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

Stand Up

Make no mistake, forces want to keep you here.

Big stuff. Politics. Media spreading fear like wildfire. Fake friends. Enemies.

People you don’t even know.

Small stuff. Fear. Doubt. Questions. The Lure of Passivity. The Lore of Passivity. It’s just easier to be lazy. Recline. Relax. Check out that app. Scroll through social media. Do anything but this.

Then one day you make a move and you realize these forces won’t just sit back and take it. No, they’ll organize. They’ll start an offensive. Small things pop up. Debt, accidents, things to be fixed and adjusted. Illness.

Pandemics.

What these forces don’t realize is that they are priming you for greatness.

Nothing valuable comes easy. Change is not overnight. Change is one small victory, one choice at a time.

People need to hear you.

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Because hate is real. Fear is real. Adversity gives power to some and tries hard to take power from others.

Until you stand up.

For those who can’t. For those who are beaten down and living in fear. For those who are suffering and struggling.

Courage pulls you out of comfort. Courage brings challenge. Challenge makes comfort sound so nice. Then you find yourself at a crossroads. Keep the circle going or break it.

Break it.

Because someone is watching you. A child, a spouse, a coworker.

You choose how you respond.

Here’s a secret: Life is demanding your choice.

Poverty, racism, struggle, pandemic, fear. Forces waiting to play off what they create. If we don’t be careful we’ll respond without thinking, act without consideration, speak without hesitation and we’ll lose.

Choose your response. Choose how you see your moments. Choose the meaning inside them.

And when you do, choose compassion. Choose Love. Serve. Give.

Create.

Create community. Create family. Break chains. Show the world things can be different and you will not stand for the old way any longer.

From now on.

You stand up.

Rebuild

One of my favorite current podcasts is “The Only Way is Through” from Under Armour. UA is active in the world of sports and athletic training.  This podcast shows some depth at the creative minds behind the company.  It is a series of profiles of athletes, coaches, and their families as they deal with adversity and prepare for competition.

The last episode was a profile of Notre Dame Women’s Basketball coach Muffet McGraw.  Mired in the first losing season in decades, McGraw is attempting to get back to the basics and draw success out of a challenged group of players.

The theme of these, as stated in the title, is how to handle adversity.  Adversity often arrives in a formula in life.  It starts, we follow to a breaking point, then must discover how to rebuild.

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In my experience, rebuilding takes three things.

Faith that God works for good.  That struggle is not without purpose. That the rise comes after the fall.  I’m still fighting a three decade battle with cynicism.  And the choice to be optimistic has led to more struggles.  Yet, it is all part of the process. Contrast is important for humility.  Recognition breeds appreciation. Interruptions are opportunities.  We must shift our viewpoint.

Hope in new life. We are never too far gone, too old, in too deep, or too far away. We are never out of the orbit of God.  We are never past our chances to redeem ourselves. It will be hard. It will take effort.  It will be filled with discomfort but, in the end, it is worth it.  We must learn to love the fight and never stop.

Love the process. If we are not struggling, we are not growing.  If we don’t mess up, we are not trying hard enough.  If we don’t push ourselves past our limits we will miss our potential. There is joy in the process.  Destruction breeds creation. Bonds can be rebuilt better than before.

This afternoon Aiden determined to nail down shoes with laces. It was a time of laughter and tears, ups and downs, frustration and disappointment for him. He wanted to see how I did it, then how Val did it, and finally how Carter did it.  In the end, after time, he figured it out.

At some point, it will be a job, a car, a house, a wife and kids.  At some point it will be losing a job, a car accident, selling a house, and dealing with family emergencies. The sooner we learn how to rebuild, the more equipped we will be.

For the Day Ones are not easy.  We can only prepare and equip ourselves and, when the day comes, take the first step back.

 

Answer the Call

What makes you, You?

In that Marvel cinemas flipping title sequence scroll, what shows up?

In the temperance path of life, where do you live? Age Twenty? Thirty? Fifteen?

At the end of a bad day, what moments do you revisit?

From your first breath to now, you are where you need to be.

The question is, what to do with it?

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Our stories are ours alone, ours to share with someone, our battles to fight.

Our suffering shapes our identity.

Our faith hangs on the hope of something more, the pull on our heart towards a compass direction rising out and above our trajectory, spreading to lives and people we have not known and may never meet.

Contemporary research believes Jesus to have been an architect, a stone mason and not a carpenter as originally conceived. This makes sense as he often spoke of building lives and laying foundations. The towers of our life can only be built on strong foundations, firm borders and set boundaries.

So, what makes you You?

Be something different.

In this time of division, be Unity.  In this time of hate, be Love. In this time of poverty, be Generous. In this time of violence, be Peace.  In this time of noise, be Silence.

Trends are made to be broken.

The status quot must end.

The future is being painted today by the brushstrokes of the fearless, of revolutionaries willing to answer the still, small voice that calls them in the dark hours.

The voice that calls to you.

Will you answer?

Legend

The house was all dark wood.  Basement and one level set back from the road.  We’d park in the lot of the community pool that sat across the street, the one my uncle had managed for years. The smell was Thanksgiving, pure and simple.  Turkey, filling, cold iced tea. A long table sat in the dining area.

I remember the conversations, the jokes and stories.  My uncle’s voice was often the loudest and his laugh would get us all going.

In the beginning of November, he passed away.

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He was a teacher, a football and wrestling coach for thirty years.  As I look over social media I find his stories.  A student mentioned their house burning down.  My uncle had taken him in, without question, until the family was back on their feet. The stories from other students were numerous, the inspiration vast.  Men and women recounting the interactions with their teacher and coach who had often made his way to friend and loved one by the time they’d grown into adulthood.

Val and I recently attended the first home wrestling match of the season for the district he’d led all those decades. The athletic director had given us shirts that the wrestling team would wear for the season in his memory.  We’d worn them with pride.  After a moment of silence, the team made their way to us and each wrestler shook our hands.

Mourning has a way of creating evaluation. Val and I sat and made a bucket list and a plan to check items off as we go. We’re looking to the future with hope after some positive changes this month.

I’ve learned a few things from my uncle that will stick with me.

-Serve without hesitation. It may not be as drastic as taking someone in but, if you see a need, fill it.

-Find a passion. In this day, “career” doesn’t have the best vibe to it.  Still, it is a noble goal.  Find something that drives you towards long-term commitment.

-Tough love. Some of the stories I’d read were about my uncle’s tough love for this players and students.  He wouldn’t hesitate to correct if needed.  As parents, this can be a challenge and this generation of kids is not one that takes kindly to correction. Tough love is an investment that often pays off years later.

-Toughness. My cousin, his daughter, was an only child.  She’s a college lacrosse coach now and a member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.  She’s a former Olympian and had found her way to the top of the sport.  I’d always heard that my uncle had treated her like an athlete, no different from the kids on his wrestling or football team. Don’t doubt your kids and what they can handle.  You’d be surprised.

Some of my best memories were spent on the porch of my grandparents’ house. After dinner the men would gather and have their iced tea or coffees.  They’d tell their stories. Now, I see it as what it was, a chance to step in the past for a few sentences and remember how things were before life got complicated.

We like to think that a new year brings new hope.  We make resolutions and try our best to change. The past two years have seen large shifts in our identities.  Val and I have both had to look in the mirror and answer some tough questions.  We’ve understood who we were and where we stand.  We’ve faced loss and hardship, trials and struggle.

Our boys are bigger and getting older.  We’ve learned the value of boundaries and how healthy ones look.  We found some unity and come together as the four of us do this thing called life.

I believe, deep down, changes are coming. There’s an assurance that’s only found from looking into deeper shadows and depths. Tides shift. Change is possible.

No matter how deep set the patterns, change is possible. No matter how dark the storm or cynical the soul.  Change is possible.  There’s no timeline on story.

Just a start.  Page one. In the beginning…

 

What Should Life Be?

It rained yesterday.  The sky was the slate blanket that comes every now and then in the Pennsylvania transition between seasons. It was one of those days you dreaded as a kid, sitting in school with no way to mark the passing of time.

Morning was afternoon.  Dawn was dusk.

I got home from work, we ate dinner, then dressed the boys to go run some errands.  Aiden put on his rain boots and ran outside.  I followed and attempted to get him and Carter in the car.  He found his way to a puddle and started jumping.

Peppa Pig style (for you parents out there) jumping in puddles with his rain boots.

At the end of a dreary day, he’d found his own slice of adventure.

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Kids are easy for this.  They are our stereotypical adventurers.  We watch them play with nostalgia.  If only, we think and sigh, those were the days.

We are meant for more.

We are meant for a faith that calls us out of the darkness.

We are meant for a radical community of faith, hope, and love, to embrace others and show them the grace that allows us to live day by day.

So many dream of Heaven.  We think, then we can finally live, finally see the beauty of sun rays, crystal waters, perfect love and joy.

So we go on auto pilot and try to survive.  All the while, God calls us to the deep.

How will it look for you? How will it look for me and my family?  I don’t know.  I feel like I’m learning more each day.

Learning that the story isn’t over.  That there is still room for adventure, for a life of passion and change, hope and impact. There is room for hope in a better world, that the poor can find help, the hungry can be fed, the cold can find warmth, and the burdened will find rest.

I wish I could explain it to you. I wish I had the poetry that some of my friends and fellow writers have.  I wish I had the copywriting spin to sell you on the key points of the Gospel. I wish I had ten million copies sold to hold up and show you why you should believe me.

The only thing I can give you is honesty.

Faith isn’t easy.  I’ve looked in the mirror many moments and wondered why and where? I’ve held my hands to the sky and asked God to show up. I’ve wanted the concrete conversation, for Gabriel to show up in my Scion one day and, after miraculously healing the brakes, tell me the depths and heights of faith and the song of the Universe.

Hope isn’t easy.

Love isn’t easy.

For in the moment when the voice, the one that sounds so familiar for Adam and Eve so long ago, when it whispers “this is it, just give up,” something tells me No.

This isn’t it. The fight isn’t over. Bigger things are coming. It is a gut response, a fight that rises up from the place that can only be occupied by the fire of the love of Jesus.

What is life about?  It is the fight for Passion, to never give up, to never back down. To taste every sip of the majesty of God’s creation, to work to change lives, to shine the light of grace and love.

To wake up in the morning and do it all over again.

 

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

 

Labels

My birthday was two days ago and, as a gift, my mother gave me a Barnes and Noble gift card. This is my standard answer whenever anyone asks me what I want for a holiday or occasion.

Let me pick up a book and I’ll be happy.

I took it over to our local store and got Shoe Dog, a memoir by Phil Knight. Knight founded Nike and turned his idea of importing cheap shoes into a sports empire. I just started the book and Knight talks about his dream of entrepreneurship.

He mentions speaking with his father about needing money to travel the world and chase down the passion that inflamed him existence.  He was worried, he writes, because people weren’t stepping out in the late 1960’s. At least his family was not.

They were trapped in the appearance of respectability, surviving, and making enough for the nice house in the quiet neighborhood. To his surprise, Knight’s father gave him the money for the trip.

He was willing to break the power of the label.

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One of my strongest influences, Pastor Erwin McManus from Mosaic in Los Angeles, spoke about this is a recent podcast.  He stated that we were originally all created on an even playing field. It took the understanding of self to break the equality.

He mentioned the theory that, when babies first notice their reflection, their sense of self is forever altered.  They cannot go back. The first mirror humanity ever looked into was the eyes of a snake in the Garden of Eden, he stated. He went on to say:

Every label we make; white, black, conservative, liberal, gay, straight, every single one builds a wall.

These walls push us far away from the original design for creation and lead us ever closer into the arms of grace and love.

We love our labels, though.  They are so addicting.

We wear them as badges of honor. They are our possessions. They are our children we push vicariously into territories they never wanted and tell ourselves that we are expanding their horizons. They are our jobs.

They become our paths.

It takes power to break labels and find the depth of what God wants to pour out in our lives. It takes an effort to see people for their souls and not their surface. It takes the touch of God to turn our focus from ourselves and what we can get to others and what we can give.

On that July 4th so long ago, people came together to say they’d had enough.  They were ready to do something drastic and find their freedom.  This year (I always think of my birthday as the start of a new year) my goal is to do the same, to make big moves and take steps for real and valuable change.

It is time to make a difference, for this world needs difference makers that can help us see past labels, destroy walls, and make things better for all.

~Matt

The Power of Love

This morning I continued my podcast journey by listening to Pastor Erwin McManus from Mosaic church in Los Angeles.  McManus has written a series of quality books about creativity and overcoming adversity and I’d recommend them all.

He’s well-traveled, educated, eloquent, and motivational.

The message I listened to was on love.  He talked about God operating out of love and our everyday lives being proof in that we aren’t struck down multiple times of day for our transgressions. He also said this:

Everything painful that you’ve ever done or has been done to you was motivated by love.

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We define ourselves by love.  If our heart is broken too many times, we decide “never to love again.” We can confuse sex with love and get caught in a game of devaluing what we have to offer.

My generation, now in their early 30’s, was known as the Divorce Generation.  Almost 50% of us have grown up in single parent homes. When I was in college, a professor asked us to raise our hands if our parents were divorced.  A little more than half the class responded positively, confirming the stats.

Those of us who follow Jesus are told to love our neighbors.  We’ve seen Jesus, motivated by love, make the journey to the cross.  Even so, it is a matter we get confused.

We close doors more than open them, talk about exclusion more than inclusion, and put a hatred of sin above the majesty of grace.

Love, Christ love, has the ability to change the world.  We step forward in faith, motivated by our love for others, to pray and study, have community and make connections.  We must be shoulders to cry on and hands to hold.

I’ve been blessed to be with an amazing woman who has loved me for the past seventeen years since high school. She’s looked past my faults, and believe me they are many, and hung in there. Val shows me what is means to be a better parent and follower of Jesus.

Tonight, know that love will define you in the way you let it, for better or worse, and it can make your life and world a better place.

~Matt

Stung

I’m typing this on the table in our hotel room. The boys are in bed. Val is watching a movie on the television.  Twelve hours ago I was talking to coworkers about our situation and almost lost it, tears waiting just under the surface.  Our gas line should be fixed tomorrow.  Construction to repair our house will begin in three to four weeks. The project should take three weeks or so to complete, not counting painting.

The house should be back to normal around February.

Just before Aiden went to bed, I let him talk to my mother on the phone.  He asked her if she could come to the hotel and then said:

“My house is broken.”

As I laid with him to help him go to sleep I apologized.  He looked at me and said he loved me and a long day finally came to an end.

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The feeling of guilt isn’t easy.  Val decorated our living room in an attempt to have some normalcy.  The boys will have Christmas in the midst of construction. They are excited and acting up as Val and I beg them to calm.

The tragedies of life sting deeply.

On Sunday, our pastor talked about helping people find hope this season. People should see hope in us and want the same. When the tank is empty and the mountains keep getting higher, hope is not our natural reaction.

Yet, I’m standing on the promise of good things on the other side.  We will come out of this stronger and more unified than before.  Our house will get back to normal and we will function without construction and damage soon.

Broken things will heal.

So tonight I keep putting these thoughts down.  A year from now I’ll read this post and understand.

Tonight, it hurts.

Tomorrow, recovery begins. If you are dealing with something today, this week, or this month I pray you find the same.  I pray you see hope and know you are not alone.  We are there with you, together.

~Matt