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

Set It Free

We all have stories.

There is a voice inside straining to get out.  We find ways to do it in a variety of forms.  Artists create written and concrete expressions. Teachers engage and light up their classrooms. Business leaders create the next great product and change society.  In 2015, there are still new things waiting to be found.

So why do we hold on to the old ways?

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I remember going through English class in elementary school, Lit class in college, and graduate writing courses.  You start with rules, expand your horizons, and finally realize that the great ones break the norms whenever possible.

It creates an interesting dynamic.

Writers tend to eat their own. We play lethal comparison games. We brag. We look at younger writers and tell them to do it our way or else find yourself working the menial jobs while half-novels sit crowding up your hard drive.

Amazon allows anyone to publish a book, in digital or hardcover forms, for free. Do some searching on Amazon and writing and you’ll find a litany of protests from established authors: Don’t do it, they say. Go our route. Play the roulette game of submitting to agents and maybe you’ll get lucky.

Just don’t cut into our profits.

It is time to set our work free.

Consider this your permission. Forget the old way. There are numerous resources for self and indie publishing. You can do the work to build your audience. You can publish. You can get royalty rates much higher than anything a commercial publishing house could provide.

You can write, publish, and get paid for it.

As I sit here tonight, I wonder.  How many best sellers are sitting on computers right now? How many novels have made the rejection rounds to end up in the physical or digital recycle bin?

As Pressfield asks in The War of Art:

Which is the bigger fear, that we may fail or that, one day, we will succeed beyond our wildest dreams?

~Matt

As a reminder, you can get my e-book: Your First Step for FREE at the following link:

Just Click Here

Check it out and share with anyone needing some hope in their life.

White Out

I originally meant for this post to be about the Duggar kid and the admission that he molested the young girls in his family.  As a father with two young sons, I understand and appreciate the outrage related to anyone who dares harm a child, especially one in their own family.

A few years back I worked at the Children’s Home of Reading, a day school for youth with behavioral and emotional issues. I helped with their summer school for the residential population.  These were young men with issues, many victims of molestation themselves.  It broke my heart to see the products of innocence shattered by hands outside their control.

That is the issue.  It takes a monster to force their will sexually on a child. When that monster is a member of a family paraded on television trumpeting their “Christian” values, the anger is taken to another level. When you continue to read and discover how the family concealed and ignored the problem, you hit critical mass.

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So what have we learned?

Grace does not exclude consequences.  I believe in grace.  I also believe that we have a conceptualized image of grace that has damaged the church over the years.  When the Duggar parents refused to go to the police, they were wrong.  They sent a message to the victims that their son’s life mattered more in the grand scheme of things. Josh Duggar freely admits his actions and claims his forgiveness by his faith.  It is easy to do when you’re not sitting in jail for victimizing four little girls. Grace is a spiritual transaction not an excuse.

It is not a “get out of jail free” card.

Grace does exclude reality. The Duggar’s have been published making derogatory comments towards communities of different sexual orientations.  They had a chance to show both their son and his victims that they were taking this seriously. They could live in the real world and not hide their fear and hatred behind the wall of “faith,” yet they choose not to.

They claim to follow the teachings of Jesus, but their actions have little to do with Loving Your Neighbor (Mark 12:31). They are more than comfortable condemning perceived sin and yet Ignore the Plank in Their Own Eye (Matthew 7:5).

And this is the problem.

As the public pulls away in disgust, the Duggar’s keep saying “No, don’t worry. He’s forgiven. It’s all okay.”

Let me apologize.

As someone who claims to follow Jesus, I’m sorry.  I’m sorry that we’ve taken faith, married it to conservatism, and tried to sell it as THE WAY. I’m sorry that so many with a public forum represent Jesus so poorly. When people associate the term Christian with the family on 19 Kids and Counting, we’ve screwed up more than we know.

As a father, I’m sorry.  I’m sorry that men lack the backbone to protect their family when it is needed.  I’m sorry that they do not fight for their marriages and lead their children.  They care more about image than truth. We follow a God that led his own son to the cross and did not protect him from what needed to be done to change the world.

We love our kids, but not at the level of sacrificing and teaching what is right. Our love for our kids will never end, even if it means calling the police when the problem is out of your control.

Our forgiveness does not mean forgetting.  Our grace is not God’s grace, for that would put us on the level of the divine and we are not close. Our slates are never clean, they are gradually washed through years of faith, study, friendship, prayer, worship, laughter, conversation and change.

Peter denied knowing Jesus three times.  After the resurrection, Jesus asks him three separate times if he loved him, following Peter’s answers with commands to “Feed my sheep.”  We read that Peter is hurt after the third question.  The parallel is complete.  Jesus made him face his denials. He didn’t say, “Peter, don’t worry about it, it’s all good.”

We must all face our actions.  Jesus is waiting on the other side ready to send us out as soon as we answer.  If we keep silent, hiding behind our politics, constructs, “faith” or fear, we will never hear his words.

Silence is much worse than any painful conversation waiting in our future.

~Matt

 

 

You Will Change The World

Reggie Dabbs, one of my favorite speakers, has visited our church a few times over the years.  He was a product of an encounter between his mother and a man she was sleeping with to get money for groceries.  No one, at this moment, speaks to more high school kids in this country than Reggie. His message of love changes the lives of students, teachers, and their communities.

Last week I met a young man working with We Agape You in the city of Reading.  He had grown up with violence, crime, gangs, drugs, and homelessness.  Now he delivers food to those in need and is building a new life for his wife and soon-to-be child.

Val has had clients who were sick and going through some tough times in their lives.  For the hour or two they are in her chair, she makes them feel valued and welcomed.  She helps them see their inner and outer beauty.

Thursday night Carter and I talked about school.  Out of curiosity, I asked him if there is anyone he doesn’t like.  He said, “Dad, I want to be friends with everyone.”

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Photo Credit: sdettling via Compfight cc

My visceral response to this is varied.  Ever have one of those Moses moments?  You know, where you tell God you aren’t fit for the calling?  You make up excuses.  Reality, the reflection in the mirror, seems to speak against your heart.

That small voice inside prompts with options.  When was the last time you…sat on the couch and relaxed, had a drink, fed the addiction? Shouldn’t you do something for yourself every now and then? You could always start tomorrow.

Nobody will buy that story/product anyway.

We must turn the focus around.  It’s funny, when I feel the insecurity the most is when I’m focusing on myself. Worry comes in waves.

The fact is, we are not enough. We can’t do it alone.

God, as Moses was told, designed us for a purpose. We are to change the world, to take our stories and tell them to provide hope for those going through the same. We are to be in a community of action and faith, belief and boots on the ground.

We must unite across location, race, economic class, political party, and agenda, holding hands not pointing fingers.

There is someone out there who needs you today.  They need you right now.  They may be a friend or neighbor.  They may be family. Drive to the city and you’ll see them on the corners or waiting outside the shelter. It is not easy but, if you step out in faith you will see God’s hand in action.

When we were driving around Reading this week, we were talking about shelters and the need for work and self-worth. The young man I mentioned above said this,

“Too many places give you a pillow and say, ‘get comfortable.'”

How comfortable are you today?

~Matt

Unknown Memories

Val has needed a new phone for a few months now.  She’s had it for a while and I’ve nagged her to replace it.  We talked again today as Aiden took his nap and Carter watched a movie.

“I need to go through my pictures,” she said.

“How many do you have on there?” I asked

Now, guys, this is similar to other great questions from our playbook.  It can apply to shoes, purses, makeup, whatever the subject.

“A little over two thousand,” she replied.

Two thousand pictures.  Years of shots from when the boys were younger. She started going through them as we talked.

The best memories, I told her, are the ones we haven’t made yet.

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Photo Credit: Adikos via Compfight cc

We all have goals and deadlines.  I’ll lose a certain number of pounds by this date.  I’ll get a new job, new car, new house. As a writer and someone starting a business, my goals are glaring in the windshield every day that I move forward.

As parents, we could write books of the goals we have for our children.

Our focus can be so intense that we lose sight of the meaningful rewards.

I’m in the process of reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and I have no idea why I’d waited this long. He has some great insights on the nature of Resistance and how we handle it in our lives. It is the force going against us as we attempt to complete the creative act we are called to do.

Pressfield writes that fear is good and we must use it as a barometer as we proceed. The more fear we face, the more we are called to completion and know the path is for us.

Fear, for me, was never anything front and center.  It sat in the back corner of the bedroom late at night, a cold fog that drifted across my pillow and manifested in doubt.  What if, it asked, what if you failed?

What if you lost control?

I had a counselor tell me once that God meets us in the center of our greatest fear. I had mentioned the loss of control and he replied, “then I’d hate to see what may happen.” While I’m not totally over my control issues (why I spend hours behind a keyboard, because the words tend to listen most of the time), I feel like I’m getting better.

Progress requires faith.  Letting go requires picking up our new path.

Our best memories are the ones to come.  We must value our impact on the world.  Our calling will better ourselves and those around us. I pray, every day, that these words will make a difference in someone’s life.

The journey happens in steps. Don’t forget to soak up and enjoy the important moments along the way.

You can, and you will, change someone’s life.  The only question is how.

~Matt

Walking on Water

Our church had recently posted a chance for writers to contribute to their Easter blog. They provided four prompts and one was inspired by the moment of Jesus walking on water.

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” –Matthew 14:22-30

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Photo Credit: Kenneth Solfjeld via Compfight cc

As I write this, Val, Carter, and Aiden are all sick with a shared cold and in bed. We’ve had things creep up on us this month, physical and financial issues, that are applying some extra pressure.

I’ve felt, like David, that the attacks were from all sides. I’ve looked to God and wondered about the deeper cause, the test preparing us for the good things that are coming.

Reading the passage above again last night, something stuck out to me. We chalk up the story to Peter succumbing to his fear. He notices the wind and starts to sink before Jesus reaches out his hand.

We miss a few words in the last paragraph.  Peter exited the boat and walked on water.  He did it. He took steps of faith and found himself standing on the waves.

Imagine that moment.  You are a regular guy, the rock, a fisherman trying to figure out his new role in life. You aren’t the one the crowds follow.

You’ve struggled.

There were days the fish didn’t bite.

Then you walk on water.

It may take a storm but, when you step out in faith, the waves can solidify under your feet.

~Matt

Change Your Answer

“Do you trust God or fear man?”

I was seated in Barnes and Noble across from Randy Simmons and Merlin Weaver, two men working to change the face of the fight against homelessness.  Simmons, the founder and head of We Agape You, was in the midst of telling me his story.

His pastor had challenged him with the above statement and it served as a barometer ever since.  As I drove home, it stayed with me.  As God often does, he speaks to us through everyday conversations.

Did I trust or did I fear?

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Photo Credit: Crysco Photography via Compfight cc

Quick, make a list of your disappointments this week.  Large or small.  Can you come up with any? Our justifications to fear come so quick. Doubt hovers just below the surface:

-When the job interview doesn’t go well.

-When the man or woman you were sure was the one ends up leaving.

-When the money runs short and the account is overdrawn and your kids are hungry for a dinner you may not have.

What if we lived in trust and not fear? What if we stepped out in faith? How would things change?

If you are reading this tonight in the midst of doubt, I’ll encourage you.  Write down the question and hang it on your bathroom mirror, put it in your Bible, make it your cell phone wallpaper.

Do you trust God or fear man?

Change your answer and see what can happen.

~Matt