To Cover Your Crime

I arrived at the vanishing point just to find myself
dancing around it
I wear the scars of the evil you turned into me then
as perspective
They lent a fist of confidence to the humility
From which I flew
The seeds of perversion you planted
Never took root
The fiftieth chapter of Genesis sings my life song
Verse twenty dawn
While this still mourning light lets me not see far past my feet
His blazing pace
Sure relieves my burden and directs me through what I can’t
Yet understand
On toward that place where I will at once fall down at His feet
Full with His grace

A Way With Words

I write poems from time to time and, obviously (since you’re reading this), blog posts, too. I’ve been doing this for quite a while now and, while I’ve won no awards and don’t think I’m good enough or have enough passion to try to make a living through writing, I have been told, on more than one occasion, that I have “a way with words.”

I certainly appreciate the compliment and the affirmation that I feel each time somebody responds positively to something I write whether it be a notification that somebody clicked the “Like” link under something I posted or whether something I’ve written elicits a much more significant response (one example happening during my dad’s sixteen month battle that he eventually lost to brain cancer when I walked in on him as he was reading a post I’d written in tribute to him and he was wiping away tears – emotion that he rarely showed under any circumstance).

But, more and more, lately, I’ve become aware of just how worthless words can be. Even if I had the ability to phrase words in such a way that could inspire masses of people, if I don’t have the substance in my personal life to match the love and compassion that I claim to possess, my words are empty and could, quite possibly, do more harm than good.

Multiple scenarios have come to mind in my personal life, of late, in which I have completely dropped the ball. During the summer, a time when teachers such as myself have more free time (though, deservedly so I might add!) than at any other time of the year, I let my priorities fall out of order. I found many reasons, from one moment to the next and from one day to the next,  from the beginning of the summer to the end, to just continue doing whatever self-focused task I was involved in instead of getting up to go and visit someone who is struggling, instead of calling to see if I could come in for a shift at the local homeless shelter, or, sometimes even to get up and play with my own kids.

Undoubtedly, I have been blessed with a great deal of compassion and love from those around me and, certainly, from God above. But, the biblical principle that those who are blessed greatly should, in turn, bless others greatly has taken a hit in my personal life this summer and now it is time to start a new school year.

With the start of this new school year, my prayer and my mission – the focus area in my life where I need to step aside and let God’s grace shine – is clear: I need to live with humble integrity by recognizing my shortfalls, emptying my hands, and taking steps forward, one at a time, trusting that God will plant them in the direction He has planned. There is too much at stake in this life and our time here is too short to just exchange pleasantries and talk about doing what is right.

Providence (in spite of me)

I am a mountain that has seen the sun
Baking the escarpment broken open
By seismic shifts I had no defense for
Revealing light-less depths I’d never known

I’m a mountain that bore greenery from
Fertile hillside blessed by shaded rainfall
Balanced with ample sunlight to bring forth
Nature’s rich bounty spilling o’er the edge

From the west to the east and peak to ground
I rise up from valleys on every side
Equally akin to death’s deep shadow
As lush pastures of green by still waters

The breadth of my marked ascent is defined
Not by claiming to be a victim but
By recognizing the transparency
Through which He intended me to be

Identity revealed through my frailty
Humility through inability
Bore a mountain solid from within me
His blood covering every flaw you see

So let not my words cause you to stumble
Where I’ve been is not where I planned to be
But He who shaped each atom of the earth
Can mine precious gems from the abyss
To reflect His light for eternity

Just In Time

The Glorious Unfolding is Steven Curtis Chapman’s newest album and, since the first day I pressed play, it has become a go-to album for me, in particular, because of the profoundly relevant and comforting message that is conveyed throughout many of the songs on the album. Without a doubt, despite the fact that I’ve had a number of notably difficult periods in my life, being my dad’s caretaker for the final sixteen months of his life, as his health and independence declined after diagnosis of a stage four glioblastoma brain tumor, was the darkest and most difficult experience of my life. I can definitely speak from experience when it comes to the notion of trying to maintain some thread of faith in God’s providence at a time when it was so dark that I couldn’t see my own hand if I waved it in front of my face. Surely, there were momentary flickers of light from caring and gracious people who knew about his situation that would briefly reflect off the golden thread that God had hanging for me where I was at every moment of that journey. But, it was all too easy to lose my focus and to not be able to find it again when I was at my weakest and in my greatest need. I was broken and empty and felt, surely, like I had nothing to hold onto. But, His thread of hope was still there whether I could see it in a given moment or not. He never left and, because I had nowhere else to turn, I never gave up seeking Him. While I often felt like I was lost in a free fall, he was holding me and carrying me through. Eventually, a new purpose and peace would be revealed (read about that part of my story here, if you’re not already familiar), but, it was only in His time, just in time, that I would learn just how powerful faith in His plan can be. 1 Kings 17 reminded me of that dark period in my life as I read about the widow that the prophet Elijah met at the gate of Zarephath of Sidon. During a time of famine and weary from his journey, Elijah asked the widow for a drink of water and a piece of bread. Verses 12-16 reveal the widow’s circumstances and lay the foundation for a lesson in faith that she learned by trusting God despite her struggles:

“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread – only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat and die.” Elijah said to her “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.” She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.

My dad passed away February 20, 2012, but, not before accepting the idea that God loved him and that he had good reason to accept hope in Christ. In fact, the last thing that I said to him that I’m confident he actually heard and understood was that my uncle (who was there in the house with Dad and I at that time) were doing all that we knew to make him as comfortable as possible and that the rest was up to Jesus and that He would take care of him. Dad had been extremely restless and agitated that morning and he couldn’t talk due to the brain cancer’s progression, but, after assuring him that Jesus was in control, he settled down and rested through the rest of the day until he eventually breathed his last breath around 12:30 AM with my arms around him for the last time. His present peace and eternal future is brighter than any of us here can even imagine. The nearly two and a half years since my dad passed away have been tough at times, to say the least, but, in that time I have also experienced a gradual increase in my awareness of the beauty of God’s glorious unfolding story. I know that there will likely be challenges ahead in my life during which times I’ll need to remind myself of this life lesson that I’ve been learning, but, it is certain. He knows what He is doing and wherever you are in your journey, you need to know and remember that “this is going to be a glorious unfolding…just wait and see…and you will be amazed…

Which Criminal Would I Be?

It occurred to me this morning that the thieves that hung on crosses on both sides of Jesus serve as a clear example of the choice we all make at one point or another, if not every day, in relation to the role we invite God to play in our lives. The first criminal cynically mocked Jesus saying “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!” He didn’t recognize Christ for who He really is, but, instead, took the popular position of mocking Him, with a complete absence of humility.

But the second criminal took ownership of his own failings and, in humility, said, “Don’t you fear God since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong…Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

I need to take ownership of my selfishness and shortfalls on a daily basis and acknowledge that He suffered through what I deserved. I need to make that daily decision to turn from myself in humility and accept the gift that He, though I certainly don’t deserve it, has given me: His love and the hope of paradise.

Which criminal are you?

Written in response to Luke 23:39-43

An Ancient Lady, A Megachurch Man, A Skateboarding Folk Singer, and Getting What I Deserve

Over the last couple of days I’ve been reading the book of Ruth from the Old Testament during breakfast. I’ve also been reading The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson when I’ve had a moment here and there over the past week. In addition, I had a good talk with one of the pastors at a church that we’re in the process of settling into about faith and figuring out what God has in store for us. It is the convergence of these three influences that has me blogging this morning.

I’ve found myself inspired, at times, by points that Batterson makes regarding faith, prayer, and God’s vision for his followers. From what I’ve read so far, the theme of The Circle Maker has been the important role that faith and prayer play in growing our ability to reach out to others. Many of the examples the author gives are focused on the way that his church, National Community Church in Washington D.C., has been able to grow from a small group of tens to a mega church with multiple satellite sites around the D.C. metropolitan area. The most compelling aspect of this book for me, so far, is the idea of how important it is to not underestimate God and that tasks He’s called us to. Batterson makes the point that God doesn’t necessarily call the qualified, but, instead, He qualifies the called. I’ve seen God work so far beyond my means already on multiple occasions over the past few years of my life and I certainly want to be available to do whatever He calls me to do. What will that be? I’m still trying to figure that out. But, without doubt, Batterson believes that the act of prayer and our willingness to pray persistently with passion has been critical to his church’s growth. Admittedly, I’m only about halfway through the book and I look forward to having a clearer understanding of the book’s overall message once I’ve finished.

Josh Harmony

The book of Ruth, from my perspective, addresses a similar theme in that it tells the story of Naomi and Ruth and the difficulties that Naomi had to endure en route to a gracious miracle that she and Ruth experienced in the latter stage of Naomi’s life through Ruth. It was a song called “Mara Naomi” by pro skateboarder and musician Josh Harmony that I first heard the story of Ruth and Naomi from. But, the good book verified Harmony’s account. It was the selfless faith of Ruth through years of difficulty that they both endured after Naomi lost both of her sons (one of them being Ruth’s husband) that proved to be so critical in extending the bloodline that would soon give birth to King David and, eventually, Jesus. But, the fact that so many generations preceded Ruth and Naomi and that many more would have yet to come and pass before the birth of Jesus, struck me. These two individuals struggled and endured in faith throughout their lifetimes, but, because they did, forged a critical link in a long chain of events and lifetimes through which God would, eventually, release those who believe from the chains of destruction that selfishness (also known as sin) has and will continue to confine so many with.

So, seemingly anyway, there is something to be said for persisting and following God beyond what we can see with our own vision. But, earlier this week I was talking to one of the pastors of the church that we’re now attending about good books to read when I mentioned The Circle Maker. After noting that he wasn’t familiar with the book, he explained the conclusion that he recently came to after finishing a book study on another well-regarded book by a Christian author with a few other church members. I can’t remember what the book was that he said they were studying, but, he made a point that, after I thought about it, seems to be true: a lot of the best-selling Christian authors write books that contain some kind of formula or multistep process intended to help the reader move closer to God or achieve greater success as a Christian. The problem here is that, while such steps may be productive, it tends to bolster the idea that we, as people, can do something that will earn more love from God. We can ascend the ranks of Christianity if we just follow certain steps.

I’m not a theologian, but, I know enough about the life I’ve lived and the beauty of the gospel to tell you, confidently, that it has been by no means of my own that I have survived this long, that I have so many blessings (e.g., family, friends, career, purpose, etc.), or that I’ve been able to witness the miracles that I have. In my wildest dreams I could never have predicted the joy that I have in my life now as a consequence of God’s good grace – His unmerited, unearned favor and love. It is out of gratitude and thankfulness that I live and breath. Should you see me stumble or screw up in some way shape or form, know that it is because of my own weakness, but, that it is by His grace that I can have peace and get back up and keep walking where He wants me to go. I’ll be the first to admit, that I don’t often know quite where He’s taking me, but, I trust Him and I’m having the ride of my life.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

-Ephesians 2:1-10

So, I’m not sure if the key to life is simply persisting as I walk forward through life or seeking earnestly with blood, sweat, and prayers, but, if you have some perspective on the topic, I’m all ears. In the meantime, I’m just going to do my best to heed the words of Micah 6:8:

8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

A Week in Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project (Part 4 of 4)

The fourth of four reflections about my experiences when I spent on a short-term mission in Haiti with The Hands & Feet Project in January 2014: Part 1 click here. Part 2 click here. Part 3 click here. For an afterthought reflection about the topic of heroes in relation to addressing needs in the country of Haiti click here.

With New York Jets wide receiver David Nelson, co-founder of I'm ME. Learn more about his foundation which, like The Hands & Feet Project, cares for Haitian orphans at http://www.imme.org/

With New York Jets wide receiver David Nelson, co-founder of I’m ME

It was our first evening in Haiti. Our team had flown from several different U.S. cities to Miami, boarded one plane together, departed Miami, landed in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, stuffed into a van for a two-hour drive to Grand Goave and then rode up to a mountaintop building that is only accessible with a 4wd vehicle. We’d all traveled hundreds of miles and were finally settling in for dinner on a remote, third-world country mountain when, all of a sudden, in through the front door walks a player from my favorite football team, the New York Jets! Not only that, but, it turns out that this guy has a sincere, true, and rare heart for orphans in Haiti. He and his brothers have started I’m ME, a foundation to care for orphans in Haiti and he’s been getting a lot of good advice, apparently, from The Hands & Feet Project director Mark Stuart. We chatted for a few minutes during which I was able to share the story of my connection with The Hands & Feet Project, my respect for high-character Jets such as Wayne Chrebet and Curtis Martin, and my appreciation for his passion for “the least of these,” in Haiti. He shared with me about his faith and how he first became interested and involved with helping to address the the desperate circumstances that exist in Haiti and really came off as being the most authentic person somebody in his shoes could possibly be. With other NFL players, Jets in particular, making headlines for all of the wrong reasons all too often, it is certainly refreshing to have met a pro athlete like him. Check out David’s foundation here: http://www.imme.org/

Loading up shoes in my frigid garage on January 17th.

Loading up shoes in my frigid garage on January 17th.

Two totes (plus half of my suitcase) stuffed with shoes, just off the plane at the airport in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.

Two totes (plus half of my suitcase) stuffed with shoes, just off the plane at the airport in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.

I couldn’t end this series of reflections on my week without mentioning one of the biggest parts of preparing for the trip during the last two weeks before my plane was set to depart: gathering shoes. Site co-director Angie Sutton sent me a request for shoes for the boys at Grand Goave (the younger kids) and Ikondo (the older kids) and, thanks to the kindness and compassion of colleagues at school and friends, I boarded the plane in Charlotte with two 20+ gallon totes and half of my suitcase full of shoes ranging from sizes too small for my six-year-old to sizes too big for me – a good variety to help address the needs of the boys of the Hands & Feet Project in Grand Goave.

While this trip itself has blown open my perspective regarding the serious gap between the luxuries that we take for granted in the U.S. and the primitive and unhealthy living conditions of so many in Haiti, it has also affirmed, for me, the power and value that a simple act of kindness can have. Many of my colleagues and friends donated brand new shoes or money to purchase shoes for the boys of The Hands & Feet Project. Because they walk to school each day and the terrain is rocky, they go through them quickly. But, thanks to some generous Americans, the boys of The Hands & Feet Project now have plenty of new shoes!

Sorting and pulling the larger-sized shoes out for the older boys at Ikondo before taking the rest down to Thozin, the other site where the younger kids live. This shot is from inside what will be "Grandpa Rockwell's Kitchen." Currently, however, it is being used as a bedroom for incoming short-term mission teams until construction at Ikondo progresses a little further.

Sorting and pulling the larger-sized shoes out for the older boys at Ikondo before taking the rest down to Thozin, the other site where the younger kids live. This shot is from inside what will be “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen.” Currently, however, it is being used as a bedroom for incoming short-term mission teams until construction at Ikondo progresses a little further.

I estimate that 40-50 pairs of shoes, the absolute maximum number that I could fit into the two bins and my personal luggage, made the trip with me from my driveway in North Carolina to The Hands & Feet Children’s Village in Grand Goave, Haiti. From the money that was donated to purchase shoes I had $30 left over which I gave to Andrew Sutton, co-director of the Grand Goave Hands & Feet Children’s Village, to use as they see fit.

The majority of the shoes were sorted by size and placed in the storage depot  where the younger kids’ live to be distributed later as needed, but, several pairs were kept on the mountain top at Ikondo for the older boys. I was caught somewhat off guard early in the week when, while having an evening devotional with the other guys on the team, three of the boys came up behind me and hugged me in thanks for the shoes. I told them immediately that the shoes all came from friends in the states, but, that I was certainly happy to see that they liked them so much. I could tell from that moment, and then later on in the week while spending time with the older boys, that they truly appreciated the new footwear.

Sorting shoes by size for the younger kids at the Thozin site in the storage depot

Sorting shoes by size for the younger kids at the Thozin site in the storage depot

Happy to have some new shoes!

Happy to have some new shoes!

Happy to have some new shoes!

Happy to have some new shoes!

Thanks to each and every person who supported this shoe-collection effort!

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

-Matthew 25:34-40

Learn about how being a part of The Hands & Feet Project’s Family Room program can help even more…

…and thanks to everyone who prayed for the team and I as we made the journey. It was an unforgettable week and, God-willing, it won’t be my last visit to Grand Goave, Haiti.

The team (l-r): Greg (rear), Jewel (front), Drex, Wendy, Marian, myself, Jo, James, and April

The team (l-r): Greg (rear), Jewel (front), Drex, Wendy, Marian, myself, Jo, James, and April