As Father's Day approaches, I wanted to take a moment to highlight a man (and father) who I believe exemplifies the theme of My Hopeful Life. From the outside, this established author and former associate pastor, with a degree in Philosophy and Religion and beautiful family would appear to have an idyllic life; and while in some ways he doesn't dispute that, the road to this spot was neither smooth nor straight.
Chip was born in Illinois to devoted, conservative Christian parents. He spent much time within the church walls and it was there his Christian values were established. He is the middle son between two sisters. The oldest sister has six years on him, and the youngest was born four years after him. The youngest was diagnosed with a severe form of autism and it became part of his responsibility as the older brother to look after and care for her growing up.
While he did have a Christian upbringing, he notes that his parents lived mostly separate lives and did not have what he considered a close marriage. They adopted a hands-off style of parenting and he had a lot of freedom when it came to choices for TV, computer and outside activities. While it did expose him to more of life's experiences, it also exposed him to darker things at a younger age.
Chip met his wife, Jessie, in high school, but they were not high school sweethearts. They were friends in the same circle, but never quite took that next step. They moved on to attend the same college and that is where their relationship blossomed. Chip contributes this mostly to the need for him to mature a bit to be ready for what he calls his 'wife lottery win'.
They married in 2004 and in 2005 moved to Chicago so Chip could start his Master's in Theology at Loyola University. One day, in August of that year, Jessie casually asked if he could see anything in her eye. It was bothering her a bit. Of course, he didn't, so she just treated it with eyedrops and went to bed only to wake up the next morning with double vision.
After a visit to the eye doctor, that turned into having an MRI, Jessie was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
This was a devastating diagnosis to the newlyweds. With the future so uncertain, and his wife's health a top priority, Chip dropped out of the master's program and passed on his dream of becoming a professor.
It was then, in September, that more bad news crossed his path. He received a call from his sister that their mom had suffered a stroke and was on life support. He left immediately to be by her side. As it turns out, it was not a stroke but was a brain aneurysm and one that had a very low survival rate.
His mother was sedated until the swelling went down enough to operate and then she was bedridden for a couple of months. During this time, Chip's father was showing signs of early onset Alzheimers and this added to the stressful family dynamic. Chip and Jessie decided to pack up and move back home to Danville, IL.
Finally, it was the Thanksgiving season and his mom had made enough progress to be going home. She was in a rehab facility and physical therapy was going well. On the Monday after Thanksgiving, one day before she was scheduled to go home, she called in the nurse to help her to the restroom. In the process of that one simple act, the nurse let go of her to open the door, she stumbled, fell and hit her head on the floor. She died a week later.
To go from almost certain death, to a homecoming, to a senseless tragic accident, was almost more than Chip could bear. His world was spinning out of control with loss, anger, and despair.
These are his words. "I wrestled with the purpose of enduring so much. I struggled with God's love for me. Why? Was I being punished? It forced me to rethink much of what I had come to believe about God."
He was reminded of Job in the Bible and realized that both good and bad things fall on everyone in this life. He struggled in his relationship with God but says he and his wife found peace and comfort when they began attending a new church movement; The Vineyard.
Again, his words. "Once I grasped God's great love or me, and that God desires my wholeness, my life has never been the same."
Chip and Jessie's life moved forward and soon they welcomed in their first child; a daughter. It was through her that another milestone in Chip's life came about. Here are his words about his book; Under the Dancing Tree. "I wrote the book when my daughter was two. I caught her dancing with the willow tree in our front yard. She was twirling and spinning without a care in the world." He wanted to preserve that precious moment and realized how swiftly time flies by.
He wrote it first as a poem, but then, after encouragement from his mother-in-law, hired an illustrator and found an agent and publisher. It is now being sold and shipped around the world.
I asked Chip about his definition of A Hopeful Life. Here is his answer:
"As a Christian, hope is near the center of who we are. It is an expectation of a future. My hope is placed in God. A hopeful life is built where all my present moments are pointing towards that future where my life is complete and fulfilled."
Chip and his wife Jessie have been married 15 years and now live in Bloomington, IN. They have three children; 11, 9 and 7. Jessie's MS is currently in a manageable state and she home schools the children.
He does note that his free-range upbringing sometimes does clash with her much more sheltered and structured childhood, but they always respect each other's views and present a united front.
Chip witnessed the distance and struggles of his parent's marriage and is committed to changing that pattern. They have regular date nights and always make each other a priority.
I actually 'met' Chip on Twitter. I was drawn to his positive outlook and encouraging posts. In this day where negativity surrounds us at every turn, I was greatly encouraged to find a bright voice in the darkness.
I thought Father's Day was the perfect time to spotlight a man who not only endured loss and sacrifice but used them as springboards to beautiful things. His insight and love portrayed in Under The Dancing Tree is a refreshing look at a father's endless love.
For more information on Chip and how to order his book, visit his website: www.chipmattis.com
You can also follow him on Twitter @chipmattis.
And as always...
Hope With Abandon
HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!