Stung

I’m typing this on the table in our hotel room. The boys are in bed. Val is watching a movie on the television.  Twelve hours ago I was talking to coworkers about our situation and almost lost it, tears waiting just under the surface.  Our gas line should be fixed tomorrow.  Construction to repair our house will begin in three to four weeks. The project should take three weeks or so to complete, not counting painting.

The house should be back to normal around February.

Just before Aiden went to bed, I let him talk to my mother on the phone.  He asked her if she could come to the hotel and then said:

“My house is broken.”

As I laid with him to help him go to sleep I apologized.  He looked at me and said he loved me and a long day finally came to an end.

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The feeling of guilt isn’t easy.  Val decorated our living room in an attempt to have some normalcy.  The boys will have Christmas in the midst of construction. They are excited and acting up as Val and I beg them to calm.

The tragedies of life sting deeply.

On Sunday, our pastor talked about helping people find hope this season. People should see hope in us and want the same. When the tank is empty and the mountains keep getting higher, hope is not our natural reaction.

Yet, I’m standing on the promise of good things on the other side.  We will come out of this stronger and more unified than before.  Our house will get back to normal and we will function without construction and damage soon.

Broken things will heal.

So tonight I keep putting these thoughts down.  A year from now I’ll read this post and understand.

Tonight, it hurts.

Tomorrow, recovery begins. If you are dealing with something today, this week, or this month I pray you find the same.  I pray you see hope and know you are not alone.  We are there with you, together.

~Matt

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The Purpose of Water

I sat up in bed on Wednesday morning a few minutes before the alarm.  Aiden was sleeping next to me.  I walked into the bathroom and the floor was soaked.

It took a moment to sink in.

The toilet had clogged somehow during the night (it was clear when I went to sleep) and ran all night.  I jogged down the stairs to find Aiden’s carpet soaked and water leaking from his ceiling and the ceiling of the bathroom directly under ours.  On the entry level, part of the ceiling had fallen down in our dining room and kitchen.

I called our insurance agency and they sent out a Fire and Water Restoration company. For the last two days, we’ve attempted to live around the noise of multiple industrial fans working to dry out the wood and prepare for the reconstruction.

They estimated $70,000 in damage.

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The experience so far has given me an appreciation for people living in areas where stuff like tornadoes and floods happen more often. There’s a numbness to disaster, an autopilot that kicks in when you realize that a problem needs to be handled.

We’ve been blessed to deal with professionals every step of the way, from insurance company to construction guys.

As I’m typing this, the fans blast around me and a few lessons have emerged.

The small stuff matters.  At what point in the night did the volume of water get high enough to creep into the walls? The level rose gradually until it expanded and started doing damage.  As a family, we’ve put things off with the excuse of fear, exhaustion, or lack of money/time/resource, etc. Those deferred desires and callings build until they start doing damage and impacting your lives as parents and spouses. Cut off problems when they start before they overflow and the structure you built falls apart.

A crew is vital. Within an hour of reporting the damage, we had help at our door. In isolation, we’d still be lost.  Reaching out is sometimes the hardest thing to do, yet it is a key to success.  Build a team, consult with professionals, work problems together. If you don’t know, find someone who does. Trusted experts are keys to rebuilding and starting fresh.

Take inventory. I am a huge fan of this in all parts of life.  In the midst of disaster, we must take inventory.  The claims adjuster gave me a form to report losses of property.  It is an awkward feeling to assign value to your departed stuff, yet it shouldn’t take destruction to make it happen.  Take time to determine what really matters and how much it is worth.

Have an insurance policy. We’re looking at a small deductible but, after that, all other costs will be paid. Do you know where to turn in the midst of a crisis? Where do you find hope? As followers of Jesus, we know the instruction from Peter in the bible when he tells us to have an answer ready when people question our hope. Tonight I know this fix is out of my hands and it is a good feeling, faith and investment now for the issues to come.

We made it through this alive, safe, and able to sleep here at night.  I couldn’t ask for much more as I restart the work on this book and preparation for publication in 2016.  If you haven’t yet, feel free to follow me on here or through your email.

The ride only gets better

~Matt

 

When Going Home is Hard to Do

“The Prodigal Son”

The phrase carries instant meaning in society.  The son returns to the family after a time away.  It is used to mean anyone returning home physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

Yesterday, in church, we talked about the story in Luke 15.

For those unfamiliar, the younger son of a family asks for his inheritance so he can go on and live his life.  He takes off, disowning his father, and spurns his money on worldly pursuits. When he finally hits poverty, he goes home and is accepted by his father with open arms.  He’s given a robe, sandals, a signet ring and acceptance.

The message is an allegory of grace and faith, the idea that all are welcome home even if they’d strayed from their foundation.

What if going home isn’t that easy?

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Our souls long for a place of permanence. We’ve taken the concept of home and weighted it with meaning, looking down on the homeless, the outcast and refugee. We circle our wagons and protect our homes.

When the economy collapsed in 2008, many homes were lost to debt and disarray.

Growing up I always loved my home.  Val’s family moved many times over the years to different homes. We often talk about our boys growing up here.  Do we want them to stay in this school district? This neighborhood?

Carter told us, the other night, that he’ll miss this place when the time comes to move.  Part of me, that little kid such a homebody, feels bad for him.

For some of us, home was hell.

Nights were nightmares. Days were long, hot, physically and emotionally difficult.  At the first chance to run, we took it and never looked back.  If you are one of those people, how do you read the prodigal son? I mean, who cares if you can go home again when it was the lowest point in your life?

I think there’s another side of the story.

Going home is about finding yourself. When we experience trauma, we set up bottom lines as motivation. Poverty can give us drive and hustle to never live that way again. The shadows of abuse can make us better parents and spouses. The harm of betrayal keeps us honest and true.

Going home is about stepping into a calling that existed from the moment you were conceived.   It is about facing down the ghosts of the past and understanding they are not you and you are not them. It is about acceptance by a Creator with open arms and endless grace.

If going home this week is too hard, step back and take a moment. See where you are and not where you were. Be thankful for the strength and life you have and know what is waiting.  You can, and you will, make it through.

~Matt

How to Know and Escape Toxic Environments

When I worked in the emergency room, it happened every few nights.  The waiting room was full, the treatment rooms full with at least two or three intoxicated patients in the back. Parents would be holding injured children.  Hours ticked past and you felt the tension.

Soon, a person would snap and start yelling at us and we’d have to get security involved.  They’d calm until the next one yelled.

Eight hours of work in a toxic environment is enough to ware down even the strongest of souls. It doesn’t always take the dramatic form of an emergency room.  It can be a classroom, an office, a factory floor or retail store.

It can be the dinner table.

Toxic environments impact every person inside their borders. The tension is real. Loved ones hurt each other with words and actions. Coworkers gossip. Creativity is stifled and hope vanishes. There is no ownership, no teamwork, and no personal or corporate incentive.

You show up, put in time, and leave

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There are ways to escape.

Find Your Passion– Make your work line up with your passion. This is easier said than done in the current economic environment but, the advent of social media and technology has leveled the playing field.  You can learn a new skill through research and free resources found online.  You can set up a website and start finding customers through various free platforms. Think of what you’d do if you could pick anything and chart out the path to make it happen.  The biggest risk is not taking a shot at all.

Find Your Community– Toxic environments destroy community.  They isolate and capture, creating conflict and discord. The only bonding occurs over negative talk and stories as criticism becomes the accepted language. Finding a genuine community helps you break free.  Some of those nights in the emergency room, I was blessed to work with others who followed Jesus and we made a point to make each other laugh and keep things light. At home, start small with a walk around the block, date night, or doing homework at the kitchen table. Build bonds and know you are not alone. Walking the path together always makes things easier.

Find Your Creativity– Break old routines by making something new. Creation breeds passion and community. Look at your current situation and make a list of what could change.  How could you be a part of it? What new ideas could you bring to the table? We are all called to create.  Listen to your calling.

Find Your Faith– I believe we are meant for something more.  We are here to break through toxic environments.  We are to be light in the darkness and salt of the earth. I believe we were born with purpose and passion.

You may read this tonight and feel the tug of truth.  You may look in the mirror and know your soul is incomplete.  Work tomorrow seems like jail and not freedom. The person sleeping next to you is distant.  The kids are wild. You just had a fight with that parent that can’t seem to understand.

You are tired.

Make a list.  Check the points above and find your freedom.  It is possible and it can happen.

I’m making the journey and we can do it together.

~Matt

Three Ways to End Your Fear

Don’t be afraid.

The statement is repeated numerous times in the Bible. We are told, despite our natural instinct, not to fear. Fear, to me, was never paralyzing.  It is more a cold, blank sensation.

When Aiden was born, I stood in the delivery room and watched the nurses clean him off (a scheduled c-section). They hooked him to an oxygen monitor and I watched as his numbers started at 96 and gradually fell to 80. In this span of minutes, a NICU doctor was called in and they decided to give him a bed in the NICU.

He stayed almost a week before the fluid was clear from his lungs and stomach.

I’ll never forget watching those numbers fall and the glances the nurses exchanged with each other as he struggled to breathe. The fear in my heart implanted the images in my soul.

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Fear can be a catalyst.  When you stand at the Red Sea watching it part, you have two choices.  You can stay in danger or walk forward, facing the perceived greater danger, and see what happens. The unknown, even between walls of water, can unleash greatness on the other side.

Fear can be a dream. I remember having nightmares growing up.  One night a pair of cats were fighting outside my window.  The growls, scratches, and screams were surreal and seemed to be getting closer and closer. The darkness itself can bring condemnation and anxiety.  For some, dark nights carried the promise of no heat or electricity, hunger, or an abusive spouse or parent. In dreams, remember you will wake up. The sun will split the night and rise in the morning.

Fear can be control. This is the most dangerous. You are called.  Maybe it is a mission trip. Maybe a friend whose marriage is failing, maybe a family member mired in addiction. Maybe it is the business you are meant to start, the product that will change the world, the idea that can make a difference.  God puts this on your heart and you look in the mirror.

The small voice tells you that you can’t do it.  Not you. Not now.

What if you fail? Think of the laughter, the condemnation, the wasted time, money, and effort.

What if it all falls apart?

This fear is vanquished through community.  Find friends and colleagues making the same journey.  Look for resources in person and in the digital universe.  Find hope in a mentor who has been there already.  Find power in the permission to let yourself chase your dream.

Break the control of fear. The failure of not trying is always greater than giving it a shot. Step in the ring. You’ll be surprised at what can happen when fear is beaten down and destroyed. Even if you need to do it every day, it is worth the fight.

~Matt

The Hardest Lesson

We are both human and works in progress.

Yesterday the horrific terror attacks in Paris have opened up old wounds for many in this country.  We watch in sadness and shock.  We understand, not so far removed from 9/11. We pray and we offer support in any way possible.

Thinking about these things led me to the most challenging instruction Jesus ever delivered in the Bible.

One day, as he gathered on a mountainside, a crowd formed.  He delivered the greatest sermon ever recorded and systematically tore down every societal construct of the day.  He spoke of the meek, the hated, hungry and thirsty being blessed.  He warned of false prophets gaining money and following by corrupting the Word.

He then said this:

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The exact lines read (Luke 6:27-36):

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

These paragraphs fly in the face of everything we stand for, every human emotion, all the rage and tears.  The concept exists in stark contrast to how we act and feel as believers, a government and society.

We scream for justice, for bloodshed and retaliation. Our guts want those guilty to get everything they deserve.

We want war.

And the cycle keeps spinning.

Today I’m praying for those involved in this tragedy and for wisdom and security. Something needs to change at the heart of this world.  There is a void and only one way to fill it.

The cross still stands, in the moments we choose to heed the message and the moments we ignore in our humanity, fueled by rage in the face of unquestionable evil. The cross stands to tell us there is justice, victory, sacrificial love that heals all wounds.

The cross stands to tell us it will be there in the wake of every terrorist bomb and bullet, every life taken.

It is a challenge to this world ready for the day we are prepared to answer the call.

~Matt

 

The Diary or the Map

One of my favorite films is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  I liked it enough to consider a history major in college and the chance to go chasing treasures around the world.  I still love history but the most chasing I’ll do is with a cursor moving across a webpage.

In the movie, Sean Connery and Harrison Ford play father and son.  Connery, the elder Jones, has a diary that contains a map to find the Holy Grail. The Grail, according to legend, was the cup used by Jesus at the last supper and by Joseph to catch his blood as he was hanging on the cross.

In the midst of the movie, after escaping Nazis, they come to a crossroads and have an important conversation.

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Ford wants to go to Venice as their friend Marcus is there with the map.  Connery warns him they must go back to Berlin to get his diary because it contains clues to get past the three challenges that await anyone as they approach the Grail itself.

Two options: the quick way out or the challenge that yields the greater reward. It is a choice we face on a daily basis.

As I’m rounding the turn on getting Glass Jar City ready for publication, I’ve been honored to have an email exchange with Tom Morkes.  Morkes is the CEO of Insurgent Publishing and he offers a wealth of resources both free and paid on his website.  He advised that this process will be work, that book launches have no short cuts.

I’m facing my own trip back to “Berlin.”

Your crossroads may look different.

It could be a job offer, heading to workout when you are sick and exhausted, kneeling to pray when the words aren’t there. It could be your spouse walking out the door and telling you they are finished or the doctor with bad news.

Adversity is part of faith.

We love our success stories (Christians build empires on them) but adversity is more valuable. We are called to the rough path, the tough choice, to make a move when it takes all the emotional and physical strength we have left.

When you are there, looking at the crossroads, consider these two things:

Get Help. I am taking Morkes up on his offer and using some of the resources from Insurgent Publishing to assist with this book launch.  I want it to make a difference, to start conversations and create unity.  I want people invested in fighting poverty and making things better in our own little corner of the world.  It may be a long road but it helps to have someone by your side.

Find Your Passion. Those that change the game often face choices that could have knocked them off their journey.  Easier routes emerge, paths of least resistance. The wide gate as opposed to the narrow road. Sometimes tragedy forces us onto the shoulder as traffic speeds by. Have the courage to keep moving.  Know what drew you in the first place, what need burns inside and follow it like a beacon.

Tonight, consider your options and make your choice.  I invite you to join me on this journey.  You can follow this blog through email, Facebook, Tumblr, or LinkedIn. Feel free to share it with anyone needing some hope and inspiration in their life.

Together we can make a difference.

~Matt

Throw Away Old Stories

I’ve mentioned Donald Miller’s Storyline blog on here more than once and for good reason as I almost always get some selection of inspirational material.  If you haven’t followed them yet, I recommend it.

This past week, there was a post about changing the narrative you are living.  The writer told a story about a friend’s mother and this woman’s visit to her friend’s house. The friend complained that, when her mother was over, she “turned into a twelve-year-old again.” The writer continued to talk about growing up as an outsider and how she needed to overcome that to succeed in her creative efforts.

The post was up on Saturday and it has bounced around in my head since then.

How many of us are living old stories?

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I feel like this past year has been a journey to break the hold of old stories on my life.  I was not what you’d call an outsider as I had friends from different social groups.  I was not, though, the popular kid.  I didn’t jump at opportunities to show off.  I wasn’t a sports star or an actor with the drama club.

Oral presentations scared me until I took a public speaking class in high school.

These stories carried over into my early 30’s and I feel the fight rising. It is only a conflict because the old stories still exist.  Because the old part of my soul still stands on the sidelines content to be okay.

The time to be okay is over.

Change is possible if we allow ourselves to do it.  How many of us avoid the difficult conversation about Jesus at the water cooler because we were rejected in the past? Because someone made fun of us for being different? How many let those with stronger wills influence our lives and the lives of our children? How many refuse to stand because we’ve been knocked down too much that it is just easier to stay there?

Do we avoid risk because we fear failure or success? Breaking apart or breaking the bonds that hold us down?

I pray this week is one of change for you.  That you step out of your comfort zone and throw away the old stories impacting your life.  Starting writing new ones and see what happens.

~Matt

Prayer Request Saturday

Maybe you woke up sick this morning like I did.  Maybe the kids didn’t sleep or your spouse was out all night with friends. Maybe the week was too long at a job without enough pay doing something you don’t love.

One of my favorite works of literature is Dante’s Inferno, part of the Divine Comedy. The poem tells of a journey through hell and it starts with the narrator getting lost in the woods.

You may be standing in your own woods this morning.

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This post is an offer.  No sales, no SEO or products.  From the time you read this through midnight Sunday, I’ll be checking in.

If there is anything you’d like prayer for, please let me know in a comment here, on Facebook, or any other social media channels.

I know and I believe that prayer is powerful.  We’ve seen God answer our petitions more than once these last few months and I know he will do the same for you.

I want to say thank you to everyone who has followed this blog and this story so far.  Great things are coming and I’m excited to write about them as they develop in the coming weeks.

Today, Saturday 11/7/2015, is for anyone who reads this and may be struggling.  I’ll be praying for you. For as our pastor says, just months after the motorcycle accident that took his left leg and the life of his wife, there is no Plan B.  Our faith is Plan A and it is the only plan.

I look forward to hearing from you and, if you feel pulled, offer up the chance to pray for your family, friends, and readers.  Let this weekend be about a reconnect, about a movement back to faith and hope.

Have a great rest of your weekend and you’ll be in my prayers.

~Matt