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.

 

I Wasn’t Going There

I promised myself I wouldn’t get any deeper into politics. We live just about an hour and a half north of Philadelphia and, this week, the news was filled with coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

I’ve written before about my fondness for Philly.  I love the history, the environment, the passion.  This Sunday I’ll be going down to Lincoln Financial Field to watch the Philadelphia Eagles and their first of two camps they hold at the stadium that are open to the public.

The news played all kinds of clips of speeches and analysis from the DNC.  When I got home from work, thumbing through my Facebook feed, I came across an article that is the catalyst for this post.  It was titled Why You Can’t be a Christian and a Democrat, written by a popular conservative blogger.

In it, he laid out a response to one of his critics where he swore his argument citing multiple Bible verses.

I can’t take it anymore.

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There’s a place in the gospels where Jesus is asked about paying taxes.  For a nation being occupied by Rome at the time, this was a question meant to trap him.  Answer the wrong way and the religious leaders could run to the local government officials and have Jesus arrested.

He replies asking about whose face is on the currency of the day.  Someone responds that it is Caesar’s. Jesus states, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.”

He makes a response, more than once, to criticize the leaders of the day for exploiting the people. He calls for unity and, despite the frustration of the crowd, does not lead a political revolution.

Jesus transforms every breath of the universe.

We’ve missed the point. Those of us who claim to follow Jesus grasp so hard on what is “ours.” We hold the church close and circle our wagons pointing fingers out at the crowds that drive by.

We forget the final instruction Jesus gave before he returned to heaven.

Go.

What does this mean?

Jesus followers are not a political party. They are not Republicans or Democrats. They are not Libertarians. They are not represented by anyone standing in front of a pulpit giving an acceptance speech this November at the White House. They are not exclusive to a country or economic systems.

Those who claim to follow Jesus are defined by love. They move in acceptance. They love their neighbors and drop the first stone they are ready to cast in anger. They serve. They live and push for unity.

They stand against hate.

For I believe every soul has a fragment of Heaven inside, a radar beacon calling them towards home. I believe God longs for unity, for one person to go in step with another and make their lives better by sharing their joy.

There is a reason Jesus advocated good citizenship.

Because this is not our home.  This is a temporary address change. Time will pass.  Here’s what you must understand:

Your vote at the box in November will not make a difference.

What makes a difference is the choice, on a daily basis, to do better. To open your heart further and deeper. To work on your marriage and your family. To show love and embrace someone on the outside. To know that we are called to direct people towards Jesus.

When the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia so long ago, it had to be distributed throughout the colonies. The authors hit post on the historical version of WordPress, people absorbed the message, and the flames of rebellion were born.

It is time to do the same with our faith and in our communities across the nation, to not be pulled into the noise and posturing of the upcoming election. To move away from media and towards the cross.

So maybe the author of that click-bait article was right.  Maybe those of us not voting for Trump are using watered-down versions of the Bible.

Or maybe we are looking towards the one force strong enough to make true change in this world. It will not come through building a wall, defunding controversial agencies, legalizing millions of immigrants, higher taxes, lower taxes, socialism, or fascism.

It will come through faith. Through understanding that God longs for a relationship with me and you. He pulls us closer with every headline and story. He tugs at our hearts with the echoes of home captured in the fading glory of sunsets or the laughter of a child.

When the noise gets too much, remember where you are from and where you are called to go.  Remember this is only temporary, that the space in your heart can be filled with Jesus, that the longing for completion can be answered at the foot of the cross.

Know that you can, finally, be free.

~Matt

 

 

The Power of Love

This morning I continued my podcast journey by listening to Pastor Erwin McManus from Mosaic church in Los Angeles.  McManus has written a series of quality books about creativity and overcoming adversity and I’d recommend them all.

He’s well-traveled, educated, eloquent, and motivational.

The message I listened to was on love.  He talked about God operating out of love and our everyday lives being proof in that we aren’t struck down multiple times of day for our transgressions. He also said this:

Everything painful that you’ve ever done or has been done to you was motivated by love.

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We define ourselves by love.  If our heart is broken too many times, we decide “never to love again.” We can confuse sex with love and get caught in a game of devaluing what we have to offer.

My generation, now in their early 30’s, was known as the Divorce Generation.  Almost 50% of us have grown up in single parent homes. When I was in college, a professor asked us to raise our hands if our parents were divorced.  A little more than half the class responded positively, confirming the stats.

Those of us who follow Jesus are told to love our neighbors.  We’ve seen Jesus, motivated by love, make the journey to the cross.  Even so, it is a matter we get confused.

We close doors more than open them, talk about exclusion more than inclusion, and put a hatred of sin above the majesty of grace.

Love, Christ love, has the ability to change the world.  We step forward in faith, motivated by our love for others, to pray and study, have community and make connections.  We must be shoulders to cry on and hands to hold.

I’ve been blessed to be with an amazing woman who has loved me for the past seventeen years since high school. She’s looked past my faults, and believe me they are many, and hung in there. Val shows me what is means to be a better parent and follower of Jesus.

Tonight, know that love will define you in the way you let it, for better or worse, and it can make your life and world a better place.

~Matt

Broken Pieces

On Sunday, our church started a series on what happens when your life is shattered.  Pastor Bryan talked about the motorcycle accident that took the life of his wife back in June.

At the end of the message, a handful of people came to the stage and mentioned their own traumatic events.  They included a woman whose sister was killed in an act of domestic violence just three months before, a man fighting addiction,  a woman whose daughter had cancer at age 6, was cured by a blood transfusion only to contract HIV/AIDS and die from it years later, and Pastor Bryan’s sons talking about the loss of their mother.

We are sums of our experiences and nothing shapes us more than tragedy. Our reaction to grief may be the solution to change our future.

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Let’s take it a step deeper.  We are defined by our reaction to grief.

Train, research, workout, study, podcast, take notes, write books, do all you can to prepare and nothing matches the moment things all apart, that point you look in the mirror and realize something is wrong.

That diagnosis. That phone call. That argument.

The lines of demarcation that create our New Normal, the places that only exists as memories and warm summer afternoons, the ones we can’t go back to.

The starting point is knowing it is okay to grieve, to feel, to have the courage to face down what’s coming.

One of Val’s old coworkers is our age, married with two children, and starting chemotherapy this week for an aggressive form of cancer.

Her Normal has changed.

I wish I had a three-point summation, a quote, infographic, something to put a nice bow on this short run of thoughts, then I imagine her in a hospital bed tonight and I know that sometimes silence is the answer.

Presence is the answer.

Just being there, crying, holding hands and staying close.  Sometimes that’s all we have.

~Matt

 

The Day After

I woke around 5 this morning realizing Carter had fully given me his cold from last week.  Nothing like another joy of parenting. I called off and went to an Urgent Care to get some medicine.

The day after a holiday weekend is never easy, especially returning to the routines of life. We split from our extended families and gradually recover from the coma of ham, filling, and jelly beans.

What happens the day after is just as important. We get the message and, now, what do we do with it?

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There’s a point in the Bible where Jesus returns to heaven. Imagine the next conversation. Did they keep looking at the sky, wondering if he’d return? Did they wonder about the next morning, the next week, the next month?

Think of the knowledge they had; the experiences of the past three years, the miracles and conflict, the bloodshed and revival. They had seen things that would change the world.

The Day After is the key to the story.  They could have rested or given up, instead they shifted into action.

The story doesn’t stop.

Day Afters are no fun but they are essential. They make us get up in the morning, watch our progress, spend valuable time doing valuable things.  They push us forward on our own terms, not ones set for us from outside sources.

We have Day Afters because the story isn’t over. As hard as it is to pull our heads off the pillow, we do it and keep going towards the best ending even if we can’t see all the details yet.

~Matt

 

A Victim Mindset

One of the email newsletters I find useful comes from Nick Loper and his Side Hustle Nation. I don’t always get the chance to read every one or listen to every podcast, but today’s edition really stuck with me.

Loper profiled an email he received from a frustrated young man living in a city.  The man lamented being poor and feeling stuck under a variety of forces, from poverty and race to oppression. He asked how to start without any foundation.

In a wise move, Loper opened up to the question to his forum of followers and compiled their responses in a blog post.  A guy named Andy McCabe replied with this quote: “What I’m reading is someone who is letting their circumstances define their possibilities. The two are not tied, except in the trapped thoughts of a victim mindset.”

Circumstances do not define possibilities and they are not tied, except in the mindset of a victim.

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That quote is worth a book.

Circumstances and possibilities are not connected.  Think about the meaning of this week. Jesus took his circumstances and exploded the possibilities into a supernova of grace that changed all of creation.

It is time to break free from this cult of the Victim. What is possible if we break the hold of circumstances? What freedom waits on the other side? How does life look with endless possibilities no matter where you start?

As we enter Easter weekend, think of the meaning of resurrection and the open door of new life. It is time for the fresh start that comes on the other side of the cross.

~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

How You Leave

Last night I took Carter to restart some baseball lessons in preparation for the season.  Basketball ended in February and this is the downtime between the two, not that Carter knows anything about downtime.  If there is a ball and a sport available, he will play it.

My dad had come up to visit and we watched him hit in the cage, ball after ball cracking off his wooden bat.

By the end of the session, he was getting tired.  His technique slipped.  His arms were dropping.  I could see it in his face  His coach, my friend Dan Clouser, told him he had ten baseballs left.

He went through the first five and slowly set up for the end.  A word came to me that was meant, I believe, for me as well as him.  God will often interject these moments of learning in our lives if we are open to listen. I said:

It’s not about what you do when you arrive. It’s about how you leave.

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We can’t measure ourselves in the easy times.  When we are humming on all cylinders, experiencing success at work and life, finances and relationships it is way too easy to get complacent.  When every day feels like a vacation, we can settle and get trapped.

The key is the point of pain. The moment when we are too tired to go on. When physically and spiritually, we are ready to quit and we feel like our time is up.

Those moments are the learning points. They are where we expand and grow.  They lead our faith to greater heights and depths.

Carter looked at me, set himself up, and hit the last few baseballs.  I prayed the lesson took root and he would remember it the next time he was tired or a conflict emerged. That night, as I was in bed reading, God told me the same thing.

Remember it is not about the easy times, no matter how far away they feel.

Worship and prayer in a crowd at church is easier than when you are alone on your knees fighting a sickness or addiction. Prayer is different walking the streets of a city shining light in the midst of drugs and violence.

Scripture comes easy from a pastor with three points and some cool slides or media presentations.  It is different in the middle of the night when your teen hasn’t come home yet and your heart is frozen with worry.

Faith is easy in times of provision.  It is different when you’ve thrown your last $10.00 in the offering basket.

Let us make the most of our opportunities, appreciate the hard times and understand that with each victory we will get stronger.  Every struggle is strength, every heartache increases our capacity for empathy, every fear makes us conquerors and every anxiety can lead new hearts to Jesus and impact eternity.

It is not about how we arrive, it is about how we leave and what we do when we are stretched to the limit.  If that is you tonight, know that God is close and you will come out of this better than you’ve ever imagined.

~Matt

Yellow Light

Last night we took the boys to my mother’s house for dinner.  The house itself is about a block away from where I grew up. It stands directly next to the elementary school that I attended.  Carter and Aiden, whenever they go down to visit, always end up at the playground.

My mom and I took the boys to the playground just after nightfall. The full moon crept up over the horizon as they ran and played.  The night had a hint of spring and I couldn’t help but feel the ghosts of the past and all the days I walked that same space to and from my childhood.

Recently I made a choice to live more intentionally towards my goals as a professional writer, father, and husband. Goals require plans and plans require time. As believers, time can be a sensitive subject.

We pray for intervention, for God to change our lives now. So how do we deal with the cosmic yellow light?

When the answer isn’t go, but wait?

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We like to think we have the concept of time locked down.  Google self-help or inspirational books and you’ll find plenty about getting the life you want in the time you demand. Technology goes to support this dynamic.  It takes no more than the swipe of a finger to order the most expensive items Amazon carries on their app.

Time is not so quick or fluid. Talk to survivors, the ones learning to live again after harsh pasts. Talk to the families who haven’t eaten in days and the men and women hunting for jobs after years of unemployment.

I still set plans and agendas.  I’m working on more intentional faith and trust.  I know God is active in every moment to make our lives part of his bigger dream. Deep inside my soul yells from the sideline.

I’m ready.  Put me in coach!

Thankfully, that determination isn’t mine to make.  We all have a place and a calling. We all have a job not yet finished as we are still breathing and our hearts still beat.

So tonight, take a breath. Help is coming. Doors will open. The preparation time will end and, in a moment, you will be pulled into the tide of action.  Until then, enjoy the work and refinement.

This is the hard part.

Soon, the fun begins.

~Matt