Saturday afternoon, Tirzah and I went out shopping. I was in the dressing room at Macy's when I got a text from Dean saying "call me when you can. Bad news...."
I grabbed my phone and dialed his number. He answered the phone in sobs. It took me a few seconds to piece together what he was saying. Then I heard "Mark died. He's gone. He took his life". And my husband...sobbed. Perhaps even wailed into the phone. I felt the blood drain from my face and I sat on the small stool. I said "Oh Dean...I don't know what to say....Oh Dean...noooo...."
Let me tell you a story. A piece of our story.
Several years ago when Dean was a new contractor, he bid on and got a job. It was a couple building a house with a small vineyard in our area. Dean was a roofing contractor at the time and did his roof. There was no contact between Mark and Dean for several years until recently. He recently bought a new house and called Dean to build him a fence.
Having the memory of an elephant, I actually remember having a baby Azlan in the van when Dean built that original fence for him way back when. So this is 6ish years ago.
Last year, when they reconnected, he offered to even help Dean on the fence. Being retired, he enjoyed that. I remember Dean telling me how much Mark liked him and he felt God had put him in our lives to reach out to.
Mark was a man who lived all over the world. He met his wife in the Middle East. He was a smart man, well travelled, with life experiences to fill hours of stories. He was so interesting to be around.
Fast forward to our Both Hands Adoption project in July and August. Mark was drawn to our family and wanted to be a part of it. Though he was unable to be there the day of the project, he came the night we all met at our house and stuffed envelopes to mail out to potential sponsors.
I remember feeling a bit of tension simply because Mark is a strong man. Not quiet. Strong. And not a christian. Our house was packed with born again christians. One of my closest friends opened the night with asking everyone to go around the room and tell what you admired about Dean and Janice. I remember that Mark was last. Several people broke down in tears as they talked us jumping off a cliff in faith to trust God as He called us to surrender our lives in this way. I remember seeing him out of the corner of my eye and wondering what he was thinking.
When it came to Mark's turn, I can still hear him saying "I have read about people like Dean and Janice...just exemplary human beings...but I've never known them until now."
A few days later he came by our house to drop off his envelopes. Dean wasn't home from work and he just chatted in the kitchen with me. I still remember my mind scrambling at the counter...thinking...'what is it? What does he see in us? Why is he so drawn...?" He was clearly fascinated with us...yet we couldn't figure out why.
I remember hearing Dean constantly say "I know God has placed Mark in my life for a reason and I've got to make a point to reach out to him.".
Sadly, the American curse is busy-ness. Our family, with 9 young children and 2 businesses...is no exception. Time flies...faster than we can comprehend. Before we know it days turn into weeks...into months...and God-forbid...years.
Recently Dean did a huge fence job (within the last 3 weeks) and he needed a helper. He remembered Mark saying "call me anytime, I'd love to give you a hand" so he called him. Mark came out one day and Dean was doing concrete.
Later that day, Dean called me to tell me about Mark.
He was sad to hear Mark's marriage of 14 years was ending that next week. And that Mark was moving to Tailand. Tailand? Yes. He was a globe-trotter and said he had a friend in Tailand...as well as fine dining and women (in his words). Dean felt sick.
Dean told me how he sounded so empty...and had verbalized how retirement was simply not what it was cracked up to be. That he was empty. Dean said it was the perfect 'in' to say "I have what you are looking for..." but they were pouring concrete. It was a bad time. Instead he told Mark he was going to get together with him before he moved away.
I recall Dean saying to me something about "if I ever heard something happened to Mark...it would be the worst day of my life. I have got to sit down and be straight with him about Jesus".
Yesterday we were driving through town and Dean said "Ahh I have GOT to call Mark" and he picked up his phone and called him. He left a message something to the effect of "I hope I haven't missed you...really want to get together. Call me.".
We went on with our day.
I put the little children to bed for their naps and went out with Tirzah.
Dean's cell phone rang. It was Mark's wife. He assumed right away that he had already missed Mark and he had left for Tailand. But she was crying. She told him she was so sorry to say that Mark had 'passed away'. Dean said he felt every bit of blood drain from his face. Nooo. Nooo. Nooo. There's no way. No. Please, God...no. He carried on a conversation with her as she wept and at the end he asked if he had died of a heart attack. She said "no, Dean, it was much much worse than that. He took his own life and I found him."
Dean's recounting this to me as I stand in the Macy's dressing room. I feel like I'm going to throw up. I keep tapping my foot to keep me from blacking out.
Oh God...No. No. No.
The finality of it all.
This man was in our life. Drawn to our family. Searching. Lost. Trying to fill that void with everything but what it was created to fit....a Savior.
Us...feeling like we missed an opportunity. The opportunity of not only a lifetime...but eternity.
Oh..Mark saw our life. He knew we were christians. He heard things so clearly that night.
And it wouldn't have been an easy conversation. Dean had said something to Mark last summer and Mark had really come out with swords. It was political. It was de-nerving...there was no doubt.
There is no doubt that was in the back of Dean's mind when choosing the 'perfect timing' to have a straight conversation. However, he was going to have it...before he left.
And now in a flash...it's too late.
We came home from shopping and I saw a husband with the light completely gone from his eyes. We fell into a hug, with no words. There are no words. What we both are feeling...cannot be spoken. Not even to God. We cannot put it into words.
Complete. Total. Devastation. Loss. Heartbreak. Sickening loss.
We opted to go for a date last night. To spend time together and talk. Not sure what we'd talk about but we knew we needed to go out.
I had a spotted fox coupon for a restaurant. We got there, walked in and saw it was packed. Loud. And a buzz. I looked at Dean...we put our names down . Just before the lady called us, Dean walked up to her and said we'd come back another night.
We have never done that.
We didn't know where we were going.
We drove around for a while and I suggested a place and Dean suggested a place. I said "let's do yours". We had never been there. Why not.
We arrived, were seated, ordered, prayed, talked.
All of a sudden, I hear this lady say "DEAN!" and she came from behind him. Not behind me, she came from behind Dean. How she saw him and was confident enough to know it was him with only seeing the back and side of his head...I don't know. He saw her and immediately stood up and the two of them stood in a long embrace. He looked at me and whispered "It's her...!" I knew it was.
It was Mark's wife. She then said "what are you doing here? I came here with a few close friends b/c this was Mark's favorite restaurant..." Dean told her our story of how we had just left somewhere else....she put her hand on her chest and said "this is so special, it's just what I needed tonight". We were speechless. That restaurant has been here for years, we have never walked into the front door.
The night felt like a blur.
I got in bed and was so restless. Everytime I woke, I looked over to see Dean in a similar state.
Praying we would wake to find out it was all a dream...yet the moment the sunlight hit our eyes this morning, we knew. This was reality. Unchangeable. Final. Reality.
In our talk last night we both committed to doing things...that free us to have time to invest in people. Not stuff. Not things. Not running like ragged Americans searching for which way is up b/c we have ourselves overcommitted, over-involved, over-spent, literally in debt of time.
That the purpose of our lives is to prepare for eternity and to seize the opportunities of those God places in our lives. To live 'out loud' with our faith and invest in people not things.
To stop waiting for the right time...because it simply may never come.
This is a huge wake up call to us. But yet one that doesn't bring hope of the change we can make happen...because it is still overshadowed by the pure sick empty loss of what just has occurred. Gone.
To die without having your sins forgiven by Jesus alone....means an eternity separated from God forever in hell. This is the devastation of our hearts today. The thief hanging beside Jesus on the cross was saved in his last few moments...we absolutely know that's possible. But if he died as he lived....our hearts are broken.
This is what Dean wrote:
It’s one thing to lose a friend that doesn’t know Jesus. That is horrific!
It’s another thing to lose a friend to suicide. Completely tragic! The questions come fast and furious, “What didn’t I know? What should have I known? Did I not listen enough? What could I have done better?”
But it’s yet another thing to lose a friend that doesn’t know Jesus, that takes his own life AND I felt deeply that God put him in my path so that I could show him The Way .... The Truth .... The Life, AND he expressed to me the lostness he was feeling just two weeks ago .... It doesn’t get worse than that!!
I remember where I was standing on my jobsite when he shared that retirement sure wasn’t easy and that maybe he’d find some meaning to his life in his upcoming move to Thailand... It was such an open door I don’t know how I didn’t fall right through it and say, “Oh I totally know what you are looking for, there is no doubt in my mind ... It’s Jesus!!” Actually I do no how. 1) I was concentrating setting posts in concrete on a difficult part of the job and thought if I got in to a deep conversation it would be difficult 2) I wondered about a negative response (the only time I had seen him get riled up was a brief discussion on politics where I thought he was a bit irrational when it came to his liberal point of view) and didn’t want to potentially get him upset just as he’s about to help me out on my project.
- I thought that I’ll file away what he had said and definitely sit down over coffee or have him over for a BBQ at our house before he leaves and tell him about The Hope of the World - Jesus Christ.
- Was even gonna speak with my pastor to get advice on how he would approach it.
Some or all of those things might be legit. But I never dreamed in a million years that that opportunity would not come. How foolish to think that I was sure to have another day, never mind another week. How foolish to think that he would definitely be around for a few more days -- he wasn’t exactly the picture of health ... but even if he was, there are no guarantees!! The thought of suicide, for sure, never entered my mind -- after all, he had plans to move half way around the world. When I asked him what was in Thailand he said, “Beaches .... food .... girls....” All telltale signs of SEARCHING!
What I would do to have another chance to stop my job right then and there (who cares about the concrete drying!) and talk to him. Who cares about a potential “negative response” - how wimpy is that?!? Worried about a little backlash for telling someone about Jesus, someone that desperately needs Him whether they know it or not. Oh to not depend on having a chance a few days later. And by the way, I didn’t have to stop and preach a sermon .... I just needed to open my mouth and confidently tell him I have the answer - Jesus. Who knows where it would’ve gone from there. Maybe it would’ve been a small seed that turned into something more later that day or the next. Or maybe we could’ve had a great conversation right then and there. Maybe my job would have taken a little longer .... really? Who cares? That day will forever be in my memory. I can see him walking and talking (with very little life in his step) like it was today.
The tears come when the finality of it all hits. If only I could have 30 seconds of time back. I know. There are no guarantees of what might have been different. But I hope and pray I don’t miss an opportunity to speak up again!
So for those of you reading this, please don’t sleep on that person in your life that God has placed there. If you are not aware of a hurting/searching person in your sphere of influence, you need to start listening a lot more. Our world is full of them. And if busyness is infecting your life, do whatever you can to take back the reigns and YOU dictate who and what gets your time and attention. If you get a poke from the Holy Spirit to call somebody, stop what you are doing and call. Look for an opportunity to interrupt your busy schedule! Because at the end of the day, there is nothing more important than being a connector between people & God. The finality of leaving this world for eternity is overwhelming if the destination is the wrong one. Be Holy ... Be Bold ... nothing else matters!!
When I got into bed last night I could not get this song out of my head. So much so...I was so tired...that I said "ok God I will post it on the blog" and it was gone immediately and I slept.
Here it is.
Please. Click on the link and watch it. Read the words and listen.
This is what it's all about.