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

 

Friday Hit List

A quick hit list of thoughts to start your weekend.

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Victory- Just before Thanksgiving, I went and saw Creed with a good friend.  The movie, besides being a quality addition to the franchise, examines the theme of time.  In the end, time always wins. Decide what you’ll do with what you have.  Fight for what is important and keep moving forward.

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Verse- The largest challenge of faith.  We are called to walk towards what we do not see in a world that demands proof.  Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and still believed.” We are the generation separated by thousands of years and still believing. Do good. Serve. Love. Parent your kids to be contributors to society. Give someone hope. Do it all for faith and the assurance of the unseen.

Christmas song- Val loves Christmas music.  I can take or leave it.  In the realm of holiday songs, this is the classic and one that stands above the rest. I rank Chris Tomlin’s version of Joy to the World (Unending Joy)” as a close second.

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Final Thought- Break Free.

Ever find yourself speaking with someone who has an agenda?  How about every day of the week?  The world is filled with it.  Work in any business and you’ll be dealing with customers, suppliers, vendors, and an army of people with agendas.  This afternoon I had a conversation with a friend who is transactional by nature. I’ve known him for a year now and he lives his life around the principal of what can you do for me?

Writers are often told to not write for the market, as, by the time your novel is ready, the current trend has moved on.

Too many communities of faith build themselves around service veiled in transactional pitches (you need a small group, to give, to join up, to get community, to go on the missions trip).

Jesus offered the ultimate alternative: grace. The cross as the final transaction, erasing the need for all others.

We need to shift our view, to understand that service and contribution grows from the hope of faith, that salvation is not a bargain purchased online, at the store, or at the polls in November. The world will change through selfless love, not agenda.

This month, know you can break free.  Stuff is not the point. The point is unending hope born so long ago. The moment the universe broke apart on a quiet night for the birth of a baby who changed everything.

We all believe something. We define ourselves by it.  Time will win in the end, so keep chasing your calling in confidence. Even if you can’t fully see the end result. Break the dynamics of transactions. Stand on grace.

Have a cup of hot chocolate and grab hold of a moment of peace in the chaos.

Then do it all again tomorrow.

~Matt

The Greatest Gifts

Thursday morning I was getting ready to leave for work, gathering my stuff in the kitchen.

“Daddy,” Aiden called from the living room. “Daddy. Daddy. Daddy sit. Daddy sit.”

He was sitting on one of the dining room chairs and patting the spot next to him. I sat down and folded my hands.  He did the same and looked at me with a smile.  He had just turned two years old at the beginning of the month.

As I drove to work, I thought about his birth.  Carter was an emergency C-section and I was unable to be in the room.  Aiden was different, a scheduled procedure, and I had a chance to be at Val’s side.  They completed a second C-section procedure and started cleaning him off.  I watched from across the surgical suite.

They hooked him to an oxygen monitor.  His blood oxygen levels started normal and, gradually, dropped.  The nurses called in a NICU doctor for consultation.  She arrived, watched the monitor, listened to his lungs, and said they were sending him to the NICU.  He had fluid in his lungs and stomach, the product of not having it squeezed out during labor.

In a moment, our second son had ended up in the NICU, just like our first.

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Photo Credit: bookgrl via Compfight cc

Carter and Aiden both recovered from their challenging deliveries. I took Aiden Christmas shopping with me today and, as he grows, I’m always struck by the passage of time. In this season where we focus on giving, we can get caught up in the rush and forget about what truly matters.

We are blessed to have each other, our families, and the chance to chase our dreams and make a difference.  As you go through this week, this last mad rush to get things done for Thursday, make sure you take the time to enjoy it.  Remember the hard times and celebrate the blessings, the small victories, and the opportunity to do it all again tomorrow.

~Matt

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas is Val’s holiday.  I’ll admit it.  I love Halloween.  She loves Christmas.  We’ll watch every movie on Hulu and Netflix, play the songs on the car radio, and decorate as much of the house as possible.  The holiday itself carries fond memories for most of us and mixed feelings for others.  This corridor of Thanksgiving and Christmas places us in direct contact with family members who we do not often see the other ten months of the year.

I can’t read the title of this post without hearing Andy Williams singing the first line of the song.  Go ahead. Try it.

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Today, on my lunch break, I visited Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center for the first day of their Christmas events. They are an outreach ministry working with men, women, and families in crisis dealing with issues from unexpected pregnancy to abusive relationships and parenting classes. Mercy has served multiple generations of families across the city.

I spoke with Judy, a volunteer for the past fifteen years, after she had finished handing out the gift bags to the first wave of clients.  Mercy hands out bags of donated toys separated into gender and age groups. Parents register for the gifts and complete parenting classes before they are eligible for the Christmas program.

Three hundred children would be served this month, three hundred children in the city getting some joy from the compassion of people willing to donate toys.

I asked Judy if she has seen an increased need as the economy fell apart in the city.  She said that the severity of need has drastically increased. There are families that walk through Mercy’s door with nothing, no home, no clothes, no food.  She told me she still finds herself crying with clients after all the years of volunteering.

As we hit the malls this month, real and virtual alike, it is important to have perspective.  This is the time to give, to reach out to those in need.  Find a charity near you and pay them a visit or send them an email.  The person you reach should easily be able to give you a list of resources they lack at the moment.

The knowledge that you made a difference is a greater payoff than anything you’ll receive under the tree this year.

~Matt

Soundtrack inspiration: One of my favorites from Lifehouse.