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.

 

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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

Three Ways to End Your Fear

Don’t be afraid.

The statement is repeated numerous times in the Bible. We are told, despite our natural instinct, not to fear. Fear, to me, was never paralyzing.  It is more a cold, blank sensation.

When Aiden was born, I stood in the delivery room and watched the nurses clean him off (a scheduled c-section). They hooked him to an oxygen monitor and I watched as his numbers started at 96 and gradually fell to 80. In this span of minutes, a NICU doctor was called in and they decided to give him a bed in the NICU.

He stayed almost a week before the fluid was clear from his lungs and stomach.

I’ll never forget watching those numbers fall and the glances the nurses exchanged with each other as he struggled to breathe. The fear in my heart implanted the images in my soul.

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Fear can be a catalyst.  When you stand at the Red Sea watching it part, you have two choices.  You can stay in danger or walk forward, facing the perceived greater danger, and see what happens. The unknown, even between walls of water, can unleash greatness on the other side.

Fear can be a dream. I remember having nightmares growing up.  One night a pair of cats were fighting outside my window.  The growls, scratches, and screams were surreal and seemed to be getting closer and closer. The darkness itself can bring condemnation and anxiety.  For some, dark nights carried the promise of no heat or electricity, hunger, or an abusive spouse or parent. In dreams, remember you will wake up. The sun will split the night and rise in the morning.

Fear can be control. This is the most dangerous. You are called.  Maybe it is a mission trip. Maybe a friend whose marriage is failing, maybe a family member mired in addiction. Maybe it is the business you are meant to start, the product that will change the world, the idea that can make a difference.  God puts this on your heart and you look in the mirror.

The small voice tells you that you can’t do it.  Not you. Not now.

What if you fail? Think of the laughter, the condemnation, the wasted time, money, and effort.

What if it all falls apart?

This fear is vanquished through community.  Find friends and colleagues making the same journey.  Look for resources in person and in the digital universe.  Find hope in a mentor who has been there already.  Find power in the permission to let yourself chase your dream.

Break the control of fear. The failure of not trying is always greater than giving it a shot. Step in the ring. You’ll be surprised at what can happen when fear is beaten down and destroyed. Even if you need to do it every day, it is worth the fight.

~Matt

The Hardest Lesson

We are both human and works in progress.

Yesterday the horrific terror attacks in Paris have opened up old wounds for many in this country.  We watch in sadness and shock.  We understand, not so far removed from 9/11. We pray and we offer support in any way possible.

Thinking about these things led me to the most challenging instruction Jesus ever delivered in the Bible.

One day, as he gathered on a mountainside, a crowd formed.  He delivered the greatest sermon ever recorded and systematically tore down every societal construct of the day.  He spoke of the meek, the hated, hungry and thirsty being blessed.  He warned of false prophets gaining money and following by corrupting the Word.

He then said this:

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The exact lines read (Luke 6:27-36):

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

These paragraphs fly in the face of everything we stand for, every human emotion, all the rage and tears.  The concept exists in stark contrast to how we act and feel as believers, a government and society.

We scream for justice, for bloodshed and retaliation. Our guts want those guilty to get everything they deserve.

We want war.

And the cycle keeps spinning.

Today I’m praying for those involved in this tragedy and for wisdom and security. Something needs to change at the heart of this world.  There is a void and only one way to fill it.

The cross still stands, in the moments we choose to heed the message and the moments we ignore in our humanity, fueled by rage in the face of unquestionable evil. The cross stands to tell us there is justice, victory, sacrificial love that heals all wounds.

The cross stands to tell us it will be there in the wake of every terrorist bomb and bullet, every life taken.

It is a challenge to this world ready for the day we are prepared to answer the call.

~Matt

 

Winning Over the Other

For the last few years, I’ve spent time in the medical field working with patient registration and insurances.  This experience spanned an emergency room, a rehabilitation hospital, and a doctor’s office. The last two weeks, while checking in patients, I’ve heard this statement or a variance on it more than once:

“I’m not used to seeing a guy here.”

“This is a woman’s job, I can’t believe you’re doing it.”

“I’ve never seen a guy working in this spot.”

“Wow, you don’t see guys doing receptionist work.”

For in those moments of awkwardness, I’ve experienced a taste of the Other.

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You can write off antiquated opinions all you want but, in the end, the Other remains the same.  It is every person standing out in the crowd, breaking the mold, crushing through the glass ceiling. The Other isn’t often spoken of in positive tones, though. It is the immigrant, the refugee crossing boarders. It is the small business owner starting a family restaurant on the wrong side of town.  It is the family moving in down the street looking, talking, or worshiping differently.

It is difference in living form and we don’t like difference.

2015 is the year of the Other.

And oh how we fight it. We, as ones who claim to follow Jesus, call ourselves victims. We point fingers. We are not like them. We demand to be heard, picking the parts of the Bible useful to the cause while ignoring the command to Love our Neighbors.

Still, there are those finding victory over the Other. People serve; hands reaching across the aisles, street corners, and school yards. Children play with other children of all colors, ages, and backgrounds because it is fun and fun is a universal language.

If there is to be true change, terms must be rewritten.  For victory is not claiming power or privilege, not for those following Jesus. Victory is service. Victory is sacrifice. Victory is selfless love and honor.

Because the last will be first. Because we store up treasures in Heaven, not on earth. Because it is our job to give, not receive. To love and not hate. To not let the sun go down on our anger and never ignore the plank in our own eye when we call out the speck in the eye of someone else.

Not everyone can ignore comments like the ones above (and I know some of you hear much worse on a daily basis from coworkers, family, and even friends) but, if one person reads this and decides to make a change tomorrow, it will start a ripple effect.

Victory comes with compassion, the choice to care about the Other, to shift perspective and find unity.

I look in the eyes of my sons and know they will face negativity one day, probably without cause.  I want them to know their identities as men, as believers, and treasures to Val and I. I want them to rewrite the books, stand up for those in need, and change the world.

Nothing is impossible.  For them and for you. Never forget it.

~Matt

Unforgivable

“How many of you can say you would never kill someone?”

The question floated over us.  We were undergraduates in a Literature and Psychology class, an experience that goes down as one of my favorite semesters of my life.  The students were a mix of majors and the professor, Dr. Browne, had experience in both fields. We analyzed characters and ourselves as the months flew by.

As a young believer, I raised my hand. I thought, hey, followers of Jesus are all about peace and I would never take a life.

“You’re lying,” Dr. Browne said as he laughed. “You mean to tell me, if you walked into your house and found a guy attacking your family, you wouldn’t defend them? Even to the death?”

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As a family of believers, we are known more for what we don’t forgive than what we do. 2015 has become the year of exclusive faith, from bakeries to court clerks.

In the Bible, Peter asks Jesus about forgiveness.  The custom, at the time, was to forgive seven times.  Jesus replies not seven but seventy times seven. He forgives sins often, to the frustration and anger of the high priests. Only God, they believe, can forgive sins.

They’re right.

We’ve strayed from the path to the point of walking backwards. We focus on what we can’t do rather than the courage to take on new challenges and adventures. We ask for wisdom to avoid danger and ignore the strength needed to push forward. We react rather than act.

We’ve been pushed into a corner by our unwillingness to love our neighbors if they don’t behave the way we want.

The concept of forgiveness comes with implied empowerment. I forgive you is often heard, and said, with condescension and not humility. We need to redefine the term for what it really is:

Release

-from pain, anger, heartbreak and offense.

For the scars do not vanish. They get molded into a figure of beauty and grace blazing with the touch of the Almighty.

If you have a few minutes, watch this video posted by Bleacher Report.  It is the profile of Darnel Dockett, defensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers.  Dockett’s mother was murdered when he was a young teenager.  Catch the last two minutes and pay attention.

How many of us would say the same to our mother’s killer?  I pray that, one day, Dockett gets his chance.

~Matt