Fishing

I remember the feeling of the blue leather seats, the push button radio and the air vents pushing the faint smell of aftershave. The radio played a cassette of Mel Tillis. My grandfather pulled up to a pond at the front of a development.

His tacklebox was in the tailgate of the small pickup truck. He’d hand me a finishing rod and set up his own. The summer mornings were on the crux of haze, the insects just starting to make their way into the air and circling us.

We’d start directly down from the truck. There was a small island in the pond and I remember throwing towards it thousands of times. I remember the sound of the lures hitting water, an amplified drip, the tension of the line and the fight of the small fish we’d find every now and then.

I remember watching him work his way around the pond.

Like any kid, I’d get bored. My mind would wander about the surrounding houses. What were people doing? How were they living? I’d imagine crazy movie scenarios.

And I’d watch him fish.

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And I realized today, it wasn’t about the results.

For a man who had seen the Depression, fought in WW2, experienced multiple eras and generations, the point was the quiet. The point was the few hours he’d had with his grandson.

The point was to stand in it. The rhythm of the casts, the sounds of the morning, the birds flying overhead and cars passing in the distance. Patsy Cline in the car on the way home singing about being Crazy For Loving You.

That kid, that me twenty-five years ago, didn’t get it.

I’d kill for a walk around that pond right now. To drive by early one Saturday morning and see his truck parked there, tailgate open, and see him standing by the water, the rod moving in a smooth motion and the sunlight reflecting off the line as it settled in the water.

We’d had no noise, no barrage of news, no cell phone on our hip.

We’d had time. And peace.

And a moment that would only live on in memory, as the best do.

Inheritance

Both of my parents turn 70 years old this week. They were born, and spent their formative years, not far from each other in small towns here in Pennsylvania.

Landmarks, as they often do, take you back into memories.

I am an only child. People would often ask if it was lonely. It wasn’t, the space taking form and shape into an identity you learned to hold. It certainly informed the man I am now as did both my mother and father.

Mom grew up Catholic, an issue in the 60’s much like our cultural unrest today. She taught me the power of a laugh and the appeal of a story. I remember the first time I heard her playing B.B King blues rifts on a record player and identifying with the music. She spent her career in a hospital as a nuclear medicine technician.

She still tries to teach me to throw away the recipes and improvise, remembering the early years when my grandparents and great grandparents were alive, Italian, French, Ukrainian. The oldest house in town. I remember the smells, tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic. I remember handmade meatballs. I remember the last remnants of conversation with hints of old languages.

Dad grew up Methodist, and the combination of the two in marriage caused quite the stir. He was the youngest of three, a post WW2 baby, athletic and serious, though not always. He’d spent his career as an operator at a nuclear power plant.

Dad taught me the importance of words, of expectation, the idea that quiet is powerful. I remember the dark green ’67 Mustang and the smell of the exhaust that I can still catch a hint of on summer breezes. I remember fishing, hours on the lake, the feel of the sun reflecting off the water.

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I remember dinners, family, stories, the intersection of past and present, aunts, uncles and cousins. Watching children grow into adults.

When his parents, my grandparents, passed away I learned that holding your father in an embrace and feeling his tears is the closest thing to an inversion you’ll ever experience as a child, the point in time that you understand pain is universal, that no matter how long they tried to protect you from it, it will come around in the end.

Both laid the foundations of faith, the appreciation of making it through, the value of simplicity. Both could cook, both showed their love and affection in different ways.

Now, as a father, I say things and hear them speak through me.

As a child, you never picture your parents growing older. As a parent, you mark the passage of time through your own children. Suddenly you look into the future and the past seems to shift into the lingering fog of a cool September evening.

Both taught me, no matter what their faults, they would be there.

When Val and I suffered a miscarriage, I called my father on the way home from the hospital, just after five in the morning, and he answered the phone. And really he didn’t have to say anything, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever convey how much that meant.

My mother maintains, takes care, makes the drive from her house to ours more than once a week.

Both taught me the meaning of being a parent, being a man, and being present. They showed me that, no matter how often I screw up, the sun still rises and I’ll get another chance tomorrow.

So thank you, both of you, for the years. For the time, the purpose, the ups and downs and everything in between. You are both still an important part of our family, no matter the distance. I couldn’t do this without you.

Happy Birthday.

Watch Your Narrative

A friend of mine was a professional boxer. He’s held titles and appeared on HBO‘s boxing programs. Our boys have grown up playing baseball together.

The other day, in casual conversation, I asked him if his son ever asked about learning to fight.

No, he told me, he hates it.

I’m in the midst of reading Ben Hardy’s Personality Isn’t Permanent. In it he discusses how we process the past. The past, he writes, can be changed by how we access memories. Studies have shown the more memories are accessed the more they change. The past is malleable.

The past can be used to our advantage. The past can be shaped and constructed.

The present is an interaction between our past and future selves. If your future self could sit down with your past, what would they have to talk about? Hardy poses this question in his book and it hits hard.

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I’ve had my share of pain in the past. It has taught me things though, it has laid down markers in the path that has become my life. It has taught me the meaning of love, the reality of faith, the value of fatherhood and the treasure of time.

It has taught me that running will not solve a problem, that fear is meant to be engaged with and understood. It has laid a valuable foundation. Your pain, your frustration and troubles have done the same.

For we have a choice.

A family member is critically ill right now. He’s a genuine person with a big heart and he’s immensely skilled in his profession. He’s fighting his battles right now, a conflict his future self is desperately trying to win.

This week I decided on a break from reading the news. I still find myself scrolling through the headlines, but I won’t click into anything. It took a day or two, but weight started to lift. My narrative was getting overwhelmed with dark and intense articles, the kind of things put in front of our faces on a daily basis.

Watch your input. Watch what you tell yourself. Watch what you tell your children.

Your input equals your output.

Your past does not have to equal your future.

Your future, though, needs room to breathe and grow. That can only be obtained through processing the pain, worry, and fear.

You can be different. You can be totally different.

You can be the first.

Be willing to do the work and take a break from the noise. Process the past. Look to the future. Win your battles one moment at a time.

You are not your labels, your past, your pandemic.

You are more and your story can start today.

The Best Gift Ever

It is almost midnight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love you.

A Matter of Trust

“What would happen if your future self came to you and told you that everything you want to see happen was going to happen? Would you believe them?”

Ben Hardy

I read in the car before work every morning, usually a book geared towards self improvement or study. The quote above, from Hardy’s book Personality Isn’t Permanent, stuck with me for the past few hours.

If you, from 2025, showed up at your house and said that every dream you have will happen, would you believe it? What if the end result relied on your faith?

Would I believe it?

What if the largest challenge in your life isn’t that mountain you are facing right now, what if it is the faith to take the first step? What if it is the faith to believe enough to take that step and get your feet in motion?

We all have different stories and experiences that impact our self image. We grow up thinking we deserve what we want, or we don’t. We grow up thinking we are worth it or worthless. Support and trauma shape identity.

We are living in a time where forces demand we hand over the keys of our lives and go along for the ride. Control is a dream. And when you are not in control, then the act of faith itself isn’t worth the effort because the let down is always just over the horizon.

Or is it?

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If you are anything like me, the question is a huge challenge. You’ve found yourself in a place you may not enjoy, working days that are unfulfilling. You phone it in. You get home and consume, letting the time slip away because the mental and emotional effort of the day literally took it all and there’s just a shell of yourself left for the very people most important in your life.

We were not meant to live in offices.

We were not meant to give in to the onslaught of technology and the relentless call to keep up. Our kids’ names are not YouTube, Facebook, or Messenger.

I’m not just preaching to you, I’m preaching to me.

If the answer is no, you wouldn’t trust your future self, then the next question is why?

Because faith acts on evidence. Evidence that your brain is triggered to pull up in every discussion of future. Oh no, it says, not now and not here. You’ve been hurt, you’ve struggled, you’ve had prayers not get answered. Your dreams haven’t happened. You are still clocking in and out, still drifting through one day to the next, setting your alarm for the morning, and going to sleep.

Like in The Matrix, we can be batteries for the machine.

Or we can take over.

We can find freedom. We can look forward without the voices from the past screaming.

I don’t know about you, but some days my faith is a matchstick. It is a candle flame in a dark room. The circle of light is barely enough to catch anything beyond its radius.

The question is simple. The question is daily. The question can and will shape your future.

If the you from the future showed up to dinner tonight and told you all your dreams will happen, how would you react? How would you act moving forward?

How would you wake up tomorrow? How would your vision change? How would your dreams change? Would you be challenged and inspired to dream bigger?

Life is not easy. Get to know your future self. Spend some time in their head-space and learn to act towards it. Move forward, not backward, and see where momentum takes you.

What If?

“What if paying the bills was no longer your goal? Would you still keep that job you hate?” -Ben Hardy

What if hate isn’t hereditary? Would you have that difficult conversation with your child?

What if love is meant for forever? Would you kiss your spouse goodbye?

What if you can’t get time back? Would you put down your phone?

What if faith isn’t passive? Would you be courageous?

What if dreams are meant to be chased? Would you take the risk?

What if sorrow is the most important teaching moment? Would you stop avoiding it?

What if miracles can happen? Would you pray?

What if a cure is coming?

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What if heroes aren’t who you think? Would you thank that person that just popped into your mind?

What if art and music can still carry you away? Would you stop and listen?

What if anxiety is too much control? Would you let yourself be free?

What if pain is only temporary? Would you hold their hand?

What if small acts last into eternity? Would you check on your neighbor?

What if your kids are watching?

What if school is virtual? Are you ready?

What if…

2021 is different

We stop listening to the media

We start chasing who we want to be

We love, we hope, we dream

We stop waiting for permission

Our time is now

Life with Weighted Moments

Every second has meaning.

Every waking moment.

Every breath.

Every scroll through the smartphone.

What if every distraction was a lost investment, every argument a lost chance at connection? What if every frustration cost more than we know?

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Recently, author and speaker Tony Robbins posted on his social media channels an article that referenced this concept. What if we chose to recognize the power and opportunity in every moment? How would that change our viewpoint on life?

How would it change our personality?

Living With Weighted Moments

How much I missed, simply because I was afraid of missing it.

Paulo Coelho

Your story isn’t written in the big moments.

When you are a kid through young adult, your life is shaped by big moments. Everything feels like a movie. Drama, sadness, heartbreak. Wounds feel like they will never heal.

They will.

Now I remember different things. I remember the pattern my dad used to mow the grass. I remember playing Super Nintendo. I remember lunch at my grandparents eating turkey sandwiches and drinking iced tea.

I remember football games in the yard.

We can reshape our past through emotion, evaluation, and memory. We can assign meaning to events, the meaning we pick, and equip ourselves for moving forward.

“If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.”

Richard Branson

The challenge is to not let weighted moments wear you down.

Opportunity stands on the knife edge from worry, potential from pressure, what could be from what’s the worst that could happen.

The choice is consistent and constant.

Journal. Pray. Reflect. Meditate. Work to recognize and shift your habits.

We all deal with our traumas in different ways.

Look forward to the gifts life offers. Make the most of the minutes. Choose to see opportunity and grasp it. Understand your story is not finished and you are called to bigger things.

Choose to not miss the small moments.

See what happens.

The Open Hand

Today at church we started a series on Detours, those moments you find yourself off the path of life.  We all have them.  Some detours just knock you a block over and some are severe, causing a journey far out of the way.

The pastor mentioned the route Israel took leaving Egypt and making their way to the Promised Land.  It was not straight and direct. It was a “roundabout” way. It was a journey of internal work, progress of change through something not to something.

In this process we read that God leads with a hand outstretched.  Pastor Jason Mitchell made an excellent observation that our view of God’s hand is usually one of two ways.  It is either shaking hands in making a deal.  Or the open and calming presence of a father to his child. Each one impacts your view of faith.

You may see God as a deal-maker. If I just _______ enough it will all work out, heal, go away, come back, pay off, jump on, add up, respond, whatever you may need.  If I do what I need then God has to come through. When you have this view and a major detour strikes, your faith evaporates.  You hang on the WHY question.  Why did God not do what he’d promised when we made the deal. Why did God not come through.

When you see God as the father, your view shifts.  You flip the question from Why is this happening to What does God want to do in me. The one question answers the other.

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Fortunes have been made by pastors pushing God as deal maker. Books have been sold. Seminars booked. Checks cashed. There’s a power dynamic so appealing to people looking for control, for the deal offers control.  If we can just be good enough, God will come through.

When Val and I dealt with a miscarriage in 2018, this was me.  I had nothing to say to God. My deal maker hadn’t held up his end of the bargain. Even though I’d made progress, even though my faith had grown, even though I’d thought I’d matured as a believer, there was still work to be done.

This morning, the nail was driven home.  I realized he was right.  My pillars built up over the years were wrong.  My God is not the one of the deal.

My God is one of outstretched hands with big dreams, plans and visions.  Words that reach nations. Legacy with impact. My God is not the one of control. My path is not A to B.  It is the roundabout journey through the desert.

Jesus offers no deals.

Follow me. Do Not Be Afraid. I have overcome the world.

So go forward and enjoy the work. When the detours come, know the job is not yet finished.  You are still being refined for greater things. For life and life to the fullest.

For the journey not yet written, the path not yet taken, and bridges not yet built.

 

 

Answer the Call

What makes you, You?

In that Marvel cinemas flipping title sequence scroll, what shows up?

In the temperance path of life, where do you live? Age Twenty? Thirty? Fifteen?

At the end of a bad day, what moments do you revisit?

From your first breath to now, you are where you need to be.

The question is, what to do with it?

white and black moon with black skies and body of water photography during night time
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Our stories are ours alone, ours to share with someone, our battles to fight.

Our suffering shapes our identity.

Our faith hangs on the hope of something more, the pull on our heart towards a compass direction rising out and above our trajectory, spreading to lives and people we have not known and may never meet.

Contemporary research believes Jesus to have been an architect, a stone mason and not a carpenter as originally conceived. This makes sense as he often spoke of building lives and laying foundations. The towers of our life can only be built on strong foundations, firm borders and set boundaries.

So, what makes you You?

Be something different.

In this time of division, be Unity.  In this time of hate, be Love. In this time of poverty, be Generous. In this time of violence, be Peace.  In this time of noise, be Silence.

Trends are made to be broken.

The status quot must end.

The future is being painted today by the brushstrokes of the fearless, of revolutionaries willing to answer the still, small voice that calls them in the dark hours.

The voice that calls to you.

Will you answer?

The Hardest Relationship

One of my roommates in college dated a girl with destructive habits. She’d lived on the outskirts of Philadelphia, worked in the city, and would disappear for days at a time.  She battled addiction and substances.  He’d loved her then, and would often vent to me about his attempts to save her.

Eventually, they broke up.

For some of us, interpersonal relationships are the hardest part of life.  Out of our sons, Aiden is the friend-maker.  He can enter a room of kids he doesn’t know and come out knowing everyone.  He will go up to a kid and ask him to play, no matter how old the kid is, and often he’ll find himself with a new friend. Carter is the opposite.  He’s reserved, like I was.  He watches a scene before he interacts.  Conversation can be tough and navigating the preteen world is even tougher.

As hard as these are, a relationship that can transform you and your 2020 is looking into the mirror.

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This morning I listened to an episode of Eric Zimmer’s podcast “The One You Feed.”  It is episodes based around the parable of the Good Wolf (good qualities in life) and the Bad Wolf (bad qualities in life).  The winner is the one you choose to feed. The episode this morning was an interview with Stanford Psychologist BJ Fogg. Fogg works in the area of Behavioral Change through what he calls tiny habits.

The entire episode is worth a listen, but one part stuck with me.  He says in the beginning,

Be a friend to yourself.

He goes on to mention how many of us deal with self trash talk and how moving on from it can revolutionize our lives. As a veteran of self criticism, I know he’s right.

I don’t know about you, but my voice is cynical.  I look at where I lack and become hardened, vindictive to struggle and envious to progress of others. On the hard days, the voice is not even negativity.  Negativity implies a struggle.  No, its an understanding that this desire for better just isn’t going to happen.

Recently, though study and reflection, the work of thinkers like Fogg, Ben Hardy, Erwin McManus, and through conversation with others I’ve found my view shifting. The idea of faith is psychologically and biologically powerful. Certainty comes through struggle.

Our stories shape our potential.  Our future need not be married to our past.  It can be a transformation experience. Our memories can be reshaped.  Our victories can be celebrated and our struggles seen as opportunity to learn and change.

I haven’t been a great friend to myself over the years.  I’d developed habits and found my way out of them.  I gained and lost weight, stayed up too late while getting up too early.  I’ve been emotionally distant to those I love and am working on it as a daily exercise in mindfulness.

One of my goals is to empower friendship with myself in 2020.  To add courage and intention, to take big risks, to celebrate wins and see losses as chance to learn. To take on new things and expand horizons, to grow as a family and be a better father and husband.

My goal is to show my boys a father who knows himself and works to be better on a daily basis.  To grow new behaviors and expand identity.

I believe we are never done growing.  As long as we are breathing, our story isn’t over.  My wish for you is the same,  to grow in your friendship with yourself, to treat yourself better and look forward with new purpose.

To see 2020 with opportunity and make the most of it. To experience the joy of newness and change.  To realize your potential and see hope for the future.

For the future is yours for the taking.