Saturday, June 21, 2008

"I've Got A Mansion..."


"I've got a mansion, just over the hilltop
In that bright land where, we'll never grow old.
And some day yonder, we will never more wander
But walk on streets that, are purest gold!"


The words to the chorus of that old hymn are resonating in my mind today...for so many reasons. Today, I feel like I'm living in a mansion. I'm sitting here today on this overcast Saturday afternoon in my own "home". I'm reclining on my couch with blinds pulled up with my view to the southeast. Mt. Rainier is trying futilely to peek out from beneath the clouds in a losing cause. On a clear day, the view from the RV park here on the top of the hill provides one of the most beautiful views of the mountain I have ever seen. But today, I don't really care. I can sit here, in my little living room everyday and look for the snow capped peaks. I know one day, the clouds will lift and the mountain will stand there in all its glory. The view, and the living conditions, are so different from where I was only a year ago.


"Tho often tempted, tormented and tested
And like a prophet, my pillow a stone.
And tho I find here, no permanent dwelling
I know He'll give me, a mansion my own"


The view from my room in "that place" was obstructed by steel bars, extending vertically to the heavens, though I was in a living hell. The walls of concrete block would occasionally "sweat" when they had the air conditioning set extremely low in a futile attempt to quell the 100+ temperature outside. Outside my window, the dirt yard extended up to the ten foot fence with its crown of razor wire. Beyond that, a dirt road and another barrier to keep me in. An adventurous rabbit would occasionally meander across that stretch of dirt, looking for shade behind a fire hydrant or cooling unit. The burrowing owls would remain in their holes during the heat of the day, only to come out at night.


Across the room of my ten foot by ten foot "house" here, my room mate Ray would sit and stare at his list of numbers...one for each day he had to stay in this place. Or he would lose himself in a mindless novel (that he would of course share with me after he was finished), just to pass the time. My "cubie" was legally deaf, and had been since he was a young child. He is an incredibly generous man and one that I proudly call "friend". He used to wear his hearing aids all of the time but they stopped working. The authorities here won't replace them and won't let him send them out to get repaired at his own cost. So...he spends his time here trying to function through what must be a horrendous silence or blur of noises.


The 100 square feet of space that I can call my own here has no ceiling of its own, just six foot high walls. My neighbor in the next cube lays on the upper bunk of his bed, reading and occasionally looking over to see if anything exciting is happening in our cube. Across the hallway and down a few cubes, one of the "illegal's"waiting for deportation is cutting and dicing vegetables for some kind of exotic microwave meal. The laughter and occasional swear word drift from the day room where men are watching TV or playing "slam" dominoes. I sit in my own plastic chair, resting my feet against the gray door of my locker where I store the extent of my possessions. A half dozen Bibles, three sets of clothes and a couple of threadbare towels fill up most of the space.


"Don't think me poor or, deserted or lonely
I'm not discouraged, I'm Heaven bound
I'm just a pilgrim, in search of that city
I want a mansion, a harp and a crown."


When I was released from prison near the end of last summer, my Pastor here let me move into his motor home until I was able to get my feet back on the ground. He and his wife had bought it when they retired from their church in Yakima eight years ago. It's a nice coach...a 32 foot long recreational vehicle. It gives me about 200 square feet of living space and a place that I can find rest and peace.


When I moved in, I hadn't planned for it to be long term...and neither did they. As retired "seniors", they enjoy going on RV outings with the senior group from the church here that they lead. But I found that it is extremely difficult for ex-felons, and particularly sex offenders, to find a place to live in our society. Between renters and apartment complexes that don't open their doors willingly to those who have made extremely poor choices and the restrictions that are placed on me because of the nature of my crime, this little RV park has become more than just a temporary home. And the RV that was planned to be for "just a little while" became my home for over ten months.


I spent a fall, winter and spring in that coach and it was a blessing I will always cherish. But, besides the pastor having plans to use it this summer, there was something else wrong. It wasn't mine. It wasn't "my" home! Always in the back of my mind was the concern that I was somehow preventing pastor and his wife from enjoying their RV. It felt like I was intruding in some way...a feeling that they never gave me but nonetheless, dwelt in my soul.


"I've got a mansion, just over the hilltop
In that bright land where, we'll never grow old.
And some day yonder, we will never more wander
But walk on streets that, are purest gold."


God has blessed me so richly my entire life, and especially these past ten months. He surrounded me with friends who love me, restored me to family, placed me in a great job and has now blessed me with a new home.


I started looking for my own RV over two months ago. It appeared obvious to me that it was going to be next to impossible to find a place to rent and I couldn't get a loan to purchase my own home. At lunch on my birthday in early April, I was telling Pastor that I was looking to buy my own RV and asked him to keep his eye out for me. One of the friends who were celebrating my birthday overheard my conversation with the Pastor.


"You're looking for an RV, huh?" he asked. "This may sound kind of weird, but one of my favorite things to do is look at all the new RV's that they have displayed at the fair. A couple of years ago, I saw one that had a really cool layout with the living room upstairs in the front and the bedroom in the back."


As I listened to him, the layout sounded interesting. I had gone to a couple of RV places on the day before and hadn't seen anything like that. Most have the bedroom up in the front with either the kitchen or living room area located in the rear. I spent the next month and a half checking out Craigslist everyday and going to nearly every RV dealership between Tacoma and Everett. I even got Geoff, my younger brother, going to RV places with me.


Then it happened. May 24, 2008. I was sitting on the couch having coffee at Geoff's when my cell phone rang. A friend (Art) from church is a salesman at an RV dealership and he was on the other end of the phone.


"Oh man, Mark...you won't believe what came on the lot this morning! I've never seen an RV like this before."


The excitement in his voice was real...not simply a "salesman" show for the sake of his customer.


"I'm standing in the entry and the living room is upstairs. It's like a real house! There's even a railing at the top of the stairs. And get this...it even has a fireplace!"


I had an immediate sense in my spirit that this was the one. I looked across at my brother as Art continued to describe this RV as he walked through it.
"And get this...it has a really big bedroom in the back! The place is huge and it has lots of storage outside. It even has the larger hot water tank you've been looking for."
I asked Geoff if he wanted to take a little "road trip" with me. Even though his daughter was coming home from New York city that afternoon, he immediately said "yes" and I told Art that we would be down to check it out in about an hour and hung up.

My mind was filled with silent prayers as I drove the 40 miles from my brother's home to the RV dealership. I wanted to make sure that this was the "home" God had set aside for me, even while I was in my 10 foot by 10 foot cube in California. We pulled into the dealership and the RV was sitting right out front.


Art was busy with another customer so Geoff and I were able to check it out. Even as I took my first steps inside, I could tell this was the one. We spent nearly 45 minutes checking every inch...inside and out. When Art became free, he plugged the power in to make sure everything worked properly. In my mind, I was battling with myself...not believing that this was possible. This place was so nice! My mind said I really didn't deserve this, but in my heart, I could hear God telling me that He loved me enough that this could be mine. So, I did it. I made the offer and it was accepted.


So today, as the sky grows darker, I'm able to sit in "my own house" ...all 346 sqare feet of it...and relax and write. My feet are on the couch and I don't have to worry about messing up something that isn't mine. My heart is smiling at the goodness of God and how He continues to love me and provide for me. For this season of my life, He has given me a "mansion on a hilltop" as I wait to spend eternity in the mansion He has been preparing for me since before time began.


1 comment:

Deb said...

I'm sitting here with goose bumps. I love how you worked the hymn throughout. I love how more of your feelings about prison came through. I love the clear sense of wonder and gratitude that fills this entire piece. I love getting to be a part of your writing process, too. I saw the towels. I love how you know so strongly that God loves you enough to give you this mansion - even when your little voices are still insisting you don't quite deserve this. Powerful writing. Don't make me wait so long for the next chapter. =) I love you my brother.