Staying Power for the Holidays

Every morning when I turn off the alarm clock, I glance over at a little pad of post-notes sitting on my bedside table that are imprinted with two words: “Stay Thoughtful.” Every morning these two words start my day. They are a gentle reminder of what I should already know. “Stay thoughtful today, Susan, in what you say and in what you do.” It doesn’t say, Be Thoughtful, or Try to Be Thoughtful, or Remember to Be Thoughtful… it reminds me to stay thoughtful, not just over the holidays, but every day.

Then my mind began to think of other ways to stay:

Stay Kind

Stay Joyful

Stay Peaceful

Stay Compassionate

Stay Loving

Stay Content

The obvious became so clear to me, I can be these things when my focus stays on Jesus and stays on living out His love to others daily.

My mind is like a merry-go-round, whirling with things to do this time of year.  A full calendar, a busy ministry, thinking about finding the right turkey on sale, finding my holiday recipes, making a list of ingredients, pulling fall decoration boxes from the garage . . . you are probably not far behind me. Our list can go on and on. Let’s take a minute from this craziness before it consumes us. You and I both know there is so much more than the tasks and to-do lists over the holidays.

I know I need to stop and get off the merry-go-round I am riding. I need to refocus from doing to being, from rushing to staying. I need to stay focused on Jesus and I need to stay intentional about living out His love to others.

I think it’s a good idea to start our day with this little prayer. I’ll place it right next to those post-notes by my bed so I’ll see it each morning when I start my day. What about you?

Oh Lord, with this holiday season approaching, and all the distractions that can so easily rob me of reflecting YOU, may I be ever mindful to . . .

Stay Thoughtful in the busyness of the season,

Stay Kind in my interaction with people,

Stay Joyful even when I don’t feel joy,

Stay Peaceful in the midst of holiday chaos,

Stay Compassionate with those less fortunate than I am,

Stay Loving to those who are unlovable, and

Stay Content in my circumstances.

Have a grateful Thanksgiving, my friends, and happy cooking!

From My Heart to Yours,

Susan Miller

Knee-deep in Lemonade and Life Lessons

I wrote this timeless blog years ago about the summer adventures of my grandchildren and the things I learned from them and about them during our time together. Time has flown by so fast. Now, one is in college, one just graduated from high school, and four range from a freshman to a senior in high school. 

Since this blog was so well received by both moms and grandmothers, I thought it was worth repeating. The principles are as applicable today as they were then.


Then

My summer highlight is when all six grandchildren, ages ten to sixteen, gather together for a cousin reunion, better known as “Cousin Camp.” (May they never outgrow that name!) All the planning, preparation, prayer, and shopping that go into our once-a-year tradition has come to an end for another summer. I loved every minute. I cherish the legacy created, the memories made, the traditions established, the pictures captured—along with finding a hair band or a tee-shirt left behind.

Some things never change, but I smile at the new changes that come each year as everyone gets older. I find myself wanting time to stand still.

They are growing up much too fast and too soon.

Gallons of lemonade and my popular peach-mango tea were still consumed, but the new crave was―water. A trail of water bottles went from room to room. I finally had everyone put their initials on the cap with a Sharpie to identify whose bottle was whose. I still line up paper cups on the kitchen counter and have each person write their name on one. Sure saves a lot of confusion and fussing over cups—and water bottles.

I still made an abundance of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and mounds of spaghetti, but a big healthy salad was the number one choice with the girls. My oldest granddaughter loves to bake, so her desserts from Pinterest were a big hit with all of us, especially the boys.

This was the first year we didn’t make crafts. Our stapler, glue, cut-out, and color craft days are over. Last year, simple was replaced with sophisticated. Crafts became a life-work for everyone, so they opted out this year.

This year, the Disney channel took second place to the Food channel and HGTV. We all enjoyed discussing the food and home shows together.

Now

Key word—together.

Issues like fixing an overflowing toilet, running out of hot water before the last shower, and the ice maker running out of ice, never seem to change. They took more showers and spent more time fixing their hair—it comes with age, I guess.

I still took at least 100 pictures, but instead of hearing “Nana, please…n-o m-o-r-e pictures,” it was, “Let me see how I look.” Guess that comes with age also.

It seemed everyone was always looking for a missing flip-flop or phone charger. An empty electrical outlet was always in demand since being tangled in cords, plugs, and chargers is now a part of life.

I thought I was really clever in suggesting they each put their initials on their chargers with a Sharpie to easily identify them. They thought that was so smart. I may not know how all their electronics work, but my common sense sure was a winner. (Sharpies are my new best friend!)

This year I started a “no phone zone” and a “no phone time.” Nana’s rules: no phones at the kitchen table or in a restaurant during family time together, or when others are talking with you. I – w i l l – n o t – g i v e – u p – o r- g i v e – in!

My three grandsons and three granddaughters played board games anywhere they could gather around a table ― day or night. They rode bikes and boogie boards, went swimming, played kickball, wiffleball, volleyball, and softball for hours of fun and bonding. I stood on the sidelines with my pom-poms cheering them on.

The sound of giggles and conversations continued until “lights out” echoed up the stairs. Staying up late and sleeping in has become a summer ritual.

Another tradition is our “Summer Birthday’s Celebration.” Since we are all together only once a year, we celebrate everyone’s birthday with cake and ice cream, sing Happy Birthday as a group, and each person wears my silly birthday hat and has their picture taken. Corny? Yes. But they always seem to remind me not to forget. Some things never change…thank goodness.

I watched, participated, listened, and learned. I have tucked the tender moments in my heart.

God teaches me life lessons through the world of my grandchildren and reminds me of things I know, but can easily forget, in the busyness of my daily life. Perhaps they will be a good reminder for you too.

It’s not about me. I learned to put aside my schedule, my agenda, and my wants. Cousin Camp is just that—it’s all about the cousins.

Have no expectations. The sooner I learned to relax and let go of any expectations of our time together, the smoother the days went, and the more fun we had. God had to work with me on this one!

Above all, don’t compare. I was reminded that comparing grandsons and granddaughters who are different ages, have different personalities and temperaments, and come from two different family life-styles, is unfair to the child. Accepting their differences allows each one to be who God made them to be, without the pressure of performance to please.

Movies vs. games. There is a huge difference in watching movies and playing board games together. You have to be quiet to listen and watch a movie. Board games encourage conversation and interaction. There is a time for both, but I learned not to defer to movies to keep everyone occupied.

Making crafts creates memories. As long as they love it, do it. It gives them the opportunity to share ideas, learn from each other, and compliment each other on their accomplishment. Although my grandchildren have outgrown making crafts, they still have some of the simple things they made from years ago. When they lose interest in making crafts, there will be other ways for them to express their individual creativity. My granddaughters love to cook and bake. They create fun memories in the kitchen together.

Talk time is priceless. Whether it’s sitting outside or around the dining table, be intentional about gathering together, with no distractions, to create conversation time. With a few questions, I learned about what they were thinking, things they were doing, and caught a glimpse of life through their eyes. And they learned about each other.

A little space is a good thing. Every person needs some time and space to do their own thing. I learned they don’t have to always do everything together or in a group.

It’s caught, not taught. Kindness, thoughtfulness, and being considerate of others are best caught through the example of how I treat them and others. Pointing out the error of their ways in front of everyone else can be embarrassing and humiliating. If I had to correct someone’s behavior, I would do it one-on-one, away from everyone else. We would sit on the floor together, eye-to-eye, and talk it through, ending with a hug and a smile that conveyed my unconditional love.

Choose your battles. I learned to ask myself, “Is this a hill high enough to die for? Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill? At the end of the day, will it really matter?”

A sense of humor goes a long way. I learned to lighten up, laugh a lot, and that being silly brings giggles from all ages.

Manners matter. Please, thank you, excuse me, I’m sorry, chew with your mouth shut, and elbows off the table, have always been a part of “Nana’s Manners,” and manners are not left at the door at Cousin Camp. My daughter often says in jest, “You don’t want to have to go to ‘Nana’s Manners School.’ It lasts for hours!” I learned that you don’t give up on what matters.

Hold hands and stick together. Cousin Camp is all about connecting with each other, building memories, and learning the importance of being a part of something bigger than yourself—your family. I learned that when you encourage them to hold hands and stick together, one day you will have the joy of seeing them do it on their own.

I am also reminded that these are not just lessons learned regarding my grandchildren, but also with my adult children and their spouses, extended family, friendships, and those I serve with in ministry. Lord, keep teaching me, reminding me, and never let me forget.

May Cousin Camp memories live on in our hearts for years to come.

From My Heart to yours,

Susan Miller

P.S.  As an encouragement to all those who tirelessly pour time and life skills into your children and grandchildren thinking, “Will I ever see the fruit of my labor and love?”―don’t give up! The seeds you plant, the things you say and do, and how you continue to pursue a life worthy of imitation will, at some point, begin to bear fruit and grow. Even though we may never see results in our lifetime, God is faithful and will honor our good work in His perfect timing.

As my grandchildren get older, I see kindness and thoughtfulness emerge all the more. I hear manners being practiced at the table and with others. And just recently when all the cousins were together for a yearly visit, they were united and bonded as a family who has connected and built memories together. 

May Cousin Camp memories live on in our hearts for years to come…

Lessons Learned From an Old Bench

Susan Miller's dad
Ed Burgess

One of the sweet memories I have of my daddy was sitting beside him many years ago on a hand-made, hand-painted bench in our back yard. He made it out of scraps of wood from his wood pile and it has remained strong and steady for over 40 years. He built it with the skill of a fine carpenter, although he only referred to himself as a handyman around the house.

The weathered green bench sat in mom and dad’s back yard for many years. Anytime I came home to visit, I would watch from the kitchen window when daddy was raking the backyard and wait for him to take a bench break, then I’d head for my spot next to him.

We would sit together and talk about anything—from the birds and the squirrels scampering around in our wooded back yard, to the rising cost of living, to how hot the weather was, to stories of the years he served in the military, to what the Bible says about how to live life. My daddy was a quiet, gentle, soft-spoken man of few words. The bench seemed to spark magic conversation between us.

When mom and dad went home to be with the Lord many years ago, my brother and I sorted through the keepsakes we wanted. I took the bench. It traveled from Florida to Arizona and sat on the front porch of our home, and then finally ended up in our back yard, all the more weathered.

As I walked by the all-but-forgotten-bench a few years ago, I stopped and ran my hands across the rough surface. I sat down thinking that it might not hold me, but it held firm. The memories of sitting on it with my daddy, my late husband, Bill, my children, and my grandchildren, flooded my heart and emotions.

stripping paint from old bench

“It is time to restore this bench,” I said to myself. I became excited about stripping and sanding it, filling the holes with wood filler, nailing down any loose wood, re-painting it a different color, and adding a bright cushion for the finishing touch!

Moved to just the right spot in my home today, the old-but-new bench continues to spark conversation magic.

My grandchildren take turns as they nestle in to sit next to me. We share all kinds of important stuff. Sometimes tears are shed over hurt feelings or a scraped knee, but mostly laughter ripples over a funny story or a joke. And as for me, well, I have the joy of sharing memories and stories as I once did on that very bench with their great-grandfather many years ago.

restored bench

There are five things I’ve learned from that old bench.

  1. Seize the moment to sit awhile with someone you love.
  2. Talk about lots of things—important and not so important.
  3. Share stories and recall memories.
  4. Listen and remember.
  5. Never forget that something old can be a treasure and, sometimes, can be restored to new again.
Susan Miller

From my heart,

Susan

An Afternoon Life Lesson

TrishTrish was in our After the Boxes Are Unpacked study many years ago, after she moved here from California to retire. We would see each other at church for a few years after that, then our paths didn’t cross again. As the years slipped by, Trish faithfully stayed in touch with our ministry and became a personal encourager to me through her lovely hand-written notes.

When I received a particularly endearing note not long ago, God prompted me to go and see Trish for a visit that was long over-due. I called to thank her and set a time to get together along with our good friend, Joan. During the 20-minute drive to her assisted living community, I was thinking of all the different things I could say to entertain her and keep the conversation going. “After all,” I thought,”someone who is ninety-four years old will need me to initiate conversation, be encouraging, and inspiring.”

Trish was waiting for us in the lobby, dressed up in a stylish velour warm-up suit, with a necklace that added a little glitz to her jacket. She probably weighed all of 90 pounds, and was about 5’1″ in height with her shoulders slightly bent over. She took Joan and me on a walking tour of the facilities.

puzzleFirst we went to the community center to see the 1,000 piece puzzle she was putting together. It was spread out meticulously on a table. Then we went to the dining room, where she knew everyone there by name, and proceeded to introduce us to her friends.

It was enchanting to step out of the busyness of my world and enter into the simplicity of her world. I could see how pleased and proud she was of this place that she called home. I could feel her excitement for our presence.

We then walked around two huge apartment buildings, took an elevator to the second floor, walked down a corridor, turned the corner, and finally arrived at Trish’s apartment. Her pace was brisk and steady. By this time, I was ready to sit down and catch my breath.

As we walked in, Trish said, “Let me take you on a tour.” She showed us her very small living room right inside the front door. It had one well-loved recliner, a small end table with a lamp, and a small painted bookshelf – all within arm’s reach of her recliner. A shelf by the window held her sewing machine.

From the living room, we walked in the very small bedroom with a single bed and one dresser. A colorful print sheet served as her bedspread. There were no halls to get from room to room, so the bathroom was conveniently adjacent to the bedroom. We walked back through the living room to a very small eat-in kitchen, with a round table and two chairs. You could tell we were expected. The two kitchen chairs were already positioned in the living room, across from the recliner.

As Trish nestled in her recliner, Joan and I sat in the two chairs, like an audience to the Queen. And indeed we were. We listened to Trish as she told us about her life.  We were spellbound for over two hours, captivated by amazing stories of her life in the early 1900’s, the history of her family for four generations, her short, romantic marriage, and her love for Jesus.  After all, it’s not every day I get to sit at the feet of a ninety-four-year-old who recounts the details of a fascinating life like they happened yesterday.

When Trish stopped to open a little gift we had brought her, my eyes glanced around the room once again. Then, I asked the ultimate question. “Where’s your TV, Trish?”

She looked at us and said with conviction, “I got rid of my TV. I was spending too much time watching it, and it was a distraction from my time with Jesus. I spend my time reading my Bible, praying for other people that live here, writing notes to encourage them, and, I’m also in a Bible study. I don’t know how much time I have left before I go to heaven and I want to be real close to Jesus when that day comes.”

Oh. my. goodness. She was truly prepared and ready to meet her Lord and Savior.

Our conversation about Jesus went on for a while. There was no doubt how much she loved Him and how close she was to Him. It was obvious she was at peace anytime Jesus called her to her eternal home.

Trish walked us to the car and hugged us goodbye. We promised we’d come back to see her. We wanted more – more of her stories and more of Jesus.

We faced the four o’clock, bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway, but it didn’t seem to matter. Her words echoed in my mind the whole way home, “…a distraction from my time with Jesus…”  They have lingered with me since that visit. I need to be intentional about my own distractions from Jesus.

There were many take-aways and life lessons from our visit with Trish that I will lean into and learn from. For many of us, they are a gentle reminder of what we already know, but need to hear again.

*       Take time to listen to the stories of someone who is from an older generation. The chapters of their life are like reading a history book and a novel all at once.

*       There is much to learn from someone who has traveled the road of life before us.

*       Ask questions, the answers are often humorous, insightful, and may give you another perspective on things.

*       You receive more than you could ever give, though you may think your visit is for them…

*       Life is precious. Make every day count.

*       Time is your greatest gift to someone.

*       Don’t put off the overdue visit.

*       Too much stuff, too busy, and too much TV can be a distraction from Jesus.

*       Less is more.

*       Jesus is all you need.

From My Heart to Yours,

 

susan millerSusan Miller

A few of my favorite things and the memories they hold

Welcome to the tea partyIt was pure joy to host a “Tea Party” recently for a dear friend and her guests. The food was prepared by a lovely English friend (thank goodness for that!), so I could focus on what I love best―getting the table ready with all the details and little things I love to do. I plan ahead, make a list, and do all the preparation ahead of time. Then I can focus on the people, not the preparation, when the party starts.

Let me stop right here to say that usually I am more casual than formal when I have a party. The most important thing is for everyone to feel special, welcomed, and loved―whether I use paper plates or china, red solo cups or crystal, plastic utensils or sterling silver, paper or linen napkins.

But then there are times when I love to go all out and use the lovely things passed down to me from my mama and grandmother, especially for a tea party. Let’s just say it’s part of my southern heritage and the legacy of tradition in the south.

I had not taken out many of the things I wanted to use for this party in a long time. You might think I’m a little silly, but I was pleasantly surprised at how it soothed my soul to recount the cherished memories of the people who gave me each thing as I washed, polished or ironed it. It was a step back in time. A ritual that slowed down my usual fast-pace day. What would normally be considered a task, became very enjoyable as I let my mind wander back to family and friends from years past.

favorite heirloomsI remember my mama giving me the few pieces of china she had gotten when she and daddy married. Back in the 40’s, giving a gift of fine china was hard for those who farmed crops in the small country towns of South Carolina.  She would tell me to use it often and enjoy it. “Don’t let it sit on the shelf, Susan,” she would say. Thanks for the reminder, mama. I need to be better at that.

I remember when my grandmother passed on some of her crystal goblets, linen napkins, and doilies. Some had a few stains that couldn’t be gotten out with just soap back then. I call them “story stains.” I smile when I recall the stories told around the dining room table as food was spilled―and wiped up―with a napkin.

When I was eight years old, I carved my initials in my grandmother’s sterling candle holder that always sat on a small table in her living room. Guess who got the candle holder years later! Now it proudly sits on a small table in my living room.

Coming from a large family on both mama and daddy’s side, I was blessed with two grandmothers and lots of aunts who gave all the grandchildren and cousins some reminder of them for our home. I cherish each thing that helps me set a pretty table today.

I remember dear friends over the years who gave me a teacup for a special occasion to add to my collection. Each one holds a special memory of their friendship as we shared laughter and tears together over a cup of tea or coffee.

And, I tenderly remember when Bill had just gotten out of the Air Force and was going to college on the GI Bill. We didn’t have two nickels to rub together in those early years of marriage. We both had part-time jobs and I was pregnant. He came to me in great anguish as he asked me to consider selling the few sterling silver place settings we had gotten at our wedding to help pay hospital expenses for the birth of our baby. Of course I said yes. You do what you have to do when times are hard. He promised that some day he would replace every piece and, years later, he did just that. I now have enough place settings for my family around the table.

Now let me put all this in perspective. You see, all these lovely things, are just that―things. They mean nothing without the love behind them. Some of you may have nothing passed on to you but the memories of a fractured, painful past with a disconnected family.

This is what you need to remember: It is never too late to start making memories and to start traditions now, for your children and for your grandchildren.

You don’t need “things” to pass on. Give them yourself, your love, and live out Jesus in your home.  

That, my friend, is the greatest heritage, the greatest thing you can pass on to your family that will affect generations to come.

“Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing….” Psalm 16:5 NLT

Jesus expressed great hospitality even though He never owned a home.
He never possessed a set of china and never wrote a book on etiquette.
Without beverage, Jesus refreshes us,
Without a table, He has banqueted us.
Jesus embraces us when we are filthy, oppressed and undeserving.
Jesus welcomes us graciously by saying…
Come unto me…You are welcome here.
(author unknown)

From My Heart to Yours,
Susan Miller Susan Miller, America's Moving Coach

A window into your husband’s emotions

This was written by me and my husband Bill in 2008 for a Valentine’s Day message one year before his death. I had asked him to share his thoughts on our years of moving, with the hope that it would give women insight and perspective into their husband’s often hidden feelings and emotions about moving. The message is timeless for marriages that are “on the move,” or even a gentle reminder for loving and understanding your man.

I thought this was a good time to share it again. This is my Valentine’s gift to you…

________________________________________________________________________

Bill and Susan MillerIn 2008 I wrote: “As some of you know, Bill and I have been married for 43 years. We have weathered 14 moves, along with major life transitions, and huge personal changes that come with uprooting and relocating a marriage, children, home, lifestyle, and relationships.

I asked Bill to share some of his thoughts, fears, and feelings during our difficult years of moving. I hope this will give you insight to understand your husband, and know how to best encourage and love him during a move.

I feel that If I had known what was going on in his head and heart then, I would have worked harder (and prayed more) at bridging the gap between us. I am amazed and humbled to know that anything I said or conveyed through my actions during those years was received as he has described below.

God has once again reminded me of His grace by allowing Bill to see me through eyes of love and a heart of forgiveness for all the times I failed to be loving and forgiving towards him.”

In 2008 Bill wrote: “Most men don’t talk about their feelings. If we did, we would tell you that they come right from the core of a man; they address his worth, his ability to provide for, and protect his family. Although I did not address those feelings at the time, they were real, and drove my motivation, my emotions, and my behavior.

Looking back at our many moves, I recognize my feelings of impatience with our children, frustration over things not coming together quickly enough, and even anger with Susan for not meeting my selfish needs. Doubt would flood my mind. Fear would creep into my day. I often thought I had made a terrible mistake by making so many corporate moves. I would ask myself questions like, ‘Why did I ever agree to take this job (or promotion) and uproot my family? Will I succeed at my new job (or position)? Will I be a fit? What will happen to our family if the job doesn’t work out and we have to move again?’

I felt the loneliness and emptiness of starting a new job before my family moved. It was hard to spend nights alone in my hotel room, in an unfamiliar city, when everyone else at the company would go home to their family. I would question why our house hadn’t sold before we moved, and how long it would be before we would be together as a family again. I would tell myself that I would have to work harder and longer hours to make the job and relocation a successful move in my career.

Pretty tough stuff, and believe me, I’m not comfortable sharing like this.

Susan and I were disconnected by miles and emotions and I wondered if we would ever reconnect.

What I didn’t know was how to help (or fix) Susan’s emotions while treading emotional water myself. We were fighting for our own survival, gasping for air, trying to keep our heads above water.

Her words of affirmation, encouragement, and the assurance of her unconditional love for me, were her pom-poms cheering me on each day during those difficult years. Her sacrificial love covered me with God’s grace each day while she minimized her hurts while helping mine to heal.

I have learned over the years that the total disruption of a marriage and family who move takes its toll on every member of the family, but not as much as on the relationship between husband and wife.

It’s easy for Satan to drive a husband and wife apart during a difficult, stressful time when they need each other the most. He will use anything–even a move–to destroy a marriage. I would say to couples–be united in Christ, pray against anything, or anyone, that would destroy your marriage. Claim God’s promises of hope. Recognize the stress cracks, and don’t let them divide and break you.

So, grab a pom-pom, and be your husband’s cheerleader! (I know you have a pom-pom if you’ve been around Susan). And, as a matter of fact, the principles in these tips can go both ways in a marriage, although men can skip the pom-pom…

  • Tell him you respect him and know how difficult it must be with a new job.
  • Try to breathe oxygen into his world by giving him lots of grace, reassurance, and understanding.
  • Look for things that he is doing right and then tell him.
  • Make it a habit to spend at least 20 to 30 minutes a day for each of you to debrief.
  • Be pro-active and plan down-time/date-time for just the two of you.
  • Communicate your love in ways that can be seen, heard, and felt.

When a woman encourages her husband, she gives him confidence and hope. When a man listens to his wife, he gives her honor and value. When they mutually communicate and connect with one another they begin the journey of moving closer together in any life change.”

Then Bill added, “That’s about it in a nutshell , Susan. I sure hope what I’ve said and learned will somehow give a couple greater insight for the road ahead in their marriage.”

In 2008, I wrote in my Valentine’s card to Bill:

I cherish you to the depth of my soul.
You are truly God’s greatest gift to me and the love of my life.
I love you with all my heart!
After all these years, I’d still follow you to the ends of the earth!
All My Love,
Your Susan”

In 2018, on this Valentine’s Day, those words are still written in my heart. I would only add: “…And one day, I’ll follow you to our eternal home, and we will be together again.”Susan Miller

Susan Miller

Empty nest, empty heart

empty nestLearning to let go one more time

“It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to
Cry if I want to, cry if I want to.
You would cry too if it happened to you.”
(A popular song from the 60s by Lesley Gore)

You thought you were ready for this, but you never expected it to be so hard, or that you would cry so much.

You fought back the tears as you hugged tightly, secretly never wanting to let go, trying to be strong, even brave at this momentous moment. The words swelled up in your heart. There was so much you wanted to say,

“Don’t forget to call or text me.
Get enough sleep.
Eat healthy.
Don’t stay out too late.
Choose your friends wisely.
Remember to wash your clothes once a week.
And oh, please be careful-it’s a crazy world out there.”

But you didn’t, at least right now you didn’t. You’ve said it all a hundred times before this day.

You simply whispered, “I love you.”

You were trying hard to act like a grown-up mom to this growing-up child, who was growing-up too fast, too soon. The voice in your head said, “Wasn’t it just yesterday that I rocked you to sleep and held your hand as you took your first step? Now you are taking your first step into college.” You hear this growing-up child that you cheered on in life, now trying to cheer you. “I’ll be fine mom…don’t worry….”

All the way home, you cry uncontrollably, mascara running down your face, snot pouring out your nose. This is not the time to hold back. Let it come. You reach for a sleeve, an arm, a Kleenex – anything to stop the dam that broke. You just left behind your baby – your firstborn, your middle child, or your youngest. It doesn’t matter which one, it still hurts. It’s cutting another umbilical cord, it’s letting go of a part of who you are. It’s facing an empty, clean room with the bed made, no shoes or clothes scattered everywhere, and posters still hanging on the wall. Oh, how you yearn to see that room messy just one more time to have glimpses of life there.

In case you are wondering, I was the “YOU” years ago when I experienced the emotional transition and unexpected adjustment of sending off our oldest, and then our youngest, to college. My head knew all the right things – we raised them for a time such as this. We gave them roots in family and in Christ and wings of confidence to soar and become all they could be. We knew it was time for them to become independent and begin to figure out life on their own. We knew one season of life had ended and another season was about to begin. That being said, it was not easy to emotionally let go or to stop crying for weeks as I grieved the loss of their daily presence in our family circle.

I couldn’t seem to get a grip as I struggled with the emptiness that seemed to consume me. I particularly remember one time when I was laying face-down in our hammock, crying so hard my tears went through the hammock and on the patio. It was one of those messy-slobbery-ugly-cries. I missed tripping over the sports shoes that were always taken off at the bottom of our stairs after school. My refrigerator seemed empty. The house was too quiet. I missed the laughter, chatter, and even the music that had a good beat.

The sadness in my empty heart was eventually filled with happiness and peace as I began to see our growing-up children begin to thrive on their own. I had done my part as a mom, now it was time to leave them in God’s hands and ask Him to protect, guide, and equip them in their new journey. I needed to move forward with faith and trust, knowing God would always be with them. You do have to come full circle with all of this and, at some point, realize that it’s not all about you, it’s about them. You are then taking your first step in letting go.

Remember these things:

  • You will always be their mama and they will always need you.
  • You did a good job raising them. Don’t second guess that.
  • Say often to them, “I believe in you. You can do this.”
  • Let them manage their own lives and figure it out.
  • They will make mistakes and they will learn from them. Don’t short-circuit that.
  • Let them know, no matter what happens, you will be there for them.
  • Pray for them every day.

And, be assured they will come home again – with a suitcase full of dirty clothes, ready to eat a home-cooked meal!

I have dedicated him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the Lord.  I Samuel 1:28

From My Heart to Yours,
Susan Miller

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

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.

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