Shelly Miller---My Friend and Our Sabbath Girl
|Photo credit: LuAnn Nystrom, Long House, Oct 2020|
In a beautiful social media tribute, Jennifer Lee caught my breath when she called our friend Shelly, “our Sabbath Girl.” It was a fitting description of a friend to many, a writer, and beauty seeker---A Sabbath-keeper. It’s been seven years since our Sabbath Girl took God up on his call to lead others into the spiritual discipline of practicing Sabbath. Shelly experienced the ultimate rest of God, the Sabbath in all its fullness on a Sunday, a fitting day it seems to me, All Saint’s Day, the first of November.
Shelly and I began studying the book of Isaiah back in the summer. When pressing matters like book editing and book launching demanded her focus, she needed to set her study book aside. Besides her writing work, Shelly was recovering from major surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from her abdomen.
I pressed on, sharing insights from time to time as was usual in our long-distance friendship. Every morning as I sit with the final chapters, I think of her, how she loved the ancient words of the Bible, how she treasured them.
We agreed the judgments in the early chapters of Isaiah are sobering, especially in these difficult days. In the last few weeks I’ve made the turn away from the judgments. I turned the pages into the promises of God, the prophecy of Jesus' life and death; some of them fulfilled, some yet to come.
This past week I found myself in Isaiah 58. The great exhortation splays open the heart of God and his kingdom. The Holy Spirit moved me to consider the Sabbath again.
"...if you call the Sabbath a delightful pleasure and Yahweh’s holy day honorable,
If you honor it properly by not chasing your own desires, serving your own interests, and speaking empty words, then you will find the joyous bliss that comes from serving Yahweh. And I will cause you to prosper and be carried triumphantly over the high places of the land…" (Isaiah 58:13b-14a TPT)
Did Shelly’s commitment to honor the Sabbath end with the prosperous outcome promised in Isaiah 58? I can say as one walking alongside her in these past months, the response to her cancer diagnosis and the dire prognosis set before her, my friend prospered as few do in such circumstances. Not that she didn’t struggle at times. Shelly lived fully alive to the moment given. She lived with faith and hope. Ultimately, Shelly prospered when she received eternity’s fullness in the presence of her Creator.
|At the Premiere of "Many Beautiful Things," story of Lilas Trotter|
Manchester, England 2015
When expressions of love and condolences filled the comment boxes after her beloved H shared the news that Shelly had entered eternity, the reality of the fruitfulness of her life became apparent. There was no doubt her life was a “well-watered garden... an ever-flowing, trustworthy spring of blessing.” (Isaiah 58:11) She brought beauty to the world. An astonishing bouquet of people from all over the world gathered to honor her, their testimonies a harvest of love, evidence of her care for them after many years of cultivating a ministry of encouragement and blessing.
Shelly taught so many that practicing Sabbath is an exercise in trust. It is a laying down and a looking up. On the Sabbath, we stop with the intention to pay attention. The Sabbath, Shelly assured us, is not a burdensome command, but a gift---a time of consummation rather than a time of consumption. In the window of the Sabbath, we experience the completed work of God in Christ. We rest in the grace of now---the reality of forever.
Hebrews 4 exhorts, “Let us, therefore, strive to enter that (Sabbath) rest…” Because Jesus has rested having completed his work, we can rest, but we must “work” for it. The statement is oxymoronic, striving to rest, but it is a necessary instruction toward what is life-giving rather than life-draining.
Keeping the Sabbath has always been for God’s glory and our good. Like the exhortation concerning fasting which isn’t necessarily about “not eating” (see Is. 58), Sabbath-keeping isn’t really about “not working.” Honoring the Sabbath is always about resting in Christ. It is a set-aside time to remember what we so easily forget. Every day we are dependent on Him for our every need, most of all our salvation.
We were enslaved, but we have been saved by the outstretched hands of Jesus. To observe the Sabbath, is to remember.
“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,...You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day." (see Deut. 5:13-15 ESV)
We are living a bigger story than we know into a greater reality than we can imagine.
Resting on the Sabbath reorients our hearts. We remember we were once slaves, but now we are set free in Christ into the newness of life. We can rest assured. Eternity awaits us.
This is the legacy Shelly left for us---her heart letter, written by the Holy Spirit on her life, the story of his faithfulness, shared with beauty and grace.
|Celebrating the release of Rhythms of Rest, near Franklin, TN November 2016|
Last January, Shelly messaged me and suggested that she might have exhausted her resources for speaking into the Sabbath Society. Did she have anything new to say? I empathized as I thought about all the letters that had slid into my inbox on most weeks, for years. I could imagine how finding a new slant on the subject was daunting after so many years, but I encouraged her to stay the course.
“You might repeat yourself, but not in a way that will be noticeable,” I assured her. “We need the reminder. We are so prone to forget.”
As Shelly considered the probability that the last months of her life were before her, she invited me, her two life-long besties LuAnn and Kelly, and her beloved aunt, Paula, to come and spend a couple of weeks with her in the beautiful English countryside. There we witnessed and received the outflow of Shelly’s Sabbath heart.
I will always cherish the memories of that sacred set apart time. Shelly could have been chasing her own desires, ticking off boxes, or wallowing in self-pity. Instead, she loved us well and led our time together in a way that was vulnerable and life-giving. None of us knew that only a week after saying our goodbyes, Shelly would know her Creator as she is fully known. Uncertainty gave way to clarity. Shelly was wholly at rest.
|A rainy day walk with friends, Chipping Campden 2020|
This transition time was holy and hard. Life is full of paradoxes. Shelly was trying to cope with the prospect of leaving her beloved family behind to take her place among the saints. It was a grace to share such sacred days with her “2 am friends,” as she called us and her H, whom she loved so dearly. They were days of intention and purpose. There were no “empty words” (Is. 58:13). The Lord blessed us with laughter and tears, the fullness of life.
Though most our relationship wasn’t “in real life,” as they say, I feel her absence immensely. The grief I’ve experienced certainly feels “real” because it is. I miss our Sabbath Girl, her virtual presence and otherwise, though I am convinced she is experiencing the ultimate “delightful pleasure,” the Lord of the Sabbath, in all His glory. (58:13)
Shelly, thank you for sharing your “heart letter” with me and so many others. I am not sure you had a complete understanding of how much your friendship meant to me, though I think you do. And those letters slipping quietly into inboxes on Friday mornings, your leadership and commitment impacted so many. Thank you for being you, for being faithful to your calling to steward the message of the Sabbath. You have led and loved us well.
As you know, you are, and always will be the friend of my heart.