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.


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.


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.


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.


No Sleep

I’m a night person. There’s something about the end of a day, the quiet and peace of the dark.  I remember, growing up, laying in bed and listening to the sounds of the night outside. When I went to college, I would stay up late for a variety of reasons.  Val and I would go to dinner, then to a 10:30 movie, getting home at 1 in the morning and not think anything of it.

There was no kids, no serious obligations, and we had all the time in the world.

Oh how things change.

We had Carter and he went through the usual getting up at night that comes with being a baby.  That passed and, just around the time he turned two, he started getting up again.  He hasn’t slept through a complete night since.

We’re talking four years.

Aiden just had his second birthday and he’s a mixed bag of results.  Some nights he will sleep and some he’ll be up for a few hours at a time.

As you can imagine, not a lot of energy in the house right now.

We are desperate for some peace.


It has been a draining week, days filled with issues and problems to solve.  If you have children, you know what nights are like dealing with kids who are tired.  They get a new and special kind of crazy when they are fighting to stay awake.  Then you finally get to bed and attempt to rest until you hear, “Daddy, will you sleep with me?”

I don’t know the last time I felt true peace.  C.S. Lewis wrote about believers having a divine discontent, knowing this isn’t our home.  He is right. We don’t settle for the trappings of the world as we push towards the realization of grace. We know the battle is already won, we know that we can have peace because Jesus has overcome the world.

These days I feel like Paul, constantly moving, writing this book, fighting issues on multiple fronts for our family, and doing it as a servant refined by suffering.

For now, I’d just take a night of sleep.

8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Maybe some day.


Soundtrack Inspiration:


Mindset Matters

I’ve spent more than a year working the insurance side of rehabilitative medicine. For those of you not familiar with the term, a rehab hospital takes on patients after their surgeries, illness, or accidents. They work on restoring function and daily life activities with exercises for the body and mind.  This experience has taught me the importance of mindset.

Those hurt most deeply can heal if they believe they can.


Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a name-it-and-claim-it guy. God isn’t a fax machine that receives our requests and returns a response as soon as our faith level is higher than a set point. The battle, the fight that flows one step at a time, relies on mindset.

I’ve seen patients come through the door in severe states of injury and illness.  The ones who believe they can improve make the highest gains. The others who do not can, and will, get stuck.

I’m on the email list of John Lee Dumas, founder of Entrepreneur on Fire. If you are interested in starting your own business, or already in the journey, check out his site.  In his most recent email he wrote the following:

The only way out of following your dreams is that you have to quit.

Read that again.

Following your dreams can take many forms.  It can be personal, emotional, financial, health, or wellness.  It can be writing that book that’s haunted your soul for years, running that marathon, losing that first pound, and having a single good day.

One day of victory. One day of hope available for anyone willing to chase it. Everyone deserves a shot to follow their dreams.

Mindset matters.

Know any people who just bring down a room? When the caller ID shows their number you cringe just a little inside.  We can carry the weight of our pain and make it our identity.  We take out our resentment on the closest target, whether we know them or not.

Nothing is easy. We are told in Scripture that we will have troubles in this world, but we know who has overcome the world. We remember the verses, talk to friends, pray, journal, and take on the next day to fight again. We choose how we feel and enter into a mindset.

We pick our lens to view the world.  So, how are you seeing things today? What is your frame of reference?

What dream are you chasing?


Soundtrack Inspiration:

Something different for today.  David Jack is an athletic trainer. He’s appeared on more than one television program and publication.  He’s an inspiration and a man of God. This video is the first in a series of three.  Every statement he makes here is golden and speaks volumes about the importance of mindset in life.


Putting Out Fires

I don’t know about you, but our lives seem to move in waves.  I can track from when Val and I met, almost twenty years ago now, and the graph would look like an amusement park ride with highs that soared and lows that plummeted. This week is one of those low weeks. Ever have a low week?

-Both of the boys are getting over a cold/respiratory thing that had them fighting fevers and congestion

-Car had a flat tire

-Medical issues

-New bills arrive

-Rough week at work

And on and on it goes.

So much time spent putting out fires.  For me, it is genetic.  My mom is a “handler.” When a problem presents itself, it gets handled.  I find myself having the same impulse, not at the frequency she has though.  Val would be the first one to tell you. I’ll let something sit until I just can’t take it anymore and it will be handled.

Life levels off.

Then the next challenge arrives.


It gets so hard to just hold on and hope.

One of the biggest challenges we face as believers and communities of faith is Suffering. We have our classes, sermons, small groups, and devotionals. After every major news event, the talking heads emerge with explanations and fingers point our way.  How could God let this happen?

Why? Why me? Why our family?

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard is from my friend Tim Boden.  Tim is a pastor, musician, and author. We’ve exchanged long messages on more than a few dark nights and he always told me that God can handle my honesty.  Prayers can be upfront and uncensored.  Check out the Psalms.  David didn’t hold back.

Jesus asked, on the cross, “Why have you forsaken me?”

The why question has passed through my lips more than once. In these moments we need to remember there is a light that never goes out. It cuts through the darkness. We have hope. We dream.

I dream because I can’t imagine the alternative.

I believe because I know my heart has been changed.

I love because Val deserves more than I could give her on my own.

I serve because my boys need to see what a man should look like.

I write to tell the story.


Soundtrack Inspiration:

How Much Longer?

Ever have one of those days?

Today was it. From start to finish, one of those days. No stopping. No slowing down.  Busy.

Kid problems. Home problems.  Money problems.

One of those days where you look up to the sky and wonder what will happen next and when it will end. When will the storm clouds clear? When will we find peace?

I sit here at our kitchen table writing this post as our youngest son refuses to go to sleep, our neighbors fight, bills wait to be paid, work isn’t easy, and every second feels like another nail in the coffin.

Tick. Tick. Tick.


Growing up, I loved the imagery in the book of Job.  Something about this guy who had things going fairly well.  God and Satan meet up in Heaven (take a second to get your mind around that one) and this conversation happens:

One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

You know the rest of the story. Job’s friends and his wife offer various explanations for the suffering.  Job questions God and God offers one of the grandest cosmic smack downs ever recorded.  Job repents and is restored.

Restoration will come.  Someday.

As for now, we’re going on two hours without Aiden going to sleep.  The night is young and showing no sign of stopping.

I’m ready for the dawn.

Soundtrack Inspiration:

When We Reach the End

Turn on your computer or the television these past few weeks and it was not be long before you saw a headline about the Ebola virus.  The disease has crossed borders out of Africa and made its way to here and to various countries in Europe.  We see the microscopic slides of the virus itself and cannot help but think about death.

In Oregon, Brittany Maynard has chosen to end her life legally under the state’s Die with Dignity laws.  All you need to do is pass a psychological workup and you can get a doctor’s prescription for drugs that will stop your heart. Maynard is facing cancer in her brain that will lead to a horrific amount of suffering.  She has chosen to die on her own terms before her body is overcome with the disease.

Val and I both have had friends and loved ones deal with cancer. We have had friends die in car accidents and illnesses. We know people dealing with these things right now. Some will be victorious and some will not.

As believers, the shadow of our mortality is a constant in our lives.


Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16: 24-25

We are called to live dead, to have one foot in this world and one eye on eternity.  With this in mind, how we interact with those in crisis is of vital importance. When someone you know is facing death, they will question everything.  Always be prepared:

With Understanding: This person is no different from the one you knew before the diagnosis or accident.  Illness does not make become someone’s identity.  I’ve seen plenty of badly injured people recover with the right mindset.  Understand where they are coming from. Validate their concerns, do more listening than talking, and be the shoulder they need to lean or cry on.

With Love: We are often left speechless when faced with a friend or family member in the midst of tragedy. It seems easier to give them space, put them in their own compartment that we can access when we’re ready. Avoidance is human nature and we must constantly fight this impulse.  Keep lines of communication open.  Be there. Show up. Your time is a treasure they will value more than you know.

With Hope: Don’t be fake or shallow.  Pray with them, if they’d like, and pray for them alone. God can break into our world and heal.  It may not be instant. The wave of life can start with one good day, one cell tipping the battle against infection, one effort to get out of bed and take a step towards the doorway.

If you are, or know someone, who is dealing with any of this please feel free to share this post.  Any light can help in the darkness.


Soundtrack Inspiration:


Finding Victory in the 1/3rd Life Crisis

One day you’re sitting at your desk at work and the email comes across. Layoffs, happening in an hour, and you are one.

You spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend says they are finished with you. The door shuts and you are alone. Again.

The illness is back.

The kids are crazy.

The cabinets are empty.

Or maybe you’re the opposite.

You live in a new house.

The car is waxed.

The lawn is green.

Sprinklers wisp water on Saturday mornings.

You look in the mirror and wonder:

Is this it?


The crisis can take many forms and, as we progress through life, it can linger well past our 30’s. We live our days unsettled, searching for meaning and the security that we thought we’d find when our youth ended. We measure our faults, weigh our deficiencies, and pick out our imperfections. In the midst of the crisis, there is something to remember:

“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.” – John 16:33

When you face uncertainty, fall back on what you know. Remember the promises of Scripture and recall the moments your prayers were answered. Troubles will pass. The sun will rise and keep rising with each new dawn.

Make use of these moments.

Journal, draw, write, take pictures, create. Get your feelings out in some form of expression.  You’ll find it cathartic, freeing, and the weight will lift.

You’ll find freedom and that is worth it all.


Soundtrack Inspiration:

When it Isn’t You

We all face events that change our lives.  I can tell you the night I knew that Val would be my wife.  I remember proposing to her, the wedding, and the honeymoon.  There is a list of ups and a list of downs.  We’ve had our struggles. Eventually you find a rhythm with existence.

Then it happens.

You get laid off (as I did in 2008).  A family member passes away. A loved one becomes ill.  These experiences leave you asking, Why Me?

Or maybe you’ve experienced the other side.

You get passed over for a job or promotion. That person you know, the one who could care less about reality, suddenly gets what they want. You’re checking Facebook to see a stream of new houses, new cars, and new children and you can’t conceive. These experiences leave you asking Why Not Me?


Here are two things to keep in mind when jealousy or suffering threaten to clamp on your life and both can, if around long enough, destroy your marriage and family.

1/Everything happens in time: The Scriptures contain various sections about suffering.  The early church faced persecution on a massive level.  The Emperor Nero lit his gardens at night with the bodies of believers. Faith is born in suffering.

Suffering ends in time. Not necessarily the time we want, but it will be when you need it.  I’ve written before about my visit to the Hope Rescue Mission in the city of Reading, PA. Frank, the assistant director, told me he believes that when they need something it will happen and he has more than one piece of evidence to prove it.

Free furniture to furnish thirty rooms, a new floor for their kitchen, new showers for the dorm that houses almost sixty homeless men.  All provided right when they needed it.

God is faithful and always on time.

2/Empathy- As a parent, you become hardwired for empathy.  You look at your children and feel every bruise, cut, and emotional injury.  You hurt when they come home and talk about a bad day at school.  You put yourself in their shoes and try to help them handle what they are facing.

Use this in life.

Most people you meet are self-centered.  It is human nature. The camera is on us, all the time.  The fight is to turn your glance outward.  Empathy can help in cases of both suffering and jealously.

Keep your heart open, even if it means coming to terms with success for someone else.

How have you handled situations where you found yourself asking Why Not or Why Not Me? Let us know in the comments and share if you enjoy it!

~Matt and Val