Facing Storms & Finding Solace in God: Kelley Earnhardt Miller & Hayley Arceneaux
Kelley Earnhardt Miller: All of us have to be able to move forward in the world and have the job you have or have the family or whatever it is, because you have to have this trust in God and you have to have this peace that He is leading what you’re doing. And so I have to be reminded that I’m not always the one in control.
Facing Storms & Finding Solace in God: Kelley Earnhardt Miller & Hayley Arceneaux – Episdoe #328
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” sings the Psalmist, “I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (NKJV).
This is not just beautiful poetry. These were the fervent prayers of David (Psalm 23) as he tended to his father Jesse’s sheep. At any moment, a lion or wolf could attack. Within the line, “I will fear no evil,” there’s a cry for help and a statement of faith. We can all go to this prayer, just as David did, when the storms of life threaten us—filling us with fear for our lives and our future.
Our two guests this week faced such storms and found solace that God was comforting them through their most desperate times. Kelley Earnhardt Miller lost both of her parents prematurely: her father—the famous NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Sr.—died in a car crash, and her mother from cancer. Through it all, she kept God at the center and found her calling in her caring for her little brother, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., not only as a troubled teen but as a successful adult. Hayley Arceneaux‘s childhood was hijacked by a cancer diagnosis, yet she found inspiration from the medical professionals at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital where she was being treated. Her decision to become a physician assistant not only saw her return to St. Jude’s to work with leukemia and lymphoma patients, but she also became the youngest American ever to orbit the earth. Both Kelley and Hayley found ways to dig deep into their relationship with God to fight through the hard times.
Let’s hear Kelley’s story first.
Kelley: My name is Kelley Earnhardt Miller, and I am the general manager and co-owner of a NASCAR Xfinity Team, Junior Motorsports. I’m also the business agent for my brother, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
I have 125 employees here on our team. We run four NASCAR Xfinity teams and then all of the personal service endorsements and contract negotiations and social media, website, all things Dale Jr. flow through our office.
Growing up in the Earnhardt family of NASCAR, at the time when you’re growing up, it’s just a normal part of who you are and what you are. You don’t really realize that things are different until I was a little older, maybe a teenager. And then you start recognizing those differences between your family and maybe other families.
A Time-Tested Bond Between Brother and Sister
I am the product of divorced parents. They divorced early. I was four, and so we didn’t do a lot with my dad from like four to ten in terms of traveling to the races and things like that. But it was different.
Our house burned down, unfortunately, when I was in the third grade, and our mom decided that it would probably be best at that point if we went to live with our dad. He was just coming off his first championship in the sport. And so she just felt that he could provide better for us, and she needed to move back to Virginia, which was where she was from, a really tough decision for her. We moved in with him in 1981. And so there was a small period of time where it was just the three of us, and then we added a stepmom into the mix.
It was not a nine-to-five type job for my dad. He often was not home. You know, we didn’t sit down for family dinners. Often it was just my brother and I who were sitting at the dinner table. I adapted pretty well to the lifestyle. I adapted well to just knowing what my responsibilities were and doing the right thing and what would get approval from my dad.
My brother, on the other hand, was a bit different. He decided that it wasn’t enough for him, attention wise, to do what was expected. So he just decided he wasn’t going to do what was expected, and that way he’d get more attention, even though it was bad attention. And so I did well at school. He didn’t do well in school. I would do my chores, and he didn’t do his chores. He would hide cereal bowls under his bed, or he would spend his lunch money on something else. And so those were kind of some of the things that I would do as a sister to clean up after him so that he wouldn’t get in any more trouble than he already was. Or, you know, give him my lunch money at times.
I think our bond has just stood the test of time, and it went in a positive direction because it could have turned out a whole different way, but I think it moved in the direction it did because of our personality differences. You know, I’m a “headstrong, take charge, be in control” kind of individual, and he was willing to follow and listen and he doesn’t like conflict. And then at that point, you build trust and you build a relationship that we both trusted each other in. And so I think that’s how we are where we are today and how it’s worked well for both of us.
Grieving the Death of Parents
Because my childhood with my dad was a struggle, it was also a bigger struggle as an adult because we had less time together and we had less opportunity to connect and see each other and be a part of each other’s lives.
When he passed away, I was twenty-seven, and we were actually not on the greatest speaking terms. And so while I mourned the loss of my dad, it was a totally different loss than my mother. Plus, I had to share my dad’s loss with the world. I listened to a lot of people tell me, “Oh, I’ve never cried so much in my life.”
I lost my mom to cancer in 2019, and obviously had already lost my dad, and their passings had a completely different effect on me. My mom, I was very close to. She’s been the cheerleader, the supporter, the you can do it, the “love you unconditionally” individual in my life. So her death was awful. And plus she had the cancer diagnosis and it was very quick, so she was diagnosed in January with cancer and we lost her in April of that year. I spent like seventy-eight nights with her prior to her passing.
And my mom also had a caretaker who would hymn sing to my mom and read scripture to her daily. And I kept thinking about why this was happening. And you kind of get into that why me, why is this happening to my mom? Why is this happening to our family? That kind of thing.
I really got comfortable with Who was in charge and what this meant in terms of her passing on. Having that faith I’m so thankful for because I had a place to put those questions and lay that with God, just a peace about it, you know, a comfort about it. And you don’t get to have that if you don’t have a relationship with the Lord, and you don’t trust in that and let Him carry that for you.
“I’m so thankful for having faith, because I had a place to put my questions and lay that with God, and just have a peace and comfort about it.” – Kelley Earnhardt Miller, on her mother’s passing
Sacrifice for One’s Calling
Sacrifice is a big word. I think compromise and sacrifice are things in our life that we have to do constantly for one reason or another. I kind of gave up a career where I was headed in motorsports. I worked for a company that did all the licensed products. I do think about, you know, what would have been had I succeeded as a racecar driver. I raced in the mid-nineties in late model stock cars, which were very popular at the time.
It was very difficult to be a girl. You’re talking about the nineties. I raced against grown forty- and fifty-year-old men for the most part, who are very set in their ways and it just wasn’t a place for girls. And I remember even growing up in the shop, you would be told, “You don’t need to be in the shop. This is a place for guys.”
And then on the track, it was even more difficult. It was difficult to get people to help you because you were a girl. They didn’t think you had the muscle power to drive race cars and whatnot. So it was just a very different time. And I do think if times were different when I was young enough to set my sights on being a race car driver, that maybe things could be different.
So I really feel like ultimately, you know, what I’ve done is what I’m supposed to be doing. And so I don’t think that I was supposed to be an accomplished racecar driver. I think I’m supposed to be doing what I’m doing because after Dad passed away, and knowing that I was really needed where I am, I don’t have any regrets like about not being a driver. I’ve been very happy doing what I’m doing.
I don’t feel like I sacrificed. I feel like I put myself where I should be, you know, I feel like this is what I was supposed to be doing and so it felt good and natural to me.
Sustaining the Legacy with God at the Center
God is the center of everything. I find that for myself through devotions. I do that intentionally because I like that daily reminder that He is in charge and He is who I need to look for.
Because our sport is a weekend thing, I have a home church, but I always don’t get to go there.
“God is the center of everything.” – Kelley Earnhardt Miller
We have a weekly Bible study here at Junior Motorsports, which is really awesome. We have a fair amount of our employees who participate in that, and we have a great group of people that we can just be honest with and authentic and be ourselves and talk about real issues and real problems. I have just a lot of great people, a lot of great Christians in my world. I think that’s important to keep your faith intact as we go through this earthly world, because those people inspire me and they continue to push me to grow as a Christian.
“I have just a lot of great people, a lot of great Christians in my world. I think that’s important to keep your faith intact as we go through this earthly world, because those people inspire me and they continue to push me to grow as a Christian.” – Kelley Earnhardt Miller
I want my legacy to be that, first and foremost, we carried on the Earnhardt legacy. We carried on the reputation of my dad. My dad was great, obviously he was a superior driver. But off the track, you know, he was great with the fans, and he was a great businessman, and he developed lifelong relationships and good relationships with people. And so I think that first and foremost, from the fans’ perspective and the industry partners that we work with, that we represented the Earnhardts as a whole well. Our grandfather, Ralph, started this racing family and then moved to our dad and then Dale. And for myself outside of the whole Earnhardt collective, you know, I just want the legacy to be that I was a positive influence and role model in the sport.
Narrator: To keep up with Kelley, follow her on social media, and be sure to check out her book, Drive: 9 Lessons to Win in Business and in Life, anywhere books are sold.
Stay tuned to Hayley Arceneaux’s story after a brief message.
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Narrator: At only twenty-nine years old, Hayley Arceneaux became the youngest American to ever orbit the earth, but you might be surprised by her journey to get there. At age ten, Hayley was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. She was taken to St. Jude Children’s Hospital for treatment where she was inspired by the medical team and other patients there who helped her establish some sense of normalcy and hope during such an unpredictable time. As an adult, Hayley returned to St. Jude’s as a physician assistant working with leukemia and lymphoma patients, and she shares what led to her groundbreaking space flight.
Hayley Arceneaux: My name is Hayley Arceneaux. I am thirty years old. I live in Memphis, Tennessee, but I’m from Louisiana, and I’m a physician assistant. I work at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital with kids with lymphoma and leukemia.
I’m also an astronaut. I went to space last year, which I’ll get more into. And I became the youngest American to ever orbit the Earth.
A Diagnosis that Changed Everything
I had a really idyllic childhood. I grew up in a small town in Louisiana with my very loving parents and my little brother. And my parents really supported everything that my brother and I wanted to do. I was just really enjoying living in the moment and just enjoying my perfect childhood. I was so busy with my different sports and activities and taekwondo that I started having pain in my left leg.
My mom brought me to the doctor and they attributed it to tae kwon do, but he did remark that my left leg, which was the one that was bothering me, was warmer than the right leg. But the pain in my leg kept getting worse, and one day I started limping. And it was at that point that my mom took another really good look at my leg, and she noticed an egg-sized lump above my left knee.
We went to the pediatrician the next morning. I was with both my parents, and I had no idea that it could be something serious. I thought I might get an ace bandage out of it that I could wear to school, that I would look really cool. And so when the pediatrician sent us to get an X-ray, I really didn’t think much of it. We came back to the exam room and the doctor was holding my X-ray films and she came into the room and told us, “This is what I was suspecting. Osteosarcoma, which is bone cancer.” In that moment, my parents and I immediately burst into tears.
I thought a cancer diagnosis was the same as a death sentence. And so after she told us that, we were just crying, I kept screaming, “I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!” And I looked at my mom and I said, “God must hate me.” Because I thought, Why else would this be happening?
And she said, “No, God loves you.”
We returned home. We did not know what to do. And my pastor at the time came over, and he just really comforted me to the point where I could stop crying. But while I was away at school, my parents researched my type of bone cancer and found the website for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. They called the hospital and asked if they would take me, and a few days later I was on a plane to St. Jude in Memphis, Tennessee.
“I kept screaming, ‘I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!’ And I looked at my mom and I said, ‘God must hate me.’ Because I thought, Why else would this be happening? And she said, ‘No, God loves you.’” – Hayley Arceneaux, on her childhood cancer diagnosis
The Support of a Found Family
I was terrified. At this point, I still didn’t know if I was going to be okay. I didn’t know what the treatment was going to look like.
We walked in the doors of St. Jude for the very first time. My mom is next to me and she’s holding my MRI films. We walked up to the front desk and my mom tried to say my name to the receptionist, but she just burst into tears and the receptionist came from around her desk and gave my mom a big hug and said, “Don’t worry, it’s going to be okay. You are part of the St. Jude family now. We’ll take care of her, and we will take care of you, too.”
I spent a year at St. Jude. I underwent really intense chemotherapy, and I also had surgery to save my leg where they removed the part of my bone affected by the tumor and replaced it with an internal prosthesis. And those days going through cancer treatment, especially at such a young age, I had some really difficult days. But when I look back at that year, I just remember the beautiful moments and the good times and the other patient families and the staff that really felt like my family.
“Going through cancer treatment, especially at such a young age, I had some really difficult days. But when I look back at that year, I just remember the beautiful moments and the good times and the other patient families and the staff that really felt like my family.” – Hayley Arceneaux
The receptionist who I later learned was named Miss Penny—who was our first real piece of encouragement—we stayed close and she would let me sit with her at the reception desk and greet people as they came into the hospital. And I would tell everyone who came in the doors of St. Jude that I was a St. Jude patient and also a St. Jude employee, because that’s how I saw myself sitting with Miss Penny. I felt like I was one of the staff.
I would also spend time in the blood donor center, where donors from the community would come to St. Jude and donate blood products. I would make them cards and hand out cookies, and I would go around and thank all the donors for donating blood and platelets. And I would tell them, “If I didn’t get blood and platelets, I would shrivel up.” They made me a little St. Jude name badge with my title that they put on it. They called me the “Gratitude Administrator” and I would wear my St. Jude name badge, and I really felt like I was part of the staff.
I think it was just wonderful being around these really supportive adults, because it helped me focus on something that was beyond just my own sickness and my own pain. They really encouraged me to feel like I had a purpose there and to be able to give back and show gratitude instead of just feeling like the sick one.
“It was just wonderful being around these really supportive adults because it helped me focus on something that was beyond just my own sickness and my own pain. They really encouraged me to feel like I had a purpose there and to be able to give back and show gratitude instead of just feeling like the sick one.” – Hayley Arceneaux, on her time at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
I also made a lot of really close friends, friends that I’m still close with to this day. I made these two bone cancer besties. And we would play pranks on the staff, and we have kept in touch. I was a reader in one of their weddings, they both came to my rocket launch. And just those relationships when you’re going through something difficult are so important to hold on to and are so special and lifelong, especially being with other people who really understand what you’re going through. For me, it was absolutely vital, but what really helped me get through that year were so many people that, even though I was in such an abnormal situation, they made me feel normal. They helped each day become special, to the point where I looked forward to going to the hospital because I wanted to see all these friends and I wanted to make these good memories. So it wasn’t just getting through that year of treatment, it was even like finding joy and enjoying each day.
I made it through that year and celebrated with a “no more chemo!” party. And I have known, since I was ten years old, that I wanted to return to St. Jude as an employee, and to work with these families and show them what life after cancer can look like. And so now I do that, and I just have the greatest job.
Trusting God’s Purpose and Acting on It
I had just such wonderful, supportive parents, and they really helped me through that time. My mom stayed with me the whole year I was in treatment in Memphis. My dad was back home in Louisiana, but he and my little brother would drive up every weekend, it was about a six-hour drive each way. They helped normalize the situation so much for me.
Another thing that my mom and I did that really helped us going through was we would write down Bible verses that meant a lot to us, especially Bible verses about healing and sickness. She wrote them all out in the journal, and every day we would just say them out loud. And going through those together and saying it over and over until they were memorized really helped to bring a lot of peace.
My initial reaction to getting the cancer diagnosis was being worried that God hated me, but it didn’t last long. And that year that I was in treatment, I never again felt like God hated me. There were definitely times that I complained that it was unfair that I was in that situation, but I just really felt like God had a purpose and I wasn’t completely sure what it was. But hearing especially from a lot of people in my small town, hearing people saying they were praying for me at that time, it really felt like that was part of the purpose.
I also knew since I was ten that I would come back and work at St. Jude, and that felt like part of the purpose. But I also knew that there was more to this purpose. And with time, now twenty years later, I have seen that purpose over and over in really beautiful ways.
Mission to Space
I never thought I was going to be in space. I had no idea that would be part of the plan, too. So you can imagine how shocked I was when I got asked to go to space.
It was actually St. Jude that reached out. They emailed me one day saying they had a unique opportunity they wanted to talk to me about. And I join this call and they start telling me about a new fundraiser for St. Jude called Inspiration4. And this fundraiser would actually be a mission to space made up of all civilians.
I remember getting off that phone call, and my hands were shaking. I just could not believe I had just been asked to go to space as the St. Jude ambassador for this mission. The mission’s goal was to raise $200 million for the hospital. And so in 2021, I spent six months going through rigorous astronaut training with SpaceX, and we launched in September of 2021. We did water survival training in Florida. We did centrifuge training in Pennsylvania, hypoxia training in North Carolina. We did zero-gravity training. And the majority of our training was spent at SpaceX in California in the spacecraft simulator. We were practicing what it would be like if everything was going right and then what we would do in situations if things went wrong and our trainers put us through many, many simulations where things were going very wrong. A lot of our training also was academics.
And so there were different times during training that I was nervous. I was very nervous for the mountain climb, but really I was nervous about injuring my leg. The prosthesis in my leg has actually broken twice, and each time required replacement surgeries. And the rehab following each of the surgeries was harder and harder, and I lost some mobility with each one. So I was really worried about something happening in my prosthesis that would keep me from going to space or getting an injury that would keep me from going to space.
But actually, the day we launched, there was no fear. There was just excitement. And I think it’s because we felt so well prepared that we were just ready.
It was about eight months from when I initially got the call to go to space before we launched, and I said a lot of prayers in those eight months for training, for my safety, and definitely for the space travel itself. And having faith, I think, really helped bring so much peace.
“It was about eight months from when I initially got the call to go to space before we launched, and I said a lot of prayers in those eight months for training, for my safety, and definitely for the space travel itself. And having faith, I think, really helped bring so much peace.” – Hayley Arceneaux
The first time I saw Earth from our cupola—we had this giant window that we flew to space that was the biggest window that had ever been flown in space—they’re opening the cupola and I just catch a glimpse of the earth, and I freeze.
I’m suspended in the air, floating, paralyzed by just how beautiful the earth looks in front of me. I couldn’t believe it. It was so bright and colorful and vibrant.
And you just felt so alive. And looking at it, of course, makes you think about how God created this beautiful planet and just how blessed I was to be able to see it from that very unique vantage point.
Obviously I had been praying, but so many other people had been praying for me, for our crew, for our mission. And I felt very close to God. And it wasn’t that I went to space that I felt physically closer to Him. But I just felt like the whole preparation, it helped deepen my faith and also seeing this beautiful purpose that He had for my life, that helped deepen my faith as well.
Today’s reading is especially beautiful, especially as I’m reflecting on my life and my journey and just these words of being lifted above my circumstances.
Jesus Listens, April 9th:
As I relax in Your Presence—sitting quietly with You—You shine Peace into my troubled mind and heart. Little by little, through this time of focusing on You and Your Word, I am set free from earthly shackles and lifted above my circumstances. I gain Your perspective on my life—enabling me to distinguish between things that are important and things that are not. Moreover, resting in Your Presence blesses me with Joy that no one will take away from me.
In Your joyous Name, Amen
Narrator: To learn more about Hayley Arceneaux, check out her book: Wild Ride: A Memoir of I.V. Drips and Rocket Ships.
If you’d like to hear more stories about resilience, check out our interview with Sara Evans.
Next Week: Dr. Elizabeth Stevens
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll hear from US Air Force veteran Dr. Elizabeth Stevens, who shares how she learned to unclench her fists and open up to God’s love.
Dr. Elizabeth Stevens: I really tried to be the person people thought I needed to be, be the person God needed me to be. And I wore these masks of trying to prove my worth, trying to cover and hide any vulnerabilities or failures or darkness within me because I didn’t want to see it, and I didn’t want anyone else to see it. And so when I had the traumatic brain injury and the other traumas, I didn’t have anything to cover up with. I was completely exposed. However, what I learned was that I actually felt God’s love in a more powerful way when I didn’t have anything to cover up.