He planned on becoming a packaging engineer. Until God tapped him on the shoulder.
And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19 (ESV)
So he decided instead to go into ministry. When he interviewed for Director of Student Ministries at our church, pastoring was all pretty new to him. But no one would call him inexperienced with life. He and his young bride had survived her two cancer scares. They’d buried his father-in-law who passed away tragically and too young.
At one point, Mark met with one of our deacons, who posed a question:
We are a bunch of hunting, fishing, gun-toting rednecks, can you handle that?
I’m not sure how Mark answered, but he got the job.
Right away, Mark embraced our youth. He’s invested in their lives by attending a number of school events. They’ve hosted Mudfests (use your imagination). Their summer “retreat” includes doing manual labor for those in our church family who need help around the house.
Alongside members of our church family, he’s hunted coyote, deer and turkey. He's caught his first steelhead. His student ministry events have drawn record crowds. Fishers of men.
You’ve heard the phrase, “A smile that could light up a room.” The guy credited with that one had just met Brittany, Mark’s wife. She serves right beside him in ministry, when she’s not chasing after their two little boys or working as a physician’s assistant at a local hospital.
To know Mark and Brittany is to love them. To know Mark and Brittany is also to have your heart broken.
They had been told pregnancy would be difficult for them but they wanted a big family. They started down the road of international adoption and completed fostering paperwork when they found out they were pregnant with their first child. Baby G arrived in November 2013. A miracle baby who, due to birthing complications, continues to have ongoing medical treatment.
They’ve taken little G to Mayo Clinic twice. A road trip no one gets excited about. They also frequently make the four-hour roundtrip drive to Motts Children’s Hospital at University of Michigan (U of M). And they’re STATE fans!
A few weeks before G was born, they received a call about a little boy in the foster care system who needed immediate placement. After praying about this opportunity, God gave them a thumbs up. That’s how we came to see a very pregnant Brittany chasing a toddler around church.
We have the privilege of hearing Mark preach from time to time. He has a great deal of Bible knowledge interspersed with all this life knowledge. I haven’t mentioned yet that he’s currently enrolled in a local seminary.
What’s the Greek word for overwhelmed?
The last time he preached a Sunday sermon was back in March. The sermon series was entitled, “I Give Up.” His family had been at U of M hospital the day before so he’d had little time to formally prepare the words he wanted to speak.
Mark was so raw that day. Transparent. With his permission, I’m sharing with you a part of his sermon:
M: I stand before you guys today just trying to collect myself... I’m feeling weaker than I ever have. Feeling more unqualified to talk to you guys about something than I ever have because it’s so much a part of my life and my story.
He taught on Matthew 6:25-32 (ESV). Portions read:
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on...
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them...
And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin...
M: I don’t get that. I think we’ve heard it over and over and over again. Like, oh yeah, I’m a Christian. I love Jesus. I know the gospel, yeah. I’m not supposed to worry. Yeah, some of that’s true.
But like I don’t get this. This doesn’t resonate with me when I read this text. Like, God, you’re telling me not to worry. Do you know me? Do you know what I’m going through, God?
M: I have a son, 15 months old. He’s had surgery eight times. Do you know what it’s like sitting in that pre-op eight times keeping a hungry, grumpy kid calm and then you’re trying to answer a million questions by doctors...
And you wait and you wait and you wait...
The anesthesiologist comes back and says:
'It’s time to say goodbye.'
I know the script. I’ve done it eight times for my son. You’re telling me not to worry?
When I literally have to hold my child and hand him off to someone I don’t know. I take his life from my protection and my control and hand it over. You’re telling me not to worry, God? You’re talking about birds. I don’t deal with birds! I’m dealing with real life stuff.
You want me to talk about like, not worrying about money. Do you know how much eight surgeries cost? Do you know how much spending a month at Mayo costs? When I’m over there all I can think about is trying to get back here because I miss you guys and like, I feel like I’m not doing my job when I’m over there.
I have [another] child who’s lived with me for 16 months and I do not get to call him my son. I desperately want to adopt this boy yet I don’t get to do that.
Sometimes the very best sermons aren’t formally prepared. In this Christian life, we usually learn more from a person's actions than his words.
We’d find out just weeks later Mark and Brittany were going through even more than we had known on that Sunday. The trip to U of M the day before hadn’t been for little G. It had been for Brittany.
FB Update: About two months ago Brittany and I received news that we were expecting another child, but there were significant complications and we were referred to the specialists in Ann Arbor.
What joy! They would have an opportunity to continue growing their family.
But it wasn’t meant to be. As least, not in this way. Right away, the doctors found complications with the pregnancy. They did all they could but the precious little one was lost and Brittany had to undergo major surgery to make sure no further damage was inflicted on her body.
FB Update: It's tough seeing everyone else get calls to go back and see their loved ones until the waiting area is empty, but Brittany is in capable hands with her doctors and the best hands with Jesus.
Our church family learned about these latest developments with this family now so dear to us through the prayer chain email and social media updates.
FB Update: Pain management has been challenging, but is trending in the right direction. After talking with our surgeon more in depth, we are feeling so blessed that Brittany is alive.
Our hearts ache for this family that has in every way become one of us. We feel helpless but we’re learning prayer is in many ways the best thing one can offer.
When I heard that Family Christian and a “hunting, fishing, gun-toting redneck” family called the Robertson’s were offering bloggers a chance to join their pastors on a Duck Dynasty cruise, I knew I wanted to nominate Mark and Brittany. It seems like God has been preparing them for this respite with a bunch of country folk for a long time.
I'm partnering with Family Christian to write this post. It is my submission into a contest for Duck Dynasty cruise tickets for both myself and our pastor. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Readers, Does a cruise with the Duck Dynasty family sound good to you? YOU can also win a cruise by going into your local Family Christian store! Or enter online here: http://www.familychristian.com/duckcruise