“Blessings” by Young Saint

As I just mentioned to a friend in a comment on my Facebook page, this song by YOUNG SAINT articulates, so well, where I stand at this point in my life: BLESSED!  You may not be a fan of rap music and you may not identify with urban culture as represented in this video, but, listen to the lyrics throughout the song. This is universal truth and all credit is due to my God. Please consider my last post, “An Honest Survey,” in conjunction with the message and passion in this song.

 

The song “Blessings” is available as part of Young Saint’s album TRANSITION.

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

Chiaroscuro

The gap in synchrony

between my head and feet

Both entangling a soul

though tethered free indeed

My earthbound walk painted

more like a stagger and lurch

Between eternal heights

and a cyclical curse

Ever failing to learn

lessons from missteps made

But for Your favor unearned

I’d end at the grave

Until You return in

this condition I’ll wait

Moving onward and upward

death penalty stayed

Breakfast Is Served!

I’m reflecting this morning on the end of the gospel of John and a few key points seem particularly relevant to me today:

1-Jesus met the disciples where they were and in their then-present circumstances (he knew where to find them and what they’d be doing: out to sea fishing);
2-Jesus provided for them (a catch of fish too large to haul back into the boat);
3-Jesus prepared for and served them (cooked a meal of fish and bread and gave it to them).

Then, after doing so, He said, “Follow me.” The bible seems to indicate that He was just speaking to Peter, but, John got up and followed Him, too. Martin Luther, in his commentary, indicates that there are two lessons to learn here. First, even Peter, one of the greatest apostles, immediately after having been engaged in conversation with and called by Jesus, lost his focus. He took his eyes off Jesus and became concerned with what those around him were doing. Second, Jesus may have different plans for each one of us. In essence, Jesus responded to Peter’s question by letting him know that it was none of his business what His plans were for John.

So, what do I get out of this? First, I was reminded that Jesus loves me personally, where I am, right now. He knows what I’m dealing with on a daily basis. He knows what is swirling around in my head from one moment to the next. Second, He is more than capable of providing for my needs in my present circumstances. Third, what He has in mind for me is far greater than anything I can come up with on my own. I’ve never had fish for breakfast, but, if prepared and served by Jesus Himself, it would be far better than anything that I could pull out of the pantry or refrigerator to make for myself in the morning. Finally, we are not all called to live out the same story or to serve in the same mission or ministry in our lives. We shouldn’t model ourselves after other people that we think are good. We should model ourselves after Jesus. This is His story and He knows where we fit into it.

Have a great day!

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

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.

Land and Water

A major difference between water and land is the fluidity of water. It moves. It can be contained, to a certain extent, and it may even be characterized by currents that travel within in predictable ways. But, in general, it is free, wild and anything but still. Even when sitting in a glass, seemingly motionless, particles of liquid are evaporating into the air, out of sight.

I live in the south. I didn’t grow up here and I don’t honestly see myself living out the rest of my days from this cul-de-sac point of view, but, who knows? It is, after all, comfortable. I have a decent back yard, an office space to myself above the garage, a membership to the local Y, and plenty of places nearby to run as I continue trying to work toward one of the characteristic benchmark achievements of middle-aged, middle-class, health-conscious white folk like myself: running a marathon. One has to have goals, right?

I  teach in a rural elementary school where, if you pull out of the parking lot, turn left, take another left at the intersection, and follow the road to it’s end, you’ll end up on the church grounds of a congregation that pre-dates America’s independence from Britain. My wife, my kids, and I attended that church for a few years and enjoyed its beautiful grounds and storied history.  Members of the congregation were very kind and fairly welcoming. A few especially loving members of the church family even played a significant role in providing company and comfort to my Dad during his battle with brain cancer before he passed in early 2012 and I am sincerely grateful for their compassion. I certainly have fond memories of the church. It was very comfortable.

In terms of personality type, I would have to classify myself as an introvert. I appreciate routine and an environment where I have some level of control. Spending a lot of time in a room full of people isn’t my cup of tea. So, after a day full of teaching fifth graders, uttering greetings to colleagues that I pass in the hall, and putting students into their cars when they are picked up at the end of the day in the car-rider line, all I really want to do is go home, go for a run by myself, or sit down and relax. The fact that I have a nine year old daughter and a five year old son that don’t always have the same idea of a good time as I do means that my blissful afternoon decompression time doesn’t always materialize. But, overall, I can’t complain. I’ve got a decent job that, for the most part, I enjoy, I work with people that I like, and I love my wife and kids to pieces. It’s comfortable.

Taking all that I’ve said so far in consideration, I’d have to admit that I’m much more of a land-dweller than a seafarer. I like to have my feet kicked up and resting on a sturdy ottoman that sits upon a sturdy floor in my comfortable living room.

I’m learning, though, that God is a lot more like water than land. My father’s final two years were characterized by a lot of pain, frustration, stress, and fear. It was a period that could have been characterized as anything, but, comfortable. But, in the midst of that storm, as I rode upon waves in a boat that I’d not planned to be in, I experienced the love and compassion of many around  me, the likes of which I’d never have know were it not for the rough seas around me that tossed my life, and even more so, my dad’s, around so violently.

In addition, I’ve learned lessons in the past year, in the midst of mourning, about the real and vibrant role that acts of faith can play in opening the door and allowing God’s beauty to flow in. The impact of His love on my life simply can’t be quantified. With eyes opened wider than ever before, I’m finding moments of grace and blessing in my life that I could’ve never dreamed of. Their cumulative force has brought me to the point where I am checking under every rock and looking at every face in anxious anticipation for what blessing will reveal itself next. But, I’m doing so knowing that the proportion to which God reveals his plan is often related to the extent to which I put comfort aside, move out of my cul-de-sac mentality, and get in the boat He has waiting at the dock for me. While I know that the waters I will float upon have the potential to become wild and stormy at any given moment, I have a growing faith that the journey that I take upon His water, water that is living, will be well-worth it.

As Josh Harmony sings in his song Paradox, “I know You enough to know to trust you with what I don’t…”

“God’s desire is that we get out into the open water, because it is there that the real relationship happens. A real relationship with God doesn’t happen in the harbor, safely tied up to the dock. The boat wasn’t made to stay tied to the dock; it was meant to sail in the open water.” -Mark Stuart, Hands And Feet Project director

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” -Psalms 119:105