Charlie and Rita. A Love Story.

on an airplaneIt happened again. I got on the plane, anxious to get to my seat and settle in quietly with a good book for the four-hour flight from Charlotte to Phoenix. My eyes focused on the numbers and letters above the seats in anticipation of putting my tote bag in my seat and getting my carry-on in the overhead compartment as quickly as I could.

I hardly noticed the woman sitting in the middle and the man sitting by the window as I took my bottle of water and book out of the tote bag and pushed the bag under the seat in front of me. As I fastened my seat belt, I finally looked at the woman next to me and smiled. Nothing too engaging, just being polite and cordial is my modus-operandi after I’ve had a busy few days speaking. I briefly said hello.

I couldn’t help but look into her eyes as I spoke. They were noticeably red, with dark circles underneath and brimming with tears. Her face reflected an all too familiar pain and sadness marked with grief.

A quick nudge to my heart and emotions and I knew I was going deeper than a simple hello. “Heading back home to Phoenix?”

“No.” She hesitated, then said, “We’re going on to a place near the border for treatment for my husband. He has advanced, stage-four cancer that has spread. He’s had chemo and radiation and there is nothing more that can be done for him. He wants to try another kind of treatment as a last resort.”

“Oh,” I said softly, “I am so sorry.” I reached over and gently touched her left hand. Her right hand held her husband’s hand tightly, as if it were a life-line between them.

holding handsDuring our flight, the only time she let go of his hand was when she lovingly tucked a blanket around him, opened his crackers, poured his apple juice, or helped him up to go to the bathroom. If she didn’t reach for his hand first, he reached for hers. It was a picture of two people devoted to each other.

I guess it was the compassion in my eyes – or maybe it was my touch – but the unspoken words between us at that moment seemed to bring her a little comfort. “I’m Susan, what’s your name?”

“Rita,” she said, “and this is my husband, Charlie.” I leaned forward and looked over at Charlie. He was frail, gaunt, and very pale, but he managed a smile and nodded his head.

As Rita and I talked, I learned they had been married 52 years. She was from Germany and they met when Charlie was in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. They had two children and six grandchildren. They’ve lived in the same house for over 30 years in a small town in Ohio. I asked her if she had a group of friends, a support group, or a church family to come alongside them. “Only our neighbors,” she said. “We used to go to church, but haven’t been in the last four years since Charlie has been so sick.”

I was beginning to see why God had put me in Row 6, Seat C. Rita desperately needed someone who had walked a similar journey and who understood her pain. Someone who didn’t have all the answers, but enough to comfort and encourage her for a time such as this.

It was then that I began to share my own story of Bill and his stage-four cancer, how it spread so quickly, and how he lived only four months after the diagnosis. I went on to tell her we had been married 45 years, had two children, and six grandchildren. Bill had also been in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.

She leaned closer to me, tears rolling down her cheeks, and whispered, “I’m so scared. I don’t know what I’ll do without Charlie. I don’t know if I can make it.” 

My words to Rita poured out of a heart that had once whispered her same words and expressed those same fears. I reached for her hand and shared these things which I knew to be tried and true during my darkest days.

“Take one day at a time. Live each precious day together to the fullest, no matter how hard it is.

Trust God when you don’t understand. Talk to Him, He’s listening. Run to Him, He’s your refuge.

God will give you the strength you need to get through this. He’s right by your side and will never leave you.

God will comfort you beyond what you can imagine.

He will guide and direct you every step of the way when you feel alone and afraid.

You will make it, Rita. If I can survive, so can you.” 

I knew we were going to land soon and I didn’t want to miss the moment to say one last thing. “Can I pray for you and Charlie before we land?”

“Yes, I would like that,” she said.

Although I’ll never see Charlie and Rita again, I think of them and pray for them often. I can still see their hands, aged by years and love, held tightly together.

I smile knowing God had my seat and row waiting for me to sit down and settle in so He could carry out His perfect plan for a four-hour plane ride.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

Susan Miller

What do you do when you’re in lockdown and have nowhere to run?

Susan Miller, America's Moving Coachby Susan Miller

I was in a lockdown situation not long ago when an armed fugitive, who was a little too close for comfort, was being apprehended by a SWAT team. 

I never imagined being involved in something like that, especially when speaking to a group of Christian women at a retreat – at a camp conference center—in a beautiful forest setting. Although it ended well for all of us, it was one of those times in my life when I asked myself the hard questions.

What do I do now?

emotional and physical "lockdown"How do I stay calm?

How will I get through this?

What will happen next?

The answers surfaced from within very quickly.

It occurred to me after it was all over, that many of us have been on some kind of lockdown in life, either physically or emotionally.

It could be an emotional lockdown from the pain of loss, a broken relationship, fear of the unknown, or shame brought on by circumstances. For those of you who have been there—you know what it’s like. You shut yourself off from everything and everyone, and simply close down your feelings and emotions. You find safety in the lockdown.

It could be a physical lockdown from an illness, a disease, or abuse that is debilitating – crippling your body, mind, and spirit. You are so helpless to do anything about it. Your physical condition dictates your day and you feel trapped. You can’t run, you can’t escape—you have no control over what’s happening to you. You are powerless in the lockdown.

So, you say, what do you do when you’re in a lockdown situation?

First, go back to what you already know. And, if you don’t know it, learn it now so you’ll know what to do then.

Run to JesusWhen you have nowhere to run to, run with all your might to Him. If you think about it, there is really nowhere we can go that is totally safe anymore. He alone is our refuge, our only safe place. Depend on Jesus to give you the strength to endure the circumstances. Dwell in Him and on Him.

Pray—While you are waiting, pray faithfully, and without ceasing. Pray for protection, inner peace, and a calm spirit. Pray for others who are involved along with you. Pray that God will use you for His glory, and that you might be a light in a dark situation.

Recall His Word—In times such as this, rest in His promises. Recall and repeat scriptures of hope and protection to yourself or out loud. Saturate your mind and fill your heart with the remembrance of His word.

Trust Him—When the outcome of your situation is beyond your control, trust Him with your whole heart to see you through it. Don’t panic, know that He will be with you, His presence will surround you in all circumstances – regardless of what the outcome might be.

Be gratefulNo matter what, there is always something, or someone, to be grateful for. Recount your blessings. Focus on being grateful. It’s hard to be negative when you are thanking God. When it’s all over, don’t forget to thank God first before you do anything else.

And last, but not least, practically speaking…

Do the next thing—Whatever that might be, whatever that looks like – do the right thing and do the next thing.

  • Stay focused on what’s important.
  • No matter how helpless you might feel, let your common sense kick in.
  • Respond to the situation, don’t react to it.
  • Don’t do or say anything you will regret later.
  • Be wise; don’t foolishly put yourself in harm’s way.

In a crisis, remember that Jesus is on center stage—reflected in you, and through you by your actions and your words.

Make Him proud…

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear. Psalm 46:1

A toothache, a root canal, and a dental visit I’ll never forget

dentistIt isn’t actually the tooth that hurts, it’s the gum above the tooth, I told myself.

I put up with the discomfort for a week, but when a week came and went, my better judgment said go to the dentist. I called my dentist office; they got me right in. One look, one x-ray, and he sent me straight to the endodontist.

“It’s an abscess. You’re going to need a root canal, and then some further surgery due to bone loss,” he said.

Oh, this is just great, I thought. Like I need the expense and inconvenience of a major tooth problem right now.

I took a deep breath as the dental chair reclined and the shot in my gum began to numb the areaI knew I’d be held captive with my mouth open and the sound of the drill for at least an hour. My nerves began to kick in and I could feel my heart rate increasing.

I kept repeating over and over again in my head, take my hand, Lord, take my hand. I envisioned God placing His hand in mine and squeezing it tightly to calm and comfort me. I even opened my hand slightly, eagerly waiting for His calming touch to come.

As if the words were audible, I heard, “I don’t want one hand, I want both hands.”both hands

Pretty profound, huh? It was for me.

I took another deep breath and wrapped my thoughts around what had just happened.

As a visual learner, I clearly got the message. God wanted all my anxiety and fear, not just one handful. Let go, Susan. Don’t hold back. Give all your emotions to me. I will calm you, comfort you, and give you peace.

…and I did…and He did.

No matter where you are, even in a dentist chair, God will speak to you – somehow, someway – when you call out to Him. Perhaps His message to you will be similar to mine:Let it goGive it all to me. I will calm you, comfort you, and give you peace.

Let Him have all your worries and cares, for He is always thinking about you and watching everything that concerns you. I Peter 5:7 TLB

From My Heart to Yours,

Susan Miller signature

Fragile, handle with care

heart in handsIt all started after a sleepless night worrying about all the major repairs – from roof leaks, to inside water damage – that needed to be addressed first thing the next morning. At times, worry does seem to creep in, doesn’t it?

Early the next morning, with coffee in hand, I settled in to my favorite chair to read my devotional, pray for the day ahead, and center my thoughts from worry to trust. My emotions were fragile, and I felt overwhelmed with all that would be involved in the process of repair work, and what I imagined it would cost.

As I prayed, the word “nice” kept surfacing in my mind. “Oh Lord, please let the people I have to talk to today about all of these issues be nice to me.” I just didn’t think I could handle an unkind or rude person in my state of mind. I felt sure I’d burst into tears. Looking back, it’s funny how I felt: if everyone was kind or nice to me, I could handle whatever the outcome.

Each person I spoke with was not only nice to me, but kind as well. They went above and beyond what was required. When I hung up the phone, all I could say was, “Thank you Lord!” I had asked for little, and received more than I could have imagined. People, simply going out of their way to be nice and kind, strengthened my fragile emotions and changed the course of my day. It took so little to make a big difference.

That was the same day a stranger “paid it forward” in the drive-through line at Starbucks and bought my coffee, and I received a lovely card in my mailbox from a friend who just wanted to say she was thinking of me. God is a God of details and surprises, and He encouraged me in the most unexpected ways…and it all began with people being nice and kind.

What if? What if you and I went above and beyond this Christmas and practiced random acts of kindness to people in the most unexpected ways? At a time when “hurry” is normal, what if we slowed down and took the time to send a personal note of gratitude. When lines are long, and patience is short, what if we let someone go ahead of us who has fewer items to buy. What if we paid it forward and treated a stranger to a cup of coffee, or a meal. What if we went out of our way to speak and act nicely, knowing it just might strengthen a fragile heart and change the course of someone’s day.

It takes so little to make a big difference…

Susan Miller signature

Ordinary women called to do extraordinary things

Military wives: unsung heroes of our militarymilitary wife

Imagine the fear and anxiety of being a military spouse who has not heard from her husband, doesn’t know exactly where he is, or what he is doing. She simply waits. She has no option other than to trust and have faith that the phone will ring, the text or email will come, or his face will appear on Skype—anything to reassure her that he is okay. Imagine how she feels when her husband’s mission is so classified that he cannot share the stress he endures daily. Think about the strain on her marriage and on her children when a PCS (a move), or deployment comes–again, and then, again.

I had the privilege to be with many military wives who live with these situations at the PWOC  international military conference in Nashville, Tennessee recently. Needless to say, I have a soft spot in my heart for these women, many of them young enough to be my daughter. They have gone through things that most people, who do not live in a military world, will not experience in a lifetime. They are ordinary women, who are called to do extraordinary things as they serve on the front lines at home, while their husbands serve our country. They face the daily battles of loneliness, fear, and anxiety with perseverance, resilience, and, above all, an unwavering hope and trust in Jesus Christ.

Story after story touched my heart, and strengthened my faith. Jesus was always at the center of each conversation, the anchor for their survival. As I prayed with Mary*, the tears flowed over the heartache of a rebellious son who desperately needed his deployed father. Sue, who I had met at a military conference in Germany, wouldn’t let go of me as we embraced. She shared that her marriage was falling apart, and she didn’t know how to put the pieces back together again. Katherine, married one year and pregnant, was moving to a remote military base in Japan to be with her husband. She was anxious about a different culture, a foreign language and being so far from family. We hovered in a corner and I listened as she expressed her fear of the unknown.

These women, along with countless others, are my heroes. I am one of their biggest fans. I will stand on the sidelines of their lives and pray for peace, comfort, and victory in the midst of their circumstances. May we never forget to pray for our soldiers who serve our country, and for those who are in harm’s way, for their spouses who keep the home fires burning, and for their children who struggle with the uprooting and upheaval of change. Just imagine what our prayers can do…

Susan Miller

*names have been changed