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.

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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.

 

Haunted

How many people from your wedding party do you still talk to?

This was a question floated to me the other day.  At the moment, the answer is one and that’s because he’s my brother-in-law. There’s a phenomenon out there known as ghosting and we, as a society, are particularly good at it.

ghost·ing

noun: ghosting

1.the appearance of a ghost or secondary image on a television or other display screen.

2.the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.

Val and I were friends with another couple for a year or two.  Our kids played together.  We had dinners, trips to the playground, they even watched our kids once which is not something we normally ask of anyone outside of family.  One day, out of the blue, the calls and texts stopped.

I realized, after a while, we were ghosted.

Relevant magazine did an entire article on this, about how people in the church are skilled at ghosting. The entire concept of friendship has shifted over the years.

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Digital communication has increased availability but decreased depth. Those we care about can be reached with a few taps of a phone screen.  This has made our walls and armor quicker to deploy.

I worked for a financial company right out of college.  One team had me on a 5 am to 1 pm schedule.  It wasn’t horrible once I’d gotten used to it.  I liked the people, thought I had fit in well, and it wasn’t too hard of a job.  One day, HR called me into a meeting.  The rep slid a printout of an email across the table.  It was from the supervisor of the group saying about how I was a liability, didn’t fit in, and it wasn’t working out.  He advised an internal move that I eventually completed. This was in 2008 and, eventually, I was laid off with a few million other people across the country.

I still have trouble trusting people.  This creates an issue because we need people.

Writing is a solitary effort at heart.  I loved the process of getting my MFA and working in writing groups but, in the end, it was always me and the story.  It was my wall to climb. Depending on someone else requires trust and accessibility.

For Val, her background lends her to a different path.  She handles things on her own.  It is easier to just do it than to rely on someone else who could let you down.

Community is never easy.  Humanity is not pretty or nice or politically correct.  People let us down, they walk away for no reason.  They leave us behind.

The trick is to not let your ghosts haunt you.

Because someone out there needs to hear from you today, a text or a phone call, a note of encouragement or just to know that you are there. Someone needs to be lifted up.  Take a second a give it a try.  You may find that, when you lift someone else up, you get lifted yourself.

We can climb out of the wreckage of ourselves and rebuild.  We can rise above the mess. We can restart one day at a time and rewrite our stories.  We can do it together.

A Eulogy for the Bunny

An era has ended in the lives of a print publication almost sixty years old. Playboy announced  today that it will, after a large dip in circulation numbers, cease printing nude pictorials of its centerfold models. According to the report in the New York Times, founder Hugh Hefner himself approved the change.

What does this mean for men like us who follow Jesus and for men in this country in general?

When I was in middle school, we had to do a biography report on a famous entrepreneur. I chose Hefner and, somehow, the project was approved.  Hefner is an interesting story. He founded the magazine in 1953, publishing a nude photo of Marilyn Monroe that was circulating the market without a publisher brave enough to send it to print.

He faced down opposition from many fronts, always claiming the magazine celebrated beauty without exploitation. It pioneered the “girl next door” ideal. It published leading authors of the day in one of the highest-paying literary markets, often being confirmation that they had achieved status as a writer. Hefner put forth a style, with his smoking jacket, pajamas, and mansions on multiple coasts.  He once boasted to have fulfilled every fantasy he had.

The Times cited the emergence of the internet as the kiss of death for the magazine.  What was once mystery is no longer.  Men of any age have instant access to any image they like at the touch of a smartphone button.

So tonight we say goodbye.

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In a way, Hefner influenced culture more than he could have imagined. Playboy was a force that defined the transition to manhood for years and, believe it or not, we were all wrong.

I have no issue with beauty and women are prime examples of the beauty of God’s creation (my wife being the best!). The problem is the one Hefner tried to ignore. His centerfolds turned women into objects.  It told a generation of wives and daughters that they would never be good enough as the models that waited in the magazines hidden under the bed or in the garage. It told a generation of young women their greatest asset was their body.

It removed the mystery and tried to simplify the equation.

The equation is not simple.

Today we pay our athletes millions of dollars as they assault their spouses and girlfriends. An income gap still exists between men and women. Young girls look in the mirror and fight their image as they fight bullying and abuse.

In the Bible, Jesus is presented with a woman caught in the midst of adultery.  It is the famous scene where he tells the crowd that anyone without sin is welcome to cast the first stone.  They are ready to kill her, as per the penalty of the time, and after his interjection they drop their stones and walk away.  There’s a part of this scene often missed. The woman was caught in the middle of the act, odds are pulled out of bed and taken directly to Jesus. She was in the center of the crowd, probably not wearing much, as Jesus came to her defense.

He meets us all in our darkest moments and most vulnerable moments.

Now the Playboy centerfold is finished. It is a small, but correct, step in the fight against pornography and the objectification of women. I’m typing this as Carter and Aiden play in front of me on the floor. Two boys, both growing into men and needing help defining the word. It is my job to help them do it without seeing women as objects, to recognize that beauty runs much deeper than appearance, to stay gentlemen and be respectful.

It is time to break the bond and put the Bunny to bed once and for all.  Manhood can, and will, change for the better if we can move past the entitlement, admit that all seats at the table should be equal, and that none of us are qualified to throw even the smallest of pebble.

~Matt

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

I stood next to the door of my mother’s car, under the streetlight, as Val wrapped her arms around me.  It was sixteen years ago today and we were both in high school.

“Why haven’t you asked me out yet?” she asked.

“I was waiting,” I replied.

“For what?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.  I found the courage to make it official and, on a frigid February night, we started our journey as a couple.

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Photo Credit: kahunapulej via Compfight cc

February is the month we think about love.  Walk through the grocery store and you’ll see the rows of red cards, candy, and flowers. For those in relationships and marriages, we take time to make the extra effort.

For those who are single, it may be an extra painful few weeks of the year.

As we had dinner tonight with Carter and Aiden, we talked about all the things that have passed. We remembered the places we lived and the people who have come in and out of our lives. A wedding, jobs, and two amazing young boys.

I’ve been blessed to find my partner, the one person I know I will be with for the rest of my life. We’ve made this journey through hard times, ups and downs, and we’ve made it together.

Thank you Val, for all you’ve done for us. Thank you for being more than I’ve ever imagined or deserved. There are great things coming and there is no one else I’d rather share it with.

~Matt

Creating a Treasure

Last night, Val and I stayed at the General Warren Inn in Malvern, Pennsylvania. I had picked up a package that included dinner and breakfast with a room, and gave it to Val for a Christmas gift. In a busy life of routine and stress, it was a welcomed escape.

The General Warren Inn was founded in 1745. The building started as a carriage stop on the route from Philadelphia to Lancaster. British loyalists used it to hold planning meetings during the Revolution.  One of William Penn’s grandsons owned the building and passed it down through history.

Val and I looked at each other across our table, located next to one of the antique fireplaces, working on our grilled salmon and pork loin.  We talked about the past and the future as a waiter made bananas foster at an adjacent table, flames dancing up from his skillet. We ate a meal more expensive than any we’d had in a long time and enjoyed every moment.

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Photo Credit: James Burrell via Compfight cc

We both acknowledged what our marriage was lacking.  We had lost ourselves in the boys, stress, finances, life, and the future.  We hadn’t spent enough time together and reconnecting. We missed dates on the calendar as goals, as end points, as dreams and positive experiences.

One of the most important things we can do in a relationship is to create our own treasure.  We must reward ourselves and our loved ones. This can be in the form of a night away, a date night dinner, or a movie. It can be sharing coffee after the kids go to bed.  Whatever you choose, make a point to focus and be with each other.

Don’t miss your chances. Even if the struggles continue, always have something to look towards and desire.  Put the work in and you will see the rewards.

~Matt

Surviving a Crisis of: Love

Val and I have been together for fifteen years now. We’ve progressed through the ups and downs of dating and marriage. During these times, we’ve both had friends and family struggle with relationships.

Love is complicated.

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We are built to find a match.  Our hearts yearn for companionship, for genuine relationship and connection with another person.  When the 1/3rd life crisis hits and you are single, the voices can creep up as your friends get married and have children. They come from different places.

The Past:

In The Artisan Soul, Erwin McManus writes that most of us are haunted by ghosts of our pasts, not intimidated by spirits of the future. Our generation was the divorce generation.  Statistically, half of our parents separated in the decades of the 1980’s and 1990’s. This has a trickle-down effect. If we look to our parents, our first model of love, and see dysfunction we take that as normal and expect it.

We devalue ourselves.

The Present:

Bad relationships are plastered all over the media. There are numerous apps and websites centered on making connections at the swipe. You can message, or call, a connection in minutes. This creates good and bad situations. It creates expectation.  It creates options. Options, if they don’t work out, can be catalysts for defeat and shame.

We devalue what we have to offer.

The Solution:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8

You probably recognize the verse. Paul sets a high bar here with his description of love. Let’s break it down:

Patience: No one is perfect. Keep that in mind as you head out to meet people.

Kindness: Throw off the fronts and be genuine. Be yourself, your complicated, genuine, funny, deep, real self. Be kind and, no matter how much you’ve been hurt, keep a sliver of your heart open. Your connected soul is out there.

No Envy, Boasting, Pride, Selfishness, Anger, Deceit: I’ve combined his list of negatives. I’m sure you can imagine people who fit each one of these descriptions. They could be a YouTube compilation of failed dates.  The point here is the opposite.  True love is selfless. Check the Cross for an example.

Protects, Trusts, Hopes, Perseveres: Love creates hope. Love lasts through the tough times, the struggles with money, with kids who don’t sleep at night, noisy neighbors, health issues, work problems, and all the other fun of the world. Love is trust. Say that again and hold it in your heart because it may be the biggest challenge you face from your past.

Love Never Fails: You may be going to bed alone tonight. You may be wondering if it is your future, if you can ever recover from the latest break up, fight, or bad date. You may wonder if your heart can heal enough to love again.  It can. It will.  You can overcome the past and make a soul connection. You are worth it. You will survive. You are beautiful and valuable and a key to the progression of this Universe.

You are never alone.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration:

3 Ways to Take Back Your Time as Parents

I’m excited to be adding a new addition to this site.  Val and I will be posting together and covering some topics related to marriage and families. We’ve been married for seven years and in a relationship for sixteen years as we met in high school.  She is a hair stylist and a Thirty-One consultant.  You can find her website here. Now for the first post of the series:

Friday morning I asked a coworker how her kids were doing.  We each have two boys, roughly the same age.  Val and I had met her and her husband for once for a play date with all our kids.  She proceeded to tell me a story about the day before and  struggles to get the kids in the car, dropped off at their daycare, picked up, and dealing with them destroying the house at home.  I could identify with every issue.  Her husband works later hours and drives a good distance to get to his job.  She finished her story with this important question that she asked her husband:

“When do I get a break?”

Val and I work opposite hours.  She has the boys during the day and they often find ways to drive her crazy. She needs a break. I know she needs a break and yet the hardest thing is to engineer ways to get it done.  Carter and Aiden love her and want to be around her so any suggestion I have to take the boys on my own is often met with resistance from their end. We talked last night and realized that we needed a strategy, a plan to take back some time as parents.  Kids can rule your world but, only if you let them. Here are three tips to take back your time:

1/Meet at the table: Unity is powerful. Your children need to see you together and a meal is the perfect place.  If you are in a marriage where you work different hours, then pick one of the meals of the day and have it together.  If this needs to be on the weekend, make it happen. When the family shares a meal as a unit, great things can happen. You parent as a team, talk about the day, plan for the future, and touch base on any issues.  Being together as spouses creates valuable time when one party usually has the kids for the majority.

2/Open Communication: American Beauty is one of my favorite movies.  It is a tragic story that hits home on many levels.  In this clip you’ll see an interaction between Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening (husband and wife).

How many of us have had talks like this with our spouses? On the surface, we see the conflicts.  Spacey has traded in their family car for his dream car. He asks Bening why she has no joy in her life.  In the movie Bening is having an affair, thus her response to his question. They are living on two different levels, just look at their outfits.   To combat this in the real world, make sure you have open communication.  Use social media, phone calls, text messages, whatever you can find.  Leave notes around the house of instruction and encouragement. Stay unified as parents and you’ll be able to meet conflicts and solve problems as they arise.

3/ Rewards: We all want rewards. We want acknowledgement of our efforts at work and at home.  Schedule a personal reward each week, even daily if you want.  Make it a hot bath, watching the football game, getting that one ____ that you’ve been walking by on your trips to Target. We need to pay ourselves every now and then.  If you structure in a personal reward, stick to it. Create a goal and your days will have direction and momentum. Create a goal as a couple and you have unity. Create goals as a family and bring everyone on board. Achieve these goals and let the rewards flow.

I’m excited to keep this series going as we head into fall.  Keep your eye out for more posts from Val and I together as we move into that magical time of year, Back to School. Let us know what you think and we look forward to your responses.!

~Matt and Val

Perfect Love

My wife and I met in high school.  We were both working at the same grocery store.  She was behind the register as a cashier and I bagged the groceries.  One day I had come in after getting a haircut.  She looked at me and said, “Nice haircut.”  Original, I know.  She was seventeen and I was sixteen. I called her a day or two later and we met up for lunch with her friends.  One night, leaning against the side of my 1984 Oldsmobile, she asked me why I hadn’t asked her out yet. I replied that I was waiting. She said, “What for?” I said I didn’t know and asked her out.  Yes friends, the making of a Hollywood movie.

Love is an interesting topic.  I know people who are single, attractive, and have great personalities.  They also chase love as fast as they can, trading off partners for newer models and trying to find the companion that will stick.  I know people who have had children out of these failed relationships and I feel for them having to grow up without a steady mother or father figure. We need a partner. We fear being alone. We strive to find that missing piece in our lives.

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The underlying issue is commitment. It takes trust to give yourselves to another person. People have asked me more than once when I knew Val was the right one for me.  I always tell them the same story.  The summer before I graduated West Chester University with my undergrad degree, we were at the gym.  She stood up from a machine, took two steps, and passed out.  I went to her side and she started having a seizure.  As you can imagine, a crowd gathered and an ambulance was called.

She ended up spending a week in the hospital and they never found a cause.  One night I sat by her hospital bed.  The lights were low as I held her hand and we made small talk. The woman sharing the room with her shifted behind the thin curtain that separated us.  The announcement came over the speakers that visiting time was over.  I stood, gave her a hug and kiss, and left the room.

I went to the parking lot, sat in my car, and cried my eyes out.  My soul hurt.  Sorrow wracked me from deep inside. I sobbed imagining her having to sleep in that bed, in that hospital by herself. As I drove home I knew that I would marry her.  I knew I would do anything for her, would give my life for her and gladly trade myself to be in her position.

Sound familiar?

The video above is one of my new favorite songs by Chris Tomlin, At the Cross (Love Ran Red). There are times we can forget what perfect love looks like and how it feels. In those moments all we need is to glance at the cross and we know where we stand. We know the true depths of sacrifice, that our debts were paid and our place was taken by the only real royalty to ever walk the earth.

Val and I have been a couple for almost fifteen years. I am blessed to have a partner who loves me in spite of my faults and, in our struggles, we stand together.  If you are reading this tonight and searching for your match, know that you are never alone. Know that perfect love exists and the answer you seek is not far away.  Just look to the cross and you’ll find the connection, commitment, love and grace you seek.

~Matt

The Seed

Every movement starts in a moment. It starts in a moment of choice, the determination to do something and go forward. God places these seeds in our lives throughout the years. I think back to my own life experience and can find the blocks that have landed me here. The rough part of life is that bad and stressful times tend to hang on in our heads much longer than peace and joy.

I went to the library today and picked up Chuck Pagano’s new book.  Chuck is the current head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. You can see a promotional clip from the book below:

He mentions his cancer diagnosis and his battle with the disease. He talks about learning from his fight and that is an important point. We must learn from our difficulties and our struggles.

My wife and I were eating dinner tonight and wondering what we did back in the years when things were simple, back before bills and kids and when the greatest stress was what to do on a Friday night. I’ve been blessed with every moment we’ve had together and yet, I know our hard times have shaped our relationship even more than the easy. We’ve always banded together in adversity. We’ve always faced problems together and handled issues as they arrived.

Life is a refinement process. When the days get dark, when profits slim and doubts creep into your mind, don’t forget that struggles will pass and you will find a seed to generate motivation and movement. Time is important and how you use it can truly determine your destination.

~Matt