Every little boy needs a hero. The year was 1975, and I was every little boy. My life had been turned upside down and stripped of any decent male influence. In modern parlance, we would say that I was a child at risk. Mom was working hard and providing for us; we didn’t go hungry or lack shelter, but children certainly have needs beyond these. Then I met my hero, God’s chosen way of meeting many of those needs in my life. Thus I became one of the fortunate few who gets to live in the same house as a real-life hero.
In the summer of 2005 Laura, the children, and I came to Kansas City to visit Dad and Mom. I asked him why it was that when he was a young man with cultural permission to do nearly whatever he pleased, that he chose to obligate himself to a woman with three little children. Dad said it was because he loved us all, and because he was aware of some acute needs in his own life. He was a broken man, he said, broken largely by the consequences of his own decisions that had cost him his first family and had strained his relationship with his parents, too. And somehow in getting to know mom and all of us, he could see his own salvation on the horizon. He saw faith and stability and responsibility and reciprocal love—all things he needed. And he saw a chance to give his life away in the interest of the well-being of others, a chance to go beyond merely living for himself. I will forever be grateful that he chose Mom and all of us. He needed us and we needed him, and with the helping hand of God guiding the whole process, we all healed and became whole together.
The number of men about whom the word, “hero,” can rightly be used are pretty few in my estimation. To earn this title a man must learn the definition of love, and then live it consistently. At the congregation I serve in Whitefish, Montana, we’ve learned the following Biblical definition of love that we often recite aloud together: “Love is a demonstrated preference for the well-being of others, over and above myself, even at great personal expense, with the help of God’s Holy Spirit.” Dad truly loved us and made that clear. He loved many of you, too, with a love that moved him to pray for you diligently. If a person is extremely fortunate, he or she may be able to count on two hands the number of people who pray for them by name daily. Many of us who are seated in this room today were the subject of daily private conversations between Dad and his God. How did he pray for you? He prayed about any needs or difficulties that you faced, and he prayed that you would know the power of forgiveness received from God and offered, then, to those who hurt you. He prayed that you could know the freedom of a cleansed conscience, and the joy of giving your lives away in service to others. I wonder who will take his place, who will pray for us without fail?
I love Dad deeply, and always will. He rescued me from what I might have become if my birth father had been the primary male influence in my life. He taught me the value of working hard, of studying even harder, of protecting the weak, and of giving my life away in serving the well-being of others. He taught me the power of prayer, the certainty of the Christian faith, and the invigorating enjoyment of facing challenges head-on. He showed me the importance of extending grace and forgiveness to others quickly, before resentment has a chance to take root. “Water off a duck’s back, son; let it roll off like water off a duck’s back.” I think that’s the single greatest thing he ever taught me; it has made life sweet instead of bitter. He taught me to laugh more than I complain, and often entertained us with fantastic, epic tales of adventures that took place only in his mind, though he told the stories as though they were real. Before we were old enough to discern the telltale twinkle in his eyes, we thought our dad had been a world traveler, a spy, a fierce fighter and an explorer of wild, unconquered lands. All these stories, he said, were the adventures of him and his old friend, Lynn Mazuch. One time, just for the sheer fun of hearing us laugh, Dad dove into the pig pen on our farm and wrestled a feeder pig, rolling and grunting and straining like it was a death match. Dad won, and I’m not sure who squealed louder—the pig, us children, or Mom considering the prospect of putting those bib overalls into her washing machine!
Dad taught me to be loyal, a lesson that he wished he had learned earlier in life. He and Mom knew that God had called me to pastoral ministry, and they offered constant encouragement and accountability regarding the decisions I made as a teen and young man so that I wouldn’t disqualify myself from the service of God. They pushed me hard to excel at whatever I set my hand to, to finish my education, and to never forsake God’s call on my life. I am who I am today, and I serve the people I serve today, and I enjoy the blessings so lavishly poured into my lap today because they helped me stay the course.
On occasion and with sincere humility, Dad would tell me of the mistakes he had made. He wanted me to learn from them so as not to repeat them. It’s a fool who says, “You made your mistakes, now let me make mine,” so I listened and tried to learn. Dad grieved his sin with heavy sighs and an occasional tear and with words of apology and warning offered to his son. In the privacy of our little fishing boat, he would lay life out for me, explaining its essence and what a man ought to do when faced with ordinary or exceptional circumstances. He showed me a good picture of masculinity: strength held in reserve, authority wielded as responsibility to serve others, rejection of passivity, and the unacceptability of excuse-making. Dad was a man’s man, and I very much want to be like him. Always have. One day in the early 1980’s I was sent into the feed store to get something for the farm, and the man at the counter said, “You’re the Miller boy, aren’t you? You look just like your dad.” I heard it twice more during my last visit while making Dad’s medical rounds. Dad and I exchanged knowing glances—he was amused, and I was honored. Considering the fact that he was tall, light haired, and had blue eyes, I assumed they must be talking about something something else, like character, I hoped. Either way, I was honored.
I love Dad. Though Angie tells me she loved him first, and though we all agree that Hillary was ridiculously babied by him, and though Kim and Lora would tell me in our childhood arguments that he was their dad, not mine, I’ll go to my grave convinced that no one loved Dad more, the possible exception being Mom. And while that will surely be debated over a meal at this day’s end, and I might even give some ground to my sisters in that friendly argument, I say this much with utter, unmovable conviction, the kind I saw a handful of times in Dad’s defining moments: no one owed him more than I do. To me he was the Savior with skin on, God’s chosen instrument to protect me, love me, and commission me in the Lord’s service.
Dad was always a man who had little, but who took great joy in giving it away. He found meaning and purpose in loving and serving others. Though he walked with God only half of his life, I have known no one in whom the spiritual transformation of heart and character was more complete. He became a holy man. He was God’s man to the bone. And though somewhere there is a certificate of death inscribed with the name Cecil Warren Miller and the date September 14, 2006, please remember that Dad did not lose his life that day; don’t think it for even a moment. He gave it away little by little each day for the last 30 years. So, what happened last Thursday morning? As far as I can tell, it’s what Jesus said in Matthew 10:39--
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake
will find it.”
If you had the power to grant a man his final wish, would you do it? For many of us it might depend on who that man is. If that man was Cecil Miller, what would you say? I know what his final wish was; I asked and he told me. He said that the one thing that he wanted most in this life is to know that all of his family would love and serve his God. As far as I can tell, that would be the best way that remains for us to honor Dad—to honor the God whom he loves with all his heart.
On behalf of our family, thank you for attending this service today; by your presence here you have honored one who lived so honorably among us, my hero, my dad.