Ode to Stephanie Ann Dale Miller

I wanted to share something I wrote about a friend. She was a daughter, a sister, a wife and a mother.  This is my belated "Mother's Day" thought...

April 11, 2013


Some news just plain hits you in the gut, takes your breath away, and breaks your heart. I got that sort of news this evening. The kind of news that has made me cry my eyes out, reflect, pray, wrestle with and submit to my Maker. 

Here's what happened:

I walked in to meet my Mom for dinner tonight. Emery was freaking out like she does every single time she sees her beloved grandma. She was moving as quickly as she could through the crowd to get to Gaga and I was trying to guide her with one hand so that she didn't plow down any bystander. In all the commotion, I didn't notice how still Mom was. I didn't see her expression as I guided Emmy into "Gaga's" lap, stuffed the diaper bag into the booth and plopped my tired self down. And then I saw the look on her face. She couldn't even look up to meet my stare as I instinctively asked, "What's wrong, Mom?" 

"Have you checked Facebook in the last three hours?"

"Umm" I had to think, "yeah, I think so...why? What's wrong?"

"I can't say it." 

She slid her phone across the table and I picked it up with both haste and reluctance. There it was. Facebook official from the page of my childhood friend, Rachel, it read: "My sister, Stephanie Ann Dale Miller, has gone to meet her Savior today." Steph had battled brain cancer for two and a half years and this cool day in April, she had drawn her last breath and was now healed and whole before her Lord. She was 37. She left behind a husband and two daughters. 

I bowed my head and wept. Thankfully I was wearing my workout clothes and a ball cap that covered my face so I didn't cause anyone to lose their appetite with my ugly cry. I unashamedly wept.
The waitress stopped, "Are you okay? Can I get you anything?"

Mom answered, "We just got sad news."

The waitress, obviously a Believer, replied, "Should I bring chocolate cake?”

I'm a Texas girl through and through but I am originally from Kansas City, Kansas. Our family lived about a decade of my childhood years in Kansas before Mom and Dad got right with the Lord and made our permanent home in Texas. God was good to us in KS. We had tons of family around us, Grandma lived three minutes away, we purchased our first house, belonged to a great church family and best of all...we had The Dale Girls. 

Mrs. Dale, whom Jenni and I inappropriately and accidentally always called by her first name, Nelda, was funny and charming and beautiful and full of life and love and music and the Word. She loved God and she loved her family. And she loved to laugh. And she raised her daughters with those characteristics fully in tact.

The youngest of Mrs. Dale's three daughters was Melissa. Melissa and Jenni were the same age and they were thick as thieves. Adorable and silly and funny and so incredibly annoying to me and...

Rachel...the middle daughter and my best friend. Rachel was my age. Equally as self-righteous and know-it-all as moa. It's a wonder we ever got along. But Rachel was my muse. When we moved from KS to TX, she was the inspiration for my now famous poem, "Friends In The Heart". (It will be remembered with the greats, like Emerson and Dr. Seuss.) Rachel was smart and well read and she always did what was right. She was the friend I didn't ever want to disappoint.  

And then there was Stephanie. The eldest of three daughters. A natural beauty. An entertaining thespian. A singer. An actress. A comedian. You name it, she could do it, be it, mimic it. When Stephanie smiled, you couldn't help but wonder what was behind the smile, because she didn't just smile, she laughed. There was a laugh behind her smile. She smiled with her eyes, her cheeks, her nose and her lips. Stephanie was larger than life. She was three and a half years older than me. Just enough age difference for me to watch her, imitate her, hold her in high esteem. I secretly worshiped and idolized her, even though I pretended to be frustrated and annoyed when she would yell at me and Rae for bothering her. Having no big sister of my own, Stephanie was my surrogate big sister. She was bossy and loud and funny and sarcastic and charming and witty and polite. She could speak comfortably in front of a crowd, even a crowd of adults. As a matter of fact, she was incredible in front of a doting congregation...her best and truest self. She oozed confidence and charisma. Yeah, I totally worshiped her.  She was always singing...usually some show tune from a musical I had not yet seen or heard of. She had a great sense of style that sometimes stretched her parents but she was obedient and in the end she chose modesty and made it look cute.  She had friends and she even had boyfriends...whoa...she was so cool. 

Steph was so cool that "playing" with the four of us younger girls was beneath her, and looking back, I totally get it! What would a thirteen-year-old want to do with a herd of eight-and-ten-year-old babies? But every now and again, we would beg, plead and somehow con Steph into helping us in one of our games of school or house. The most memorable for me was the time the "Fab Four" (i.e. Rachel, Jessica, Melissa & Jenni) joined forces to play some sort of version of house. I think Rachel was the "Mom" because she was making us all sandwiches in the "kitchen". And I think Jenni, Melissa and I were all actresses or singers...maybe the first Dixie Chicks. But the most notable moment of our pretend world game was when we were going on "stage", doing our hair and makeup, and Stephanie helped us stuff our shirts with socks so that we would look more "womanly". Maybe I shouldn't write that, maybe it's inappropriate. But we were young and innocent...and flat-chested. I remember Rachel being both horrified and amused at the three of us and our voluptuous, yet lumpy bosoms. Stephanie laughed the entire time she rolled tube socks for us. Showing us how to tuck our shirts into our pants just right so that the socks were held into perfect place. And when her masterpiece was finished, she paraded us into the kitchen yelling, "Mom! You gotta see this!" Mrs. Dale laughed her infectious howl and called Jenni "Dolly Parton". 

Yes, that's what I remember about Stephanie...teaching me how to stuff my shirt with tube socks. Every girl needs a big sister to teach her the important things in life. 

But the "Stephanie" memory that stands out as the brightest in my mind is seeing Stephanie sitting in a wingback chair near the fireplace in the formal living/sitting room holding her Bible. It sticks out in my mind because I remember thinking, "That Bible is HUGE". She must have been reading a study Bible or Life Application Bible because at that age, the Bible looked big enough to be the "Family Bible" in Steph's small and delicate hands. She was writing, maybe in the Bible, or maybe in a journal, but I thought, "Look at her. She's reading the Bible and no one is making her." She was maybe thirteen years old. 

What a testimony. Diving into the Word because she wanted to. Because she loved Jesus. Because she was hungry for Truth. Because she was His. 

In later years, we would see The Dale Girls on other occasions when we would visit family in KS. I had the honor of being a bridesmaid in Rachel's wedding when we were nineteen. Stephanie was there...a newlywed. And she was even more fabulous at 23 than she was at 13! And, again, I saw her reading her Bible one morning. She was radiant. Beautiful. Full of Light and Love. She was full of the Lord. 
Steph gave me great big sister advice on that trip, "Jessica, whatever you do, DO NOT get your bangs trimmed the week before you get married." And then she handed me her bridal portrait and she cackled as she let her laugh roll from her belly. Her bangs were short. But I didn't laugh, I was breathless. She was perfect. Flawless. She looked like a royal princess bride. And her prince, Phillip, what a beautiful couple. They were regal and young and full of life. 

Three years ago, my phone rang and to my surprise, it was Stephanie. She had read my blog about our struggle with infertility. She was calling to offer me encouragement and hope. She, too, had struggled in getting pregnant with their second daughter, Emily. I remember telling her that I had stopped all fertility treatment because my heart and mind couldn't take any more hurt and disappointment for that season. Stephanie was quiet. She didn't try to fill the space in my aching heart with empty words. She listened. And when she responded, her words were wise and life giving. And later that year when I did get pregnant, she sent me a message on FB telling me how happy she was for what God was giving us. It was the same month that she was diagnosed with her brain tumor. She was writing to offer me more encouragement and love and hope even in the face of her own mountain. 

And so, when I read that she was now in Heaven, I hung my head, ball cap covering my face, and I wept. Because the earth suffered a loss. And Heaven gained one of its own. I know many family members greeted her. And I imagine that my Dad waited in line to hug her and welcome her. And they smiled at each other…those infectious smiles. And they laughed. And they worshiped at the feet of Jesus. 

And today though there are holes in earthly, human hearts because of our temporary loss, Stephanie is whole. She is with her Savior, the Lover of her soul, her Great Physician. 

You are missed, Stephanie. But you will never be forgotten. 

Love Your Surrogate Other Little Sister,
Jessica (PS - I finally got boobs)

Proverbs 31:28-31
(Ode to Steph, the virtuous woman)
Her children rise up and call her blessed; 

Her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many daughters have done well, 

But you excel them all.”
Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, 

But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands, 

And let her own works praise her in the gates.”

Side Note: 
I was blessed to attend Stephanie's funeral a week later and her brave Mama and Husband both spoke her praises AT the funeral...WOW! 
Her Mom (Mrs. Dale, aka, "Nelda") left us with this incredible verse: 
"I have no greater joy than to hear my children walk in truth." 3 John 4 

Oh that we may all walk in this same joy so that we can hold each other again in heaven! 
Go, ye, make disciples!!

(pictured below: Melissa, Stephanie, Rachel)


Jessica Phillips

Jessica is worshiper and follower of Jesus. He rescued her heart at age 6 but he rescued her calling, purpose and direction in her early 20's. Everyday God is still writing Jessica's story. It involves her husband, Brad, her daughter, Emery, their extended families. But the story is a tale of loss of life and dark grief. And the story ebs and weaves and the grief story is followed by weddings and laughter. And what comes next? A Baby! God sends us a baby to shape and teach and grow right in the midst of our loss and realizing that life actually moves forward. We didn't think it would again after he died. But life just did what it was supposed to do...and it went on. And hope is born again. Everything I write is based on this fact: I'm God's child, I'm alive today. So what do You want me to do for You? Because I want my contribution to matter. I want to leave a legacy.