Em Miller writes

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Category: Blog

Everyone! Come and see how good I look!

You may have noticed it’s been a little quiet around here the past week or two. That’s because I’ve been moving everything over to a new website. It’s got a dot-com after my name, a pretty good-looking logo by Jess Craig of IROCKSOWHAT and a new tagline I explain in great detail here.

The only thing that’s missing is you.

Won’t you come join me at www.emmillerwrites.com?


A decade of saints and stress points (plus, my first-ever giveaway!)

This is how I fell in love with the saints.

I was 22 years old, just out of college, my entire life before me, beside me, absolutely crushing me under the weight of every move, like an arrow, if a millimeter off when it leaves the bow, a mile off when it reaches the target.

Enter St. Therese of Lisieux and the blog post I wrote at the time:

St. Theresa of the Child Jesus (1873-1897) was Beliefnet’s Saint of the Day this past Sunday. Also known as Therese of Lisieux (for the French town where she lived cloistered as a Carmelite nun) or the “Little Flower” (for her promise upon her deathbed that she would “let fall from heaven a shower of roses”), St. Theresa is one of the youngest (she died of tuberculosis at 24) and most popular of the canonized saints. Pope John Paul II proclaimed her a Doctor of the Church, and Pope Pius X dubbed her the “greatest saint of modern times.”

And yet, her outside life was uneventful: as a Carmelite, her days were spent in long hours of prayer, hard domestic work, and occasional writing.

“Therese possessed that holy insight that redeems the time, however dull that time may be,” the Beliefnet article says.

I, apparently, do not. Or, at least, I do not yet. God is, at the moment, attempting to help me in this regard (which is why, perhaps for emphasis, He would direct me to a six-day-old Saint of the Day article and to the story of St. Theresa), and I am not particularly enjoying this departure from my otherwise exciting, jet-setting lifestyle. It will be a lesson hard-earned.

The journalism job I assumed (and my professors assured) would be waiting for me post-graduation never materialized. Instead I spent post-graduate Month One painting, moving, repainting, apartment-hunting, painting, moving again, and recovering from the sheer psychological trauma of my parents’ visit. Month Two was spent in the backwoods of Minnesota, working with my non-profit on the White Earth Reservation.  Highlights from Month Three include being disappointed by the lack of job offers coming my way and finally signing on at a temporary staffing agency to pay rent in the meantime. Month Four found me a temporary assignment as the executive assistant to the CFO of Vera Wang, which is what, as we enter Month Five, I remain.

This is not exciting work. Not for me, at least. I’m not breaking news — I’m trying hard not to break the fine Wedgewood china upon which I daily present my boss her lunch. The only things I’m writing are cover sheets for faxes and labels for file folders. I spend my ten-hour days, staring at a cubicle wall, waiting for my boss to ask me to dial the phone for her or Windex her desk. It is dull.

And yet, when a coworker smiles and tells me I’ve breathed new life into the office, I think maybe I belong where I am right now and God has a purpose for me here.

St. Teresa espoused the “Little Way.” She may have been a little girl, and she may have done little things by the world’s standards, but she believed in a big God and trusted He had a plan and a purpose for her life. Recognized as the patron saint of missions, she made her life’s mission one of hidden sacrifice and quiet, redemptive suffering.

“I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies,” she wrote.  “To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.”

Six years later, I think I finally have the holy insight to redeem that time, though in retrospect.

For one, I was aiming at the wrong target.

Stress Point

Sarah Francis Martin lists 10 stress points in her book “Stress Point: Thriving through your 20s in a Decade of Drama.” They include:

  • Career
  • Self-image
  • Body image
  • Love and dating
  • Love and dating (Yes, it gets two chapters.)
  • Friends and family
  • Money
  • Stepping out on your own
  • Making a difference
  • Spiritual maturity

I’d set my sights on my career, when, Sarah writes, “Our careers were never meant to be the center of our lives.”

“God planned your career to be a spoke in the wheel of your life, with Him alone as the hub of that wheel. He wants to be not only a reality in your career but the grounding point, the still center to which you come for wisdom, guidance and godly success.”

At the start of my 20s, I felt like I was waiting for my life to begin, confusing “life” with “my first full-time job.” Confusing that job with my identity. And clinging to my vision of what that job would look like, applying and agonizing, with all my might. I was “worried” and “upset” and “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made” to hit that target, to begin the career that was the obvious next step after college graduation. But there are better things. (Sound familiar?)

I had a conversation about music a couple weekends ago with my now-father-in-law. He doesn’t like much of the music popular today, he said, and, to be honest, neither do I. He described it as “a wall of sound.” There aren’t breaks and pauses, he said. I thought that was profound. Life has breaks and pauses, too. Time to let go of one thing so you can grab on to the next, as C.S. Lewis said.

I didn’t do that. I didn’t let go. And so my 20s have been that wall of sound. Only now, when I’m closer to the end of my 20s than to the start, do I see the value in the breaks, do I understand that life has verses and bridges and choruses and breaks to take a breath, and that’s still life. It can’t be all raging guitar solo.

Only now can I rest in the Scripture Sarah includes in her chapter on career; only now do I have the holy insight to see it is true.

“Lord, You have assigned me my portion and my cup; You have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (Psalm 16:5-6).

The giveaway!

Are you in your 20s, too? Just rest. God has assigned you your portion and cup. He’s assigned you your career. He’s assigned you your body and loves and friends and family and whatever else it is that stresses you. Just rest, and choose the better thing to be the center of your life. And you don’t have to believe me, someone still figuring out the decade.

Last week, I contributed to my friend and fellow Start Marriage Right writer Renee Johnson Fisher’s blog series on “Pre Engagement Questions.” In August, Renee, a.k.a. the “Devotional Diva,” is launching a series called “I Survived My 20s.” I’m not contributing this time, but I am looking forward to it. You can look for that here.

Meantime, Sarah is just over halfway through an online book study of “Stress Point” on her blog. (Catch up on past weeks here.) This isn’t a book I likely would have picked up for myself (like I said, I’m closing in on 30), but the author graciously sent me a copy to review, and I’m working through it now. The Scripture she points to and relates to those stress points throughout has been a tremendous encouragement, and I love online book studies; I love immersing myself in a topic.

Tell me: What are your points of stress? How are you thriving through them? Comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. Monday, Aug. 6, to win my review copy of the book. (Two things: One, this is my first-ever giveaway, and since I’m still building this blog, I don’t have a lot of commenters and followers yet. This makes the odds supremely good if you enter, you win. And two, you have my apologies in advance for the book wrinkles from carrying it around the past month in my purse. I did, at least, refrain from contributing my own marginalia for you. I generally am not kind to books, although they leave no doubt they are well-loved.)

Also, if you’re inspired by the stories of lives well lived, check out this New York Times story on the Catholic Church’s newest saint, Kateri Tekakwitha. St. Kateri is the first American Indian saint, and I love this quote from a Najavo man at a powwow at her national shrine in Fonda, N.Y.: “She can help us by connecting us together. … We are all saints.”

Linking up with:

Full disclosure:

Photo credit: The Uniconoclast. Sarah Francis Martin. FTC Disclosure by Louis Gray/Jeannine Schafer.

Bible in 365, Weeks Four and Five: The Word become flesh

The project that inspired Bible in 365 came to an official end earlier this week when my friend Craig wrote out a verse a day from the 100 days he’d spent reading the Bible, 100 verses on 20 sheets of paper, six feet tall by five week wide when laid out side-by-side. He laminated the sheets and plans to hang them on his wall, he said on Facebook, “both as inspiration and reminders of the project.”

It reminds me of the Christian monks and Jewish sofers, faithfully and systematically reproducing the Scriptures by hand to preserve them, their inspiration and their reminders. Of how before they were a written or printed book, the Scriptures were a recitation. Of conversations about both reproduction and recitation as ritual events and about “embodied live-ness,” the Word become flesh, John 1 and “Fahrenheit 451,” in a Religion and Media course I took while a student at New York University.

I started out my project sharing the verse or two that spoke to me each day on Facebook and Twitter, beyond “Beyond the Written Word” by William A. Graham, one of the texts for that course. That has fallen off a bit over the past two weeks, though, as the weather has gotten hotter and the days, busier, and Exodus, law-ier. Joel and I started listening to the daily readings read aloud in the YouVersion smartphone app, my phone set on a pillow or plugged into our sound system, God’s words the last thing we hear as we drift off to sleep under open windows, finally feeling some relief in the breeze at night. All this, nearly as pleasant as seeing God and eating and drinking, as we read in Exodus.

Weeks Four and Five

Here are the passages that spoke to me in Exodus:

  • So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up?” (Exodus 3:3).
  • The Lord said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (Exodus 4:11-12).
  •  “The magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God.’ But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the Lord had said”  (Exodus 8:19).
  • “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14).
  • “You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone” (Exodus 18:18).
  • “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Exodus 19:4).
  • They saw God, and they ate and drank (Exodus 24:11).
  • “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8).
  • “I am the Lord, who makes you holy” (Exodus 31:13).
  • The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend (Exodus 33:11).

Read all posts in the “Bible in 365” series here. Follow #Biblein365 on Twitter to read my favorite verses each day, and use the hashtag to add your own comments and reflections.

Linking up with:

     Beholding Glory

Photo credit: Craig Kanalley.

Bible in 365, Week Three: Family Bibles

On the Fourth of July, the last day of my family vacation, I pulled down two tattered, leather-bound books from the bookshelves in my parents’ lake cabin in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Both were Bibles: one my grandpa’s; the other, my great-grandpa’s. (Both, evidently, fans of the King James Version.)

My great-grandpa, my mom’s grandpa, had read through his Bible several times, my mom said when she saw me gently lifting its yellow pages. This was the great-grandpa who had written letters to be opened after his death, each describing how his loved ones could reach him at his new address in heaven, by believing on Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

And then I flipped to the back of the Bible that had belonged to my grandpa, my mom’s dad. On one page, there was a handwritten note: “Finished reading the whole Bible. 1-26-87.”

Oh, my mom said, she didn’t know he had, too. She said this with the same awe of the accomplishment I had felt up until about three weeks ago, when I suddenly realized, wait, this really is not all that unusual a thing to do for a person who professes this book as the inerrant Word of God, and why haven’t I?

Now I’m looking forward to writing the same words in the back of my own Bible, tattered and tearing and bookmarked this week in Exodus.

Week Three

Here are the passages that spoke to me each day this week:

  • “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:8).
  • But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives (Genesis 50:19-20).
  • So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up?” (Exodus 3:3).
  • The Lord said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (Exodus 4:11-12).
  •  “The magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God.’ But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the Lord had said”  (Exodus 8:19).

Read all posts in the “Bible in 365” series here. Follow #Biblein365 on Twitter to read my favorite verses each day, and use the hashtag to add your own comments and reflections.

Linking up with:

     Beholding Glory

Photo credit: Follow me on Instagram.

The Great Craigslist Wedding-Dress-In-A-Tree Adventure

Our adventure begins when Sarah Pulliam Bailey posts this Craigslist listing, “New never worn wedding dress size 4 stuck in tree (Pilsen),” on Facebook:

Ha ha ha, was airing out items on my fire escape, wind blew this gorgeous dress into the tree, I am moving and don’t have the energy to get it out, originally priced at $4grand. Backless classy dress. Bring some kind of pole to get it out, before it rains…

Sarah said, “Only in America would you nonchalantly say something like I don’t have the energy to go get my $4,000 wedding dress out of a tree and then put it on craigslist.”

Only in America would somebody else, some bold, entrepreneurial spirit, then think it would be a grand adventure to go and get that dress out of the tree and sell it online.

Tonight, that somebody was me. Also, my husband and our friend Kristin who both were sitting at the kitchen table eating figs and homemade ice cream and looking for the color green and the word “nicht” on the German website to check if our computers had the “DNSChanger” malware when I saw Sarah’s post and decided, “You guys, WE CAN DO THIS.” After all, we had a spear, a broomstick, some packing tape, very little money and absolutely no shame. And Joel has been trying to convince me to sell my wedding dress online this past year to put toward that trip to Europe we always talk about but never will be able to afford on the combined income of a newspaper reporter and commercial real estate agent. An idea, despite my yen for travel, I am not yet entirely sold on.

So we piled into Joel’s car with our spear (a souvenir from his mission trip, at age 13, to Vanuatu), our broomstick and our packing tape and drove to Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, craning our necks for a flash of ivory in the trees, and there it was, I swore, right in front of the fire escape and the address I had saved in my phone. Joel threw the car in reverse and parked it while I danced around a tree with a plastic bag caught in its branches, second-guessed myself and then realized I was dancing around the wrong tree.

The dress was there, alright, stuck in the tree, pretty high up. (There also was what appeared to be some kind of animal bone skewered on a low-hanging branch.) The spear wasn’t going to reach. The broomstick wasn’t going to reach. Joel shimmied up the bare trunk while I marvelled this man had married me, taped the spear and broomstick together and lobbed it up to him. While he was jabbing at the dress and I was positioning myself underneath it (and my husband), arms outstretched, a hipster guy in a particularly hipster hat, the kind of guy who probably says things like “the Pilsen Artist’s Corridor” as if that is a real neighborhood, asked Kristin if we were from around here. The dress had been his, and he had bought it fairly cheap at a thrift store, he said. So much for “new” and “never-worn” and the “$4grand” we’d envisioned.

With that, the dress came free. It billowed in the air and landed, whump, in my arms. And then Kristin and I ran down the sidewalk doing this:

One of my favorite passages from the book “Love Does” by Bob Goff is his description of his friend Doug, who “was full of adventure and always had some mischief in mind.” Goff described Jesus as “another man of adventure.” He said:

“I never wanted religion. I didn’t understand it and didn’t particularly want to either. To be honest, I thought religion was for wimpy guys who didn’t get into mischief.”

It isn’t. In fact, Jesus invites the mischief-makers who go shimmying up trees. And, sure, sometimes that mischief doesn’t go as planned. You don’t end up with $4,000 and a trip to Europe in the end. But, Goff said, “God doesn’t think any less of us when things don’t go right. Actually, I think He plans on it.”

Looking over the dress now, it’s not likely we’ll get much more from it than a good story. It’s not “new” and “never-worn,” although I suspect it is a size 4, judging by the way it doesn’t quite zip up my back. It’s an A-line halter dress with a low back that ends in a cascade of flowers and a small train. The tag says “The Diamond Collection,” which I cannot find online. It’s a little wrinkled, and the part that fastens around the neck is starting to pull away from the rest of the dress.

It definitely needs a little energy, but I still plan to sell it online, although not for anything grand. Someone more chalant will get a steal. And we got an adventure.

Photo credit: Photo No. 1 via Craigslist. Photos No. 2 and 3, posted on Instagram.