An Honest Survey

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Light of the Mountaintop, Dark of the Valley

There is no doubt, now that I’m getting older and I’ve had the time to reflect and realize, that my personality is, at best, quirky. Finding the appropriate medium with which to communicate with others around me doesn’t come naturally to me and quiet, personal time when I can have a chance to relax my spinning brain, refocus, and renew, is critical. I could reveal a laundry list of notable events and circumstances in my life that have likely contributed to shaping (or, perhaps, misshaping) the person that is typing these words today, but, I’ve come to relate my life, in retrospect, simply, as a series of peaks and valleys that I have stepped and staggered through. Indeed, when going through one of my deepest, darkest valleys, I found a good deal of hope in these Psalms:

23:1-6

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

18:16-19

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.

Certainly, at 38, I have yet to amass the wisdom and experience of someone in their final season of life. But, I’ve walked this road long enough to be able to realize that giving in to self-serving inclinations is an addiction that I’ve failed to break. In combination with circumstances beyond my control, such breakdowns have often lead me straight into the many of my life’s valleys where it was too dark to see and too cold to feel anything, but, the fear induced by the vacuum in my mind and spirit where I’d closed the door to God’s guidance.

On the other hand, it has been the humbling process of my own confidence breaking down, time and again, that has caused me to seek God, my Abba, and then to turn in accordance with His infinite providence, and often, experience the highest peaks and the most beautiful vistas that I’ve ever seen.

Such ascents have sometimes happened in quiet isolation and prayer while others have been climbed walking alongside friends who have taken the time and extended their hands long enough to compel me onward and upward in my journey. But, surely, all such help has come carried on the winds of His grace and I am thankful.

Kevin Max’s new song “Light Me Up” is a victorious celebration of God’s strength, providence, and mercy, wrapped up in an infections pop groove that is hard to deny. Give it a listen. But, more importantly, I hope you’ll give God a listen so that you can find your own way out of whatever valley your walking through.

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.

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

Thanksgiving Under An Overcast Sky

We live in the midst of an instant gratification culture. Whatever will help us do what we want to do faster, whether computers, diet supplements, or lotto tickets, we gravitate toward them en masse. Consequently, when things aren’t going well, we want to blame what is easiest to blame: someone or something else. I know people, specifically, who, when asked about their relationship with God, they respond by asking, “What has He done for me lately?” Likewise, in one of the only conversations in which my dad let down his guard about how much of a personal burden terminal brain cancer was for him personally, before he passed away last year he said, “I just don’t understand why it has to be this way.” That statement, which may seem insignificant to most, coming from the cast iron vessel that I knew as my dad, was a signal flare of true despair. I, too, was asking many of the same questions at the time.

But, through life lessons that I’ve learned since he passed away, I’ve found hope and a measure of peace in the notion that there is a far bigger story being told that we are a part of. As outlined in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, some of the most significant figures in the bible acted on faith in accordance with God’s plan without ever having the chance to see a payoff, let alone a happy ending. We all have a chance to choose. We can either live our lives in a perpetual search for instant gratification, viewing life through a short-term lens that always takes into consideration our own inclinations, first and foremost, or we can trust God with the big picture, adjust our perspective by focusing on the needs of those around us, and be thankful for what we have.

“Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.” Hebrews 11:39-40 (The Message)

I have much to be thankful for, not the least of which is the peace that came over my dad in his final hours, after a period of distinct restlessness and frustration, when I promised him that, in a very short time, Jesus was going to welcome him and that everything would be better. Now, almost two years later, I am thankful for that same promise and the hope that, after counting my blessings here, there will be so many more there.

Happy Thanksgiving.

A Note On Integrity: “4 Reasons Christians Need to Quit Sharing Hoaxes”

I came across a blog article posted on a friend’s Facebook page today, read it, and realized its implications for my life fairly quickly( read the article at: 4 Reasons Christians Need to Quit Sharing Hoaxes). Its been easy for me, at different times and in different scenarios in my life, to lose touch with the direct connection that we all have the opportunity to make with those around us who are in need. It’s easy to sit back, offer up an obligatory prayer when reading about somebody’s loss, click the ‘like’ and ‘share’ icons when we read something emotionally compelling, or, worse yet, just keep scrolling. But, as this article suggests, as Christians, I could stand to be a bit more thoughtful about exactly what I’m reading, what I’m sharing and, most importantly, what I’m doing to help those within my reach, and then beyond, to know the love, hope, and peace that I know. Tonight I will pray that I can wake up in the morning, make an intentional decision to seek out Christ in others around me, and not take for granted the opportunities afforded to me to engage with them in a manner that is uncharacteristically selfless.

“When a disciple’s every response, word, and decision is motivated by compassion, he has put on Christ and walks in the way of integrity.”  -Brennan manning

“God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers. If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you, you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all.”  -C.S. Lewis

“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.”  -Proverbs 11:3