Monday, September 16, 2013

Mark and My Testimony

I started losing my faith in God when I was 24.  I prayed and prayed to that entity, begging him or her that my mother would not be taken away from me.   I gave he, or she, a bunch of second chances after that but every time I lost someone that I loved, every time the answer was no, my faith eroded that much more until it was gone.  From ashes and dirt we arose, and are cynically destined to return to those elements with no hope of anything else beyond.

My wife, Karen is a very spiritual woman, and it was important to her that we raise our children in a faith community. I at one time had a great experience growing up in a church, so I thought it was not a bad thing to offer my kids a baseline and then let them make their own choices when they became adults. I went along.  I encouraged them, dutifully went to church on certain holiday Sundays, taught other children about God and a man called Jesus whose message I always thought was a pretty good one.  Nagging in the back of my head though was the thought that I was poser, because I didn’t really believe…or at least I didn’t think I did.

I met my friend, Mark, when I had a mini-stroke and was in the emergency room.  I was stretched out on a table recovering after they resolved it when he came in. He hugged my wife and when he talked to me he looked confused. He said, “I know Karen very well and I have seen you around.  I just never really put it together that you were together.”  He talked to me for a bit.  He asked me, “Are you afraid?” I said, “No, not really.  I’m not sure why, but I’m not.”  He smiled and said, “Good. There is nothing to be afraid of.”  He did not preach and he did not insist on praying.  He just made me feel better in a time when I was not feeling well.

It was while I was in the hospital getting looked over that we all first started talking about Parkinson’s Disease, because I shook all of the time.  When I was fully diagnosed Mark called me and asked me to meet him.  Again he talked with me and again he asked, “Are you afraid?”  This time I said, “I don’t know yet, but I still don’t think so.”  He again smiled and said, “Good.  This will be tough, but you have nothing to be afraid of.”  Mark and I got into a routine of meeting up weekly to sit outside a local coffee shop and to talk.  Mark listened to me a lot, to my stories, and he said, “You should write some of this down.”  After a few more times when he, and many others, said that I listened and started writing. But Mark was first.

I told him about how I love the rain and why.  I told him the story about how my oldest son, Ben, was sitting with me one night watching a thunderstorm and Karen called looking for him. He yelled back, “I’m sitting out here in the garage, Mom, with the Rain King.”  Sometimes, even after a couple of years of knowing him, if it showers or a storm brews up I get a text on my phone from Mark that says things like “The Rain King must be happy right now.”  That always makes me smile.

When I first became aware of Mark he was just another dad and working guy like me who attended the same church.  Mark gave up the corporate world at some point because of a calling.  When I formally met him in the hospital he had finished seminary and was now a pastor at our church.  Mark is a distinctive guy that is known around town.  In the summer when he is not giving a sermon he often wears shorts and Hawaiian shirts.  I described him to a friend once and then one afternoon she called me and said “I think I saw your pastor in town.”  I thought about that for a minute.  My pastor…what does that mean?  Do I have a pastor?  I answered myself, yes. Then I asked myself a different set of questions. Why?  Does this mean I believe in something?  I answered the same way.  Yes. In my own way, yes I do.  I realized that in subtle conversations about philosophy, life and the rain, Mark brought me back to God. He got me thinking about guys like Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and where they fit in my life; why they are important.  The night I realized this I was listening to Jackson Browne, who is one of my absolute favorite musicians.  A song came on and the words go like this:

Oh-- can we call it a loanand a debt that I owe...on a bet that I lost... 

I guess it is true what is said, sometimes the loser does win it all.

I have a lot of friends who practice their faith in different ways, believe in different things than me, and that includes people who are (oxymoron alert) devout atheists that believe in nothing or something more corporeal.  I respect them all and always will, because I am still a seeker.  I’ll bet some of them are too.
I like the fact that Mark has coached me but nevertheless let me find my faith in my own way. I am not done with that yet. 

Mark is very generous in that he shares with me some of his sermon notes and the guidelines he gives to various small groups we have in our church.  It always fuels my thinking.  Today he sent me something that I can’t quite get off my mind… in a good way.  Today he challenged people to think about the things you avoid, the things you find hard, or distasteful maybe, or are afraid of.  He made some nice correlations to our faith, our society and the nature of commitments. I sent him a note and a quote about that.  It is from T.S. Eliot who is my favorite poet.  It goes like this:

"If you aren't in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” 

I, like most everyone, deal all of the time with challenges.  Challenges with being a husband and a father, work challenges, and because I shake a lot, sometimes life challenges. Mark helped me to see that no matter how much we think we are in over our heads, we need to take a step back and realize challenges are nothing more than a measure of how tall we stand...to see the rewards that come with that...that come with overcoming the challenges we face.  Mark gave me hope.

God bless and thank you, Mark, for being a part of my life.  Let’s call this a loan…a debt that I owe…on a bet that I'm happy I lost…and not just to you.