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!

Thirty Days Into the Beards, Hands & Feet Project: Whiskers and Miles for Orphaned Haitian Children

Day 1: Clean-cut

Day 1 of No-shave November: clean-shaven.

It was a concoction of factors and circumstances that led to my discovery of the Hands and Feet Project which is a small organization that has been growing since it was first established in 2004 by members of Christian band Audio Adrenaline. In a nutshell, The Hands and Feet Project runs two Children’s Villages in Haiti where they care for orphaned children. By doing so they are addressing one of the most distinct and clear scriptural directives intended for Christians to follow. But, now, they’d like to grow their potential to meet the needs of Haitian orphans by building two additional villages, in effect, doubling their capacity. If you care to read more about why the focus of the Hands and Feet Project, caring for Haitian orphans, is near and dear to me, please read one of my prior blog posts on the topic. One of the avenues they’ve chosen to raise money is to recruit people to run with Mark Stuart, Will McGinnis, Kevin Max, and other members of the Hands and Feet Project/Audio Adrenaline in the Rock and Roll Marathon/Half Marathon series as part of the Hands and Feet Team. In order to take part as a member of the Hands and Feet Team, though, runners have to raise at least $500 which all benefits the Hands and Feet Project’s mission of providing for Haitian orphans. Their first team race is today at the Las Vegas Marathon.

My goal is to participate in the second Hands and Feet Project team run at the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville, TN on

Day 30 of No-shave November

Day 30 of No-shave November: scruff and snowman pajamas.

April 27, 2013 and I’m sacrificing any groomed dignity I may have had as a way to raise at least $500 to benefit the work of The Hands and Feet Project.

I made a commitment to participate in “No-shave November,” by shaving clean on 11/1 and not touching the razor again for the full month of November. However, the original idea was that if I could get people to sponsor me at a rate of $5 a day, I would let it continue growing until the sponsorships run out or until the April 27, 2013 Half Marathon – whichever comes first. To understand why this is, at all, an interesting prospect, I should note that I have never been able to grow a decent beard. In one month, I’ve developed some sub-standard jaw line, mustache, chin, and neck coverage, but, all I get on my cheeks are uneven, sparse patches of whiskers that my wife complains about almost daily. My face looks more like a beaten up velcro strip than a beard.

That being said, I’m willing to let my facial hair go and take whatever uncharted form, shape, and appearance  it will as long as I’m raising money for the Haitian orphans being served now and in the future by the Hands and Feet Project.

So, what do you think? Would you be willing to step up and fund these whiskers? In doing so, you won’t just be improving the lives of many homeless Haitian children, but, you’ll make everyone else who is near me look nicer and more well-groomed by comparison. Finally, you’ll have the added satisfaction of knowing that you’ve helped to ensure that I will be one ugly, scruffy, stumbling, and sweaty mess at the end of the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville on April 27, 2013. It’s a win for everybody!

Currently, thanks to the generous donations of a few early sponsors, my whiskers are safe through the 20th of January, 2013. If you are interested in donating to the cause, please contact me either via E-mail at mrocks7@windstream.net, on Facebook, or in person. Eventually there will be a link where people can donate in my name toward my $500 fundraising goal on the official Hands and Feet Project web page, but, because they’re still focusing on today’s Las Vegas Marathon event, they may not be publicizing the April event until later this month or January.

For more information on my progress visit my Beards, Hands, and Feet Project Facebook Page – and be sure to ‘Like’ it!

For more information on The Hands and Feet Project visit the official Hands and Feet Project Site and view the videos below:

Hands & Feet (and BEARDS): Growing Whiskers In Order To Support Hatian Orphans

Day 1: Clean-cut

Feeling the seasonal itch to revel in the masculine autumn custom of whisker growing, I recently signed on to take part in “Movember,” a group organized for the purpose of raising awareness and support for male health issues, such as prostate cancer, by growing out one’s moustache. Now, while raising awareness for male health issues is, certainly, a noble and worthwhile cause, an issue that has been weighing much more significantly in my life of late is that of the plight of orphans and, specifically, those in Haiti. While the consequences of Hurricane Sandy’s impact on the northeast U.S. are still unfolding, the devastating effects of the hurricane hit that Haiti took in 2008 are still being felt, as well, especially by children who don’t have families to care for them.

As a Christian, I believe that Christ’s directive to aid and minister to “the least of these” and to love others as yourself couldn’t be any clearer. This is what he wanted us all, as Christians, to do: serve and care for the most vulnerable. The Hands & Feet Project has been doing just that for “the least of these” in Haiti since 2004. Even before the hurricane, the need to care for orphans in Haiti was great. In the time since, it has become even more of a critical issue. The Hands & Feet Project is focused on providing a safe, long term environment for Haitian students to grow and develop in:

Currently we are focused on building Children’s villages in the Caribbean nation of Haiti. Each village is built with the dual purpose of caring for orphans and providing a place for partners to come serve with us on short term mission trips. Our villages are lead by American and Haitian staff members who are committed to the Hands and Feet family values.

In fact, after already establishing and maintaining two Children’s villages for orphans in Haiti, they are at full capacity and are now planning to expand by building two more Children’s villages in order to take care of more children in need.

So what does this have to do with me? …or beards in general, for that matter?

Day 5

I’ve decided to expand my “no-shave-November” focus for the benefit of the Hands & Feet project in Haiti and tie “No Shave November” in with the commitment that I’ve made to participate in the Country Music Half Marathon in April 2013 as part of the Hands & Feet team. I am committed to let the beard develop through the month of November, regardless, much to my wife’s chagrin. As much as I try, year after year, it never comes out looking like a beard should.

All that being said, I am willing, in order to benefit the Hands & Feet Project, to further embarrass myself, and my wife, by letting it go PAST November FOR AS LONG AS I HAVE THE FUNDRAISING INCENTIVE TO DO SO!

So, I’m asking friends, family, and strangers to lay down your hard-earned cash to commit to funding at least one day (or as many as you like!) of extra beard growth beyond November in order to benefit The Hands & Feet Project at a rate of $10 per day.

In fact, if you’re willing to commit to funding my whisker growth beyond “no-shave November,” during the month of November, I will gladly take pledge commitments of just $5 for each day, instead of the $10/day rate I’ll be asking for after 12/1/12, in order to help get the ball rolling!

If the support is there, I am willing to let it go, COMPLETELY UNBRIDLED(!), until the day I take part in the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville, TN on April 27, 2013! That would be six full months of wild whisker growth – but ONLY if the charitable funding is there to egg me on in support of the orphans in Haiti being cared for by The Hands & Feet Project!

The specifics of how the funding will best be processed are still somewhat in the works, but, here are some options that you can consider to take part in this effort:

  1. Send me a check, made out to The Hands And Feet Project made out for $10 or more (depending on how long you are sponsoring my beard for) that I can send in at the end, along with other donations, in one lump sum.
  2. Send The Hands & Feet Project a check made out for $10 or more (depending on how long you are sponsoring my beard for) with “MARK ROCKWELL’S HANDS/FEET/BEARD HALF-MARATHON FUND” written on the memo line (but, make sure you let me know if you do so that I can keep track of how many days are funded and keep my whiskers safe from the razor!)
  3. Wait for the official Hands & Feet Project Team link: The Hands & Feet Project will be posting a link on their page through which you can donate specifically, in my name, to benefit the effort. However, this link may not be up until January 2013 and the whiskers are going to need some protection before then!

Day 8

If you have any questions at all (my mailing address, why I’m doing this, or just to tell me that I’m crazy and you know I’ll never be able to run 13.1 miles at once), feel free to e-mail me at mrocks7@windstream.net

I will update my blog, Twitter ( @gracemark ), and Facebook page with updates about which days are funded and which still need funding as the ball gets rolling. If you’re generous enough, I may have to tie the beard up in April in order to keep from tripping on it while I run!

All kidding aside, this is a very serious effort and I would be sincerely grateful if you would lend me, my whiskers, and the orphans being cared for now (and in the future) your support. Please sponsor my facial hair today. I’ll be happy to start taking pledges of support….NOW! 😉