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This Little Light is Fine

A little tug on my shirt tail was all it took. Every week was the same. We’d play the final song, have a short benediction, and before the preacher would say “Amen,” this little angel would sneak up behind me and tug to get my attention. Occasionally, she’d bring other angels. Perhaps they travel in packs. This angel was Ella Newmiller. Over the next few years, however, I would be the one behind her holding on to her shirt tail. Eventually, that shirt tail would become handles on a small pink wheelchair. Others would push, but make no mistake, she was the one leading. I was no match for her wit, insight, and perception. She could roll her eyes once, and say more than my entire blog. I handed her my phone once in the church and told her to go take pictures. Her eye for beauty returned with pictures of everything from flowers to babies, wall hangings to shoes, friends, and of course…herself.

I learned many lessons from little Ella, too many to write in this short space. After a dark and difficult time in my life, she must have thought to herself, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” And shine it did, on me. On the piano, I taught her, “Jesus loves me” …but in life, she showed me Jesus loves me. For many, in seasons of grey, she brought vivid color. For the sad, she brought laughter. And for everyone, she brought unity. Ella was a pink Tierra and cowboy boots…chicken nuggets and sushi…cute and acute. With no respect for walls of race, age, status, or denomination, she brought everyone together. Harley bikers building a pink wheelchair for a little girl with brain cancer tells it all.

The precious times we spent singing together were, for me, more valuable than gold. This little angel, although occasionally out of tune, was remarkably always in tune. Without saying it, she reminded me to not take myself too seriously. To be a child. To have fun. At a birthday party at her house, she insisted that we go to her backyard to jump on her trampoline (with one of her packs of angels). She then took me inside, held my hand down on a table, and painted my fingernails. I had little doubt iPhones and Blackberrys would appear to record these events. She would bring bright color to my life one way or another. And I’m not the only one either. For a little boy in Haiti, she was a long distance friend. For a family with five young Congolese children, she was their blonde sister. For my sister Fran, as they both battled cancer, she was Rembrandt with crayons, coloring pictures of joy and inspiration. Her life was a “Master-full” collage of art, dance, and song on a canvas of love framed by Jesus.

During her last few months on Earth, I read to her, while her presence spoke to me. She called it, “Extra credit,” and earned gift cards for every lesson completed. She collected those gift cards but became a gift herself. The first song we sang together, “Jesus Loves Me,” also became the last song. With unwavering trust, in the silence of her living room, with her voice but a whisper, yet her heart a resounding symphony, she reminded me again of the love of Jesus.

Once, when I asked Ella her favorite Bible verse she thought long and hard. She began, “Love…” and I finished, “Love your neighbor?” She then said something softly, and I said, “Ella I didn’t hear you.”  I leaned closer. She said it again and I still didn’t make it out. Leaning even closer, she said, a third time, almost in a whisper, “As yourself.” The power of those two words, I’ll never forget.

If you’re reading these words, then her life has touched yours. You may have been in church all your life, or journeyed far from the God who gave His Son for you. The opportunity to turn towards home in Christ is yours this moment. “For God so loved _______ (fill in your name) that He gave His only begotten Son, that He who believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Thank you Mark, Renae, and Jack for sharing your gift with the world. This is only the beginning. And thank you Ella, for a life well lived. As my sister Fran now reads with you, don’t be surprised when you look around and see millions tugging on your shirt tail.

There’s no place like HOPE,



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