Growing Up

You can find my newest book, The Glass Jar City: Stories From the Fight to Save Reading, Pennsylvania by clicking this link.  It is available in print and for a limited time, download for $1.00.  I’m donating proceeds from sales back to the organizations working in Reading to break the grip of poverty.  Thank you for your support.

There are days when the passing of time feels closer at heart. I always find myself getting sentimental at the transition between projects. My oldest son played a baseball game on Wednesday and did really well.

Thursday night Val and I celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary.  We’ve been together since 1999 (high school sweethearts) and we’re nearing twenty years as a couple. She still asks me what I want to be when I grow up, and I pray we never lose that hope.

Before we went out to dinner, I met with a friend who runs a local company posting and recording podcasts for businesses and entrepreneurs. We talked about the book and my goals for it.

I sat across from her in a conference room overlooking a major intersection in the middle of the city.  She asked about my dreams for writing.  What did I want to get from the project?

The question strikes a fine balance.

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There’s a line between what we dream and what we see. I always struggled with a search for the cosmic Green Light from God. I’d read the account of Moses where he received his orders directly from God and still doubted.  He went over every possible reason not to return to Egypt and yet, God told him to go.

I believe we all have a calling and a purpose. This week more than one opportunity opened up in our lives. We had our usual struggles with things (Val can’t seem to shake a black cloud of bad luck) but we kept moving.

The answer is to keep moving.

What you do when no one is looking pays off when everyone is looking.  The time alone reflects in the time of the crowds.  The preparation period, no matter how long, gets you ready for the arrival.

I’m leaning on a passion to make a difference and find an audience, to change lives with words.

It is one day at a time and, even in the moments of questions, it is moving forward. It is facing fear and doubt, quieting the voice that tells you to settle.

It is understanding you are worthy of success and giving yourself permission to do it.

The next project is coming and, no matter what happens, it will be done.  Legacies are built one brick, prayer, book, phone call, conversation, and act of faith at a time.

~Matt

The Day After

I woke around 5 this morning realizing Carter had fully given me his cold from last week.  Nothing like another joy of parenting. I called off and went to an Urgent Care to get some medicine.

The day after a holiday weekend is never easy, especially returning to the routines of life. We split from our extended families and gradually recover from the coma of ham, filling, and jelly beans.

What happens the day after is just as important. We get the message and, now, what do we do with it?

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There’s a point in the Bible where Jesus returns to heaven. Imagine the next conversation. Did they keep looking at the sky, wondering if he’d return? Did they wonder about the next morning, the next week, the next month?

Think of the knowledge they had; the experiences of the past three years, the miracles and conflict, the bloodshed and revival. They had seen things that would change the world.

The Day After is the key to the story.  They could have rested or given up, instead they shifted into action.

The story doesn’t stop.

Day Afters are no fun but they are essential. They make us get up in the morning, watch our progress, spend valuable time doing valuable things.  They push us forward on our own terms, not ones set for us from outside sources.

We have Day Afters because the story isn’t over. As hard as it is to pull our heads off the pillow, we do it and keep going towards the best ending even if we can’t see all the details yet.

~Matt

 

Threads

This week is a unique one on a few fronts. Carter has two days of school, then he’s off for spring break. We are rounding the turn on warmer weather. Baseball, professional and youth, is on the horizon.

Summer seems just over the hill.

Easter is at the end of the week. In terms of Biblical history, Jesus has arrived through Palm Sunday and cleansed the temple.  Soon he will be arrested and find his way to the cross, rising again in victory.

It is a time of resurrection for us as a family. We’re moving towards new things, situations, times and experiences. On Saturday, I drove to Delaware to visit my dad and, driving home I started thinking about the threads that carry us through from past to present and future.

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Our pastor on Sunday said you can’t separate Christmas from Easter, the birth of Jesus from his death and return to life. The experiences of the past speak to our future.

The children we were influence the adults we are.

We throw down gauntlets with every painful experience, internal promises we make ourselves to avoid the same issues decades later. They can have positive or negative results. We tell ourselves we will never ____ (fill in the blank). It can drive us to obsessive levels of perfection or success.  It can also cripple us with doubt.

Every writer is scared of rejection. If I could go back and talk to myself as a kid, I’d tell him that it will be okay. All the struggle will amount to something. The people who have cycled in and out of your life all had their reasons and it was nothing against you. The first publication will feel as good as the first big one.

It takes birth and growing up to face loss and resurrection.

I’d tell myself to make the most of the years because they will pass too fast and you’ll find yourself sitting in front of a laptop typing a blog post while your own kids sleep in their beds. That the dreams will keep coming, the calling will get louder and more clear, that you will make a difference and the words will count for something in the end.

That it is never over, so many years later, and the fight is worth stepping into the ring even when you don’t have the energy to leave the lockers.

~Matt

The Job Effect

It is ironic that the name of the one man from the Bible associated with suffering is spelled exactly the same as “job”, the one thing that can cause a large amount of suffering from Monday to Friday, but I digress.

In case you’ve forgotten your Sunday School, Job was a guy seen in high regard by God. One day, the devil makes an appearance in heaven challenges God. He makes a bet, that if Job is shaken he will renounce his faith.  God believes so much in his servant that he allows it to happen.

The losses move fast.  Money, provision, the death of family and the scorn of friends.  Job persists in faith until the devil asks God to touch his health. God allows it and suffering rains down.  Finally, Job looks to the sky with open hands and asks:

WHY?

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God replies in a perfect defense, asking where Job was at the creation of the universe and, on what grounds does he question his situation.  We read that Job repents and is restored more than what he had lost in the beginning.

If it was only that easy.

There are times when it feels like every fiber of your life is under attack.  Nothing is safe.  From faith to family and finances, health to stability.  You get hammered from all sides.  Friends show up, as they did with Job, and question the causes.  They look down on you and wonder what you did to deserve it.

The days feel like a cosmic game, like you are moving around a board waiting for the next strike.

Two things we can learn from Job.  First, God defended him before any loss and suffering.  He was highly regarded, in the same position we are as followers of Jesus seen through the grace of his sacrifice. Secondly, Job was allowed to question.  God could have ended the story in a moment.  Job was still breathing for a reason.  He needed to step into his restoration found only through repentance.

The attacks will come. Cars break down, health fails, stress and conflict build.  You look at the one you love and you are arguing for no reason.  Your kids are wild and suddenly you don’t have the energy to fight.

God’s answer to Job is our own.  Take a minute and read the list he lays out in Job 38-42. All things are possible.  Our restoration is not a challenge for the one holding the universe in his hands.

The sun comes up tomorrow. When you look in the mirror, you have a choice.  Climb back in bed or keep going. Run or fight. Fear or faith. Be scared or be strong. It is not a sprint, it is a marathon that starts in one step.  Make it count.

~Matt

 

The Secret to Life

It is easy to get discouraged.

I met with two friends this week, both guys married and in the midst of careers.  We each go through our days and nights with family and, in our own way, we have struggles.  They can be rough jobs, stressful kids, not enough money or the weight of the future.

We break it down and encourage each other and there are moments when we need to understand the essence of faith.

Paul tells us:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Our walk is a choice.

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In the age where faith becomes a derogatory term and a political coin, we must break it down. Do we follow the one who is alive? Do we know that, after this life, is something greater?

Do we live with the power of the resurrection inside (Romans 8:11)?

That changes our life:

~God works through every conversation.

~Adversity is overcome to reveal glory.

~Struggle transforms us through refining power.

~Hope is constant.

~Prayer is war.

~Our calling puts a dent in the universe and changes eternity.

~Dreams are radar. Visions become our compass.

~Worship never ends.

I’m praying for this is my life and the life of our family.  How does that list make you feel?  Nervous? Excited? Scared? Remember, he is alive and this life is available for everyone willing to follow the path and change the world.

 

Suspension of Disbelief

Edgar Allen Poe created fiction that defined a genre. He made the literary rounds of his time, eventually dying mysteriously in the city of Baltimore  and starting a tradition where followers would leave a black rose on his grave for the anniversary of his death. I have a Collected Works of Poe on my bookshelf.

When he ventured into writing about writing itself, he gave us the idea of suspension of disbelief.  It was the dividing line when a reader gives in to a story no matter the content.  The lovers cause your heart to race, the stormy night makes the corners a little darker, and the fanciful world seems like it is just outside your door.

Think of your favorite book or movie.

Odds are it is a story with a quick suspension of disbelief.  Whether a space opera, teen post apocalyptic fantasy, or guy building a baseball field to connect with his dead father. The themes of great stories cross over into our lives and provide an escape that keep us coming back to turn the page or see the movie just one more time.

mirror-light-black-glassToday didn’t feel like one of those days.

Maybe you went to a job you don’t like, clocked in and out, and drove home to go through the motions.  Maybe your spouse or loved one didn’t acknowledge you when you walked through the door, the house is a mess, the cushions are off the couch for the 1000th time as portable gym mats while your kids do flips from the couch (not that I speak from experience, or anything).

Maybe the paycheck arrived and it is already spent. The student loans pile up. The lenders are calling and the car is two months behind an oil change, but getting one means taking time you don’t have and money you don’t have.

So something has to suffer.

How do we learn to love our own stories?

Embrace the characters- Your circle will expand and contract as the years pass. People come and go but some will stay forever. Find those who make your life full; the dreamers and visionaries, the creatives and the ones that make you laugh.  Find joy and the hearts it inhabits.  Bring these people close and, when you do, look out for others who could use some joy in their own lives.  Expand your circle and make a difference.

Embrace the conflict- It will not always be clear or easy. Some of the most powerful conflict has shifting lines of allegiance.  In one of my favorite novels, The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, the conflict is between the author, his lover, and her husband. All sides falter and the humanity of the characters draws you in. When conflict comes, you have two choices.  You can run or fight. There is no other option. I tend to procrastinate and, really, it is only another form of running. As the saying goes, if you aren’t moving forward you are falling behind.  Always keep moving forward.

Embrace the crescendo– The hero is down on the mat and the ref is counting to ten. The bases are loaded with two strikes in the bottom of the ninth. The big presentation is due and the PowerPoint file is corrupted.

Thunder sounds over a trio of crosses on a hill so many years ago.

You’ll know when it happens.  We are all called to a crescendo, to a taste of the edge, to the point where all seems lost. We are called to suffering.

That may make some uncomfortable.  It is not a popular message in a world of quick fixes, success strategies, coaching courses and prosperity ministries. You won’t find too many graphics at the local Christian book store with the phrase behind an artistic sunrise print.

We suffer because we are being refined as part of the Greatest Story Ever Told. We suffer because we follow the one who went before us.

We suffer because we are called to do great things, to change lives and spark a movement that will electrify the world.

You may be facing a crescendo right now as you read this.

If you are, I pray you find courage to stand and be in the moment. I pray you love your story and walk forward with suspension of disbelief. As you wake tomorrow, look with new eyes and know you are a part of something so much bigger. Embrace the flow of the story, the characters and the conflict and start writing your own fresh pages.

~Matt

 

The Gift of 10 Lessons Learned

One of the most valuable things we can do this time of year is reflect on lessons learned.  As the quote from Socrates goes, the unexamined life is not worth living. Val and I have both felt the pangs of growing pains, that we are nearing transition.  As 2016 arrives and I shift to marketing my current book project, I feel the tension of expectation.

Looking back, this year has carried with it many valuable lessons.

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From Carter-When you have a chance, run.

From Aiden-Sometimes nothing is better than a snuggle on the couch under a blanket while you watch Tumble Leaf.

From Val-Your heart can grow big enough to handle the stresses of life.

From Hazel, my grandmother who was called home to heaven to be with my grandfather this year-Be prepared. A gallon of fresh homemade iced tea can go far.

From our pastor, Bryan Koch, and the story of his accident-You can worship in the midst of pain, stand in the midst of sorrow, and offer grace and hope when it seems that none are possible.

From the friends and colleagues I’ve met working on the book-Never underestimate the power of unity, service, selfless love, and the drive of people working to make a difference.

From my dad-Always say, “I love you” before you hang up the phone.

From my mom-Know what you are having for dinner.

From the kids I’ve helped coach in baseball and basketball-We all get a chance to hit or take the shot, when it is your time be sure to make it count.

From God-You are never alone.

What was your greatest lesson this year?

~Matt

Stung

I’m typing this on the table in our hotel room. The boys are in bed. Val is watching a movie on the television.  Twelve hours ago I was talking to coworkers about our situation and almost lost it, tears waiting just under the surface.  Our gas line should be fixed tomorrow.  Construction to repair our house will begin in three to four weeks. The project should take three weeks or so to complete, not counting painting.

The house should be back to normal around February.

Just before Aiden went to bed, I let him talk to my mother on the phone.  He asked her if she could come to the hotel and then said:

“My house is broken.”

As I laid with him to help him go to sleep I apologized.  He looked at me and said he loved me and a long day finally came to an end.

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The feeling of guilt isn’t easy.  Val decorated our living room in an attempt to have some normalcy.  The boys will have Christmas in the midst of construction. They are excited and acting up as Val and I beg them to calm.

The tragedies of life sting deeply.

On Sunday, our pastor talked about helping people find hope this season. People should see hope in us and want the same. When the tank is empty and the mountains keep getting higher, hope is not our natural reaction.

Yet, I’m standing on the promise of good things on the other side.  We will come out of this stronger and more unified than before.  Our house will get back to normal and we will function without construction and damage soon.

Broken things will heal.

So tonight I keep putting these thoughts down.  A year from now I’ll read this post and understand.

Tonight, it hurts.

Tomorrow, recovery begins. If you are dealing with something today, this week, or this month I pray you find the same.  I pray you see hope and know you are not alone.  We are there with you, together.

~Matt

The Purpose of Water

I sat up in bed on Wednesday morning a few minutes before the alarm.  Aiden was sleeping next to me.  I walked into the bathroom and the floor was soaked.

It took a moment to sink in.

The toilet had clogged somehow during the night (it was clear when I went to sleep) and ran all night.  I jogged down the stairs to find Aiden’s carpet soaked and water leaking from his ceiling and the ceiling of the bathroom directly under ours.  On the entry level, part of the ceiling had fallen down in our dining room and kitchen.

I called our insurance agency and they sent out a Fire and Water Restoration company. For the last two days, we’ve attempted to live around the noise of multiple industrial fans working to dry out the wood and prepare for the reconstruction.

They estimated $70,000 in damage.

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The experience so far has given me an appreciation for people living in areas where stuff like tornadoes and floods happen more often. There’s a numbness to disaster, an autopilot that kicks in when you realize that a problem needs to be handled.

We’ve been blessed to deal with professionals every step of the way, from insurance company to construction guys.

As I’m typing this, the fans blast around me and a few lessons have emerged.

The small stuff matters.  At what point in the night did the volume of water get high enough to creep into the walls? The level rose gradually until it expanded and started doing damage.  As a family, we’ve put things off with the excuse of fear, exhaustion, or lack of money/time/resource, etc. Those deferred desires and callings build until they start doing damage and impacting your lives as parents and spouses. Cut off problems when they start before they overflow and the structure you built falls apart.

A crew is vital. Within an hour of reporting the damage, we had help at our door. In isolation, we’d still be lost.  Reaching out is sometimes the hardest thing to do, yet it is a key to success.  Build a team, consult with professionals, work problems together. If you don’t know, find someone who does. Trusted experts are keys to rebuilding and starting fresh.

Take inventory. I am a huge fan of this in all parts of life.  In the midst of disaster, we must take inventory.  The claims adjuster gave me a form to report losses of property.  It is an awkward feeling to assign value to your departed stuff, yet it shouldn’t take destruction to make it happen.  Take time to determine what really matters and how much it is worth.

Have an insurance policy. We’re looking at a small deductible but, after that, all other costs will be paid. Do you know where to turn in the midst of a crisis? Where do you find hope? As followers of Jesus, we know the instruction from Peter in the bible when he tells us to have an answer ready when people question our hope. Tonight I know this fix is out of my hands and it is a good feeling, faith and investment now for the issues to come.

We made it through this alive, safe, and able to sleep here at night.  I couldn’t ask for much more as I restart the work on this book and preparation for publication in 2016.  If you haven’t yet, feel free to follow me on here or through your email.

The ride only gets better

~Matt

 

When Going Home is Hard to Do

“The Prodigal Son”

The phrase carries instant meaning in society.  The son returns to the family after a time away.  It is used to mean anyone returning home physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

Yesterday, in church, we talked about the story in Luke 15.

For those unfamiliar, the younger son of a family asks for his inheritance so he can go on and live his life.  He takes off, disowning his father, and spurns his money on worldly pursuits. When he finally hits poverty, he goes home and is accepted by his father with open arms.  He’s given a robe, sandals, a signet ring and acceptance.

The message is an allegory of grace and faith, the idea that all are welcome home even if they’d strayed from their foundation.

What if going home isn’t that easy?

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Our souls long for a place of permanence. We’ve taken the concept of home and weighted it with meaning, looking down on the homeless, the outcast and refugee. We circle our wagons and protect our homes.

When the economy collapsed in 2008, many homes were lost to debt and disarray.

Growing up I always loved my home.  Val’s family moved many times over the years to different homes. We often talk about our boys growing up here.  Do we want them to stay in this school district? This neighborhood?

Carter told us, the other night, that he’ll miss this place when the time comes to move.  Part of me, that little kid such a homebody, feels bad for him.

For some of us, home was hell.

Nights were nightmares. Days were long, hot, physically and emotionally difficult.  At the first chance to run, we took it and never looked back.  If you are one of those people, how do you read the prodigal son? I mean, who cares if you can go home again when it was the lowest point in your life?

I think there’s another side of the story.

Going home is about finding yourself. When we experience trauma, we set up bottom lines as motivation. Poverty can give us drive and hustle to never live that way again. The shadows of abuse can make us better parents and spouses. The harm of betrayal keeps us honest and true.

Going home is about stepping into a calling that existed from the moment you were conceived.   It is about facing down the ghosts of the past and understanding they are not you and you are not them. It is about acceptance by a Creator with open arms and endless grace.

If going home this week is too hard, step back and take a moment. See where you are and not where you were. Be thankful for the strength and life you have and know what is waiting.  You can, and you will, make it through.

~Matt