Chapter 1

For the summer, I’ve decided to post some creative works on the blog as a change of pace.  Here is Chapter 1 for a novel in progress.  Let me know what you think and I hope you enjoy it! Follow and stay tuned as the story continues and more chapters are posted.

 

SOUTH

                The sun was no different.  When the old men gathered at the diner, they talked of years past, of summers and flowers that bloomed sending perfumed air across the entire neighborhood. They spoke of family reunions and sharing stories, times when that kind of thing still happened.

This afternoon the men gathered at the baseball field.

The grass was browned and crisp, weeds punching through the dirt infield. The teams were not even and the men were amazed that the kids had enough will to show up.  They shared two bats and three gloves.  The ball was scuffed and the laces loosened with every hit.

Still, they played.

The field backed to a high school building that was no more than bricks and broken glass. Pock marks from automatic weapons scarred the standing walls.  Mortar shells reflected the sunlight as they emerged with the erosion of wind.

The building blocked the sound of the approaching Security Transport Vehicle.

Wilbur Robbins, a fine hunter in another life, looked towards the school when he felt the vibration through his boots. The metal bleachers were excellent conductors.

“We have company,” he said.  The four other men turned to his comment.

Ray Davis leaned on the fence to watch his boy Dalton pitch.  He lowered his head and spit on the grass, rubbing it in as puffs of dirt emerged from his efforts. As the youngest in the crowd, not counting the kids, he’d be responsible for what was happening. He pulled his Colt from the holster and quickly checked the magazine.

pexels-photo-67089

The gun was a gift from the war in Afghanistan.  It came with a new leg and a new mind where shadows shifted into enemy soldiers and backfiring cars became incoming rounds. He had emerged from the war a different man.  Silence was addicting.

Dalton had been the hand to pull him out of the fire.

He was an accident, a miracle really.  The hospital was under truce from the antiquated UN regulations. Sandy started in labor at midnight.  He had loaded her in their truck and shot across fields and highways in the midst of a driving thunderstorm. Hail pinged off the hood. The windshield cracked.  He slowed at a checkpoint and, when the soldier saw Sandy screaming in the passenger’s seat, he was waved through.

The parking lot of the hospital had no empty spots so he pulled the truck to the curb.  A young nurse noticed his waving and ran out to meet him.  In a minute, they had a gurney out in the rain, loading Sandy on it and rolling back inside.

Five hours later, he held the little boy in his hands.  The storm passed and he stood by the hospital window. A moon emerged.  Helicopters on patrol crossed the moon and cast shadows onto his face as the boy slept in his arms.

These thoughts faded as the STV stopped behind them.  Two men, by the sound of it, wearing regulation armor and holding automatic weapons.  The kids had stopped playing and turned to watch.  The old men were silent.

“Keep your hands visible.” The order came from over his shoulder.  The gun felt heavy on his hip. “You people are gathering outside the approved time.”

The footsteps crunched closer on the dirt.  Five more paces and they would be at this back.

“Where’s your identification?”

Three steps.

“You hear me? Identify yourself.”

“Staff Sergeant Ray Davis.”

One laughed. The other joined in.

“You are yesterday’s news, hoss. Scraps of paper in the wind.  No more need for war.”

He felt breath on the back of his neck.  In a moment, they would confiscate his gun and haul him off.

“That’s right, we are peace now.” The exhale carried the scent of coffee and tobacco.  It reminded him of the past. They were playing off each other, this pair, probably spouting the same routine with every search and seizure.

The bleachers shifted.  Ray lifted his head to the sun and grasped warmth for a moment.  He looked at Dalton.

“Go home kids.  You know you shouldn’t be here.”

They scattered.  Dalton stood on the mound.  He dropped his glove and it hit the dirt.

Revolutions start with the striking of a match, with a leader rising up at the right time in the right place. 

His friend Jensen would get drunk at night and howl at the moon, spouting off his impromptu history lessons enough that he’d gotten the nickname the Professor, until an IED relieved him of his tenure.  He left behind a different world.

“Hand over your gun.”

“I have a permit.”

Dalton took a step closer.  Ray shook his head slowly, enough that he could be sure the message was clear. They had spoken about this, about an emergency. All the drills and the years had passed.  At least he would see what the boy learned.

“You know you can’t carry in public.  Those permits don’t mean shit anymore.  Hand it over.”

Ray slowly moved to the holster.  He felt the familiar imprint of a barrel in the back of his neck.  The smell of gun oil hung thick in the air.  One of the old men coughed.

“Don’t get pretty.”

He raised his hands.  The guy pulled the gun out of the holster.  He spun to see their faces, only finding a pair of his reflections back in tinted sunglasses. Their uniforms were black, the three wave symbol reflecting the sunlight in silver bars on their chests.

“Two violations from what I can see.  First, gathering in public without a permit.  Second, this is the weekend.  You rest on the weekend, get it? That means nothing like this little fiasco.”

He did the math.  If they decided to take him in, it would be months. Two strikes in one shot.

“Judge not, right fellas?”

They laughed.  Dalton was by his shoulder now.  He could feel it.  His boy carried a presence beyond his years.  He took up space like some men do, without saying a word.

“This your boy?”

“Yes sir.”

“What’s your name?”

“Dalton.”

“Dalton Davis take note.  Today you could have lost your father for a year. We take our jobs seriously.  Understand?”

Dalton nodded.

“Good.  Then you’ll also understand that we can’t leave without some kind of punishment.  It would be, how should I say it, unbalanced.”

The gunshot caused a flock of crows to starlings to emerge from the line of trees in the distance. Ray felt a pain like fire shoot from his only good knee straight up to gather behind his forehead.  His foot gave way and he fell to the ground.

“This is your warning boys.  We know all.  This is our territory.  We better not see you out here again.  Son, go get your old man some help.  He’ll need it.”

Dalton watched the STV leave the field.

One of the old men said something about the hospital.  He walked to his truck as fast as his legs could move in the heat.

Ray bit down on his hand to try to redirect the pain.  His jeans felt wet where the blood came through the denim and started to spread across the dust. A siren sounded in the distance.

The Bird

I parked my car outside of work this morning with about five minutes to spare. I opened the car windows to let in a breeze and checked the headlines for the day on my phone.  Movement, just on the other side of the hood, caught my eye.

I had parked across from a shrub, about knee-high, and trimmed in the shape of a U.  It was a bright green and, just in the midst of the branches, flashed a streak of yellow.  As I watched, it flashed again and the movement took shape.

A smear of black sat above the yellow wings and body. Deep inside this shrub, a bird had settled in the morning sun.

flight-bird-flying-bird-house

This was no forest, no sanctuary. This was no mountain or stream running close by.

This was a parking lot.

The bird could have flown to a much nicer environment.  An elementary school sits just past the parking lot surrounded by trees. In a minute, it could have found an entire group of trees, real trees, and set up shop. It could have lived a fairly solid bird life.

But it was nestled in this shrub, in this parking lot, not seeing the horizon beyond the branches.

This is one of those weeks, one of times of spiritual surgery. You feel like you are on the operating table and someone forgot the anesthesia. Doors close while others open. Prayers are answered as quick as needs arise. Through it all, God offers assurance.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Faith is the search. The fight. The effort to keep moving even if you can’t see the end.  It is one more word, one last phone call, one hug that helps a person fight their depression one more night. It is picking up when you don’t have the energy to move and pushing through.

For our walls can be climbed. Our cage can be opened. Our future is planned and known.  Our dreams are a guide. Great things are coming. I don’t mean some corny prosperity gospel thing.

I mean victories. Creation. Love. Peace. Movement. Building bridges. Helping someone know and understand that they matter, that their fight is important to you.

For are known by the fight, not the end result.  We are called to radical love that destroys the precepts of this world. Jesus told us to Go. Follow. Pray. Sacrifice. Make Disciples.

The day to rest is the day we find ourselves called home once again.

The day to move is now.

~Matt

Your First Step

How many moments have you found yourself back at zero?

All thoughts disappear. Sounds stop. The air in the room is frozen and, if you reach out your hand, you can catch the dust particles in the sunbeams. If you are lucky, these happen in positive times on your path of life.

If you are like the rest of us, you’ve been blindsided by forces outside of your control.

The secret is: the moment will pass.

You’ll need to make a first step.

madrid

Our days are often spent building bridges.  We find friends and family members and set up transactions that can turn into dependency. We’re mired in people and places that are not helpful.  From every direction you hear:

What can you do for me?

When you make your first step, you must evaluate the bridges.  Consider the people in your life. Take inventory.

Decide what can be left behind as one thing is clear:

You can’t stay the way you are. The critical moments create dividing lines in your life. It is impossible to go back.

The hope is looking forward.  It is looking for new bridges to cross and build.

In the coming weeks, I’m going to be telling more of our personal story.  You’ll find some guest posts here from people writing about their own first steps, faith, and lives in action. You’ll find new materials and fresh community.

I invite you to be a part of it, join the story and see what it means to find yourself again. Wherever you are on the journey, feel free to contribute and make your voice heard.

~Matt

The Intersection of Faith and Action

I remember the night like it was yesterday.  Val and I had just started dating.  We were both in high school.  I drove her around in my mother’s green Mazda.  It was winter, bitterly cold, and we were stuck.

The area around our home town consisted of a railroad track that twisted and turned through the suburbs.  An urban legend existed of a park by the tracks that you did not want to visit at night.  Of course, I took us right through it. The road was snow-covered, sandwiched between the railroad tracks and a small creek.  The exit was a choice between a flat road and a steep incline. I took the incline as the car slid to the shoulder and stopped.

I tried spinning the tires, steering back and forth, anything I could do.  It wouldn’t move.  I called my dad and he said he would make his way over with a shovel to dig us out.  I rolled down the window and a dog started barking hysterically from somewhere in the distance.

Val and I looked at each other and prayed.

A minute later, headlights approached. A group of snowmobiles parked behind us.  I exited the car and one of the guys asked me if we were stuck.  I said yes. Three of them pushed the car back to the road.  They never removed their helmets or visors, returned to their snowmobiles, and drove away.

I turned the car around and started back the way we came. We stopped to get our bearings and I stepped out of the car again. There were no tracks on the ground, no sign of a snowmobile.  Two minutes before, I had watched them take that road to leave us.

The snow was fresh and untouched.

76985202_a59f968309

Photo Credit: hodge via Compfight cc

I’ve spent the last eight months interviewing local charities, businesses, and community members, gathering story after story of God’s involvement in the lives around us.

When we seek, we will find.

In the whir of our lives, it is too easy to get caught up in the process. Kids, bills, jobs, starting a business, writing a book, keeping up a website, getting in shape. We tend to miss chances to make a difference.

I prayed, eight months ago, that my words would make a difference. I’d give the writing to God and tell the story that needed to be told.  I’d give voice to those on the front lines of the battle against poverty.  I’d work with faith-based businesses and charities.

My next e-book, coming out in April, will be about reclaiming Christian Arts and producing creations that have deep impact in the world. I have an article upcoming in RELEVANT magazine and will be starting work as a volunteer journalist for BCTV, a local nonprofit covering the Reading and Berks County area. We’re preparing a powerful series of stories on poverty and the efforts happening to reclaim the soul of the city.

Things happen when we decide to serve, when we give our talents back to the God, the Creator who gifted them in the first place. Now is the time to make your move, consider what you can give and ask how you can serve.

The intersection between faith and action is waiting for your arrival.

~Matt