The Secret to Life

It is easy to get discouraged.

I met with two friends this week, both guys married and in the midst of careers.  We each go through our days and nights with family and, in our own way, we have struggles.  They can be rough jobs, stressful kids, not enough money or the weight of the future.

We break it down and encourage each other and there are moments when we need to understand the essence of faith.

Paul tells us:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Our walk is a choice.

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In the age where faith becomes a derogatory term and a political coin, we must break it down. Do we follow the one who is alive? Do we know that, after this life, is something greater?

Do we live with the power of the resurrection inside (Romans 8:11)?

That changes our life:

~God works through every conversation.

~Adversity is overcome to reveal glory.

~Struggle transforms us through refining power.

~Hope is constant.

~Prayer is war.

~Our calling puts a dent in the universe and changes eternity.

~Dreams are radar. Visions become our compass.

~Worship never ends.

I’m praying for this is my life and the life of our family.  How does that list make you feel?  Nervous? Excited? Scared? Remember, he is alive and this life is available for everyone willing to follow the path and change the world.

 

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Yellow Light

Last night we took the boys to my mother’s house for dinner.  The house itself is about a block away from where I grew up. It stands directly next to the elementary school that I attended.  Carter and Aiden, whenever they go down to visit, always end up at the playground.

My mom and I took the boys to the playground just after nightfall. The full moon crept up over the horizon as they ran and played.  The night had a hint of spring and I couldn’t help but feel the ghosts of the past and all the days I walked that same space to and from my childhood.

Recently I made a choice to live more intentionally towards my goals as a professional writer, father, and husband. Goals require plans and plans require time. As believers, time can be a sensitive subject.

We pray for intervention, for God to change our lives now. So how do we deal with the cosmic yellow light?

When the answer isn’t go, but wait?

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We like to think we have the concept of time locked down.  Google self-help or inspirational books and you’ll find plenty about getting the life you want in the time you demand. Technology goes to support this dynamic.  It takes no more than the swipe of a finger to order the most expensive items Amazon carries on their app.

Time is not so quick or fluid. Talk to survivors, the ones learning to live again after harsh pasts. Talk to the families who haven’t eaten in days and the men and women hunting for jobs after years of unemployment.

I still set plans and agendas.  I’m working on more intentional faith and trust.  I know God is active in every moment to make our lives part of his bigger dream. Deep inside my soul yells from the sideline.

I’m ready.  Put me in coach!

Thankfully, that determination isn’t mine to make.  We all have a place and a calling. We all have a job not yet finished as we are still breathing and our hearts still beat.

So tonight, take a breath. Help is coming. Doors will open. The preparation time will end and, in a moment, you will be pulled into the tide of action.  Until then, enjoy the work and refinement.

This is the hard part.

Soon, the fun begins.

~Matt

Setting Goals and Pushback

A few weeks ago I made the choice to support The Freedom Journal by entrepreneur John Lee Dumas, host of one of the most influential podcasts on the business market.  Saturday morning, my copy of the journal arrived in the mail.  I went through the first few pages and set goals for the initial ten-day sprint.

The theme of the journal is accomplishing a larger goal through measured effort spread over 100 days.

This morning I wrote out three daily goals (this was the last day of four days in a hotel for us as a family.  Our floors were getting refinished after water damage.  You can find past posts about the experience around Thanksgiving 2015).  The first two were related to this business and my upcoming book.  The third was something I hadn’t considered before and, honestly had me the most nervous.

Spend devotional time with Carter.

We went to church and I had it planned out in my head.  It would be the start of something big and valuable for us as father and son.

Then we got home and everything fell apart.

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The water to the house had been turned off.  I turned it back on. The flow valve behind one of the toilets in the house broke and flooded the ceiling again.  Water dripped through a brand new ceiling onto our refinished floor. We scrambled for towels, calling the Restoration company we’d used for the original claim.

They came over and dried things out.  Now, three months after the initial incident, we have a pair of holes in our ceiling again and a new ding on our homeowner’s insurance. I put Aiden to bed and, by the time he fell asleep, Carter was in bed himself.

The devotional time did not happen.

Someone said once that resistance is a sign of moving in the right direction. I don’t doubt, for a second, that this was connected to my goal of spending time with Carter and teaching him about Jesus.

The process is about refinement.  Nothing worth it is ever easy and, to think about this drastic of a distraction, there must be a large calling on Carter’s life. The spark is there and it will take more than another leak to prevent me from making the connection.

Tomorrow, we will try again.

As for now, I type this in our bedroom as three blowers dry the dining room for the next three days. The process will continue. I’ve decided to live the next hundred days with fresh intention, fresh faith, new effort and push to get closer to God. I plan on living out the idea of truly giving back my writing as a gift to be used to change lives for the better.

If you are struggling tonight and stumble on this post, I pray you know there is hope. Don’t let what you see interrupt the work God has in your life for your life.

We were blessed to be able to reach out to friends and go to their house for dinner tonight.  If you are struggling, know you are not alone. If it seems that way, know I’m there for you.  Beyond this block of type, know you are being prayed for and feel free to reach out to me.  I will respond.

Have a great night.  This is just the beginning.

~Matt

Recharge

In two days, Val and I will be out of the house again.  The day before Thanksgiving, we had about $10,000 worth of damage from the valve in a toilet tank breaking overnight.  The flooding took out a few walls, sections of ceiling, and damaged some floors. In the past three months the restoration company completed their work and the flooring is the final step.

We can’t be in the house, as the work will be on the entry level, so we’ll be spending about four days in a hotel. Last time we were able to go home and check in.  This time, we will be stuck out, as a family.

I’m looking at the days with a mixture of anxiety and excitement.

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The boys have had extra energy lately and, to go from a lot of room to a space smaller than Val and I’s first apartment, it will certainly be stressful.  I took time off to be there and handle the nights as Carter will still have school during the week.

I also get nervous to have people in the house when we can’t really check in.  Throughout the past three months we were home during all the work. This is a different crew of people and I’m sure they’ll do good work.

These few days will also be an opportunity.  I plan on digging in the Word, working on some side projects, and moving even closer to the launch of my new book.

We need to make the most of our time and, when God allows a few days to step outside the usual week, it is a rare opportunity.  When God leads us to the mountain, we must be thankful as we measure our steps.

It is time for fresh movement, faith, direction and progress and I pray this for anyone out there in need.

If there’s anything I know, God will answer.

~Matt

13 Crosses

On Friday, Sue Klebold gave her first television interview since the events of Columbine High School.  Her son Dylan was one of the shooters who rampaged through the school taking the lives of thirteen of their classmates.

Columbine was a turning point.  I remember being in high school at the time, watching news coverage that seemed surreal.  It was the first of the major school shootings and it prompted many copies.  People pointed fingers at the parents of the shooters, mental health issues, even violent music.

Large wounds create a search for answers.

I’m not a Michael Moore fan but, in his documentary Bowling for Columbine, he asks musician Marilyn Manson if he’d have any advice for parents out there. (Manson was a favorite of the shooters).  He replied that he’d tell parents to listen to their kids.  It was a profound response from one of the main targets of society’s disapproval.

That summer I attended the Creation Festival held in Mt. Union, Pennsylvania.  It is the largest christian music festival in the country meeting in two forums, one on the east coast and one on the west. On a hillside during the festival stood thirteen crosses, the original thirteen taken from Columbine to memorialize the victims.

In the seventeen years since, we still look for answers.  We debate issues of gun control and mental health. We digest the concept of forgiveness. We think about the value of listening and wonder if the world will ever get back the innocence lost that morning in Colorado.

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Childhood is not what is used to be.  I spent a few months working in alternative education (part of the school system for students who cannot exist in the regular population). The stories broke my heart more than once.  Each moment I’d think that could never happen, then I’d talk to a fellow employee and find out that it did and a certain kid had survived horrific abuse or worse.

Klebold is writing a book about her experience and donating all profits to mental health research.  I look at my boys and could not imagine.  Where does the scale tip? The questionable new friends? “Aggressive music”? Wanting to be alone? In all the months of planning and acquiring weapons and resources, where do you miss the chance to stop it?

How do you live without massive guilt?

Or do you?

We are called to forgive.  In many ways, it is the door to second chances. We must be attentive. We must build bridges, especially as fathers with young boys. We must listen to our kids.

Small actions have huge consequences. One conversation can inspire your child to help another. One outstretched hand can create a second thought that stops violence. One embrace, a bridge built, can inspire hope.

In the years since Columbine, when reality has shattered childhood as we attempt to rebuild it, hope is needed. I pray that Klebold’s interview and book might get out there and help a parent prevent an act of violence, that it will create conversation as parents and kids figure out this thing called life.

~Matt

The Air I Breathe

All the conflicts, the arguments, the time outs and clean ups. All the weeks of endless Mondays, tablets with scribbled plans and shaded dreams. All the lyrics, lines, stories and songs.  All the business ideas, service plans, chances and steps.

Every day is about bravery.

Every walk is about faith, leaning not on our own understanding. Putting down ourselves to raise up the one that called us higher. It is about losing the last grasp of control and stepping into the void of a life surrendered and passion unleashed.

It is about the comeback and it is waiting for you.

Know How to Lose

Last night the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers.  In the midst of the hype and headlines, a large amount of analysis has focused on Cam Newton’s post game press conference. Newton, the quarterback of the Panthers, seemed distant and moody  Eventually, he walked away from the crowd.

In sports, from an early age, players are taught to lose with dignity. There is a way to face a loss.  Some never get over it.  Others admit defeat, put it behind them, and move on to play another day. Newton had lost the biggest game of his career and, as a young man, may not have reacted the right way.  Next year, he’ll have a chance to show he can recover and maybe get back again.

I’m reading Louis Giglio’s book, The Comeback. In a chapter about grace he analyzes Peter’s breakfast on the beach with Jesus.  This was after the multiple denials, running back to the water and the only life he had known.  This was the disciple who would be the foundation of the church, beaten down after the loss of his mentor and savior.

A swim from the fishing boat, stumbling out of the water and landing at the feet of the risen Jesus.

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Our lives are as much about handling victory as transitioning through defeat. We are never too far away or too far gone.  Peter, though promising Jesus he would never deny him, turned away when the pressure was on.  He had to have the image of the cross in his mind.  Death was too close for comfort.

Yet this morning, on the beach, Jesus waited with breakfast. He told the guys where to catch fish after they had tried all night and found nothing. Experienced fishermen at the end of their effort and all they had to do was listen to Jesus.

They could have ignored him, called it a morning, and went on with their day.  That wasn’t the end of the story. The nets were destined to be full, bursting with life as soon as they chose to listen. All Jesus did was point and show them the way.

The good news is, grace is new each morning. Jesus waits on that beach as we sail on our own chasing the wind. He waits as we pull up the empty nets of our own efforts.  He waits as we are refined down to dependence on him as not the last resort but the only resort.

Knowing how to lose creates our comeback. It sends us on a new journey to dreams we could only imagine, the embrace of returning home and blazing fire of fresh inspiration that can truly change the world.

~Matt