when you wonder if anyone is listening

Written by 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.

October 5, 2012

I woke up on my birthday knowing it would be different. The way you know pancakes and bacon sputter on the grill from your warm spot in bed.

Thoughts of close friends living in distant cities swirl dust halo over my dream fragments in early morning. For a brief moment, I close my eyes again, return to the smiles I sat next to in the nursery, laps full of flailing arms and tiny toes of weary. The girlfriends of shared lament during the no sleep stage, women I raised my hands next to in worship and cried with in prayer circles.

My heart aches to sit on the bench of belonging on this day in particular. To laugh with the ones who finish my sentences and order for me while I’m in the restroom. Instead, I rise to the day making peace with the seat of loneliness among strangers.

As my toes burrow into the carpet, I pad slow through the stillness of fresh day when I hear Him repeat the question he asks the blind men sitting at the gate, “What can I do for you.”  It’s a question echoing through weeks of prayer since reading the Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. The first time he asked me, I sat tongue tied and walked away mute.

However, today, it’s my birthday.

Instead of a new dress, a manicure or lunch on square plates, I ask for what brings true satisfaction: To feel His presence with me in a tangible way.  Then I ask him for a place to write in community on a regular basis.

Because isn’t this the greatest gift? To know His presence lingers long over the crumbs lying on the table of communion.

I open my screen of crowds sending birthday wishes in tandem with the rising sun. And as I scroll through them, one from a Rwandan friend catches my eye.

She and I, we linked arms helping orphans for five years until she left the country silent, without explanation. For two years, I linger in murky unanswered questions.

Only God knew how my heart would awaken to a greeting to break the silence, the same day I publish a story about her on my blog. A story picked from thousands for an essay contest. She didn’t know I wrote it. Didn’t know it was my birthday.

There are no coincidences with God, just clumps of small miracles, tangible grace creating a nest to hold new life.

And later that day, as I stand in a dressing room trying on birthday presents, I rummage through my purse to respond to a tweet.  A direct message from Duane Scott asking, “Would you ever consider writing for an editorial I am in charge of called Living the Story.”

Yes, definitely, I reply.

Then I jump up and down in the mirror, screaming silent joy in the dressing room, thankful for the gift of exactly what I asked Him for my birthday. As it turns out, I was never going to be alone to celebrate.

45 Comments

  1. Eileen Knowles

    Oh I love this! LOVE when He shows up and reminds us again and again. He IS listening.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I don’t know why I’m surprised by it every single time Eileen, He is always faithful to let me know He is with me and I’m so grateful.

      Reply
  2. Kristin Schell

    Praise Him, the giver of every good and perfect gift!

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Nodding my head and shouting Amen over here. Thanks for being here Kristin.

      Reply
  3. Glenda Childers

    Having moved many times, leaving sweet friends scattered around the globe … I so understand the oddity of having so many dear friends, but no one to celebrate your birthday with … in person. That is just where I sit, as I approach my 60th birthday later this year.

    Thanks for sharing the sweetness of asking God for a birthday present.

    Fondly,
    Glenda

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Oh me too Glenda, I’ve moved so many times and started over with friendships. It’s lonely but God is faithful. And truly, I think what I’ve learned from each move has drawn me closer to knowing his attributes in a way that I wouldn’t have otherwise. May your 60th be filled with a palatable sense of his abiding presence with you.

      Reply
  4. Laura Boggess

    Oh, how I listen to you, my friend. Grateful for your voice.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      The feeling is mutual Laura, so thankful for you.

      Reply
  5. 1lori_1

    Oh Shelly….a beautiful example of how God works in our lives EVERY single day. It reminds me of the times I have moved different places, each time afraid to be in a new place and then God brings these people from nowhere to surround me! This is what He does, what He loves to do for His children! Lori

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      And even when there aren’t tangible friends, He fills in the lonely places with his presence. For that, I am truly grateful.

      Reply
  6. Ro elliott

    beautiful…It’s wonderful watching God come and lead you on the path He has for you…meeting you deepest needs and desires. I love how He met you in such a special way on your birthday…He is a kind Abba Father. blessings my friend

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I love that visual that you just gave me Ro, of walking on a path intersected with Jesus and walking together. Thank you for that. And He does that well, meets our deepest needs and desires . . . .often when we think he isn’t hearing a thing we pray.

      Reply
  7. HopefulLeigh

    Love this, Shelly! What wonderful ways God spoke to you and met your needs and will continue to do so.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      And I know He does this in your life too Leigh. I hear it in your words, witness it in the stories you tell.

      Reply
  8. Jody Collins

    oh, smiling, here. God gives the best gifts. And oh, does he know our hearts. What a joyous Birth Day……….

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      He does give the best gifts – who needs a new dress anyway?

      Reply
  9. Elizabeth

    He is the Giver of perfect gifts, chosen always for us and signed by His hand of grace. Your joy is contagious and I celebrate with you. Your birth day birthed a new chapter in your writing life.

    Reply
  10. Nacole Simmons

    Shelly, I absolutely loved what you wrote here. “My heart aches to sit on the bench of belonging on this day in particular.”–I get that. Sometimes we just need that intimacy. What a kind Father to bring encouragement our way. Here are my pieces on letting go. You *do not* have to read all of them–I just couldn’t choose, and it would take too long–I wasn’t sure what you were looking for ~chuckle~ Love you.
    http://sixinthehickorysticks.blogspot.com/2011/12/seasons-31-days-to-holistic-christ.html

    http://sixinthehickorysticks.blogspot.com/2012/07/fear-wont-stop-you-and-gratitude.html
    http://sixinthehickorysticks.blogspot.com/2011/04/i-am-cold-hurting-sad-and-despondent.html

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Sometimes we can be surrounded by people and still feel like a foreigner among them. I had lots of sweet, unexpected phone calls from those who hold a piece of my heart on that day as well. Even that was a gift from Him.

      Reply
  11. Sherri

    I recently discovered your daily posts quite by accident while doing a little “soul searching”. One issue I’m dealing with is the recent departure of my youngest child off to college. The “Letting Go” series is so appropriate for me, and affirms to me yet again that “there are no coincidences with God, just small clumps of miracles….”, to quote an eloquent author. I’ve found myself logging on my computer each morning and coming here to discover daily topics for personal devotions. Thanks so much for opening your mind and sharing your artistic, inspirational thoughts with everyone. You truly are a blessing.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Sherri, your comment is a gift to me. Love the way God connects us through the internet. It’s truly miraculous many times. So pleased to meet you here.

      Reply
  12. Keviana Elliot

    Good job, Friend. Knocked it out of the park. And, somehow, managed to do it more gracefully than I could ever have imagined.
    God is good. This is what your words tell me. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Aww, thanks Keviana, so happy to be in this community with you.

      Reply
  13. Danelle

    A God sized dream come true and a beautiful story. You always inspire me and I am forever grateful for your voice. Love you.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Yes, it is. It came from that question He’s been asking, “what can I do for you?” It’s good to be specific when we ask.

      Reply
  14. Nikki

    clumps of small miracles, tangible grace…yes.
    So thrilled to see you here, Shelly! and love how God fit all the pieces in place. how He meets us at our vulnerable and pulls us in closer. grace indeed!

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      So thankful for you Nikki, for visiting here. I hope you are doing well, thinking about you lots. Yes, we know this don’t we? How he pulls us in to Himself at our most vulnerable places. You said it well.

      Reply
  15. Nancy Ruegg

    I love that the one gift you most desired for your birthday was to feel God’s presence in a tangible way. (A good examples for all of us.) That one endowment is incredibly multi-faceted. With His presence comes His love, peace, wisdom, encouragement, guidance, blessing, etc. And the icing on your birthday cake? A place to write in community! Your readers rejoice with you, Shelley, that God presented you with this precious gift.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Thick, sweet, chocolate icing I’m licking off the spoon today. I’ll share the bowl with you Nancy.

      Reply
  16. Cara Sexton

    Beautiful reminder. Today, too, I need to know He’s listening.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I have to admit Cara, even with this story, I still need the reminder. And when I know I need it, it reminds me of how much I need a Saviour.

      Reply
  17. Lynn Morrissey

    Oh Shelly, so beautifully written and such a lavish birthday gift to you straight from Jesus!! I love “heart’s desire” stories, because I dare to believe that when we truly delight in the Lord, and ask humbly for Him to give us the desires of our heart, what He actually gives us are His desires for us in the first place. When God asked, “What can I do for you?” it was such a profound invitation for you to worship and to trust. What a watershed moment for you, and what a wonderful birthday present. He gave you what He knew you needed and what ultimately satisfied you most.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      And your friendship, its one of the most lovely gifts I’ve received this year. Thank you for all the encouragement Lynn, you just don’t know how much it means to me.

      Reply
  18. Jillie

    I just find this so interesting—that you should be writing about your Birthday experience of this year, and His question, “What do you want me to do for you?”, when you were missing dear friends of times gone by. And then, corresponding with me on my Birthday! What a wonderful gift you were to me today. I feel so very blessed to call you “friend”. Thanks again, Shelly, for taking time with me today.

    Reply
  19. Mia

    Trust and obey………..He will never go away!

    Reply
  20. Elizabeth Stewart

    I love this, because of the familiarity of the loneliness, because of the open door for your beautiful writing gift to be shared with others.

    Reply
  21. Shelly Miller

    Thanks Elizabeth, sometimes in our loneliness its easy to forget we are not alone in it.

    Reply
  22. arcelia

    Aaaaaaa! My heart is full of joy joy and gratitude that God has blessed you so! Thank you for shaing this! I understand!! God is so loving loving loving!

    “There are no coincidences with God, just clumps of small miracles, tangible grace creating a nest to hold new life.”

    Yes, yes! I’ve been offline for awhile and catching up on reading your posts this blesses me so. Hugs and Hapy Belated Birthday 🙂

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Thanks Arcelia, thankful for the joy and gratitude overflowing in lovely you.

      Reply

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  2. last things - BibleDude.net - […] time writing stories here started as divine providence, an unexpected gift on my birthday. A year later, I look…

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when you wonder if anyone is listening

by Shelly Miller time to read: 3 min
47