Friday, April 30, 2010

A Step Closer

It was a surreal feeling…sitting there watching the hands on the clock approach 6:30. I was sipping a cup of coffee (tasting like it had been sitting on the warmer since before the 4:30 group started), but the acrid taste didn’t bother me too much tonight. The aroma of basil and marinara floated on the air from the next room where two flat boxes sat on the counter…a bottle of warm Diet Pepsi, cups and paper plates in the plastic grocery sack beside it. Only about half of the chairs were full tonight, one of them occupied by an unfamiliar face…a late-comer from the earlier group. I smiled to myself as I thought about the fact that next week, even fewer chairs would be filled.

“So, this is your last night…how has it been for you?” the therapist asked.

The words seemed to flow effortlessly as I spoke…sometimes looking at the doctor, other times making eye contact with each of the men around the room.

“I’ve shared with the group before that when I got out of prison, I really didn’t want to come to treatment…and actually didn’t really think that I needed it. But I have to say that this has been a great experience and I’ve met men that I have become friends with and that I trust in ways that I’ve never been able to before.”

The therapist sat there, jotting a few notes on his pad…silently counting the names of those who had signed in. It made me wonder if he was calculating his income for the night or if he was checking to see who was still absent. Looking up he said,

“I think you brought pizza. Why don’t we stop here and eat it before it gets cold and then continue to check in.”

I went into the next room and grabbed the two large pizzas and returned to the therapy room, passing them around to the men. My closest friend in the group, my “coffee buddy”, hadn’t arrived yet. He had called me earlier to tell me that he was running late but that he would be there for the pizza. At this point, it looked like he was going to miss out, or at least have to settle for the cold leftovers.

Settling back into his chair with a large slice of combination pizza and a glass of Diet Coke, the doctor asked me

“Is there any advice that you would give to the group?”

There were a number of comments that passed through my mind that I quickly disregarded.

“I really think the most important thing is just to be willing to be transparent. It has become so apparent to me over these past five years that until I, or any of us, is willing to take a genuine in-depth look at our past and how it led to where we are today…we can never heal.”

“Secondly, and maybe almost as important…make sure you pay the doctor here or you’ll never get out of treatment.”

A round of soft laughter echoed around the room as the men clearly understood what I was saying. The doctor has affirmed a number of times that everyone needed to be caught up to date on their payments before he could release them from group. My “coffee buddy” knew that only too well and was only getting out because of a little help I provided him.

“Well, I just want you to know that you’ve really been a great addition to our group. You’ve provided insightful comments to the other men and I’m sure that you will do well. It looks like you’re going to have some free time now on your Thursday nights”, the therapist added.

“Actually, I’m planning to begin writing my book and Thursday night’s would be a good time to dedicate to that.”

I spent the next several minutes explaining what I wanted my book to be about and as I was finishing, my “coffee buddy” finally arrived. As he grabbed a plate and a couple of slices of pizza, I said

“Hey. I took your advice and went down to Chuckee Cheese’s to try to get the pizza. Man, there must have been 1000 kids running around so I just had to sit there for about 20 minutes waiting. I finally just gave up and went to Pizza Hut instead.”

The room suddenly grew quiet as each one of the men tried to process what they had just heard. Even the therapist stopped his pizza dripping fingers midway to his mouth as he and the other looked at me. The look in the eyes told me what they were thinking.

Chuckee Cheese?
Twenty minutes?

I finally couldn’t hold my laughter back any longer.

“I wouldn’t go to Chuckee Cheese even if it was allowed. That pizza is just too nasty for me.”

You could practically hear the sighs of relief as they realized I was only joking. Slices of pizza were soon being once again consumed and the nearly empty bottle of Diet Pepsi was passed around the room once more.

The remainder of the evening was a quick check-in for the other men. It was soon time to go, and as I picked up the trash from our pizza party, I received best wishes from each of the men. I was invited back if was ever in the neighborhood on a Thursday evening (at no cost), and politely said it might happen. As I walked out the door and down the stair, my step seemed a little lighter…my smile a little broader and my future a little closer.

Photo from Flickr

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Question!?!

We’re just sitting there, around the large round table set in the back of the restaurant. There are only four of us today…a couple of “no-shows” leaving several vacant chairs. The conversation is light as Wally talks about the car he is restoring and Jim shares a few stories of the vacation to the beach he had taken the previous week with his foster kids. And then, out of the blue, Paul looks across the table at me.

“How’s your book coming?”

A wry smile and dancing eyes…he sits there. I suppose he is waiting for a response, but more I think he is looking for my reaction. I gather myself.

”It’s really good. I’m just starting to read a new one that I’ll be teaching in our next Sunday school class.”

And then I started chuckling as he frowned and then laughed with me.

“Probably not the book you were talking about, was it Paul?”, I asked.

At this point, Wally looked around the table, turning to Jim and asked what in the world were we talking about. I explained that Paul was asking me how I was doing on the book that I have been planning to write…for the past three years. And then Paul asked the critical question…

“What’s the book going to be about?”

That is the question that I struggle with! I think my problem is that I have too many books in my brain and I can’t get my mind around the story that I want to tell first. And so I wait. I hesitate. I put off making a decision. Jim suggested that I call my book, “Mark’s Great Procrastination!” but I vetoed that idea. I want so much to write the “right” book that I’m wallowing in a quicksand of indecision. It seems the harder I think about what the book should focus on, the blurrier the picture is for me.

• A book of my arrest and incarceration?
• A story of the childhood abuse and consequences?
• A story of healing and restoration?
• A story of love and grace?
• A “factional” novel?
• A collection of letters between God and myself?

My sister, who is a gifted writer, has suggested that I just begin to write and the story will develop. Paul agrees with her (maybe the big hug at the Christmas concert established a connection with those two). I’m a control freak (I’ve discovered) and I feel like I need to the know destination before I start the journey.

But I know that it’s time. There have been too many signals in the past month for me to continue waiting. There is a purpose for my life and God keeps reminding me that He wants me to tell the story. And I think He’s told me what story He wants me to begin with. I was challenged several weeks ago as I listened to one of our pastors speak to our men’s group. His topic was pornography and how destructive it is (a story I know only too well). He finished his message that morning with a question to the group.

“How many of you would be willing to help, or talk with, someone who is struggling with pornography in their life?”

I raised my hand because I am more than willing to talk to people about what I’ve gone through. But the Spirit is nudging me…no, whacking me along side the head to write the story. And so that’s where I’m going to begin this new adventure. And as I look at my list of potential books, it may include parts of all of them. And I guess that’s OK. This is perhaps a time where I need to place the pen in my hand and let it do the driving. Sometimes, those are the greatest trips of all!

Photo from Flickr