As I learned from the wonderful woman who would one day become my aunt, I was born to a mother who was mentally unstable and, subsequently, unable to raise me. So, it was my future aunt that cared for me for the first few weeks of my life until I was adopted by the man and woman who I am proud to refer to as my mom and dad to this day. They found me and took me in. And they always told me that because I was adopted, I was special and I believed it.
Well, actually, my dad, with his characteristic sense of humor liked to say, when I was just a toddler, that they just found me under a rock in the garden one day and decided to keep me.
But, I’ve never questioned where I belonged. Being set aside on account of my biological mother’s struggles never phased me. My bond with my family supersedes the technicalities of not being biologically related. In fact, it was my experiences during my Dad’s decline from brain cancer, over the course of about 16 months from October 2010 through February 2012 that helped my middle age perspective to really focus on what is most important.
My dad moved south to North Carolina in 2007 as soon as he received the news that our second child was on the way so that he could help provide daycare and be close to his grandchildren. So, when the diagnosis of a stage four brain tumor hit, my wife and I were his relatives nearby to care for him. Over the next 16 months of treatments, trips to Duke’s Brain Tumor Center, and various other appointments my wife and I struggled to care for him, meet our work and school obligations and meet the needs of our kids. But it was the last couple of months when he wasn’t able to talk or get dressed or use the bathroom by himself, that pressure from multiple sides started to weigh down on me heavier than anything every had before. I was completely in the dark. It was a time when faith was far less tangible and much more a faint hope that I had to keep trying to remind myself of, just out of reach beyond the chaos. I had a lot of questions for God at the time, like I imagine many people do when in similar circumstances. But, somehow, by His grace and, as my dad would say, by “putting one foot in front of the other,” we made it through.
Such experiences tend to have a profound effect on the way people view what is most important. When I was walking through that darkness I had very little interest or concern about what the most popular songs or movies were or whether Democrats or Republicans had more power in the polls. My concerns were nowhere near even considering how the Jets draft strategy was shaping up for the coming season. No, In those dark times my mind was wrestling with the real and the true struggles of life and death, meeting immediate needs in terms of pain management, and working together with my uncle (who came down from NY to help out) to get my dad successfully through one moment and on to the next with as much peace and as little discomfort as possible. Then on the one night it snowed that winter, I sat with him on his hospice bed in the living room as he lay unconscious, with his heart rate slowing until he breathed his last breath.
Waves of grief from losing my Dad still come at random times, but, I’ve found that, having walked through the darkest period of my life, so far, I have a greater capacity than before to know the pain or at least relate to others who are going through difficult circumstances. This doesn’t mean that I always respond as I should, but, I’ve definitely come to a realization that what really matters in life has a lot more to do with how we relate to others in need and a lot less to do with making more money, earning a new title, trying to impress others with our accomplishments or with the company we keep.
I have no doubt that it was God Himself who orchestrated a convergence of factors in the fall of 2012 in the wake of my dad’s passing, that led me to read James 1:27 with new eyes: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world,” — and then, at that very same time, to draw a direct connection to an organization that I just learned about, through a friend, called The Hands & Feet Project. I had struggled to understand what was happening, within the context of God’s plan, to say the least. There was a lot that I didn’t understand, but, this verse gave me focus.
The Hands & Feet Project is an organization that was established in Haiti in 2004 whose Christ-centered purpose is to provide family-style, residential care and sustainable solutions that fight against Haiti’s orphan crisis. UNICEF estimated that in 2012 there were 430,000 orphans in the small country of Haiti. Some are orphaned because they’ve lost their parents in the earthquake of 2010 or due to sickness while others have been abandoned via the common practice of leaving newborns on the hospital steps or at the gates of orphanages. Others, due to extreme poverty, have sold their children to be child laborers in various lines of work ranging from organized begging to the sex trade.
The vision of the Hands & Feet Project is to work under the guidance of Haiti’s Child Social Services in order to provide holistic residential care for orphans by building and operating Children’s Villages with multiple family-style homes lead by Haitian House Mothers. They strive to create a circle of care around each child with the intent of giving every boy and girl the chance to reach their God-given potential.
The Hands & Feet Project operates two Children’s villages. The one in Jacmel is home to 70 children ranging from infants to teenagers. Their Grand Goave Children’s Village cares for another 30 children ranging in age from 10-16. In these villages children live in groups of 8-10 kids in individual houses that are managed by Haitian house mothers. There they are clothed, have comfortable sleeping quarters, playgrounds and soccer fields to play on. Each of the children is well-fed, has their medical needs met, receives bible studies, takes part in worship, and, through a partnership with Mission of Hope International, attends school and church.
In Matthew 25 Jesus teaches that whatever we do to serve those in need, we are doing directly to him. When we clothe children we are clothing him. When we feed the homeless we are feeding him.
The Hands & Feet Project is providing an amazing opportunity to take a meaningful part in the well-being and development of the children cared for in their Children’s Villages through their sponsorship program called the Family Room. My family and I have sponsored two for some time now and I had the privilege of spending time with both of them while in Haiti in January and I look forward to spending another week with Kettia, the girl we sponsor, as well as all of the other children there when I return in July.
Our family has and continues to sponsor kids through worthy organizations like World Vision, Compassion, and Food For The Hungry, but, this sponsorship program is different. Check out this video to find out how you can have a direct impact on the lives of these kids on the ground level while also helping The Hands & Feet Project grow so that they can provide for more children who have been orphaned and abandoned in Haiti – the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Give them a chance and their lives won’t be the only ones being changed.