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.

Susan Miller signature

Elvis has left the garage

Elvis costumeI remember going to an Elvis concert in Atlanta years ago. It was an experience I will never forget.

He looked quite spectacular in his tight, white silk bell bottom (now referred to as “boot cut”) pants, with the collar turned up on his matching white silk shirt. Of course, fringe ran all the way down the outside of his pants and the sleeves of the shirt and shimmered as he moved. The outfit was complete with gold chains layered around his neck, a wide belt with a flashy buckle, and big sunglasses that I’m sure he needed in order to see his captivated fans more clearly. He wore his signature Elvis cape and held a silk scarf that he wiped his brow with before he threw it into the audience. We were sitting so close to the stage that I just knew he looked right at me, wiggled those hips in true Elvis fashion, and smiled. Oh me, oh my…how I did sigh!

When Elvis left the stage, the traditional last words spoken in a deep voice from behind the curtain, said, “Elvis has l-e-f-t the building,” and then the lights went out. Sigh again…only the memory was left behind.

For years after that, anytime Bill and I went to a costume party, we always went as Elvis and Priscilla. Bill could not only imitate the Elvis mannerisms, but could sing in that same deep, charismatic voice. I, on the other hand, would be the swooning Priscilla, hanging on to every word in the song, and waiting for the scarf to be thrown to me. To add to our authenticity, friends had fun creating a real Elvis outfit from a resale store, polyester fabric for a cape and scarf, a black wig, oversized sunglasses, a huge macramé belt (formerly a wall hanging), and chains (that were used to hang plants) to wear around his neck. My black bell bottom pants and top, along with plastic jewelry, was also completed with a wig.

As the years went by, “Elvis” was packed away in a box, in our garage, with cherished memories of the fun and laughter Bill and I shared together.

Not long ago when cleaning out the garage, I came across the box marked, “Elvis”. I went through our costumes and recalled every crazy, wonderful memory they held. It was time to pass along the box to another couple who loved costume parties and would carry on the Elvis and Priscilla tradition in grand style.

Why am I telling you this story from the pages of my life? For this very reason:  Don’t miss the moment, my friends. Capture the memories of fun and laugher. Create traditions as a couple, or as a family. It’s never too soon, and it’s never too late, to make memories together. Start now.

One day, you’ll be like me when you’re going through an old box of memories. You’ll look back over the years and smile, and be ever so grateful the memories are left behind.

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Everything I need to know, I learned from my grandchildren

grandchildrenCousin Camp has come to an end for another summer. Every July I look forward to having all six grandchildren, ages eight to fourteen, together for a cousin reunion. I must have fixed 12 gallons of lemonade, made 35 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, found 12 missing shoes, fixed an overflowing toilet 5 times, took at least 100 pictures to the tune of “Nana, please…n-o  m-o-r-e pictures,” and said “wash your hands,” at least 8 times a day. I do believe my daughter can fix mac n’ cheese and chicken nuggets 10 different ways!

It was reminiscent of my childhood as I watched them enjoy the simple fun of playing hide and seek in the dark, learning how to play the old-fashion game of Jacks, watching the boys play roly-poly races with small, round bugs on the sidewalk, and for everyone to run around in the rain as they squealed with glee. You can imagine the laughter when a Nerf ball was accidently (?) thrown, and hit a plate of pancakes filled with sticky syrup, or when hands were washed in the sink where the spaghetti was draining in the colander, and we all ate “soapy spaghetti.”

I set up the now famous “Nana’s Nail Salon” on our deck, and painted nails for my three granddaughters and their friends for a whole morning. My three grandsons, their friends, and all the girls, played board games on our deck, and played soccer, dodge ball, and capture the flag 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. I made the world’s largest chocolate chip cookie (on a huge pizza pan), along with a “build your own ice-cream sundae” for a dessert-night treat.  Bunk beds and sleeping bags filled the loft and the sound of giggles and conversations continued until “lights out” echoed up the stairs.

I loved every minute. I watched, participated, listened, and learned. I captured the memories with pictures, and 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 eight to fourteen, 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 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 and 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…

Susan Miller signature

Run the Race

run the race“I’m going to run in the Pat Tillman race,” she said.

“That sounds great,” he replied.

“It’s only 4.2 miles. I know we could do it,” she continued.

Running had become a bond between a brother and sister as they grew up, and as they got older over the years.

Even though they lived in different states, there was a competitive edge between them when they trained for a race. “I ran 5 miles today,” he would say. “I ran 5 ½ miles,” she would respond with a smile. It was the motivation needed to reach a common goal together. Their claim to fame had been running a half marathon and crossing the finish line side by side.

“I’ll be traveling with my family that weekend, so there’s no way I can be there,” he explained.

“Oh, okay,” she answered, with a hint of disappointment.

On the day of the race, she got up at 5:00am to get ready and quietly slip out of the house while her family was sleeping.

Her phone beeped. It was a text that said, “I’ll be thinking of you this morning. Good luck in the race.”

She smiled. His text was the encouragement she needed as she got in the car and drove to the city to find her place among thousands of runners.

An hour later, she was at the starting point when her phone beeped again with another text.treadmill

The words simply read, “I’m with you this morning. Check out the treadmill. Have fun.” She took a closer look at the picture. The numbers displayed on the treadmill read 4.2 miles.

Tears came to her eyes. He had gotten up when she did, gone down to the hotel workout room, and ran the exact distance of the race!

He had run the distance to encourage her on to victory, and indeed he did.

My daughter, Ginger, finished the race in record time, and my son, Bill, had been right there for his sister,  like so many other times over the years– in spirit and support.

Sometimes all it takes is for someone to “be there” for us, believe in our ability, or come alongside us when we need encouragement to reach a goal, push through circumstances, or take the next hard step in life.

Take a minute and think of who you know that needs an extra measure of kindness and thoughtfulness today. It could be as simple as words in a text or a caring gesture that expresses your support.

It just might spur them on to the victory line.

Susan Miller signature

You can never have too much

Susan and GingerWhen my daughter, Ginger, and I go shopping together, we love to buy a little something for each other, even if it’s just a cup of coffee. Often we will both love the same thing, so I buy one for her, and she buys one for me. We’re kind of silly that way, but it makes a memory, and has become a fun shopping tradition.
She saw the little painted, wooden plaque first, and quickly said, “Oh Mom, I love this, it’s so you!” As I picked up the little plaque, not only did I fall in love with the words painted on it, but knew it would be perfect in Ginger’s home too. At a bargain of $5.00 each, we grabbed the last two plaques, and gave them to each other when we got back in the car.
They now sit on our kitchen counters to greet us daily. In cute, colorful letters, it simply reads:

happiness

What a great reminder to not only me, but to anyone who enters my home—we can never be too happy.  It made me think about the reasons why being happy matters in life, and how it affects your heart, mind, and emotions.

Ten reasons you can never have too much happy:

1.    It can change the course of your day.

2.    It can change the direction of your life.

3.    It can change your attitude.

4.    It makes you smile.

5.    It’s contagious and spreads quickly.

6.    It is healthy for your heart.

7.    It can be emotionally healing.

8.    It puts a little sunshine in a rainy day.

9.    It helps you to be grateful.

10.  It is a pathway to joy.

Maybe you need a little happy today. Find it, choose it, create it, make it, embrace it, let it flood your soul. Be happy.

I always keep pom-poms in my car

pom poms
I always keep pom-poms in my car. You just never know when you might need to cheer someone on, or who might need a wave of encouragement. I’ve shown up with pom-poms at the airport, the hospital, birthday parties, sports events — anywhere I can add a touch of sunshine to someone’s day. I especially love showing up at soccer and basketball games to cheer for my grandchildren and their teams. My family used to give me that look that says, “Oh no, she’s going to do THAT again!” But after all these years, they are used to it, and even expect the pom-poms to appear.

When my son, Bill, told me he was coming to Phoenix to run the P.F. Chang Half Marathon, you can imagine my excitement. He had been training for the thirteen mile run for months, and wanted to break his previous running time. A few years ago, Bill and his sister  ran the race together, and I have a picture on my refrigerator with them crossing the finish line. Of course I was there, along with all six grandchildren, all of us waving pom-poms for their mom and dad. (I have a picture of them too!) So for the race this year, I was ready to cheer him on to victory at the finish line. I was so proud  when he accomplished his goal and beat his own record!

Someone said they couldn’t believe I would get up before daylight to get Bill down town for the race, fight the traffic, find a parking place, and join the crowds of spectators, when he could have done it on his own. But that’s what we do for our children, isn’t it? No matter how young or old they are, we are their cheerleaders through life. Whether it’s with pom-poms, words of praise, an expression of encouragement, or simply by being there for them — the things we do and say have a powerful positive influence on their lives. They don’t ever outgrow the need to be loved, affirmed, valued, and encouraged.

And, by the way, I’ve passed the pom-pom tradition on to the next generation in my family. They are equipped to cheer one another on to run the race of life and become the best they can be.

Susan

Right Under Your Nose

mother and daughterWhen I was growing up, mama used to always say, “It’s right under your nose, Susan!” In our family that always meant, 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. It was so obvious, that I almost found myself saying, “Duh!” I acted on it immediately, and reaped the reward of being spontaneous and flexible with a dear friend.

So—what are some of the things that are “right under your nose” this year? Maybe it’s an old habit you want to change, or a new habit you want to cultivate. It could be a word you want to leave out, or perhaps add to, your vocabulary. You might want to write a note to someone encouraging them through a difficult time, or write an overdue letter asking for forgiveness. Is it 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—to 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 it’s been right under your nose the whole time.

Susan Miller

An old bench filled with memories

the old bench

One of the sweet memories I have of my daddy many years ago, was sitting beside him 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 back yard, 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 and 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 three homes, and then finally ended up in the back yard, all the more weathered.

This summer, as I walked by the all-but-forgotten-bench, 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 husband, Bill, my children, and my grandchildren, flooded my heart and emotions.

stripping the paint

“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 cushion for the finishing touch!

Moved to a special place, the old-but-new bench continues to spark conversation magic. I watch my daughter and my grandchildren find a spot to sit next to me, and then we talk about many things….

Five lessons learned from an 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.

finished bench

Susan Miller

 

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