I am Not Cut Out For This

I am not cut out for this.

Writing should be honest and this post will be as straightforward as I can get.

I am not cut out for this.

After a while, so many forces pull you in different directions and you look in the mirror and wonder how in the world you’ll do another twenty-four hours tomorrow. We cope with it in a variety of ways, some negative and some positive. Life can push you forward or pull you down, often both more than once in a single day.

When all the forces pile up, you reach an impasse and realize that something has to change.

The good news is, you are in good company.

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The Bible is full of people not cut out for their callings.  Adam and Eve had one job, to avoid a certain tree, and they failed. Moses debated God when he was told to march into Egypt and confront royalty.  Jonah ran the other direction from his divine appointment.

Paul was struck down on the road to kill more Christians.

Peter denied Jesus three times. Thomas demanded visual proof of the Resurrection.

Being human means we are not cut out for this.

I’d love to pull out some solid quote about motivation and calling here but, after taking three hours to put Aiden to sleep, I don’t know if I have it. I’m sitting in the kitchen typing next to the window listening to the bugs chirp in the night.

There is peace to the darkness.

Maybe that’s the point.

When you fall, when you find yourself questioning and running the other way,  there is peace.  There is silence in the deepest part of the struggle. There is hope in weakness because we can’t lean on ourselves.

We can only look to the sky and cry out for help.

So tonight isn’t a Paul moment.  It isn’t visual proof or divine intervention.

Tonight is a small voice deep inside saying, It will be okay.

It will be okay.

~Matt

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Weekend Inspiration-8/29/2015

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As writers, we measure equity in words. Some of us capture scenes over long and flowing pages.  Others use pointed sentences with as few words as possible. We spend years searching for the right way to get the image across, over this divine psychic transaction that occurs when we put our thoughts on paper and transmit them to you, our readers.

Listen to a conversation and you’ll learn from the words used. Is one side trying to gain approval or power?  Sit next to a first date and a couple married for forty years and you will be able to hear the difference.

Go to the playground and listen to the parents that are engaged and playing, compare them to the miserable others and, even worse, the silence from the parents on their cell phones while their kids do whatever they want.

Words are powerful.  All it takes is a smell, sight, snippet of conversation and we can recall something that was said to us years ago, for better or worse.

As you enjoy your weekend, think about what you are saying.  How can you build someone up today? Who needs to hear that you love them? What child needs to see your smile and hear some laughter?

Do what you can to make it happen.

~Matt

The Difficult Conversation

Today was Carter’s first day of school.  To celebrate, I picked him up and told him we’d go out to dinner and to The Works (a restaurant/arcade/play area near us).  I said we’d go anywhere he wanted for dinner and he picked Subway.

As we sat eating our sandwiches, a television in the dining area played CNN’s coverage of the horrific shooting in Virginia.  Carter watched this with me and asked me what happened.

I told him that two people were hurt bad on television. A few hours before I had watched the Youtube clip of the shooting footage and it gave me chills. We redirected conversation to his day and he was content finishing his meal and playing with my cell phone.

It is time for the difficult conversation.

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I’ve been honored to spend the last year researching and compiling a book about the fight against poverty here in Reading, Pennsylvania. We have people in many different industries coming together to bring new life to this city. New ideas flow on a weekly basis. Change is necessary and, with it, throwing out old ideas and ushering in new ones.

We must do the same with gun control.

Now, I have friends and family who are avid hunters. I support the Second Amendment as, at the time it was written, the Colonists were dealing with a distant government confiscating their weapons to prevent the Revolution. Yes, you have a right to protect your property and family.

That doesn’t change the fact that gun violence is out of control.

One of the vast differences between the Old Testament and New Testament sections of the Bible is the processing of law.  Old Testament law gave us the phrase “an eye for an eye.”

Then Jesus arrived.

He told us to turn the other cheek. To live in peace and love. When soldiers came to arrest him in the Garden, Peter cut off a man’s ear and Jesus promptly healed it. He died at the hands of an oppressive government to give those who follow him freedom.

He preached sacrifice. Picking up a cross and laying down your life for another.  He preached love and grace, treating others as you wish to be treated. His arms were open to all.

He stands in opposition to the World.

So how do we bridge the gap?

It is time to have the hard conversations, to discuss new methods of curbing crime and incarceration. To attack poverty and homeless with community improvement and involvement. To encourage neighborhood revitalization through new businesses, education, and entrepreneurship. To spread the availability of social services, mental and physical assistance to those in need before they reach extremes of behavior.

It is time to bring all sides to the table.

Our world can be different. My boys can work jobs they love one day without fear of violence. It will take a massive and necessary effort.

Let the conversation begin.

~Matt

Street Corner Faith

Val and I attend a large church.  This allows for some variety with worship music and, though there is an official worship leader, a group tends to rotate through  as the months pass. We’ve had everything from gospel to youth, men, women, national artists guest leading for a week, and a choir. There is one young woman who stands out every time she’s up there.

You know the one.

She hits the high notes extra high and runs Mariah Carey-esque trills up and down through Chris Tomlin’s latest hit, eyes closed, hands gesturing and face scrunched up to show just how hard she is leading worship as she orders the audience to join in, pray, let go and take part.

In case you haven’t experienced this yet, remember that worship directing us to the stage and not to God is not worship.

This morning, the writer and speaker Donald Miller posted on his blog about living a private versus public faith and why he has leaned more towards private recently. He cited the passages in the Bible where Jesus tells us not to be like those on the corner, making their good needs known to all, but to go to God in secret.

This stands, like Jesus always did, against all of society today.

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What if we changed things?

Imagine an end to the social media debate, to politicians claiming Jesus on their side in an effort to win votes. Imagine Hollywood actors and actresses not thanking God at the Academy Awards. Imagine pastors not telling the media that they will light themselves on fire because of the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Let’s break it down a little further.

Jesus didn’t say he’d make us millionaires, famous, beautiful, or influential.  He said he’d make us free.

Free from the race, the hustle of humanity, the ever-expanding yard stick that we’ll never reach because it will never stop.  Free from the lens of this world, the gaze that will keep criticizing from the grasp of moral relativism.

Free to say, we don’t have every answer and to love those different from us, the ones on the fringes that need a face-to-face encounter with the love of Jesus before they’d ever enter a church.

Free to pray, on our own, and spend quiet time with God, to help a neighbor and not email our small group about it.

When I was an undergrad in college, Val and I attended a church near the school and the pastor asked one night, “If this all burnt down and we had nothing, no building, no stage, no candles or instruments, how many of you would come back and worship your God on a pile of ashes?

This week, try some private time with God. Burn off the distractions. Kneel on your own pile of ashes and be thankful because you are still breathing and your work isn’t finished yet, because even in the darkness, you are never alone.

~Matt

If you or are friend are looking for some new reading material this week, two of my books are free on Amazon for the next four days. You can download my novel, The City, or my book on writing titled, Lazarus Art by clicking the link here.

 

Weekend Inspiration-Lessons from the Past

After a beautiful morning of taking Aiden to the playground, I decided to look to the past for some Weekend Inspiration:

I had grandparents that could, and parents that can cook and I remember many nights with the smell of fresh pasta and sauce on the stove. Now that I have kids, I traded in tradition for ease more than once and this lesson rings in my ears every night at dinner:

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Taken from a letter my mother wrote me before I went to college.  We had a cat at the time, so the original was “pet a cat and you’ll feel better.” I think it applies to all pets and is a great reminder for the darker nights of the soul:

when you are down

I was shy growing up, to a fault.  Maybe it was the only child thing where I’d grown used to being by myself.  Now, looking back, I’d tell my self to:

strike up more

Every summer we would take a vacation as a family. As I grew from playing in the sand to walking with Val and finally watching my kids play in the sand, this is clear:

Some of your best memories will be made

 

Have a great weekend!

~Matt

 

Throw Away the Scale

All it takes is a picture on a social media feed. That friend, you know the one, that friend doing what they want when they want it.  The one mired in addiction, violence, anger and frustration.  You’re thumbing through and, wouldn’t you know it, they just picked up the new car you’ve wanted for a year now.

That girl who bullied you in high school and, somehow, found her way into a modeling contract and moved out west to an amateur film role where, for eight seconds, she’s in a crowd behind Will Smith.

That guy at the gym showing everyone pictures of his weekend conquests when the idea of a date grips your soul in fear and anxiety.

And we look and we say, okay, when will it be our turn? When will life finally even out?

In the Bible, Jesus spots Matthew (one of my favorite stories, I know, I’m a nerd) at the table working his job as a tax collector. At the time, tax collectors were despised. They worked for the Roman government, traitors to their neighbors and friends.  Who likes the guy knocking on the door for the bills?

Jesus tells Matthew to follow and he does.  That night, Jesus eats dinner at his house with, we read, “sinners.”

He is asked why he eats with sinners and he replies:.

For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

Something can happen to us when we decide to follow Jesus and we’re not careful.  We forget where we’ve come from. We pick up the mantle and stand a little higher as we look and the uneven scale burns. The plank in our eye fades as we point to others and tell God, see, see what they do and they get rewarded.

Why?

It is the peril of living without a 50,000 foot view.

Because the weekend conquests don’t matter. The car breaks down. Money, looks, success can fade.  Time passes.

Grace matters. Eternity matters. Giving and hope, love and the beauty of creation, matters. Reaching out matters. Reflecting the hope you have inside, matters.

It isn’t easy to play the game of life for the long goals, but it is our requirement as those who follow Jesus.  It is our investment in those around us. It is more than the “property gospel” trumpeted by those making millions as “preachers.” It is showing someone that they matter on a daily basis.

It is remembering that we are sinners, won by grace, so that none can boast.

The easiest way to lose weight tonight?  Throw away the scale and wake up lighter tomorrow.

~Matt

 

37 Hours

It started days before.  We had gone the length of Val’s pregnancy getting ready for Carter’s arrival. At the first sign of labor, I took her to the hospital.  They checked her out and sent us home.  It wasn’t time yet.

The pain wouldn’t stop.

We went back again and was turned away.  Finally, around midnight, Val was in serious discomfort and I drove her to the ER.  They admitted her into the maternity ward.  I remember standing by her side as the doc pulled up a chair and watched the heart monitor fixed to Carter’s readout.  For almost fifteen minutes he watched before telling us it would be a c section that needed to happen as soon as possible.

I was in scrubs and ready until a nurse came in and told me the drugs hadn’t hit Val quick enough and she felt the incision, so they put her to sleep. I wouldn’t be allowed in.

I sat on a gurney next to Tara, my sister-in-law, and waited again.

Just after ten that night, and almost forty hours of labor, they wheeled him out wrapped in his blanket.

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I held him until Val was recovered enough from the procedure to join us in the room. He didn’t cry, shifting his eyes to me and just watching.  My boy, dark hair and eyes, looking at me and asking now what?

The dark hair is now blonde and his eyes are now hazel like his mother’s. He has more energy than I’ve ever had. He’s pushed me to places I’ve never experienced before and taught me things about myself. He’s complicated, strong, emotional, intense and loving. He has a way with words that cuts to my heart.

Tomorrow is his birthday.

So thank you Carter, for everything. I pray I can live up to what you need and be the dad you deserve. One day, years from now, you’ll dig this up on whatever passes for a smartphone and read it and smile, I hope.

We love you.

~Matt

Weekend Inspiration 8/15/2015

Never Stop Looking for HeavenAnd you will

Yesterday I started reading a tattered version of The Screwtape Letters that had sat on my bookshelf for a few years.  C.S. Lewis is worth a large number of posts himself but, in the spirit of my weekend inspiration entries, I’ll keep this short.

For anyone not knowing the book, it is a series of letters between two demons, one more experienced than the other, on the nature of humanity with the more experienced offering advice to the younger. The chapter I read last night included this direction about humans:

Keep them focused on real life.

How many of us are buried in real life?

This weekend, turn your eyes towards the divine and you will find it:

In family and friends. On a sunny trail running through the woods. Sitting by the ocean. Watching the fireflies at night.

When you find it, give thanks and know you are not alone.

~Matt

Radioactive

My mother worked in a nuclear medicine department at a hospital for forty years.  She’s still there, inching her way towards retirement.  My father was an operator at a nuclear power plant before he retired.

I used to tell people that I glowed in the dark.

I remember visiting the hospital or the power plant (pre 9/11 years) and being amazed at the concept of radioactivity. Somehow this substance could kill you if you were around it too long.

I called my dad after 9/11 and would hear the stories of increased security, guards with automatic weapons and armored vehicles. Every year the township distributed iodine tablets to help against the possibility of exposure from a fallout event.

We all have our fallout events.

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This week, we took Carter in for some testing.  He’s been complaining of a rapid heart beat and some chest pain here and there. His emotions are erratic and we decided to talk to his doctor.  For two days we’ve wondered about results and the call came in today.

Everything normal.

So I look at him and wonder why?  What changed and what can we do to help?

The other night, after he had flown off in a rage and finally calmed down, he hugged me.  I told him I was sorry, that I wanted to make him feel better.

“Daddy, you don’t hug me enough anymore. You give me more high fives than hugs,” he said.

Feelings came crashing through. I’d seen him from my lens and not his. I’d assumed he would be mild mannered, like me, and not this vibrant, active, and emotional kid. I had parented him by attempting to attach the influence of my past to a person who had not known what it was like, one who never glowed in the dark.

It was an amateur parent thought:

He’ll be cool and low key, just like me.

I was wrong.

He has parts of me, yes, but he is his own person.  One who needs more hugs than high fives, freedom and the chance to grow. He’s Carter, not me.  One day he’ll be a father and I want him to know I’ll be there, with love and support at whatever level he needs.

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This is Carter from last Sunday.  My reason to keep fighting to get this fatherhood thing right.

~Matt