“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/


Your words unfolded on a winter timberland
Where even evergreens lost their luster
Any semblance of life was frozen in slumber

A desolate landscape worn down in between
Weathered hardwoods without leaves
A sleet-soaked forest floor without green

For a season not defined by a tilting earth
But maturing perspective on what is worth
And turned by the labor pains of grace’s birth

With nary a prophecy or a sign to be seen
A portion of faith handed down to me
Since planted has yielded blossoms serene

Saturated with the most extravagant colors
Leading us steadily onward and upward
In a glorious green toward eternal spring


I refer to the notion of a spectrum often as a representation of variations of some original or unifying element. In a nutshell, there is often the good, the bad, and everything in between. Or, it might not be a question of good and bad, but, instead, merely a survey of the colors of the rainbow. But, here, this evening, I’m thinking of a spectrum that encompasses the darkest, hardest times that I experienced in the midst of my Dad’s decline and eventual passing due to brain cancer, as well as extremely bright moments that have surfaced since. There are people all around me who, at times, have walked along with me carrying a portion of my load. There are others who have offered a word of encouragement or a prayer. Then there are some who have, much like Jesus, completely lifted the load off of my back and replaced it with the far lighter weight of hope. It is a load that, I’m learning, will continue to be an encouragement for me as long as I trust the source of the light in this spectrum of my life and continue to take each step with Him as He moves.

When I read a particular e-mail from Hands and Feet Project director Mark Stuart saying that they wanted to honor my Dad by naming the kitchen after him in the new home being built for older boys at their Haitian orphan care location in Grand Goave, Haiti, it was a life-changing watershed moment. The darkness of mourning was peeled back to reveal sunshine-bright rays of hope and the hollow feeling of hopelessness and loss was replaced by meaning and purpose. At that moment, precisely, color started to saturate my life’s canvas again, but, to a greater degree than it ever had before. At that moment, my Dad’s legacy was transformed from the dark agony that he suffered through at the end of his life into a ray of hope shining through the windows of a place known as “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen” in Haiti. From a room bearing his name, children will receive their daily meals and nourishment for years to come.

The Hands and Feet Project changed my life with one overwhelmingly gracious gesture. This is significant considering the fact that the consolation of mourning sons who’ve lost their fathers isn’t even the focus of the work they do. So, imagine just how much more of a significant impact they have on each and every child’s life that enters the safe walls of their Hands And Feet Children’s Villages in Haiti, leaving behind the hopelessness, hunger, malnutrition, fear, and despair that they were born into.

When the orphaned and abandoned children of Haiti are taken in by The Hands and Feet Project they are literally walking away from death and into life. Unfortunately, however, The Hands And Feet Project is now at full capacity with 100 children living full-time in their two Children’s Villages. The Hands And Feet Project needs your help to raise the funds to build two new buildings in order to expand and be able to take care of more children who’ve been abandoned or orphaned.

This is their life story and your support will play a critical roll in allowing hope to shine on it. It will mean absolutely everything to them.

This is my Dad’s story, too. His memory will now live on with The Hands And Feet Project and in the daily lives of these kids.

This is my life story, too. I’ve been graciously blessed and I will stand by these children. I’m asking you to stand up with me.



Joy: Is It All In My Head?

Joy. It is the feeling I experienced today, mixed equally with gratitude, when I received the news over the phone from my neurologist’s nurse that the MRI I underwent three days ago showed “no acute change” in the pineal region of my brain where a ruptured benign brain tumor was removed fourteen years ago. It had been two years since my last MRI. The discovery of basal cell skin cancer on the side of my head this past fall (which has since been removed) raised concerns that adverse consequences might be surfacing from radiation treatments I received in the fall of 1998 to treat the pineal gland tumor. This heightened concern, in combination with a string of headaches I’ve been experiencing for a couple of weeks, had me on edge and fearing the worst leading up to and since the MRI. But, the news that I received today released, in me, a surge of gratitude for what I view very sincerely as a new lease on life. Its like I just came up from the bottom of the deep end of the pool and broke through the surface of the water, able to take in a chest full of oxygen that, just moments before, I wasn’t sure I would ever get close to again.

“Joy.” It is the word that the lead singer of Audio Adrenaline used repeatedly in a conversation that I had with him after his band’s 481088_10151484213989268_2073100386_nconcert in Gaffney, SC, two nights ago. The band was in Haiti last year to shoot a music video for the song “Kings & Queens” which can be heard frequently on Christian radio these days. The song is focused on the plight of orphans in Haiti, children who are living examples of what Jesus referred to in scripture as “the least of these.” What struck Kevin most during his time there was the utter joy exhibited by the children being served in the children’s villages of The Hands & Feet Project. He explained that, in comparison to the lives of Haitian children outside the reach of orphan care, the children currently being served by Hands and Feet are healthy, happy, and fully alive. Thanks to the Hands and Feet Project they are cared for, sheltered, educated, given health care, and raised in a loving, family-style environment that allows them to develop as children with the hope of a future.

The hope of a future, however, is simply not there for so many Haitian children who live in a country where only half of the population has access to clean drinking water and only half of Haitians fifteen years of age or older can read and write. Kevin described the prevalence of parents who sell their children off into the abandon them at the local hospital, sex trade, abandon them at the local hospital, or worse. A disproportionate number of adults drowning in the hopelessness that surrounds them in Haiti choose to commit suicide and take their children with them. We’re not talking about kids whose parents just can’t afford new Nikes for their child on the first day of the new American public school year. We’re talking about a a sizable population of children who are abandoned in a country where the odds are already stacked heavily against those who do parents. In Haiti only half of the adult population can read and write and only half have access to clean drinking water. Without outside help, the children who’ve been abandoned have no hope.

But, in a way that I would imagine is, at least, comparable to the gratitude that I felt and the joy that I experienced when I received the news today that my MRI was clear, the children taken in by the Hands and Feet Project experience the joy that comes with the security of a loving family environment on a daily basis. Compared to where they come to The Hands and Feet Project from, they, too, get a new lease on life and, according to Kevin, their own joy and gratitude is tangible and clearly evident in the children that he was able to spend time with. So much so that it was the defining characteristic that he chose to share with me when I asked him to tell me about his experience in Haiti.

Right now, though, The Hands and Feet Project is running at full capacity and can’t take in any more orphans than they already have. They are, however, working to expand and need any help that can be given to do so. Please visit The Hands and Feet Project’s website to learn more about what you can do to “be like Jesus to the least of these.”

The Gap Is Wider Than You Realize

Even before the 2010 earthquake that rocked it to its foundation, Haiti’s ranking as the poorest nation in the western hemisphere was an indicator of the gap between the life we know as Americans and the need that exists there. Without social services to provide for even the basic nutritional and medial needs, children are often abandoned or worse when parents don’t have the means to care for them. The 2010 earthquake took a bad situation for the children of Haiti and blew it wide open. Many have lost their parents as a result of the earthquake and now struggle, malnourished, to survive on the streets on their own without care. Many, in fact, have already been lost due to such circumstances.

For a relative few Haitian children, in comparison to the size of the need that is there, hope has been rekindled thanks to organizations that have taken them in. One such organization, The Hands & Feet Project, established in 2004, now cares for about 100 orphaned and abandoned children in two different locations in Haiti. Their population of children is organized into houses which allow them to grow and thrive in a Christ-centered, family structured environment where they are cared for, receive education, medical care, shelter, and food. The mission of the Hands & Feet Project is to give these kids a chance to grow up and become healthy, educated, Christians that can have a significant and positive impact on the future of Haiti, in terms of the economy of Haiti, the Christian faith of Haiti, and the nation as a whole.

Now, in 2013, The Hands & Feet Project is trying to raise awareness and gather funding to support the building of new structures that will allow them to double their capacity and care for more of these children who would otherwise have very little hope of surviving.

I signed on to participate with a handful of other people in the 2013 Country Music Half Marathon as a means of raising money to support the mission of The Hands & Feet Project in Haiti. As a part of this fundraising campaign I started growing a beard on November first and was gratefully able to find sponsors to fund its continual, untrimmed growth through the Half Marathon on 4/27/13 at a rate of $5 per day. So, with a total of $740 raised by the beard, I will now be wearing this beard through the 27th and attempting to complete a 13.1 mile run with it before I shave it off. Since we reached full funding for the beard, a couple more sponsors have stepped forward to bring the total raised to $900.

Matthew 25:24-40 describes part of a parable that Jesus shared:

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.’
Likewise, James 1:27 states:

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.
It would mean a great deal to me, but, more importantly to the kids in Haiti that will benefit from it, if you would prayerfully consider making a donation to The Hands & Feet Project. I would love to, at least, reach a $1000 total and we’re not that far off.

If you are willing, you can donate directly online to the Hands & Feet Project at http://www.handsandfeetproject.org

If you do donate, please let me know by e-mailing me or posting on the Beards Hands & Feet Project Facebook page so that I can keep track as we close in on the $1,000 goal.


For more information about my fund-raising effort involving the beard, the half marathon, and The Hands & Feet Project, you can visit https://www.facebook.com/BeardsHandsAndFeetProject

To learn more about The Hands & Feet Project itself, visit their official page 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!