“I can’t beat it.”

Last night Val and I rented Manchester by the Sea. Let me first clarify things by saying, I know and understand the issues around Casey Affleck and his treatment of women and that I wanted to watch the movie from the viewpoint of what I could learn as a person and a writer.  It delivered well on both fronts.

Affleck plays a janitor whose brother dies of Congestive Heart Failure. The remainder of the movie reveals the ghosts from his own past as he faces his brother’s death and the care required for his teenage nephew.

(spoilers below)

You spend the movie rooting for Affleck to have a change of heart, that he’ll embrace the kid and stand in as his father.  In the end, he can only do what he knows.  He runs back to Boston and lets his nephew be adopted by family friends, even though he finds an apartment with an extra room incase the kid wants to visit on the weekend.

In their emotional final dinner together, Affleck tells the kid:

“I can’t beat it.”

When we face down grief and trauma, our response is often the same.

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Time freezes.

To avoid the pain we jump around. We think about the past or the future to avoid the present. We do whatever we can to not live in the moment. We check out.

Our smartphones become our pacifiers.

There are conversations floating in the air begging for our engagement and the effort is just to hard. We’re emotionally and physically spent.

We just can’t beat it.

I’ve recently taken small steps to combat this.  Every morning, before leaving for work, I pray with Carter if he’s the only one awake. If everyone is up, we all pray together.  It is a moment he looks forward to now.

I carry an index card in my wallet with three statements on it:

Find Joy Every Day/ No More Wall/ I am My Own Husband and Father

I’d been missing out on the joy around me, living behind an emotional wall, and feeling like I could only measure my worth as a father against those men I knew around me.

Everything, I realized, was wrong.

Joy is there, if you take a moment to see it. The Wall can come down if you take the emotional effort to work through it.

You can be the mother, father, husband or wife you want to be regardless of anything in the past or present. You can take a positive effort to shape the future and create your own identity.

You can create You.

This isn’t easy but it is part of my new journey. I hope you’ll join me and I know, one day at a time, things can change for all of us.

 

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Allow me to Reintroduce Myself

It has been a while.

I left off here in a dark place. In the few months since, things have changed. I’d looked in the mirror, stared into the abyss as it looked back at me.

I realized a few things.

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Ironically, it took watching Tony Robbins on his Netflix documentary to help see the truth. To look at some limiting beliefs, to realize what I’d cost Val and the boys over the last ten years.

Things have changed.

I’ve given myself permission to be the best father and husband I can be, to be my own man and stand on that foundation.  We cleaned out our house taking almost twenty bags of various things to be donated/trashed. My book collection is down to a few volumes of importance (everything from here out will be digital).

Some weight has lifted.

I started a new job, taken far too long to settle back into writing. I’ll start my first season as head coach for Carter’s baseball team this spring with opening day on April 1st. We are making steps towards a more purposeful life.

The boys are still crazy and active. They still surprise us with what they do and say on a daily basis.

So this blog will be a return to the words, the calling to put things down on paper, to stay honest, to honor the permission to write.

That’s the biggest thing that’s hit me in the past few months.

I’m allowed to learn and grow, to not have all the answers. To be a father and figure it out on a daily basis.  To be a husband and do the best I can. To be a writer no matter where the words end up.

To reach an audience because I know you are still out there. You’ve been there like me and you’ve grown.

To know that it’s okay as we go forward.

I hope you’ll join me on this new start.  Through a crazy baseball season and busy summer of sports for Aiden and Carter, trips to the pool and our first family vacation. Many stories wait to be told and I’m excited to see how they end up.

And I’m okay.

It’s taken a long time to get there, but I think I’ve finally found the starting point, the foundation to look towards the future and I’ll take that for 10:09 PM on a Tuesday night.

 

Is This It?

I recently watched the movie Risen.  Originally meant as a sequel to Passion of the Christ, it took on a life of its own without Mel Gibson’s involvement.  The film tells the story of a Roman tribune Clavius, played masterfully by Joseph Fiennes.

Clavius is present at the crucifixion and is ordered by Pilate to go find the body of Jesus to stop any kind of rebellion that may happen if followers steal the body and claim him risen. He goes searching and, spoiler alert, finds the resurrected Jesus meeting with the disciples in the upper room.

Clavius follows the disciples to Galilee and, in one of the most powerful scenes, wakes in the middle of the night to see Jesus sitting away from him on a rock.  He joins him and they have a unique conversation.

Jesus asks what frightens him and he replies, “Being wrong.” They keep speaking and Clavius breaks down, telling Jesus that the only thing he wants “is a day without death.”

Two powerful statements that hit home with many of us.

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I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt unmoored at the moment. God has shown up in our lives in many ways and we still seem to fight the same battles.  Val and I often talk of where we should be, ten years more stable than now, and wonder when we’ll arrive.  When will our dreams and visions come to pass? Why do we look in the mirror and feel like we’ve lived ten lifetimes?

We are all moving towards the same point.

I picked up Carter from school today (a recent job change has me working three 12 hour shifts with four days off a week) and took him and Aiden to the playground. Things are different from when I was growing up but, in the end, the same.  I watched the kids chase each other, boys play a basketball game, and the crowd climb all over the monkey bars.

The sound of laughter drifted away on this unseasonably summer breeze.

My mind went to the election.  Is this really it? We grow and we chase money. We chase power and influence. We base our comfort on the balance of our bank accounts and, as long as the commas are in there, we’re good. We are living in a country teetering on the brink of a fracture.

I watched my boys and wondered what they’ll learn from it.

As I type, a line from Pastor Erwin McManus comes to my head.  He spoke about faith and feeling like we can’t ask and dream big because we’re afraid we’ll prove God doesn’t exist.

We are scared, like Clavius, to be wrong.

I also want the second part of his admission to Jesus. How about one day without the shadow of death?

One day to live like a million others follow.  One day to give and serve and love without feeling the weight of the future. One day with the courage to retake the first step (God I’ve taken ten thousand first steps chasing a dream) and keep walking.

One day to not feel like a failing father and a lacking husband. To not hold us up against everything around us and look in the mirror and feel the weight of it all.

One day to be free. To tap into the dream God has waiting, the life that will impact the world and change others. The stories that will be told for generations to come. The words that someone will read and know and understand.

One day without death.  Just one Jesus.

I’ll take one.

 

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.

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

 

Invested

We live in a world of noise.

Over the past week, I’ve worked in an office spot that allowed me a view of a waiting room television. It stays on one channel throughout the week, the local ABC affiliate, and the day is a cycle of news and talk shows.

Everyone has an agenda. Nothing is unbiased. Between shootings and alligators taking children, Florida is in the midst of a horrific stretch.

I’ve subscribed to a few different newsletters and one gave me something valuable on Wednesday.  It included a free copy of Steven Pressfield’s new book, No One Wants to Read Your Sh*t and What You Can do About It.

I loved his book, The War of Art and this is another powerhouse about writing. His opening chapters make a powerful point.

No one wants to hear what you have to say.

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There is a solution to this problem, according to Pressfield.

Know your concept. Inject it with emotion. Make it unique. Make it stand out.

We often write, and speak, to hear ourselves talk.  We stand on our message and think, for the sake of our own importance, it will automatically spread like wildfire.

Some marriages and families operate like this for years.

Emotion, and honesty, are risks. What if we lived like we had to earn our audience? How would that change our communication? How would it shape our stories?

This weekend, think about investing value into your days. Make the conversations and experiences count.

As a husband and father, I’m trying my best with Val and the boys. I’m trying my best with myself, looking into the mirror and being honest, having faith, and keeping the courage to move forward.

If you are alive and reading this, your story isn’t over yet. Make it count.

~Matt

 

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

Let’s Have a Dream

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It was a question lobbied at us as kids, one that grew into skills tests and teachers encouraging us to different directions. At some point, reality set in. The outside world spoke to us and we lowered our expectations.

The right path became the next path.

I was listening to Lewis Howes and his School of Greatness podcast where he interviewed Michael Hyatt. Hyatt spoke about giving ourselves permission to dream.  He said we focus too much on the how and ignore the what.

We say, “I could never ___ because I’m not smart enough, I don’t have a face to do videos, I don’t understand sales or marketing, etc.” Our doubts sabotage our vision and, eventually, we stop dreaming.

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Later that night I stood across our kitchen from Val.  I asked her when was the last time she had a dream.

When was the last time we had dreamed together as a couple?

It not as easy answer, but it cut to a valuable point.  We had transitioned to survival mode.  We were focused so much on making the next day that we let dreams fall to the side.

We just wanted to survive, not create something deeper and better with our lives.

I don’t know about you, but dreaming makes my pulse quicken. Ever meet someone who has stopped dreaming?  I see them every day in the medical field. There are people who beat cancer.  There are people that overcome disease to find new life.  They are the ones with dreams in their hearts that keep them going.

The ones that give up lose the fight.

This week, give yourself permission to dream. Write down the results and let them empower your life.

It is time for  our hearts to beat again.

~Matt

Legacy

Michael Hyatt is an interesting figure.  He was the CEO and President of Thomas Nelson Publishers, leaving the industry to start on his own as a businessman on the internet.  His blog/podcast is worth following (one of the top in the field) and his writing is motivational and faith-based.

Tonight I listened to a podcast where Hyatt was interviewed about his new book, Living Forward.  He stated that the book is based on three important questions.  I heard the first before the boys were acting up enough that I had to pause the podcast.

He asked, how do you want to be remembered at your funeral?

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It is almost a cliché but, after thinking about it, the topic has merit.  He asked, on the podcast, if your friends and family were gathered at your funeral what kind of conversations would you hear?

This afternoon we had one of Carter’s baseball games.  It had rained all morning and, two hours before the game, stopped to give way to wind and sunshine. The boys played well.  They went to the adjacent playground as I watched and gave them some time, thinking about the big picture.

I’d like my legacy to be three-headed.

First, I want to be a cornerstone of our family.  I want to be someone our boys came to in times of trouble.  I want to be a resource, to have had an active relationship with them as they became men with families of their own.  I want them to be proud of me as a father.

Secondly, I want my writing to have meant something to an audience, to have someone say “that book, blog post or devotional helped me through a rough time.” I want to know the words hit home and made a life better.

Finally, I want them to say I was a man of faith and community. I want deep roots in a church family, friends to laugh and cry with, and the strength that comes with years. When my grandfather passed, my grandmother said “he had a rough night.” At his funeral she put a rose on the chest of his suit.  She knew she would see him again and it helped process the loss of a seventy-year marriage.

This is all a work of progress and purpose, one happening on a daily basis. I’m praying for more focus and less drift, as Hyatt calls it.I’m praying to move forward and make the most of each new day.

Our legacies start now.

~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