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

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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Photo Credit: Ravages via Compfight cc

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:

The Greatest Gifts

Thursday morning I was getting ready to leave for work, gathering my stuff in the kitchen.

“Daddy,” Aiden called from the living room. “Daddy. Daddy. Daddy sit. Daddy sit.”

He was sitting on one of the dining room chairs and patting the spot next to him. I sat down and folded my hands.  He did the same and looked at me with a smile.  He had just turned two years old at the beginning of the month.

As I drove to work, I thought about his birth.  Carter was an emergency C-section and I was unable to be in the room.  Aiden was different, a scheduled procedure, and I had a chance to be at Val’s side.  They completed a second C-section procedure and started cleaning him off.  I watched from across the surgical suite.

They hooked him to an oxygen monitor.  His blood oxygen levels started normal and, gradually, dropped.  The nurses called in a NICU doctor for consultation.  She arrived, watched the monitor, listened to his lungs, and said they were sending him to the NICU.  He had fluid in his lungs and stomach, the product of not having it squeezed out during labor.

In a moment, our second son had ended up in the NICU, just like our first.

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Photo Credit: bookgrl via Compfight cc

Carter and Aiden both recovered from their challenging deliveries. I took Aiden Christmas shopping with me today and, as he grows, I’m always struck by the passage of time. In this season where we focus on giving, we can get caught up in the rush and forget about what truly matters.

We are blessed to have each other, our families, and the chance to chase our dreams and make a difference.  As you go through this week, this last mad rush to get things done for Thursday, make sure you take the time to enjoy it.  Remember the hard times and celebrate the blessings, the small victories, and the opportunity to do it all again tomorrow.

~Matt

Why We Write: To Heal Old Wounds

I had worked my way through writing a novel about a dysfunctional family and pair of brothers in a complex relationship.  Their lives were filled with jealousy, betrayal, and power struggles. After my climactic scene of Part 2, I had one brother call the other on the phone, only to get his voice mail and leave a message in anger and frustration.

My mentor read the section and called me on the phone.

“They need to have that conversation,” she said. “He can’t avoid the fight.”

Just the thought made me uncomfortable. I’m not a guy who likes conflict.

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Photo Credit: *brilho-de-conta via Compfight cc

Every story contains a part of the author.  Writers are born haunted people. We work to chronicle life and human emotion.  We push our hurt and pain into our words. The old saying is that there’s only seven original stories to tell.  The great ones, from the Bible to Shakespeare and Steinbeck, contain deep and powerful conflict.

They also have hope.

Stories allow us to live vicariously through our characters, to test drive solutions, to have arguments we wanted to have with people we may never see again. They allow us to get the last word and, when we empty out our emotions it creates a cathartic moment. We see different angles and empathize in places we may not have before.

Writing allows us to face our demons.  Words can heal. They deepen our understanding of life and teach our audience how to be more authentically human. They are a psychic connection of thoughts and images, flow and feelings.

We write to heal ourselves and, by extension, those who honor us by reading our stories. It is not easy but, in the end, it is the most rewarding part of the job.

~Matt