The rebirth of a blog — “Faith”

My life can revolve around music.  The mood of a song and its lyrics can hit me like a Mack truck going down a freeway at full speed.

That’s how it was Thursday after I published my blog article for the day, spread it around on social media for people to see, got ready for work, and hopped in the vehicle for the drive to downtown Salt Lake City for my bus driving gig.

Cover art to the live Traffic album "On The Road."
Cover art to the live Traffic album “On The Road.”

One of four compilation CDs from the career of Steve Winwood was in the player.  Before long, the sound of a live version of the song “(Sometimes I Feel So) Uninspired” — written by Winwood and Traffic bandmate Jim Capaldi — and the words to it made me think, “Yeah, that’s where I’m at.  That’s where we’ve been.”

The song starts out mournfully at first.  It’s dark, brooding, depressing.  And the lyrics …

Sometimes I feel so uninspired
Sometimes I feel like giving up
Sometimes I feel so very tired
Sometimes I feel like I’ve had enough

Sometimes you feel like you’ve been hired
Sometimes you feel like you’ve been bought
Sometimes you feel like your room’s been wired
Sometimes you feel like you’ve been caught

Then, just when you feel like you’re sinking as low as you can get, the mood changes.  You feel a sense of hope.

But don’t let it get you down, no, no
There is no reason for not failing
You’ve got to smile and turn the other cheek
So today you might be down

But by tomorrow you’ll be sailing
And you won’t even hear these words I speak
Some people want to be so desired
Some people can’t stand the light of day

Jim Capaldi and Steve Winwood
Jim Capaldi and Steve Winwood

The mood coming from the lyrics turns sad again, but by this time the song is almost taking on the feel of a gospel number.

Somebody’s laughing while someone is crying
Old folks are watching the close of the day
But sometimes I feel like my head is spinning
Hunger and pain is all I see

I don’t know who’s losing
And I don’t know who’s winning
Hardships and trouble are following me

Listen for yourself.

This blog was started because of a long prayer whispered by me over a couple of hours on a hot August day in 2011, when signs started showing that I could soon lose my job.  And I did lose it around Halloween of that year.  I had to rely on my faith to come up with something to help me through what was turning into a hard time, for me and my family.

Some very cool things happened in the full year that I worked on this blog on a daily basis.  I started reaching people around the world from the first day, starting in Canada and quickly going to Norway.  It felt like I was on to something, all starting because of a feeling I got from a prayer.

As time went on, I was invited twice to appear as a guest on live webcasts with The Huffington Post.  I pissed off politicians, and out of one of those times I got the chance to meet (online) a former member of the Dallas Cowboys.  A couple of articles on a telemarketing sales pitch got tons of responses from people all over the country.

I may have been out of a job and searching, but this blog gave me a sense of hope back then.  It gave me a rush of adrenaline.  My faith was at an all-time high.  I felt a very special … closeness with the one I was praying to.

I’m in need of that again.  Losing a home we’ve lived in for years, living through the pressure of having to be so careful about money to the point that investing $10 in a needed item is stressful … it tests your faith.

Our faith has been pushed to a breaking point with every lost opportunity for a better job, losing our home.  We’ve never stopped praying.  We just need one to come through in a big way.

hand to heavenThese aren’t “softball prayers” either.  There’ve been a few times on a Friday evening — my Sabbath evening — when I’ve found myself around sundown sitting behind the steering wheel of a Gillig bus at a timepoint just outside my church, having to wait because I’m ahead of schedule.  I’ve taken that time to look at my church and pray with a lump in my throat and an ache in my heart, fighting off tears so my passengers can’t see them, asking for a better opportunity that would allow me to spend that Sabbath evening with my family instead of driving a bus, allowing me to see my church family again, allowing me to sit in a pew beside my lovely wife with my left arm around her.

It hasn’t happened yet.  With another job opportunity lost this week, I’ve felt … uninspired.  Conversations over the past months have included the words “give up.”  Like we’re just supposed to accept our fate and learn to live with it.

But somehow we seem to keep that flame of our faith lit.  Friends and family have prayed for us as well, or just offered positive vibes — all appreciated.  They’re still needed, because the answer hasn’t come yet.  But all it takes is one very big answered prayer, one very big positive vibe that pays off.

Back in those unemployed days, there was a scene from one of my wife’s favorite movies, “Secretariat,” that often brought a lump to my throat and tears to this sentimental guy’s eyes.  It wasn’t just because of the story.  It was because of the song that went with it. It gave me strength.  It gave me hope.  I want that feeling again.  We want to celebrate answered prayers and positive vibes paying off.

We don’t give up.

_____

EDITOR’S NOTE:  The blog will continue on a weekday publishing basis.  Starting Monday, it will take on a different look.  But the approach will be the same with even more of a look at the people I come across on a daily basis, along with the issues that affect us.  All part of a “rebirth.”

Stay tuned.

The rebirth of a blog — “Life”

This is our life today.  Actually, this is the way our life as a family has been for a while now.

There was a time in my sophomore year of high school when the only income my mother had came from babysitting.  Those were very lean times.  I didn’t realize how lean they were until I saw a picture in that high school yearbook of some friends of mine sitting on some grass, and I saw one guy who looked particularly skinny.  I was trying to figure out who it was, and when I finally made the realization of who it was, I was shocked.

It was me.  I didn’t recognize myself.

Things aren’t that bad for us now, but we do go through a daily struggle.  We’re still tight as a family, the struggle comes in providing for ourselves.  Tight as a family, extremely tight in our finances.  How do we survive on the little money we have until the next pay day?

That’s with me working a full-time job.  That’s with my wife being self-employed, working in teaching music lessons and doing horse training/riding lessons while perhaps making more money than if she were to be employed elsewhere making minimum wage.  That’s with our children helping out.

weight of the worldIt’s still a struggle.  The weight of the world feels like it’s all on our shoulders.

We’re tired of that load.

We have to find the least expensive yet still healthiest food we can buy.  The two don’t often mix.

We let our back yard go dry because we can’t afford the higher water bill in the summer.  The best we can do is try and keep the trees alive.

We try not to drive any more than we have to because it costs too much to fill up.

We juggle bills constantly, trying to keep the utilities going without being shut off and paying a high cost to get them turned back on.

We ration things like bread and milk to get us to a certain point around pay day.

We put off things that need to get done because of cost, and we wonder how much longer we can put things off.

We don’t make trips up to our hometowns to see family, either because it would cost too much in fuel and food or we don’t have a reliable vehicle to get us there.  I haven’t seen my mother in over 3 1/2 years, and her physical and mental health hasn’t been the greatest lately.  I wonder if she’d recognize us if she saw us.

I know I’m not alone in this.  I see friends going through similar or worse situations.  I know we’re lucky to have each other to help us through.  I don’t like feeling needy, but I do appreciate the times when family or friends have reached out to us to brighten our lives during the hard times.

It shouldn’t be like this.  This is supposed to be the land of opportunity.  We keep working hard, we keep reaching out for something better, we keep trying to find that “thing” that’s supposed to help us pull ourselves up.  Getting turned away repeatedly is tough, especially when it seems like options get slimmer.

That’s how it was when I was a kid too.  That picture of “skinny me” is a reminder.  The game of survival when you’re not born into a glamorous, comfortable lifestyle is tough.  We have to keep playing that game.

It shouldn’t be like this.  I see people not much better off than we are who see the facts on growing income inequality, and they laugh it off and vote for those who go against their own best interests.  They vote for those who’d allow good jobs to be sent overseas, they vote for those who don’t mind taking away regulations meant to fight business practices that line the pockets of those who don’t need it, they fight against a higher minimum wage.

Some people think a $15 an hour minimum wage is too high.  I’m here to say, right here and now, it’s not.  It’s better than $7.25 an hour, but it’s not going to put anyone in the lap of luxury if that’s all they have to rely on.  And people not all that much better off than us fight against it.  Why?

It shouldn’t be like this.

Right now, that’s life.

The rebirth of a blog — “Home”

Call me sentimental.

The word “home” means a lot to me.  I can walk or drive past houses of people I don’t know, and imagine the atmosphere that’s inside.  If it’s a house that looks particularly cozy, I’ll imagine relaxing Sunday mornings with the smell of pancakes and the taste of syrup, the sound of laughter and the appearance of smiles on the faces of a family sitting around a table.

To me, that’s what a “home” is.  It’s more than just boards and paneling and nails and screws and paint.  It’s memories being made, and it’s memories stored away.

split homeI’ve known what a “home” is, through the best of times and the worst of times, as a child and in adulthood as a parent.  I’ve experienced that “Sunday morning feeling,” and loved it.

My family moved into our first home almost 19 1/2 years ago to the day.  It was a happy time, moving in from an apartment.  We could have our pets with us, we could hammer in nails wherever we wanted to hang pictures, we didn’t have to hear neighbors’ footsteps through the ceiling above us.

It was where our two very young boys could run around and play and laugh and be as loud as they liked, within reason.  Almost three years after moving in, we would bring our newborn daughter to the only place she’s ever known as … “home.”

I’d take pride in our property.  I’d aerate and fertilize the yard and use wise watering practices — early in the morning or later in the evening, never in the heat of the day — to keep it green, stepping back to look at it after trimming was all done.  It didn’t take us long to put up a swing set for the kids to enjoy, or they’d spend hours riding a little plastic school bus down the street under close supervision.

It’s been a place where we’ve climbed up on the roof on July 4th to watch fireworks going off around the valley, if we weren’t setting off a few of our own.  It’s a place where the kids would quickly grab a dollar and race out to meet the ice cream truck as soon as they heard the jingles coming down the street.

We’ve had backyard campouts and cookouts over a fire pit, cherishing time just spent talking and watching the glow of the coal and flames in the darkness under the cover of walnut and cherry trees.  It’s a place where we’ve worked in the fall months to rake up leaves and rotting apples and peaches that have fallen from the trees for the worms to enjoy.

grillingThere’s been the deck that I’d sandpaper and stain, where I’d grill steaks and burgers and chicken and mushrooms and buttery corn on the cob.  There was the sandbox underneath the deck that we built for the kids so they could play in the shade.

Old VHS tapes remind us of the numerous birthday parties with neighbors and friends from school, blowing out candles on the kitchen counter and opening presents on the dining table.

There are the bedrooms that the boys have shared or gone their separate ways as they got older, the one where our daughter would smile and shake her crib as she’d play with me.

Family room mural painted by Amy Kathleen Miller. (Photo by John G. Miller)
Family room mural painted by Amy Kathleen Miller. (Photo by John G. Miller)

There’s the family room where we’d watch movies together, where my lovely wife Amy would spend a lot of time and care painting a mural of nature on the wall, a work of art that’s been there for years and drawn gasps of admiration from people who see it.  That mural was a very special touch, helping to give our place some uniqueness.

We’ve gone from the original split-entry structure, and we’ve added on two more rooms for an art and music studio for Amy’s painting and teaching.  It’s an addition that’s been used as guest quarters, or just a quiet place for us to get away.

These are just glimpses of all the memories that have made our house something more than that.  They’ve made it a home.

I had work that allowed us to make those monthly payments.  Time went by, pay increases became smaller if they came at all, times got tighter, and a job was lost.  Through a year and four months of being unemployed or under-employed and with the help of a temporary loan modification, we managed to stay in that home until a decent job could be found.

Even when that decent job was found, we were still reeling financially from the effects of lengthy unemployment.  We filed for bankruptcy, but we were still in our home.  We were still fighting to hang on to it.  Just over a year later, that decent job was taken away.  Rather than go through another long spell of unemployment, I took a job driving transit buses at between a third and half of what I used to earn.  I’ve been doing that just over a year now.

past dueWe kept up the fight to hang on to our home as long as we could.  Even with help from friends and family, it’s been a struggle just to keep the power on, natural gas to give us warmth in our air and water, keeping the water flowing, keeping food in our stomachs and clothes on our backs.  What’s suffered has been our home.  Repairs and upgrades that have been needed haven’t been made because we can’t afford to make them.  House payments themselves haven’t been made.

Last December, I was considered the top candidate for a computer programming job that would give us more money than we’ve ever made.  I remember where I was — waiting for a bus on a city street that I’d take over to drive for the rest of the night — when I got a text message from the tech recruiter letting me know that the job I was the top candidate for was given to someone else.

Call me sentimental.  I cried on the phone to Amy that night with tears in my eyes when there was a break with no passengers to see me.

I’ve been busting my butt doing my absolute best in this full-time job for just over a year now.  I’m grateful to have a job, but when it’s all you can do from that just to keep the power on, natural gas to give us warmth in our air and water, keeping the water flowing, keeping food in our stomachs and clothes on our backs, and it’s still not enough to hang onto your home … there’s something wrong with this picture.

Our days in this home where we’ve lived for nearly 19 1/2 years are numbered.  It’s only a matter of weeks, months, we’re too early in the process to know for sure, but it’s happening.

signWe’re losing the only home we’ve ever known that we’ve been able to call ours.  The fight is over.

I went for a better job inside the organization in the last few weeks, doing something I am very much suited for with my natural abilities in writing, photography and working with people.  It would have given us a chance to at least afford a decent place to rent once we move out.  A short four-question interview turned out to be the only chance I got at it.  I received word yesterday that I was no longer a candidate.  The email giving me the word made it feel like I was an outsider instead of someone who’s been working within the organization already for over a year.  Again, tears came to my eyes, but I shook off the pain and the anger and the frustration and disappointment and went in to work, driving a bus for several hours into the night, greeting each and every passenger with a smile and a hello and a “thank you” as they’d step out.  I had to fight off the pain pretty hard.  After all, where are we going to live now?

Call me sentimental.

—–

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Consider this the rebirth of a blog that’s been put on the back burner much too long.  At its height during my long unemployment, it was published daily and it was getting attention in some interesting places, among media and lawmakers.  I’ve neglected it for the most part for about two years now, in part to try and spend some time with my loved ones because of a crazy work schedule that changes from day to day.  Now, it’s time to carve out what’s needed to bring this blog back to life, on a regular basis.  Now, you can look for it at least Mondays through Fridays.

I have so much to say, but yet I haven’t been able to speak.  That’s about to change.  I want to go about making it even better, reaching farther, saying more than ever before.

Stay tuned.

‘Don’t aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference’

I’m growing tired.

I’m feeling sick too — well, not so much in a literal sense in that case.

christianityI’m growing sick and tired.  Here’s why: a seemingly growing need that some Christians — largely on the conservative side — seem to have in defining just how much of a true Christian you are based on your political views.

The more conservative your views, it would seem, the more you can claim to be a “true Christian” … if you can claim to be one at all.

I’m truly growing sick and tired of it, and if I’m not careful it just might threaten my own Christian walk.

There are strong reasons why America’s Founding Fathers thought it would be a pretty good idea to separate religion from politics when they decided to form a new nation, but of course the more conservative side these days would say that’s not what the Founding Fathers actually intended to do.

Bull.

There are also strong reasons why results of a study by the Pew Research Center released recently indicate that people are “leaving Christianity in droves.”  Among those reasons why people are either choosing to switch to another faith or to go the atheist or agnostic route, one of them has to be the perception Christianity has because of the actions of many Christians themselves.

That’s a sad statement for a group of people who are counseled to spread the word of their faith throughout the world.  One of the biggest problems comes from a “holier than thou” attitude, even when it comes to how Christians deal with fellow Christians when political views become too interwoven with religion.

goldwater 1It’s been said that there are two topics that need to be avoided in select discussions between family and friends in order to keep those discussions from becoming too heated: politics and religion.  When there’s a blending of the two, watch out.  My own personal experiences in dealing with people of faith over the past few years or so provide examples of just how true that can be.

One strongly conservative friend of faith shared a meme on Facebook in the last few days that touched a raw personal nerve.  Here it is below …

larry meme

So, if I’m following the “logic” here, the worst offense of Christian extremists is refusing to bake cakes for same-sex weddings.  And if you’re too far to the left of the political spectrum (and I’d like to know what those guidelines are), you don’t have a problem with murder by decapitation as practiced by Muslim extremists.

One click on the “unfriend” option was all it took to stop from seeing more of that kind of “logic.”

goldwater 2Speaking of Muslims and extremists and Facebook exchanges, it’s been a few years since I accepted a friend request from the pastor of a local non-denominational church who was also friends with the pastor of my own Seventh-day Adventist church, where I was in the midst of a stint serving as head deacon for several years.  One day, my pastor’s friend shared something that slammed Muslims.  It did a very good job of spreading hatred toward the Muslim faith in general.  I opened an online discussion with him, which soon turned lengthy because it brought the wrath of the pastor’s followers, by asking the preacher one simple question: “Do you preach this stuff from the pulpit?”

The man — named Terry — never did answer that question.  What I got mainly in response was his followers telling me I needed to go to church and be educated by their pastor, including the following direct quote from a gentleman named Ryan Edwards (amazing how I still have that email notification after about 5 1/2 years) …

“John you are obviously a very smart guy that does not like god very much.  I hope that you will put this hate aside and use your intellect to better yourself and stop trying to find new and better ways to attack the fundamental founding ‘Christian’ principles of this great nation.  Terry is a great pastor and I am sure he can help you with this. God Bless…”

Ryan wasn’t the only follower of Terry to come to the conclusion that I “hate God.”  My status as a head deacon at my church at that time did nothing to sway that belief in me.

Their minds were made up.  I was a heathen because I didn’t share their conservative political beliefs.  Not that I much cared what they thought of me.

goldwater 3Coming back to more recent personal experience in being told that I need to get on my knees and pray for God to save my largely liberal (with a few hints of conservatism) soul, there’s that time from April 19 of this year when I tangled with that former morning zoo radio shock jock and current mass media messenger from God, good ol’ Glenn Beck himself.  Remember him?  He used to be a big deal on Fox News.  Yeah, that guy.

I was doing some stuff on my laptop the night of April 19, it was doing some strange things, and somehow I accidentally clicked on a Facebook news feed for the Academy of Country Music awards that night as the show was going on.  As I was scrolling through the news feed, I came across a photo of Beck with his wife standing alongside National Rifle Association mouthpiece Wayne LaPierre and his spouse.  Beck was dressed for the occasion in a felt cowboy hat, cowboy dress jacket and shirt with no tie, blue jeans held up by a belt with one of those rodeo style buckles about the size of a dinner plate.

A little backstory here …

beckThere was a time back around 2011 when I started writing a book about conservative pundits.  This was when Beck was at his most popular point at Fox, being featured on the cover of Time Magazine, a much bigger deal than he is now.  I read a couple of Beck’s books, listened to his radio show on a daily basis, and there was a time he called himself a “rodeo clown.”  For the book I was working on, I took the lyrics to the old Moe Bandy country song “Bandy The Rodeo Clown” and did a little rewriting, turning the tune into “Beck-y The Rodeo Clown.”

I’d almost forgotten about that until I saw that photo of Beck dressed up like a cowboy at the ACM awards, and I couldn’t resist commenting on it.  If you dig hard enough, you can see it here.

I wasn’t expecting anyone to reply to that comment, which brought up the “Beck-y The Rodeo Clown” memory while asking Beck how much cow dung he’d ever stepped in.  Lo and behold, Beck replied himself: “Enough to recognize it when I see it.”

Oooooooohhhh, that really cut me bad.

What followed was a lively exchange with a bunch of his fellow rodeo fans that lasted into the next day or two, with me being called mean, a troll, hateful, even going so far as to dig into my profile information and gleaning personal info on me, all the way from my being a church deacon to mentioning my daughter by name and suggesting I show her my level of “hate.”

The Glenn Beck rodeo fans were riled up.  No matter what they threw at me, I kept bucking like a bronco until they quit.

beck 2As a converted Mormon, Beck is still big here in Utah.  His fans here and around the globe look upon him as … well, the next biggest savior to God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit I suppose.  Beck’s still got a nice gimmick going now that his Fox days are gone.  A steady application of Vicks Vapo-Rub around the eyes for that teary effect will do that.

With that knowledge, I was an evil person for questioning God’s modern-day messenger.  Once again, religion and political beliefs came into the picture, this one from a lady named Karen P. (who, oddly enough, just happens to be a cousin to a guy my lovely wife went to high school with who said she was going to ask her cousin how he knew “this moron” … me) who was concerned for my spiritual well-being because I choose not to bow down at the altar of Glenn Beck.

I see Glenn (as) a man that truly loves God and wants to share what he knows with everyone. God knows each and every ones heart. Its a good thing because I think you are a mean, ugly person. Put your slippers way under your bed so when you get up in the morning, you have to get on your knees to find them. And while you’re down there, start your day with prayer.”

That particular statement by Karen P. didn’t end there.  It ended with the most truly profound statement anyone made in that whole long and silly thread which was started by one silly comment I made, not expecting anyone to reply.  Karen said the following …

Don’t aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference.

It was then that I chose to show Karen P. and everyone out to hate me that that’s just what I’d like to do, something very Christ-like, even if it’s coming from some “heathen liberal.”  I gave them a link to a GoFundMe campaign I’d started not long before that time.  It’s something that was inspired by the most popular article ever posted in the history of this blog.

A Day In The Life Of The Homeless

I’ll talk more about this GoFundMe campaign in the days, weeks and months to come, however long it takes to raise more than the paltry amount of money that’s already been raised.

That’s another reason why I’m feeling a bit sick and tired lately.  A campaign like this hardly gets a sniff over a matter of weeks or months when it’s designed to do something that Christians are counseled to do — help the poor.  At the same time, a pizza joint in Indiana brings in over $800,000 over a two-day period because the owners refuse to cater a gay wedding (like anyone’s ever going to ask a pizza joint in Indiana to cater a gay wedding in the first place?) before that campaign is shut down.

When did Jesus ever say, “Blessed are the pizza makers, for they shall know the sin of providing slices to supporters of homosexuality?”

Yeah, I’m growing sick and tired.  I’m growing sick and tired of the perversion and twisting of Christianity for political purposes.  I’m growing sick and tired of seeing people — including my oldest son — choose to walk away from Christianity in part because of the twisted, confused messages they find out of “leaders.”

I’m fighting hard to hang on to my own Christian beliefs.  That’s not easy these days.  And it’s getting harder to defend Christianity to those who either flat out don’t believe in it or who are straddling the fence over it, when they see how ridiculous Christian “leaders” are becoming now that politics and the Christian faith are becoming such strange bedfellows.

I have a hard time believing that I’d ever have seen a day when I would agree with the late ultra-conservative Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, but his words have proven to be downright … prophetic.

God help us.

Our son, “The Graduate”

My father was far from a highly educated man.  I’m not sure exactly how much schooling he did have, but considering that he came from an area (the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee) during a time (the first half of the 1900’s) when “higher education” might have meant a lot of boys and young men worked the woods or the fields or the mines instead of sitting in a classroom, it’s probably a safe bet that his academic learning didn’t extend much if any beyond the single-digit grade level.

I don’t know these things for sure because I was never able to talk to my father about it.  He died in a mine four months before I was born.  If you’d like, you can read that story here.  I carry on my father’s name.

I had an older brother named Curtis.  He was never able to attend school himself.  He suffered from a severe case of cerebral palsy and died at the age of 10 in 1968.  That story is in my book as well.  My oldest son carries on his first name, and his middle name — Grant — comes from an uncle on his mother’s side who also passed away much too soon, before reaching his full potential.

graduation1
Curtis holds my hand at age 3 as I receive a degree from then-Idaho State University President Richard Bowen in May of 1995.

My oldest son graduates with honors today from the University of Utah, earning a bachelor’s degree with a double major in economics and statistics.  His graduation is nearly 20 years to the day after I walked with him hand in hand across a stage to receive an associate degree in computer software engineering at Idaho State University.  He was 3 years old at the time.

I took Curtis with me on to that stage to symbolize a thing or two at least.  It was a new beginning, people working their way up from the most basic roots to achieve something of significance, emphasizing the importance of a good education and hoping it’s the start of a continuing trend, putting in the best effort possible.

My associate degree represented the start of a second career for me.  My first career saw me working as a journalist, writing and editing.  It was a far cry from writing computer programs, and when my return to school was in the early stages I wasn’t sure if I’d make it.  It required a complete change in my way of thinking.  But I persevered, got the hang of it, earned a couple of scholarships, and ended up with a 3.90 grade point average and a place on the dean’s list.

Now, Curtis has me beat.  And I couldn’t be happier or prouder about that.

I remember a time — maybe around the age when he accompanied me to receive my degree — when we were visiting my mother in my hometown.  She watched her grandson focusing intensely on an activity, and she chuckled in delight.  She observed that he was a deep thinker, concentrating so hard on how something was supposed to work, and mastering it.

Those days were just the beginning.  Through Curtis’ growing years, there was a question of what he might choose to do with that inquisitive brain.  Would he be a scientist?  Go into law and/or politics?  He could draw very well, and with his musician mother pushing him to take lessons until he was 18 he became a talented piano player.  I remember teaching him some of the basics of computer programming while he was still in elementary school as he tried writing code.

Curtis in his intern days.
Curtis in his intern days.

The kid had serious brains in that head.  Nothing’s changed to this day.  Where I finished with a 3.9 GPA, he’s finishing with a 4.0 (not surprising seeing as how he’d stress over any grades that were less than perfect).  Where I served a couple of years as a student government representative, Curtis was in the running for a while to be a valedictorian at a larger university.  I got some help in paying for my education from some scholarship money.  His grades have earned him full rides.  We’ve both worked side jobs in school as tutors, and now Curtis has been offered a chance to teach at the U this summer before he moves on to a Masters program.  He’s worked as an intern at a prestigious law firm in Washington, D.C.

I walked across that college graduation stage 20 years ago, filled with hopes and dreams as Curtis held my hand.  He’s taken those hopes and dreams and surpassed them.

He’s done it largely through that inquisitive, deeply focused mind that his grandmother Miller talked about years ago.

My lovely wife Amy and I are proud of all our children, we love them all deeply.  Each of them has unique qualities and gifts.  But today is Curtis’ day to shine.  If we could, we’d show that pride through some kind of materialistic reward for all that hard work — a new car, a nice vacation, something like that.  As it stands, we’re working just to survive from day to day given the means that we have, hoping our own situation improves.  Curtis has a very bright future ahead of him, given the chance.

What we can give him is a gift that tells the world how proud we are of him.

His namesakes would be proud of him as well.

 

 

 

Twenty-five years later, the dream goes on

I haven’t written an article for the blog in months now.  A crazy work schedule and everyday life itself has a way of getting in the way.  But today is a special day, much too special to overlook, and a simple Facebook status post to mark it just isn’t enough.

Amy and her Arabian friend Gypsy. (Photo by John G. Miller)
Amy and her Arabian friend Gypsy. (Photo by John G. Miller)

On September 16, 1989, I met a young woman named Amy Wareing on a blind date.  Her inner and outer beauty captivated me the moment I looked at her face, trying to look into her soul through her big brown eyes.

We went to a college football game on our first date.  Our meeting was the result of Amy teaching piano lessons to the children of mutual friends.  Our meeting was the result of a mutual love for music.  On the way to the game, I played music from a cassette tape from the group Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe.  One of the more beautiful pieces on that tape was a duet between Jon Anderson on vocals and Rick Wakeman on the piano, called “The Meeting.”

It seemed appropriate for a blind date.

I don’t remember anything about the football game.  I just remember enjoying spending time with the lovely lady I was with, spending more time talking and getting to know each other than watching the game.

After driving her home and returning to my studio apartment, I sat in the quiet living area and reflected peacefully on the evening.  In other first dates with other ladies in the past, I might have found myself bouncing off the walls with excitement.  It was different after that first date with Amy.

I was experiencing a nice, peaceful, easy feeling.

In the short weeks after that, perhaps at least several dates later, I asked Amy for a photo of herself that I could keep.  She gave me a picture of herself holding the reins of a horse as it drank from a stream on a trail ride.  Horses are another great love in Amy’s life.  I went back to my apartment and gazed at that picture for quite a while.  The most amazing feeling swept over me.

I knew that the lady I was looking at in the photograph was going to be my wife.  Heartfelt prayers spoken not all that long before were being answered.  Amy was the answer.

Then came the morning of March 17, 1990.  I was driving from my home just north of Blackfoot, Idaho, to Pocatello, about an hour away.  It was there that Amy and I would be married that afternoon.  It was an enormous day.

As I drove south on I-15, I played that same cassette tape that I’d played the night Amy and I met.  “The Meeting” played, and I found myself focusing on the beauty of Wakeman’s piano playing.  I thought of my father, who died four months before I was born.  I thought of my older brother, who died when he was 10 and I was 7.  I found myself wishing they could be with me that day.  I found myself wishing they could have met Amy.  Tears flowed from my eyes as my pickup truck flew down the freeway — tears of sadness mixed with tears of joy.

And now, here we are, 25 years later, marking our silver anniversary.  We’ve grown together.  Sure, there were too many times in those growing years when we’d argue on the heated side.  But we came to an understanding early on in our dating period — each of us was committed to making marriage work if it involved the right person.

Today, disagreements are much fewer, and when they do happen they pass quickly.  Amy has grown as an individual, I’m wiser now than I was then.  We can read each other’s minds as only two people who were meant to be together can.  Through it all, we’ve produced three children that are loved deeply.  We’ve wanted them to experience the same kind of love and commitment with their future partners that we have over the past 25 years.

Our love has kept us together.  Our commitment has kept us together.  Our faith has kept us together.  To this day, I still ask her to marry me.  And I’ll keep on asking her.

Happy 25th anniversary, partner!

Surely I could tell when I sleep tonight
A dream will call and raise its head in majesty
Dividing all my energy
To the meeting of Your love

Where from whence it came
Like a singer searching for a song
I try to reach where You belong
As I will be the song for You
I will be Your servant child

No, oh no
I cannot be deceived
No, oh no
There’s something that I feel
There’s something that I feel inside

Surely I could tell
If you ask me, Lord
To board the train

My life, my love would be the same
As I will be the one for You
In the meeting of Your love
In the meeting of Your love

— “The Meeting,” by Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman, Steve Howe

Our growing need to “police the police,” what it says about us

My old career in the newspaper business put me in close contact on a daily basis with a fair amount of police officers through a lot of years, mostly in a small-town setting.  My memories of those times are filled with respect for the tough job they had to do, although there may have been one or two whose reputations ended up being a bit questionable.

When something seemed wrong about an officer’s conduct, I wasn’t afraid to call them on it to their face.

policeFor the most part, though, I have some pretty fond memories of the law enforcement people I came to know.  They were friendly, worked hard, and they could be tough when they needed to be.  One of the most memorable road trips I’ve ever taken was a fast trip from southeast Idaho through Utah and Nevada and over to Los Angeles to pick up a couple of hot tubs to haul back to Idaho with a police sergeant and a reserve officer who owned a spa business.  That was a memory from the lighter side.

On the heavier side, I’ve seen first-hand the deeply personal impact an officer’s job can have on them when it involves “heavier” work — an accidental death, a suicide, a murder.  I’ve seen officers keep their cool admirably during situations that wouldn’t otherwise warrant such coolness.

That’s just through my work experience.  I’ve also had relatives who’ve worn a badge and sworn to “serve and protect.”  I can say that there are still good, decent law enforcement officers out there who take that “serve and protect” oath seriously and don’t get enough thanks for the tough work that they do.  And let’s keep in mind, the number of police officers killed in the line of duty through acts of violence or accidents is staggering.

At the same time, I’m seeing a trend today that’s disturbing.  It involves the conduct of people wearing a badge.  It may not be a new thing, and it most assuredly is being seen more these days because of the presence of cameras all around to record their actions, but in too many cases these days we’re seeing actions from police officers that is shocking and needless.  And too many are getting away with it lately with hardly so much as a slap on the wrist.

We’re seeing it in Ferguson, MO.  Simply put, maybe Michael Brown did something he shouldn’t have if he took some inexpensive items from a store and acted aggressively toward a store employee, which was recorded on video.  But the employee didn’t even call the police about it, according to the store’s attorney.  The action Michael Brown took has only been used as an excuse to condone the actions of Officer Darren Wilson in firing six shots at the unarmed young man, most of them coming from a non-threatening distance away, including a fatal kill shot to the head.

It was a response called into question just after it happened by people who were at the scene as it happened … again, caught on video.

Darren Wilson should have faced a trial with as little chance for bias as possible.  Instead, the case went through a grand jury proceeding which included misleading instructions to the jurors from the person heading it up and questionable objectivity, at best.  The grand jury decided not to press charges against Wilson.  His life goes on without censure of any kind.  Protests have gone on because of it across the country, in places far removed from Ferguson, MO.

I drove a transit bus right through one of those protests in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City just days after the Ferguson grand jury’s decision came down.  I saw the faces of anger all around me, and those faces came in all different shapes and colors.

Then there’s the story of 12-year old Tamir Rice, who just happened to be playing around with a toy rifle that looked too much like a semi-automatic rifle in a Cleveland park.  Someone called the police, they raced to the scene, and as quickly as an officer’s car door could be opened — before asking any questions or demanding that the rifle (the TOY rifle) be put down — the boy was fatally shot.  He was shot by an officer who had been judged before to be unfit for duty.

Then there’s the case of Eric Garner in New York City, who died as a result of a banned chokehold being placed on him while being questioned about selling untaxed cigarettes.  Too many police officers, lawmakers and pundits are excusing his death purely on obesity when a medical examiner’s report says otherwise.  The end result in the Garner case has been too close to that of the Michael Brown case.  No indictment for the officer who used the banned chokehold, but an indictment for the person who recorded video of the incident that’s been most widely seen by the world.

In Phoenix, there’s the emerging story of Rumain Brisbon.

In the Salt Lake City suburb of Saratoga Springs, there’s the story of Darrien Hunt.  Not far from Saratoga Springs, in South Jordan there’s the story of Ty Worthington.  In fact, there’ve been so many fatal shootings by police in Utah recently that it prompted a report by the Salt Lake Tribune showing that homicides by gangs, drug dealers and child abusers have been outpaced by fatal shootings by police officers.

“The numbers reflect that there could be an issue, and it’s going to take a deeper understanding of these shootings,” Chris Gebhardt told the Tribune.  Gebhardt, a former police lieutenant and sergeant who served in Washington, D.C., and in Utah, with six years on SWAT teams and several training duties, added, “It definitely can’t be written off as citizen groups being upset with law enforcement.”

It’s so easy to chalk so many of these incidents up to people not complying with officers, of resisting arrest.  Of course, people being questioned need to cooperate.  The trouble is, people are being shot and killed even when they are complying.  That was the case when a man in South Carolina was shot while reaching into his vehicle for his driver’s license when he was being approached about a seat belt violation, and the man’s quick response to grabbing his license ended up with him getting a bullet fired into him.  At least in this case, the man who was shot didn’t die but the officer did lose his job.

Take notice that I haven’t said anything yet about the race of the people involved in these incidents.  But make note that in all but one of these incidents, the victims — yes, the victims — were black.  Let’s not fool ourselves, race does play a factor in too many incidents like these.  Racial stereotypes are with us to this day, and they won’t go away until we honestly admit that.

Beyond that, we’re dealing with an issue of way too many officers acting in an overly aggressive manner.  There’s a growing attitude problem here.  And it doesn’t involve only white police officers.  I’ve felt the need myself in recent months to call the local Unified Police Department which covers the entire Wasatch valley because of something that happened between a black officer and my 21-year-old son.

My son is far from a gang banger.  He may listen to rap and hip-hop, he may occasionally wear a flat-billed cap in a way that’s “gangsta style,” but he’s no gangsta.  One night he was driving home from work after dark in the family sedan, and he came to an intersection that was being blocked off as part of a crime scene.  No officers were directing traffic, so vehicles turned through the intersection where they felt they could get through safely.  My son followed along.  He was pulled over by a black officer, asked for his license in an aggressive manner, treated like an idiot, and had his license thrown back at him while being yelled at with the words “I don’t have time for this s**t!”

I called to talk to a supervisor as soon as I found out about it, left a message … and haven’t heard a word from them ever since.  All because of a left turn through an intersection behind other vehicles doing the same thing because there was no traffic control.

Our tax dollars pay their salaries.

To the officers’ credit, I know how tough their jobs can be.  There are a lot of “challenging” people out there.  I wear a badge myself.  I have to “police” people’s conduct on a bus every day, often through some of the toughest, most crime-infested areas in the Wasatch valley.  In the time I’ve driven a bus, I’ve had to deal with passengers who feel entitled to challenge authority or caused a disturbance in other ways.  I’ve had to use my loud voice and/or my wits to defuse situations before they escalate too far.  It’s possible to do that.

A gun or even a fist to the face or the kidney isn’t always the answer.  I’m sure there are officers who still believe that.  We’re seeing way too many instances lately where situations that could be handled in a non-lethal or non-physically damaging manner are being handled in an all-too-aggressive and deadly manner.

And, yes, all too often the factors do seem to involve race.  That needs to be examined openly and honestly, and it needs to stop … now.

One look at a music video gives a graphic example of the issue, why there is a growing and legitimate cause for concern, and why the reputation of police officers as a whole is sliding downward as a result, dragging the reputations of the good ones down with them.

What we’re seeing today in a broader sense is all too reminiscent of a time America might rather choose to forget, but if we aren’t reminded of it we’ll be doomed to repeat that ugly time.  I’m reminded of the turmoil we saw in the 1960’s, particularly around 1968.  We had race riots and police brutality then too.

Or did those times ever truly go away?  Is it just being brought to our attention more these days because of the abundance of video cameras in our daily lives?

What we’re seeing these days reflects sadly on where we are as a society, and where our society is heading.

  • Can we honestly say that racism is dead when the nation’s first black President is disrespected the way Barack Obama is?  Disagree with his policies all you want, that’s part of the freedom we enjoy.  But, as just a small example, when was the last time members of Congress threatened to cancel a State of the Union address because those members disagreed with a President’s policies?  The newly elected majority of Congress is setting a bad example all by itself.  Their disrespect and outright hatred bleeds down to the people.
  • Violence is becoming much too glorified, seeing how far we can go in popular TV shows, movies, video games, music, etc.
  • Going hand in hand with that violence is the glorification of guns.  Tell the truth: would Tamir Rice have been shot dead in an instant by a police officer if he’d been playing with something other than a toy that looks like a semi-automatic rifle?  It’s a minority of people who are so paranoid about their stash of guns and ammo being taken away that gets to call the shots.
  • Aggressiveness is becoming a way of life in everyday America.  Love, honor and respect are becoming things to ridicule.
  • Yes, economic inequality is at the core of the problems we’re seeing today.  People are angry because they have to fight so hard to survive from day to day.

This isn’t even scratching the surface when it comes to examining the things turning us in the ugly direction we’re going as a society.  It’s an examination that must be conducted.

If it takes protests to get things turned around, those protests need to happen.  I would have stepped off that transit bus in the middle of downtown Salt Lake City and joined the protest a week ago if I could have.

People are raising their voices and marching today in a way that hasn’t been seen all across the country since the heat of the civil rights and anti-war rallies of the ’60s.  They’re doing it because the laws of the land are being abused by people paid to enforce them, it’s in plain view, and they’re getting away with it.

The lyrics to a song that was an anthem in the ’60s protests are just as relevant today as they’ve ever been.

For what it’s worth …

If you like what you see in my blog, check out my eBook

I clicked a button recently which published some family history  that’s been a long time in the making.  It was that simple.

After pecking away at this “narrative journal” for the better part of 30 years, I decided to take a leap of faith on this story of my father’s life, my life, and the struggles my family has endured going back to my father’s childhood and just self-publish the thing.

Cover 2Now, “Simple Man: Learning To Live Without A Father, From Generation To Generation,” is out there on Amazon.com for anyone out there in the world with a Kindle reader or the free Kindle reader app to see.  This is just the start of what I dream of being a whole new adventure when it comes to my first love in a career path: writing.

It comes out of my passion for putting words together in a way that makes the reader think, entertains, and in some cases inspires.  It also comes out of necessity.  It comes out of a strong desire to be my own boss, to do more to decide my own fate.

This blog was born during a low time in my life, a difficult time for my family.  It was born at a time when I’d been laid off from a computer programming job, and it would help me to maintain my sanity in the year and three months that would follow while looking for another decent job.

I did find a decent job again in the middle of March last year.  The struggle to regain financial footing after that continued.  Just over a year later, last April 1, that “decent job” was taken away.  My family and I found ourselves back at square one … again.

Just before that “decent job” was taken away, I had what could best be called a “vision” that went right to my heart.  It involved self-publishing, going beyond this blog and into an even bigger arena, with a variety of stories to tell.  What better way to kick it off than to publish something that’s been around 30 years in the telling?

Self-publishing isn’t the only thing I have going now.  I’m seeing about getting trained at a “day job” that is about as blue collar as it gets, but — as is the case with so many middle class Americans these days — it doesn’t quite pay all the bills.

Which brings me to self-publishing.

Dad
My father, John Miller, in his Army days.

My father was about as blue collar as it gets.  His main occupation was mining, and it was that occupation that ended up killing him, four months before I was born.  He came from a background where he learned how to survive through hard times, without his own father to guide him along.  Like father, like son.

That “decent job” I had for around a year up until April Fools Day may have been taken away, but I come from a background where you learn to adapt.  We’ve gotten help along the way, help that’s been appreciated, the kind of help we desperately want to repay many times over.  We could easily choose to just give up hope, give up faith, just fade away.  But I wasn’t raised that way, and I want that “family tradition” of survival to be an example for others.

My mother, Betty, myself (far left), brother Curtis, and sister Lynda Kay.
My mother, Betty, myself (far left), brother Curtis, and sister Lynda Kay.

My father’s death going on 54 years ago provided some huge challenges for my mother, who was left to raise three children, including an older son born with cerebral palsy who would die at age 10.  It provided huge challenges for my sister and me.  We’ve done what my father would have wanted us to do: survive, become the best persons we can be, making it through the hard times and being stronger as a result.

That’s the kind of survival I talk about in my book.  We’re not fancy people, we’re not celebrities, but there is still a story to tell in simple lives based on survival, with the goal of inspiring others to push through their own personal struggles, no matter how hard those struggles may be.

It all started with my father, a “simple man.”  It won’t end there.  I will have more stories to tell in my self-publishing endeavors, at times in the same way that I’ve shared them in this blog.  I will be taking a hard look at the world we live in, the hardships so many people face, examining ways we can make this a better place to live.  This collection of family history is just the start.  I’m gradually taking control now, not leaving my family’s fate totally up to someone else.  With hard work and a lot of faith, we’ll make it.

That’s what survivors do.

An Empty Father’s Day

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A View From The Middle (Class):

I came across this blog article a few days ago on The Huffington Post, and the deep feelings here grabbed me. That’s because I can relate to them all too well, as someone who was never able to see or touch or listen to my own father even once in my life. To all those who are able to celebrate this Father’s Day by making memories with their father or their children today or celebrating memories of the past, make the most of it. Cherish those memories. They are priceless.

Originally posted on Michelle Hanson:

I have passed the rows of Father’s Day cards when shopping for weeks now. It’s like a knife to my heart every time. I even stopped and read a few last week, seeing what it would do to me to read words I’ll never get to say to you again. The grief is different now, eight years after your death. It is a copper basin, deep and somber. It echos when the teardrops drops fall, and they do fall still. It is fresh and old all at once, this grief. It has become a part of me.

The Father’s Day ads are everywhere, a constant reminder that I am alone. Each reminder lances that grief, sometimes deeply and others merely scratch the surface. I have lived with this pain since I was 16- this tension between everyday joy and a burden that was too heavy for a young girl to bear.
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I envy…

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With Mary Grace, it’s about amazing ability — not disability

While some might see her “handicap” as a challenge, Mary Grace Gallekanao has come to look upon it as God’s purpose.  When you listen to her playing the piano, you are left with no doubt that she’s been given a divine gift.  It’s there to inspire others.

Mary Grace Gallekanao (Photos by John G. Miller)
Mary Grace Gallekanao (Photos by John G. Miller)

She was born in the Philippines.  She has a stub for a right arm, her right leg is smaller — eight inches shorter — than her left.  She wears a platform orthopedic shoe on her right foot to help her walk normally.  She has said she had a very difficult time growing up because of how she looks, asking why she doesn’t have a right hand like everyone else, asking herself what she did to deserve being born that way.

But she went on to college and earned a degree in psychology, finding friends there for the first time in her life.  Perhaps her greatest gift — which was displayed Saturday at the Wasatch Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church in Salt Lake City — is on the piano.  It is there where her “handicap” becomes not an example of an imperfection, but an example of a grand design.  On the piano, she plays the melody of complex pieces of music with what she calls a fleshy protrusion at the tip of the stub that is the perfect size to fit one key.  She plays chords with her left hand, crossing over when the chords are in the higher keys.

DSC_3059The speed and dexterity that’s demanded in the music she plays does not suffer.  She can interpret music with a master’s touch.

“If the stub were any longer or shorter, it would be hard for me to play the piano,” she told her audience Saturday.  “I know that I was created for a purpose.  Each and every one of us is special in the Lord’s sight.”

Mary Grace said there have been several people who wanted to introduce her to the world, she could have made a lot of money with her talent and have anything she wanted.  But, she added, there were two conditions:  she could not mention anything about God in her performances, nor the two ministries she is so passionate about (Help-the-Needy Inc., and Adopt-a-Minister International).  They only wanted her to talk about herself and what she can do.

DSC_3056“I had to turn them down because I know it’s not about me now.  It’s about God,” she said.  “And it’s not about what I can do, but what God can do through me.

“The Lord has blessed me more than money could ever hope for.”

Mary Grace has given concerts around the world — in Guam, Europe, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Canada, and the United States.

She ended her talk with some words of inspiration.

“Surrender our lives and He will surely work wonders.  I hope that, no matter what’s going on around us, we would always focus our eyes on the cross, and one day — when all is said and done — we could say we have run the race, we have finished the course, we have kept the faith.”