what every child longs to know

People were already leaning against the walls around the mortuary when we sat down in the last two chairs on the end of the back row. I wasn’t sure where to sit at my brother’s funeral.

My husband leaned over to ask about the people in the old photos scrolling on the screen hanging from the ceiling. He recognized the one of the eight-year-old girl holding her brother in footed pajamas across her lap. I began explaining the crooked arm of my family tree in a whisper, when a friend stood up and waved us over to the front row.

I told her I assumed there wasn’t enough room.

It’s what my father told me on the phone when I asked if I could live with him during my teen years. I’ve been hesitant to assume there is a place for me now. Sometimes the kiddie table in the other room feels the most comfortable.

We found a place on the far edge of seats, in front of long time family friends I met as a child, feeling like stagehands among the cast and crew. Aware how comfortable my heart beat on the inside despite the weary road of letting go.

After the memorial service, my Dad stood up red faced, relieved to have averted showing emotion for the loss of his son. He grabbed my arm and pulled me into a group of friends huddled in consolation, introducing me to friends of years.  All of them, strangers to me.

I wondered if they knew I had a branch on the tree, if my leaves resembled the others.

I shook the hand of the hair stylist who knew about each move we’d made over the past ten years. Hugged women who told me they read my blog, how touched they were by my words. Several stood in line waiting to meet the daughter who they knew from pictures propped up on office shelves for years.

And just behind death, He prepares a plot of epiphany. A door waiting for interpreters to twist the knob open to the truth, for those whose mouths are mute.

Love is a constant companion for endless days of wondering. Sometimes it takes a stranger to break the silence and help you see.

I hugged my father and told him I loved him. He peeled away, tilted his head back with his hands on my shoulders and said, “We need to spend more time together.”

“Yes Dad,” I agreed. “We do.”













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Shelly Miller
Editor, Living the Story Shelly Miller is smitten with the art of story to transform a life. She writes about her own struggles as a child of divorce and alcoholism, and the way God redeems it all as a clergy wife raising two teens. With experience as a full-time missionary, advocate for orphans in Rwanda and leader of women’s ministries for small and large congregations, she is passionate to help people realize calling despite circumstance. When her husband H isn’t leading a church planting movement in North America, they drive five minutes across the street to take a walk on the Atlantic, with a camera strapped to her shoulder.
Shelly Miller

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43 Comments

  1. thank you for this powerful and well written blog post. I hope you are spending more time with your dad…

    • Shelly Miller

      We are being more intentional about connecting on email and phone calls. It’s a good start.

  2. KrisCamealy

    Oh Shelly. What a way you have with telling stories. This is so deeply moving. I’m just quiet now, taking it all in. Bless you, my fried.

    • Kris….your comments echo mine. I was ‘there’ with Shelly in that back-row corner. And now, I’m reliving similar situations in my mind. I feel sad, yet hopeful.

    • Shelly Miller

      You’ve humbled me Kris, thank you.

  3. Such a poignant mix of longing and receiving in this piece. You have such a beautiful way of bringing us alongside your journey, Shelly. I find it compelling that your life questions become my own and, somehow, it feels as if we get to answer them together. Thank you for this gift. Grace and peace, friend.

    • Shelly Miller

      I treasure what you said Holly. The coming alongside is a prayer of my heart and being a safe place to work them out together is another. Thank you for saying so friend.

  4. Shelly, what a beautiful post. I can only echo the “I hope you are spending more time with your Dad” comment. It’s ten years since I lost mine this week and I too have written about his funeral and my thoughts and feelings on him, I hope you found the process as cathartic as I did. Emma

    • Shelly Miller

      It does help to write it out doesn’t it Emma? We are both trying to be more intentional. I’ve given up on what that looks like and trying to be more open handed about building the relationship without expectations.

  5. Lori

    Wow, felt like I was there sitting in the back observing! Wonderful way of telling this story…and I am so glad your daughter is okay!

    • Shelly Miller

      Thanks Lori, me too. It’s been a sobering few hours, in more ways than one.

  6. I’m still waiting on that moment. Thanks for the hope!

    • Me too.

    • Shelly Miller

      Rebekah, standing with you to receive it. And may your heart recognize the moment when it appears, even if it is not what you imagined or expected.

  7. Oh, Shelly! My heart ached with you, reading the part about “not having room”! I know exactly what you mean!! And the description of a stage hand among cast and crew – well, that’s about the best description I’ve run across – fits my “crooked family tree” exactly, at least the branches involving my father.
    Here’s a quote my daughter had engraved into a bracelet she gave me for Mother’s Day – “Love is the voice under all silences.” That’s my earnest prayer, at least.
    Thanks for another moving posting!

    • Shelly Miller

      Wow, love that quote and it sounds like you know what I’m talking about here Sherri, like you’ve lived it. So glad to be in good company.

  8. Dear Shelly…This is so beautifully written. I was ‘there’ with you in that funeral home, sitting in that back-row corner. In that crowd of life-long, family friends you were meeting for the first time. When you wrote about there not being ‘room for you’ in your Dad’s house when you asked to live with him as a teenager…it took me back to when my baby sister was forced to move in with my Dad when he left my mother, because Mom couldn’t handle her. My Dad did NOT want my sister there because she cramped his style. He had other plans. My sister has, all her life, felt unwanted and unloved by him. She has many ‘emotional issues’ to this day that she grapples with. My compassion for her has been renewed today, because of what you’ve written and how you’ve written it. Thank you, Shelly.

    • Shelly Miller

      Oh Jillie, my heart goes out to your sister. We never get too old to need love and acceptance from the ones who gave us life. Praying she finds that deep sense of belonging in her heavenly Father. And thanking God with you for perspective. That is a gift.

  9. Nikole Hahn

    Second chances are golden. We can’t change the past. :o)

    • Shelly Miller

      Yes Nikole. We have a choice don’t we? To stay stuck in the past wishing things were different or moving forward in acceptance.

  10. How He does redeem it all. Bittersweet, my friend.

    • Shelly Miller

      Yes, and that brings me to tears on most days.

  11. This was such a raw write, Shelly. I felt every word.

    Thanks for reminding me that hope has a way of sneaking in…

    • Shelly Miller

      It was sort of hard to write, but then most things worth doing aren’t easy are they?

  12. Shelly, oh how you take me right there, into the room with you, assuming the place to sit is in the back, invisible, forgotten. And your dad’s arms around you, the community bringing the two of you into a place where words and love and hope may be more easily experienced. Love this, friend. So grateful for you.

    • Shelly Miller

      I’m always surprised by God and the way He redeems our pain for his purposes. And thankful too, so very thankful.

  13. Kelli Woodford

    So inviting — your heart spilled in this story.

    Those relationships don’t disappear, do they? Though separated by miles and years, they have a way of following us around. And provide a bridge with which we reach others.

    As I read through your comments here, it is evident that this is happening. You are reaching. And even your pain is being so radically redeemed, friend.

    By His wounds we are healed, and by allowing others into our own woundedness, we offer communion. And begin to see wholeness in a brand new way.

    • Shelly Miller

      . . by allowing others into our own woundedness, we offer communion . . those are some beautiful words Kelli. I’m a believer in the power of redemption, especially today. Thanks for being here Kelli.

  14. Funerals can be times of thaw. Sounds like you got a bit of that.

    • Shelly Miller

      I like that Megan. Times of thaw . . . and awe.

      • Sandra Heska King

        Thaw and awe. You girls are good!

  15. Dolly Lee

    oh, Shelly, my heart was waiting in the back with you…grateful for the redeeming moments in your story…poignant writing…Thank you for the honor of sharing the moment with you.

    • Shelly Miller

      I woke up thinking about all the loss I’ve had this year and the way He redeems each one. It blows me away. Thanks for stopping by here Dolly, its always good to visit with you.

  16. Diana Trautwein

    What a gift to discover love and and attention you didn’t even know about. But what a reflection on a long and tangled relationship. May you continue to be blessed and encouraged by discovery as you and your dad begin to reconnect with more intention.

    • Shelly Miller

      Thanks Diana, that is my prayer too, for both of us. Never to late to discover is it?

  17. God does beautiful things. I had an amazing restoration with my dad in his last years. Believing for that for you.

    • Shelly Miller

      I’ll take that Elizabeth. Your story gives me hope.

    • Shelly Miller

      Glad you stopped by to say so Lorretta.

  18. wow a story! your writing is heart felt, thanks for sharing your heart!

    • Shelly Miller

      Thanks for popping over to finish the story, appreciate your kindness.

  19. Sandra Heska King

    I’m glad you found a little peace through the pieces, Shelly. Praying God will continue to patch some of what’s unraveled.

    • Shelly Miller

      If I’m honest, I was dreading the whole thing for more reasons than the funeral. As usual God blew my socks off with other plans.

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