Legend

The house was all dark wood.  Basement and one level set back from the road.  We’d park in the lot of the community pool that sat across the street, the one my uncle had managed for years. The smell was Thanksgiving, pure and simple.  Turkey, filling, cold iced tea. A long table sat in the dining area.

I remember the conversations, the jokes and stories.  My uncle’s voice was often the loudest and his laugh would get us all going.

In the beginning of November, he passed away.

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He was a teacher, a football and wrestling coach for thirty years.  As I look over social media I find his stories.  A student mentioned their house burning down.  My uncle had taken him in, without question, until the family was back on their feet. The stories from other students were numerous, the inspiration vast.  Men and women recounting the interactions with their teacher and coach who had often made his way to friend and loved one by the time they’d grown into adulthood.

Val and I recently attended the first home wrestling match of the season for the district he’d led all those decades. The athletic director had given us shirts that the wrestling team would wear for the season in his memory.  We’d worn them with pride.  After a moment of silence, the team made their way to us and each wrestler shook our hands.

Mourning has a way of creating evaluation. Val and I sat and made a bucket list and a plan to check items off as we go. We’re looking to the future with hope after some positive changes this month.

I’ve learned a few things from my uncle that will stick with me.

-Serve without hesitation. It may not be as drastic as taking someone in but, if you see a need, fill it.

-Find a passion. In this day, “career” doesn’t have the best vibe to it.  Still, it is a noble goal.  Find something that drives you towards long-term commitment.

-Tough love. Some of the stories I’d read were about my uncle’s tough love for this players and students.  He wouldn’t hesitate to correct if needed.  As parents, this can be a challenge and this generation of kids is not one that takes kindly to correction. Tough love is an investment that often pays off years later.

-Toughness. My cousin, his daughter, was an only child.  She’s a college lacrosse coach now and a member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.  She’s a former Olympian and had found her way to the top of the sport.  I’d always heard that my uncle had treated her like an athlete, no different from the kids on his wrestling or football team. Don’t doubt your kids and what they can handle.  You’d be surprised.

Some of my best memories were spent on the porch of my grandparents’ house. After dinner the men would gather and have their iced tea or coffees.  They’d tell their stories. Now, I see it as what it was, a chance to step in the past for a few sentences and remember how things were before life got complicated.

We like to think that a new year brings new hope.  We make resolutions and try our best to change. The past two years have seen large shifts in our identities.  Val and I have both had to look in the mirror and answer some tough questions.  We’ve understood who we were and where we stand.  We’ve faced loss and hardship, trials and struggle.

Our boys are bigger and getting older.  We’ve learned the value of boundaries and how healthy ones look.  We found some unity and come together as the four of us do this thing called life.

I believe, deep down, changes are coming. There’s an assurance that’s only found from looking into deeper shadows and depths. Tides shift. Change is possible.

No matter how deep set the patterns, change is possible. No matter how dark the storm or cynical the soul.  Change is possible.  There’s no timeline on story.

Just a start.  Page one. In the beginning…

 

The Gift of 10 Lessons Learned

One of the most valuable things we can do this time of year is reflect on lessons learned.  As the quote from Socrates goes, the unexamined life is not worth living. Val and I have both felt the pangs of growing pains, that we are nearing transition.  As 2016 arrives and I shift to marketing my current book project, I feel the tension of expectation.

Looking back, this year has carried with it many valuable lessons.

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From Carter-When you have a chance, run.

From Aiden-Sometimes nothing is better than a snuggle on the couch under a blanket while you watch Tumble Leaf.

From Val-Your heart can grow big enough to handle the stresses of life.

From Hazel, my grandmother who was called home to heaven to be with my grandfather this year-Be prepared. A gallon of fresh homemade iced tea can go far.

From our pastor, Bryan Koch, and the story of his accident-You can worship in the midst of pain, stand in the midst of sorrow, and offer grace and hope when it seems that none are possible.

From the friends and colleagues I’ve met working on the book-Never underestimate the power of unity, service, selfless love, and the drive of people working to make a difference.

From my dad-Always say, “I love you” before you hang up the phone.

From my mom-Know what you are having for dinner.

From the kids I’ve helped coach in baseball and basketball-We all get a chance to hit or take the shot, when it is your time be sure to make it count.

From God-You are never alone.

What was your greatest lesson this year?

~Matt

The Power of Story

In the years before I had my first job, I used to spend summers with my grandparents. My mother would drop me off in the morning and pick me up after work.  These days created many memories that I can still recall as if they were yesterday. I remember playing cards and betting with nickles. I watched my grandmother make apple pie by hand. She always had a pitcher of iced tea ready and waiting in the fridge. One of my favorite things from those years was listening to my grandfather’s stories.

We would eat our lunch and go out to the porch, glasses of iced tea still in hand, and watch the cars go by. Poppy was a veteran of World War Two.  In those moments, with the heat of summer pressing like a blanket, he would tell me tales of the Italian campaign, of sailing across the ocean and landing on foreign shores.  He told me about battles, fighting on the front line, and seeing casualties all around him.  He spent Christmas Eve in a bombed out church sleeping on his live grenade belt. He marched in all kinds of weather, took cover from machine gun fire, and made it back home.  I was always told that he was a different person after the war, more quiet and reserved.  He had to leave a wife and two daughters behind and now, as a parent, I can’t imagine that feeling.  Twenty years after hearing his stories, I still remember them.

Stories are powerful.

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Jesus taught in stories. He created illustrations meant to enlighten, anger, scare, and inspire. He used images from around him: mountains, fig trees, birds, and flowers. He knew his audience and exactly what was needed to make his point.

Stories are just as powerful today.

I have written before about spending time in a classroom.  One of the more unique teaching experiences was working in alternative education.  These kids were the ones expelled from their home schools. They were the ones, in the words my special education professor, “that nobody wanted.” I worked in a Day Academy where kids were bussed in from the surrounding areas, taught for the day, and bussed home. I had time in that building that I will never forget.

Officially, I was an instructional aide.  My job was to go around and help the teachers with their lessons, work with kids individually, and try to maintain some sense of order.  Certain moments that place had an energy that just hummed.  You could feel the tension in the classrooms, the feelings that boiled over from kids living stormy lives uncertain of their future. We all did what we could to make connections and build relationships. When you showed interest, asked them to tell you a story, the defenses fell and they opened like flowers.

Words are currency. Just ask the spouse who is insulted by their partner, the employee praised by their boss, the child embarrassed in front of their friends.

As you go forward in your walk, your business, or your life consider your stories. Watch your words. Know your audience. Think of your purpose. If you invest in your story, personally and professionally, you will see results. Think of your end goal and peel back your layers of intention. Keep asking yourself why.  Keep digging. Find value.

At the core you will see what makes you complete. You will find your Savior waiting with open arms.

These days I still think about the summer afternoons on my grandparents’ porch, before the stresses of life, before bills and jobs, kids and obligations. Poppy passed away almost two years ago. I can still hear his voice and see the sparkle in his eyes as he told me his stories. I can taste the iced tea and feel the warm air. I am thankful for the time he invested in me and I hope, one day, to live up to his example as a man and husband.

Stories bring security. They give you a beginning, middle, and end. They plant hope for the future with illustrations of the past. I know that Poppy wanted to teach me and now, years later, I’m learning the lessons.

And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” ~Mark 4:9

~Matt

Teaching

I mentioned before that I am reading Chuck Pagano’s book Sidelined where he talks about his battle with cancer as a man of faith and professional football coach. He talks about running the team from his hospital bed, meeting with players and family members in the hospital. He hits on something that is one of the real secrets in life and I’ll put it to you in the form of a question:

Who are you teaching?

We all have a need to teach.  We have unique knowledge and experience that can be communicated to someone else.  We write. We take our children in the back yard and show them how to kick a ball, climb a tree, or swing on the swing. We guide them on first steps and through first bad dreams. On our journey of faith, we seek to follow Jesus as the ultimate teacher.

There is more than one scene in the Bible where Jesus is speaking to the crowds.  He starts as a child in the temple and progresses to growing masses of followers.  He heals the sick, casts out demons, and changes lives.  He angers and inspires.  In the book of Acts we read of our commission, to go and tell the world of the good news. We are meant to teach, to share our lives with others and not live in a vacuum.

In Pagano’s book he mentions the first game he watched from the sideline after nearing the end of his cancer treatment.  The Colts won the game and cameras recorded his post game speech:

He tells the team that they chose to live in a vision and not their circumstances. He mentions that his battle is already won and that he will dance at the weddings of his two daughters. You can see the message light up the faces of the players. Pagano used his situation to teach the team the lesson of ignoring the outside voices and chase your dreams.

My oldest son, even a month after the end of his t ball season, still calls me coach. He soaked up every moment we had together at those games and I know, as a father, he soaks up any moment we have together. He yearns to learn.

We all have a deep desire to learn. We are all called to teach. We are created to live in community with others.  See the pattern?

So as you enter this weekend, think about who you are teaching. Who is watching you for inspiration? Your neighbor? Friend? Spouse? Child? Make the most of each moment, live in a vision, and never miss the chance to teach someone.

Peter tells us to always be prepared when asked about the source of our hope. Are you?

~Matt