Stuck on Saturday

Light piercing the darkness after Holy Saturday

Yesterday was Good Friday – the day Jesus was crucified on the cross. It’s the day that the Son of God himself was executed. His enemies were victorious. His followers were in disarray. It’s the day that is remembered throughout the world because without Good Friday, we couldn’t have Easter. Without the death of Jesus on the cross, we wouldn’t be celebrating his resurrection three days later.

And that’s what we like to do in churches. We recognize and even celebrate Good Friday, but then we skip ahead to the celebration on Sunday, reminding everyone that it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming. Somehow during this remembering and celebration we minimize the fact that there is a Saturday in this story. And it feels pretty bleak.

Imagine with me for a moment that you’ve been following this man throughout the countryside. He’s proclaimed Truth. He’s healed many. Throngs of people greeted him. He had performed countless miracles. People’s lives were changed. Your life was changed.

You were there when he entered Jerusalem and was greeted with crowds of people shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” And you watched them make a path out of palm leaves as you followed him through the city.

Then the bottom fell out.

Within a matter of hours, your leader was betrayed, condemned by the authorities, and publicly executed by the State. Everything you thought you knew was proven wrong. The hours following Good Friday were a frightening, lonely, and hopeless time. They had no idea that their world was about to be changed and everything Jesus had promised was about to come true. They were surrounded by darkness, questioning everything they believed.

And the demons celebrated. All signs had pointed to hell’s victory. Evil had triumphed over good. Everything was spiraling out of control.

I’ve been there.

You’ve probably been there, too. If you haven’t been there yet, you will be someday. It’s part of the human experience. You could suddenly lose your job and find yourself wondering what on earth you’re going to do next when the bills are piling up. I remember waking up the day after my father in law died, hoping against hope that everything had been just a dream. I had a similar hope when my nephew died. Life is full of our own personal Holy Saturday moments.

Some people never leave their dark Saturdays. It’s like they’re stuck. They’re stuck on Saturday. And it’s because so many people are stuck on Saturday that we cannot rush through Saturday to get to Easter Sunday.

If you’re feeling isolated, abandoned, or alone, this day’s a great reminder for you. Maybe you are heartbroken, betrayed, or feeling completely helpless and hopeless. This day’s a great reminder for you.

If you feel like nobody is listening to you, this day’s a great reminder for you. And if it feels like your prayers are just bouncing off the ceiling and God doesn’t really care, this day’s a great reminder for you.

If the reality of death is looming over you, this day’s a great reminder for you.

If you’re surrounded by darkness and despair, this day is a great reminder for you. Light and life are about to burst forth out of the tomb. The world is about to be turned upside down.

It’s Saturday.
But Sunday morning is coming.

Do you see it? The light is peeking around the corner. The darkness will not last forever. Let me say this again: the darkness will not last forever. It’s Saturday. But Sunday morning is just beyond the horizon. It is about to pierce through the darkness. Do you see it?

Hallelujah.
Amen.

 

Get your Rogue One tickets NOW!

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Rogue One a Star Wars Story movie Poster

The release of the first stand-alone Star Wars film, Rogue One, is just around the corner. And I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited about it. In case you aren’t familiar with the storyline, Rogue One is about the Rebellion’s attempt to steal the plans of the Empire’s ultimate secret weapon: the Death Star. If the trailers are any indication, this movie is going to be one wild ride. The movie opens on December 16, but advance tickets are available NOW through Fandango.

Will there be Bothans?

There has been a little bit of confusion about when this story takes place. It is not the mission Mon Mothma is referring to in Return of the Jedi (it’s my favorite, you might remember) when she says that “Many Bothans died to bring us this information.” That was for the second Death Star. This story takes place immediately before A New Hope (also my favorite). It’s presumably the plans that Princess Leia hides in R2-D2, which leads to a swashbuckling adventure unmatched by most (if not all) films.

I secretly hope Bothans are part of this story. I hope they’re tucked away in the background somewhere. But I also hope none of them die. Because it sounds like far too many of them die later on.

“Rebellions are built on hope.”

Hope. That’s what the original trilogy is full of. Obi-wan Kenobi is Princess Leia’s only hope. It’s clear that Luke Skywalker becomes the Rebellion’s new hope. And by the end of the trilogy, it’s the hope that there is still good in his father that compels Luke to journey into the heart of darkness. There’s hope in friends. The Empire has misdirected hope in power and technological terror. There’s hope in the mystical unknown. The original trilogy is fueled by hope. And it sounds like Rogue One taps into that same spirit. We are surrounded by reasons to have hope.

I look forward to another reminder of how much hope we can have in the midst of darkness.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Tickets

The trailers.

In celebration of the upcoming release of Rogue One: a Star Wars Story, I’ve compiled the film’s trailers below. I don’t know about you, but watching them really makes me excited about watching this movie. I hope (there’s that word again) it lives up to my expectations.

I’m sure it will.

Buy your Rogue One tickets today.



Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Tickets

TV Spots

If that isn’t enough to get your blood flowing and your adrenaline pumping, here are some of the trailers that have popped up on TV over the last month or so.

I have to admit, I wasn’t that excited when I heard of  Disney/Lucasfilm’s plans to release stand-alone films that are outside the main Star Wars saga storyline. The story of how the Rebellion stole the plans to the Death Star is the perfect way to kick off these stand-alone Star Wars films, in my opinion. This movie looks good. Very good. I’m excited. And I hope you are, too.

What are you waiting for? Join the Rebellion today.


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Tickets

Happy New Year! In September. Seriously.

Remember 9/11

September 11 is a strange day for our family. I have a friend whose son was born on September 11, 2001. They named him Isaac, which I think is the perfect name for a child born in the midst of a national event like that. I’d imagine they feel a certain amount of emotional conflict every day 9/11 rolls around. That’s how things roll in our house on 9/11. But it’s not because of a birthday. It’s because of something else.

“Never forget…”

I remember. I always will. Like so many people who watched those horrific events the morning of Tuesday, September 11, I swore I would never forget where I was, what I was doing, and how I felt that day.

And I haven’t.

We remember that day every year. And I have to admit, I still struggle with how I should respond to these terrible acts, especially when I think about how messy it is when you respond to hatred with love and compassion.

Happy New Year!

But today is not only about remembering. Thanks to our family’s connection with Ethiopia, 9/11 has also become a day of celebrating. You might remember during the A to Z Challenge, I mentioned how Ethiopia has their own calendar. And based on that calendar, today, September 11, is the beginning of the New Year.

So today, we remember. We reflect. And we contemplate. But we also celebrate, dream, and eat lots of Ethiopian food. We’ve been told that Doro Wat (spicy chicken stew with boiled eggs) is a traditional dish for the New Year. So we happily had some today.

Doro wat for Ethiopian New Year today! Melkam Addis Amet! #EthiopianNewYear #MelkamAddisAmet

A photo posted by Matt Todd (@mattdantodd) on

So we look back. But we also look forward. And we’ll probably hug our kids a little tighter as we spend this day remembering, reflecting, and celebrating as we encounter the whole gauntlet of emotions on this sobering anniversary/day of anticipation, celebration, and renewal in the New Year.

But that’s kind of how life goes sometimes, isn’t it? It’s a mixture of excitement and heartache, overwhelming joy and the deepest of sorrows, it’s the celebration of life and the mourning of death. It’s the good times and the bad times all wrapped up into one package that is hardly ever topped with a nice little bow. The plot is full of twists and turns and event taking place on top of event taking place on top of event. It’s ecstasy followed by unspeakable sadness followed by unsurpassed joy.

Such is the roller coaster we call the human experience.

So it may seem strange that on a day like today, I wish you a happy new year. But in many ways, it makes complete sense. Doesn’t it? Because when you look ahead at a new year, you can’t help but dream. You can’t help but work towards a better future. So in the midst of the sorrow of remembering the events of 9/11, I’m also reminded that there is hope. So. much. hope. And in the midst of the darkness that surrounds us, there is a light at the end of this tunnel. Because we’re going to make tomorrow better than today. We’re going to change the world.

Melkam Addis Amet - Happy Ethiopian New Year
A banner that was hanging in the hotel when we visited Ethiopia in September, 2009. It says “Happy New Year,” in case you can’t read what it says.

So I hope you understand what I mean when I tell you that I remember. Oh, I remember. I will never forget. Ever. And in the same breath, I wish you a happy new year full of joy, happiness, and a better tomorrow.

Meklam Addis Amet, y’all!

From the bottom of my heart.

 

This is why I got misty-eyed at Aly’s final choir concert

Aly's Final Concert

A few weeks ago, we gathered in Aly’s school gym for one final time as the 8th grade choirs gave one final middle school concert. As they gathered to sing the final song, I have to admit that I had a bit of an emotional moment. I even got a little misty-eyed. I probably wasn’t the only one. But it probably wasn’t for the reason y’all think.

Yes, it’s crazy that our Aly is already out of middle school and is going to be a Freshman next year. It’s a little concerning how fast everything is flying by. I was warned about such things, and I’ve tried to soak in as many moments as possible. And it’s amazing to see how our little girl who used to talk to bees and make mud angels in the puddles grow up right before our eyes. But that’s really not the reason I felt this wave of emotion come over me. And it’s not because this was her final choir performance, since she’s not planning on participating in any of the choirs or singing groups in high school.

No, there was a much more personal reason. In order to explain why I felt the way I did, I have to give you a little bit of background. So let’s rewind the clock some 25-ish years.

I hated middle school.

There. I said it. It’s out in the open for everyone to know. I hated almost everything about middle school. I hated riding the bus.* I hated algebra. I hated the cliques. I hated the inside jokes and the slang everyone would try to use. I hated being made fun of. And having come from a relatively small school where you knew everyone and everyone knew you, I hated being at such a large school where it was hard for me to know anyone.

I wasn’t a Jock. I wasn’t a Prep. I wasn’t a Hood or a Nerd. I was an outsider who didn’t really fit in with the rest of the outsiders. And I most certainly didn’t fit in with the popular kids. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. So I was overwhelmed throughout most of my middle school  career.

Me in 6th grade

I hated middle school.

I’m sure there were good things about middle school, but I’ve unintentionally blocked them out. OK, that’s not entirely true. I do remember some good things. I was baptized while I was in middle school. I became heavily involved in Scouting and came under the leadership of some pretty amazing mentors who poured life into me, even when I was silently miserable. My parents did the best they could. They’d never parented a middle school student before. And that’s funny, because I’d never been a middle school student before. Looking back, I’m pretty sure we were all just making it up as we went along. In spite of the struggles, I did know they loved me. But school itself?  I’ve blocked out most of my middle school experience. A lot of it is a blur. And I think I’m OK with that. Because here’s some of the stuff I do remember…

I remember the beginning of Summer Break between my final year of elementary school and my first year of middle school. I was told that the rising 7th and 8th graders had a “hit list.” You didn’t want to be on this hit list because that meant you were going to get beat up. Every day. At the beginning of Summer Break, a well-meaning friend told me that I was on the hit list. That ruined my Summer. It probably helped ruin the first semester of 6th grade, too. I was never beaten up in middle school. Never got anywhere near a fight.** My friend did. Once. Kind of. Actually, he was just pummelled while the rest of the school watched because he refused to fight back.

Speaking of that friend, he was one of the only friends I really had in middle school. And I remember constantly teasing him and mistreating him because I thought it would get others to think I was cooler than I really was.

I remember people making fun of my hair. Relentlessly. Repeatedly. Nonstop. Unceasingly. You get the picture?

Me in 8th grade

I remember feeling so much pressure to be accepted that I lied to people about having a girlfriend who lived out of the country. While I really did know some girls who live overseas, I want anywhere close to being in any type of dating relationship with any of them.

It was horrible. I can’t imagine what life would’ve been like if social media was thrown into the mix. You have no idea how thankful I am that it wouldn’t exist until long after I was out of middle school.

I hated middle school.

About a year ago, I had the chance to attend a class reunion at our middle school. I originally planned on attending, but work obligations prevented me from making the trip to my hometown. There was a part of me that was bummed. In spite of my horrible middle school experience, some of my middle school classmates did become friends of mine. In high school. So it would have been nice to see them. But I have to be honest. I was mostly pretty OK with not going back. Why relive such an ugly time in my life?

So as I watched Aly perform on stage, I thought about how positive her final year of middle school had been. Of course, there have been some rocky moments during her middle school career. That’s part of the middle school experience. But she is moving on to high school as a grounded, confident young woman.

I secretly shed a little tear and secretly wiped it away before anyone could see it. Because while I know high school can have its share of drama and challenges, it is so much better than middle school. I know that it feels like middle school never ends. But there is a light at the end of that tunnel and it can lead to better things. Much better things. I’m convinced that Aly is going to love high school.

That tear also leaked out because of my great sense of relieve. Two of our children have successfully navigated the middle school minefield. We’ll have three high school students at the beginning of this school year. That means we only have one more kid to go through middle school. So in my head, I gave Christy an imaginary  celebratory “high five.” They made it through middle school. And I think they’ve turned out to be some pretty amazing kids. Just one more to go.*** And that’s a few years away.

We’ve got this.

If you know a middle school student, especially one who is struggling, please be there for him or her. Be an encourager. Be a shoulder to lean on. Please pass on the message that it will get better. So hang in there.

Middle school was not the end of the world. It gets better. So much better.

And I guess that was a good lesson to learn. No matter the circumstances that surround you, it’s not the end of the world. Like my Grandmama used to say, “This, too, shall pass.”

*I did think George, our bus driver was pretty cool, though. He probably let us get away with more than we should have during our daily commutes, but he tried to ease the boring bus ride. In spite of his efforts, I still didn’t like riding the bus. I was much happier walking to school like I did in elementary school.

**Shoot, the only time I was ever in anything close to a fight (other than with my brother) was when I was in 1st grade. And that was more like people running after each other and taunting each other.

***For a variety of reasons, I’m glad we didn’t enroll Weldu in school as soon as we got home. I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like for him to try to navigate the final semester of 8th grade. Middle school is hard enough when you’ve grown up here in the States!

The sun continues to rise

Sunset from Base Camp at Philmont photo SunriseatPhilmont_zpsbc936663.jpgI took this picture in July of 1994. It isn’t that great of a picture, but it’s one of the most special and most memorable pictures I have taken from any of my five treks at Philmont Scout Ranch.

I had just completed my final trek at Philmont. I thought this would be my last hurrah* at Philmont. Kevin and I had the amazing opportunity to hike down Time Ridge from the Tooth of Time together in a very cool moment of brotherly bonding. I was going to be heading away to college in a month and I knew that shared experiences like these were going to become few and far between. So I cherished that moment as much as a fresh-out-of-high-school kid could cherish.

Shortly after coming off the trail, our crew received all our mail that had been sent to us while we were in the backcountry. Kevin and I received an envelope that had been sent overnight to us, which seemed rather odd. No one had ever sent us an overnight package while we were at Philmont. It was a little too unpredictable (and expensive) to try to send something like that. So we opened the envelope, which contained a note from Dad: Grandmama was in the hospital.

We didn’t really have much time to dwell on this news because of all of the debriefing events that had to take place before we could head home. We knew we’d be calling home later that evening. It was Mom’s birthday and we had a plan.

After the Closing Ceremony, we grabbed as many people as we could and had them huddle around a payphone. As soon as mom picked up the phone, she was serenaded by a motley group of 15+ teenage boys singing “Happy birthday, dear Mom!” to her over the phone. As soon as the song was over, some of the adults from our crew led the impromptu Boy Band away as we continued our conversation with Mom and Dad.

“How’s Grandmama?” I asked, fully expecting to hear that she had already gone home.

I don’t remember what Dad said or how he said it because all I remember was knowing without him even finishing the first word that Grandmama had died earlier in the day – probably while Kevin and I were hiking down Trail Ridge together.

As I turned to try to tell Kevin what I had just heard, words totally escaped me. I hoped he could somehow read my mind because I could not find a way to make myself say the words, “Grandmama died.”

Then I felt it. It was caring and comforting and strong. It was a hand on my shoulder. Mr. G had stayed with us and was there for us. He had found out beforehand and was there to comfort us as we found out this heartbreaking news some one thousand miles away from home. I’m not sure how I would’ve gotten through that phone call without him being there for us.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I got up early and walked around through Base Camp. I remember seeing the vast sea of stars high above me and feeling extremely alone and sad. Then the sun began to rise. And I realized that even though things were dark and heartbreaking for me, there was still a glimmer of hope. The sun does still rise. The day does come. And the darkness is pushed away.

So I took this picture to remind me of that moment – to remind me that light is stronger than dark, even when I hurt deep deep down in my soul. When everything is falling apart and you’re completely isolated and alone….there’s still hope. Light still wins.

I thought of this picture yesterday as I was standing in a room with my colleagues, learning that our company was going through another reduction in force. This announcement was probably more difficult to hear than the one 10 months ago because I soon realized that many of the people I worked with very closely had become casualties of this “right-sizing.” And then I felt it again. It was the strangest thing. I felt this hand on my shoulder, much like I felt when Mr. G was putting his hand on my shoulder and telling me it was going to be OK. Of course, his hand wasn’t on my shoulder.

No one’s hand was on my shoulder.

But I felt it. And I wanted to go around the room and put my hand on everyone’s shoulder, telling them that things were going to be OK. We were going to get through this disappointing news. I wanted to find my colleagues who had just been let go, put my hand on their collective shoulders, and be there for them.

As I left the office after the announcement that day, I had decided that I was going to find this picture and post it with this story as an attempt to encourage my friends who lost their jobs that there is light at the end of this darkness and that I have confidence that all of them are going to go on to do some pretty amazing things in their careers. I have no doubt about that.

Then it became clear that Christy’s dad was not going to live very much longer. And I realized that this picture that I had been thinking of for the last 36 hours was really for me and my family.

There is light at the end of this darkness. There is hope at the end of this heartache. Life will continue to go on, even as we walk through the valley of death’s shadow.

Even in the midst of this devastating series of events, it behooves us to live, and live to the fullest.

*It turned out that this event was not my last hurrah at Philmont. I returned the next two Summers as a staff member. 

A Letter to my Nephew

Dear Jaron,

It’s amazing how one tiny life that left us far too soon could have such a profound impact on my life today. In the midst of that terrible heartbreak and the darkness of the valley while in the shadow of death, we experienced the light of God’s love and peace and hope shine through a tiny baby boy and his parents that night. In the midst of our heartache, I believe we caught a tiny glimpse of heaven as you opened you eyes in the arms of Jesus.

Happy birthday, Jaron. We love you. We miss you. I know you would have been so excited to be a great Big Brother to your brother and sister. I imagine you would have been dancing around the airport when we brought Mihret home.

And I know you’ll be dancing around in Heaven when we finally come Home and see Jesus with you face to face. We only held you for a time that was all too brief. But our hearts will never let go. We will never, ever forget you.

Love,
Uncle Matt
(Your favorite uncle. I don’t care what anyone else says)

Happy Birthday, Jaron

My nephew would have turned 4 today.

I miss him. I wish he could be here when we bring Little Girl home later this year. I wish I could hold him in my arms again and tell him happy birthday. Someday I will be able to. Because I know that the grave is not the end. And there is a time and place where I will see his face again.

Until that time, I will join the rest of my family in grieving with hope.