Tuesday, August 12, 2014

From the Road

Life on the road is a curious thing. It can feel completely the same and completely different, fully new and utterly old, all at the same time. It's a good thing in my life.

My view is a lot different out here.  I don't have all the distractions of home. My entire focus is bringing a message of hope to young people and the adults who speak into their lives daily.

Most of the time I travel with a team (The times I travel alone form a completely different experience...I'll save that story for another day). Our team is a special group.  We all come from different worlds,  surrounded with our own joys and complications.  At this point it's a well oiled machine.  But, trust me, it took time,  work,  experience,  and patience.  Each one of us has a very strong personality,  with our own gifts, biases, and agendas. Yet the differences are the reason it all works.  See, all these variables come together to make the one thing, the one goal we have in common, stronger.  This team, these people, all want to bring hope and light to those we encounter on the road. That's why it all works. This is the intersection where differences and vision come together to create action and change. Our own agendas are secondary to our shared purpose.  We want to see people live more peacefully, with less violence,  hate,  hurt, and strife.  We believe each and every soul we encounter has a purpose, even if they don't know it yet.

And this is why the road is a good place to be.  Sometimes I grow tired.  At times,  I'm downright exhausted.  But, the payoff is worth it. I get the absolute honor and privilege to help facilitate the changing of lives.  Even on my worst days,  when my attitude isn't right,  I still get to share words that may grip someone's heart,  cause inspiration,  shift a view,  or even alter a life's course. Wow. I am blessed. And,  without a doubt,  I am absolutely amazed, amazed beyond understanding.

So today, as we drive away from another event in a small town most people will never hear of, I am whispering thanks here in the backseat.  How can I not?

Oh,  and the best part is yet to come.  You see,  now I get to wonder when I will hear the first amazing story from this little community.  And, believe me, I will.  I always do.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Morning Peace

Every once in a while, a moment catches me unguarded. Whether it's a crisp morning breeze, the sounds of spontaneous laughter, the subtle dawn waves on the beach, or sudden silence, these moments capture my attention. It's as if time pauses for a reflection, and I can't look away.

Unfortunately, we try so hard, so often, to leap past these short whispers of peace. I know I do. I know I shouldn't. So, I turn on music, television, my phone, another argument, the internet, a book, or whatever other distraction I can locate to avoid these unrealized gifts. Let's admit it, it's actually easier to embrace chaos, conflict and even war than to find an armistice.

It's difficult to stop moving, be still, reflect, and be alone with our thoughts, regrets, and even hopes. Fear exists in that space. But fear is not something from which we need to turn. No, it is something we need to feel, and to walk through, in order to understand calm.

We live in a loud world. Still, every so often, in the middle of the noise, peace enters. It always has. It's very nature is a contradiction to the world around us. It jars us, heals us, scares us.

Peace seldom arrives triumphantly. In rebellion, peace more often arrives in the quiet. At times, it even appears in silence. Silence is amazing. It is here, when I listen, I find something true.

Yes, this morning I woke to peace. I chose not to war with it this time. Instead, I loosened my fists, lifted my arms in surrender, felt it's presence, listened to it's calm, and looked directly where it lead my eyes. I now have its memory. I will not soon forget.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

"Us" Thoughts on Family

The following is a simple poem I wrote for my mother during the Christmas holiday...

Thoughts on Family

Who are we
What makes us?
These are the colors
Painted by life's brush.

Shades of joy are found
Sheltered in our walls
Comfort fills this house
When all around us falls.

Partially defined
By how we overcome
Struggles we have faced
Battles justly won.

Unsteady, we have have been 
Then, solid, bold and strong
In moments, cracked and fragile
Yet, repaired before too long.

At times, separated
By words, miles and conflicts
Still, never found beyond
That which can be fixed.

More than simply friends
A family so sublime
Broken by mistakes
But tethered by our time.

Never once abandoned 
Though sometimes deeply burned
Always healed by truth
Of lessons we have learned.

We are this 
This is us
Bound by grace
Marked by love.

Matthew Gress
December 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

All is Well

The link at the end of this post is to a video for one of my favorite Christmas songs,"All is Well." It seems even more poignant this Christmas. I know statistically it wasn't the most chaotic, upside-down, violent year, but it certainly feels like it was. We experienced more war, flooding, a horribly divisive election, drought, and of course, the terrible loss of innocent children and adults last week. I can't answer why. I just don't have the perspective from my vantage point in this giant universe to understand. Still, I don't think the story of Christmas is at odds with our current state of existence. It tells, in a rather beautiful way, how peace entered a violent, chaotic, and lonely world through a fragile, innocent vessel. The rulers, religious leaders, and desperate people of the day expected a political or military leader to lead them to victory (sound familiar?). But, that is not the story we read. We read of strength, power, peace and life, through the birth of our most basic human need in human form...Love. Our world will not stop turning around us. Bad things will still happen. But, if you remain open and willing to see, you will find glimpses of hope, life, and goodness all around you. And yes, even peace.

(I put this video together rather quickly using pics from around the internet...not always the highest quality, but it works. If you've had a hectic, crazy, difficult day...or year, sit back and watch/listen)

Watch "All Is Well" on YouTube

Friday, March 23, 2012

Why Hugo Shouldn't Buy a Zoo (And A Few Other Things I Believe)

"I'd imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn't be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too. " 

"Maybe that's why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn't able to do what it was meant to do... Maybe it's the same with people. If you lose your purpose... it's like you're broken." 

-Quotes from the movie "Hugo" 

I dare you to remember for a moment who you were going to be when you were young. Think about the things you were going to conquer and people you were going to love.  Are you there? Close your eyes, quiet the room, and let the memories roll through your mind like a movie and water your soul with the hope that existed then. Did you forget about some of those dreams and ambitions from the younger version of yourself?  For just a second, feel that loss and disappointment.

Now, for just a moment, let go of all the stresses and busyness of life.  Ask yourself, "Why can't I still get there?"

What have you filled your life with to stop thinking about things like dreams, hopes, grand adventures and real love? Is it stuffed with too much of something, like work, TV, food, or noise?  Are you disconnected from the people around you?  When was the last time you really talked-really talked-to your spouse or close friends?  When was the last time you really laughed with those people? I'm not talking about the shallow, social laugh.  I mean the guttural, deep laugh that leaves you aching with joy.  Life gets so tangled up sometimes.  And even worse, it gets "normal" and mundane.  We tend to settle into routines that help us manage our lives, rather than experiencing real living, breathing, feeling, adventuring, changing, and loving.  Why can't you still invent something?  Why can't you climb a mountain somewhere in Europe? Or, write a book? Record some songs? Play baseball? Dance? Act? Become a chef? Change some lives?

Or, love your wife or husband better?

I believe the quotes at the beginning of this post contain truth.  I do not think there are any "extra parts" in this world.  I believe we were created carefully and deliberately. And yes, losing your purpose is like being broken.  We're all a little broken.  Age does that.  Whether it's physical, or it's more about a wounded spirit, we are all in need of repair.  Some need a little, and some need a lot.  But instead of seeking real healing, we look for quick fixes, like the latest self help guru, super preacher, prescription, or diet.

Bars don't thrive because of alcohol.  They thrive because of loneliness.  You can drink a bottle of rum at home for a lot less money.

Crooked TV evangelists don't get rich because they have life changing things to say you can't hear at any local church. surrounded by people who really care for you.  They get rich because they seem larger than life and offer "1,2, 3" plans that will fix everything, while making you rich and happy...for a small donation.

There isn't a new ab machine every year because it is groundbreaking technology.  No, they show up because there is always a new crop of people (or old crop frustrated by the lack of results from last year's machine), hungry for a new fast way to a great body that will make them happy, healthy and attractive.

In order to really find happiness, we have to go deeper. And yes, we have to work harder...at least up front.  We have to open ourselves up and take chances, knowing we may get hurt or fail miserably.  But, that's part of it all.  That's what makes life worth it.  Without the lows, we wouldn't really feel the highs.  Without the hurts, we wouldn't know how good it is to be healed.  Without loss, we wouldn't understand found.  Without empty, there would be no complete. Without lonely, we wouldn't know love when she comes home.

Michael Jordan once said, "I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

Mickey Mantle said, "During my 18 years I came to bat almost 10,000 times.  I struck out about 1,700 times and walked maybe 1,800 times.  You figure a ballplayer will average about 500 at bats a season.  That means I played seven years without ever hitting the ball."

It takes courage to stop the numbing and dream again. It takes a leap to let yourself want again.  But it's a good risk.

Still, don't stop with the feeling.  Be bold and write your vision down.  Then, get really crazy and outline a plan.  Herman Cain had "9-9-9."  Let me introduce you to "7-7-7."  Write down where you want to be in 7 days, 7 months, and 7 years.  Then, every week, update it.  Post it where you can see it everyday.  Long term goals easily get hazy and we lose our way.  For most of us, especially those of us with attention issues, having shorter watermarks along the way help keep us going in the right direction.  By the way, these goals and visions aren't supposed to just be about fantastic accomplishments, or career.  Some can be.  But, hopefully you'll also write things like, "In the next 7 days, I hope to laugh with my wife the way we used to." In seven months, "I will have my book finished."  "I will forgive my dad...and tell him." "I will forgive myself...and move on."

Hope is empty without action. Love's just a feeling without commitment, work and hard choices. Do not say you will start tomorrow. Start now. I invite you to wake up from dreaming and create a new reality. Emotion must be followed by action or you will settle back into your old life.  In the movie We Bought A Zoo, the character Benjamin Mee says, “You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage, just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”

I dare you to take off the mask. I dare you to let people know you.  I dare you to love enough that you can be hurt. I dare you to speak loud enough to be heard. I dare you to be silent enough to hear.  I dare you to believe enough so that others laugh at you. Be sober enough to feel. Take the chance to fail.

I believe in miracles and healing.  I'm not talking about someone growing a new leg. I've never seen that. Though, I believe just about anything is possible. No, I'm talking about more amazing miracles.  I've seen the broken become whole and the lost find their way home. I've seen the fatherless become fathered, the unloved become loved, the losers win, and the outcast invited in. But these miracles aren't possible without us.  They won't happen unless you and I awaken, open our eyes and take a few steps. We have to start the journey.  And, along the way, we have to pick up someone else and walk with them a while...maybe a lifetime.  Don't be afraid to ask for help yourself.  Pray.

I wish you happiness.  Even more, I wish you peace.  Not the substitute type of "peace" that is really just numbness; but, the kind that comes from knowing you have a reason, a purpose, an adventure.  Don't live someone else's purpose either. Think about the two movies I referenced above. Imagine if Hugo would have bought a zoo instead of repairing machines.  What if Benjamin Mee lived behind a clock, fixing machines, instead of loving his family and restoring a neglected zoo?  Neither movie would have ended well.

Another quote from We Bought a Zoo that seems to fit comes from little Rosie Mee.  The movie starts shortly after the death of Rosie's mom. One night, when the neighbors are having a party, with lots of friends, laughter and music, she says, "Their Happy is too loud." I hope nothing less than for you to come to a place where your happy is "too loud."

Now, stop reading this and go start a new adventure...