Firewood

When my dad lived in Pennsylvania, he had a fireplace in his house.  It was one of those stove deals where you opened the front grate and built the fire inside.  I remember spending winter nights with my feet near the flames as I laid on the floor and watched television.

A small shed sat at the end of the yard and, behind it, the pile of wood. A large stump served as a chopping block and I’d watch dad line up logs and split them one after another.

Eventually he’d hand me the axe.

By the time we were done, we’d have a pile of wood ready to fuel the burning.

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I’ve written recently about some issues our family is experiencing.  I took Carter to the doctor tonight and we have some important tests coming up that could give us an answer.

I heard a pastor in college say, once, that putting your faith in Jesus is the most dangerous choice you’ll make in your life.  It is a path to great struggle, suffering, refinement, and reward.

Our struggles are our logs.  Our faith is the axe and the Word of God is the blade that splits. The result is the fuel to keep going because the work will always be there. The struggles only end when our work is finished and we are called home.

So we take what comes. Every hard day. Every difficult hour. Every frustration, miserable person, crazy driver, slow cashier, and waiting room that we’ll ever sit in. We gather. We place them on the block and we strike.

It couldn’t just be any swing, though.

If I didn’t get the axe high enough or hit straight on, it would clang to the side and chip off the wood. The accuracy came with practice, the only way we get better.

With every struggle, we get better.

~Matt

 

Fatherhood

As I put Aiden to sleep tonight, the events of the past few weeks played back in my mind. This summer was complicated, on a daily basis, on multiple fronts with our family. We’ve experienced professional and personal challenges, growth and setbacks. We’ve had to dig deep and pull together.

Not an easy time to be a father.

In the darkness of Aiden’s room, Joseph and the Christmas story came to mind.

Imagine you are young and married.  You get word that you need to travel back to your home town because the oppressive Roman government needs a head count.  You pack your stuff, and your wife, and make your way home.

Then you find out, through an angel, that she’s pregnant.  You know the baby isn’t yours.

Now what?

man-person-cute-young

Think about the human side.  Think about the moment the angel vanished and you look in Mary’s eyes. The room is quiet.  Back to life.  Back to reality.

Jesus is born in the stable.  At some point, the shepherds and wisemen leave. Now it is you, this baby, your wife, and some animals.  Life begins.

What was it like to raise Jesus? How did Joseph handle his first cries and frustration, his first best friend and skinned knee? Did he ever look in the mirror and ask himself:

Am I Cut Out For This?

Fatherhood is a marathon.  It is taking a day in five-minute increments and counting your success with peace and happiness, even if they are fleeting.  It is one step at a time. It is grasping straws and tying them together to form some kind of whole. It can pull you to deep lows and raise you to glorious heights.

So we keep going because struggle brings perseverance, perseverance brings character and character brings hope and maybe that is the whole point. The dark days drive you forward and shape you for the future. You have hope for better things, the bright side that offers hints of our home in eternity.

Hang in there. This too will pass.

~Matt

A Bike Ride and The Storm

I stood on the playground as Carter rode circles around me on his bike, a skill he had just acquired and accomplished without the use of training wheels.  I thought back to growing up, when a bike was the only way to get around.  Our home town was situated on the side of a hill.  Going down was great.  Going across was okay, but I could take it.

I’d avoid going up hill at all costs.

Carter pulled his bike to the side and hopped off.

The playground is with his elementary school.  Someone had thrown hundreds of sheets of colored paper in the dumpster next to where I’d parked. Storm clouds gathered to the west and, as we watched, the wind picked up a sheet of white paper and blew it to Carter’s feet.

He had found a small pencil on the ground and sat down, drawing shapes and figures on the paper.  I sat across from him as he worked, hand moving in loops and swirls, green eyes checking to see if I was watching.

It was a vast difference from the night before.

broken-rust-bike-bicycle

An instance had grown to a conflict, to emotions and words, anger and tears.

“What are you drawing?” I asked.

It was the shape of an animal with four backward L feet.

“A turtle,” Carter said.

“What’s his name?”

“Mister M.” He drew a big M on the turtle to make his point.

A second piece of paper blew out of the dumpster, danced on the wind, and landed next to me. I grabbed it and passed it over to Carter.  We traded papers.

He started on a stick figure, paused, and looked at my face.

“Are you drawing me?” I asked.

“Yep,” he said as he colored in a black shirt on my stick torso.

I swallowed.

“I’m sorry about last night,” I said. “We’re going to do better. As a family.”

“It’s okay.” He said.

In a moment, he had shown me grace.  The sun cut through the clouds and he squinted against it.  He finished my stick portrait and handed it to me.

“Keep it,” he said.

I will, Carter.  I will.

~Matt

Swallowed Up

When I joined the Blog Team at church, they provided a list of upcoming topics and we could claim which ones we wanted. I took two.  The first was on the topic of faith and the supernatural. I scanned the list and saw the story of Jonah on deck for a message in September.  I had to take it.

Jonah is one of my favorite stories.

In case you are not familiar with it, God taps Jonah on the shoulder one day and says, hey, I got this job for you. Go and talk about me.  Seems easy enough.  The issue is the destination.  Jonah is supposed to go to a hostile and dangerous city and, as God says, preach against it.

I picture him sitting at the dinner table debating the options. Was there a way out?  Did it have to be now?

He heads down to the local port, books a ship, and sails in the opposite direction. God raises a storm.  The other sailors ask him what is up and he says that he worships the God who made the land and sea.  The ask him what he has done to make God angry and he tells them to throw him into the sea as it will calm the waves.

He had told them he was running from God.

They pray, pick him up, and throw him over the side.

fishing-holiday-vacation-clouds

Your life may fall in line with many parts of this story.  You may have your calling, seen the face of difficulty, and ran the other way.  You may be on your boat, on the run, in the midst of a storm.

Friends and family may be confronting you about your intentions.

The Bible tells us that a large fish (whale if you remember your Sunday School songs) came and swallowed Jonah, holding him for three days before vomiting him up on dry land.

How many of us are spending our days submerged by anger, sorrow, frustrations, struggles, or heartache? By family members making wrong choices, sleepless nights and yearning for a change that doesn’t come?

Jonah goes to the city and they hear his message.  The city repents and, at the end, Jonah is frustrated with God’s compassion. The message was all fire and brimstone.

Why the forgiveness?

This man who just survived a circumstance that would have killed any other human, did he not learn his lesson? God pulled him from the depths. He saved his life with a miracle.

Grace, grace, and grace again.

We have a choice and I know there are people out there standing with me. When you are beaten down, worn, tired and at the end of your rope you have a choice.  Sometimes the first step isn’t even visible.  It may take a journey overboard into the depths.

The process isn’t easy, but I say this out of faith.

Keep fighting. Win a day. Win an hour. Make the right choice once and find your day one.  Even if you have a thousand Day Ones. The next may start you towards your calling.

You are not alone. Jonah prayed in the belly of the whale and God answered.

Your answer is coming.

~Matt