Empty nest, empty heart

empty nestLearning to let go one more time

“It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to
Cry if I want to, cry if I want to.
You would cry too if it happened to you.”
(A popular song from the 60s by Lesley Gore)

You thought you were ready for this, but you never expected it to be so hard, or that you would cry so much.

You fought back the tears as you hugged tightly, secretly never wanting to let go, trying to be strong, even brave at this momentous moment. The words swelled up in your heart. There was so much you wanted to say,

“Don’t forget to call or text me.
Get enough sleep.
Eat healthy.
Don’t stay out too late.
Choose your friends wisely.
Remember to wash your clothes once a week.
And oh, please be careful-it’s a crazy world out there.”

But you didn’t, at least right now you didn’t. You’ve said it all a hundred times before this day.

You simply whispered, “I love you.”

You were trying hard to act like a grown-up mom to this growing-up child, who was growing-up too fast, too soon. The voice in your head said, “Wasn’t it just yesterday that I rocked you to sleep and held your hand as you took your first step? Now you are taking your first step into college.” You hear this growing-up child that you cheered on in life, now trying to cheer you. “I’ll be fine mom…don’t worry….”

All the way home, you cry uncontrollably, mascara running down your face, snot pouring out your nose. This is not the time to hold back. Let it come. You reach for a sleeve, an arm, a Kleenex – anything to stop the dam that broke. You just left behind your baby – your firstborn, your middle child, or your youngest. It doesn’t matter which one, it still hurts. It’s cutting another umbilical cord, it’s letting go of a part of who you are. It’s facing an empty, clean room with the bed made, no shoes or clothes scattered everywhere, and posters still hanging on the wall. Oh, how you yearn to see that room messy just one more time to have glimpses of life there.

In case you are wondering, I was the “YOU” years ago when I experienced the emotional transition and unexpected adjustment of sending off our oldest, and then our youngest, to college. My head knew all the right things – we raised them for a time such as this. We gave them roots in family and in Christ and wings of confidence to soar and become all they could be. We knew it was time for them to become independent and begin to figure out life on their own. We knew one season of life had ended and another season was about to begin. That being said, it was not easy to emotionally let go or to stop crying for weeks as I grieved the loss of their daily presence in our family circle.

I couldn’t seem to get a grip as I struggled with the emptiness that seemed to consume me. I particularly remember one time when I was laying face-down in our hammock, crying so hard my tears went through the hammock and on the patio. It was one of those messy-slobbery-ugly-cries. I missed tripping over the sports shoes that were always taken off at the bottom of our stairs after school. My refrigerator seemed empty. The house was too quiet. I missed the laughter, chatter, and even the music that had a good beat.

The sadness in my empty heart was eventually filled with happiness and peace as I began to see our growing-up children begin to thrive on their own. I had done my part as a mom, now it was time to leave them in God’s hands and ask Him to protect, guide, and equip them in their new journey. I needed to move forward with faith and trust, knowing God would always be with them. You do have to come full circle with all of this and, at some point, realize that it’s not all about you, it’s about them. You are then taking your first step in letting go.

Remember these things:

  • You will always be their mama and they will always need you.
  • You did a good job raising them. Don’t second guess that.
  • Say often to them, “I believe in you. You can do this.”
  • Let them manage their own lives and figure it out.
  • They will make mistakes and they will learn from them. Don’t short-circuit that.
  • Let them know, no matter what happens, you will be there for them.
  • Pray for them every day.

And, be assured they will come home again – with a suitcase full of dirty clothes, ready to eat a home-cooked meal!

I have dedicated him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the Lord.  I Samuel 1:28

From My Heart to Yours,
Susan Miller

A Loss of Presence and Tears of Perseverance

Could it really be – eight years? That seems like so l-o-n-g ago. To me, it seems like only yesterday. Yet, it was eight years ago this month that my husband, Bill, lost his battle with cancer. The loss of his presence still lingers with me and, in a quiet moment, I find myself smiling as I reflect on a few of the things I still miss…

his voice that I long to hear,
his footsteps as he walked in a room,
his soft whistle which was music to my ears,
his smile that made everything right in my crazy world,
and his touch that made my heart skip a beat.

Susan and Bill MillerI miss his insight and wisdom when I needed perspective in a situation.
I miss sharing my day and sharing my heart with him.
I miss how he brought me a cup of coffee every morning.
I miss watching him teach our grandchildren how to flip “papa’s pancakes” on the grill.
I miss walking with him to church every Sunday.
I miss the man who lived out Jesus to me as we grew older together.

The loss of Bill’s presence left a void in my life and heart that took me to my darkest hours on the steps of my soul. It was there that God met me in my early years of grief, soothed me with His word, and filled me with His peace and comfort. I had no idea of the magnitude and depth that God’s love and care could be….and for eight years God has not once forgotten or left me.

Our marriage was not perfect by any means. When you’ve been married 45 years, you have your bumps along the way. Sometimes there were more valleys than mountain tops, more tears than laughter, more hurt than healing. There were years when we were more disconnected than connected, more broken than whole. There were even times when I wanted to give up and walk away – marriage was just too hard.

But I didn’t. He didn’t. We didn’t. Even though Bill worked 24/7 in a demanding job, and I was enmeshed in our two small children, we knew we had to make a choice to commit to our marriage and whatever it took to make it work. We began to focus on God instead of our issues and problems. God’s word became a light on our path. We prayed together, went to church together, joined marriage classes and marriage small groups, and hung out with mentors who modeled a Godly marriage. We learned how to communicate and talk to each other without blaming each other for everything that was wrong in our relationship. Things didn’t change overnight, but over time we began to change. We began to grow deeper roots in Christ and, as our roots entwined with each other, we were strengthened and equipped as one, to weather the storms in our marriage.

My deep loss of Bill’s presence, has been filled with an even deeper gain of the presence of Jesus.  My presence will go with you…Exodus 33:14

And, because of Jesus, I can face another year with peace, contentment, and the cherished memories of our 45 years together.

I want you to claim my life verse that I claimed for my marriage and kept on my favorite picture of us as a reminder of God’s faithfulness:

Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory. Ephesians 3:20-21

So why am I sharing all this through my tears of perseverance? You…you, might just be the woman reading this that needs hope. You are going to make it through your loss. You can make it in your marriage. You will come out of your pit of despair.

Never give up, never lose hope.  And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you. Psalm 39:7

From My Heart to Yours,
Susan Miller

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.

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…

Susan Miller signature@SusanJustMoved

 

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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Lost without it

I had to part with my Bible recently to have the outside cover replaced and the inside repaired. It was falling apart after years of gentle wear and tear. The cover had completely separated from the spine, and the pages were loose. Over time, it had become more difficult to hold it together. When my Bible was sent to the bindery, I wasn’t sure how long it would take to repair, when it would be returned, and wondered if I would even recognize it when it looked all shiny and new. 

Bible inside

Being without it left such a void in my life. Although I have other Bibles that I used during that time, they just weren’t like my old
one that had become an inseparable and intricate part of my life.

It was like saying goodbye to a beloved, intimate friend that I’d grown so comfortable with over the years. A friend that would shower me with unconditional love and joy, speak truth into my life, and give me encouragement when I needed it. A friend that I trusted with all my heart, and would be there for me when times were tough. A friend who was a lifeline of hope and gave promises of good things to come. The pages of her life had been a model for all I wanted to be. My Bible had become over the years, my beloved, intimate friend.

The days slipped by, and then the weeks came and went, until it was repaired, restored and whole again. At last– it was ready! I could hardly wait…

Bible reboundWhen I first saw it, it looked so unfamiliar. When I first held it, it felt so stiff in all its newness. I felt like I had to get reacquainted with an old friend that I hadn’t seen in a long time. Would we bond together as before? Would we pick up where we left off and resume the rhythm of our friendship?

Then as I opened my Bible, the pages once again wrapped around my heart. The scripture – underlined from years of use, notes in the side columns used in teaching, dates written by verses that marked milestones in my life – embraced me like an old friend. The familiar words comforted me again with God’s love. As I turned the pages, I felt joy within, the power of encouragement, the impact of truth, and hope that permeated my mind and emotions. Hello, old friend…

God’s word withstands the changes that occur around us. Life can fall apart, we can be worn out, feel like we’re coming unglued, or even useless to anyone. It’s what’s inside us, written on the pages of our heart, that will sustain us in the wear and tear of life. Don’t wait until the years go by, and you become older, make God’s word an inseparable and intricate part of your life now. Welcome an old friend…

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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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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