YOU Can Be HIS Hands And Feet

As I learned from the wonderful woman who would one day become my aunt, I was born to a mother who was mentally unstable and, subsequently, unable to raise me. So, it was my future aunt that cared for me for the first few weeks of my life until I was adopted by the man and woman who I am proud to refer to as my mom and dad to this day. They found me and took me in. And they always told me that because I was adopted, I was special and I believed it.

Well, actually, my dad, with his characteristic sense of humor liked to say, when I was just a toddler, that they just found me under a rock in the garden one day and decided to keep me.

But, I’ve never questioned where I belonged. Being set aside on account of my biological mother’s struggles never phased me. My bond with my family supersedes the technicalities of not being biologically related. In fact, it was my experiences during my Dad’s decline from brain cancer, over the course of about 16 months from October 2010 through February 2012 that helped my middle age perspective to really focus on what is most important.

My dad moved south to North Carolina in 2007 as soon as he received the news that  our second child was on the way so that he could help provide daycare and be close to his grandchildren. So, when the diagnosis of a stage four brain tumor hit, my wife and I were his relatives nearby to care for him. Over the next 16 months of treatments, trips to Duke’s Brain Tumor Center, and various other appointments my wife and I struggled to care for him, meet our work and school obligations and meet the needs of our kids. But it was the last couple of months when he wasn’t able to talk or get dressed or use the bathroom by himself, that pressure from multiple sides started to weigh down on me heavier than anything every had before. I was completely in the dark. It was a time when faith was far less tangible and much more a faint hope that I had to keep trying to remind myself of, just out of reach beyond the chaos. I had a lot of questions for God at the time, like I imagine many people do when in similar circumstances. But, somehow, by His grace and, as my dad would say, by “putting one foot in front of the other,” we made it through.

Such experiences tend to have a profound effect on the way people view what is most important. When I was walking through that darkness I had very little interest or concern about what the most popular songs or movies were or whether Democrats or Republicans had more power in the polls. My concerns were nowhere near even considering how the Jets draft strategy was shaping up for the coming season. No, In those dark times my mind was wrestling with the real and the true struggles of life and death, meeting immediate needs in terms of pain management, and working together with my uncle (who came down from NY to help out) to get my dad successfully through one moment and on to the next with as much peace and as little discomfort as possible. Then on the one night it snowed that winter, I sat with him on his hospice bed in the living room as he lay unconscious, with his heart rate slowing until he breathed his last breath.

Waves of grief from losing my Dad still come at random times, but, I’ve found that, having walked through the darkest period of my life, so far, I have a greater capacity than before to know the pain or at least relate to others who are going through difficult circumstances. This doesn’t mean that I always respond as I should, but, I’ve definitely come to a realization that what really matters in life has a lot more to do with how we relate to others in need and a lot less to do with making more money, earning a new title, or trying to impress others with our accomplishments or the company we keep.;

I have no doubt that it was a convergence of factors in the fall of 2012, allowed by God Himself, in the wake of my dad’s passing, that led me to read James 1:27 with new eyes: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world,” — and then, at that very same time, to draw a direct connection to an organization that I just learned about, through a friend, called The Hands & Feet Project. I had struggled to understand what was happening, within the context of God’s plan, to say the least. There was a lot that I didn’t understand, but, this verse gave me focus.

He was fascinated by my whiskers for some reason

Nickenson was fascinated by my whiskers for some reason

The Hands & Feet Project is an organization that was established in Haiti in 2004 whose Christ-centered purpose is to provide family-style, residential care and sustainable solutions that fight against Haiti’s orphan crisis. UNICEF estimated that in 2012 there were 430,000 orphans in the small country of Haiti. Some are orphaned because they’ve lost their parents in the earthquake of 2010 or due to sickness while others have been abandoned via the common practice of leaving newborns on the hospital steps. Others, due to extreme poverty, have sold their children to be child laborers in various lines of work ranging from organized begging to the sex trade.

The vision of the Hands & Feet Project is to work under the guidance of Haiti’s Child Social Services in order to provide holistic residential care for orphans by building and operating Children’s Villages with multiple family-style homes lead by Haitian House Mothers. They strive to create a circle of care around each child with the intent of giving every boy and girl the chance to reach their God-given potential.

Kettia holding the family photo/frame that Julia made for me to give her

Kettia holding the family photo/frame that Julia made for me to give her

They run two Children’s villages. The one in Jacmel is home to 70 children ranging from infants to teenagers. Their Grand Goave Children’s Village cares for another 30 children ranging in age from 10-16. In these villages children live in groups of 8-10 kids in individual houses that are managed by Haitian house mothers. There they are clothed, have comfortable sleeping quarters, playgrounds and soccer fields to play on. Each of the children is well-fed, has their medical needs met, receives bible studies, takes part in worship, and, through a partnership with Mission of Hope International, attends school and church.

In Matthew 25 Jesus teaches that whatever we do to serve those in need, we are doing directly to him. When we clothe children we are clothing him. When we feed the homeless we are feeding him.

The Hands & Feet Project is providing an amazing opportunity to take a meaningful part in the well-being and development of the children cared for in their Children’s Villages through their sponsorship program called the Family Room. My family and I have sponsored two for some time now and I had the privilege of spending time with both of them while in Haiti in January and I look forward to spending another week with Kettia, the girl we sponsor, as well as all of the other children there when I return in July.

Our family has and continues to sponsor kids through worthy organizations like World Vision, Compassion, and Food For The Hungry, but, this sponsorship program is different. Check out this video to find out how you can have a direct impact on the lives of these kids on the ground level while also helping The Hands & Feet Project grow so that they can provide for more children who have been orphaned and abandoned in Haiti – the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Give them a chance and their lives won’t be the only ones being changed.

“If not us, who will be like Jesus to the least of these?”

-Audio Adrenaline

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