Surviving a Crisis of: Love

Val and I have been together for fifteen years now. We’ve progressed through the ups and downs of dating and marriage. During these times, we’ve both had friends and family struggle with relationships.

Love is complicated.

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We are built to find a match.  Our hearts yearn for companionship, for genuine relationship and connection with another person.  When the 1/3rd life crisis hits and you are single, the voices can creep up as your friends get married and have children. They come from different places.

The Past:

In The Artisan Soul, Erwin McManus writes that most of us are haunted by ghosts of our pasts, not intimidated by spirits of the future. Our generation was the divorce generation.  Statistically, half of our parents separated in the decades of the 1980’s and 1990’s. This has a trickle-down effect. If we look to our parents, our first model of love, and see dysfunction we take that as normal and expect it.

We devalue ourselves.

The Present:

Bad relationships are plastered all over the media. There are numerous apps and websites centered on making connections at the swipe. You can message, or call, a connection in minutes. This creates good and bad situations. It creates expectation.  It creates options. Options, if they don’t work out, can be catalysts for defeat and shame.

We devalue what we have to offer.

The Solution:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8

You probably recognize the verse. Paul sets a high bar here with his description of love. Let’s break it down:

Patience: No one is perfect. Keep that in mind as you head out to meet people.

Kindness: Throw off the fronts and be genuine. Be yourself, your complicated, genuine, funny, deep, real self. Be kind and, no matter how much you’ve been hurt, keep a sliver of your heart open. Your connected soul is out there.

No Envy, Boasting, Pride, Selfishness, Anger, Deceit: I’ve combined his list of negatives. I’m sure you can imagine people who fit each one of these descriptions. They could be a YouTube compilation of failed dates.  The point here is the opposite.  True love is selfless. Check the Cross for an example.

Protects, Trusts, Hopes, Perseveres: Love creates hope. Love lasts through the tough times, the struggles with money, with kids who don’t sleep at night, noisy neighbors, health issues, work problems, and all the other fun of the world. Love is trust. Say that again and hold it in your heart because it may be the biggest challenge you face from your past.

Love Never Fails: You may be going to bed alone tonight. You may be wondering if it is your future, if you can ever recover from the latest break up, fight, or bad date. You may wonder if your heart can heal enough to love again.  It can. It will.  You can overcome the past and make a soul connection. You are worth it. You will survive. You are beautiful and valuable and a key to the progression of this Universe.

You are never alone.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration:

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Picks of the Week- 9/29/2014

Scripture: This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Jeremiah 33: 2-3

A verse from one of my favorite books of the Bible. In this day of information, there are still unsearchable things we need to find.

Book: The Grave Robber: How Jesus Can Make Your Impossible Possible by Mark Batterson

Batterson is the pastor of National Community Church in Washington D.C. He is the author of The Circle Maker, a book that changed my prayer life forever.  This title is his newest release about miracles happening in everyday life.  I hesitate naturally when a church leader talks about prayer as they tend to veer towards God as a slot machine in the sky. Batterson does not do this. He supports his points with solid research, examples from real life, and Biblical backing.  Check out his titles here.

 

Website: Storyline Blog

I’ve posted about Donald Miller before and his site is his blog. His thoughts are fresh, open, and honest.  If you are looking to refine your story, visit and see what he has to say.

Family Activity: Pumpkin Patch

On Saturday, we spent a few hours at a local farm while Carter and Aiden played in a hay jump, corn maze, and playground. Fall is my favorite time of year for this very reason. We make it a yearly tradition to visit Linvilla Orchards, outside of Philadelphia, to experience all a farm in the fall has to offer.

Marriage Activity: Fresh Cider

When you are at the orchards, pick up some fresh cider. When you get home, put the kids to bed and warm it up. This will be cheaper than the Starbucks version and more romantic as you recover from chasing the kids around the farm.

Val’s Style Pick of the Week:

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Redken Powder Grip 03- Gives hair a modern matte finish with amazing texture and fullness, and adds grip to prep hair for long-lasting updos, or as Val says, “backcombing in a can.”

Val’s Bag of the Week:

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Thermal ToteA classic favorite! It’s great for taking lunch on the go. Whether you need to keep your food cool or warm, it does the job. Great for school or work lunch, or for taking to a ballgame. Also great as a baby bag to keep bottles cold. Measures approx: 9.5”H x 14”W x 4.5”D  I’ve personally taken one of these for lunch to work more than once and it is a perfect fit if you must share a refrigerator with other employees. You can find it here for $18.00. You can find other specials for September and the entire new catalog for the month at Val’s personal Thirty-One site.

 

Soundtrack Inspiration: We Rejoice by Elevation Worship

If you were to give me creative control over a worship song, it would probably end up like this.  I love the energy, flow, and message.  Enjoy it!

Surviving a Crisis of: Identity

Fill in the blank:

I AM A ________

Think about it. Not so easy a question for most people. We tend to identify ourselves by our jobs, position in life, gender, location, or any number of factors. Our identity is shaped from our youngest years. Carter and Aiden will use these days as foundation for their journeys into manhood. What happens when your answer is changed by something out of your control?

I always wanted to write.  I mean, I had phases like everyone else (I was a huge X-Files fan and wanted a career in the FBI to investigate the supernatural). My mother always had a book in her hand and shelves of them ready for access. I took to words and felt a void when I wasn’t in the midst of reading a great story.

I spent years as an undergraduate and grad student studying writing. I’ve published short stories, novellas, and a novel. Yet, there are days I hesitate to call myself a writer.  It took research, discussions with friends over coffee, and obtaining my MFA from Fairfield University to give myself some permission to take on the role.

In this process, God kept tapping me on the shoulder.

Glowing Golden Cross

I believe our gifts are given to serve and be given back in offering. I wondered if, rather than chasing the next best-seller, the words could be used to inspire and make a difference. 

In the moments of silence, the voices will creep up and whisper in your ear. Really? You? Why do you think you’ll be successful?

What if you fail?

Failure can shatter your identity, but there are ways to fight it.

If these questions hit a nerve, if they create more questions and you find yourself stuck in the midst of insecurity, always remember:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17– Be assured of your salvation. Know where you stand and know your answer to the most important question. Know that time will pass and, one day, you will face your maker. When I’m struggling, when the waves seem too high, I rediscover my anchor and hold on tight. His words and salvation calm the storm. When you are drifting, find the bottom line and build from there.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28– Everything you do is important. Every small interaction counts. Every day makes a difference. You are called to a purpose and, if you are unsure of what it is, pray.  God will reveal it to you and, I believe, you’ll find it closer to your heart than you ever imagined.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration:

We had a chance to worship one Sunday morning with Jarred Anderson and sing this song live. It is powerful!

Feel Good Friday 9/26/2014

On a previous Feel Good Friday post I mentioned the story of Devon Still, the Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman whose 4-year-old daughter is currently fighting cancer.  She had surgery today at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. CHOP is one of the best, if not the best, hospital in the country for children and I’m sure she is in good hands.

The Bengals have sold Still’s jersey’s with all profits going to the battle against pediatric cancer. Sean Payton, head coach of the New Orleans Saints, purchased 100 jerseys on his own.  Still posted a picture on his Instagram today of flowers, a stuffed bear, and other gifts sent over by the Philadelphia Eagles and Chip Kelly.

Check out this article for Still’s pep talk delivered to his daughter on the ride to the hospital and make sure you have tissues close. As a father, it tugs at my heart and I can’t imagine what he must be feeling tonight.  We are certainly sending thoughts and prayers their way.

Greater Berks Food Bank

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The Greater Berks Food Bank distributed seven million pounds of food last year. They are in the midst of a transition to a new warehouse that will cost almost $3 million to fund. Their programs assist in over three hundred programs including a weekly presence in local schools handing out food to students and serving meals. In a city where these meals may be the only complete ones they get in a week, it is vitally important.

Requests normally come from pantries, programs, and individuals in Schuylkill and Berks Counties. They will then distribute the food they have and collect from outside organizations. The need is consistent and growing.  Last year, one in five residents in the two counties served accessed food provided from GBFB. Hunger is a real problem, not just in the city but also in the suburbs with a new class of “working poor.”

You can find their website here including facts, figures, and donation information.

Soundtrack Inspiration:

Hillsong, This I Believe.  Val’s new favorite!

Surviving a Crisis of: Money

The day your bank account shows a $0.00 balance can be a humbling experience.

I remember working my first job as a teenager, getting paychecks, and having nothing to do with them.  I remember going to the mall to buy a cd (crazy, I know). You could save up for something you wanted, buy it, and start over again.

Things were simple.

As time passed, obligations increased. In the recession of 2008, millions of people lost their jobs. We had been long enough out of college and into a career that security felt like a guarantee.  Then, in a few months, it all fell apart. Val and I had to look at each other and face reality. We needed to restart and redefine our goals for the future.

We needed to change our view of money.

Money means different things for different people. There are children today being raised to worship the objects they have. It is the embodiment of the old line, “He who dies with the most toys wins.”

There are churches operating with this theme today, leaders talking about money every Sunday, pastors driving luxury vehicles and preaching a gospel of prosperity. Their God is a giant slot machine in the sky. Give to their church and God will give to you, the larger the amount, the better.

They are wrong.

If you are facing a crisis of money, here are two things to think about:

Hustle: Do a search online and you’ll find multiple resources for individuals looking to make extra money. There is a thriving gig-based economy across the digital universe. Have a talent? Someone out there is willing to pay you for it. This is a great time to start a business online.  Find your passion and make it work for you while providing a service to others. Picture yourself as your own boss. Become an entrepreneur. You can start today with a computer and internet connection.  The sky is the limit.

Serve:  In the midst of our money struggles, we would constantly look for a place to cut back. We saw the little we had and, like a child, grabbed and held it close. Jesus calls us to a different path.  He says to serve our brothers and sisters. Find a charity. Donate to your child’s school. Set up a tithe to your home church. Do what you can without expecting anything in return. Your giving can help to change your outlook on money.  Break the chains, have faith, and know that God provides.

Connected Scripture:

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:26

Soundtrack Inspiration:

A classic from Lifehouse. I’ve been in services with this song in worship.  It is the perfect combination of music, lyrics, and depth to draw you closer to God.

 

Surviving a Crisis of: Faith

I grew up in a traditional church environment.  Sunday services were an hour with a set amount of hymns (not songs) and a neat and tidy three-point sermon. I would get dressed up, attend the service, and have a late breakfast after. This was tradition.

Years later, I came to realize that this tradition set up a conditional faith.  If I would just be good, God would be on my side. Just do the right thing and the situations in life would fall my way, the outcomes favorable and numerous. It took college to start seeing hints of an alternative.

Val and I attended The Bridge, a college-age service in a church just down the road from West Chester University.  At the time, it was in its prime with two services getting five hundred students every week. The lead pastor was passionate, genuine, and engaging. Those nights carried us closer to God.

Then it happened.

Years later we were in the middle of transitioning from an unhealthy start-up church (that eventually closed) to a new one closer to our current house.  I was talking with the pastor of the outgoing church and he said, in conversation:

What gives you the right to be so damn judgmental?”

There I was, years after believing church to be a place where God would stay on my side if I stayed on the right side of the line, getting stung by a church leader.

I’m not the first, or the last, person to have this kind of experience. In that moment, my faith needed to be rebuilt, refined, and reborn. The process wasn’t easy and is still happening today.

I believe we are all works in progress and I know, in the midst of our issues, God is there.  We’ve called out to him and he has responded. I know his grace is real and, even when we take steps back, he is there to catch us.  He goes before us and stands behind. There are things to remember as you face a crisis of faith:

Investigate: Throughout the process of writing Overcome, I’ve conducted almost ten interviews so far. I’ve collected numerous accounts of God answering prayer, coming through to provide the exact things needed in the exact moment. He reaches into our reality, breaks through the veil, and touches our lives. Talk to your family, friends, and fellow church members. Research online. Use the stories, old and new, of real faith and let them lift you up.  Absorb what you find and you’ll notice your foundations growing firmer each day.

Instigate: Tell God your problems. Don’t use structured prayer. Take a moment away from your prayer journal.  Go to a quiet place and let it out. Scream, shout, cry, question, beg, plead, do whatever you need to do.  The important thing is that you move towards your creator. Have a conversation like he is standing next to you and remember that he actually is. He’s there in your darkness, in your questions, in the sleepless nights and miles walked in hallways. He’s there as you watch over your sick relative in the hospital, as you find out you’ve lost your job, as the principal calls you about your daughter.

You are never alone.

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Connected Scripture:

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:27

Soundtrack Inspiration:

Listen and take in the lyrics. It is the perfect song to remember when dealing with a crisis of faith.

 

Surviving Your 1/3rd Life Crisis

You’ve made it this far.  High school is a distant memory. College is gone and, just maybe, graduate school.  You’re on your own or married, kids or pets.

Then one day it hits.

Walking across the parking lot at work, the breeze catches an amber leaf as it dances in your direction. Mowing the lawn at dusk, the first wisp of wood smoke in the air. Sitting in a neighborhood cafe, cup of coffee in hand and novel in the other.

In these moments of peace, eternity sneaks up and taps you on the shoulder.

What are you doing? Where are you going? What have you done this far?

How will you impact the future?

For me, it was night.  These thoughts always came at night, with a quiet house, and the sounds of crickets coming through the windows. I would sit in my thoughts, fight emotional battles, weigh myself against peers and try to measure my value. Sleep felt like admitting defeat.  The sun would still come up and, somehow, I’d left unused minutes on the table that I could never get back.

These struggles come often at the end of your second and start of your third decade of life. The severity all depends on what we tell ourselves. We fall back on our foundations. The formative period in life is over. Now you are an adult. Now it gets serious. Now you contribute.

Everything counts.

In upcoming posts, we’ll examine the 1/3rd life crisis as men, women, married couples, parents, and believers. There are ways to make it through and it is a journey we all take together.

Connected Promise:

 “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5: 3-4

The dark nights of the soul lead to questions.  God can take your honesty (page through Psalms one day and check out David’s honesty).  As you progress, remember the verse above and the end result of hope. What more could we ask for as we proceed? Hold onto hope and never let it go.

Soundtrack Inspiration:

Phil Wickham, This is Amazing Grace. If you don’t know Wickham, download his latest album.  Great music and deep worship.

 

Picks of the Week- 9/22/2014

Scripture: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Our memory verse for the current message series. Always remember the freedom that comes through faith.

Book: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell.

David Mitchell is one of the writers who inspired me to write and chase my dream. Read his books, any of them, and you’ll come away amazed and inspired.  You can find his newest release here.

Worship Song:

We’ve had the chance to worship at church with Brad and Rebekah a few times and it is always a great experience. They are talented, passionate, and their music brings listeners closer to God.  This is one of my favorites, We Are Free.

Website: Entrepreneur On Fire

John Lee Dumas operates this site full of advice for those starting and running their own business.  He also posts his monthly income reports.  Check them out and know, if he can do it, so can you!

Family Activity: The Playground

We spent more than an hour tonight with friends at the playground behind Carter’s school.  The nights are getting cooler.  Throw on sweatshirts, hit the playground, and burn some energy.  You know, those slides, bars, and rock walls aren’t just for kids, right?

Marriage Activity: Sunday Drive

Find your local woods and go for a drive.  The trees will start to change and take note of nature’s canvas and, while you’re at it, put away the cell phones and talk!

Val’s Style Pick of the Week:

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Redken Work Hard Molding Paste for Men. A great, versatile product that lasts all day and stands up to the winds of Fall.

Val’s Bag of the Week:

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Cinch Sac: So cute and sporty! Toss all your items for ballet, soccer, school and sleepovers into this bag, pull the drawstring and you’re good to go! There are so many patterns and colors to choose from to make it uniquely yours. Measures approx: 18.5”H x 14.5”W  You can find it here for $20.00. You can find other specials for September and the entire new catalog for the month at Val’s personal Thirty-One site.

Let’s Talk About Sex Part 2

Earlier this week, Craig Gross, pastor at XXX Church in Las Vegas, posted a blog entry about seven keys to great sex in marriage. Before I jump into my response to his post, let me offer some background.  XXX Church, as you can imagine, offers services to individuals dealing with pornography addiction. They attend trade shows and hand out Bibles to adult film actors and actresses.  The man who founded XXX Church with Gross, Jake Larson, has spoken at our church more than once.  He’s a dynamic speaker and I’ve had the pleasure of working with him before on a side project. So, I’ve known and respected their work, and acknowledge the value it offers.

Then I read Gross’s post.

I’m not going to rehash every detail, but there are some things that stood out to me.  I believe he meant well but, more than once, he was off base.

I’ll save you time with this, don’t bother with Gross’s article if:

1-You have more than one kid who takes your time and energy through the day then has trouble sleeping themselves at night (he advises sex twice a week at minimum).

2-You don’t have the money or time to rent a hotel room (he suggests this).

3-You have excuses like a physical ailment or physical or emotional insecurity (his advice is to get over it, work out, or get counseling).

4-You, as a man, ever hesitate in initiating things (he says to not worry about your wife, just take it off the table and initiate as much as you want).

He does make a valid point about connecting with your spouse and that is key. His post has inspired me to offer my own take on things.  Here are some thoughts for the rest of us with issues, kids, and actual lives inside real marriages:

1/ Creation: I believe we are all called to create.  Carter loves to draw, write, and tell stories (don’t know where he gets it!). Your love life inside marriage should be an act of creation. Take the time to possess each moment and make it something new. Pay attention, even if the lights are off (as Gross says to never do in his post). When you must make the effort to steal your intimacy in the midst of stresses, make it count.

2/ Empathy: Give something to each other.  It doesn’t have to be physically. I’ve written before about sex being a commodity. To many people use it for power over their partners. Want to increase intimacy? We have a front door that needs fixing.  Today I handled it (after putting it off for two weeks, as per my usual home projects). Val appreciated the effort.  When you start small with giving, it can lead to larger results. We all love to reward ourselves. Once in a while, reward those closest to you.

 

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3/Foundation: You know what builds a marriage? Struggle. You know what builds a family? Adversity. You grow together and you don’t know what you have until you are pressed. Great sex comes with the victories, with the moments of joy that can spark a connection when you least expect it, when you see the look in their eyes that says We did this together.

As you start the grind of a new week, think about your relationship and your family.  What could you do to make it better?  Every step is a positive one.  Take the time, pay in your effort, and you will see the rewards.

~Matt

Soundtrack inspiration: Did this song at church today.  One of my favorites, Hillsong’s Cornerstone.

Feel Good Friday 9/19/2014

The NFL has recently struggled with a string of high-profile domestic abuse cases.  You can find one of my posts about it here. The league has faced criticism about the handling of the cases and rightfully so. From Ray Rice to Greg Hardy and Jonathan Dwyer, these cases are now coming out of the woodwork and the league will need to quickly form an acceptable response.  Today, news came out that they have partnered with the National Domestic Violence Hotline. This is a small step, but a positive one.  If the attention on domestic violence can save just one more victim, it will be worth it.  The league is also instituting education for every team surrounding domestic violence and sexual abuse. You can find an article about the partnership here.

Inspirational quote to start the weekend:

“No one rises to the occasion. You always sink to your level of training.” ~Chip Kelly, head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles

I’m a huge fan of Kelly’s and this quote stuck with me.  As a believer, father, husband, writer, and entrepreneur, it is a valuable thought. You must build your base because, as the challenges come in waves, you will always react from your foundation. Are you building on rock? Sand? Does your foundation need to be torn down and rebuilt?

 

Berks Women in Crisis

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Berks Women in Crisis (WIC) operates more than one location in the city of Reading.  They offer services that include counseling, housing, and legal assistance.  They work with women, and occasionally men, in crisis situations of abuse. WIC will go to any place of employment, school, or organization wanting to have an educational presentation on abuse and assist with training individuals in identifying abuse. One of their largest challenges is getting the word out.

They have no budget for marketing and must rely on word of mouth and community events throughout the year. When the national spotlight is on domestic abuse, it is valuable to know that there is always help.  You can find more information on their website about current programs, support, and giving opportunities.

Soundtrack Inspiration: Hillsong’s Amazing Grace, Broken Vessels