God’s plans are better than my plans. God’s ways are better than my ways.
If I were to paraphrase Isaiah 55:8-9, that is how I would do it, and that is the only way I can move forward with this new existence.
Mark was good, kind, funny, so smart, he was stubborn, hard-headed, and not always easy to love. Mark was quiet until he wasn’t. He fought his feelings but he felt them big once he let himself. He was a husband, father, son, brother, mentor, and friend. If I were to choose scripture to describe him it would be John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
If Mark loved you he would die for you, it is as simple as that. When our marriage was hard I reminded myself of this: my husband loved me so much that he would literally die for me. He was strong and brave and would always put himself between me and any harm, whether it was emotional or physical.
For those of you that have heard Mark share his story this will sound familiar. If you haven’t I will share it with you now, as well as I can. Mark grew up on the south side of Chicago. His family would tell you he was sweet and loving. He carried his cousin, Woo, on his back, he watched his
nephews and nieces whenever needed, he helped his hardworking mom around the house. Mark was an incredible athlete that loved football, but when he got hurt and his chances at a scholarship to college were gone he chose a different path. With all the good and the love of Mark’s childhood there was also a side of life entangled with gang activity. He followed a path of drugs, violence, and as Mark described, the attempt to erase any conscience he might have. His mother told him he needed to leave Chicago before he ended up dead. Where Mark grew up even his teachers told him that he would probably be dead before 18. Mark left Chicago and came to MN, not long after he got news his mother had died. After the death of his mother Mark’s heart was so broken that he led his life with very little purpose and didn’t care what might happen to him. Here at Serenity Village Pastor Jeff often asks for a raise of hands by those who have been to jail. Mark raised his hand without shame. He spent about a year in Hennepin County Jail and about a year in the Plymouth workhouse. At his last court date to officially release him from probation the judge looked at his violations and then looked to him and said there is no logical reason she hadn’t put him in prison. Mark later believed that it had to have been God’s hand over it all. Soon after leaving jail he was blessed with a daughter, Amaya. His memories of his early years with her are so strong and good. Even with his deep love for her he still continued to live a life with little purpose, just doing whatever he needed to do to make money. His daughter Aaliyah was born in 2010, and a few months later he decided he had to change his life and the change had to be big enough that his girls would have a better chance than he had. In order to do that he had to leave his girls, but he promised he would be back for them. Mark entered MN Adult and Teen Challenge in 2011. In Teen Challenge Mark encountered Jesus, from what he tells me it wasn’t some type of huge spiritual awakening, it was a quiet stirring in his heart. Mark studied, prayed, participated in therapy, sought counsel and sang in the choir for 15 months, all to overcome his addiction. How Mark described it to me was that he had more than a substance abuse issue to overcome, he had to learn a new way of life. The life of hustling, dealing, anger and hate wasn’t how God wanted him to live. Still to his last day I know there were things he hadn’t let himself remember or work through, but God was able to keep working on him a little at a time. After leaving Teen Challenge he moved into Serenity Village where he had the opportunity to be mentored, to grow, and to eventually become a mentor and leader himself. There are men in this room that likely wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t touched their lives, there are mothers he held and encouraged while their sons blamed them and hurt them. He started work with All Kind and began to have to fully depend on an honorable way to earn a living, let me tell you, even that was an adjustment. I met Mark when he walked into Autumn Ridge Apartments where he painted and I was the new leasing agent. He knew the moment he met me that he planned to marry me. God had given him a vision for his life and he knew I was part of it. He said that I radiated the Holy Spirit, which is what Pastor Terry and Pastor Jeff told him he needed to find. I on the other hand, was not so sure we were meant to be. Mark used to say that I played hard to get. To which my response was always “nothing easy is worth having.” I think about that now and know that every obstacle, every hard day or difficult conversation I had with my husband was because he was worth having, he was good and strong and is the love of my life. He had his hard days, he struggled with opening his heart, with pride and some days anger. But he accomplished so many of his dreams! He lived his life honorably, he was a committed friend, he put his heart into his work, his eyes lit up at the sight of his children, he lived out his wedding vows and was faithful to death, he even accomplished opening his own business, 614 Painting Services. And even the name honored what amazing transformation God made in his life. For Romans 6:14 says “sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s Grace.” I cannot try to comprehend how God could allow him to leave my life after less than 5 years of marriage. You see, my Marky has faced death twice before. He was stabbed in the abdomen in Chicago and came close to dying, a few years later he was stabbed in the head and was pronounced dead for minutes before being revived. But this time he didn’t come back. The only thing I can think is that the first two times God brought Mark back to give him the opportunity to know Him, to love Him and to be in relationship with Him. This time Mark’s eternity with Christ was secured. Maybe he could have fought, but I can’t blame him for wanting to sit down at the feet of Jesus and rest. Mark is gone from this world, but I will make sure that his testimony is not. Mark has the kind of testimony that brings people to Christ. His story is a true example of the mighty grace of God. Today please ask yourself if you feel that your mistakes are too big to move past, if they look that way I urge you to consider Mark’s story, he would tell you that if Christ can transform him He can transform you as well.
The preceding text is the Eulogy I delivered at Mark's service on August 5th, 2020 at Serenity Village Community Church. The link to the service is here. https://fb.watch/2kVxBWGBuM/