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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How You Leave

Last night I took Carter to restart some baseball lessons in preparation for the season.  Basketball ended in February and this is the downtime between the two, not that Carter knows anything about downtime.  If there is a ball and a sport available, he will play it.

My dad had come up to visit and we watched him hit in the cage, ball after ball cracking off his wooden bat.

By the end of the session, he was getting tired.  His technique slipped.  His arms were dropping.  I could see it in his face  His coach, my friend Dan Clouser, told him he had ten baseballs left.

He went through the first five and slowly set up for the end.  A word came to me that was meant, I believe, for me as well as him.  God will often interject these moments of learning in our lives if we are open to listen. I said:

It’s not about what you do when you arrive. It’s about how you leave.

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We can’t measure ourselves in the easy times.  When we are humming on all cylinders, experiencing success at work and life, finances and relationships it is way too easy to get complacent.  When every day feels like a vacation, we can settle and get trapped.

The key is the point of pain. The moment when we are too tired to go on. When physically and spiritually, we are ready to quit and we feel like our time is up.

Those moments are the learning points. They are where we expand and grow.  They lead our faith to greater heights and depths.

Carter looked at me, set himself up, and hit the last few baseballs.  I prayed the lesson took root and he would remember it the next time he was tired or a conflict emerged. That night, as I was in bed reading, God told me the same thing.

Remember it is not about the easy times, no matter how far away they feel.

Worship and prayer in a crowd at church is easier than when you are alone on your knees fighting a sickness or addiction. Prayer is different walking the streets of a city shining light in the midst of drugs and violence.

Scripture comes easy from a pastor with three points and some cool slides or media presentations.  It is different in the middle of the night when your teen hasn’t come home yet and your heart is frozen with worry.

Faith is easy in times of provision.  It is different when you’ve thrown your last $10.00 in the offering basket.

Let us make the most of our opportunities, appreciate the hard times and understand that with each victory we will get stronger.  Every struggle is strength, every heartache increases our capacity for empathy, every fear makes us conquerors and every anxiety can lead new hearts to Jesus and impact eternity.

It is not about how we arrive, it is about how we leave and what we do when we are stretched to the limit.  If that is you tonight, know that God is close and you will come out of this better than you’ve ever imagined.

~Matt

Yellow Light

Last night we took the boys to my mother’s house for dinner.  The house itself is about a block away from where I grew up. It stands directly next to the elementary school that I attended.  Carter and Aiden, whenever they go down to visit, always end up at the playground.

My mom and I took the boys to the playground just after nightfall. The full moon crept up over the horizon as they ran and played.  The night had a hint of spring and I couldn’t help but feel the ghosts of the past and all the days I walked that same space to and from my childhood.

Recently I made a choice to live more intentionally towards my goals as a professional writer, father, and husband. Goals require plans and plans require time. As believers, time can be a sensitive subject.

We pray for intervention, for God to change our lives now. So how do we deal with the cosmic yellow light?

When the answer isn’t go, but wait?

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We like to think we have the concept of time locked down.  Google self-help or inspirational books and you’ll find plenty about getting the life you want in the time you demand. Technology goes to support this dynamic.  It takes no more than the swipe of a finger to order the most expensive items Amazon carries on their app.

Time is not so quick or fluid. Talk to survivors, the ones learning to live again after harsh pasts. Talk to the families who haven’t eaten in days and the men and women hunting for jobs after years of unemployment.

I still set plans and agendas.  I’m working on more intentional faith and trust.  I know God is active in every moment to make our lives part of his bigger dream. Deep inside my soul yells from the sideline.

I’m ready.  Put me in coach!

Thankfully, that determination isn’t mine to make.  We all have a place and a calling. We all have a job not yet finished as we are still breathing and our hearts still beat.

So tonight, take a breath. Help is coming. Doors will open. The preparation time will end and, in a moment, you will be pulled into the tide of action.  Until then, enjoy the work and refinement.

This is the hard part.

Soon, the fun begins.

~Matt

Recharge

In two days, Val and I will be out of the house again.  The day before Thanksgiving, we had about $10,000 worth of damage from the valve in a toilet tank breaking overnight.  The flooding took out a few walls, sections of ceiling, and damaged some floors. In the past three months the restoration company completed their work and the flooring is the final step.

We can’t be in the house, as the work will be on the entry level, so we’ll be spending about four days in a hotel. Last time we were able to go home and check in.  This time, we will be stuck out, as a family.

I’m looking at the days with a mixture of anxiety and excitement.

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The boys have had extra energy lately and, to go from a lot of room to a space smaller than Val and I’s first apartment, it will certainly be stressful.  I took time off to be there and handle the nights as Carter will still have school during the week.

I also get nervous to have people in the house when we can’t really check in.  Throughout the past three months we were home during all the work. This is a different crew of people and I’m sure they’ll do good work.

These few days will also be an opportunity.  I plan on digging in the Word, working on some side projects, and moving even closer to the launch of my new book.

We need to make the most of our time and, when God allows a few days to step outside the usual week, it is a rare opportunity.  When God leads us to the mountain, we must be thankful as we measure our steps.

It is time for fresh movement, faith, direction and progress and I pray this for anyone out there in need.

If there’s anything I know, God will answer.

~Matt

A Thought to Change Your Life

As we grow, we develop filters through which we see our lives. Aiden, at three, sees the world differently than I do.  We spent tonight together playing and watching cartoons. He’ll run his toy trains through imaginary worlds while making sound effects and cheering them on. He trusts people. He’ll follow Carter even if he ends up hurting himself in the process.

He has yet to be spoiled by negativity.

At the moment, I’m making my way through Mark Batterson’s book, If, and it is a powerful process.  In the chapter I read last night, he writes about a shift in perspective that can change your life as you start the new year:

“Spiritually speaking, the tipping point is when you believe, without any reservation, that God if for you.  It is the revelation that God doesn’t just love you, he likes you.”

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We project our life experiences onto God.  One part of psychology believes that we see God as we do our father figures. If our father happened to be vacant, we take the same insight to understanding the one who gave us life and breath.

It is the essence of faith for many.  “If bad things happen, they must be from God as all things are from God and we are clearly being punished.” Entire systems of faith build their towers on this idea as it drives money into offering buckets.

How would your life change if you adapted Batterson’s statement above.  What if God is for you, not just every now and then, but every single moment? What if God cares for you and wants good things for you, for me, and for everyone?

This changes the narrative and breaks down walls of separation.

When I think back on all I’ve done and experienced, that small voice speaks up too quickly and tells me that I’m not worthy.  How can God love me and, especially, how can he like me?

That’s the gift of the cross. The one sacrifice to seal the deal and prove for all time that God has our best interests at heart.

So as you look towards a new year, drive it into your head.  Write it down. Make it part of your daily prayer life. Tell your children, spouse, and family.

God loves you and likes you. Use this is a base for what is coming. Shift your perspective and you’ll see even more fall into place.

It is time for 2016 to change everything.  Let’s make it happen.

~Matt

 

It is Okay to Believe

This post was building the last few weeks.  It took a video circulated by the Huffington Post to finally make it happen.  They took verses from the Bible, most out of context, and quizzed people on the street to see if they thought the verses came from it or the Quran. This was supposed to make some grand point and found its way passed around social media fairly quickly.

We are in the age of attack on faith.

Belief systems have faltered at times throughout history.  When governments or people grab hold of the divine and use it towards their own ends, darkness and persecution results. From the first nomadic tribes to the Romans, Crusades, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others. When a charismatic leader rises up, they will gather the uninformed and insecure to form followers.  You get things like the Holocaust, Jonestown, and David Koresh. You get individuals willing to strap bombs to their chests and push the ignition switch.

You get a major New York tabloid publishing a headline saying God Will Not Fix This.

In times of chaos and tragedy, the tide and pointing fingers go against God.

Yet there are still reasons to believe.

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Faith provides a moral compass, it sends the line between dark and light, good and evil.  It provides meaning in tragedy, for if you remove God from the equation than it nullifies all the feelings of our righteous indignation. What value are we to this world in our eighty or so years of existence if there is nothing on the flipside? We place ourselves on a plane of morality because we understand the larger picture.  We feel we are right because divinity drew the map at creation.

Hear me out.

In the midst of this, there are good things emerging.  In a news release last week, more than 70,000 Muslim clerics banded together to denounce ISIS. There are still churches working to make change in their communities.  I think of the heroes of faith, back to Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, Ghandi and others that set their feet in a belief system working to change the world for the better.

I can tell you what Jesus did say in the Bible.

He said to love your neighbor. He said the meek were blessed. He called to those in pain and suffering to come and find rest. He turned the establishment of the day on its head by showing the true meaning of faith.

Tonight I want you to know it is okay to believe.  It is okay to pray before your meals and pass your faith onto your kids.  It is okay to attend a community of faith, be socially active, support those in need and love your neighbors.  Pray in your dorm room, read your Bible, download You Version’s Bible app on your phone and start a reading plan. If you are single, pray about the ideal person for you. Know that there is a plan for your life, meaning in your struggle, hope in your suffering, peace in the chaos, and hope for tomorrow.

If you don’t believe, that is okay too. The Jesus I follow tells me to love as he first loved me.  Know that a genuine community of faith in your area is always open to you, whether or not you ever walk through the doors. Know that you matter. Your words, feelings, and opinions count.  Your questions deserve to be answered and the answers are out there.

Pastor Erwin McManus, head of Mosaic Church in Los Angeles, said in one of his books that “Today’s atheists were yesterday’s children of the church.” I believe he’s right and I know the doors are still open.  The hurt, scars, and pain may be deep, but scars become maps to newer and greater stories.

We all need newer and greater stories.

~Matt

The Diary or the Map

One of my favorite films is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  I liked it enough to consider a history major in college and the chance to go chasing treasures around the world.  I still love history but the most chasing I’ll do is with a cursor moving across a webpage.

In the movie, Sean Connery and Harrison Ford play father and son.  Connery, the elder Jones, has a diary that contains a map to find the Holy Grail. The Grail, according to legend, was the cup used by Jesus at the last supper and by Joseph to catch his blood as he was hanging on the cross.

In the midst of the movie, after escaping Nazis, they come to a crossroads and have an important conversation.

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Ford wants to go to Venice as their friend Marcus is there with the map.  Connery warns him they must go back to Berlin to get his diary because it contains clues to get past the three challenges that await anyone as they approach the Grail itself.

Two options: the quick way out or the challenge that yields the greater reward. It is a choice we face on a daily basis.

As I’m rounding the turn on getting Glass Jar City ready for publication, I’ve been honored to have an email exchange with Tom Morkes.  Morkes is the CEO of Insurgent Publishing and he offers a wealth of resources both free and paid on his website.  He advised that this process will be work, that book launches have no short cuts.

I’m facing my own trip back to “Berlin.”

Your crossroads may look different.

It could be a job offer, heading to workout when you are sick and exhausted, kneeling to pray when the words aren’t there. It could be your spouse walking out the door and telling you they are finished or the doctor with bad news.

Adversity is part of faith.

We love our success stories (Christians build empires on them) but adversity is more valuable. We are called to the rough path, the tough choice, to make a move when it takes all the emotional and physical strength we have left.

When you are there, looking at the crossroads, consider these two things:

Get Help. I am taking Morkes up on his offer and using some of the resources from Insurgent Publishing to assist with this book launch.  I want it to make a difference, to start conversations and create unity.  I want people invested in fighting poverty and making things better in our own little corner of the world.  It may be a long road but it helps to have someone by your side.

Find Your Passion. Those that change the game often face choices that could have knocked them off their journey.  Easier routes emerge, paths of least resistance. The wide gate as opposed to the narrow road. Sometimes tragedy forces us onto the shoulder as traffic speeds by. Have the courage to keep moving.  Know what drew you in the first place, what need burns inside and follow it like a beacon.

Tonight, consider your options and make your choice.  I invite you to join me on this journey.  You can follow this blog through email, Facebook, Tumblr, or LinkedIn. Feel free to share it with anyone needing some hope and inspiration in their life.

Together we can make a difference.

~Matt

Prayer Request Saturday

Maybe you woke up sick this morning like I did.  Maybe the kids didn’t sleep or your spouse was out all night with friends. Maybe the week was too long at a job without enough pay doing something you don’t love.

One of my favorite works of literature is Dante’s Inferno, part of the Divine Comedy. The poem tells of a journey through hell and it starts with the narrator getting lost in the woods.

You may be standing in your own woods this morning.

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This post is an offer.  No sales, no SEO or products.  From the time you read this through midnight Sunday, I’ll be checking in.

If there is anything you’d like prayer for, please let me know in a comment here, on Facebook, or any other social media channels.

I know and I believe that prayer is powerful.  We’ve seen God answer our petitions more than once these last few months and I know he will do the same for you.

I want to say thank you to everyone who has followed this blog and this story so far.  Great things are coming and I’m excited to write about them as they develop in the coming weeks.

Today, Saturday 11/7/2015, is for anyone who reads this and may be struggling.  I’ll be praying for you. For as our pastor says, just months after the motorcycle accident that took his left leg and the life of his wife, there is no Plan B.  Our faith is Plan A and it is the only plan.

I look forward to hearing from you and, if you feel pulled, offer up the chance to pray for your family, friends, and readers.  Let this weekend be about a reconnect, about a movement back to faith and hope.

Have a great rest of your weekend and you’ll be in my prayers.

~Matt

 

The Arrival

My family and I live about an hour northeast of Philadelphia.  In case you’ve been under a rock recently, the Pope is coming to the city for the World Meeting of Families next week.  The news is filled with all things Pope Francis.

In preparation for this visit, they are:

-Closing major highways.

-Closing businesses.

-Selling tickets.

-Stationing EMS and portable toilets next to the roads leading to Philly in anticipation of the gridlock.

-Declaring states of emergency.

-Anticipating cell phone service disruptions.

Local leaders and believers are jumping at the chance to see this man in action.

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There is another arrival coming, one from a leader with a larger following.  We’ve closed things for him too.  We’ve closed:

Our schools. Our jobs.  Our friends. Our families. Our past. Our heart.

Some churches have closed him out a long time ago.

Yet, he is coming. He is coming to shine light to the dark places, to unleash a movement of inspired creativity. He’s coming to show the real meaning of truth, love, compassion and grace. He’s coming to destroy pretenses and demolish every box we’ve attempted to build around him.

He is changing lives, breaking chains, setting captives free and spreading hope in sacrifice. His message is clear for those ready to listen. His words will never pass away. His grace is new each morning. He works for the good of those called according to his purposes and he will make your paths straight.

You don’t even need to buy a ticket, sit in traffic, or fight the crowd. You don’t need to attend a conference.

All you need is a space to drop to your knees and listen to that voice calling inside. Take the moment and open your heart.

Someone out there is waiting for these words.  I pray they find their way home.

~Matt