“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/

Unwrap Christmas

Perhaps more so than many, I am guilty of wrapping myself in the colorful nostalgic tradition of the holidays that I was born into

Ho. Ho. Ho.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

in 1976. With an ever-present nod to the visions of Clement Clark Moore and the sounds of Bing Crosby, I’ve reveled annually in the green, red, and shiny tinsel of the season. Christmas music, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, holiday lattes at Starbucks, and annual trips to the mountains of North Carolina for Christmas trees have all found their way into my family’s cannon of holiday traditions that make this season what it is for us year after year: a glowing, blinking, tinsel-strewn festival of merriment that, unfortunately, is as far away from the central, critical Christian focus of Christmas as it could possibly be.

In Reflections For Ragamuffins, Brennan Manning articulately described the crime that is so smoothly committed at this time each year:

The infant Jesus was born in unimpressive circumstances, no one can say exactly where. His parents were of no social significance whatsoever, and his chosen welcoming committee were all turkeys, losers, and dirt-poor shepherds. But in the weakness and poverty the shipwrecked at the stable would come to know the love of God.

Sadly, Christian piety down the centuries has petrified the Babe of Bethlehem. Christian art has trivialized divine scandal into gingerbread creches. Christian worship has sentimentalized the smells of the stable into dignified pagent….Pious imagination and nostalgic music rob Christmas of its shock value, while some scholars reduce the crib to a tame theological symbol. But the shipwrecked at the stable tremble in adoration of the Christ child and quake at the inbreak of God almighty. Because all the Santa Clauses and red-nosed reindeer, fifty-foot trees, and thundering church bells put together create less pandemonium than the infant Jesus when, instead of remaining a statue in a crib, he comes alive and delivers us over to the fire that he came to light.

Now, I’m certainly not saying that the happiness and warmth that is, in fact, shared by many during this season is bad. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m extremely thankful for the blessings that I experience on a daily basis and that come in the forms of a warm place to live, plenty of food to eat, a job, family, and friends and the holiday season is a time when such blessings can certainly be celebrated. But, what I need to focus on this year is carrying the same loving spirit that fills Christmas past December and into each and every day of the new year.

The notion seems simple enough to write about in a blog post like I’m doing here, but, what would that actually look like on a daily basis? For me it means filtering out the fat in my daily routine and replacing it with more time and interaction with my family. It will mean giving more of myself – my time, my creativity, my help – to others. My approach as a teacher has room for improvement, too, in terms of focusing more on the students that I teach and less on the content that I teach. It means spending less time reading sports articles and more time praying.

What would it actually look like in your daily life if you took the first steps in unwrapping the real meaning of Christmas and carried it into the new year?

To anyone kind enough to have given your time to read this. Thank you. I wish you a very merry Christmas in which you are able to fully, and happily enjoy your blessings. I also wish you, as I intend for myself, a leaner more giving New Year.

If you’d like to learn more about one of the major steps I’m taking in order to have a leaner new year, please peruse the posts that I’ve written focused on the Beards, Hands, and Feet Project. Then visit and ‘Like’ the Beards, Hands, and Feet Project Facebook page. Thank you and Merry Christmas!

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

Traverse

In this traverse
‘cross rocky creek bed
I attempt to land
Disoriented footfalls
On stepping-stones
To avoid this water
That flows beneath
And around my missteps
For though I cannot pierce
The same stream twice
Its persistent loop carries with it
His ghosts which are
Also mine
Just as in time stoicism
Formed a divide
My regretful apologies
Have been muted by
A vanishing point
That stands between
The reality he kept inside
And the fabric and the holes
In the humanity that I
Am now bound to wear
Traversing this creek bed
Forevermore

All That You Measure

The establishment

Whether organized religion

Pop culture

Mass media

Or government

Will never take

The narrow road

Found in humility

Through faith

A path traveled upon

Through bright heights

And shadowed valleys

But always paved with grace

And leading to a place

We’ve never been

Jesus said, “For judgement I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” -John 9:39

Momentous Life

I was in the middle of my first year of teaching fourth grade at a rural North Carolina school when I had my first “wintry mix” driving experience. I grew up and learned to drive in upstate New York and didn’t think it would be much of a challenge to navigate through the milder winter weather of a state six-hundred miles south. It didn’t take long for me to realize that it was a different game altogether in North Carolina. In NY snow plows, salt, and cinder trucks were just part of the scenery during the winter time. In North Carolina they are rare, to say the least. Because the roads are not pretreated and then maintained steadily throughout a winter storm in North Carolina, they, like their northern counterparts, can be pretty slick, too. Nothing too terrible happened, really, but, it sent a chill through my bones when, while driving relatively slow, I attempted a right turn only to find that, because of the slick road conditions, my car was in no mood to actually make the turn and it just continued straight past. It wasn’t until several yards after the place that I was supposed to turn, that my car’s momentum finally slowed enough for me to change course. Too much momentum in the wrong direction can lead to a loss of control.
So, I guess the question is, am I headed in the right direction and, if not, what direction should I be headed in?

I’ve been maintaining contact with my ninety-something year old great-aunt for several years now by writing letters. She’s a wonderful, retired teacher who is sharp as a tack and full of wit. In one recent letter to her, I asked her for some words of wisdom or advice. My thought was that somebody of her age and experience might just have a good idea of what works in life. In her response she reminded me that I had asked for advice and told me, “You will find it in the bible.” She then listed the following verses:

Proverbs 2:6
For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Proverbs 3:5, 6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 16:3
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.

Because, as a Christian, I believe that the bible is the Word of God, knowledge and understanding can be found in it. I should place my full focus and trust in the knowledge and understanding that I find in scripture and I should live my life for Him. Only then will I be able to life a successful life. Will my success be indicated by a loaded bank account? Probably not, but, because it will be built on the wisdom and understanding of He that is the original source of wisdom and understanding, it will last forever and never fail me.

I’m not talking about the supposed wisdom that comes from a wealth and prosperity preacher on television or that of an auto mechanic, an underpaid fifth grade teacher, or a personal trainer at the gym. I’m talking about the wisdom that comes from the infinite, omniscient source of all wisdom who came down to suffer in the bowels of human existence, being born in a barn and laid in a cow troth and crucified on cross beams with nails piercing his limbs. I’m talking about the source of patient, unconditional love who extends His grace and hope to all who are willing to accept it.

As I grow older I am also growing in my ability to recognize, in the rear-view mirror, where I’ve made my biggest mistakes in life and what led to them. It is through this reflection that I’ve found that the only way to slow the momentum that carried me in the wrong direction is to let Jesus reorient my path and direct my future walk. Once I realized that I am loved by Him, my Abba, like the love between daddy and son, I began to experience a new level of peace and understanding. But, its continuance, the momentum necessary to maintain this perspective, is found only in remembering daily where I’ve been and where I need to focus from moment to moment: on His plan for my life. Through daily reading of scripture and prayer in which I ask Him to help me reflect his character, instead of my own, to those around me, I grow in His direction and in peace of mind. It is a realization that, even though I stumble on a daily basis, there is also grace, forgiveness, and renewal on a daily basis that maintains my momentum in the right direction.