Never Give Up

I remember, almost twenty years ago, going on the first date with my wife.  I remember our first movie together. I remember holding hands and driving around for hours as we soaked up every single second of new love.

We would walk around the mall and window shop furnishings for our future home. We’d stop and get frozen yogurt parfait cups at this little stand inside the mall and sit on a bench watching people walk by.

We had hope for the future.

Future that included picking out a wedding ring and the thrill of a proposal, the excitement of being new parents, and discovering who we were as we grew up from teenagers to adults.

Today the most dangerous thing we can do, as people and as a country, is lose hope.

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I believe in the power of change. I believe something better is on the horizon.

Somewhere in a room, in a city, a young man or woman is deciding to grow up and run for political office.  They will revolutionize the country with a platform of unity, peace and love.

Somewhere in a patrol car a police officer is making the choice to go out for another shift and do what is right even with a target on their back and today, in this moment, they will save a life that will start a movement and turn the tide against hate and division.

Somewhere on a playground a kid will look up from a text message to see bullying and put down their phone to stop it, changing the life of the victim and giving them hope that there is still good in the world and people do care.

Somewhere a shopper in a grocery store will buy some extra items of food and drive it to a friend or coworker in need.

Someone will find the courage to leave their apartment after months alone.

A terminal diagnosis will be reversed with healing that cannot be explained.

A father will come home.

A mother will find strength she didn’t know she had and stand up to lead her family.

A son will put down the needle and call for help.

A young couple will lock eyes across a bookstore and start a conversation that leads to laughter and a spark of connection.

I believe in hope for now. In powerful, positive change. There is always a reason to fight, to stand up against darkness and show it we will not sit quietly, to break the cycle of anger and make a difference.

I believe the time has come.

~Matt

 

Lingering

First, I want to apologize for a delay in posting.  The last two weeks have been busy, more than usual. Inspired by a few points I’ve written about recently, I decided to go back to school and make some concrete moves to follow a dream and gain some stability in life.

My heart breaks for all involved in the shootings across the country this past week. This country is sitting on a crisis point, one that arrived on the waves of two hundred years of history.

Then I find out a few days ago that my cousin, my closest female relative in age who was always like a sister to me, is in ICU dealing with a cardiac issue. She’s too young to have these problems and we are all concerned, as a family, praying and pushing hard for her recovery.

She had done something we all do, wait for what seems like an innocent illness to pass and, when it doesn’t, finally go to the doctors. It was almost too late.

Lingering pain can destroy our lives.

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We get comfortable in our narratives.

This morning I took Carter to a pediatric sleep specialist at Penn State Health.  He hasn’t slept a full night in close to five years. We just keep sleeping with him to maintain some level of peace and get him back down as quick as possible.

It was time for a change and, thankfully, he will have a sleep study.

It was too easy to let it go and tell ourselves things will change at some point.

We get this way with our faith, our physical health, our families and our marriages.  Change takes effort on both sides, bringing whatever we have and meeting God in a divine collision.

For there is no such thing as stasis.  If we aren’t moving forward, we are falling back.

I’m in the midst of reading Phil Knight’s memoir, Shoe Dog about the founding of Nike. He mentioned something the other night that stuck with me.

He said that the essence of competition is forgetting, forgetting the past and ignoring the voice that tries to convince you to stop. It is facing each challenge with a fresh template.

As impossible as it seems, the power of the past can be broken.  From a macro level with policy reforms and new leaders to the micro level of taking a step of faith. It may sound cliché at this point, but I believe that God has a purpose for all of us.

We have a difference to make and, if you are reading this tonight, your difference is still waiting.  Your job isn’t over.

Your divine collision is on the horizon.

~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

 

Never Gonna Stop

A life is a story.

We move through phases as we grow.  At the moment Aiden, our youngest son, is obsessed with touching his nose with his tongue.  He calls it his talent and shows as may people as possible.  Carter had some dental work done on Wednesday and, while his mouth was numb, bit his cheek.  He spent all day in pain and refusing to take medicine.

Today ranks up there as one of those Saturdays, as parents, you wish would end. Even when a season of your life is challenging, it will keep moving.

We spend our time shooting for moving targets, yearning for peace. We grasp at fleeting glimpses of paradise and when we feel secure we can be at our most vulnerable.

I had dinner with a friend of mine on Thursday, a man at the head of a local outreach organization for almost thirty years.  Two years ago the county government cut their funding abruptly.  I asked him if he ever doubted his purpose.  He said, only since the funding was cut. For decades he had security. Now he’s decided to dig in and fight to exist, to keep the dream alive.

He has a reason to hope.

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I’m in the midst of reading The Comeback by Louis Giglio.  Giglio is the pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta and the founder of the Passion conferences that draw thousands of college students internationally. In a chapter I read this week he says:

But no matter the pain we’re going through or the distance we’ve traveled away from God, Jesus is always there for us. He doesn’t stop healing us. He never stops forgiving us. He won’t stop restoring us. He refuses to stop loving us.

Those five sentences are life changing. No matter what is happening, God is still working in your life, still healing, still forgiving.  You are still being restored and loved.

No.

Matter.

What.

Every struggle. Every failure.  Every time I’ve taken three steps back after two forward.  Jesus is there.  The process is never-ending. Even in the darkest pit, we are being restored and healed.  Even in our hottest desert, we are loved.

Tomorrow, if you need a reason to worship and turn your heart to God, remember this.  You are a work in progress and, no matter where you are or how you feel, the work never stops and the greatest craftsman in the universe will never walk away.

~Matt

Faith and Life in Action: 3e Restoration Inc.

I connected with Pastor Fred Liggin after publishing this article in RELEVANT Magazine. We exchanged emails and I learned of 3e Restoration Inc., a program revolutionizing the fight against poverty in Williamsburg, Virginia. Liggin is the Founder and President of 3e and pastor on staff at Williamsburg Christian Church. He’s a man of God, husband, father, and passionate activist. I’m proud to call him a friend and publish this post with the story of 3e and Faith and Life in Action. Without any further hesitation, here’s Fred:

 

I’ve been walking with folks from homelessness to holistic sufficiency now for just over twelve years. Four years ago when I came to WCC, I began walking with a family living through homelessness. This evolved into calling members of our church to serve as what we called “All In Friends.” From there I began to build a network of relationships within the city—professionals willing to donate services (mental health, job-training professionals, occupational therapists, financial advisers, dentists, etc.) to help with wrap around services.

As other local faith groups caught word of what we were doing I was asked by an inter-faith collaborative to teach other churches how to do it. We began piloting a city-wide effort together. Upon the completion of this pilot we launched a non-profit to keep up with equipping other local churches to do the work.

We now have three local churches that have embraced the process and have trained twelve leaders from seven different local congregations to move toward implementing the process in their congregations. We also have three more local churches discerning how to embrace the 3e Restoration process and engage those living through homelessness through gracious hospitality and meaningful relationships. 

A beautiful movement has begun here in greater Williamsburg, Virginia.

I strongly believe that just as the gospel was born on the margins in the narrative of Scripture, missional renewal is born on the margins for the local Church.

This is why I deeply believe in the Church despite her brokenness.

Williamsburg Christian Church found Jesus on the margins four years ago as they were a church in decline. It was there we found renewal and that has given birth to a whole host of beautiful stories to include those living through poverty, those experiencing wealth; those wrestling with addiction, those enjoying sobriety; those moving upward in their career, those working multiple jobs to make ends meet; those living with intellectual disabilities and mental illness (we have an entire assisted living home gathering and sharing in life with us now), those with PhD’s.

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3e Restoration was birthed out of this context and from 12 years of personal experience. So this isn’t a story about me. It is a story about our missionary God inviting His people to rediscover their identity as a missionary people who genuinely seek to be present with their neighbors—even the one’s no one claims–and make His kingdom known in tangible ways.

I find that when a church, or even a Christian, embraces gracious hospitality as a posture and way of being in society, surprising friendships are formed and healing can begin for all, even the discouraged. Sometimes when I am burdened by the frustration of the Church, I go away and be with the “least of these.” I believe that we can catch glimpses of Him in them.

Honestly some times I see more of Jesus in the downtrodden, the last, least, lonely and left out than I do myself or other Christians.

I have to just go and serve and get away from the trappings of institutionalized Christianity and its way of life. I learn from them. I see Jesus in them. I walk away encouraged.

Then I return to the institutionalized Christianity. That is important. I must come back to put my hands and feet to work among God’s people, remind as many as I can of the way we should see the world, ourselves and others, and call us back out into the margins and away from the center of society.

I think another thing is that I must believe that my life is not happenstance and neither are my encounters with others. People are too precious to God for this to not be true.

So I must be attentive.

As every day people living in everyday places we must choose to learn how to be open to the possibility that nothing or no one is irredeemable–a resurrected King Jesus makes us prisoners of hope. His kingdom is breaking-in, my job is to bear witness in word and deed, tangible expressions of grace, hope and love. And this best happens in community.

Now my resurrectional identity is more than a theological platitude. It becomes what it means to be a child of God and citizen of His kingdom. And it inevitably moves us closer to others where surprising friendships are formed and healing begins–healing for us all.

You can connect with Pastor Fred in multiple ways:  His blogWilliamsburg Christian Church and 3e Restoration. He’s on twitter @liggin and on Facebook. Be sure to follow his posts and the efforts of 3e. Their work is valuable to the national conversation about poverty.  He is an inspiration.  If you are struggling this week, consider his story of stepping out and making a difference. We are called to the margins and, when we return, we are never the same again.

Why We Write: To Heal Old Wounds

I had worked my way through writing a novel about a dysfunctional family and pair of brothers in a complex relationship.  Their lives were filled with jealousy, betrayal, and power struggles. After my climactic scene of Part 2, I had one brother call the other on the phone, only to get his voice mail and leave a message in anger and frustration.

My mentor read the section and called me on the phone.

“They need to have that conversation,” she said. “He can’t avoid the fight.”

Just the thought made me uncomfortable. I’m not a guy who likes conflict.

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Photo Credit: *brilho-de-conta via Compfight cc

Every story contains a part of the author.  Writers are born haunted people. We work to chronicle life and human emotion.  We push our hurt and pain into our words. The old saying is that there’s only seven original stories to tell.  The great ones, from the Bible to Shakespeare and Steinbeck, contain deep and powerful conflict.

They also have hope.

Stories allow us to live vicariously through our characters, to test drive solutions, to have arguments we wanted to have with people we may never see again. They allow us to get the last word and, when we empty out our emotions it creates a cathartic moment. We see different angles and empathize in places we may not have before.

Writing allows us to face our demons.  Words can heal. They deepen our understanding of life and teach our audience how to be more authentically human. They are a psychic connection of thoughts and images, flow and feelings.

We write to heal ourselves and, by extension, those who honor us by reading our stories. It is not easy but, in the end, it is the most rewarding part of the job.

~Matt

Mindset Matters

I’ve spent more than a year working the insurance side of rehabilitative medicine. For those of you not familiar with the term, a rehab hospital takes on patients after their surgeries, illness, or accidents. They work on restoring function and daily life activities with exercises for the body and mind.  This experience has taught me the importance of mindset.

Those hurt most deeply can heal if they believe they can.

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Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a name-it-and-claim-it guy. God isn’t a fax machine that receives our requests and returns a response as soon as our faith level is higher than a set point. The battle, the fight that flows one step at a time, relies on mindset.

I’ve seen patients come through the door in severe states of injury and illness.  The ones who believe they can improve make the highest gains. The others who do not can, and will, get stuck.

I’m on the email list of John Lee Dumas, founder of Entrepreneur on Fire. If you are interested in starting your own business, or already in the journey, check out his site.  In his most recent email he wrote the following:

The only way out of following your dreams is that you have to quit.

Read that again.

Following your dreams can take many forms.  It can be personal, emotional, financial, health, or wellness.  It can be writing that book that’s haunted your soul for years, running that marathon, losing that first pound, and having a single good day.

One day of victory. One day of hope available for anyone willing to chase it. Everyone deserves a shot to follow their dreams.

Mindset matters.

Know any people who just bring down a room? When the caller ID shows their number you cringe just a little inside.  We can carry the weight of our pain and make it our identity.  We take out our resentment on the closest target, whether we know them or not.

Nothing is easy. We are told in Scripture that we will have troubles in this world, but we know who has overcome the world. We remember the verses, talk to friends, pray, journal, and take on the next day to fight again. We choose how we feel and enter into a mindset.

We pick our lens to view the world.  So, how are you seeing things today? What is your frame of reference?

What dream are you chasing?

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration:

Something different for today.  David Jack is an athletic trainer. He’s appeared on more than one television program and publication.  He’s an inspiration and a man of God. This video is the first in a series of three.  Every statement he makes here is golden and speaks volumes about the importance of mindset in life.

 

When We Reach the End

Turn on your computer or the television these past few weeks and it was not be long before you saw a headline about the Ebola virus.  The disease has crossed borders out of Africa and made its way to here and to various countries in Europe.  We see the microscopic slides of the virus itself and cannot help but think about death.

In Oregon, Brittany Maynard has chosen to end her life legally under the state’s Die with Dignity laws.  All you need to do is pass a psychological workup and you can get a doctor’s prescription for drugs that will stop your heart. Maynard is facing cancer in her brain that will lead to a horrific amount of suffering.  She has chosen to die on her own terms before her body is overcome with the disease.

Val and I both have had friends and loved ones deal with cancer. We have had friends die in car accidents and illnesses. We know people dealing with these things right now. Some will be victorious and some will not.

As believers, the shadow of our mortality is a constant in our lives.

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Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16: 24-25

We are called to live dead, to have one foot in this world and one eye on eternity.  With this in mind, how we interact with those in crisis is of vital importance. When someone you know is facing death, they will question everything.  Always be prepared:

With Understanding: This person is no different from the one you knew before the diagnosis or accident.  Illness does not make become someone’s identity.  I’ve seen plenty of badly injured people recover with the right mindset.  Understand where they are coming from. Validate their concerns, do more listening than talking, and be the shoulder they need to lean or cry on.

With Love: We are often left speechless when faced with a friend or family member in the midst of tragedy. It seems easier to give them space, put them in their own compartment that we can access when we’re ready. Avoidance is human nature and we must constantly fight this impulse.  Keep lines of communication open.  Be there. Show up. Your time is a treasure they will value more than you know.

With Hope: Don’t be fake or shallow.  Pray with them, if they’d like, and pray for them alone. God can break into our world and heal.  It may not be instant. The wave of life can start with one good day, one cell tipping the battle against infection, one effort to get out of bed and take a step towards the doorway.

If you are, or know someone, who is dealing with any of this please feel free to share this post.  Any light can help in the darkness.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration: