zero k

I’m currently reading the book Zero K by Don DeLillo.  A lit professor back at West Chester University introduced me to DeLillo’s work.  It was a semester where I’d discover him, Paul Auster and Martin Amis, a trilogy of authors I still read whenever the inspiration tank is running low.

Zero K is the story of a family led by a wealthy patriarch. He develops the technology to make cryogenic resurrection a possibility. The patriarch calls his son to his compound, the base of the cryogenic facility, for the day his stepmother will be frozen.

The father tells his son that he’s decided to be frozen himself, to kill himself the day she goes in.  After a heated conversation, the son walks out of his office.  The next morning he finds his father a mess and in mourning.

He asks him why he didn’t go through with it.  The father replies:

“It was our conversation yesterday.  You said, if I do it, I reduce you.”

In one sentence, DeLillo captures the essence of being a parent and traveling a spiritual journey.

A photo by Maarten van den Heuvel. unsplash.com/photos/MM5rpMpC9k4

When children come, we find ourselves balancing their needs with our own. I posted last time about my cousin, still waiting a heart transplant at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital down in Philly.  My aunt is staying there, living at the hospital in daily anticipation.

My aunt has spent her career as a nurse still, years after retirement, substituting in local school districts.  She put in her time enough to have a place at the Delaware beaches and, yet, she’s here keeping vigil in my cousin’s room.

So many years had passed in both of their lives, good times and turbulent times, and tonight they sit together one strengthened by the other. The parent refusing to reduce the child by walking away.

Some of us, looking back, see walking away as a necessary part of growing up.

The house of our families had broken down enough to destroy any chance that we’d trust again. We keep everyone at a distance. We live in our stress, sitting in quiet times with racing minds and pounding pulses.

As men, we internalize.

I was taking Alka-Seltzer at fifteen.

Even with our preconceptions, God tells us the same message.  We are meant for greater things. We are meant for a life of adventure, danger, creation, thrills, victory, and stories grand enough to glorify the one that spoke the Universe into being.

God tells us the same thing.

Even when everyone else has walked away, turned their back, stopped calling and blanked us in silence. Even when darkness seems liquid and thick enough to fill a room.  Even when hope is four letters without meaning.

God will not walk away.

Without God, we are reduced to the fumes of our humanity.  With God, we burn in the flame of perfect love.

Whether in a hospital room, putting our kids to sleep, holding hands on the couch, or walking down a fall forest trail, we are never alone.

Tonight, I pray you find peace. Find faith as a verb and not a noun and hear your calling to so much more.

 

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Intersection

Val often tells me a story about how brother attending church.  Her brother is an extremely talented guy.  I knew him before I met her and we had some good times growing up.  Over the years, he had visited a church or two but never really found one he’d liked.

The story goes that he was visiting a church where the youth pastor happened to do the message that Sunday.  He did the sermon barefoot first off (something that would weird me out also) then started talking about how great his life was.

The moment you hear a supposed man or woman of God talk about how great their life is and how you never suffer as one who follows Jesus, feel free to get up and head towards the door.  You’d learn more about Jesus at the Dunkin Donuts down the road.

The church stigmatized anxiety in a world full of it.

There’s a line in one of my favorite Bret Easton Ellis novels, Lunar Park, that I loveThe gist of the book is Ellis writing himself as the main character with his creations coming to life, including killer Patrick Bateman from his most famous work, American Psycho.

His character states that, as he drove down the road, every intersection was one turn away from a car accident waiting to happen.

The thought has stuck with me for years as a dad and husband.  Many days the car accidents feel one intersection away.

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We are allowed to be anxious.  Yes, friends can rattle off verse after verse about faith and hope, where our help comes from and casting our cares on Jesus. These are all good things.

They can coexist with anxiety.

I heard a pastor once say that faith and fear can’t coexist.

He’s wrong.

I have days of both.  Some weeks Faith is called Monday and Fear is called Tuesday.

As men we often try to pad things.  If you are reading this and married to one of us, know that the waters run deeper than we show. For me it is a constant feeling of electric tension, like a power line running through my chest.  I check my phone more often, waiting for that text message or voicemail of bad news.

Even if none seems on the horizon.

Anxiety opens the door to voices that can try to sell you wrong messages. You start talking circles around the tension in an attempt to beat it down. The words build on the feeling and you end up back where you started, looking at the ceiling as the night drifts past.

If this is you tonight, know that the sun still comes up tomorrow.  The story isn’t over.  Your worries carry an important lesson.  They can be a compass towards a better future.

It takes one step to move forward.  I know it isn’t easy, but movement is the key.

Thomas, the one stating he would only believe Jesus had risen if he appeared in the Upper Room, he personified anxiety and was, by far, one of the most human disciples. He is us.

“Yeah I get it, he’s alive and all, when I see it, I’ll believe. When I touch his wounds, I’ll believe.”

Jesus appears and holds out his hand offering Thomas a chance to do what he asked.  Thomas had to reach out to make it happen.  He could have stayed in his feelings, even staring face to face with Jesus.

He chose to move and see his faith complete.

~Matt

Chasing the New

There are seven basic stories.

Every writing class I had, from college to grad school, I found at least one professor stating that old line. Seven stories told over and over. Our only hope, as writers, was to put our own spin on them. In On Writing, Stephen King says we develop a style as we read.  The end result is a mashup of our favorite authors combining to a unique voice.

This may be true in writing but it is not true in life.

We must never lose sight of the New.

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In Mark Batterson’s book, If, he recounts a moment that set his foundation for ministry in the years to come.  At a conference he had attended, the speaker said:

There are ways of doing church that has not been thought of yet.

The New is the line between fear and faith, sorrow and hope, doubt and assurance. It is the difference between the end and the _nd.

The New is the mystery.

I believe there are stories yet to be written, worship songs that will ignite a fire all across the world, ministries and charities that will change lives and provide for families. I believe there are ways of church waiting to be discovered, ways of worship only found in our dreams.

Zoom in.

Your story is not over. The _nd is not complete. Change is one choice at a time. One shift from if only to what if. One phone call, cup of coffee, meeting with a friend and plan with a spouse. One jog around the block, lifting of the dusty weight set, breaking out the easel and paints from college and opening your creative eye. It is the first choice against the addiction, depression, stress and sorrow.

There is another side, roads not taken, opportunities that will emerge as 2016 unfolds.

The New is chasing the calling, stepping towards discomfort as God stretches us into new territories of faith and guarding ourselves with the essential promise:

If God is for us, who can be against us?

~Matt

 

 

 

The Beginning of The _nd

The last post and this one combine to give you a preview of one of my upcoming projects.  Here is the introduction to The _nd, a story of transformation, redemption, and a life worth living. I hope you’ll hang in and follow as the story unfolds…

I got down to a knee on the gym floor facing a trio of first graders, my son Carter in the middle of them. The youth basketball game happened behind us. We were getting killed; I mean not even a competition, by a team older and more experienced. The boys were dejected in the special way that young boys can get, faces down, tears just hovering on the surface. I looked at them in the eye.

“It’s not over,” I said.

“Yes it is,” Carter told me. “If we were better, it would be different.”

My father logic searched for an answer. I tried to explain the thinking behind sports and competition, dipping towards an eternal lesson they could take into their adult lives. I pictured them accepting awards one day saying, “this guy that helped my basketball team when I was younger, he told me…”

The best I could do was something about small victories, about taking a fight one step at a time. They nodded. I added some of the usual sports clichés, patted them on their respective shoulders, and went back to yelling instructions at our players across the gym.

How many of us are sitting on the sidelines, heads down, looking to get out?

The opposition seems bigger, stronger, more experienced. The score is not in our favor. It may be real numbers like age or finances. It may be a force like an addiction that will not go away. We try and try, putting in our best shifts on the court, yet nothing works.

So we limp over and wait for the final buzzer.

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This project is about more than motivation. I’m not throwing on my spiritual Richard Simmons workout gear. This is about a major shift in our narratives.

For every life is a story.

We are born with divine purpose, called to dreams beyond our belief and comprehension. We are meant to push our limits, exceed expectations, and feed off endless hope.

Then our past kicks in.

We grow and build the stories around us. The first lines often come from parents, positively and negatively. Kids internalize everything. They remember and start shaping stories early

When conflicts come, it is these stories they fall back on. If they are flawed, which humanity dictates they will be, fear and anxiety result.

We must start listening to a new voice. One that tells us the ending has yet to be written on our lives, that we can break free and start fresh, that we can push towards higher destinations on the journey….

Stay tuned and check back as we continue this path of the unwritten ending.  Share with anyone you know needing some hope and I pray you’ll find some too along the way.

~Matt

The Gift of Showing Up

This week I’ve been praying for God to show up.  Not in a Christmas story, angels in the sky kind of way.  Just in a moment or two where the divine breaks through the atmosphere and you can feel it.

This time of year it is way too easy to phone it in. We pack our weeks with activities, shopping, preparation, and stress.  The push is on to get that last gift, stock up on the required groceries, and finish remaining deadlines before the new year.

As a writer, and a dad, I tend to live in my head.  The internal conversation started when I was young, growing up an only child, and helped me tap into the words that became short stories, novellas, and finally novels.  Stephen Gaghan, writer of the movie Traffic, said that everyone who wants to write has a desire to explain themselves to the world.  I rehearsed this inside my head for decades.

Because the truth can be scary. Emotions can scar. Fear can paralyze. Moments of genuine experience hit like hammers and leave us euphoric or reeling in the aftermath.

They light the fire of our souls.

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God has shown up this week and answered my prayers in multiple ways. Yesterday, I met more than one person struggling to make it this month, but held up and hanging on by their faith. Last night and today Carter had the chance to play with good friends and practice the sports he loves.

I was honored to have someone witness to me today. We talked about faith and they told me to lean on Jesus every day because we need it, every day, to survive.

The Gift of Showing Up works on two levels.  First, make the effort to slow down and be present these next two weeks. Enjoy the quiet moments. Reflect on what has happened, the fact that you’ve survived, and the hope of the future. Play with your kids. Talk to your spouse. Make it count.

Second, you’ll be surprised where and when God will arrive.  Tonight I met with my friend Sherry, director of Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center.  I updated her on the progress of my current book project.  We talked about family and friends, the daily process of an outreach organization, and the courage to keep coming back.

She shared stories of clients surviving in the journey of parenting, education, and escaping the web of poverty. She is a woman of hope, one that has shown me God every time we’ve met.

Find people like this and be sure to spend time with them.  They will equip you to go out and shine the light of hope to others.

You’ll truly understand the power and gift of showing up.

~Matt

 

Three Ways to End Your Fear

Don’t be afraid.

The statement is repeated numerous times in the Bible. We are told, despite our natural instinct, not to fear. Fear, to me, was never paralyzing.  It is more a cold, blank sensation.

When Aiden was born, I stood in the delivery room and watched the nurses clean him off (a scheduled c-section). They hooked him to an oxygen monitor and I watched as his numbers started at 96 and gradually fell to 80. In this span of minutes, a NICU doctor was called in and they decided to give him a bed in the NICU.

He stayed almost a week before the fluid was clear from his lungs and stomach.

I’ll never forget watching those numbers fall and the glances the nurses exchanged with each other as he struggled to breathe. The fear in my heart implanted the images in my soul.

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Fear can be a catalyst.  When you stand at the Red Sea watching it part, you have two choices.  You can stay in danger or walk forward, facing the perceived greater danger, and see what happens. The unknown, even between walls of water, can unleash greatness on the other side.

Fear can be a dream. I remember having nightmares growing up.  One night a pair of cats were fighting outside my window.  The growls, scratches, and screams were surreal and seemed to be getting closer and closer. The darkness itself can bring condemnation and anxiety.  For some, dark nights carried the promise of no heat or electricity, hunger, or an abusive spouse or parent. In dreams, remember you will wake up. The sun will split the night and rise in the morning.

Fear can be control. This is the most dangerous. You are called.  Maybe it is a mission trip. Maybe a friend whose marriage is failing, maybe a family member mired in addiction. Maybe it is the business you are meant to start, the product that will change the world, the idea that can make a difference.  God puts this on your heart and you look in the mirror.

The small voice tells you that you can’t do it.  Not you. Not now.

What if you fail? Think of the laughter, the condemnation, the wasted time, money, and effort.

What if it all falls apart?

This fear is vanquished through community.  Find friends and colleagues making the same journey.  Look for resources in person and in the digital universe.  Find hope in a mentor who has been there already.  Find power in the permission to let yourself chase your dream.

Break the control of fear. The failure of not trying is always greater than giving it a shot. Step in the ring. You’ll be surprised at what can happen when fear is beaten down and destroyed. Even if you need to do it every day, it is worth the fight.

~Matt

Prayer Request Saturday

Maybe you woke up sick this morning like I did.  Maybe the kids didn’t sleep or your spouse was out all night with friends. Maybe the week was too long at a job without enough pay doing something you don’t love.

One of my favorite works of literature is Dante’s Inferno, part of the Divine Comedy. The poem tells of a journey through hell and it starts with the narrator getting lost in the woods.

You may be standing in your own woods this morning.

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This post is an offer.  No sales, no SEO or products.  From the time you read this through midnight Sunday, I’ll be checking in.

If there is anything you’d like prayer for, please let me know in a comment here, on Facebook, or any other social media channels.

I know and I believe that prayer is powerful.  We’ve seen God answer our petitions more than once these last few months and I know he will do the same for you.

I want to say thank you to everyone who has followed this blog and this story so far.  Great things are coming and I’m excited to write about them as they develop in the coming weeks.

Today, Saturday 11/7/2015, is for anyone who reads this and may be struggling.  I’ll be praying for you. For as our pastor says, just months after the motorcycle accident that took his left leg and the life of his wife, there is no Plan B.  Our faith is Plan A and it is the only plan.

I look forward to hearing from you and, if you feel pulled, offer up the chance to pray for your family, friends, and readers.  Let this weekend be about a reconnect, about a movement back to faith and hope.

Have a great rest of your weekend and you’ll be in my prayers.

~Matt

 

Failure is Not an Option

I just started reading a book this weekend by Lewis Howes called The School of Greatness.  Howes is an athlete and entrepreneur.  He has an inspiring story and great podcast that I highly recommend.  In the chapter I read last night, he posed this challenge:

Imagine what your life would look like if you knew you could never fail.

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Fear can be crippling, whether we fear success or failure. We can be scared to break out of the box of our own expectations and those of our family. We grow up listening to the narratives that swirl around us.  It takes drive and effort to break the trend and stand out, to tell the ghosts of the pasts that they don’t have any power in the present or the future.

This weekend, as you hand out candy and dress up in costumes, take a moment and picture your life without failure.  What would you do, how would you change, what would you create? What impact would you make in this world that longs for someone to come and change things?

What legacy would you leave?

Make plans and, when Monday comes, take the first step towards a new future.  I know I will.

~Matt

Finding Freedom from Timing

Ever feel like you’ve missed the party?

As writers, we get this more often than we’d like to admit.  We kick around a novel idea in our heads until the next big hit sounds too close for comfort. Our friends nail their first big publication when we’re still chasing ours. A family member lands a promotion.

We send out thirty submissions and, even with an acceptance, wonder about the twenty-nine others that rejected us. We look in the mirror and question if we’re doing the right thing. Life seems to flow past in rapids as we stand in the midst of the stream watching the reflection of the sun on the water.

The impact can range from annoying to paralyzing, yet there is a way out.

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I met with a friend of mine this week, Brian Kelly, one of the minds working to make Reading a better place.  He spoke about bringing people together to the table to have conversations that may be awkward. He said how everyone deserves a voice, even if they aren’t comfortable in the environment.  Put the businessmen on the streets and let those on the streets spend some time in the boardrooms.

Let those supporting the gentrification of cities (get the poor out) meet with advocates for the homeless and start the dialogue.

It is an important lesson to carry over.

Every voice matters.  Your voice matters.

When it seems like all the others are at the table already, there is a space for you. When it seems like the power and influence lies with everyone else, it is even more a reason to tell your story. When the weight of the past presses down and threatens you, put the words together and release them to the world.

Forget about timing.

There’s a saying in writing that, the moment you write for the current market, you’ll miss it. The moment you edit yourself in fear of outside opinions, scrap the paragraph and start again.

It also applies in life.

Believe in yourself. Believe in your story. Believe in your worth and know that you matter.

Forget about “timing” and focus on moving, doing, serving, loving, and giving. You be amazed at the results.

~Matt

Writing Your Legend

If you don’t follow Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on Instagram, start doing so today. He’s entertaining, funny, in shape like a superhero, and an overall genuine guy. Last night I watched his version of Hercules.

I had wanted to see it as when Johnson was shooting the film he posted numerous behind the scenes pics and stories.

In the movie, the director takes a different shot at the usual Mythological Epic. We are given a hero who may, or may not, have lived up to his hype.  He’s at the end of his career working as a mercenary taking out the bad guys for gold. There is a constant interplay between the truth and the stories that set up the truth.

A character asks Johnson, in one of the pivotal scenes, “What do you believe?” He is forced to come to terms with the truth about his life. The legend, and the man, must become one.

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Our roles, as we define them, come with our own legends.  What does it mean to be a father, mother, son, daughter? Employee or supervisor?  What does it mean to be successful?

We hold ourselves up against the image we project. If we do this for too long we end up worn down.

Your coworkers see the supervisor, the sixty-hour week, the large house and luxury car–You see your parents calling you a failure.

Your husband sees a spouse in great shape that has it all together–You look in the mirror and fight to melt away the “imperfections” with just one more hour on the treadmill.

Your son sees a hero–You can’t escape the anxiety that you are getting this parenting thing wrong so hiding behind a cell phone screen is the only way to make it through.

When the self inside doesn’t match up with the self outside, chaos reigns.

Join me and make a goal this fall to get back in balance, to simplify, to strip away the excess in life and gain a clear direction. Know that your story isn’t over. The legend can be the truth.  Start a new journey. Pick up the pen and turn to a blank page.

Your path is waiting…

~Matt