Following a horrific traffic crash on a country road, 37-year-old Barbara Lynn Miller clung to life at Grant Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. Although flown by air ambulance transport to the hospital, by the time Miller arrived she had lost half the blood in her body.
Miller’s injuries included a twisted spinal cord, a crushed right ankle, a broken collarbone, two shattered knees, various broken ribs, and a right hand awaiting amputation.
A team of seven surgeons assembled in a hospital operating room. Six of the summoned doctors believed Miller incapable of recovering from such serious injuries and considered surgery a waste of time. A seventh surgeon — a professing atheist — agreed Miller likely would die, but he said he wanted to try to save her life. His word prevailed.
In an 8½-hour operation, surgeons cut through the three-inch piece of skin still connected to Miller’s right hand and reattached it. Another surgery to repair her ankle followed 24 hours later. By the time she left Grant Medical Center and a rehabilitation center, Miller had undergone three additional procedures.
Although confined to a wheelchair most of the time since then, 26 years later Miller says she is able to accomplish whatever she wants to do — including driving a car. Doctors initially predicted if she survived, she would need around-the-clock care and couldn’t function on her own.
“I am living a full and blessed life,” Miller says.
The wreck occurred in June 1995 on a two-lane curvy, hilly country road near Millersburg, Ohio. As Miller drove her two youngest daughters to a Little League game, the car crested the top of a hill. There in the road sat an Amish farmer in his buggy, conversing with another man standing on the shoulder. Miller swerved her compact Chevrolet Corsica to avoid hitting them.
But in evading certain death for the pair in her path, Miller collided head-on with a 15-passenger van in the oncoming lane. Front seat passenger Marcee, Miller’s youngest daughter, age 12 at the time, still has a permanent scar across her chest from the seat belt that burned her upon impact.
However, 16-year-old Shelli, sitting directly behind her mother, fared worse. The crash broke 19 bones in her face. She needed reconstructive plastic surgery, including the insertion of titanium plates in her face and chin. Both girls ended up marrying later and each gave birth to three children.
Barbara and her husband, Roy, had four daughters and a son in all — plus 87 children who lived in their home through foster care in a 22-year period. They adopted one of those girls in 2008.
A love of children propelled the Millers in April 1995 — two months before the wreck — to begin sponsoring children at the Smoky Mountain Children’s Home in Sevierville, Tennessee. It is a facility operated by the Church of God headquartered in Cleveland, Tennessee, for at-risk children and teens in residential and foster care programs. The Millers, who have been married for 38 years, attend Mt. Zion Church of God in Wooster, Ohio. Roy, now retired, earlier owned logging as well as oil and gas producing wells businesses.
BIRTHDAY CARD MINISTRY
Barbara eventually began sending handcrafted birthday cards to children at the Smoky Mountain Children’s Home as well as the centers in three other states. With her right hand — the one that had been amputated and reattached — she cuts, stamps, colors, and writes greetings to the children. Today, she is on the denomination’s international care board, which oversees seven ministries
In 2008, a married couple who had been houseparents at Smoky Mountain Children’s Home began working at COMPACT Family Services, the national child welfare agency of the Assemblies of God based in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The couple encouraged Miller to begin sending birthday cards to children living at COMPACT. Miller has faithfully done just that for the past 13 years.
She mails an average of 200 birthday cards a month to children at the five homes — each containing a $5 bill. Last month, Miller sent 42 birthday cards to kids living at COMPACT.
“It’s not that much, but the kids need to have a treat every once in a while,” says Miller, a pastor’s daughter. “It might help them buy a tube of lipstick or candy at the movies.”
Miller also includes a personal encouraging message to each child. She asks God for direction in what to write in all the cards. Last month, being as fierce as a lion and trusting in the Lord rather than their own understanding became a common topic.
“My main goal is for every child to have a relationship with Jesus Christ,” Miller says. “The universal theme I want to convey is: God loves you, He has a plan for your life, He can take bad experiences and turn them into something beautiful.”
With so many foster kids in their home over the years, the Millers have no illusions about the trauma these children have encountered.
“Sadly, abuse, neglect, and suffering is so commonplace,” Miller says. “I’m not shocked by what these kids have gone through. But God can turn situations around. Jeremiah 29:11 is the theme of my life.”
For some of the kids, Miller’s card is the only one they receive acknowledging their birthday.
In addition to sending birthday cards to every child at the group foster homes, Miller over the years has sponsored as many as 72 children at one time, writing letters and sending gifts or money every month. That includes a nine-year correspondence with Kevin M. Woodward at the Smoky Mountain Children’s Home.
“I questioned whether anybody loved me,” says Woodward, now 39. “But everything she wrote to me showed she really cared about me, how I felt, and how I would end up. She personalized each note and helped me through rough times.”
Woodward is one of the two dozen adult former residents of the homes that Miller stays connected with via Facebook. Woodward says he has come to appreciate Miller more now that he has been married for a decade and has three children of his own.
“She helped me help myself,” recalls Woodward. “She was always available and incredibly easy to talk to. She was relatable.”
Woodward ended up working as a houseparent at Smoky Mountain Children’s Home himself, served a stint in the U.S. Army as a soldier in Iraq, and currently is project manager for a construction company based in Sevierville, Tennessee.
“Barbara is a huge reason I wanted to help kids,” Woodward says. “She is an extraordinary individual who chooses to fill her time mending broken hearts.”
After the collision, Miller dealt with leg spasms. Medicine controlled the problem, but caused Miller to experience chronic fatigue. However, that problem has been conquered as she now she uses a medical pump implanted in her skin that shoots oral medication into her spinal cord.
Miller experienced further tragedy in her life in 2006 when daughter Shelli — who survived the wreck — died from a bleeding ulcer 10 days after giving birth to her third child. Shelli left behind three children, the oldest age 4. The Millers and the other set of grandparents ended up gaining joint custody of the children in 2008 after a court ruled they had been neglected. The youngest two are currently in high school.
Miller’s compassion for COMPACT kids extends beyond birthday cards. With another woman from the church she attends, Miller makes embossed pillowcases for children, embroidering their names on one side and the words God will give His angels charge over you on the other.
The Millers, who still live in Holmesville, Ohio, where they resided before the traffic crash, also contributed $20,000 toward the $50,000 just-completed Jim’s Playground project on the COMPACT campus. It is an area for developmentally disabled children and youth in foster care at COMPACT’s Hillcrest Children’s Home. The playground is named after retired AG world missionary Jim Andrew Dickey, who died last year in a car collision.
“These are the most vulnerable kids, and my heart goes out to them,” Miller says.
COMPACT Executive Director Jay Mooney calls Miller a spiritual giant and quiet hero to the children and staff at Hillcrest Children’s Home.
“Her monumental investments have touched scores of souls with the love of Jesus Christ,” says Mooney, 60. “Her cards are heirlooms of God’s promises. She is among Hillcrest’s most prolific partners. She is a tremendous prayer partner and encourager to this leader.”
About a year after the accident, the Millers happened to be in Columbus and they spontaneously stopped at the hospital where Barbara spent many hours clinging to life. There they saw the atheist doctor who fought for Barbara’s life.
From a distance, she waved at the surgeon, who rushed over, grabbed her hand, and twirled it around in amazement.
“Jesus Christ!” the surgeon exclaimed as an epithet.
“Yes, isn’t He wonderful?” Miller replied. “He used you to put my hand back together.”
Miller proceeded to witness to the doctor about the goodness of God, showing him some of the birthday cards she had crafted.
“God gave me the ministry of writing greeting cards to children,” Miller says. “God allowed me to have use of my writing hand again. “There is no better reward than to be involved in the life of a child.”
In retirement, Roy, now 80, ironically is volunteering as an “Amish taxi driver” for members of the sect who don’t drive automobiles.