Mark, my son, was not like the two scrawny boys leading off the baptisms last Sunday. At thirty-four, thick shouldered, and a freshly shaved head, he dwarfed the gentle preacher. The little man of the Lord strained to lift Mark out of the water. Once upright, grinning in a way I hadn’t seen since he was a child, Mark grabbed the preacher and hugged him off his feet. Along with the clapping, laughs and “amens” erupted from the pews.
Through tough memories of serving my country, years of witnessing the heinous acts of human beings as a police officer, numerous funerals, and one divorce, my emotions have been conditioned for concealment. I had no intentions of crying last Sunday. I sat with Mark for the remainder of the sermon and he even introduced me to his preacher, but afterwards, alone in my truck, a wetness streaked unexpectedly down my cheek. I made it home before sobbing the thick tears that could not be contained.
When Mark was young and I was still married to his mom, I once heard him ask, “Why doesn’t daddy ever go with us to church?”
“Your father patrols late on the weekend,” she responded. “He needs his rest, crime doesn’t stop just because the work week’s over.” I remember wondering if those words had lacked the same conviction when I had said them to her.
Around the age of fifteen, after it had been just the two of us for several years, Mark finally showed that he was his father’s son. I began making trips to the high school to deal with fights or destruction of property, and in his room I discovered cigarettes, beer caps, and girls. I spoke of rules and disappointment. He spoke in insults.
At nineteen Mark enlisted, but not due to any pride he held in his father’s past service. He had a desire to leave and he was short on options. I expected the occasional phone call and the Christmas visits, but after more than a dozen years away, I didn’t expect his sudden return. Mark arrived with a wife I had never met, a quest I did not understand, and what seemed like a mission to spend time with his father.
At his request, we ate lunch together twice a week. Our discussions initially centered on the military or sports or work, but I soon realized a curious subject being planted into each meeting.
“Mom told me you were baptized when you were a kid,” he once brought up.
“Some people say once baptized always saved,” I responded, not claiming to be one of those people.
“So you do believe in Heaven?”
“I guess I do, I…boy, that girl of yours has really changed you Mark. How did you catch her anyway?”
“She’s part of it…definitely, but I really think she was set in my path.”
I naturally tried to change the direction of these conversations, but I never dared offending my son. I was frightened of ruining a second chance I never deserved.
Nearly two weeks ago, while returning with Mark from a day spent enjoying his new boat, he reached under his seat and produced a book. Appealing to my law enforcement side, he “just knew” I’d enjoy the story of an investigative journalist making a case for a creator of the universe. For days I tried to make sense of it, especially the parts he had highlighted. I finally commented that I would need to learn about God from lighter material.
“Well dad,” Mark responded, “we have some good picture books in the church library, you can pick one up while you’re there next Sunday.”
I grinned at both jokes.
Mark returned a genuine smile. “I’m getting baptized, I’d like you to be there.”
After I dried my eyes last Sunday, I hauled down a box of books from the attic. Toward the bottom I spotted the worn leather cover and I flipped through without knowing where to begin. I thought of my son. Where did he begin? How had he found the courage to publicly announce his faith and from what source originated the love he so wanted to share with an old, hard heart? I had to consider the possibility that he had tapped into something wonderful. I continued through the holy pages until finally noticing the most obvious place, a starting point I dared not second-guess. I began my journey in the book of Mark.
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