I’m Janie Miller, and this is how I’m living deeply through CSPC’s ‘Strong Foundation, Future Mission’ capital campaign.
“I picked up the phone and stepped into one of those devastating moments now frozen in time- it was June 29, 1961, and I still recall it vividly. My father had been in a serious car accident in Mississippi – where he had driven for his work- and the extent of his injuries were unknown at that point. Because my mother had never learned to drive, my husband Ralph and I (who, like Mother, were living in Memphis) rushed to get Mother and my brother and drove down to the hospital, but it was too late. Daddy had died at 49 years of age. I was only 20, just pregnant with our first child and my mother, age 42, was two and a half months into her own – unplanned – pregnancy. So there my mother was, with a 10-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter still at home, and pregnant with her fifth child. She was still living in a rental – she and Dad never owned their own home- where she would be raising three children. This is my mother’s story – her name was Ruby Fay Clark Hill, and she came from a poor family of 14 children. Both my parents were from Mississippi, where I was also born in 1940. A lot of people back then had nothing, but my family had less than nothing. So when I was about a year and a half, we moved to Memphis just to survive. We lived in an attic apartment, our own cramped section of an old house in South Memphis that had been converted into about five dwellings for families. My parents struggled a lot, including financially, which made marriage much more difficult in so many ways. There were a lot of challenges, but they did make sure we (my siblings and I) went to church from early on. My dad went from job to job, and we were living hand to mouth. We would move occasionally- it might’ve been because they didn’t have any other choice; didn’t have the money to pay for something. But no matter where we ended up, the Church was always there as an anchor. In retrospect, there is no doubt in my mind that I could not have survived without that.
Both before and after Daddy’s death, Mother worked for a department store in Memphis, starting out in a little back room just counting tickets and working her way up to being a department manager and buyer. She had to work -she had no choice- to help put food on the table and take care of the family. Because of some litigation over my father’s accident, she was at last able to get a down payment and buy a house- she finally got her own home at age 43. When she died in 2005, at the age of 86, she had four surviving children. (My younger sister died in an accident at age 26, less than a decade after Dad’s tragedy.) When it came time for the settlement of Mother’s estate, we learned each of the four kids was getting an IRA- for $14,000 each! I never imagined Mother could’ve had the means to provide such a gift. I didn’t want to touch that money; I really didn’t. I felt like Mother had worked so hard- why would I use it for something frivolous? So every year I took my required minimum distribution on my birthday and bought myself something special as her “gift” to me. Other than that, I had no plans to spend it. Then, about a month or so ago, for the first time ever and ‘out of nowhere’, I thought, ‘I need to do something with this money.’ I didn’t know what, but I just knew God was saying to me, ‘It’s okay to let this go. ‘ About two or three weeks later, CSPC introduced the building program, and I knew immediately that was where this money needed to go. I had total peace that I could take the money I’d saved for 17 years from Mother’s estate and give it to a program to make the CSPC children’s ministry area what it should be.
I think mine will be just one of multiple stories like this. The giving will come from the most unique and unusual places. I would never have dreamed, when I first received it, that money would still be sitting there 17 years later, but here it is! It’s exciting and I absolutely love it. We all leave legacies, and I think it’s important to understand those legacies come in all different ways and appearances. This is a huge legacy we at CSPC are leaving for generations to come. I know those formative years can either put a child on the right track or not, because I was one of them. There were times my parents just really needed a break, so they took us to church and dropped us off, and that was okay with me. I felt safe and loved there- church was like another home. Even to this day, 80-plus years later, those were the people who influenced me the most, put me on the right track, and made me the person I am. My parents loved us, but their marriage had serious struggles, and there was tension in the household. It took both my parents’ energy and time to take care of a big family. Without the Church as a very big part of my life as a child, I simply would not be who I am today. Neither would any of my family- my siblings and I all came to a saving faith through the Church and it nurtured me as a really small girl. If you ask me to name my elementary school teachers, I can name a few. But if you ask me to name my teachers at church, I can name a lot, because they were the ones who really put me on the right path. That’s how we invest our lives in others- not just with money, but giving the gifts of ourselves. And that was what I experienced.
I think Mother would be so honored, first, that I still have this money- I didn’t blow it! And also, that it’s going to make a difference because the Church and the people in it were such a part of the support system when it came to raising her own children, and then taking care of her when she went through major life tragedies. So this is like she’s giving back- she’s giving something she worked hard for in order to do something really good for others. My mother also loved children, which makes this an absolutely perfect way to honor her memory. She would love knowing that in some small way, she’ll be living on in the lives of children when they walk through the doors of Cedar Springs. Why her (and my) special love for children? Well, one, I think it’s biblical. Two, it had to do with the struggles we both went through when we were young and growing up- those gave us both a heart for children. And of course there’s the joy of watching them learn and grow through the teaching of God’s Word. The CSPC children’s ministry has been doing a wonderful job with what it has, but it needs something better. At church I felt nourished, protected, loved, cared for, and special as a little girl. And that’s what we want for the children of CSPC; to know they’re important to us and that they are valuable. Whatever it takes, we want to make that happen. I may not have needed that money nor had plans for it, but I knew that God did have plans and that it was time for it to be put to work in a place that she would have loved. So the truth is that her story didn’t end 17 years ago this month. It lives on, because of her gift to the next generations.”