Inheritance

Both of my parents turn 70 years old this week. They were born, and spent their formative years, not far from each other in small towns here in Pennsylvania.

Landmarks, as they often do, take you back into memories.

I am an only child. People would often ask if it was lonely. It wasn’t, the space taking form and shape into an identity you learned to hold. It certainly informed the man I am now as did both my mother and father.

Mom grew up Catholic, an issue in the 60’s much like our cultural unrest today. She taught me the power of a laugh and the appeal of a story. I remember the first time I heard her playing B.B King blues rifts on a record player and identifying with the music. She spent her career in a hospital as a nuclear medicine technician.

She still tries to teach me to throw away the recipes and improvise, remembering the early years when my grandparents and great grandparents were alive, Italian, French, Ukrainian. The oldest house in town. I remember the smells, tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic. I remember handmade meatballs. I remember the last remnants of conversation with hints of old languages.

Dad grew up Methodist, and the combination of the two in marriage caused quite the stir. He was the youngest of three, a post WW2 baby, athletic and serious, though not always. He’d spent his career as an operator at a nuclear power plant.

Dad taught me the importance of words, of expectation, the idea that quiet is powerful. I remember the dark green ’67 Mustang and the smell of the exhaust that I can still catch a hint of on summer breezes. I remember fishing, hours on the lake, the feel of the sun reflecting off the water.

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I remember dinners, family, stories, the intersection of past and present, aunts, uncles and cousins. Watching children grow into adults.

When his parents, my grandparents, passed away I learned that holding your father in an embrace and feeling his tears is the closest thing to an inversion you’ll ever experience as a child, the point in time that you understand pain is universal, that no matter how long they tried to protect you from it, it will come around in the end.

Both laid the foundations of faith, the appreciation of making it through, the value of simplicity. Both could cook, both showed their love and affection in different ways.

Now, as a father, I say things and hear them speak through me.

As a child, you never picture your parents growing older. As a parent, you mark the passage of time through your own children. Suddenly you look into the future and the past seems to shift into the lingering fog of a cool September evening.

Both taught me, no matter what their faults, they would be there.

When Val and I suffered a miscarriage, I called my father on the way home from the hospital, just after five in the morning, and he answered the phone. And really he didn’t have to say anything, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever convey how much that meant.

My mother maintains, takes care, makes the drive from her house to ours more than once a week.

Both taught me the meaning of being a parent, being a man, and being present. They showed me that, no matter how often I screw up, the sun still rises and I’ll get another chance tomorrow.

So thank you, both of you, for the years. For the time, the purpose, the ups and downs and everything in between. You are both still an important part of our family, no matter the distance. I couldn’t do this without you.

Happy Birthday.

Psalm

Oh Father hear me.

When the fear takes over. When my boys ask if their masks are on the table for school tomorrow. When they ask, what’s next? And tomorrow is a mystery.

Oh Father hear me.

When the miracles are sparse. When the prayers are not answered. When hope drifts away on the wind and it seems the darkness prevails.

Oh Father hear me.

When getting out of bed is an act of faith. When we’ve had our last argument. When everything is tight and, no, you can’t have a snack at night because that food has to last.

When we are one moment away from a lock down. One moment from violence, anger, sickness, rage.

Oh Father hear me.

When worship is illegal, faith is under attack, community is discouraged, help is dangerous. When the loudest voice has become the media, the politicians.

And our hearts are quiet.

Oh Father hear me.

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When we lose our heroes. When we lose the strength to go on. When we close up, close down, sit in the darkness and wonder how we got here.

Oh Father hear me.

Hear my prayer.

For revolution. For fresh faith. For new purpose. For the Big Yes, the move that no one could have predicted. The miracle that could only come from you.

For closer families. For better friendships. For distance learning that works. For students that feel safe. for communities to rise up and help each other.

For the new.

For release from fear, anger, frustration, and resentment. No more worry.

For the strength to look in the eyes of children and tell them it will all work out.

For the strength to believe it.

Oh Lord hear me.

Let your work be done.

Because we’ve reached the end. And it will be a long year. And we can’t do it alone.

And with you all things are possible.

All things.

Read and React

We assign meaning.

What is something for someone may not be the same for someone else. Struggle is an emotionally-charged word.

I help with my son’s tournament baseball team. We’ve had a busy summer as baseball at his level is still happening across the country. We are about thirty games into our season. I’ve had the chance to observe a few hundred youth players.

An ace pitcher for one team is not the same for the next. Your best hitter may barely make an elite team somewhere else. Your fastest runner may not keep pace with a different group.

The value is in where your pieces fit together.

We assign meaning and value.

We are in the midst of a generational year. Things are changing and some will never change back. Families are feeling the pressure. As school approaches for some, and others have returned already, the pressure only increases.

Fear is heavy and pervasive. How do we move forward?

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Reframe.

Students learning virtually are stepping into a job world that will demand those exact skills. We are forced to examine what value truly is. Where do we contribute. How can we give and help those around us.

How can we see problems as opportunities?

What if there is no such thing as a problem, only a situation that demands a response?

There is always a response. Not moving forward is a choice as much as picking your path and going.

Dread is addicting. Cynicism is romanticized. Anger is supported with enthusiasm in the guise of action.

The infection is not the virus.

The infection is what it has exposed about our world, our medical system, our politics and our country.

Reframe one step at a time. Read and React. One day, one plan. One move to handle one situation.

What’s coming will not be easy. What’s coming is also great opportunity. The choice is yours.

Watch Your Narrative

A friend of mine was a professional boxer. He’s held titles and appeared on HBO‘s boxing programs. Our boys have grown up playing baseball together.

The other day, in casual conversation, I asked him if his son ever asked about learning to fight.

No, he told me, he hates it.

I’m in the midst of reading Ben Hardy’s Personality Isn’t Permanent. In it he discusses how we process the past. The past, he writes, can be changed by how we access memories. Studies have shown the more memories are accessed the more they change. The past is malleable.

The past can be used to our advantage. The past can be shaped and constructed.

The present is an interaction between our past and future selves. If your future self could sit down with your past, what would they have to talk about? Hardy poses this question in his book and it hits hard.

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I’ve had my share of pain in the past. It has taught me things though, it has laid down markers in the path that has become my life. It has taught me the meaning of love, the reality of faith, the value of fatherhood and the treasure of time.

It has taught me that running will not solve a problem, that fear is meant to be engaged with and understood. It has laid a valuable foundation. Your pain, your frustration and troubles have done the same.

For we have a choice.

A family member is critically ill right now. He’s a genuine person with a big heart and he’s immensely skilled in his profession. He’s fighting his battles right now, a conflict his future self is desperately trying to win.

This week I decided on a break from reading the news. I still find myself scrolling through the headlines, but I won’t click into anything. It took a day or two, but weight started to lift. My narrative was getting overwhelmed with dark and intense articles, the kind of things put in front of our faces on a daily basis.

Watch your input. Watch what you tell yourself. Watch what you tell your children.

Your input equals your output.

Your past does not have to equal your future.

Your future, though, needs room to breathe and grow. That can only be obtained through processing the pain, worry, and fear.

You can be different. You can be totally different.

You can be the first.

Be willing to do the work and take a break from the noise. Process the past. Look to the future. Win your battles one moment at a time.

You are not your labels, your past, your pandemic.

You are more and your story can start today.

A Matter of Trust

“What would happen if your future self came to you and told you that everything you want to see happen was going to happen? Would you believe them?”

Ben Hardy

I read in the car before work every morning, usually a book geared towards self improvement or study. The quote above, from Hardy’s book Personality Isn’t Permanent, stuck with me for the past few hours.

If you, from 2025, showed up at your house and said that every dream you have will happen, would you believe it? What if the end result relied on your faith?

Would I believe it?

What if the largest challenge in your life isn’t that mountain you are facing right now, what if it is the faith to take the first step? What if it is the faith to believe enough to take that step and get your feet in motion?

We all have different stories and experiences that impact our self image. We grow up thinking we deserve what we want, or we don’t. We grow up thinking we are worth it or worthless. Support and trauma shape identity.

We are living in a time where forces demand we hand over the keys of our lives and go along for the ride. Control is a dream. And when you are not in control, then the act of faith itself isn’t worth the effort because the let down is always just over the horizon.

Or is it?

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If you are anything like me, the question is a huge challenge. You’ve found yourself in a place you may not enjoy, working days that are unfulfilling. You phone it in. You get home and consume, letting the time slip away because the mental and emotional effort of the day literally took it all and there’s just a shell of yourself left for the very people most important in your life.

We were not meant to live in offices.

We were not meant to give in to the onslaught of technology and the relentless call to keep up. Our kids’ names are not YouTube, Facebook, or Messenger.

I’m not just preaching to you, I’m preaching to me.

If the answer is no, you wouldn’t trust your future self, then the next question is why?

Because faith acts on evidence. Evidence that your brain is triggered to pull up in every discussion of future. Oh no, it says, not now and not here. You’ve been hurt, you’ve struggled, you’ve had prayers not get answered. Your dreams haven’t happened. You are still clocking in and out, still drifting through one day to the next, setting your alarm for the morning, and going to sleep.

Like in The Matrix, we can be batteries for the machine.

Or we can take over.

We can find freedom. We can look forward without the voices from the past screaming.

I don’t know about you, but some days my faith is a matchstick. It is a candle flame in a dark room. The circle of light is barely enough to catch anything beyond its radius.

The question is simple. The question is daily. The question can and will shape your future.

If the you from the future showed up to dinner tonight and told you all your dreams will happen, how would you react? How would you act moving forward?

How would you wake up tomorrow? How would your vision change? How would your dreams change? Would you be challenged and inspired to dream bigger?

Life is not easy. Get to know your future self. Spend some time in their head-space and learn to act towards it. Move forward, not backward, and see where momentum takes you.

What If?

“What if paying the bills was no longer your goal? Would you still keep that job you hate?” -Ben Hardy

What if hate isn’t hereditary? Would you have that difficult conversation with your child?

What if love is meant for forever? Would you kiss your spouse goodbye?

What if you can’t get time back? Would you put down your phone?

What if faith isn’t passive? Would you be courageous?

What if dreams are meant to be chased? Would you take the risk?

What if sorrow is the most important teaching moment? Would you stop avoiding it?

What if miracles can happen? Would you pray?

What if a cure is coming?

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What if heroes aren’t who you think? Would you thank that person that just popped into your mind?

What if art and music can still carry you away? Would you stop and listen?

What if anxiety is too much control? Would you let yourself be free?

What if pain is only temporary? Would you hold their hand?

What if small acts last into eternity? Would you check on your neighbor?

What if your kids are watching?

What if school is virtual? Are you ready?

What if…

2021 is different

We stop listening to the media

We start chasing who we want to be

We love, we hope, we dream

We stop waiting for permission

Our time is now

What You Don’t Know About Your Hair Stylist

Originally published on medium.com

She stayed up late last night looking at a list of names.

This list is more than one hundred people. She looks down the list as her cell phone alerts sound. Facebook, text messages, questions. She puts the phone down and goes back to the list.

Her list is not just names. It brings up faces in her mind.

Families.

Children she met as babies and cut the first time they were ready and not afraid to sit in her chair. Men and women, old and young. She takes a breath and she thinks about her list.

She thinks about her year. She thinks about what she knows and she wonders.

How is your wife dealing with her illness? How is your elderly father? How is your child dealing with home schooling?

She thinks about the client she invited to Thanksgiving, the lady who has no family, the one she hasn’t heard from in months and she worries.

She knows about your problems. She knows about your new job, about the child you are sending to college in the fall and she wonders how they will do because she’s cut their hair since they were in elementary school and she’s planning a small graduation gift for you to give to them.

Something to show she cares.

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She knows about your friends. She knows about your fights. She knows about your sex life or lack there of. She knows about your worries and she listens.

Her chair is a confessional, a psychology session, a bar stool. Your words never leave the salon and she will always keep it that way.

Her phone sounds again. She looks at the message.

When are you opening?

She closes her eyes.

The pandemic has taken months of time. Time is valuable. Days can be twelve hours, standing for most of it, morning to night. Appointments, cuts, colors, perms.

You need her to stay late? Sure. Your color didn’t turn out and you need it fixed? Let’s do it.

She works without breaks. She gives you her time. She gets home after midnight again and kisses her kids goodnight as they sleep in their beds. She changes in the dark, listening to her husband shift under the covers. She warms up dinner from a container. She sits at the kitchen table shaking her hands to wake up her wrists.

Her fork feels like it weighs a thousand pounds. Her right arm held a blow dryer for hours today, elevated, an extended single arm pull up that would hinder any grown man.

And she pours a glass of iced tea. And she eats as night passes outside.

Her phone alerts again. A comment on the salon’s Facebook page. People are angry. She scrolls through replies. She scrolls through her main page. She scans new status updates.

So happy to get my hair done finally.

Got my hair cut. Had to drive to do it, but it was worth it!

Two names on her list. She grabs the paper and makes changes.

The salon meeting happens over Zoom. PPE is purchased. Stations will be spaced out. Protect yourselves. Protect your clients. No one in the waiting room. They will enter from the parking lot, get cut, and leave.

No paying with cash.

And there’s the catch. The commission will be less, sure, but it will pick up eventually she believes. No cash though, that hurts. Credit card tips get taxed.

Cash is a tank of gas on the way home. Lunch money for school. A cup of coffee.

No cash.

Color is complicated. Color is chemicals. Color is heat and she’ll be wearing extra layers, so she’ll be sweating. So she’ll need to drink. Drinking means taking time. Time she doesn’t have with a crowded parking lot waiting to get serviced.

So she doesn’t drink.

Oh, and by the way, no blow-drying hair.

The final touch. The masterpiece. The way a client can see their beautiful new color in action.

Not anymore. No, they will go home and do it themselves and, if it doesn’t look good enough they will call that night to get it fixed.

And they will go back on the list.

“Mommy, I’ll miss you.”

She hugs her son. She’s spent months with them. She’s planned days and activities. She’s been a teacher and cook, mother and manager. She’d had weekends for once, months of weekends!

She’s gotten used to weekends.

Saturdays now will be different.

Saturdays will be her Mondays. Driving to the salon as the sun comes up some mornings, no traffic, window down and radio playing.

Nerves kicking in.

Her phone sounds again. It pulls her attention from a picture on the wall from when she was younger, fifteen years before. The first time she’d stepped in to a salon.

The moment she knew this would be her calling.

“It’s all I know,” she told her husband.

So they would wait until they could open.

One final weekend. One final week.

Looking at the list 1,000 more times.

She looks in the mirror. She tries on her work clothes and loops the mask over her ears. She wonders how this will work. She takes the mask off.

She finds her equipment. She cleans it.

She loads her car and she looks at the quiet house.

It’s time to go to work.

Matt Shaner has been married to a hair stylist for fifteen years. This is his tribute to his hero and to all stylists out there getting back into it. Stay strong. You will make it through.

My Biggest Challenge Right Now as a Dad

Originally published on Medium.com.

My son is eleven years old and he has anxiety. Not just worries or concerns. His triggers can be large or small. Change plans and you’ll create an emotional response. Take something away, discipline, ask for him to do something he doesn’t want to do and all this can lead to emotions that take time to calm.

He told me yesterday that sleep makes him nervous.

Yesterday was not easy.

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Fears come from pressure, real or imagined. Pressure comes from adversity. We have two options when faced with adversity; fight or flight.

Make yourself better. Now. In the moment. Get tougher to rise with the occasion.

I read about this stuff and, almost forty years into life, I get it. The message is not complicated. Every day I page through my worn copy of Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way.

My son has started to look at it. He’s interested.

The larger concepts are not easy to cross over.

When you are facing middle school. You are facing a summer that will not look like the last few. When you haven’t seen your friends in months. When the last day you entered a school was to drop off your stuff from home and you went as fast as possible to get the mask off quick enough to not have anyone see or make fun of you.

These changes in his personality have been coming for a few years.

In 2018, my wife and I experienced a miscarriage. He did not take it well. He was excited for a sibling and the loss hurt him, and all of us, deeply.

I’ve come to understand that loss offers us a choice. We can stay in it or use it to move forward stronger.

In his eleven years, we’ve dealt with other things large and small.

Nothing like this pandemic. Nothing like trying to explain why he has to distance and why he has to wear a mask in a store and may have to wear one eight hours a day in the fall, in a new school.

Nothing like this time of civil unrest, explaining to him that physical appearance means something in this world no matter how much we’d like to think otherwise, explaining that his job as a young man and eventual adult is to love everyone and work purposefully to stop hate whenever he sees it.

The biggest challenge I’m facing as a dad right now is this:

Standing in the center of this storm with two sons reaching for my hands looking for encouragement that the winds and waves will subside.

Looking to be steadied.

When the lesson is that adversity will never go away.

That forces moving against us call for us to rise up. That fear may be tempting you to run away but, in the end, running towards the source of the fear is the only option.

That’s the challenge.

Looking in their faces and saying no, the storms won’t stop. The waves will keep coming.

You two, my boys, will rise up and grow stronger.

Your sails will one day catch the wind and you will take off away from mom and I on your own journeys.

Until then we’ll be here. In good times and bad. When you laugh and when you are scared. When you fear. When the shadows seem too long.

We’ll be here to call you forward, to catch you when you stumble, and set you on your path once more.

No Longer Silent

We were riding in the car, afternoon sun beating down.

“Do you know what’s happening?” I asked. My oldest son looked out the window. “Like with the riots and everything?”

“Yeah.”

We were on our way to a pitching lesson. For more than a year, we’ve met with a former MLB pitcher. He loves his time there.

“Here’s something you need to know,” I said, “If you go out with your friends, you will run into situations where you are treated differently.” I listed three or four names of kids his age but different ethnicity. “If you all decide you are headed to a baseball game, for example, and walk into a gas station to get food, you will get treated differently.”

He nodded.

“Your job,” I told him, “is to stand up when you see this, when you see anyone being bullied, and try to stop it.” He swallowed. “It won’t be easy, but you have to.”

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“If God is talking to you about it, he wants you to talk about it.”

Erwin McManus

The obstacle is the way, as Ryan Holiday has written in one of my favorite books. Conflict is our radar. Stress is our tracking arrow.

What if God calls us into it to face it.

Society lacking coherent healthcare resources. 150 years of institutionalized racism. That internal system that tells us to resist the different, circle the wagons, and hold on to the life preserver because we may need it even if the boat is just fine.

The boat is not fine.

No matter where you stand.

We’ve turned away too often, looked away too long, and were willing to stand silent due to a variety of pressures.

Make no mistake. We are being called into it. God is talking to you right now. God is talking to me right now. God is talking to the world right now.

So could things be different?

Is reform more than a politically weighted buzz word? Can anything exist outside politics?

-An education that equips students for modern and relevant skills applicable Day One after graduation.

-A college system that is no longer a set of handcuffs for debt often costing more than a first house.

-Increased mental health services and screenings. -Availability to community resources that provide food and shelter, personal care items and personal connections.

-Police and prison reform. Reeducation. Equipping offenders for change not chains.

-Voices and seats at the table for everyone.

As a man of faith, one of the more interesting parts of the Bible to me is that Jesus is often mentioned having meals with followers. The meals had points to them, from instruction to physical demonstrations of grace.

Often Jesus gathered with “sinners.” He sat with outcasts.

Imagine, the ones on the fringes, the hated, the despised, the victims, those who struggled against the Roman empire occupying Jerusalem at the time. The ones unseen. The ones society had enough of.

Jesus spent his time there. He taught, laughed, joked, shared a meal and served.

Where do we spend our time?

Where could we?

Life with Weighted Moments

Every second has meaning.

Every waking moment.

Every breath.

Every scroll through the smartphone.

What if every distraction was a lost investment, every argument a lost chance at connection? What if every frustration cost more than we know?

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Recently, author and speaker Tony Robbins posted on his social media channels an article that referenced this concept. What if we chose to recognize the power and opportunity in every moment? How would that change our viewpoint on life?

How would it change our personality?

Living With Weighted Moments

How much I missed, simply because I was afraid of missing it.

Paulo Coelho

Your story isn’t written in the big moments.

When you are a kid through young adult, your life is shaped by big moments. Everything feels like a movie. Drama, sadness, heartbreak. Wounds feel like they will never heal.

They will.

Now I remember different things. I remember the pattern my dad used to mow the grass. I remember playing Super Nintendo. I remember lunch at my grandparents eating turkey sandwiches and drinking iced tea.

I remember football games in the yard.

We can reshape our past through emotion, evaluation, and memory. We can assign meaning to events, the meaning we pick, and equip ourselves for moving forward.

“If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.”

Richard Branson

The challenge is to not let weighted moments wear you down.

Opportunity stands on the knife edge from worry, potential from pressure, what could be from what’s the worst that could happen.

The choice is consistent and constant.

Journal. Pray. Reflect. Meditate. Work to recognize and shift your habits.

We all deal with our traumas in different ways.

Look forward to the gifts life offers. Make the most of the minutes. Choose to see opportunity and grasp it. Understand your story is not finished and you are called to bigger things.

Choose to not miss the small moments.

See what happens.