Here I Am, Send Me

This season, in our lives, is one of shifting times on multiple fronts. We’re facing developments professionally and personally.  The boys are changing and growing. Aiden has fully embraced the terrible 2’s.

We are riding the waves of life. In these moments it can be a challenge to keep focused and not get frustrated.

here i am, send me...

Every moment I first sit at the keyboard, I send up a silent prayer.

Please let the words make a difference and let me never forget to tell my story.

I was seated in the office of County Commissioner Christian Leinbach the other morning.  I asked him about his motivations and background as a government official who is also a believer.  He quoted a pair of verses from Proverbs 31:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
    defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Everyone deserves a voice at the table, even if they can’t speak.  Our job as writers is to give them voice and let their words take flight.  We are tasked with making words that change things, whether it is inspiring our spouse, children, coworkers, or the public.

Those of us who are genuine do it to make a difference, they do it in the dark nights before selling a single copy or putting a single page in front of a reader and waiting for their response.

We also must remember that our story is our own. The gut instinct is to find value in comparisons. The secret is, they don’t matter.  You were given a story to tell. It is different from every other one on the planet.  When you try to change your story to fit a different one, you lose authenticity.

In the uncertain and tumultuous times, you press on.  Raise your hand in the static. Answer the calling.

Go forward.

Pressure is progress. Change is good. The future will be here before we open our eyes to recognize it.

Don’t miss your chance.

~Matt

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New Publication

words can change the world

We write for two reasons.

1-To Be Heard

2-To Change Things

I started P356 with this goal in mind, that the words would make a difference.  Today marks the publication of my next e-book, Lazarus Art: Calling Christian Writing Back From the Dead.

“For too long the world of Christian writing has found itself in the margins. It is time to reach for a higher standard of creation. Using the Biblical story of Lazarus for inspiration, this book examines three critical areas for improvement and challenges writers of all levels to push themselves deeper into their work. Christian writing can change with some valuable first steps and find itself with new and greater audiences. The time to change is now.”

Lazarus Art

You can download the book here.

A portion of any proceeds will go to support Hope Rescue Mission, the next official Community Partner for P356.  The men at Hope are changing lives in this city on a daily basis and I am honored that they allowed me to visit and include their efforts in the current project. You can find more information about their work on the Community Partners page.

As we enter Easter Week, let us not forget the meaning beyond the candy and egg hunts.  We are called to follow, to celebrate the one who lived change on a daily basis to the point where death was no longer the final answer.

Never forget there is hope, light in the darkness, and freedom for those who search.

Sunday’s coming.

~Matt

Inspiration Point

A new post series will be starting today and continuing on the weekends.  They’ll be a short hit of inspiration, from an image to line of a song or video.  My hope is that they’ll serve as a moment of encouragement for the the new week to come.

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A line from Val’s favorite worship song, Oceans. When the storm is raging, don’t forget to keep your eyes above the waves to the change that is coming.

~Matt

A Glass Jar City

The sky was the color of slate, rain tapping against the windows.  I was seated in the office of Peter Barbey, CEO of the Reading Eagle Company.  The organization produces print and online media for the Reading and Berks County region. The room is a page from Mad Men, furnished from a different time when journalists could not conceive of a concept like digital content.

Barbey’s family has roots in the area going back through two centuries.  His interest is professional and personal.  He is a student of history, politics, and numbers, the perfect combination for a captain of media.  We flank a small circular table, issues of Berks Country and Business Weekly framed over Barbey’s right shoulder on the wall.

“Reading is a glass jar city,” he says, picking up an imaginary jar in his hand. “We put all the poverty, addiction, homelessness and other stuff in one spot, flip the jar,” he turns his hand over, ” and say ‘deal with it.'”

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Throughout the journey of this book, the Problem in Reading has taken many forms.  The list is lengthy and detailed.  Industry has fled to the suburbs. The school district is struggling with a lower tax base. Crime increased with poverty. Immigration has changed the face of the businesses and streets.

The deepest issue may be in mind of those under and around the jar.  How do we break down walls and heal wounds? How do we have the difficult conversations about race and responsibility?

How do we change the soul of a city founded before the Revolutionary War?

The process will not be easy.  It will take men like Barbey with the resources and connections to get the ball rolling, challenge old standards, and usher the city into a new era.

It will take time and, at the moment, time may not be on Reading’s side. The glass walls will shatter when the tide turns.  Until then, we stand on the shore and wait, watching the waves crest on the horizon.

~Matt

 

What is at Stake?

During my time at Fairfield University’s MFA program, I had the chance to work with many talented faculty members.  Lary Bloom, a veteran journalist and writer, manned the world of nonfiction.  He always asked students to identify what is at stake with a story? What matters?

Why should anyone care what we have to say?

Last night I read through this section about fear in Pressfield’s The War of Art:

Fear of the consequences of following our heart. Fear of bankruptcy, fear of poverty, fear of insolvency. Fear of groveling when we try to make it on our own, and of groveling when we give up and come crawling back to where we started. Fear of being selfish, of being rotten wives or disloyal husbands; fear of failing to support our families, of sacrificing their dreams for ours…Fear of throwing away the education, the training, the preparation that those we love have sacrificed so much for, that we ourselves have worked our butts off for. Fear of launching into the void, of hurtling too far out there; fear of passing some point of no return, beyond which we cannot recant, cannot reverse, cannot rescind, but must live with this cocked-up choice for the rest of our lives.

Every line made sense. I’ve felt the sting of the emotions and worry in the dark times.  He continues this section by saying that none of these match up with the “Master Fear, the Mother of all Fears that’s so close to us that even when we verbalize it we don’t believe it.”

Fear That We Will Succeed.

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Success pulls us out of our comfort zone.  It makes us into the person we’ve chased since we were children.  It is the culmination of our efforts and the force allowing us to change the world. We surpass the expectations of our teachers, parents, friends and loved ones. As you go forward, embrace success and give yourself permission to stand out.

Take the risk. Make a difference.

Break from the crowd.

See where it takes you.

~Matt

Unlived Lives

At the moment I’m working my way through Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. It is one of those books that I had heard about before and waited way too long to pick up.  Pressfield talks about the Resistance and what we face on a daily basis when we choose to do something creative and authentic. It is the counter voice, the part that tries to tell you to relax and not risk it.

In one of his small chapters, he talks about what happens to the brain when a person is given a critical medical diagnosis like cancer. Their mind shifts from the ego to the self and the thoughts of missed opportunities emerge. Suddenly, we look outwards and not in. We concern ourselves with the greater good and finding meaning.

Part of this comes with reconciling our “unlived lives.”

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What about that painting you never completed from college? The book never finished? That missions trip to Africa that seemed like a one-time opportunity? What tugged at your heart in the quiet of the night?

What inspiration lit a spark inside that you are remembering as you read this?

Why not chase it now?

I think of the years leading up to this day, having a rough idea that I wanted to write but not knowing what that meant, going through school, getting married, and having kids. Faith was an accepted concept.

I had an unlived life waiting.

In the last few months on this project, the life is taking shape. The focus is moving outwards. The words flow with new inspiration. Faith has shifted to a live and electric pulse that cuts across the reality of this city and into this family. It is a process. It is not easy.

It is always worth it.

~Matt

You Will Change The World

Reggie Dabbs, one of my favorite speakers, has visited our church a few times over the years.  He was a product of an encounter between his mother and a man she was sleeping with to get money for groceries.  No one, at this moment, speaks to more high school kids in this country than Reggie. His message of love changes the lives of students, teachers, and their communities.

Last week I met a young man working with We Agape You in the city of Reading.  He had grown up with violence, crime, gangs, drugs, and homelessness.  Now he delivers food to those in need and is building a new life for his wife and soon-to-be child.

Val has had clients who were sick and going through some tough times in their lives.  For the hour or two they are in her chair, she makes them feel valued and welcomed.  She helps them see their inner and outer beauty.

Thursday night Carter and I talked about school.  Out of curiosity, I asked him if there is anyone he doesn’t like.  He said, “Dad, I want to be friends with everyone.”

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My visceral response to this is varied.  Ever have one of those Moses moments?  You know, where you tell God you aren’t fit for the calling?  You make up excuses.  Reality, the reflection in the mirror, seems to speak against your heart.

That small voice inside prompts with options.  When was the last time you…sat on the couch and relaxed, had a drink, fed the addiction? Shouldn’t you do something for yourself every now and then? You could always start tomorrow.

Nobody will buy that story/product anyway.

We must turn the focus around.  It’s funny, when I feel the insecurity the most is when I’m focusing on myself. Worry comes in waves.

The fact is, we are not enough. We can’t do it alone.

God, as Moses was told, designed us for a purpose. We are to change the world, to take our stories and tell them to provide hope for those going through the same. We are to be in a community of action and faith, belief and boots on the ground.

We must unite across location, race, economic class, political party, and agenda, holding hands not pointing fingers.

There is someone out there who needs you today.  They need you right now.  They may be a friend or neighbor.  They may be family. Drive to the city and you’ll see them on the corners or waiting outside the shelter. It is not easy but, if you step out in faith you will see God’s hand in action.

When we were driving around Reading this week, we were talking about shelters and the need for work and self-worth. The young man I mentioned above said this,

“Too many places give you a pillow and say, ‘get comfortable.'”

How comfortable are you today?

~Matt

Finding Home

“That was a tent city over there.” I look towards a small park tucked in the midst of a block across from where we were standing. “They cleared it out, called in buses and moved the people to housing.”

Randy Simmons had just parked his white van at the entrance to the Senior Center. It was a clear morning, the sun cutting shafts through the trees and a wind blowing crisp enough to remind you that spring was not here, not in this city, not yet.

We unloaded food, selections ranging from vegetables and fruit to sandwiches, meat, and snacks. They would go to help feed more than eighty residents of the facility. The food was spread on tables and separated by employees. Residents gather and wait as a young man traveling with us, one of the success stories, offers a prayer.

It is a run Simmons does on a weekly basis.

We cross the city, stopping outside City Lights shelter. Today’s construction project is assisting with the clean up on six floors of a building that had just suffered fire damage.  A crowd gathers on the sidewalk. Simmons explains the job and the location.  It will bring some activity, a little money, and lunch.

It will provide a sense of purpose.

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Our last stop is the building itself.  I watch the workers go inside. A Jeep pulls into the parking area.  George and Nancy Lennert, a husband and wife team of real estate person/writer, and entrepreneurs , exit the van. We shake hands and talk about the story of Reading.

Simmons hurries from the lot, driving to Lowe’s to buy twenty brooms so his guys can work.  Standing around does nothing.  The work will always be there and the ones willing to step up and take the job can make a difference.  Some will get hired and maybe grab the foundation they need.

We join hands in a circle, feet standing on muddied ground and heads bowed. Nancy (you can find her book here) offers a prayer, a genuine cry to see change in the city, for our words and actions to make a difference in the lives around us. The building behind us will become apartments, homes for those who need them.

The symbolism cuts in many ways.  We are all burned buildings, our past behind us and a massive cleaning effort working in our hearts. We are projects and it takes the work of many dedicated men and women to finish the job.

I realized, as I drove away, that I had found a home.  I found the men and women I needed to work with, to be around.  I had found the ones I could help with these words, with this book.  I had seen and felt God’s hand moving, the power of his love flowing in the streets.

This was purpose, the reason behind the story.  This was power.

This is faith.

~Matt

 

Finding Mystery in Marriage

Val and I have spent sixteen years together and, in this May, we’ll be married eight years. As I normally do in the mornings, I found myself browsing the news today. I came across an article titled 9 Small, But Overlooked Things That Put Your Marriage At Risk Every Day. Besides the title that, somehow, made it through an editor, the author had some interesting points.  You can find it here.

The author, Suzanne Jannese, writes about talking to each other, offering encouragement, and uplifting your spouse.   One thing she mentions that stuck with me was a point about reaching the Roommate Stage.

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When the kids arrive, the Roommate Stage is way too easy to find.  We burn our energies at jobs and childcare. We run to the playground at night, chase kids for two hours, and come home exhausted.  Date Nights fade from the calendar as one week goes to the next. You start to finish thoughts and sentences for each other.

You move from trying to impress your spouse to pure survival mode.

Finding the mystery in marriage is important and not easy. The Date Nights must reappear to the calendar. Whether a local restaurant or a big time concert. Go somewhere new and discover your next romantic dinner.

Work on yourselves physically and emotionally. Val and I have started a program recently.  It may only be an hour or so a few times a week but, it is time we are guaranteed together.

The key is to have a foundation before you rediscover the mystery. Comfort is not a bad thing. All relationships have peaks and valleys. Some days, the mystery is how Val has the patience to deal with me and the boys. If you don’t have a well of love and connection to draw from, the search for mystery can put lethal stress on a marriage.

I’m blessed to say I’ve found a partner to search with me.

~Matt

The Intersection of Faith and Action

I remember the night like it was yesterday.  Val and I had just started dating.  We were both in high school.  I drove her around in my mother’s green Mazda.  It was winter, bitterly cold, and we were stuck.

The area around our home town consisted of a railroad track that twisted and turned through the suburbs.  An urban legend existed of a park by the tracks that you did not want to visit at night.  Of course, I took us right through it. The road was snow-covered, sandwiched between the railroad tracks and a small creek.  The exit was a choice between a flat road and a steep incline. I took the incline as the car slid to the shoulder and stopped.

I tried spinning the tires, steering back and forth, anything I could do.  It wouldn’t move.  I called my dad and he said he would make his way over with a shovel to dig us out.  I rolled down the window and a dog started barking hysterically from somewhere in the distance.

Val and I looked at each other and prayed.

A minute later, headlights approached. A group of snowmobiles parked behind us.  I exited the car and one of the guys asked me if we were stuck.  I said yes. Three of them pushed the car back to the road.  They never removed their helmets or visors, returned to their snowmobiles, and drove away.

I turned the car around and started back the way we came. We stopped to get our bearings and I stepped out of the car again. There were no tracks on the ground, no sign of a snowmobile.  Two minutes before, I had watched them take that road to leave us.

The snow was fresh and untouched.

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I’ve spent the last eight months interviewing local charities, businesses, and community members, gathering story after story of God’s involvement in the lives around us.

When we seek, we will find.

In the whir of our lives, it is too easy to get caught up in the process. Kids, bills, jobs, starting a business, writing a book, keeping up a website, getting in shape. We tend to miss chances to make a difference.

I prayed, eight months ago, that my words would make a difference. I’d give the writing to God and tell the story that needed to be told.  I’d give voice to those on the front lines of the battle against poverty.  I’d work with faith-based businesses and charities.

My next e-book, coming out in April, will be about reclaiming Christian Arts and producing creations that have deep impact in the world. I have an article upcoming in RELEVANT magazine and will be starting work as a volunteer journalist for BCTV, a local nonprofit covering the Reading and Berks County area. We’re preparing a powerful series of stories on poverty and the efforts happening to reclaim the soul of the city.

Things happen when we decide to serve, when we give our talents back to the God, the Creator who gifted them in the first place. Now is the time to make your move, consider what you can give and ask how you can serve.

The intersection between faith and action is waiting for your arrival.

~Matt