Time and Space

I started writing a piece to post on my blog this evening that would serve as a document of this process I’m continuing to work through a year and a half after my dad passed away as the result of a stage four glioblastoma brain tumor. The post was intended to include some kind of explanation of the difficult pangs of grief that continue surfacing, at seemingly random intervals, from one day to the next. But, similar to the challenge that going through boxes of his belongings (ranging from hand-written notes to hats that I’d seen him wear so often over the years) presents,  trying to figure out what to do with each item, the task of trying to sort through my lingering grief in order to articulate some semblance of coherent thought is anything but a lesson in efficiency. Surely, the record of our days could be represented as a linear timeline of thoughts considered, words said, steps taken, and things done, but, unfortunately, emotions drenched in regret are relentless in their orbits and with each trip around I revisit another dark moment in the shadow of the past – a moment missed when I could have said something more or reacted differently than I did when I actually stood, inhaled, and exhaled in each particular instance.  It seems, at times, that all I can do is lower my head, continuing to put one foot in front of the other in an effort to increase the distance between the past and the present and, in doing so, relieve the weight of this burden. But, the truth, I’m finding, is that, there is nothing I can do to pick up any of the foot prints I’ve left in the path behind me and, while it betrays the weight of the emotion coursing through me as I type now, I know that my faith is invested in the One who is not confined by the linearity of time and, ultimately, His grace is sufficient.

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

Divide

You came right to the door
To my utter surprise
Before I let you in
The morn’ opened my eyes

Gold words I couldn’t utter
The tar stuck on my heels
Needing five more minutes
My bruised soul still reels

They don’t seem to care
Or my guard has hidden well
Ever present mourning
Prospective endless hell

Praying I didn’t fail you
Were choices better made
Peace wouldn’t be elusive
Regret could start to fade

Grace stands the only hope
Repentance outside time
By His means unbeknownst
Mercy that does not rhyme

Defined

The question

Cliché and worn

Like an out-of-style

What Would Jesus Do? bracelet

Dropped like a hat

Casually

In this equally-worn

Small southern town

Are you saved?

Yeah.

I got saved on…

The date so easily recalled

Like the day you earned

Your drivers license

Because

Like other rites of passage

That is what you do

When you grow up

Down here

Unlike what is brought by

The fire and brimstone

Ultimatum as written

On the inside cover of

A pocket-size Gideons’ Bible

Handed to you

On the way to recess

By suited men

Just beyond

Your public school door

I breath peace

Born by hope

A notion that

Like a loving parent

His grace is infinite

Even with the pain that I’ve caused

Lying out in full view

Before Him

He holds me close

Whispering good news

That these tears

Are not cried in vain

Ledge

The place where I stand has left me no room

To lie down in peace and understanding

The desperate lurch that I undertook

Toward the opened window

For air to breathe

Left me clinging to this cold precipice

Upon an unforgiving narrow ledge

 

On the ground far below me I can see

Lingering traces of his legacy

And what little sense of balance I had

On a gurney being rolled out the door

To be placed in a hearse and driven away

By silver-tongued thieves dressed as morticians

With pre-printed sympathy cards in hand

 

Were I to inch back toward the window

I’d know not how to maneuver in through

To a peaceful place that exists no more

So I will be perched here weathering winds

That come and leave without substance to spare

All the time praying that these ghosts of mine

Will not steal from those that I love down there