“Courage isn’t the towering oak, but the fragile flower that blooms in the snow.” (Anais Nin) Cathy has this quote listed as her favorite quote on her facebook profile. Having known her for over twenty years, it’s not hard for me to understand why that might be her favorite. 

Cathy is was one of the most courageous people I know. But she was also more fragile than she let on. Her story has been both a challenge and an encouragement to me, and I hope it will be to you as well. 

fragile blog (cassatt painting)

Mary Cassatt, The Child’s Bath. Oil on canvas, 39.48in x 262 in. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Catherine (Harper) Miller passed away last week. She wasn’t even fifty years old. But Cathy packed more into those four plus decades than most of us do in twice the time. She understood that life is fragile, but a life lived with courage chooses to bloom anyway.

I first met Cathy when I was young and single and living in Chicago. We would end up being roommates for three years. At the time, she was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru), as part of their “Here’s Life Inner City” component. Cathy had a heart for inner city Chicago. She lived, worked, and played in the midst of very fragile communities, laboring to bring the hope of the Gospel to some of the darkest corners of our city. 

fragile blog (Alice Neel painting)

Alice Neel, Mother and Child, 1926 Oil on canvas 26 x 28 inches 66 x 71.1 cm © The Estate of Alice Neel Courtesy David Zwirner, New York

Cathy loved people. She had a smile that would light up a room and immediately make you feel welcomed. Our home was constantly filled with people – people over for dinner, just to chat, studying the Scriptures, playing games. We practiced hospitality with a fierceness that I want to recapture. 

fragile blog (Elizabeth Catlett sculpture)

Elizabeth Catlett, Mother and Child, Terra cotta, 11 1/4 x 7 x 7″ (28.6 x 17.8 x 17.8 cm). Gift of The Friends of Education of The Museum of Modern Art, The Modern Women’s Fund, and Dr. Alfred Gold (by exchange)

Lest you think that Cathy was some kind of super human, I can assure you that she was just as fragile as anyone else. She knew that she was a sinner in need of God’s grace. Cathy certainly had her struggles, there were battles she fought internally for years. We had hard conversations over the years we lived together; we shared our victories and mourned our failures together. 

What kept Cathy centered in the midst of everything was her complete and total devotion to Christ. She knew that His mercies are new every morning; that in her weakness, He was strong; that He would complete the work He began in her. And it was out of that faithfulness that she was able to serve. 

fragile blog (Renoir painting)

Renoir, Auguste, Child with Toys – Gabrielle and the Artist’s Son, Jean. 1895-1896, oil on canvas, overall: 54.3 x 65.4 cm (21 3/8 x 25 3/4 in.), framed: 65.7 x 76.7 x 3.5 cm (25 7/8 x 30 3/16 x 1 3/8 in.). Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

Life took us along different paths, and she ended up in Wisconsin while I am in Florida. Over the last two decades, Cathy went on to foster over 70 children, and to adopt six. She didn’t pick the best and the brightest; she signed up for the most difficult cases. She loved on and cared for the fragile ones – medically complex, babies, older children, anyone who needed a home. She even reached out to birth parents to help them as well. Cathy’s facebook name was “Cathy momofmany”, and indeed, she was.

Six years ago, she married her soulmate. God was so gracious to grant Cathy a partner in life who shared her love for the outcast and forgotten. Together, they were raising other fragile flowers to bloom in the snow. 

fragile blog (Gaugin painting)

Paul Gaugin, Polynesian Woman with Children, 1901, Oil on linen canvas, 97 x 74 cm (38 3/16 x 29 1/8 in.). Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection.

One month after her marriage, Cathy was diagnosed with cancer. She fought bravely. In her last week, as she was in hospice, I was overwhelmed at the stories people were sharing of how she had loved them well. Her oldest daughter was a testimony to Cathy’s influence as she bravely managed phone calls and visitors to her mom’s bedside. I met Nidra when she was only a toddler, and was so encouraged to see the woman that she has become. And I know that Cathy wouldn’t take any credit for that – she would, rightly, attribute all to the grace of God. 

fragile blog - roommate picture

The Three Amigas – Michelle, Cathy, Shelley

Last week, my friend walked through the gates of glory. She stood in the presence of her true Love and heard, “well done, good and faithful servant.” From that moment, she entered into the joy of her Master and is truly at home. Those of us who remain will mourn, but not as those without hope. For all of us who trust in Christ, we will be reunited one day. And while we still labor here, we can take courage from Cathy’s example.

Will you love the least of these? Who needs your smile and care today? To whom can you show hospitality? Who are the forgotten ones in your neighborhood?


If Cathy’s story has touched you, would you consider donating to help out her family? Hospice care is expensive, and I know they would appreciate any help: Donate here.


Nadia Decker · April 12, 2018 at 2:54 pm

What a beautiful and touching tribute to Cathy. She was truly an amazing woman who personified God’s love. Cathy touched the lives of many.

    Michelle · April 12, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    Thanks, Mom.

carolyn · April 12, 2018 at 8:38 pm

Thank you for honoring my sister in this way and sharing your life with her. -Carolyn (Harper) Sultz

    Michelle · April 12, 2018 at 8:51 pm

    Carolyn, I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m so grateful for Cathy’s friendship and her faith in Christ. Please know that we are praying for your family. I’m thankful I got to share part of my life with Cathy.

Barb Schwartz · April 14, 2018 at 9:05 am

Thank you for this beautiful homage to Cathy. You capture her in lovely detail. Framing her in artwork is truly inspired.

    Michelle · April 14, 2018 at 3:19 pm

    Thank you so much, Barb! Cathy will be greatly missed.

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