An Honest Survey

Last night I posted a new status update on my Facebook page and, after rereading it this morning, I’ve decided to post it here on my blog, too. I’m doing so because I’ve realized that there really is a big picture sense of truth underlying each step in my existence. Surely, others have experienced far worse than I have and I’m sure there are higher peaks yet to come on the other side of eternity, but, it is clear to me that God is faithful. As Jesus explained in the sermon on the mountain in the fifth chapter of the book of Matthew, we are all blessed in our brokenness. We are never alone. He is always there for us, waiting to take our hand, if only we will accept the offer.


For many of you who know me in the flesh, as well as those who’ve been my Facebook friend for any length of time, it isn’t news that The Hands & Feet Project has become a notable focus in my life over the past five years. I realize that I may even run the risk of turning people off from paying attention to my posts due to the sheer frequency of my Hands & Feet Project-related posts. But, it’s almost as if I can’t contain it inside of me! Some folks just don’t realize the magnitude of change that happened and is continuing to happen in my life! It is a transition that I firmly believe God has been orchestrating behind the scenes from well before the day my biological mother put me up for adoption.

While it is true that my biological mother nearly jumped off a bridge with me in her arms when I was an infant because she didn’t have the mental fortitude to face motherhood, it is also true that God used my soon-to-be aunt to help facilitate my nearly immediate adoption by two parents who provided a sound foundation to grow from.

While it is true that, as a young child, I was sexually abused repeatedly by somebody that, at one point, played a significant role in my life, it is also true that my parents were able to provide the right setting for me to be able to move on.

While it is true that neither of my parents were particularly spiritual, my mom provided me with a religious foundation and surrounded me with a church family that would be able to provide a positive spiritual influence in my life.

While it is true that my parents and I had very rough ride through the years that it took for their separation and divorce to become final, my relationships with both of them solidified shortly after. My Dad went on to become my best man in my wedding and was the best grandpa I could ever ask for for my kids. My relationship with my mom has recovered to a point that is greater than I ever thought possible and I love her dearly.

While it is true that my Dad and I lost everything in a house fire on a six-below-zero January night in 1996, I learned a priceless lesson about how unimportant our possessions really are.

While it is true that I engaged in all sorts of college-aged experimentation and boundary-breaking, a pineal gland brain tumor rupture in 1998 shook me up physically and mentally and, ultimately, helped me to settle down so that I could finish college with honors and start teaching.

While it is true that I was adopted and had never known, beyond infancy, anyone that was my own flesh and blood, I’ve been blessed, through my wonderful wife, with two kids of my own who, despite resembling me in many ways, consistently inspire me to be more than I am. They amaze me!

While it is true that the sixteen months of decline from brain cancer that my Dad went through, and the many months of mourning after his passing, encapsulated the darkest time of my life, they also proved to be the fertile soil out of which a brand new sense of hope and purpose was born — supporting and participating in the critical work of The Hands & Feet Project to care for orphans and keep families together in Haiti.

I’d never sought out or had any kind of prior inclination toward the nation of Haiti prior to the experiences that I was forced to walk through as my Dad’s primary caregiver when brain cancer robbed him of his ability to do anything for himself. I simply fell (because it was all that I could do at that point) forward through doors graciously opened by God, through others, to whom I will eternally be grateful.

I went to Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project for the first time in 2014 and again in 2015 with my wife (her first time). In just a couple of weeks my wife, my kids (for their first time), and I will be in Haiti with Hands & Feet again. We will be there to continue to build relationships, support the long-term missionaries of The Hands & Feet Project, deliver supplies, learn, and further experience the God-given beauty that exists in the land and people of Haiti.

If you’ve ever experienced the gutters of life only to, later, also experience the peaks, you might have an idea of how I feel. The opportunity that I’ve been given, to be able to play even a small role in serving the mission of The Hands & Feet Project has God’s fingerprints all over it. From the connections with people who’ve opened doors, to the opportunities, time, and ability to donate, sponsor, and fundraise, there has been one source: God’s grace.

Jesus never said that life in this broken world would be easy, but, He did say that we can come to Him and that He will take our burdens. If you knew the sheer contrast exposed in my life from the depths of where I’ve been to the blessings that my family and I now experience through our support of The Hands & Feet Project, you’d be supporting them, too.

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 1:6

“I’m Not Afraid. No, I’m A Believer,” is an older post from my blog that explains more about the story of how I came to be involved with The Hands & Feet Project.

For more information on The Hands & Feet Project, visit http://www.handsandfeetproject.org

“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!

Wake

Head ache Sin ache
Gave in to the other
Shooting up a hellish echo

It pulls me down
Even now
When my attention settles in

Sin that I am
Regret that I invited
Shrieking ring in the round

Drowned for the moment
Beneath the surface
Of His grace

Big Daddy

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Excerpt from Reflections For Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning, Pp.220

Do you ever think that Jesus appreciates you for wanting him, for wanting to say no to so many things that would separate you from him? Do you think that Jesus can ever be grateful to you for pausing to smile, comfort, give to one of his children who have such great need to see a smile, to feel a touch? Do you ever think of Jesus being grateful to you for learning more about him so that you can speak to others more deeply and truly about him? Do you ever think that Jesus can be angry or disappointed in you for not believing that he has forgiven you totally? He said, ‘I do not call you servants, but friends…’ Therefore, there is the possibility of every feeling and emotion that can exist between friends to exist here and now between Jesus and you.

“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him.” Isaiah 30:18

While God maintains the all-powerful, all-knowing, judicious aspect of his Character, He also loves, encourages, and practices patience and mercy through his identity as our Abba – our divine Daddy. As a father to a four-year-old girl, I know that there are times when I have to correct her for doing something she really shouldn’t have done. Sometimes, though, I have to turn my head to keep a straight face while directing her because her antics can sometimes be very amusing and I know that she is just a child. This morning, I’m led to believe that there are times when our Abba looks at us the same way.

Real World Jesus

Above all of the politics, theology, denominations, and technicalities is the demand by Jesus that we love God with all our beings and that we love others as we love ourselves. We won’t know God truly until we are bent backward in service to others as in a way that denies our own existence. I, for one, have plenty of room for growth in that regard.