A chair, a raspberry scone, and words remembered

words hurt or helpA southern brunch in the deep south–aahh, there’s nothing like it. Shrimp, sausage and grits with gravy, hot biscuits stuffed with country ham, egg casseroles with melted cheese on top, a fruit compote with whipped cream, homemade scones dripping with butter.

my.oh.my. bring.it.on.

I can smell the aroma and taste the goodness right now. The very best part of any southern brunch gathering is being with family and friends that I don’t get to see often enough.

Yes, the food is great, but family is greater. Yes, I can still taste the food, but I savor the relationships. 

I bridge the miles between Arizona and Georgia with cherished memories that I bring back with me to tuck away in my heart. One particular memory involved a chair and a raspberry scone.

We all heaped our plates with food and sat in the dining room, kitchen area, or outside on the deck. Ten of us gathered around the dining room table as we talked non-stop to catch up with one another. My niece’s six-year-old little boy sat next to her so she could watch him closely, and carefully help him with the food on his plate. Then, in an instant, what every mom dreads happened. The raspberry scone crumbled from hand to mouth, fell in his lap, and then nestled on the beige fabric dining room chair. I could see the panic on her face as she smiled and quickly tried to brush the crumbs in a napkin, only to find the raspberries left their lovely red color imprinted on the chair.

We’ve all been in similar situations when we are in someone else’s home and we break a glass, spill coffee or red wine, or food somehow slips off our plates and hits the white sofa. Accidents happen to adults and children.

After we finished eating and everyone left the dining room, she quietly tried several different stain-removal methods – none of which seemed to work. My heart hurt for her, knowing how bad she felt about the stain on the chair. She looked up at me and said, “I’m so sorry Aunt Susan, I’ll tell Ann that I will pay to have the chair repaired.”

At that moment I realized what a serious issue this was in her mind and how it could quickly ruin her day. How I responded could either defuse the situation and put it in perspective, or lead her to remember the incident more than the wonderful time we were all having together.

Without hesitation I said, “Hey girl, flaws build character in a chair, and messes like this make memories!” She looked up at me, smiled, and said, “Yes, I guess it does.” Her spirit seemed lifted and we spent the rest of the day not mentioning the chair or the raspberries.

I quickly forgot about the raspberries and the chair after I came back home, and settled in to my crazy, but wonderful ministry life.  I received a text last week from my niece with some family pictures taken during our day together. It was what she said in her text that brought tears to my eyes and reminded me of the impact we have on others by the words we choose to say. “Thank you for the kind and supportive words you shared over the raspberry stain. I have repeated those words to myself every day since Sunday. It is such a wonderful reminder that it is the flaws that really make us and the messes make the memories.”

Oh, how many times I’ve blown a situation and hurt someone I love by choosing to react in a harsh voice, rather than respond in a loving manner. Our words can hurt or heal, encourage or discourage, build up or tear down, and can make or break someone’s day–or heart.

O Lord, may this be a reminder to me, and perhaps to you also, to be sensitive, kind, and caring in a sticky situation. May we never forget that the words we choose to say can make an impact on someone’s life and be long remembered.

…Say only what is good and helpful to those you are talking to, and what will give them a blessing. Ephesians 4:29 TLB

Susan MillerFrom My Heart to Yours,

 

Susan Miller

The Woman with the Red Purse and How My Life Changed

bad news in the hospitalIt was a visual  picture that will be forever imprinted in my mind. She was an attractive, petite woman in her mid-forties, with shoulder-length black hair, white blouse, and a dark colored pencil-thin skirt. My eyes were drawn to  her large red purse as she walked down the long corridor. It seemed almost too big in proportion to her small size. I guess I needed to focus on something other than my thoughts. As she walked closer, I could tell she was coming towards us, especially since my daughter and I were the only two people sitting in the waiting area.

There wasn’t a smile on her face when she introduced herself. It was obvious the news she was going to tell us was not good. “I’m so sorry”, she said. “There’s nothing we can do. The cancer has spread….”

I wouldn’t let the reality of her words penetrate my mind, not now. I went into a mama’s protection mode as I pushed back my own feelings to be strong for my daughter.  “We’ll get through this, we’ll get through this”, I kept saying.  Even though I didn’t believe my own words, I said them anyway. After all,  this was her daddy the surgeon was talking about. My husband of 45 years, but her daddy that she adored.  What I really wanted to do was run down the long corridor screaming “no, no, no…”

This seemingly empty section of the hospital and surgical waiting room suddenly seemed very cold, and I began to shake as I often do when I am chilled to the bone. I began to feel the chill of the surgeon’s words pierce my heart. “A  rare, aggressive  form of colon cancer that has spread to the liver and beyond….” 

I knew this was something I couldn’t fix with words, a hug, or a kiss. I knew I needed to lean into Jesus–no, fall into Jesus, like I’d never done before.

I felt numb as I pushed away the reality of losing Bill.  I knew the only way I could physically take another step, or emotionally face the time we had left, was by breathing in Jesus and His word with every breath I took. In the days ahead when I felt weak, His strength became my strength. When my sorrow was uncontrollable, His comfort sustained me. When I was overwhelmed, His peace filled me.  He wiped away my nightly  tears of grief with a smile to face each day.  

Jesus still does that today, seven years later.  

Bill lived four agonizing months after his diagnosis on a Good Friday and emergency surgery on an Easter Sunday.  I never left his side. Our love for each other seemed to permeate our hospital wing and hospice.  Bill radiated Jesus with every word he spoke to the doctors and nurses. When anyone asked him what he did, he would always say, “I am a Christ-follower.”  His love and concern for me, and my love and care for him became a testimony of our devotion to each other.

I recently saw the surgeon who carried the red purse and stopped to introduce myself, knowing she couldn’t possibly remember all her patients.  “Oh yes”, she said, “I remember you, your husband, and your two children. You were quite an unforgettable family and your husband was a remarkable man.  He had such peace, even as he faced death.  He always managed to smile, even when he was in pain, and  there was an inner strength in him as his body weakened.”

As I sat in church every Easter for the last seven years, I would vividly remember that Sunday as the beginning of a life change and loss that rocked my world – and our children’s world –  to the core. But, I also remember that it is because of our risen Savior, that I will see my Bill again, face to face, in Heaven.  There will be no disease, no suffering and no pain – only the joy of being reunited together again.

Then, with tears and a smile, I sing deep from within my soul, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow….”  

From My Heart to Yours,

Susan Miller

“I am not skilled to understand what God has willed, what God has planned. I only know at His right hand is one who is my Savior.”

(Words from an old hymn given to me by a beloved friend on August 9, 2009, the day Bill went home to be with Jesus.)

Moving with two kids and a dog: What I learned on the road trip to our new home

road trip with kids and dogWe named our small used Toyota “the brown berry”. We always named our cars. We kept them so long, they were like part of the family. When our two children were very young, they thought it was funny for our cars to have names. When they got older, they simply became amused at one of their mother’s crazy family traditions. (I bet they secretly name their own cars now.)

During one of our fourteen moves, my husband, Bill, started to work in North Carolina before we actually moved there. Once everything was packed and the moving van was on its way, I set out to drive the brown berry across three states loaded down with two kids, a dog, and boxes crammed in every available space. Our son, Bill Jr., was six and our daughter, Ginger, was three. I don’t remember how old the dog was.

What I do remember was our road trip. It was extremely hot and the brown berry came down with heat exhaustion. (That’s what I told the kids.) In adult language, the air conditioner quit blowing cold air. Oh, it would still blow air – it was just hot air. So I rolled the windows down to let the hot air out, only to find the air coming in was even hotter.

At that point, Ginger, who was sitting in the backseat, started throwing up all over herself, her doll, and the seat. Bill Jr., who was sitting in the front seat, started gagging at the smell, and the dog had his head hanging out the window, drooling from the heat. I don’t think the smell bothered him. We were not at a place where I could pull over, so with Ginger now crying, Bill Jr. gagging, and the dog drooling, I was held captive at the wheel.

While I was thinking, What else could possibly happen? I began to imagine Bill sitting in a new air-conditioned office somewhere. I started getting furious at him for not being here to share in this memorable experience.

At that same moment, the brown berry must have gotten a tummy ache (that’s what I told the kids) because the red light came on indicating that the engine was overheating. We kept limping along in all our glory for miles until we came to an exit with a gas station. There we found a quick fix for the brown berry, a clean restroom with lots of paper towels, and a grassy spot for the dog. As we got back in the car, Bill Jr. said for the hundredth time, “Mom, how much farther is it?”

I’m sure you can identify with my road trip in some way. We have all had our moments of traveling chaos and calamity that eventually become memories to share and laugh about later.

Whether you are moving, on vacation, or on a road trip to visit family, pack these practical tip ideas to ease the miles to your destination.

  • A kitchen timer can be used on a trip in several ways: “It’s your time to share” or “We’ll stop for a break when the timer goes off.”
  • Take a roll of paper towels, small garbage bags, wet wipes, and Ziploc bags in the car for cleanup, diapers, and trash. You’ll be glad you did!
  • Air freshener really comes in handy. It covers food odors, plus all those other unpleasant smells we don’t have to mention.
  • A first aid kit. Make sure the one you have is not outdated.
  • A cooler with favorite snacks, juice, fruit, and sandwiches. Include a heavy-duty Ziploc bag filled with ice to soothe any minor bumps, cuts, or scrapes.
  • For long trips, take several gallons of water. Small bottles of water don’t last very long.
  • Don’t forget a small water bowl for your pet. Put someone in charge of keeping your dog’s leash.
  • When you are staying at a hotel overnight, stop late in the afternoon in time for the kids to go swimming and work off some energy before bedtime.
  • Get up for an early departure to get a good start on the day. The kids might sleep through the first few hours of the morning.

Here are some things to do that will help your family “move” closer together on any trip:

  • Share your biggest concerns about the trip. Talk about how you can avoid those problems.
  • Practice these words: “This is our big adventure!” Attitude is everything.
  • Start your trip with a “God hunt”. Look for God in everything. It helps your children think about seeing God in every aspect of their lives. “I see God in our move. He did….” I see God taking care of us on this trip. He has….”
  • Give an example of what it looks like to be kind, thoughtful, and patient with one another.
  • Before you begin the trip to your new destination, pray together as a family.
  • And don’t forget to make your road trip an adventure, make it fun, and make it meaningful!

‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’ Jeremiah 29:11 NASB

From My Heart to Yours,

Susan Miller

From Susan’s book, But Mom, I Don’t Want to Move!

Just married, Just moved, Just found out the cancer has returned…

just marriedA few weeks ago a beautiful young woman in her twenties, with an infectious smile, and a lovely British accent showed up at the door of our After the Boxes are Unpacked class. I welcomed her with open arms, introduced her to the other women in class, and asked her the usual questions–where are you from and how long have you lived here?

Emily and her husband came from New Zealand. They had been married for two weeks and had been in Phoenix for only two days, arriving here right after their honeymoon. Oh.my.goodness. My first thought was literally, just married, just moved…and so young to be so far from home and family.

Emily went on to share that she had taken an Uber taxi to class that morning since she didn’t even have an American driver’s license yet. That’s just determination. If I had moved only two days ago, my mind would still be whirling with unpacking boxes and finding my coffee pot, much less finding a class someone told me about — even if it was about moving. 

As we continued to talk, I said, “Would you take a few minutes to just tell me your story?”

The words spilled out like a river overflows after a massive storm. Last year Emily had been diagnosed with cancer, had surgery to remove the tumor, planned a wedding, a move—and a future without cancer.  After a routine check-up, it was discovered the cancer had returned. Now here they were — just married, just moved, and just found out the cancer had returned….

As Emily shared her story with our group, it was obvious she had a strong faith and trusted God with all the unknowns she was facing. It wasn’t the typical unknowns you face with a move— not knowing if you’ll like living in an unfamiliar place, whether the new job will work out, or when you’ll begin to put down roots and feel like you belong.

No, the unknowns Emily faced were not knowing the best cancer specialists, what the right treatment plan would be, what the side effects would be like, would she be cancer free, and even how all of this would affect a new marriage. I can imagine it was just overwhelming to think about these things instead of the joy of wedding memories.

As we circled around Emily and prayed, tears of compassion and feelings of empathy filled the room. Words of encouragement came from a cancer survivor who God had placed at Emily’s table, sitting right next to her. A sense of community began to emerge among this group of newcomers, many of whom faced their own challenges and struggles with moving. I could see their focus shifting from their own needs to the needs of this young woman. I could see the body of Christ at work as the women began to plan meals for the freezer and rides to the cancer center for the long weeks ahead of chemo and radiation.

I don’t believe that it was a coincidence, or by chance, that Emily came to our class that day. I believe God brought her there to experience His amazing love through a group of newcomers who He just happened to bring together for a time such as this.

You might want to keep these tips close to heart in case God wants someone to experience His amazing love through you. I have a feeling He just might.

Be available. Let people know you have the time and desire to help out. They won’t know if you don’t tell them.
Be aware. Observe and listen to people and situations around you.
Be sensitive.  You never know what’s going on in people’s lives, how desperate they are, or how hopeless they feel.
Be accepting. Don’t judge a person from the outside until you know her on the inside. Someone might look like they have it all together, but not many of us do.
Ask, don’t assume. Ask what the specific need is, how you might help, when the best time would be to get together.

If God nudges you to do something for someone, do it. Don’t put it off and end up regretting that you did nothing or find that it’s too late to do anything.

God will do incredible things through you and in you, as you live out Jesus to others.  Just watch and see…

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world…
(Teresa of Avila)

From My Heart to Yours,

Susan Miller signature

 

Five hidden treasures from Daddy’s back yard

A friend was standing in my kitchen the other day, chatting away, when her eyes locked in on a picture hanging on the wall behind me. She walked past me and looked closely at the picture. “This is so lovely! I thought it was a painting at first glance.” She paused, then said, “What is written beneath the picture?” I read the simple words out loud, “Daddy’s backyard 1989. After she left, my thoughts slipped back into my daddy’s backyard once again, and I lingered there a while in the sweetness of childhood memories.

Daddy's back yard

 

Our backyard was truly Daddy’s corner of the world. He planted jasmine that wrapped around the trees, hydrangeas in bright purple and blue, a rose bush in hues of red and pink, and a camellia bush in shades of pink and white. He left most of the backyard as nature designed it, and that natural green landscape framed the bright colored flowers near our house.

The view from our kitchen window was serene and peaceful. When I stepped outside the back door, Daddy was usually there working in the yard, either raking, mowing, trimming, or just sitting in his wooden, straight-back chair.

My favorite times in the backyard were when he was sitting in that uncomfortable looking chair. I would go outside, pull up a chair, or sit on the ground, and just be with him. I loved his stories, told with humor and wit, and I loved how he laughed at his corny jokes. He didn’t talk much about serving in World War II and the Korean War. I could tell by his eyes that his emotions couldn’t go there. Many times I sensed the backyard was his haven for far deeper reasons than my own. For me, it was my special one-on-one time to talk, ask questions, listen, and simply be with him.

When you are young, you don’t always realize the hidden treasures you learn from the simple things in life. They become life lessons that can shape your thinking, your attitude, the way you treat others, and how you, in turn, raise your own children.

I looked back and realize how Daddy’s backyard had hidden treasures of life lessons that continue to influence and impact my life today.

Hidden treasure #1: Be intentional.

I didn’t know I was being intentional when I would go out in the yard to be with my daddy, but I’m sure, in his wisdom, he did. He knew when he sat down in his chair that I’d sit with him.

Intentionally spend one-on-one time with your children, or grandchildren, in their corner of the world. My eleven-year-old grandson loves to jump on the trampoline in his backyard. I climb up on the trampoline, sit across from him, and throw a big rubber ball back and forth to see who can keep it in the air the longest. It’s my time to give him undivided attention away from his three siblings as we share “our” time together.

Hidden treasure #2: Look beyond yourself.

I was always in and out of our family kitchen, most of the time oblivious to looking out the window at the backyard. I was there looking for food. It was only when mama said, “Look at how green the yard is and how beautiful the flowers are,” that I would look beyond my mission in the kitchen to take a peek outside.

Wherever you are, the simple gesture of looking at the beauty of God’s creation around you and beyond you, can often help put life and circumstances in perspective. You don’t have to travel the world to see the magnificence of God’s creation; it can be right in your own backyard.

Hidden treasure #3: Balance busyness with rest.

Daddy wore a red bandana tied around his forehead to catch the sweat that came from his physical labor of mowing, weeding, and raking the leaves. He would work awhile, then rest awhile. Sometimes, he would lean against one of the oak trees to catch his breath, or to take a sip of water from a mason jar, or to “sit a spell,” as he would say.

Are you on the go constantly with a full calendar and a busy life? Taking a break to “sit a spell” is not only a healthy balance, but can give you energy and stamina to finish well. It can also renew and refresh your mind and attitude. Try it. 

Hidden treasure #4: Learn by listening, share by talking.

I learned a lot about my daddy’s life when I stopped talking long enough to listen. He was a quiet, soft spoken man, so asking questions was a win-win. He talked, I listened. He shared, I learned.

Over the years, I began to understand that in all relationships there is immeasurable value in the equal balance of both listening, and talking. If you do all the talking to those you love and don’t take the time to listen, what have you learned about them? If they are not talkers, try asking non-threatening questions that say you care.

Hidden treasure #5: Seize the moment and the memories.

To this day, I can close my eyes and be in the backyard cutting hydrangeas when they are in full color to dry and preserve in a vase. In fact, I have a box of them in my garage and use them ever so gently. I can just smell the jasmine wrapped around the tree and see the brilliance of green shrubbery after a summer rain. I have lovely memories tucked in my heart and in pictures to span the years that have passed. I am all the more blessed that I seized the moment to walk out the kitchen door so many times – as a child, a teen, a young adult, and then a married woman – to talk and listen to my beloved daddy, whose memory vividly lives with me. One of the last things I remember was seeing him reading his Bible in that uncomfortable looking chair when he was “sitting a spell”.

Don’t miss the opportunity to discover hidden treasures in your own life, or in the lives of your family. Step out and seize the moment today. Make a memory that will last a lifetime.

Looking in all the wrong places

looking in wrong placesWhen I was growing up, mama used to always say,

It’s right under your nose, Susan!”

In our family that always meant that what you are looking for, or what you need to do or say, is so obvious.

The other day I had a “right under my nose” moment. I needed help with moving furniture and painting my guest bedroom. I went through a list of handymen and came to the conclusion I couldn’t afford hiring someone. Then I thought of a friend I hadn’t seen in a while who loved to paint and re-arrange furniture. It was so obvious to ask her, that I almost found myself saying, “Duh!”

I called her and she was delighted to help. I reaped the reward of enjoying the company of an old friend as we worked side by side for the morning, redecorating my guest bedroom.

So, what are some of the things that could be “right under your nose” as you begin a new year?

Maybe it’s an old habit you want to change or a new habit you want to start.

Or as simple as an attitude adjustment about someone or something.

This could be the year to let go of anything that has you stuck in the past and begin to move forward with your life.

You might need to write a note to someone encouraging her through a difficult time, or write an overdue letter asking for forgiveness.

It could be something you’ve always wanted to take the time to do, a dream you want to make a reality, a promise you want to keep, or a phone call you need to make.

Perhaps you’ve been looking in all the wrong places and making all the wrong choices this past year—

new year's prayerto fill a need,

to avoid the obvious,

to cloud your judgment,

to distract you from what’s important,

to keep you from doing the right thing…

when the answer has been right under your nose the whole time.

Susan MillerFrom My Heart to Yours,

Susan

 

 

Yes I can!

Susan MillerIf you’re like me, and have experienced a life-changing loss, the holiday season could look and feel different to you. You might somehow want to escape all the memories, traditions, and decorations. It’s just too hard, and you’re just too numb to face the pain of what will never be the same again.

As many of you already know, my life-changing loss was the death of my beloved husband, Bill. Your loss may be different from mine, but it can still be life-changing. It could be a job loss, the loss of your home and your possessions through a natural disaster, or the loss you experience from having to move away from family, friends, and all that is familiar. Perhaps it’s the loss that comes with divorce, a broken relationship, a deployed spouse, or a debilitating illness. You too, have probably asked yourself, “How am I going to get through the holidays?”

yes I canA friend gave me a little wooden angel that sits on my kitchen counter. She has both arms stretched out, and raised above her head as if to say, “Yes, I can!” Every morning when I walk into my kitchen that little angel is a visual reminder that I want to be a woman who, in the midst of life-changing loss, says, “Yes, I can!”

I can be grateful this holiday season for immeasurable blessings, in spite of my emptiness—and so can you.  

I can focus, not on my loss, but on the undeniable faithfulness of God, regardless of my circumstances – and so can you.  

I can trust Him in all things—and so can you.

I can lift up my hands with praise for a Savior who comforts and soothes me in my loss like none other—and so can you.

This much I know: God will not leave us or forget us in our loneliness, pain, or suffering. His mercies are indeed new every morning.

By claiming these truths, my friends, we can get through the holidays. We can also create new memories, start different traditions, and choose to decorate less.

May you feel God’s presence and peace this holiday season as you focus on the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

From My Heart to Yours,

Susan Miller signature

 

The Hidden Box You May Not Have Unpacked

hidden boxA friend stopped by our Just Moved office for a visit and during our conversation she said, “I know why I’ve never settled in and feel so disconnected since I moved here. It’s taken me a long time, but I’ve finally figured it out. I’ve never completely unpacked and gotten rid of all the boxes that I brought with me!” She went on to explain how she had quickly unpacked all her belongings and discarded those boxes, but still had boxes of emotions and feelings that she had never unpacked.

They had become her hidden baggage of grief, loneliness, anxiety, fear, comparison, inadequacy and loss of identity. The tightly packed emotions and feelings she felt inside had kept her from starting over and moving forward with life since she moved here.

Our conversation brought back memories of my own “unpacked boxes” when we moved. Too often I became withdrawn and disconnected because I never unpacked boxes of stuff inside that needed to be handled with care and understanding. I suffered silently as I did the next thing in the routine of moving– getting our children nestled in to school and activities, settling in a new home, finding a church and learning my way around the area. With Bill’s new job being all consuming, there was little time left for us. I kept that box of hurt inside, too.

As I began to grow in my relationship with God, I knew that I had to begin the process of unpacking those moving boxes that seemed to accumulate move after move. I prayed for His guidance to not only help me unpack, but to get rid of those boxes. I began to cling to the promises in His word (and believe them).

This is the life-changing sentence of scripture in I Samuel 17:22 (NASB) that helped me know where to begin…

Then David left his baggage in the care of the baggage keeper

David, the shepherd boy, left his “baggage” in care of the “baggage keeper” when he had to overcome and defeat the giant, Goliath. He left behind the things that would keep him from moving forward to get to the battle line to defeat Goliath.

You can leave your baggage of unpacked boxes, full of feelings and emotions, in the care of your personal Baggage Keeper–Jesus Christ. He is the one who can carry all your “stuff.” Nothing is too heavy for Him. Not only will He lighten your load, He will bear your burdens. He will equip you to unpack, overcome, and release whatever is keeping you from moving forward.

In other words, lay it all down at the feet of Jesus. Daily let it go. Daily remind yourself that you are not unpacking alone. Yes, I said daily. It’s so easy to pack those boxes and pick them up again each day. We try to handle our feelings and emotions in our own strength and manage them alone. It is an everyday battle, my friends.

I, too, have to choose to leave whatever giant emotion I’m facing for the day at the feet of Jesus. Many a day, He carries me in His arms because I’m too weak to stand alone. I fight the battle of emptiness with the loss of Bill. Many a day, I fight feeling overwhelmed with house maintenance, ministry needs, people needs and even my own emotional needs. Some days I fight feeling inadequate to write or speak and battle the giant of comparison. There are times when unpredictable grief washes over me like waves in the ocean. These are all boxes of giant emotions that I choose to fight as I lay them down daily and give them to my Baggage Keeper.

What still needs unpacking in your life? What feelings and emotions are keeping you from starting over and moving forward after your move, or any time?

Choose now to run to Jesus and lay them down at His feet. Begin to start over with hope and move forward with faith.

From My Heart to Yours,

Susan Miller signatureSusan

 

Tempted to ignore God’s nudge. Glad I didn’t!

God's nudgeI will confess. I am not very friendly on an airplane. Those travel hours are my down-time before I step off the plane to give my all to the women where I will be speaking.  It is when I switch hats, pray, calm my spirit, and focus my mind and heart.

A smile and a hello is about all you will get if you sit next to me. I’m not looking for a new friend or to start a conversation with anyone. “Please and thank you” for a cup of coffee and peanuts or pretzels is pretty much my verbal communication.

That is, until this tall, young, handsome, muscular African-American man, with arms built like a line-backer, walked down the aisle, stopped at my row, and said, “Excuse me, we have the middle seat.”

He was carrying a little boy, who appeared to be about a year and a half old, along with a diaper bag on his shoulder and a backpack on his back.

Oh.my.goodness, I thought. Why next to me?

I had on the clothes I was going to wear that afternoon for speaking. I envisioned sticky fingers. There was no time to change when I arrived, so I was dressed and ready to go on stage. I was planning to go over my notes during the flight in the solitude of silence.

He quickly placed his backpack under the seat and crammed the diaper bag in next to it. There was no leg room left for him. He then quickly turned his little boy to face him, with his little legs around his daddy’s waist. The child lay his head on his daddy’s chest in total contentment and stared at me with a captivating smile. His daddy gently placed his arms around his son, to keep his little arms and hands from touching me or the man by the window. He maintained this posture during the entire flight. I could only imagine how uncomfortable it was for this man, while his son seemed delighted to have his daddy’s complete attention and to be held so close. There was an obvious bond between them.

Once we were in the air, he pulled out the diaper bag, took out a bottle with apple juice, and gave it to his son. This huge, football-player-looking-man smiled and talked lovingly and quietly to his son as if it were just the two of them with no one else around. He then gave the little boy a pacifier and he slowly drifted off to sleep on his daddy’s chest, with only the sound of his daddy’s heartbeat in his ear. He gave him a cookie when he woke up and then wiped his little hands so they wouldn’t accidentally touch me. They never did.

I was so entranced by how this man was so intentional in keeping his child occupied and contained with his arms circled around him. I could tell that he didn’t want to disturb anyone on either side of them. That middle seat seemed to shrink even smaller with the two of them in it. He got up once to go to the “lounge” in the back of the plane and took the little boy to stretch his legs.

It was when he sat back down, that I turned to him and said, “I just have to tell you what an amazing dad I think you are and your son is so well behaved for his age.”

“Thank you ma’am,”  he said. “He wasn’t this good on our flight from Hawaii. He didn’t sleep at all with the time change, and that five-hour flight was rough.”

Then out of the blue, it hit me. “Are you military?”

It was then that my heart melted for this young man. He smiled and told me proudly that both he and his wife were in the Army, stationed in Hawaii. He had gotten orders to deploy and was on leave to visit his mother and family in Alabama before going to a remote part of the world. He was taking his son to see his grandmother for the first time. He said how anxious he was because this was his first deployment in a dangerous place. He never mentioned where, or what his mission was. I could only imagine.

I told him my name and he introduced himself and his little boy. As we began to talk, I shared that my dad, brother, and husband were military men. He told me about his family and how proud he was to serve his country in the Army. I shared God’s words of encouragement and hope. I reached over my seat, touched his arm, called him by name, and said I would pray for his safety and protection in the months ahead.

I think of this young man quite often and pray for him. I remember his gentle strength and tender heart for his son, how his eyes lit up when he talked about his wife and his family in Alabama. I remember how Army Proud and Army Strong he was. By now he is far away in another land…

I shudder to think what I would have missed that day if he hadn’t sat next to me.  I’m embarrassed to think how preoccupied I was with myself and my “outfit.”

If God hadn’t nudged me to say more than hello, I wouldn’t know his story.

I wouldn’t have shared God’s hope and encouragement, which seemed to soothe his soul. And, I wouldn’t have the privilege of praying for a dedicated and committed husband, father, and Army man.

Nudge me Lord. Use me where I’m needed. When I feel comfortable, make me feel uncomfortable. Take me out of my little world in an aisle seat and stretch my boundaries to the middle seat and beyond…

Susan Miller signaturesusan miller

 

This Little Light of Mine

 

shine your lightI don’t know about you, but there are many times when I feel like my light  is not only flickering, but growing dimmer by the minute .

If I can be really honest and vulnerable  with you, there are times when I feel so completely inadequate to shine for anything, or anybody.

I can go from a roaring fire that sparks everyone around me with enthusiasm,

to a spotlight that focuses on just one person.

to a 150w light bulb that brightens a room.

to a flashlight that lights a pathway,

a candle that only holds a glow for a while,

or a match that burns down quickly….

You get the picture. You can probably identify with one of those as a mom, career woman, ministry leader, single woman, volunteer, or a leader in your community.

We can’t possibly be a bright, shining light all the time.

Stuff happens.

Life brings hard knocks.

Emotional and physical pain can consume us.

Disappointment and heartache can cut us off at our knees.

Perspective goes sideways.

We can’t seem to get a grip on a situation.

Inadequacy sets in.

Then the downward spiral spills over to negative  thinking,

…and Satan has a field-day.  He’s got a threshold  into our life, our emotions, and our thoughts. He would love nothing better than to over-power our light and claim our darkness.

We may not be a bright, shining light all the time, but we can claim Jesus Christ as our light, even on the darkest days. That little flicker of light will bring hope to someone in our family, a friend, a co-worker, or even a stranger.

So keep on shining girl, however small your light might be.  You are indeed the light of Jesus in someone’s darkness.

Lord, you have brought light to my life;

my God, you light up my darkness.  Psalm 18:28  NLT

Susan

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