10 Lies We Tell Ourselves as Fathers

1/I am ready. You are never ready.  From the moment I held Carter for the first time, I knew my life had changed. No amount of guidebooks, movies, or internet research can prepare you for having a kid.

2/My kid will be a copy of me. Some of you may luck out on this.  I did not.  I have dark hair and brown eyes.  My boys are a blonde and a red-head and their personalities are polar opposites of my own in many ways.  Some nights I shake my head and wonder where they came from.

3/My marriage will stay the same. Kids start you on a process of discovery.  Your time is now split and your love has grown deeper and wider than you could ever imagine.  Now, what to do with it?  You were a team and now you are a unit. Days are blank slates and you must rewrite the script every morning.

4/My wife can take care of it. I’m guilty of this.  When you add kids in the mix of work, money, family, faith, and health things can fall to the side. When you have a wife who takes care of things, it can be tempting to let it go.  Be sure to step up and do your part.

5/My wife can take care of it (part 2). There is a phrase thrown around in faith circles of being a servant-leader. In the midst of the noise, it can easy to forget to take the time.  We should be talking about life, faith, disappointment, hope, love, joy, and salvation whenever we can to our kids. We should start them on the right waters and help guide their spiritual journey into the future.

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6/The sun will always shine. There will be fights.  The first time your kid looks at you in anger, you will never forget it.  You may think you’re a great dad but all it takes is a wrong answer to a question and it will set things off.  Disappointment is okay. Your kids need to experience negative emotions and learn how to process them. This is the hard part; give them permission to ride out the storm.  It will be valuable in the end.

7/Stuff is enough. A pile of toys only leads to more piles of toys. Eventually the interest fades and the gap must be filled with something. You can’t buy them off because the void will continue to grow. It is at the point where Val and I seriously limit gifts.  Experiences are more important.  Objects pass but memories will live on.

8/No second chance. Your kids are not your chance to “make things right.”  Too many people maneuver their children to sports or other endeavors to live out everything that did not happen in their own lives.  We hold up the past against our kids and vow to not make the same mistakes again.  This is fine as long as we understand they are their own person and a new story waiting to be written, even with influences from the past.

9/No measuring stick. Get a group of dads together and what happens? The talk will move from marriages to jobs and eventually kids. Achievements will come up, sports, talents, schoolwork, whatever it may be.  Don’t fall into the trap. Let your kids stand for themselves and let their accomplishments come up in conversation from other sources. Don’t be that guy, that trophy parent.

10/Never break the mold. You are allowed to cry, to laugh, to be embarrassed in public and play on the playground.  You are allowed to hug your kids, pick them up and spin them around before throwing them on your shoulders. Maybe your dad never did this with you but, in the end, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it with your kids.  Start a new family tradition and have the courage to see it through.

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What is Sacred?

There is a strong connection between our whys and our whats. Cause and effect, action and reaction.  As writers, we love to play with it.

Every character has a goal. Every conversation points towards a desired result. Every move has meaning.

When we lose touch of the sacred we can feel a profound sense of disconnect. Joy is a struggle. The sunsets look dimmer, the nights darker. We give until the tank is empty.

If we’re not careful, we can take down the loved ones in our orbit.

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I read a blog post last week from Michael Hyatt, written by his daughter Megan Hyatt Miller, who is also an executive in his company.  She wrote this:

The Goal is sacred, the Path is not.

It was a line burned into my head.  Permission to find new paths, to keep the target in mind and do what is necessary to get there. My dream is to write.  I write.

I will always write. (You can find my most recent book here.)

When you find yourself forgetting the sacred or in the midst of the struggle, allow a pivot. Stick and move. Look for a new way to chase your dream.

Let yourself go.  The joy will come.

~Matt

Make Your Hands Clap

My son Aiden loves music.  Not just songs for kids either.  We’ll be riding around in the car and, before I know it, he’s singing along with whatever I have on the radio.  I can listen to pretty much anything but country music so I feel like he’s picked up this quality from me.

The other day the song HandClap came on the radio.  It is the newest release from the band, Fitz and the Tantrums. If you’ve never heard it, check out the lyric video below.

I showed him the video and he insisted I make the hand motions.  On a whim I decided to look up the band and found one of those rare moments of inspiration that can speak into your life.

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Lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick had always loved music.  He studied it throughout school and found his way into a career behind the scenes of recording and production.  He decided, at age 32, to take piano lessons.

This expanded his world musically and led to their first hit, Breaking the Chains of Love, that Fitzpatrick composed on an old church organ he purchased from a friend for $50.00.

Imagine, living more than thirty years with a vague idea of what you want to do and, one day, you decide to take a shot at it. You take a risk and it pays off.

We often go through lives with vague ideas and passions. It takes effort and risk to see the end result. Fitzpatrick could have settled and yet he looked forward.

It takes courage to keep moving when the weight of the world rests on your shoulders. There are times when you get caught up in the circumstances and forget the why that drives you.

Find your joy, even in the future, and chase it down. Don’t settle. There’s no time limit to the race.  You can find it in your twenties, thirties, forties, and onward.

Make sure to stop and clap your hands every once in a while and experience the happiness you find on the way.

~Matt

 

Suspension of Disbelief

Edgar Allen Poe created fiction that defined a genre. He made the literary rounds of his time, eventually dying mysteriously in the city of Baltimore  and starting a tradition where followers would leave a black rose on his grave for the anniversary of his death. I have a Collected Works of Poe on my bookshelf.

When he ventured into writing about writing itself, he gave us the idea of suspension of disbelief.  It was the dividing line when a reader gives in to a story no matter the content.  The lovers cause your heart to race, the stormy night makes the corners a little darker, and the fanciful world seems like it is just outside your door.

Think of your favorite book or movie.

Odds are it is a story with a quick suspension of disbelief.  Whether a space opera, teen post apocalyptic fantasy, or guy building a baseball field to connect with his dead father. The themes of great stories cross over into our lives and provide an escape that keep us coming back to turn the page or see the movie just one more time.

mirror-light-black-glassToday didn’t feel like one of those days.

Maybe you went to a job you don’t like, clocked in and out, and drove home to go through the motions.  Maybe your spouse or loved one didn’t acknowledge you when you walked through the door, the house is a mess, the cushions are off the couch for the 1000th time as portable gym mats while your kids do flips from the couch (not that I speak from experience, or anything).

Maybe the paycheck arrived and it is already spent. The student loans pile up. The lenders are calling and the car is two months behind an oil change, but getting one means taking time you don’t have and money you don’t have.

So something has to suffer.

How do we learn to love our own stories?

Embrace the characters- Your circle will expand and contract as the years pass. People come and go but some will stay forever. Find those who make your life full; the dreamers and visionaries, the creatives and the ones that make you laugh.  Find joy and the hearts it inhabits.  Bring these people close and, when you do, look out for others who could use some joy in their own lives.  Expand your circle and make a difference.

Embrace the conflict- It will not always be clear or easy. Some of the most powerful conflict has shifting lines of allegiance.  In one of my favorite novels, The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, the conflict is between the author, his lover, and her husband. All sides falter and the humanity of the characters draws you in. When conflict comes, you have two choices.  You can run or fight. There is no other option. I tend to procrastinate and, really, it is only another form of running. As the saying goes, if you aren’t moving forward you are falling behind.  Always keep moving forward.

Embrace the crescendo– The hero is down on the mat and the ref is counting to ten. The bases are loaded with two strikes in the bottom of the ninth. The big presentation is due and the PowerPoint file is corrupted.

Thunder sounds over a trio of crosses on a hill so many years ago.

You’ll know when it happens.  We are all called to a crescendo, to a taste of the edge, to the point where all seems lost. We are called to suffering.

That may make some uncomfortable.  It is not a popular message in a world of quick fixes, success strategies, coaching courses and prosperity ministries. You won’t find too many graphics at the local Christian book store with the phrase behind an artistic sunrise print.

We suffer because we are being refined as part of the Greatest Story Ever Told. We suffer because we follow the one who went before us.

We suffer because we are called to do great things, to change lives and spark a movement that will electrify the world.

You may be facing a crescendo right now as you read this.

If you are, I pray you find courage to stand and be in the moment. I pray you love your story and walk forward with suspension of disbelief. As you wake tomorrow, look with new eyes and know you are a part of something so much bigger. Embrace the flow of the story, the characters and the conflict and start writing your own fresh pages.

~Matt

 

The Joy Shortage Part 2

You’ll find the original post here.

I had the following conversation today:

“Good morning.”

“Hello.”

“How are you?”

“Terrible. Why would you ask that question? Why would you ask that when you already know the answer? I’m here aren’t I? Why would you waste my time with that question?”

We finished our verbal interaction and this person went back to their seat. Three words. I asked a simple question and a door opened that told me more about the individual on the other end of the conversation than I needed to know.

There was no joy to be found.

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Yesterday, the message at church was on joy and letting our outside match what is inside. We are told, in the Bible, of incarnational joy. The message of the holidays is a coming of peace that passes all understanding.  We sing Joy to the World.

In the absence of heaven, we find means to medicate a filler of the space inside.

Some do this through faith, prayer, love and community.  Others buy things. Even more grow dark and numb as their flame wisps to smoke and eventually a cold interior.

Then they are asked a question, How are you?

And they answer like above.

This time of year we tend to spread ourselves thin, pulled in all directions.  Kids act up. Work stresses. Finances may be tight with that last push to finish shopping and find the perfect gift.

Yet, we know the perfect gift.

For happiness is a choice.  Sorrow is a choice. Cynicism is a choice. Fear is a choice.

Love is a choice.

Joy though, joy is different. Joy puts me on the beach in Mexico during our honeymoon all those years ago, sleeping next to Val as the tropical breeze drifts over us. Joy is the first moment I held Carter and Aiden, the thrill and mystery of being a parent.  Joy is knowing what I’m called to do, not that I’m there yet but I know the pull God has placed on my heart.  I know my completed sentence.

I don’t know how it will play out.

Your own story may be a mystery tonight. You are sitting in a dark room reading this on your cell phone searching for a glimmer of hope.  You are yearning for words that may change your circumstance for the better.  You want a kindred soul.

You are not alone.

Joy is born of the perfect gift, the completed sentence, knowing the ending before you arrive.  It is the reason we celebrate the arrival of the One come to change the world and take on our suffering in our place. Joy lit the sky over the shepherds, drew the wise to their knees, ignited a star in the sky and fulfilled words found centuries before.

So the next time someone asks, be ready.

How are you?

~Matt

 

 

The Joy Shortage

It was a short walk. Our building at work is three floors.  This past week I was upstairs in the testing center.  I had to run some documents down to the second floor. I left my desk, went through the back hallway and down the stairs.

I crossed the second level and passed patients, nurses, and doctors.  After delivering papers to our financial guy I returned upstairs.

Not one greeting, smile, or acknowledgement. I made eye contact with patients and other coworkers, tried to engage with people, and found nothing. As I sat down at my desk, the realization hit me.

We are missing joy.

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I work at a cardiology office and the irony is not lost.  There are many people with sick hearts, young and old, rich and poor. They go through the motions and decide if they have enough reason to keep moving forward.

Society isn’t helping.

We’re facing a higher cost for everything, from healthcare to groceries. We’re patronized from the media and politicians forever out of touch with the people they represent.

So how do we find joy again?

Friends: Val and I are meeting friends tomorrow night for dinner and a concert in the city. There is value in genuine community. There is value in sharing success and struggle.  It is too easy to feel alone.  I had a person this week show up way early for an appointment and tell me, “It is better than being with my husband.” Don’t live a life without the release that comes from the shoulder of a friend to lean on.

Function: I am not where I’m meant to be.  You may think that wouldn’t be conducive to joy, but the opposite is true.  I work with many people who have settled and don’t have the energy to make a change.  They spend their days miserable, trapped in comfort that has robbed them from passion and purpose. It is never too late to move.  What is the dream you have? The art you are meant to make? The missions trip that has been on your mind every time you hear about it at church?  You have set days on this planet and a designated purpose. Connect the two and you’ll find joy.

Freedom: There is no such thing as a required pace in this race of life. There is no reason to “Keep Up with the Joneses”. When I first got out of college, I spent two weeks working a sales job and “Keeping Up with the Joneses” was a technique they taught you on day one: always tell people their neighbor/friend/competition just completed a sale with you. It will push your target do throw their money down.

We do the same thing to ourselves all the time.  If that person on social media just got a new car, we are angry that we can’t do the same.

It is time to let go of the comparison game and free ourselves from the trappings of stuff.

This weekend, be sure to take some time and experience joy.  Laugh, love, and live deeply.  You’ll be refreshed and relieved in the end.

~Matt

 

The Hardest Day

I’ve consulted a number of articles on content creation, SEO, marketing, graphics, and blogging. Normally, when I write these things, I take all this into consideration before putting a post together.  Tonight, you won’t see that.  Tonight is no filter, no line between you and me but the screen you have chosen to read this on. No linguistic tricks or debate.  This is what happened today:

I was in the shower when Val came into the bathroom breathless and upset.  She informed me that, last night, the pastor of our home church and his wife were involved in a serious motorcycle accident.  Bryan and Lynn Koch loved to ride a motorcycle.  Someone in an SUV crossed the line and hit them head on.  Lynn died at the scene.  She had just been ordained last month.  Her and Bryan had delivered the message on Mother’s Day together. Bryan is in ICU with severe injuries, his left leg amputated and multiple times in surgery coming up. They have three sons and had just found out they would be grandparents in October.

After work, Val and I went to church to pray.  They had opened the sanctuary all week and had provided counselors on site.  Wednesday night we have a church-wide prayer service.  As we sat in the darkened sanctuary we prayed with others and poured our hearts out to help this family that has been destroyed. When Val and I left the church we were met with swirling storm clouds.  The rest of the night was punctuated in thunderstorms, rain, and funnel clouds spotted in the area.

This afternoon I get a text message that my grandmother, Hazel Shaner, had passed away in the hospital.  She had lived a full 98 years.  Her husband, my grandfather, had passed away three years ago.  They were married for almost 70 years. I spent my summers, before working full-time jobs, at their house while my mother worked. This woman anchored a family through WW2, numerous dinners and holidays, ups and downs. I was honored to have her as a grandmother.  She reflected what it meant to love God and love your neighbor. She impacted the lives of so many and was the rock that built this family.

So here I am.  In days like this you find yourself standing in the darkness, looking across the room at the only thing that could be there.  You look at God and you ask why.  I believe Lynn is in Heaven and experiencing the fullness of joy.  Could you imagine, being in an ICU bed and not knowing you have lost your wife? Her parents, tonight, are driving in from Ohio.

The church, our church, is beaten down and mired in sorrow.

But it is not over.

I believe joy comes in the morning.  I believe in bigger and greater things, in ministries that touch this community and change the world.  I believe in healing, in recovery, and that Pastor Bryan will walk across the stage to deliver a sermon again.  I believe in miracles, in the presence of God felt with electric reality. I believe in lives changed, that Lynn’s loss will not be for nothing, that her and Bryan’s story will change the lives of those that hear it.

Yet, for tonight, there is darkness.  Thunder still crashes around our house. The boys are sleeping.  I’m typing and I’m here, like you, having the hardest day I’ve had in a long time.

I ask you to pray. Pray for Bryan and Lynn’s family.  Pray for their boys as they figure out a way to live.  Pray for their grandchild, that Bryan will get a chance to hold him in the future. Pray for their extended families and our church.  Pray for peace.

As for me, I’ll make it through.  There is so much more involved here. Keep your eyes up with me. Dawn will come soon.

~Matt

The Sound of Worship

I logged into Spotify the other night to view an advertisement for Hillsong United’s newest album titled, Empires.  There is no denying the reach of the Hillsong church, founded in Australia and now located in branches across the world. As with any mega-church, you can find positive and negative stories online from current and former members.

The music of Hillsong has shaped modern worship.

I went to Amazon to check reviews on the album and saw the lowest reviewer making this statement, “is it just me or have their last few albums gotten slower? I miss their up tempo music.” This statement shines light on an important part of faith and life.

What is the sound of your worship_

Oceans is one of Val’s favorite songs. I have no issue with slower worship anthems. They can certainly bring us close to God and carry us into the spirit of worship. My problem is when we turn our back from the joy of praise to sell more units and move more downloads. I tried to get through every song on Empires and couldn’t do it.

It was too slow.

Now before we get technical about shaping worship experiences and flow, let’s consider something.

What will Heaven sound like?

How about an eternity of joy, perfect love, praise and the presence of the Creator? No more fear. No more suffering. No more illness. No more tears. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take an eternity of an explosion of praise, to let go and let loose and finally see salvation in the purest and complete form.

I’ll leave you with my current favorite worship song from Tim Hughes and Worship Central and a great example of a declaration of praise:

~Matt

Joy vs. Temptation

For Christmas, Val got me an album from one of my favorite bands, Tenth Avenue North (yes I still listen to CD’s in my car, scary, I know). The title track is called Cathedrals. The message of the lyrics hits home to me on many levels.  Check out the lyric video.

One of the lines from the chorus tells us:

Let Joy Take Temptation’s Place

On Sunday, our church started a series on quieting the noise in our lives.  I don’t know about you, but temptation creeps up on me in the midst of the noise.  It is just too easy to be on the phone and ignoring Val and the kids. Thoughts scatter all different directions.  Stress presses down with a weight that can make us shut down and lose our temper.

What if we prayed to replace it with Joy? What if, in your darkest moments, you found happiness? What if the voice of temptation could quiet and be replaced with worship? With realization of your divine dream and calling?

As we look at a new year, let’s pray for more joy in our lives. I know I could use it. Our marriages and families could use it.  Let’s take 2015 and invest in the joy the comes from knowing our Creator.

Open up our souls
To feel your glory
Lord, we are a desperate people
Your cathedrals
Come fill this space
Let joy take temptation’s place
We will taste and see you as you are

~Matt