Failure is Not an Option

I just started reading a book this weekend by Lewis Howes called The School of Greatness.  Howes is an athlete and entrepreneur.  He has an inspiring story and great podcast that I highly recommend.  In the chapter I read last night, he posed this challenge:

Imagine what your life would look like if you knew you could never fail.

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Fear can be crippling, whether we fear success or failure. We can be scared to break out of the box of our own expectations and those of our family. We grow up listening to the narratives that swirl around us.  It takes drive and effort to break the trend and stand out, to tell the ghosts of the pasts that they don’t have any power in the present or the future.

This weekend, as you hand out candy and dress up in costumes, take a moment and picture your life without failure.  What would you do, how would you change, what would you create? What impact would you make in this world that longs for someone to come and change things?

What legacy would you leave?

Make plans and, when Monday comes, take the first step towards a new future.  I know I will.

~Matt

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The Joy Shortage

It was a short walk. Our building at work is three floors.  This past week I was upstairs in the testing center.  I had to run some documents down to the second floor. I left my desk, went through the back hallway and down the stairs.

I crossed the second level and passed patients, nurses, and doctors.  After delivering papers to our financial guy I returned upstairs.

Not one greeting, smile, or acknowledgement. I made eye contact with patients and other coworkers, tried to engage with people, and found nothing. As I sat down at my desk, the realization hit me.

We are missing joy.

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I work at a cardiology office and the irony is not lost.  There are many people with sick hearts, young and old, rich and poor. They go through the motions and decide if they have enough reason to keep moving forward.

Society isn’t helping.

We’re facing a higher cost for everything, from healthcare to groceries. We’re patronized from the media and politicians forever out of touch with the people they represent.

So how do we find joy again?

Friends: Val and I are meeting friends tomorrow night for dinner and a concert in the city. There is value in genuine community. There is value in sharing success and struggle.  It is too easy to feel alone.  I had a person this week show up way early for an appointment and tell me, “It is better than being with my husband.” Don’t live a life without the release that comes from the shoulder of a friend to lean on.

Function: I am not where I’m meant to be.  You may think that wouldn’t be conducive to joy, but the opposite is true.  I work with many people who have settled and don’t have the energy to make a change.  They spend their days miserable, trapped in comfort that has robbed them from passion and purpose. It is never too late to move.  What is the dream you have? The art you are meant to make? The missions trip that has been on your mind every time you hear about it at church?  You have set days on this planet and a designated purpose. Connect the two and you’ll find joy.

Freedom: There is no such thing as a required pace in this race of life. There is no reason to “Keep Up with the Joneses”. When I first got out of college, I spent two weeks working a sales job and “Keeping Up with the Joneses” was a technique they taught you on day one: always tell people their neighbor/friend/competition just completed a sale with you. It will push your target do throw their money down.

We do the same thing to ourselves all the time.  If that person on social media just got a new car, we are angry that we can’t do the same.

It is time to let go of the comparison game and free ourselves from the trappings of stuff.

This weekend, be sure to take some time and experience joy.  Laugh, love, and live deeply.  You’ll be refreshed and relieved in the end.

~Matt

 

Stressed Out

Last night we took our kids down to Royersford to the Halloween parade.  Val and I grew up in the town, a few blocks away from each other.  We met at the local grocery store and walked home from high school together. The streets bring back memories.

We found one of the last few spots to squeeze in for Carter and Aiden to sit on the curb. It worked until a group of older kids gathered in front of them and blocked their view for the entire parade. These kids were running up and down the street, taking candy from the parade people, and diving in front of the trucks and floats.

Driving home, Val and I vented at how things aren’t the same anymore.

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There’s a song by the group 21 Pilots called Stressed Out. The lyrics talk about missing the good old days, how if we had a choice between student loans and tree houses, we’d choose the tree houses.  There’s a declaration repeated where, rather than dreaming, it is time to “wake up you need to make money!”

The bridge between our childhood and the present isn’t as long as we’d think.

It is filled with meaning.

When we are young, we search for our identities through our environment, friends, school, and social situations. As we grow, we look inside and put ourselves up against our goals and ideals. The schoolyard transforms into the break room.

I can identify with the lyrics quoted above and I also know they aren’t totally correct.

We don’t need to wake up and make money. We need to wake up and find freedom.

Because the days are limited. Because our worth is not measured by our bank account.  It is found in the values we pass on, in the two boys I strive to raise into gentlemen. In the wife that is my partner and soulmate, my rock and the completion of my sentences. In the past that has driven me forward and the future that is waiting with the chance to make a difference.

Because the job and this life isn’t over yet.

~Matt

Everything Will be Okay

I sat on the bench at the playground as Carter ran around the various areas.  We had just finished baseball for the fall season. I watched other kids play, parents talk and teenagers throw football off to the side. It’s amazing how you can be lonely in the midst of a crowd.

I sent Val a message wondering where we fit in. Our story isn’t set yet.  Our roots aren’t in the dirt. We are different from so many of the other couples, ones that don’t consider Monday the worst day of the week.

We’re a work in progress, a life being written.

This morning I read an article about Micro Church.  It cited one in Brooklyn meeting in a storefront every week to share a meal, an interesting image so close to the massive Brooklyn Tabernacle. Two buildings for the same purpose. Two congregations existing on different paths.

Now is the perfect time to examine the journey.

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Later in the day we visited an orchard a few miles away.  The one we normally go to was closed. After having to pull over and GPS the address on my phone, we finally found it. A dirt road led up and across rolling hills.  Finally, we parked on a hilltop with fields and trees blazing with color all around us. The girl working the small shed where you paid said the pumpkins were up over a hill in the distance.

We kept walking and, when we crested that hill, I was struck by the beauty of the moment.

A constant breeze pushed us forward.  The gravel road paralleled a field of pumpkins to our left and apple trees to our right.  Carter ran ahead to find his pumpkin.  Val and Aiden walked together.  I snapped some pictures.

It was a reminder, the creator tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “If I can paint these hills and grow these apples, things are under control.  Every blade of grass in this field holds my fingerprint. The wind carries my song. If I care about this, how much more do I care about you? Everything will be okay.”

Life will be okay.

I stored the moment in my heart as you must do with all divine communication. Maybe Monday won’t be so bad after all.

~Matt

Seeing the Future

Today was one of the longer days I’ve had in a while.  Both of the boys were up for hours last night, finally falling asleep around 5-6 in the morning.  I had to start work at 6 and, originally, was going to end at 2:30 in the afternoon. We happened to be short-staffed and, when I arrived, they asked me to do a full day.

So here I am, after ten hours of work and a hundred patients handled on my own, ready for some quality writing.

Two headlines captured my attention today.  The first was the recent passing of Back to the Future day, the date that Michael J. Fox actually visits during his trip to the future.  In the same spirit, I read about a unique image found in a music video from 1999.

In the video for “Sleep Now in the Fire” by Rage Against the Machine, a man is seen at the 1:04 mark holding up a sign stating “Donald Trump for President, 2000.”

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Michael Moore directed the video that featured members of the band performing on Wall Street directly in front of the NY Stock Exchange. The clip also features various news images and a faux game show knock-off of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The questions to the contestants are easy and powerful.  One asks how many Americans did not have healthcare at the time.  The other asks how many people in the world live on less than 1.00$ a day. A third asks what percentage of wealth does the top ten percent of the USA own.

It is a visual and sonic judgement against a government driven by money, power and control.

Fifteen years later, now with Mr. Trump actually running for president, how far have we come?

Have we lost our cause?

People who claim to follow Jesus have recently been pushed to the margins by various groups standing up against discrimination. The faith started by the man who changed the world so long ago is no longer seen as an answer.

Many churches sit on the brink, unable or unwilling to respond to pressure.

I don’t think our cause has changed.  Jesus told us to go forth and make disciples of all the nations. He said to love our neighbors. He told us to stand up for the least of these and that every time we did, it would be known.

We must pick the right battle and the right weapons.

For our fight is love, not money. Grace, not hatred. Open arms, not closed fists. Forgiveness. Self worth. A focus on charity and helping those in need.

The message of the song is evident.  If we keep going, the end result of the status quot is getting burned.  In a time when so many go with the flow and trap themselves in the race for possessions and status, we must be different. Because you can’t take it with you. Because a love of stuff prevents anything else from getting in, including family and friends.

Because it is time for the American Way to be reconsidered and rewritten.

Now who will pick up the pen?

I’ll give you a clue, it won’t be Donald Trump. It will be the author of all things and the Giver of Life, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

Let’s get started.

~Matt

 

 

 

 

A Faith-Defining Moment

This summer, I posted more than once about the motorcycle accident involving our pastor and his wife. Bryan Koch heads Glad Tidings Church here in Wyomissing.  In June, an intoxicated man driving an SUV crossed the center line of the road and hit Bryan and his wife Lynn.  Lynn lost her life in the accident.  Pastor Bryan lost his left leg and suffered massive injuries.

He almost died more than once in the days directly after the accident.  Yesterday, after nineteen weeks of recovery, he returned to church to preach his first sermon since the tragedy.

The building was packed to the point where they had to stop people at the entrance. Services in other locations, some internationally, were streaming the message that Bryan delivered. He stood on the stage a living miracle of survival and persistence.

Yet this wasn’t the moment I’m talking about.

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At the end of the service, the band played Bryan’s theme song over the past few months, Never Once by Matt Redman. The song started and I watched, as he stood with the help of his walker, and raised his hand in worship.

Here was a man who had lost his wife, spent fifty-one days in the hospital, had almost met death more than once, and he stood on the stage in worship of the God that had never left him alone. There were hard times, he mentioned in the message, times of pain and sorrow. He talked about arriving home from the hospital on the day that would have been his 28th wedding anniversary, seeing a picture on his fridge of him and Lynn, and breaking down.

His voice caught as he talked about her in heaven.

There was something profound in watching him worship. Profound in knowing that God will carry you through your circumstances, that you will stand again even if you are missing some parts.

Your situation matters. Your pain matters. Your suffering matters.  You will make it through.

I watched a miracle happen on Sunday morning. I pray this week you have your own miracles and you realize you are not alone.

~Matt

Finding Freedom from Timing

Ever feel like you’ve missed the party?

As writers, we get this more often than we’d like to admit.  We kick around a novel idea in our heads until the next big hit sounds too close for comfort. Our friends nail their first big publication when we’re still chasing ours. A family member lands a promotion.

We send out thirty submissions and, even with an acceptance, wonder about the twenty-nine others that rejected us. We look in the mirror and question if we’re doing the right thing. Life seems to flow past in rapids as we stand in the midst of the stream watching the reflection of the sun on the water.

The impact can range from annoying to paralyzing, yet there is a way out.

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I met with a friend of mine this week, Brian Kelly, one of the minds working to make Reading a better place.  He spoke about bringing people together to the table to have conversations that may be awkward. He said how everyone deserves a voice, even if they aren’t comfortable in the environment.  Put the businessmen on the streets and let those on the streets spend some time in the boardrooms.

Let those supporting the gentrification of cities (get the poor out) meet with advocates for the homeless and start the dialogue.

It is an important lesson to carry over.

Every voice matters.  Your voice matters.

When it seems like all the others are at the table already, there is a space for you. When it seems like the power and influence lies with everyone else, it is even more a reason to tell your story. When the weight of the past presses down and threatens you, put the words together and release them to the world.

Forget about timing.

There’s a saying in writing that, the moment you write for the current market, you’ll miss it. The moment you edit yourself in fear of outside opinions, scrap the paragraph and start again.

It also applies in life.

Believe in yourself. Believe in your story. Believe in your worth and know that you matter.

Forget about “timing” and focus on moving, doing, serving, loving, and giving. You be amazed at the results.

~Matt

When it is Not Fun Anymore

The clouds drifted in over the baseball field, pushed by a fall wind and bringing an early end to the night.  We had arrived late to the practice as I was at a meeting at City Hall.  Carter had a chance to hit twice, field a few grounders, and practice was over.  We went to the playground as the light finally died and, when I convinced him to go, walked to the car together.

He wasn’t himself.

I asked what was happening and the conversation moved to baseball.

“I’m not having fun anymore, dad.”

He looked at me from the backseat as we drove home.

This evening I met a young man shooting a documentary about the city of Reading.  He filmed me in the cafe of our church as I talked about the book and the fight against poverty.  He asked how the average person can get involved and what would be the biggest help.  I looked at the cameras in my face, took a deep breath, and answered.

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We all struggle on two fronts; connection and consistency.  We believe we are different, that the poor are “out there” and we are “in here.” Conversations must happen to change any societal system. Service must be redefined. Help must be given on a consistent basis.

It is one thing to give on the holidays, serve a meal or lead a community group.  It is another thing to do it monthly.

To serve when it is not fun anymore.

There’s a song by Cold War Kids that I’ve been hooked on for the last few days called, First. The lyrics talk about life when you get trapped in a destructive cycle of disappointment, breaking of trust and going back to the start.  A verse reads:

There comes a time, in a short life
Turn it around, get a rewrite
Call it a dark, night of the soul
Ticking of clocks, gravity’s pull
First you get close, then you get worried

Flying like a cannonball, falling to the earth
Heavy as a feather when, you hit the dirt
How am I the lucky one?, I do not deserve
To wait around forever when, you were there first.

Cold War Kids have a fascinating story themselves as a band (check Relevant Magazine here) that includes faith, brokenness, trials and redemption. The connections are the same.  Father to son. Producer to consumer. Community member to community member.  Believer to believer.

We’ve all hurt.  We’ve all struggled.  We need to face down this life together and do it for the long haul.

That is when walls come down and grace, hope, and mercy rise up.

~Matt

A Eulogy for the Bunny

An era has ended in the lives of a print publication almost sixty years old. Playboy announced  today that it will, after a large dip in circulation numbers, cease printing nude pictorials of its centerfold models. According to the report in the New York Times, founder Hugh Hefner himself approved the change.

What does this mean for men like us who follow Jesus and for men in this country in general?

When I was in middle school, we had to do a biography report on a famous entrepreneur. I chose Hefner and, somehow, the project was approved.  Hefner is an interesting story. He founded the magazine in 1953, publishing a nude photo of Marilyn Monroe that was circulating the market without a publisher brave enough to send it to print.

He faced down opposition from many fronts, always claiming the magazine celebrated beauty without exploitation. It pioneered the “girl next door” ideal. It published leading authors of the day in one of the highest-paying literary markets, often being confirmation that they had achieved status as a writer. Hefner put forth a style, with his smoking jacket, pajamas, and mansions on multiple coasts.  He once boasted to have fulfilled every fantasy he had.

The Times cited the emergence of the internet as the kiss of death for the magazine.  What was once mystery is no longer.  Men of any age have instant access to any image they like at the touch of a smartphone button.

So tonight we say goodbye.

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In a way, Hefner influenced culture more than he could have imagined. Playboy was a force that defined the transition to manhood for years and, believe it or not, we were all wrong.

I have no issue with beauty and women are prime examples of the beauty of God’s creation (my wife being the best!). The problem is the one Hefner tried to ignore. His centerfolds turned women into objects.  It told a generation of wives and daughters that they would never be good enough as the models that waited in the magazines hidden under the bed or in the garage. It told a generation of young women their greatest asset was their body.

It removed the mystery and tried to simplify the equation.

The equation is not simple.

Today we pay our athletes millions of dollars as they assault their spouses and girlfriends. An income gap still exists between men and women. Young girls look in the mirror and fight their image as they fight bullying and abuse.

In the Bible, Jesus is presented with a woman caught in the midst of adultery.  It is the famous scene where he tells the crowd that anyone without sin is welcome to cast the first stone.  They are ready to kill her, as per the penalty of the time, and after his interjection they drop their stones and walk away.  There’s a part of this scene often missed. The woman was caught in the middle of the act, odds are pulled out of bed and taken directly to Jesus. She was in the center of the crowd, probably not wearing much, as Jesus came to her defense.

He meets us all in our darkest moments and most vulnerable moments.

Now the Playboy centerfold is finished. It is a small, but correct, step in the fight against pornography and the objectification of women. I’m typing this as Carter and Aiden play in front of me on the floor. Two boys, both growing into men and needing help defining the word. It is my job to help them do it without seeing women as objects, to recognize that beauty runs much deeper than appearance, to stay gentlemen and be respectful.

It is time to break the bond and put the Bunny to bed once and for all.  Manhood can, and will, change for the better if we can move past the entitlement, admit that all seats at the table should be equal, and that none of us are qualified to throw even the smallest of pebble.

~Matt

Sanctuary

On Friday, after a long week of work, Val and I took the boys up to Connecticut to visit friends. We left Pennsylvania around four and arrived at the hotel near midnight. The boys survived the ride and we were able to enjoy a weekend in the fall of New England.

Traveling with kids is never easy. We’ve attempted a few long drives with Carter and Aiden and there’s always some level of stress.  Val picked up a DVD player for the car and that helped, but the arguments over snacks, what movies to watch, and general annoyances continued.

I took Carter and my wife’s friend’s husband Bobby up to Salem, Massachusetts on Saturday to check out the city and attempt to visit some of the Halloween activities. We spent almost an hour looking for a parking spot before stopping for dinner and driving back to the hotel.

The best part of the trip happened on Sunday afternoon.

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We stopped at Enders Island, the location of my graduate school residencies at Fairfield University.  I sat at the table pictured above and thought about those years as Carter and Aiden played in the gardens. Boats crossed the point in the distance and a fall breeze carried into my face. I shut my eyes and inhaled deeply. Two things inhabited that moment:

Peace and Power.

For we all need a sanctuary.  We need a holy place where we can sit with the creator of the universe.  It does not need to be stationary.  You can find your sanctuary pounding the pavement at sunrise during a morning jog.  You can find it on the playground chasing your kids. These tastes of joy bring peace from the stress of life.

The moment above, though, was a commissioning. It was filling the tank, touching the purpose given to every letter typed over the years. It was as if God needed to bring me back to that table for a reminder of the good to come, the life on the flip side where purpose, service, love, and grace collide.

“Daddy, look what I found.”

Carter had picked up a handful of shells from the rocks on the shore of the island, ran over, and gave them to me.  I lined them on the table and, as I went to pick one up, found it sticking.  I twisted until it gave way and saw a small snail ducking back into the center of the shell.

That snail was a long way from home.  It thought it was back on the rocks, though, and held on for dear life.

We all make the same mistake.  Tables can feel like wave-washed stones. The trick is to let God pick us up every once in a while and put us back where we belong. My visit to Enders served this purpose. For an hour on an afternoon in Connecticut, I got the message.

It was time to get back in the water and grab hold, never moving out of the flow.

If you are reading this and feel like you’re lost tonight, consider the surface you are grabbing onto. Maybe it is not what you’ve expected.  Maybe it is time for a change, to find the peace and power that only comes from knowing your divine purpose, connecting with others, and unleashing it to the world.

~Matt