Orphan Sunday special: Talking with Audio Adrenaline’s Mark Stuart about Hands and Feet

graceMark:

Check it out!

Originally posted on decentchristiantalk:

When I started this website, I stated that the content on decentchristiantalk.com would not just be about music. We would also promote and help bring awareness to issues that are going on in the world today. With this upcoming Sunday (November 2nd) being “Orphan Sunday”, we talked to former Audio A front man Mark Stuart about the Hands and Feet project. Before we get to that, I asked my friend Brendan Gallagher to share his experience with the Hands and Feet project:

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When Gabe told me that DCT would be highlighting Hands and Feet in conjunction with Orphan Sunday I asked if I could add a personal note to his interview with founder Mark Stuart.

        FullSizeRender1    I had the privilege in August of 2013 to lead a group to work with Hands and Feet at their Gran Goave location. We helped pour the foundation for their new utility building and…

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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.

Providence (in spite of me)

I am a mountain that has seen the sun
Baking the escarpment broken open
By seismic shifts I had no defense for
Revealing light-less depths I’d never known

I’m a mountain that bore greenery from
Fertile hillside blessed by shaded rainfall
Balanced with ample sunlight to bring forth
Nature’s rich bounty spilling o’er the edge

From the west to the east and peak to ground
I rise up from valleys on every side
Equally akin to death’s deep shadow
As lush pastures of green by still waters

The breadth of my marked ascent is defined
Not by claiming to be a victim but
By recognizing the transparency
Through which He intended me to be

Identity revealed through my frailty
Humility through inability
Bore a mountain solid from within me
His blood covering every flaw you see

So let not my words cause you to stumble
Where I’ve been is not where I planned to be
But He who shaped each atom of the earth
Can mine precious gems from the abyss
To reflect His light for eternity

Only After

It is the landscape
In front and
Melting out
Into the periphery
Halfway along the journey
To the vanishing point
That startles you
The sunset far
More desolate
Than you once imagined
It to be years before
The grief in your throat
Rising simultaneously
As objects in the rearview
Shrink back behind and
Your eyes focus more
Than ever on
Jagged cracks
Pockmarks
And flaws in
The pavement below
Your head fighting
Gravity with vision
Transfixed not
On light reflecting off
The asphalt surface
But through to ghosts
That no one else can see
And the wake they left
When you turned
On your own heels
Setting out for
Your fair share
Which turned
Out to be laden
Indeed
With grace
A blessing
Certainly
For you still
Even to be
Here now
To behold
This revelation that
The promised land
Wasn’t grasped
Before forty years
In the desert
The life of Paul
Out of the
Killings of Saul
Resurrection only
After Christ
Staggered beneath
The weight of
The cross
Your salvation
Only once you have
Nothing else on
Which to hold
Leaving
Your hands empty
And free to
Seek first

Just In Time

The Glorious Unfolding is Steven Curtis Chapman’s newest album and, since the first day I pressed play, it has become a go-to album for me, in particular, because of the profoundly relevant and comforting message that is conveyed throughout many of the songs on the album. Without a doubt, despite the fact that I’ve had a number of notably difficult periods in my life, being my dad’s caretaker for the final sixteen months of his life, as his health and independence declined after diagnosis of a stage four glioblastoma brain tumor, was the darkest and most difficult experience of my life. I can definitely speak from experience when it comes to the notion of trying to maintain some thread of faith in God’s providence at a time when it was so dark that I couldn’t see my own hand if I waved it in front of my face. Surely, there were momentary flickers of light from caring and gracious people who knew about his situation that would briefly reflect off the golden thread that God had hanging for me where I was at every moment of that journey. But, it was all too easy to lose my focus and to not be able to find it again when I was at my weakest and in my greatest need. I was broken and empty and felt, surely, like I had nothing to hold onto. But, His thread of hope was still there whether I could see it in a given moment or not. He never left and, because I had nowhere else to turn, I never gave up seeking Him. While I often felt like I was lost in a free fall, he was holding me and carrying me through. Eventually, a new purpose and peace would be revealed (read about that part of my story here, if you’re not already familiar), but, it was only in His time, just in time, that I would learn just how powerful faith in His plan can be.

1 Kings 17 reminded me of that dark period in my life as I read about the widow that the prophet Elijah met at the gate of Zarephath of Sidon. During a time of famine and weary from his journey, Elijah asked the widow for a drink of water and a piece of bread. Verses 12-16 reveal the widow’s circumstances and lay the foundation for a lesson in faith that she learned by trusting God despite her struggles:

“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread – only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat and die.”

Elijah said to her “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.”

She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.

My dad passed away February 20, 2012, but, not before accepting the idea that God loved him and that he had good reason to accept hope in Christ. In fact, the last thing that I said to him that I’m confident he actually heard and understood was that my uncle (who was there in the house with Dad and I at that time) were doing all that we knew to make him as comfortable as possible and that the rest was up to Jesus and that He would take care of him. Dad had been extremely restless and agitated that morning and he couldn’t talk due to the brain cancer’s progression, but, after assuring him that Jesus was in control, he settled down and rested through the rest of the day until he eventually breathed his last breath around 12:30 AM with my arms around him for the last time. His present peace and eternal future is brighter than any of us here can even imagine.

The nearly two and a half years since my dad passed away have been tough at times, to say the least, but, in that time I have also experienced a gradual increase in my awareness of the beauty of God’s glorious unfolding story. I know that there will likely be challenges ahead in my life during which times I’ll need to remind myself of this life lesson that I’ve been learning, but, it is certain. He knows what He is doing and wherever you are in your journey, you need to know and remember that “this is going to be a glorious unfolding…just wait and see…and you will be amazed…