A New Heart

I am an only child.

Usually, when I impart that bit of information on someone, they come up with a variety of conclusions.  Only children are spoiled. They never had to share anything. They grew up lonely.

I don’t know how many of these are true, at least not for me.  The internal life I may have gained from being an only child most certainly helped me on the path to being a writer.  It made me an observer, someone willing to sit outside the crowd and watch what happens.

I have a few cousins, though, and one is my closest older relative in age.  Her and I were always close.  We mourned together when our grandparents passed away a few years ago. She is someone I can not see for months and automatically restart a conversation when we meet like it was yesterday.

As of this week, she is now on the transplant list waiting for a new heart.

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Heart is a weighted term. We talk about people “having no heart.” The world is filled with broken hearts, mended hearts, new hearts and old hearts. We know some walking through life as “cold-hearted.”

A few things have happened over the last two weeks that have tested my faith.  I prayed, as I’m still doing, for God to be present in a way that it is only possible and clear to be him.  I prayed for a life where faith is no longer confused with a noun, but only a verb.

These longings have shut doors and opened new ones.

Why is it so hard? We latch our hands so far in this world that we ignore the cry of our heart and soul for adventure, passion, engagement and creativity. We are content to hold in a survival pattern and just make it through.

We are waiting on the transplant list, staring at our cell phone willing it to ring.

Then God answers. Things fall apart.  The Creator tells us to step out and risk, leave the details to the one skilled in painting the art of our daily lives, setting up the camera shots of the epic movie of faith.

Tonight isn’t easy. This week isn’t easy. This month may not end easy, but the fight continues.  I’ll still pray, still look forward, still strive to live faith as a verb and not a noun, still want a life that can only be accomplished by the interjection of God.

I want the answer to be clear; that it wasn’t me.  That, in the midst of suffering, we leaned on God and he carried us through. The transplant will happen. The phone will ring if we are willing to be embraced by the vastness of God’s love and grace.

A new heart will happen.  It will happen for her and for us, for my family and yours. Never give up. Never stop fighting. Never lay down after you stumble in fear of rising again.

New life is coming. Stand strong. Keep moving. Walk forward and see what tomorrow brings.

 

 

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Call to Arms (an interview)

What’s missing in your life?

When was the last time you felt close to the divine?

When did you feel accomplished?

What dream drives you into the future?

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When did you last feel freedom?

What makes your soul cry out?

What do you worship?

Are you still alive?

I want a life that expresses God’s creativity, words that cause international conversation and community, friendships that never end, faith to hold on in the darkness, strength that takes risks, living a life of faith beyond anything I could imagine.

We must think about these things as they drive us forward.  Our sentences are not complete, our stories not over, our dreams alive and well, our visions expanding and our hope the fire that burns deep inside.

Never stop believing.

 

 

 

What I Learned From Captain America: Civil War

On Friday night I took Carter to see the new Captain America: Civil War movie. He loves his superheroes and we hadn’t gone in a while.  It had rained early and I didn’t anticipate the crowd we faced so we ended up in the front row.

Not fun with a seven-year old!

He loved the movie.  I won’t hit too many specific plot details and I thought it did a good job making a relevant political and life statement.  Hear me out.

The point of the original comic story, and the movie, is the registration of the super humans (something the X Men franchise had tackled already) involved with Captain America and his fellow Avenger crew.

Due to the death of innocent people surrounding their battles with the bad guys, the government decides to step in and demand they act only under control of the United Nations. This splits the team and starts the “Civil War” between those who agree with the plan and those who want the freedom to act on their own will.

The story is one of consequences, brokenness, and revenge.

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The power structures in our society play off a love of consequences.  Check the current political landscape for a minute, if you can do it without vomiting. The two parties in power bicker and threaten to get what they want without any thought to the end results.

As parents, we see our kids act out and we try to steer them in the right direction even as we know that falling down is sometimes a better teacher than avoiding the risk altogether.

In our marriages we can settle, stop putting in the effort and thinking that things are okay until the laziness finally cracks the facade and we face an emotional and hurting spouse.

Jesus didn’t play with consequences.

His view on them made him dangerous.  He faced down the religious establishment of the day and said, to their faces, that they were wrong. He said to love, not hate. Find peace, not violence. Serve, don’t rule.

Reach out with an open hand, don’t strike with a closed fist.

He said he was the way, the truth, and the life. The sides were clear and the gray area vanished.

Oh how we muddied the waters.

There’s a scene where Robert Downey Jr. is getting onto an elevator with Alfre Woodard.  Woodard hands him a picture of her character’s son and tells him that he had died an innocent bystander during the battle scene earlier in the movie.

She asks the question, “Who will avenge him?”

The movie holds up a valuable mirror to our relationship with those in power and, for someone attempting to follow Jesus, asks a valuable question of faith:

Are we able to trust without seeing the end result? Can we relinquish control? Can we keep believing when things get ugly?

If you haven’t seen the movie, check it out and let me know what you think!

~Matt

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

The Clarity in Suffering

One night I sat across from my friend at the bar inside the Canal Street Pub. He had just finished getting a divorce.  We were talking about struggle and suffering and our relationships with God.  He looked at me and said:

“I’ve never felt or heard God as clear as I have right now.”

If you haven’t had the chance to do it, please check out my last few posts.  Our church suffered a major loss as our pastor Bryan Koch and his wife Lynn were in a motorcycle accident.  Lynn passed away and Bryan is still in ICU. The accident was last Sunday.  The day after the accident, my grandmother passed away in the hospital.

Now, Val and I have the same issues as every married couple. We deal with money problems, stress, the kids, and how to fill a summer now that elementary school is out for Carter. When things ramped up this pas week, I found the idea to be true.

There is a clarity in suffering.

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In church, we witnessed a congregation of almost 3,000 people gather on Wednesday night to pray in unity for Bryan and his family.  At the reception following my grandmother’s funeral there was a board of photos. As I looked over the pictures, spanning the 99 years of my grandmother’s life and our family, my dad eventually appeared at my side. I started asking him about specific pictures and he told me exactly what was happening in them.

The memories came clear and vivid.  We laughed at old times. Others at the reception stopped to look with us.  In those moments, you feel the bonds of family.

Suffering gives us a target. When things go well we can get scattered.  When the bottom falls out, we have a target. We have a clear and present need. God opens a door for us to experience his presence.

Suffering gives us a reason. We look to God in the good and bad.  We are driven towards the everlasting when we are reminded that everything else is temporary. People ask, “Where was God?” The answer can take a lifetime to realize and communicate.

Suffering gives us a result. The more I go, the more I believe that suffering is a part of faith.  Don’t believe those that tell you a life of faith is one of paradise.  Our struggles are the building blocks of faith. We must go through the fire to see how God pulls us through. The ending is not quick but it is worth it.

We will see joy once again. We will have peace and understand faith. We will get to the next chapter.

Until then, we give thanks in all things because it is the ultimate victory, the push against the hurricane of this world that threatens to blow us off course. It is our recourse, our unity, our chance to show we are in this world and not of it.

If you are in the midst of suffering tonight, turn to God and be honest.  He can take it.  Let it out and, if you can’t sleep tonight, do it again.  You will make it through.  I promise.

~Matt

I wrote a small e-book about struggle based on my experiences in life, marriage and family. It is available for free. Check it out and let me know what you think. You’ll find it at the link below.

The Hardest Day

I’ve consulted a number of articles on content creation, SEO, marketing, graphics, and blogging. Normally, when I write these things, I take all this into consideration before putting a post together.  Tonight, you won’t see that.  Tonight is no filter, no line between you and me but the screen you have chosen to read this on. No linguistic tricks or debate.  This is what happened today:

I was in the shower when Val came into the bathroom breathless and upset.  She informed me that, last night, the pastor of our home church and his wife were involved in a serious motorcycle accident.  Bryan and Lynn Koch loved to ride a motorcycle.  Someone in an SUV crossed the line and hit them head on.  Lynn died at the scene.  She had just been ordained last month.  Her and Bryan had delivered the message on Mother’s Day together. Bryan is in ICU with severe injuries, his left leg amputated and multiple times in surgery coming up. They have three sons and had just found out they would be grandparents in October.

After work, Val and I went to church to pray.  They had opened the sanctuary all week and had provided counselors on site.  Wednesday night we have a church-wide prayer service.  As we sat in the darkened sanctuary we prayed with others and poured our hearts out to help this family that has been destroyed. When Val and I left the church we were met with swirling storm clouds.  The rest of the night was punctuated in thunderstorms, rain, and funnel clouds spotted in the area.

This afternoon I get a text message that my grandmother, Hazel Shaner, had passed away in the hospital.  She had lived a full 98 years.  Her husband, my grandfather, had passed away three years ago.  They were married for almost 70 years. I spent my summers, before working full-time jobs, at their house while my mother worked. This woman anchored a family through WW2, numerous dinners and holidays, ups and downs. I was honored to have her as a grandmother.  She reflected what it meant to love God and love your neighbor. She impacted the lives of so many and was the rock that built this family.

So here I am.  In days like this you find yourself standing in the darkness, looking across the room at the only thing that could be there.  You look at God and you ask why.  I believe Lynn is in Heaven and experiencing the fullness of joy.  Could you imagine, being in an ICU bed and not knowing you have lost your wife? Her parents, tonight, are driving in from Ohio.

The church, our church, is beaten down and mired in sorrow.

But it is not over.

I believe joy comes in the morning.  I believe in bigger and greater things, in ministries that touch this community and change the world.  I believe in healing, in recovery, and that Pastor Bryan will walk across the stage to deliver a sermon again.  I believe in miracles, in the presence of God felt with electric reality. I believe in lives changed, that Lynn’s loss will not be for nothing, that her and Bryan’s story will change the lives of those that hear it.

Yet, for tonight, there is darkness.  Thunder still crashes around our house. The boys are sleeping.  I’m typing and I’m here, like you, having the hardest day I’ve had in a long time.

I ask you to pray. Pray for Bryan and Lynn’s family.  Pray for their boys as they figure out a way to live.  Pray for their grandchild, that Bryan will get a chance to hold him in the future. Pray for their extended families and our church.  Pray for peace.

As for me, I’ll make it through.  There is so much more involved here. Keep your eyes up with me. Dawn will come soon.

~Matt

The Page that Changed My Writing Life

As writers, we all have that book, play, screenplay, short story, etc. that made us want to write.  You read it and your soul connects.  The words call you out of darkness and on the path to living a creative life.  For some, it may be all the works of a single author.  For me, it was a single page.

Yes, I can tell you the moment I knew that Val and I would be together forever and I can tell you the moment I knew that writing was the endeavor that completed my sentence, literally and spiritually.

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Photo Credit: Ravages via Compfight cc

Here it is, from Graham Greene’s, The Heart of the Matter, 1948:

Mrs. Bowles said, “Don’t be absurd. Are you qualified to dispense? I’ll only be away a few minutes. If the child shows signs of going, call me.”

If she had given him time, he would have thought of some excuse, but she was already out of the room and he sat heavily down in the only chair. When he looked at the child, he saw a white communion veil over her head: it was a trick of the light on the pillow and a trick of his own mind. He put his head in his hands and wouldn’t look. He had been in Africa when his own child died. He had always thanked God that he had missed that. It seemed after all that one never really missed a thing. To be a human being one had to drink the cup. If one were lucky on one day, or cowardly on another, it was presented on a third occasion.

He prayed silently into his hands, “O God, don’t let anything happen before Mrs. Bowles comes back.”

He could hear the breathing of the child. It was as if she were carrying a weight with great effort up a long hill: it was an inhuman situation not to be able to carry it for her. He thought: This is what parents feel year in and year out, and I am shrinking from a few minutes of it. They see their children dying slowly every hour they live.  

He prayed again, “Father, look after her. Give her peace.”  The breathing broke, choked, began again with terrible effort. Looking between his fingers he could see the six-year-old face convulsed like a navvy’s with labor.  “Father,” he prayed, “give her peace. Take away my peace forever, but give her peace.” The sweat broke out on his hands. “Father . . .”

 He heard a small scraping voice repeat, “Father,” and looking up he saw the blue and bloodshot eyes watching him. He thought with horror: this is what I thought I’d missed. He would have called Mrs. Bowles, only he hadn’t the voice to call with.

He could see the breast of the child struggling for breath to repeat the heavy word; he came over to the bed and said, “Yes, dear. Don’t speak, I’m here.”

The nightlight cast the shadow of his clenched fist on the sheet and it caught the child’s eye. An effort to laugh convulsed her, and he moved his hand away. “Sleep, dear,” he said, “you are sleepy. Sleep.”A memory that he had carefully buried returned, and taking out his handkerchief he made the shadow of a rabbit’s head fall on the pillow beside her. “There’s your rabbit,” he said, “to go to sleep with. It will stay until you sleep. Sleep.”

The sweat poured down his face and tasted in his mouth as salt as tears.

“Sleep.”

He moved the rabbit’s ears up and down, up and down. Then he heard Mrs. Bowles’ voice, speaking low just behind him. “Stop that,” she said harshly, “the child’s dead.”

 

The main character, Major Scobie, is stationed in colonial Africa during WWII.  The girl he’s with washed up outside his settlement, part of a group of shipwreck survivors.  He visits the medical ward and Mrs. Bowles tells him she must go get medicine.  He begs her not to leave and she says, basically, to man up and sit with the girl.

Greene accomplishes so much in these lines that you could teach an entire writing class about them.  Scobie’s character mentions the death of his own child.  He’s praying, bargaining with God as to not have to witness the death of the girl while thinking about the nature of suffering.  His nerves kick in.  The girl starts to repeat his prayer and Greene hits you with the image of the “blue and bloodshot eyes.”

Poetic and powerful

He makes the rabbit shadow and we can feel his heart breaking as he tries to provide some level of comfort. The end, where Bowles returns, slams the door on the moment.  Death, at this settlement, was a facet of everyday life. You could argue that Scobie does, and does not get his wish.  Bowles returns too late for the death that Scobie does not recognize.

The first time I read those lines, I had to put the book down and absorb it.  Greene became my literary destination and guide.  If only I could capture a fraction of that ability, I thought, I could make this journey work.

So what was your moment of epiphany, where you knew you were a slave to the story?  It is a point you never forget.

 

Soundtrack inspiration:

Discovered the worship band Waken and fell in love with their music.  Check it out:

Matches

I don’t know about you but, so far, this week has beaten me up thoroughly on all fronts.  It is only Wednesday but, I’m dragging. As parents we find ourselves in this position more often than we’d like to admit.

As a married couple, we grow to treasure the chance to rest together, sit on the couch, and watch mindless television.  The routine waits with opened, warm, and comfortable arms.

What if there was more?

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Photo Credit: koliru via Compfight cc

I have a challenge for you.  Find someone this week and be their catalyst. Offer them needed encouragement. Tell them to chase their dream and overcome their doubts.

I believe we are called to be someone’s match, to light the fire in their souls and free them to chase their divine calling.

Jesus told his followers to go forth and make disciples of all the nations.  Paul traveled his world teaching the message he had been given when he was struck blind on the Damascus Road. The disciples would all face death for their efforts in carrying out their commission.

Their fires lit them throughout lives that forever changed the world.

So what does that mean to us? I believed we are called to an active faith, to a purpose beyond visiting a church for an hour or so a week.  We are made to move, to follow, to pick up our cross and carry it forward.

Find someone who needs a kind word and send them a text message. Look for a local outreach and volunteer. Tell your spouse that they should follow their calling, go back to school, consider that career change that would make them happy, and listen to the cry of their hearts.

We owe it to each other. We owe it to our communities. We owe it to our world.  Imagine if we were on the same page? Imagine if we started a movement of encouragement, inspiration, real compassion and support.

If we stepped out in faith, together, no mountain would be too big to move.

Find one person to impact this week, in the next four days, and let the movement begin.

~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