Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Moments Of Clarity

(Originally posted on 6/17/10)

Movies, books, plays and even great songs have them-those moments when everything changes. Someone figures it out. Someone makes a move. It might be Sherlock Holmes putting all the clues together, or when Harry finally realizes he should have been with Sally a long time ago-a really long time ago. Maybe it was the first time Superman realized he was able to "leap tall buildings in a single bound," or when Will realizes he should go see about a girl, or...well, the list goes on and on. Moments. Moments when everything changes.

This is story. Something inside of us relates to it. Buried in our DNA is a connection to the arc of a story. Writers didn't invent these ideas. They respond to them. Think about your own life. What if there were never any conflicts or tough decisions? What if there weren't any times of struggle or loneliness? It sounds great on the surface, but it would be, in reality, a terribly boring life. Without struggle, we wouldn't understand accomplishment, or the feeling of winning. Without conflicts, we would all think exactly the same way, at the same time. Without tough decisions, we wouldn't know courage or gain experience. Without loneliness, we wouldn't know how incredible companionship is.

The problem is, we don't always realize we're in these moments. We tend to stroll through life, dealing with issues as they come, trying to smooth everything out, so that we can get to our two week vacation to Disneyland. We don't listen to the cues that life gives us. We miss the subtle whispers nudging us to go somewhere, to change course, or to sit still.

We end up living decent lives, but not great lives, not the lives we dreamed of when we were kids. Don't you remember? Maybe you were supposed to be a fireman or an astronaut. Maybe you daydreamed of being a ballerina, a football player, a missionary, or president.

Perhaps, you were supposed to be a musician and writer. You were going to tour the world and write songs that would race up the charts. I was. I used to escape the world around me when I closed my eyes. The darkness would turn to pictures of me singing in front of thousands. Of course, in many of my “visions”, after achieving fame, I would develop a drug problem and become suicidal. Only my inner circle of real friends could help me come back. Then, I would return to greater stardom than before. You know VH1 Behind The Music style.

Anyway, I think I wrote my first real song at 11, but I had been putting on concerts in my house long before that. Music, acting and writing were everything. So much so, one of my majors in college was music. I moved to Nashville in 1995 and everything was working. I recorded an album, performed all over the place. Beyond just the music and all that, I genuinely wanted to change the world.  I wanted to make things better.   The problem was that throughout the years, I had developed huge fear. No one knew it really; not even me. I also got real comfortable and developed some habits that shouldn't have come until after I was famous. I was a kid who grew up with very little and now I had pretty much everything I wanted. So, I exchanged my dreams for comfort. I pushed things aside to have friends, things, strangers' respect and, of course, a girl. I'm not diminishing my life. This is not a sad story. This isn't about my career choices. I just want to illustrate a point. I've done good things in my life so far. I ran a group home for kids in need. I've counseled hundreds of people through the toughest and greatest times of their lives. I have great friends and family. And, I've been so fortunate to start recording and performing again over the past few years. Life is good. But there could have been greatness. Thanks to grace, there still can be. I see fantastic things coming.  I've completed a book that is going through the editing process. My speaking schedule is full, taking me just about everywhere.  I can't think of a time when I was so completely prolific in my songwriting.  I'm ready to find my other half. Life is a good thing and I am greatly loved.

But, what if I had stayed on my original course? What if I never stopped? Where would I be? What if I had listened along the way to those whispers, and sometimes shouts? I've been taking inventory of my life, trying to learn from my good decisions and bad decisions. From this vantage point, it's all completely obvious what I should have done. Yet, I didn't.

But, I did wake up. It started in 2002. I was attacked in my home when a client came into my bedroom and tried to kill me. Imagine waking up to a fireplace poker missing your face by less than an inch. I fought off my attacker for about 30 minutes and ran out the front door in my boxers. You'd think I would have heard that cue. But, I didn't right away. I'm sort of slow like that. But, something started happening in 2005. I started coming back to life. I was writing, recording...living. I even had a spiritual awakening after years of numbness. Then, on October 16, 2006 (the day after my birthday), I went to get out of bed and I couldn't walk for a short time. Over the next few weeks, I started forgetting how to do things, passing out, etc. I was scared as hell. Then on Halloween night, I ended up in the emergency room and my long journey of recovery began. I'm not going to get into all the details here. It's too much information. But, I'm doing well. I had surgery and went through some treatment. I still take lot of medication and many, many tests. But, it looks like I'll live a relatively long, healthy life in spite of my illness. I have to say, I wish I would have listened earlier. I listened this time.

I had my moment. Different people call it different things. Oprah calls it your “aha" moment. Christians may recognize it in a person's decision to “get saved” or in someone "listening to the Spirit." Those from the Jewish faith may say it's a “burning bush” moment. Mental health professionals sometimes call it a “moment of clarity." It's that moment when it clicks. It makes sense. And more than just knowing it in your head, you feel it in your soul. As a person who counsels people for a living, it can get incredibly frustrating when the person you are working with knows what to do, but doesn't do it. You feel like you're banging your head against the wall, giving them cues as to what to do. But they don't do it. They just babble on about the way they do things...even though the way they do things isn't working. I'm sure everyone reading this has felt this way with friends or family or someone else. Have you? Don't get discouraged. They're just not ready. They hear you. They have the information. They just aren't ready for their moment yet-their moment of clarity. Instead of continuing to preach to them, stand by them, support them, love them and gently point them in the right direction. And don't get mad when they come to you one day, changed, because someone else told them exactly what you have been telling them for years. You were a step along the way. You were part of the foundation. Celebrate with them in their moment. More importantly, help them make it last.

That brings me to my last thoughts on this. When you have your “aha” moment, don't stop with the feeling. How many of us have watched some program about a cause that moved us, but we did nothing? The feeling wore off in a few days. When your moment comes, do three things: feel it deeply, make a decision and take action. There's a scene in (I know I shouldn't reference this movie because I will lose whatever “guy credentials” I have, but...) My Best Friend's Wedding when the Julia Roberts character and the “best friend” guy are on a boat and they are about to go under a bridge. Julia Roberts had been trying all day to tell him she was in love with him. The guy says that his “fiancee” (Cameron Diaz) says that if you feel something, you should say it. Just say it, right away, or the moment will pass. As he's saying this, they pass under the bridge and Julia Roberts lets the moment go. It's a terrible moment. But it illustrates what I'm saying perfectly. Don't let your moments of clarity pass without motion. Otherwise, you' might be missing out on who you truly should be.

So, listen. Truly listen to the whispers, the cues. Don't let your moment pass. No matter how many mistakes you have made, or wrong roads you have traveled, the past does not have to be your shackles. The past can be steps, watermarks. When your moment comes, fall on the grace you have been given and breathe in the future. Take it all in...and move.

Take care of yourself,

Matt

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...



"Us"
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