zero k

I’m currently reading the book Zero K by Don DeLillo.  A lit professor back at West Chester University introduced me to DeLillo’s work.  It was a semester where I’d discover him, Paul Auster and Martin Amis, a trilogy of authors I still read whenever the inspiration tank is running low.

Zero K is the story of a family led by a wealthy patriarch. He develops the technology to make cryogenic resurrection a possibility. The patriarch calls his son to his compound, the base of the cryogenic facility, for the day his stepmother will be frozen.

The father tells his son that he’s decided to be frozen himself, to kill himself the day she goes in.  After a heated conversation, the son walks out of his office.  The next morning he finds his father a mess and in mourning.

He asks him why he didn’t go through with it.  The father replies:

“It was our conversation yesterday.  You said, if I do it, I reduce you.”

In one sentence, DeLillo captures the essence of being a parent and traveling a spiritual journey.

A photo by Maarten van den Heuvel. unsplash.com/photos/MM5rpMpC9k4

When children come, we find ourselves balancing their needs with our own. I posted last time about my cousin, still waiting a heart transplant at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital down in Philly.  My aunt is staying there, living at the hospital in daily anticipation.

My aunt has spent her career as a nurse still, years after retirement, substituting in local school districts.  She put in her time enough to have a place at the Delaware beaches and, yet, she’s here keeping vigil in my cousin’s room.

So many years had passed in both of their lives, good times and turbulent times, and tonight they sit together one strengthened by the other. The parent refusing to reduce the child by walking away.

Some of us, looking back, see walking away as a necessary part of growing up.

The house of our families had broken down enough to destroy any chance that we’d trust again. We keep everyone at a distance. We live in our stress, sitting in quiet times with racing minds and pounding pulses.

As men, we internalize.

I was taking Alka-Seltzer at fifteen.

Even with our preconceptions, God tells us the same message.  We are meant for greater things. We are meant for a life of adventure, danger, creation, thrills, victory, and stories grand enough to glorify the one that spoke the Universe into being.

God tells us the same thing.

Even when everyone else has walked away, turned their back, stopped calling and blanked us in silence. Even when darkness seems liquid and thick enough to fill a room.  Even when hope is four letters without meaning.

God will not walk away.

Without God, we are reduced to the fumes of our humanity.  With God, we burn in the flame of perfect love.

Whether in a hospital room, putting our kids to sleep, holding hands on the couch, or walking down a fall forest trail, we are never alone.

Tonight, I pray you find peace. Find faith as a verb and not a noun and hear your calling to so much more.

 

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A New Heart

I am an only child.

Usually, when I impart that bit of information on someone, they come up with a variety of conclusions.  Only children are spoiled. They never had to share anything. They grew up lonely.

I don’t know how many of these are true, at least not for me.  The internal life I may have gained from being an only child most certainly helped me on the path to being a writer.  It made me an observer, someone willing to sit outside the crowd and watch what happens.

I have a few cousins, though, and one is my closest older relative in age.  Her and I were always close.  We mourned together when our grandparents passed away a few years ago. She is someone I can not see for months and automatically restart a conversation when we meet like it was yesterday.

As of this week, she is now on the transplant list waiting for a new heart.

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Heart is a weighted term. We talk about people “having no heart.” The world is filled with broken hearts, mended hearts, new hearts and old hearts. We know some walking through life as “cold-hearted.”

A few things have happened over the last two weeks that have tested my faith.  I prayed, as I’m still doing, for God to be present in a way that it is only possible and clear to be him.  I prayed for a life where faith is no longer confused with a noun, but only a verb.

These longings have shut doors and opened new ones.

Why is it so hard? We latch our hands so far in this world that we ignore the cry of our heart and soul for adventure, passion, engagement and creativity. We are content to hold in a survival pattern and just make it through.

We are waiting on the transplant list, staring at our cell phone willing it to ring.

Then God answers. Things fall apart.  The Creator tells us to step out and risk, leave the details to the one skilled in painting the art of our daily lives, setting up the camera shots of the epic movie of faith.

Tonight isn’t easy. This week isn’t easy. This month may not end easy, but the fight continues.  I’ll still pray, still look forward, still strive to live faith as a verb and not a noun, still want a life that can only be accomplished by the interjection of God.

I want the answer to be clear; that it wasn’t me.  That, in the midst of suffering, we leaned on God and he carried us through. The transplant will happen. The phone will ring if we are willing to be embraced by the vastness of God’s love and grace.

A new heart will happen.  It will happen for her and for us, for my family and yours. Never give up. Never stop fighting. Never lay down after you stumble in fear of rising again.

New life is coming. Stand strong. Keep moving. Walk forward and see what tomorrow brings.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

When God Moves

Tonight I took our youngest son to the grounds of a local museum.  They have a walking path that runs next to a small creek.  The water usual contains a variety of ducks and, as the boys grew up, we would take them over to watch wildlife in action.

The sun was making its way down the sky, the walkway shaded and groups of people rode bikes past us or walked their dogs.  At the end of one side is a garden, flowers intermingling with statues and benches. The garden breaks through a path shaped like a heart.

It was a peaceful moment and, as we walked the path, the benches were filled with people.  Every single person had their head down and their hands on a cell phone.

God still paints pictures if we take the time to see them.

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This month has been one of change for our family.  I’m starting a new chapter in my career life, some new work on writing projects, and a new front in my personal growth through education.

We started looking at larger goals and bigger targets.  Over the last 8 years of struggle, it is nice to feel God moving again.  Even though the movement never stopped.

Our heads were down, weighed under pressure and stress, money and time. We stood in beauty and failed to see it for the structures of this world.  Our five-inch screens weren’t playing Pokemon Go, they were playing a loop of guilt.

Why keep trying? What if you fail? Isn’t is just easier to do nothing?

We get captured by the words and they lull us to a sense of comfort in the darkness.

There is power in movement, in discomfort, in shifting spaces and setting yourself out towards a target no matter what the voices say inside and outside.

My faith hangs on the belief that God has planted big dreams on my heart and on the lives of my family.  I believe love wins. One person can make a difference if they keep fighting.  I believe that, as long as we are breathing, there’s still a job to be done.

It may not be easy, but God has immense visions and purpose waiting.  I believe we are called to make a dent in the universe.  We are called to keep moving.  One step at a time.

 

Chapter 4

This post is part in a series of rough draft chapters of a novel in progress.  You’ll find Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3 by clicking on the links here. I wanted to push things out into a little different direction here with an addition to the plot.  Enjoy!

SOUTH

 

The bulletin came over the computers a little after 2:30 in the morning.

Charlie Reynolds sat on the balcony of the Reynolds Observatory.  The telescope looked like something out of a movie, located on a hillside ten miles from the old University of North Carolina. Reynolds himself was an alumnus, coasting through the science program since the building had his name on the front.  Montgomery Reynolds, one of the founders and key members of the Manhattan Project, split his fortune between the university and his only son.

The steeple of the district church glowed in the distance, sending a blue shaft of light into the night sky.  He took a pull from his cigarette, cursed his luck, and flicked it over the side of the wall.  His supply was dwindling and the “criminals” of the new order weren’t established enough.  He had tried to find more, driven for days around North and South Carolina, and came up empty.  A half carton waited in his desk.

He squeezed the tension from the back of his neck.

His cell phone vibrated on the concrete and he picked it up. An alert he didn’t recognize showed on the screen. A tornado had been spotted to the west, moving quickly towards the area.  All residents were advised to get inside. He put the phone back on the ground.

Clear sky. No wind. No emergency sirens, if they even worked anymore.

It had to be a fluke.

He shut his eyes and yawned, thinking about the bedroom he had built-in the lower floor of the observatory. He’d taken many a sorority girl to see the sights, literal and figurative.

The bed called.

It would be a short journey and he could be sleeping in minutes.  He inhaled, reaching for the final cigarette in the pack and felt it skitter away from his hand.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

He stood to chase it just as the pack fell over the side of the railing.  A gust of wind pushed hard enough to send his shoulder into the railing and he cringed. Thunder crashed and the stars disappeared as the storm system arrived. The top of a funnel cloud formed over the observatory. He needed to warn people, get the word out somehow.

The sirens remained silent.

He reached for his phone and the world went white.

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A hand, cold and soft, lay on his forehead. He opened his eyes to see the night sky, clear again. The atmosphere, though, crackled with electricity. He leaned forward to a shot of pain and pressure.  The figure kneeling before him blurred into focus.

It started as a swirling wind of matter like its own universe somehow centered on the balcony two feet away. He squinted and it settled to the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

Her hair was black, cascading in a viscous mass around her head.  Her eyes were almond brown and, for a moment, he was lost. Colors moved and changed inside them. She wore a slate grey business suit.

He attempted to look at her body but couldn’t move.

“Don’t be afraid.” The words seemed to come from the air.  Her voice was the sound of ringing bells. He opened his mouth but nothing came. “Charles, I have a message for you from the Lord.”

He tried again to speak and felt his throat tighten as if a pair of hands constricted against it.

“Silence.”

His breath cut off completely and he thrashed on the ground pulling at the invisible hands around his neck.

“You will tell a story to change this world.  Your journey starts at dawn.”

Blackness came at the corners of his vision. He tried to stay awake.

“I will see you again soon.”

Thunder crashed. The funnel cloud appeared where she had stood moments before. His ears popped with pressure and he screamed, finally able to pull in breath and shut his eyes.

In the span of heartbeats, all was calm again.

He stood, head spinning, waiting until he could walk. The elevator ride almost made him vomit.  He crawled to the bed and fell into a deep sleep.

 

The room was dark. It shouldn’t have been dark, not with the large window across from the bed.  They had built it to overlook sunrise to the east as a natural alarm clock. His throat was dry, his arms and legs sore.  He rolled over and felt for the light, flipping the switch.

Nothing changed.

He sat up in bed, forcing his eyes open.  The room remained dark.

What happened?

He scrambled to the floor just as the phone started to ring and vibrate on the side table. It took a minute to find it with roaming hands.

“Who is it?”

“Charles, why do you persecute me?”

The voice cut deep into his heart.  It was the woman, the thing or whatever it was, from the night before.

“What? What happened to me? Who the hell is this?”

“Go into town and you will receive your instructions there.” The call ended. He threw the phone and listened to it crash against the wall.

If only his parents were still alive. They would know what to do. He wouldn’t be stuck in this monstrosity of a building by himself.

Somehow, he was blind.

Blind.

He tried to imagine what was around him but the images were fleeting. The only constant figure was the woman and the storm.  She did this, somehow.  He needed to take inventory and figure out a way to get in town and go where?

The tears came before he could stop them and they puddled at his feet.

 

 

Chapter 3

You can find Chapter 1 here and Chapter 2 here of this novel in progress.  Enjoy!

WEST

 

            On a normal afternoon, she would listen to a podcast or audio book. The path of the jog looped miles out of town, across a section of woods ending at a beach with rocks shaped by pounding waves. She would stand on these rocks, often taking her shoes off to cool down, and think about the future.

The past was too painful.

She’d close her eyes and hear gunfire.  They had tried to fight, the university as a whole, standing on the grounds of academic and intellectual freedom.  She was one of the new breed at the time, fresh doctorate in hand, leading students through the finer points of Romantic poetry, not much older than they were. For a month they met as faculty in a lecture hall at midnight.

A flurry of activity followed, publications, protests, the rallying cries of youth.  Her department chair, a veteran professor, warned what was coming.  He said it would only go so far until they came to quiet the noise.

One Thursday morning in March, a caravan of vehicles entered campus. Troops arrived and locked everything down.  Faculty and students were removed and any resistance met with deadly force.

She opened her eyes as a seagull cried overhead. The breeze from the forest carried a smell she would always associate with the Pacific coast, though it was not called that any longer.  They were part of the West, the union between two outside forces that somehow had become real.

Her phone vibrated in the pocket of her green sweatshirt, the old University of Oregon O blazing on the chest in fluorescent yellow. She tapped the answer button on her ear piece.

“Where are you?”

His voice carried the smoke of sleep.

“The same place I go every morning.”

“I told you it’s not safe.” He yawned.

She imagined him stretching, the body of the athlete she had met as an undergraduate remained tight under his t shirt. His temples had grayed slightly but he still existed as the coiled ball of energy from his youth.

“You don’t need to worry about me.” She cringed as a stone cut her foot, bent down and picked up the offender, throwing it into the surf that shown the purple of morning.

“I live to worry about you.”

“I’ll be home soon.” She walked to where her shoes waited on the sand, sitting next to them. She checked the display on her cell phone.  They were nearing two minutes, the unofficial limit where tracking would kick in from the network. “Keep breakfast warm for me.”

“Will do.  Love you.”

“Love you too.” She laced her shoes, wished the ocean goodbye, and started back down the trail.

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The white Suburban SUV appeared within a mile.

She was mentally preparing that afternoon’s lecture, hypnotized in the road rhythm, when the streak of color passed in her peripheral vision. She turned her head as it made a U turn and accelerated back.  There were two options and with nothing around but trees, one was clear. She pulled up and stepped to the curb.  It parked behind her.

“You know, running out here alone is dangerous.”

He wore his usual suit, pulling the jacket closed and buttoning it.

“I’m used to it.”  Her voice cracked, even though she tried to stop it.

“How do you get more beautiful every morning?” He stood in front of her and brushed a strand of brown hair off her forehead. She saw him as he was that morning in March, the soldier breaking into her classroom.  An hour later, under individual interrogations, they had made a connection.  In a week they were having coffee after his shift ended.

They had started sleeping together after a night of drunken confessions.  She had felt like a ship, unmoored and tossed in the storm of this new reality. He was a vortex of trust and danger, the enemy and the only one open as all others pulled away.

It felt good to play both sides. It became an addiction.

She supplied information and was allowed back at her old job.  Things improved. She was promoted to a supervisory position within the English department.  Curriculum came from the new government to be delivered without deviation.  Education was still important as long as the line was kept. She taught the importance of following the wisdom of the past.

The flame of rebellion remained, though deep inside.

It took a night at the Joe’s Coffee to change things.  The café, located in the old Student Union, was no more than a handful of tables and tea light candles. Faculty gathered at the end of every week and that night she had sat in the corner of the room flipping through an illegal copy of Heart of Darkness. The sound of a guitar came from a darkened stage.

Conversation stopped.

“Where are you?”

She shook her head and blinked, not able to tell if the question came from her ear piece or the man standing in front of her, two points in the universe on this empty forest road at dawn.

“Sorry.”

“We’ve received word of something coming in a week or so. Listening devices picked up conversations around a gathering, all centered on a freshman.  This young man, named John, will be transferred into your class tomorrow morning. You will find what we need to know.”

“Okay,” she looked at her shoes.  He loved when she played to his power.

“Don’t worry my dear.  Your freedom will come soon.  Your service to the cause is valuable.” He kissed her on the lips, a fleeting touch, and walked back to the vehicle.  It sped past as she stretched her calves, cued up a song on her phone, and started at a faster pace towards home.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

Here is Chapter 2 of a rough draft in progress.  You can find Chapter 1 by clicking here.  Enjoy!

NORTH

 

The white building stood out in contrast against the Manhattan skyline.  Not that it functioned as Manhattan anymore. The towers once built to prosperity and ambition had fallen, only to rise again as centers of study and contemplation.

The city had improved.  Crime vanished.  All the perversions once considered art were confiscated and burned on barges that circled the land in constant reminder.

It took some time, yes, but the populace came around.

This morning an aria echoed from deep inside the bedroom broadcast on speakers to reach the limits of the porch.  The porch was that in term only.  It consisted of Italian marble, a grand fountain, luxury furniture and a media center covering all areas of the territory.

Even with the spread of options, Father Paul Kramer sat with his journal on his knees and a pencil in hand.  The wind rising up the building shifted what was left of his hair. He was writing notes on the cross and the idea of self-sacrifice for a greater good.

The flow of logic gave much-needed comfort.

For what were they without logic?

They were the bastard children of Rome.

When word came that all funding and support would be cut, they had to get creative. It was not time to panic.  It was time to gather and set plans in motion.

He stopped writing and looked to the horizon.  Far below the workforce would be starting their morning commute. The war had ended.  Things looked different now. This was a second chance.

This was the new center of faith without corruption, Rome without the scourge of revisionist history.

“He requests your presence.”

The statement came from his left. Kramer checked his watch.  The bastard was always on time.

“I’m on the way.”

The attendant scurried back inside.

 

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The elevator to the Holy Residence rose in blinding speed.  They had adapted it from the tech firm that owned in building in the time before.  It was accessible only by retina scan and monitored by three levels of security.  Kramer watched the floors blink by until the numbers vanished.

No one really knew how high they were headed.

In a moment, the doors opened.

He always thought of the temple, of their Lord and Savior clearing out the tables of the money changers.  The scriptures had said he fashioned a whip and drove out all those seeking to business in the house of the God.

What would Jesus say about this?

A vault of gold and currency, guarded by soldiers. A communications center four times the size of his own. A media studio broadcasting the morning news. Conference rooms with men in suits talking seriously over cups of coffee.

Kramer walked past all of this ignoring their fleeting glances.

Finally, when it seemed he would stride off the edge of the floor and fall into nothingness, a set of doors stood in his path.  These guards, four altogether, moved to the side.  One keyed in a code that changed daily.   The doors retracted and he walked through as they closed behind him with the hiss of pressurized air.

The far wall was glass from east to west. The bed had been constructed here, overlooking the city but not close enough to the edge that a stray member of the media could take a picture. A body laid on the bed, deep under a mound of covers.

Two doctors passed a tablet back and forth looking at images. A nurse replaced an IV bag.

“How is he?” Kramer asked.  One of the doctors turned to him.

“Good morning Father.” The man went to bow and Kramer waved him off.

“Tell me.”

“Two weeks, maybe six.  The cancer is spreading.”

Laughter came from the bed.  Kramer walked to the edge and touched the skeletal hand that rested on the blankets.

“You still use that thing?”

He looked at the pocket of his coat and the edge of the journal sneaking out. Even with a tumor in his brain, his vision was still sharp.

“How are you doing Vinny?”

The nurse cringed.  When Kramer made eye contact with her, she smoothed out her scrubs and left the room.

“Fine brother. Just fine.”

Vincenzo had risen through the parishes in the midst of the war. He was young, a star of the faith.  He delivered fiery messages that grew the church.  He was the architect of this new world.

He was still the kid from the Bronx that would play pickup basketball after school.

“Soon this will be yours.”

“No, sir.  Not me. No one knows you’re sick.  We can milk this as long as we need. Set up a stable transition.”

“There’s nothing stable anymore.”

“When’s the last time you heard of any conflict?”

Vinny laughed again.  The laughter turned to a deep cough that rattled his lungs.

“You remember Sister Margaret?”

Margaret was a nun of the old order, ancient when they were kids.  She ran her classroom like a dictatorship and they’d gone home with many years of scarred knuckles.

“Of course.”

“She always said silence was deadly. Idle hands are the devil’s playground and all that.”

They stopped talking.  Machines beeped in the background.

“Get Father Paul a chair.”

One of the doctors looked over for a second and went back to his reports. The movement happened in a blink. The arm that had rested on the blanket now gripped the doctor’s hand.  The guy dropped his tablet as it skittered across the floor.

“Now.”

The doctor left the bedroom and returned with one of the chairs from outside.

“Leave us.”

They left together. Kramer settled in the seat.

“You didn’t have to do that Vinny, scaring the kid.”

“I still got it, don’t I? Now get that journal out.  We have some business to discuss.”

 

 

The Thorn and The _nd

Below you’ll find another preview of my upcoming book about new life and second chances called The _nd.  Enjoy!

Fast forward to the Apostle Paul in his prime. He walks into cities and towns and they change. He makes speaking appearances and shakes up the establishment of the day. He sways the minds of the crowds as he defends this new faith movement. He writes one of the greatest dissertations of faith in recorded history through his letter to the Romans.

Buried in his gospels you find an interesting prayer.

He asks God to take a thorn from his side.

Afflictions take many forms. They can be physical, mental or spiritual. They can be old stories we tell ourselves, passed down through generations. They can be ghosts of failures that refuse to leave when we look in the mirror.

We all tell ourselves stories.

Imagine Paul’s narrative at this point. His life had changed directions. He was now front and center defending those he had chased. At night, when the voices quieted, he was faced with his affliction. He tells us that he prayed before to have it removed and yet it remained.

For God uses our afflictions and they keep our stories headed forward.

Wounded Stories

Our afflictions are necessary. I’ll take it one step further. Affliction s are required for us to complete our divine callings. We follow Jesus, the one taking on death to save our lives. Is there any reason why we’d expect safe passage? We are told to take up our crosses and follow him.

We are told that, in this world we will have troubles, but Jesus has overcome the world.

Paul writes that his affliction shapes his story. It is a constant reminder of grace. He needed to be blinded to truly see and start on his journey that would change the world and spread faith to the masses.

Often it seems like our wounds are the end.

When the movie Creed was released around Thanksgiving 2015, I went to see it with a friend of mine. Being from the Philadelphia area, any movies connected to the Rocky franchise are required viewing. In the movie, Michael B. Jordan plays Apollo’s Creed’s son.

Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky trains him to be a fighter and instills the attitude needed to win even though, in the end, he does not. He loses the championship fight but wins the hearts of the crowd. There is a scene where Jordan’s character is looking into the mirror. Stallone’s character states that your most important opponent, in the ring and in life, is the one in the mirror.

What do you see?

A father, son, husband, wife, mother or daughter? An employee? An executive? A pastor?

Do you see success or a failure?

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More importantly, what do you hear when you look in the mirror? The voices are never silent. Do you hear a parent’s voice telling you that you failed? That you will never amount to anything? Do you hear language that hurts coming from someone you love?

Or do you hear the truth coming from the promises of the Bible?

One of the hardest things you’ll face is a calling to be generative. You may have grown up without a father and now, years later, you are looking at an expecting wife and a little boy who will change your world when he arrives. How do you become a father without a template?

You may be called to start a business or ministry in a new area or part of the world.

We are called to create. It is part following the Creator of the Universe. We are called to stretch our horizons and discover new paths.

Blanket, Gas Pedal, Platform

Our wounds can play different roles in life. They can be blankets, gas pedals, or platforms.

Wounds are blankets when they hold us down. We take them on as our identity and define ourselves by our pain and suffering.

We become victims.

There is a difference between being a victim and becoming a victim. You cannot minimize the damage done by serious wounds whether physical or emotional. The issue is what you do with it. There is a way back, a journey home, a fresh start and new direction.

There is a way to overcome the darkness.

That is shifting your wounds from a blanket to a gas pedal.

Here is something that can change your life if you let it. Your experience, positive and negative, is unique to you. God places these wounds in our lives for a purpose and we must make the connection.

Suffered abuse? Find a small group of abuse survivors and contribute, standing with others facing the same reality. Struggled with addiction? Meet with someone to mentor at a local shelter or outreach agency. Dealt with poverty? Volunteer at a food pantry or consignment shop.

Our wounds are our radar. They steer us, and push us, towards those we can help with our stories. They set us in motion to create, support, and birth new movements.

They can also be our platform.

We build foundations on sturdy platforms and they are often shaped by our moments of hurt.

Check Paul’s experiences throughout his life. Not every speaking stop was a pleasant one. He faced danger and violence at most turns, even dealing with a shipwreck. He did all this carrying his past and his affliction as constant reminder of the power of grace, change, and a second chance.

He built a strong platform without the benefit of internet or digital media. He shared his story, a collective story, of power that changes lives.

The gas pedal pushes us towards building our platform to tell our story.

We are all called to tell our story. It may not be in the form of a book but, make no mistake, you tell your story on a daily basis. It is seen through the eyes of your children, your friends and your loved ones. It is seen by the random people you meet every day.

Our actions always tell a story…

~Matt