Beginning Again—After 25 Years

By Keith Miller | October 26, 2009

Keith, some of us have known you for years. You have often talked about being grateful to be in a “new place.” Many times I have thought I had changed after receiving a “great insight” or having an inspiring experience at a conference or after reading a book, but people around me don’t seem to believe I’ve really changed. My question is: What is a specific example of your knowing you have changed in a significant way, and someone close to you believing that you have changed significantly? What would that look like?

Ooh, difficult question. But the most recent experience I’ve had that convinced me and a family member that I have changed happened this summer.

After about twenty-five years of flying under the radar of the Christian author/speaker world, I had received an invitation to conduct a weekend conference in a local church located several hundreds of miles from here. I thought, “If I can speak without drooling on my shirt front, or thinking I am Bruce Larson in midsentence, maybe I could do a little traveling and speaking again.” But, at eighty-two, I was a little nervous about it. (I’d participated in some institutional programs during the past few years, but usually shared the time with one or two, or a number of speakers.)

I prepared my material, and then packed my clothes etc. in a large suitcase. Andrea was going with me (and I was secretly very grateful about that since I was feeling some of the fear and anxiety of my younger days.)

At the last minute, Andrea said, “Honey, your bag weighs just a little too much. Would you like for me to take something out?”

Now Andrea is a truly amazing wife. She helps me in a hundred ways—but she is very wise and always asks first if I would like her to help. So I said gratefully, “Thanks. Just take out the heavy black shoes and the brown tie shoes and put in the cordovan loafers. I’ll wear them with everything.” So she finished packing, and the next morning I stumbled out of bed and we caught a flight to Alabama.

When we arrived, I just had time to shower and dress for the opening Friday night session. I planned to wear a dark suit or sports coat to the meeting. As I sat down to put on my shoes, I glanced at my watch. (Ah, not a minute to spare—but on time.) But then, I slipped my shoes out of their red shoe bags. The only pair of shoes I brought looked strange. Then it hit me. THERE ARE TWO BROWN LEFT SHOES—ONE LOAFER AND ONE TIE SHOE! AND NO TIME TO DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT!!!

All the adolescent fears of my youth descended on me, fears that I had secretly protected my self from for almost 70 years, (by prayer, reasoning with myself, taking a drink, running away). What could I do? It was too late to run to a store and pick up a pair of new shoes (at that moment I would have paid $500 for any two that matched.)

Then I looked at Andrea who knows me so well. She was in anguish, and sounding a little fearful, “I’m so sorry, Honey! Oh, how could I have done that?”

“Exactly the right question!” I thought. And I felt the old fear-anger rising in my chest.

Now some people who are not proud, insecure males may not see this situation as significant problem—to be coming back to your former vocation at eighty-two, (specifically trying to demonstrate that you are not an addled old man), and having to wear dirty white sneakers with a dark suit to speak from the front of a sizeable church. But for me it was my worst nightmare, and it was really happening! And then I thought, “And it isn’t even my fault!”

I felt my eyes narrowing, as I prepared to shame my wife (in order do get the onus off me somehow), by saying with icy sarcasm something like, “Is packing one pair of shoes that difficult?” (Interpreted for non-Texans: “Can’t you even pack ONE damn pair of shoes?”)

But then, unexpectedly, I thought about God, and how I was about to tell these people that God loved them. And then I saw in my imagination the faces of some of the men in the men’s group I meet with, and remembered how we are trying to surrender our entire lives to God. And then I looked at my dear wife, who had never in the thirty years of our marriage made a mistake (like the shoes) that involved me. And I thought about how she had interrupted her work to come along on this trip and help me, knowing how scary this could be for me at my age. I looked at her face. No excuses, just concern for me—and she was prepared for the axe.

She said uneasily, looking at her watch, “They’ll be here in five minutes. What are you going to do?”

Inside, something happened. I suddenly smiled as I realized that I was saying to God, “Sir, I realize that this shoe deal may provide the answer to the viability question in these peoples’ eyes—but I would appreciate it if you would let me make my own mistakes…like you always have before.”

And chuckling, I said to Andrea, “Listen, let’s make a game out of this. It’s a little bizarre, but I am going to be perfectly dressed, wearing one loafer and one tennis shoe. I’m going to wear that white sneaker this entire weekend, and I’m going to make you a bet. I’ll bet you that no one will have the guts to mention it. And I won’t even limp.”

I can still see the smile and the grateful, loving look on her face as she shook her head and laughed. The storm was over, and I was glad too. But then—almost immediately—my clever little self-centered mind was thinking that this two left shoes experience would be an unbelievably great story to introduce my weekend with the people—a story that would vindicate me. And my quick thinking would prove to the audience that I still have a sharp and agile mind!

But then, out of nowhere, the faces of my friends in the men’s group flashed into my mind, solemnly shaking their heads. And I realized that although telling the story would clear me of responsibility for my ridiculous costume, it would shame Andrea in front of all those people, making her look like a stupid wife (which she is anything but), when all she’d been trying to do was to help me correct something I hadn’t checked right in the first place. So, I just thanked God for stopping me from hurting the one I love, and got up and did my best to help those people see the wonder and love I’m finding in this life of trying to trust God for the outcome of everything I do. And I didn’t say a thing to anyone all weekend about the shoes. Only one person, an older lady, even asked about it. She said, “What in the world happened to your foot?”

In my most conspiratorial tone I whispered, “Oh, you wouldn’t want to know!” Her eyes widened, and she nodded, and walked away.

So, with regard to the question you asked about knowing whether I have really changed, virtually all my life that I can recall, I have hated to fail, be wrong, or be thought inadequate in any area in which I have been highly trained or successful. In order to avoid such opinions I have shaded the truth (i.e. lied—and denied to myself I was doing it, blamed someone else—even someone I loved—rather than take the blame for a shaming mistake.) But in this case, my love for my wife was greater than my fear of failure. In that moment in my eighty-second year, I saw that I had changed more deeply than I ever dreamed I might.

I didn’t even explain what had really happened privately to our host on the way back to the airport. The sense of peace and gratitude I felt as I sat down in the aisle seat of row fourteen told me more that in Christ even very old dogs can learn new tricks.

And how do I know that my wife recognized that I had really changed? All I can report about that came from two bits of evidence: first, the look of love and gratitude in her eyes when I told her about the game and the bet I was proposing, and two, that in our more than thirty years of marriage, I cannot remember a closer and more loving weekend together—following that moment.

Lord, thank You that You really can change us, if we will surrender as much of our futures to You as we can, and turn loose of trying to manipulate and control people, places and things to justify ourselves at every step and pretend to be more and better than we are. I know that in my case the battle is not nearly over (to rest content and trust You and just be the person You made me to be). But thank You that because of these unexpected little victories, I can sometimes trust You and really enjoy being my self—without trying to “fix the future.” Amen.

In the midst of his great chapter on love, Paul said some strange things about Christ’s kind of love, “Love cares more for others than self…Love doesn’t have a swelled head…Love isn’t always me first…Love doesn’t fly off the handle…Love doesn’t keep score of the sins of others…Love puts up with anything …Love trusts God always…Love always looks for the best…and Love keeps going to the end. (From 1st Cor. 13 THE MESSAGE.)

“Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change. Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”

Bill Wilson, Alcoholics Anonymous

Topics: Christian Living, Weekly Devotional | Comments Off on Beginning Again—After 25 Years
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