Saturday, December 31, 2011

Hello Again

My blog has moved...as you can see...since you're here reading this.

I figured the night before another new year was the perfect time to unveil the thing.

Anyway, I'm really glad you stopped by to check out the site.  Feel free to take a look around.  I will be adding new blog posts and content on a regular basis.  So, stop by often and don't hesitate to leave comments.  I hope this is the first of many conversations we will have as we experience and share this thing we call life.

I hope your world is good right now.  If not, it is never too late to begin again.  If you need to end a bad thing, do it.  If you need to start again, you can.  

Just take a deep breath. If you need to, close your eyes.  And run, walk, crawl, or ask someone to carry you...whatever it takes...just move...

Happy New Year wherever you are!

I am where I am,

Matt

video

Leaving

(Originally posted on 9/29/11)
UCVKMZJ7RGC7 

Leaving. One simple word. So many meanings, reactions, feelings, and consequences. It offers a unique perspective, as you are able to look back at what has been and imagine what may be ahead. It is a watermark, a shift.

It's a word full of joy, loss, anticipation and choice.

For too many, the first experience of leaving came in a childhood interrupted by a parent walking away. For those who experienced a dad or a mom leaving, it is forever imprinted on the heart. It leaves its mark on one's life, influencing every future relationship and decision. Sometimes I think we have become so used to divorce that we forget the impact it has on everyone involved. We sort of blow it off as a reason when considering why a child is struggling. Obviously, leaving is necessary sometimes. But sometimes, we just let go of each other too easily. Most parents still love, protect and mold their children; even if it's separately. But, I will never understand how some parents just leave their children behind. This leaving is life altering.

As we get older, leaving becomes a sort of passage to independence, even adulthood. It's freeing, full of possibility, new and a little scary. Do you remember when you left home? I do. I was going to conquer! It never really crossed my mind that I wouldn't achieve every dream I had. I had limitless ambition and creativity. Of course I also partied too much and made my share of mistakes. But back then mistakes were easier to rebound from. Life was a lot less complicated. Every relationship, experience, dollar made or night out was a first. When I screwed up, I just sort of moved on without feeling enormous consequences. But, not everything was great. It was also a time of wrestling with my beliefs, figuring out who I was going to be and finding out what was really important to me. Honestly, I think it was in this period of my life that I hurt the most people. I suppose I would say this is when I first experienced real regret; but also a heck of a lot of happiness. I came through this period a little wiser, somewhat more competent at life and a little damaged. I wish I could go back and experience this season of my life with who I am today.

Another kind of leaving comes with our "adult" relationships. Depending on the circumstances...and which side of the “leaving” you are on, it can be a release or a devastating process. Timing is everything. Mark Heard sings in “Strong Hand of Love" - Time marches away like a lost platoon. We gracefully age as we feel the weight of loving too late and leaving too soon. (If you don't know Mark Heard, go locate his music now. You can read this later) We often settle when we shouldn't settle, resist when we should give in, leave when we should stay and stay when we should leave.

Sometimes, our world has built up so much garbage we take a look and decide we have to start fresh, somewhere else. So, we agonize over what we will leave behind. We take inventory: our friends, our places, our routines, careers, relationships, and everything else we have collected to build a life. This leaving is not as easy or exciting as the first time we left “home.” This leaving is difficult and even confusing, with a sense of sadness and regret. It forces us to look at our “wasted time” and “unfulfilled dreams.” But it is sometimes necessary. It feels like the first time you held your breath under water. You breathe in the biggest breath you can, close your eyes and plunge. On the other side of that plunge, you emerge face to the sky, open wide your eyes and exhale! It's like being born again in a way. You feel stronger and even clearer because you have been under the weight of the water in the darkness of eyes closed. Isn't life that way sometimes? It takes going under to realize how lifeless you really have been.

Sometimes leaving is more about a state of mind. When we choose to forgive, we leave anger and bitterness behind. Other times, we choose to move on from our mistakes, leaving our shackles behind. Life always seems to be about movement. We move from one victory to a new challenge; from a deep valley to the mountaintop; from sickness to healing; from chaos to peace; and hopefully from selfishness to love.

Finally, we all leave. One way or another, we all leave this life. It's the one leaving of which we have no choice. We can't stay. If we have loved well, we will be mourned by those we have touched. They will tell stories and sing songs while they shed tears. And there will probably be good food too. But none of that will really matter all that much because we will be gone. I believe I will go on. I will see those I have lost and experience new things I only sort of understand now. I will know why everything happened and I will see love clearly, not dimly like I do now. Hopefully, my last leaving will be like my first. My expectation and peace will calm any fear I still have.

Leaving. I'm not sure why I've been thinking about this word lately. It might just be the fact that Fall is here. It's my favorite time of the year (Except for Christmas of course). I love the smell of the air, the crispness of the evenings, the deep sense of change and the content melancholy.

Yea, it could just be that. Or...something new might be coming.

-Matt

Loss, Brokenness, Healing

(Originally posted on 3/23/11)

*Re-posted on Facebook May 9, 2011 after the passing of my grandfather.

Note: My original draft of this was actually written several weeks ago, shortly before the death of my friend Brian. He was a friend and much more to many in my family of friends and acquaintances. Because of this, I greatly delayed the posting of this blog. This wasn't because I thought the timing was wrong. In fact, it was probably the right time. No, it was delayed because I...well....I had to go through my own process before I revisited it. I've written on the topic of grief before; but this time it holds a much more personal meaning. In addition to our loss, many I know have lost other loved ones over the past year or so. I hope this helps in some small way, whether you are the griever or the comforter.

This is dedicated to those who have left us, we who are left, and those who comfort us.



Loss is one of the most difficult things for us to deal with in our society. It's not a concrete thing with easy answers and tangible hope we can touch. However, the feelings, effects, consequences and pain are real. Very real. I can't speak definitively for everyone else; but for me, it feels hazy, disorienting, draining and sometimes empty and lonely. After the recent passing of Brian, I even had dreams in which I had died. I found myself thinking of my own mortality. It was unnerving. When someone leaves us, it feels destabilizing, like there is no gravity to hold us to our foundation.

Unfortunately, people often just don't know what to do or say when someone is grieving a loss (myself included). Death in particular forces us to acknowledge that we will die too. It also exposes the empty hole we all feel sometimes. It makes us face our own feelings of disconnection and loneliness that everyone feels sometimes I've seen and heard many responses to someone grieving. They range from “You gotta get up and move on!” to endless scriptures and quotes.

Let me address the first one. Contrary to what modern society says, you do not have to “get up and move on.” At least not right now. We are forced to grieve way too fast these days. Someone we love passes on. We cry for a few days. Then, it's back to work a week or so later. If you look at history, at other cultures, people grieved for extended periods of time...until they were ready to move on. And it was healthy and right. Now, I know we can't physically check out for extended periods of time today. We'd lose our jobs, etc. In addition, it is healthy and helpful to get back into a routine when going through the grieving process. I'm simply saying that we don't have to push down our feelings, abbreviate our healing process and smile for everyone's viewing pleasure. Don't ever feel like you are somehow weak or less spiritual because you still feel a little angry or sad when others have seemingly moved beyond these things. Just don't isolate. Don't fall into despair. Feel, acknowledge, work through, reach out, listen, let others help and heal. The missing of them will never go away. But, it will get better.

Second, in terms of quoting endless scriptures and inspirational quotes to someone. These things are important and helpful in context. They certainly speak to someone's faith. However, I promise you, a person of faith already has these in their arsenal and “know” all the right things to believe. But, often, when these things are thrown at people who are grieving, over and over and over, they start to sound hallow and sometimes even accusatory. For instance, if “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” then why do I feel weak? If “God is my comforter,” why am I feeling so empty and chaotic? "I must be doing something wrong." I'm not saying don't share these things when appropriate, especially one on one, in the context of relationship and conversation. I'm just saying, throwing a million inspirational quotes at someone is not going to do it alone. In fact, I know for myself, I'd rather hear or read a personal note of comfort and empathy from someone rather than something that can be stitched on a pillow.

On that note, one of the things my faith does tell me to do is to “weep with those who weep.” One of the most powerful things we can say to someone grieving is...nothing. When you don't know what to say, just be with them. We often feel like we need just the right word or phrase to say. But, honestly, not much of what we say will even get through the haze of grief. An author once referenced this as “the fog of a broken heart” (which I, of course, stole and turned into a song...). That is a true description. Maya Angelou has a great quote that is true as well: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” Be with someone. Support them. When they want to cry, cry with them. When they want to laugh, laugh with them. And when they want to talk, listen. Really listen. Speak when necessary. The wonderful thing about grieving with someone is that when they are ready to get up, you will get up together. Your strength will be there to lift and offer a safe place to land when the stumbling comes. An author named Donald Miller tells a moving story he heard in regards to a “rescue." I'll attempt to retell it here:


There were a group of POW's who had been in captivity for a very long time. They had been tortured and mistreated, toyed with and lied to. They had been so hurt and torn down that there was no need to shackle them. They had little hope. The American government finally found out where they were and staged a rescue. The team began the daring rescue of their fallen comrades. They came in with force and then a few of them entered the place where the POW's were kept. They were on the floor, beaten, tired and fearful. One of the commanders
began loudly proclaiming that they were from the U.S.A., there to rescue them. He forcefully told them to get up and come go with them to safety. However, the men were scared and did
not believe them. They had been played with before. Their shock and trauma kept them on the floor. Then, one of the rescuers noticed what was happening. He gently approached the men on the floor, carefully put his weapons down and laid down on the dirty floor in the middle of them. He reached out and put his hand on one man's chest and said quietly to him “You're safe now. We are from America. We are here to rescue you. Will you stand up with me? I'll help you if you need me to.” The man slowly rose with his rescuer. Then seeing him move, the others began to follow. Soon, they were in the air, on their way home.

This is one of my favorite stories. I try to remember it when I am attempting to help someone. Sometimes you have to become like them to help them . Sometimes, you have to get down in the dirt and be with them.

I don't have all the answers. There isn't a concrete path to go from brokenness to healing. But, we can heal. There may be obstacles and setbacks. In grief counseling, we know there are steps: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance. But, these can get jumbled up. You may go back and forth a little or feel a few, or all, at once. Don't be discouraged. I do want you to hear this though. If you fall into prolonged depression, please reach out. Get help. You cannot do it alone.

In closing, for those of us who find ourselves on the broken side of grief, take heart. It will get better...but on your own timetable. None of us are alone. When you do feel restored, though not the same, reach out to others and return what has been given to you. Bishop Tutu, when putting together the HRC, once used the term “wounded healers.” When assembling the team that would be a part of the restoration in South Africa after Apartheid, he said he did not want angry, vengeful victims, but instead he desired “wounded healers.” I hope that is who I am. For those of you who are comforting, be patient and truthful. Get down in the dirt. Offer hope. Then, we will all find our way to the other side of grief. And one day, we will see those we miss again...in a much better place.

(Feel free to leave comments here or on Facebook where this was linked)

The Rescue

(Originally posted on 12/12/10)

Life is truly a messy thing. There are those days when everything is right. You could easily be driving on an open road with the top down in a world that is yours under a sky that seems to open up all around you. But, sometimes it seems like you are downtown in traffic during rush hour...late...again. Sometimes, it feels like a cold Winter day, with gray skies overhead and a chill that smacks you in the face. Yea, life is definitely messy.

Justin knows this well. He and his wife were on their way to the doctor's office for a check-up. His wife was several months into her first pregnancy,nearly ready to make that final trip to the hospital. The young couple was excited. Then, out of nowhere, the crushing force of a speeding car collided with the passenger's side of their car. A few moments later, Justin snapped out of his daze and looked over to see his wife unconscious and trapped. She was bleeding. She was not waking up. But, he couldn't help her. He felt completely helpless and alone. All he knew to do was hope and pray and scream. In that moment, Justin, for the first time in his life knew what it means to need a rescue.

A few days ago, a longtime friend stopped by work to see me. She and I have seen a lot together. She works in the business of mental health like me. We help people. That's what we do. We try to get people to understand they have to talk sometimes. They have to reach out and accept help when they need it. Yet, we are not always so good at following our own advice. However, she and I have that trust. So, the other day I listened as she shared about the stress and struggles she has faced lately. In turn, I opened up a little and told of similar things in my own life. It was good. She needed a small rescue. I needed to be there.

About two years ago, I was driving in a storm. I wrapped my car around a telephone pole driving through an alley. That wasn't fun! I got out relatively unscathed (Thank God for Volvo...It may be the safest car in the world). The body of the car was ok, but the axle was torn in half. The car was totaled. So, a few days later, I was waiting at a McDonald's in downtown Nashville for my buddy to pick me up and take me to buy a car. It was a really crappy day. It was January, cold and miserable. It's funny how when you're in the middle of something like that, you start over-analyzing your life. At least I do. That day it went something like this: "Man, I'm just not where I wanted to be. I don't have everything I thought I would. I've been in and out of the hospital too many times with this stupid neurological illness. I'm tired of treatment and medication. I've had too many bad relationships" On and on. Then, in the middle of my self analysis (pity party), I was interrupted. A young man came up to me and asked. "Mr. Matt? Are you Mr. Matt?" I answered "yes" while faking a smile. He looked vaguely familiar. He continued, "I was at the group home when you ran it. I'm __________. Do you remember me?" I did ( I was the program director of a group home in the 90's). I had tried very hard to help this kid. We had given him care and compassion, and structure and love. But, ultimately we had to kick him out of the program. I thought "Uh oh, here it is. I'm going to be killed in a McDonald's. What a really crappy end to a crappy week!" Then he said, with a smile, "You kicked me out. You don't know this. But, you saved my life. You guys cared about me. Nobody else did. I have a wife and kid now. I have a job. I'm not gonna do what my parents did. I'm gonna be a good dad. Thanks for all you did...and for kicking me out. I learned." I told him I was proud of him. That seemed to be important to him. Then he left. All I could do was thank God. That kid might think I rescued him; but he returned the favor that day.

We all need rescuing sometimes.

But, not many of us are willing to let go. Not many of us will ask. We have to realize that, yes, rescues sometimes show up out of the blue; but most of the time, they don't. How is anyone supposed to know we need help if we hide behind our busy schedules, parties, work, or fake smiles? Asking for help or just an empathetic ear is not weakness. Every once in a while, we have to send up a white flag to signal our need.

On the other side of that is the truth that we need to watch and listen-really listen-to those around us. This past week a young man laid down on train tracks in front of an elementary school and gave up his life. He attended a school in a county where I do some work. People have had comments and questions about it this week. "Why did he do it?" "I knew him. He was happy." I can't really answer those questions. But, I can say, listen. Listen to those you love. And, if it's you in need, send up the flag. I was facilitating a weekly recovery group the other day. The kids were talking about the boy who took his life. I took a moment and asked how many of them had experienced suicidal ideations in the last 6 months. Every one of them raised their hand. Every one.

People are in need of rescue.

Rescue isn't easy. It doesn't always go smoothly. It doesn't always feel good.

Sometimes you need to be drowning to come back to life ( I think that's why I find beauty in the ritual of baptism). At times, you have to be helpless to be helped; hopeless to find hope; hurting to find healing; broken to be fixed; abandoned to be found; lonely to be loved; and completely surrendered to be rescued.

Be prepared, no matter which side of the fence you are standing on, to act when the time comes. And, if necessary, send up the white flag. Someone will see.

-Matt

*Justin and his wife welcomed a beautiful baby girl into their lives shortly after the accident. Mom and baby...and Justin are fine. Oh, and I got another car.

She Will Not Be Forgotten: A Look At Bullying and Harassment

(Originally posted on 11/29/10)

“I can't take one more day of this. Why did they pick me”
-7th grade boy

“I do it because at least I can control this pain.”
-8th grade girl talking about cutting her arms

“I will not be back tomorrow. You can call the hospital. I don't care. I will get out...and I will kill myself.”
-10th grade boy

“Please make it stop. Please.”
-6th grade girl

“Maybe they're right. They are right. Look at me. I'm disgusting.”
-9th grade girl

“They call me everything...just walking down the hall...every minute of everyday. What will you do that's any different than what anyone else has done to stop it? Nothing.”
-9th grade boy


These are real children. Real lives. Real pain. I hear these things more often than I should; kids looking at me, begging me, to help them. And quite honestly, sometimes I can't. Unfortunately, many adults, including those in education and counseling, think that bullying is not a big deal. They believe it is a rite of passage, something everyone goes through. But that is simply not true.

I often speak to and train adults and children about bullying/harassment prevention and intervention. It is a part of my overall focus on violence issues. When I first became involved with the issue of bullying, I was skeptical. I mean, I came from a family with 3 brothers, lots of sports and some big egos. But as I learned more, saw the numbers and became aware of the effects on those who are bullied and those who bully, my attitudes began to shift.

First, I had to realize that bullying wasn't that back and forth picking that goes on between friends. Heck, if that were true, my friends and I would all be victims and bullies. Bullying takes place when someone who has more power than someone else hurts someone, physically or emotionally, over and over again. That power definitely does not always translate to size. More often than not, it has to do with status or popularity. Bullying takes different forms: physical, emotional and social. Many means are used. Some were around when we were kids. But, many were not. Consider cyber-bullying. If someone had a bad picture of you when you were younger, it could be destroyed. Now, it can live on forever in cyber-space. It can be altered to look like anything and posted all over the web. Hateful words a kid would never say face to face now get sent with the simple touch of a cellphone button. Then, that same message or picture can be sent to countless people in an instant.

Approximately 150,000 kids stay home from school daily because of fear. Yes, you read that right. Many more suffer in silence day in and day out. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), surpassed only by accidents and homicide. The number each year is approximately 4500. Four thousand five hundred young people. That is 4500 too many.

Children who are bullied are more likely to drop out of school, experience illness and depression, use drugs and/or alcohol, and yes, have thoughts of suicide. On the other side, children who bully also have negative consequences. By the age 24, six out of ten youth identified as bullies will have a criminal record. Unless they are taught and develop empathy, they will continue down the negative path.

Not every child can stand up to bullies on their own. Many need extra support and understanding. This does not mean they are weak or “wimpy.” It doesn't mean they will always be bullied. Most children who are given the support they need and taught the skills they need will go on to be healthy, productive adults. Young people are amazingly resilient.

We need to intervene to stop the bullies as well. If a school is not taking the necessary steps to stop it, go higher. Do not stop until it stops. Unfortunately, I have too many stories I could share about parents living with horrible guilt after their child's suicide. They told the school. They thought they had handled it. They didn't follow up.

Put aside whatever biases you may have. Every child is our child. Every boy and girl should be protected until they can protect themselves. Mentor. Model the right behaviors and responses to overcome the struggles they face. Treat others the way you want your child to treat others; and the way you want them to be treated. Things aren't the same as they were when you and I were kids. True, there are some common themes. But, the youth of today face obstacles, challenges and behaviors we did not have to face. Listen to what your kids are saying-not just with their words. Pay attention to their lives. Be aware of changes like frequent illnesses, a drop in grades, loss of interest in social events, becoming withdrawn, sadness that lasts more than a few days and any other sudden changes. Kids speak to us in many ways and very little of what they have to say actually comes from their words.

I carry the picture of one young lady in my head to remind me why I do what I do. She was called all those words we are, unfortunately, so used to hearing; words that kids hear everyday. Fat. Ugly. Whore. Stupid. Dumb. She took her life on a very lonely afternoon. She will not be forgotten.

-Matt

*If you would like more information about bullying, there are many good places to look. Two sources I recommend are www.starsnashville.org and www.olweus.org .

We Will Rise

(Originally posted on 9/29/10. Update on 5/11/12.)

"We Will Rise"

We all fall apart
We all do
We all fall apart
But we will rise
We will rise

And I'm coming back together
I'm standing up again
I want you next to me
I need you with me my friend
When we rise

We all fall apart
We all do
We all fall apart
But we will rise
We will rise

And I see the other side of this
It's better than before
I'll carry you my friend
We'll run, we'll walk, we will crawl
And we'll rise

We all fall apart
We all do
We all fall apart
But we will rise
We will rise

This world will not steal our life
This earth won't drain all our strength
I know you're sick, I know you're tired
But I will stare down death with you
And you will rise

We will rise

We all fall apart
We all do
We all fall apart
But we will rise
We will rise

My friend
We will rise together.


What is friendship? What does it mean to be with someone, really be with someone? What are we promising when we say we will stand together? Can we honestly tell someone we will walk beside them no matter what? What if doing so will result in your own reputation getting damaged? What if the choices they are making go against your own moral code?

We throw around statements of commitment so easily when life is good and our friends haven't betrayed our trust in some way, or made huge mistakes.

What kind of friend am I? 

I can't say that I have always stuck around when someone to whom I claim to be connected has stepped outside my comfort space. What would you do if you found out your closest friend was committing some moral "crime"? What if they committed an actual crime? What if you discovered they were in the life draining hold of addiction? Would you claim “tough love” and distance yourself until they are back on their feet again?

We are all broken.

We are all in need of healing.

Over the past few years, I have, with each passing day, been trying to live a better story. Instead of being a character that is good for a few laughs and some decent times, I'm trying to be a person of substance, surrounded by people I love well. I refuse to be quick to let go. With every good thing in me, I am trying to intentionally stay.

No matter what mistakes are made.

The lyrics at the beginning of this post are from a song I am in the process of writing. I began writing it recently after a very long conversation with someone I was considering walking away from. It's devastating to watch someone slowly take their own life because they are completely trapped in the hands of something they no longer control, but controls them. I deal with these things professionally, but I find I have a lot less patience in my personal life than I do in my professional life. I can listen to clients detail their choices in every dark detail and not miss a single beat. I'm not so measured personally. In fact, I sit in judgment far too often. I'm not saying we shouldn't speak into the lives of those we love. Part of friendship is giving a metaphorical kick in the backside when we see a friend messing up their life. We should. But, then we can't just walk away. I'm not talking about staying in unhealthy relationships (That's an entire blog itself).  I'm focusing more on our brothers, sisters...friends.

When someone struggles with cancer or other health problems, we immediately rally to their side. It's easy. Who wouldn't stand up for someone literally staring death in the face? It gets a little less clear when the infliction is seemingly self-imposed. It gives us an exit.

Well, I don't want to make that exit anymore.

Those of us who believe in a grace given to us freely need to remember that gift more often.  I love the following lyrics from the song "Beyond Justice To Mercy," written by Billy Smiley, Paula Carpenter, and Susan Ashton:

I know we don't see eye to eye 
We've let angry hearts flare and the bitter words fly 
The common ground we used to share 
Is harder to find but I believe that it's still there. 

I don't know if now is the time 
To surrender the silence between your heart and mine 
But the love that I've chosen cries out to be spoken 
Leaving the heartache behind. 

Chorus: 
We must reach out beyond justice to mercy 
Going more than halfway to forgive 
And though the distance seems so far 
The love that used to hold our hearts 
Longs to take us beyond justice to mercy. 

It doesn't matter who's to blame 
The love that I have for you is still the same 
A tender voice is calling me 
To that place of compassion where hearts run pure and free 
Where the hunger for vengeance gives way to repentance 
Where love will teach us to see. 

We can reach out beyond justice to mercy 
Going more than halfway to forgive 
And though the distance seems so far 
The love that used to hold our hearts 
Longs to take us beyond justice to mercy. 


Then, in the song "We Are Not As Strong As We Think We Are," Rich Mullins offers this thought:

Well, it took the hand of God Almighty 
To part the waters of the sea 
But it only took one little lie 
To separate you and me 
Oh, we are not as strong as we think we are

Arrogance isn't really strength.  It is simply insecurity dressed up in loud costumes.  Individuality doesn't require that you stand alone, never asking for help.  And justice doesn't have to mean there are no more chances.

I want to wrap every ounce of mercy that I have around those with whom I travel this life. I want to release any strength I possess to those who are powerless. I want to give my companionship to those who suffer alone (even when they are surrounded by many).

And when the fallen one gets back up, I want to rise with my friend. I want us to tell the story together, a little messier, but stronger than we were before. We will not be weighted by shame, but lifted by lessons well learned and scars fully earned.

No matter how broken, mistaken, abandoned, or wrong we might have been, it is never too late to begin again.

We will rise. We will rise.

-Matt

Amazing Messy Memories

(Originally posted on 8/29/10. Updated 5/27/12)

It seems like Sunday afternoons tend to become times of inventory for me. They usually find me listening to music, often from years gone by, with no TV or books or conversation. I love these times. I need these times. Life moves too quickly and the noise I surround myself with numbs my ears from hearing the gentle voice that comes from somewhere outside of time. It's not uncommon for me to look up and realize that several hours have gone by while I have been lost in memories, thoughts and questions.

These times remind me of a different period in life when i was always on the verge of something new; unsettled but moving forward. Certain sounds, like falling rain, or even smells, like the crisp scent of the air in the first days of Fall, take me to locations in my head. Funny thing is, when I think about it, some of the places and times I go to weren't particularly good. In fact, they are often filled with uncertainty, doubts and, at times, even depression. But, I need to recall those moments. They help me remember who I was and who I am; where I have been and where I am. They help me remember to feel. As we get older, we become more settled, but sometimes that comes at the cost of not feeling as much. Life can become static and almost too even.

Memory is a powerful thing. It's a deeply spiritual thing. It can bring back those we have lost and connect us to times that will never come again. It can also remind us of places to which we never want to return. Ignoring our memories does no good. When we choose to forget, we choose to repeat mistakes, fall for lies and love the same wrong person (just with different faces) over and over again. Then we wake up on a Monday morning, having great difficulty facing another week of the same.

Thank God for Sunday afternoons. This past week was relentless in its march through time. I just don't think I was ready for it. It rattled me a little - forced me to stop. And I couldn't be more thankful. I don't know if you're anything like me, but I too often fill up my life with events and people and books and shows and, well, the list goes on and on. These are all good things and living like this makes things easier. But it can also sedate the soul. We are all meant to be so much more than this.

I want to reconcile who I was with who I am a little more. It's amazing to truly connect the journey's watermarks. It's true, I have made mistakes. We all have. But it is also true that I have lived many triumphs. And I've been given countless gifts.

Funny things is, hardly any of those gifts I hold to involve material things (Though, I still remember the feeling of driving the first car I bought after moving to Nashville). No, most of the gifts I have stored in my memory involve loving well.

I remember laughing uncontrollably while writing one of my first songs with my Aunt in Baltimore at my grandparents' house. I remember going to “Christmas Village” with my family when I was young (And I remember every Christmas morning). Then , there were the “theme” dinners we used to do. They were always crazy and we required that everyone dress in character. I remember going forward at the Rock Church in Towson, Maryland when I was 15. That night changed the course of my life .

There are so many moments-having drinks with friends, singing at my mom's wedding, recording my first record, college days at the dorm, bringing my dog home for the first time, seeing the band “Love Coma” live, watching Mike Birbiglia in a tiny club in New York, falling in love with Jessica when I heard her sing “There's a Place for Us” during auditions for “West Side Story,” taking care of Charles (a mentally challenged man who live with me for several years after his parents died), singing live for the first time, playing baseball with my dad, coaching baseball, going to my first Christmas Eve party with my brothers (They had been meeting for years...I was finally old enough to come), working at “My Friend's House” group home, playing in the creek with my childhood friend Susie, spending entire Saturday afternoons traveling around Nashville looking for new music at record stores like Tower and Great Escape, Monday night football with my friends in Baltimore during the 8 months I lived there again after college, listening to my grandparents sing, and on and on.

I love Sunday afternoons. Yes, they remind me of some regrets. But, mostly they just remind me that, in the words of Michael Been and The Call, “I still believe.” I still believe that this whole thing is an amazing, messy gift from God. I just need to take the time more often to unwrap the gift. It's always there.

I hope I never allow the noise of everyday life to fade these truths, these memories.

-Matt

Send It Away

(Originally posted on 7/13/10)

Click on the following link to hear the song that inspired this post:
"I Forgive" (from the Matt Gress album "The Other Side of Interruption")

I forgive.

I forgive.

Let those words escape through your lips for a moment. Just saying those two seemingly simple words feels like a release. Those words change things. They alter lives, heal hurts, bring us together, divert paths, break us down, clean us up...give us new life...mark new beginnings.

But those words aren't simple.

People are jerks sometimes. People do horrible things. They lie, steal, cheat, betray, gossip, leave, abandon, forget, and on and on. How can we possibly forgive someone when they do these things? Why should we?

Life is a process and I will never say that I have even remotely figured it out. But, I have at least started to figure out a few things. One of them is forgiveness.

Anger is a truly destructive thing. It can cause us to commit a multitude of terrible acts. But, it can also eat away at our own lives. It can erode our internal asset of resiliency. It steals our peace.

Most of the time, we don't even realize...or want to realize...what is going on with our lives.

I have come to the conclusion that life is almost completely about relationships. Our relationships to people, things, ourselves, our needs, our desires, our Creator, our world. When we are shackled by one of these relationships, we never fully feel OK.

"I forgive"

Those words can help us get closer to OK. People often make the mistaken assumption that if you forgive you have to forget. That is not true. I am not God. You are not God. We cannot forget. Just because you offer forgiveness to someone doesn't mean they shouldn't face consequences. It just means that you refuse to allow them to steal anymore of your life from you. Let it go.

There are ancient words that we find in writings we call the Old and New Testament. There is a lot of wisdom in these words. I particularly love the Greek words for forgive/forgiveness. One is Charizomai, from the word Charis, which means grace. We're pretty familiar with that idea. At least we should be. We all screw up enough to need grace at least once in a while. (If you don't, please contact me. I need to know how you do it! ) The other word is aphiemi, which means to send away. love this concept. To forgive is to send it away. Get rid of it. Send it completely away. Imagine if you lived like that. What would happen if you literally extended grace and sent the issue away? You might not feel so negatively connected to the person who is in the middle of the issue. You may even reconcile. You might move on.

When we forgive, it is much more for ourselves than the other person.

Try it today. Try to "send it away." Attempt grace the best you can. Free yourself form the junk everyone else is dragging around. Escape the prison you've allowed someone to build around you. Forgive, as completely as you can, right now. It's a process. But, the process has to start somewhere.

I forgive.

I forgive.

Let those words escape your lips.

A Poem

(Originally posted on 6/23/10)

Fury.
There's a never-ending fury in your body.
And still, I am drawn to you.
Power.
Waves of overwhelming power crash inside your winds.
Yet I, I want to be near you.

You embrace so much life.
Life abides in you, takes from you, is taken by you.

Persistent.
I can see no end to you, to your movement.
Chaotic.
Yet I hear peace in your ebb, in your noise.
Destructive.
But when my wounds feel the salt in your comfort, healing begins.

I will always need you.
Always.

"The Ocean" by Matthew Scott Gress

You Don't Have To Smile.

(Originally posted on 5/16/10)

It had been six days since the flood came and overwhelmed Nashville. Many had lost much; some had lost everything. I was fortunate. My home was relatively untouched. Though, as of that Friday, my internet, TV and phone/cell still weren't working. Electricity was spotty at best.

I know it's not even close to the devastation so many are experiencing, but on that day, I was beyond frustrated and feeling a bit under the weather. Thankfully, I had been booked for a speaking gig in Gatlinburg and was on my way out of town for a week.

So, I packed my bags and headed for the mountains. On my way, I stopped to pick up some snacks at the Walmart in the heart of one of the areas greatly impacted by the flood. I was in a rush when I brought my items up to the cashier. But, when I approached her, I saw something in her expression. She had a pleasant smile, but it just seemed like she was barely holding on. It was one of those moments we all have from time to time, when we realize we should say something to some one. Too often, we ignore that prompt in our gut. That day, I listened.

As I put my items down, I asked her very deliberately, "How are you doing right now?" It wasn't the standard "How's it going?", that we don't really want someone to answer. I was intentional. I looked straight into her eyes. She paused, took a breath, and said "I'm not doing very good. I lost it all." In one moment, we connected. Before I could think about it, all I said was "You don't have to smile right now." Not very profound. But, her response floored me. "That is the best gift I have gotten in a while." She let go and suddenly a less forced, small grin came across her face. She then handed me my change. It was a penny. She took my hand and placed it into my palm and said "Hold on to this. You don''t understand how valuable it might be one day." I almost lost it on the way out of the store.

This wasn't a huge event. It won't appear in the newspaper and I didn't do anything extraordinary. But, it was one of those moments that I will never forget. It changes you. It changed me. It's those small moments of connection that make up a life. It's those moments that bring us closer to who we are all meant to be.

That kind lady is still in my thoughts and prayers. Will you remember her today as well? While you're at it, remember all who are struggling in Tennessee right now. We can use it.

Take care of yourself,

Matt

Rest. Music.

(Originally posted on 4/19/10)

Slow Down. Get away. Lose the phone (or at least don't answer calls). Don't take care of any one else for a little while.

Do any of those statements make you nervous? You are not alone. It's funny, but even as I was writing the last sentence, I almost erased it so that no one would argue that I was sounding selfish.

Sometimes we just need to rest. Anyone who knows me knows that I believe we need to help each other. But, you can't really care for anyone if you're not healthy. I know this next statement might get someone a little agitated, but here goes: I DON'T REALLY AGREE WITH THE FIRST LINE OF THE "PURPOSE DRIVEN..." BOOK. You know the one that says "it's not about you." That is such a co-dependent, sounds good on the surface statement. One of those things you see on a plaque or stitched on a pillow. Trust me, I get the message. We shouldn't be so self-centered and selfish. I obviously agree with that. But, I believe that statement, when lived to the fullest, is at the heart of all of the masks we wear and facades we portray. If that statement is true, than we should never show hurt or doubt or damage. Otherwise, it becomes about us. It leads to a performance based life that requires us to tally up how much we do for everyone else. I used to live like that. I have always been a compassionate person...at least in my actions. But, honestly, I didn't really care. Not beyond it just being something I did; I was supposed to do.

But, when I was alone, without my "projects," I didn't really like what I was. I was broken. I still am (just not as much). As Brennan Manning would say, I was living as my "Imposter". Try spending an hour with yourself. No other voices. No other sounds. Can you do it?

You see, I think ultimately it is about each one of us. We were each created lovingly and uniquely. Obviously, I'm not advocating selfish living. I just want us to sometimes be. Just be. I know this sounds trite, but we are called human beings, not human doings. What you'll find is that if you start the process of rebuilding your own strength and connecting with your own life, you'll want to help other people. You'll have so much more to give.

So, get some rest. Find some new strength. Connect with the Creator. I recommend playing some music. Let it take you somewhere. Lately, I've been listening to some music from my teenage years. It takes me to good places. It reminds me of the dreams I had. Some I have lived and some I have let fade away. Those old songs have reminded me that it's never really too late to start things again...until we're gone. I've also been throwing in some Dylan "I Threw It All Away", Radiohead "Karma Police", 77s "Do It For Love", Etta James "Seven Day Fool", Dave Barnes "Little Lies", Mark Heard "Strong Hand of Love" and on and on.

Find your time. Locate your place. Enjoy the gifts we have been given. I can't think of much that is finer than music...and rest.

Take care of yourself,

Matt

The End?

(Originally posted on 4/19/10)

How did we get here?
Where did you go?
I know you’re here with me
But I’ve never felt so completely alone.
I want to tell you everything
But I can’t think of the words to say
So I just casually smile
When you glance my way

And we turn on the TV
And fade into nothing
Act like we’re living
But feel absolutely nothing.

Chorus:
This has to end
One of us needs to move
I can’t pretend
And neither can you
This isn’t life
And I think I want out
To find some real love
Which I know nothing about.
I want something
I know nothing about.

Verse 2:
I don’t want to yell
But we just fight
Wish I could talk to you
But it never feels like the time is right
So instead of figuring it out
We go through the motions of love
We might sleep together
But never really touch

This house is not a home
This family’s not alive
Let’s stop this bleeding
Do more than just survive.

(Repeat Chorus)
I don’t want to give up
But I don’t know what to do
We’ve broken so many promises
But I still love you
I still love you
But…(Repeat Chorus)

Tag:
One of us has to leave.
Or maybe we’ll try….

- - - - - - - -- - - - - - - - - - - - -
I wrote the lyrics to this song one night after a long week listening to several people I care about, friends and family, struggling with relationships. At first glance, it's a song about one spouse thinking about leaving a broken marriage...and family. That is certainly the frame I wrapped the story in. Specifically, I envisioned a husband and wife watching TV on separate couches, while their kids run in and out of the room. The husband glances around and realizes the emptiness and distance in the room. The song lyrics articulate the battle in his head.

But that's not the soul of what the story is trying to say. I wanted to articulate the silence that so many relationships endure. The wanting to share, but the inability to form the words. The desperate loneliness that someone can have while being surrounded by people. I see it every day; relationships that have become something less than alive, more like "arrangements" than families. We let time build up between us, full of words unspoken, bitterness left to grow and hurts unattended. To me the saddest part of these lyrics is the fact that he wants so much to reach out and tell her everything. But, he doesn't. A great book that I reference often is called "Boys in Crisis". It speaks to the fact that many boys (and girls) lack the emotional language to articulate their anger and frustration. So, they act out or become silent. They truly don't have the tools to connect. They haven't seen many healthy relationships. I think that describes a lot of us. Are you there?

I've certainly not mastered this. I've let relationships fall apart because I was too afraid or stubborn to say something. How many lifelong friendships have ended because someone won't apologize...or forgive? How many sons or daughters grow up without fathers because it was easier for someone to run rather than face mistakes? How many wives live in quiet desperation, needing more but accepting less? How many husbands look to other women to make them feel something, anything. I think it's more than we imagine. A few lines in a song called "Slow Fade" sum this up well: "Daddies don't fall apart in a day. Families never fall apart in a day. It's a slow fade."

So, my hope is that someone reads this, or hears the song and makes a move. Not to leave, but to move in closer. To open up and speak. Not just some casual conversation, but words that represent his/her need. We all need to connect. We all need to be understood. We all need. But instead of risking ourselves, we fill our voids with everything but what we really, truly need. We need love. Let's face it. You can't find that alone.

Take time today to connect with your friends, family, neighbors, wife, husband and kids. What you will probably find is that they were waiting for someone to make that move. My hope is that the last line of the song will be your choice if you're on the edge of giving up: "..maybe we'll try"

That's all we can really do.

Take care of yourself,

Matt