The Gift of Not Having to Say Thank You

I’ve written before about my love for the television show Supernatural. On Friday night, as I watched one of the episodes from the tenth season, an exchange of dialogue hit me.

Sam and Dean, brothers played by Jensen Ackles and Jared Padlecki, are riding in a car going to hunt down the latest monster of the week.  In the midst of a rainy drive they are discussing the events of the past few episodes, moments where Sam had gone to great lengths to save Dean.

Ackles, perfectly in character, mentions that he never said thanks for being saved.

Padelecki looks at him, pauses for a moment, and replies:

“You never have to say that.  Not to me.”

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The moment works on many levels.  From brother to brother, it says that one will always be there.  Family stands high enough to mean there isn’t a need to say thank you.  You’ll always be there, regardless.

It also means that gratitude is understood and that things will be okay.

The idea of not having to say thank you works against everything we’ve put front and center in society. We demand recognition for our efforts and our input. The ones spending their lives in service to others know and understand that this dynamic fails.

This Tuesday, in Reading, a team of volunteers will gather to serve meals to those in need in an event called Cups of Compassion. The individuals I met during this past year of book research will fill some of the spots on this team.  They spend often more than forty hours a week in the world of the poor, ill, beaten down, and distressed.

They go to work every week, go home at night, and go back to do it again in the morning.  They see their clients often fall off the wagon of sobriety and end up incarcerated, in the hospital, or in the graveyard.

These warriors, ones like Sherry Camelleri, Rob Turchi, Frank Grill, Steve Olivo, Sharon Parker, Dan Clouser and Craig Poole and the staff at United Community Services, Berks County Prison, Berks Women in Crisis, Service Access Management, Opportunity House and other shelters in the city all do what they do without the expectation of thanks.

They do it because they care.  They will always be there.  They understand the need to save and their abilities to make it reality. They change lives with selfless love that embodies this time of year.

We can follow their lead and give back, all without expectation or condition.

For the need will never go away. We must rise to fight, step to the line, and give the gift of living to serve without having to hear “thank you.”

~Matt

 

 

The Difficult Conversation

Today was Carter’s first day of school.  To celebrate, I picked him up and told him we’d go out to dinner and to The Works (a restaurant/arcade/play area near us).  I said we’d go anywhere he wanted for dinner and he picked Subway.

As we sat eating our sandwiches, a television in the dining area played CNN’s coverage of the horrific shooting in Virginia.  Carter watched this with me and asked me what happened.

I told him that two people were hurt bad on television. A few hours before I had watched the Youtube clip of the shooting footage and it gave me chills. We redirected conversation to his day and he was content finishing his meal and playing with my cell phone.

It is time for the difficult conversation.

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I’ve been honored to spend the last year researching and compiling a book about the fight against poverty here in Reading, Pennsylvania. We have people in many different industries coming together to bring new life to this city. New ideas flow on a weekly basis. Change is necessary and, with it, throwing out old ideas and ushering in new ones.

We must do the same with gun control.

Now, I have friends and family who are avid hunters. I support the Second Amendment as, at the time it was written, the Colonists were dealing with a distant government confiscating their weapons to prevent the Revolution. Yes, you have a right to protect your property and family.

That doesn’t change the fact that gun violence is out of control.

One of the vast differences between the Old Testament and New Testament sections of the Bible is the processing of law.  Old Testament law gave us the phrase “an eye for an eye.”

Then Jesus arrived.

He told us to turn the other cheek. To live in peace and love. When soldiers came to arrest him in the Garden, Peter cut off a man’s ear and Jesus promptly healed it. He died at the hands of an oppressive government to give those who follow him freedom.

He preached sacrifice. Picking up a cross and laying down your life for another.  He preached love and grace, treating others as you wish to be treated. His arms were open to all.

He stands in opposition to the World.

So how do we bridge the gap?

It is time to have the hard conversations, to discuss new methods of curbing crime and incarceration. To attack poverty and homeless with community improvement and involvement. To encourage neighborhood revitalization through new businesses, education, and entrepreneurship. To spread the availability of social services, mental and physical assistance to those in need before they reach extremes of behavior.

It is time to bring all sides to the table.

Our world can be different. My boys can work jobs they love one day without fear of violence. It will take a massive and necessary effort.

Let the conversation begin.

~Matt

Systems Change: Family Promise

I passed the office twice before I could find it, finally pulling over and firing up the GPS on my phone. It took circling the block past Hope Rescue Mission and down the historic section of 5th street.  I parked between a pile of black trash bags waiting for pickup and a section of road construction, jogged across the street, and entered the lobby for Family Promise of Berks County.

Family Promise started almost thirty years ago in New York in an effort to help a growing crowd of elderly homeless individuals. It spread to other states and territories, offering services for the elderly, families, and individuals.  The office in Reading handles around two hundred applications a year for their intensive 90 day program.

I followed a family through the entrance and up the winding staircase, meeting Gwendolyn Didden, director of the Reading office.  Didden has worked in the non-profit world for twenty-five years.  She brings a unique mix of social science, experience, and faith into the mix.

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We spoke for almost two hours about poverty, homelessness, healing, and spiritual sickness.  Many of Didden’s statements stuck with me. She said:

“World systems are flawed, but God’s systems are flawless.”

We often view those that suffer as outliers. The homeless, addicted, mentally ill, and poor fall outside the lines. Suffering equals personal failure. If you are going through something bad, it reflects your faults.  What if our systems are flawed? What if we can only survive through the selfless love and support of others? What if we put our faith in a government that can’t get it right?

The more you think about it, the more it makes sense.

What if the problem is one of the soul?

I believe in change.  Cities can change. Families can change. Marriages can change. Souls can change. There is hope. The shackles of poverty, homelessness, conflict, and strife can end. The process isn’t easy or quick.  It isn’t immediate.

It is real, when we believe.

~Matt

As a reminder, you can get my e-book: Your First Step for FREE at the following link:

Just Click Here

Check it out and share with anyone needing some hope in their life.

What is Radical Change?

“Radical change is achievable and, at times, done with small moves.”

I was in mid conversation with Craig Poole, businessman and general manager of a Hilton Hotel under construction in the city, as “Gimme Shelter” played over the Peanut Bar’s sound system.  We were talking about how changes are made. Mr. Poole walks Penn Street and visits local businesses.  He meets with owners about the future.

He finds a bench in the rough part of town and stops to talk with people, much like he does with me.

“People will ask me about what I do and how they can do it.  I say it is nothing crazy.  The seat I sit in will be empty tomorrow.”

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What does radical change look like for you?

At my lowest points, it was simply holding hands with Val.  The motion pushed me back to living and chipped away at the emotional walls I had built. If it feels like you are looking up from the bottom of a well, start small.

Find the first stone that provides a foothold.

If your faith has become routine, look for the next empty seat.  Go to an outreach program. Volunteer an hour on a Saturday to serve. Assess your community and support the good things that are happening.

Radical change happens with a shift in:

  • Thoughts
  • Behaviors
  • Speech

Think of a better future. Act on the thoughts to make it a reality.

Speak positivity.

Tell your children that they are “bad” and they will grow up to believe it.  Talk to a child of an abuser or addict and you’ll hear the same story.

Our actions speak into our families, our churches, and our cities. Our compassion changes reality.  Our love completes the picture.

To start your own radical change, consider the empty seats in your life and take the first step to get them filled.

~Matt

 

 

 

New Publication

words can change the world

We write for two reasons.

1-To Be Heard

2-To Change Things

I started P356 with this goal in mind, that the words would make a difference.  Today marks the publication of my next e-book, Lazarus Art: Calling Christian Writing Back From the Dead.

“For too long the world of Christian writing has found itself in the margins. It is time to reach for a higher standard of creation. Using the Biblical story of Lazarus for inspiration, this book examines three critical areas for improvement and challenges writers of all levels to push themselves deeper into their work. Christian writing can change with some valuable first steps and find itself with new and greater audiences. The time to change is now.”

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You can download the book here.

A portion of any proceeds will go to support Hope Rescue Mission, the next official Community Partner for P356.  The men at Hope are changing lives in this city on a daily basis and I am honored that they allowed me to visit and include their efforts in the current project. You can find more information about their work on the Community Partners page.

As we enter Easter Week, let us not forget the meaning beyond the candy and egg hunts.  We are called to follow, to celebrate the one who lived change on a daily basis to the point where death was no longer the final answer.

Never forget there is hope, light in the darkness, and freedom for those who search.

Sunday’s coming.

~Matt

This is Why Poverty Matters

“In downtown L.A., however, as many as 54 blocks — between Third Street and Seventh Street, from Alameda to Main — are almost entirely given over to the homeless, the limbless, the drug-addicted and the mentally ill. Battered tents line the boulevards. Mountains of garbage block the sidewalks. The air smells like urine, feces and burning crack. And everywhere there are people — dazed, disheveled, disabled; stretched out on lawn chairs or sprawled on the pavement; some scoring heroin from marked tents, others injecting it between their toes in plain sight, mere blocks from some of the hippest new bars and restaurants in town.”

On Monday, a cell phone video released showing police in Los Angeles shooting a homeless man to death.  He was mentally ill, living in Skid Row for years and, according to police, grabbing for an officer’s gun.  You can find coverage here. Yahoo’s article starts with the above description.  It continues to say this:

“The more difficult questions, perhaps, are the ones that fewer Americans will ask. Why was a troubled man who reportedly spent 10 years in a mental facility living in squalor on the streets of the nation’s last dedicated homeless district? Why was he surrounded by as many as 6,000 men, women and children in similarly dire straits — 2,000 of whom sleep on the sidewalks? How can a place like this still exist? And what can be done about it?”

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Photo Credit: bondidwhat via Compfight cc

The city of Los Angeles started a Housing for Health program, a push for supportive housing to get people off the streets as a first-level solution.  The first Community Partner of P356, We Agape You, is also focused on a housing initiative for the city of Reading. The answer, as simple and clear as it can be, is to acquire stable rooms and put people in them. Do this and you take a large step against the ills of poverty.

As we read this post in our homes, the world of Skid Row seems far away. The poor are “out there” and we are “in here.” As believers, we like to compartmentalize our missions to the missionaries.  You want me to give something extra?  Sure, I’ll throw some money into the bucket, maybe collect some cans and drop them off at church. As long as we don’t have to get dirty.

We follow a Savior calling us to get dirty.

We follow a Savior who lived his years on the fringes. He ate dinner with those outside of society and angered the religious leaders of the time. He went to those in need. He wants us to do the same.

This is why poverty matters:

These people are all our families. These kids sleeping on the sidewalk are our children.  Their struggles are our own and we cannot ignore it.

This fight is one I’m capturing in my current book project.  Please consider joining with P356 to help the words make a difference. The moment the story moves from the news into your heart is one that you will never forget.  It will change your life and drive you to change the lives of others.

You will make a difference.

~Matt

The Secret to Getting Rich

I love to write.  I love writers.  In my time at Fairfield University, I made many friends and had mentors who are some of the most skilled writers I know.  I believe in the power of the written word.  On many evenings, during the residencies, people would sit and talk about the big contract, Oprah’s book list, and seeing our work on the shelves at Barnes and Noble or downloaded in the nearest Kindle.

It took one phone call to change my opinion.

Last winter, I had a forty-five minute conversation with a literary agent while in my hotel room during a snow-dusted winter’s night.  He started off telling me that he was going to offend me.  That’s a great way to lead into a conversation.

Can you imagine how it went?

After pointing out all the work I had to do and my lack of skill, he ended the call.  I hung up and laid on the bed.  I looked at the ceiling and wondered what the hell I was doing.  Who did I think I was trying to see this through?

Why did I want to be a writer?

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In the pages of Manhood, Terry Crews talks about getting cut by multiple NFL teams and how he had to learn about the coldness of the business.  Last night I read a line that has stuck in my head.  He said that, during his struggles to build a NFL career, he learned a key life lesson:

Never make a decision based on money.

Think about that for a second.  How many minutes of the day do you think about money? How many seconds? The stack of bills can feel like a mountain. The calls from creditors can seem unending. The money is never enough.

So how is his challenge even possible?

  • Consider the bigger picture- What does your choice mean for you and the ones you love? Considering a job change, a new purchase, a big decision? Think about who you are doing it for and how it will change your life.
  • Know God’s Promises– Consider the birds of the air and the flowers of the field.  Jesus told us how they are provided for and how much more important we are.  Pray God’s promises in your life. No, he’s not a slot machine. Yes, he will provide. He knows your needs.  Have faith, even when it is a challenge.
  • Give- Needs are all around us. We know about tithing but also look in your community. Search online for charities. Talk to your friends. Jesus told a rich man to sell all his possessions. To quote a bad cliché, there’s no hearse with a U-Haul behind it.

I’m taking all three of these to heart with Overcome, the first book from P356. I’ve partnered with Berks Coalition to End Homelessness and I’ll have some exciting information coming soon about the new goals for this book and how the Coalition will use all profits earned from publication to make a difference for local families.

P356 is growing and the foundation of this growth is writing to fight the battle against poverty. Stories are activism. They can and they will make a difference.

That is why I write.

Can you imagine never making a choice based on money?

With God, all things are possible.

~Matt