Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Date to Remember

"You know Mark, we may look back on this date in two years from now and think 'that was the day our ministry together began!"

It was on a Saturday morning at about 8:20 AM near milepost 17 on Hwy 18 between I-5 and I-90. Those certainly were not the words I was expecting to hear on this day. Actually, I was simply looking forward to attending my first professional golf tournament (as a spectator of course...pretty obvious to anyone who's ever seen me play.)

Just the night before, a man who is becoming a very good friend told me that he had tickets to the Champion's Tour event up at Snoqualamie Ridge and asked if I wanted to go with him. He said one other friend would be going as well, a pastor from a neighboring community. I thought about it for a few minutes. I was half expecting my little brother to call and invite me to come up and visit him for the weekend, but the call had not come it. So I accepted his invitation and made plans to get up earlier the next morning...my only day to sleep in...and make the short journey up to the tournament.

August is a difficult month for me...especially since my arrest. It was in August that I kissed my wife for the last time and got on a Greyhound bus and headed to California to surrender to the Federal authorities and give up my freedom for 1086 days. August is the month my first (and only) grandson was born...a grandson I haven't seen in over four years. It marks the month that I walked out of prison...a semi-free man. It is a month that reminds me of the profession that no longer welcomes me...a month when I see the reminders of a passion and an identity of who I was...an educator. Yellow buses. Kids at the malls buying new clothes for school. Advertisements on TV and the radio promoting the 'back to school' sales and fashions. The last time I saw my wife (ex-wife) was in the month of August. Difficult! Hard! Painful! A month of memories seared into my heart and my mind...not to go away anytime soon.

So it has been interesting to reflect back on the words of my pastor friend..."we may look back on this date..." Maybe August will bring something positive into my life down the road instead of the pain of the past.

It has been my desire from the moment I was arrested that some good might come out of my fall and my sin. I don't know exactly what it might look like, but I pray that through writing or speaking or a combination of both that my testimony and experiences might help at least one other man or family avoid the pain and destruction that has been the hallmark of my life the past 54 months.

I was surprised, though, at the conversation in the car on the drive to the tournament. While I knew the pastor who was travelling with us, we were not what I would consider confidants or close friends. I had met him less than ten times in the past, but he did know my situation and my history. And I was aware that he had problems in the past dealing with pornography. As we drove along, my friend explained to the pastor that he believed that with my own background that there was nothing to be concerned about as they visited. My friend sensed that the pastor had something that he wanted to share...and that it would most likely need to be something kept confidential. It was.

The pastor shared with us, and sought the forgiveness of his friend, that he had experienced a setback and had found himself drawn back to pornography on the Internet. He had confessed to his wife and his senior pastor and was seeking professional counseling to deal with his problem. He was confessing to his friend because he had not been completely forthcoming with him in the past about his struggles. As I sat in the backseat, I found my head nodding in understanding as he shared his failures and his pain.

I was invited into the conversation because I've been where this man is now. I found myself drawn back to the Internet and the filth and evil lurking there on more times than I can count. But I didn't have the integrity that this man did to turn to friends and family to seek help and honestly share my struggles. Instead, I kept going back, falling deeper and deeper into a trap that I eventually couldn't find my way out of. The darkness of the sin was totally blinding. But through God's grace, I was offered a faint glimmer of light to find my way back to a life.

I found myself easily sharing about my experience...about prison...about being a registered sex offender...about the restrictions I still find myself bound by. I didn't feel shame or guilt. Instead I felt blessed that I was being given the opportunity to allow my failures to serve as a warning to someone perilously close to the edge himself. I wish I would have been able to see the warnings when I was at the stage he found himself in that morning. My life most likely would be different now. Not necessarily better, but certainly different.

When the pastor said that we might look back on that day as the beginning of our ministry together, I can't describe the feelings erupting inside of me. First, someone who actually considered me as a ministry partner. Second, someone in the ministry who would know how to go about putting a program and a message together to share with men and women everywhere about the destructive power of pornography and sexual sin. Third, someone who had faith in me that I had something to share...something of value...something important! And finally, the realization that God was orchestrating this entire moment. I've always believed that God does not waste anything and that He does not intend to waste my life. This is a battle that the enemy is not going to win! God placed me in that car on that warm Saturday morning in August...in a month of painful memories...to offer me a chance of redemption. An opportunity to partner with another son of God who has struggled as I have. A chance to begin a deeper healing process by peeling back even more layers of my life, revealing a transparency so essential of my own healing and for the healing of others.

There are a lot of dates I remember in August...perhaps there will be a new one to add to my list.

1 comment:

Deb said...

I'm sorry that August is so painful for you. It's amazing that it's been a year of freedom - even though it's been much more limited than I can believe. I'm struck by the irony of your grieving not being a part of back to school, while I'm grieving having to be a part of it.

So glad you have this validation and hope as a glimmer of what's to come - of what is actually, the person you are and the life you're living.

Your humility, your obedience, your love of God are all opening doors that you didn't know existed before. I'm so excited to see where they will lead you. I love you little brother.