Fishing

I remember the feeling of the blue leather seats, the push button radio and the air vents pushing the faint smell of aftershave. The radio played a cassette of Mel Tillis. My grandfather pulled up to a pond at the front of a development.

His tacklebox was in the tailgate of the small pickup truck. He’d hand me a finishing rod and set up his own. The summer mornings were on the crux of haze, the insects just starting to make their way into the air and circling us.

We’d start directly down from the truck. There was a small island in the pond and I remember throwing towards it thousands of times. I remember the sound of the lures hitting water, an amplified drip, the tension of the line and the fight of the small fish we’d find every now and then.

I remember watching him work his way around the pond.

Like any kid, I’d get bored. My mind would wander about the surrounding houses. What were people doing? How were they living? I’d imagine crazy movie scenarios.

And I’d watch him fish.

Photo by Max Andrey on Pexels.com

And I realized today, it wasn’t about the results.

For a man who had seen the Depression, fought in WW2, experienced multiple eras and generations, the point was the quiet. The point was the few hours he’d had with his grandson.

The point was to stand in it. The rhythm of the casts, the sounds of the morning, the birds flying overhead and cars passing in the distance. Patsy Cline in the car on the way home singing about being Crazy For Loving You.

That kid, that me twenty-five years ago, didn’t get it.

I’d kill for a walk around that pond right now. To drive by early one Saturday morning and see his truck parked there, tailgate open, and see him standing by the water, the rod moving in a smooth motion and the sunlight reflecting off the line as it settled in the water.

We’d had no noise, no barrage of news, no cell phone on our hip.

We’d had time. And peace.

And a moment that would only live on in memory, as the best do.

Regret

In high school, I was on the Mock Trial team and I loved it. I was a lawyer for all four years of my time and lead attorney for the last two. I found I’d enjoyed speaking in front of people, the analysis that came from the legal process, and the chance to spin a story for an audience.

The last day of our last trial, the team adviser came up to me in the hallway of the courthouse.  He was an actual attorney in the county, a younger guy, and he shook my hand.  He looked at me and said,

“You should really consider law school.”

I laughed.  My mind flashed with images of defending criminals and what would happen when I lost?  Then it flipped to putting people in jail and what would happen when they were released?  Of course time, cost, and effort played into the idea.

In the end, I didn’t go.

pexels-photo-340981

That conversation was a crossroad, one of the many we face in life.  The idea had been offered.  What if I’d taken it and followed?  How would life be different?  Where would I be a decade into a law career?

Now I have friends who are lawyers and I’ve known others.  It’s not all the glamour of the many television shows out there. It can lead to success and burnout, victories and defeat. Was it to be a part of my story that I’d never followed?  I’ll never know.

Regret is chasing memories.

Add in traumatic memories and you create a dangerous combination.

A shard of pain can stick like a nail in wood. Addictions swirl into long term substance abuse and manipulation. Emotional and physical abuse. Control. Mental games of chess.

Trauma creates an unbalanced ledger.  Our souls respond in kind.

Cancer, for example, can paralyze a person in fear and motivate another to live their best life. An abusive relationship can send one into a spiral of darkness while another may be inspired to take back their life and set up healthy boundaries.

Our lives are filled with mirror moments. We stand in spots where we are called to make a choice, to look at ourselves and see who we really are.

We all see the signs.  Some recognize them instantly, some miss, and others will only see them years later. We all need clarity in our lives.

As the year turns and a new decade dawns, I pray you experience this in your life. May 2020 be the best ever.  No matter where you are in your journey, I pray for bigger and better things, for fulfillment, for physical and mental health.  I pray you are bigger than your emotions and you can stand strong when the waves come.

Spend your energy making memories, not chasing them.  You’ll be surprised at what follows.

 

Broken Pieces

On Sunday, our church started a series on what happens when your life is shattered.  Pastor Bryan talked about the motorcycle accident that took the life of his wife back in June.

At the end of the message, a handful of people came to the stage and mentioned their own traumatic events.  They included a woman whose sister was killed in an act of domestic violence just three months before, a man fighting addiction,  a woman whose daughter had cancer at age 6, was cured by a blood transfusion only to contract HIV/AIDS and die from it years later, and Pastor Bryan’s sons talking about the loss of their mother.

We are sums of our experiences and nothing shapes us more than tragedy. Our reaction to grief may be the solution to change our future.

pexels-photo-68084

Let’s take it a step deeper.  We are defined by our reaction to grief.

Train, research, workout, study, podcast, take notes, write books, do all you can to prepare and nothing matches the moment things all apart, that point you look in the mirror and realize something is wrong.

That diagnosis. That phone call. That argument.

The lines of demarcation that create our New Normal, the places that only exists as memories and warm summer afternoons, the ones we can’t go back to.

The starting point is knowing it is okay to grieve, to feel, to have the courage to face down what’s coming.

One of Val’s old coworkers is our age, married with two children, and starting chemotherapy this week for an aggressive form of cancer.

Her Normal has changed.

I wish I had a three-point summation, a quote, infographic, something to put a nice bow on this short run of thoughts, then I imagine her in a hospital bed tonight and I know that sometimes silence is the answer.

Presence is the answer.

Just being there, crying, holding hands and staying close.  Sometimes that’s all we have.

~Matt

 

The Forgotten Morning

I woke up today and just wasn’t feeling it.  The sky was cloudy, work would be busy.  The boys were their crazy selves. I drove in and sat at my desk and it just hit me.

The weight of everything fell on my shoulders. I was on the ropes, taking shots and trying to hang on. Strength faded.

Ever feel like this?

The Psalms were one of the first places I found and rested in the Bible. David is honest. Yes, he writes about all kinds of praise and picturesque images.  He also lays out his heart over suffering and sorrow. He flows through the heights and depths of all human existence.

In the 56th Psalm he writes that God knows his tears and that they are written down and accounted for.  God remembers. As I read over that line I suddenly understood.

I felt forgotten.

pexels-photo-60069

It is the nightmare for any writer.  In Dante’s Inferno, the souls in hell can see the future and past, but not the present.  Their punishment is living as personifications of the forgotten, never knowing where they stand at that moment. Imagine a life where the present is a void of empty space.

Most of us live it every day.

We regret and mourn the past while we fear the future. We look back and ahead with such an intensity that it blanks out the present.  We miss the moments that matter. Dante wrote this as a punishment in hell.  Why settle for it as reality?

The night ended better than the day.

I spent time with Carter, helped him with his homework and watched him make an art project. We talked about his emotions and what it feels like to get angry. I looked in his eyes and there was a genuine connection.

Grab the connections.  Hold them in your heart. For they are divine instances of God reminding you things will be okay. You are not forgotten. Your sorrows are numbered and, because God knows, he will intervene.

God knows. Even in the silence, the sadness, the illness, the conflict, struggle and strife.

He will make something beautiful from our stories. Every page and moment counts.

~Matt

Protecting vs. Preparing

“Do it again.”

The sun slowly crept towards the mountains surrounding the Big Vision Foundation’s baseball fields as Carter stood in the hitting tunnel.  Dan, his coach and my good friend, was working on his swing.  Carter had other ideas.

“Get lined up and try again.”

I watched Carter’s face as he gradually disengaged.  He’s more like me than I realized, I thought. Criticism never goes over well for us both, even if it is constructive.

“Eight more.  Make it count.”

After eight more hits, Carter ran off to play with Aiden and I thanked Dan for his time.  The question haunted me.

When do you shift from protection to preparation?

night-rust-chain

As parents, we have natural instincts to protect our children. We build bonds that grow as they do, with the traditional “daddy’s little girls” and “momma’s boys.” Every generation has questioned the efforts of the ones before. With Carter, I’m standing on the edge of the protection and preparation barrier and it’s killing me.

Jesus spent the final three years of his life in active ministry.  At one point he tells his followers that he is sending them out like sheep among the wolvesHe says to go and make disciples of all the nations.  They had a choice here; to listen and go or live in fear and stay behind, meeting in the Upper Room to reminisce.  These were wanted individuals, men known for hanging around a criminal inciting rebellion against the Roman government.

They were equipped, empowered, and set free. Every one followed their calling, even to death for their faith.

For every calling includes opposition. That is why we are refined in the first place. We only gain strength through struggle, harmony through hardship, and grace through forgiveness of others and ourselves.

It is okay to struggle.

We are in the midst of a generation that avoids it. Struggle is a bad word. It is not the American Way. We have apps to help our fitness, budget, diet, and lifestyle. We read magazines that promise improvement. We follow motivational speakers and writers making millions because we struggle and want to get out of it as soon as possible and maybe, just maybe, their new book will give us the answers.

For a moment take a breath and give yourself permission.

It is okay to struggle because it is the only way to find peace, real peace that passes all understanding.

Carter will go back and have another lesson next week and we’ll keep at it.  Because the cold October nights will pay off when he’s playing baseball years from now and looks back in his memories. I want him to have a well of resiliency, strength, hope and inspiration that he can use when he’s an adult facing down challenges much larger than figuring out the right way to hit a baseball.

So maybe I’m not on the barrier as much as I thought.  This fatherhood stuff isn’t easy.

I’m praying I get it right one day.

~Matt

 

The Weight of the Future

I put Aiden in his pajamas and he grabbed his favorite stuffed dog to hold. I rocked him until he closed his eyes and slowly laid him in his bed, taking a minute to watch the soft glow of the nightlight as it fell over his features. As I tucked him in, images flooded into my mind.

I prayed.

Please God let me be the father he deserves, help me do the best I can with him and give him the life he wants.  Please God, let him be happy.

Before I stepped out of the room, God finished my sentence.

Because one day he’ll be tucking you into a hospital bed.

The future always waits in the distance.

art-desert-dunes-bw

How do we handle it? When our kids are suddenly growing before our eyes? When our friends from school are all married and raising their own families? When the holidays come again and the milestones creep closer and closer?

Because one day the one day’s run out.

So we make the most of it. We tell the stories that need to be told. We say I Love You as much as possible.  We hold hands, pack lunches, kiss goodnight and break the daily routine whenever we can to create memories.

That is the secret, to find the memories, take the chances and chase the dreams. To show our kids that there is never a reason not to try.

For they will get what we leave behind.  The day Aiden tucks me in, I want him to do it with a warm heart and the peace of knowing I did all I could for him, that we made our walks through the desert together, as a family, and that he will never be alone.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

                                                                                                                                                        ~Deuteronomy 31:6