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.

Twelve Summer Challenges

1607Here it is July already, and I’m just beginning to catch the breath of summer!

At the end of May, I thirst for a calendar that is less scheduled, more random acts of fun, and frivolous times spent with family and friends. And yet at the same time, I don’t want to waste away the months and find myself thinking in September, “What in the world did I accomplish over the summer?”

All that said, I want to keep a few challenges in mind, something that I can choose daily to do or not to do. They are not necessarily tasks to accomplish, but rather an attitude of the heart, a mindset, or a conscious choice in words or actions.

You might consider coming up with your own list, or even choosing some of mine. Join me as I seize the summer for a change of pace, but also to seize the challenge of making daily choices in my attitude, words, and actions.

Here are twelve choices I’m going to embrace…

Begin anywhere, just begin.

Hold hands around the table and say grace before each meal.

Spread random acts of kindness without anyone knowing you did.

Take time to say, “Tell me your story.” Then take time to listen.

Be the last to criticize, the first to praise.

Spend less, give more.

Wear a smile, even when you don’t feel like it. It will begin to grow on you.

Go the extra mile…for a friend or for your favorite ice cream.

Live in the present. Not the past. Not the future.

See all the good around you, even if you have to squint.

Be loving to the unlovable, even when you don’t feel like it. It may not change them, but it will change you.

Be yourself, nobody does it better.

I’d love to hear about your summer challenges too. Email me at susanmiller@justmoved.org and let me know what you’re doing, where you’re going, and how I can pray for you.

In the meantime, be safe my friends. Make happy memories and take pictures. And, make choices in your attitude, actions, and words that will last long beyond the summer months.

From My Heart to Yours,

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Come on in, the water’s fine

You never forget an experience like that. The memory has stayed with me. My eyes filled with tears as I listened to incredible testimonies of restoration from broken relationships, healing from physical and emotional pain, and a renewed hope for the future.

Men, women, children, teens, and even families, walked out on the stage and took the next step in publicly declaring their faith as Christ-followers as they were baptized one by one, in front of a full worship center.

Over the course of the weekend, over 100 were baptized! If you somehow missed seeing the joy on their faces, you couldn’t miss seeing the tee-shirts they wore for this life-changing moment that simply stated, “I have decided.”  It was like a continuously flowing banner that conveyed the message: Jesus is mine. I am His.

Susan and JamieAnother reason I’ll never forget that experience is because of my friend, Jamie Vukelich. Jamie was in my 2007 Moving On after Moving In study. It was through the impact of hearing God’s word every week in class, that Jamie began to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Her bubbly personality is as infectious as her love for Christ. Jamie has volunteered in our Just Moved office for years now. She has gone on many mission trips through our church. She loves to pour out to others what Jesus has poured in to her.

Several months ago, she gleefully bounced into my office – like she always does – and said, “I’m going to be baptized! Will you go with me in the baptismal pool?”  Oh. Wow. Oh. My. Goodness. Yes.

So last Saturday night, I had the privilege and honor of standing by Jamie’s side, in the water, assisting our pastor in baptizing my delightful friend. I’ll never, ever, forget her sparkling eyes and the big smile on her face as she came up from the water and embraced me with pure joy. I still get emotional, just thinking about what I call, “A Jesus moment.”

As we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, it might just be the right time for you to take the next step – walk into the arms of Jesus. To know Him, is to love Him. To follow Him is life changing.

And it just doesn’t get much better than that….

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Love. Really love

loveSometimes we need a gentle reminder of what we already know, or think we already know, or don’t know at all. 

This much I know…

I was blessed to be married to my Bill for 45 years before He went to be with my Jesus five years ago.

The words “my Bill” and “my Jesus” all in the same sentence. I like that. It makes me smile.

Wow…did I say  five years? Sometimes it seems like just yesterday. That’s not a cliché. That’s what loving someone for 45 years does—survives the test of time.

Loving someone that long covers years of happy and sad, laughter and tears, commitment and recommitment, the best of times and the worst of times, wonderful memories, and not-so-wonderful memories, brokenness and healing.

Loving someone that long stretches, bends, straightens, matures, blesses, teaches, and fills you.

Loving someone that long expands your capacity to love beyond measure—in pain and suffering, through disappointment and disillusionment, with heartache and sorrow.

I am who I am today because of my Jesus, and my Bill. I am eternally grateful that they both live in my heart. Bill’s love for me was a springboard to my being able to move forward after the devastation of losing him. Jesus’ love for me is why I have joy, peace, and contentment today.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

So go on, love someone, really love someone—for a long, long, time….

May the love of Jesus fill your heart this Valentine’s Day.

From my heart to yours,

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Lessons I learned on the soccer field

1412.soccerI watched my last three soccer games for the season last Saturday. Yes indeed, back-to-back games, carrying my folding chair from one field to another, I sat on the sidelines, waving my pom-poms madly to encourage all the players. My two grandsons and my granddaughter played their hearts out for their grand finale games. One win, one tie, one loss. To me, they were all winning games. It wasn’t the score that impressed me, it was the team attitude, perseverance, and effort that made them all winners. They gave their all; they played their best.

It’s always interesting to observe and listen to the parents around me during the games. One dad’s words were so tender and kind to his young son, who was struggling as a goalie and felt defeated. His dad’s words were just what he needed to instill confidence that he could block that ball—and he did, the next time the ball came at the goal. I know the dad’s words could have as easily crushed the young boy. I’ve seen that happen too.

One single mom never missed a game, even though she had to rearrange her work schedule to be there. She always came right when the game started. I watched her daughter as she spotted her mother on the sidelines every week. She smiled as their eyes met.

Another dad was on his cell phone texting the entire game. I saw his son keep looking over at the sidelines to see if his dad was watching him. His dad missed his son’s winning goal.

A mom sat down and pulled out a book that she read the entire time. Several couples were preoccupied in a conversation with each other.

They missed the moment to cheer a great move, to thumbs-up a winning pass, to soothe a fumble with encouragement, or show compassion with a defeat.

Just watching your children in a sport, a play, a recital—anything they’re involved in– speaks volumes without a word said.

A kind, encouraging, or positive word speaks volumes too.

What I observed on the soccer field, I took home with me for the holidays.

There are times during Christmas that I’m too preoccupied with my own agenda, and my own busy schedule. I’m focused on checking off my gift list, my grocery list, getting my house decorated, getting gifts wrapped…and on and on, so that…

I forget to look up and notice someone who needs a kind word of encouragement.

I miss the sadness in someone’s eyes because I wasn’t watching.

I don’t seize the moment to cheer on someone who feels defeated and needs to feel hope.

I get so self-absorbed that I’m oblivious to what’s going on around me, or right in front of me.

Oh Lord, may I not just watch, but see.

May I not just hear, but listen.

May I not just observe, but speak.

___________________

My friends, may the love of Christ flow in you and through you to permeate others with a fragrance of kindness and encouragement this holiday season.

But thanks be to God..who manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ….  II Corinthians 2:14-15

Merry Christmas my friends!

Spread the joy of Jesus,

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A picture of gratitude

Susan Miller, America's Moving CoachlistI am a list maker. I have lists on my phone, on post notes, and on scratch paper. I confess,  I will even list something I’ve done and draw a line through it just to visually see my accomplishments. I have a pretty notebook for special long-term lists–categorized by subject, of course. I am a very well-organized, well-functioning, obsessive list maker. A list clears my mind, prioritizes my day, keeps me on track, and most of all, helps me to remember what I would normally forget.

My usual list-making for Thanksgiving is a grocery list. I go through all my traditional Thanksgiving recipes and write down all the ingredients that I don’t keep in my cabinet the other 364 days. Going through the family recipes for the holidays is a tradition in itself. It turns back the years of memories, not only in my kitchen, but also in my grandmother’s and my mother’s kitchen, as we assembled and prepared the ingredients, then cooked and baked for Thanksgiving Day. I have to tell you that I actually came across an old, handwritten list my mother had made for ingredients that had been tucked in some of her treasured recipes. One day, I’m sure my daughter will find one of my lists among the recipes too. And so it goes…

Around Thanksgiving, it seems the conversation starters, or question probers, are to make a list of things you are grateful for. It’s a question that’s asked around the Thanksgiving table, when friends gather together, in casual conversation, and on social media. Gratitude lists are shared and commented on in articles, blogs, and newsletters, and are discussed on talk shows, the national news, and commercials.

I love reading, or hearing the list of a grateful heart. You and I should have a long list every day, because God doesn’t give us a short list of blessings. They are bountiful, they overflow with abundance. Even if you don’t list them all on paper, extend the list to ponder in your heart. The spoken and unspoken gratitude list brings us to a place of being humbly aware of God’s grace, mercy and blessings in our life.

Since I am such a visual person, my written gratitude list is going to look a little different this time. I’m going to share some pictures from my phone that have been taken over the past year of people, places, and things. They speak volumes for my grateful heart.

gratitude list in pictures

Happy Thanksgiving y’all! It’s time to gather recipes and a grateful heart…

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Leave the light on

leave the light onI don’t know about you, but I always waited up for our teenagers when they were out after dark. One of the things I would say as they walked out the door was, “I’ll leave the light on for you, don’t be too late.” Even now that they’ve grown, and have children of their own, I leave the light on when they come to visit, until everyone is home and settled in.

Mama did the same thing for my brother and me when we were growing up. I vividly remember the porch light being on. The glow of a pretty lamp with a scalloped lampshade and painted flowers around the base, sat on a table in our living room and beckoned me inside. The light exuded the comfort and security of being home. The place where I was expected and belonged.

At some point in our lives, we need to know that someone has left the light on for us. A light that says, I care. You are loved. This is where you belong. Welcome back home.

We never outgrow that need. Whether you have children (or grandchildren) at home, going off to college, starting a first job, or newly married, as they venture out, remember to tell them, “I’ll leave the light on for you….”

And, by the way, just a gentle reminder – Jesus ALWAYS leaves His light on for YOU.

He’s waiting for you to come home.

           He’s expecting you.

                   You’ve been gone too long.

                           Oh, and don’t worry – no questions asked about where or why.

                                   His open arms will embrace you with the unconditional love you so desperately need.  

He’ll leave the light on ‘til you arrive…

From My Heart,
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I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life. John 8:12

Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105

Cousin Camp Memories

Cousin CampI look forward each summer to having all six grandchildren, now ages nine to fifteen, for a cousin reunion, or better known as “Cousin Camp”. All the planning, preparation, prayer, and shopping that goes 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 clip or a tee shirt left behind.

Some things never change, but I smiled at the new changes that came with everyone being one year older.

I still fixed at least ten gallons of lemonade, but the new crave was my peach-mango tea. I still made an abundance of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but turkey or ham, with lettuce and tomato, on pita, was the number one choice. It wasn’t as hard this year to find twelve missing shoes, as it was to match the shoes to who they belonged to, since everyone was wearing similar flip-flop sizes and styles now.

Up to now, our crafts have been pretty simple, consisting of stick, staple, glue, cut-out, and color. Pretty easy, huh? Not this year, now they’ve moved on to Pinterest! I suggested they look through the craft ideas together, choose three favorites, and then vote on one. The fun of taking the girls shopping (on a budget) for the items needed, and then making a usable craft together was a new memory for us.

Fixing an overflowing toilet never seems to change, however running out of hot water before the last shower, and the icemaker running out of ice was a new thing this year. They took more showers and drank more water—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.

This year an empty electrical outlet was always in demand since being tangled in cords, plugs, and chargers were 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 hit.

My three grandsons, three granddaughters, and their friends, played board games on our deck, and played soccer, dodgeball, and volleyball in the park for hours of fun. Kick-ball was a late afternoon ritual, with a growing number of kids participating every day. Even the parents would gather to watch.

Bunk beds and sleeping bags filled the loft, the sound of giggles, and conversations continued until “lights out” echoed up the stairs.

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. I thought it was worth repeating the things God continues to teach me at Cousin Camp each summer.

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.

Crafts are good for all ages. I was surprised to learn that everyone from nine to fifteen, both boys and girls, loved doing crafts! It was fun, messy, and an opportunity for them to express their individual creativity. A lot of things happened. They shared ideas and supplies, learned from each other, and complimented each other on what they did.                                           

Deck talk is magic. After dinner, we would sit on the deck, with only a few lanterns to give us a glow in the dark. It was amazing how the conversation flowed, when there were no distractions. With a few questions, I learned about what they were thinking, things they were doing, and caught a glimpse of life through their eyes.

A little space is a good thing. Every child 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 resort to correct someone’s behavior, I would do it one-on-one, away from everyone else. We would sit on the floor together, eye level, 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 a molehill? 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, 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….
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12 summer challenges to do or not to do

flowerJune will be here soon, and I’m already breathing in the anticipation of slowing down. For the three months of summer, I thirst for a calendar that is less scheduled, more random acts of fun, and frivolous times spent with family and friends. And yet at the same time, I don’t want to waste away the months and find myself thinking in September, “What in the world did I accomplish over the summer?”

All that said, I want to keep a few challenges in mind, something that I can choose daily to do or not to do. They are not necessarily tasks to accomplish, but rather an attitude of the heart, a mindset, or a conscious choice in words or actions.

You might consider coming up with your own list, or even choosing some of mine. Yes, let’s seize the summer for a change of pace, but also seize the challenge to make daily choices in our attitudes, words, or actions.

Begin anywhere, just begin. 

Hold hands around the table and say grace before each meal. 

Spread random acts of kindness without anyone knowing you did. 

Take time to say, “Tell me your story.”  Then take time to listen. 

Be the last to criticize, the first to praise. 

Spend less, give more. 

Wear a smile, even when you don’t feel like it. It will begin to grow on you. 

Go the extra mile…for a friend or for your favorite ice cream.

Live in the present. Not the past. Not the future. 

See all the good around you, even if you have to squint. 

Be loving to the unlovable, even when you don’t feel like it. It may not change them, but it will change you. 

Be yourself, nobody does it better.

I’d love to hear about your summer challenges too. Email me at susanmiller@justmoved.org and let me know what you’re doing, where you’re going, and how I can pray for you.

In the meantime, be safe my friends. Make happy memories and take pictures, and when September comes, you’ll have a summer to remember.

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The Messy Tree Next Door

rakingIt’s intrusive and messy.

Huge limbs that reach out in all directions not only hang over the wall in my back yard, they also shed leaves that I have to rake up, along with small branches and pieces of bark that I have to pick up. Every time the wind blows or the season changes, leaves, small branches, and bark come tumbling down to mess up my well-kept little yard.

Sometimes I get frustrated and angry, and imagine cutting it down in the middle of the night, or picture a bolt of lightning striking it to the ground. Either way would suffice to take care of the problem.

One day, I decided to change my attitude about the messy tree, and give it a little grace. Especially since I couldn’t control the situation and had to live with the clean-up.

I began to appreciate the shade it provided in my yard. I noticed the hummingbirds that visited my flowers would go back to their nests on the limbs of the tree. I realized the cool breeze I enjoyed came from the long leaf-filled branches. Maybe the trade-off wasn’t so bad after all….

Then I began to think about the people in my life who are a lot like that tree. Their lives are messy, and sometimes their needs intrude on my well-planned day. I find myself trying to pick up the pieces of their brokenness that fall over into my own life. I try to imagine ways I could help take care of their problems, but then realize I am helpless to change or control their situation.

But then I remember–God has given me a lot of grace when I haven’t deserved it. The least I can do is to give a little grace to those who happen to fall into my life. It is a privilege to come alongside a friend in need and help pick up the pieces of her brokenness with the comfort of God’s word, committed prayer, and a listening heart. Friends have certainly picked up my pieces in my time of need. No, I can’t solve or fix their problems, but I can let them know I’m here for them with outstretched arms. Friends have opened their arms wide for me when I came tumbling down.

You see, all of our lives can be messy, even on our well-kept days.

God picks up the pieces of our brokenness. He will “intrude” and make His presence known in the middle of our mess.

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