Crowds

I’m not a fan of crowds.

Give me a beach by myself and I’ll be happy.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I can attend things like church or concerts.  Put me in the midst of a crowded event where things aren’t moving and I’ll start to get uncomfortable. Crowds, besides being oppressive, can hurt us in other ways.

Our older son has had some issues in school the past two days.  As I read over the email from his teacher, I found myself getting frustrated. He hangs out with two kids in his class and, for some reason, they seem to be the center of trouble. And I know Carter is a follower.  He’s not the type to create issues.

So, he’s in the wrong crowd and we’ve found ourselves at one of those parenting crossroads.

audience-backlit-band-154147

I’ve written before how I’m a fan of Pastor Erwin McManus out at Mosaic Church in LA. I remember, in one of his books, reading about how we are a society based on collective worship.  Youtube a popular artist playing live and you’ll find evidence in a second.  There’s an old clip of U2 playing Where the Streets Have No Name at a castle in Ireland and the sea of people is mesmerizing. It is, in condensed form, worship.

We are also wired to find community. As an introvert, this had made me uncomfortable more than once. I do believe that God places people in our lives to help us through the dark times and celebrate in the light.

I sat down with Carter yesterday and asked him about his friends.  I told him he needs to look at the choices he makes, that his friends will show him where he’s going.

We often stress about our own stories but, when your child is involved, their narrative sticks in your mind. More than once today I’ve thought about what he was doing in school and prayed he would have a good day.

I’ve had friends from when I was Carter’s age who’ve gone and had great success personally and professionally.  I’ve had others who’ve ended up in prison. At the time, these people were just my classmates, kids I’d see a few days a week for a few months of the year.

One guy I knew passed away from cancer the summer we graduated high school.

It can’t be easy being a kid today. Their processing demand is much more than anything we had to deal with. There are moments I sit across from him and wonder about the universe inside his mind.

This week has not been once of peace but I hope, as we go, we can find some. Carter will continue to find his own crowds.  We can only hope his internal radar gets tuned towards those that enhance who he is as a person, those he can laugh and grow with, the ones whose friendship will extended into decades.

The ones who will make him happy and challenge him to be a better person. The journey will not be easy, but worth it in the end.

Advertisements

Noise

I just went home for lunch.

Now where I work, I’m afforded the opportunity to do this as it is about five minutes from our house.  We’re in the midst of a winter revival in the northeast so it was nice to get into the warmth of the house for a quick lunch.  As I walked in, Aiden was sitting on the couch.

The living room was dark and he had a movie on Netflix (a total Matt Shaner move). I went to say hello and he shushed me.

“Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”

I said, why?

“If you talk, Happy won’t sit with me.”  Happy is our cat.  Aiden loves the cat and the cat doesn’t like him.  Yesterday, for the first time, Happy sat on his lap.  This afternoon, he’s angling for a round 2.  He was watching the movie and keeping an eye on the cat, waiting for Happy to make his move.

Noise often disrupts our best intentions.

amplifier-audio-bass-302879

We live in a world where we are afraid of the quiet. We’re hammered with images, sensory input from many screens. This normally splits people into two camps.

The first are like Aiden and myself.  There’s a home in the darkness and peace in the stillness. We can stand on a beach at night, breathe in the surroundings and get lost in the waves.

The others are like Carter and my wife.  Get lights on, go towards the lights, thrive in the sensory input. Stand in the midst of Times Square and feel hearts beat in time with the city.

The trouble comes in losing ourselves to both extremes as they can build walls. We defend ourselves with these walls and prevent others from seeing the genuine humanity inside.

I believe there is value in changing dynamics.

This week I had an email conversation with a friend of mine about church.  I told him I’d had this crazy idea. What if church could exist without a building? Without a paid staff? What if it was just random meetings to discuss life, spirituality, the Bible, and build community?  What if it meant random Saturdays doing work on the home of a disabled veteran? Or running a pop up soup kitchen in the middle of a city?

What if speakers were anyone who had something to say? What if worship came from a guitar or piano in the dark corner of a club?  Or a DJ set on the stage?

What if we haven’t scratched the surface of what God wants to do in our lives and in this world? What if a thousand years of history is no more than a heartbeat of practice?

We are standing on the edge of great things and the dreamers and visionaries, regular people with God-sized seeds planted in their souls, will carry us forward. The question is, are we ready to make the journey?

~Matt

Ripple Effect

My dad spent his career in a nuclear power plant.  For a kid growing up with Homer Simpson in his prime on television, this wasn’t a bad thing.  It was always an interesting conversation starter and he has some great stories.

One of the best involves breaking a light bulb.

His job, in the plant, involved many things including keeping reactors and other essential engines running smoothly. He was hired when they built the plant and learned things, literally, from the ground up. One night, a crew of guys needed someone from his department to oversee maintenance on a large machine as an alert had tripped.

My dad followed them to the area where the machine was housed.  After checking things out, he determined that a light bulb needed to be replaced as part of the repair.  He unscrewed the old bulb and placed the new one in the socket.  As he screwed it in, it broke in his hand.

This set off an alarm that tripped to other facilities up and down the east coast and cost Philadelphia Electric a good amount of money.

For every action, no matter how small or planned, there are massive consequences.

black-and-white-clear-drop-of-water-166360

If you are a parent, you know this is true. Try buying two different toys for a pair of siblings, believe me, it does not end well.  If you are a husband or wife, this is also true.  Little things that become routine will pile up until you find yourself buried under them.

You cannot turn on the news without being launched in the midst of the gun control debate. I remember being in high school when Columbine happened.  That day we realized that the world was changing.  Now, things that we hadn’t experienced until teenage years are happening at younger and younger ages. Bullying and suicide has become an epidemic.

Pain is real, ready for consumption on social media, and broadcast for all to see. In years where we may have battled our anger by riding our bikes across town, kids are finding sharp objects and turning the pain inward.

We spent the last weekend in Ocean City, Maryland.  I booked the days after Val’s miscarriage, in hopes that we could get away.  We found some seashells, as a family, and are planning on planting something in the yard and decorating with the shells in memory of what happened.

The boys each had a balloon and we stood by the ocean, white caps painting the waves and wind whipping through our hair.  I asked them to send a prayer up to heaven for the baby and, one by one, they did.  Carter and Aiden each said their own thing and they did it with authentic faith, emotion, and sincerity.  As they finished, one by one, they kissed their balloon and let it go.

We were frozen by the breeze at that point and, when they ran to the car, I stopped for a  moment and watched the red and blue balloons as they twisted on the air currents and made their way into the sky.

We are not a perfect family by far.  We have our issues. The boys fight like cats and dogs.  The rest of the trip had its own turbulence that comes with vacations, too much boardwalk food, and an overload of swimming.

In that moment, though, we had peace. We had a ripple of hope and the prayer of two little boys that made its way to Heaven. We had the chance to release pain and heartache, put it on the wind, and watch it rise.

We had the chance to be whole and we will walk forward, together, into whatever may come.

 

 

What we mean when we talk about dying

I started a Netflix binge on the show Altered Carbon. The cast is solid, the writing is skilled and the visuals sell the show.  The basis of the story, off the novels by the same name, is a futuristic world where there is now two kinds of death.  People have “stacks” in the back of their neck where their consciousness resides in a small disc.  You can die, if your disk is salvageable, and find yourself placed in a new “sleeve” if you have the means to do so.  You can RD “real death” if the stack is destroyed. The show dives deep into the meaning of death and immortality, faith and power.

One of the main characters delivers a stirring speech about death being the great equalizer, how it gives meaning and people weren’t designed to live forever.

I believe that, at certain points, God is trying to tell us something.

abstract-autumn-backgrounds-beautiful

Last month, my wife and I lost a baby.  She was pregnant 18 weeks at the time. I’ll never forget that night in the ER.  One of Val’s close friends is battling cancer a second time.  We are a country reeling from school shootings and acts of violence. The prospect of looking at mortality seems to be a current issue.

There is no coincidence that our faith systems operate on what happens after death and really our life systems do also.  Our days are either filled with meaning or denied meaning, stress or peace, life or avoidance.  Often, all these forces act together and sometimes within a few minute span.

Faith and death are connected.

I remember reading the Bible as a kid and agreeing, thinking that I believed it. It was an Okay Now What? moment. Then life happened.  I did eventually find myself in a genuine faith encounter and, after it, life happened again. The path is about the struggle and how we handle it. Mindset dictates action. Faith dictates mindset.

Though this isn’t always true.

Read through the Psalms, Jeremiah, the account of Peter around Easter and you’ll find imperfect people giving voice to their conflicts of faith and reality, hope and experience.

After Val had the miscarriage, Carter said to me, “Dad, I wish our lives were normal.”  I said that the hard stuff is normal, the trick is how you respond to it. Things haven’t been easy the last few months and sometimes faith is the act of getting up in the morning to do it all over again.

We take things for granted.

I usually spent summers, before summer jobs, at my grandparents. Now I’m typing this post at work, in my mid thirties, but I still remember weekday mornings.  We’d get in my grandfather’s truck and go to the diner that sat across from the French Creek Outfitters, a fishing and hunting store.  We’d have breakfast and go buy some lures to use that morning.

He’d pop a country music tape (Mel Tillis, Patsy Cline) into his truck and we’d head to the pond. I remember him methodically working his way around the shore casting and casting again. My young mind went off in many directions.  I’d think about school, tv shows, anything.

I’d kill for one more cup of coffee and one summer morning at that pond, for a few hours of conversation that I didn’t know I needed at the time.

Time keeps moving and death does give it relevance. Everything is relevant. Everything counts no matter how far we hide it under our mental gymnastics, addictions, conversations, media, and other means of denial.

Because in the end the sum of our lives is the moments we give and take, the ones we want to grab and squeeze and pull every single second from because it all slips away and that war has taken down great people and civilizations.  It sits deep in our heart and, over time, we decide how to deal with it.

Faith pulls us close and rips us apart. It also builds us up again one stitch at a time.

“I can’t beat it.”

Last night Val and I rented Manchester by the Sea. Let me first clarify things by saying, I know and understand the issues around Casey Affleck and his treatment of women and that I wanted to watch the movie from the viewpoint of what I could learn as a person and a writer.  It delivered well on both fronts.

Affleck plays a janitor whose brother dies of Congestive Heart Failure. The remainder of the movie reveals the ghosts from his own past as he faces his brother’s death and the care required for his teenage nephew.

(spoilers below)

You spend the movie rooting for Affleck to have a change of heart, that he’ll embrace the kid and stand in as his father.  In the end, he can only do what he knows.  He runs back to Boston and lets his nephew be adopted by family friends, even though he finds an apartment with an extra room incase the kid wants to visit on the weekend.

In their emotional final dinner together, Affleck tells the kid:

“I can’t beat it.”

When we face down grief and trauma, our response is often the same.

pexels-photo-213942

Time freezes.

To avoid the pain we jump around. We think about the past or the future to avoid the present. We do whatever we can to not live in the moment. We check out.

Our smartphones become our pacifiers.

There are conversations floating in the air begging for our engagement and the effort is just to hard. We’re emotionally and physically spent.

We just can’t beat it.

I’ve recently taken small steps to combat this.  Every morning, before leaving for work, I pray with Carter if he’s the only one awake. If everyone is up, we all pray together.  It is a moment he looks forward to now.

I carry an index card in my wallet with three statements on it:

Find Joy Every Day/ No More Wall/ I am My Own Husband and Father

I’d been missing out on the joy around me, living behind an emotional wall, and feeling like I could only measure my worth as a father against those men I knew around me.

Everything, I realized, was wrong.

Joy is there, if you take a moment to see it. The Wall can come down if you take the emotional effort to work through it.

You can be the mother, father, husband or wife you want to be regardless of anything in the past or present. You can take a positive effort to shape the future and create your own identity.

You can create You.

This isn’t easy but it is part of my new journey. I hope you’ll join me and I know, one day at a time, things can change for all of us.

 

Allow me to Reintroduce Myself

It has been a while.

I left off here in a dark place. In the few months since, things have changed. I’d looked in the mirror, stared into the abyss as it looked back at me.

I realized a few things.

pexels-photo-340981.jpg

Ironically, it took watching Tony Robbins on his Netflix documentary to help see the truth. To look at some limiting beliefs, to realize what I’d cost Val and the boys over the last ten years.

Things have changed.

I’ve given myself permission to be the best father and husband I can be, to be my own man and stand on that foundation.  We cleaned out our house taking almost twenty bags of various things to be donated/trashed. My book collection is down to a few volumes of importance (everything from here out will be digital).

Some weight has lifted.

I started a new job, taken far too long to settle back into writing. I’ll start my first season as head coach for Carter’s baseball team this spring with opening day on April 1st. We are making steps towards a more purposeful life.

The boys are still crazy and active. They still surprise us with what they do and say on a daily basis.

So this blog will be a return to the words, the calling to put things down on paper, to stay honest, to honor the permission to write.

That’s the biggest thing that’s hit me in the past few months.

I’m allowed to learn and grow, to not have all the answers. To be a father and figure it out on a daily basis.  To be a husband and do the best I can. To be a writer no matter where the words end up.

To reach an audience because I know you are still out there. You’ve been there like me and you’ve grown.

To know that it’s okay as we go forward.

I hope you’ll join me on this new start.  Through a crazy baseball season and busy summer of sports for Aiden and Carter, trips to the pool and our first family vacation. Many stories wait to be told and I’m excited to see how they end up.

And I’m okay.

It’s taken a long time to get there, but I think I’ve finally found the starting point, the foundation to look towards the future and I’ll take that for 10:09 PM on a Tuesday night.

 

Silence

It hasn’t been an easy two weeks.

I watched the turmoil of this election as it played out across the world. We’ve had our struggles in various parts of life. I’ve taken a job that has me working long shifts a few days a week and our family time has suffered.

Carter looked at me the other morning and said that he missed me and he wished I was home at night. As a father, hearing that breaks my heart.

You want to provide and make a difference but you don’t want to lose your son as a trade-off.

These weeks have seemed like a holding pattern.

I haven’t felt this much stress in a long time. And when I’d try to type I’d find nothing.

Silence.

pexels-photo-234583

One of my goals recently is to be more honest. I’ve starting thinking about a project based on fatherhood, a book to reach out to other guys going through the same things as me.

Something for the rest of us that don’t have our lives lined up in a neat row.  The ones not in the holiday movies wearing sweaters as a fire roars in the background.  The dads staring down bills, stressed out spouses, crazy kids, and demands demands demands.

I’ve taken to listening to podcasts on the way home from work.  Something about the miles of dark highway makes it easy to listen. I had on my guy, Pastor Erwin McManus, and he said this last night.

He said his wife asked him why he always speaks about courage and living an adventurous life.  He replied:

It is my greatest fear to miss the opportunities God gives me and not live out the life he has planned for me.

His fear is missing the boat, the side street, the fork in the road that leads to God’s Grand Design.

I’ll admit, there are days where that design seems so far off in the distance that I’m not even standing at the starting line.

My fear, the thing that haunts me, is the same.  It is missing the opportunities that are coming, the open doors, the connections, the chance to live a full life and do something to put a dent in the universe.

We find what we look for; a sliver of daylight in the night, a crack in the wall, a whisper in the silence. Sometimes we only have the strength to turn our heads in the right direction and, just barely, open our eyes.

It’s a start.

 

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.

pexels-photo-104961.jpg

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.

 

 

What Should Life Be?

It rained yesterday.  The sky was the slate blanket that comes every now and then in the Pennsylvania transition between seasons. It was one of those days you dreaded as a kid, sitting in school with no way to mark the passing of time.

Morning was afternoon.  Dawn was dusk.

I got home from work, we ate dinner, then dressed the boys to go run some errands.  Aiden put on his rain boots and ran outside.  I followed and attempted to get him and Carter in the car.  He found his way to a puddle and started jumping.

Peppa Pig style (for you parents out there) jumping in puddles with his rain boots.

At the end of a dreary day, he’d found his own slice of adventure.

pexels-photo-175353

Kids are easy for this.  They are our stereotypical adventurers.  We watch them play with nostalgia.  If only, we think and sigh, those were the days.

We are meant for more.

We are meant for a faith that calls us out of the darkness.

We are meant for a radical community of faith, hope, and love, to embrace others and show them the grace that allows us to live day by day.

So many dream of Heaven.  We think, then we can finally live, finally see the beauty of sun rays, crystal waters, perfect love and joy.

So we go on auto pilot and try to survive.  All the while, God calls us to the deep.

How will it look for you? How will it look for me and my family?  I don’t know.  I feel like I’m learning more each day.

Learning that the story isn’t over.  That there is still room for adventure, for a life of passion and change, hope and impact. There is room for hope in a better world, that the poor can find help, the hungry can be fed, the cold can find warmth, and the burdened will find rest.

I wish I could explain it to you. I wish I had the poetry that some of my friends and fellow writers have.  I wish I had the copywriting spin to sell you on the key points of the Gospel. I wish I had ten million copies sold to hold up and show you why you should believe me.

The only thing I can give you is honesty.

Faith isn’t easy.  I’ve looked in the mirror many moments and wondered why and where? I’ve held my hands to the sky and asked God to show up. I’ve wanted the concrete conversation, for Gabriel to show up in my Scion one day and, after miraculously healing the brakes, tell me the depths and heights of faith and the song of the Universe.

Hope isn’t easy.

Love isn’t easy.

For in the moment when the voice, the one that sounds so familiar for Adam and Eve so long ago, when it whispers “this is it, just give up,” something tells me No.

This isn’t it. The fight isn’t over. Bigger things are coming. It is a gut response, a fight that rises up from the place that can only be occupied by the fire of the love of Jesus.

What is life about?  It is the fight for Passion, to never give up, to never back down. To taste every sip of the majesty of God’s creation, to work to change lives, to shine the light of grace and love.

To wake up in the morning and do it all over again.

 

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?

pexels-photo-167080

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.