Birthday Redemption and Finding My True Inheritance

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Every year, I ask God for a birthday present. Each year, it is different. Some are big, and some are smaller, but each is distinctly poignant. On my 39th birthday, God gave me Beau, my first horse as an adult—a gift that changed the whole course of my life.

My love language is gifts. I love to get gifts and I love to give gifts, thanks to my dad. My dad always gave big, extravagant gifts, and he loved every minute of it. He could not wait for Christmas morning and hinted all month about what he was giving us, sending my mom into a complete tizzy.

The Boyfriend Test

John Milan as a shirtless teenager making a silly face

Unfortunately, John's love language is something different, and he has not quite gotten the hang of giving me gifts. I was so excited for our first Christmas and bought him a really nice blue indigo-dyed shirt that was around $80 in 1989. My brother followed in my dad's footsteps as I watched him spoil all his girlfriends with romantic and thoughtful gifts. I thought about what John would get me and how I would really know what kind of boyfriend he was based on the gift.

John handed me a used brown paper bag with my Christmas gift inside. I thought, "My God, where is the shiny red box and gold ribbon? And no red roses either?"

I handed him my neatly wrapped box with the shirt inside. He opened it and held it up to his chest and seemed to like it okay, but wasn't too exuberant. He was smiling and looked like her was excited for me to open mine.

I reached my hand inside the brown paper bag and felt a t-shirt material. I pulled out two black T-shirts and held them up to look. One was a Red Hot Chili Peppers men's concert shirt size large, and the other was a Cure concert shirt—again, men's size large. I was a bit in shock.

"You got me two men's T-shirts? I don't even like Red Hot Chili Peppers; you do. I also don't wear men's clothes or size large. Are these really for me?" I asked.

"You don't like them? They are so cool! Why don't you like them? Well, ok, I'll wear them, no problem."

And that was the Christmas John got three shirts.

After many years of bad and so-so gifts, I resigned myself to the fact that giving thoughtful gifts isn't John's thing. And that's okay. He has many other attributes that make up for it.

But in the moment, I was heartbroken.

Secrets, Confessions, and Hidden Gold

Elli Milan lying on her horse Beau

On my 39th birthday, when I got my horse, Beau, my mom left for Montreal for a month to help my Greek aunt, who was having brain surgery for a tumor. The night before her surgery, she fessed up to my mom, "I don't want this on my conscience in case I die tomorrow, but I was supposed to give Elli her inheritance from my mother when she turned 18."

"What is it?" my mother asked.

"My mother saved British one-ounce gold coins her whole life and kept them in an Earl Grey tea can. She probably had at least 40 of them." My aunt came clean.

My mom and aunt made an agreement that once my aunt was well, she would go get my grandmother's coins from her safety deposit box and give them to my mom to give to me. A few weeks later, after a successful surgery, my mom asked my aunt about the coins.

"What gold coins? What are you talking about?"

"The gold coins your mother left Elli that you kept a secret for the last 25 years. You fessed up the night before your surgery. You said you didn't want to die with this on your conscience," my mother reminded her.

"I must have been out of my mind. That was probably the tumor talking. I don't know anything about gold coins." My aunt held her ground.

My dad remembers my grandmother getting the gold coins from my grandfather almost every birthday. He remembers seeing her tea tin full of coins. My grandfather outlived his wife and suffered the last few months of his life with colon cancer.

My aunt told my grandfather that she shared the news with my dad that he was dying of cancer but that my dad responded that he was too busy with work to come see him. She convinced my grandfather to change his will and leave all his book royalties, properties, and other assets to my aunt.

The truth is, no one, not even my aunt, told my dad that his father was dying. The moment he was told that his father had passed, he jumped on a plane and tried to make it to the funeral.

My father was robbed of his Greek inheritance, and so was I.

From Harmony to Heartache

The silhouette of a man playing jazz saxophone

My 18th birthday fell on my high school graduation, and it was also when I should have received the gold coins according to my grandmother's wishes. For my birthday, my dad gave me a ruby and diamond ring that I loved and cherished. And for graduation, he gave me a saxophone. I was into jazz music and Miles Davis and talked about how cool it would be to learn the saxophone. Small mentions like this usually led to a related gift in the near future with my dad.

I brought my saxophone with me to college, and John picked it up and started playing it. He has a knack for playing any instrument decently without much practice. He started playing in our friend's band called the "Stretch Marks" and would come out midway through the concert for a quick solo and then disappear. Everyone loved it and waited for it because he would get really into it and just improv, occasionally resulting in a squeaky note. Everyone loved the raw freestyle playing that wasn't so professional and perfect.

Once the kids were all born and the saxophone had been collecting dust in a closet, I decided to give it to an older gentleman who shared with me his passion for the saxophone and told me that he missed playing but couldn't afford one. He lit up when I gave it to him, and it felt really good to give my graduation gift more purpose.

About a year later, I was talking with the carpenter who was building out my art studio, and he mentioned that he just sold a saxophone for $800 that a guy from his church gave him. I asked who gave it to him, and it turned out it was the same older man I gave my saxophone to.

I felt crushed. I found out who he sold it to and wanted to buy it back from him, thinking maybe I would save it for one of my kids. I tried tracking him down for months, but he never called me back.

My saxophone was lost forever.

Expectations and Restoration

A pink greeting card inside of a gift box

Now, here we are, three days before my 51st birthday, 33 years from my 18th when I got my ruby ring and my saxophone, and 12 years from when I got my horse and almost my inheritance back from Greece. John asks me, "What do you want for your birthday?"

Disappointed and irritated that he was asking me three days before my birthday and thinking I might get another men's shirt, I said, "Buy me gold. You can't go wrong with gold."

I wasn't actually expecting gold, but I thought there was a super slim chance that John would remember me showing him the beautiful things I wanted from the jewelry stores in St. Armand's Circle near where we live. I quickly gave up on that notion, realizing these types of thoughts and expectations only get me disappointed.

The night before my birthday, we went out to dinner at a mermaid-themed restaurant. John slipped a big birthday card over to me on the table and beamed with excitement. I lifted the card, which felt heavy. Far too heavy for just a card.

When I opened it, I found a large, shiny, one-ounce gold coin with an American eagle on it. I was ecstatic!

"You said to buy you gold," John said.

I loved it already, but the real gift came when Dimitra said, "Daddy! You gave her more than just a gold coin. It's like the return of her lost inheritance!"

Until then, none of us pieced together the stolen gold coins and this gift. I could see instantly this was my birthday gift from God this year. I felt so seen and known, including the ache in my heart.

For years, I have brought artists to Greece to restore the connection to the land of my father. I have invested years in learning Greek, and I hold the hope of owning property there one day. This coin represents the promise of restoration.

Another Gift from Heaven

The following day, on my actual birthday, John came home from the gym with a big black case. "What's that?" I asked.

"Your birthday present," John said with a big smile.

"What?! You already gave me an expensive gold coin! What did you do?" I said, excited. "Open the case," John tells me.

When I opened it, I could hardly believe what I was seeing. It was a shining gold saxophone! "John!!! No way! I don't believe it! How on earth could you remember this and think of such a thing? Where did you get it?!"

"It wasn't me. I didn't think of this or remember until my trainer said he was unloading his wife's saxophone and was selling it for $300. He had it right there at the gym! I knew this was for you!"

My True Inheritance

Every single birthday and Christmas and anniversary John had blown or forgotten in the past was nullified in this moment. I never could have thought of or anticipated such acutely thoughtful and profound gifts. They are the ultimate type of gift I love. I have spent hours thinking of the symbolism and possibilities of what it all means. It is redemption in every way.

I knew that this was God's sweet kiss to me. God is restoring all things stolen from me and bringing me into my full inheritance—one that cannot be spoiled, stolen, or lost. One that will transcend the generations and begin a new generational line that is clean and pure of all greed and deception. An inheritance that will serve and prosper others and ultimately expand and grow the heavenly kingdom.

I feel honored to take my part, and despite disappointments and trampled expectations, I eagerly await the years to come when what was taken comes back to me sevenfold.

Share your story in the comments below!


14 comments


  • Hayley

    Elli, I just wanted to say how touching your words were – thank you for sharing your story.
    ———
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Aww! Thank you! 😊


  • Avianne

    Hi Elli ❤️😊🙏

    love how you shared this. Thank you so much! I identify strongly as I am coming out of a lot of painful losses throughout my life too. Will not go into detail here about all the “many devastations”, but I also felt so robbed.

    The absolute worst of it all happened to me last year. After massive betrayal and lack of accountability I had to walk away from my birth parents completely last year. I found them in 2012 (I was 35) and was reunited with them in 2013, 36 years after a tragic turn of events landed me as an infant in an abusive household as an adopted kid (never feeling loved or accepted) where I grew up never knowing them.

    I thought everything was coming together for me when I was reunited with my birth parents as an adult. Only to be massively betrayed by them both after 10 years of fighting so hard for them on so many fronts. One of those battles I fought for them was a battle that ended in the USA Congress in Washington DC to get my dad’s American citizenship reinstated after he had to renounce it during the Cold War Era as an American intelligence asset in South Africa. Early in 2023 that battle was won. I felt like I was walking on water. They (married to each other after I reconnected with them), having 9 children between them (I am the only one they had together) were finally emigrating to the USA to be with us. I was so happy.

    They came to America. What a one in a billion second chance, what a gift! Then a year of discovery followed. Betrayal. Lies. Shock. Horror. Devastation. My heart was destroyed. To protect my husband, myself, and my daughter, I had to sever all ties with them and by default with my 8 siblings.

    How do I ever trust another human again?

    Elli, a month after all of this burned down inside me, I signed up for the Mastery Program in October 2023.

    There is so much more to my story. Many other devastating things also happened in 2023 (and for decades before that). It will probably take me years to unpack it all.

    But for now I want to say thank you to you and your family. Because I came super close to ending my art career and never making art again. I even started giving away some supplies…

    Milan Art Institute came as a gift of golden coins to me in the middle of my burning heart full of smoke and ashes.

    It took me a while. It is still ongoing, but my heart is mending. My art is being restored. Milan Art Institute is helping me find my way back to my own unique reformation, passion and calling again.

    Thank you for starting Milan Art Institute. Thank you for answering the call. I have been praying for a movement like this since 1998. I knew I could not be the only person to see the need for a non-establishment trail to be blazed… but I walked alone in the harsh industry desert for decades despite my many successes in the art world. I felt so alone.

    I will share more with you someday. Perhaps I will even meet you in person in the future. But regardless, you positively impacted my life profoundly when I thought I was about to die from emotional pain and loneliness as an artist. You answering your call reminds me that God is faithful. That I am not forgotten.

    So grateful, and praying for you to go from strength to strength! May God restore EVERYTHING to you a thousand fold!

    ❤️- Avi


    ———
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Wow! What a story! What a survivor! Incredible! I pray God restores everything to you and your art will bring healing and a supernatural feeling of acceptance and belonging to people. Thank you for sharing.

  • Andrea Haughian

    It is a painting in the works! I have actually been pondering the milan institute mastery program for awhile now, I should take my own advice I often tell my kids..if you’re afraid do it anyway!
    But I also resonate with your comment God bringing you into your true inheritance, one that cannot be stolen that is imperishable and will not fade away!
    As a Métis artist in Saskatchewan our inheritance was robbed as well…my father was brought up as road allowance Métis, on the 20.21m of crown land set aside for future roads/railways in a shack with a dirt floor. Their rights to land taken because who my grandmother married… all of this I would’ve never even know had my older sister not probed my dad for information just a couple years before his passing! She wrote a book 20.21m A SHORT STORY COLLECTION OF A LIFE LIVED AS A ROAD ALLOWANCE MÉTIS( I got to illustrate it, is when I realized I much prefer art to illustration )she won some awards for telling the story that a lot of ppl don’t know…myself included before she started her endeavour! Anyways it was never a thing I felt deeply connected to because although I am proud of my heritage as a Métis I am way more invested in my heavenly heritage, that’s where my true identity is. But if God provides opportunities through my early culture/heritage to speak to ppl about Him and be inspired I’ll take it! It even opened a door to do an art installation with my sister at wanuskewin in Saskatoon https://wanuskewin.com/event/apples-train-tracks-arnolda-dufour-bowes/ and heads to Allan Sapp gallery next. We only see the smallest part of the puzzle, God has an arial view and is working all things out!
    ———
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    So Interesting! I believe our ethnicity is designed by God and has prophetic meaning and impact into our destiny. I’m still walking out my Greek heritage and my destiny. We are called to nations and our people. God will show you what and how. 😊


  • Andrea

    It wasn’t a birthday or Christmas present but it was most definitely a gift from God. My testimony involves alot of heartache, adultery, and self destructive/medicating ..more than any marriage should or could bare. But God is good and is always in the business of restoring and wasn’t giving up on me or allowing my husband to! After a half year separation God saved me and restored my marriage..that was almost 20 years ago and although it’s been hard it’s been the best 20 years and as God told me then, your future is so bright you gotta wear shades 😎 back to my gift, after being restored in my marriage it was time to face the family I devastated with my actions..as we drove to my husband’s family acreage it felt like my heart was going to burst through my chest it was beyond any anxiety I had ever felt..I prayed for God to help me show me He is with me in this and he did as I looked up what must have been hundreds maybe thousands of white butterflies lined the highway we drove down for miles! I had never seen anything like it in my life nor have I since. It was like God just whispered just like these butterflies were changed into something completely different I have done the same for you, washed you white as snow..I will not only lead you, hedge you in but I am with you till the end of the age. God is the best gift giver💗
    ———
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    That is so incredibly beautiful!!! This needs to be a painting!


  • Tracy Murphy

    Beautiful story, thank you for sharing! The best gifts I received were always practical objects from my father. He passed away in 2021, and I still use my coffee maker, side table lamp, and electric tea kettle daily. The best gift was 2 weeks after he died the transmission on my car went out. I was able to have a working vehicle, his old pick up truck, for a year. I am a single mother that delivers pizza for a living, so it allowed me to provide for my two boys. None of these things are fancy or worth anything really. But they’re Al practical ways my dad continues to provide for me. Thanks for reading, and happy birthday 🥳
    ———
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    I love this!


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