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!

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.”

Breathe Through

That I might be a beggar

Content in nondescript clothes

Freed from hallow distraction

To breath through blessings and throes

In recognition that all

Life springs forth and out from you

We’ll revel in each blessing

Each storm you’ll carry me through

To acknowledge that our Father is the source of all life and holiness makes gratitude the most characteristic attitude of the child of God. The petition “Give us this day our daily bread” expresses our creaturely dependence and the acceptance of all of life as God’s gracious gift. It strikes down possessiveness and makes us conscious that we are beggars.

And yet how reluctant we are to receive the gift! We stake out our piece of turf, claim it as our own, become grasping, anxious, and care0ridden about the security of our baubles, trinkets, golf balls, and immaculate lawns. “We gather into barns, insure the barns and their contents, buy a German shepherd or hire a security guard, and try to see to it that Blacks do not build barns in the same area.” We sell ourselves to the gods of security, and power, and a sickness enters the very heart of our existence. We grow competitive rather than compassionate, make others our rivals, stepping stones to our enthronement in a palace overlooking Malibu, part of life’s expense account, enslaved in the Babylonian captivity of the modern world.

One does not find an attitude of gratitude in the slave market.

-Brennan Manning, A Glimpse Of Jesus: The Stranger To Self-Hatred, Pp. 48-49

In The Bleak Midwinter

Of all of the Christmas songs that I’ve heard throughout my life, none have ascended to the heights that this one has in terms of my appreciation for its beauty and lyric. This year the grace of this song is more evident than ever before to me.

A Christmas Carol

Alternate Title: In The Bleak Midwinter;Words by Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894), 1872; appeared posthumously in The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti, Poem #426,  1904. Source: “The English Hymnal,” p. 44, 1916;

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother1
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

Living As A Result

It is when I consider my flaws, my mistakes, and the horrible things that I have done in my life that I fall down, broken, in full appreciation of the grace of Abba. The fact that He has blessed my life so richly, despite my long track record of persistent selfishness and vanity, sparks gratitude to the highest degree. It goes far beyond arguments about morality, theological debate, and adherence to particular church traditions and rituals. God is a boundless, infinite being not confined by time or human understanding. We can’t hope to outwit God anymore than a paintbrush can hope to understand the artist. Our true peace and joy is found in surrendering to the pure, unearned, grace of God and living out our resulting gratitude each day.

Excerpt from Reflections For Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning, Pp. 227:

The spirituality of accepted tenderness brings an intermittent awareness of the loving gaze of the Abba of Jesus…It is a spirituality without manuals and navel-gazing, goals and game plans, stress and distress. It simply rejoices in the gift. And it is all the work of the Holy Spirit defined as given tenderness.

“Yahweh is tender and compassionate, slow to anger, most loving. As tenderly as a father treats his children, so Yahweh treats those who fear him.” Psalm 103:8, 13