Calvin Miller’s rise from humble beginnings to famous author is the classic American Dream come true. His father was “a rogue–never wealthy enough to afford his habits.” He was a drinker and a dreamer and the second best thing he ever did, according to Miller’s memoir, Life is Mostly Edges, was to sire nine children who made their mother proud.
The best thing his father did was to sign the divorce papers he was served in jail after his latest arrest for public drunkenness. Then he left town and stayed gone for 20 years. Even though it was the Dirty Thirties, the Miller family’s prospects instantly improved.
Calvin’s mother raised her family in a shanty in Enid Oklahoma. “There was no plumbing in our little house, and we had…three rooms (or the dream of three rooms, for the inside studs had been put up but never any plaster applied) and a path.” With no plumbing, it takes little imagination to figure out where the path went.
Calvin, at age 17, believed God was calling him to preach and he said yes. However, the first speeches he gave in his college freshman class resulted in “the biggest, reddest F ever handed out at that university.” He bargained with God, hoping to receive a different calling. “I would rather have kissed lepers, one after another in long unending lines, than ever take another speech class.” Taking his professor’s advice to practice speaking in front of a mirror, Calvin had an awakening of sorts — he really looked at himself for the first time in his 19 years of life and he liked what he saw. Instead of seeing a kid who had always been bullied, he saw a man, capable of doing what he had to do. The next speech he gave garnered him new self respect and his first A.
The remainder of Miller’s entertaining memoir tells of his decades in the pastorate where they struggled to keep body and soul together on a meagre salary and even more meagre encouragement. But, against all odds and some expectations, his church grew exponentially. While still a pastor, Miller realized God’s biggest dream for his life by writing his first book, The Singer. This allegorical book, the first of a trilogy, became a runaway bestseller and launched Calvin Miller into a whole new world.
Miller eventually left the pastorate and spent a couple of decades teaching writing to college students. Now, in his 70s and still going strong, he speaks at conferences and writes. His lifelong love, Barbara, travels with him and occasionally joins him at the podium for readings from one of his many books.
The first time I heard Calvin Miller speak was at Faith Baptist Church in Saskatoon in the 1970s just after his first book was published. I was blown away. Mesmerized. I have heard him twice more with a space of 20 years between each hearing and he still takes my breath away with his command of language and subtle humor.
God had big dreams for Calvin Miller’s life — far bigger than he had for himself. What is God dreaming for you? For me? Are we willing to follow Him one yes at a time to see His dreams realized?