Here I Am, Send Me

This season, in our lives, is one of shifting times on multiple fronts. We’re facing developments professionally and personally.  The boys are changing and growing. Aiden has fully embraced the terrible 2’s.

We are riding the waves of life. In these moments it can be a challenge to keep focused and not get frustrated.

here i am, send me...

Every moment I first sit at the keyboard, I send up a silent prayer.

Please let the words make a difference and let me never forget to tell my story.

I was seated in the office of County Commissioner Christian Leinbach the other morning.  I asked him about his motivations and background as a government official who is also a believer.  He quoted a pair of verses from Proverbs 31:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
    defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Everyone deserves a voice at the table, even if they can’t speak.  Our job as writers is to give them voice and let their words take flight.  We are tasked with making words that change things, whether it is inspiring our spouse, children, coworkers, or the public.

Those of us who are genuine do it to make a difference, they do it in the dark nights before selling a single copy or putting a single page in front of a reader and waiting for their response.

We also must remember that our story is our own. The gut instinct is to find value in comparisons. The secret is, they don’t matter.  You were given a story to tell. It is different from every other one on the planet.  When you try to change your story to fit a different one, you lose authenticity.

In the uncertain and tumultuous times, you press on.  Raise your hand in the static. Answer the calling.

Go forward.

Pressure is progress. Change is good. The future will be here before we open our eyes to recognize it.

Don’t miss your chance.

~Matt

Finding Home

“That was a tent city over there.” I look towards a small park tucked in the midst of a block across from where we were standing. “They cleared it out, called in buses and moved the people to housing.”

Randy Simmons had just parked his white van at the entrance to the Senior Center. It was a clear morning, the sun cutting shafts through the trees and a wind blowing crisp enough to remind you that spring was not here, not in this city, not yet.

We unloaded food, selections ranging from vegetables and fruit to sandwiches, meat, and snacks. They would go to help feed more than eighty residents of the facility. The food was spread on tables and separated by employees. Residents gather and wait as a young man traveling with us, one of the success stories, offers a prayer.

It is a run Simmons does on a weekly basis.

We cross the city, stopping outside City Lights shelter. Today’s construction project is assisting with the clean up on six floors of a building that had just suffered fire damage.  A crowd gathers on the sidewalk. Simmons explains the job and the location.  It will bring some activity, a little money, and lunch.

It will provide a sense of purpose.

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Our last stop is the building itself.  I watch the workers go inside. A Jeep pulls into the parking area.  George and Nancy Lennert, a husband and wife team of real estate person/writer, and entrepreneurs , exit the van. We shake hands and talk about the story of Reading.

Simmons hurries from the lot, driving to Lowe’s to buy twenty brooms so his guys can work.  Standing around does nothing.  The work will always be there and the ones willing to step up and take the job can make a difference.  Some will get hired and maybe grab the foundation they need.

We join hands in a circle, feet standing on muddied ground and heads bowed. Nancy (you can find her book here) offers a prayer, a genuine cry to see change in the city, for our words and actions to make a difference in the lives around us. The building behind us will become apartments, homes for those who need them.

The symbolism cuts in many ways.  We are all burned buildings, our past behind us and a massive cleaning effort working in our hearts. We are projects and it takes the work of many dedicated men and women to finish the job.

I realized, as I drove away, that I had found a home.  I found the men and women I needed to work with, to be around.  I had found the ones I could help with these words, with this book.  I had seen and felt God’s hand moving, the power of his love flowing in the streets.

This was purpose, the reason behind the story.  This was power.

This is faith.

~Matt

 

The Page that Changed My Writing Life

As writers, we all have that book, play, screenplay, short story, etc. that made us want to write.  You read it and your soul connects.  The words call you out of darkness and on the path to living a creative life.  For some, it may be all the works of a single author.  For me, it was a single page.

Yes, I can tell you the moment I knew that Val and I would be together forever and I can tell you the moment I knew that writing was the endeavor that completed my sentence, literally and spiritually.

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Here it is, from Graham Greene’s, The Heart of the Matter, 1948:

Mrs. Bowles said, “Don’t be absurd. Are you qualified to dispense? I’ll only be away a few minutes. If the child shows signs of going, call me.”

If she had given him time, he would have thought of some excuse, but she was already out of the room and he sat heavily down in the only chair. When he looked at the child, he saw a white communion veil over her head: it was a trick of the light on the pillow and a trick of his own mind. He put his head in his hands and wouldn’t look. He had been in Africa when his own child died. He had always thanked God that he had missed that. It seemed after all that one never really missed a thing. To be a human being one had to drink the cup. If one were lucky on one day, or cowardly on another, it was presented on a third occasion.

He prayed silently into his hands, “O God, don’t let anything happen before Mrs. Bowles comes back.”

He could hear the breathing of the child. It was as if she were carrying a weight with great effort up a long hill: it was an inhuman situation not to be able to carry it for her. He thought: This is what parents feel year in and year out, and I am shrinking from a few minutes of it. They see their children dying slowly every hour they live.  

He prayed again, “Father, look after her. Give her peace.”  The breathing broke, choked, began again with terrible effort. Looking between his fingers he could see the six-year-old face convulsed like a navvy’s with labor.  “Father,” he prayed, “give her peace. Take away my peace forever, but give her peace.” The sweat broke out on his hands. “Father . . .”

 He heard a small scraping voice repeat, “Father,” and looking up he saw the blue and bloodshot eyes watching him. He thought with horror: this is what I thought I’d missed. He would have called Mrs. Bowles, only he hadn’t the voice to call with.

He could see the breast of the child struggling for breath to repeat the heavy word; he came over to the bed and said, “Yes, dear. Don’t speak, I’m here.”

The nightlight cast the shadow of his clenched fist on the sheet and it caught the child’s eye. An effort to laugh convulsed her, and he moved his hand away. “Sleep, dear,” he said, “you are sleepy. Sleep.”A memory that he had carefully buried returned, and taking out his handkerchief he made the shadow of a rabbit’s head fall on the pillow beside her. “There’s your rabbit,” he said, “to go to sleep with. It will stay until you sleep. Sleep.”

The sweat poured down his face and tasted in his mouth as salt as tears.

“Sleep.”

He moved the rabbit’s ears up and down, up and down. Then he heard Mrs. Bowles’ voice, speaking low just behind him. “Stop that,” she said harshly, “the child’s dead.”

 

The main character, Major Scobie, is stationed in colonial Africa during WWII.  The girl he’s with washed up outside his settlement, part of a group of shipwreck survivors.  He visits the medical ward and Mrs. Bowles tells him she must go get medicine.  He begs her not to leave and she says, basically, to man up and sit with the girl.

Greene accomplishes so much in these lines that you could teach an entire writing class about them.  Scobie’s character mentions the death of his own child.  He’s praying, bargaining with God as to not have to witness the death of the girl while thinking about the nature of suffering.  His nerves kick in.  The girl starts to repeat his prayer and Greene hits you with the image of the “blue and bloodshot eyes.”

Poetic and powerful

He makes the rabbit shadow and we can feel his heart breaking as he tries to provide some level of comfort. The end, where Bowles returns, slams the door on the moment.  Death, at this settlement, was a facet of everyday life. You could argue that Scobie does, and does not get his wish.  Bowles returns too late for the death that Scobie does not recognize.

The first time I read those lines, I had to put the book down and absorb it.  Greene became my literary destination and guide.  If only I could capture a fraction of that ability, I thought, I could make this journey work.

So what was your moment of epiphany, where you knew you were a slave to the story?  It is a point you never forget.

 

Soundtrack inspiration:

Discovered the worship band Waken and fell in love with their music.  Check it out:

Why We Write: To Answer a Calling

Great writers are born, not made. This cliché is all over the world of writing, as if it is some exclusive club.  I’m here to tell you this is not true.

If you’re like me, you probably have looked in the mirror once or twice and asked what you were meant to do. In my application essay for Fairfield University, I wrote that we are all incomplete sentences. We spend our lives looking for the ending.  We try relationships, work, substances both good and bad.  We throw ourselves into things to find meaning.

I am a writer. There was never a different option.

The trick is giving yourself permission to claim your ending.

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The trick is understanding why.

There are a handful of “overnight” success stories. Stroll through your local bookstore and you’ll see shelves full of people who have gained contracts and released something for the world to consume. The mistake is measuring yourself against these other writers.  They have their stories.

You have yours.

We aren’t called to write for the shelves or Kindles. We write to make a difference.  You are called to make a difference.  The payoff is when one person, someone you’ve never met, posts a comment, sends an email, or tells you they were impacted by your work.  When they tell you that you’ve changed their life, gave them hope, and let them know it will be okay.

We write to serve, not to sell.  When you answer the call and put your thoughts on paper, you’ll be amazed at what can happen.

~Matt

Writing Our Story

We’ve officially reached that time of year.  Halloween has passed. Time is running towards Thanksgiving and Christmas. We approach the days we’ll spend with family, eating, laughing, trading stories and gifts. 2014 is nearing an end.

Time keeps moving and these are the days we take stock of our lives.

So where are you in your story?

We are a society that values our prodigies. We like our athletes, singers, actors and actresses young.  We constantly strive for the next best thing.  I’ve read research saying that traditional job applications are over, that employees will need to present portfolios showing their best work and past experience will mean nothing. Employers are moving towards contract-based work with applicants proving their current value.  What can you do for me now not What have you done in the past.

We are pushing the past away for the sake of innovation.

So what if you’re not on the younger side of things?

It is the lesson to never lose hope. The world can always be changed.  Our work is never done. Experience, no matter what society says, carries value. The next movement will be created in a fertile mind, whether it is in its second, third, fourth, fifth, or sixth decade of life.

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Your story is never over. As long as you are breathing, you can speak life into someone you love, into a situation that needs fixing, into a family that needs peace.

My grandmother is 97.  When my grandfather passed away two years ago, she placed a rose in his coffin.  Her story was not over.  She’s a woman with a soul of iron, stronger than I’ll ever be, and a foundation of a family.  She raised two girls for years while my grandfather fought in WW2. She worked various jobs well past the usual retirement age.  She loved deeply and fully and still does to this day.

She’s one of my heroes.

So, no matter where you are, remember your story is not over.  The scenes may change, the circumstances shift. Money comes and goes. Jobs change. Living situations vary and people move in and out of your life. Keep creating. Find your passion and make time to see it through.  Keep doing the work.

We are all called to something special and must have the determination to see it through. Sometimes, in your darkest nights, that can only come from God.

~Matt

Soundtrack inspiration:

The Power of Story

In the years before I had my first job, I used to spend summers with my grandparents. My mother would drop me off in the morning and pick me up after work.  These days created many memories that I can still recall as if they were yesterday. I remember playing cards and betting with nickles. I watched my grandmother make apple pie by hand. She always had a pitcher of iced tea ready and waiting in the fridge. One of my favorite things from those years was listening to my grandfather’s stories.

We would eat our lunch and go out to the porch, glasses of iced tea still in hand, and watch the cars go by. Poppy was a veteran of World War Two.  In those moments, with the heat of summer pressing like a blanket, he would tell me tales of the Italian campaign, of sailing across the ocean and landing on foreign shores.  He told me about battles, fighting on the front line, and seeing casualties all around him.  He spent Christmas Eve in a bombed out church sleeping on his live grenade belt. He marched in all kinds of weather, took cover from machine gun fire, and made it back home.  I was always told that he was a different person after the war, more quiet and reserved.  He had to leave a wife and two daughters behind and now, as a parent, I can’t imagine that feeling.  Twenty years after hearing his stories, I still remember them.

Stories are powerful.

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Jesus taught in stories. He created illustrations meant to enlighten, anger, scare, and inspire. He used images from around him: mountains, fig trees, birds, and flowers. He knew his audience and exactly what was needed to make his point.

Stories are just as powerful today.

I have written before about spending time in a classroom.  One of the more unique teaching experiences was working in alternative education.  These kids were the ones expelled from their home schools. They were the ones, in the words my special education professor, “that nobody wanted.” I worked in a Day Academy where kids were bussed in from the surrounding areas, taught for the day, and bussed home. I had time in that building that I will never forget.

Officially, I was an instructional aide.  My job was to go around and help the teachers with their lessons, work with kids individually, and try to maintain some sense of order.  Certain moments that place had an energy that just hummed.  You could feel the tension in the classrooms, the feelings that boiled over from kids living stormy lives uncertain of their future. We all did what we could to make connections and build relationships. When you showed interest, asked them to tell you a story, the defenses fell and they opened like flowers.

Words are currency. Just ask the spouse who is insulted by their partner, the employee praised by their boss, the child embarrassed in front of their friends.

As you go forward in your walk, your business, or your life consider your stories. Watch your words. Know your audience. Think of your purpose. If you invest in your story, personally and professionally, you will see results. Think of your end goal and peel back your layers of intention. Keep asking yourself why.  Keep digging. Find value.

At the core you will see what makes you complete. You will find your Savior waiting with open arms.

These days I still think about the summer afternoons on my grandparents’ porch, before the stresses of life, before bills and jobs, kids and obligations. Poppy passed away almost two years ago. I can still hear his voice and see the sparkle in his eyes as he told me his stories. I can taste the iced tea and feel the warm air. I am thankful for the time he invested in me and I hope, one day, to live up to his example as a man and husband.

Stories bring security. They give you a beginning, middle, and end. They plant hope for the future with illustrations of the past. I know that Poppy wanted to teach me and now, years later, I’m learning the lessons.

And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” ~Mark 4:9

~Matt