How To Live Life

Spirituality and belief in something beyond what we can see and physically touch is a challenge, I think, for most people at one point or another in their life, if not, their whole life. My 36 (nearly 37) years have been threaded with alternating seasons of light and dark. Of late, however, I’ve been made keenly aware, because of the kindness of others and the grace of God, of just how powerful faith can be.

In a nutshell, after a sixteen month battle with brain cancer, during which I was his primary caregiver, my dad, who was also, most appropriately, the best man in my wedding, passed away in February 2012. My wife and I spent most of 2012 working through all of his final arrangements, bills, estate, etc. It was in autumn, after having his modular home on the market for several months and only receiving offers worth just over half of what was owed on the mortgage that we were growing more and more worried about the prospect of having to forget about any prospect of a profit and, instead, having to pay thousands of dollars to pay off the mortgage.

As many do in stressful circumstances, I prayed. At that point, just not having to pay off the mortgage would be a huge relief for us, so, in the midst of my prayer, it occurred to me that, if we were able to somehow get some kind of profit from the sale of the house that we would be willing to turn it over to God by donating it to the Hands & Feet Project.

The Hands & Feet Project provides family-style care to orphaned and abandoned children in Haiti and I’d just become aware of their existence a few months before, but, recognized the fact that they are doing the work, specifically, that the bible directs Christians to do (“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.” -James 1:27 NIV).

Within a month or two we signed the paperwork and handed over the keys to the house and walked away with a profit of about $2,500 that we sent to The Hands & Feet Project, along with an e-mail explaining a bit about who my dad was, how the donation came about, and why we were making it.
It wasn’t long before I received an e-mail from Hands & Feet director Mark Stuart stating:

    Mark…    What can I say. Your email and blog has me in tears. What an incredible honor to     your father to make a donation in his memory. I would like for the funds to got to something in his name. Perhaps our new kitchen on the mountain in Ikondo. We could honor his memory by calling it the Rockwell kitchen. What do you think?    Your friend…    

The kindness and the timing of their gesture to offer up the idea of honoring my Dad by naming the kitchen in the new orphanage after him absolutely blew me away on so many levels! The positive effect on the life of my kids, my wife, and myself – in terms of grief that we’re still sorting through, and in terms of the layers of darkness lifted off of his memory due to the manner in which his life ended – is monumental. The idea that this kitchen, with my Dad’s name on it, in an orphanage in Haiti where food will be prepared for a number of kids who wouldn’t otherwise have a home or parents, probably, is too wonderful for me able to me to be able to properly articulate in words. It honors my dad in a way that would truly move him.

I’ve come to the realization that true life is found in our willingness to act in faith, not knowing for sure, and trust in the notion that, if we seek Him and his direction, first, we can’t help but to find a more meaningful, more colorful, and more satisfying life. Now, I am inspired and more clear about who I really am than I’ve ever been before. This isn’t because of something that I did or some kind of sacrifice that I made. The profit from the house wasn’t even there to give until I trusted God. This was his grace – his love – at work. I simply trusted Him. Now my entire life has found a new meaning and taken on a heightened sense of purpose that I was never aware of before.

I read the twenty-fifth chapter of the gospel of Matthew to my kids this evening before bed this evening:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Jesus wants us to actually pay attention to those around us. It might be a neighbor, an elderly relative, a lonely kid at school, or a stranger you pass on the sidewalk. It might be your husband or your wife. Your brother or your sister. It might be an orphan in Haiti. But, wherever you find somebody in need, you have the opportunity to help them, and in doing so, serve Jesus directly.

If Jesus appeared next to you right now and asked for a drink of water, would you give it to him?

If an abandoned or orphaned child asked for a home to live in, would you help them find it?

Please consider donating to The Hands & Feet Project

News Too Good To Keep Under Wraps: Light At The End

“God is good.” It’s what my Baba, my Polish grandmother used to say and its true. Despite my failings and faults, which surface on a daily basis. Despite my too frequent stinginess. Despite the multitude of wrongs that I’ve committed throughout my thirty-six (nearly thirty-seven) years, God is good and he is making it abundantly clear to me of late that, while I had no real hand in any of it, his grace is sufficient enough to allow me to be in the path of the tapestry that he is hanging around this world.

I’ve written several blog posts about my Dad’s influence on me over the past couple of years and, especially the last couple of months. In a nutshell, he was a selfless, simple, old fashioned man who let his walking talk far louder than anything he ever said. He certainly had his own views and not everybody agreed with him, but, he never turned down anyone in need of a hand and he never asked for anything he didn’t absolutely need or couldn’t get or do for himself. His neighbors knew him mainly through the chores and projects he helped them with or the visits he paid. His big belly (and mine) was a testament to his love of baking and cooking and eating. He served as a baker in the Air Force while stationed in Pakistan in the early sixties and, from what I’ve been told, he never had a flat stomach again. But, as much as he loved to eat, he loved to cook for others, more. He could always be counted on to invite us over for breakfast or supper, make a big breakfast for friends, and prepare and serve breakfast when they needed a fill-in at Rowan Helping Ministries homeless shelter.

On the other hand, his life, it seemed was often characterized by the notion that “you get what you deserve” was some kind of joke. He worked hard throughout his life and had a job with IBM for years, but, was let go six months short of early retirement and just a couple of years before IBM pulled out of town. My parents’ marriage dissolved over the years as did my Dad’s relationship with my brother. 1996 brought a house fire that destroyed everything we owned and 1998 brought my pineal gland brain tumor. But, through all of those trials, he could always be counted on to, as he said, “keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

I remember, quite well, when I was told about the tumor that they found in my brain as a result of a CT scan in 1998. While I knew that he had no medical knowledge, his assurance that, “We’ve been through too much already to let this get in our way. We’ll get through this,” had a tangible, assuring effect on me. He was always there to help wherever it was needed. Rightfully so, he was the best man in my wedding.

He continued working hard and finally retired after ten years as a school bus driver and mechanic before moving down to North Carolina to be closer to my wife, my daughter, and I. He came down to help make the prospect of us being able to afford daycare for a second child easier. He provided daily care, in cooperation with my wife’s parents who came down soon after, for my son Jacob from the time that he was born in 2007 until he was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2010. Despite a total loss of independence, and over a year’s worth of surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments, It wasn’t until one night when I was driving him home from our house, just a couple of months before he passed away, that he finally spoke words out loud acknowledging his pain and sadness saying, “I just don’t understand why it has to be this way.”

For him to say those words was a monumental indication of deep, deep pain far greater than the impression that would most likely be made by an average person walking down the street if they were to say the same words. He was a guarded person who lived with the mindset that “you never let ’em see you sweat.” He was guarded, but, he loved his grandchildren and enjoyed them more than anything and just when everything was finally going well, it all fell apart, for the final time.

While he did, in a prayer I had with him around that same time, open himself up to God’s grace, the final months, and especially the final days, of his life were a tremendously difficult, confusing, dark, and sad time for him, for me, and for my Uncle John who was there with us. It was, surely, the worst experience in my life and it is one through which I’m having to continually sift through the personal wreckage on a daily basis.

All of that being said, the value, the evidence of, and my reliance upon the hope and grace of God has never been more real or important to me than it has been over the past two and a half years since my Dad was first diagnosed. The twenty-third Psalm has become a staple that I’ve clung to, and often shared and discussed with Dad (with the help of a well-written book by Max Lucado on the topic). Simple, hopeful music – the likes of Johnny Cash hymns, worship songs from Travis Taylor, and Erick Cole, and the beautiful music of Josh Harmony, have been the steadily hopeful soundtrack to the hardest years of my life.

Its been about eleven months since he passed away. Coincidentally, the weather tonight as I write – cold sleet and snow – reminds me of that night. It was the only night up to that point all last winter that it snowed here in North Carolina. It was, indeed, the coldest night.

In the time since Angela and I worked our way through the overwhelming task of closing up his estate, burying his ashes back home in New York, and, eventually, selling his house just after Christmas.

Though we’ve supported the likes of World Vision and Compassion International with sponsored children and have usually given when we saw the need, as a family, we’ve never been very good at fulfilling the very noble practice, that so many people do each week, of tithing a full ten percent of our income. It is a challenge that we certainly need to work toward meeting consistently going forward. But, we did make an intentional effort to tithe from what we were able to inherit from my Dad.

Because of a variety of circumstances, including the blessing that I received when my mom (who I also have many reasons to be thankful for) and dad provided for me by adopting me as an infant, and the fact that the bible is pretty clear about the fact that Christians are to care for widows and orphans – “…the least of these…” – we chose to tithe toward Christian organizations that have ties to orphans and adoption. One of these organizations, that I learned about through my appreciation for the ongoing career of singer Kevin Max and his role as the new lead singer for the band Audio Adrenaline, is The Hands And Feet Project.

The Hands and Feet Project established a program providing family style care for orphans in Haiti in 2004. They care for nearly 200 children now and are currently in the process of constructing their third home in which they will provide shelter, care, food, and education for even more orphans in Haiti. They’re doing exactly what the bible instructs us, as Christians, to do: care for the most vulnerable.

The process of sorting through my Dad’s belongings, paperwork, bills, and attending appointments with the lawyer, and trying to sell his house were a major stress for Angela and I on top of just moving through the typical grieving process that we all have to go through at one point or another and the offers that we were getting for the house were barely half of what it would take to simply pay off the mortgage. After several months with the house on the market and no good offers, we were starting to become concerned and our stress level grew.

It was then that, in the midst of praying about it, the idea occurred to me to make a commitment to God that, if we could get the house sold and turn any kind of a profit, we would turn it over to The Hands And Feet Project. Well, within a couple more months we signed off on the final paperwork, handed over the keys, and had a profit of about $2,500. I sent it to The Hands And Feet Project late last week.

Now, let me be clear, this isn’t some kind of pat-myself-on-the-back kind of message that I’m writing this evening. I’ve already admitted that our giving has never been a model of Christian charity and even the idea to make this commitment occurred when I was praying. The idea wasn’t mine. I can’t credit even an ounce of good to myself here. Instead, I’m sharing this because of what God has apparently been orchestrating all along with his own providence. It was through His good grace that there was even a profit from the house sale to donate.

When I sent the donation I sent it with an e-mail and a link to one of my blog posts with the intent of providing some explanation as to how the donation came about, why it was made, and what kind of a person my Dad was. Well, Tuesday I received an e-mail from Hands And Feet Project Director Mark Stuart:

    Mark…

    What can I say. Your email and blog has me in tears. What an incredible honor to     your father to make a donation in his memory. I would like for the funds to got to something in his name. Perhaps our new kitchen on the mountain in Ikondo. We could honor his memory by calling it the Rockwell kitchen. What do you think?

    Your friend…    

Immediately upon reading it I called my wife over and I did something I’ve never done before: I broke down and cried – out of sincere appreciation and overwhelming gratitude – for joy. How totally unexpected! And how perfect! The kitchen! It was the room in the house that my Dad appreciated the most!

I was, and continue to be, completely overwhelmed by the sensitivity and graciousness of this gesture put forth by Mark Stuart and The Hands And Feet Project – and the connections made to it by Kevin Max. Just the notion that this kitchen – a place where food will be prepared for these beautiful kids – will have a plaque with my Dad’s name on it, in his honor – in Haiti …it blows me away! I knew my Dad better than anyone else and I know that he would be moved to tears as well.

It is a gesture that I honestly don’t think even Mark Stuart knows the extent to which its power and hope extends. The experience of explaining to Julia and Jacob just how this honors their Grandpa – and the timing of it being revealed  when my soul has been aching so deeply out of grief. Words cannot articulate the depth of appreciation that I have and how blessed and grateful my family and I are for this gesture in honor of my Dad.

The new facility being built by The Hands And Feet Project in Ikondo, Haiti where the kitchen will be named in honor of my Dad. (photo source: The Hands And Feet Project's official Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/hfproject )

The new facility being built by The Hands And Feet Project in Ikondo, Haiti where the kitchen will be named in honor of my Dad. (photo source: The Hands And Feet Project’s official Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/hfproject )

I spoke to Mark on the phone not long after getting the e-mail and he said that it will be a few months before it is finished, but, that, when it is, they’ll put up a plaque and take some photos to send to us. He also mentioned the idea of us coming down to see it some time and, after a couple of days thinking about it, I think that is exactly what we will try to do when we can work out when and how to make the trip possible for the four of us. But, when we go, I want to make sure that it is a trip in which we have the opportunity to help in the work that they are doing.

I am continuing, with even more passion, and out of sheer gratitude for God’s grace, in my efforts to raise funds to support the expansion of The Hands And Feet Project in Haiti. Thank you, so much, to those who have sponsored my beard. You are helping, significantly, in the great work of The Hands And Feet Project. You are doing what Jesus asked us to do.

“God is good.”

For those who haven’t already, please consider sponsoring my continued beard growth at a rate of $5 per day for the number of days that you are comfortable sponsoring. My goal is to raise enough to ensure that my scraggly beard is still there, and bigger, on April 27th when I attempt to complete the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville in support of The Hands And Feet Project.

You can donate directly to the Hands And Feet Project online through their website at http://www.handsandfeetproject.org/

If you do, please let me know how much so that I can know the number of days to mark off from the number of days that I still need to have my beard sponsored for.

Thank you, so much for your willingness to read this. If you feel inclined, please do contribute what you can to The Hands And Feet Project. The work they’re doing is so very, very important.

My Beards, Hands and Feet Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BeardsHandsAndFeetProject

My past blog posts related to the topic: https://gracemark.wordpress.com/category/hands-feet-and-beards/

Luke 10:25-37

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Divide

You came right to the door
To my utter surprise
Before I let you in
The morn’ opened my eyes

Gold words I couldn’t utter
The tar stuck on my heels
Needing five more minutes
My bruised soul still reels

They don’t seem to care
Or my guard has hidden well
Ever present mourning
Prospective endless hell

Praying I didn’t fail you
Were choices better made
Peace wouldn’t be elusive
Regret could start to fade

Grace stands the only hope
Repentance outside time
By His means unbeknownst
Mercy that does not rhyme