It was the autumn of 1965 when my dad decided to cut ties from his secure nine to fiver in Atlanta and move our family to an uncertain future in a tiny western North Carolina mountain town. Dad loathed sameness and monotony and especially detested working for someone else. He wanted to be bold, take a risk, and make his own way in the world. And so, sight unseen; he made a deal to purchase the Bonaire Motel in Flat Rock, North Carolina.
My mother may have been skeptical of this uncertain venture; she may have been downright terrified of taking a young family with two little kids and heading off to parts unknown. But there was no way she’d ever tell my father that. Mom was solidly in Pops’ corner, for better or worse, and would be for the rest of his far-too-brief life.
And so it came to be that on an autumn evening in `65 we Millers packed into the family wagon and headed off on the five-hour drive to our new life. I was only three years old at the time but still remember the trip clear as yesterday. In those days, kids were allowed to bounce around a car like a jumping bean on speed, and nobody paid it any mind. There were no seatbelt or car seat laws. You could hang your body out the window and yodel at the moon if you wanted.
It was already past my bedtime when we started our journey, so I curled up on the floor beneath the glove compartment. It was a wonderfully dark and comfy little nook, and the rhythmic clacks of the highway pleats soon lulled me to sleep.
I awoke sometime the next morning in my new bed in our new home – which happened to be the dank basement of a quaint little roadside motel. Truth be told, the Bonaire looked a bit like Bates Motel - only no scary house on the hill. From the lobby in the main building, you looked out through a large picture frame window on a row of eight rooms just across the parking lot. The rates ranged from six to eight dollars a night.
It was still peak autumn colors season when we arrived, so the joint was packed. And, though the first few days were a little chaotic for my parents, they were happy as clams in their new life. All was well for a few weeks…and then it wasn’t.
The problem with North Carolina’s stunningly colorful fall is that it doesn’t last. The bright hues fade, and the leaves die and shrivel and fall. And, for my novice innkeeper parents, that fact of nature was not good news. Soon the leafy lookers had all gone home, and the Bonaire parking lot was left empty.
My parents weren’t worried at first. They figured it was just a temporary downturn. But, as days turned into weeks and autumn turned to winter, Mom and Dad’s initial optimism faded.
Each evening, my mother would stand in the lobby and gaze out the window at the darkened row of empty rooms. She’d watch and wish and pray.
“Please, God. Send us guests for our rooms.”
It was a simple prayer that she repeated again and again. Whenever a car would come rolling down Ol’ Highway 25, she’d perk up, thinking maybe her prayer had finally worked. She watched for the car to slow, to flip on its blinker and turn into the motel lot. But, despite her tirelessly hopeful one-sided conversation with God, there were no blinkers that winter. The cars kept going.
As the icy January of 1966 morphed into frigid February, things began to look bleaker and bleaker. My parents’ meager savings had been used up. My father was despondent. Again and again he lamented his mistake in moving us away from our safe and secure life. He talked about packing us up and heading back to Atlanta. Maybe he could beg for his old job back. Mom convinced him to wait a little while longer. She wasn’t ready to give up – just yet.
Each night she continued to hold her fruitless vigil, staring out that lobby window at the cold and empty rooms. “Please, God. Send us guests for our rooms. We’re good people. Our rooms are clean and comfortable. Please help my family.” She knew that God was up there and that He had to hear her, so she couldn’t understand why he wasn’t helping out. “Show me what I need to know,” Mom despaired one night. “Show me the way.”
Then a flicker of a thought crossed her mind. What if she was going about it all wrong? What if the tone of her prayer had been misguided all along? She knew at that moment that she’d had it all backwards. My mother would call this inspiration an “angel message.”
She suddenly remembered Elisha’s prayer for his servant in II Kings:
“Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.”
My mother asked that God open her eyes. In an instant, she switched from fear and doubt to gratitude and hope. She’d been so busy asking God to bail out her family, she’d forgotten to give thanks to God for all the blessings He’d bestowed on her family. The Millers had so much to be grateful for, and she really had no business asking for more. She knew this was the answer to her prayers. Mom remembered how Jesus thanked God before he raised Lazarus from the tomb:
“Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.”
She realized that - if she truly believed in the power of prayer - she shouldn’t wait to give gratitude until after she received what she was praying for. She needed to be grateful first to prove her faith. So, right then and there – without any change in the present desperate circumstances - she gave thanks to God. It was like an impromptu Thanksgiving in the dead of a dark winter’s night. She knew at that moment that everything was going to be okay.
“Within just a few minutes,” my Mom recalled years later, “a pair of headlights appeared down Highway 25. As the car drew near the motel, the blinker came on. As they pulled into the drive, another car appeared, then another and another. In less than fifteen minutes there was a line of people waiting at the counter to check-in. The rooms were filled that night, and, in all the years we owned that motel, we never faced that problem again.”
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” James 1:17.