I usually can come up with words because, well… I am a writer and a minister. However as I sit down to write about my friend, Mark - I am nearly at a loss for words.
Mark left this world for heaven in April of 2017. Just as winter was releasing it’s harsh hold on New England, so too Mark found his release from a body crippled with palsy. He lived fifty one years in his prison of flesh. He could not walk, nor speak. He had limited use of one arm, just enough to guide his electronic wheelchair. But, oh! The life he lived…
Mark was apparently a normal baby upon birth. Within a short while however, it was clear that his life would be nothing like normal. As he aged, his limbs atrophied and grew twisted. His verbal communication was a series of grunts and groans, mixed with a ready resemblance of a laugh. He endured feeding tubes and catheters with an acceptance born of a patient spirit. People often unknowingly insulted his intelligence by speaking loudly and slowly but Mark graciously overlooked the misunderstanding and smiled his crooked smile at everyone he encountered.
He was a beloved member of LifeHouse Church. Over the years that he attended, he helped build our congregation. Every new case worker or caretaker that he employed was scheduled to work on Sunday mornings so they would have to attend church with him. Most of them joined the fellowship.
The church softball team knew him as their assistant coach. During the summer nights when we would play ball, I would frequently check in with Mark on the sidelines to see the strategy he had for the game that I was missing. He would often painstakingly spell out, letter by letter, a detailed plan of how we could accomplish the win.
He was our self proclaimed worship leader. He zoomed around the auditorium in his electric wheelchair, (often at high speeds), pumping his left arm and fist as a gesture of enthusiasm and praise. Periodically I would hold his feeble arm in the air as high as he could extend it. These were the times when I knew he wanted to lift his hands in worship.
If you were new to the church, Mark sought you out and would roll up right in front of your seat and start swinging away, Sometimes in his exuberance he would roll over feet and pocketbooks. No one ever minded. What he provided was not embarrassment or concern but a genuine inspiration and an invitation to praise. No matter what kind of a week you had, you knew Mark faced a tougher struggle. If he was able to praise God despite his hardships, well then, what excuse did we have to hold back?
On what was to be his last Sunday with us, he did something he had never done before. He pulled up beside my seat during worship and pointed to the microphone on my chair. It was clear that he wanted me to hold it for him. ‘You want to speak to the congregation?” I asked. He nodded in a determined fashion.
He had never asked to use the mic before but I knew this was to be a God moment, so I announced that Mark had something to share. He began with his familiar groans and as he spoke them, an awe fell over us. He went on for a short while, clearly working hard to express himself, and then ended with three long sighs that came from the depths of his soul. Silence followed. Tears flowed. Mark was telling us goodbye.
Not two weeks later I held his hand as he left us to be with Jesus. He took his last breath on earth in perfect peace. He drew in heaven’s celestial air with his very next breath. I am certain that the feeble arm I used to hold high is strong now. His body is well. And, yet I really don’t believe his voice has changed much...for it was already perfectly understood.