Suspension of Disbelief

Edgar Allen Poe created fiction that defined a genre. He made the literary rounds of his time, eventually dying mysteriously in the city of Baltimore  and starting a tradition where followers would leave a black rose on his grave for the anniversary of his death. I have a Collected Works of Poe on my bookshelf.

When he ventured into writing about writing itself, he gave us the idea of suspension of disbelief.  It was the dividing line when a reader gives in to a story no matter the content.  The lovers cause your heart to race, the stormy night makes the corners a little darker, and the fanciful world seems like it is just outside your door.

Think of your favorite book or movie.

Odds are it is a story with a quick suspension of disbelief.  Whether a space opera, teen post apocalyptic fantasy, or guy building a baseball field to connect with his dead father. The themes of great stories cross over into our lives and provide an escape that keep us coming back to turn the page or see the movie just one more time.

mirror-light-black-glassToday didn’t feel like one of those days.

Maybe you went to a job you don’t like, clocked in and out, and drove home to go through the motions.  Maybe your spouse or loved one didn’t acknowledge you when you walked through the door, the house is a mess, the cushions are off the couch for the 1000th time as portable gym mats while your kids do flips from the couch (not that I speak from experience, or anything).

Maybe the paycheck arrived and it is already spent. The student loans pile up. The lenders are calling and the car is two months behind an oil change, but getting one means taking time you don’t have and money you don’t have.

So something has to suffer.

How do we learn to love our own stories?

Embrace the characters- Your circle will expand and contract as the years pass. People come and go but some will stay forever. Find those who make your life full; the dreamers and visionaries, the creatives and the ones that make you laugh.  Find joy and the hearts it inhabits.  Bring these people close and, when you do, look out for others who could use some joy in their own lives.  Expand your circle and make a difference.

Embrace the conflict- It will not always be clear or easy. Some of the most powerful conflict has shifting lines of allegiance.  In one of my favorite novels, The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, the conflict is between the author, his lover, and her husband. All sides falter and the humanity of the characters draws you in. When conflict comes, you have two choices.  You can run or fight. There is no other option. I tend to procrastinate and, really, it is only another form of running. As the saying goes, if you aren’t moving forward you are falling behind.  Always keep moving forward.

Embrace the crescendo– The hero is down on the mat and the ref is counting to ten. The bases are loaded with two strikes in the bottom of the ninth. The big presentation is due and the PowerPoint file is corrupted.

Thunder sounds over a trio of crosses on a hill so many years ago.

You’ll know when it happens.  We are all called to a crescendo, to a taste of the edge, to the point where all seems lost. We are called to suffering.

That may make some uncomfortable.  It is not a popular message in a world of quick fixes, success strategies, coaching courses and prosperity ministries. You won’t find too many graphics at the local Christian book store with the phrase behind an artistic sunrise print.

We suffer because we are being refined as part of the Greatest Story Ever Told. We suffer because we follow the one who went before us.

We suffer because we are called to do great things, to change lives and spark a movement that will electrify the world.

You may be facing a crescendo right now as you read this.

If you are, I pray you find courage to stand and be in the moment. I pray you love your story and walk forward with suspension of disbelief. As you wake tomorrow, look with new eyes and know you are a part of something so much bigger. Embrace the flow of the story, the characters and the conflict and start writing your own fresh pages.

~Matt

 

Advertisements

Define Your Regrets

Last week we went to visit friends.  Both our families have kids the same age and they love to play together.  As the kids watched a movie, I sat at the kitchen table with my friend Matt (besides sharing the same name, an awesome guy).  Conversation moved to the past.  We talked about growing up.

I mentioned my grandfather taking me fishing on Saturday mornings.  No cell phones. No deadlines or dilemmas.  He drove his old pickup truck to the pond, parked next to it, and gradually walked around throwing his line in at various spots.  I talked about learning how to play cards and feeling like I was an adult as I sat in on rounds of family pinochle. Matt said his grandfather was a farmer and they would go on long walks at the farm, just talking and throwing rocks into the fields.

I regret the past my boys won’t get to have.

Regret, you see, is a tricky thing. In Mark Batterson’s book, If, he writes about regret.  As people age, they long for the missed opportunities.  In the short-term it is more regret of things done. Time draws your attention to the probabilities. If only I had started that business, chased that dream, asked out that guy or girl.  If only I took that vacation, adventure, mission trip.

We must reframe the concept.

beach

If there is anything I regret, it is not changing the narrative of my life. I told myself a story shaped by my experiences.  This kept me out of leadership opportunities, creative endeavors, ministry to friends and family  It told me I wasn’t good enough, said I was the sum of my past and not a new creation.

It was condemnation, pure and simple.

And we know that, according to the Apostle Paul in Romans, There is no condemnation for those in Jesus.

It is so addicting.  In this country, we love throwing condemnation around and drawing our lines in the sand. We are fine with grace as it extends to us, just don’t ask us to push the boundaries.

We are called into the void, past the battle lines.

The cross allows us to live without condemnation, destroying the influence of the past and old narratives on our lives. The voices that trap and snare from the dark now fall on deaf ears. We are new creations, made to chase down callings that shine light on the world.  We are meant to create, to sing, dance, write, act, draw, sculpt, design, build, and plan.

We are here to destroy old ideas and break new ground.

We are called out of the safety of our regrets (for excuses are always safe) and made dangerous.  Dangerous to the ways of the enemy, the one seeking to destroy lives.  Dangerous to the ones saying this kind of radical love is impossible.  You want to donate, serve, open your home, give your time?

You want to be selfless?

This year redefine regret and let it move you forward.  Take nothing for granted.  Dive in and know that you are called to so much more.

~Matt

How to Know and Escape Toxic Environments

When I worked in the emergency room, it happened every few nights.  The waiting room was full, the treatment rooms full with at least two or three intoxicated patients in the back. Parents would be holding injured children.  Hours ticked past and you felt the tension.

Soon, a person would snap and start yelling at us and we’d have to get security involved.  They’d calm until the next one yelled.

Eight hours of work in a toxic environment is enough to ware down even the strongest of souls. It doesn’t always take the dramatic form of an emergency room.  It can be a classroom, an office, a factory floor or retail store.

It can be the dinner table.

Toxic environments impact every person inside their borders. The tension is real. Loved ones hurt each other with words and actions. Coworkers gossip. Creativity is stifled and hope vanishes. There is no ownership, no teamwork, and no personal or corporate incentive.

You show up, put in time, and leave

pexels-photo

There are ways to escape.

Find Your Passion– Make your work line up with your passion. This is easier said than done in the current economic environment but, the advent of social media and technology has leveled the playing field.  You can learn a new skill through research and free resources found online.  You can set up a website and start finding customers through various free platforms. Think of what you’d do if you could pick anything and chart out the path to make it happen.  The biggest risk is not taking a shot at all.

Find Your Community– Toxic environments destroy community.  They isolate and capture, creating conflict and discord. The only bonding occurs over negative talk and stories as criticism becomes the accepted language. Finding a genuine community helps you break free.  Some of those nights in the emergency room, I was blessed to work with others who followed Jesus and we made a point to make each other laugh and keep things light. At home, start small with a walk around the block, date night, or doing homework at the kitchen table. Build bonds and know you are not alone. Walking the path together always makes things easier.

Find Your Creativity– Break old routines by making something new. Creation breeds passion and community. Look at your current situation and make a list of what could change.  How could you be a part of it? What new ideas could you bring to the table? We are all called to create.  Listen to your calling.

Find Your Faith– I believe we are meant for something more.  We are here to break through toxic environments.  We are to be light in the darkness and salt of the earth. I believe we were born with purpose and passion.

You may read this tonight and feel the tug of truth.  You may look in the mirror and know your soul is incomplete.  Work tomorrow seems like jail and not freedom. The person sleeping next to you is distant.  The kids are wild. You just had a fight with that parent that can’t seem to understand.

You are tired.

Make a list.  Check the points above and find your freedom.  It is possible and it can happen.

I’m making the journey and we can do it together.

~Matt

What Lights Your Fuse?

Most of us can articulate what we want.  Ask someone on the street or in the next desk at work and you’ll get a quick list of the usual answers of bigger, better stuff and success.  We have these dreams that quicken our heart rate and all it takes is one negative voice for them to quiet down.

This week, as I near finishing the editing process for my upcoming book about the fight against poverty, I’m devoting time to refining my dreams and goals:

~A writing business that makes a difference in the lives of clients and organizations.

~Publications that inspire, engage, and spread hope across an international audience.

~To be able to work from my computer.  Whether at home, a Barnes and Noble, a bench at the park or a blanket on the beach.

~To be there for my boys as they grow up, create a legacy they’ll be proud of, and set a foundation for their future and generations to follow.

The choice is really a tipping point. Google success stories and you’ll find plenty. What makes those people different from you and I?

The decision to go.

The last instructions of Jesus were to Go and Make Disciples of all the world. The order still applies. Time is too short to stand still.  Make use of every day you have and keep moving.

12182521_10205152759640215_360975160441931274_o

This is our son Aiden in a pic taken this weekend.  Every time I see it, I smile and I understand.  This is why.  This is one of the flames that light the fuse every morning, in every quiet moment and dark time, and keeps me burning for what is to come.

Find your inspiration this week, grasp it, and get to work.

~Matt

 

The Joy Shortage

It was a short walk. Our building at work is three floors.  This past week I was upstairs in the testing center.  I had to run some documents down to the second floor. I left my desk, went through the back hallway and down the stairs.

I crossed the second level and passed patients, nurses, and doctors.  After delivering papers to our financial guy I returned upstairs.

Not one greeting, smile, or acknowledgement. I made eye contact with patients and other coworkers, tried to engage with people, and found nothing. As I sat down at my desk, the realization hit me.

We are missing joy.

pexels-photo-14275

I work at a cardiology office and the irony is not lost.  There are many people with sick hearts, young and old, rich and poor. They go through the motions and decide if they have enough reason to keep moving forward.

Society isn’t helping.

We’re facing a higher cost for everything, from healthcare to groceries. We’re patronized from the media and politicians forever out of touch with the people they represent.

So how do we find joy again?

Friends: Val and I are meeting friends tomorrow night for dinner and a concert in the city. There is value in genuine community. There is value in sharing success and struggle.  It is too easy to feel alone.  I had a person this week show up way early for an appointment and tell me, “It is better than being with my husband.” Don’t live a life without the release that comes from the shoulder of a friend to lean on.

Function: I am not where I’m meant to be.  You may think that wouldn’t be conducive to joy, but the opposite is true.  I work with many people who have settled and don’t have the energy to make a change.  They spend their days miserable, trapped in comfort that has robbed them from passion and purpose. It is never too late to move.  What is the dream you have? The art you are meant to make? The missions trip that has been on your mind every time you hear about it at church?  You have set days on this planet and a designated purpose. Connect the two and you’ll find joy.

Freedom: There is no such thing as a required pace in this race of life. There is no reason to “Keep Up with the Joneses”. When I first got out of college, I spent two weeks working a sales job and “Keeping Up with the Joneses” was a technique they taught you on day one: always tell people their neighbor/friend/competition just completed a sale with you. It will push your target do throw their money down.

We do the same thing to ourselves all the time.  If that person on social media just got a new car, we are angry that we can’t do the same.

It is time to let go of the comparison game and free ourselves from the trappings of stuff.

This weekend, be sure to take some time and experience joy.  Laugh, love, and live deeply.  You’ll be refreshed and relieved in the end.

~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.

pexels-photo-12628

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

A Faith of Mondays

“You hit my car.”

I listened to the conversation from across the room.  Two women, one arriving and one leaving.  The one attempting to leave waited for the driver of the van, confronting her as she sat down.

“You hit my car.  There’s white paint on the door and you hit it.  You parked so close I can’t even get in.”

After a pair of hushed sentences, both stepped back outside.  Ten minutes later, the cops arrived.

It was a Monday.

I, like Garfield, hate Mondays. He spent many a comic strip lamenting the start of the week. Sunrise on a Monday meant five more days of school or work. In the professional world, Mondays carried an extra bit of edge. People sat at their desks and talked about the weekend, wishing it could be Friday once more.

Mondays are obligation, picking up the path that we can’t avoid.  Carter will tell me, on Sunday nights, how much he doesn’t want to go to school the next day.  I tell him that he doesn’t have a choice, that it is the law (met with a loud and dramatic “Awe daddddddddddddd”).

Has our faith turned into a case of the Mondays?

In the Bible, we read about Daniel. Daniel was a man of elevated status, following God in a land not accepting to his beliefs. He was an outsider, a “sheep among the wolves.” Twice he faces death, once in a den of lions and once in a fiery furnace.  Both times he comes out alive with help from God.

One of my favorite television shows is Supernatural.  Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki play brothers Sam and Dean Winchester as they hunt all variety of evil things and attempt to save the world.  They contact angels, demons, deities, and other sources well used for dramatic effect.  Death, played by Julian Richings, is a main force and character on multiple seasons of the show. In an episode, he bets Dean Winchester (Ackles) that he cannot take being Death for one day. Dean takes him up on the bet and finds himself lacking the ability to succeed.

Imagine, being Death for one day. Knowing you will impact the eternal destination of anyone you touch. Knowing your words and action will change the world forever.

It may not be standing in a den of lions or walking laps in a furnace.  It may not be facing a gunman on the campus of a college in Oregon. You may never find yourself in one of these places but your significance is still the same.

How do we break a Faith of Mondays?

Make the most of it. Every action is intentional. Every conversation has meaning, from work to school and home.  Every family dinner is a treasure. Every dream is worth following if you do it to change the world and serve those around you.

Time is not on your side. Time is a transaction. Oh, you can work out and eat right all you want but we all have expiration dates. We get an allotment of space on this spinning globe. As followers of Jesus, we can find a comfort zone too quickly. We think that there’s always tomorrow. We can pray tomorrow, read more tomorrow, contact that friend in need tomorrow. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. Look at those students in Oregon. Their families will be changed forever.

Embrace the heat. Shift back to a dangerous faith. Take a stand in radical love that breaks societal boundaries. Be the person of faith that doesn’t fall in line with stereotypes. We follow a teacher that changed the world, one standing against every accepted construct of the day. He existed outside expectations from friends, family and authorities. He was life and love incarnate. He forgave. He healed. He opened eyes and hearts. The blind would see, the lame walk, the dead live again.

He did all this as a marked man.

We are all marked, for faith cannot exist without suffering and struggle. We are refined by fire.  Daniel didn’t get a free pass.  He still felt the heat and heard the roars of the lions. We are told to keep walking, that we will never be alone or forsaken.

Does that make you feel courageous or content? Power or peace?

Personally, I’ve spent too much time chasing contentment. I’m ready for courage, for power in faith to not settle.  I’m ready to move.

Are you?

~Matt

The Joy Initiative

Around 12:30 last night the wind woke me from a dead sleep.  The curtains in our bedroom whipped out from the wall as rain pelted the windows.  I opened the door to the bathroom just in time to see a decorative picture fly off the windowsill and land in the sink.

The alarm sounded at 6:15.

I showered, dressed, and arrived at work by 7:00 for an ultrasound on my heart.

Last week I had visited the eye doctor who told me that my eyes showed signs of hypertension.  The advantage of working at a cardiologist office is that you can handle your own appointments and schedule your own tests, removing any chance to procrastination. The doc assured me that everything was precautionary, that my heart murmur was nothing to worry about and that my EKG was only mildly abnormal.

Something about your heart makes you think and, at a point in mid afternoon, a realization hit me.

pexels-photo

I’d spent way too long doing work that does not bring me joy or make the world a better place.

Change is coming. It will not happen all at once and it starts now. It consists of purposeful actions to gain freedom from the daily grind of earning a paycheck but not a life, stuff but not substance. I’m tired of punching a clock and coming home exhausted physically and emotionally.

It is time to start shaping a future of realized dreams, serving others and making the most of it. I want to feel like time is on my side again.

How about you? Does any of this sound familiar? We all get to this place at points in our life and only a few will do something about it. As long as you’re breathing, you have a chance.

Join me and take it.

~Matt

Calling

Make tomorrow different.

Do it because you can. Because you don’t know if you’ll have Friday.  Because somewhere, someone is sitting in the darkness of their home regretting the fact that they didn’t do it.

Ignore the doubts. Silence the critics. Choose what voices matter and keep them close.

Find your idea. Ignite a new passion. Connect with friends and make partnerships.

Do it because it is in your history, in your blood going back through the generations.

pexels-photo

Do it because you were called to fight, because somewhere three hundred years ago people decided to rise up and claim their freedom. Do it because this year a soldier didn’t make it home to their family.

Do it because someone believes in you. Your mother. Your father. Your children look up to you and see inspiration.

Close your eyes.

See your goal.

Take that first step. Lace up the sneakers and hit the track. Set up the meeting with the perspective investors and put your idea on the table and know, even if they say NO, it only means they weren’t the right ones and there’s an entire country waiting to support you.

Do it because time is short. Because giving matters. Because tonight a kid is hungry somewhere and your success could inspire someone to give back and their donation could help put food in the fridge. Because a person you haven’t met needs to know your story and understand that

there

is

hope.

When the sun rises and the alarm sounds, open your eyes. Draw a breath and be thankful because your work isn’t complete. You are needed. You have another chance to make a difference.

Do it because the fear of success is greater than the fear of failure. Because you are worth having a dream, chasing it down, grasping it and never letting go.

Hear that? That small voice in the silence? That voice speaking in your heart whenever you close your eyes and listen? That thrumming in your soul pulses out a beat driving you forward, waiting, coiled and ready to expand and explode.

That voice is the calling.  Will you respond?

~Matt

To Be or Not To Be

At the library this week, I picked up an amazing book titled Getting There by Gillian Zoe Segal. The book itself is a series of interviews with prominent businessmen and women, scientists, doctors, entrepreneurs, and other members of society.  Each one tells their stories and offers advice for the reader.

In the section for Jim Koch, head of The Boston Beer Company, he mentions having a message from his secretary posted on his wall.  The message was a phrase “Call back on Monday.” Koch says that it was from a young man who had called his office on a Friday.  He had said he would call back and, that weekend, had a heart attack and died.

Koch’s point was simple.  Don’t put anything off because you have no idea if you’ll have Monday.  You never know when your time is up.

pexels-photo

What if this week was it? What if you had another four days to get done something important from your bucket list? What kind of conversations would you have? Where would you go?

Say it is not four days, but four years?

I’m praying for clarity in this season of our lives and it has led to some interesting developments, revelations, and expansion. Because why not roll the dice?

Segal’s book has inspired me on more than one level and I recommend it to anyone looking for the same. The risk is not taking one at all, not stepping into the path God has laid out for you and living a lukewarm alternative. You can go through the motions or you can be the father, mother, husband, wife, leader and mentor you are destined to become.

It is intimidating. In the quiet moments remember the faith we follow.

This week I also watched the trailer to the upcoming film Risen.  You can see it below.  When you consider the one who has conquered death, the choice isn’t as hard as it seems. Turn away from fear, stand up, and change your world this week.

~Matt