During Christmas time, Jim Miller’s home on the corner of Stearns Street and Gondar Avenue shines brightly. The house, decorated with thousands of blinking lights, adorned with red ribbons, a nativity scene, and more, can—no doubt—be seen from the host of heavenly angels above. And it’s certainly a house that you can’t miss if you’re driving by on Stearns Street this holiday season.
Jim Miller’s decorations have been a shining testament to the Christmas spirit in Long Beach for years, particularly because of the hopeful message seen hanging from his garage door during the holidays.
When Joan Miller, Jim’s wife, was declared cancer-free after five years, the Millers decided to start a tradition around the holidays to put up a long white banner proclaiming “Praise the Lord, Cancer Free.” Each Christmas that Joan celebrated another cancer-free year, the number on the sign would change. Last year, it read, “22 years cancer free, Praise the Lord!”
However, last December, Joan Miller’s battle with cancer returned. After 22 years of being cancer-free, Joan was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“We were debating on whether we should put the sign up last year,” Jim Miller said. “But Joan said that she spent 11 months of 2017 cancer free, so we decided to put it up.”
This year, the banner will read, “23 Years Praising the Lord! My New Home, Heaven.” Sadly, Joan Miller lost her battle with cancer on Oct. 6.
After undergoing an 11-hour surgery last April, being hospitalized for two months, and going through chemotherapy, Joan was eventually placed on hospice and spent her final days at home with Jim.
“We talked about what we should do about putting up the sign come Christmas time,” Jim Miller said.
It was at Joan’s request that Jim put the sign up whatever the circumstances. When Joan passed away in October, Jim returned to the same sign maker who made the Miller’s banner every year since that first “cancer-free” proclamation.
“Every year, the ‘sign man’ would change the number for free,” Jim Miller said.
After years of changing the “cancer free” number at no charge, Jim asked the sign man, “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Keep bringing the sign back,” replied the sign maker.
When Jim returned to the store to have the sign remade after Joan’s passing, Jim asked, “How much do I owe you?”
“It’s my gift to you and your family,” replied the maker of the banner.
On more than one occasion, people battling cancer themselves or going through cancer with a loved one have stopped by Jim and Joan’s brightly-lit house to share their story during Christmas.
“Jim will call into the house, ‘Joan, you’ve got to come out, we have somebody that needs to be prayed for.’ And we pray for a lot of people on the sidewalk and we just want people to know what God does,” Joan Miller said back in 2017.
The Millers started another tradition along with the cancer-free banner. Each year, on the two nights before Christmas Eve, Jim Miller dresses up as the neighborhood Santa Claus. He sits outside his house while waving to motorists driving by on Stearns Street and hands out candy canes to neighborhood children. Joan would dress up as Mrs. Claus. This year, Jim will be out there again as Santa Claus, only this time, his daughter, Jill, will portray Mrs. Claus. They will be out on Jim’s front lawn from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Dec. 22 and 23 spreading holiday cheer despite their sad loss.
It’s hard to find a greater fan of the Christmas season than Jim Miller; he looks forward to decorating his house every year for Christmas. He starts early each fall in order to get all the decorations up in time.
Prepping for this holiday season is a lot tougher, as it’s been a difficult year for Jim Miller. In addition to his wife of 57 years (for more on their story click here), Jim also lost his son, James Jr., in March of this year. He was 55 and suffered from diabetes.
Jim Miller points out that amidst losing his wife and son in 2018, he gained two more grandkids born this year—a girl and a boy.
“God is still good,” Miller proclaims with a tear in his eye.
Jim Miller admits that he still asks God why he chose to take his son this year, along with his beloved wife, who died at the age of 77. After all, with each passing year declaring that Joan was another year cancer-free, it would seemingly bring more hope to the community. Miller says that though he has many questions now, he wonders if they will even matter ultimately, in the light of the glory of Heaven, when he, himself, gets there one day. One thing’s for sure, says Miller, it’s comforting to know that his son and wife will be celebrating with Jesus face-to-face this Christmas. Still, he wonders if his wife and son are watching and can see his brightly-lit house from above.
“I read this great poem recently, entitled, ‘My First Christmas in Heaven,’ Miller said. “It gives me a lot of comfort.”
I see the countless Christmas trees around the world below
With tiny lights like Heaven's stars reflecting on the snow.
The sight is so spectacular, please wipe away the tear,
For I am spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.
I hear the many Christmas songs that people hold so dear,
But the sounds of music can't compare with the Christmas choir up here.
I have no words to tell you the joy their voices bring,
For it is beyond description to hear the angels sing.
I know how much you miss me. I see the pain inside your heart,
But I am not so far away. We really aren't apart.
So, be happy for me, dear ones. You know I hold you dear,
And be glad I'm spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.