Psalm

Oh Father hear me.

When the fear takes over. When my boys ask if their masks are on the table for school tomorrow. When they ask, what’s next? And tomorrow is a mystery.

Oh Father hear me.

When the miracles are sparse. When the prayers are not answered. When hope drifts away on the wind and it seems the darkness prevails.

Oh Father hear me.

When getting out of bed is an act of faith. When we’ve had our last argument. When everything is tight and, no, you can’t have a snack at night because that food has to last.

When we are one moment away from a lock down. One moment from violence, anger, sickness, rage.

Oh Father hear me.

When worship is illegal, faith is under attack, community is discouraged, help is dangerous. When the loudest voice has become the media, the politicians.

And our hearts are quiet.

Oh Father hear me.

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When we lose our heroes. When we lose the strength to go on. When we close up, close down, sit in the darkness and wonder how we got here.

Oh Father hear me.

Hear my prayer.

For revolution. For fresh faith. For new purpose. For the Big Yes, the move that no one could have predicted. The miracle that could only come from you.

For closer families. For better friendships. For distance learning that works. For students that feel safe. for communities to rise up and help each other.

For the new.

For release from fear, anger, frustration, and resentment. No more worry.

For the strength to look in the eyes of children and tell them it will all work out.

For the strength to believe it.

Oh Lord hear me.

Let your work be done.

Because we’ve reached the end. And it will be a long year. And we can’t do it alone.

And with you all things are possible.

All things.

Read and React

We assign meaning.

What is something for someone may not be the same for someone else. Struggle is an emotionally-charged word.

I help with my son’s tournament baseball team. We’ve had a busy summer as baseball at his level is still happening across the country. We are about thirty games into our season. I’ve had the chance to observe a few hundred youth players.

An ace pitcher for one team is not the same for the next. Your best hitter may barely make an elite team somewhere else. Your fastest runner may not keep pace with a different group.

The value is in where your pieces fit together.

We assign meaning and value.

We are in the midst of a generational year. Things are changing and some will never change back. Families are feeling the pressure. As school approaches for some, and others have returned already, the pressure only increases.

Fear is heavy and pervasive. How do we move forward?

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Reframe.

Students learning virtually are stepping into a job world that will demand those exact skills. We are forced to examine what value truly is. Where do we contribute. How can we give and help those around us.

How can we see problems as opportunities?

What if there is no such thing as a problem, only a situation that demands a response?

There is always a response. Not moving forward is a choice as much as picking your path and going.

Dread is addicting. Cynicism is romanticized. Anger is supported with enthusiasm in the guise of action.

The infection is not the virus.

The infection is what it has exposed about our world, our medical system, our politics and our country.

Reframe one step at a time. Read and React. One day, one plan. One move to handle one situation.

What’s coming will not be easy. What’s coming is also great opportunity. The choice is yours.

Watch Your Narrative

A friend of mine was a professional boxer. He’s held titles and appeared on HBO‘s boxing programs. Our boys have grown up playing baseball together.

The other day, in casual conversation, I asked him if his son ever asked about learning to fight.

No, he told me, he hates it.

I’m in the midst of reading Ben Hardy’s Personality Isn’t Permanent. In it he discusses how we process the past. The past, he writes, can be changed by how we access memories. Studies have shown the more memories are accessed the more they change. The past is malleable.

The past can be used to our advantage. The past can be shaped and constructed.

The present is an interaction between our past and future selves. If your future self could sit down with your past, what would they have to talk about? Hardy poses this question in his book and it hits hard.

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I’ve had my share of pain in the past. It has taught me things though, it has laid down markers in the path that has become my life. It has taught me the meaning of love, the reality of faith, the value of fatherhood and the treasure of time.

It has taught me that running will not solve a problem, that fear is meant to be engaged with and understood. It has laid a valuable foundation. Your pain, your frustration and troubles have done the same.

For we have a choice.

A family member is critically ill right now. He’s a genuine person with a big heart and he’s immensely skilled in his profession. He’s fighting his battles right now, a conflict his future self is desperately trying to win.

This week I decided on a break from reading the news. I still find myself scrolling through the headlines, but I won’t click into anything. It took a day or two, but weight started to lift. My narrative was getting overwhelmed with dark and intense articles, the kind of things put in front of our faces on a daily basis.

Watch your input. Watch what you tell yourself. Watch what you tell your children.

Your input equals your output.

Your past does not have to equal your future.

Your future, though, needs room to breathe and grow. That can only be obtained through processing the pain, worry, and fear.

You can be different. You can be totally different.

You can be the first.

Be willing to do the work and take a break from the noise. Process the past. Look to the future. Win your battles one moment at a time.

You are not your labels, your past, your pandemic.

You are more and your story can start today.

What If?

“What if paying the bills was no longer your goal? Would you still keep that job you hate?” -Ben Hardy

What if hate isn’t hereditary? Would you have that difficult conversation with your child?

What if love is meant for forever? Would you kiss your spouse goodbye?

What if you can’t get time back? Would you put down your phone?

What if faith isn’t passive? Would you be courageous?

What if dreams are meant to be chased? Would you take the risk?

What if sorrow is the most important teaching moment? Would you stop avoiding it?

What if miracles can happen? Would you pray?

What if a cure is coming?

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What if heroes aren’t who you think? Would you thank that person that just popped into your mind?

What if art and music can still carry you away? Would you stop and listen?

What if anxiety is too much control? Would you let yourself be free?

What if pain is only temporary? Would you hold their hand?

What if small acts last into eternity? Would you check on your neighbor?

What if your kids are watching?

What if school is virtual? Are you ready?

What if…

2021 is different

We stop listening to the media

We start chasing who we want to be

We love, we hope, we dream

We stop waiting for permission

Our time is now

Time is a Distance

One of my favorite writers, Ben Hardy, has examined this concept extensively.

Time is a distance. It is not how long you are going, but how far you move as a person. Are you the same person you were yesterday? Are you moving towards a future that will pull you years down your timeline?

As a family, we’ve been reminded of this recently on a few different fronts.

Our boys have trouble helping out around the house. Our oldest apologized the other day for something he always neglects to do. I told him, here’s a tip for later in life; apologize too often for the same thing and you will not be considered sincere or genuine. You’ll be a liar.

How far have you moved from your past?

Have you considered what you value and what is worth chasing?

Hardy writes;

“A person choosing to spend large portions time in an unsatisfying job in order to
make ends meet is on a fast track to his deathbed. Time will move increasingly faster as
a result of his slow pace—the relativity of time. The minuscule moments of freedom spent
doing what he desires will seem to disappear far too quickly; and before he knows it,
he’s back at the grindstone.
While at work, he may as well not be living as his time spent is detested. When the
goal is merely to “get through” the day as quickly as possible, life will pass full of regrets.
Time becomes the great taskmaster when it should be the liberator. His time is endured
rather than enjoyed. He is often late and constantly missing the moments that matter
most—caught in the vacuum of time-acceleration toward death without any perceived
way of slowing it down.”

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Authenticity is scary. What if we are rejected? When you’ve experienced rejection in the past, it is way easier to imagine for the future.

When you look at the weight of bad choices, all the things that could provide freedom seem unreachable. Good News is something for a social media feed. It is because we long for the grand “Good News” and not something that applies directly to us.

I had a sales job for two weeks after college. They taught the Keep Up With the Jones’s technique. Tell your customer that everyone around them is doing it and they might miss out.

We take our Good News with the same intent. Does it fit with our friends and family? Is it something that we can text and get a positive response? How about a few Facebook likes?

Or is it authentic?

What drives you?

What fills your time? What do you value? What is valuable to you?

Make no mistake, they are two different things.

This is a challenge I am working on right now and, reading through some resources I’m realizing some things that excite me, an authentic self I’ve buried under just getting by.

I’m realizing how much time I’ve traveled, how much I’ve lost, and what is left to accomplish.

Time, the distance, can be as we make it.

Be bold. Create. Follow your path even when you are the only one on it. Love deeply. Love well. Engage.

Slow things down.

See what happens.

Are We Allowed to Believe?

My car battery died today.

The thing is, I knew it was coming. The car isn’t old, just a 2016, but it was taking two tries to get it started. We’d looked up the make and model online and found that battery issues were common.

Still, I kept driving. I hoped the spot it died in would not be too inconvenient. Leaving a surgeon’s office on a visit, it finally refused to start.

Val picked me up and, a few hours later, AAA sent out a service guy and he replaced the battery. The procedure was simple enough. It could only happen after death, though. And it could only happen with a cost.

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I grew up with a system of belief. It took a few decades of life to knock that down and rebuild it into something more genuine, a faith more connected to the reality of struggle and suffering.

These past few weeks we’ve seen the country torn apart. All sides of the issue are still fighting. We’ve dug in, more divided than before. Our labels carry so much weight. Our political leanings drive nails of darkness into our identity.

One cannot be seen as simply one thing. Conservatives become fascists. Liberals become socialists. Support the police, support movements for social change. Support the misrepresented and underrepresented.

Do these things and you will be hated.

So, why believe?

Why pick a side?

Why stand up for anything when it will cost you friendships, relationships, maybe even employment?

If there is anything to believe in, it is this:

Believe in change.

Believe in grace.

Believe in large holiday dinners again, the smell of cooking ham and potato filling, deserts and coffee.

Believe in the human spirit.

Image from USA Today

Look in the eyes of our children and believe that love can be taught, tolerance can be learned, courage can be embraced and the foundation laid deep in their hearts because, one day, they’ll run the world.

Believe in freedom. Believe that struggles will pass, that poverty and sickness can be overcome. Believe that your story is not over.

Believe that the sun will rise on endless dark nights. Believe that raging fires can be walked through, that heat is only temporary.

Believe that generations of hate can be overcome. Believe that systems can change, that nothing is forever and new ideas can heal old wounds.

Someone may not have told you this is a long time, but:

You can dream.

It may not feel right, but you can dream. You can look forward to a different future.

You can hope.

You can live with a renewed strength.

2020 so far, has been a year of dealing with our illnesses. From the physical side to societal pains. Exposure of deep wounds, of those struggling and left in the wake of rampant self-centered drive. As much as companies are racing for treatments and vaccines, as much as a slow roll of political change is sounding, we must be willing to continue the work. Not just on ourselves and our families, but our jobs and our community.

All of creation demands a response.

But some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!” “I tell you,” He answered, “if they remain silent, the very stones will cry out.” 

Luke 19: 40

The stones are crying out.

What if everything so far has led to 2020?

And now the time is yours.

What You Don’t Know About Your Hair Stylist

Originally published on medium.com

She stayed up late last night looking at a list of names.

This list is more than one hundred people. She looks down the list as her cell phone alerts sound. Facebook, text messages, questions. She puts the phone down and goes back to the list.

Her list is not just names. It brings up faces in her mind.

Families.

Children she met as babies and cut the first time they were ready and not afraid to sit in her chair. Men and women, old and young. She takes a breath and she thinks about her list.

She thinks about her year. She thinks about what she knows and she wonders.

How is your wife dealing with her illness? How is your elderly father? How is your child dealing with home schooling?

She thinks about the client she invited to Thanksgiving, the lady who has no family, the one she hasn’t heard from in months and she worries.

She knows about your problems. She knows about your new job, about the child you are sending to college in the fall and she wonders how they will do because she’s cut their hair since they were in elementary school and she’s planning a small graduation gift for you to give to them.

Something to show she cares.

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She knows about your friends. She knows about your fights. She knows about your sex life or lack there of. She knows about your worries and she listens.

Her chair is a confessional, a psychology session, a bar stool. Your words never leave the salon and she will always keep it that way.

Her phone sounds again. She looks at the message.

When are you opening?

She closes her eyes.

The pandemic has taken months of time. Time is valuable. Days can be twelve hours, standing for most of it, morning to night. Appointments, cuts, colors, perms.

You need her to stay late? Sure. Your color didn’t turn out and you need it fixed? Let’s do it.

She works without breaks. She gives you her time. She gets home after midnight again and kisses her kids goodnight as they sleep in their beds. She changes in the dark, listening to her husband shift under the covers. She warms up dinner from a container. She sits at the kitchen table shaking her hands to wake up her wrists.

Her fork feels like it weighs a thousand pounds. Her right arm held a blow dryer for hours today, elevated, an extended single arm pull up that would hinder any grown man.

And she pours a glass of iced tea. And she eats as night passes outside.

Her phone alerts again. A comment on the salon’s Facebook page. People are angry. She scrolls through replies. She scrolls through her main page. She scans new status updates.

So happy to get my hair done finally.

Got my hair cut. Had to drive to do it, but it was worth it!

Two names on her list. She grabs the paper and makes changes.

The salon meeting happens over Zoom. PPE is purchased. Stations will be spaced out. Protect yourselves. Protect your clients. No one in the waiting room. They will enter from the parking lot, get cut, and leave.

No paying with cash.

And there’s the catch. The commission will be less, sure, but it will pick up eventually she believes. No cash though, that hurts. Credit card tips get taxed.

Cash is a tank of gas on the way home. Lunch money for school. A cup of coffee.

No cash.

Color is complicated. Color is chemicals. Color is heat and she’ll be wearing extra layers, so she’ll be sweating. So she’ll need to drink. Drinking means taking time. Time she doesn’t have with a crowded parking lot waiting to get serviced.

So she doesn’t drink.

Oh, and by the way, no blow-drying hair.

The final touch. The masterpiece. The way a client can see their beautiful new color in action.

Not anymore. No, they will go home and do it themselves and, if it doesn’t look good enough they will call that night to get it fixed.

And they will go back on the list.

“Mommy, I’ll miss you.”

She hugs her son. She’s spent months with them. She’s planned days and activities. She’s been a teacher and cook, mother and manager. She’d had weekends for once, months of weekends!

She’s gotten used to weekends.

Saturdays now will be different.

Saturdays will be her Mondays. Driving to the salon as the sun comes up some mornings, no traffic, window down and radio playing.

Nerves kicking in.

Her phone sounds again. It pulls her attention from a picture on the wall from when she was younger, fifteen years before. The first time she’d stepped in to a salon.

The moment she knew this would be her calling.

“It’s all I know,” she told her husband.

So they would wait until they could open.

One final weekend. One final week.

Looking at the list 1,000 more times.

She looks in the mirror. She tries on her work clothes and loops the mask over her ears. She wonders how this will work. She takes the mask off.

She finds her equipment. She cleans it.

She loads her car and she looks at the quiet house.

It’s time to go to work.

Matt Shaner has been married to a hair stylist for fifteen years. This is his tribute to his hero and to all stylists out there getting back into it. Stay strong. You will make it through.

My Biggest Challenge Right Now as a Dad

Originally published on Medium.com.

My son is eleven years old and he has anxiety. Not just worries or concerns. His triggers can be large or small. Change plans and you’ll create an emotional response. Take something away, discipline, ask for him to do something he doesn’t want to do and all this can lead to emotions that take time to calm.

He told me yesterday that sleep makes him nervous.

Yesterday was not easy.

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Fears come from pressure, real or imagined. Pressure comes from adversity. We have two options when faced with adversity; fight or flight.

Make yourself better. Now. In the moment. Get tougher to rise with the occasion.

I read about this stuff and, almost forty years into life, I get it. The message is not complicated. Every day I page through my worn copy of Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way.

My son has started to look at it. He’s interested.

The larger concepts are not easy to cross over.

When you are facing middle school. You are facing a summer that will not look like the last few. When you haven’t seen your friends in months. When the last day you entered a school was to drop off your stuff from home and you went as fast as possible to get the mask off quick enough to not have anyone see or make fun of you.

These changes in his personality have been coming for a few years.

In 2018, my wife and I experienced a miscarriage. He did not take it well. He was excited for a sibling and the loss hurt him, and all of us, deeply.

I’ve come to understand that loss offers us a choice. We can stay in it or use it to move forward stronger.

In his eleven years, we’ve dealt with other things large and small.

Nothing like this pandemic. Nothing like trying to explain why he has to distance and why he has to wear a mask in a store and may have to wear one eight hours a day in the fall, in a new school.

Nothing like this time of civil unrest, explaining to him that physical appearance means something in this world no matter how much we’d like to think otherwise, explaining that his job as a young man and eventual adult is to love everyone and work purposefully to stop hate whenever he sees it.

The biggest challenge I’m facing as a dad right now is this:

Standing in the center of this storm with two sons reaching for my hands looking for encouragement that the winds and waves will subside.

Looking to be steadied.

When the lesson is that adversity will never go away.

That forces moving against us call for us to rise up. That fear may be tempting you to run away but, in the end, running towards the source of the fear is the only option.

That’s the challenge.

Looking in their faces and saying no, the storms won’t stop. The waves will keep coming.

You two, my boys, will rise up and grow stronger.

Your sails will one day catch the wind and you will take off away from mom and I on your own journeys.

Until then we’ll be here. In good times and bad. When you laugh and when you are scared. When you fear. When the shadows seem too long.

We’ll be here to call you forward, to catch you when you stumble, and set you on your path once more.

Silence

It hasn’t been an easy two weeks.

I watched the turmoil of this election as it played out across the world. We’ve had our struggles in various parts of life. I’ve taken a job that has me working long shifts a few days a week and our family time has suffered.

Carter looked at me the other morning and said that he missed me and he wished I was home at night. As a father, hearing that breaks my heart.

You want to provide and make a difference but you don’t want to lose your son as a trade-off.

These weeks have seemed like a holding pattern.

I haven’t felt this much stress in a long time. And when I’d try to type I’d find nothing.

Silence.

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One of my goals recently is to be more honest. I’ve starting thinking about a project based on fatherhood, a book to reach out to other guys going through the same things as me.

Something for the rest of us that don’t have our lives lined up in a neat row.  The ones not in the holiday movies wearing sweaters as a fire roars in the background.  The dads staring down bills, stressed out spouses, crazy kids, and demands demands demands.

I’ve taken to listening to podcasts on the way home from work.  Something about the miles of dark highway makes it easy to listen. I had on my guy, Pastor Erwin McManus, and he said this last night.

He said his wife asked him why he always speaks about courage and living an adventurous life.  He replied:

It is my greatest fear to miss the opportunities God gives me and not live out the life he has planned for me.

His fear is missing the boat, the side street, the fork in the road that leads to God’s Grand Design.

I’ll admit, there are days where that design seems so far off in the distance that I’m not even standing at the starting line.

My fear, the thing that haunts me, is the same.  It is missing the opportunities that are coming, the open doors, the connections, the chance to live a full life and do something to put a dent in the universe.

We find what we look for; a sliver of daylight in the night, a crack in the wall, a whisper in the silence. Sometimes we only have the strength to turn our heads in the right direction and, just barely, open our eyes.

It’s a start.

 

The Floor

I hit bottom last night.

I’d woken up not feeling well from the night before, went to work and had a stressful twelve hours, had to stay late for reasons outside my control and, by the time I sat in the car, I was finished.

Everything just piled on. Every area of our lives felt like it is malfunctioning. We’re getting attacked on all fronts.

At these points you stop expecting something good to happen and worry about when the next bad news will hit.

I called Val as I drove home, my voice breaking with emotion. I felt like a boxer in the final round, the punches starting to hit home, and legs starting to give out.

After we ended our call I turned down the radio and prayed.

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God can handle honesty, so I let it fly with every single What is Happening and Why Us question I could find, the pain, hurt and frustration flowing until tears blurred the tail lights of the cars in front of me.

There’s a point where you let go of every cultural reference, movie, book, conversation, influence, or resource that you know. You stop trying to find solutions, give up on logic and sit in silence.

Your heart and God. Creation and Creator.

I wish I could say I heard an answer and found a direction, that a sign fell from the sky and landed in the back seat of the car but it didn’t. The rest of the ride was silence.

And that’s okay.

Because it needed to come out and maybe that’s the point in silence. For God to pull down through the walls we build up as men, husbands, and fathers and draw out the emotions we work so hard to hide.

The truth will set you free.  Even if its standing at the foot of the cross and pointing a finger to the sky in frustration.

At least you’re standing there.

As I type this, gratefully off from work for the day, Aiden is sleeping on the couch to my left. The house is quiet. The day is sunny and warm for November.

The breakdown of last night is still in my mind and I wonder what will happen today.  How will things be different? There’s a cliché that the only constant force is change.

I’m praying that’s true because we can’t live in the brokenness.  The wounds from ten years of struggling are too deep for too long and it is time to start moving again.

One step at a time.