Mark Miller ’77 responds to a request to reflect on his experience
as a Westmont alumnus and father of three students
“Run with perseverance the race marked out before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.” (Hebrews 12)
Sometimes in our race, God stops us dead in our tracks and allows us to trace the markers of his goodness and grace as they come together in a single, sacred moment in a way we could never predict and that far transcends our wishes, hopes and prayers.
For me, that happened at Baccalaureate this year. Linda and I were blessed to stay at the home of Ron and Becky Mulder for graduation weekend; Ron was my basketball coach and the reason I came to Westmont. I’m seated next to my close friend Len Winkler ’77, whose daughter, Natalie, is also graduating. My sons Lucas ’12 and C.J. ’14 are stoic but supportive. Ben Patterson, former pastor at Irvine Presbyterian Church, which we attended for years, is now the campus pastor at Westmont. He delivers an opening prayer, including a passage of Scripture that was one of my grandfather’s favorites. We sing “Be Thou My Vision,” also sung at our wedding. As faculty and staff file in, I see my good friend, Westmont Coach John Moore ’77, looking academic in his robe.
I catch the profile of John Miller ’10, reflecting on his character and his journey, shaped profoundly and positively by the work of Christ though Westmont. I recall moments of truth and connection with him and times when he solicited our guidance and direction — and actually applied some of it. We have learned key life lessons from John. At times none of us had the answers, but we all had to trust the One who does. Our most profound moments as parents have been when our kids challenge, support, encourage and even mentor us individually and collectively. It’s too easy and too typical to see our role as just providing guidance and support.
My own journey to Westmont wasn’t a deep or well-thought- out decision. I was a relatively new believer with a faith shaped by youth group peers, drawn to the smaller college atmosphere. As basketball came to the forefront, larger schools became options. I visited Westmont one last time during spring break, and it seemed like a good fit: a community grounded in faith.
At Westmont, I observed and engaged students who were further along in their journey and trying to discover what God was seeking to do through them. But they didn’t take this task so seriously that they missed the markers of grace that show up in random, spontaneous moments filled with humor and grace. I also connected with friends who were in the same place as I was, seeking to figure out their own journey. That freed and encouraged me to do the same.
I was a psychology major who got by; my sons have been more disciplined academically. I was drawn to other interests: stealing just enough finger-style guitar licks to learn the first few bars of James Taylor tunes; contributing to Warrior basketball as a freshmen and beyond; serving and surviving as an R.A. for a year and a half; connecting music, humor and relationships through Spring Sing and an a capella group called the Dean’s List.
I won’t call it safe, but Westmont provided an environment and set of relationships that challenged and tested me to take risks with my gifts. The pursuit of our abilities is empty and pointless apart from a deepening faith in Christ and understanding of his grace. I remember Westmont frequently leveling and re-focusing me back to the grace of God.
Our sons chose Westmont for reasons of their own, and all played, play or will play basketball like I did. John has some fuel in his tank to continue playing hoops overseas. Our daughter, Kelli, graduated from Wheaton (where Linda attended graduate school in educational ministries after getting a degree from Messiah College) and works for a law firm in Los Angeles.
I played basketball in Europe and coached and traveled overseas. After some graduate school, I ended up in mental health and child protection and have worked for the County of Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services for 27 years,where I serve as director of training and development. Linda was associate dean at Azusa Pacific for five years but with four kids bowed out of student life; she has now returned to substitute teaching. I’ve continued to coach, and we’ve been active in our church, Young Life and the community. I still pick up the guitar daily and am excited to learn a few new licks from John when he’s home.
As we continue the race, we’ll try not to miss the moments and markers of God’s grace in our lives and those of our kids.