A Post for My Son’s Bully

Carter is doing kindergarten this year for a second time.  He’s a mid-August birthday and we started him too young last year for his first shot at elementary school.  He’s asked us, more than once, why he isn’t in first grade with his friends.  This morning he was really upset when Val dropped him off at school.  I called and talked to his guidance counselor.  She talked to him and he seemed to feel better.

Then we had baseball practice.

A kid he was in class with last year is on the team and this kid does not let up with the questions as to why Carter isn’t in first grade.  Today it escalated to insults. “Carter can’t hit. Carter can’t throw.  Carter’s a failure (yes, he actually said it.) He’s a big crybaby, etc.”

I was pitching when this was going on and I can’t tell you what it was like throwing to Carter while he was standing there trying his hardest not to cry. As a dad, saying it breaks your heart is an understatement and this is why:

I was picked on in school and, to this day, I can remember every moment of it.

Carter and I stopped and got dinner after practice.  I asked Carter if he likes this kid and he said yes, they are friends, but he doesn’t like when he is mean.

He has his mother’s heart and a soul that cares about the world, even one who hurts him.

So, for this kid, this bully, I have a message.

You will not win.

You will be overcome by the gracious heart of a child willing to look past your antics and be your friend.

You will plant a seed in Carter that grows his heart even wider and deeper, allowing him to love others and stand up when he sees someone being bullied because of empathy, because he was there once when you put him there.

You will be a catalyst that makes my son a better man, father, and husband.

You will not break his soul, deaden his passion, or make him feel like lesser of a person.

You will be a teaching point, a moment in his past that he can learn from and use to build himself into a stronger person.

The hardest thing, as a parent, is to find a balance.  My gut is to grab control and stamp it out immediately. I also know I can’t always be with him, that he’s on his own at school five days a week and will need to navigate his social situation.  This is new territory.

Before bed, I knelt before him and promised him that I would always be there. I told him I would look out for him and that he was the more important than he would ever know.  He hugged me and said, “I love you daddy” and that is all the fuel I need to wake up in the morning and do it all again tomorrow.

~Matt

Soundtrack inspiration:

 

Picks of the Week-9/15/2014

Scripture: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

We live in a world where truth can seem subjective and, yet, we know the truth and it will always set you free.

Book: The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life into a Work of Art by Erwin McManus

McManus is the pastor of Mosaic church in Los Angeles. Pick up his books if you can.  He’s a thinker and leader with a valuable voice for the church. You can find this new release here.

Worship Song:

Chris Tomlin has a new cd out this month.  We’ve seen him twice in concert and each experience has been an amazing encounter of worship.

Website: Side Hustle Nation.

Great resources for entrepreneurs starting their businesses while working full-time. I learn something with every visit.

Family Activity: The Beach

If you can swing it, head down for a beach weekend in September. The crowds have lessened and the weather is still warm enough to enjoy it. It is a great time to bring the kids and actually have space to walk around and see the sights.

Marriage Activity: Work it Out

With the passing of summer, this is the time to start into exercising. Find a sport and do it together.  Get outside and run, hit the playgrounds.  Make the most of the good weather. Set a goal and chase it down as a team.

Val’s Style Pick of the Week:

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Redken Strong Hold Anti-humidity Finishing Spray. This is the time of year where the wind and environment can impact hair.  This is a great product for anyone needing more control with their hair.

 

Val’s Bag of the Week:

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Littles Carry-All Caddy. Great choice for supplies, toys, or even a gift bag.  You can find it here for $12.00. You can find other specials for September and the entire new catalog for the month at Val’s personal Thirty-One site.

This is Grace

It was a dark and stormy night. Thunder exploded. Wind ripped across the hillside. The lights from torches danced and struggled to survive. Flashes of lightning provided glimpses of suffering on the three faces suspended above the crowd.

The crosses were six beams of wood, bonded together two by two with the strength of the Roman Empire. Soldiers stood watch and others divided up clothes from the prisoners. You are on the right, arms and legs stretching, chest constricting, and your attention focused on the man in the center. The crowd circles around him.

When he speaks, his words carry on the breeze. The ground shakes. A small sign hangs above his head reading King of the Jews.

You can only see the side of his face, blood dripping from his brow in lines of crimson so bright it glows.

You’ve heard his story. They’ve all heard his story. Something in your heart cries out.

The air is electric. The crux of history, past, present, and future hangs in this moment.

You inhale, lunges fighting for air, and speak:

“Jesus, remember me…”

 

This man was not a:

republican.

He did not:

tithe 10% of his income.

He did not:

support the right to carry a gun.

He was not:

religious.

He never:

sat through a life group.

His Facebook page did not have 1000 friends.

His blog posts were never featured.

His tweets never trended.

His novel wasn’t in the top ten list.

His house didn’t have two floors, a large yard, a yellow lab and a white picket fence.

Sound like anyone you know?

“Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  ~Luke 23:43

This is freedom from religion. This is an encounter with the one true God, the hand of the divine ripping away the barrier to dip into our reality. This is life with the power to transform, to break chains, to destroy addictions, to save families, to change the world.

This is Grace.

~Matt

Soundtrack inspiration: A song that says it all.

 

 

Feel Good Friday 9/12/2004

On August 25th, at a shooting range in Arizona, instructor Charles Vacca was accidentally shot and killed by a young girl operating an Uzi. The girl’s mother caught the shooting on her cell phone as she was recording her daughter at the time. Vacca’s four children have penned a letter to the girl and it includes thoughts like this:

“We think about you. We are worried about you. We pray for you, and we wish you peace. Our dad would want the same thing.”

Imagine both sides of this story.  The children on will live with it for the rest of their lives.  I’m curious about the idea that kids as young as nine are allowed to shoot an automatic weapon at a range but, the sentiments of the victim’s kids are what should shine at this moment.  How many of us could say or do the same if we had lost a loved one?

I’ve said before that children are the future of this country and, when I read this, I believe it just may be true.  You can find the story here.

 

Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center

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Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center is located across from the Reading Main Library on 5th Street in the city of Reading.  I met with the director, Sherry Camelleri, on a hot summer afternoon in late July.  Mercy opened in 1990. It offers parental education courses, pregnancy tests, information on adoption and medical services, liquid formula, shoes, and clothing for children.  The staff consists of Camelleri, her assistant, and a crew of volunteers.  They receive no funding from the government and every item of supplies is donated.

When we toured the clothing room, most of the bins and racks had a good selection of various sizes.  One bin stood empty and waiting for new donations of socks.

“Winter coats are gold here,” she told me, “we had a family of four sending only one child to school each day in the winter because they had one coat to pass around.  The three other kids stayed home.”

Mercy serves wide range of ages, from teenagers dealing with pregnancy to those later on in life. The doors are also open to men facing unplanned pregnancies who have the desire to better themselves as fathers.  Camelleri’s passion is to meet people where they are, earn their trust, and make their lives better.

Her drive is for the children and, if your are looking to support a valuable outreach, please consider donating here. You can check the main page of Mercy’s website for available services, hours, and contact information.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration: A great song to start the weekend

Ray Rice and T Ball Practice

I picked up Carter from school, drove through Burger King to get him a quick dinner, and went to the practice field.  We were running a skills clinic with another team. Twenty-five kids, a handful of coaches, a bunch of baseballs, gloves and bats, and the end of a day in the fall.

I love baseball.

Carter and I share these nights together. I pitched to him, watched him hit, throw, and catch.  After practice he ran and played with his friends.  We went to Wawa, got a pair of sandwiches, and came back to the house.  He sat next to me at the table and we ate together.

My mind flashed back to nights with my dad, eating dinner next to him and feeling proud of where I was and still trying to work out the mystery of the father-son dynamic.

We watched some television, read a pair of books, and I put him to bed.

He looked at me with his hazel eyes, golden blonde hair, and smile just like his mother’s and said, “I love you.”

I sit here and wonder what he will become:

A gentleman? One who opens doors and pulls out chairs? Who picks up checks and helps elderly women with their shopping bags in a parking lot? Who donates to charities, his church, and his kids’ elementary school?

A husband who loves his wife and never raises a hand to her.

A man of faith, of belief in the good in people and a backbone to face struggle and suffering. An activist working to make things right in his own corner of the universe.

A man who reads books before he sees the movie.

A man who reads poetry for the beauty of language and music of the soul.

A father who takes the time to take his son to baseball practice, get sandwiches, and eat dinner together.

A father who doesn’t get lost in his cell phone, or job, or social life.

A servant of his wife and children and a leader of his household.

These things swirl in my mind as he sleeps on his Spongebob pillow and I realize the depth of grace and blessing that comes with being a parent, being a father, being a man with the chance to pass on values to his son.

Carter, I’ll do my best.  Forgive me when I fail, stick with me when I slip up, and know I’d do anything for you and that every time you tell me you love me I steal the moment and lock it deep inside my soul as it is a passing glimpse of Heaven.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration: One of Val’s favorites

When Life Gets Heavy

I am a huge Al Pacino fan. I’ll watch his movies whenever they are on and I hope to pass on my passion to my sons one day so they can appreciate great acting.  One of his movies, The Devil’s Advocate, is a modern twist on Paradise Lost. Keanu Reeves plays a Florida defense lawyer who starts the movie making a questionable moral choice to defend a client he knows who is guilty.

He wins the case. Pacino, playing John Milton (the screenwriter had to stretch for that one), is the head of a large New York City firm.  He recruits Reeves to his firm and destroys his life leading to a climax and a reveal of Milton’s true identity. There’s a scene where the two actors are talking about a legal contract and Pacino says:

“Pressure changes everything. Some people, you squeeze ‘em, they focus. Others fold.  Can you summon your talent at will?  Can you deliver on a deadline? Can you sleep at night?”

There are times when life gets heavy. When you start your own business, the mountain can seem too tall, the end result too far off on the horizon. When you chase your dream, your legs can get tired.  Let’s break down this quote and pull out the value for dreamers, creators, and thinkers like you and me.

Pressure changes everything: How did it feel when you told the first person that you were going to chase your dream? Putting your goals out there creates automatic accountability, whether in business, writing, or life. You will face pressure and it will change everything.   When you decide to live, forces will mount against you and that leads us forward.

Some people, you squeeze ‘em, they focus. Others fold: Here’s the key section.  How do you handle pressure?  Val and I have faced challenges over our past fifteen years together. We’ve stared down money, health, and parenting issues.  We had to take everything in stride and keep moving. Be like the shark; never stop swimming. The sun will always rise tomorrow and I’ve watched it after many late nights scared of what was to come.

Can you summon your talent at will?: In today’s world, this is the new currency.  We are past factory jobs that last a lifetime and retirement that will provide until death. The age of security is over.  Contract marketing is king.  It is not what have you done, but what can you do for me right now?

Credits and experience don’t mean anything if you are the new kid with a viable, valuable, and sustainable idea.

Can you deliver on a deadline?: If you can’t, there is a world of hard-working, creative people who can. Time management is key.  Make a goal and a promise and stick to it.

Can you sleep at night?: Do you have peace? Can you hit the pillow knowing you accomplished something? Do you end each day noting a small victory? It can be anything from a new sale, contract, lead, or project to working out and eating right. Give yourself credit and use it for motivation when the next sun rises.

If you like this post, please share it with friends and let me know!

Soundtrack Inspiration:

 

~Matt

Picks of the Week 9/8/2014

(As a side note, any products mentioned below are not paid endorsements. Val’s Thirty-One recommendations are part of her consultant business. Everything else listed are our honest choices to improve your week!)

Scripture: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

One of my favorite verses and a cornerstone of our journey as a family.  Jeremiah is also one of my favorite books in the Bible.  He’s one of the guys who laid it out honestly and his words speak to anyone going through a struggle in their lives.

Book: Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

I found Donald Miller’s work at a point in my life where my faith was changing.  This book details his own path of belief as a college student and his attempts to figure out this thing we call faith.  Miller is an author and speaker worth following on all forms of social media.  Check out his book and you will find yourself asking deeper questions of faith.  You can find it here.

Worship Song:

Kristian Stanfill is coming to your area as part of the Passion 2014 tour. If you are not familiar with the Passion worship albums, download them as soon as you can.  They are filled with great music that brings you closer to God.

Website: Writing.com. When I started writing, this site was a lifeline.  They provide online workshops, portfolios, critiques, and readings.  You can spend hours reading work and helping other writers improve their craft.  They have contests and daily writing prompts to help defeat writer’s block.  It is a great introduction to the world of writing.

Family Activity: Pick your own apples.

We are nearing the time of year where local orchards are letting people pick their own apples.  Most do this throughout the growing season but, in the fall, there is something special with walking down lanes of apple trees and filling a basket. Get as many as possible and pick up some fresh cider on the way out. Our boys love it and your kids will too.

Marriage Activity: Find the trails.

There is no better time of year to search out your local hiking trails.  Trees are changing and the weather is moving towards more temperate days.  If you’re in for a challenge, head to some steeper elevations.  In our times of stress, we always loved getting outside for a walk in nature and losing ourselves to the beauty of creation.

Val’s Style Pick of the Week:

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A shout-out for the guys.  You can’t beat shampoo with the name Clean Brew. Redken makes quality products for men and this is one of the more popular selections.

 

Val’s Bag of the Week:

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The Oh-Snap Bin. These are great for storage and include snaps on the side where multiple bins can be joined together.  They are only $10.00. Trust me, you can never have enough storage!  You can find them here. You can find other specials for September and the entire new catalog for the month at Val’s personal Thirty-One site.

Feel Good Friday 9-5-14

On Fridays, in this new blog feature,  I will highlight a positive news story, article, or post. I’ll also highlight a local charity that will be part of Overcome when it is published.

The NFL isn’t always known for life-affirming actions.  Players struggle with the law. They can suffer serious injuries.  They make more in a season than most people do in a lifetime while playing a schoolyard game. This week, the Cincinnati Bengals cut and resigned defensive tackle Devon Still to their practice squad.

This happens all the time in the league, but Still’s story has a twist. His daughter, four-year-old Leah was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in June.  The team signed him to help pay for the girl’s medical treatment.  You can see an article and video piece from Good Morning America here.

 

Hope Rescue Mission

645 North Sixth Street • Reading, PA 19601
Phone (610) 375-4224 • E-Mail hopeforreading@gmail.com

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Hope was the first organization to reply to my request for a tour and interview.  The building, a former corporate property for the Reading Railroad, houses almost seventy beds spread over a dorm space and transitional housing. They have a library, chapel, cafeteria, and computer lab. They offer training in discipleship and job skills. I met with Robert Turchi, the director, and Frank Grill, the associate director. Grill took me on a tour of the buildings and his passion for the men they house was evident from the start of our conversation.

Hope also runs a thrift store and wood shop. They refurbish furniture, sell and recycle wood pallets, and operate gardens to supply vegetables in the summer. Every item is donated, from the stock of the thrift store to the food in the cafeteria. The men are trained and given jobs to offset the cost of their housing.  The average water bill for a winter season is around $18,000 dollars.

They receive no government or city support.

As I walked through, I spoke to the men and listened to their stories.  There are amazing accounts of losing everything and redefining their identities. Some of the guys were at the top of their fields and, through addictions or other factors, ended up in jail or on the streets.  Hope is making a difference in the lives of the men it houses and the city it serves. Please consider making a difference and helping them out.

You can find their website here with photos, media, staff biographies, needs, and ways to give.

If you like this post, please share with your friends and family!

~Matt

Back to School Part 2: Surviving New Teachers

In this post of our marriage and family thread, we look at the next level of back to school: surviving the new teachers.

I remember the first week of third grade.  That seems like an eternity in the past, but I can see it today.  The teacher was a veteran, someone who should have retired years before. I walked home and collapsed on the couch, tired of the yelling, work, and restrictions.  She was brutal.  She had our whole class writing sentences a hundred times for punishment.

I survived but, at the time, the positivity of school turned into stress and that changes everything for a student.

By now, kids have spent almost a week of the new year.  The get-to-know-you exercises are over.  Seats are assigned and work has started.  As parents, we face the challenge of not being in the classroom. Val and I were both nervous about Carter’s teachers.  These people will influence your kids for months and they will remember them for a long time.

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If you are worried about the year, here are some useful ideas to keep in mind as you listen to your child answer the golden question, “How was school today?”

  • Ask for information: Every assignment should have a valid assessment that is clearly explained.  If a paper comes back with a low grade, ask to see the grading scale. Find out expectations of large projects. You have a right to know why your kids are doing something and how they will be graded.
  • It is all about the test: Ever since Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind, and other education reforms of the past two presidential administrations, funding for schools have been hooked to test results. In kindergarten, they train students to fill out bubbles on test forms. Assignments are often copied from the state assessment tests. Your son or daughter’s performance is money in the eyes of the district, not necessarily the teachers, but definitely the district.
  • Don’t be that parent: Word spreads. I spent a semester student teaching in a local high school.  Believe me, if your child has caused a problem last year, the next group of teachers will know. If you complained to the school board, they know. If you reported a teacher to the superintendent, they know.
  • Know how to complain: Even with what I said above, there are valid issues to address when they occur.  If your child is harassed, bullied, threatened, or discriminated against, bring it up. There is a chain of authority.  Go to the principals, guidance counselors, or department heads. Be their advocate and know you always have a right to visit a classroom.
  • Be present: Visit the classroom. Email the teachers. Volunteer at activities. Go to the football game. Sell food, candy bars, candles, movies, or whatever they ask.  Go to board meetings.  Read the papers that are sent home. Take an active role and your child will know you care.

The school year will have ups and downs.  If you keep these things in mind, you can help ease the ride and make it better for your kids.

~Matt and Val

 

The Secret to Getting Rich

I love to write.  I love writers.  In my time at Fairfield University, I made many friends and had mentors who are some of the most skilled writers I know.  I believe in the power of the written word.  On many evenings, during the residencies, people would sit and talk about the big contract, Oprah’s book list, and seeing our work on the shelves at Barnes and Noble or downloaded in the nearest Kindle.

It took one phone call to change my opinion.

Last winter, I had a forty-five minute conversation with a literary agent while in my hotel room during a snow-dusted winter’s night.  He started off telling me that he was going to offend me.  That’s a great way to lead into a conversation.

Can you imagine how it went?

After pointing out all the work I had to do and my lack of skill, he ended the call.  I hung up and laid on the bed.  I looked at the ceiling and wondered what the hell I was doing.  Who did I think I was trying to see this through?

Why did I want to be a writer?

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In the pages of Manhood, Terry Crews talks about getting cut by multiple NFL teams and how he had to learn about the coldness of the business.  Last night I read a line that has stuck in my head.  He said that, during his struggles to build a NFL career, he learned a key life lesson:

Never make a decision based on money.

Think about that for a second.  How many minutes of the day do you think about money? How many seconds? The stack of bills can feel like a mountain. The calls from creditors can seem unending. The money is never enough.

So how is his challenge even possible?

  • Consider the bigger picture- What does your choice mean for you and the ones you love? Considering a job change, a new purchase, a big decision? Think about who you are doing it for and how it will change your life.
  • Know God’s Promises– Consider the birds of the air and the flowers of the field.  Jesus told us how they are provided for and how much more important we are.  Pray God’s promises in your life. No, he’s not a slot machine. Yes, he will provide. He knows your needs.  Have faith, even when it is a challenge.
  • Give- Needs are all around us. We know about tithing but also look in your community. Search online for charities. Talk to your friends. Jesus told a rich man to sell all his possessions. To quote a bad cliché, there’s no hearse with a U-Haul behind it.

I’m taking all three of these to heart with Overcome, the first book from P356. I’ve partnered with Berks Coalition to End Homelessness and I’ll have some exciting information coming soon about the new goals for this book and how the Coalition will use all profits earned from publication to make a difference for local families.

P356 is growing and the foundation of this growth is writing to fight the battle against poverty. Stories are activism. They can and they will make a difference.

That is why I write.

Can you imagine never making a choice based on money?

With God, all things are possible.

~Matt