Five years ago I was privileged to spend ten days in Israel with Millie Burgett. It was a bucket list trip for Millie, a once in a lifetime deal. As a military wife, Millie had traveled all over the world. She had lived in England and Germany, in California and Hawaii; she had been to Italy and Pompeii. But she had never been to Israel and she just had to go. She wanted to walk where Jesus walked. She wanted to see what Jesus saw. I’ve got the notes I took during our pre-trip meetings. Millie said she wanted to experience what our Lord Jesus experienced.
So we celebrated Millie’s 80th birthday on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. We sang Happy Birthday together. And How Great Thou Art. And It Is Well.
We walked all over the Holy Lands together and this thin, frail 80-year-old woman never missed a step. She was all into this thing with everything she had. She was following in the footsteps of Jesus.
Millie wanted to be baptized in the Jordan River. Our plan was to worship on the banks of the Jordan on Sunday and enjoy a communion meal and picnic lunch. But Millie wanted to be baptized. We talked about it in the weeks leading up to the trip and even the night before in the hotel in Tiberias. “You’re a faithful, lifelong Christian. You’ve already been baptized. You don’t need to be baptized again. Why do you want to be baptized in the Jordan River?”
Millie said, “I want to do what Jesus did.”
And she did. Not just that Sunday morning in Israel. Every day in every way for 85 years, Millie did what Jesus did.
Millie was the troop leader every single year her three daughters were in Girl Scouts. She did all the campouts and took all the trips, starting the fires, setting up the tents, organizing the meetings, and selling the cookies. And making sure every single girl felt included and that she belonged.
Millie sewed almost everything her girls wore: dresses and skirts, blouses and shirts. She made prom dresses and wedding dresses, the fancier the better, not just for her daughters, but for anybody who needed a dress.
She made coffee every day, sometimes two or three times a day, so she’d always have a fresh cup to offer a neighbor who dropped in or a friend who stopped by.
If she found out you liked books, she’d buy you all the latest authors and read the same books you were reading so you could talk about them together. If she found out you were into the movies, she’d wipe out the five-dollar bin at WalMart and flood you with sacks of DVDs. Those kinds of gifts are intentional. They prove that she’s paying attention to you, that she really knows you and loves you and wants to connect with you.
When her son, Jeff, told a friend last week that his mom had died, this guy told Jeff that Millie always made him feel like part of their family. When I asked Jeff’s wife, Brenda, what it was like to have Millie as a mother-in-law, Brenda responded, “Mother in law? Millie became my mom.”
With Millie, it’s an intentional, unconditional love. Just like our Lord’s unconditional love. A love without limits. A boundless interest in the well-being of others ahead of her own. Just like Jesus. Just like our Lord who came to this earth to unite all people together into one universal family in him. Just like Jesus who lived and died to tear down the walls that separate us, Millie was willing and eager to do whatever it takes, to move heaven and earth, to bring everybody together.
You could really see it in the passion she developed for genealogy. All those family reunions in Floydada. All those relatives looking forward to seeing Millie’s charts and diagrams. Millie wants to point out all the connections. She wants everybody to know how we’re related.
She helps the Daughters of the American Revolution with their certifications. She’s calling courthouses, writing letters to lawmakers and libraries. She gets really excited about finding a new line, discovering some new connection that proves somebody else belongs.
When a new group of immigrants passes the test and receives their U.S. citizenship, Millie is there for the ceremony. She doesn’t know these people at all, but she’s there celebrating with them, encouraging them, making them feel welcome.
I feel so blessed to have spent those ten days in Israel with Millie. I witnessed her generosity and hospitality first hand. I experienced it, I received it from her gracious heart. She spent those ten days buying stuff for everybody. She bought gifts for everybody at almost every stop. She took in every moment of that trip. She soaked it in, she lived it. Walking where Jesus walked. Seeing what Jesus saw. We were talking together on the bus during one of those days when she told me that I could be her son for the rest of the trip. That’s classic Millie. Making sure I felt like I was part of her family, even on the other side of the world. Doing what Jesus did. All the time.
Millie Burgett passed from this life to the next on Wednesday. Loved and cherished by our God, forgiven and redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit of our Lord.
Her passing leaves a heavy void that we’re all going to feel for a long time. But she’s also left a lasting legacy: a brilliant and shining example of a life well-lived in connection with Christ and with all his people, all together in Millie’s family.
May we remember in Millie the ways her love and generosity and hospitality reflect the glory of our Lord. May we encourage Elaine and Jeff and their whole family by reminding them often how much Millie impacted our lives. May our gracious God bless Millie’s family with his divine comfort and peace. And may God receive his servant into this faithful arms.
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