What Should Life Be?

It rained yesterday.  The sky was the slate blanket that comes every now and then in the Pennsylvania transition between seasons. It was one of those days you dreaded as a kid, sitting in school with no way to mark the passing of time.

Morning was afternoon.  Dawn was dusk.

I got home from work, we ate dinner, then dressed the boys to go run some errands.  Aiden put on his rain boots and ran outside.  I followed and attempted to get him and Carter in the car.  He found his way to a puddle and started jumping.

Peppa Pig style (for you parents out there) jumping in puddles with his rain boots.

At the end of a dreary day, he’d found his own slice of adventure.

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Kids are easy for this.  They are our stereotypical adventurers.  We watch them play with nostalgia.  If only, we think and sigh, those were the days.

We are meant for more.

We are meant for a faith that calls us out of the darkness.

We are meant for a radical community of faith, hope, and love, to embrace others and show them the grace that allows us to live day by day.

So many dream of Heaven.  We think, then we can finally live, finally see the beauty of sun rays, crystal waters, perfect love and joy.

So we go on auto pilot and try to survive.  All the while, God calls us to the deep.

How will it look for you? How will it look for me and my family?  I don’t know.  I feel like I’m learning more each day.

Learning that the story isn’t over.  That there is still room for adventure, for a life of passion and change, hope and impact. There is room for hope in a better world, that the poor can find help, the hungry can be fed, the cold can find warmth, and the burdened will find rest.

I wish I could explain it to you. I wish I had the poetry that some of my friends and fellow writers have.  I wish I had the copywriting spin to sell you on the key points of the Gospel. I wish I had ten million copies sold to hold up and show you why you should believe me.

The only thing I can give you is honesty.

Faith isn’t easy.  I’ve looked in the mirror many moments and wondered why and where? I’ve held my hands to the sky and asked God to show up. I’ve wanted the concrete conversation, for Gabriel to show up in my Scion one day and, after miraculously healing the brakes, tell me the depths and heights of faith and the song of the Universe.

Hope isn’t easy.

Love isn’t easy.

For in the moment when the voice, the one that sounds so familiar for Adam and Eve so long ago, when it whispers “this is it, just give up,” something tells me No.

This isn’t it. The fight isn’t over. Bigger things are coming. It is a gut response, a fight that rises up from the place that can only be occupied by the fire of the love of Jesus.

What is life about?  It is the fight for Passion, to never give up, to never back down. To taste every sip of the majesty of God’s creation, to work to change lives, to shine the light of grace and love.

To wake up in the morning and do it all over again.

 

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When God Moves

Tonight I took our youngest son to the grounds of a local museum.  They have a walking path that runs next to a small creek.  The water usual contains a variety of ducks and, as the boys grew up, we would take them over to watch wildlife in action.

The sun was making its way down the sky, the walkway shaded and groups of people rode bikes past us or walked their dogs.  At the end of one side is a garden, flowers intermingling with statues and benches. The garden breaks through a path shaped like a heart.

It was a peaceful moment and, as we walked the path, the benches were filled with people.  Every single person had their head down and their hands on a cell phone.

God still paints pictures if we take the time to see them.

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This month has been one of change for our family.  I’m starting a new chapter in my career life, some new work on writing projects, and a new front in my personal growth through education.

We started looking at larger goals and bigger targets.  Over the last 8 years of struggle, it is nice to feel God moving again.  Even though the movement never stopped.

Our heads were down, weighed under pressure and stress, money and time. We stood in beauty and failed to see it for the structures of this world.  Our five-inch screens weren’t playing Pokemon Go, they were playing a loop of guilt.

Why keep trying? What if you fail? Isn’t is just easier to do nothing?

We get captured by the words and they lull us to a sense of comfort in the darkness.

There is power in movement, in discomfort, in shifting spaces and setting yourself out towards a target no matter what the voices say inside and outside.

My faith hangs on the belief that God has planted big dreams on my heart and on the lives of my family.  I believe love wins. One person can make a difference if they keep fighting.  I believe that, as long as we are breathing, there’s still a job to be done.

It may not be easy, but God has immense visions and purpose waiting.  I believe we are called to make a dent in the universe.  We are called to keep moving.  One step at a time.

 

Chapter 3

You can find Chapter 1 here and Chapter 2 here of this novel in progress.  Enjoy!

WEST

 

            On a normal afternoon, she would listen to a podcast or audio book. The path of the jog looped miles out of town, across a section of woods ending at a beach with rocks shaped by pounding waves. She would stand on these rocks, often taking her shoes off to cool down, and think about the future.

The past was too painful.

She’d close her eyes and hear gunfire.  They had tried to fight, the university as a whole, standing on the grounds of academic and intellectual freedom.  She was one of the new breed at the time, fresh doctorate in hand, leading students through the finer points of Romantic poetry, not much older than they were. For a month they met as faculty in a lecture hall at midnight.

A flurry of activity followed, publications, protests, the rallying cries of youth.  Her department chair, a veteran professor, warned what was coming.  He said it would only go so far until they came to quiet the noise.

One Thursday morning in March, a caravan of vehicles entered campus. Troops arrived and locked everything down.  Faculty and students were removed and any resistance met with deadly force.

She opened her eyes as a seagull cried overhead. The breeze from the forest carried a smell she would always associate with the Pacific coast, though it was not called that any longer.  They were part of the West, the union between two outside forces that somehow had become real.

Her phone vibrated in the pocket of her green sweatshirt, the old University of Oregon O blazing on the chest in fluorescent yellow. She tapped the answer button on her ear piece.

“Where are you?”

His voice carried the smoke of sleep.

“The same place I go every morning.”

“I told you it’s not safe.” He yawned.

She imagined him stretching, the body of the athlete she had met as an undergraduate remained tight under his t shirt. His temples had grayed slightly but he still existed as the coiled ball of energy from his youth.

“You don’t need to worry about me.” She cringed as a stone cut her foot, bent down and picked up the offender, throwing it into the surf that shown the purple of morning.

“I live to worry about you.”

“I’ll be home soon.” She walked to where her shoes waited on the sand, sitting next to them. She checked the display on her cell phone.  They were nearing two minutes, the unofficial limit where tracking would kick in from the network. “Keep breakfast warm for me.”

“Will do.  Love you.”

“Love you too.” She laced her shoes, wished the ocean goodbye, and started back down the trail.

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The white Suburban SUV appeared within a mile.

She was mentally preparing that afternoon’s lecture, hypnotized in the road rhythm, when the streak of color passed in her peripheral vision. She turned her head as it made a U turn and accelerated back.  There were two options and with nothing around but trees, one was clear. She pulled up and stepped to the curb.  It parked behind her.

“You know, running out here alone is dangerous.”

He wore his usual suit, pulling the jacket closed and buttoning it.

“I’m used to it.”  Her voice cracked, even though she tried to stop it.

“How do you get more beautiful every morning?” He stood in front of her and brushed a strand of brown hair off her forehead. She saw him as he was that morning in March, the soldier breaking into her classroom.  An hour later, under individual interrogations, they had made a connection.  In a week they were having coffee after his shift ended.

They had started sleeping together after a night of drunken confessions.  She had felt like a ship, unmoored and tossed in the storm of this new reality. He was a vortex of trust and danger, the enemy and the only one open as all others pulled away.

It felt good to play both sides. It became an addiction.

She supplied information and was allowed back at her old job.  Things improved. She was promoted to a supervisory position within the English department.  Curriculum came from the new government to be delivered without deviation.  Education was still important as long as the line was kept. She taught the importance of following the wisdom of the past.

The flame of rebellion remained, though deep inside.

It took a night at the Joe’s Coffee to change things.  The café, located in the old Student Union, was no more than a handful of tables and tea light candles. Faculty gathered at the end of every week and that night she had sat in the corner of the room flipping through an illegal copy of Heart of Darkness. The sound of a guitar came from a darkened stage.

Conversation stopped.

“Where are you?”

She shook her head and blinked, not able to tell if the question came from her ear piece or the man standing in front of her, two points in the universe on this empty forest road at dawn.

“Sorry.”

“We’ve received word of something coming in a week or so. Listening devices picked up conversations around a gathering, all centered on a freshman.  This young man, named John, will be transferred into your class tomorrow morning. You will find what we need to know.”

“Okay,” she looked at her shoes.  He loved when she played to his power.

“Don’t worry my dear.  Your freedom will come soon.  Your service to the cause is valuable.” He kissed her on the lips, a fleeting touch, and walked back to the vehicle.  It sped past as she stretched her calves, cued up a song on her phone, and started at a faster pace towards home.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

Here is Chapter 2 of a rough draft in progress.  You can find Chapter 1 by clicking here.  Enjoy!

NORTH

 

The white building stood out in contrast against the Manhattan skyline.  Not that it functioned as Manhattan anymore. The towers once built to prosperity and ambition had fallen, only to rise again as centers of study and contemplation.

The city had improved.  Crime vanished.  All the perversions once considered art were confiscated and burned on barges that circled the land in constant reminder.

It took some time, yes, but the populace came around.

This morning an aria echoed from deep inside the bedroom broadcast on speakers to reach the limits of the porch.  The porch was that in term only.  It consisted of Italian marble, a grand fountain, luxury furniture and a media center covering all areas of the territory.

Even with the spread of options, Father Paul Kramer sat with his journal on his knees and a pencil in hand.  The wind rising up the building shifted what was left of his hair. He was writing notes on the cross and the idea of self-sacrifice for a greater good.

The flow of logic gave much-needed comfort.

For what were they without logic?

They were the bastard children of Rome.

When word came that all funding and support would be cut, they had to get creative. It was not time to panic.  It was time to gather and set plans in motion.

He stopped writing and looked to the horizon.  Far below the workforce would be starting their morning commute. The war had ended.  Things looked different now. This was a second chance.

This was the new center of faith without corruption, Rome without the scourge of revisionist history.

“He requests your presence.”

The statement came from his left. Kramer checked his watch.  The bastard was always on time.

“I’m on the way.”

The attendant scurried back inside.

 

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The elevator to the Holy Residence rose in blinding speed.  They had adapted it from the tech firm that owned in building in the time before.  It was accessible only by retina scan and monitored by three levels of security.  Kramer watched the floors blink by until the numbers vanished.

No one really knew how high they were headed.

In a moment, the doors opened.

He always thought of the temple, of their Lord and Savior clearing out the tables of the money changers.  The scriptures had said he fashioned a whip and drove out all those seeking to business in the house of the God.

What would Jesus say about this?

A vault of gold and currency, guarded by soldiers. A communications center four times the size of his own. A media studio broadcasting the morning news. Conference rooms with men in suits talking seriously over cups of coffee.

Kramer walked past all of this ignoring their fleeting glances.

Finally, when it seemed he would stride off the edge of the floor and fall into nothingness, a set of doors stood in his path.  These guards, four altogether, moved to the side.  One keyed in a code that changed daily.   The doors retracted and he walked through as they closed behind him with the hiss of pressurized air.

The far wall was glass from east to west. The bed had been constructed here, overlooking the city but not close enough to the edge that a stray member of the media could take a picture. A body laid on the bed, deep under a mound of covers.

Two doctors passed a tablet back and forth looking at images. A nurse replaced an IV bag.

“How is he?” Kramer asked.  One of the doctors turned to him.

“Good morning Father.” The man went to bow and Kramer waved him off.

“Tell me.”

“Two weeks, maybe six.  The cancer is spreading.”

Laughter came from the bed.  Kramer walked to the edge and touched the skeletal hand that rested on the blankets.

“You still use that thing?”

He looked at the pocket of his coat and the edge of the journal sneaking out. Even with a tumor in his brain, his vision was still sharp.

“How are you doing Vinny?”

The nurse cringed.  When Kramer made eye contact with her, she smoothed out her scrubs and left the room.

“Fine brother. Just fine.”

Vincenzo had risen through the parishes in the midst of the war. He was young, a star of the faith.  He delivered fiery messages that grew the church.  He was the architect of this new world.

He was still the kid from the Bronx that would play pickup basketball after school.

“Soon this will be yours.”

“No, sir.  Not me. No one knows you’re sick.  We can milk this as long as we need. Set up a stable transition.”

“There’s nothing stable anymore.”

“When’s the last time you heard of any conflict?”

Vinny laughed again.  The laughter turned to a deep cough that rattled his lungs.

“You remember Sister Margaret?”

Margaret was a nun of the old order, ancient when they were kids.  She ran her classroom like a dictatorship and they’d gone home with many years of scarred knuckles.

“Of course.”

“She always said silence was deadly. Idle hands are the devil’s playground and all that.”

They stopped talking.  Machines beeped in the background.

“Get Father Paul a chair.”

One of the doctors looked over for a second and went back to his reports. The movement happened in a blink. The arm that had rested on the blanket now gripped the doctor’s hand.  The guy dropped his tablet as it skittered across the floor.

“Now.”

The doctor left the bedroom and returned with one of the chairs from outside.

“Leave us.”

They left together. Kramer settled in the seat.

“You didn’t have to do that Vinny, scaring the kid.”

“I still got it, don’t I? Now get that journal out.  We have some business to discuss.”

 

 

The Forgotten Morning

I woke up today and just wasn’t feeling it.  The sky was cloudy, work would be busy.  The boys were their crazy selves. I drove in and sat at my desk and it just hit me.

The weight of everything fell on my shoulders. I was on the ropes, taking shots and trying to hang on. Strength faded.

Ever feel like this?

The Psalms were one of the first places I found and rested in the Bible. David is honest. Yes, he writes about all kinds of praise and picturesque images.  He also lays out his heart over suffering and sorrow. He flows through the heights and depths of all human existence.

In the 56th Psalm he writes that God knows his tears and that they are written down and accounted for.  God remembers. As I read over that line I suddenly understood.

I felt forgotten.

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It is the nightmare for any writer.  In Dante’s Inferno, the souls in hell can see the future and past, but not the present.  Their punishment is living as personifications of the forgotten, never knowing where they stand at that moment. Imagine a life where the present is a void of empty space.

Most of us live it every day.

We regret and mourn the past while we fear the future. We look back and ahead with such an intensity that it blanks out the present.  We miss the moments that matter. Dante wrote this as a punishment in hell.  Why settle for it as reality?

The night ended better than the day.

I spent time with Carter, helped him with his homework and watched him make an art project. We talked about his emotions and what it feels like to get angry. I looked in his eyes and there was a genuine connection.

Grab the connections.  Hold them in your heart. For they are divine instances of God reminding you things will be okay. You are not forgotten. Your sorrows are numbered and, because God knows, he will intervene.

God knows. Even in the silence, the sadness, the illness, the conflict, struggle and strife.

He will make something beautiful from our stories. Every page and moment counts.

~Matt

What Lights Your Fuse?

Most of us can articulate what we want.  Ask someone on the street or in the next desk at work and you’ll get a quick list of the usual answers of bigger, better stuff and success.  We have these dreams that quicken our heart rate and all it takes is one negative voice for them to quiet down.

This week, as I near finishing the editing process for my upcoming book about the fight against poverty, I’m devoting time to refining my dreams and goals:

~A writing business that makes a difference in the lives of clients and organizations.

~Publications that inspire, engage, and spread hope across an international audience.

~To be able to work from my computer.  Whether at home, a Barnes and Noble, a bench at the park or a blanket on the beach.

~To be there for my boys as they grow up, create a legacy they’ll be proud of, and set a foundation for their future and generations to follow.

The choice is really a tipping point. Google success stories and you’ll find plenty. What makes those people different from you and I?

The decision to go.

The last instructions of Jesus were to Go and Make Disciples of all the world. The order still applies. Time is too short to stand still.  Make use of every day you have and keep moving.

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This is our son Aiden in a pic taken this weekend.  Every time I see it, I smile and I understand.  This is why.  This is one of the flames that light the fuse every morning, in every quiet moment and dark time, and keeps me burning for what is to come.

Find your inspiration this week, grasp it, and get to work.

~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

The Joy Initiative

Around 12:30 last night the wind woke me from a dead sleep.  The curtains in our bedroom whipped out from the wall as rain pelted the windows.  I opened the door to the bathroom just in time to see a decorative picture fly off the windowsill and land in the sink.

The alarm sounded at 6:15.

I showered, dressed, and arrived at work by 7:00 for an ultrasound on my heart.

Last week I had visited the eye doctor who told me that my eyes showed signs of hypertension.  The advantage of working at a cardiologist office is that you can handle your own appointments and schedule your own tests, removing any chance to procrastination. The doc assured me that everything was precautionary, that my heart murmur was nothing to worry about and that my EKG was only mildly abnormal.

Something about your heart makes you think and, at a point in mid afternoon, a realization hit me.

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I’d spent way too long doing work that does not bring me joy or make the world a better place.

Change is coming. It will not happen all at once and it starts now. It consists of purposeful actions to gain freedom from the daily grind of earning a paycheck but not a life, stuff but not substance. I’m tired of punching a clock and coming home exhausted physically and emotionally.

It is time to start shaping a future of realized dreams, serving others and making the most of it. I want to feel like time is on my side again.

How about you? Does any of this sound familiar? We all get to this place at points in our life and only a few will do something about it. As long as you’re breathing, you have a chance.

Join me and take it.

~Matt

The Bird

I parked my car outside of work this morning with about five minutes to spare. I opened the car windows to let in a breeze and checked the headlines for the day on my phone.  Movement, just on the other side of the hood, caught my eye.

I had parked across from a shrub, about knee-high, and trimmed in the shape of a U.  It was a bright green and, just in the midst of the branches, flashed a streak of yellow.  As I watched, it flashed again and the movement took shape.

A smear of black sat above the yellow wings and body. Deep inside this shrub, a bird had settled in the morning sun.

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This was no forest, no sanctuary. This was no mountain or stream running close by.

This was a parking lot.

The bird could have flown to a much nicer environment.  An elementary school sits just past the parking lot surrounded by trees. In a minute, it could have found an entire group of trees, real trees, and set up shop. It could have lived a fairly solid bird life.

But it was nestled in this shrub, in this parking lot, not seeing the horizon beyond the branches.

This is one of those weeks, one of times of spiritual surgery. You feel like you are on the operating table and someone forgot the anesthesia. Doors close while others open. Prayers are answered as quick as needs arise. Through it all, God offers assurance.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Faith is the search. The fight. The effort to keep moving even if you can’t see the end.  It is one more word, one last phone call, one hug that helps a person fight their depression one more night. It is picking up when you don’t have the energy to move and pushing through.

For our walls can be climbed. Our cage can be opened. Our future is planned and known.  Our dreams are a guide. Great things are coming. I don’t mean some corny prosperity gospel thing.

I mean victories. Creation. Love. Peace. Movement. Building bridges. Helping someone know and understand that they matter, that their fight is important to you.

For are known by the fight, not the end result.  We are called to radical love that destroys the precepts of this world. Jesus told us to Go. Follow. Pray. Sacrifice. Make Disciples.

The day to rest is the day we find ourselves called home once again.

The day to move is now.

~Matt

Break Every Chain

This is a post about freedom.

Not a belated July 4th celebration.  A different kind of freedom.

We all have ways we define our lives. We claim things for our own. We fill in our incomplete sentences and pick identities from the moments of life God had placed in our past. Make your way around a party and talk to people.  You’ll find the spoiled one, the beaten down and abused, the rich and privileged.

I remember playing on the golf team in high school.  One of the guys was the son of a family that owned a pair of furniture stores in town.  He wore the best clothes and had the most expensive golf clubs.  His name was his identity.

There is a danger here.

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The crucifixion scene in the Bible always fascinated me.  The imagery was harsh and dramatic. I could picture the wind and rain-swept hillside, the trio of crosses with thunder crashing in the background.  I could see the guards and the brave few supporters of Jesus gathering at his feet.  The part that fascinated me was his words:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

There are volumes of debate and analysis on the meaning of this question.  We understand that, in the moment, Jesus had taken on all sin to be the living sacrifice for our salvation.  God, in perfection, could not assist.  His Will be done.

The Son had to move on without the Father to complete his ultimate journey.

I believe we are all called out on the water.  To realize our destiny, we throw off the chains of our past and step forward.

We are shaped by our past, defined by our future, and driven by our dreams.

Tonight I pray you know freedom from the things holding you back. I pray you find new life and look in the mirror and know you are okay. You are strong. You are able.

You will make it.

~Matt