The Floor

I hit bottom last night.

I’d woken up not feeling well from the night before, went to work and had a stressful twelve hours, had to stay late for reasons outside my control and, by the time I sat in the car, I was finished.

Everything just piled on. Every area of our lives felt like it is malfunctioning. We’re getting attacked on all fronts.

At these points you stop expecting something good to happen and worry about when the next bad news will hit.

I called Val as I drove home, my voice breaking with emotion. I felt like a boxer in the final round, the punches starting to hit home, and legs starting to give out.

After we ended our call I turned down the radio and prayed.

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God can handle honesty, so I let it fly with every single What is Happening and Why Us question I could find, the pain, hurt and frustration flowing until tears blurred the tail lights of the cars in front of me.

There’s a point where you let go of every cultural reference, movie, book, conversation, influence, or resource that you know. You stop trying to find solutions, give up on logic and sit in silence.

Your heart and God. Creation and Creator.

I wish I could say I heard an answer and found a direction, that a sign fell from the sky and landed in the back seat of the car but it didn’t. The rest of the ride was silence.

And that’s okay.

Because it needed to come out and maybe that’s the point in silence. For God to pull down through the walls we build up as men, husbands, and fathers and draw out the emotions we work so hard to hide.

The truth will set you free.  Even if its standing at the foot of the cross and pointing a finger to the sky in frustration.

At least you’re standing there.

As I type this, gratefully off from work for the day, Aiden is sleeping on the couch to my left. The house is quiet. The day is sunny and warm for November.

The breakdown of last night is still in my mind and I wonder what will happen today.  How will things be different? There’s a cliché that the only constant force is change.

I’m praying that’s true because we can’t live in the brokenness.  The wounds from ten years of struggling are too deep for too long and it is time to start moving again.

One step at a time.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Unsteady

Today was one of those days.

If I had a dollar for every blog starting with the same concept written today, I could stop working and fill more digital writing with similar material.

We put through almost 240 patients at work, an endless sea of faces with a selection of ailments. It was a shift where you just stop thinking at a certain point and start laughing.  I heard every possible complaint at least six times, driving home and looking in the mirror wondering how I survived.

This compounds into a general unease I’ve felt recently. The cards haven’t fallen our way. We seem to stop taking up space and start getting ignored.

As a writer, this feeling is usually my internal radar saying it is time for a new book to read or write. The muse gets frustrated and bounces around inside until he finds what he wants.

For others, it can be much worse.

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There’s an entire industry devoted to self-help and direction. Writers and speakers cash in on our need for someone to tell us what to do. You can’t throw a stone on Facebook without seeing a sponsored add about leaving your job to do what you love by working five hours a week and starting your own business.

The bottom line falls on what you believe.  How do you see life when things get hard?  When those days pile up to months and years. When the kids don’t get easier, the bank account doesn’t grow and the people you need don’t answer their emails.

It is not all rainbows, even for those of us who try to follow Jesus.

We pray and we memorize our verses. We know our promises and “stand on them” even without grasping the meaning of the phrase.

I’d love some solidarity at the moment, some solid ground and a clearly visible foundation. Until then, the fight continues.

We live, even unsteady, and do it again tomorrow.

~Matt

 

The Job Effect

It is ironic that the name of the one man from the Bible associated with suffering is spelled exactly the same as “job”, the one thing that can cause a large amount of suffering from Monday to Friday, but I digress.

In case you’ve forgotten your Sunday School, Job was a guy seen in high regard by God. One day, the devil makes an appearance in heaven challenges God. He makes a bet, that if Job is shaken he will renounce his faith.  God believes so much in his servant that he allows it to happen.

The losses move fast.  Money, provision, the death of family and the scorn of friends.  Job persists in faith until the devil asks God to touch his health. God allows it and suffering rains down.  Finally, Job looks to the sky with open hands and asks:

WHY?

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God replies in a perfect defense, asking where Job was at the creation of the universe and, on what grounds does he question his situation.  We read that Job repents and is restored more than what he had lost in the beginning.

If it was only that easy.

There are times when it feels like every fiber of your life is under attack.  Nothing is safe.  From faith to family and finances, health to stability.  You get hammered from all sides.  Friends show up, as they did with Job, and question the causes.  They look down on you and wonder what you did to deserve it.

The days feel like a cosmic game, like you are moving around a board waiting for the next strike.

Two things we can learn from Job.  First, God defended him before any loss and suffering.  He was highly regarded, in the same position we are as followers of Jesus seen through the grace of his sacrifice. Secondly, Job was allowed to question.  God could have ended the story in a moment.  Job was still breathing for a reason.  He needed to step into his restoration found only through repentance.

The attacks will come. Cars break down, health fails, stress and conflict build.  You look at the one you love and you are arguing for no reason.  Your kids are wild and suddenly you don’t have the energy to fight.

God’s answer to Job is our own.  Take a minute and read the list he lays out in Job 38-42. All things are possible.  Our restoration is not a challenge for the one holding the universe in his hands.

The sun comes up tomorrow. When you look in the mirror, you have a choice.  Climb back in bed or keep going. Run or fight. Fear or faith. Be scared or be strong. It is not a sprint, it is a marathon that starts in one step.  Make it count.

~Matt

 

The Peace Illusion

Last night I picked Carter up from school and took him to Wayback Burger for dinner (a Wednesday night tradition). We ran a few more errands and when we got home he told me he wanted to read me a book.  I thought he was joking.  He’s a kid that would rather toss a football than read a book any day of the week.

We sat on the couch and he grabbed the book, opened it up, and read through without getting frustrated. When he finished he looked at me and smiled.  It was one of those moments I wish I could keep forever.  My oldest boy, 7 going on 17, growing and changing so fast.

As a father, husband, and man who follows Jesus, change can be a challenge.

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I remember spending summer weeks with my grandparents.  Poppy would take me fishing. We’d play cards and eat lunch together (I would take a nap! Imagine that. I have no idea what that means now). Suddenly, one summer, it was time to get a job.

Then it was time to graduate and apply to college.  The day came to move into the dorms (complete with me sitting in my car, in tears, with Val next to me). Then graduation, job and job and job.

Marriage in 2007. Home. Carter. Aiden. Turning 30. Back to school. Publishing short stories and finally a novel. Work in the medical field.

Change.

In John 16:33, Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

This is one of those verses we remember and lean on in the rough times.  If you look closer, there’s an interesting dynamic.  He says we may have peace and that we will have trouble. Peace comes in hope, in faith knowing that one has taken our place and died to give us life again.

So many live on the Peace Illusion.

The idea that it will all calm down as long as we have _____.  Fill in the blank: money, time, a beautiful spouse, amazing kids, a vacation home, etc.

Churches live in the Peace Illusion: the deceptive draw of routine, of stubborn unwillingness to have a dialogue, of fear in stepping out to help those on the fringe, the very ones Jesus associated with on a daily basis. Churches seem to forget that Jesus constantly condemned religious leaders of the day. He scolded the pious and the wealthy.

He called those ready to live a life of change, outside the Peace Illusion.

Tonight, as you finish your day, think about what you accomplished and what will be different tomorrow.  Embrace change. Carter’s book will become a novel soon enough. He’ll be asking me for car keys and we’ll be loading his boxes for college.

The story isn’t over.  It is never too late to start fresh. Because tomorrow is a mystery that can change in an instant.

And I’m okay with that.

~Matt

Stressed Out

Last night we took our kids down to Royersford to the Halloween parade.  Val and I grew up in the town, a few blocks away from each other.  We met at the local grocery store and walked home from high school together. The streets bring back memories.

We found one of the last few spots to squeeze in for Carter and Aiden to sit on the curb. It worked until a group of older kids gathered in front of them and blocked their view for the entire parade. These kids were running up and down the street, taking candy from the parade people, and diving in front of the trucks and floats.

Driving home, Val and I vented at how things aren’t the same anymore.

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There’s a song by the group 21 Pilots called Stressed Out. The lyrics talk about missing the good old days, how if we had a choice between student loans and tree houses, we’d choose the tree houses.  There’s a declaration repeated where, rather than dreaming, it is time to “wake up you need to make money!”

The bridge between our childhood and the present isn’t as long as we’d think.

It is filled with meaning.

When we are young, we search for our identities through our environment, friends, school, and social situations. As we grow, we look inside and put ourselves up against our goals and ideals. The schoolyard transforms into the break room.

I can identify with the lyrics quoted above and I also know they aren’t totally correct.

We don’t need to wake up and make money. We need to wake up and find freedom.

Because the days are limited. Because our worth is not measured by our bank account.  It is found in the values we pass on, in the two boys I strive to raise into gentlemen. In the wife that is my partner and soulmate, my rock and the completion of my sentences. In the past that has driven me forward and the future that is waiting with the chance to make a difference.

Because the job and this life isn’t over yet.

~Matt

Seeing the Future

Today was one of the longer days I’ve had in a while.  Both of the boys were up for hours last night, finally falling asleep around 5-6 in the morning.  I had to start work at 6 and, originally, was going to end at 2:30 in the afternoon. We happened to be short-staffed and, when I arrived, they asked me to do a full day.

So here I am, after ten hours of work and a hundred patients handled on my own, ready for some quality writing.

Two headlines captured my attention today.  The first was the recent passing of Back to the Future day, the date that Michael J. Fox actually visits during his trip to the future.  In the same spirit, I read about a unique image found in a music video from 1999.

In the video for “Sleep Now in the Fire” by Rage Against the Machine, a man is seen at the 1:04 mark holding up a sign stating “Donald Trump for President, 2000.”

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Michael Moore directed the video that featured members of the band performing on Wall Street directly in front of the NY Stock Exchange. The clip also features various news images and a faux game show knock-off of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The questions to the contestants are easy and powerful.  One asks how many Americans did not have healthcare at the time.  The other asks how many people in the world live on less than 1.00$ a day. A third asks what percentage of wealth does the top ten percent of the USA own.

It is a visual and sonic judgement against a government driven by money, power and control.

Fifteen years later, now with Mr. Trump actually running for president, how far have we come?

Have we lost our cause?

People who claim to follow Jesus have recently been pushed to the margins by various groups standing up against discrimination. The faith started by the man who changed the world so long ago is no longer seen as an answer.

Many churches sit on the brink, unable or unwilling to respond to pressure.

I don’t think our cause has changed.  Jesus told us to go forth and make disciples of all the nations. He said to love our neighbors. He told us to stand up for the least of these and that every time we did, it would be known.

We must pick the right battle and the right weapons.

For our fight is love, not money. Grace, not hatred. Open arms, not closed fists. Forgiveness. Self worth. A focus on charity and helping those in need.

The message of the song is evident.  If we keep going, the end result of the status quot is getting burned.  In a time when so many go with the flow and trap themselves in the race for possessions and status, we must be different. Because you can’t take it with you. Because a love of stuff prevents anything else from getting in, including family and friends.

Because it is time for the American Way to be reconsidered and rewritten.

Now who will pick up the pen?

I’ll give you a clue, it won’t be Donald Trump. It will be the author of all things and the Giver of Life, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

Let’s get started.

~Matt

 

 

 

 

Pray Without Ceasing

I’ve posted a few times about positive developments in our lives recently and we are very excited to see what is coming. God has been answering our petitions in ways we couldn’t have imagined.  Val and I decided we would be praying together every night for our family, our lives, and our boys.

We are moving forward.

Last night I met my mother to pick up Carter and Aiden.  Val works Tuesday and Wednesday nights.  My mother had watched the boys until around 9 pm.  I drove home and, as I parked, Val called me.

Her car had overheated and died on the side of the highway.

I turned around and drove back the way we had come, Carter and Aiden sleeping in the back seat.

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I called for a tow truck.  We followed the guy to a repair shop and, eventually, made it home around 11:30.  It was a long night with little sleep. I went to work this morning waiting to hear from the mechanic.  He called in the afternoon and said he hadn’t looked at the car yet, that it would be first thing tomorrow.

So here I am, writing this post and thinking about how in the world we’ll replace a car, if needed.

As I dressed for work this morning, a Bible verse came to me. In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians he tells them to pray without ceasing.  Those three words kept cycling through my head.  Pray without ceasing.

Pray without ceasing.

Val and I talked about it.  Our walk with God is valuable and will not happen as a free pass.  There will be tests, a refining process that does one of two things: pull you closer or push you away.

You have a choice.

As for me and my family, we will pray without ceasing. We will follow God.

Don’t give up.  When the night is dark, when the car dies, when the resources fall through, don’t give up. Keep fighting.

His grace is enough. He will break through the veil and impact your world.  I’ve seen in happen in my life and the lives of others. Turn suffering and struggle around and use it as a magnet for your faith. You’ll be amazed at what can, and will, happen.

~Matt

The Clarity in Suffering

One night I sat across from my friend at the bar inside the Canal Street Pub. He had just finished getting a divorce.  We were talking about struggle and suffering and our relationships with God.  He looked at me and said:

“I’ve never felt or heard God as clear as I have right now.”

If you haven’t had the chance to do it, please check out my last few posts.  Our church suffered a major loss as our pastor Bryan Koch and his wife Lynn were in a motorcycle accident.  Lynn passed away and Bryan is still in ICU. The accident was last Sunday.  The day after the accident, my grandmother passed away in the hospital.

Now, Val and I have the same issues as every married couple. We deal with money problems, stress, the kids, and how to fill a summer now that elementary school is out for Carter. When things ramped up this pas week, I found the idea to be true.

There is a clarity in suffering.

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In church, we witnessed a congregation of almost 3,000 people gather on Wednesday night to pray in unity for Bryan and his family.  At the reception following my grandmother’s funeral there was a board of photos. As I looked over the pictures, spanning the 99 years of my grandmother’s life and our family, my dad eventually appeared at my side. I started asking him about specific pictures and he told me exactly what was happening in them.

The memories came clear and vivid.  We laughed at old times. Others at the reception stopped to look with us.  In those moments, you feel the bonds of family.

Suffering gives us a target. When things go well we can get scattered.  When the bottom falls out, we have a target. We have a clear and present need. God opens a door for us to experience his presence.

Suffering gives us a reason. We look to God in the good and bad.  We are driven towards the everlasting when we are reminded that everything else is temporary. People ask, “Where was God?” The answer can take a lifetime to realize and communicate.

Suffering gives us a result. The more I go, the more I believe that suffering is a part of faith.  Don’t believe those that tell you a life of faith is one of paradise.  Our struggles are the building blocks of faith. We must go through the fire to see how God pulls us through. The ending is not quick but it is worth it.

We will see joy once again. We will have peace and understand faith. We will get to the next chapter.

Until then, we give thanks in all things because it is the ultimate victory, the push against the hurricane of this world that threatens to blow us off course. It is our recourse, our unity, our chance to show we are in this world and not of it.

If you are in the midst of suffering tonight, turn to God and be honest.  He can take it.  Let it out and, if you can’t sleep tonight, do it again.  You will make it through.  I promise.

~Matt

I wrote a small e-book about struggle based on my experiences in life, marriage and family. It is available for free. Check it out and let me know what you think. You’ll find it at the link below.

Living Life and Taking Time- Fix My Eyes Week: Day 2

I’d love like I’m not scared

Give when it’s not fair

Live life for another

Take time for a brother

~Fix My Eyes by For King and Country

Creflo Dollar wants a plane.  If you don’t know his name, do a quick search and you’ll find it.  Dollar runs a church in the south with eight thousand or so members.  He recently made headlines by asking donors to chip in for a $65 million jet that he could use to spread the gospel.

The backlash was quick and, with it, you’d think he learned his lesson.  His church even pulled the funding request down from the website.

Then he delivered a message saying his doubters were evil and that, if God wanted him to have the plane, it would be and should be his.

When did we go so wrong?

Faith is not safe.  Faith is not money. It is not calling on the giant slot machine in the sky and pulling the lever to get our payout.  It is not a God filling your bank account fresh every morning.

Faith is dirty.  It is living life for another, sacrificing yourself and your desires.  It is taking time for the ones in need. It is helping the family who does not have enough to feed their children breakfast in the morning.  Faith is giving of our time and efforts.

What if we aren’t called to be free and rich?  What if we are called to pick up our cross and take a dangerous walk, one with potential to change the world down the block and around the corner.

You know how many families could have their lives changed with $65 million in donations?

“She turned to the sunlight    And shook(1)

One of my favorite speakers is Reggie Dabbs.  I’ve had the honor to hear his story multiple times at our church and events like Promise Keepers. Dabbs was conceived by a young woman having sex with a man for $20.00 to get groceries.

He is now the #1 public speaker to school students in the country.  No one speaks to more kids in a year than Reggie.  He spreads a promise of hope, grace, and love. He tells every audience that he loves every kid in the audience, that his heart is big enough for all of them no matter what their situation. He breaks chains of anger, hatred, bullying, and discrimination.

He is living life and taking time for another.

Who are you speaking into this week? Who will you live for and give your time for?

Who will you love with a full and radical heart?

~Matt

For the next three days you can find my novel, The City for FREE on Amazon.com. Click here to download and check it out.