“I’m Not Afraid. No, I’m A Believer”

“I just don’t understand why it has to be this way.” Those were the most honest words my dad ever uttered to me with regards to the cancer that was, at the time, just a few short months away from finally robbing him of his life. My dad was a product of his generation: a man who worked hard and didn’t talk about his feelings. It was an extremely difficult pill for him to swallow. He had an amazing track record of getting the short end of the stick. He wouldn’t have been a good poster child for the notion that people get what they deserve. It was a horrible way for his life to end and anyone who reads this blog or who knows me at all, knows that the seventeen month journey that I endured, from the moment my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer until the midnight moment when he passed away as I sat with him in his bed, was a terribly dark, trying, and painful journey for me, too. It was like watching a fatal car crash happen in slow motion over the course of over a year’s time. As his main caretaker, I was there at every turn carrying a progressively heavier load as his condition worsened to the point where he couldn’t talk or do anything for himself. The description of those months as the darkest period in my life is, to say the least, an understatement.

As dark as it was, though, the backdrop of shadows revealed a thread that was just beginning to strengthen and glimmer intermittently, reflecting a faint, still, small hope that peace would be found, at some point, further down the road. It wasn’t, however, a hope that relieved my pain or a miracle that washed all of my stress and fear away. Nor was it a time machine that could beam me to some future point and time in my life when I would be stronger. It was, simply, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1). I can’t remember exactly how or when, in the midst of that journey, I came across Psalms 18:16-19, but, when I did, it was immediately relevant and became the main security handle that I have held onto tightly ever since:

“He reached down from on high and took hold of me;he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”

The identity and timing of “a spacious place,” however, remained a mystery to me until the naming of Kevin Max as the new lead singer of rock outfit Audio Adrenaline.  Heartfelt encouragement from Kevin to consider “the least of these” set off a series of events, one of which was an introduction to the work of The Hands and Feet Project. As described in a prior post titled, “How To Live Life,” I was inspired to step out in faith and commit to donating profit from the sale of my Dad’s house to The Hands and Feet Project. After making the donation and relaying my Dad’s story and an explanation of how the donation came about, Hands and Feet Project director Mark Stuart extended a generous gesture by asking if they could name the kitchen in a new building that is currently under construction in honor of my dad.

Without going into too much detail, the redeeming and burden-lightening effect that his gesture had on my family and I with regards to the memory of my dad, a guy who always worked hard and looked out for others, but, seldom received his due, was nothing short of monumentally life-changing. Almost instantly, the weight of several months of my life characterized by mourning and wondering how to navigate life without the man who was the best man in my wedding, my best friend, my Dad, started to lift and a new and inspired life swelling with purpose and hope began to emerge. With one kind gesture, my Dad’s legacy would be  shifted from one of loss and emptiness to one of eternal hope in a vocational school kitchen from which teenage Haitian orphans would be receiving their daily meals as they developed skills to become productive Haitian citizens.

I know that Audio Adrenaline’s (the band that started The Hands And Feet Project in 2006) new song “Believer” is being explained by the band as the story of blind surfer Derek Rabelo, but, it wasn’t long after the album’s release that I found my own story told in the lyrics of the song. From an adult life characterized at first by complacency, and then by utter darkness, to a life of purpose and meaning, learning how to step into places where Jesus wants those who are His to go,  mine has changed significantly. Now it is I who am finally “giving up, letting go of control,” not only as I make preparations for a January 2014 short term mission trip with The Hands and Feet Project to Haiti, but, also, in my daily life. I’m learning that my personal comfort and convenience are not a priority, but, that loving others as myself, and in doing so, honoring God above all, are the priorities that matter. In fact, I’m learning, now, about what living life more abundantly really feels like. Each moment spent in my classroom teaching fifth graders is more passionately invested. Each hug and kiss from my wife and kids is more distinctly savored.

Like Derek Rubelo, I can’t necessarily see the waves of life coming, but, learning to feel my way through, with faith,  “I can walk on the water with You, Lord.”

I want to live this live unsafe, unsure, but not afraidWhat I want is to give all I got somehow, giving up letting go of control right now‘Cause I’m already out here, blind but I can see, I see the way You’re movingGod how I believe that I can push back the mountains, can stand on the wavesI can see through the darkness, I’ll hold up the flameTake me to the ocean, I want to go deeper, I’m not afraid no, I’m a believerAnd so I lose this life to find my way and come aliveThey can try to deny what’s inside of me, but there is more, can’t ignore all the things unseenOh I believe I can walk on water with You, LordWhen I walk through the valley of the shadows, when I’m trapped in the middle of the battle, I will trust in You‘Cause trouble comes, but you never let it take me, I hold fast ‘cause I know that You will save meI will trust in You, I will trust in YouOh here I stand all alone waiting on you, Lord, waiting on You

Learn more about The Hands & Feet Project at http://www.handsandfeetproject.org/

Momentous Life

*This entry was originally posted 1/19/08. My great Aunt Norma, whose advice was featured in this entry, passed away this morning at the age of 97.

I was in the middle of my first year of teaching fourth grade at a rural North Carolina school when I had my first “wintry mix” driving experience. I grew up and learned to drive in upstate New York and didn’t think it would be much of a challenge to navigate through the milder winter weather of a state six-hundred miles south. It didn’t take long for me to realize that it was a different game altogether in North Carolina. In NY snow plows, salt, and cinder trucks were just part of the scenery during the winter time. In North Carolina they are rare, to say the least. Because the roads are not pretreated and then maintained steadily throughout a winter storm in North Carolina, they, like their northern counterparts, can be pretty slick, too. Nothing too terrible happened, really, but, it sent a chill through my bones when, while driving relatively slow, I attempted a right turn only to find that, because of the slick road conditions, my car was in no mood to actually make the turn and it just continued straight past. It wasn’t until several yards after the place that I was supposed to turn, that my car’s momentum finally slowed enough for me to change course. Too much momentum in the wrong direction can lead to a loss of control.
So, I guess the question is, am I headed in the right direction and, if not, what direction should I be headed in?

I’ve been maintaining contact with my ninety-something year old great-aunt* for several years now by writing letters. She’s a wonderful, retired teacher who is sharp as a tack and full of wit. In one recent letter to her, I asked her for some words of wisdom or advice. My thought was that somebody of her age and experience might just have a good idea of what works in life. In her response she reminded me that I had asked for advice and told me, “You will find it in the bible.” She then listed the following verses:

Proverbs 2:6
For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Proverbs 3:5, 6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 16:3
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.

Because, as a Christian, I believe that the bible is the Word of God, knowledge and understanding can be found in it. I should place my full focus and trust in the knowledge and understanding that I find in scripture and I should live my life for Him. Only then will I be able to life a successful life. Will my success be indicated by a loaded bank account? Probably not, but, because it will be built on the wisdom and understanding of He that is the original source of wisdom and understanding, it will last forever and never fail me.

I’m not talking about the supposed wisdom that comes from a wealth and prosperity preacher on television or that of a auto mechanic, an underpaid fifth grade teacher, or a personal trainer at the gym. I’m talking about the wisdom that comes from the infinite, omniscient source of all wisdom who came down to suffer in the bowels of human existence, being born in a barn and laid in a cow troth and crucified on cross beams with nails piercing his limbs. I’m talking about the source of patient, unconditional love who extends His grace and hope to all who are willing to accept it.

As I grow older I am also growing in my ability to recognize, in the rear-view mirror, where I’ve made my biggest mistakes in life and what led to them. It is through this reflection that I’ve found that the only way to slow the momentum that carried me in the wrong direction is to let Jesus reorient my path and direct my future walk. Once I realized that I am loved by Him, my Abba, like the love between daddy and son, I began to experience a new level of peace and understanding. But, its continuance, the momentum necessary to maintain this perspective, is found only in remembering daily where I’ve been and where I need to focus from moment to moment: on His plan for my life. Through daily reading of scripture and prayer in which I ask Him to help me reflect his character, instead of my own, to those around me, I grow in His direction and in peace of mind. It is a realization that, even though I stumble on a daily basis, there is also grace, forgiveness, and renewal on a daily basis that maintains my momentum in the right direction.

Sin As Self

I can’t remember where I heard it (possibly something that somebody said and attributed to C.S. Lewis), but, recently I heard somebody suggest that sin is primarily a form of selfishness. To some, this may seem completely logical and possibly even obvious, but, I had never really framed the concept of sin this way. Now, however, I have to say that selfishness really does seem to be a major contributing factor to just about every sin I’ve ever committed.

Some of my biggest struggles of late are related to the manner in which I spend my time, the ways that I treat people that I interact with on a daily basis, and my own lack of self-discipline.

Lately, I’ve been spending a fairly unhealthy amount of time on this computer, almost every night, right up until the time that I go to bed. I wish that I could say that such time was spent learning about something worthwhile, or at least writing a blog entry and, by doing so, spending some time sincerely reflecting on my life. But, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, I’ve squandered countless hours on websites like Facebook and MySpace. Sure, both sites have helped me to maintain some worthwhile long-distance friendships, but, in general both boil down to being vehicles for directing others’ attention to me for no greater purpose than to be affirmed by the perceived idea that somebody else is interested, for some reason, in me.

Too often, my personal convenience and self-interests determine the decisions that I make and the ways that I interact with and react to people around me. As a father, a husband, a son, a brother, a teacher, a neighbor, and a friend, I consistently fail to follow one of God’s two most important directives: love others as you would like to be loved. If others dealt with me with the same self-focused intentions that often direct me, I would be a pretty lonely person.

Then there’s the issue of my own lack of discipline. A hearty appreciation for stout beer, chocolate, and most varieties of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream doesn’t exactly make it easier for me to achieve my goal of losing weight and shrinking my gut a bit. I have been going to the gym somewhat consistently lately (consistently being two or three times a week – maybe), but, my typically wavering dedication to going more than one day in a row, in combination with my inconsistent ability to sidestep the temptation to sit down with a half-pint of Ben & Jerry’s Dublin Mudslide, for the most part, keeps any weight loss I might otherwise achieve, in check.

Some might say that I’m being too hard on myself, but, I can’t buy that explanation because that excuse itself is self-centered. The real consequences can affect others. As a teacher, there is always more that could be done or something that could be done better. Every lesson that I plan, every interaction that I have with a student, and every moment that I choose to devote either to myself or to a student has a consequence for that student. If I truly enacted God’s desire to love others as myself, my students, their parents, and my colleagues would all benefit.

Time spent searching for new applications that I can add to my Facebook profile, just to add a more sophisticated, intelligent, humorous, or entertaining appeal to my profile (the online representation of “me”) is time that could have better been spent writing to my great Aunt Norma, talking to my parents on the phone, or talking with my wife. Even worse is the fact that I will never that wasted time investment back.

I don’t have a magic bullet answer that is going to pull me out of this, but, hopefully, now that I’ve jotted some thoughts down, and have come to some level of realization with regards to the current direction of my life, I can start taking some steps on a daily basis to learn from time wasted and turn the corner.

The first step will come right now as I spend a few minutes with God, my Abba, and ask for His assistance so that I can lift my head, steady my gaze on the world around me, and center my focus on Him.

Momentous Life

I was in the middle of my first year of teaching fourth grade at a rural North Carolina school when I had my first “wintry mix” driving experience. I grew up and learned to drive in upstate New York and didn’t think it would be much of a challenge to navigate through the milder winter weather of a state six-hundred miles south. It didn’t take long for me to realize that it was a different game altogether in North Carolina. In NY snow plows, salt, and cinder trucks were just part of the scenery during the winter time. In North Carolina they are rare, to say the least. Because the roads are not pretreated and then maintained steadily throughout a winter storm in North Carolina, they, like their northern counterparts, can be pretty slick, too. Nothing too terrible happened, really, but, it sent a chill through my bones when, while driving relatively slow, I attempted a right turn only to find that, because of the slick road conditions, my car was in no mood to actually make the turn and it just continued straight past. It wasn’t until several yards after the place that I was supposed to turn, that my car’s momentum finally slowed enough for me to change course. Too much momentum in the wrong direction can lead to a loss of control.
So, I guess the question is, am I headed in the right direction and, if not, what direction should I be headed in?

I’ve been maintaining contact with my ninety-something year old great-aunt for several years now by writing letters. She’s a wonderful, retired teacher who is sharp as a tack and full of wit. In one recent letter to her, I asked her for some words of wisdom or advice. My thought was that somebody of her age and experience might just have a good idea of what works in life. In her response she reminded me that I had asked for advice and told me, “You will find it in the bible.” She then listed the following verses:

Proverbs 2:6
For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Proverbs 3:5, 6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 16:3
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.

Because, as a Christian, I believe that the bible is the Word of God, knowledge and understanding can be found in it. I should place my full focus and trust in the knowledge and understanding that I find in scripture and I should live my life for Him. Only then will I be able to life a successful life. Will my success be indicated by a loaded bank account? Probably not, but, because it will be built on the wisdom and understanding of He that is the original source of wisdom and understanding, it will last forever and never fail me.

I’m not talking about the supposed wisdom that comes from a wealth and prosperity preacher on television or that of an auto mechanic, an underpaid fifth grade teacher, or a personal trainer at the gym. I’m talking about the wisdom that comes from the infinite, omniscient source of all wisdom who came down to suffer in the bowels of human existence, being born in a barn and laid in a cow troth and crucified on cross beams with nails piercing his limbs. I’m talking about the source of patient, unconditional love who extends His grace and hope to all who are willing to accept it.

As I grow older I am also growing in my ability to recognize, in the rear-view mirror, where I’ve made my biggest mistakes in life and what led to them. It is through this reflection that I’ve found that the only way to slow the momentum that carried me in the wrong direction is to let Jesus reorient my path and direct my future walk. Once I realized that I am loved by Him, my Abba, like the love between daddy and son, I began to experience a new level of peace and understanding. But, its continuance, the momentum necessary to maintain this perspective, is found only in remembering daily where I’ve been and where I need to focus from moment to moment: on His plan for my life. Through daily reading of scripture and prayer in which I ask Him to help me reflect his character, instead of my own, to those around me, I grow in His direction and in peace of mind. It is a realization that, even though I stumble on a daily basis, there is also grace, forgiveness, and renewal on a daily basis that maintains my momentum in the right direction.