Broken Mirror

I met Val when I was sixteen and she was seventeen.  We’ve been together since 1999 and married since 2007. We’ve experienced each other as teenagers and adults, grown into the realities of marriage and children  and what it takes to build a life together.

One night, in the early years of dating, I was helping her brother put an air conditioner in Val’s bedroom window. They’d lived in an old twin home at the time and the place had windows that were likely original.  The window we were working on got stuck, probably because of the humid night, and I placed my hand securely on the sill and started to push up.

The thing wouldn’t move.

Two minutes later it finally moved and, in one swift moment, I put my hand right through the glass. The window shattered.

Thankfully, I made it without any serious cuts or wounds.

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There are moments where you look in the mirror and decide you’ve had enough.

The turnover to 2019 was one of those moments for us as a family.

We looked in the mirror and realized we were tired.  Tired of debt. Tired of being unhealthy. Tired of feeling lost.  Tired of just surviving. Tired of being tired.

So we decided to change things.

We’re back in the gym (I’m down more than ten pounds so far).  We are building our savings and finally designing a budget (starting Financial Peace University next week). We are attending church again.

Some of our goals may be common, but they are valuable to us: Finding authentic community, becoming financially solvent, being better parents and living in the moment with our boys, support a charity and becoming more generous.

We’ve decided to support Through the Heart, a non-profit that assists families dealing with miscarriage and infant loss. We remember how it felt for us and we’re so excited to help families dealing with the same.

I’m in the midst of reading The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday, a book that is changing my life about moving forward with purpose. I highly recommend it as every chapter is gold.

This path won’t be easy but, when you have a mirror moment, you can’t go backwards.  You can’t sit still anymore.

You burn the boats at the shore.

In many ways, this is a start we should have had years ago.  That’s the point though, to start, because as long as you’re breathing you have time to make a difference. We’ve spent too long not investing in ourselves and our family.

The time for change has arrived.

Haunted

How many people from your wedding party do you still talk to?

This was a question floated to me the other day.  At the moment, the answer is one and that’s because he’s my brother-in-law. There’s a phenomenon out there known as ghosting and we, as a society, are particularly good at it.

ghost·ing

noun: ghosting

1.the appearance of a ghost or secondary image on a television or other display screen.

2.the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.

Val and I were friends with another couple for a year or two.  Our kids played together.  We had dinners, trips to the playground, they even watched our kids once which is not something we normally ask of anyone outside of family.  One day, out of the blue, the calls and texts stopped.

I realized, after a while, we were ghosted.

Relevant magazine did an entire article on this, about how people in the church are skilled at ghosting. The entire concept of friendship has shifted over the years.

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Digital communication has increased availability but decreased depth. Those we care about can be reached with a few taps of a phone screen.  This has made our walls and armor quicker to deploy.

I worked for a financial company right out of college.  One team had me on a 5 am to 1 pm schedule.  It wasn’t horrible once I’d gotten used to it.  I liked the people, thought I had fit in well, and it wasn’t too hard of a job.  One day, HR called me into a meeting.  The rep slid a printout of an email across the table.  It was from the supervisor of the group saying about how I was a liability, didn’t fit in, and it wasn’t working out.  He advised an internal move that I eventually completed. This was in 2008 and, eventually, I was laid off with a few million other people across the country.

I still have trouble trusting people.  This creates an issue because we need people.

Writing is a solitary effort at heart.  I loved the process of getting my MFA and working in writing groups but, in the end, it was always me and the story.  It was my wall to climb. Depending on someone else requires trust and accessibility.

For Val, her background lends her to a different path.  She handles things on her own.  It is easier to just do it than to rely on someone else who could let you down.

Community is never easy.  Humanity is not pretty or nice or politically correct.  People let us down, they walk away for no reason.  They leave us behind.

The trick is to not let your ghosts haunt you.

Because someone out there needs to hear from you today, a text or a phone call, a note of encouragement or just to know that you are there. Someone needs to be lifted up.  Take a second a give it a try.  You may find that, when you lift someone else up, you get lifted yourself.

We can climb out of the wreckage of ourselves and rebuild.  We can rise above the mess. We can restart one day at a time and rewrite our stories.  We can do it together.

Call to Arms (an interview)

What’s missing in your life?

When was the last time you felt close to the divine?

When did you feel accomplished?

What dream drives you into the future?

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When did you last feel freedom?

What makes your soul cry out?

What do you worship?

Are you still alive?

I want a life that expresses God’s creativity, words that cause international conversation and community, friendships that never end, faith to hold on in the darkness, strength that takes risks, living a life of faith beyond anything I could imagine.

We must think about these things as they drive us forward.  Our sentences are not complete, our stories not over, our dreams alive and well, our visions expanding and our hope the fire that burns deep inside.

Never stop believing.

 

 

 

How to Know and Escape Toxic Environments

When I worked in the emergency room, it happened every few nights.  The waiting room was full, the treatment rooms full with at least two or three intoxicated patients in the back. Parents would be holding injured children.  Hours ticked past and you felt the tension.

Soon, a person would snap and start yelling at us and we’d have to get security involved.  They’d calm until the next one yelled.

Eight hours of work in a toxic environment is enough to ware down even the strongest of souls. It doesn’t always take the dramatic form of an emergency room.  It can be a classroom, an office, a factory floor or retail store.

It can be the dinner table.

Toxic environments impact every person inside their borders. The tension is real. Loved ones hurt each other with words and actions. Coworkers gossip. Creativity is stifled and hope vanishes. There is no ownership, no teamwork, and no personal or corporate incentive.

You show up, put in time, and leave

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There are ways to escape.

Find Your Passion– Make your work line up with your passion. This is easier said than done in the current economic environment but, the advent of social media and technology has leveled the playing field.  You can learn a new skill through research and free resources found online.  You can set up a website and start finding customers through various free platforms. Think of what you’d do if you could pick anything and chart out the path to make it happen.  The biggest risk is not taking a shot at all.

Find Your Community– Toxic environments destroy community.  They isolate and capture, creating conflict and discord. The only bonding occurs over negative talk and stories as criticism becomes the accepted language. Finding a genuine community helps you break free.  Some of those nights in the emergency room, I was blessed to work with others who followed Jesus and we made a point to make each other laugh and keep things light. At home, start small with a walk around the block, date night, or doing homework at the kitchen table. Build bonds and know you are not alone. Walking the path together always makes things easier.

Find Your Creativity– Break old routines by making something new. Creation breeds passion and community. Look at your current situation and make a list of what could change.  How could you be a part of it? What new ideas could you bring to the table? We are all called to create.  Listen to your calling.

Find Your Faith– I believe we are meant for something more.  We are here to break through toxic environments.  We are to be light in the darkness and salt of the earth. I believe we were born with purpose and passion.

You may read this tonight and feel the tug of truth.  You may look in the mirror and know your soul is incomplete.  Work tomorrow seems like jail and not freedom. The person sleeping next to you is distant.  The kids are wild. You just had a fight with that parent that can’t seem to understand.

You are tired.

Make a list.  Check the points above and find your freedom.  It is possible and it can happen.

I’m making the journey and we can do it together.

~Matt

The Sound of Worship

The past few weeks we’ve found ourselves in the midst of deep conversation about the intersection between faith and society.  Voices call for more and less.  Political factions take sides. Lines are being drawn.

There seems to be a race to the bottom, to be the most offended by people of faith. Personally, it has reminded me of the response of Jesus when asked about the greatest commandment. He replies to love God and love your neighbor, hardly the musings of a political leader.

For we know Jesus did not come for any earthly power.  More than once the crowds and leaders of the day tried to bait him with questions and conflicts. Every time he made his way around it, destroying the conventions, structures, forces and “common sense.”

Eternity was at hand.

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So what if we’ve gotten it wrong?  What if the church stands at an important intersection, at the crossroads of potential? What if it is primed for a shift, for a new way of community, service, prayer and worship?

In a post last week, I added a song by Isla Vista Worship.  Watching more of their stuff on Youtube, I found this video:

The narrative in the clip makes a statement that struck a chord with me.  It says that worship music should be done with skill and artistry, that is should shape the sound of secular music.

Think about that. We’ve reacted for so long.  What if it was time for Christian writers and artists to shape the narrative?  To reflect the love of Jesus into society with such power and impact that it changes things, that it removes the debate.

It is time for change, for real and actual change.  It is time to build fresh and living faith, to show real moves of the Spirit, to reach into communities and fight for those in need.

Are you ready?

~Matt

Flat-lined Faith

You know what I’m talking about.  Maybe you’re there right now.

You’ve defined yourself as a “believer,” grown up in church and played the role.  Tragedy strikes, life steps in and suddenly you are lost and drifting on a stormy ocean. You feel disconnected to those around you.

There’s a void getting way too comfortable as it hangs over your shoulders.

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I spent two years working in an emergency room doing insurance stuff and dealing with patients. It was a chance to see both sides of life.  People would arrive ready to give birth and leave a few days later as new parents. Others would arrive and never leave.

Word spread whenever a “code” came in. These individuals were either dead or dying.  I watched the families arrive and it killed me inside.

It also made me thankful.

Our zero moments give us clarity, understanding for what he have, had, and may get in the future. They push us to pivot in a new direction.

This week you’ll find some guest posts focusing on Faith and Life in Action from people who have made the journey and experienced all sides of it. They’ve had their zero moments and found ways to recover.

The temptation is to stay lonely.  Know that it is not an option. Find connection, community, and family. We are not created to live in a void.

We are created for life. We are created to regain strength and live electric moments of dangerous faith and love. We are created to serve.

My prayer from day one is that these words would make a difference. If they hit home for you or someone you love, feel free to share them and keep checking in as the story only grows from here.

~Matt

New Publication

words can change the world

We write for two reasons.

1-To Be Heard

2-To Change Things

I started P356 with this goal in mind, that the words would make a difference.  Today marks the publication of my next e-book, Lazarus Art: Calling Christian Writing Back From the Dead.

“For too long the world of Christian writing has found itself in the margins. It is time to reach for a higher standard of creation. Using the Biblical story of Lazarus for inspiration, this book examines three critical areas for improvement and challenges writers of all levels to push themselves deeper into their work. Christian writing can change with some valuable first steps and find itself with new and greater audiences. The time to change is now.”

Lazarus Art

You can download the book here.

A portion of any proceeds will go to support Hope Rescue Mission, the next official Community Partner for P356.  The men at Hope are changing lives in this city on a daily basis and I am honored that they allowed me to visit and include their efforts in the current project. You can find more information about their work on the Community Partners page.

As we enter Easter Week, let us not forget the meaning beyond the candy and egg hunts.  We are called to follow, to celebrate the one who lived change on a daily basis to the point where death was no longer the final answer.

Never forget there is hope, light in the darkness, and freedom for those who search.

Sunday’s coming.

~Matt

Our Next Step

Today is a big day for P356.  This morning, my guest post went live on our church’s website.  They are starting a message series on the miracles of Jesus.  My post is centered on Peter’s attempt at answering the call of Jesus by walking on water.

You can read it here.

I’ve added two new pages to the site outlining the next step in the growth of P356 as an outreach and organization connected with the fight against poverty.

New Publications

My first devotional is now available for download and in print.  Wing Night, named after one of my favorite activities with friends (the purchase and consumption of hot wings) is a short read for men.  It is twenty days of thoughts, motivation, and inspiration centered around marriage, faith, and family.

The City is my first science fiction novel. It tells the story of two friends living inside the final city existing in the United States.  Their choices will determine the future as society falls apart around them.

You’ll also find links to my other novel and novella publications.  Please check them out.

Community Partners

It was my dream, from day one, that P356 would make a difference.  I wanted the words to matter.  With this in mind, I am donating partial proceeds from the sales of Wing Night and The City, to a local charity I have interviewed for inclusion in my current book project. The first official P356 Community Partner is We Agape You.

We Agape You was founded by Randall Simmons, a friend working daily to change the tide of homelessness in the city of Reading.  You’ll find more details including a link to his website on the Community Partners page.

With each additional publication, I’ll add another partner to the list.  Your support will help make a difference in the fight against poverty.

Every word counts and every person sleeping in the cold tonight matters.

Sunday morning, this song was included in our worship.  The image of chains carries a loaded set of meanings. We can be chained together, chained apart, tied down and tied up. Chains are weight and bondage.  They are stress and pressure.  They are real and imagined.

They are a connection point.

We know that we are a New Creation. We know that we are Free Indeed.  This freedom does not come without cost.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ~Matthew 25:40 NIV

As you start your week, consider how you can make a difference. The hardest step in the first one. Today, these words are the next step for P356.  They mark a new journey. Chains are breaking. The shift is happening.  Reality is changing.

The time is now.

~Matt