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the coffee is free in heaven

It was Thanksgiving Day. We would all be gathered around the living room in my grandparent’s old farmhouse. Someone would pick up the newspaper and an advertisement would spark a familiar conversation. “You know the price of coffee at Hardee’s is now $0.37.”

“No it’s not Miriam, it’s $0.39.”

“Arlene, I was there yesterday and I had a cup of decaf and it was $0.37.”

The gentle bickering that would follow over a couple of pennies could last the better part of an hour. And this wasn’t the first time that my grandmothers had shared such a conversation. In fact, it had become somewhat of a holiday tradition. Today it’s something that everyone in my family is able to smile and joke about as we reflect back on the memories of years past.

Looking back on those conversations, it’s hard to know who was right. After all, the rest of us could have cared less about the cost of a cup of coffee, and so there was never a third party calling victory for either side. It’s a shame there wasn’t because we could have saved them the better part of several afternoons if we had any knowledge of the Hardee’s breakfast menu. Both of my grandmothers could be quite stubborn with each other, but it was all in love and good humor. They were both extremely sharp minded individuals, and they enjoyed being right. But neither carried a spiteful bone in their bodies. They were just happy for the conversation.

On Saturday, April 6th I lost my grandmother, Miriam Gebhart, who will be forever known to me as “Grammy” to a 10 year battle with Alzheimer’s, two days after the 15 year anniversary of my “Nini’s” passing. In the later years of her life, Grammy’s previously sharp mind deteriorated fairly swiftly. During the early stages of the disease’s progression, life became undoubtedly difficult and frustrating for her. And I’m sure that she felt very lost. She was unable to recall things as she once had, and she began losing her independence, something that she had embraced every day that I had known her as a part of my life. And it was difficult on my family. I felt the pain deep in my heart particularly on days when Grammy began to lose recognition of us. It was devastating for my Mom, and it broke me to see her go through it. I will never forget the pain of those visits.

As time went by, Grammy became viewed by most as simply a shell of her former self. But not all was lost. There were moments of clarity and recognition. Perhaps the utterance of a familiar word or the smile on her face that allowed us to know that there was still a very real, very genuine light on inside. As we stood witness to the progression of her tragic disease, those moments grounded us and gave us peace. And Grammy knew that. Giving was her gift.

She was far too stubborn to succumb to her illness. Her mind may have been compromised by it, but her body remained incredibly strong and resilient. So she would hold on for as long as she possibly could physically. Because in each new day, Grammy saw an abundance of opportunities to reach out to others. Even in moments of confusion, even when people might have assumed that she had become completely dissociated with everything around her, Grammy was still very much alive inside. And she proved this with her undying commitment to loving those around her. Grammy held on, because she knew that she brought others joy and happiness. And that was what she lived for, that is how I remember her.

Grammy did not have a negative thing to say about anyone or anything. She was an absolutely wonderful person. And she made every effort to go out of her way to make others happy. She was completely selfless. Looking back on memories of her from when I was a child, now as an adult I am left speechless and in complete envy of her. Because I know how difficult it is to not let life’s burdens interrupt your peace. The devil is always trying to lead us astray with temptations, and it can be a real battle to remain grounded. But for Grammy, this appeared completely effortless. She was a person of tremendous strength. And she was a woman that God looked down upon with great favor, I believe for a very specific reason…

Romans 13:8 reads “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” Grammy understood this principle, and she put it into practice every day of her life. She loved others unconditionally. Even when she was tested, she never offered anything other than more of her very best. Alzheimer’s could take away her mind, but it could not take her heart and her ability to love everyone around her. So she held on, and she made our lives richer in the process. What a selfless act. It would have been easy to quit, but Grammy kept fighting, for us. She knew that we needed her, and so she stayed as long as she could, overcoming several physical setbacks and the natural limitations of her body at 94 years old. She stayed to love us one last time.

That’s a beautiful thing. I can’t think of a more generous gift, and I will be forever indebted to her for her commitment to me and my family. And beyond that, I will remain thankful to her for the wonderful example that she set for us with regards to how to love others. Grammy is the blueprint for the apostle Paul’s offering in Romans Chapter 13. I only hope that someday I turn out to be the type of person that she would be proud of – a man who loves selflessly and continues to give to others until the moment of his very last breath.

Grammy may have passed on from this life, but she did not lose her battle, not by any stretch of the imagination. She WON, in overwhelming fashion. She lived a life of love, a life of Christ. And today, I know that she is resting peacefully with our Lord in Heaven. It would truly take death to slow her propensity for giving. And my faith tells me that this is why Jesus called her. Because it was time for Grammy to be free to receive the most coveted gift of all…eternal life. It was time for her to be made whole again. It was time for her to fly.

On this day as we say goodbye one last time, I think it’s important that we remember that Grammy’s spirit is very alive and well. Her love resides in each of us. And if she had the ability to make any single request of us here today, I think that it would be pretty simple…”love one another”. It’s the very best way to lead a long, fulfilling life.

So Grammy, until we meet on the other side, I pray that you will continue to watch down on us from above and guide us to becoming more selfless, loving individuals. Because I know in my heart that this is what was most important to you. I love you and will never forget you. You will always live on as a part of me. Please tell Nini, Pap, and Grandpa “hello” for me. And forget about Hardee’s, the coffee is free in Heaven.

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a new day, a new direction

Morgan James Team,

I want to first thank you from the bottom of my heart for the opportunity that you have provided me. Your interest in my writing means the world to me. It reminds me that I do have something unique to offer the world, and that I should embrace my gift.

I have the made the decision however not to complete my manuscript for Rising to the Surface. There are couple of reasons for this. First and foremost, I have begun to recognize that my published story may cause others pain and/or feelings of guilt. This is particularly true with the topics that involve my family. And I don’t want to put them through that. The most important thing is that I have made my peace with my life, and I truly have. I don’t need to hurt others to prove anything at this point.

Secondly, I realized not long ago that my writing and this story in particular wasn’t about selling books, it was about finding myself. Along my journey to self realization I did develop a strong desire to help not only myself but others as well, and that passion still burns inside of me. But I feel that I can approach those efforts in a different way. I am still learning and identifying how best to reach out. Perhaps at this point, my blog will continue to be the most useful outlet for that. I hope that you will all continue to follow my entries at http://www.setback2comeback.com.

Lastly, I must also let you know that I did become overwhelmed by the responsibility of putting this work together. And I don’t believe that any of it had to do with the time involved in completing the actual manuscript. I think that it was just very difficult for me to have to go back and revisit painful topic after painful topic over and over again. I remember the nights when I sat down and put those blogs together for the first time. Each entry was very difficult for me. I’d spend hours shaking with anxiety and eyes filled with tears just trying to get everything out. And when I’d finish, I’d feel the joy and satisfaction of a weight being lifted. So the thought of revisiting everything several times over to get the story to flow well in my manuscript well, it was just too much for me to handle. I enjoyed putting my past to rest, and I discovered quickly that I wasn’t ready to begin rewriting it.

I do feel that I have something very unique to offer the world, and I hope that writing will hold a significant seat in my future. But it’s time for me to move on from Rising to the Surface, at least in its current state. I need to continue to focus on bettering myself and improving the quality of life for those around me by embracing the opportunity that I have to write freely in my blog.

I am very sorry that I was unable to follow through with my commitment. I hope that you are able to appreciate my position. Perhaps we’ll do business with each other on another work in the near future; only time will tell. I thank you again for this tremendous opportunity. You are a wonderful group of people and I wish you all nothing but the very best.

May God Bless!

light the fire

Just start writing, Matt. You’ve put this off for far too long. What are you so afraid of anyway? Is it failure? Is it the thoughts of others that intimidate you? What happened to you? How did you lose yourself? You were so strong, so confident, so inspired. You began with one key motivation: honesty. Honesty means saying the things that you feel, even when it’s difficult to do so. At the onset of this journey you were okay with the temporary discomfort, because you trusted in God’s plan for your life. You KNEW that if you spoke from the heart that you would find the truth. And in the truth you would find your freedom. You would find your life.

But somehow you lost your passion and drive. You began to forfeit yourself for the distractions around you. Life became all consuming. The world began to once again feel as if it was overwhelming you. You started making excuses for settling back into limited thinking. And as things grew more and complicated, your world continued to shrink. The walls began closing in. You tried desperately to settle back into security…to make excuses for the way that things were and for the prospects of your future. But you quickly found that there was something horribly unsettling about being comfortable. In fact, there was something awfully destructive beginning to take place inside of you. The fire that once burned, igniting a powerful flame to light the torch for others to navigate the darkness was beginning to fade. In fact, it had been nearly extinguished. Only a small glowing ember remained. It was time to fan the flame.

I watch a show pretty regularly on the Discovery Channel called Dual Survival. You’ve probably seen these types of programs before. Two guys are dropped in the middle of an extreme wilderness setting with little more than the clothes on their backs and are forced to live off the land and find their way out of their desperate circumstances by initiating a rescue. The entire hour of the program is very engaging, but the part that I find most fascinating is the duo’s ability to build a fire in even the most extreme of circumstances. Cody Lundin, one of the shows main characters is routinely able to take the tiniest of embers and gently handle and nurture it into a life sustaining, roaring fire. Fire is the most critical element of survival for the team. Without fire, the spirit dies and subsistence is threatened. It’s not simply about the physical threats that will arise without it, but the psychological as well.

You may find yourself in a place like me. Life has thrown you into a bit of a whirlwind. Perhaps you too have taught yourself not to thrive, but simply to survive. And in doing so, you’ve sacrificed a good part of who you are in the process. You know that the old “you” exists somewhere, but you feel lost in the darkness around you and seem unable to commit to taking action. Your fear has begun to paralyze you and your ability to move forward. So you stay still and wait. And not surprisingly, your circumstances remain the same. Perhaps you are waiting on the Lord to rescue you…but what if He is waiting on you to take the first step?

I think that it’s often too easily forgotten that the Lord has given us the most powerful survival asset of all, one that we carry with us at all times. It’s the Holy Spirit…the Spirit of truth that speaks to those of us who believe. The Spirit is the tiny burning ember that remains aglow within us no matter how troubled our circumstances may become. It is a reminder that while we may walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Christ is still alive inside of our hearts and He is ready to lead us back to the light. He is just waiting on us to take action, to fan the flame of faith and truth that will provide the light to shine the way to our rescue. God wants to direct us back to a life where we thrive. Survival is meant to be a short term stay. Life is meant to be embraced. After all, it’s the Lord’s gift to us.

So if you find yourself lost, conflicted, scared, perhaps even hopeless…I encourage you to reignite your faith. Engage your relationship with God, for He is the answer to all things. There is no situation too desperate, no obstacle too forbidding for the Lord to help you overcome. Nurture the ember that glows within you. Take the fear that restrains you and transform it unto unwavering faith by trusting that you don’t need to have all the answers…you just need to have the guts to stand for the truth. Because when we’re embracing the person that the Lord created us to be His plan comes together for us in miraculous fashion. We don’t own the map that illustrates how to get to that ever elusive light at the end of the tunnel, God does. And if we trust that by stepping forward with faith, little by little our flame will burn brighter and light the way. And we’ll find that we will end up at our destination faster than we had ever imagined, and we’ll enjoy every aspect of the journey in the process, even the difficult ones.

God didn’t create you to be anyone but you. It’s true…He broke the mold when He made you…just as He did with every single individual walking this planet. We are all unique by plan, and each of us has something very special to offer those around us. But our special gifts cannot ever be recognized if we choose to allow fear to threaten us into following the crowd, fitting in, and settling into comfort. We are meant to do big things. We all have a purpose…don’t let yours go to waste. The Lord gave you a voice, use it. Speak up about what it is you believe in, chase your dreams, engage your passions and truly become the change that you wish to see in the world – you have the power to do it…perhaps it is your calling?

Easy for me to say, right? I’m the person who started this blog by referencing my own unwillingness to embrace the life that I desire. Well, perhaps that’s a good point to be made. It’s not easy. Life is going to deal us blows. There will be distractions, and at times we will feel disconnected from the truth. And the devil will knock at our doors during moments of weakness seeking to cripple us with temptations. That’s why it is extremely important that during times of adversity and “survival” if you will that we remain committed to our faith, even when it’s a fight to do so. We cannot let that ember escape us. We must nurture it and guard it with all our might until the day comes that we find our spark and reignite the fire that leads us back to life.

I was lost, broken down, and at times I felt very discouraged. But I never gave up on my faith. I kept the ember burning. And although it took awhile, I believe that I’ve finally found my spark. I’m writing again, so that’s a start. I know that this little hobby of mine never led me astray before. And I trust that if I once again focus my commitments on speaking from the heart and leading everything I do with complete honesty and faith that I’ll learn to thrive again very soon.

So, with that being said, the filter is now officially off. I will no longer be silenced by critics who seek to quiet my voice. My honesty is what makes me special. My story is my gift. My writing is worthwhile, and it is very therapeutic for me. If it is seen as a benefit to someone else, even better. I will not be intimidated. I will not fear the judgment of anyone other than my Creator. I will be the man that God has called me to be.

Because starting today, my fire burns bright….