I have stared at a blank page for a month trying to write about a good friend of mine who took his life one year ago. The grief is still so deep that I have not been able to put words to it. I think I am afraid that people will forget how he helped change so many of us. I cling to his memory, full of thanks for every morsel of truth that he mirrored to me. For those of you who did not know Mark, I invite you to read the text of my eulogy at his funeral. It may not be the best way to honor him but I donât know what else to say. I must share his life as best I can.
You have had the privilege of hearing and meeting some of the people who walked alongside Mark as a friend or mentor. Though he was one of my best friends and co-worker, I am here representing the group of people who sat on the couch. Not the living room couch where friends and family sat but, you know, the big Blue one. (Mark was my therapist)
In case you were not fortunate enough to sit on that couch, let me see if I can give you a little taste of the gifts we received.
Week after week I crawled into that office sure that I was facing the crisis of a life time. Within 60 minutes Mark had convinced me that this was what I had been waiting for my whole life. It was my perfect opportunity to âGrow up.â
If you saw Mark professionally at some point you realized that getting a weekly time slot on his calendar was the way to go. If seeing him required a return phone call forget it. I donât think he ever understood that returning phone calls and emails was his opportunity to âgrow up.â
I canât answer for all of you, but for me, I finally gave up trying to dress nice for our appointment because his shirts were always prettier than mine.
His hugs were so big that sometime I felt like a skinny person. It didnât seem to matter how large I was he got those arms around me.
I was always thrilled when he launched into his âneurological brain talk.â It was an out for me because then I could believe that my emotional trauma was simply the result of patterns in my brain that were put there by someone else.
I liked to meet with him on Monday and offer him a cookie (he fasted every Monday.)
I loved to grab that fat little face of his in my hands and break into hysterical laughter over something that was probably a little irreverent.
Mark was brilliant. He could challenge the brightest of people and make things simple enough for a child to understand.
I loved to go to church when Lauren or Hannah (his daughters) were singing. Their singing was beautiful but seeing their father captivated by them was every little girls dream.
I liked it when things were really hard in a session and at the end he would give me a big hug and whisper a prayer in my ear.
I think the reason that we, âthe couch peopleâ are here today is that in Marks office and in his heart we found unconditional love and grace. He knew the worst parts of me and I never once felt ashamed in his presence. He gave grace that most people just talk about. He saw in us what we could not see in ourselves.
So why is it that I am standing up here today saying these things at a memorial service about a man who took his life? If he knew all of these things, surely he knew better.
After six days of fluctuating between anger and sadness this is what I am sure of…
Mark was a giver. He gave because he made a difference. He gave because God gifted him with a unique, powerful ability to understand peopleâs pain and love them in a way that helped change them.
When someone like Mark is contributing in âthe sweet spotâ of their gifts, in can be intoxicating. When someone like this comes along, we as the recipients of these gifted people must remember that they have limits. They are not God. They experience fear, sin, shame and disillusionment just like us. We are all plagued with hurt and pain to various degrees. Mark was too. But thatâs what made him great at what he did.
Some people say that suicide is a selfish act. I think for some it is. For Mark, I donât believe so. I believe that the pain that he knew so well deceived him into believing that he was doing the best thing for the people that he loved.
In 2001 Mark emailed these words to someone in his Barnabas group.
“The particular significance of psalm 139 is that it, for me is the prayer of exposure… i am so prone to stay hidden (at least the dark side of me) but i know that the only way to freedom is to be exposed… i love the fact that Jesus loves me so much that i can be fully exposed in my darkness and he brings light there… i don’t have to hide in shame or fear.. that is, for me, the basis of true freedom and genuine authenticity… Itâs incredible grace.”
Mark led other people to the light and the grace of Jesus. He knew God’s love for him and like us, constantly fought the battle between the truth and the lie. People will make up all kinds of reasons for Markâs choice to end his life. It was not a good choice. It has and will cause great pain. But letâs not deceive ourselves into knowing what he was going through. Letâs be people of grace.
In our sadness, we think the darkness has won. But I know that if Mark could say something to me today, he would say, âWhat I told you is true. But itâs even better than I could describe it. When I was fully exposed in my darkest night, Jesus brought the light. I will never again have to hide in shame and fear. By the Grace of God, I am truly free.
Today, we grieve, tomorrow, letâs take the truth, as best we can out to people as Mark did for us. That is his legacy. His life and his death will make a difference if we go out and give what we were given.
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