Today I’d like to welcome a new friend to Spirit Light Books. His name is Matt Patterson. I first met Matt on the new venture (Grace & Faith Authors), and I’ve been so impressed with his heart for helping others. Matt has come to know adversity by going through it. I think you will be blessed and inspired by his story. So, welcome, Matt! We’re so glad you’ve come!
Let’s start with three things you love to do that aren’t writing-related and why you love them.
I’m a huge college football and major league baseball fan! I love watching games on television, as well as attending in person. There’s nothing like being in a crowd of 60,000 fans at a championship or rivalry-type game. I was raised playing sports and have always enjoyed the atmosphere and competition. It doesn’t hurt to have a couple hot dogs loaded with mustard, relish and onions either.
I truly enjoy participating in ministries connected to my church. I so look forward to attending the cancer support group where those battling this dreaded disease and their loved ones share their fear and show their courage. The stories and testimonies which come from survivors never cease to inspire me. I am blessed to be in their patience.
There’s nothing like associating with Godly men. I am fortunate to participate in our men’s ministry. Whether it’s leading a small group in Men’s Fraternity, to getting together for a men’s Monday Night Football Bible study or being an accountability partner – again, I am so very blessed.
Who is or has been a major influence in your life (not writing-related)? Why? What did that person teach you?
My daughter Emily has been a major influence in my life. Words, such as love, courage, strength and redemption first come to mind when I think of my little one. She left the legacy that it’s not how we look or we achieve that make us valuable. It’s that each of us is wonderfully made – the very thumbprint of God.
I know you’re a big Mitch Albom fan. So, who are the five people you will meet again in Heaven?
Good question. Matter of fact, it’s a really good question. Let’s see.
Emily – that’s a given.
My mother – my spiritual influence.
A mother and father who were blessed to have a child with Down syndrome.
A father who lost his daughter to leukemia and read my book.
There have been days where I think and feel I’m Eddie from The Five People You Meet in Heaven. I sit and ponder, “Why am I here?” I often ask myself, “Have I made difference? Have I made the most of my life?” It’s my hope I can reach down and help others, who are hurting, back up on their feet. I pray I make some sort of small difference while I’m here on earth.
I’ve read bits and pieces of your story of your daughter Emily. Can you tell us a little about what happened?
My wife, Bonnie, and I were your typical first-time parents. The wife wants “Sugar, spice and everything nice.” Hubby wants an eventual big-body, rifle-armed quarterback.
Emily’s arrival brought great excitement. We learned the very next morning she was born with Down syndrome. Two years later came the diagnosis of leukemia. While many would assume that the life of this little girl would have little-to-no significance, guess again. With all its perceived “imperfections,” Emily’s life had great meaning.
I try to take the reader on our journey. It’s my hope they’ll laugh once or twice. I have a hunch most may cry once or twice. Hopefully, they’ll walk away valuing their lives, even with their many “imperfections.”
I know from watching my own dad and my husband that dads have a really rough role sometimes. You’re supposed to be the strong one, but that’s so tough when your world is falling apart. How did you deal with that during Emily’s illness? Is it still hard even now?
I was young at the time and to be honest, I don’t believe I did a really good job of dealing with Emily’s illness. I approached it like a war. Win one battle at a time. Then, win the war. Defeat was unacceptable. I kept a great deal of my pain inside of me. I didn’t want anyone to see weakness in me. As readers move through the book, they’ll come to realize I’m one of those guys who isn’t afraid to cry. I’m a pretty sensitive person.
Even though it’s been more than 20 years since Emily’s passing, if I’m asked to read portions of the book aloud, I have difficulties. I relive those moments. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. Then again, there are portions which still make me laugh and smile.
From your biography, I know you have a lovely wife of 26 years and you’ve now had two daughters in addition to Emily. Can you tell us what the most challenging thing about being a dad in a houseful of women is? And what is the best thing about it?
By the way, our dog Isabelle is also a girl. I’m surrounded.
I’ve learned to do two things by being the only male in a household full of ladies. First, is to listen. Second, is to wait and listen some more.
The ladies under my roof have different needs and personalities. I have to sit back and listen, listen and listen. I’m no expert. Just ask my girls. I do, however, try to approach each with an open mind and heart.
The best part? Sometimes, I can actually get it right. I mean, to get a “thank you” or a “you know, you’re right” makes a world of difference to me. I think with anything, each of us want to be appreciated. A hug or peck on the cheek isn’t shabby either.
Writing can be such a solitary pursuit. You sit for hours at a computer, banging out words you’re not sure anyone else will ever read. What was the hardest thing for you in writing the book, and what’s been the most rewarding thing since it’s been written?
The hardest part for me is what I call my “writer’s regret.”
No matter how much you plan, outline and research. Your book goes to press and … boom. You think of something else you could have or should have added.
The most rewarding part thus far for me has been hearing perhaps this little book may have touched or taught someone some small lesson. Another reward for me is, no matter how many times I read My Emily; I get to be with her again. I get to hold her. I get to laugh with her. I can smooch her chubby cheek. In some small way, I get to rock her to sleep each and every time. No better reward than that.
What to you is the most challenging aspect of writing? Why?
For me, it’s making a connection to the reader. It’s a matter of trust. Do they “hear” me? Can they understand me? I want someone to crack open my book and feel like we’re in their family room and I’m telling them my story. I want them to nod in agreement with me. I want my readers to laugh with or at me. I want them to cry with me as well.
Sometimes in life it’s our scars that give us the deepest insights into God and what our purpose on earth is. Can you tell us something you’ve learned along the way?
Today, I find it easier to discuss the big questions about God. I feel like my wife and I have traveled a path that has prepared us. I say it’s easier, but I think if you ask anyone who knows me or who has heard our story, they will tell you I can be quite emotional.
The “why” question is one, I believe, we all ask when we’re confronted with difficult times. Whether it be a serious illness, the loss of a loved one, or any other moment that seems to try our faith. We need to remember that it’s okay to ask God questions, but we also need to be mindful that God has never promised to answer them either. Knowing the “why” isn’t going to take the pain away. We have to learn to ask other questions other than “why”.
For us, it was initially the birth of Emily. We were in our early-to-mid 20s and we were so excited about the birth of our first child. The next morning, it was like a punch in the stomach. Initially, I had no idea whatsoever what Down syndrome was. I was truly clueless. Then, just two years later, we get a diagnosis of leukemia. If the first punch in the gut hurt, the second brought me to my knees. I’m of the belief that we’re very capable of finding God’s answers to our “why” questions. Now, His answers may not be the ones we want, but if we’re willing to listen closely, these answers will be of great comfort.
And finally, what’s coming up for Matt Patterson? What are you working on that we can look forward to?
I have to say I won’t be bored in the coming days, weeks and months.
In addition to moving the My Emily effort forward, I have started two books. The first will tell of the lessons learned at mother’s bedside for the last five weeks of her life as dementia slowly took her away from us. The second will detail the story of my conversion from Mormonism to Christianity.
A lot is going on. That’s a good thing.
Where can we find you on the ‘net?
I’m not a hard fella to find. I truly enjoy meeting and learning from others via this kooky, little thing called the internet. No pre-generated responses from this guy. Now, it may take a little time, but I do try to interact with as many folks as I can.
Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/mattpattaz
Twitter – @myemily_thebook
Blog – www.mattpatterson.me
Join Matt Patterson, Staci Stallings and 8 of their author friends at WoMen’s Literary Cafe’s Christian Book Launch, December 13-15. Ten authors will discount their ebooks to just 99 cents. Buy 3 get 1 FREE! http://www.womensliterarycafe.com/content/december-2011-book-launches