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.

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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

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If

I hope you enjoyed your past five days.

For us it was a time of running around, visiting family, opening presents and thinking about the past year. We attended a Christmas Eve service on a warm night and rejoiced as our pastor walked out on stage with his new prosthetic left leg. Carter and Aiden loved every gift they received. We somehow managed to make it relatively smooth and are still in the process of getting the house in order.

The insurance money for home repairs will be available to us on 12/30, starting the ball rolling towards repairs and the house returning to form.  On Christmas I experienced my own little miracle, something I will post about this week, as this was the first year without both of my grandparents.

I am excited for what is coming.  The final few days of 2015 will put a cap on a stressful time in our lives.  We are finally moving towards some good news on multiple fronts.  I know that everyone believes 2016 will be their year. It is a common refrain for the end of December.

We have a concrete reason why.

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Last night I started reading Pastor Mark Batterson’s new book.  The title is If and it is based on Romans 8:31.

If God is for us, who can be against us?

I’ll be writing two posts for our church’s official blog about this book and I’m excited to dive into it. He makes a point in the first chapter that will change lives:

If we really believed that verse, an alternative reality awaits.

If God is for us, who can be against us? It removes any space for doubts or fears.  How different would our year look if we walked forward believing that God is for us?

There are times I fight hard against cynicism. I mean, okay I get it. Faith is faith. Yet, when I read those sentences I felt a spark of something inside. Facing this book launch in 2016, the official initiation of P356 to the publishing world and fully giving my writing over to God’s purpose, I still get pangs of fear.

I look in the mirror and can hear the voices.

Why me? I was never anybody special.

If God is for us, who can be against us?

What happens if I fail?

If God is for us, who can be against us?

Do you know the odds against success? How many people actually launch their business online and survive?

If God is for us, who can be against us?

The bottom line is faith. Silence the voices.  Grab hold of the promise, the importance of If, and use it to change your life.  Looking forward to what is coming, to building this book and making real change in our lives.

It all starts with one concept-

If.

~Matt

The New Deal

Graham Greene is one of my favorite authors. His novel, The End of the Affair, was the first to introduce me to the power of writing.  I read it in college, as Val and I were in the younger stages of our relationship, and Greene’s depiction of love spoke to my feelings.

The main character in the novel is novelist Maurice Bendrix.  He carries on an affair in the midst of WW2 that is ended when he survives a bombing in London.  He finds out that his married lover, Sarah Miles, had made a deal with God.  If Bendrix survived his injuries, she would break off the relationship.

The novel ends with Bendrix stating he has had enough of God.

Sitting in my dining room on this night hinting of winter to come, my thoughts drift over the shooting in California. We, as a country, are on the backs of our own deal with God. We’ve co-opted sorrow and grief, victim and violence. We are in the dark determined to find evil and destroy it.

We point fingers.

The religious establishment grasps hold of antiquated practices and wonders why it finds itself at the end of accusations and irrelevancy. Law enforcement officers are just as likely to be assaulted or killed as they are to be praised for their efforts.

Good people are lost in the noise.

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In the Bible, while Jesus hangs on the cross, he sees Roman soldiers dividing up his clothes.  He makes this statement:

Father forgive them for they know not what they do.

The soldiers didn’t know.

The government of the time didn’t know.

The disciples didn’t know.

The world didn’t know.

We’d taken perfect, selfless love and grace and punished it with death. The Truth had fallen against the weight of everyone too scared to listen. Those oppressed turned their back on freedom.

There are arguments to be made and conversations to be had. Violence is too easy. Guns are too easy. The intensity of faith and cause drives the lost to extreme measures to satisfy a far-off radical religious and political system destroying innocent lives in Syria and beyond.

The answer is not with Bendrix, turning away from our creator. The answer is changing the deal.

No more trading the world for authenticity.  No more chasing after things of impermanence.

The American Way has failed.

Generations are adrift in a sea of debt, anger, frustration, doubt, and sorrow for the past they never had and the future that seems to be no more than a figment of their imagination. This is solved by shorting vision to a microscopic level (If I get the next new thing, I’m good).

The new deal is hope. It is grace and service.  It is taking responsibility as parents to redefine value, to show our kids the meaning of friendship, love, choice and respect. It is understanding the power of a gun and the greater power of faith.

The new deal is peace. Taking time in silence and stillness. Turning off the screen and stopping the hustle for a moment.  It is getting back to nature and standing in the midst of a quiet forest while snow falls.

The new deal is life. It is embracing the small moments, holding doors and shoveling sidewalks. It is giving when we are spent. It is reaching out and inspiring someone lost in the depths. It is change found by a new fire deep inside.

The mass shootings can stop. Society can change. Hope is not lost and the journey has just started.

I believe.  As a writer, husband, father and follower of Jesus.  I believe.

~Matt

Three Ways to End Your Fear

Don’t be afraid.

The statement is repeated numerous times in the Bible. We are told, despite our natural instinct, not to fear. Fear, to me, was never paralyzing.  It is more a cold, blank sensation.

When Aiden was born, I stood in the delivery room and watched the nurses clean him off (a scheduled c-section). They hooked him to an oxygen monitor and I watched as his numbers started at 96 and gradually fell to 80. In this span of minutes, a NICU doctor was called in and they decided to give him a bed in the NICU.

He stayed almost a week before the fluid was clear from his lungs and stomach.

I’ll never forget watching those numbers fall and the glances the nurses exchanged with each other as he struggled to breathe. The fear in my heart implanted the images in my soul.

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Fear can be a catalyst.  When you stand at the Red Sea watching it part, you have two choices.  You can stay in danger or walk forward, facing the perceived greater danger, and see what happens. The unknown, even between walls of water, can unleash greatness on the other side.

Fear can be a dream. I remember having nightmares growing up.  One night a pair of cats were fighting outside my window.  The growls, scratches, and screams were surreal and seemed to be getting closer and closer. The darkness itself can bring condemnation and anxiety.  For some, dark nights carried the promise of no heat or electricity, hunger, or an abusive spouse or parent. In dreams, remember you will wake up. The sun will split the night and rise in the morning.

Fear can be control. This is the most dangerous. You are called.  Maybe it is a mission trip. Maybe a friend whose marriage is failing, maybe a family member mired in addiction. Maybe it is the business you are meant to start, the product that will change the world, the idea that can make a difference.  God puts this on your heart and you look in the mirror.

The small voice tells you that you can’t do it.  Not you. Not now.

What if you fail? Think of the laughter, the condemnation, the wasted time, money, and effort.

What if it all falls apart?

This fear is vanquished through community.  Find friends and colleagues making the same journey.  Look for resources in person and in the digital universe.  Find hope in a mentor who has been there already.  Find power in the permission to let yourself chase your dream.

Break the control of fear. The failure of not trying is always greater than giving it a shot. Step in the ring. You’ll be surprised at what can happen when fear is beaten down and destroyed. Even if you need to do it every day, it is worth the fight.

~Matt

Throw Away Old Stories

I’ve mentioned Donald Miller’s Storyline blog on here more than once and for good reason as I almost always get some selection of inspirational material.  If you haven’t followed them yet, I recommend it.

This past week, there was a post about changing the narrative you are living.  The writer told a story about a friend’s mother and this woman’s visit to her friend’s house. The friend complained that, when her mother was over, she “turned into a twelve-year-old again.” The writer continued to talk about growing up as an outsider and how she needed to overcome that to succeed in her creative efforts.

The post was up on Saturday and it has bounced around in my head since then.

How many of us are living old stories?

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I feel like this past year has been a journey to break the hold of old stories on my life.  I was not what you’d call an outsider as I had friends from different social groups.  I was not, though, the popular kid.  I didn’t jump at opportunities to show off.  I wasn’t a sports star or an actor with the drama club.

Oral presentations scared me until I took a public speaking class in high school.

These stories carried over into my early 30’s and I feel the fight rising. It is only a conflict because the old stories still exist.  Because the old part of my soul still stands on the sidelines content to be okay.

The time to be okay is over.

Change is possible if we allow ourselves to do it.  How many of us avoid the difficult conversation about Jesus at the water cooler because we were rejected in the past? Because someone made fun of us for being different? How many let those with stronger wills influence our lives and the lives of our children? How many refuse to stand because we’ve been knocked down too much that it is just easier to stay there?

Do we avoid risk because we fear failure or success? Breaking apart or breaking the bonds that hold us down?

I pray this week is one of change for you.  That you step out of your comfort zone and throw away the old stories impacting your life.  Starting writing new ones and see what happens.

~Matt

When it is Not Fun Anymore

The clouds drifted in over the baseball field, pushed by a fall wind and bringing an early end to the night.  We had arrived late to the practice as I was at a meeting at City Hall.  Carter had a chance to hit twice, field a few grounders, and practice was over.  We went to the playground as the light finally died and, when I convinced him to go, walked to the car together.

He wasn’t himself.

I asked what was happening and the conversation moved to baseball.

“I’m not having fun anymore, dad.”

He looked at me from the backseat as we drove home.

This evening I met a young man shooting a documentary about the city of Reading.  He filmed me in the cafe of our church as I talked about the book and the fight against poverty.  He asked how the average person can get involved and what would be the biggest help.  I looked at the cameras in my face, took a deep breath, and answered.

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We all struggle on two fronts; connection and consistency.  We believe we are different, that the poor are “out there” and we are “in here.” Conversations must happen to change any societal system. Service must be redefined. Help must be given on a consistent basis.

It is one thing to give on the holidays, serve a meal or lead a community group.  It is another thing to do it monthly.

To serve when it is not fun anymore.

There’s a song by Cold War Kids that I’ve been hooked on for the last few days called, First. The lyrics talk about life when you get trapped in a destructive cycle of disappointment, breaking of trust and going back to the start.  A verse reads:

There comes a time, in a short life
Turn it around, get a rewrite
Call it a dark, night of the soul
Ticking of clocks, gravity’s pull
First you get close, then you get worried

Flying like a cannonball, falling to the earth
Heavy as a feather when, you hit the dirt
How am I the lucky one?, I do not deserve
To wait around forever when, you were there first.

Cold War Kids have a fascinating story themselves as a band (check Relevant Magazine here) that includes faith, brokenness, trials and redemption. The connections are the same.  Father to son. Producer to consumer. Community member to community member.  Believer to believer.

We’ve all hurt.  We’ve all struggled.  We need to face down this life together and do it for the long haul.

That is when walls come down and grace, hope, and mercy rise up.

~Matt

Weekend Inspiration-8/29/2015

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As writers, we measure equity in words. Some of us capture scenes over long and flowing pages.  Others use pointed sentences with as few words as possible. We spend years searching for the right way to get the image across, over this divine psychic transaction that occurs when we put our thoughts on paper and transmit them to you, our readers.

Listen to a conversation and you’ll learn from the words used. Is one side trying to gain approval or power?  Sit next to a first date and a couple married for forty years and you will be able to hear the difference.

Go to the playground and listen to the parents that are engaged and playing, compare them to the miserable others and, even worse, the silence from the parents on their cell phones while their kids do whatever they want.

Words are powerful.  All it takes is a smell, sight, snippet of conversation and we can recall something that was said to us years ago, for better or worse.

As you enjoy your weekend, think about what you are saying.  How can you build someone up today? Who needs to hear that you love them? What child needs to see your smile and hear some laughter?

Do what you can to make it happen.

~Matt