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.

 

 

 

 

The Alternative Path

Rain had started to tap against the umbrella over our table.  I spun the Starbucks cup in my hand and looked up to pose a question to my friend, and our assistant pastor, Scott Kramer.

“Did you ever picture an alternative path?”

In the 1990’s, Kramer was drafted by the Cleveland Indians.  As a pitcher, small for the pros but powerful, he’d set a single game strike out record at Emory University. Scouts started attending with their pads and radar guns.

A stint in the minors, and three arm surgeries later, he was finished.

He laughed at my question.

“Of course I have,” he’d shuffled through a pair of jobs before being called to ministry and settling at our church for the past decade, “I wonder about what could have happened if I left baseball on my own will.”

We all feel the pressure of The Alternative Path.

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Life can feel like a series of swings and misses.  I help coach Carter’s baseball team.  When he doesn’t hit the ball as hard or as well as he wants, he gets upset.  I get frustrated.

Then I think about life and realize he’s mirroring me.

The Bible often paints pictures of lives shifted in the midst of their path. Mary, Joseph, Moses, Paul, everyone coming in contact with Jesus. We tell ourselves to Let Go and Let God (oh the profits for graphic designers).

I was listening to the Pastor Louis Giglio’s podcast from Passion City Church.  He mentioned one of the most misquoted verses as this, “In my weakness he is strong.” The verse, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, is:

“When I am weak, then I am strong.”

Our regrets can feel like weakness, but they allow grace to shine through. When we are destroyed, we can find and reflect God’s strength to others.

The Alternative Path is tempting, the Greener Grass seems to surround us just out of reach. In these moments, stay strong.

Know that you are able.

Even if the hits aren’t perfect, there’s always the next game, the next moment, the next conversation to make it work on your journey.

The fog will lift and the day will come when it all makes sense.

~Matt

The Gift of Changing Your Mindset

We started basketball last week.  In the gym of the local YMCA, Carter and eight other boys run around, dribble, pass and shoot. A good number of the kids on the team were in the spring’s baseball league, so we aren’t too far outside our comfort zone.  Carter loves the game.  Anything that allows a constant flow of movement is paradise.

Tonight, near the end of practice, Carter slipped and lost the ball to another player.  He fell and, as he stood up, started crying and saying he hurt his arm.  I walked him over to the side where he got a drink and rested for a minute.  The coach (a friend of mine) came over to try to get him back into things.

It took some convincing.

I sent the coach a text message afterwards to get his opinion on practice in general.  He said that Carter is great, if he could only figure out a way to change his mindset.

My son, blessed with coordination and athletic ability at age seven, can’t take conflict and failure.

As I typed that sentence, I realize he sounds a lot like his old man.

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As writers, failure and rejection is a part of life. Google famous authors and you’ll find their rejection stories, grand novels passing through a hundred publishers before finding the right one. Writers in second and third careers before their break and release onto the market.

Failure and rejection has meaning.

The story of Peter is one in the Bible that always fascinated me.  He was told, by Jesus, that he’d deny him three times.  Imagine the one you would die for telling you that you’ll turn your back in a time of trouble. The accusations fly and Peter, as predicted, makes his denials.

In the midst of pressure, he walks away. He takes the route of believed safety.  When he life goes sideways, he chooses to walk away rather than stand firm. We know it doesn’t end there, though, as he is reinstated by Jesus and lives out his life to face a martyr’s death like each of the other apostles.

The tipping point is the choice to get back in the game. When Carter cries, he’s reacting to failure, to the fear of not meeting expectations or making someone happy.  When he wants to walk away from the game, the shame (and shame must be strong at seven) wins.

I know that feeling, every time I put off editing another chapter, writing another post, or crafting another email.

There is nothing as exhilarating as living in your flow, playing the game, moving towards the end goal. This week, consider your mindset and make a change.  List out those things you are putting off, whether in business or personal life. Start getting them done one task at a time.

It is a gift that can change your 2016 for the better.

~Matt

Stressed Out

Last night we took our kids down to Royersford to the Halloween parade.  Val and I grew up in the town, a few blocks away from each other.  We met at the local grocery store and walked home from high school together. The streets bring back memories.

We found one of the last few spots to squeeze in for Carter and Aiden to sit on the curb. It worked until a group of older kids gathered in front of them and blocked their view for the entire parade. These kids were running up and down the street, taking candy from the parade people, and diving in front of the trucks and floats.

Driving home, Val and I vented at how things aren’t the same anymore.

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There’s a song by the group 21 Pilots called Stressed Out. The lyrics talk about missing the good old days, how if we had a choice between student loans and tree houses, we’d choose the tree houses.  There’s a declaration repeated where, rather than dreaming, it is time to “wake up you need to make money!”

The bridge between our childhood and the present isn’t as long as we’d think.

It is filled with meaning.

When we are young, we search for our identities through our environment, friends, school, and social situations. As we grow, we look inside and put ourselves up against our goals and ideals. The schoolyard transforms into the break room.

I can identify with the lyrics quoted above and I also know they aren’t totally correct.

We don’t need to wake up and make money. We need to wake up and find freedom.

Because the days are limited. Because our worth is not measured by our bank account.  It is found in the values we pass on, in the two boys I strive to raise into gentlemen. In the wife that is my partner and soulmate, my rock and the completion of my sentences. In the past that has driven me forward and the future that is waiting with the chance to make a difference.

Because the job and this life isn’t over yet.

~Matt

Back to Life

Change, for me, has always carried a mix of emotions.  I miss the things I leave behind and look forward to the things I am chasing down. If I had a dollar for every time I was asked, “So, what will you do with your degree?”  I wouldn’t have to worry about it! I don’t blame the ones asking the question.  Times are different.  Since 2008, the economy has changed and the demands of education has increased.  A Master’s degree is the new Bachelor’s. You can’t just send out ten applications and get ten interview requests. Merck, one of the largest employers in suburban Philadelphia, laid off over 600 people this week. I’ve been there and I feel for every one of those people going home and filing their unemployment papers and wondering how they pay the bills next week.

 

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I did my graduate presentation on writing a good antagonist.  One of the new students in the program asked my opinion on the current trend of popularity of anti-heroes, why movies and books are embracing the rebels and those acting outside of the classic “hero” pattern.  I mentioned that I had read an article about the popularity of The Walking Dead and that the writer mentioned that audiences were fed up with society. They were tired of the norm and celebrated a country ripped down by zombies.  Not many people are optimistic.

When you find yourself in the dark, keep your eyes on the light.  Remember:

“But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” ~Psalm 39:7

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~Jeremiah 29:11

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” ~Romans 15:4

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” ~Hebrews 11:1

I believe we are all called to a purpose, to a passion that will lead us to happiness. We have that underlying drive to gain what we seek. We have a calling to do something to change the world. All of this starts one step at a time, at home with those we love. As we go forward it will not always be easy but the prize is worth it. We know where to find our hope and our peace and where our light comes from when the darkness threatens. Failure may happen, but it is just a new chance to succeed.

So tonight, back from vacation, I’m looking forward at the journey. I’m so thankful for all I have and so excited for all that is coming, for the road that is rolling out ahead of my steps, for the chance to be a better father, husband, writer, and entrepreneur. As I take my journey, I wish you luck on yours and know that you never travel alone.

~Matt