Monday, September 27, 2010

The Old is Gone!

It hasn’t been an easy 37 months. So much uncertainty faced me when I walked out the doors of Taft Correctional Institution in August of 2007. Unable to even comprehend what my life was going to be like, at times during my last months of incarceration, I wondered whether I would end up living under a freeway overpass. Or perhaps I would become one of the many panhandlers seeking a hand-out at the top of the off-ramp holding my “Hungry and need food. Anything will help. God bless you” cardboard sign. While it never ended up that badly for me, it hasn’t turned out as I expected either.

At times, it seems like a little sign has floated over the top of me with arrows pointing, saying “ex-felon”. There are some things that I just can’t seem to get past. A few weeks ago I was laying on the couch on a Sunday afternoon after playing a round of golf with some friends when I was interrupted by a rapping on the front door of my home…a fifth wheel trailer. As I opened the door, I was greeted by a deputy sheriff. For a second, my heart seemed to skip a beat. Then he kindly asked me for my name and then ID that could verify it. He was simply doing his job…confirming that I was living where I said I am. A small thing…but certainly not an everyday occurrence for most of us.

As a result of the uncertainty of my life, I’ve been hesitant to move forward as quickly as I probably could. Still facing up to 23 more months of supervision, there are some things that are difficult to arrange. A simple trip out of state…even for a day requires at least two weeks of advance notice to get the proper permission. A trip out of the country is out of the question. Moving into an apartment complex or a condo community isn’t possible because of the restrictions that I still face. For the past three years, I’ve worn the prison issue glasses that I had on when I was released because money is tight, and frankly they still worked.

But the last month has brought a great deal of change in my life. For reasons that I can’t really articulate, I made the decision that “enough is enough”. While I don’t exactly have control over my life, I choose to move forward. A trip to the optometrist resulted in new glasses. Not a significant change in my appearance on the outside, but a gargantuan impact on how I see myself from the inside. They were the last “moniker” that I wore from my incarceration. There are no more visible external reminders of that dark period of my life.

The change didn’t stop there. I love antiques and every opportunity I have, I will visit an antique shop or mall and usually walk out with some little treasure. Many of the items, I give away. I buy them because they are unique and they represent a different time…maybe a better time. About a month ago, my sister Deb suggested (perhaps in jest) that I should get a business license and open a shop, or at least become a dealer. The idea resonated deeply within me and it has turned into a reality. Three weeks ago, I applied for the business license and became a small business owner. Angelwings Antiques was born. Scripture teaches us that in Christ, we are a new creation…that the old is gone and the new has come. Through God’s grace, I’ve become “that” new creation. But now I’ve become a new creation in a different way as well. While I will always be an “ex-felon”, I’ve chosen to become more. I’m a business owner and a construction company manager. I’m a singer in the church choir and a Sunday school teacher. I’m a loving brother, a loving ex-husband and a good friend. That old label is gone…a new label has come.

Photo by Mark

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Middle of the Rainbow

I remember as a small child how excited I would get whenever I saw a rainbow. It seems that they didn’t appear all that often…when it rained, the clouds wouldn’t allow even a glimmer of sunshine slice through. So it was even more special when that arc of color would splash across the sky, from one horizon to the other. But even then, I would rarely see one that was unbroken by clouds still spotting the sky.

For some reason, the rainbow is a little bit of an enigma. Perhaps, it’s because of the mystical nature of “the pot at the end of the rainbow” that legends are made of. Or maybe it’s because they are one of those things that you can see…but not touch. Even as you get close to it, it is always “just out of reach”. And when it seems like you are actually putting your fingers on it…there is nothing there to feel. But I think it’s a bit magical for a different reason.

As I listened to the radio this morning, a woman called in to share a story about the rainbow…and her life. And as I listened, she could have been talking about my life…or the life of many that I know. She had seen a rainbow in the sky, but like many rainbows the full arc wasn’t visible. She could see where it started and where it ended, but the middle of the rainbow was hidden in the clouds. It seems that the image of the rainbow is where my life is. I know where I started and where I’ve been. And I trust in God’s promises for where I’m going…where my destination is. But that part in the middle…where I seem to be now is as hazy as the clouds hiding it.

But the woman who called in helped to put it in perspective. Even though I can’t see the middle of the rainbow, God can. He knows what’s going to happen behind the clouds. And He knows why it’s happening. He is orchestrating my life...and all that occurs in it, both in front of and behihnd the clouds. My challenge is to simply let it…and trust. For a man with a boy’s heart, that is a difficult challenge indeed.
Photo from Flickr, by Saturn h

Thursday, September 9, 2010


I sat there with my arm raised over my head, waving frantically. My face was beet-red and I could feel my eyes start to well with tears. I looked down at my desk again…it wasn’t possible! How could I have gotten an A- on my paper? Mrs. Walters was soon standing beside my desk, leaning down.

“What is it, Mark?” she asked?

“It’s my g-g-g-rade, Mrs. Walters!” I stammered. “It’s not g-g-good enough. Can I have a do-over?”

I thought back to my early school years the other day as I was driving to work. The radio program I was listening to had posed a question to its radio audience. “If you could have a ‘do-over’ in life, what would it be?” The twenty-five minute commute to work on the back roads gave me plenty of time to listen to the various listeners who called in. I was especially struck by the response of one particular listener. In essence, he said that initially there were a lot things he would want to do over…he had made a number of bad choices in his life. But as he thought about it, he decided that every choice (good or bad) that he had made had molded him into the person he was today.

That response has rolled around in my head for the past ten days. I’ve been trying to decide how much I agree with him. For my own part, I’ve made far too many bad choices in my lifetime. Some of them have been extremely costly…leading to prison time, the loss of a marriage and family as well as a career. Others haven’t come at the same cost, but have nonetheless negatively impacted others’ lives. But the other side of the coin, if I follow the listener’s line of thought has led me to an amazing relationship with Christ and a much deeper understanding of who I am. And the ability to accept those truths. So, if I had a chance, would I want a “do-over”?

Mrs. Walters got down on knee level and looked me in the eyes.

“Mark, your work is very good. An A- is still a good grade”, she said.

“B-b-but I knew the right answer”, I cried. “I just accidently turned the number backward. Please, Mrs. Walters…can I have a do over?”

I don’t think she gave me that “do-over” 44 years ago when I sat in the upstairs fourth grade classroom in the Old Farmin Elementary school. And because she didn’t, it probably made me a better student…paying closer attention to details and checking my work before I turned it in. And as I reflect on the other areas of my life, most of them wouldn’t warrant a “do-over” either. The lessons that I’ve learned from the bad decisions have taught me valuable life lessons. But if I had a chance to get one “do-over” in my life, I would take it. The question is…which one?

Photo from Bing Images