Stuck

I’d mentioned before on here that my dad worked in a nuclear power plant.  He’d spent two decades there as an operator, a staff member working on upkeep of engines and various machines at the plant including the reactor. I remember being awed at the mystery of the thing, the idea of working with radiation and the precarious spot of being an everyday employee.

In fifth grade we had to do a science fair project.  Dad helped me with a presentation on the Chernobyl disaster. HBO recently aired an outstanding series on the events surrounding it.

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image from hbo.com

For those of you unfamiliar, a reactor at the plant melted down after a faulted safety test in the middle of the night.  This exposed workers and residents of the town of Pripyat and the fallout is still being felt decades later. Pripyat was a town built specifically for workers at the plant and their families.  Today it stands abandoned.

The lessons behind the incident are explored in the series. What is the price of lies and secrets? How valuable is information? When is reputation more important than life itself?

We watch the show and wonder what we would have done, being faced with certain death. We consider the cost of duty and we rage with those the government had left behind in their efforts to cover up the true scope of the disaster.

Our lives have power and potential.  We radiate with purpose.  We are driven with a force strong enough to light a thousand cities and yet we can find ourselves stuck.

We fall slave to routine. We find comfort when lies are easier than truth, avoiding correction is easier than facing the music for our mistakes. We settle and fight, pull away into isolation and find comfort in a place that slowly takes our hours until the sun sets and darkness falls.

If you find yourself in this spot, there is hope.

People in social media land make significant money helping people find hope.  They do it in appearance, words, finances, status, any key they can find.  They miss the point though.

Hope is not a concrete thing.

Hope is an internal switch.  It is the moment you realize you are tired of being tired, that nothing changes if nothing changes.  It is the point you look in the mirror and decide you’d had enough. It is the moment you burn it all down and walk away from the ashes on a new path with new life and direction.

Hope can’t be sold or captured, forced into a form or transaction. Hope comes in understanding that God is doing a work in you even in the midst of darkest night.

We get stuck when we are caught in routine, following a rote path carved out because someone said we should, falling to peer pressure and the comparison game, giving up and settling down because it is easy.

Hope is not easy. Know today that the fire still burns within you, the light of a million suns and the potential to change the world, your family, your marriage, your children, and every single breath.

I believe this and I believe, as you read this, a small voice inside agrees with me.  You can feel it ready to soar, to break out and push forward. Your day is here.

Your time is now.

The Edge

Maybe you’ve been there.

The boardroom, the dinner table, the athletic field.  The presentation that will make or break the contract.  The conversation that will pull your son out of depression. The date that will bring back the light in a spouse’s eyes.

There is an edge in life.  The feeling is cold.  The edge of a knife that runs through your core and into your soul. Hearts pound. Nerves grip and release. A cold sweat appears.

The edge is clear.  The edge is hard, the hardest thing you ever face.  The edge is powerful.

The edge is the door to your biggest dreams and deepest heartbreak.  For those of us willing to live there, it can be the most empowering place in the universe.

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The edge calls you.

It’s the reason you go to the gym, strap on the sneakers and pound the pavement.  It’s the moment you look in the mirror and decide this isn’t working and you are sick of it.  You are sick of feeling down and sorry.  You are sick of waiting for permission.

Here’s a secret: Permission isn’t coming. Know why?

Because it comes from you.

The way through fear. The way around worry.  The way to advance in the face of odds that seems so large.  The way through the darkness is to move.  One step at a time. One moment of a minute of an hour of a day.  One choice in the midst of the darkest night. One yell from the primal depth of your being to declare…

I’m done.

This isn’t working anymore.  It is time for a change. Starting now. I’m done with the old and I’m living in the new, on the edge, with momentum and purpose.

It is the first gasp of breath when you haven’t breathed in years.  It is the first beat of a heart that knows a reason for living.  It is the first embrace when your souls connect again after so many years apart.

It is life on the edge and it is calling. No more excuses.  No more waiting.  Time keeps moving.  Will you move with it?

The choice is yours.

A letter to my son

You didn’t cry.

Thirty-seven hours of labor. In and out of the hospital. Your heart rate rising and falling until your doctor decided it was time to go and get you.  Mommy was given medicine and fell asleep.  I waited in the hallway with your aunt Tara and both of your mom-moms. They wheeled you out around midnight and the hospital policy was that I was the only one that could hold you before mommy woke up.

We sat in that room together for two hours and you looked up at me with deep eyes.  You didn’t cry.  You just watched me.

I found a note the other day from when you were three.  I worked a later shift at the time and we spent many mornings watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse at 5:30 am on the couch and, at the time, we didn’t think anything of it.  We thought you were just an early riser.

Then you were busy.

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You ran before you could walk. Literally, not a joke, ran across the living room floor before most kids took their first unsure steps. We hit every playground in the area. You climbed, jumped and played with the best of them.  We tried sports as soon as we could.  You played soccer, baseball, basketball, football, anything you could throw and catch.

When you were happy you were happy.  When you got mad, you started to get mad, like really mad.  You became a swirl of sadness and anger wrapped into a screaming package.

Your brother came along when you were four and, for a little, things were okay.

The anger got deeper. You got stronger and the combination wasn’t the best thing for us. Still, we thought, it is just a phase. You’ll grow out of it. You’ll keep getting older and things will calm down.

Then one day you told me you couldn’t get a thought out of your head.

Now, let me put this in context.  You’ve grown. You are strong and fast, talented in anything that requires athletic ability.  You still feel deeply, you still find your heart-broken more than you’d like.  You want things your way and you hate criticism.

Like me.

You have made friends and lost them.  People have cycled in and out of your life. The day you told me you couldn’t get a thought out of your head, it stands out now.  At the time, I tried to avoid it.

Then it got worse.

You obsessed over thoughts and feelings, things that weren’t right.  Your worry started to take over your life. Things that were easy weren’t easy anymore. We went to the doctor and we tried and your mom and I still told ourselves that this too will pass.

The other night we were looking at a math homework sheet and you were having trouble focusing.  I asked you what was going through your mind. You looked at me and said things were all “scribbly”. I still hear you saying it.

I want you to know something.

It will all work out.  Your mother and I are here for you.  You are still that kid that I held in the hospital.  You are still busy and you still feel deeply.  Whatever is going on in your head is real and, even though we’ve waited five years, it may not be going away.

So we will get you help. We will stand by you as your mom and dad.  We will give you the support you need in school and outside of school.

We will do this for you and we will be your advocates.  We will be on your team and we will attack this stuff now and get it knocked down and manageable.  We will get you your life back.

We will pray for you.  Everyday.

We will talk to the doctor, the therapist, anyone we need to get a team around you to help you because we can’t do it alone.

Carter, I love you more than you’ll ever know.  I’m typing this at my desk taking breaks between paragraphs to wipe away the tears and hope that no one notices.

I’m sorry for my frustrations, my irritation, my anger.  I owe you more than this.  I owe you a better father and better role model. You deserve a better man than me to follow.

But I promise you, today, I’m going to work on it, to get better, to be that father you deserve.

Just know I’m sorry.  I’m here for you.  I’m still holding you 9 years later and you’re still looking up at me and I promise things will get better.

We’ll do this, as a family.

Love,

Your dad.

Allow me to Reintroduce Myself

It has been a while.

I left off here in a dark place. In the few months since, things have changed. I’d looked in the mirror, stared into the abyss as it looked back at me.

I realized a few things.

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Ironically, it took watching Tony Robbins on his Netflix documentary to help see the truth. To look at some limiting beliefs, to realize what I’d cost Val and the boys over the last ten years.

Things have changed.

I’ve given myself permission to be the best father and husband I can be, to be my own man and stand on that foundation.  We cleaned out our house taking almost twenty bags of various things to be donated/trashed. My book collection is down to a few volumes of importance (everything from here out will be digital).

Some weight has lifted.

I started a new job, taken far too long to settle back into writing. I’ll start my first season as head coach for Carter’s baseball team this spring with opening day on April 1st. We are making steps towards a more purposeful life.

The boys are still crazy and active. They still surprise us with what they do and say on a daily basis.

So this blog will be a return to the words, the calling to put things down on paper, to stay honest, to honor the permission to write.

That’s the biggest thing that’s hit me in the past few months.

I’m allowed to learn and grow, to not have all the answers. To be a father and figure it out on a daily basis.  To be a husband and do the best I can. To be a writer no matter where the words end up.

To reach an audience because I know you are still out there. You’ve been there like me and you’ve grown.

To know that it’s okay as we go forward.

I hope you’ll join me on this new start.  Through a crazy baseball season and busy summer of sports for Aiden and Carter, trips to the pool and our first family vacation. Many stories wait to be told and I’m excited to see how they end up.

And I’m okay.

It’s taken a long time to get there, but I think I’ve finally found the starting point, the foundation to look towards the future and I’ll take that for 10:09 PM on a Tuesday night.

 

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.

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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.

To My Son on Turning 8

Dear Carter,

Your labor wasn’t easy for mom.  Thirty-seven hours. Three visits to the hospital over the weekend before she was admitted. You tried for a regular birth but just couldn’t make it out.  The doctor had to go get you.

I remember, before he did, standing in the room with mom and the doctor watching the screen showing your pulse as it climbed and fell.   The air was thick, the lights unforgiving.

He stood and said they were doing a C Section and, in the middle of August, you arrived.

I was the first one to hold you.  Mom was in recovery and they wheeled you out to me.  We sat on a chair in the room with the television playing in the background just after midnight.  You didn’t cry.  We had peace.

You ended up in the NICU with an infection and, a few days later, we took you home.

I still look at that picture of the day you got home and wonder where the years have gone.

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You ran before you walked.  You woke at the first hint of a ray of sunshine and we spent many mornings on the couch at 6 am watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

I remember you starting preschool and, eventually, elementary school.  I remember dropping you off that day and crying at how much you’d grown and how, for the first time, you were in other hands.

I’ve watched you grow into a blonde ball of energy. Strong and strong-willed. You are my athlete, sensitive and caring. You have your mother’s big heart, even if you don’t know it yet.

Great things are coming for you. New experiences and learning, new friends and activities. I wish you joy as you learn more about who you are.

I’m sorry for not being the perfect dad, for the days where my energy doesn’t match your own and my patient is spent. I’m trying my best and will keep working to do better. I want you to be as proud of me as I am of you.

Your world will only get bigger and wider. You will keep learning.  You will inherit the good and bad from my generation and you’ll need to handle it with strength that will come from these years.

You will know the love of Jesus, of community and service.  You’ll meet an amazing woman and find yourself with a family one day.  You’ll call mom and I when your son has jumped off the couch for the 1000th time after you said not to do it and you’ll ask us how we managed.

I’ll hand her the phone and laugh.

Happy Birthday son,

Matt

 

 

Labels

My birthday was two days ago and, as a gift, my mother gave me a Barnes and Noble gift card. This is my standard answer whenever anyone asks me what I want for a holiday or occasion.

Let me pick up a book and I’ll be happy.

I took it over to our local store and got Shoe Dog, a memoir by Phil Knight. Knight founded Nike and turned his idea of importing cheap shoes into a sports empire. I just started the book and Knight talks about his dream of entrepreneurship.

He mentions speaking with his father about needing money to travel the world and chase down the passion that inflamed him existence.  He was worried, he writes, because people weren’t stepping out in the late 1960’s. At least his family was not.

They were trapped in the appearance of respectability, surviving, and making enough for the nice house in the quiet neighborhood. To his surprise, Knight’s father gave him the money for the trip.

He was willing to break the power of the label.

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One of my strongest influences, Pastor Erwin McManus from Mosaic in Los Angeles, spoke about this is a recent podcast.  He stated that we were originally all created on an even playing field. It took the understanding of self to break the equality.

He mentioned the theory that, when babies first notice their reflection, their sense of self is forever altered.  They cannot go back. The first mirror humanity ever looked into was the eyes of a snake in the Garden of Eden, he stated. He went on to say:

Every label we make; white, black, conservative, liberal, gay, straight, every single one builds a wall.

These walls push us far away from the original design for creation and lead us ever closer into the arms of grace and love.

We love our labels, though.  They are so addicting.

We wear them as badges of honor. They are our possessions. They are our children we push vicariously into territories they never wanted and tell ourselves that we are expanding their horizons. They are our jobs.

They become our paths.

It takes power to break labels and find the depth of what God wants to pour out in our lives. It takes an effort to see people for their souls and not their surface. It takes the touch of God to turn our focus from ourselves and what we can get to others and what we can give.

On that July 4th so long ago, people came together to say they’d had enough.  They were ready to do something drastic and find their freedom.  This year (I always think of my birthday as the start of a new year) my goal is to do the same, to make big moves and take steps for real and valuable change.

It is time to make a difference, for this world needs difference makers that can help us see past labels, destroy walls, and make things better for all.

~Matt

Measuring Up

My most recent blog post for our church’s website will go live on Monday.  We are in the midst of a series on dealing with drastic changes in life and it is on the power of the comparison trap.

It is too easy to paralyze ourselves as we see others succeed.

Some people thrive from comparisons. They live to compete, always have the finish line in sight, and chase goals with tenacity. The thrill of victory is enough.

For the rest of us, competition is much harder.

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I was never a Type A personality. Give me a book on a quiet Saturday afternoon, and I’m set. My motivation was intrinsic, not placed against outside forces.

I was the kid that responded to the individual recognition for the end result, not the race to the finish. Let me work in a vacuum and I’ll survive.

Probably the reason writing lives deep in my soul.

As you age, you realize this kind of success is impossible. There is no vacuum. All it takes is the first bad experience to know you will play a part in the environment around you no matter what you choose.

I remember the negative moments of my youth, the teasing and unkind words. I remember going to college and realizing the world is much bigger, that the point was to find your own identity and maybe getting a job would be the answer.

Then you realize the bullies took a different form as middle managers bent on making your days as rough as possible. There would always be someone grasping for power in their own kingdom.

You get married and have kids and do your best to help them find a safe path while learning how to process the bad things as they come.

The blog post on Monday scares me more than any other I’d written for the church.  It cut deeply. I’d felt like that kid again, that victim wondering why I was getting picked on and just wanting to disappear.

I believe God turns our scars into stories. Looking back is an important step in looking forward and finding the way to truly be free. Life is a journey and these tough nights and weeks are a part of the bigger picture.

The picture that will take shape into more beauty than we’d ever imagine.

~Matt

 

 

 

 

Threads

This week is a unique one on a few fronts. Carter has two days of school, then he’s off for spring break. We are rounding the turn on warmer weather. Baseball, professional and youth, is on the horizon.

Summer seems just over the hill.

Easter is at the end of the week. In terms of Biblical history, Jesus has arrived through Palm Sunday and cleansed the temple.  Soon he will be arrested and find his way to the cross, rising again in victory.

It is a time of resurrection for us as a family. We’re moving towards new things, situations, times and experiences. On Saturday, I drove to Delaware to visit my dad and, driving home I started thinking about the threads that carry us through from past to present and future.

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Our pastor on Sunday said you can’t separate Christmas from Easter, the birth of Jesus from his death and return to life. The experiences of the past speak to our future.

The children we were influence the adults we are.

We throw down gauntlets with every painful experience, internal promises we make ourselves to avoid the same issues decades later. They can have positive or negative results. We tell ourselves we will never ____ (fill in the blank). It can drive us to obsessive levels of perfection or success.  It can also cripple us with doubt.

Every writer is scared of rejection. If I could go back and talk to myself as a kid, I’d tell him that it will be okay. All the struggle will amount to something. The people who have cycled in and out of your life all had their reasons and it was nothing against you. The first publication will feel as good as the first big one.

It takes birth and growing up to face loss and resurrection.

I’d tell myself to make the most of the years because they will pass too fast and you’ll find yourself sitting in front of a laptop typing a blog post while your own kids sleep in their beds. That the dreams will keep coming, the calling will get louder and more clear, that you will make a difference and the words will count for something in the end.

That it is never over, so many years later, and the fight is worth stepping into the ring even when you don’t have the energy to leave the lockers.

~Matt

The Job Effect

It is ironic that the name of the one man from the Bible associated with suffering is spelled exactly the same as “job”, the one thing that can cause a large amount of suffering from Monday to Friday, but I digress.

In case you’ve forgotten your Sunday School, Job was a guy seen in high regard by God. One day, the devil makes an appearance in heaven challenges God. He makes a bet, that if Job is shaken he will renounce his faith.  God believes so much in his servant that he allows it to happen.

The losses move fast.  Money, provision, the death of family and the scorn of friends.  Job persists in faith until the devil asks God to touch his health. God allows it and suffering rains down.  Finally, Job looks to the sky with open hands and asks:

WHY?

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God replies in a perfect defense, asking where Job was at the creation of the universe and, on what grounds does he question his situation.  We read that Job repents and is restored more than what he had lost in the beginning.

If it was only that easy.

There are times when it feels like every fiber of your life is under attack.  Nothing is safe.  From faith to family and finances, health to stability.  You get hammered from all sides.  Friends show up, as they did with Job, and question the causes.  They look down on you and wonder what you did to deserve it.

The days feel like a cosmic game, like you are moving around a board waiting for the next strike.

Two things we can learn from Job.  First, God defended him before any loss and suffering.  He was highly regarded, in the same position we are as followers of Jesus seen through the grace of his sacrifice. Secondly, Job was allowed to question.  God could have ended the story in a moment.  Job was still breathing for a reason.  He needed to step into his restoration found only through repentance.

The attacks will come. Cars break down, health fails, stress and conflict build.  You look at the one you love and you are arguing for no reason.  Your kids are wild and suddenly you don’t have the energy to fight.

God’s answer to Job is our own.  Take a minute and read the list he lays out in Job 38-42. All things are possible.  Our restoration is not a challenge for the one holding the universe in his hands.

The sun comes up tomorrow. When you look in the mirror, you have a choice.  Climb back in bed or keep going. Run or fight. Fear or faith. Be scared or be strong. It is not a sprint, it is a marathon that starts in one step.  Make it count.

~Matt