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?

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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.

 

 

 

10 Lies We Tell Ourselves as Fathers

1/I am ready. You are never ready.  From the moment I held Carter for the first time, I knew my life had changed. No amount of guidebooks, movies, or internet research can prepare you for having a kid.

2/My kid will be a copy of me. Some of you may luck out on this.  I did not.  I have dark hair and brown eyes.  My boys are a blonde and a red-head and their personalities are polar opposites of my own in many ways.  Some nights I shake my head and wonder where they came from.

3/My marriage will stay the same. Kids start you on a process of discovery.  Your time is now split and your love has grown deeper and wider than you could ever imagine.  Now, what to do with it?  You were a team and now you are a unit. Days are blank slates and you must rewrite the script every morning.

4/My wife can take care of it. I’m guilty of this.  When you add kids in the mix of work, money, family, faith, and health things can fall to the side. When you have a wife who takes care of things, it can be tempting to let it go.  Be sure to step up and do your part.

5/My wife can take care of it (part 2). There is a phrase thrown around in faith circles of being a servant-leader. In the midst of the noise, it can easy to forget to take the time.  We should be talking about life, faith, disappointment, hope, love, joy, and salvation whenever we can to our kids. We should start them on the right waters and help guide their spiritual journey into the future.

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6/The sun will always shine. There will be fights.  The first time your kid looks at you in anger, you will never forget it.  You may think you’re a great dad but all it takes is a wrong answer to a question and it will set things off.  Disappointment is okay. Your kids need to experience negative emotions and learn how to process them. This is the hard part; give them permission to ride out the storm.  It will be valuable in the end.

7/Stuff is enough. A pile of toys only leads to more piles of toys. Eventually the interest fades and the gap must be filled with something. You can’t buy them off because the void will continue to grow. It is at the point where Val and I seriously limit gifts.  Experiences are more important.  Objects pass but memories will live on.

8/No second chance. Your kids are not your chance to “make things right.”  Too many people maneuver their children to sports or other endeavors to live out everything that did not happen in their own lives.  We hold up the past against our kids and vow to not make the same mistakes again.  This is fine as long as we understand they are their own person and a new story waiting to be written, even with influences from the past.

9/No measuring stick. Get a group of dads together and what happens? The talk will move from marriages to jobs and eventually kids. Achievements will come up, sports, talents, schoolwork, whatever it may be.  Don’t fall into the trap. Let your kids stand for themselves and let their accomplishments come up in conversation from other sources. Don’t be that guy, that trophy parent.

10/Never break the mold. You are allowed to cry, to laugh, to be embarrassed in public and play on the playground.  You are allowed to hug your kids, pick them up and spin them around before throwing them on your shoulders. Maybe your dad never did this with you but, in the end, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it with your kids.  Start a new family tradition and have the courage to see it through.

Never Give Up

I remember, almost twenty years ago, going on the first date with my wife.  I remember our first movie together. I remember holding hands and driving around for hours as we soaked up every single second of new love.

We would walk around the mall and window shop furnishings for our future home. We’d stop and get frozen yogurt parfait cups at this little stand inside the mall and sit on a bench watching people walk by.

We had hope for the future.

Future that included picking out a wedding ring and the thrill of a proposal, the excitement of being new parents, and discovering who we were as we grew up from teenagers to adults.

Today the most dangerous thing we can do, as people and as a country, is lose hope.

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I believe in the power of change. I believe something better is on the horizon.

Somewhere in a room, in a city, a young man or woman is deciding to grow up and run for political office.  They will revolutionize the country with a platform of unity, peace and love.

Somewhere in a patrol car a police officer is making the choice to go out for another shift and do what is right even with a target on their back and today, in this moment, they will save a life that will start a movement and turn the tide against hate and division.

Somewhere on a playground a kid will look up from a text message to see bullying and put down their phone to stop it, changing the life of the victim and giving them hope that there is still good in the world and people do care.

Somewhere a shopper in a grocery store will buy some extra items of food and drive it to a friend or coworker in need.

Someone will find the courage to leave their apartment after months alone.

A terminal diagnosis will be reversed with healing that cannot be explained.

A father will come home.

A mother will find strength she didn’t know she had and stand up to lead her family.

A son will put down the needle and call for help.

A young couple will lock eyes across a bookstore and start a conversation that leads to laughter and a spark of connection.

I believe in hope for now. In powerful, positive change. There is always a reason to fight, to stand up against darkness and show it we will not sit quietly, to break the cycle of anger and make a difference.

I believe the time has come.

~Matt

 

The Journey

Tonight Val and Carter leave for a long drive to Florida.  They are headed to her family reunion.  Heading back home from dropping them off, crossing under the night sky in the midst of lightning, my mind went to the concept of the Journey.

As writers we talk about the Hero’s Journey. We know that stories follow a certain flow and that, most great ones, keep to this formula.  Sometimes you’ll find a fresh take that will catch on but, looking back, the main points are the same.

On Sunday we went to the cemetery to visit the graves of my grandparents.  I stood over the marker bearing my grandfather’s name, a small American flag blowing in the wind just above it.

I thought of the days we’d spent together.

He would take me fishing in the morning, park his old truck on the side of the road, and lead me around a pond large enough that we could have room to cast our lines. We’d get home to find my grandmother had made lunch; turkey sandwiches and fresh iced tea, and we’d sit on the porch.

He’d tell me about the war, about battles and marching for miles up the middle of Italy.

We had just told him about Val being pregnant with Aiden before he was called home to Heaven.

His journey had ended as mine continued.

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The process is a double-edged sword. I get intimidated at the thought of what my boys will remember about growing up.  It is inspiring to think of the road that remains and the work still to be done.

I know God isn’t finished with us.

I wish I’d learned to grasp his my grandfather’s sense of peace.  He faced down enemies attempting to take his life, seen things I couldn’t have imagined, and was able to take his only grandson fishing on quiet mornings.

I wish I’d learned his strength. When he spoke, you listened.  It was the virtue of a man of few words.  He was a rock, in my memory, for better or worse a member of the generation that raised men without the attacks of today’s societal forces.

I’m working on learning his storytelling.  In two sentences he’d given me an image: his back against a low concrete wall with chips of it flying in his face as bullets hit above. He was on a front line attack attempting to liberate a village of people he hadn’t known and would never see again, in the midst of a war that had taken him away from a wife and two children.

When he spoke, I could see it.

Tonight, I pray your journey is also inspiring.  I pray you have a past you can draw from for strength, inspiration, or the anger to push through when you are on the last moment energy. Have courage.

Write your hero in a dark spot and watch them fight their way out.

Know that you will do the same.

~Matt

 

Invested

We live in a world of noise.

Over the past week, I’ve worked in an office spot that allowed me a view of a waiting room television. It stays on one channel throughout the week, the local ABC affiliate, and the day is a cycle of news and talk shows.

Everyone has an agenda. Nothing is unbiased. Between shootings and alligators taking children, Florida is in the midst of a horrific stretch.

I’ve subscribed to a few different newsletters and one gave me something valuable on Wednesday.  It included a free copy of Steven Pressfield’s new book, No One Wants to Read Your Sh*t and What You Can do About It.

I loved his book, The War of Art and this is another powerhouse about writing. His opening chapters make a powerful point.

No one wants to hear what you have to say.

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There is a solution to this problem, according to Pressfield.

Know your concept. Inject it with emotion. Make it unique. Make it stand out.

We often write, and speak, to hear ourselves talk.  We stand on our message and think, for the sake of our own importance, it will automatically spread like wildfire.

Some marriages and families operate like this for years.

Emotion, and honesty, are risks. What if we lived like we had to earn our audience? How would that change our communication? How would it shape our stories?

This weekend, think about investing value into your days. Make the conversations and experiences count.

As a husband and father, I’m trying my best with Val and the boys. I’m trying my best with myself, looking into the mirror and being honest, having faith, and keeping the courage to move forward.

If you are alive and reading this, your story isn’t over yet. Make it count.

~Matt

 

Chapter 1

For the summer, I’ve decided to post some creative works on the blog as a change of pace.  Here is Chapter 1 for a novel in progress.  Let me know what you think and I hope you enjoy it! Follow and stay tuned as the story continues and more chapters are posted.

 

SOUTH

                The sun was no different.  When the old men gathered at the diner, they talked of years past, of summers and flowers that bloomed sending perfumed air across the entire neighborhood. They spoke of family reunions and sharing stories, times when that kind of thing still happened.

This afternoon the men gathered at the baseball field.

The grass was browned and crisp, weeds punching through the dirt infield. The teams were not even and the men were amazed that the kids had enough will to show up.  They shared two bats and three gloves.  The ball was scuffed and the laces loosened with every hit.

Still, they played.

The field backed to a high school building that was no more than bricks and broken glass. Pock marks from automatic weapons scarred the standing walls.  Mortar shells reflected the sunlight as they emerged with the erosion of wind.

The building blocked the sound of the approaching Security Transport Vehicle.

Wilbur Robbins, a fine hunter in another life, looked towards the school when he felt the vibration through his boots. The metal bleachers were excellent conductors.

“We have company,” he said.  The four other men turned to his comment.

Ray Davis leaned on the fence to watch his boy Dalton pitch.  He lowered his head and spit on the grass, rubbing it in as puffs of dirt emerged from his efforts. As the youngest in the crowd, not counting the kids, he’d be responsible for what was happening. He pulled his Colt from the holster and quickly checked the magazine.

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The gun was a gift from the war in Afghanistan.  It came with a new leg and a new mind where shadows shifted into enemy soldiers and backfiring cars became incoming rounds. He had emerged from the war a different man.  Silence was addicting.

Dalton had been the hand to pull him out of the fire.

He was an accident, a miracle really.  The hospital was under truce from the antiquated UN regulations. Sandy started in labor at midnight.  He had loaded her in their truck and shot across fields and highways in the midst of a driving thunderstorm. Hail pinged off the hood. The windshield cracked.  He slowed at a checkpoint and, when the soldier saw Sandy screaming in the passenger’s seat, he was waved through.

The parking lot of the hospital had no empty spots so he pulled the truck to the curb.  A young nurse noticed his waving and ran out to meet him.  In a minute, they had a gurney out in the rain, loading Sandy on it and rolling back inside.

Five hours later, he held the little boy in his hands.  The storm passed and he stood by the hospital window. A moon emerged.  Helicopters on patrol crossed the moon and cast shadows onto his face as the boy slept in his arms.

These thoughts faded as the STV stopped behind them.  Two men, by the sound of it, wearing regulation armor and holding automatic weapons.  The kids had stopped playing and turned to watch.  The old men were silent.

“Keep your hands visible.” The order came from over his shoulder.  The gun felt heavy on his hip. “You people are gathering outside the approved time.”

The footsteps crunched closer on the dirt.  Five more paces and they would be at this back.

“Where’s your identification?”

Three steps.

“You hear me? Identify yourself.”

“Staff Sergeant Ray Davis.”

One laughed. The other joined in.

“You are yesterday’s news, hoss. Scraps of paper in the wind.  No more need for war.”

He felt breath on the back of his neck.  In a moment, they would confiscate his gun and haul him off.

“That’s right, we are peace now.” The exhale carried the scent of coffee and tobacco.  It reminded him of the past. They were playing off each other, this pair, probably spouting the same routine with every search and seizure.

The bleachers shifted.  Ray lifted his head to the sun and grasped warmth for a moment.  He looked at Dalton.

“Go home kids.  You know you shouldn’t be here.”

They scattered.  Dalton stood on the mound.  He dropped his glove and it hit the dirt.

Revolutions start with the striking of a match, with a leader rising up at the right time in the right place. 

His friend Jensen would get drunk at night and howl at the moon, spouting off his impromptu history lessons enough that he’d gotten the nickname the Professor, until an IED relieved him of his tenure.  He left behind a different world.

“Hand over your gun.”

“I have a permit.”

Dalton took a step closer.  Ray shook his head slowly, enough that he could be sure the message was clear. They had spoken about this, about an emergency. All the drills and the years had passed.  At least he would see what the boy learned.

“You know you can’t carry in public.  Those permits don’t mean shit anymore.  Hand it over.”

Ray slowly moved to the holster.  He felt the familiar imprint of a barrel in the back of his neck.  The smell of gun oil hung thick in the air.  One of the old men coughed.

“Don’t get pretty.”

He raised his hands.  The guy pulled the gun out of the holster.  He spun to see their faces, only finding a pair of his reflections back in tinted sunglasses. Their uniforms were black, the three wave symbol reflecting the sunlight in silver bars on their chests.

“Two violations from what I can see.  First, gathering in public without a permit.  Second, this is the weekend.  You rest on the weekend, get it? That means nothing like this little fiasco.”

He did the math.  If they decided to take him in, it would be months. Two strikes in one shot.

“Judge not, right fellas?”

They laughed.  Dalton was by his shoulder now.  He could feel it.  His boy carried a presence beyond his years.  He took up space like some men do, without saying a word.

“This your boy?”

“Yes sir.”

“What’s your name?”

“Dalton.”

“Dalton Davis take note.  Today you could have lost your father for a year. We take our jobs seriously.  Understand?”

Dalton nodded.

“Good.  Then you’ll also understand that we can’t leave without some kind of punishment.  It would be, how should I say it, unbalanced.”

The gunshot caused a flock of crows to starlings to emerge from the line of trees in the distance. Ray felt a pain like fire shoot from his only good knee straight up to gather behind his forehead.  His foot gave way and he fell to the ground.

“This is your warning boys.  We know all.  This is our territory.  We better not see you out here again.  Son, go get your old man some help.  He’ll need it.”

Dalton watched the STV leave the field.

One of the old men said something about the hospital.  He walked to his truck as fast as his legs could move in the heat.

Ray bit down on his hand to try to redirect the pain.  His jeans felt wet where the blood came through the denim and started to spread across the dust. A siren sounded in the distance.

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