The Joy Initiative

Around 12:30 last night the wind woke me from a dead sleep.  The curtains in our bedroom whipped out from the wall as rain pelted the windows.  I opened the door to the bathroom just in time to see a decorative picture fly off the windowsill and land in the sink.

The alarm sounded at 6:15.

I showered, dressed, and arrived at work by 7:00 for an ultrasound on my heart.

Last week I had visited the eye doctor who told me that my eyes showed signs of hypertension.  The advantage of working at a cardiologist office is that you can handle your own appointments and schedule your own tests, removing any chance to procrastination. The doc assured me that everything was precautionary, that my heart murmur was nothing to worry about and that my EKG was only mildly abnormal.

Something about your heart makes you think and, at a point in mid afternoon, a realization hit me.

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I’d spent way too long doing work that does not bring me joy or make the world a better place.

Change is coming. It will not happen all at once and it starts now. It consists of purposeful actions to gain freedom from the daily grind of earning a paycheck but not a life, stuff but not substance. I’m tired of punching a clock and coming home exhausted physically and emotionally.

It is time to start shaping a future of realized dreams, serving others and making the most of it. I want to feel like time is on my side again.

How about you? Does any of this sound familiar? We all get to this place at points in our life and only a few will do something about it. As long as you’re breathing, you have a chance.

Join me and take it.

~Matt

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The Weight of the Future

I put Aiden in his pajamas and he grabbed his favorite stuffed dog to hold. I rocked him until he closed his eyes and slowly laid him in his bed, taking a minute to watch the soft glow of the nightlight as it fell over his features. As I tucked him in, images flooded into my mind.

I prayed.

Please God let me be the father he deserves, help me do the best I can with him and give him the life he wants.  Please God, let him be happy.

Before I stepped out of the room, God finished my sentence.

Because one day he’ll be tucking you into a hospital bed.

The future always waits in the distance.

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How do we handle it? When our kids are suddenly growing before our eyes? When our friends from school are all married and raising their own families? When the holidays come again and the milestones creep closer and closer?

Because one day the one day’s run out.

So we make the most of it. We tell the stories that need to be told. We say I Love You as much as possible.  We hold hands, pack lunches, kiss goodnight and break the daily routine whenever we can to create memories.

That is the secret, to find the memories, take the chances and chase the dreams. To show our kids that there is never a reason not to try.

For they will get what we leave behind.  The day Aiden tucks me in, I want him to do it with a warm heart and the peace of knowing I did all I could for him, that we made our walks through the desert together, as a family, and that he will never be alone.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

                                                                                                                                                        ~Deuteronomy 31:6

Winning Over the Other

For the last few years, I’ve spent time in the medical field working with patient registration and insurances.  This experience spanned an emergency room, a rehabilitation hospital, and a doctor’s office. The last two weeks, while checking in patients, I’ve heard this statement or a variance on it more than once:

“I’m not used to seeing a guy here.”

“This is a woman’s job, I can’t believe you’re doing it.”

“I’ve never seen a guy working in this spot.”

“Wow, you don’t see guys doing receptionist work.”

For in those moments of awkwardness, I’ve experienced a taste of the Other.

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You can write off antiquated opinions all you want but, in the end, the Other remains the same.  It is every person standing out in the crowd, breaking the mold, crushing through the glass ceiling. The Other isn’t often spoken of in positive tones, though. It is the immigrant, the refugee crossing boarders. It is the small business owner starting a family restaurant on the wrong side of town.  It is the family moving in down the street looking, talking, or worshiping differently.

It is difference in living form and we don’t like difference.

2015 is the year of the Other.

And oh how we fight it. We, as ones who claim to follow Jesus, call ourselves victims. We point fingers. We are not like them. We demand to be heard, picking the parts of the Bible useful to the cause while ignoring the command to Love our Neighbors.

Still, there are those finding victory over the Other. People serve; hands reaching across the aisles, street corners, and school yards. Children play with other children of all colors, ages, and backgrounds because it is fun and fun is a universal language.

If there is to be true change, terms must be rewritten.  For victory is not claiming power or privilege, not for those following Jesus. Victory is service. Victory is sacrifice. Victory is selfless love and honor.

Because the last will be first. Because we store up treasures in Heaven, not on earth. Because it is our job to give, not receive. To love and not hate. To not let the sun go down on our anger and never ignore the plank in our own eye when we call out the speck in the eye of someone else.

Not everyone can ignore comments like the ones above (and I know some of you hear much worse on a daily basis from coworkers, family, and even friends) but, if one person reads this and decides to make a change tomorrow, it will start a ripple effect.

Victory comes with compassion, the choice to care about the Other, to shift perspective and find unity.

I look in the eyes of my sons and know they will face negativity one day, probably without cause.  I want them to know their identities as men, as believers, and treasures to Val and I. I want them to rewrite the books, stand up for those in need, and change the world.

Nothing is impossible.  For them and for you. Never forget it.

~Matt

Unforgivable

“How many of you can say you would never kill someone?”

The question floated over us.  We were undergraduates in a Literature and Psychology class, an experience that goes down as one of my favorite semesters of my life.  The students were a mix of majors and the professor, Dr. Browne, had experience in both fields. We analyzed characters and ourselves as the months flew by.

As a young believer, I raised my hand. I thought, hey, followers of Jesus are all about peace and I would never take a life.

“You’re lying,” Dr. Browne said as he laughed. “You mean to tell me, if you walked into your house and found a guy attacking your family, you wouldn’t defend them? Even to the death?”

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As a family of believers, we are known more for what we don’t forgive than what we do. 2015 has become the year of exclusive faith, from bakeries to court clerks.

In the Bible, Peter asks Jesus about forgiveness.  The custom, at the time, was to forgive seven times.  Jesus replies not seven but seventy times seven. He forgives sins often, to the frustration and anger of the high priests. Only God, they believe, can forgive sins.

They’re right.

We’ve strayed from the path to the point of walking backwards. We focus on what we can’t do rather than the courage to take on new challenges and adventures. We ask for wisdom to avoid danger and ignore the strength needed to push forward. We react rather than act.

We’ve been pushed into a corner by our unwillingness to love our neighbors if they don’t behave the way we want.

The concept of forgiveness comes with implied empowerment. I forgive you is often heard, and said, with condescension and not humility. We need to redefine the term for what it really is:

Release

-from pain, anger, heartbreak and offense.

For the scars do not vanish. They get molded into a figure of beauty and grace blazing with the touch of the Almighty.

If you have a few minutes, watch this video posted by Bleacher Report.  It is the profile of Darnel Dockett, defensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers.  Dockett’s mother was murdered when he was a young teenager.  Catch the last two minutes and pay attention.

How many of us would say the same to our mother’s killer?  I pray that, one day, Dockett gets his chance.

~Matt

Is It Too Hard to Serve?

I sat in the cafe at church this morning drinking my coffee.  Four people were at a table to my left, two interviewing the other two about serving in the church.  The questions flowed on a predetermined path from jobs to hobbies and interests.

I know this because, a year ago, I sat through the same interview.

The guy I spoke with gave me a questionnaire that I completed and handed back.  I was going to school for my English teaching certification at the time and though I’d help out with the youth program. I met the head youth pastor and was given a binder of information including a link to a pair of videos I was supposed to watch as a form of training.  The following week I visited the youth service and shadowed a small group leader.

He was a nice guy and led a group of, if I remember correctly, ninth grade boys.  After the service we sat there and talked about the message.  The guy leading told me he usually brings some kind of snacks for the boys and plans activities during the week.  As he spoke, I was still okay with it.  Then I asked:

“So how often do you do this?  I mean, is it a rotation or something?”

“Every Sunday,” he said.

Every week. No break. Our church has two morning services.  This guy and his family would attend one while he served at the other, every week.  I get the concept, to have consistency, but it still made me reconsider.

I mean, how hard should it be to serve?

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The early church was instructed to care for the poor, orphaned, and widowed. Jesus preached love and acceptance, stating “what you do to the least of these, you do to me.” The direction is clear and, in Acts, we read of believers selling belongings and giving to those in need.

So what have we done?

We’ve complicated simple instructions.  We’ve turned love and provide into analyze and assess. There are numerous organizations out there asking for monetary help.  Wait for a natural disaster and you’ll see the donation jars arrive at supermarkets and other public places. Needs aren’t always dictated clearly and, when they are, we don’t always listen.

At one church we attended, a small start-up, the pastor announced to the crowd that my wife would be working in the nursery before he asked her.

Serving has moved from a command to a corporation.

Let’s make it easy.  If you want to serve, church is a great place to start, even if not for the church at all. It should be a gateway, a door to direct the curious and interested towards families and charities in need. What if it didn’t take an interview and a weekly commitment?  What if it took one conversation for one need met?

No more pressure. No more quizzes or personality tests. No more barriers, political or personal.

The message today was on Jonah, a guy God called to serve and deliver his Word.  Jonah ran the other direction. It took a trip to the depths to get the point. It shouldn’t be that way for everyone.

The church and those who claim to follow Jesus are standing at the ledge of a movement, a chance to unleash radical love and service in a world existing in desperation. Jumping off can only happen if we get out of our own way.

~Matt

The Arrival

My family and I live about an hour northeast of Philadelphia.  In case you’ve been under a rock recently, the Pope is coming to the city for the World Meeting of Families next week.  The news is filled with all things Pope Francis.

In preparation for this visit, they are:

-Closing major highways.

-Closing businesses.

-Selling tickets.

-Stationing EMS and portable toilets next to the roads leading to Philly in anticipation of the gridlock.

-Declaring states of emergency.

-Anticipating cell phone service disruptions.

Local leaders and believers are jumping at the chance to see this man in action.

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There is another arrival coming, one from a leader with a larger following.  We’ve closed things for him too.  We’ve closed:

Our schools. Our jobs.  Our friends. Our families. Our past. Our heart.

Some churches have closed him out a long time ago.

Yet, he is coming. He is coming to shine light to the dark places, to unleash a movement of inspired creativity. He’s coming to show the real meaning of truth, love, compassion and grace. He’s coming to destroy pretenses and demolish every box we’ve attempted to build around him.

He is changing lives, breaking chains, setting captives free and spreading hope in sacrifice. His message is clear for those ready to listen. His words will never pass away. His grace is new each morning. He works for the good of those called according to his purposes and he will make your paths straight.

You don’t even need to buy a ticket, sit in traffic, or fight the crowd. You don’t need to attend a conference.

All you need is a space to drop to your knees and listen to that voice calling inside. Take the moment and open your heart.

Someone out there is waiting for these words.  I pray they find their way home.

~Matt

 

The End of Boring

This afternoon I had to go and pick up a refill of Val’s medicine at the local Target pharmacy.  I left work and drove over with thirty minutes to spare before I needed to get Carter from after school childcare. The pharmacy, as per the usual practice, did not have the refill ready so I ambled around the store to kill time.

I stopped at the magazines and, in the current Men’s Health edition, they surveyed a large segment of women and found that they were bored in their marriages. The writer offered a number of suggestions to spice up the situation, but the underlying issue remains.

How many of us are bored with our marriages, our jobs, our lives, or our walks with God?

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We are beings hard-wired to chase satisfaction.  Addicts find it many different ways, from money to fitness and drugs. We demand value and will sacrifice whatever it takes. Talk to the bully or the one throwing themselves at others for acceptance. We want to be wanted and in control.

At the same time, we want to consume.  Our drive to gratification demands one more minute on the phone, one more text message, one more status update or photo upload. And don’t wait because, in the minute you put your phone down, you could miss a friend’s baby picture or workout status and clean meal of the morning.

Maybe we’re missing the point.

Bored is focused inwards.

Passion is focused on them.

Passion is about what we give to a situation, whether a job, family, marriage, or faith walk.  Want to light up your days? Think about what you can do for someone else.  Tip the scales the other direction.  Sacrifice your time for a greater goal.

Donate. Create. Shape your contribution and release it into the world.

So tonight, if you are living in a stagnant situation, there is time for change.  There is time to step out of your comfort zone. Time to give, to enter a new situation and make it better.

Anyone can sit back and consume.

The time for waiting is over.  Take a small step and do something for a friend or family member or, even better, someone you don’t know. See what happens.

A life of epic faith, love, family, and passion is possible.  It takes one day of change at a time.  Let tomorrow be your Day One and see what happens.

~Matt

The School of Tragedy

Stephen Colbert recently started his run in late night television with a captivating interview.  He had Vice President Joe Biden on as a guest and, if you haven’t seen it, I recommend looking up the video.  Biden and Colbert had both gone through traumatic losses in their lives, each man losing loved ones and family members in accidents.  Biden’s in a car accident and Colbert’s in a plane crash.

They discussed the recent passing of Biden’s son Beau, in May.  Both men being practicing Catholics, Colbert asked how Biden’s faith helped him in grief. Joe quoted Kierkegaard in response with:

“Faith sees best in the dark.”

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Yesterday we paused, as a nation, to remember the years since 9/11.  I believe tragedy and loss teach us more than the good times. Our struggles make us see God more clearly.  Our pain draws our eyes upward. Our emotions seed our souls for the divine.

Every generation has their traumatic moment.  My grandparents had WW2.  My parents had the assassination of President Kennedy. We had September 11th.  Our children will certainly have their own.

We can only hope and pray the scars do not run too deep.

For tragedy breeds hope. Hope, unity. Over a few days, back in 2001, we forgot about politics and dividing lines. Everyone just wanted to help.

In the Biden interview he also stated that America could be great if we could just get out of our own way. Maybe that’s the point.  The losses, death, struggle and despair helps us get out of our own way. It strips us from all pretense.

I pray, if you are in the midst of tragedy in this season in life, you find yourself closer to the divine.  I pray you see more clearly in the dark, for your time is not over.  Your story hasn’t ended.  You carry on, hold memories close, and step forward with those losses living right by your heart.

For hope is real and strength will come from above to carry you through.

~Matt

Calling

Make tomorrow different.

Do it because you can. Because you don’t know if you’ll have Friday.  Because somewhere, someone is sitting in the darkness of their home regretting the fact that they didn’t do it.

Ignore the doubts. Silence the critics. Choose what voices matter and keep them close.

Find your idea. Ignite a new passion. Connect with friends and make partnerships.

Do it because it is in your history, in your blood going back through the generations.

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Do it because you were called to fight, because somewhere three hundred years ago people decided to rise up and claim their freedom. Do it because this year a soldier didn’t make it home to their family.

Do it because someone believes in you. Your mother. Your father. Your children look up to you and see inspiration.

Close your eyes.

See your goal.

Take that first step. Lace up the sneakers and hit the track. Set up the meeting with the perspective investors and put your idea on the table and know, even if they say NO, it only means they weren’t the right ones and there’s an entire country waiting to support you.

Do it because time is short. Because giving matters. Because tonight a kid is hungry somewhere and your success could inspire someone to give back and their donation could help put food in the fridge. Because a person you haven’t met needs to know your story and understand that

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is

hope.

When the sun rises and the alarm sounds, open your eyes. Draw a breath and be thankful because your work isn’t complete. You are needed. You have another chance to make a difference.

Do it because the fear of success is greater than the fear of failure. Because you are worth having a dream, chasing it down, grasping it and never letting go.

Hear that? That small voice in the silence? That voice speaking in your heart whenever you close your eyes and listen? That thrumming in your soul pulses out a beat driving you forward, waiting, coiled and ready to expand and explode.

That voice is the calling.  Will you respond?

~Matt

To Be or Not To Be

At the library this week, I picked up an amazing book titled Getting There by Gillian Zoe Segal. The book itself is a series of interviews with prominent businessmen and women, scientists, doctors, entrepreneurs, and other members of society.  Each one tells their stories and offers advice for the reader.

In the section for Jim Koch, head of The Boston Beer Company, he mentions having a message from his secretary posted on his wall.  The message was a phrase “Call back on Monday.” Koch says that it was from a young man who had called his office on a Friday.  He had said he would call back and, that weekend, had a heart attack and died.

Koch’s point was simple.  Don’t put anything off because you have no idea if you’ll have Monday.  You never know when your time is up.

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What if this week was it? What if you had another four days to get done something important from your bucket list? What kind of conversations would you have? Where would you go?

Say it is not four days, but four years?

I’m praying for clarity in this season of our lives and it has led to some interesting developments, revelations, and expansion. Because why not roll the dice?

Segal’s book has inspired me on more than one level and I recommend it to anyone looking for the same. The risk is not taking one at all, not stepping into the path God has laid out for you and living a lukewarm alternative. You can go through the motions or you can be the father, mother, husband, wife, leader and mentor you are destined to become.

It is intimidating. In the quiet moments remember the faith we follow.

This week I also watched the trailer to the upcoming film Risen.  You can see it below.  When you consider the one who has conquered death, the choice isn’t as hard as it seems. Turn away from fear, stand up, and change your world this week.

~Matt