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.

The Best Gift Ever

It is almost midnight.

Standing in front of the mirror way too late, drying your hair because the morning is too crazy getting kids ready for camp. And work is long. And it is mid summer hot, the humid blanket of a Pennsylvania July.

I watch you and I think about all the times I’ve watched you get ready. I think about our first Valentine’s Day, handing you a necklace I’d saved up for from Zales, feeling that crazy pounding in my chest that only comes with doing something right.

I think about the you I’d met when she was seventeen. I can see her now, see her eyes and her feline smile. I think about old cars and part time jobs, going to the movies because Saturdays weren’t anything. Walking around the mall and window shopping for stuff for our first house.

I think about the moment I knew I’d propose and the moment you’d said yes. I think about our wedding and our honeymoon in Mexico, laying on a bed on the beach as blue waters rolled in the distance.

I think about the times you’d told me we would be having a child, about all the work you’d done carrying the boys, about how you’d changed and the glimmer of hope in your eyes because this was something you were born to do.

I think about the family members we’d lost over the years. I think about the miscarriage and the feeling of heartbreak. I think about holding you and sinking in that sorrow, standing in the cemetery listening to the remembrance service and wondering why us.

I think about our dreams, the ones we’ve done and the ones we’ve yet to do.

You ask me to talk more. Sometimes my voice fails. So I go to words.

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In a few days it will be your birthday. I may not have cool things to give you, but I can build with words and here’s my shot.

You are the strongest person I know. You have the biggest heart. You’ve taken our traumas and I’ve watched them paint your soul and, every morning, I see you get up and do it again.

You are an amazing mother and a stunningly beautiful woman. You still freeze my heart every day the first time our eyes meet.

Our boys look up to you, they look like you. The moments when you laugh with them I see the imprint of your soul on theirs, I see your eyes in their eyes and your heart in their hearts and it makes me proud because you are so much easier with love and compassion than I am.

You’ve taken a kid you met when he was sixteen and taught me what it meant to grow up, to open up and be a husband. You’ve taught me about being a father. I’m blessed by your patience, honored by your love and survive through your sense of humor.

You hold this family together. You hold this house together. You hold our souls together. I know, in the years to come, when the boys have their own families they will talk about these days. They’ll tell stories about playing in the back yard and riding their bikes to the playground. They’ll talk about watching America’s Funniest Videos on Sunday nights.

They’ll talk about mom calming their fears, helping them feel better, giving the best hugs and packing the best lunches in the morning.

They’ll talk about camping, about holidays, summers and winters. They’ll talk about the little place they grew up in. They’ll hold their wives up to you, so get ready.

Things haven’t been perfect. But, you know what? We weren’t meant for perfect. We were meant to be fighters, to survive in the moments we didn’t think we’d make it through. We were meant to hold hands on the couch at night. We were meant to be able to speak to each other in silence.

Because, next to you, is the only spot I’m truly at peace.

And I can’t tell you how much that means. Someday, I’ll find the words.

You are an amazing wife, an awesome mom, and you are my hero.

I love you.

Time is a Distance

One of my favorite writers, Ben Hardy, has examined this concept extensively.

Time is a distance. It is not how long you are going, but how far you move as a person. Are you the same person you were yesterday? Are you moving towards a future that will pull you years down your timeline?

As a family, we’ve been reminded of this recently on a few different fronts.

Our boys have trouble helping out around the house. Our oldest apologized the other day for something he always neglects to do. I told him, here’s a tip for later in life; apologize too often for the same thing and you will not be considered sincere or genuine. You’ll be a liar.

How far have you moved from your past?

Have you considered what you value and what is worth chasing?

Hardy writes;

“A person choosing to spend large portions time in an unsatisfying job in order to
make ends meet is on a fast track to his deathbed. Time will move increasingly faster as
a result of his slow pace—the relativity of time. The minuscule moments of freedom spent
doing what he desires will seem to disappear far too quickly; and before he knows it,
he’s back at the grindstone.
While at work, he may as well not be living as his time spent is detested. When the
goal is merely to “get through” the day as quickly as possible, life will pass full of regrets.
Time becomes the great taskmaster when it should be the liberator. His time is endured
rather than enjoyed. He is often late and constantly missing the moments that matter
most—caught in the vacuum of time-acceleration toward death without any perceived
way of slowing it down.”

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Authenticity is scary. What if we are rejected? When you’ve experienced rejection in the past, it is way easier to imagine for the future.

When you look at the weight of bad choices, all the things that could provide freedom seem unreachable. Good News is something for a social media feed. It is because we long for the grand “Good News” and not something that applies directly to us.

I had a sales job for two weeks after college. They taught the Keep Up With the Jones’s technique. Tell your customer that everyone around them is doing it and they might miss out.

We take our Good News with the same intent. Does it fit with our friends and family? Is it something that we can text and get a positive response? How about a few Facebook likes?

Or is it authentic?

What drives you?

What fills your time? What do you value? What is valuable to you?

Make no mistake, they are two different things.

This is a challenge I am working on right now and, reading through some resources I’m realizing some things that excite me, an authentic self I’ve buried under just getting by.

I’m realizing how much time I’ve traveled, how much I’ve lost, and what is left to accomplish.

Time, the distance, can be as we make it.

Be bold. Create. Follow your path even when you are the only one on it. Love deeply. Love well. Engage.

Slow things down.

See what happens.

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.

Two Questions to Transform Adversity

Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.

Napoleon Hill

We often personalize our problems. We claim them and make them our identity.

I am __________ fill in the blank.  Broke, stressed, heartbroken, hungry, betrayed, angry, etc. There is an important dividing line we must pull from modern psychology before diving deep into reaction.

There is the problem.–There is our reaction to it.

The thing, whatever it is, can be isolated.  We control our reaction and this post will look at that part of the equation.

grey steel grill
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Two Questions to Transform Adversity

1-Who is this happening for?

Life has purpose. The shocks, the downturns, the unexpected changes all have meaning. Some of the richest people in the world grew wealth in the midst of the Great Depression by knowing how to handle fear and instability.

Step back, take a second and try to find the meaning. Try to go as deep as you can to understand what can be helped, who can learn from this, and how can it be moved to an asset.

The harder the situation the more resolve developed. The deeper the pain, the clearer the mirror when you look back on it.

2-How can this benefit someone else?

Ryan Holiday, in his excellent book The Obstacle is the Way, mentions this as a prime skill to handle problems. People need to hear your story. They need to know where you are coming from. They may be going through the same thing.

You may help someone see they are not alone.

The idea could be the first shard of hope they find in life.

Adversity breeds resilience if we take the time to frame it correctly. Don’t get mired in the pain and struggle. Shift your mindset to helping others and unlock the potential of the situation.

You’ll find community, hope, love and acceptance.  You’ll see others, and yourself, as better and the weight of the pain will shift.

It may take years to leave, but ask Martin Luther King Jr. Jail cells can’t hold the spirit. Letters can move through bars.

Freedom is a state of mind and its spark can be seen in the midst of the darkest midnight.

 

You Are Allowed to be Silent

Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live. – Robert Kennedy

I’m a nervous talker. My oldest son has inherited this trait. Put us in a pressure situation and we’ll talk through it, fighting to kill the silence.

This quarantine has created different new realities. The media is saturated with “journalism” meant to drive clicks and advertising. The future is leaning on politics, not unity. Throw a stone and you’ll hit an “expert” telling you that the world is over and will never return.

We are pushed for a response.

Both of my boys have finished the school year at home.  The oldest will go to 6th grade next year which means a new school and environment. We’ve seen worry come about in different ways over the last few weeks.

No matter how you feel, understand this: silence is acceptable.

chair scenery summer abandon
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Enjoy the Silence

One of my favorite memories is sitting on the porch with my grandfather as he told me stories. Thinking back now, I realize it was not a single exchange.  He spoke but, in the end, he also listened.

We’ve lost the art of listening.

We speak then formulate our response to what is being said well before it is our space to talk. We race forward missing the ebb and flow of exchange.

Tragedy.  Events that blow up our world. Loss. Death. Struggle. These things bring us to our mirror moment, the point where we look at ourselves and wonder, now what?

Take a minute. Breathe and know you can absorb it before you push away again.

The Power of Silence

There’s an old interrogation technique used by law enforcement.  In John Douglas’s book Mindhunter, he mentions it. He talks about asking questions then, at a certain point, stopping and staying quiet.

Just look at the other person and wait.

You’ll be surprised at what happens.

Silence generates a response. People will fill the space.  It is a natural instinct we can use to our advantage.

The Weight of Silence

No matter how far we go, the power of touch will never be replaced. The grasp of a hand, the arm around the shoulder, a hug, all of these mean more than words. We are wired as humans to respond to touch.

For men, this isn’t always easy.  Let’s be honest. If we haven’t grown up with it, it can be hard to generate. For those of us who have dealt with other childhood trauma, it can be even harder.

There are moments I need to remind myself to physically interact with my boys. The security created by casual physical encouragement is important and will stretch into the future for them.

When words are lost, physical actions matter.

The Space of Silence

In 2018, my wife and I suffered a miscarriage. I’ll never forget walking out of the ER that morning. It took time to recover and we still both experience grief from time to time.

For a while, a few weeks at least, I had nothing to say.

I had nothing to write. No words. No prayers. No conversation with God.

I realize now, God was close. I realize the space was needed.

Some wounds hit so deeply they take time to heal. In this healing, allow yourself space to recover. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it.

Conclusion

This quarantine has led to some exciting developments for me. I’ve launched a new website. This is still in the early phase and I’m adding content often. Please pay it a visit and drop your email address to subscribe to future updates. There will be new information soon. 

Keep working. Keep writing. Keep surviving with those you love. We will make it through.

 

A Letter to Heaven

Two years ago, you went home.  On a dark and cold winter night we drove to the hospital with you and, when we left the next morning, you were gone.  Your mom was a little more than twenty weeks pregnant.  You’d made it half way.

Then you were called home.

I cried when I found out you were coming, not out of joy.  I was scared, to be honest, to meet you.  We never found out your gender but something tells me you were meant to be my little girl.

Your brothers grow each and every day.  Carter is so active and he has a huge heart.  Aiden is so smart. He loves to sit and relax, play his video games and watch his shows. They would have loved you. They still do.

I like to read.  You never found that out, but I’ll tell you because it’s important to me.  I read something yesterday that asked “how would you live if you had 6 months left?”

I thought about this question.

And my mind went to you. You had six months.  So what if I could live inspired, grab that time, know and remember every second of swirling emotion. What if I could see you as an inspiration?

What if I could live these days to make you proud of me.

The world is hard.  It is loud and noisy.  People get distracted.  I like to think the chaos was too much for you and God called you back to heaven because your heart was too pure for this.

Because we struggle.  We suffer. We hurt.  Your mom and I, our hearts were broken when we lost you.  Your brothers, they were so excited to meet you one day.

We’re not perfect, but we were your family.  We are your family.

You will always be in our hearts.

Until the day I see you again, my little girl.

~Your dad

 

Legend

The house was all dark wood.  Basement and one level set back from the road.  We’d park in the lot of the community pool that sat across the street, the one my uncle had managed for years. The smell was Thanksgiving, pure and simple.  Turkey, filling, cold iced tea. A long table sat in the dining area.

I remember the conversations, the jokes and stories.  My uncle’s voice was often the loudest and his laugh would get us all going.

In the beginning of November, he passed away.

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He was a teacher, a football and wrestling coach for thirty years.  As I look over social media I find his stories.  A student mentioned their house burning down.  My uncle had taken him in, without question, until the family was back on their feet. The stories from other students were numerous, the inspiration vast.  Men and women recounting the interactions with their teacher and coach who had often made his way to friend and loved one by the time they’d grown into adulthood.

Val and I recently attended the first home wrestling match of the season for the district he’d led all those decades. The athletic director had given us shirts that the wrestling team would wear for the season in his memory.  We’d worn them with pride.  After a moment of silence, the team made their way to us and each wrestler shook our hands.

Mourning has a way of creating evaluation. Val and I sat and made a bucket list and a plan to check items off as we go. We’re looking to the future with hope after some positive changes this month.

I’ve learned a few things from my uncle that will stick with me.

-Serve without hesitation. It may not be as drastic as taking someone in but, if you see a need, fill it.

-Find a passion. In this day, “career” doesn’t have the best vibe to it.  Still, it is a noble goal.  Find something that drives you towards long-term commitment.

-Tough love. Some of the stories I’d read were about my uncle’s tough love for this players and students.  He wouldn’t hesitate to correct if needed.  As parents, this can be a challenge and this generation of kids is not one that takes kindly to correction. Tough love is an investment that often pays off years later.

-Toughness. My cousin, his daughter, was an only child.  She’s a college lacrosse coach now and a member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.  She’s a former Olympian and had found her way to the top of the sport.  I’d always heard that my uncle had treated her like an athlete, no different from the kids on his wrestling or football team. Don’t doubt your kids and what they can handle.  You’d be surprised.

Some of my best memories were spent on the porch of my grandparents’ house. After dinner the men would gather and have their iced tea or coffees.  They’d tell their stories. Now, I see it as what it was, a chance to step in the past for a few sentences and remember how things were before life got complicated.

We like to think that a new year brings new hope.  We make resolutions and try our best to change. The past two years have seen large shifts in our identities.  Val and I have both had to look in the mirror and answer some tough questions.  We’ve understood who we were and where we stand.  We’ve faced loss and hardship, trials and struggle.

Our boys are bigger and getting older.  We’ve learned the value of boundaries and how healthy ones look.  We found some unity and come together as the four of us do this thing called life.

I believe, deep down, changes are coming. There’s an assurance that’s only found from looking into deeper shadows and depths. Tides shift. Change is possible.

No matter how deep set the patterns, change is possible. No matter how dark the storm or cynical the soul.  Change is possible.  There’s no timeline on story.

Just a start.  Page one. In the beginning…

 

Night Swim

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This past weekend, Val headed to the beach with her sister and mother while I was home handling some errands and spending time with the boys.  On Friday, the pool we joined had a movie night/night swim. I took Carter over as Aiden was sleeping at my mother’s house.

We sat in the parking lot as the pool had closed their gate for thirty minutes to get the lights up and pool ready.  They were also showing a movie and had to get the large screen set on the lawn next to the pool.  As we waited in the car, the parking lot filled with families.  Other cars arrived and started dropping off teens for the swim.  When the time came, the gate opened and we made our way inside.

I took position on a bench while Carter played with his friends.  In about twenty seconds I realized how much time had passed.

Things I wish I’d known twenty years ago:

1/  Everyone is insecure- The crowd was a mix of the “popular kids” and the outsiders.  One girl ran past me telling her friends “People want me in the pool and you are all up here hanging out.  I don’t know what to do!” Some guys swam in full t shirts, others without. The posturing was interesting to say the least.  If there’s anything I’d tell myself at 17 is that all people are insecure, not just you.

2/ These years aren’t forever I thought everything was huge.  All the conversations, interactions, days in school and days in summer.  I thought it all mattered for the rest of time. It does not. Time is fleeting (in the words of the Rocky Horror Picture Show) and the sun will rise tomorrow.  Eventually, it fades to memories.

3/ Have fun– A group of kids stood off in the corner hanging out and watching the others swimming, laughing and joking around. I know, from my own insecurities, that I missed out often on experiences and taking chances.  Courage is not an easy thing, often it may seem  cool to stay off to the side, but you must take advantage of the moments and grasp them tightly.

Because soon you’ll be a dad, watching your son swim, and wondering where all the time has gone.  You’ll know, soon enough, he’ll want to be dropped off and ask you to wait in the parking lot.

The fear of a parent is not missing out.  It is not how our kids will survive and will they make it though to adults. The fear is not having enough time.  It is knowing that one day they’ll leave the house and start their own families.  One day they’ll have their own lives and your conversations will change.

You’ll watch them graduate, meet significant others, stand in front of you and exchange vows. You’ll see them in their own house and get the call one day that you’ll be a grandparent.

One day there will be no 10 year old to take to the pool. No player to drive to baseball practice. No head resting in your lap as you watch a movie on Friday nights. No one strolling into the kitchen to give you a hug just because.

One day they’ll be out there, on their own.

And you’ll think of the day you sat at the pool and watched him swim and you’ll wish, just for a moment, that you could go back there and do it all one more time.  Have one more summer night as the sun set, listen to the laughing and splashing, and maybe you’ll get up and join him.  Maybe you’ll tell him how proud you are. Maybe you’ll stop checking email and just be there in the moment.

Because one day he won’t. He’ll be the sum of his childhood out there in the world and, God willing, be a better man than you.

A Sum of Years

Can’t you just act ten years old?

i project as much as i can, a hurricane of noise.  He lowers his head.

i’m on my bike, a red Diamondback, riding across town with the sun on my face and all the time in the world. i take a dollar to Allen’s Variety Store and stock on up baseball cards and candy.

Go to my dad’s on the weekends and watch the Phillies on television while he mows the yard. 

Getting hooked on Are You Afraid of the Dark. 

The bullies. Eat lunch out of a brown paper bag and search for who looks at me and says something. 

Shoot pool on the weekends and smoke a cigar like i know what to do with it, smell of Cool Water cologne. 

Drive around for hours with Val in my first car, an 84 Oldsmobile with tan seats like couches. 

Walk King of Prussia Mall like it is a foreign country and window shop. 

Work in a factory during summers in college and come home covered in oil and dust. 

Graduate and wonder what the hell to do next. 

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Hired. Fired. Hired again. 

Move out. Marriage. 

Find out i’d be a father. 

Lay off. 

Struggle. Every. Day. 

i walked down the stairs as he stayed in his room. i sat on the couch.

Disappointment. Failure. Not living up to the ideal of what i could be and feeling never enough. 

The alarm sounds at 6:30.  Shower. Dress.  Put the coffee on. Make a thermos.  He comes down the stairs and lies on the couch.

Dad can you put on the PlayStation Vue for me?

Sure.  Why are you up so early?

I didn’t sleep well last night.

i tousled his blonde hair. He pulls the blanket over his shoulders.

i’m going to work, i say. Be good.

I will.

Back on my bike crossing town, winter jacket zipped tight.  Inhale and feel like i’m flying and still, deep down, know the pain is coming. 

One Day.