“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/

How To Thank Him

One of the reasons that the focus of the Hands & Feet Project is so important to me has to do with just how clear and concise the bible is about the need for Christians to care for orphans. Some of you may know that, by the time my senior year of high school came around, I had decided that I would attend a Seventh-Day Adventist college and major in theology in order to become a pastor. Well, adolescent indiscretions carved out a different path for me instead. At least partly as a result of this change of course, my college years, in retrospect, can be characterized mainly by how dark and aimless they were. Like many, though, the birth of my first child, Julia, brought the need for more direction in my life back to the surface.

As somebody who was raised Catholic until the age of nine and converted to Adventism soon after, I had already started out with some identity issues in terms of who I was and what I believed. By the age of 27, when Julia was born and after years of arguing against the notion of God in favor of bad habits from my college years, finding something I could believe to hold onto in, in terms of faith, was critical.

Finally, I came (or perhaps was guided to) the conclusion that, if I focused on Jesus, instead of theological/denominational/peripheral details and distractions, I could move forward. So, I started focusing on the following question to form the foundation of what would be my reformed faith: What are each of the gospels in agreement on with regards to what Jesus did, what he said, and how he treated people?

Once I did this, it was easy to see that the life of Jesus was characterized by breaking form from the religious politics of the day and seeking out those who were most in need of help. He intentionally helped and expressed compassion for those who were at their own breaking points and realized that they deserved nothing. He served the hopeless.

I realized then that Jesus was about to become personal to me. My life was a laundry list of bad decisions and hurt that has levied a vast amount of collateral damage in my wake. Despite the blessings that I’ve been given and despite the fact that I was adopted by two great parents away from my biological mother who couldn’t care for me, my life, up to that point, had been characterized by one word: selfishness. I had earned nothing in my life except a great deal of personal and emotional debt to those around me and spiritual debt to Christ.

With the birth of Julia, the love of my wife, and with the assistance of a book written by Brennan Manning called THE RAGAMUFFIN GOSPEL, though, I learned about grace and, in time, I was able to accept it.

I realize now, just how much I have to be thankful for and just how blessed I am. But, how can I thank Jesus, the God who gave it all to me with unmerited favor?

“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.”

James 1:27

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

Matthew 25:37-40

It is completely possible that there is no God and that I am just a naive fool with the wool pulled over my eyes, but, even if that were true, the joy and the peace that I have, due to my faith, is worth far more and does far less damage to those around me than did the life that I led when my back was turned on the God who gave me all that I have.

The beard is, in fact, fully funded through the 4/27 Half Marathon, but, the needs of orphans in Haiti and others in need around this world are not.

Please prayerfully consider donating to the Hands & Feet Project or any other organization that you see serving and loving those in need in your neighborhood or around the world. Then, please, go visit your older relatives and neighbors who are alone. There is nothing more valuable that we can do with our time and resources than to share with those in need.

http://www.handsandfeetproject.org/The Official Hands & Feet Project

https://www.facebook.com/BeardsHandsAndFeetProjectThe Beards Hands & Feet Project Facebook Page

The Beards, Hands & Feet Project: What Is It?

It is an effort to grow and to progress on three levels:

Physically, I want to break down physical boundaries for myself. I want to continue losing weight in order to be as healthy as possible and, in doing so, be around for as long as possible to be the best dad and husband I can to my wife and kids. As a diabetic and a pineal gland brain tumor and skin cancer survivor, and after losing my Dad this past February to brain cancer, I know that time is precious. If I can increase the likelihood of living a full, healthy life and, in doing so, influence my loved ones to do the same, why wouldn’t I do it? I ran my first 5K as an adult at just under 240 pounds in March 2011 to support brain tumor research at Duke University Hospital’s Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center where my dad was a patient. I’ve run five 5K’s since then and continued losing weight while maintaining a somewhat steady running habit. The goal is to complete the 2013 Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville. As an adult I’ve never run over six miles, so, this will be a challenge. But, I’m almost done with the first third of my training plan and I’m progressing as planned. The idea was prompted by The Hands & Feet Project’s Las Vegas Marathon initiative in December 2012 and my desire to take part in a similar effort in 2013 in Nashville to benefit the work they do for orphans in Haiti.

Spiritually, I want to break down the limitations that I’ve placed on myself over the course of my lifetime with regard to what I’m willing to do to help those in need and how much of a priority their needs are in my life. I want to step forward in faith, clinging to what I know, but,  trusting God, knowing that only He knows what lies ahead. For all of the politicizing and inter-denominational squabbling over scriptural interpretation, there is one thing that all believers should be doing that the bible is very clear about in particular:

Isaiah 1:16-17 – “Wash yourselves clean! I hate your filthy deeds. Stop doing wrong and learn to live right. See that justice is done. Defend widows and orphans and help the oppressed.”

James 1:27 – “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.”

Seizing opportunities to make donations, raise money for and, eventually, go on a short-term mission trip to visit and serve at The Hands & Feet Project orphanages in Haiti will certainly take my family and I out of the comfort zone we’ve lived in. But, I believe that, if that is what God has planned for us and the opportunity is there, the dividends that it will pay out to others will far exceed whatever it might cost us in terms of time, money, or energy.

Personally, I want to work through the grief that I continue to experience (as anyone who loses a loved one would) in a proactive way that honors my Dad and what he would want. Faith played a huge role in affording us the opportunity to make a donation to The Hands & Feet Project. Hands & Feet Project director Mark Stuart then turned around and asked for our permission to honor my Dad’s memory by naming the kitchen of the new orphanage they’re building at Ikondo in Haiti after him. So, “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen” will be providing for the nutritional needs of orphans in Haiti once construction is completed in a few months. I know that Dad would be significantly moved by The Hands & Feet Project’s generous gesture which, in a big way, has helped to paint a silver lining around the dark clouds of grief that have been camped out over my head for the past couple of years since his decline began in October 2010. For further explanation about the connection between my Dad and The Hands & Feet Project, please read my prior posts on the topic: “How To Live Life” and “News Too Good To Keep Under Wraps: Light At The End.”

So, what does this have to do with beards?

The beard is a calling card to raise money for the work of The Hands & Feet Project. I started clean-shaven on November 1, 2011 for “No Shave November” and was inspired to start asking for donations of $5 per day, starting with December 1st, in order to keep it from being trimmed or shaved. Now, I don’t have one of those naturally lush, full, manly beards that comes in nice and even. No. Instead, I have this wiry, sparse, patchy whisker pattern that comes in pretty thick on my neck and mustache, but, that is bare in other spots like my cheeks, for example. Add to the weird whisker pattern the fact that, at three full months without a trim, I’m looking a bit scraggly, and you’ve got a pretty significant eyesore for anyone who has to spend time around me. So far, as of February 3rd, the beard has raised over $600 for orphans in Haiti. Hopefully, it will continue to grow more and more ridiculous looking so that, when people comment about it, I can explain why it is the way it is and, hopefully, inspire them to give a few more bucks to the cause.IMG_2516

Please prayerfully consider donating to the Hands & Feet Project either directly to them online or by sending contributions my way for me to pass on to them. If you do donate online, please let me know how many days to knock off the sponsorship countdown toward the goal of having the beard fully funded at a rate of $5/day through Saturday, April 27th’s Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville. Thank you!

Join The Beards, Hands & Feet Project by ‘Like’ing the Facebook Page!

How To Live Life

Spirituality and belief in something beyond what we can see and physically touch is a challenge, I think, for most people at one point or another in their life, if not, their whole life. My 36 (nearly 37) years have been threaded with alternating seasons of light and dark. Of late, however, I’ve been made keenly aware, because of the kindness of others and the grace of God, of just how powerful faith can be.

In a nutshell, after a sixteen month battle with brain cancer, during which I was his primary caregiver, my dad, who was also, most appropriately, the best man in my wedding, passed away in February 2012. My wife and I spent most of 2012 working through all of his final arrangements, bills, estate, etc. It was in autumn, after having his modular home on the market for several months and only receiving offers worth just over half of what was owed on the mortgage that we were growing more and more worried about the prospect of having to forget about any prospect of a profit and, instead, having to pay thousands of dollars to pay off the mortgage.

As many do in stressful circumstances, I prayed. At that point, just not having to pay off the mortgage would be a huge relief for us, so, in the midst of my prayer, it occurred to me that, if we were able to somehow get some kind of profit from the sale of the house that we would be willing to turn it over to God by donating it to the Hands & Feet Project.

The Hands & Feet Project provides family-style care to orphaned and abandoned children in Haiti and I’d just become aware of their existence a few months before, but, recognized the fact that they are doing the work, specifically, that the bible directs Christians to do (“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.” -James 1:27 NIV).

Within a month or two we signed the paperwork and handed over the keys to the house and walked away with a profit of about $2,500 that we sent to The Hands & Feet Project, along with an e-mail explaining a bit about who my dad was, how the donation came about, and why we were making it.
It wasn’t long before I received an e-mail from Hands & Feet director Mark Stuart stating:

    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…    

The kindness and the timing of their gesture to offer up the idea of honoring my Dad by naming the kitchen in the new orphanage after him absolutely blew me away on so many levels! The positive effect on the life of my kids, my wife, and myself – in terms of grief that we’re still sorting through, and in terms of the layers of darkness lifted off of his memory due to the manner in which his life ended – is monumental. The idea that this kitchen, with my Dad’s name on it, in an orphanage in Haiti where food will be prepared for a number of kids who wouldn’t otherwise have a home or parents, probably, is too wonderful for me able to me to be able to properly articulate in words. It honors my dad in a way that would truly move him.

I’ve come to the realization that true life is found in our willingness to act in faith, not knowing for sure, and trust in the notion that, if we seek Him and his direction, first, we can’t help but to find a more meaningful, more colorful, and more satisfying life. Now, I am inspired and more clear about who I really am than I’ve ever been before. This isn’t because of something that I did or some kind of sacrifice that I made. The profit from the house wasn’t even there to give until I trusted God. This was his grace – his love – at work. I simply trusted Him. Now my entire life has found a new meaning and taken on a heightened sense of purpose that I was never aware of before.

I read the twenty-fifth chapter of the gospel of Matthew to my kids this evening before bed this evening:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’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.’

Jesus wants us to actually pay attention to those around us. It might be a neighbor, an elderly relative, a lonely kid at school, or a stranger you pass on the sidewalk. It might be your husband or your wife. Your brother or your sister. It might be an orphan in Haiti. But, wherever you find somebody in need, you have the opportunity to help them, and in doing so, serve Jesus directly.

If Jesus appeared next to you right now and asked for a drink of water, would you give it to him?

If an abandoned or orphaned child asked for a home to live in, would you help them find it?

Please consider donating to The Hands & Feet Project

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”