A Song Outside a Hospital Room

I ran into a friend today.  We’d met at church a few times and our families had crossed paths once at the local Dunkin Donuts.  He’d been dealing with some health issues.  I asked him how he was feeling and he said:

God is good.

This friend works in the city of Reading, Pennsylvania running a halfway house for men dealing with a variety of addiction and legal issues.  We’d talked before about the book I was writing dealing with poverty in Reading. (You can find it on Amazon here and the kindle download is only $1.00)

As he walked away, my mind went back to when we’d first met.  Just after our pastor was involved in the motorcycle accident that would take his right leg and kill his wife, getting plowed into by a driver under the influence on a warm night last June.

I remember his tears.  He said to me that, just maybe, a group of us could visit and sing to Pastor Bryan from outside his hospital room.

Something in the sincerity of his voice from that moment still brings tears to my eyes.

And it shows the hardest part of faith.

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All of creation, from day one, points us towards God.  We matter.  We believe we matter and this places meaning on our lives.

We sing songs outside hospital rooms because our voice matters and we want to show love. We run halfway houses in the midst of one of the poorest cities in the country and work with men we may never see again, because we can make a difference.

We get up in the morning because we know something better is coming.

This positive result only happens if we matter.

The knife-edge falls with suffering.  If we matter, then why do bad things happen?  Why car accidents that kill spouses? Why child abuse? Why war, famine, and desolation?

Humans hurt each other on a daily basis. This world groans with imperfections, longing for the day the universe is back in alignment with the Creator.

Suffering is a mirror.  Our weakness is our target.  Our pain is a sign that we mean something. We hurt when we break because we are designed to be whole.

The fulfilled promise, the tight rope, the parted Sea is the glorious power of the love of God.

I believe God is for us.  I believe this world needs more love and less condemnation. I believe these words matter because someone out there will bring up WordPress on their phone or computer and come across this post and understand.  They’ll identify with it, at the end of their rope, and know things will be okay.

I believe I’m not perfect, that I’ve screwed up more times as a husband and father than I can count but I know I’m surrounded with a loving (and patient!!) family.

I know I’ll get it right someday.

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Broken Pieces

On Sunday, our church started a series on what happens when your life is shattered.  Pastor Bryan talked about the motorcycle accident that took the life of his wife back in June.

At the end of the message, a handful of people came to the stage and mentioned their own traumatic events.  They included a woman whose sister was killed in an act of domestic violence just three months before, a man fighting addiction,  a woman whose daughter had cancer at age 6, was cured by a blood transfusion only to contract HIV/AIDS and die from it years later, and Pastor Bryan’s sons talking about the loss of their mother.

We are sums of our experiences and nothing shapes us more than tragedy. Our reaction to grief may be the solution to change our future.

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Let’s take it a step deeper.  We are defined by our reaction to grief.

Train, research, workout, study, podcast, take notes, write books, do all you can to prepare and nothing matches the moment things all apart, that point you look in the mirror and realize something is wrong.

That diagnosis. That phone call. That argument.

The lines of demarcation that create our New Normal, the places that only exists as memories and warm summer afternoons, the ones we can’t go back to.

The starting point is knowing it is okay to grieve, to feel, to have the courage to face down what’s coming.

One of Val’s old coworkers is our age, married with two children, and starting chemotherapy this week for an aggressive form of cancer.

Her Normal has changed.

I wish I had a three-point summation, a quote, infographic, something to put a nice bow on this short run of thoughts, then I imagine her in a hospital bed tonight and I know that sometimes silence is the answer.

Presence is the answer.

Just being there, crying, holding hands and staying close.  Sometimes that’s all we have.

~Matt

 

The Forgotten Morning

I woke up today and just wasn’t feeling it.  The sky was cloudy, work would be busy.  The boys were their crazy selves. I drove in and sat at my desk and it just hit me.

The weight of everything fell on my shoulders. I was on the ropes, taking shots and trying to hang on. Strength faded.

Ever feel like this?

The Psalms were one of the first places I found and rested in the Bible. David is honest. Yes, he writes about all kinds of praise and picturesque images.  He also lays out his heart over suffering and sorrow. He flows through the heights and depths of all human existence.

In the 56th Psalm he writes that God knows his tears and that they are written down and accounted for.  God remembers. As I read over that line I suddenly understood.

I felt forgotten.

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It is the nightmare for any writer.  In Dante’s Inferno, the souls in hell can see the future and past, but not the present.  Their punishment is living as personifications of the forgotten, never knowing where they stand at that moment. Imagine a life where the present is a void of empty space.

Most of us live it every day.

We regret and mourn the past while we fear the future. We look back and ahead with such an intensity that it blanks out the present.  We miss the moments that matter. Dante wrote this as a punishment in hell.  Why settle for it as reality?

The night ended better than the day.

I spent time with Carter, helped him with his homework and watched him make an art project. We talked about his emotions and what it feels like to get angry. I looked in his eyes and there was a genuine connection.

Grab the connections.  Hold them in your heart. For they are divine instances of God reminding you things will be okay. You are not forgotten. Your sorrows are numbered and, because God knows, he will intervene.

God knows. Even in the silence, the sadness, the illness, the conflict, struggle and strife.

He will make something beautiful from our stories. Every page and moment counts.

~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

 

The Air I Breathe

All the conflicts, the arguments, the time outs and clean ups. All the weeks of endless Mondays, tablets with scribbled plans and shaded dreams. All the lyrics, lines, stories and songs.  All the business ideas, service plans, chances and steps.

Every day is about bravery.

Every walk is about faith, leaning not on our own understanding. Putting down ourselves to raise up the one that called us higher. It is about losing the last grasp of control and stepping into the void of a life surrendered and passion unleashed.

It is about the comeback and it is waiting for you.

A Faith-Defining Moment

This summer, I posted more than once about the motorcycle accident involving our pastor and his wife. Bryan Koch heads Glad Tidings Church here in Wyomissing.  In June, an intoxicated man driving an SUV crossed the center line of the road and hit Bryan and his wife Lynn.  Lynn lost her life in the accident.  Pastor Bryan lost his left leg and suffered massive injuries.

He almost died more than once in the days directly after the accident.  Yesterday, after nineteen weeks of recovery, he returned to church to preach his first sermon since the tragedy.

The building was packed to the point where they had to stop people at the entrance. Services in other locations, some internationally, were streaming the message that Bryan delivered. He stood on the stage a living miracle of survival and persistence.

Yet this wasn’t the moment I’m talking about.

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At the end of the service, the band played Bryan’s theme song over the past few months, Never Once by Matt Redman. The song started and I watched, as he stood with the help of his walker, and raised his hand in worship.

Here was a man who had lost his wife, spent fifty-one days in the hospital, had almost met death more than once, and he stood on the stage in worship of the God that had never left him alone. There were hard times, he mentioned in the message, times of pain and sorrow. He talked about arriving home from the hospital on the day that would have been his 28th wedding anniversary, seeing a picture on his fridge of him and Lynn, and breaking down.

His voice caught as he talked about her in heaven.

There was something profound in watching him worship. Profound in knowing that God will carry you through your circumstances, that you will stand again even if you are missing some parts.

Your situation matters. Your pain matters. Your suffering matters.  You will make it through.

I watched a miracle happen on Sunday morning. I pray this week you have your own miracles and you realize you are not alone.

~Matt

The Clarity in Suffering

One night I sat across from my friend at the bar inside the Canal Street Pub. He had just finished getting a divorce.  We were talking about struggle and suffering and our relationships with God.  He looked at me and said:

“I’ve never felt or heard God as clear as I have right now.”

If you haven’t had the chance to do it, please check out my last few posts.  Our church suffered a major loss as our pastor Bryan Koch and his wife Lynn were in a motorcycle accident.  Lynn passed away and Bryan is still in ICU. The accident was last Sunday.  The day after the accident, my grandmother passed away in the hospital.

Now, Val and I have the same issues as every married couple. We deal with money problems, stress, the kids, and how to fill a summer now that elementary school is out for Carter. When things ramped up this pas week, I found the idea to be true.

There is a clarity in suffering.

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In church, we witnessed a congregation of almost 3,000 people gather on Wednesday night to pray in unity for Bryan and his family.  At the reception following my grandmother’s funeral there was a board of photos. As I looked over the pictures, spanning the 99 years of my grandmother’s life and our family, my dad eventually appeared at my side. I started asking him about specific pictures and he told me exactly what was happening in them.

The memories came clear and vivid.  We laughed at old times. Others at the reception stopped to look with us.  In those moments, you feel the bonds of family.

Suffering gives us a target. When things go well we can get scattered.  When the bottom falls out, we have a target. We have a clear and present need. God opens a door for us to experience his presence.

Suffering gives us a reason. We look to God in the good and bad.  We are driven towards the everlasting when we are reminded that everything else is temporary. People ask, “Where was God?” The answer can take a lifetime to realize and communicate.

Suffering gives us a result. The more I go, the more I believe that suffering is a part of faith.  Don’t believe those that tell you a life of faith is one of paradise.  Our struggles are the building blocks of faith. We must go through the fire to see how God pulls us through. The ending is not quick but it is worth it.

We will see joy once again. We will have peace and understand faith. We will get to the next chapter.

Until then, we give thanks in all things because it is the ultimate victory, the push against the hurricane of this world that threatens to blow us off course. It is our recourse, our unity, our chance to show we are in this world and not of it.

If you are in the midst of suffering tonight, turn to God and be honest.  He can take it.  Let it out and, if you can’t sleep tonight, do it again.  You will make it through.  I promise.

~Matt

I wrote a small e-book about struggle based on my experiences in life, marriage and family. It is available for free. Check it out and let me know what you think. You’ll find it at the link below.

#FaithResponders

This evening we went to a prayer service at church for Pastor Bryan Koch and his family.  The building was full, all the seats taken and overflow seating filled in the older sanctuary of the building. We listened to friends and colleagues of Bryan offer up stories and prayers.  Scott Kramer told us that he grabbed Bryan’s left hand, the throwing arm of the former major league catcher, and squeezed it hard. When he did this, Bryan opened his eyes.

Praise God.

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Greg Hubbard, evangelist at GT, delivered a word about being a faith responder, one who talks differently, sees things differently, and reflects the presence of God. The room was emotional, more than a thousand people in a family gathering of prayer and worship. As a church, we will keep moving forward.

As a writer, I’ve changed. The filters are gone. This is about you and me, about words and life and faith.

I thought I had the story figured out. I was wrong.  This is a story about unity, about faith in times of darkness.  This is about a community overcoming tragedy and having hope.  This is thanking God in all things, keeping focused on Jesus when everything else tells you to look away.

When I interviewed Bryan for the book he was warm, gracious, attentive and caring.  He gave me more time than I asked for. He was forthcoming in his words and genuine in his spirit. He hugged me after our interview and offered to check in with me in the future.

I’m taking him up on it.

The day he walks across the stage at church to preach again is one I will not miss.

In the end, this is about victory. It is about family and using darkness to show the million-watt brightness of God’s love. So tonight I’m praying, carrying home the closeness of the Spirit, for anyone reading this.  If you are in a dark place, know you are not alone.  If you are suffering, it is not wasted.

Know I’m here for you. My family, brothers and sisters in Christ, are here for you. God is here for you. Things can and will change. The future is coming and we must respond.

There is no choice. Join me and be a #faithresponder

~Matt

You can see news coverage of Pastor Bryan’s story by clicking here.

The Sound of Worship

I logged into Spotify the other night to view an advertisement for Hillsong United’s newest album titled, Empires.  There is no denying the reach of the Hillsong church, founded in Australia and now located in branches across the world. As with any mega-church, you can find positive and negative stories online from current and former members.

The music of Hillsong has shaped modern worship.

I went to Amazon to check reviews on the album and saw the lowest reviewer making this statement, “is it just me or have their last few albums gotten slower? I miss their up tempo music.” This statement shines light on an important part of faith and life.

What is the sound of your worship_

Oceans is one of Val’s favorite songs. I have no issue with slower worship anthems. They can certainly bring us close to God and carry us into the spirit of worship. My problem is when we turn our back from the joy of praise to sell more units and move more downloads. I tried to get through every song on Empires and couldn’t do it.

It was too slow.

Now before we get technical about shaping worship experiences and flow, let’s consider something.

What will Heaven sound like?

How about an eternity of joy, perfect love, praise and the presence of the Creator? No more fear. No more suffering. No more illness. No more tears. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take an eternity of an explosion of praise, to let go and let loose and finally see salvation in the purest and complete form.

I’ll leave you with my current favorite worship song from Tim Hughes and Worship Central and a great example of a declaration of praise:

~Matt