Perfect Love

My wife and I met in high school.  We were both working at the same grocery store.  She was behind the register as a cashier and I bagged the groceries.  One day I had come in after getting a haircut.  She looked at me and said, “Nice haircut.”  Original, I know.  She was seventeen and I was sixteen. I called her a day or two later and we met up for lunch with her friends.  One night, leaning against the side of my 1984 Oldsmobile, she asked me why I hadn’t asked her out yet. I replied that I was waiting. She said, “What for?” I said I didn’t know and asked her out.  Yes friends, the making of a Hollywood movie.

Love is an interesting topic.  I know people who are single, attractive, and have great personalities.  They also chase love as fast as they can, trading off partners for newer models and trying to find the companion that will stick.  I know people who have had children out of these failed relationships and I feel for them having to grow up without a steady mother or father figure. We need a partner. We fear being alone. We strive to find that missing piece in our lives.

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The underlying issue is commitment. It takes trust to give yourselves to another person. People have asked me more than once when I knew Val was the right one for me.  I always tell them the same story.  The summer before I graduated West Chester University with my undergrad degree, we were at the gym.  She stood up from a machine, took two steps, and passed out.  I went to her side and she started having a seizure.  As you can imagine, a crowd gathered and an ambulance was called.

She ended up spending a week in the hospital and they never found a cause.  One night I sat by her hospital bed.  The lights were low as I held her hand and we made small talk. The woman sharing the room with her shifted behind the thin curtain that separated us.  The announcement came over the speakers that visiting time was over.  I stood, gave her a hug and kiss, and left the room.

I went to the parking lot, sat in my car, and cried my eyes out.  My soul hurt.  Sorrow wracked me from deep inside. I sobbed imagining her having to sleep in that bed, in that hospital by herself. As I drove home I knew that I would marry her.  I knew I would do anything for her, would give my life for her and gladly trade myself to be in her position.

Sound familiar?

The video above is one of my new favorite songs by Chris Tomlin, At the Cross (Love Ran Red). There are times we can forget what perfect love looks like and how it feels. In those moments all we need is to glance at the cross and we know where we stand. We know the true depths of sacrifice, that our debts were paid and our place was taken by the only real royalty to ever walk the earth.

Val and I have been a couple for almost fifteen years. I am blessed to have a partner who loves me in spite of my faults and, in our struggles, we stand together.  If you are reading this tonight and searching for your match, know that you are never alone. Know that perfect love exists and the answer you seek is not far away.  Just look to the cross and you’ll find the connection, commitment, love and grace you seek.

~Matt

To Have and Have Not

I spent almost five years working in an investment company.  During my time there, I was on a few different teams.  We serviced a range of clients.  One of my jobs consisted of scanning in trust documents for the Wealth Network. In case you aren’t familiar with living trusts, a family can set aside a large amount of money for their future generations.  They can set standards for the money to be inherited, things like “Joey must pass monthly drug tests and remain clean for two years.” These families would attach pictures of their many homes, cars, and assets so we could have them on file if need came to disburse some of the trust money.

After a while in that role, I switched to the team that handled hedge funds.  I was the point of contact for six funds and their investments. We had to process the monthly wires into the fund and the market.  I remember, one afternoon, holding a sheet of paper (a wire to a bank)  in my hand for $31 million dollars.  I looked at the paper, the row of zeroes, and marveled at the importance of the things behind those numbers.23292We live in a culture that is searching for meaning. The search leads people to different ways of filling the brokenness in their lives and, make no mistake, we are all broken at some level. Some pick up the bottle, others the pills or pornography. I had a professor who was a clinical psychologist.  He told us a story one day that he had a patient who always dated abusive men.  She said to him, “put me in a stadium of men and I’ll find the one who will hit me.”  He had another who sat across from him with multiple facial fractures and told him it was her fault, that she deserved what her husband had done to her. Some people are victimized in their brokenness.

We are all searching. We all need hope.

I believe that making the choice to follow Jesus is the most dangerous thing you can do with your life.  God has your calling and, when you buy in, he will take you down to zero to refine you for the future.  He burns away the scars to reveal the material he can use. The disciples were all martyred for their faith.  They were pulled from their jobs and roles in society, shown a three-year window into living with the Son of God, and were never the same again.

Imagine for a second: The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and those afflicted with spiritual oppression are set free.  What was it like, listening to the Sermon on the Mount? To watch this man you spend every moment with live his life and set fire to the world?

Things today aren’t that much different. When you sit at work tomorrow, look to your left and right. Those people are searching.  They are searching for hope. They want that one thing they can rely on for security. They may be rich or poor, single or in families. They may sit next to you at church on the holidays. Every second of silence is a missed chance.

You want to see your spiritual life jump to the next level? Have that conversation. Make a difference in the eternal life of that person God has placed next to you. Every movement starts with a spark and you are that next person ready to change the world.  He tells us to go forth and make disciples of all the nations. There’s your answer. That is fulfillment. That is joy greater than any amount of zeroes on a paycheck.

So, how will you respond?
~Matt

 

The Last Word

Did you ever meet someone who just had to have the last word in any conversation? Maybe you have someone in your family like this. My oldest son is that way.  We can be telling him to do something and he’ll negotiate. If the negotiation does not go well (usually me saying, no you just need to do this) he’ll start adding in questions and phrases to make sure he is the last voice heard. I can keep going but I’ve learned to choose my battles wisely when dealing someone who has only been on this planet for five years.

In church this morning we sang a song titled The Last Word by Elevation Worship.  You can see their video below.

I love every lyric:

“Your word stands through the ages
Your voice shatters the darkness
In you we are more than conquerors
You speak strongholds surrender
Your name overcomes the enemy
In you we are more than conquerors”

There are times we can get caught in our circumstances. We try to move forward, to overcome an obstacle that seems to great, to fix a problem that seems the size of a mountain.

We know what it takes to move mountains.

We know that the last words belong to God, the beginning and the end, the light of the world that shatters the darkness. When fear sneaks in those moments, know that it does not have the last word.  When doubt nags at the back of your mind, when your past only offers pain and sorrow, know that it does not have the last word.  When you have nothing to pull from, know that you are not alone.

I believe we are here for a purpose.  Have you experienced a moment where the clouds were ripped away and divinity injected itself into your life like a bolt of lightning? Maybe it wasn’t that dramatic. Maybe it was the moment your new baby held your hand or you laughed with a friend over coffee. I believe that God has the last word, that good will win, that strongholds will surrender and that, in him, we are more than conquerors. So, as you go forward, remember who walks with you. He can change your life in an instant and your reality will never be the same.

~Matt

Crossing the Void

My mother has worked at the same hospital for over forty years now.  During one of my periods of looking for work she told me that the hospital had an opening for a registration clerk.  This consisted of getting patient information, collecting payments for service, verification of insurances, and all that fun stuff.  The only catch was that the position was in the emergency room working second shift.  I applied, interviewed, and got the job.  Overall, I spent two years working there and they were years I will never forget.

During my training, the supervisor told me that I’d always remember my first “code.”  If you aren’t up on medical lingo, that is the phrase for any patient who had died or was in the process of it.  As registration staff, we were the first people the family members would come in contact with. The challenge was keeping a straight face, staying calm and in control while you had emotional family crying and yelling for their loved ones they would never see alive again. It was a job with good times (getting to see babies as they were delivered in the emergency room) to sad times and crazy experiences (our hospital had a psych ward and we would often get those individuals going through mental struggles).  The job taught me one important thing: We are never far from the other side.

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I would drive home, always after midnight, and think about the people: the ones going home without their husbands, wives, grandparents, or children. It was an odd feeling, being that close to death. It taught me to value what I had. There were many mornings I would hug my sons and feel so blessed that we were intact as a family. As believers we must keep in mind that we are never far from the other side. We walk each day with our creator. We live according to his guidance as best we can. We push through troubles. We celebrate victories and process defeats.

The hard part is not getting caught up in the routine.  As a guy, I tend to pull away and keep things inside my shell when I get stressed or angry. My wife has had many conversations with me about this and it is something I work on every day. Our lives are full of wisps of eternity, embers of heaven that take form in the laughter of children, good music, strong emotions, and eternal love. Don’t get caught in the routine. Keep a strong grasp on the beauty of creation.

One of the most radical things we can do is to serve.  Serving breaks the mold and shatters the expectations of the world. Jesus called us to serve. It is one of the reasons I stand on pay what you can for my writing services. I feel like he has allowed me to write so I can serve those who need the words. Validation comes through engagement and appreciation not profit and greed. I still believe this world can be changed and it will happen one servant at a time.

~Matt

Teaching

I mentioned before that I am reading Chuck Pagano’s book Sidelined where he talks about his battle with cancer as a man of faith and professional football coach. He talks about running the team from his hospital bed, meeting with players and family members in the hospital. He hits on something that is one of the real secrets in life and I’ll put it to you in the form of a question:

Who are you teaching?

We all have a need to teach.  We have unique knowledge and experience that can be communicated to someone else.  We write. We take our children in the back yard and show them how to kick a ball, climb a tree, or swing on the swing. We guide them on first steps and through first bad dreams. On our journey of faith, we seek to follow Jesus as the ultimate teacher.

There is more than one scene in the Bible where Jesus is speaking to the crowds.  He starts as a child in the temple and progresses to growing masses of followers.  He heals the sick, casts out demons, and changes lives.  He angers and inspires.  In the book of Acts we read of our commission, to go and tell the world of the good news. We are meant to teach, to share our lives with others and not live in a vacuum.

In Pagano’s book he mentions the first game he watched from the sideline after nearing the end of his cancer treatment.  The Colts won the game and cameras recorded his post game speech:

He tells the team that they chose to live in a vision and not their circumstances. He mentions that his battle is already won and that he will dance at the weddings of his two daughters. You can see the message light up the faces of the players. Pagano used his situation to teach the team the lesson of ignoring the outside voices and chase your dreams.

My oldest son, even a month after the end of his t ball season, still calls me coach. He soaked up every moment we had together at those games and I know, as a father, he soaks up any moment we have together. He yearns to learn.

We all have a deep desire to learn. We are all called to teach. We are created to live in community with others.  See the pattern?

So as you enter this weekend, think about who you are teaching. Who is watching you for inspiration? Your neighbor? Friend? Spouse? Child? Make the most of each moment, live in a vision, and never miss the chance to teach someone.

Peter tells us to always be prepared when asked about the source of our hope. Are you?

~Matt

 

 

 

 

 

Faith

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I’ve had a difficult relationship with faith over the years.  I grew up in a Methodist church and found myself in the midst of a conditional belief system. God was a slot machine that, if I was good enough, I could pull the lever and see a reward. If I could just work hard, avoid the bad things, and live well then God would show up on my side.

It took years to find out my mistake.

I met my wife in high school and, as we dated throughout my college years, we moved through some dynamic churches and congregations. I started to get glimpses of grace and the meaning of a radical and awakened faith. I found material written, spoken, and worship songs by some of the top artists and thinkers in the business. My faith grew and molded. Still, there are days with challenges.

One of the prime movements in psychology is that we place the identity of our fathers onto our picture of God. As you can imagine, that can be hugely damaging to people. Fathers are imperfect. Fathers can hurt, disconnect, devalue, and detach. God is a different story.

I feel like I’ve grown in some ways in my understanding of faith.

Life is a refinement process. Struggles serve as preparation for callings to come. I believe we are all called to step out and follow our dreams. We have a drive and a passion in our hearts that, when identified, can electrify this short time we have on this planet. This drive has led me to start this business, to chase my dream of launching a ministry that carries creative writing into faith-based organizations and the communities they serve. This drive has led me to offer my services on gift based pricing (you pay me what you can afford).  After research and prayerful consideration, this was placed on my heart and I’m willing to follow it through.

Refinement also lets you see what you do not want.  It can be the forty-hour week at the job you are doing for the paycheck and not the passion. It can be looking at your spouse across the table and realizing you need to fill the gap with the love you once shared when the wedding was only weeks old.  It can be finally mending old wounds and cleaning the scar tissue that forms over broken hearts.

Faith is not easy and, yes, it is intentional. God wants to see what you believe and, when you go forward and walk in the straight paths he forms for you, the ending will be greater than anything you imagine.

~Matt

Work

I’ve had a few jobs since college. I remember graduating and thinking that companies would somehow get this grand email announcement that I was available to work.  I had no idea that you needed to chase the jobs. My first position was going door to door in the city of Philadelphia selling credit card processing machines.

I learned a lot from my time in the city, and it was enough to know I needed something with stability.  I went from there to a bank and a lawn service company. I transitioned to a hospital through a family connection.  I’ll never forget the day that I decided to start my own business and chase the writing life.

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I believe we all have a calling, a purpose on this planet. We have dreams on our hearts and reasons to wake up in the morning. We must find the courage to chase the dreams.

I had a line I identified with past jobs: when it was worth more to spend time searching than working, I knew it was time for a transition. Every journey starts with one step, yes it is a cliché, but it is true. Choices are powerful things. Momentum can sweep you and those around you towards a common goal. Story creates movement and engagement. Stories are driven by dreams.  It is one large cycle that keeps rotating until you finally decide to take the leap of faith and go for it.

I believe that God has his hands on our dreams and he will bless our progress, even through the dark times. So, if you are feeling the tug on your heart, have the courage to follow it through.

~Matt

The Seed

Every movement starts in a moment. It starts in a moment of choice, the determination to do something and go forward. God places these seeds in our lives throughout the years. I think back to my own life experience and can find the blocks that have landed me here. The rough part of life is that bad and stressful times tend to hang on in our heads much longer than peace and joy.

I went to the library today and picked up Chuck Pagano’s new book.  Chuck is the current head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. You can see a promotional clip from the book below:

He mentions his cancer diagnosis and his battle with the disease. He talks about learning from his fight and that is an important point. We must learn from our difficulties and our struggles.

My wife and I were eating dinner tonight and wondering what we did back in the years when things were simple, back before bills and kids and when the greatest stress was what to do on a Friday night. I’ve been blessed with every moment we’ve had together and yet, I know our hard times have shaped our relationship even more than the easy. We’ve always banded together in adversity. We’ve always faced problems together and handled issues as they arrived.

Life is a refinement process. When the days get dark, when profits slim and doubts creep into your mind, don’t forget that struggles will pass and you will find a seed to generate motivation and movement. Time is important and how you use it can truly determine your destination.

~Matt

A New Year

Today, July 3rd, is my birthday. I always take stock on these days, look around me, and think about the year that has passed. My son asked me this morning if he could open my gifts. I told him that he could and his eyes lit up. There is something about a birthday that makes the day special for kids and that feeling tends to fade as we grow older.  I met my wife when we were in high school and working at a grocery store.  I remember those years. I remember the parties I had as a child at my dad’s house swimming in his pool. I remember my youth, my teenage years, and my first years as a believer.

Music is a big part of my life. I can’t play an instrument but I love listening to a good song. I love writing with music and worship songs have always been a large part of my faith. David Crowder, the worship leader, was one of the first I discovered. Here is a lyric video from his newest album.

We had a chance to see him in concert. It was one week after the death of Kyle Lake, a pastor at his home church, who died during a service after being electrocuted in a baptismal pool while performing a baptism. Before the show started, he said that the goal of the night was to “get our feet off the ground, even if it was just an inch or two.”

That is the point of worship, however you choose to do it. That is the point of life when you face difficulty. Sometimes, when we break it down, our goal is to just get our feet off the ground, even if it is just an inch.

So this will be our year, the year for my writing, the launch for p356 Creative Services, the next step in our lives. We are in His hands and they will hold us up just as they will hold you and lift your feet off the ground.

~Matt

Why Me?

This spring my oldest son, who is five, played t ball for the first time.  He’s a baseball nut and loves the game. We’ve pitched to him in the back yard since he was a toddler. Initially, we were not counting outs. Every kid was able to stay on base and run the bases. They could experience the feeling of getting a hit and scoring a run. As we neared the end of the season, we started counting outs.

I was the assistant coach for the team and I felt bad sending our first real “out” back to the bench. Then the game happened where Carter was forced out at second base.  I remember the look on his face when he walked past me.  He walked past the bench, went to my wife, and broke down in tears.

One of the biggest things we will ever face in life is that moment where a door is slammed shut, a job is lost, a loved one passes away, and tragedy pays us a visit. We look to God and ask why.

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In Luke 22:42, Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane and he prays, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” After he is arrested, tried, and in the midst of hanging on the cross he says, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

A friend of mine who is a pastor wrote to me once that God is a big boy, he can take your honesty.  We all face circumstances where we question the divine reason.

This Monday I had my blood drawn to be sent to the Mayo Clinic to be evaluated for any sign of cancer.

It hurts to write that sentence.

We will keep going as a family.  The specialist I’m seeing believes that things will work out, that the cause of my past altered lab results is something rare and specific, not the possible darker option.   He told me to trust him.

I know where I put my trust.

So as you go forward this week remember the bottom line. Know that we are in the midst of a refinement process, that this world is not perfect and know the truth of the verse I pray every night:

All things work for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes.

~Matt