Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A small voice in Japan

My heart was broken last night. Broken in a way that I could not have known 7 years ago. I was watching Dateline last night on the couch with Katie and they were reporting on the aftermath of the devastating 8.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Japan. The news correspondent was reporting how they visited a school gymnasium that was full of displaced Japanese whose homes and loved ones were suddenly gone after the tsunami washed through the city. The reporter talked about a little boy who would cry out in the night, "Where is my daddy?? Where is my daddy?" My heart broke right there on the couch in that moment as I pictured my son Sam or Nathan being left alone in a big scary place surrounded by strangers with a father that would never return.

I don't cry much but more than I used to. That's a good thing. I held back the tears but I could not stop my eyes from watering. I just pray that the Lord would be a father to this little boy. A Father to the fatherless. Lord help me to love my children with all my might, to love them as you love them, and most importantly to raise them in the knowledge of You that they too might find a heavenly home and a burden that is light.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Remembering My Parents

  I was deeply moved recently at a memorial service for a very Godly husband and father of a guy I work with. It was so inspiring hearing his story. I never met the guy but I left the service feeling like I'd known him all my life. I left feeling challenged to let my faith burn hot white for Christ everyday, to be a better,  more intentional father to my kids and to guide, lead, protect and enjoy my beautiful bride. 
  At the same time I was flooded with a ton of memories of what I was feeling in the days after both my father Jerry (1996) and mother Carol (2001) went to meet Jesus. This year will mark the 15th and 10th anniversaries of their passing so wanted to share a few thoughts as I look back on those days. What follows is just kind of random thoughts I remember having at that time. I wanted to make sure I wrote these down to preserve them for a time in the future when I make a "Memory Book" for them. If you've ever lost a parent maybe you can identify with some of them:

I don't want this to be my new reality. 

I want to be able to call my dad and ask him a question about cars, kids, work, God. 

I don't know how to act right now. 

Am I supposed to look sad and depressed or when is it OK for me to crack jokes and act goofy like normal? 

What am I supposed to feel right now? Actually, I don't feel much of anything. I feel more empty or raw or without any feelings. I used them all up in the last few weeks talking to family and friends. 

My head hurts from having so many intentional, deep conversations with people. 

I hate it when well-intentioned people drag out all these painful emotions and thoughts because THEY want to keep talking about how THEY are feeling. 

I just want life to get back to "normal." I don't want people to look at me and only think about 
my dad dying. 

I don't want to go back to work that first day after the funeral and memorial service because I don't want to interact with people anymore. I just want my privacy. I want to work through this on my own.

I'm not sure if my wife really understands what I'm feeling—the depth of my thoughts. I don't think I can explain it fully to her.

How am I going to teach my kids about their grandfather/grandmother without them just becoming an afterthought or a picture hanging on the wall? I'm already starting to forget some of the memories I wanted to remember and share with them. 

What is my responsibility now with mom now that dad is no longer around? Does she need to see me once a week? Twice a week? Every day? 

How do I balance MY family life (wife and kids) with work and the needs of my grieving mom? What's her new normal? What does her future look like? Does she want to remarry? That's weird. Would I want mom to get remarried? I don't think so. Would dad have cared? Not sure. 

Are family get-togethers gonna feel hollow and empty when we get together now that dad isn't around? What's that first Thanksgiving or Christmas gonna be like? I don't think I want to know.

I remember thinking that I didn't think I was doing this grieving thing right because I wasn't crying all the time. My dad had an open casket memorial service. I didn't want to look at him. I didn't want to remember him like that—all stiff, and waxy, and lifeless. That wasn't him. I wanted to retain the memories I had of him while he was living.

I remember studying dad's hands in church when I was a kid and my parents made me sit in "big people" church and I was bored stiff. I would lay on his lap, take his wedding ring on and off and just hold and stare at his hands. Those wonderful hands—soft but strong hands with little wrinkles and a bit of dark hair on the edges just like mine.

They told me if I didn't look at his dead body that I might have nightmares and wouldn't get proper "closure". Oh well. Didn't need or want it I guess. I remember thinking my grieving was totally done until about a year later. I don't even remember specifically what it was but I just remember thinking that dad should be at some important family event and he was going to and how cheated I felt and remembered that he never would be at any more important events.

I choked back the tears for a few seconds and then just started to sob out loud. Katie had NEVER seen me do that. Not my thing. Never did it. I remember her holding me tight and asking what was going on and I told her. I remember in that moment feeling the closest to her that I ever had as she comforted me with her words, tears and a long embrace. It was a special moment and I'll never forget it.

I used to have dreams about my dad every few months or so. Usually they would take the form of he was gone (or dead) and then he would just magically show up again and I was so happy and told him how much I missed him and I wanted him to stick around and not leave again. But he always would disappear again for some reason. Or even if he didn't disappear I would wake up and be totally bummed that it was just a dream and not reality; that my dreams couldn't MAKE him come back to life. I haven't had one of those dreams for a while now. But I probably will again someday. I kind of liked having them because it felt like I was keeping dad alive in some small way.

Another feeling I still struggle with is when adults complain about their ailing, dying parent's in their 70's or 80's. I sometimes feel like saying, "Get over it already! Your parents are old. They're supposed to get sick and die when they're that age. My parent's never had the chance. They died 30-40 years before they were "supposed to”. Of course I never actually say that. I just had a real hard time feeling sorry for them. Still do at times. I was robbed of all those years with my parents. Another thing that bothers me is when my peers complain about their parents or in-laws for not being involved enough or being too involved or intrusive in their opinion. I'm not saying some of their issues aren't really but I just can help thinking "you're lucky to still have them. I don't have that option anymore."

So now, the challenge is how to keep the memory of my parent's "alive" for my kids—Grace, Sam, and Nathan. Just the other day my wife was changing my two-year-old son Nathan's diaper when he looked up at the wall in our bedroom at a picture of my dad and said "grandpa Jerry!" That really blessed my heart! 

I really want to write a journal of all my memories and get my brothers and sisters to do the same so we have something tangible we can present to our kids to help them get a good picture of who their grandma and grandpa were. That's on my to-do-list for 2011.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Kids learning stuff scary fast

I have been amazed lately at how much our kids learn and how quickly. I hear them repeating stuff (both good and bad) and noticing things I never would have guessed they would. Nathan wants to know "what's that?" about everything! He does this especially when we try to "read" a book. It gets tiresome but I forget that this is just as much or MORE interesting to him than the words I might read. Sam, our 5 year-old has a tender heart. We need to be more careful of it. We were watching Matilda, a kid's movie about a girl that is stuck in a bad family and school situation with verbally abusive adults. Sam actually covered his eyes a few times and although Katie and I thought the movie was fairly benign it was not to Sam.

I want to protect my kid's innocence. I want to be a better example to them. Lord help me do all I can to point them to you. To turn off the T.V. and read to my kids and talk about spiritual things more than earthly things. Help me Lord. Remind me when I am bored or needing to "veg" that I have young impressionable hearts and minds that need my very best.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Heading into fall and feeling blessed

I just wanted to take a moment to say how blessed I feel. It's Oct 3, 2010, the kids are playing out back in beautiful fall weather, just had some wonderful home-cooked corn chowder with cornbread and the Broncos won. Can't ask for much more than that. As I sit in our basement at the computer I can see up and out the windows to the leaves falling softly from the cottonwood tree in our backyard. Visions of pumpkins, Thanksgiving and Christmas are already started to dance across my mind. I really do love this time of year with the sledding, a fire burning in the fireplace, hot chocolate, snow days, and family get-togethers.

I told Katie today how much I love and appreciate her. This year has been a terrible year for deaths on Colorado's 14ers (peaks over 14,000 ft.) and I climbed 3 of the tougher ones with some work friends a few weeks back. These same peaks have seen 2 deaths this summer. One story was particularly tragic—the husband was hiking alone with his dog and killed by rock fall leaving an expecting wife at home. Truly sad. Yesterday I took my wedding ring off as I was rock climbing so it would not get scratched. My good buddy Ramsey Ross is a teacher at North Middle school here in town and needed help taking about 20 kids climbing. I forgot I had taken it off and realized it on my drive to church and started thinking how weird a feeling it was to be without my ring. Then I started thinking what kind of life I would have if I never had that ring—no wife, no kids. My life looked so different. More empty. Less life and love. This is not to slam on single people at all. Just knowing what I would be missing got me all emotional and I had to give Katie a big hug.

Just some thoughts on this lovely fall day. Hope to post another update soon.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I had a buddy tell me tonight that he lost his job after 6 years. It wasn't the first thing he said. This was after like an hour of talking. We are reading through a book that at times highlights the differences of men and women and the whole time I couldn't help but think there is no way that a woman would have taken a full hour to reveal a detail as huge as losing a job to another woman.

As he was telling his story my mind immediately went back to a time when I lost my job and how shell-shocked I felt by the whole thing. I was in a literal daze for several days and wasn't sure how to proceed. But slowly, I felt the Lord guiding me and of course, now, 10 years later He has confirmed my path so many times over it is sort of ridiculous that I couldn't see it at the time. But when I was in that deep valley it was so hard to see out, to see anything really that all I had was trust, faith and hope that it would get better, that I would get another job, that I wouldn't end up being a homeless guy walking the streets.

I know right where you are at my friend and will be praying for you that God reveals his purpose and plan at this exact moment in your life. Don't forget to take notes and remember all that He IS doing even when it does not seem so. He has you in His strong grip and He will NEVER let go.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Merry Christmas 2009 & Warm Greetings!

Merry Christmas & Warm Greetings!

Well, another year has quietly slipped away. Amazing. I was just chatting with Katie today and reflecting. We literally could not remember what happened from January to July. Life with a 1, 4 and 6 year-old does that to you. We don’t plan much of our lives months ahead— we are happy to survive each day until bedtime!

In the busyness of raising our 3 children, I’m reminded of a quote I heard once that I like. “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” This quote often comes to mind when Katie and I fall into bed just dead-tired wondering where the day went and when things will slow down a bit. But amidst all the activity, we’re always reminded to live each day we have to its fullest and appreciate each moment we have to be our children’s mom & dad. All the cajoling to eat vegetables, the wrestling when I come home each night, the snuggles at bedtime, and the beauty of a child sleeping will soon be just fond memories.

This year we watched our “baby, Nathan, age 1½, grow so much from learning to sit, to standing, to walking and now sort of talking. He’s fond of saying “Hi fish” to our 2 pet fish, the expected “Daddy” and “Mommy” of course but his favorite expression by far is a loud “NO!” as he slams a fist down and shakes his head from side to side. Quite often we’ll walk into a room only to find him standing on the dining table because someone had forgotten to push a chair in. That boy!

Sam, age 4, has been attending a local preschool two half days a week. He loves it! He’s learning to color inside the lines and sit still for more than a few seconds. In late October Sam decided he would give his bike a shot without his training wheels. Since he can’t reach the ground with his feet he conveniently “dismounts” his moving bike when ready to stop. But by far the biggest news happened in July when Sam surprised Katie in the minivan by saying a quick prayer—“Jesus, come into my heart. And I want a puppy and to go to Santa’s North Pole” (a local amusement park for kids).

Grace, age 6, is a constant blessing to us. She has become our “little helper” assisting us with Nathan, in the kitchen and helping clean up. She started kindergarten this year and loves learning to read and count. She has a sweet spirit and displayed that when she befriended a girl on the playground that no one else was playing with. She has gotten involved in ballet, AWANA at church, and also learned to ride her bike on 2 wheels this summer.

Katie somehow finds a way to keep all the kids (and myself) clothed, fed and happy while driving to and from schools, taking part in a women’s Bible study and working out at a local gym. She is tireless and patient and I am always amazed at what she accomplishes with so little help.

I (Matt) will celebrate 10 years in February working at The Christian and Missionary Alliance and accomplished a long-standing goal when I completed the Pikes Peak Marathon in August.

A few 14,000 ft. peaks got checked off my list as well when I climbed Mt. Harvard & Mt. Columbia with friends. Good times.

As the cadence and rhythm of our lives has quickened so have the blessings that flow from above. It never ceases to amaze us how the Lord brings new friends into our lives and provides for our every need.

Well, with that, we wrap up 2009 and look forward to a new year. We pray that the Lord brings His rich blessings, health and favor to you all in 2010. Please stay in touch. We love hearing from you all!


The DeCostes

Matt, Katie, Grace, Sam & Nathan

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

It's not what I do, Lord, it's YOU

This is going to sound crazy but some of the best thoughts I have happen when I am running or in the shower. It was in the shower AFTER my run today that I began thinking about my job and the career in graphic design that I have chosen.

I'm at a place in my life (37, married for 11 years, with 3 small children) and in my faith that I feel like I can be honest with myself and where I'm at. I remember in high school being so wrapped up in my identity as a football player. I had the luck to play on the varsity team starting in my sophomore year. I loved the sport. I loved every minute of it. I loved that people thought of me as an athlete and a nice guy. I loved wearing my jersey on Fridays before the game. I even loved the black and blue marks and sore muscles the day after the game.

But looking back now, I realize how much I let that talent, that athletic ability define me. I told myself things like "you might not be very good at basketball or playing piano or doing math but you are one of the best at football." As I graduated and got older I let other roles define me too much. Matt the fraternity guy. Matt the exchange student. Matt the graphic designer. Matt the nice guy. Matt the rock climber. Matt the hiker. Matt the father... the son... the brother... the husband... the coworker... the... and the list goes on.

But slowly, God has been revealing to me the utter uselessness of all that stuff. And that's what it is, just stuff. Empty titles that define us in some narrow way. Yes, we all wear different hats and play different roles. And that's NOT bad. It's when I let those hats and roles define who I am that my problems seem to occur. I forget WHOSE I am and therefore WHO I am.

Have I mastered this shedding of roles, these boxes people (and I) put me in, these labels they put on me? No. But I am getting better at identifying them for what they are and trying my best to keep them in balance with who DOES define me—Jesus Christ and the new creation I am becoming as I live and find my being in Him. Afterall, He's not impressed with many of my accomplishments here on earth. Only what I do for Him and others really matters in the 60 or 70 years (Lord willing) I may have here.

So, these were my thoughts in the shower this morning. I will never be the best anything here on earth. There will always be someone who is better than me at something. And I'm ok with that. Slowly, surely I am being transformed. Into His perfect image. And though it sometimes feels like two steps forward one step back I'm still heading in the right direction. And I love the view from here.