Dear God….

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It’s me.  We met back when I was a teenager in a moment of grace. I felt it and I knew something had changed.  Not that I was healthy then.  No, there was still work to be done.  You had bigger plans, more to do and more preparation.

The years haven’t been easy.  We’ve had ups and downs, miracles and nightmares. We’ve survived hard times and created more hard times.  We’ve started this family, the four of us, and we’re trying to make it and not let things slip away.

This morning, we need something from you. It’s about Carter.

You know him, our oldest.  Our sensitive one, the early riser, the one who never really quite fit in.

The worries started a few years ago. We tried to shrug it off, to chalk it up as “just his personality.”  We hoped he would grow out of it. We assumed it would fade as he grew into years of security and personal identity.

It did not.

Right now, today, he’s in the middle of a relapse of his anxiety and worry, in a hole deeper than he’s faced before. His mind churns like storm water. His heart is heavy. His eyes are longing.  He’s in the middle of changes that seem so big they cannot be overcome.

We need your help.

Friday night, after a few long hours, I was putting him to sleep.  Through tears he yelled and pleaded,

I pray all the time about this stuff that God would take it away and nothing happens.  If he’s really out there, why doesn’t he do anything?

The cries of a child, an innocent soul.  So I ask you, not for me.  I’m almost forty years into this and you know I’ve got enough scars.  I ask you for him.

Where are you?

For this child.  For this boy whose life is still so far ahead of him.  For this child with so many gifts and such potential.  For the moment his heart is so heavy that he cries out to you.

And nothing changes.

Here’s a great opportunity.  We don’t need a Lazarus moment.  We don’t need water into wine or feeding five thousand people.  We don’t even need you to walk on water.

I need you to help my son’s heart, to quiet his mind. To calm his soul and let him know everything will be okay.

I’m typing this through my own tears.  Whatever it takes, please help him. He deserves it, he needs it. He’s done nothing wrong.

I ask for your grace.  I’ve screwed up as a dad more than once. I’ve not given him what he’s needed.  I’ve been emotionally absent more than I should and for that I’m sorry.

All time exists for you in a moment.  You know the plans you have for him and for us.

Please, today, right now, please give him peace. Let him know you are there and things will work out.  Let him know he doesn’t have to be owned by his fear.

Let him know he is stronger than he thinks. Help him to be excited by  life again.

Please.

 

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.

Rough Draft

I had a post written.

It was a nice fluff piece meant to grab some likes positive comments. It was ready to go.  Then things changed.  That voice that drives my writing shifted and I realized it was time to get real.

There’s a certain point where you have enough.

Now, you can read your Bible and find stories of the men and women in the early church dealing with their own issues.  Some ended up martyred for their faith. Paul prays to have “a thorn” removed and remarks that he was denied multiple times.  He just had to keep going.

What if you can’t?

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Our lives haven’t been easy, how about yours?

Debt. Struggle. Fear. Anxiety. Hard kids. Hard jobs.

Just

Not

Having

Enough

Do a quick google search and you’ll find plenty of people willing to sell you ways out.  They’ve made careers from it. Books, meetings, podcasts, seminars. Take all you want, read all you want, listen to everything.  Sometimes, at night, the ghosts don’t go away.

People act like it’s easy.  It isn’t.

We are the suffering.  The struggling. The ones trying every day to make it work.

We are not far from all we can take.

There’s power there.

And if there’s anything I’ve found it is that all arrows point to faith. Getting up. Taking a breath.  Getting dressed and doing it all over again. You may not realize it, but all of those things are acts of faith.

Not everything will be a success story.

It is about the small victories.  One day clean. One day happy.  One day knowing what joy feels like.  One day feeling understood by those around us.  One day holding hands with a loved one and feeling secure.

The anger and resentment are almost like a fully formed person.  The thing in the dark that knows you’ll come back because no matter how far you make it on a first step, you’ll always stumble and the darkness will be waiting.

I don’t know where you are right now.  Or what you are doing. Or how you’ll get a chance to see this.  Maybe a friend will read it in WordPress and text you a link. Maybe you’ll nod your head the whole way and realize we are in the same boat.

Here’s where I’d flip it and wrap things into a nice little bow.  There’s no neat ending this time.

Take a step.

Even when it hurts. Even when you’ve been knocked down for the 1000th time.  Get up one more. Make today better than yesterday.

Then repeat.

Because the darkness will swallow you if you let it.

It is time to fight.

Keep moving.

 

Time

Last night both of my boys were at the baseball fields.  Carter had a practice with his team and Aiden had his first t-ball practice.  The fields were actually next to each other so I was able to bounce between the two.  The entire time I stood there, my mind kept going over how fast things have progressed.  The little boy from four years ago was now down with his friends.

His brother now stood at first base spinning in circles and playing in the dirt.

I took a walk to the fence between the fields to find a friend of mine, a guy I had coached t-ball with back when Carter had started.  I asked him, “Do you remember those days?”  We had a good conversation and part of my heart ached for the time before.

It seems unfair that our lives are packaged with an expiration date, that we only have set years to experience things on this planet before we transition away.  We have limited time to make an impact on our family and our loved ones.

Time scares me.

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C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, wrote about the concept of time.  He wrote that God experiences time in ways we do not.  That moments don’t flow like a river, but exist all in connected point.  God has the ability to see the entirety of the past, present, and future as if looking at one painting on a wall.  Eternity is captured well in this image.

In Dante’s Inferno, his sinners can see the past and future, but have no knowledge of the present. They know what they did, they know what will happen to those they loved and the world, but they have no idea what is happening now.  Imagine living a life without being in the present.

Sound familiar?  We spend most of our lives this way.

The hardest part of time is that we marry it to emotions and regret. We set internal goals.  By 21 we will….by 30 we will….by 50 we will…. and soon enough those years arrive and the imbalance plays itself out in many ways.  We find ourselves happy and fulfilled, driven and making it happen, or upset at what we’ve lost and failed to gain.

Because some day you’ll get to completing the sentence. “One day I will” and that day will arrive. Some of the most over quoted verses in scripture come in the form of peace admonitions.  We are often told to have peace and not be afraid, usually in the midst of the scariest moments. As people of faith, we enjoy throwing these verses at friends in the midst of struggle, sometimes without thinking about why or what we are saying.

The key to conquering time comes at night.  In the still moments, when we rest and wonder about the coming dawn, take inventory. Break it into manageable content. Win a small victory.

Get one thing done.

Maybe that is the secret of peace, to know that you’ve done something with your time before it gets away.

Carter, our son dealing with anxiety, is currently obsessed with time.  We were at the playground the other day and he kept asking me how much time was left.  Finally, I told him to just go play and not worry about it.

Maybe that’s God’s point.

Don’t forget to go play. Get off the sidelines and out of the paralyzing grip of fear. Because one day it will be time.  I’d rather be on the playground than on the side wondering what could have been and what games I’d missed.

Half Full

Recently I’ve had the chance to transition my day job.  I’ll always call it a day job, in that it supports the writing dream.

We all need to have the deeper current running under our souls pulling us forward.

Today I was trained by a guy named Ben. Ben was an interesting guy, gun fanatic, video game fan and comic reader. We were making small talk when he said something that stuck with me. He said:

“I’m a pessimistic guy. I feel like you find the level of crap (he used a different word) you like in your life and get comfortable.”

Know anyone like this?

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I recently listened to a podcast from Pastor Erwin McManus, one of my favorite inspirational church leaders.  He spoke about faith being a nonsense, in that it exists outside our run of taste, smell, touch, hearing, and vision. It is our connection with the divine.

We often confuse faith as a noun when it is really a verb.

There’s a moment in life, a balancing on the edge of time. Athletes know it in the release of the pitch, the height of the serve, the Hail Mary pass in the final seconds. Teachers feel it in the silence of an answered question.

Expectant mothers in the pause between birth and first breath.

You have a choice. The moment bends both ways. See it in darkness or light. Moving forward or back. Success or failure. Goal or denial. Run or stumble.

Then grasp your next moment and do it again.

I can’t give up. There’s too many dreams to fulfill, too much good to create, too tight of a community to join. Our story isn’t over. I refuse to believe that.

I refuse to go down without a fight.

I let Ben’s comment drift past on the afternoon breeze and looked out the window dreaming of the future, excited at the changes that are coming and where we are called to go.

Never give up.  As long as you are still breathing, your story isn’t over. Balance on the moment and look forward.  See faith as a verb and not a noun and see what God is waiting to pour into your life.

I Will Rise

We took Carter to the doctor tonight.

I’m not a huge fan of doctors, even though I’ve spent some years working in the medical field with scheduling and health insurance stuff.  I’ve overheard too many conversations and seen too much to have blanket trust in the medical industry. We’ve been blessed to find a pediatrician that cares and takes time for us and him.

In a few weeks, he will be tested for a possible hearing issue and to see if we can figure out why he can’t sleep through the night.

My car, all 182,000 miles of it that I’ve had since college, goes in to get inspected at the end of the week.

The movement has started on my author’s website and I’m excited to see the result.  Change is coming in the Shaner household.

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I read an email this morning from one of the few entrepreneurs I follow online.  He asked the question, what is the unique way you connect with your audience?  I started thinking, if I could communicate one thing with you, what would it be? The answer is found in the small book of Micah 7:8.

Do not gloat over me my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light.

Two sentences sum up the point of every word, blog post, devotional, thought and sentence.

Though I have fallen, I will rise.

Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light.

We often fall and find ourselves sitting in the darkness.  The pessimists out there wonder why it matters, why not give up? Because the pain and frustration is real. We aren’t wired to give up. We are made to RISE. We are called to follow the light as the journey takes us out of the darkness.

My life doesn’t often feel light and I’ll find myself flat on the floor looking up to the sky and wondering what happened. There is hope. There is a reason to keep fighting.

Take the verse in Micah and read it out loud.  Scream it to the skies.  Speak it over your life and the lives of your children.  It is a call to action, a reason to move and get back in the game. I WILL RISE.

I WILL RISE.

No matter what happens, I will rise. The medical problems may come, the car could die, the bank account could hit zero, the house could get flooded again and I will rise. The emotions swirl and it seems like darkness is our home and we know the LORD is our light.

Tonight, wrapping up another Monday, think about tomorrow.  Look in the mirror and read the verse.  Keep it on your lips all day. Make it a chorus. Find the energy to fight.

Faith tells you it is there, deep inside, ready to ignite. It’s time to rise.

~Matt

Chasing the New

There are seven basic stories.

Every writing class I had, from college to grad school, I found at least one professor stating that old line. Seven stories told over and over. Our only hope, as writers, was to put our own spin on them. In On Writing, Stephen King says we develop a style as we read.  The end result is a mashup of our favorite authors combining to a unique voice.

This may be true in writing but it is not true in life.

We must never lose sight of the New.

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In Mark Batterson’s book, If, he recounts a moment that set his foundation for ministry in the years to come.  At a conference he had attended, the speaker said:

There are ways of doing church that has not been thought of yet.

The New is the line between fear and faith, sorrow and hope, doubt and assurance. It is the difference between the end and the _nd.

The New is the mystery.

I believe there are stories yet to be written, worship songs that will ignite a fire all across the world, ministries and charities that will change lives and provide for families. I believe there are ways of church waiting to be discovered, ways of worship only found in our dreams.

Zoom in.

Your story is not over. The _nd is not complete. Change is one choice at a time. One shift from if only to what if. One phone call, cup of coffee, meeting with a friend and plan with a spouse. One jog around the block, lifting of the dusty weight set, breaking out the easel and paints from college and opening your creative eye. It is the first choice against the addiction, depression, stress and sorrow.

There is another side, roads not taken, opportunities that will emerge as 2016 unfolds.

The New is chasing the calling, stepping towards discomfort as God stretches us into new territories of faith and guarding ourselves with the essential promise:

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

~Matt

 

 

 

Crossroads

Say you have a hobby.  Your regular job is in the corporate world but, on the weekends, you referee low-level football games.  The 2012 NFL season arrives and the usual refs are locked out.  Your friend tells you to apply to be a replacement.  You do and you make the cut.  One night, you are stationed in the end zone watching the final pass of the game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks as it flies towards you.

Both Seattle and Green Bay players catch the ball at the same time.  You call a touchdown and, suddenly, your life is changed forever.

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Photo Credit: kevygee via Compfight cc

Yahoo Sports posted a great article profiling Lance Easley, the referee involved in the play I mentioned above, now known as the “Fail Mary.” Easley was a family man, a believer, and a guy taking a chance to do a job on the biggest stage in football.  His incorrect call drew vast criticism, as far as getting mentioned by President Obama on the campaign trail.

You can find the article here. Even if you are not a fan of sports, I recommend reading it.

Easley is now suffering from PTSD and severe depression.  His wife of almost thirty years left him.  He has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals and rehab centers, receiving numerous death threats after the game.  He is on medical leave from his corporate job and struggles financially to make ends meet. As the article says, the only thing remaining of the old version of the man is his faith.

The lesson is an important one. We all have moments where we are on our own stage and our choices, right or wrong, carry consequences.  Healing takes time, sometimes years, but it will happen.  The fight to silence our worst critic, the voice inside, can be overwhelming.  We must know where we stand, even if we write it down and read it every morning as a reminder. The truth can always silence the noise.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:8-10

~Matt

Surviving a Crisis of: Faith

I grew up in a traditional church environment.  Sunday services were an hour with a set amount of hymns (not songs) and a neat and tidy three-point sermon. I would get dressed up, attend the service, and have a late breakfast after. This was tradition.

Years later, I came to realize that this tradition set up a conditional faith.  If I would just be good, God would be on my side. Just do the right thing and the situations in life would fall my way, the outcomes favorable and numerous. It took college to start seeing hints of an alternative.

Val and I attended The Bridge, a college-age service in a church just down the road from West Chester University.  At the time, it was in its prime with two services getting five hundred students every week. The lead pastor was passionate, genuine, and engaging. Those nights carried us closer to God.

Then it happened.

Years later we were in the middle of transitioning from an unhealthy start-up church (that eventually closed) to a new one closer to our current house.  I was talking with the pastor of the outgoing church and he said, in conversation:

What gives you the right to be so damn judgmental?”

There I was, years after believing church to be a place where God would stay on my side if I stayed on the right side of the line, getting stung by a church leader.

I’m not the first, or the last, person to have this kind of experience. In that moment, my faith needed to be rebuilt, refined, and reborn. The process wasn’t easy and is still happening today.

I believe we are all works in progress and I know, in the midst of our issues, God is there.  We’ve called out to him and he has responded. I know his grace is real and, even when we take steps back, he is there to catch us.  He goes before us and stands behind. There are things to remember as you face a crisis of faith:

Investigate: Throughout the process of writing Overcome, I’ve conducted almost ten interviews so far. I’ve collected numerous accounts of God answering prayer, coming through to provide the exact things needed in the exact moment. He reaches into our reality, breaks through the veil, and touches our lives. Talk to your family, friends, and fellow church members. Research online. Use the stories, old and new, of real faith and let them lift you up.  Absorb what you find and you’ll notice your foundations growing firmer each day.

Instigate: Tell God your problems. Don’t use structured prayer. Take a moment away from your prayer journal.  Go to a quiet place and let it out. Scream, shout, cry, question, beg, plead, do whatever you need to do.  The important thing is that you move towards your creator. Have a conversation like he is standing next to you and remember that he actually is. He’s there in your darkness, in your questions, in the sleepless nights and miles walked in hallways. He’s there as you watch over your sick relative in the hospital, as you find out you’ve lost your job, as the principal calls you about your daughter.

You are never alone.

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Connected Scripture:

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:27

Soundtrack Inspiration:

Listen and take in the lyrics. It is the perfect song to remember when dealing with a crisis of faith.