“A flashing neon sign” guides us through

There’s one of many friends of mine I’ve never met in person but we’ve come to know each other through online exchanges for a number of years, he follows this blog, and he’s been prompted to help my family a bit with our financial struggles in recent days because of me sharing our experiences here.

We’ve exchanged a few emails since he first extended the offer.  When he told me what he had on his mind, my response included the following:

“I’m really not putting this stuff out there for people to feel sorry for us. It’s not like I’m looking for charity.  The main reason I’m putting this stuff out there is just to let people who may not otherwise know what it’s like to know what it’s like, mentally walk a mile in someone’s shoes, and maybe stand up and say some things need to change.”

His last message to me gave me a nice lift.

Amy and me.
Amy and me.

“The loyalty that you & Amy have for each other is like a flashing neon sign in your writing. Finances may suck, but what a blessing that is,” he said.

Amy and I and our entire family have been dealing with some tough breaks going on the better part of four years now.  When I sat down with my family nearly four years ago and told them about the first tough break, I told them that we needed to stick together and be strong for each other if we were going to make it through.

Nothing’s changed where that’s concerned.

I see other friends out there going through their own hard times, stressing over things like electricity about to be cut off because the bill hasn’t been paid with a cost of $500 just to reconnect it.  Not all of them have a partner to share in the experience, to lean on for love, comfort, strength, reassurance.  I count my blessings in that way.

The experiences we’re seeing would be enough to make a lot of couples argue to the point of breaking up.  My lovely wife Amy and I don’t do that, and for that I feel proud and blessed.  We want to be partners in every sense of the word.  We take those words “for richer, for poorer” to heart.

We have our individual down times, and there are times when that feeling is shared.  But we fight through, hold on to each other, share the strength we have inside, seek out more strength, and keep up the fight we’re in together.

It’s the only way to make it through times like these.

In the end, we just keep counting on a miracle.

AMY’S ANGLE: Getting joy out of fostering kittens

I decided to write on Wednesdays like I used to on John’s blog.  I do have my own blog about the horses, but I don’t get to write about everything else on my mind on that blog, so I decided to resurrect my contribution to this blog.

The first thing I want to talk about is something cheerful.  Of course, you know by now what kind of a struggle we are going through and I will add that there is so much stress from going through the kind of financial crisis that we go through.  So I have to find a way to deal with it in a cheaper manner than the horses I am fortunate to have.

Oscar (The Grouch, aka Mustachio, aka Charlie Chaplin) and his older pal Shadow. (Photo by John G. Miller)
Oscar (The Grouch, aka Mustachio, aka Charlie Chaplin) and his older pal Shadow. (Photo by John G. Miller)

A fun thing we do as a family is fostering kittens for a rescue organization, Friends of Animals Utah, also known as Nuzzles & Co.  They get a certain number of foster homes and with that comes the opportunity to save more kittens.  My job, or my family’s job is to help these kittens get the best of health, because kittens who come out of shelters usually get sick or have infections coming out of those situations.  We help them get the best of care.  We also socialize the kittens who are very skittish and frightened of humans.

With this job of socializing comes a lot of petting, loving, kissing kittens, and naming them.  It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.  The hardest part is when they are sick, we get a lot of those.  We have to be able to see the telltale signs of illness.  It is more likely guesses that they are sick before the illness really kicks in, because kittens really go downhill fast.  So I end up giving a lot of antibiotics and eye medications to kittens.

There are different ages of kittens that we choose to take care of.  There are the bottle-fed babies, but it takes a lot of work and time to help these babies.  They need to be fed about every two hours, there’s a higher death rate because they are so young and vulnerable.  So I chose not to care for this young age since I do work outside the home quite a bit.  The age I chose was the kittens from 4 weeks old and up.  These kittens usually can eat kitten food and drink on their own.  There is the choice of having kittens with their mothers or without.  I have had kittens with their mothers and the mother causes a lot of headaches with my other pets.  So, unfortunately, I cannot take the mother cat with them.  But I only take kittens who are orphaned, I do not not take them away from their mother.

We’ve just fostered two kittens and they are so adorable, Alicia gave them very cute names.  A little male orange and white kitten was named Kyle Korver after the professional basketball player, and his sister’s name is Hayley Williams after the singer-songwriter.   We had the kittens for about three months and everything was going great until our sweet little Hayley got sick.  Part of being a foster parent is taking the kittens into the rescue if they are really sick and need more help than antibiotics.  That is where we are today with Hayley.

The best part about fostering is the rescue pays for the vet fees and kitty food, so it is really nice that way to think that you are saving lives every time new kittens get out into their new forever homes.  What a good feeling.

More kitties could be saved with more new foster homes helping new kittens get exposed to love and families.

— Amy K. Miller

Here’s how we live that “lower middle class” life

This is one of those days where time is very tight when it comes to doing things like blogging, which is why I’ve been away from it for the most part for so long.

"The Office"
“The Office”

I never know from day to day what my schedule is going to be like, until I call in at mid-afternoon to see what my schedule for the next day is going to be.  I’m not a “regular” with predictable work hours on a daily basis yet.

I worked a late shift last night, capped off by driving a natural gas hybrid bus on a round trip up north that covers around 90 miles, but it takes a little over two hours in each direction.  After a round trip on a shorter route to start my work day, the round trip on the longer route started close to 8:30 p.m. and didn’t end until around 12:30 a.m.  I didn’t get out of the garage to go home until just after 1 a.m., it takes at least 20 minutes to drive home mostly on the freeway from downtown Salt Lake City, and I had to get something to eat once I got home.

I like to drive our daughter to school in the mornings.  With my work hours, that’s usually about the only time I get to see her on work days, about a half-hour.  So my sleep this morning amounted to just over three hours.  I’m feeling it.  So if I’m going to turn this blogging thing back into a regular, daily effort I need to make this quick and sweet because I’m going from a late night shift where I get home in the wee hours of the morning to an earlier afternoon shift where I get home … well, not quite so late but still late.

Maybe I’ll get to squeeze in some nap time after wolfing down some cereal for a mid-morning breakfast.

It’s all part of that “middle class life,” although these days it feels closer to “lower middle class” at best.  We work our tails off, stress over (not) making ends meet, try and squeeze in some family time where we can find it, get as much sleep as our schedules allow, and start all over again the next day.

That’s life in our little corner of the world.  When there’s more time, I’ll tell about the kinds of people I come across in my work day.  There are plenty of stories to tell there — poverty, middle class, upper class.

For now, my “batteries” need recharging.

A mountain turned into a molehill

It rises 20,237 feet into the sky.  The Koyukon Athabaskan people who live around it have a name for it, which means “high” or “tall.”  When it belonged to Russia, they called it Bolshaya Gora — meaning “big mountain.”

A gold prospector gave it the name it was known as by most people for decades to follow as a show of political support for a presidential candidate who never even set foot in the state where it is found.  The name has raised a political fuss ever since.

The mountain known as Denali.
The mountain known as Denali.

It’s Denali, in the rugged land of Alaska.  The name it was given by the gold prospector was McKinley, after then-presidential candidate later to be elected to the office William McKinley of Ohio, a Republican.

Now that a Democratic president named Barack Obama took a brief bit of time on Sunday to announce that McKinley would once again be known officially as Denali, the expressions of butthurt are renewed.

The issue of what to call a majestic mountain is a molehill.  And, as is par for the course these days, a lot of that has to do with a president named Barack Obama.  So the mountain has been turned into a molehill.

The cries come from conservatives like commentator Andrew Malcolm of Investor’s Business Daily, who showed a particularly sad unwillingness to look into the history of the name and the mountain by tweeting …

Another Obama Exec Order. Erasing Mt. McKinley from all maps (he was a Republican after all) & renaming it after the GMC Truck, Denali.

GMC Denali
GMC Denali

So, there you go.  Denali originated with a vehicle built by General Motors starting in 1999.  Who would’ve guessed?

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman expressed his butthurt in the Twittersphere this way …

I’m disappointed with the Administration’s decision to change the name of Mt. McKinley in Alaska (1/5)

This decision by the Administration is yet another example of the President going around Congress (4/5)

GOP strategist and former George W. Bush brainiac Karl Rove felt it would be a good way to sell an upcoming book of his …

Seems like good time 2 learn more about 25th POTUS. Pre-order “Triumph of William http://bit.ly/1Fa7piC http://twitter.com/FoxNews/status/638099449710014465 

Should we mention that Sarah Palin referred to the mountain as Denali in her farewell address as the short-lived governor of Alaska, or that sitting Alaskan GOP lawmakers support the move?  Maybe not, because all that would do is soothe the butthurt on the part of those who have nothing better to do than whine about changing the name of a mountain to what it’s been called for centuries … a wee bit before GMC came along.

The butthurt stretched all the way to Utah, in comments on the Facebook page of a local television station announcing the news Sunday …

All the problems that this country is facing and he (Obama) has time to rename mountains hmmmmmm…

Yeah, taking a few seconds to make an announcement or sign a document about the name of a mountain does get in the way of pressing business.

But don’t worry, folks, the backlash against those getting a hemorrhoid over the renaming has been fast and furious.  I’ve been getting a lot of likes on my own response to that bit of overly conservative concern from the Utah genius.

The first thing I looked for in this story was “do the people there (in Alaska) want it?” Answer: Yes. But nitwits who have nothing better to do than pitch a fit and moan while asking if Obama doesn’t have something better to do … Ridiculous.

Some other response gems mined from the Utah concern raging over the time spent changing a name back to its origins …

It’s done. We’ve spent more time discussing an action that took him 30 seconds to complete. There are certainly more pressing matters, which he spends the remaining 23 hours and 30 seconds of his day on. Actually, maybe he takes a crap, or eats a piece of food at some point during the day. We’ll all live.

I bet he sleeps too…the nerve!

Every time Obama does anything someone makes this SAME comment. Like this is the ONLY thing he is doing! It may be hard for some to understand, but it’s called multitasking. Let me know if you need me to transfer my comment into a drawing…..

Oh man Obama haters heads are exploding. “Do I accept that this is a good thing or hate it just because the title says Obama”…. “Hmm well I guess I’ll agree and then just throw in an Obama insult for good measure”.. Ahh you’ve been brainwashed well grasshopper.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio

Portman is hearing it in a big way himself on his tweets …

I’m disappointed that you don’t have anything better to do. What of it?

Bummer that you’re sad, . Imagine how the folks who originally named our tallest mountain felt.

YAY!!! Something new for the GOP to hand-wring over. Next you’ll question PBO’s citizenship and so on.

Why don’t you instead focus on a Jobs Bill that your Party promised 6 yrs ago and haven’t delivered?

Not as disappointed as we are with your intellectual acumen.

The great part is, when it comes to the backlash over the agony expressed by so many people who live outside of Alaska, I could go on and on and on.  Could it be that people are waking up to this kind of silliness?

The butthurt … it stings.

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.


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.

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