Do the Right Thing

I can think of four or five off the top of my head.

“Don’t hit your brother.”

“Don’t throw the remote.”

“Get off the table.”

“No, you can’t have Oreo’s before bed.”

As parents we have our lines that we hit on a daily basis, instructions that must be repeated over and over. We try to instill a sense of right and wrong in our kids and create a moral compass.  Life isn’t always black and white, though, and we pray they have that gut instinct and relationship with us and God that will lead them on the right path.

The conflict lines don’t ever go away, they just change tone. Some of the hardest challenges we face, growing up and as adults, are the moments we are called to live by our beliefs. Conversations happen and you feel the pressure.

Do you go with the flow or do you make a stand?

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I faced one of these situations this afternoon.

In Genesis, we find the story of Cain and Abel. Abel finds the favor of God and Cain does not.  Frustration builds and, in an instant, you have the first murder.  Imagine the power.  The first time, in all of creation, that a life is taken at the hands of someone else.  This is the precursor to the violence, wars, destruction, and death to follow. The first-born human child had committed the first murder.

Cain kills Abel in the fields.  God shows up and asks him, “Hey, where is your brother Abel?”

His reply is one of the most powerful statements in recorded history.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

When I was a student teacher in 10th grade English, we did a unit centered on this question.  Am I my brother’s keeper?  Should I care about my fellow humans? Is it my job to make a difference?

Cain could have fessed up to his crime.  He decides to deny it and God levies a punishment of work and banishment.  Cain worries about being killed and God offers assurance.

Despite his actions, he is protected.

Always remember, we will be tested.  You’ll find yourself in the midst of a questionable situation, a “dark alley” with snares around every corner.  Your response is key. Know that you are never alone.

If you take the wrong path, there is grace to be found.  No one is too far gone and no sin is too great.  I believe God knew what Cain would do in the field that afternoon.  He walked that ground before any blood fell.

He let Cain walk away.

Tonight, if you find yourself facing one of these choices, know who you are and where you stand. If you’ve taken the wrong road, there is a way back. There is power in claiming our identity.  Jesus said, “I am who you say I am.”

We are believers. We are husbands, wives, and parents.  We are writers, activists, and thinkers. It is our job to do what is right.

We are our brother’s keeper.

~Matt

 

Paris is Full of Surprises

Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis is Vogue‘s style editor at large. She’s my age and has been in the position since 2012. She is also a member of a royal family.  She posted a picture on her Instagram on Saturday from Paris and Fashion Week.  The picture showed a homeless person reading a copy of the magazine with the caption, “Paris is full of surprises…and @voguemagazine readers even in unexpected corners!”  You can find coverage of it here.

The irony in this situation could fill more than a single post and it shines a light on a deeper issue.

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The news article I mentioned above calls out the contradiction of Fashion Week as a spectacle of consumption with the presence of the homeless population in and around the city.  The contradiction of Paris is often played out in our own lives.

We all have reward mechanisms. Go long enough without rewarding yourself and the impulse will kick in. Some people go big and others go small.  It can be good or bad, from a workout to a cigarette.  Addicts hit their reward impulse without reservation and it can destroy their lives.

As people of faith, we struggle with delayed gratification.  We tell ourselves that things will happen in God’s time, as we watch others get promotions, cars, vacations, etc.

The cycle can shift with a moment of recognition.

Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis saw her magazine and not the homeless person reading it. In my time researching and interviewing for my current project, I’ve had a chance to visit the front lines of charities and hear their stories.  When you see someone crying over a pair of donated socks for their new baby, you understand that there are concerns deeper than yours.

You notice the person holding the magazine.

When you see every part of your community, you are inspired to do something about it.  When you give, God’s time stops haunting your worries and starts driving you forward. You become a part of a greater movement.

Suddenly it all matters.

~Matt

Unknown Memories

Val has needed a new phone for a few months now.  She’s had it for a while and I’ve nagged her to replace it.  We talked again today as Aiden took his nap and Carter watched a movie.

“I need to go through my pictures,” she said.

“How many do you have on there?” I asked

Now, guys, this is similar to other great questions from our playbook.  It can apply to shoes, purses, makeup, whatever the subject.

“A little over two thousand,” she replied.

Two thousand pictures.  Years of shots from when the boys were younger. She started going through them as we talked.

The best memories, I told her, are the ones we haven’t made yet.

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We all have goals and deadlines.  I’ll lose a certain number of pounds by this date.  I’ll get a new job, new car, new house. As a writer and someone starting a business, my goals are glaring in the windshield every day that I move forward.

As parents, we could write books of the goals we have for our children.

Our focus can be so intense that we lose sight of the meaningful rewards.

I’m in the process of reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and I have no idea why I’d waited this long. He has some great insights on the nature of Resistance and how we handle it in our lives. It is the force going against us as we attempt to complete the creative act we are called to do.

Pressfield writes that fear is good and we must use it as a barometer as we proceed. The more fear we face, the more we are called to completion and know the path is for us.

Fear, for me, was never anything front and center.  It sat in the back corner of the bedroom late at night, a cold fog that drifted across my pillow and manifested in doubt.  What if, it asked, what if you failed?

What if you lost control?

I had a counselor tell me once that God meets us in the center of our greatest fear. I had mentioned the loss of control and he replied, “then I’d hate to see what may happen.” While I’m not totally over my control issues (why I spend hours behind a keyboard, because the words tend to listen most of the time), I feel like I’m getting better.

Progress requires faith.  Letting go requires picking up our new path.

Our best memories are the ones to come.  We must value our impact on the world.  Our calling will better ourselves and those around us. I pray, every day, that these words will make a difference in someone’s life.

The journey happens in steps. Don’t forget to soak up and enjoy the important moments along the way.

You can, and you will, change someone’s life.  The only question is how.

~Matt

The Page that Changed My Writing Life

As writers, we all have that book, play, screenplay, short story, etc. that made us want to write.  You read it and your soul connects.  The words call you out of darkness and on the path to living a creative life.  For some, it may be all the works of a single author.  For me, it was a single page.

Yes, I can tell you the moment I knew that Val and I would be together forever and I can tell you the moment I knew that writing was the endeavor that completed my sentence, literally and spiritually.

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Here it is, from Graham Greene’s, The Heart of the Matter, 1948:

Mrs. Bowles said, “Don’t be absurd. Are you qualified to dispense? I’ll only be away a few minutes. If the child shows signs of going, call me.”

If she had given him time, he would have thought of some excuse, but she was already out of the room and he sat heavily down in the only chair. When he looked at the child, he saw a white communion veil over her head: it was a trick of the light on the pillow and a trick of his own mind. He put his head in his hands and wouldn’t look. He had been in Africa when his own child died. He had always thanked God that he had missed that. It seemed after all that one never really missed a thing. To be a human being one had to drink the cup. If one were lucky on one day, or cowardly on another, it was presented on a third occasion.

He prayed silently into his hands, “O God, don’t let anything happen before Mrs. Bowles comes back.”

He could hear the breathing of the child. It was as if she were carrying a weight with great effort up a long hill: it was an inhuman situation not to be able to carry it for her. He thought: This is what parents feel year in and year out, and I am shrinking from a few minutes of it. They see their children dying slowly every hour they live.  

He prayed again, “Father, look after her. Give her peace.”  The breathing broke, choked, began again with terrible effort. Looking between his fingers he could see the six-year-old face convulsed like a navvy’s with labor.  “Father,” he prayed, “give her peace. Take away my peace forever, but give her peace.” The sweat broke out on his hands. “Father . . .”

 He heard a small scraping voice repeat, “Father,” and looking up he saw the blue and bloodshot eyes watching him. He thought with horror: this is what I thought I’d missed. He would have called Mrs. Bowles, only he hadn’t the voice to call with.

He could see the breast of the child struggling for breath to repeat the heavy word; he came over to the bed and said, “Yes, dear. Don’t speak, I’m here.”

The nightlight cast the shadow of his clenched fist on the sheet and it caught the child’s eye. An effort to laugh convulsed her, and he moved his hand away. “Sleep, dear,” he said, “you are sleepy. Sleep.”A memory that he had carefully buried returned, and taking out his handkerchief he made the shadow of a rabbit’s head fall on the pillow beside her. “There’s your rabbit,” he said, “to go to sleep with. It will stay until you sleep. Sleep.”

The sweat poured down his face and tasted in his mouth as salt as tears.

“Sleep.”

He moved the rabbit’s ears up and down, up and down. Then he heard Mrs. Bowles’ voice, speaking low just behind him. “Stop that,” she said harshly, “the child’s dead.”

 

The main character, Major Scobie, is stationed in colonial Africa during WWII.  The girl he’s with washed up outside his settlement, part of a group of shipwreck survivors.  He visits the medical ward and Mrs. Bowles tells him she must go get medicine.  He begs her not to leave and she says, basically, to man up and sit with the girl.

Greene accomplishes so much in these lines that you could teach an entire writing class about them.  Scobie’s character mentions the death of his own child.  He’s praying, bargaining with God as to not have to witness the death of the girl while thinking about the nature of suffering.  His nerves kick in.  The girl starts to repeat his prayer and Greene hits you with the image of the “blue and bloodshot eyes.”

Poetic and powerful

He makes the rabbit shadow and we can feel his heart breaking as he tries to provide some level of comfort. The end, where Bowles returns, slams the door on the moment.  Death, at this settlement, was a facet of everyday life. You could argue that Scobie does, and does not get his wish.  Bowles returns too late for the death that Scobie does not recognize.

The first time I read those lines, I had to put the book down and absorb it.  Greene became my literary destination and guide.  If only I could capture a fraction of that ability, I thought, I could make this journey work.

So what was your moment of epiphany, where you knew you were a slave to the story?  It is a point you never forget.

 

Soundtrack inspiration:

Discovered the worship band Waken and fell in love with their music.  Check it out:

When You Don’t Like Your Kids

It has been a long two weeks.  Here in Pennsylvania, we’ve had a stretch of horrible winter weather. We’ve seen snow, ice, rain, cold, and round and round again. With the bad weather, we’re stuck inside most nights.  Combine that with two energetic boys and elementary school cancellations.

The result?

Two tired parents.

Val and I often ask ourselves about what we did before kids.  It’s funny how those moments gradually fade into a blur of passing time. There are days where you get pushed.  Tag can only be played so much. The pillows can only stand up to so many fights.  One room is cleaned as Aiden empties drawers and throws toys in the other.

We get stretched. We look at each other and wonder where these little humans came from.  How did my six-year-old turn sixteen overnight?

Yesterday, I read an article on Yahoo Parenting that changed everything for me. The title, one of the most engaging I’ve seen in a long time, is My Husband Killed Our Kids.

It tells the story of the Mendoza family as written from an interview with Zoey Mendoza.  Her ex husband, suffering from depression and not taking his medication, picked up their five and three-year-old children from daycare one afternoon.  He drove them to his parent’s abandoned home, killed them both and then himself.

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Mendoza takes you through the moment she found out what happened. She talks about dealing with grief and, one night, how her children visited her from Heaven. She got a tattoo of an infinity symbol on her neck, the ink mixed with the ashes of her children, symbolizing how they’d be with her forever.  As I read through it, ending my day at work, I had to brush the tears from my eyes.

I’ll take the long nights, the obstacle courses, watching multiple episodes of Power Rangers on television. I’ll gladly stay up hours into the night trying to get Aiden to sleep as he sings “Happy Birthday” to me in the dark of his room. I’ll take every argument, battle, bath, dinner, and homework assignment.

It is all worth it because they are there and alive.

We’ve been blessed to have two children and, even in the stressful times, we must never forget it.

Because one day they’ll move out.  Carter will call me on the phone and say, “Dad, my kid is driving me crazy.  Was I ever like this?”

And I’ll tell him he has no idea.

~Matt

 

 

 

 

This is Why Poverty Matters

“In downtown L.A., however, as many as 54 blocks — between Third Street and Seventh Street, from Alameda to Main — are almost entirely given over to the homeless, the limbless, the drug-addicted and the mentally ill. Battered tents line the boulevards. Mountains of garbage block the sidewalks. The air smells like urine, feces and burning crack. And everywhere there are people — dazed, disheveled, disabled; stretched out on lawn chairs or sprawled on the pavement; some scoring heroin from marked tents, others injecting it between their toes in plain sight, mere blocks from some of the hippest new bars and restaurants in town.”

On Monday, a cell phone video released showing police in Los Angeles shooting a homeless man to death.  He was mentally ill, living in Skid Row for years and, according to police, grabbing for an officer’s gun.  You can find coverage here. Yahoo’s article starts with the above description.  It continues to say this:

“The more difficult questions, perhaps, are the ones that fewer Americans will ask. Why was a troubled man who reportedly spent 10 years in a mental facility living in squalor on the streets of the nation’s last dedicated homeless district? Why was he surrounded by as many as 6,000 men, women and children in similarly dire straits — 2,000 of whom sleep on the sidewalks? How can a place like this still exist? And what can be done about it?”

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The city of Los Angeles started a Housing for Health program, a push for supportive housing to get people off the streets as a first-level solution.  The first Community Partner of P356, We Agape You, is also focused on a housing initiative for the city of Reading. The answer, as simple and clear as it can be, is to acquire stable rooms and put people in them. Do this and you take a large step against the ills of poverty.

As we read this post in our homes, the world of Skid Row seems far away. The poor are “out there” and we are “in here.” As believers, we like to compartmentalize our missions to the missionaries.  You want me to give something extra?  Sure, I’ll throw some money into the bucket, maybe collect some cans and drop them off at church. As long as we don’t have to get dirty.

We follow a Savior calling us to get dirty.

We follow a Savior who lived his years on the fringes. He ate dinner with those outside of society and angered the religious leaders of the time. He went to those in need. He wants us to do the same.

This is why poverty matters:

These people are all our families. These kids sleeping on the sidewalk are our children.  Their struggles are our own and we cannot ignore it.

This fight is one I’m capturing in my current book project.  Please consider joining with P356 to help the words make a difference. The moment the story moves from the news into your heart is one that you will never forget.  It will change your life and drive you to change the lives of others.

You will make a difference.

~Matt

Our Next Step

Today is a big day for P356.  This morning, my guest post went live on our church’s website.  They are starting a message series on the miracles of Jesus.  My post is centered on Peter’s attempt at answering the call of Jesus by walking on water.

You can read it here.

I’ve added two new pages to the site outlining the next step in the growth of P356 as an outreach and organization connected with the fight against poverty.

New Publications

My first devotional is now available for download and in print.  Wing Night, named after one of my favorite activities with friends (the purchase and consumption of hot wings) is a short read for men.  It is twenty days of thoughts, motivation, and inspiration centered around marriage, faith, and family.

The City is my first science fiction novel. It tells the story of two friends living inside the final city existing in the United States.  Their choices will determine the future as society falls apart around them.

You’ll also find links to my other novel and novella publications.  Please check them out.

Community Partners

It was my dream, from day one, that P356 would make a difference.  I wanted the words to matter.  With this in mind, I am donating partial proceeds from the sales of Wing Night and The City, to a local charity I have interviewed for inclusion in my current book project. The first official P356 Community Partner is We Agape You.

We Agape You was founded by Randall Simmons, a friend working daily to change the tide of homelessness in the city of Reading.  You’ll find more details including a link to his website on the Community Partners page.

With each additional publication, I’ll add another partner to the list.  Your support will help make a difference in the fight against poverty.

Every word counts and every person sleeping in the cold tonight matters.

Sunday morning, this song was included in our worship.  The image of chains carries a loaded set of meanings. We can be chained together, chained apart, tied down and tied up. Chains are weight and bondage.  They are stress and pressure.  They are real and imagined.

They are a connection point.

We know that we are a New Creation. We know that we are Free Indeed.  This freedom does not come without cost.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ~Matthew 25:40 NIV

As you start your week, consider how you can make a difference. The hardest step in the first one. Today, these words are the next step for P356.  They mark a new journey. Chains are breaking. The shift is happening.  Reality is changing.

The time is now.

~Matt