News Too Good To Keep Under Wraps: Light At The End

“God is good.” It’s what my Baba, my Polish grandmother used to say and its true. Despite my failings and faults, which surface on a daily basis. Despite my too frequent stinginess. Despite the multitude of wrongs that I’ve committed throughout my thirty-six (nearly thirty-seven) years, God is good and he is making it abundantly clear to me of late that, while I had no real hand in any of it, his grace is sufficient enough to allow me to be in the path of the tapestry that he is hanging around this world.

I’ve written several blog posts about my Dad’s influence on me over the past couple of years and, especially the last couple of months. In a nutshell, he was a selfless, simple, old fashioned man who let his walking talk far louder than anything he ever said. He certainly had his own views and not everybody agreed with him, but, he never turned down anyone in need of a hand and he never asked for anything he didn’t absolutely need or couldn’t get or do for himself. His neighbors knew him mainly through the chores and projects he helped them with or the visits he paid. His big belly (and mine) was a testament to his love of baking and cooking and eating. He served as a baker in the Air Force while stationed in Pakistan in the early sixties and, from what I’ve been told, he never had a flat stomach again. But, as much as he loved to eat, he loved to cook for others, more. He could always be counted on to invite us over for breakfast or supper, make a big breakfast for friends, and prepare and serve breakfast when they needed a fill-in at Rowan Helping Ministries homeless shelter.

On the other hand, his life, it seemed was often characterized by the notion that “you get what you deserve” was some kind of joke. He worked hard throughout his life and had a job with IBM for years, but, was let go six months short of early retirement and just a couple of years before IBM pulled out of town. My parents’ marriage dissolved over the years as did my Dad’s relationship with my brother. 1996 brought a house fire that destroyed everything we owned and 1998 brought my pineal gland brain tumor. But, through all of those trials, he could always be counted on to, as he said, “keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

I remember, quite well, when I was told about the tumor that they found in my brain as a result of a CT scan in 1998. While I knew that he had no medical knowledge, his assurance that, “We’ve been through too much already to let this get in our way. We’ll get through this,” had a tangible, assuring effect on me. He was always there to help wherever it was needed. Rightfully so, he was the best man in my wedding.

He continued working hard and finally retired after ten years as a school bus driver and mechanic before moving down to North Carolina to be closer to my wife, my daughter, and I. He came down to help make the prospect of us being able to afford daycare for a second child easier. He provided daily care, in cooperation with my wife’s parents who came down soon after, for my son Jacob from the time that he was born in 2007 until he was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2010. Despite a total loss of independence, and over a year’s worth of surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments, It wasn’t until one night when I was driving him home from our house, just a couple of months before he passed away, that he finally spoke words out loud acknowledging his pain and sadness saying, “I just don’t understand why it has to be this way.”

For him to say those words was a monumental indication of deep, deep pain far greater than the impression that would most likely be made by an average person walking down the street if they were to say the same words. He was a guarded person who lived with the mindset that “you never let ’em see you sweat.” He was guarded, but, he loved his grandchildren and enjoyed them more than anything and just when everything was finally going well, it all fell apart, for the final time.

While he did, in a prayer I had with him around that same time, open himself up to God’s grace, the final months, and especially the final days, of his life were a tremendously difficult, confusing, dark, and sad time for him, for me, and for my Uncle John who was there with us. It was, surely, the worst experience in my life and it is one through which I’m having to continually sift through the personal wreckage on a daily basis.

All of that being said, the value, the evidence of, and my reliance upon the hope and grace of God has never been more real or important to me than it has been over the past two and a half years since my Dad was first diagnosed. The twenty-third Psalm has become a staple that I’ve clung to, and often shared and discussed with Dad (with the help of a well-written book by Max Lucado on the topic). Simple, hopeful music – the likes of Johnny Cash hymns, worship songs from Travis Taylor, and Erick Cole, and the beautiful music of Josh Harmony, have been the steadily hopeful soundtrack to the hardest years of my life.

Its been about eleven months since he passed away. Coincidentally, the weather tonight as I write – cold sleet and snow – reminds me of that night. It was the only night up to that point all last winter that it snowed here in North Carolina. It was, indeed, the coldest night.

In the time since Angela and I worked our way through the overwhelming task of closing up his estate, burying his ashes back home in New York, and, eventually, selling his house just after Christmas.

Though we’ve supported the likes of World Vision and Compassion International with sponsored children and have usually given when we saw the need, as a family, we’ve never been very good at fulfilling the very noble practice, that so many people do each week, of tithing a full ten percent of our income. It is a challenge that we certainly need to work toward meeting consistently going forward. But, we did make an intentional effort to tithe from what we were able to inherit from my Dad.

Because of a variety of circumstances, including the blessing that I received when my mom (who I also have many reasons to be thankful for) and dad provided for me by adopting me as an infant, and the fact that the bible is pretty clear about the fact that Christians are to care for widows and orphans – “…the least of these…” – we chose to tithe toward Christian organizations that have ties to orphans and adoption. One of these organizations, that I learned about through my appreciation for the ongoing career of singer Kevin Max and his role as the new lead singer for the band Audio Adrenaline, is The Hands And Feet Project.

The Hands and Feet Project established a program providing family style care for orphans in Haiti in 2004. They care for nearly 200 children now and are currently in the process of constructing their third home in which they will provide shelter, care, food, and education for even more orphans in Haiti. They’re doing exactly what the bible instructs us, as Christians, to do: care for the most vulnerable.

The process of sorting through my Dad’s belongings, paperwork, bills, and attending appointments with the lawyer, and trying to sell his house were a major stress for Angela and I on top of just moving through the typical grieving process that we all have to go through at one point or another and the offers that we were getting for the house were barely half of what it would take to simply pay off the mortgage. After several months with the house on the market and no good offers, we were starting to become concerned and our stress level grew.

It was then that, in the midst of praying about it, the idea occurred to me to make a commitment to God that, if we could get the house sold and turn any kind of a profit, we would turn it over to The Hands And Feet Project. Well, within a couple more months we signed off on the final paperwork, handed over the keys, and had a profit of about $2,500. I sent it to The Hands And Feet Project late last week.

Now, let me be clear, this isn’t some kind of pat-myself-on-the-back kind of message that I’m writing this evening. I’ve already admitted that our giving has never been a model of Christian charity and even the idea to make this commitment occurred when I was praying. The idea wasn’t mine. I can’t credit even an ounce of good to myself here. Instead, I’m sharing this because of what God has apparently been orchestrating all along with his own providence. It was through His good grace that there was even a profit from the house sale to donate.

When I sent the donation I sent it with an e-mail and a link to one of my blog posts with the intent of providing some explanation as to how the donation came about, why it was made, and what kind of a person my Dad was. Well, Tuesday I received an e-mail from Hands And Feet Project Director Mark Stuart:

    Mark…

    What can I say. Your email and blog has me in tears. What an incredible honor to     your father to make a donation in his memory. I would like for the funds to got to something in his name. Perhaps our new kitchen on the mountain in Ikondo. We could honor his memory by calling it the Rockwell kitchen. What do you think?

    Your friend…    

Immediately upon reading it I called my wife over and I did something I’ve never done before: I broke down and cried – out of sincere appreciation and overwhelming gratitude – for joy. How totally unexpected! And how perfect! The kitchen! It was the room in the house that my Dad appreciated the most!

I was, and continue to be, completely overwhelmed by the sensitivity and graciousness of this gesture put forth by Mark Stuart and The Hands And Feet Project – and the connections made to it by Kevin Max. Just the notion that this kitchen – a place where food will be prepared for these beautiful kids – will have a plaque with my Dad’s name on it, in his honor – in Haiti …it blows me away! I knew my Dad better than anyone else and I know that he would be moved to tears as well.

It is a gesture that I honestly don’t think even Mark Stuart knows the extent to which its power and hope extends. The experience of explaining to Julia and Jacob just how this honors their Grandpa – and the timing of it being revealed  when my soul has been aching so deeply out of grief. Words cannot articulate the depth of appreciation that I have and how blessed and grateful my family and I are for this gesture in honor of my Dad.

The new facility being built by The Hands And Feet Project in Ikondo, Haiti where the kitchen will be named in honor of my Dad. (photo source: The Hands And Feet Project's official Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/hfproject )

The new facility being built by The Hands And Feet Project in Ikondo, Haiti where the kitchen will be named in honor of my Dad. (photo source: The Hands And Feet Project’s official Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/hfproject )

I spoke to Mark on the phone not long after getting the e-mail and he said that it will be a few months before it is finished, but, that, when it is, they’ll put up a plaque and take some photos to send to us. He also mentioned the idea of us coming down to see it some time and, after a couple of days thinking about it, I think that is exactly what we will try to do when we can work out when and how to make the trip possible for the four of us. But, when we go, I want to make sure that it is a trip in which we have the opportunity to help in the work that they are doing.

I am continuing, with even more passion, and out of sheer gratitude for God’s grace, in my efforts to raise funds to support the expansion of The Hands And Feet Project in Haiti. Thank you, so much, to those who have sponsored my beard. You are helping, significantly, in the great work of The Hands And Feet Project. You are doing what Jesus asked us to do.

“God is good.”

For those who haven’t already, please consider sponsoring my continued beard growth at a rate of $5 per day for the number of days that you are comfortable sponsoring. My goal is to raise enough to ensure that my scraggly beard is still there, and bigger, on April 27th when I attempt to complete the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville in support of The Hands And Feet Project.

You can donate directly to the Hands And Feet Project online through their website at http://www.handsandfeetproject.org/

If you do, please let me know how much so that I can know the number of days to mark off from the number of days that I still need to have my beard sponsored for.

Thank you, so much for your willingness to read this. If you feel inclined, please do contribute what you can to The Hands And Feet Project. The work they’re doing is so very, very important.

My Beards, Hands and Feet Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BeardsHandsAndFeetProject

My past blog posts related to the topic: https://gracemark.wordpress.com/category/hands-feet-and-beards/

Luke 10:25-37

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Life Lost And Found: Connecting My Past With The Hands And Feet Project

Anyone who knows me personally knows that the last couple of years, and the last 12 months in particular, have been a rough time for me. My Dad’s 16 month decline and ultimate passing due to a stage four glioblastoma brain tumor shook my life to the core. My wife, my kids, and I all had our happy, normal lives thrown into a hurricane spin that, nine months after he passed away, we are still in the middle of trying settle back down into some sort of rhythm.

Coming to grips with the idea that all of the conversations my dad and I have had throughout my life are now in the past is a rough, ongoing process. I always had a lot of questions for him and he always listened and did his best to answer. While the questions continue the lack of a response is painful each and every time my mind turns back to him. The only thing I can do now is to think back to what was important to him, what he loved, what he wanted for me, for my family, for his grandchildren, and honor him in that way.

He had a heart for those in need. I know that he, along with my mom (divorced as soon as I finished high school) both took a step

My dad (1940-2012) preparing breakfast for guests at the local homeless shelter

forward in faith with a willingness to adopt me when I was about a month old from a mother who I never met, but, from the accounts of those who knew her, simply wasn’t capable of keeping me. Throughout my life I watched him visit and help neighbors, elderly and otherwise, whether by making repairs, taking garbage to the dump, building something, or just visiting. Even in the last five years of his life, after moving south from New York to be with us and provide daycare for his new grandson, he continued to be a helper and a friend to his new neighbors and, on many Saturday mornings, he would pick me up around 3 o’clock in the morning so that we could go to Wal-Mart to buy and prepare food to serve to the entire population of the local homeless shelter.

He was the constant model of Jesus, to me, yet he never attended church. Fortunately, in his final months and days, he accepted Christ. It was because of this acceptance that, I believe, he finally let go of the brain tumor-induced agitation that fell like a dark and ominous blanket of pain onto his home in the final couple of weeks.

His mind and his ability to cope with the stress of the position he was in started slipping just before the tumor robbed him of his ability to form words. His thoughts and his needs were trapped in his head and, for me as his primary caregiver (as well as his brother who was also there for the final two weeks), it became frustratingly difficult to understand what he wanted, needed, and was going through, just as his needs for comfort and understanding surely hit their most critical peak.

The result was a lot of guesswork regarding what to do in various situations, consulting with doctors and hospice nurses, and, surely, a number of mistakes in how I handled things. There were times, I’m ashamed to admit, when I didn’t want him to know that I was in the room because I knew that I couldn’t help him and I didn’t know how to handle it. In fact, over the past few weeks there were distinctive moments when it seemed like my presence there was irritating him. My memory of those final days and moments continues to be heavy burden that I am struggling learn how to carry. Though, I know, I am making progress, it is slow and I have a long way to go.

What I can find comfort in is the way he responded, on the final afternoon that he was with us, after being particularly agitated and uncomfortable, when I said something to the effect of (not sure that I can remember the exact words), “Uncle John and I are doing everything we can to make you comfortable Dad. It’s up to Jesus now and he’s going to take care of you.”

It was the last thing that I said to him while he was awake. Fairly immediately, he calmed down and, before long, fell asleep. He slept for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening until, just after midnight, with my arms around him and my head on his chest, I listened to his heartbeat slow to a stop.

He had given his life for my benefit from the moment I was adopted until brain cancer robbed him of the happy life that he was enjoying as a Grandpa (my kids were undisputed joy of his life), living a mere ten minutes from our house in North Carolina so that we could spend time with him almost daily. He lived a simple life. He was selfless and he was happy. Until brain cancer ripped it all away.

Matthew 25:37-40:

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

John 15:13

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.

James 1:27

 27 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

Currently I’m in a stage of my life where I’ve never been more aware of the blessings that I have had and continue to have surrounding me on a daily basis. As somebody who was adopted into a life that prepared me to grow and develop, albeit with bumps, bruises, miscues, and detours along the way, into somebody that I know my Dad was proud of, I recognize wholeheartedly the difference that a helping hand can make.

After disbanding due to Mark Stuart’s vocal issues several years ago Christian band Audio Adrenaline has reformed, with the stellar voice of Kevin Max supplying lead vocals, with a new album and tour to come in support of expanding the orphanages that they originally established in Haiti to care for “the least of these” in 2004. In addition to the relaunch of the band, several members of Audio Adrenaline, along with others, are participating in a marathon in Las Vegas in December 2012 in order to raise funds.

When I first read about the marathon effort, as somebody who just started running in the last two years, I was intrigued. The prospect of supporting such a noble organization, that addresses the exact need the bible instructs Christians to address, by doing something that I’ve grown to love such as running really appealed to me. But, the timing, injury issues, and distance between North Carolina and Las Vegas ruled me out from participating. Since learning about the Las Vegas effort, though, I’ve learned that they are also planning a similar effort for the Country Music Marathon in Nashville in April 2013 which I am committed to taking part in.

It is because of the example set by my Dad to help others, in combination with my love of running (albeit, slowly), the biblical directive given to all Christians, and my admiration of the guiding principles of The Hands And Feet Project that I am making this commitment to participate.

If you would, please read about the Beards, Hands, & Feet Project that I am launching in an effort to raise at least $500 to fulfill the requirements of becoming a Hands And Feet Project team member in the 2013 Country Music Marathon in Nashville. Please at least read through it. Then, if you are inclined to contribute toward this effort, please do so!

The Beards, Hands, & Feet Project: Growing Whiskers In Order To Support Haitian Orphans

‘Like’ The Beards, Hands, & Feet Project Facebook Page

Check out the making of the video for the new Audio Adrenaline single “Kings & Queens” which provides a good deal of insight into the mission of The Hands & Feet Project

View the video for “Kings & Queens”

The Body

A child in Ghana, subconsciously
An old man in Manhattan, desperately
A mother in China, silently
An orphan boy in Russia, daily
A man at the breakfast table, gratefully
Invests faith, hope, and love in the infinite