Silence

It hasn’t been an easy two weeks.

I watched the turmoil of this election as it played out across the world. We’ve had our struggles in various parts of life. I’ve taken a job that has me working long shifts a few days a week and our family time has suffered.

Carter looked at me the other morning and said that he missed me and he wished I was home at night. As a father, hearing that breaks my heart.

You want to provide and make a difference but you don’t want to lose your son as a trade-off.

These weeks have seemed like a holding pattern.

I haven’t felt this much stress in a long time. And when I’d try to type I’d find nothing.

Silence.

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One of my goals recently is to be more honest. I’ve starting thinking about a project based on fatherhood, a book to reach out to other guys going through the same things as me.

Something for the rest of us that don’t have our lives lined up in a neat row.  The ones not in the holiday movies wearing sweaters as a fire roars in the background.  The dads staring down bills, stressed out spouses, crazy kids, and demands demands demands.

I’ve taken to listening to podcasts on the way home from work.  Something about the miles of dark highway makes it easy to listen. I had on my guy, Pastor Erwin McManus, and he said this last night.

He said his wife asked him why he always speaks about courage and living an adventurous life.  He replied:

It is my greatest fear to miss the opportunities God gives me and not live out the life he has planned for me.

His fear is missing the boat, the side street, the fork in the road that leads to God’s Grand Design.

I’ll admit, there are days where that design seems so far off in the distance that I’m not even standing at the starting line.

My fear, the thing that haunts me, is the same.  It is missing the opportunities that are coming, the open doors, the connections, the chance to live a full life and do something to put a dent in the universe.

We find what we look for; a sliver of daylight in the night, a crack in the wall, a whisper in the silence. Sometimes we only have the strength to turn our heads in the right direction and, just barely, open our eyes.

It’s a start.

 

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The Small Moments

I laid in bed next to Aiden, handed him his stuffed animal dog, and turned off the light.  Through the faint glow of the nightlight I watched him pick up the dog and turn it to look at me.

“Daddy, what are you doing?”

Putting Aiden to bed, I replied.

“What did we do today?”

I went over a few things.

“What is the roof doing?”

Keeping us warm.

“What is mommy doing?”

Hanging out with Carter.

This went on for ten more questions from the dog interrogating me about various parts of the day. Then I had to ask Aiden questions from the dog in return.  I was amazed at the creativity he’d developed in three years of life. As he drifted off to sleep, I thought of the rest of the day.

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Our time with Carter wasn’t as peaceful. Val and I both think we’ve turned a possible corner with some of his temper issues. Tonight he decided to take a shower and, by the time we made it up to the bathroom, he had soaked the floor. With our recent floor damage problems, Val and I were both upset.

I watched his face twist into sorrow and anger at why we were mad.  He said it was my fault he got in trouble as the first parent on scene. Voices increased in volume and we found ourselves in the classic parent/child standoff.

Life is made of small moments.  They tell you to grasp them and not waste any. They tell you to track what you do with them and journal your progress. You are supposed to “make the most of it.”

What if the moments are painful? They pile up like cards houses into a sum that can be beautiful or blown over with a slight wind.  You tell yourself that you are strong and ready.  You map out a strategy and believe it will work.

Then you’re back at square one.

The pile rebuilds. Beauty emerges as you wait for the wind to blow and cringe the moment it dances across the back of your neck. You rebuild and rebuild and rebuild until one day the pile isn’t yours to claim anymore and you pray you’ve done your best. Until then it is one small moment at a time.

~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

 

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

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

Everything Will be Okay

I sat on the bench at the playground as Carter ran around the various areas.  We had just finished baseball for the fall season. I watched other kids play, parents talk and teenagers throw football off to the side. It’s amazing how you can be lonely in the midst of a crowd.

I sent Val a message wondering where we fit in. Our story isn’t set yet.  Our roots aren’t in the dirt. We are different from so many of the other couples, ones that don’t consider Monday the worst day of the week.

We’re a work in progress, a life being written.

This morning I read an article about Micro Church.  It cited one in Brooklyn meeting in a storefront every week to share a meal, an interesting image so close to the massive Brooklyn Tabernacle. Two buildings for the same purpose. Two congregations existing on different paths.

Now is the perfect time to examine the journey.

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Later in the day we visited an orchard a few miles away.  The one we normally go to was closed. After having to pull over and GPS the address on my phone, we finally found it. A dirt road led up and across rolling hills.  Finally, we parked on a hilltop with fields and trees blazing with color all around us. The girl working the small shed where you paid said the pumpkins were up over a hill in the distance.

We kept walking and, when we crested that hill, I was struck by the beauty of the moment.

A constant breeze pushed us forward.  The gravel road paralleled a field of pumpkins to our left and apple trees to our right.  Carter ran ahead to find his pumpkin.  Val and Aiden walked together.  I snapped some pictures.

It was a reminder, the creator tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “If I can paint these hills and grow these apples, things are under control.  Every blade of grass in this field holds my fingerprint. The wind carries my song. If I care about this, how much more do I care about you? Everything will be okay.”

Life will be okay.

I stored the moment in my heart as you must do with all divine communication. Maybe Monday won’t be so bad after all.

~Matt

When You Don’t Like Your Kids

It has been a long two weeks.  Here in Pennsylvania, we’ve had a stretch of horrible winter weather. We’ve seen snow, ice, rain, cold, and round and round again. With the bad weather, we’re stuck inside most nights.  Combine that with two energetic boys and elementary school cancellations.

The result?

Two tired parents.

Val and I often ask ourselves about what we did before kids.  It’s funny how those moments gradually fade into a blur of passing time. There are days where you get pushed.  Tag can only be played so much. The pillows can only stand up to so many fights.  One room is cleaned as Aiden empties drawers and throws toys in the other.

We get stretched. We look at each other and wonder where these little humans came from.  How did my six-year-old turn sixteen overnight?

Yesterday, I read an article on Yahoo Parenting that changed everything for me. The title, one of the most engaging I’ve seen in a long time, is My Husband Killed Our Kids.

It tells the story of the Mendoza family as written from an interview with Zoey Mendoza.  Her ex husband, suffering from depression and not taking his medication, picked up their five and three-year-old children from daycare one afternoon.  He drove them to his parent’s abandoned home, killed them both and then himself.

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Photo Credit: hugovk via Compfight cc

Mendoza takes you through the moment she found out what happened. She talks about dealing with grief and, one night, how her children visited her from Heaven. She got a tattoo of an infinity symbol on her neck, the ink mixed with the ashes of her children, symbolizing how they’d be with her forever.  As I read through it, ending my day at work, I had to brush the tears from my eyes.

I’ll take the long nights, the obstacle courses, watching multiple episodes of Power Rangers on television. I’ll gladly stay up hours into the night trying to get Aiden to sleep as he sings “Happy Birthday” to me in the dark of his room. I’ll take every argument, battle, bath, dinner, and homework assignment.

It is all worth it because they are there and alive.

We’ve been blessed to have two children and, even in the stressful times, we must never forget it.

Because one day they’ll move out.  Carter will call me on the phone and say, “Dad, my kid is driving me crazy.  Was I ever like this?”

And I’ll tell him he has no idea.

~Matt