Monday, January 27, 2020


On Saturday, I sat with my Sixth Grader and reviewed his PowerPoint presentation he was preparing for school.  He could do it on any topic and he chose Kobe Bryant.  Undoubtedly influenced by his Dad's many years of touting Kobe's accolades, the choice of topic was natural for him with limited research required.  We tweaked the PowerPoint.  We watched a half hour of YouTube videos highlighting Kobe's top performances. And we watched them again, legendary.

That evening, we rushed home from the school basketball games to watch the Lakers game.  Lebron James was about to surpass Kobe Bryant for third on the all-time scoring list.  Our entire family surrounded the TV and watched the game.  My Ninth Grader spewed stats building the case for Kobe vs Lebron.  I traded texts with friends, sharply debating the greatest-of-all-time.  The same conversations echoing throughout sports bars worldwide.

On Sunday afternoon, I was cleaning out the garage.  The Sixth and Ninth Grader played basketball in the driveway, breaking to check their phones for whatever it is they check their phones for incessantly.  My oldest read the tragic news on the screen, "Dad, Kobe died."

And so it was, the rest of the day following TV news tickers and breaking reports.  The overflow of social media overwhelming the senses with emotion.  Kobe, his daughter, beloved others - all lost.  It felt surreal.

I had the opportunity to see Kobe perform on many occasions, including two NBA Finals appearances one in L.A. and one in Philadelphia.  Stories I'll tell forever.  My boys grew up watching the tail end of his career live while resurrecting his former best moments on YouTube.  The boys and I watch his final game a few times a year, the night he dropped 60 points on the Utah Jazz when the cheering at the Staples Center seemed like it would never end even as his basketball career was doing just that.   It felt like we knew him.

We only really knew what he brought to the court or what the media shared about his personal life.  We didn't know the husband, the friend, the father.  We do know the tragedy of loss, the Sixth and Ninth grader navigating through it earlier this season.  

The importance of Kobe to our family isn't about the man, it's about the moments we shaped around him.  The loss runs deep, something evocative about those moments - watching so many games with my family, practicing Kobe's fadeaway jumper in the driveway, the way that my boys say "Kobe" after every nice basketball move they make, and the #24 jersey that is now-too-small for the Sixth Grader - hanging historic in his room.

A loss magnified to the world reverberates home.  We can all relate, past moments achingly remembered and future moments that were expected now without.  It shakes us, the spotlight of this moment awakening our emotions numbed from the blue light of busyness.  We're always too busy, until we're not.  The world pauses - a timeout.

One of the greatest joys of my life is coaching basketball.  I've coached pre-K to seniors and in every season there is a lesson.  When I join the CCA Middle School boys on the court this afternoon, I wonder what lesson we will mine from this tragedy.  I suspect there are a few:  Work hard, as there is no substitute.  Make your teammates better, raise the bar, and inspire others.  Appreciate the moments, they are fleeting.   

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Serve the Team First

I have had the opportunity to lead in a variety of roles serving both the for-profit and non-profit communities.  I've also had the opportunity to do what I love the most, coach basketball, for over twelve years.  In each context, I continue to see the organizational paradigm of serving the team first as paramount to success.   

To build corporate culture, promoting "pillars of culture," where the team believes that if they consistently aim to display behaviors reflecting these "pillars," the kind of service-oriented culture they envision will evolve.  I believe one such "pillar" is to "serve the team first."  This embodies a desire to show up everyday with a mindset to out-serve one another.  In a similar vein, author Andy Stanley says an ideal marriage is a race to the back of the line.  It is putting aside our need to be first, to be right, and to win and instead focus on serving others well.  Its an intention to exceed the expectations of co-workers which ultimately leaks into the experience of those being served.  

This tenet has roots in an approach made famous by Southwest Airlines who places employee happiness above customer satisfaction.  Southwest, who has been named among the top performers by the US Department of Transportation, says, "We believe that if we treat our employees right, they will treat our customers right, and in turn that results in increased business and profits that make everyone happy."  

Additionally, serving the team first helps create a context to shift  to a more positive mindset.  In any team, there needs to be a rooting out of the negative approach where serving each other only when it's deserved to one where there is delight in helping others be successful.  

In 2015, Kari Leibowitz, a PhD student at Stanford University studied the seasonal effects on mental health in Norway.  In an environment of long winters, their rates of seasonal depression were relatively low.  As she began asking people, "Why don't you have seasonal depression," the answer was, "Why would we?"   In Norway, "people view winter as something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured," and that makes a difference.  This mindset of seeing the winter as something to celebrate not just tolerate is important.  "One of the things we do a lot in the States is we bond by complaining about winter," says Leibowitz.  "It's hard to have a positive wintertime mindset when we... [speak so] negative[ly] about winter." (Vanderkam, Fast Company, 2015).  In the same way, teams that see challenges as opportunities they engage together more traction toward success.  Teams that bond over serving each other and their communities well, in spite of the challenges that may arise have deeper roots to not be swayed by the storms.    

Finally, serving the team first is inspired the Christian faith. The apostle Peter wrote to the early church, "God has given each of you a gift... use them well to serve one another."  I believe that serving each other well is how God designed us to live in community with each other.  Service originating from what God did for us, not on how it's earned among our relationships.

Serving the team first is integral to creating the type of culture hoped for in many organizations.  In the teams on which I've had the opportunity to serve, we've found this to be true: on our best day, we exceed the expectations of our team members by going above and beyond to serve them well.  And that spills over to those we serve as they receive an experience that builds a relationship rather than simply processes a transaction.  It's a mindset.  A practice.  A deep-rooted way of viewing others that shapes how we see the world, including what it means to be successful.  

Monday, December 23, 2019

Hope for a New Year

An email announces what’s known, a friend and mentor is gone too soon.  The subject line sits among the Christmas clutter of an inbox and it’s the only one I see.  Well wishers and joy givers call silent and the computer screen blinks dark.  Memorial service information forthcoming.  The cancer defeated his body, but never touched his soul.

Everyone’s uncle was lost this year too, unexpectedly tragic.  Veteran’s Day is made to remember and we will.  We cannot forget.  He talked football Sunday and walked into eternity Monday.  Why, God, can we never know our time? Or theirs?  So that we never let last moments become lost moments, unknowingly.  He wouldn’t have wanted a send-off or a goodbye.  We wish we could have at least said thank you, once or again.

This Christmas magic seems marred by the muck of it all.  Loss lingering behind the carols.  Our chosen tree glimmers hopeful white lights, signs of life. The less water it takes daily signifying an end. The tree, this season.  In the end, is all lost?

Our new friends, joined mostly in prayer, wait for a bed at Hopkins.  The same cancer that took the mentor, burrowing deep into this father.  A good man.  His family sorts stockings and holds onto hope, faith falls on hearts heavy.

God, help me to see deeply - Through= the fog of funerals into candles flickering hope.  Author Ann Voskamp writes, “Looking comes first if you’re ever to find the life you want... always, always - first the eyes.  Joy is a function of gratitude, and gratitude is a function of perspective.  You only being to change your life when you begin to change the way you see.”  (The Greatest Gift).

There is so much good.  I know it, I just need to feel it - I remember.   I’ll call it out until it reverberates in my bones.  See it and say it.  The God-joy unearthed among the barren ground.  Seeds of life deep within.  It’s the light of Christmas, new year renewal, the world hopefully expectant.

Our friends leave for Haiti the day after Christmas.  Pausing the sparkle of Hallmark Christmas’ to see the least and the lonely and to tell them they’re loved.  Making room in their inn.  There is always room to invite others in.

Other friends wait for emergency placement of a foster child.  Ready to receive the rejected.  Prepared to set another place at the table, not when it’s convenient, likely when it’s clearly not.  Their heart breaks for the broken.  Them, all broken and healing, healing others.

Voskamp continues, “Maybe sometimes the miracle begins by growing not in bitterness but in faithfulness - because, for all its supposed sophistication cynicism is simplistic.  In a fallen world, how profound is it to see the cracks?  The radicals and the reflective,... they are the ones on the road, in the fields, on the wall, pointing to the dawn of the new Kingdom coming, pointing to the light that breaks through all things broken, pointing to redemption always rising and the Advent coming again. Brilliant people don’t deny the dark; they are the ones who never stop looking for His light in everything.”  

God, this year, may I see beyond the dark to the glorious light always coming with each new day dawning.  Miracles in the mundane.  Hope for a new year.  

Saturday, September 14, 2019

It's Not About Me.

I know a local businessman whose love for people cannot be hidden.  His faith, humility, and generosity fuel his leadership.  His altruism leaks, it's not manufactured.  He has cancer.  He is naturally, deeply positive.  I am anxious that if I see him, he'll see right through my forced optimism.  And I wonder how I make it all about me.

I did not know a pastor who made national news this week, tragically taking his own life.  He seemingly worked tirelessly advocating for mental health and suicide prevention.  I read and re-read the Instagram post from his wife, showing a video of him playing with his kids only hours before he was gone.  I'm heartbroken for his family.   I'm sad for his church.  I wonder why I'm not doing enough to help others.  And it becomes about me. 

Singer/songwriter Dave Matthews opines, "[we] wake up... making plans to change the world while the world is changing us."  I wrestle with whether I'm using my God-given gifts, if I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, living on purpose.  Or, if in the midst of all my planning, the world's simply churned me into it's machine.  Am I just a producer feeding the system, building my nest egg until I realize it's gone.  The movie's ended and I'm the only one left in the theater.  Christian rap artist KB provokes, "In the beginning...we would give anything... you could take everything you just give me the King - But the fire faded - I just wanna retire with savings - Are you the safest when the world [is] loving you or had enough of you?  Who's in more danger: the persecuted or the comfortable?"  Am I in danger?  Because it's about me. 

Yet when I begin to lament the what-should-have-beens, I sense something else.  A softer, louder voice.  It says you aren't in control.  The notion brings great angst.  And freedom.  They say you can't feel fear and joy simulatanously.  I can feel angst and freedom at the same time.  If I'm not in control, then it's not up to me.  But, if it's not up to me, it can't be about me.  And that's the point.   It's not about me. 

The local businessman has changed my life and he doesn't even know it, I should tell him with urgency.  The pastor sadly surrendered himself while savings others, I pray his families knows the ripples into eternity he has made in his efforts to help others.   As for my purpose, I need to continue to redirect my focus from inward to outward.  It's never about me.

I write a note at that the top of my running To Do List at work.  The yellow legal pad reads, "Build people, not companies."  If I start there, with the person in front of me, can I go wrong?  Refuse to make it about me.   Author Daniel Pink writes about creating your life sentence.  Mine continues to be, "Matt loved God, served others, deeply valued time with his family, and ultimately found life to be enough."  Is that enough?  

I enjoyed a great night tonight at a concert with my family.  Singer Jen Ledger talked between songs about her battle with anxiety and fear.  In the subsequent song, she sings, "I'm still awake - I won't go away - It's gonna take more than you can bring - Calling my name - Heaven is calling my name."  It's that still-small voice, whispering our name, calling us to one-more-round.  We're more than we believe we can become.  It's hope in the storm.  Faith in the midst of doubt.  "I may be broken - But I'm not done - I'll go on fighting, while there's breath in my lungs." (Not Dead Yet, Ledger).  There is always hope.  Because it's so much bigger than me. 


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

On fathering

I sat at the bedside of my wife in the maternity ward of the old Carlisle Hospital.  The nurses rolled in the bassinet with my newborn son, a day old.  I was 30 years old.  Tiger Woods, 29, chipped onto the 16th green at the Master’s Tournament, battling Chris DiMarco for the coveted Green Jacket.  The ball crept closer to the cup, pausing, and falling in as if Tiger literally willed the ball in the hole.  Legendary broadcaster Vern Lundquist made the legendary call, “... Oh my goodness!  Oh, wow, in your life, have you ever seen anything like that?”  The moment iconic both at Augusta and in Carlisle.

Arturo Gatti was my favorite boxer.  In July of 2007, he sadly lost in what would be his final fight. He wasn’t prepared for the fight, was well past his prime.  I talked to friends who were on their way to attend the fight in Atlantic City.  I was in the maternity ward of the new Carlisle Regional Medical Center, my second son just born in the wee hours of the night before.  It was the end for Gatti.  It was a new beginning for our family.

Early in my career, my boss asked me about my professional goals.  I hadn’t thought much about them.  “Get married.  Have a house.  Coach my sons in Little League,” I answered unashamed that these had nothing directly to do with furthering my career.

My wife asked me what I wanted for Father’s Day this year.  I answered honestly, “nothing - don’t buy anything.  Let’s just spend the day, us.”  I don’t wear many ties, have enough hot sauce, and can only eat so much beef jerky.  What I really savor is just another afternoon with them, and her.  Maybe we’ll chip and putt on the backyard putting green we made a few weeks ago, pretending we’re Tiger on the 16th at Augusta.  Or, maybe we’ll shadow box and I’ll tell them, again, how Gatti fought an entire fight with a broken hand.  In these moments, I really am living the dream.

They ask me deeper questions now.  Never when I’m pressing.  Only when I let the quiet give permission for them to explore.  Their curiousity about drugs, sex, and rock n roll arise and they inquire, asking for a friend.  I am thankful they’re still asking me.  And I pray I don’t screw this up.

I can talk effortlessly about Kobe dropping 81 points in Toronto or how Rocky Balboa dismantled Drago with body blows.  Yet, I can stumble through the talks that matter most.

It’s in the stumbling that I hope they see my vulnerability to say that I don’t have it all figured out and that I’ve made far too many mistakes.  That they know that life holds a lot of gray.  And that I will always give them my love, trust, and guidance. Impferctly fathering them the best I know how.

Yet I need them to know that in the messiness, I’ve learned and relearned a deeper truth.  Our Eternal Father is with us no-matter-what.  He’s not waiting for us comply or perform or achieve.  The depths of His love are unplumbed.  His grace without boundary.  The Apostle Paul outlined it like this, “Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.”  (Roman 8:1-2, The Message).  

My sons, I am proud to be your Dad.  And, know this, you are free.  You don’t have to succumb to the world’s expectations. Or, carry any unintended “shoulds” I dump on you.  Muhammad Ali said, “I don’t have to be who you want me to be.”  Boys, you are free to become who you were created to be - not who anyone else thinks you should be.  Keep looking forward with great expectation of what God has before you.  And, as you figure “you” out, I’ll be in your corner ready to encourage and equip you to stand for another round.  Or, to just hold the spit bucket.  With love, Dad.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Quieting the Noise

A recent article in Harvard Business Review noted that we are notoriously poor at offering accurate performance based feedback for others.  We believe we are fair in our assessments.  Research shows that we are not.  There are many known and unknown biases and judgments that skew our feedback.  However, at the root of it all is our innate tendency to be self-centered.  Our feedback is less about the other and more about ourselves. 

Part of the reason that we are so limited in offering valuable and insightful feedback is that we are inherently poor listeners.  Again, we fool ourselves into thinking we are actually fine listeners while research shows we are quite the opposite.  Fred Halstead, author of Leadership Skills that Inspire Incredible Results, says "It's not particularly intuitive; in our society we believe in 'me first." Preconceptions, biases, judgments, ego, multi-tasking, and our natural desire to talk all are barriers to becoming a good listener.  In many contexts, we make it all about us.  Halstead says that becoming a good listener requires us to have to find a motivation to want to listen.  And listening is hard work.

My wife and I just had a weekend away.  While we sat at a local pub for dinner, I found myself looking over her shoulder at the TV on the wall and not-so-subtly watching the local news.  Had this been the final seconds of a basketball game, my wandering attention may have been warranted (or not), but this was the local news in a town I don't live in - something completely irrelevant!  Of course, she noticed my distraction but was gracious enough to allow me to refocus without much condemnation.  We are poor listeners.  Our focus is often on ourselves - our needs, desires.

I recently heard a story about a person who had a physical condition that was maddening in its progression.  The doctor informed the patient that there was no cure and very little they could do in terms of providing relief.  The doctor said that the best advise he could give was for the patient to find a motivation to live.  He needed to find a purpose greater than himself.  He needed to cultivate a life that was completely motivated by serving the other.  Developing a life that was truly selfless was the only way to survive, perhaps an opportunity to thrive.  Might that be true for all us?

Our community recently lost a legendary high school basketball coach.  The article detailing his life described how he kept many letters from former players and students.  He had filing cabinets full of feedback.  The notes were reminders of why he did what he did - pages of his impact in a bigger story.  The players and coaches recounting their memories  of the coach talked about the small moments - the way he quoted movies and his love for his wife's spaghetti.  Relationship seeds trust, cultivating an environment for listening, blossoming into influence.  It's a process that cannot be rushed.  We play but a small role in a larger story. 

Words matter.    Proverbs 21:23 says, "Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble."  The prominent author knew thousands of years ago about our propensity to talk first and, void of listening, find ourselves with heaps of self-imposed struggle.  In the song, Speak Life, the songwriter notes, "... with every syllable hope can live or die."  Why are we so driven by our desire to speak first - to tell and not be told,  to teach and not be taught, to direct and not to follow?

I want to hear more.  I want to hear the deeper desires of my wife's heart.  I want to hear the challenges and opportunities of my team at work.  I want to hear the joys and the longings of my kids.  I want to hear beyond the noise of what divides us, to hear the seemingly small threads of what brings us together.  I want to hear the still, small voice of my God, calling me into becoming.  To do this, I need to get out of my own way.  To not look over the shoulder of the person in front of me to the distractions in the distance.  To see into their eyes, the window to the soul - listening, questioning, clarifying.  To know and not be known.  Learning and serving in the quiet.      

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Are We Enough?

Author Brennan Manning once wrote, "Define yourself radically as one beloved by God.  Every other identity is an illusion."  Yet, Manning wrestled with accepting this his entire life.  Further, he noted, "In my experience, self-hatred is the most dominant malaise crippling Christians..."  Manning, world renowned author, speaker, and a leading authority on the Christian walk, wrote eloquently about finding your true identity as a child of God.  Still, at times Manning could only quiet the screaming lie of shame with the drink.  God's child falling into addiction.  Standing again only by the Hands of grace, relieved. 

Why am I continually surprised that others carry the weight of asking, "am I enough?"  Why does it strike me as uncommon when Phelps admits to therapy, Kevin Love to panic, CEO to sultry temptation, Manning to the bottle, or  mega pastor to struggling with the mega idols of being accepted.  Most of us without visible syndromes still carry the one of being an imposter.  We believe our accomplishments are simply sparked by luck and fleeting, our shortcomings soon to be exposed when the proverbial shoe drops.  It's Rocky Balboa admitting to Apollo Creed on the beach that he's scared, afraid he's not enough. Why do so very few of us really believe we really measure up?  Why do we mask-up and pretend to be more or less?  In his book, The Cure, John Lynch writes, "No one told me when I wear a mask, only my mask receives love."  What happens when we've worn a mask so long that the only affirmation and love we know is that attributed to our mask?  A tragic ruse.

I didn't even realize how much I had been trying to be what everyone expected, what everyone wanted, all while losing my reflection in the mirror - the person looking back becoming less familiar, but so well-liked.  I met this pastor-guy a few years back who helped me peel back some of the layers.  He led most conversations with vulnerability, admitting his struggles, ditches he was in asking for help to be pulled out.  He asked me tough questions like, what's the thing beneath the thing?  Why do I believe what I believe?  Where do I really need God to show up?  In my world of multiple-choice values, this guy was asking me to write an essay - unpacking who I was and who I was becoming.  It was life-changing as God used the season to loosen my clenched-fists on my life and ask me to come before Him openhanded.  Because, really, that's all we have, isn't it? Open hands to lay before a Creator God, our question shifting from "am I enough" to "God, you are enough, use me in your supernatural story of redemption."  Lynch writes, “We do not see God as He is, and we do not see ourselves as we are."  Grace allows us to see both in small reveals, reflections of heaven.

Manning's writing tells the story of someone moving from the overbearing strain of battling temptation, working so hard to be obedient, compliant, worthy - to understanding that nothing needs to be hidden.  God knows.  He's in it with us, loving us unconditionally through the thick of it all.  Walking with us through the fog, toward who we were created to become - all light.  We needn't hide.

We each have our unique story. We each have something difficult to carry that we are tempted to hide.  Pretending is a lie fueled by shame.  Truth is quite the opposite, this unfurling of grace - an invitation to stand before God, openhanded, receiving.  It's the only way we are able to provide the value and worth that we so desperately seek - to first receive the love, grace, and identity of God;  hope crashing and joy spilling out into the world around us, extraordinarily effortless, like waves.

Because He is, we are enough.  Here's to living boldly, as if we believe it this new year.