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

13 Crosses

On Friday, Sue Klebold gave her first television interview since the events of Columbine High School.  Her son Dylan was one of the shooters who rampaged through the school taking the lives of thirteen of their classmates.

Columbine was a turning point.  I remember being in high school at the time, watching news coverage that seemed surreal.  It was the first of the major school shootings and it prompted many copies.  People pointed fingers at the parents of the shooters, mental health issues, even violent music.

Large wounds create a search for answers.

I’m not a Michael Moore fan but, in his documentary Bowling for Columbine, he asks musician Marilyn Manson if he’d have any advice for parents out there. (Manson was a favorite of the shooters).  He replied that he’d tell parents to listen to their kids.  It was a profound response from one of the main targets of society’s disapproval.

That summer I attended the Creation Festival held in Mt. Union, Pennsylvania.  It is the largest christian music festival in the country meeting in two forums, one on the east coast and one on the west. On a hillside during the festival stood thirteen crosses, the original thirteen taken from Columbine to memorialize the victims.

In the seventeen years since, we still look for answers.  We debate issues of gun control and mental health. We digest the concept of forgiveness. We think about the value of listening and wonder if the world will ever get back the innocence lost that morning in Colorado.

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Childhood is not what is used to be.  I spent a few months working in alternative education (part of the school system for students who cannot exist in the regular population). The stories broke my heart more than once.  Each moment I’d think that could never happen, then I’d talk to a fellow employee and find out that it did and a certain kid had survived horrific abuse or worse.

Klebold is writing a book about her experience and donating all profits to mental health research.  I look at my boys and could not imagine.  Where does the scale tip? The questionable new friends? “Aggressive music”? Wanting to be alone? In all the months of planning and acquiring weapons and resources, where do you miss the chance to stop it?

How do you live without massive guilt?

Or do you?

We are called to forgive.  In many ways, it is the door to second chances. We must be attentive. We must build bridges, especially as fathers with young boys. We must listen to our kids.

Small actions have huge consequences. One conversation can inspire your child to help another. One outstretched hand can create a second thought that stops violence. One embrace, a bridge built, can inspire hope.

In the years since Columbine, when reality has shattered childhood as we attempt to rebuild it, hope is needed. I pray that Klebold’s interview and book might get out there and help a parent prevent an act of violence, that it will create conversation as parents and kids figure out this thing called life.

~Matt

The Air I Breathe

All the conflicts, the arguments, the time outs and clean ups. All the weeks of endless Mondays, tablets with scribbled plans and shaded dreams. All the lyrics, lines, stories and songs.  All the business ideas, service plans, chances and steps.

Every day is about bravery.

Every walk is about faith, leaning not on our own understanding. Putting down ourselves to raise up the one that called us higher. It is about losing the last grasp of control and stepping into the void of a life surrendered and passion unleashed.

It is about the comeback and it is waiting for you.

Know How to Lose

Last night the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers.  In the midst of the hype and headlines, a large amount of analysis has focused on Cam Newton’s post game press conference. Newton, the quarterback of the Panthers, seemed distant and moody  Eventually, he walked away from the crowd.

In sports, from an early age, players are taught to lose with dignity. There is a way to face a loss.  Some never get over it.  Others admit defeat, put it behind them, and move on to play another day. Newton had lost the biggest game of his career and, as a young man, may not have reacted the right way.  Next year, he’ll have a chance to show he can recover and maybe get back again.

I’m reading Louis Giglio’s book, The Comeback. In a chapter about grace he analyzes Peter’s breakfast on the beach with Jesus.  This was after the multiple denials, running back to the water and the only life he had known.  This was the disciple who would be the foundation of the church, beaten down after the loss of his mentor and savior.

A swim from the fishing boat, stumbling out of the water and landing at the feet of the risen Jesus.

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Our lives are as much about handling victory as transitioning through defeat. We are never too far away or too far gone.  Peter, though promising Jesus he would never deny him, turned away when the pressure was on.  He had to have the image of the cross in his mind.  Death was too close for comfort.

Yet this morning, on the beach, Jesus waited with breakfast. He told the guys where to catch fish after they had tried all night and found nothing. Experienced fishermen at the end of their effort and all they had to do was listen to Jesus.

They could have ignored him, called it a morning, and went on with their day.  That wasn’t the end of the story. The nets were destined to be full, bursting with life as soon as they chose to listen. All Jesus did was point and show them the way.

The good news is, grace is new each morning. Jesus waits on that beach as we sail on our own chasing the wind. He waits as we pull up the empty nets of our own efforts.  He waits as we are refined down to dependence on him as not the last resort but the only resort.

Knowing how to lose creates our comeback. It sends us on a new journey to dreams we could only imagine, the embrace of returning home and blazing fire of fresh inspiration that can truly change the world.

~Matt

The Thorn and The _nd

Below you’ll find another preview of my upcoming book about new life and second chances called The _nd.  Enjoy!

Fast forward to the Apostle Paul in his prime. He walks into cities and towns and they change. He makes speaking appearances and shakes up the establishment of the day. He sways the minds of the crowds as he defends this new faith movement. He writes one of the greatest dissertations of faith in recorded history through his letter to the Romans.

Buried in his gospels you find an interesting prayer.

He asks God to take a thorn from his side.

Afflictions take many forms. They can be physical, mental or spiritual. They can be old stories we tell ourselves, passed down through generations. They can be ghosts of failures that refuse to leave when we look in the mirror.

We all tell ourselves stories.

Imagine Paul’s narrative at this point. His life had changed directions. He was now front and center defending those he had chased. At night, when the voices quieted, he was faced with his affliction. He tells us that he prayed before to have it removed and yet it remained.

For God uses our afflictions and they keep our stories headed forward.

Wounded Stories

Our afflictions are necessary. I’ll take it one step further. Affliction s are required for us to complete our divine callings. We follow Jesus, the one taking on death to save our lives. Is there any reason why we’d expect safe passage? We are told to take up our crosses and follow him.

We are told that, in this world we will have troubles, but Jesus has overcome the world.

Paul writes that his affliction shapes his story. It is a constant reminder of grace. He needed to be blinded to truly see and start on his journey that would change the world and spread faith to the masses.

Often it seems like our wounds are the end.

When the movie Creed was released around Thanksgiving 2015, I went to see it with a friend of mine. Being from the Philadelphia area, any movies connected to the Rocky franchise are required viewing. In the movie, Michael B. Jordan plays Apollo’s Creed’s son.

Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky trains him to be a fighter and instills the attitude needed to win even though, in the end, he does not. He loses the championship fight but wins the hearts of the crowd. There is a scene where Jordan’s character is looking into the mirror. Stallone’s character states that your most important opponent, in the ring and in life, is the one in the mirror.

What do you see?

A father, son, husband, wife, mother or daughter? An employee? An executive? A pastor?

Do you see success or a failure?

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More importantly, what do you hear when you look in the mirror? The voices are never silent. Do you hear a parent’s voice telling you that you failed? That you will never amount to anything? Do you hear language that hurts coming from someone you love?

Or do you hear the truth coming from the promises of the Bible?

One of the hardest things you’ll face is a calling to be generative. You may have grown up without a father and now, years later, you are looking at an expecting wife and a little boy who will change your world when he arrives. How do you become a father without a template?

You may be called to start a business or ministry in a new area or part of the world.

We are called to create. It is part following the Creator of the Universe. We are called to stretch our horizons and discover new paths.

Blanket, Gas Pedal, Platform

Our wounds can play different roles in life. They can be blankets, gas pedals, or platforms.

Wounds are blankets when they hold us down. We take them on as our identity and define ourselves by our pain and suffering.

We become victims.

There is a difference between being a victim and becoming a victim. You cannot minimize the damage done by serious wounds whether physical or emotional. The issue is what you do with it. There is a way back, a journey home, a fresh start and new direction.

There is a way to overcome the darkness.

That is shifting your wounds from a blanket to a gas pedal.

Here is something that can change your life if you let it. Your experience, positive and negative, is unique to you. God places these wounds in our lives for a purpose and we must make the connection.

Suffered abuse? Find a small group of abuse survivors and contribute, standing with others facing the same reality. Struggled with addiction? Meet with someone to mentor at a local shelter or outreach agency. Dealt with poverty? Volunteer at a food pantry or consignment shop.

Our wounds are our radar. They steer us, and push us, towards those we can help with our stories. They set us in motion to create, support, and birth new movements.

They can also be our platform.

We build foundations on sturdy platforms and they are often shaped by our moments of hurt.

Check Paul’s experiences throughout his life. Not every speaking stop was a pleasant one. He faced danger and violence at most turns, even dealing with a shipwreck. He did all this carrying his past and his affliction as constant reminder of the power of grace, change, and a second chance.

He built a strong platform without the benefit of internet or digital media. He shared his story, a collective story, of power that changes lives.

The gas pedal pushes us towards building our platform to tell our story.

We are all called to tell our story. It may not be in the form of a book but, make no mistake, you tell your story on a daily basis. It is seen through the eyes of your children, your friends and your loved ones. It is seen by the random people you meet every day.

Our actions always tell a story…

~Matt

Guest Post- The Hardest Decision

This is a guest post from my friend Sherry Camelleri, Executive Director of Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center. Wherever you stand on the issue of abortion, there is no denying the impact it has had on society. Sherry and her organization works with families and individuals throughout the city of Reading providing parenting resources, supplies, a listening ear and a caring heart.  You can find more information at their website by clicking here.

The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Job 33:4
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (II Corinthians 5:17 – please read the rest of this passage)

Throughout this past year, news reports mingled with internet messages and blogs concerning the de-funding of Planned Parenthood were hot topics. We realize that questions and resulting conversations provide an ongoing opportunity to listen, and educate individuals and families regarding the value of each life. As believers, the potential we have is GREAT – providing biblical information on this vital issue.

More than a topic in the news, abortion impacts individuals and families – our co-workers, neighbors, friends and perhaps even family members. The individual/s living with this “secret” do so on a daily basis – facing reminders of the decision can be and often are very painful. During such a time as this, God has placed His children in a position to share the truth of God’s Word with compassion – offering forgiveness, healing and hope to the brokenhearted living and working among us.

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Located in the heart of Reading, Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center provides biblically based volunteer peer counseling and support services for individuals and families in need. An additional service is to provide post-abortion healing – true forgiveness found at the foot of the cross – in Christ alone.

Although Sanctity of Human Life is recognized each January, as the anniversary of Roe vs Wade is realized, the ongoing ministry of Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center addresses this vital issue every day the doors are open. While some individuals come to Mercy for a pregnancy test, and others might be in need of supplies, there are also individuals whose hearts and lives have been deeply wounded as a consequence of their decision to have an abortion. Lingering somewhere in their past, this painful memory comes to the surface which can result in extensive efforts to numb the guilt, shame, and regret. Prayerfully, the volunteers and staff of Mercy CCPC share the message of redemption.

Forgiveness, redemption, and healing are the beginning steps of a new walk – a changed heart and a changed life. The guilt, shame, regret and pain of the abortion decision no longer defines that person – yes, there is Mercy in time of need, Grace for each day, and Hope for the future.

As we recognize Sanctity of Human Life, it is our prayer that you will continue to celebrate the precious gift of life given to us by our Creator on a daily basis and also realize the powerful, heart, and life changing gift of eternal life.

~Sherry Camelleri, Executive Director of Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center

The Beginning of The _nd

The last post and this one combine to give you a preview of one of my upcoming projects.  Here is the introduction to The _nd, a story of transformation, redemption, and a life worth living. I hope you’ll hang in and follow as the story unfolds…

I got down to a knee on the gym floor facing a trio of first graders, my son Carter in the middle of them. The youth basketball game happened behind us. We were getting killed; I mean not even a competition, by a team older and more experienced. The boys were dejected in the special way that young boys can get, faces down, tears just hovering on the surface. I looked at them in the eye.

“It’s not over,” I said.

“Yes it is,” Carter told me. “If we were better, it would be different.”

My father logic searched for an answer. I tried to explain the thinking behind sports and competition, dipping towards an eternal lesson they could take into their adult lives. I pictured them accepting awards one day saying, “this guy that helped my basketball team when I was younger, he told me…”

The best I could do was something about small victories, about taking a fight one step at a time. They nodded. I added some of the usual sports clichés, patted them on their respective shoulders, and went back to yelling instructions at our players across the gym.

How many of us are sitting on the sidelines, heads down, looking to get out?

The opposition seems bigger, stronger, more experienced. The score is not in our favor. It may be real numbers like age or finances. It may be a force like an addiction that will not go away. We try and try, putting in our best shifts on the court, yet nothing works.

So we limp over and wait for the final buzzer.

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This project is about more than motivation. I’m not throwing on my spiritual Richard Simmons workout gear. This is about a major shift in our narratives.

For every life is a story.

We are born with divine purpose, called to dreams beyond our belief and comprehension. We are meant to push our limits, exceed expectations, and feed off endless hope.

Then our past kicks in.

We grow and build the stories around us. The first lines often come from parents, positively and negatively. Kids internalize everything. They remember and start shaping stories early

When conflicts come, it is these stories they fall back on. If they are flawed, which humanity dictates they will be, fear and anxiety result.

We must start listening to a new voice. One that tells us the ending has yet to be written on our lives, that we can break free and start fresh, that we can push towards higher destinations on the journey….

Stay tuned and check back as we continue this path of the unwritten ending.  Share with anyone you know needing some hope and I pray you’ll find some too along the way.

~Matt