A Letter to Heaven

Two years ago, you went home.  On a dark and cold winter night we drove to the hospital with you and, when we left the next morning, you were gone.  Your mom was a little more than twenty weeks pregnant.  You’d made it half way.

Then you were called home.

I cried when I found out you were coming, not out of joy.  I was scared, to be honest, to meet you.  We never found out your gender but something tells me you were meant to be my little girl.

Your brothers grow each and every day.  Carter is so active and he has a huge heart.  Aiden is so smart. He loves to sit and relax, play his video games and watch his shows. They would have loved you. They still do.

I like to read.  You never found that out, but I’ll tell you because it’s important to me.  I read something yesterday that asked “how would you live if you had 6 months left?”

I thought about this question.

And my mind went to you. You had six months.  So what if I could live inspired, grab that time, know and remember every second of swirling emotion. What if I could see you as an inspiration?

What if I could live these days to make you proud of me.

The world is hard.  It is loud and noisy.  People get distracted.  I like to think the chaos was too much for you and God called you back to heaven because your heart was too pure for this.

Because we struggle.  We suffer. We hurt.  Your mom and I, our hearts were broken when we lost you.  Your brothers, they were so excited to meet you one day.

We’re not perfect, but we were your family.  We are your family.

You will always be in our hearts.

Until the day I see you again, my little girl.

~Your dad

 

The Next Drink Will Not Be Different

Ben Affleck

Whenever I’d be involved in a conversation about celebrity look a likes, I’d always name Affleck. I’d enjoyed his movies and the various characters he’d attempted to fill over the years.  Recently, the NY Times did a great profile on the actor on the heels of his divorce with Jennifer Garner after thirteen years of marriage and three children.

A few of his quotes made me stop and think, not just for honesty sake but for the weight he’d put in them:

“People with compulsive behavior, and I am one, have this kind of basic discomfort all the time that they’re trying to make go away,” he said a couple of Sundays ago during a two-hour interview at a beach side spot in Los Angeles. “You’re trying to make yourself feel better with eating or drinking or sex or gambling or shopping or whatever. But that ends up making your life worse. Then you do more of it to make that discomfort go away. Then the real pain starts. It becomes a vicious cycle you can’t break. That’s at least what happened to me.”

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“The older I’ve gotten, the more I recognize that my dad did the best he could,” Affleck said. “There’s a lot of alcoholism and mental illness in my family. The legacy of that is quite powerful and sometimes hard to shake.” Affleck’s younger brother, Casey, 44, has spoken about his own alcoholism and sobriety. Their paternal grandmother took her own life in a motel when she was 46. An uncle killed himself with a shotgun. An aunt was a heroin addict.

“It took me a long time to fundamentally, deeply, without a hint of doubt, admit to myself that I am an alcoholic,” Ben Affleck said. “The next drink will not be different.”

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Pic from the Times profile. 

Let’s dig in.

My generation is known as The Divorce Generation.  We were the first to eclipse the statistic that 50% of the marriages of our parents would end in divorce, myself included.  So what does that do? It generates what Affleck mentions in his quote, something his children will face now.

It creates that consistent discontent driving compulsions.  Pain nags, the feeling palpable. It is a burning, just under the skin, that something is coming.  A feeling the car is approaching a horizon that is actually a cliff, that the raft is approaching the waterfall in the distance and we hear the rapids. It creates unbalance and the urge to fill the space.

I turn mine into a reward mechanism. Let’s buy lunch, go to the movies, pick up a new book, let’s sit and decompress and not think for a while. Let’s spend because we deserve it.

We all find solace in something, in realization.  Val and I lean on faith, we’ve started trying to get physically, financially, and spiritually well with a purpose. Now, we’re not perfect by any means, and the old habits die hard behind ignorance. The trick is in the realization.  As Affleck says,

The next drink will not be different.

Fill in the blank with your coping mechanism of choice. Compulsions are driven on novelty. There’s a chance we are missing something.  The dopamine hit could be better, stronger.  The limit could go just a little bit deeper, because God, what a rush that was.  And in that rush, for a moment, we didn’t feel.

When we sit down, sit back and understand the next drink will not be different, the next impulse isn’t new, the next vice is the same prison as before, when we look in the mirror and acknowledge it, then the real work can be done.

I look in the eyes of my boys and know they’ll need their own strategies. Affleck and Garner may both be millionaires, but pain is real. Their children will face it down one day.  And money isn’t solution if we follow Affleck’s logic.

As Solomon writes in Ecclesiastics, we are eager to chase the wind.

The goal is truth. The goal is love. The goal is life and being present because it stops you from constantly leaning forward out of the moment and trying to find the next thing. Because the next thing won’t be different.

Aiden and I were watching Youtube this morning and he said, in the middle of the video, “smash that Like button, dad,” and I laughed.  That’s the moment. Grab those like gold because time passes.  Know that you are doing okay and things will get better.

Butterfly wings don’t always start hurricanes.

Sometimes they just catch sunlight.

 

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