Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Invitation

A grey mist hung over the golf course outside as I stood in the kitchen. My mind and body were still numb as I waited for the coffee to finish dripping through the Mr. Coffee on the counter top. Paula was in the bedroom, talking on the phone to our daughter, trying her best to explain what had happened. We had a friend who was visiting us, there to give both of us some support...and to assist me with any counseling if I should need it. The clock on the microwave read 8:42 in its pale red numbers when I heard the voice behind me. I turned, expecting to see someone there, but the front room was empty. It had seemed so real. I returned my gaze to the slowly dripping coffee pot when I heard it again, even more distinctly than the first time. Two words...spoken softly yet firmly. "Seek Me!" Even before I turned to look, I knew in my spirit Whose voice it had been. For the first time in my life, I had heard the voice of God.

As I reflect back on that day...and those times in my life, I found myself once again at a crossroads in my life. I'd been here many times before, and I'm certain now that God called to me at those times too. But my ears were blocked. Blocked with my own own own hypocrisy. Today it was different. That morning my ears were open to hear the message.

But even as I stood in the kitchen of our condo, I was in the same place I had been so many times before. The choice was before me. I had heard it loud and clear. But which path would I take. Would I select the path of "Mark can do it by himself!"? I knew that path so well. It had led me to many victories...or so I thought in my vain conceit. Would I choose once again to turn my back on the only true source of power I've ever had in my life? I'd never really ventured down that path very far before. It just seemed too uncertain. It wasn't that I didn't believe in God and the power of prayer. It was just that my idea of prayer and God's idea of prayer were two completely different things. You would probably find them in different universes.

For the first time in my life, I had come to the realization that this was something that I couldn't do on my own. Strangely, at the time, I had no idea even what it was I was going to up against. I only knew that I had never felt so empty or alone before in my life. Everything that I thought was so important to me was gone...or soon would be. This problem was so much greater than any that I had ever faced before and I would need a great deal of help to overcome this.

A few minutes later, Paula came into the kitchen and told me that she was going to drive to Sunnyside to tell Conrad, our youngest son, what had happened. She didn't want to try to explain over the phone. She knew that Conrad loved me like his own father and didn't know how he would react. She wanted to be with him to personally help him through the pain and confusion. Carolyn offered to stay and pray with me and take me through some healing prayer, but I told her that I just needed to be alone with God. I'd never said those words before..."need to be alone with God." If I had, I probably wouldn't be in the situation I found myself in.

Paula left and Carolyn stayed a little while with me and prayed with me. Even without Paula saying it, we both knew that our marriage was over. Paula was leaving that cold Wednesday morning and she wouldn't be back. As we prayed, I curled on the floor, pulling myself into a fetal position. My body throbbed as the sobs escaped from deeper within me than I knew existed. The tears flowed, making their way down my cheeks to puddle on the floor beneath me.

I'm not sure how long I stayed there on the floor. When I finally got up, Carolyn was gone. I was alone in the condo. It was darkening outside as the winter afternoon faded. I was exhausted. I hadn't eaten for three days and my sleep had been fitful to say the least for the past two nights. But there was also an unexpected peace that I found covering me. A peace that certainly had not been there for the past 48 hours. I knew that I had encountered something in my prayers that afternoon and the complete release of my soul that I had never experienced before. I had accepted the invitation. I had agreed to enter the open door that God had created for me. I had set my pride aside and allowed a power so much greater than any that I had held or seen to help me this time.

That cold, wintry morning found me at a crossroads that would lead to two completely different places. One would lead to Hell. Thankfully, I chose the other. At the time, I didn't know where it would take me. But I would soon find myself in a time of preparation for a journey in the wilderness.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


I never thought anything like this could...or would...ever happen to me. I was at the top; everything had been going my way. I had the job I wanted. We had just passed our school levy, which in a way was the acceptance of my leadership by the community. Paula was falling back in love with me, and our life together seemed to be getting better...that we were going to make it over the steep mountain that I had created in our lives a few years before. It's not that I had really changed much...I had just gotten sneakier, and more deceitful. I was careful in ways that I hadn't been before. Surely, I would never get caught this time.

It was a date I will never forget. February 23, 2004. I had known from the Friday before that it might be coming. I prayed over that weekend like I hadn't prayed in years. But, it didn't seem like God was listening much, not that I would have blamed Him. When I returned from Rotary on that Friday afternoon, I had a message to call the high school principal. I got a hold of him and he said he just thought I should know that he had been contacted by the FBI and that they would be in the district on Monday. Apparently, they were investigating a report that someone in our district (probably one of his students, he guessed) had downloaded some child pornography on a school computer. My heart stopped. Fortunately, we were talking on the phone or he surely would have seen me see all the color disappear from my face. I managed to tell him to keep me informed on Monday and to have a good weekend.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon trying to get rid of any evidence that I might have on my computer. I knew there was a chance that it was me they were after, but I hoped that it was some poor schmuck at the high school. Better him than me, I thought. I searched all over for my software that would cover over everything on my computer that I had put in the trash, but couldn't find it. I nearly tore my office apart, but to no avail. I had some images stored on CD and I broke them to pieces and threw them in the trash on my way home.

The weekend was spent looking over my shoulder whenever I was out driving. "Was the white Bronco the FBI?" "Was I being followed?" "What would I do on Monday if they really were after me?" Needless to say, it was not a comfortable weekend. But amazingly, Paula and I spent the entire two days together, enjoying each other in ways we hadn't in months. We attended church for the first time in our new community. I continued to pray that God would show me mercy. "Just let it be someone else, God", I prayed. I made deals with Him, promising never to go to one of those chat rooms ever again. I quit looking at any kind of pornography. After all, I'd broken those CD's with all the pictures, didn't I? Even as I went to work on Monday morning, I bypassed my usual check of my email accounts to see if any new pictures had come in. And, I didn't check any of my chat names to see if anyone had written me over the weekend. Boy, I was doing so good...certainly God would see how hard I was trying and save this time.

I was down at the elementary school when my cell phone went off. I knew even before I took it out of my pocket that it was going to be about the FBI. And it was. My secretary told me that the FBI and a deputy sheriff was in my office and would like to talk with me. For the briefest of moments, my brain asked if I should just run. But, I knew I could never do that. I drove back to my office and greeted the agent as I walked into my office. I explained that I knew they were in the district to investigate a child pornography report and asked if they had any luck at the high school. Instead of answering, the FBI agent started to ask me personal information about myself. My age. My social security number. How long I had worked in the office. I paused, knowing in my heart I was busted. I asked why the personal questions, and if I needed an attorney (not that I had one, or had the foggiest idea where to get one.) He said I could get one if I wanted to, but that he had some questions and he wasn't leaving my office without my computer.

In that one moment, my entire life changed. Not only mine, but so many other people as well. People that I loved and people who had trusted me. My life would never be the same. The agent pulled some pictures out of his folder and asked if I'd ever seen them before. I almost threw up on the spot. They were copies of some of the pornography pictures that I had in some of my files. I recognized every one of them. It was over. I admitted that I had seen them and that I had them in my computer. I asked him if I could make a phone call. It was the hardest call I would ever make in my life.

I went into the outer office and phoned the numbers I knew by heart. Paula picked up on the second or third ring. She knew immediately that something was wrong by the tone of my voice. She thought perhaps I'd been in a car accident or that I was hurt seriously in some way. It was so much worse. I told her that the FBI was in my office and that my past had caught up with me. She knew immediately what it was. Paula asked what she could do and I simply asked her to pray. She said she would and wanted my permission to call some friends who were in the ministry to pray as well. After saying yes, I told her that the FBI was going to want to talk with her as well, and that they would be out sometime that afternoon.

The rest of the day is a blur. The agent went to my computer and spent several hours going into many of me email accounts and downloading pictures that had been emailed to me. At one point, I asked to use the rest room and was given permission. I noticed that the deputy remained out in the hall way as I did my business. When I returned to my office, the FBI agent apologized, but told me it was for my own protection. He had been a part of a similar investigation the year before and the judge they were investigating asked to use the restroom and went into the bathroom and killed himself with a gun he had hidden in his coat. The agent didn't want me to make the same kind of decision.

Later that evening, I met with my board of directors and informed them what had happened. They shock and disappointment was written all over their faces. Their anger boiled just below the surface. I told them that I needed to resign my position and told them how sorry I was for my poor judgement. Words couldn't express my shame and guilt. But I will never forget an act of mercy and grace that one of the members showed me. He asked me to come into a separate office with me and told me the board accepted my resignation and would conduct the meeting without me. Then he asked if he could pray with me. There was no judgement. No anger. Just compassion and grace.

I drove the 20 miles back up to our condo, nestled in the mountains. The golf course blanketed in fresh, white snow. As I walked into the living room, Paula waited quietly on the couch. Asking how I was doing, she invited me to sit next to her. My body and mind were numb, still not fully grasping what had just happened. She drew me to her, pulling my head onto her lap, and slowly and gently rubbed my back and shoulders. She was quiet...there were no words. Her own mind must have been trying to fathom how I could have done this. How I could have lied to her again. How I could have continued to deceive her for two and half years. I think at that moment, she understood better than I did how much different life would be, for both of us.

As I look back on that day, at the time I was so disappointed that God hadn't saved me. Why hadn't He rescued me again? If not for, certainly He could have done it for Paula and our family. But in hindsight, that is exactly what He did do that day. In His wisdom, He knew (and knows) the weaknesses that I have. He knew I would never be able to keep my promises to Him. After all, I hadn't been faithful in my previous promises. Instead, in His love, He allowed me to reach the bottom. I found the bottom of the miry pit. I was in a place I would never be able to get out of without the help of One much greater and more powerful than I. God knew what I needed. At that moment, I could never have fathomed what that rescue would entail. But like all rescues, the one being rescued has to be willing to reach out his hand and receive it. I was soon to find out what that would mean in my own life.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Falling Back Into the Pit

It's getting harder to come here to write...getting closer to sharing a betrayal like that of Judas. I still really can't explain the reasons. I was visiting my brother just the other night, and he plainly asked me why did I continue to go back on-line after Paula had caught me the first time. I easy answer is that I just don't know. But the real answer is probably that I was so arrogant that I just thought that I could get away with it. As the old adage goes, "I wanted my cake and to eat it too."

Those first months after Paula confronted me in November of 2001, I stayed off the computer and away from any of the chat rooms or the porn sites. Paula and I spent a lot of time talking, trying to figure out what had happened and why it had happened. For a long time, Paula believed that it was something that she must have done...something about our marriage that didn't make me happy. I'm thankful that she now knows that it had nothing to do with her. She can't be faulted in any way. The bottom line is, I was searching for something that no one else could help me find.

I lasted two months before I went back to the sites. I can still remember the work in my office. I can remember my body shaking, my hands trembling as I sat in front of that compute screen. I didn't want to go back on...but I was drawn to it like a magnet. I should have gotten up and gone for a walk. Or a visit to one of the schools. Or called Paula and asked her to pray for me. I should have done a lot of things. Instead, I reloaded the Yahoo messenger program on my computer and checked to see if anyone that I knew was on-line. There wasn't and that should have been enough. But I kept going back. And then it was making new chat friends...going to new chat rooms. I was right back where I was before, only maybe a little deeper this time.

Paula and I went to counselling, driving almost 300 miles round trip every other week. It wasn't effective. It couldn't be as long as I kept lying. But that's what I did. I lied to Paula, I lied to the counselor, I lied to myself...I lied to everyone. The counseling did cause me to try to take a closer look at my past, to see if there was anything there that I could identify that might help to explain what it was I was looking for. The only answer that was revealed was that I had never really had any long term male friends at any time in my life. Something would always end the relationship...usually them moving away. We talked some about my sexual experiences as a boy, but there was really nothing that I can remember that was a new revelation.

During those three and a half years between getting caught by Paula and my eventual arrest, Paula and I slowly rebuilt our marriage. There was still a great deal of non-trust by Paula, but that was deserved. We still slept in the same bed, but there was no intimacy. I hid my actions on the computer much better the second time around, not spending late hours at work, not using the home computer for my chats. But I was still stuck in my sin. Whenever Paula was gone out of town, I'd bring a computer home from work and go back to the chat rooms. Many nights, I would stay on all night long. I would try to quit on my own, but I wasn't able too, I just didn't have the strength or the willpower to give it up. In the back of my mind, I knew I had a lot to lose if I got caught, but I just KNEW I would never get caught. My pridefulness was blinding me in ways I couldn't see myself.

When I look at the lives of other people and the bad habits or addictions that they have, it's easy to think that they should be able to simply walk away. The cost will be too great. The family is suffering, or the job is at risk. I guess until you've been there, that's an easy assumption to make. But I've come to understand that Satan can blind any of us...he certainly blinded me for many years. I simply couldn't see what it was I was doing. I thought I had it all under control. But the reality is, my life was quickly spinning out of control...accelerating each day. That is, until they day they showed up in my office.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Shattered by the Deceiver

Paula came back from her visit with our sister-in-law on that Sunday night and I could tell something was wrong. Deep in my gut, I feared I knew what it was, but I hoped against all hope that I was wrong. When I asked her about it, she said it was nothing...that maybe we would need to talk later. But not now.

The week passed ball quickly. It was busy for me...much of my time spent in some district wide training we were providing to staff. I still found time to sneak away and spend some time in the chat rooms, but not a lot. Halloween fell that week, and Paula and I always loved to sit in the front room and watch all of the kids come to the door in their various costumes. We always had more than two hundred visitors each year. But his year was different. Paula didn't want to do Halloween, so the lights were kept off. We were invited to a dinner with the superintendent and the guest who was leading our workshop, but Paula begged off and said she wanted to stay home. So, I went alone.

As the week came to an end, I sat in my office on that Friday working when a co-worker who was friends with both Paula and I came into my office and told me she had just been talking to Paula on the phone and she said that Paula sounded like she was dying. I rushed home to make sure everything was alright, and I went upstairs and found Paula in my office, working on the computer. I asked if she was ok and she said "yes" and that we would talk when I got home from work. As I slowly walked back down the stairs, I knew that she knew, or had guessed what I had been doing the past year and a half.

Paula is an incredible woman and has always been able to read me pretty good. She could sense immediately after I started to go to the chatrooms that something was wrong. Even though I tried to maintain the "status quo", apparently I was different. I started to stay later at work, and that was unusual for me. There were many times when Paula and I were together that she would ask if everything was ok with me...with us. Each time, I would answer the same: "Everything is fine...why do you ask?" At times, there was almost a pleading in her voice, but I just kept giving her the same answer. What else could I do? There was no way that I could tell Paula, or anyone else, what was going on in my life and the issues that I was trying to deal with.

It has taken me the past six years to realize that there was something in my life that I didn't have that everyone be able to trust. I have never loved anyone in my life like I loved, and still love Paula. With all of my being, I thought that I trusted her completely. And in many ways, I did. I wasn't jealous and never believed that she would cheat on me. I knew that if I shared something with her and asked her to keep my confidence, I never had to worry that she would tell. There was nothing that I didn't trust her with...except my secret. In my mind, I was convinced that to tell her what I had gone through as a boy and the desires that I still struggled with at times would only hurt her, and that was the last thing I wanted to ever do to her. It's strange sometimes how the things we try the most to prevent, we often times end up causing to a much greater degree.

I know now, in hindsight, that it would have been ok to tell Paula. She would have been hurt...of that there is no doubt. But, she loved me enough that she would have been willing to help me through it. To help to find help or counseling, whatever it took. But, the enemy of our souls has a way of trying to keep us make us feel like we are so different from anyone else. He tells us that our past is so bad, we could never tell anyone. If "they" knew, they would drop us like a blazing coal. I listened to that lying voice all of my life, to the point of lying to and deceiving the one that I loved above everyone else.

I went back to the office and started to destroy any evidence of what I had been doing on my computer. I erased files and deleted websites from history of the computer. I knew that I was going to have to tell Paula the truth and I accepted that. I had no idea what the outcome would be, but on that Friday afternoon, only the truth mattered.

As I walked in from the garage, Paula was there waiting for me. If I was a screenwriter, I would have scripted it differently. Paula would have been waiting for me...waiting to jump down my throat with all she had. And that is what I would have deserved. The neighbors would have been able to hear the "conversation" over the lawnmower outside. But that's not what I faced as I walked through the laundry room, into the main part of the house. Paula was sitting on the couch, beautifully made up. She looked like she had spent the past three hours doing her hair and expertly putting on her make-up. She handed me a glass of wine and said that we needed to talk. I was taken back for a moment, and then took the glass and set it down. I told her I needed to go upstairs and take my contacts out because I knew the tears would be flowing.

As I sat on the couch next to this woman that I loved, I couldn't believe that it had come to this. I was about to tell her that I had been going to gay chatrooms and exploring gay pornography websites. Before I could begin to speak, all Paula said is that she knew the truth and just wanted me to be honest with her. So I was. I started at the beginning...with my childhood. She learned much of what I have written in these blogs over the past month. Not all, because even I didn't remember it all at that time. It just poured out.

It was almost surreal, like much of my life has been for the past six years. It came out so easily. There was no condemnation. There was love and compassion and I couldn't understand that. Paula was supposed to be screaming at me...hating me. She was supposed to telling me what a pervert I was and how I was the worst person that ever walked the face of the earth. That's what the "voice" had been telling me for years. I had been deceived by the voice...convinced that to ever speak the words that I was speaking would drive Paula out of my life.

We sat and talked for hours...the first time we had really talked in months. Paula asked so many questions, and unlike before, I answered each one completely and honestly. But there was one question that I just didn't have an answer for: "Why didn't you trust me enough to tell this when I asked what was wrong 15 months ago?" The only answer I had was that I was afraid, but it wasn't really enough.

I expected Paula to leave me the next day, but she didn't. Instead, we travelled 200 miles, together in a quiet car, to Vancouver where we were going to a surprise 50th birthday party for my sister. No one else knew what had happened the night before. Paula was as beautiful and gracious as ever. I remember looking across the room at her during the celebration. She was holding up the mask so well. I could see the pain in her eyes, but I doubt anyone else could. But that night, as we went back to our hotel room and laid down on the bed together, the quiet was almost overwhelming. I finally drifted off to sleep, not knowing what the next day or next weeks would hold for us. Paula stayed up most of the night, watching the boats pass by on river outside the room. She didn't really see the boats though...instead, she only saw the millions of pieces of our life that we had built together that had been destroyed by my sin.