, several years after the publication of the biography, I had the privilege of presenting a paper, “‘an old porcelain maker, a dainty bit of clay’: the Ruskin/Trotter Friendship” at the International Symposium  sponsored by The Ruskin Programme.  A weekend at Brantwood, Ruskin’s home in the Lake District, where Lilias spent many a fortnight at the home of her mentor, was part of the event celebrating the centennial of Ruskin’s death. The response of scholars fascinated with the “missing piece” of the Ruskin saga as well as with Lilias’s art – validating the influence of her mentor – and the viewing of additional paintings and correspondence of Lilias at The Ruskin Museum at Lancaster University, heightened my desire to reclaim from the past the paintings of this talented artist.  A visit to Robert Egerton, Lilias’s grandnephew in Surrey, further quickened this desire, when he showed me, among other treasures, the very sketchbook that Lilias had produced under Ruskin’s guidance in Venice.

The dream, inspired by my first glimpse of her paintings and spurred by events following, evolved into a sketchbook pairing these paintings with writings excerpted from the diaries, journals, and out-of-print books.  A Blossom in the Desert:  Reflections of Faith in the Art and Writings of Lilias Trotter is a dream come true.

And, now, I offer my personal reflections on her paintings and writings through the weekly post.  Having “lived” with Lilias for so many years and having been shaped by her vision – external and internal – I hope to continue my “conversation” with her – and to bring you into the discussion!

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24 Responses to About Miriam

  1. Angela Brittain says:

    Thank you so much for researching and writing these wonderful books and blog about Lilias Trotter. I adore her writing and art. It is beautiful the way God spoke to her His truths through everyday life and His Creation. I am an artist and called to missions myself and I know God gave me this talent for a reason…to use it for His glory. Lilias did just that and her life inspires me. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for bringing Lilias the recognition she deserves. I hope many more discover her through your works.
    I learned of this blog because I was on Pinterest and pinned Lilias’ painting “Measure thy life” and started a conversation with your daughter in law. She told me about it or I wouldn’t have known. I’m so glad that I found your blog. I have your book A Passion For the Impossible. I need to get Blossom in the Desert now.
    Angela Brittain

  2. momOK says:

    After reading God of the Impossible, I felt a strong comraderie with Lilias Trotter, and wished she could see what God is doing today in the Muslim World. Because of people like Lilias who sacrificed and prayed over lifetimes, today there is a huge harvest of Muslim-background-believers being gathered in from areas where the soil once seemed impossibly dry and resistant. I highly recommend “Which None Can Shut” by current-day missionary Reema Goode to encourage fellow believers in that regard. Blessings on you, dear sisters!

  3. Sue Prettyman says:

    Miriam, I have been so blessed by your writing, Thank you for preserving the writings and work of Lilias Trotter and making them available. A year ago I was laid off from a major Christian nonprofit after 10 years of service. Prior to that, I was in ministry in Jerusalem and still long to return. I thought perhaps this was the time. Every time I prayed and sought God’s leading on returning — what came into my mind immediately like a flood was “read Lilias Trotter.” It was uncanny how it continued to flood in every time I prayed. I had purchased your biography a couple years ago and found it in a stack of yet to be read books. So, I read it and then I read Parables of the Cross and Parables of the Christ Life. And through every word — God has been blessing me and drawing me deeper and deeper.

    A couple weeks ago I decided to go away to Cannon Beach for a “Jerusalem” day of mediation, reading and prayer about returning to the Middle East. I brought Blossom in the Desert and read several pages. My heart and mind were on fire and filled with creative energy. On my way home, I stopped to have dinner with my sister in Portland and she had a couple of friends visiting who work for a ministry in the Middle East and North Africa. The first thing I asked them was if they were familiar with Lilias Trotter which of course they were. And, then I learned that we shared something very unusual in common — we had both worked on the same kibbutz in Israel back in the 1970s. I’m not sure what it all means, but I feel like God winked at me at least and is leading me tor return to Jerusalem in ministry sometime soon — and possibly with their organization.

    What really blesses me is receiving your posts in my email as if they were directly from Lilias herself — it always makes my heart leap to receive them. During my time in Jerusalem, I got to be friends with Anna Grace Lind who was the granddaughter of Horatio Spafford who wrote “It is Well with My Soul.” Are you aware of their long history in Jerusalem? I am dying to know if the Spaffords may have attended the Cairo Conference and knew Lilias. They were friends with T.E. Lawrence, Colonel Gordon, Glubb Pasha, etc. and wrote a book called Our Jerusalem. I highly recommend it to you. I continue to support the work of the Spafford Children’s Center in the Old City of Jerusalem and am friends with Anna Grace’s son who lives not far from me here in the Seattle area.

    I would love to talk with you some day God willing. Please continue writing and sharing more of Lilias Trotter’s wonderful prose and art. It continues to bless as you so aptly pointed out in your last post about the “Stored-up sunrays waiting undimmed through the years. . . only waiting to be given out. . .”

  4. mhrockness says:

    Thank you for your wonderful emai! Given the richness of your background it is not surprising that you would connect with Lilias. You would enjoy her diary entries of her trip of a lifetime to Jerusalem – to walk the places that Jesus walked and, in reality, the conclusion of that trip (she ended it with her final visit to UK) was the last of her traveling days. She was struck that such a pivotal place was so small – and it resonated with a comforting spiritual principle: how God uses “small things” for His Purposes: “the day of small things” a repeated refrain in her diaries. I am intrigued by your friendship with Horiatio Spafford’s granddaughter! That hymn has touched so many people to this day. (It was sung at both my parent’s memorial services.) I had the privilege of spending an evening in the home of Bertha Spafford Vester – a lifetime ago – when I visited the American Colony with my older brother. I can still smell the heady scent of jasmine drifting in an open window. (I will look for “Our Jerusalem” – it will join “Flowers of the Holy Land” in my heart and on my bookshelf.) Blessings. . .

  5. Audrey Fields says:

    Dear Miriam,
    How can I ever express my gratitude for your beautiful books about Lilias Trotter?! I was introduced to Lilias while reading, “A Pathway Through Suffering”, by Elisabeth Elliot. Immediately I was captivated by her art and the way in which she used creation, God’s second Text, in addition to His Word, to explain the Gospel. Since reading, “A Passion for the Impossible”, and “A Blossom in the Desert”, I have been consumed with the beautiful life of Lilias Trotter and her love for Jesus Christ. I consider the works of Lilias to be the most spiritually influential information outside of the Bible. It has had a huge impact on my life.
    I have been able to identify with Lilias’ art work in a way that is very hard to explain. For years I have been sketching and taking pictures of trees and elements in nature in order to teach biblical principles. I have a great love and admiration for her work and have printed and framed much of her art and placed it on the walls around my house! I just can’t get enough of it!
    Being able to “see” with heart sight as well as eyesight is the key.
    I am in awe of how the Lord uses LIlias’ work from over a century ago to speak to us today. God’s Truth is unshakeable!
    Thank you for your dedication and work in bringing the legacy of Lilias’ Trotter to life for all to glean from. Lilias has impacted my life in a most personal, powerful way. Just as God would have it! I am writing a book also. It so happens that a chapter is titled, “Vineyards in the Desert”, based on Hosea 2:15. In the desert there is a Doorway, and Deliverance. Christ is there in the parched land. “The beautiful Blossom amongst the thorns.”
    I have experienced much loss in my life, but have found that the “desert” time of life can actually be the Promised Land because of the intimacy with Jesus. Jesus is the Living Water, all the is needed for the journey of His leading. It is such comfort to remember Lilias’ words, “He knew what He would do”, when waiting for answered prayer.
    Thank you for renewing my courage and commitment to continue writing and sketching. Please pray for God to be glorified through my work.

    I heard that a movie may be made out of Lilias’ life one day! Please let me know if that happens. I would be honored to meet you and pray that God richly blesses you!

    Seeking His Light and Life and Love,

    Audrey Fields

    2 Corinthians 4:6

  6. Lisa Womble says:

    I am so happy to have found this blog! A Passion for the Impossible was a Godsend to me. It was overall inspiring, but also instrumental in planting a seed thought that bloomed into a wonderful part of the church my husband and I started four years ago. I wrote about the incident on my Facebook page (this was before I started my blog). I am simply overjoyed to find her art here along with her writings. Thank you for bringing this beautiful soul’s story into our lives.

  7. Lauren Canitia says:

    Dear Miriam,
    I stumbled across your blog after reading your book Passion for the Impossible. I’ve had your book on my bookshelf for many years, and for some reason, never read it until recently! I’m sorry to say it sat so long untouched. Thank you for your research on Lilias. I was so inspired by her life, and how God used her talent as an artist for his kingdom work. The Lord has used your book to get my attention. I’ll tell you how:
    Lilias and I have many things in common – we are both artists (though I am a musician), we are both single, we both love adventure, nature, travel, and we share the same birthday (except I was born in the 1980’s). I was struck by how she felt called by the Lord to give up her comfortable life to go serve Him. I’m in that season, as well, and I feel that God used your book to get me to see what he has in store for me. I’m wondering how he might use the gift of music in this new adventure.
    Reading your bio in the book, I saw that you are a Wheaton alumnus (me too, Class of 2009!) I was even more (pleasantly) surprised when I found your blog. I read that your husband pastored a church in Lake Wales, Florida. I actually went with the Wheaton College Symphony Orchestra on tour to Florida in March 2009, and we actually stopped to play a concert at First Pres! Is there any chance you were there still?
    Through these various similarities, I’ve been thinking more than ever about surrendering my current job/place situation to follow God’s call. I’m not sure what that’ll look like, yet, but I’m exciting to take the risk to follow.
    I’m hoping to obtain a copy of your other book about Lilias, as well as some of her writings. Thanks again for all your research and writings.

    • mhrockness says:

      Lauren, thank you for your wonderful comments about Lilias – especially how she has impacted your life. It seems to me that you were “meant” to read her story now and that the timing was right for your heart. I can see how you would identify with her – so many likenesses (even to the birthday!) It means more to me than you can know that her life has spoken to your heart. That is what makes the writing of her life worthwhile to me: knowing that God intended her to speak a century later to “prepared hearts.” Yes, that was the church my husband served for 37 years and I remember well the wonderful concert at our church – our last spring in Lake Wales before his retirement. As a Wheaton Graduate you might be interested in learning that some of the Lilias Trotter archives are being held at the Wheaton Special Collections: 3 of her Journals (with lovely watercolors) from the 1890’s, a pocket sketchbook from 1889 – and the 1876 sketchbook that Lilias brought with her to Venice when she met Ruskin. Also, a 70 minute documentary is being filmed which will be released Spring or Fall 2015. More will be written about the film as we approach the release. Again, thank you for taking the time to write to me – please keep me informed on significant developments in your life. Blessings! Miriam Rockness

  8. :) says:

    Miriam, I would like to hear more about your grandchildren. I hear they are most amazing. All of them. Especially the second oldest.

  9. Catherine Durant Voorhees says:

    Hi Miriam, I just traveled with Pat Gieser Cooper on the Danube River in eastern Europe. Pat told me about your books. I was in your class at Wheaton, along with Pat. When I looked you up on Google, I read your explanation about how you learned about Lilias Trotter. And lo and behold, there I saw the names of my father’s first cousins, Jane and Betty Barbour! It is such a small world!
    I am looking forward to reading your book. I, too, am an author. I have become fascinated by family history, specifically my father’s. I have written the story of his great grandmother, Jerusha Shurtleff Durant, in The Home Tree: Jerusha’s Journal. It is a good read for any age, but is specifically geared to preteens as a teaching tool about the industrialization of America in the 1800s and the movement westward in this country.
    My cousin has become involved in this family history project with me and she is writing the story of my father’s mother’s side, which would be Jane and Betty Barbour’s side.
    I would love to communicate further with you about all of this,
    Sincerely,
    Cathie Durant Voorhees

    • mhrockness says:

      Cathie! What an amazing connection. It has been a sadness to me that Jane & Betty never knew the outcome of their generosity to me. They knew that I loved Lilias (which, no doubt, prompted their release of their beloved material) but never beyond that. I’m thrilled that “family” now knows that connections. And, yes, I would love to further communicate with you! Miriam

  10. Cathie Durant Voorhees says:

    Hello again, Miriam! I asked my good friend, Carol Schreck, if she had heard of your book and she told me about the two of you teaching together during your husbands’ days at Gordon.She had a copy of your book which she then loaned to me. I just finished reading it. It is so beautifully researched and written! Her life and art have really intrigued and blessed me.Thank you for writing her story.
    I’m interested in learning more about the movie which is coming out. I believe it’s entitled “Many beautiful things.” And I’m looking forward to reading “Blossom in the Desert” next.
    Also, I was going through some things of my father’s and found two old photos of Jane and Betty Barbour in 1906. I’m wondering if you would like a copy of those photos? If so, I would need your address in order to send them to you
    Blessings to you in the New Year,
    Cathie Durant Voorhees

    • mhrockness says:

      Cathie, I would be delighted to have a picture of your aunts. They, of course, set off my passion for Lilias and my only regret is that they did not live to see the results of what they started! The biography would never have been written had not I been introduced not only to Lilias through the remarkable sisters but that they released their Trotter library to me over the course of several years – whetting my appetite (or inflaming my passion!) with new addition. My address: 824 Michigan Street; Mount Dora, Florida 32757

      One final thought: a small world, indeed, you being with Pat Cooper and knowing Carol Schreck!

  11. Heidi says:

    I’ve so enjoyed and profited from browsing the blog; thank you. I wondered if Lilias’ artworks posted here are in the public domain?

    • mhrockness says:

      Thank you for asking, Heidi. The artwork posted from her diaries and journals are NOT in the public domain. The vast majority of her art is owned by Arab World Ministries/Pioneers and is presently being prepared for deposit in the University of London. The Egerton Collection (Lilias’s family) is privately owned and presently on deposit at Wheaton Special Collections in Wheaton, Illinois. The paintings printed in her two Parable books and Between the Desert & the Sea are in public domain.

      • Heidi says:

        Thank you so much Mrs. Rockness. I was specifically wondering about this image (I can’t determine what it’s from?): https://ililiastrotter.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/trotter_f012_0022.jpg

        I have been working on a devotional arrangement of Christina Rossetti’s poetry and throught it would make a beautifully apt cover, if it’s public domain/royalty free. If not, I wouldn’t want to infringe! ! If it is usable for that purpose, I would want to make sure to cite it properly.

  12. mhrockness says:

    That particular image – The Desultory Bee – is from Lilias’s 1906 diary (I believe). This happens to be my favorite painting not only for the beauty but the lesson of the “desultory bee” – I’m wearing a little bee pendant to remind me that as “desultory” – random – as my daily actions may seen to me, they can bring “life-giving pollen” to whomever/whatever I touch – as long as I am first “surcharged” by God’s Spirit. This image belongs to the AWM/Pioneers in the UK. As they are in the process of “depositing” the diaries, as I write, this is a transitional time and perhaps more difficult to negotiate. If you give me your personal email address, I will send via email, the contact number of the archivist, Dr. Sue Brown, (I also love Christina Rossetti’s poetry!) Blessings on your project. . .

  13. Peggy says:

    Miriam,
    Yesterday I watched “Many Beautiful Things” with friends in Kansas City. What a treat! Thank you.
    I live in Gainesville, FL and my friend from Kansas City is coming to see me in early April. We would so enjoy visiting you, if you have the time.

    Grace and peace,
    Peggy Spiers

    • mhrockness says:

      Dear Peggy,
      I’m so glad that you enjoyed MBT! I realize that April has crept up on me and I have not answered your query about a visit. It would mostly depend on your schedule – and my availability during your time-frame. I have a busy line-up, early April, including an out-of-town trip, but if you would send to me your options, I could check it against my calendar and see if we could work out a visit. Miriam

  14. Hello, Miriam. I’m a writer who watched Many Beautiful Things tonight. Actually, I paused it because I couldn’t hold out trying to contact you. I would be honored if you contacted me. Lilias’ story is incredible, to say the least. It’s amazing what you’ve done. I want to help the world know more about Lilias. Thank you.

  15. Jonathan Turner says:

    Hi Miriam. Is there any way to get prints of any of her paintings? I’d really enjoy using some of her prints in my home. I haven’t found anything yet.

    • mhrockness says:

      Hi Jonathan. I’m glad that you appreciate the art of Lilias Trotter. Yes, there is a way of obtaining a Trotter print – albeit a somewhat limited selection (mostly paintings with Trotter quotes). If you go into the liliastrotter.com website you will note SHOP on the top line. That has a link to quote cards and prints by Lilias. If you go further into “The Gallery,” (bottome of the page, I think) you will note that the prints are offered in several sizes and surfaces (canvas, etc.) Three or four of the prints are without text – 6 prints are text only. I would like to suggest that all the prints be available with or without text – but that is another procedure. So this – for now!

  16. Jonathan Turner says:

    Perfect! Thanks so much! I agree – I’d like to be able to purchase several of those without print, but I’m grateful that something’s available. Thanks for your help!

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