A chair, a raspberry scone, and words remembered

words hurt or helpA southern brunch in the deep south–aahh, there’s nothing like it. Shrimp, sausage and grits with gravy, hot biscuits stuffed with country ham, egg casseroles with melted cheese on top, a fruit compote with whipped cream, homemade scones dripping with butter.

my.oh.my. bring.it.on.

I can smell the aroma and taste the goodness right now. The very best part of any southern brunch gathering is being with family and friends that I don’t get to see often enough.

Yes, the food is great, but family is greater. Yes, I can still taste the food, but I savor the relationships. 

I bridge the miles between Arizona and Georgia with cherished memories that I bring back with me to tuck away in my heart. One particular memory involved a chair and a raspberry scone.

We all heaped our plates with food and sat in the dining room, kitchen area, or outside on the deck. Ten of us gathered around the dining room table as we talked non-stop to catch up with one another. My niece’s six-year-old little boy sat next to her so she could watch him closely, and carefully help him with the food on his plate. Then, in an instant, what every mom dreads happened. The raspberry scone crumbled from hand to mouth, fell in his lap, and then nestled on the beige fabric dining room chair. I could see the panic on her face as she smiled and quickly tried to brush the crumbs in a napkin, only to find the raspberries left their lovely red color imprinted on the chair.

We’ve all been in similar situations when we are in someone else’s home and we break a glass, spill coffee or red wine, or food somehow slips off our plates and hits the white sofa. Accidents happen to adults and children.

After we finished eating and everyone left the dining room, she quietly tried several different stain-removal methods – none of which seemed to work. My heart hurt for her, knowing how bad she felt about the stain on the chair. She looked up at me and said, “I’m so sorry Aunt Susan, I’ll tell Ann that I will pay to have the chair repaired.”

At that moment I realized what a serious issue this was in her mind and how it could quickly ruin her day. How I responded could either defuse the situation and put it in perspective, or lead her to remember the incident more than the wonderful time we were all having together.

Without hesitation I said, “Hey girl, flaws build character in a chair, and messes like this make memories!” She looked up at me, smiled, and said, “Yes, I guess it does.” Her spirit seemed lifted and we spent the rest of the day not mentioning the chair or the raspberries.

I quickly forgot about the raspberries and the chair after I came back home, and settled in to my crazy, but wonderful ministry life.  I received a text last week from my niece with some family pictures taken during our day together. It was what she said in her text that brought tears to my eyes and reminded me of the impact we have on others by the words we choose to say. “Thank you for the kind and supportive words you shared over the raspberry stain. I have repeated those words to myself every day since Sunday. It is such a wonderful reminder that it is the flaws that really make us and the messes make the memories.”

Oh, how many times I’ve blown a situation and hurt someone I love by choosing to react in a harsh voice, rather than respond in a loving manner. Our words can hurt or heal, encourage or discourage, build up or tear down, and can make or break someone’s day–or heart.

O Lord, may this be a reminder to me, and perhaps to you also, to be sensitive, kind, and caring in a sticky situation. May we never forget that the words we choose to say can make an impact on someone’s life and be long remembered.

…Say only what is good and helpful to those you are talking to, and what will give them a blessing. Ephesians 4:29 TLB

Susan MillerFrom My Heart to Yours,

 

Susan Miller

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

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.

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Knee Deep in Lemonade and Life Lessons

Cousin CampCamp NanaPapa, better known as Cousin Camp, has come to an end for another summer. Every July, I look forward  to having all six grandchildren, ages seven to thirteen, together for a cousin reunion. They make crafts and bake cookies, play board games and kickball, swim and bike ride, take long walks and watch movies. They laugh and cry, scuff knees and feelings, stay up late, and sleep in, drink gallons of lemonade, and eat countless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I love every minute. I watch, participate, listen, and learn. I have captured the memories with pictures, and have tucked the tender moments in my heart.

God continues to teach 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 I would share a few things God taught me at Cousin Camp this 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 so 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 seven to thirteen, 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, 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 two 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. Humble me all the more…

Susan Miller