The Best Gift Ever

It is almost midnight.

Standing in front of the mirror way too late, drying your hair because the morning is too crazy getting kids ready for camp. And work is long. And it is mid summer hot, the humid blanket of a Pennsylvania July.

I watch you and I think about all the times I’ve watched you get ready. I think about our first Valentine’s Day, handing you a necklace I’d saved up for from Zales, feeling that crazy pounding in my chest that only comes with doing something right.

I think about the you I’d met when she was seventeen. I can see her now, see her eyes and her feline smile. I think about old cars and part time jobs, going to the movies because Saturdays weren’t anything. Walking around the mall and window shopping for stuff for our first house.

I think about the moment I knew I’d propose and the moment you’d said yes. I think about our wedding and our honeymoon in Mexico, laying on a bed on the beach as blue waters rolled in the distance.

I think about the times you’d told me we would be having a child, about all the work you’d done carrying the boys, about how you’d changed and the glimmer of hope in your eyes because this was something you were born to do.

I think about the family members we’d lost over the years. I think about the miscarriage and the feeling of heartbreak. I think about holding you and sinking in that sorrow, standing in the cemetery listening to the remembrance service and wondering why us.

I think about our dreams, the ones we’ve done and the ones we’ve yet to do.

You ask me to talk more. Sometimes my voice fails. So I go to words.

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In a few days it will be your birthday. I may not have cool things to give you, but I can build with words and here’s my shot.

You are the strongest person I know. You have the biggest heart. You’ve taken our traumas and I’ve watched them paint your soul and, every morning, I see you get up and do it again.

You are an amazing mother and a stunningly beautiful woman. You still freeze my heart every day the first time our eyes meet.

Our boys look up to you, they look like you. The moments when you laugh with them I see the imprint of your soul on theirs, I see your eyes in their eyes and your heart in their hearts and it makes me proud because you are so much easier with love and compassion than I am.

You’ve taken a kid you met when he was sixteen and taught me what it meant to grow up, to open up and be a husband. You’ve taught me about being a father. I’m blessed by your patience, honored by your love and survive through your sense of humor.

You hold this family together. You hold this house together. You hold our souls together. I know, in the years to come, when the boys have their own families they will talk about these days. They’ll tell stories about playing in the back yard and riding their bikes to the playground. They’ll talk about watching America’s Funniest Videos on Sunday nights.

They’ll talk about mom calming their fears, helping them feel better, giving the best hugs and packing the best lunches in the morning.

They’ll talk about camping, about holidays, summers and winters. They’ll talk about the little place they grew up in. They’ll hold their wives up to you, so get ready.

Things haven’t been perfect. But, you know what? We weren’t meant for perfect. We were meant to be fighters, to survive in the moments we didn’t think we’d make it through. We were meant to hold hands on the couch at night. We were meant to be able to speak to each other in silence.

Because, next to you, is the only spot I’m truly at peace.

And I can’t tell you how much that means. Someday, I’ll find the words.

You are an amazing wife, an awesome mom, and you are my hero.

I love you.

My Biggest Challenge Right Now as a Dad

Originally published on Medium.com.

My son is eleven years old and he has anxiety. Not just worries or concerns. His triggers can be large or small. Change plans and you’ll create an emotional response. Take something away, discipline, ask for him to do something he doesn’t want to do and all this can lead to emotions that take time to calm.

He told me yesterday that sleep makes him nervous.

Yesterday was not easy.

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Fears come from pressure, real or imagined. Pressure comes from adversity. We have two options when faced with adversity; fight or flight.

Make yourself better. Now. In the moment. Get tougher to rise with the occasion.

I read about this stuff and, almost forty years into life, I get it. The message is not complicated. Every day I page through my worn copy of Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way.

My son has started to look at it. He’s interested.

The larger concepts are not easy to cross over.

When you are facing middle school. You are facing a summer that will not look like the last few. When you haven’t seen your friends in months. When the last day you entered a school was to drop off your stuff from home and you went as fast as possible to get the mask off quick enough to not have anyone see or make fun of you.

These changes in his personality have been coming for a few years.

In 2018, my wife and I experienced a miscarriage. He did not take it well. He was excited for a sibling and the loss hurt him, and all of us, deeply.

I’ve come to understand that loss offers us a choice. We can stay in it or use it to move forward stronger.

In his eleven years, we’ve dealt with other things large and small.

Nothing like this pandemic. Nothing like trying to explain why he has to distance and why he has to wear a mask in a store and may have to wear one eight hours a day in the fall, in a new school.

Nothing like this time of civil unrest, explaining to him that physical appearance means something in this world no matter how much we’d like to think otherwise, explaining that his job as a young man and eventual adult is to love everyone and work purposefully to stop hate whenever he sees it.

The biggest challenge I’m facing as a dad right now is this:

Standing in the center of this storm with two sons reaching for my hands looking for encouragement that the winds and waves will subside.

Looking to be steadied.

When the lesson is that adversity will never go away.

That forces moving against us call for us to rise up. That fear may be tempting you to run away but, in the end, running towards the source of the fear is the only option.

That’s the challenge.

Looking in their faces and saying no, the storms won’t stop. The waves will keep coming.

You two, my boys, will rise up and grow stronger.

Your sails will one day catch the wind and you will take off away from mom and I on your own journeys.

Until then we’ll be here. In good times and bad. When you laugh and when you are scared. When you fear. When the shadows seem too long.

We’ll be here to call you forward, to catch you when you stumble, and set you on your path once more.

Fear

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On Sunday we went as a family to the movies to see Spiderman: Far From Home. It did an excellent job addressing the navigation of Tom Holland’s Spiderman with his normal life on a class trip to Europe.  He is drawn into a conflict that has ramifications when Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio forces him to face down illusions and embrace who he is.

We see Holland’s character juggle both lives, often denying his responsibility to save the world until he can deny it no longer. He tells Zendaya’s Mary Jane Watson that he is actually Spiderman and they come to an understanding with a new level of relationship.

Fear is the bottom line of the movie. Mysterio is angry with not getting credit for his work.  He’s willing to damage property and take lives to be the hero and get recognition and is done being passed over. Holland’s character doesn’t feel worthy to step up and embrace his abilities. He says, more than once, he just wants a normal life.  He wants to return to his class trip and his love interest. We hear that his spider sense is not working right and, when he finally trusts it and himself again, he saves the world.

It is easier to doubt ourselves.  It is easier to sit in our darkness and not take a risk.  It is way easier to not move forward. It is easier to get hung up in injustice and take out our resentment on those around us (see every recent superhero movie).

I’ve written before on here how our son Carter deals with anxiety.  He worries about small and large things.  The small things grow and linger.  If he’s resting, he’ll eventually need to get up and move around.  The idle mind creates demons.

The hard concept to reconcile is this: you need to do it yourself.

I grew up believing that if I was good enough, good things would happen and all would work out. I grew up optimistic in the infallibility of people, that they were genuinely good and had my best interests at heart.  I believed relationships were forever, family never changed and time would turn into some continuous Hallmark movie. In the Third Act, conflicts would resolve and peace would descend across the land.

The truth is, moments of peace are fleeting. People are imperfect. Family changes. Relationships, without effort, will wither on the vine. Conflict is reality. Disappointments happen in our human imperfections. There is no guaranteed break, no assured down time.

There is no finish line.

There is only a start and it depends on you, the ball of mess that makes up your identity.  Every memory, every moment, every good and bad word ever exchanged.  The dreams and nightmares, the power and the glory. Every instant you bowed your head and felt defeat. The joy of small and large victories.

The noise and crashing waves combine to make your soul unique. The abstract painting of divine destiny is more massive than you can imagine. It waits for the first step.

A step only you can take. Alone. In the still, small moments of silence.

The first time you pick your head up, put down the addiction, send the text message or make the phone call.  The handshake, the job application, the new business website.  The hug of a child. Facing your past and putting it to the fire to be burnt as fuel, an ignition. The first time you feel how deep the scars run and you understand.

For faith is a connection, a shaft of light in the darkness, an understanding.  It is conviction.  And conviction has more than one meaning.

Conviction knows guilt and that, with time, it will fade. It understands that dreams bigger and wider than you could image await you on the other side.

Until then, keep fighting.

 

 

It is Okay to Ask Why

It is okay to ask why.

Today was the scheduled delivery date for the baby we miscarried.

It is okay to ask why.

When the bank account dips into the negative numbers and the cabinets are empty.

It is okay to ask why.

When you fight with your children and get the first “I hate you.”

It is okay to ask why.

When the roof leaks.  When the pipe clogs. When the car dies.

It is okay to ask why.

When your kid gets bullied, gets sick, struggles or suffers.

It is okay to ask why.

When it seems like God is so far away.

It is okay to ask why.

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Because God can handle our questions.

Can handle our honesty.

Can handle our anger and frustration.

Because faith is all those things.

Honesty. Anger. Frustration.

Because Jesus prayed to have this cup taken from him in a moment fully God and fully man.

Because the Bible says Do Not Be Afraid enough to make the point.

You will be afraid.

And that is fine.

Because faith grows through fear, strength through suffering, hope through doubt.

Because there are still empty tombs. Still dawn and dusk. Still a breath of summer wind and the crash and roar of ocean waves. Still a heart beating.

Still grace.

And one day grace will make you free.

Until then, keep fighting. Keep asking why.  Dig deep. Wrestle with a God.  Be a voice in the wilderness. Make an impact. Be a quiet influence.  Stand up for what is right.

Keep fighting.

Because one day the tide will turn and you’ll stand on the shores of Heaven.  You’ll see those who went before you.  You’ll experience pure and perfect joy.

One day.

We will meet our baby again.

One day we will come out of this. One day we will have peace.

Until then.

It is okay to ask why.

 

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