BOWEN COLUMN: Preacher Miller sure learned to walk the walk a long time ago

Published 10:30 am Friday, November 25, 2022

In August of 1997, we started writing for my hometown paper in LaGrange, Georgia. We are currently celebrating our twenty-fifth year of sending columns and stories back home. When Grandma — Zonabelle Miller — was alive up to 2003, she would always say that opening the newspaper every week and seeing our column there was like getting a letter from home. I never forgot that, and I was thankful that it made her day to see it like clockwork. The first Thanksgiving that rolled around I thought of a story involving my grandma and Preacher Miller, the love of her ninety-three years. Almost every Thanksgiving since those early years I have sent this column back over the rolling Mississippi down to the land with those spiraling pines embedded deeply into that gummy but oh, so beautiful red clay.

So, again, according to our Thanksgiving tradition, and in celebration of the twenty-fifth Thanksgiving many readers and I have shared together, let’s go back again to, ‘Preacher Miller Walked the Walk.’ …  

There’s just something special about Thanksgiving, isn’t there? The mood seems to stick to you kind of like that turkey and dressing. It’s one of those holidays that last far beyond that special Thursday every year. We seem to write about Thanksgiving all the way through the holiday season into the next year.

A Thanksgiving never comes around that I don’t think about my grandfather, E.H. Miller. “Preacher Miller” was an old-time, tell-it-like-it-is, back-to-the-basics church of Christ preacher. He preached a great many sermons in his days. But one of the best sermons of his life wasn’t one he preached. It was one he lived!

In the mid 60s, Preacher Miller, Grandma, and some friends got in a bad car accident driving home from a revival in Marietta, Georgia. Two cars were drag racing that night on the two-lane Atlanta highway, and Preacher Miller – who was driving – met the car in his lane when he topped a hill.

“It happened so fast,” he later would say, “that we didn’t even have time to swerve.”

I still remember the phone ringing late that night at our little house on Juniper Street. The news wasn’t good for anyone, but the four in Granddad’s car were the fortunate ones.

Those riding with the preacher had numerous injuries, but Preacher Miller was hurt the worst. The impact was so great that his shoe melted to the gas pedal, and the workers had to pull his foot out of his shoe to get him and his broken hip out of the burning car.

The doctor did all he could for the preacher for several days, but one morning he walked into the LaGrange, Georgia hospital room and delivered the news:

“Preacher Miller,” he said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think you’ll ever walk again.”

The preacher didn’t buy it. He said, “Doctor: you, me, and the Lord can do better than that.”

And they did.

In a month he was walking — and preaching — on crutches.

In three months, he was walking with a walker.

In six he walked, period. Just with a limp.

While he was a man of great faith, he also became discouraged often during his rehabilitation. One day when he was really feeling sorry for himself, he started wheeling through the hospital, looking around. He was surprised by what he saw.

He saw a man who was missing a leg.

He saw another who couldn’t get out of bed.

He saw one he knew likely would not see many more sunsets. 

So, he went back to his room that day and gave thanks. I guess that was a “thanksgiving day” for the preacher.

He never took walking for granted again. As soon as he was well enough, he walked stairs almost every day for the rest of his life. And that was back when walking really wasn’t the “in” thing.

Walking stairs, of course, isn’t something you can do at home. So, every day he’d go out and find one of the tallest buildings in his hometown; and there he’d walk the stairs. It was a place he attended daily as part of his preaching visits anyway, and it was a place where he could go and never feel sorry for himself. He had always tried that.

So, he would go to that very place where the doctor had told him soberly, ‘Preacher Miller, you’ll never walk again,’ And the preacher of faith had replied just as confidently, “Doc, you, me, and the Lord can do better than that.’ Yes, he would go every day and walk those tall steps up at the LaGrange hospital. I am sure he never walked them when he did not give thanks all along the way. It was a special place, a place he learned to walk the walk, even if it now was with a little bit of a limp.