Chapter 22: Rooted Like An Oak

Matt Ham has a secret dream to be a rapper.

That’s one he’ll probably only live out on the karaoke stage but after hearing him tear up the mic the first time we met, I think he’d have a surprisingly fair shot at it for a North Carolina white boy who wears bow ties on Fridays and can’t stop smiling.

The second encounter I had with him was a few weeks after we met. I was on an old school family vacation with my parents and brother at the beach near where he and his family live. It was a raining the morning my family dropped me off at the tiny coffee shop tucked away in a strip mall. I arrived twenty minutes early, as is my awkward custom, and I was nervous. This was the first time I would be meeting one on one with a married man since a traumatic experience earlier in the year. It was a public place and I felt like I could trust this man, but I still felt a little uncomfortable. I chose a table in the center of the coffee shop. Right in front of the counter. It was surrounded by other tables and people and didn’t afford much privacy. That felt safe.

He arrived and I immediately felt at ease. Sitting across from him, I felt unsure as halfway through our conversation, he pulled out his Bible. With anyone else it might have seemed cheesy. This wasn’t a small The Message pocket sized version of Scripture. It was a heavy thick, concordance filled, larger than my torso, black messy book. He plopped it down on the table between us and the honesty of his heart cut through any charade I had previously associated with that move.

I had come to our meeting armed with all sorts of knowledge to share with him regarding his brand and impending book launch. There was discussion of that, but somehow a few pieces of my story came out too. I was shocked at how steeped it was in pain as I shared fragments. I felt frantic as tears poured down my face and I grasped for a mask that no longer seemed to exist.

“Steward your story well, Melissa,” he said, “It has great purpose.” Those words echoed in my heart.

Four months later, he met me at the tiny Wilmington airport.

I was immediately thrown back to the moment when the $2500 donor to my Kickstarter had told me that he was the one they wanted to donate their place in my story to. It had seemed like fate, kismet, God’s will. Matt, with his “Steward your story well” was already a part of my story. Making him a stop on the trip was an added bonus. I was won over immediately by the energy of this three little boys who insisted I sit on a picnic bench and watch their football game, as well as his beautiful wife Liz, whose quiet presence was calming in the midst of everything that was happening in their home. Matt told me the story of his book that was getting ready to launch and his dreams. He is a dreamer but is steady as the oaks I took a picture of him in front of. His roots go deep as does his wisdom.

When we sat down to talk, he began by telling me the story of when he first felt to begin writing. He met up with a friend who was a writer. Matt didn’t know where to begin and the friend told him to, “Grab a pen and it will come to you.”

It was a Friday when we were tucked up in his office, so his bow tie was neatly knotted and his hands were folded before him on his desk as he leaned forward to tell me his tale, “The next day I sat down with a pen and started asking questions. Who is my audience? What is my niche? What am I supposed to write about? I had no idea where it was going. I just wrote down questions.”

He pulled out a notebook and began reading. “My journey. What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to write? Am I supposed to speak? Who will my audience be? What will the story be? And then I just started flooding ideas onto the page. In the meantime, I started looking back through my journal. As I did that, memories came to mind from my past of something taking shape in my heart.”

I knew the story he was getting ready to tell, but I couldn’t help the shiver that ran up my spine. It was a powerful one and I reached for a Kleenex in preparation of the tears I knew would soon be flooding my face.

He took a breath, “It started with this story around my aunt’s death.

The night before she passed away I was in her hospital room. It was a really intimate setting. No one else was there despite the fact that there were twenty or thirty people in the lobby. As I stepped into the room, I went by her bedside and was holding her hand and praying for her. She couldn’t talk much because her lungs were filled with fluid. A nurse stepped in to get her comfortable. My aunt kind of grabbed a breath of air and told that nurse, “You make my life easy.” That nurse looked back at my aunt and said, “You make my life rich.” At the time, I knew those words were powerful but I didn’t really understand what they meant because I was twenty-five years old, chasing my own definition of richness which was a sales career and all the comforts of life and all the pleasures as well. It took about seven years for those words to really rest in my heart. As soon as I began writing, those words came back to my heart and just ignited in my soul and I knew then that I was supposed to write about what that nurse meant -- “you make my life rich.” What is a rich life?’

The North Carolina twang in his voice deepened as his passion for the story surged, “So I started searching on Google and I was bothered by the fact that there were already a lot of great books out there. I thought there is no way that, I, Matt Ham, could ever write a book about being rich. The market is already flooded and I don’t have any kind of story to tell. So, I kind of shushed it away and kept writing my blog. About two weeks later I had started to gain a decent following on the blog and I woke up from a dream where I just knew that I was supposed to write this book and it was supposed to be about what this nurse said and it was just unavoidable. As a way to be obedient to this call that I felt, I just began writing down what it would look like to live a rich life. I asked God to help me understand how to write this book and I felt like His answer was, “you already have.” I went back to the first blogpost I ever wrote and it was about my son’s broken arm. As I looked back at that blogpost, it me that a rich life begins with your broken places.” He continued to describe the analogy at length, his eyes lighting with the passion of his subject as he elaborated on the rest of the points which led to living a rich life.

And then his story took a more personal turn, “I was actually diagnosed with spreading malignant melanoma just as I was finishing up the content for the book. It was at that time I realized this book was so much more than a book -- it was purposeful in my life. The main way that I was able to kind of cope with this diagnosis and look at my life was now filtered through this lens of RICH. I remember tearfully telling my wife as we were in this intermediate stage of not really knowing was was going on with the diagnosis, I told her, “the beautiful thing to me is that I didn’t wait on a diagnosis to start living the life I felt called to live.” That for me was the lens through which I could process my own challenges.”

I couldn’t help but think that is when you know you have stewarded your story well -- when it comes back to help you process a new grief that has befallen you. I think what Matt and I have both learned, especially over these past couple of years, is that living a rich life is about living deeply. It’s pouring into people and letting your roots find good soil and water. It’s a tapestry of experiences and moments and it’s not about being seen and heard by many but rather about being truly known by those we love.