Today has been a day of sadness, joy, grief and gratefulness all mixed into one tangle of emotions. I went to pay my respects and to honor the memory of Shirley Miller. I have known Gaylord and Shirley for 50 years. During some very difficult years in my childhood they made a forever difference in my life by doing something for me that helped to transform and change my life. But before I tell you this part of the story I must tell you some painful things that I don’t like talking about, on my trip to northern Indiana I felt strongly that the Lord wanted me to share this story. In 1956 my unmarried mother became pregnant with me, my father was a married man who refused to own up to his responsibilities. My mother moved back in with her parents. My father never had anything to do with me or my mother, in short I never met him, never heard his voice, to me it is as if he never existed. Thank God that my mom moved back in with her parents, my grandparents became like parents to me. When I was four years old my mother got married and life became even more difficult, my step-father who adopted me was a cruel, mean, vicious person, since I am not a psychiatrist I I will not attempt a diagnosis regarding his mental health. Suffice to say he was a abusive person and out of respect for family I am not going into details. Thus began my childhood battle to live with my grandparents as much as possible. When I was home it was mostly a place of chaos. My mother eventually divorced my step-father, two years later in a fit of rage he pulled out a gun, shot and killed himself. During this time my grandfather who was the only positive male influence in my life died of a massive heart-attack on the parking lot at work. I am not complaining but life was a little tough.
My great grandmother was converted in the Church of the Nazarene in Paulding Ohio circa 1918. My grandmother was converted as a child. So the Church of the Nazarene had been the spiritual influence for part of our family for a long time.
During the turmoil surrounding my grandfathers passing we had no car and no way to go to church. Mrs. Mattie Albert offered to pick us up for Sunday School and Church. A year or two later Gaylord and Shirley Miller started picking us up for Sunday School and Church along with their kids we all piled into their car, this was pre-car seat and seat belt laws days! Once in a while I wonder how did I make it out of that kind of environment to where I am today? Three things: God, Grandma, and the Good Folks of Southside Nazarene.
As a child I distinctly remember hearing my grandmother pray for me. She prayed that God would protect me and use me and that I would serve God all the days of my life. She was an encourager and a godly influence in my life.
The good people of my home church. In those days people like me were called ‘illegitimate children.’ Never once in my church did anyone make fun of me, put me down or treat me differently than anyone else. Gaylord and Shirley became more than Sunday School chauffeurs, they became role models, and mentors even though I never heard that term in those days. They were a positive influence in my life. Jim and Ruth Jackson, and Paul and Lynda Hafted also transported me back and forth to church. Joe Yater, who was a Sunday School teacher invited me to go the church, ‘father and son’ banquet as his son. I remember the Sunday morning standing before the mirror in the mens restroom while John Ridgley took the entire Sunday School hour teaching me how to tie a neck tie. I know that tying a tie is not a necessary life skill today, but in the 1960’s is was an essential life skill. He built me a bike, and once and only once, he took me aside and told me to straighten up, While he was lecturing me, I had the strange mixture of embarrassment and astonishment, I was amazed that any man would care enough to lecture me. Sister Mattie Albert, when I announced I was going to attend Olivet Nazarene College, told me that the Lord wanted her to help me with $500 of my tuition each of my four years. That was back when $500 was real money!! I know there have been a lot of goofy people associated with church over the years. I am telling you some of the greatest people who have ever taken breath were in my church, and without them I would not be where I am today! If I started naming names I could fill a page or two of people who poured themselves into my life.
As I was talking to Shirley’s family today, I told them that down through the years there have been many behind the scenes people who have picked kids up and hauled them to church, taught Sunday School, passed out bulletins and washed dishes. These people have rarely been called up front and given a plaque or an award. But in heaven Shirley is receiving her reward. Thank you Shirley and Gaylord, and so many more. What you did for me will never be forgotten and I love you all from the bottom of my heart.
Today and forever I am grateful for God, Grandma, and the good people of Southside Nazarene.
Thank you Shirley for your love and concern and willingness to go out of your way to see that a boy got to church.