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

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If

I hope you enjoyed your past five days.

For us it was a time of running around, visiting family, opening presents and thinking about the past year. We attended a Christmas Eve service on a warm night and rejoiced as our pastor walked out on stage with his new prosthetic left leg. Carter and Aiden loved every gift they received. We somehow managed to make it relatively smooth and are still in the process of getting the house in order.

The insurance money for home repairs will be available to us on 12/30, starting the ball rolling towards repairs and the house returning to form.  On Christmas I experienced my own little miracle, something I will post about this week, as this was the first year without both of my grandparents.

I am excited for what is coming.  The final few days of 2015 will put a cap on a stressful time in our lives.  We are finally moving towards some good news on multiple fronts.  I know that everyone believes 2016 will be their year. It is a common refrain for the end of December.

We have a concrete reason why.

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Last night I started reading Pastor Mark Batterson’s new book.  The title is If and it is based on Romans 8:31.

If God is for us, who can be against us?

I’ll be writing two posts for our church’s official blog about this book and I’m excited to dive into it. He makes a point in the first chapter that will change lives:

If we really believed that verse, an alternative reality awaits.

If God is for us, who can be against us? It removes any space for doubts or fears.  How different would our year look if we walked forward believing that God is for us?

There are times I fight hard against cynicism. I mean, okay I get it. Faith is faith. Yet, when I read those sentences I felt a spark of something inside. Facing this book launch in 2016, the official initiation of P356 to the publishing world and fully giving my writing over to God’s purpose, I still get pangs of fear.

I look in the mirror and can hear the voices.

Why me? I was never anybody special.

If God is for us, who can be against us?

What happens if I fail?

If God is for us, who can be against us?

Do you know the odds against success? How many people actually launch their business online and survive?

If God is for us, who can be against us?

The bottom line is faith. Silence the voices.  Grab hold of the promise, the importance of If, and use it to change your life.  Looking forward to what is coming, to building this book and making real change in our lives.

It all starts with one concept-

If.

~Matt

The Gift of Not Having to Say Thank You

I’ve written before about my love for the television show Supernatural. On Friday night, as I watched one of the episodes from the tenth season, an exchange of dialogue hit me.

Sam and Dean, brothers played by Jensen Ackles and Jared Padlecki, are riding in a car going to hunt down the latest monster of the week.  In the midst of a rainy drive they are discussing the events of the past few episodes, moments where Sam had gone to great lengths to save Dean.

Ackles, perfectly in character, mentions that he never said thanks for being saved.

Padelecki looks at him, pauses for a moment, and replies:

“You never have to say that.  Not to me.”

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The moment works on many levels.  From brother to brother, it says that one will always be there.  Family stands high enough to mean there isn’t a need to say thank you.  You’ll always be there, regardless.

It also means that gratitude is understood and that things will be okay.

The idea of not having to say thank you works against everything we’ve put front and center in society. We demand recognition for our efforts and our input. The ones spending their lives in service to others know and understand that this dynamic fails.

This Tuesday, in Reading, a team of volunteers will gather to serve meals to those in need in an event called Cups of Compassion. The individuals I met during this past year of book research will fill some of the spots on this team.  They spend often more than forty hours a week in the world of the poor, ill, beaten down, and distressed.

They go to work every week, go home at night, and go back to do it again in the morning.  They see their clients often fall off the wagon of sobriety and end up incarcerated, in the hospital, or in the graveyard.

These warriors, ones like Sherry Camelleri, Rob Turchi, Frank Grill, Steve Olivo, Sharon Parker, Dan Clouser and Craig Poole and the staff at United Community Services, Berks County Prison, Berks Women in Crisis, Service Access Management, Opportunity House and other shelters in the city all do what they do without the expectation of thanks.

They do it because they care.  They will always be there.  They understand the need to save and their abilities to make it reality. They change lives with selfless love that embodies this time of year.

We can follow their lead and give back, all without expectation or condition.

For the need will never go away. We must rise to fight, step to the line, and give the gift of living to serve without having to hear “thank you.”

~Matt

 

 

The Gift of Showing Up

This week I’ve been praying for God to show up.  Not in a Christmas story, angels in the sky kind of way.  Just in a moment or two where the divine breaks through the atmosphere and you can feel it.

This time of year it is way too easy to phone it in. We pack our weeks with activities, shopping, preparation, and stress.  The push is on to get that last gift, stock up on the required groceries, and finish remaining deadlines before the new year.

As a writer, and a dad, I tend to live in my head.  The internal conversation started when I was young, growing up an only child, and helped me tap into the words that became short stories, novellas, and finally novels.  Stephen Gaghan, writer of the movie Traffic, said that everyone who wants to write has a desire to explain themselves to the world.  I rehearsed this inside my head for decades.

Because the truth can be scary. Emotions can scar. Fear can paralyze. Moments of genuine experience hit like hammers and leave us euphoric or reeling in the aftermath.

They light the fire of our souls.

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God has shown up this week and answered my prayers in multiple ways. Yesterday, I met more than one person struggling to make it this month, but held up and hanging on by their faith. Last night and today Carter had the chance to play with good friends and practice the sports he loves.

I was honored to have someone witness to me today. We talked about faith and they told me to lean on Jesus every day because we need it, every day, to survive.

The Gift of Showing Up works on two levels.  First, make the effort to slow down and be present these next two weeks. Enjoy the quiet moments. Reflect on what has happened, the fact that you’ve survived, and the hope of the future. Play with your kids. Talk to your spouse. Make it count.

Second, you’ll be surprised where and when God will arrive.  Tonight I met with my friend Sherry, director of Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center.  I updated her on the progress of my current book project.  We talked about family and friends, the daily process of an outreach organization, and the courage to keep coming back.

She shared stories of clients surviving in the journey of parenting, education, and escaping the web of poverty. She is a woman of hope, one that has shown me God every time we’ve met.

Find people like this and be sure to spend time with them.  They will equip you to go out and shine the light of hope to others.

You’ll truly understand the power and gift of showing up.

~Matt

 

Friday Hit List

A quick hit list of thoughts to start your weekend.

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Victory- Just before Thanksgiving, I went and saw Creed with a good friend.  The movie, besides being a quality addition to the franchise, examines the theme of time.  In the end, time always wins. Decide what you’ll do with what you have.  Fight for what is important and keep moving forward.

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Verse- The largest challenge of faith.  We are called to walk towards what we do not see in a world that demands proof.  Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and still believed.” We are the generation separated by thousands of years and still believing. Do good. Serve. Love. Parent your kids to be contributors to society. Give someone hope. Do it all for faith and the assurance of the unseen.

Christmas song- Val loves Christmas music.  I can take or leave it.  In the realm of holiday songs, this is the classic and one that stands above the rest. I rank Chris Tomlin’s version of Joy to the World (Unending Joy)” as a close second.

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Final Thought- Break Free.

Ever find yourself speaking with someone who has an agenda?  How about every day of the week?  The world is filled with it.  Work in any business and you’ll be dealing with customers, suppliers, vendors, and an army of people with agendas.  This afternoon I had a conversation with a friend who is transactional by nature. I’ve known him for a year now and he lives his life around the principal of what can you do for me?

Writers are often told to not write for the market, as, by the time your novel is ready, the current trend has moved on.

Too many communities of faith build themselves around service veiled in transactional pitches (you need a small group, to give, to join up, to get community, to go on the missions trip).

Jesus offered the ultimate alternative: grace. The cross as the final transaction, erasing the need for all others.

We need to shift our view, to understand that service and contribution grows from the hope of faith, that salvation is not a bargain purchased online, at the store, or at the polls in November. The world will change through selfless love, not agenda.

This month, know you can break free.  Stuff is not the point. The point is unending hope born so long ago. The moment the universe broke apart on a quiet night for the birth of a baby who changed everything.

We all believe something. We define ourselves by it.  Time will win in the end, so keep chasing your calling in confidence. Even if you can’t fully see the end result. Break the dynamics of transactions. Stand on grace.

Have a cup of hot chocolate and grab hold of a moment of peace in the chaos.

Then do it all again tomorrow.

~Matt

The Joy Shortage Part 2

You’ll find the original post here.

I had the following conversation today:

“Good morning.”

“Hello.”

“How are you?”

“Terrible. Why would you ask that question? Why would you ask that when you already know the answer? I’m here aren’t I? Why would you waste my time with that question?”

We finished our verbal interaction and this person went back to their seat. Three words. I asked a simple question and a door opened that told me more about the individual on the other end of the conversation than I needed to know.

There was no joy to be found.

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Yesterday, the message at church was on joy and letting our outside match what is inside. We are told, in the Bible, of incarnational joy. The message of the holidays is a coming of peace that passes all understanding.  We sing Joy to the World.

In the absence of heaven, we find means to medicate a filler of the space inside.

Some do this through faith, prayer, love and community.  Others buy things. Even more grow dark and numb as their flame wisps to smoke and eventually a cold interior.

Then they are asked a question, How are you?

And they answer like above.

This time of year we tend to spread ourselves thin, pulled in all directions.  Kids act up. Work stresses. Finances may be tight with that last push to finish shopping and find the perfect gift.

Yet, we know the perfect gift.

For happiness is a choice.  Sorrow is a choice. Cynicism is a choice. Fear is a choice.

Love is a choice.

Joy though, joy is different. Joy puts me on the beach in Mexico during our honeymoon all those years ago, sleeping next to Val as the tropical breeze drifts over us. Joy is the first moment I held Carter and Aiden, the thrill and mystery of being a parent.  Joy is knowing what I’m called to do, not that I’m there yet but I know the pull God has placed on my heart.  I know my completed sentence.

I don’t know how it will play out.

Your own story may be a mystery tonight. You are sitting in a dark room reading this on your cell phone searching for a glimmer of hope.  You are yearning for words that may change your circumstance for the better.  You want a kindred soul.

You are not alone.

Joy is born of the perfect gift, the completed sentence, knowing the ending before you arrive.  It is the reason we celebrate the arrival of the One come to change the world and take on our suffering in our place. Joy lit the sky over the shepherds, drew the wise to their knees, ignited a star in the sky and fulfilled words found centuries before.

So the next time someone asks, be ready.

How are you?

~Matt

 

 

When We Must Respond

When was the last time you felt peace?

Val and I had our honeymoon in Mexico and we always joke about being back there, on the beach, side by side as the crystal water rolled in and the tropical sun provided a blanket of warmth. We often get pulled so many directions and peace can seem like a distant dream.  Recently, I’ve had this increased anxiety, for some reason, and I’m not sure why.

The interviews for my book-in-progress are increasing with five additional ones in the month of January.  It is growing and I’m feeling the importance settle on my shoulders.  I believe God can, and will, do something with this and I hope I’m ready. Thinking about the nerves, I believe they fall on this area.  God may finally be moving us out from these years of struggle and I pray we are prepared for what is coming.

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Photo Credit: symphony of love via Compfight cc

The line between faith and worry, desire and doubt can sometimes be razor-thin.  As believers, we are walking through our journeys of faith and life.  When we are pressed, our faith is distilled to the core.  One day, at one moment, we are all called to respond to the reason for our hope.

On Sunday Greg Hubbard, our church’s evangelist, played this clip in the midst of his message.  It is a CNN interview with New Orleans’ Saints football player Benjamin Watson.

In all the turmoil and violence, he offers a powerful message.  As you can see, CNN cuts him off for it.  Watson told the reason for his hope.  He’s a man on the national stage, unafraid to proclaim his faith.

So what is your stage?  Is it your living room? The dinner table? Sitting across from a loved one who you haven’t seen in days, weeks, or months? When will you be called?

If you are lacking peace this week, know that I’m praying for you and that you’ll find a moment of it with friends and loved ones.  If this holiday is your time to respond, I pray that you’re ready. We are all a work in progress and this week we celebrate the One who came to finish the job.

~Matt

The Greatest Gifts

Thursday morning I was getting ready to leave for work, gathering my stuff in the kitchen.

“Daddy,” Aiden called from the living room. “Daddy. Daddy. Daddy sit. Daddy sit.”

He was sitting on one of the dining room chairs and patting the spot next to him. I sat down and folded my hands.  He did the same and looked at me with a smile.  He had just turned two years old at the beginning of the month.

As I drove to work, I thought about his birth.  Carter was an emergency C-section and I was unable to be in the room.  Aiden was different, a scheduled procedure, and I had a chance to be at Val’s side.  They completed a second C-section procedure and started cleaning him off.  I watched from across the surgical suite.

They hooked him to an oxygen monitor.  His blood oxygen levels started normal and, gradually, dropped.  The nurses called in a NICU doctor for consultation.  She arrived, watched the monitor, listened to his lungs, and said they were sending him to the NICU.  He had fluid in his lungs and stomach, the product of not having it squeezed out during labor.

In a moment, our second son had ended up in the NICU, just like our first.

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Photo Credit: bookgrl via Compfight cc

Carter and Aiden both recovered from their challenging deliveries. I took Aiden Christmas shopping with me today and, as he grows, I’m always struck by the passage of time. In this season where we focus on giving, we can get caught up in the rush and forget about what truly matters.

We are blessed to have each other, our families, and the chance to chase our dreams and make a difference.  As you go through this week, this last mad rush to get things done for Thursday, make sure you take the time to enjoy it.  Remember the hard times and celebrate the blessings, the small victories, and the opportunity to do it all again tomorrow.

~Matt

The Closed Doors

There was no room at the inn.

The expression, from the Christmas Story as recorded in scriptures, has come to mean many different things.  Mary and Joseph needed a place to stay.  She was pregnant. They checked around and found no inn with a spare room, ending up in a stable.  They faced many closed doors.

We all face our closed doors.

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Photo Credit: M.Orellana via Compfight cc

You can be moving along and gradually, or suddenly, things fall apart.  Your path shifts. The climb is now up hill. The promises you know as truth seem so far away and you look to God and wonder where the target on your back came from.

Closed doors are a necessary part of life.

On Thanksgiving, I spoke to a friend at Hope Rescue Mission.  He was having a rough few weeks.  His children and wife were dealing with medical issues.  An extended family member was seriously sick.  He felt beaten down.  He sighed and looked at me.

“You know you’re moving in the right direction when the Devil tries to hit back,” he said.

Where are you taking your hits this week?  Looking for a new job? Kids creating stress with the holidays? Finances getting thin while your waist line may be moving the other direction?

When we follow our calling, we will face closed doors.  God’s answers will come in their time, not ours.  We can’t lose hope and I write this sentence for you as much as for me. We will get pressed, and pressure is a good sign to keep fighting.  Use it as a barometer to know you are making a difference.

Even if  you end up in your version of a stable, shake off the cold, ignore the animals, and know that the universe was changed in such a place so many years before. That night it was the perfect, and only, option.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration:

“When I am weak, you’re strong.  Your grace is all I’ve got.  What love is this that loves no matter what?” ~Strong by The City Harmonic