The Woman with the Red Purse and How My Life Changed

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus still does that today, seven years later.  

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

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

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

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

From My Heart to Yours,

Susan Miller

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

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

Come, all who thirst

A river runs through it. Ok, so not quite a river, but, after the rain we’ve had, the normally dry “wash” behind my house is a small stream. 

the wash behind my house

A “wash” is Arizona-speak for a very wide ditch that allows the rainwater to run through the middle of it and into a drain somewhere at the end of my street. With the monsoon rains we have in Phoenix, drainage is key to prevent flooding.

You can’t see the wash from my backyard unless you peek over the six-foot wall and through the tall shrubbery that borders each side. Green grass fills the entire wash area, except during the hot summer months when it turns brown.

When the rain comes, it streams right through the grass. Sometimes the stream rises higher, depending on the rain. Then I might call it a creek. Never a river, or I’d be long gone.

After church last week, I was walking home, as I do every Sunday. Curious to see the water level and the flow of the stream, I stopped at the end of my street to take a look through the only place that gave me a full view of the wash. I stood there for a few minutes and watched the water ripple down a pathway through the grass, far beyond where my eyes could see. The stream quietly moved in and around and through the wash. The sun glistened on the tall, wet grass that seemed to bow in the direction the water flowed.

As I stood there, I was visually reminded of the living water of Jesus Christ that flows in and through our lives, reflecting God’s light to anyone who stops to take a good look at us. In awe and praise, we bow down to Him and follow His direction as He guides our pathway through life. Just as water can quench the thirst of a dry land, God can quench the thirst of our soul far beyond what we can imagine. 

Pretty awesome, huh?

And…there’s even the perfect scripture that flows right along with it…

But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst;
but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.
John 4:14

And the Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places.
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
Isaiah 58:11

Susan Miller

From My Heart to Yours,
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@SusanJustMoved

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,
Susan Miller signature

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

Running away to the circus


A young mom in my life who has five children, including a toddler and a baby, sent me a text recently. It’s worth sharing since we can all resonate with the feelings behind the words, and have probably felt like doing the same thing at one time or another.

circus tentMy friendToday is the kind of day I’d like to run away and join the circus…I’m going to the mall instead. I’m fighting discouragement…internal struggles.

MeDiversion is sometimes my sanity, until I realize the circus doesn’t need me like my family does. Let’s play on the trapeze for a while, then regroup with facing the elephants in life. We can do it, you hold my hand, and I’ll hold yours.

Then, silence, until I hear a text beep again…

My friendSpent an hour alone. By the time my husband came home I was done with the circus…and ready to face my real life.

MeSounds like you played all alone on the trapeze for a little while, looked at life from a different perspective, and decided the circus wasn’t for you. 

I loved her visual word picture! Oh, how many times I have wanted run away from emotional pain, circumstances I can’t change, and a heaviness in my heart to “join the circus” and escape from it all!

And yet, this much I know…

Running away might bring instant gratification with something new and different, but the thrill of it all fades fast.

Running away might mask the pain, until, when you least expect it, the mask slips off.

Running away might be a temporary escape from permanent circumstances, but reality is just around the corner.

Running away might relieve a heavy heart for a little while, but won’t take away the heartache you feel.

I know, because I’ve been there… done that.

I was running in the wrong direction. Take it from me, instead of running away from, try running to Jesus.

Run to call out to Him. Hey, you can even yell and scream at Him, He’s big enough to handle it. Jesus not only loves you, He knows you inside and out. He even knows you want to run away!

Run to Him in prayer. Tell Him how you really feel. Then ask for His grace and mercy.

Run to His word in scripture. I run fast to the Book of Psalms for comfort.

Run to lay your burdens at His feet. Then stand up and know the heaviness will become lighter.

Run to remember: His faithfulness to you, His provision for you, His presence that will never leave you.

It works. I know, because I’ve been there… done that. I learned that “joining the circus” doesn’t fill my heart like Jesus does.

Susan

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

 

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

 

A Roadway in the Wilderness

Isaiah 43:19roadway in the wilderness
Behold, I will do something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert.

Many of you, like me, have had a “wilderness experience” in your life. It’s when uncontrollable circumstances, or a life-changing crisis rocks your world. When you feel like you are aimlessly trying to find your way through a maze of darkness, and just survive–one step at a time. You feel empty, confused, overwhelmed, and desolate.

I know some of your stories, your struggles, your heartaches, and your pain. Your wilderness experience could be with a physical illness, with emotional anguish, with financial hardship, or with a broken relationship. It could be in your marriage or in being single, in your aloneness, or in coping with a loss.

My wilderness experience began on a Sunday morning when the surgeon gave us the news that Bill had an aggressive and rare form of colon cancer that had spread to his liver–and there was nothing they could do. Then, just four months later on a Sunday morning Bill went home to be with the Lord. That was almost three years ago, and there are still days when I struggle to get through the emotions of my loss. I choose daily to put one foot in front of the other and press on.

God made a roadway to survival in my wilderness. In the midst of my sadness, God made a roadway to finding joy. In the midst of my loss, God made a roadway to finding contentment. In the midst of my longing for Bill, God made a roadway to finding peace.

God will provide a roadway in your wilderness, my sisters! Listen to His voice when you feel confused. Learn His word when you need comfort and reassurance. Lean on him when you don’t have all the answers. Rest in Him when you are weary and worn-out. Trust Him when your circumstances overwhelm you.

It’s not always easy, in fact, it’s downright hard some days. There will be times when you feel like you can’t do anything but breathe. But remember this: When God provides a roadway IN the wilderness—He provides a way OUT of the wilderness. He did it for me, He will do it for you.

It is Jesus who will meet you at your point of need. It is Jesus who will soothe your soul, and comfort your heart. It is Jesus who will give you hope to face tomorrow.

Susan Miller