Half Full

Recently I’ve had the chance to transition my day job.  I’ll always call it a day job, in that it supports the writing dream.

We all need to have the deeper current running under our souls pulling us forward.

Today I was trained by a guy named Ben. Ben was an interesting guy, gun fanatic, video game fan and comic reader. We were making small talk when he said something that stuck with me. He said:

“I’m a pessimistic guy. I feel like you find the level of crap (he used a different word) you like in your life and get comfortable.”

Know anyone like this?

pexels-photo-171568

I recently listened to a podcast from Pastor Erwin McManus, one of my favorite inspirational church leaders.  He spoke about faith being a nonsense, in that it exists outside our run of taste, smell, touch, hearing, and vision. It is our connection with the divine.

We often confuse faith as a noun when it is really a verb.

There’s a moment in life, a balancing on the edge of time. Athletes know it in the release of the pitch, the height of the serve, the Hail Mary pass in the final seconds. Teachers feel it in the silence of an answered question.

Expectant mothers in the pause between birth and first breath.

You have a choice. The moment bends both ways. See it in darkness or light. Moving forward or back. Success or failure. Goal or denial. Run or stumble.

Then grasp your next moment and do it again.

I can’t give up. There’s too many dreams to fulfill, too much good to create, too tight of a community to join. Our story isn’t over. I refuse to believe that.

I refuse to go down without a fight.

I let Ben’s comment drift past on the afternoon breeze and looked out the window dreaming of the future, excited at the changes that are coming and where we are called to go.

Never give up.  As long as you are still breathing, your story isn’t over. Balance on the moment and look forward.  See faith as a verb and not a noun and see what God is waiting to pour into your life.

10 Lies We Tell Ourselves as Fathers

1/I am ready. You are never ready.  From the moment I held Carter for the first time, I knew my life had changed. No amount of guidebooks, movies, or internet research can prepare you for having a kid.

2/My kid will be a copy of me. Some of you may luck out on this.  I did not.  I have dark hair and brown eyes.  My boys are a blonde and a red-head and their personalities are polar opposites of my own in many ways.  Some nights I shake my head and wonder where they came from.

3/My marriage will stay the same. Kids start you on a process of discovery.  Your time is now split and your love has grown deeper and wider than you could ever imagine.  Now, what to do with it?  You were a team and now you are a unit. Days are blank slates and you must rewrite the script every morning.

4/My wife can take care of it. I’m guilty of this.  When you add kids in the mix of work, money, family, faith, and health things can fall to the side. When you have a wife who takes care of things, it can be tempting to let it go.  Be sure to step up and do your part.

5/My wife can take care of it (part 2). There is a phrase thrown around in faith circles of being a servant-leader. In the midst of the noise, it can easy to forget to take the time.  We should be talking about life, faith, disappointment, hope, love, joy, and salvation whenever we can to our kids. We should start them on the right waters and help guide their spiritual journey into the future.

pexels-photo-128893

6/The sun will always shine. There will be fights.  The first time your kid looks at you in anger, you will never forget it.  You may think you’re a great dad but all it takes is a wrong answer to a question and it will set things off.  Disappointment is okay. Your kids need to experience negative emotions and learn how to process them. This is the hard part; give them permission to ride out the storm.  It will be valuable in the end.

7/Stuff is enough. A pile of toys only leads to more piles of toys. Eventually the interest fades and the gap must be filled with something. You can’t buy them off because the void will continue to grow. It is at the point where Val and I seriously limit gifts.  Experiences are more important.  Objects pass but memories will live on.

8/No second chance. Your kids are not your chance to “make things right.”  Too many people maneuver their children to sports or other endeavors to live out everything that did not happen in their own lives.  We hold up the past against our kids and vow to not make the same mistakes again.  This is fine as long as we understand they are their own person and a new story waiting to be written, even with influences from the past.

9/No measuring stick. Get a group of dads together and what happens? The talk will move from marriages to jobs and eventually kids. Achievements will come up, sports, talents, schoolwork, whatever it may be.  Don’t fall into the trap. Let your kids stand for themselves and let their accomplishments come up in conversation from other sources. Don’t be that guy, that trophy parent.

10/Never break the mold. You are allowed to cry, to laugh, to be embarrassed in public and play on the playground.  You are allowed to hug your kids, pick them up and spin them around before throwing them on your shoulders. Maybe your dad never did this with you but, in the end, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it with your kids.  Start a new family tradition and have the courage to see it through.

Intersection

Val often tells me a story about how brother attending church.  Her brother is an extremely talented guy.  I knew him before I met her and we had some good times growing up.  Over the years, he had visited a church or two but never really found one he’d liked.

The story goes that he was visiting a church where the youth pastor happened to do the message that Sunday.  He did the sermon barefoot first off (something that would weird me out also) then started talking about how great his life was.

The moment you hear a supposed man or woman of God talk about how great their life is and how you never suffer as one who follows Jesus, feel free to get up and head towards the door.  You’d learn more about Jesus at the Dunkin Donuts down the road.

The church stigmatized anxiety in a world full of it.

There’s a line in one of my favorite Bret Easton Ellis novels, Lunar Park, that I loveThe gist of the book is Ellis writing himself as the main character with his creations coming to life, including killer Patrick Bateman from his most famous work, American Psycho.

His character states that, as he drove down the road, every intersection was one turn away from a car accident waiting to happen.

The thought has stuck with me for years as a dad and husband.  Many days the car accidents feel one intersection away.

pexels-photo-27702

We are allowed to be anxious.  Yes, friends can rattle off verse after verse about faith and hope, where our help comes from and casting our cares on Jesus. These are all good things.

They can coexist with anxiety.

I heard a pastor once say that faith and fear can’t coexist.

He’s wrong.

I have days of both.  Some weeks Faith is called Monday and Fear is called Tuesday.

As men we often try to pad things.  If you are reading this and married to one of us, know that the waters run deeper than we show. For me it is a constant feeling of electric tension, like a power line running through my chest.  I check my phone more often, waiting for that text message or voicemail of bad news.

Even if none seems on the horizon.

Anxiety opens the door to voices that can try to sell you wrong messages. You start talking circles around the tension in an attempt to beat it down. The words build on the feeling and you end up back where you started, looking at the ceiling as the night drifts past.

If this is you tonight, know that the sun still comes up tomorrow.  The story isn’t over.  Your worries carry an important lesson.  They can be a compass towards a better future.

It takes one step to move forward.  I know it isn’t easy, but movement is the key.

Thomas, the one stating he would only believe Jesus had risen if he appeared in the Upper Room, he personified anxiety and was, by far, one of the most human disciples. He is us.

“Yeah I get it, he’s alive and all, when I see it, I’ll believe. When I touch his wounds, I’ll believe.”

Jesus appears and holds out his hand offering Thomas a chance to do what he asked.  Thomas had to reach out to make it happen.  He could have stayed in his feelings, even staring face to face with Jesus.

He chose to move and see his faith complete.

~Matt

Turn

I’ve spent all of last week and will spend all of this week working in an area with a television.  That allows me to watch the news and the morning talk shows. In the midst of this election season, it is not always a good thing.

I’m tired of the bickering, the scandals, the email leaks and name calling. I’m tired of listening to both parties fighting like school kids on a playground.

As annoying as it gets, conflict has defined this world recently more than ever before. We have terrorist violence in Europe, opposing groups here ready to step up in an instant.  Even when we know there are good and honorable police officers, the headlines seem filled with ones that cannot do their job without issues.

In one of the more challenging passages in the Bible (Matt 5:39), Jesus gives us a valuable statement on violence.

“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

This doesn’t fly with America.  We’re fighters! We stand up to evil and sniff it out wherever we find it. We’re the big dogs ready to police the world.

Yet, Jesus tells us differently.

pexels-photo-27405

In that sentence, he’s speaking on the street to an oppressed people. Violence was a fact of life. The Roman Empire ruled over Jerusalem. They could take, and do, what they wanted.

Jesus tells the crowd not to resist.

See, violence gives us a few choices: Counter punch.  Bob and weave.  Hit them first before they can hit us. All of these are responses in fear.

Jesus tells us to not be afraid.

Stand firm. Turn the other cheek.

It takes more strength to stand your ground.  Jesus knew this.  Martin Luther King Jr. knew this. Anyone who has faced down opposition and held to what they believed, they’ve known this.

Every martyr living in the midst of a hostile country and serving in love. Every mother sitting up late for her son when she has to work in the morning because she refuses to give up on him.

Every teacher reaching out to the kid sitting alone at the lunch table.  Every coworker speaking out against harassment.

Every hero in the midst of the city understanding that the norm is not acceptable.

All of these know about turning the other cheek.

The key isn’t fighting back.

It is rising above.

~Matt

 

I Wasn’t Going There

I promised myself I wouldn’t get any deeper into politics. We live just about an hour and a half north of Philadelphia and, this week, the news was filled with coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

I’ve written before about my fondness for Philly.  I love the history, the environment, the passion.  This Sunday I’ll be going down to Lincoln Financial Field to watch the Philadelphia Eagles and their first of two camps they hold at the stadium that are open to the public.

The news played all kinds of clips of speeches and analysis from the DNC.  When I got home from work, thumbing through my Facebook feed, I came across an article that is the catalyst for this post.  It was titled Why You Can’t be a Christian and a Democrat, written by a popular conservative blogger.

In it, he laid out a response to one of his critics where he swore his argument citing multiple Bible verses.

I can’t take it anymore.

pexels-photo-29859

There’s a place in the gospels where Jesus is asked about paying taxes.  For a nation being occupied by Rome at the time, this was a question meant to trap him.  Answer the wrong way and the religious leaders could run to the local government officials and have Jesus arrested.

He replies asking about whose face is on the currency of the day.  Someone responds that it is Caesar’s. Jesus states, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.”

He makes a response, more than once, to criticize the leaders of the day for exploiting the people. He calls for unity and, despite the frustration of the crowd, does not lead a political revolution.

Jesus transforms every breath of the universe.

We’ve missed the point. Those of us who claim to follow Jesus grasp so hard on what is “ours.” We hold the church close and circle our wagons pointing fingers out at the crowds that drive by.

We forget the final instruction Jesus gave before he returned to heaven.

Go.

What does this mean?

Jesus followers are not a political party. They are not Republicans or Democrats. They are not Libertarians. They are not represented by anyone standing in front of a pulpit giving an acceptance speech this November at the White House. They are not exclusive to a country or economic systems.

Those who claim to follow Jesus are defined by love. They move in acceptance. They love their neighbors and drop the first stone they are ready to cast in anger. They serve. They live and push for unity.

They stand against hate.

For I believe every soul has a fragment of Heaven inside, a radar beacon calling them towards home. I believe God longs for unity, for one person to go in step with another and make their lives better by sharing their joy.

There is a reason Jesus advocated good citizenship.

Because this is not our home.  This is a temporary address change. Time will pass.  Here’s what you must understand:

Your vote at the box in November will not make a difference.

What makes a difference is the choice, on a daily basis, to do better. To open your heart further and deeper. To work on your marriage and your family. To show love and embrace someone on the outside. To know that we are called to direct people towards Jesus.

When the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia so long ago, it had to be distributed throughout the colonies. The authors hit post on the historical version of WordPress, people absorbed the message, and the flames of rebellion were born.

It is time to do the same with our faith and in our communities across the nation, to not be pulled into the noise and posturing of the upcoming election. To move away from media and towards the cross.

So maybe the author of that click-bait article was right.  Maybe those of us not voting for Trump are using watered-down versions of the Bible.

Or maybe we are looking towards the one force strong enough to make true change in this world. It will not come through building a wall, defunding controversial agencies, legalizing millions of immigrants, higher taxes, lower taxes, socialism, or fascism.

It will come through faith. Through understanding that God longs for a relationship with me and you. He pulls us closer with every headline and story. He tugs at our hearts with the echoes of home captured in the fading glory of sunsets or the laughter of a child.

When the noise gets too much, remember where you are from and where you are called to go.  Remember this is only temporary, that the space in your heart can be filled with Jesus, that the longing for completion can be answered at the foot of the cross.

Know that you can, finally, be free.

~Matt

 

 

Never Give Up

I remember, almost twenty years ago, going on the first date with my wife.  I remember our first movie together. I remember holding hands and driving around for hours as we soaked up every single second of new love.

We would walk around the mall and window shop furnishings for our future home. We’d stop and get frozen yogurt parfait cups at this little stand inside the mall and sit on a bench watching people walk by.

We had hope for the future.

Future that included picking out a wedding ring and the thrill of a proposal, the excitement of being new parents, and discovering who we were as we grew up from teenagers to adults.

Today the most dangerous thing we can do, as people and as a country, is lose hope.

pexels-photo-97131

I believe in the power of change. I believe something better is on the horizon.

Somewhere in a room, in a city, a young man or woman is deciding to grow up and run for political office.  They will revolutionize the country with a platform of unity, peace and love.

Somewhere in a patrol car a police officer is making the choice to go out for another shift and do what is right even with a target on their back and today, in this moment, they will save a life that will start a movement and turn the tide against hate and division.

Somewhere on a playground a kid will look up from a text message to see bullying and put down their phone to stop it, changing the life of the victim and giving them hope that there is still good in the world and people do care.

Somewhere a shopper in a grocery store will buy some extra items of food and drive it to a friend or coworker in need.

Someone will find the courage to leave their apartment after months alone.

A terminal diagnosis will be reversed with healing that cannot be explained.

A father will come home.

A mother will find strength she didn’t know she had and stand up to lead her family.

A son will put down the needle and call for help.

A young couple will lock eyes across a bookstore and start a conversation that leads to laughter and a spark of connection.

I believe in hope for now. In powerful, positive change. There is always a reason to fight, to stand up against darkness and show it we will not sit quietly, to break the cycle of anger and make a difference.

I believe the time has come.

~Matt

 

The Ballad of the Manipulator

My son Carter has a way with words.  We’ve had more than one time where Val and I will be in the next room doing stuff and listening to him talk to Aiden.  In true big brother style, he will tell Aiden to say or do something he’s not supposed to do.

They will battle over stuff and Carter will get a little too rough.  Just before Aiden cries he will try to convince him that it was an accident and sooth the situation.

This morning we were discussing going to a lesson scheduled for noon. He played every angle with me, coming up with reason after reason to skip it all because he wanted to play Mario Baseball on the Wii.

My son is a manipulator.

My gut response was always the same as when you just read that sentence.  It is a bad thing, I thought, I need to work on having him be just like Val and I.

Recently, I’ve found myself reconsidering the end goal.

tyrion-lannister-1920

Manipulators can have wildly different results.  They can find themselves in a mire of solitary confinement as people discover their ways. They drop all the balls they are juggling in the air. Their world shakes and, in an attempt to regain the control they desire over everything, they will go to any means necessary to get it back.

Manipulators also become CEOs. They start businesses and create movements. They are lawyers, advocates, champions for those whose voices may not be as loud or skilled at getting results.

They stand out.

As a father, I know Carter can’t be exactly like me.  I need to listen to and validate his emotions. This means embracing the passions that make him unique.

For years I looked down on assertive peers.  Now, God has given me one as a son and I know the lessons are just beginning.

~Matt

The Journey

Tonight Val and Carter leave for a long drive to Florida.  They are headed to her family reunion.  Heading back home from dropping them off, crossing under the night sky in the midst of lightning, my mind went to the concept of the Journey.

As writers we talk about the Hero’s Journey. We know that stories follow a certain flow and that, most great ones, keep to this formula.  Sometimes you’ll find a fresh take that will catch on but, looking back, the main points are the same.

On Sunday we went to the cemetery to visit the graves of my grandparents.  I stood over the marker bearing my grandfather’s name, a small American flag blowing in the wind just above it.

I thought of the days we’d spent together.

He would take me fishing in the morning, park his old truck on the side of the road, and lead me around a pond large enough that we could have room to cast our lines. We’d get home to find my grandmother had made lunch; turkey sandwiches and fresh iced tea, and we’d sit on the porch.

He’d tell me about the war, about battles and marching for miles up the middle of Italy.

We had just told him about Val being pregnant with Aiden before he was called home to Heaven.

His journey had ended as mine continued.

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset

The process is a double-edged sword. I get intimidated at the thought of what my boys will remember about growing up.  It is inspiring to think of the road that remains and the work still to be done.

I know God isn’t finished with us.

I wish I’d learned to grasp his my grandfather’s sense of peace.  He faced down enemies attempting to take his life, seen things I couldn’t have imagined, and was able to take his only grandson fishing on quiet mornings.

I wish I’d learned his strength. When he spoke, you listened.  It was the virtue of a man of few words.  He was a rock, in my memory, for better or worse a member of the generation that raised men without the attacks of today’s societal forces.

I’m working on learning his storytelling.  In two sentences he’d given me an image: his back against a low concrete wall with chips of it flying in his face as bullets hit above. He was on a front line attack attempting to liberate a village of people he hadn’t known and would never see again, in the midst of a war that had taken him away from a wife and two children.

When he spoke, I could see it.

Tonight, I pray your journey is also inspiring.  I pray you have a past you can draw from for strength, inspiration, or the anger to push through when you are on the last moment energy. Have courage.

Write your hero in a dark spot and watch them fight their way out.

Know that you will do the same.

~Matt

 

Chapter 2

Here is Chapter 2 of a rough draft in progress.  You can find Chapter 1 by clicking here.  Enjoy!

NORTH

 

The white building stood out in contrast against the Manhattan skyline.  Not that it functioned as Manhattan anymore. The towers once built to prosperity and ambition had fallen, only to rise again as centers of study and contemplation.

The city had improved.  Crime vanished.  All the perversions once considered art were confiscated and burned on barges that circled the land in constant reminder.

It took some time, yes, but the populace came around.

This morning an aria echoed from deep inside the bedroom broadcast on speakers to reach the limits of the porch.  The porch was that in term only.  It consisted of Italian marble, a grand fountain, luxury furniture and a media center covering all areas of the territory.

Even with the spread of options, Father Paul Kramer sat with his journal on his knees and a pencil in hand.  The wind rising up the building shifted what was left of his hair. He was writing notes on the cross and the idea of self-sacrifice for a greater good.

The flow of logic gave much-needed comfort.

For what were they without logic?

They were the bastard children of Rome.

When word came that all funding and support would be cut, they had to get creative. It was not time to panic.  It was time to gather and set plans in motion.

He stopped writing and looked to the horizon.  Far below the workforce would be starting their morning commute. The war had ended.  Things looked different now. This was a second chance.

This was the new center of faith without corruption, Rome without the scourge of revisionist history.

“He requests your presence.”

The statement came from his left. Kramer checked his watch.  The bastard was always on time.

“I’m on the way.”

The attendant scurried back inside.

 

pexels-photo-27406

The elevator to the Holy Residence rose in blinding speed.  They had adapted it from the tech firm that owned in building in the time before.  It was accessible only by retina scan and monitored by three levels of security.  Kramer watched the floors blink by until the numbers vanished.

No one really knew how high they were headed.

In a moment, the doors opened.

He always thought of the temple, of their Lord and Savior clearing out the tables of the money changers.  The scriptures had said he fashioned a whip and drove out all those seeking to business in the house of the God.

What would Jesus say about this?

A vault of gold and currency, guarded by soldiers. A communications center four times the size of his own. A media studio broadcasting the morning news. Conference rooms with men in suits talking seriously over cups of coffee.

Kramer walked past all of this ignoring their fleeting glances.

Finally, when it seemed he would stride off the edge of the floor and fall into nothingness, a set of doors stood in his path.  These guards, four altogether, moved to the side.  One keyed in a code that changed daily.   The doors retracted and he walked through as they closed behind him with the hiss of pressurized air.

The far wall was glass from east to west. The bed had been constructed here, overlooking the city but not close enough to the edge that a stray member of the media could take a picture. A body laid on the bed, deep under a mound of covers.

Two doctors passed a tablet back and forth looking at images. A nurse replaced an IV bag.

“How is he?” Kramer asked.  One of the doctors turned to him.

“Good morning Father.” The man went to bow and Kramer waved him off.

“Tell me.”

“Two weeks, maybe six.  The cancer is spreading.”

Laughter came from the bed.  Kramer walked to the edge and touched the skeletal hand that rested on the blankets.

“You still use that thing?”

He looked at the pocket of his coat and the edge of the journal sneaking out. Even with a tumor in his brain, his vision was still sharp.

“How are you doing Vinny?”

The nurse cringed.  When Kramer made eye contact with her, she smoothed out her scrubs and left the room.

“Fine brother. Just fine.”

Vincenzo had risen through the parishes in the midst of the war. He was young, a star of the faith.  He delivered fiery messages that grew the church.  He was the architect of this new world.

He was still the kid from the Bronx that would play pickup basketball after school.

“Soon this will be yours.”

“No, sir.  Not me. No one knows you’re sick.  We can milk this as long as we need. Set up a stable transition.”

“There’s nothing stable anymore.”

“When’s the last time you heard of any conflict?”

Vinny laughed again.  The laughter turned to a deep cough that rattled his lungs.

“You remember Sister Margaret?”

Margaret was a nun of the old order, ancient when they were kids.  She ran her classroom like a dictatorship and they’d gone home with many years of scarred knuckles.

“Of course.”

“She always said silence was deadly. Idle hands are the devil’s playground and all that.”

They stopped talking.  Machines beeped in the background.

“Get Father Paul a chair.”

One of the doctors looked over for a second and went back to his reports. The movement happened in a blink. The arm that had rested on the blanket now gripped the doctor’s hand.  The guy dropped his tablet as it skittered across the floor.

“Now.”

The doctor left the bedroom and returned with one of the chairs from outside.

“Leave us.”

They left together. Kramer settled in the seat.

“You didn’t have to do that Vinny, scaring the kid.”

“I still got it, don’t I? Now get that journal out.  We have some business to discuss.”

 

 

Make Your Hands Clap

My son Aiden loves music.  Not just songs for kids either.  We’ll be riding around in the car and, before I know it, he’s singing along with whatever I have on the radio.  I can listen to pretty much anything but country music so I feel like he’s picked up this quality from me.

The other day the song HandClap came on the radio.  It is the newest release from the band, Fitz and the Tantrums. If you’ve never heard it, check out the lyric video below.

I showed him the video and he insisted I make the hand motions.  On a whim I decided to look up the band and found one of those rare moments of inspiration that can speak into your life.

pexels-photo-26662

Lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick had always loved music.  He studied it throughout school and found his way into a career behind the scenes of recording and production.  He decided, at age 32, to take piano lessons.

This expanded his world musically and led to their first hit, Breaking the Chains of Love, that Fitzpatrick composed on an old church organ he purchased from a friend for $50.00.

Imagine, living more than thirty years with a vague idea of what you want to do and, one day, you decide to take a shot at it. You take a risk and it pays off.

We often go through lives with vague ideas and passions. It takes effort and risk to see the end result. Fitzpatrick could have settled and yet he looked forward.

It takes courage to keep moving when the weight of the world rests on your shoulders. There are times when you get caught up in the circumstances and forget the why that drives you.

Find your joy, even in the future, and chase it down. Don’t settle. There’s no time limit to the race.  You can find it in your twenties, thirties, forties, and onward.

Make sure to stop and clap your hands every once in a while and experience the happiness you find on the way.

~Matt