Regret

In high school, I was on the Mock Trial team and I loved it. I was a lawyer for all four years of my time and lead attorney for the last two. I found I’d enjoyed speaking in front of people, the analysis that came from the legal process, and the chance to spin a story for an audience.

The last day of our last trial, the team adviser came up to me in the hallway of the courthouse.  He was an actual attorney in the county, a younger guy, and he shook my hand.  He looked at me and said,

“You should really consider law school.”

I laughed.  My mind flashed with images of defending criminals and what would happen when I lost?  Then it flipped to putting people in jail and what would happen when they were released?  Of course time, cost, and effort played into the idea.

In the end, I didn’t go.

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That conversation was a crossroad, one of the many we face in life.  The idea had been offered.  What if I’d taken it and followed?  How would life be different?  Where would I be a decade into a law career?

Now I have friends who are lawyers and I’ve known others.  It’s not all the glamour of the many television shows out there. It can lead to success and burnout, victories and defeat. Was it to be a part of my story that I’d never followed?  I’ll never know.

Regret is chasing memories.

Add in traumatic memories and you create a dangerous combination.

A shard of pain can stick like a nail in wood. Addictions swirl into long term substance abuse and manipulation. Emotional and physical abuse. Control. Mental games of chess.

Trauma creates an unbalanced ledger.  Our souls respond in kind.

Cancer, for example, can paralyze a person in fear and motivate another to live their best life. An abusive relationship can send one into a spiral of darkness while another may be inspired to take back their life and set up healthy boundaries.

Our lives are filled with mirror moments. We stand in spots where we are called to make a choice, to look at ourselves and see who we really are.

We all see the signs.  Some recognize them instantly, some miss, and others will only see them years later. We all need clarity in our lives.

As the year turns and a new decade dawns, I pray you experience this in your life. May 2020 be the best ever.  No matter where you are in your journey, I pray for bigger and better things, for fulfillment, for physical and mental health.  I pray you are bigger than your emotions and you can stand strong when the waves come.

Spend your energy making memories, not chasing them.  You’ll be surprised at what follows.

 

A Song Outside a Hospital Room

I ran into a friend today.  We’d met at church a few times and our families had crossed paths once at the local Dunkin Donuts.  He’d been dealing with some health issues.  I asked him how he was feeling and he said:

God is good.

This friend works in the city of Reading, Pennsylvania running a halfway house for men dealing with a variety of addiction and legal issues.  We’d talked before about the book I was writing dealing with poverty in Reading. (You can find it on Amazon here and the kindle download is only $1.00)

As he walked away, my mind went back to when we’d first met.  Just after our pastor was involved in the motorcycle accident that would take his right leg and kill his wife, getting plowed into by a driver under the influence on a warm night last June.

I remember his tears.  He said to me that, just maybe, a group of us could visit and sing to Pastor Bryan from outside his hospital room.

Something in the sincerity of his voice from that moment still brings tears to my eyes.

And it shows the hardest part of faith.

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All of creation, from day one, points us towards God.  We matter.  We believe we matter and this places meaning on our lives.

We sing songs outside hospital rooms because our voice matters and we want to show love. We run halfway houses in the midst of one of the poorest cities in the country and work with men we may never see again, because we can make a difference.

We get up in the morning because we know something better is coming.

This positive result only happens if we matter.

The knife-edge falls with suffering.  If we matter, then why do bad things happen?  Why car accidents that kill spouses? Why child abuse? Why war, famine, and desolation?

Humans hurt each other on a daily basis. This world groans with imperfections, longing for the day the universe is back in alignment with the Creator.

Suffering is a mirror.  Our weakness is our target.  Our pain is a sign that we mean something. We hurt when we break because we are designed to be whole.

The fulfilled promise, the tight rope, the parted Sea is the glorious power of the love of God.

I believe God is for us.  I believe this world needs more love and less condemnation. I believe these words matter because someone out there will bring up WordPress on their phone or computer and come across this post and understand.  They’ll identify with it, at the end of their rope, and know things will be okay.

I believe I’m not perfect, that I’ve screwed up more times as a husband and father than I can count but I know I’m surrounded with a loving (and patient!!) family.

I know I’ll get it right someday.

The Thorn and The _nd

Below you’ll find another preview of my upcoming book about new life and second chances called The _nd.  Enjoy!

Fast forward to the Apostle Paul in his prime. He walks into cities and towns and they change. He makes speaking appearances and shakes up the establishment of the day. He sways the minds of the crowds as he defends this new faith movement. He writes one of the greatest dissertations of faith in recorded history through his letter to the Romans.

Buried in his gospels you find an interesting prayer.

He asks God to take a thorn from his side.

Afflictions take many forms. They can be physical, mental or spiritual. They can be old stories we tell ourselves, passed down through generations. They can be ghosts of failures that refuse to leave when we look in the mirror.

We all tell ourselves stories.

Imagine Paul’s narrative at this point. His life had changed directions. He was now front and center defending those he had chased. At night, when the voices quieted, he was faced with his affliction. He tells us that he prayed before to have it removed and yet it remained.

For God uses our afflictions and they keep our stories headed forward.

Wounded Stories

Our afflictions are necessary. I’ll take it one step further. Affliction s are required for us to complete our divine callings. We follow Jesus, the one taking on death to save our lives. Is there any reason why we’d expect safe passage? We are told to take up our crosses and follow him.

We are told that, in this world we will have troubles, but Jesus has overcome the world.

Paul writes that his affliction shapes his story. It is a constant reminder of grace. He needed to be blinded to truly see and start on his journey that would change the world and spread faith to the masses.

Often it seems like our wounds are the end.

When the movie Creed was released around Thanksgiving 2015, I went to see it with a friend of mine. Being from the Philadelphia area, any movies connected to the Rocky franchise are required viewing. In the movie, Michael B. Jordan plays Apollo’s Creed’s son.

Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky trains him to be a fighter and instills the attitude needed to win even though, in the end, he does not. He loses the championship fight but wins the hearts of the crowd. There is a scene where Jordan’s character is looking into the mirror. Stallone’s character states that your most important opponent, in the ring and in life, is the one in the mirror.

What do you see?

A father, son, husband, wife, mother or daughter? An employee? An executive? A pastor?

Do you see success or a failure?

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More importantly, what do you hear when you look in the mirror? The voices are never silent. Do you hear a parent’s voice telling you that you failed? That you will never amount to anything? Do you hear language that hurts coming from someone you love?

Or do you hear the truth coming from the promises of the Bible?

One of the hardest things you’ll face is a calling to be generative. You may have grown up without a father and now, years later, you are looking at an expecting wife and a little boy who will change your world when he arrives. How do you become a father without a template?

You may be called to start a business or ministry in a new area or part of the world.

We are called to create. It is part following the Creator of the Universe. We are called to stretch our horizons and discover new paths.

Blanket, Gas Pedal, Platform

Our wounds can play different roles in life. They can be blankets, gas pedals, or platforms.

Wounds are blankets when they hold us down. We take them on as our identity and define ourselves by our pain and suffering.

We become victims.

There is a difference between being a victim and becoming a victim. You cannot minimize the damage done by serious wounds whether physical or emotional. The issue is what you do with it. There is a way back, a journey home, a fresh start and new direction.

There is a way to overcome the darkness.

That is shifting your wounds from a blanket to a gas pedal.

Here is something that can change your life if you let it. Your experience, positive and negative, is unique to you. God places these wounds in our lives for a purpose and we must make the connection.

Suffered abuse? Find a small group of abuse survivors and contribute, standing with others facing the same reality. Struggled with addiction? Meet with someone to mentor at a local shelter or outreach agency. Dealt with poverty? Volunteer at a food pantry or consignment shop.

Our wounds are our radar. They steer us, and push us, towards those we can help with our stories. They set us in motion to create, support, and birth new movements.

They can also be our platform.

We build foundations on sturdy platforms and they are often shaped by our moments of hurt.

Check Paul’s experiences throughout his life. Not every speaking stop was a pleasant one. He faced danger and violence at most turns, even dealing with a shipwreck. He did all this carrying his past and his affliction as constant reminder of the power of grace, change, and a second chance.

He built a strong platform without the benefit of internet or digital media. He shared his story, a collective story, of power that changes lives.

The gas pedal pushes us towards building our platform to tell our story.

We are all called to tell our story. It may not be in the form of a book but, make no mistake, you tell your story on a daily basis. It is seen through the eyes of your children, your friends and your loved ones. It is seen by the random people you meet every day.

Our actions always tell a story…

~Matt