How do you measure the impact of a relationship? We have words that characterize various forms—like parent, child, spouse, colleague, or friend—but some connections defy and transcend easy descriptions. Some associations are too complex; some bonds are too profound, even mysterious.
Dr. Mark Laaser, who went Home September 27, 2019, was that undefinable person in my life. Mark was the founder and leader of Faithful and True Ministries in Minneapolis, possibly the first and certainly a premier center for the treatment of sexual addiction from a Christian foundation. Along with his wife Debbie, a licensed marriage and family therapist, Mark impacted untold thousands through his counseling, speaking, writing, and being in the world.
I met Mark in the spring of 1992, when my first counselor, Dr. LaRue Moss from the Woodmont Hills Church Counseling Center, invited him to do his first professional clinical conference, which was held at Lipscomb. His book The Secret Sin of Sex Addiction, now in its third edition and titled Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction, debuted that weekend, and for the first time, someone was telling the story that I was beginning to understand described my own experience.
Mark opened every professional door that has led to where I am today. He introduced me to Dr. Patrick Carnes, invited me to speak and teach with him, taught me the model for treating sex addiction through intensive workshops, and joined me in starting workshops for female sex addicts in what ultimately became a joint venture renamed Bethesda Workshops. Mark was a colleague, mentor, and extremely dear friend. He wrote a beautiful foreword to my book, No Stones.
I loved that he was a man who dealt head on with his stuff and shared his story vulnerably. He took the healing journey I always hoped my father would take, and in many ways Mark became both a father and mother figure for me. He was a brother in ministry, and he always said I was the sister he never had.
As souls with very similar wounds and giftings, Mark and I served together as wounded healers to the best of our (imperfect) ability. A friend who also knew Mark well said that we made each other better, and that each of our efforts and legacies were multiplied by the connection in ways neither of us would have accomplished alone. I’m so grateful for that perspective.
Although Mark had battled a rare cancer in recent years and was clearly declining, his quick deterioration and death were unexpected. When I got the call that he had died, an involuntary scream started in the soles of my feet and catapulted out my throat. Never have I had that reaction to bad news, including any previous death. I felt totally unglued, unhinged, undone.
I also felt the unmistakable presence of a loving God—a father, mother, and supportive, compassionate friend. When I described that the world shifted on its axis when Mark died, someone asked if it was shaking my faith. I almost laughed. My faith?? Oh, dear heavens, no! It is shaking my world, but my faith is buoyed by the God-who-shows-up.
These days since the world shattered, I have received multiple, persistent consolations. Early ones came in the form of a loving staff who heard my cries and sat with me in the grief. One dearest friend drove over an hour back to Bethesda to be with me. She held me like Mama God with skin on, and even still I feel that warmth. I’ve received flowers and cards and calls and texts from close people who understand how important Mark was to me and to Bethesda Workshops. God’s message is clear that I am not alone.
As someone with deep attachment wounds, I often teased Mark that if he were in really bad shape or died without telling me, I would haunt him forever. We had texted just four weeks before his death, and he assured me he was OK. A couple of days after Mark died, I decided I had to get to my spot at the top of Ganier Ridge, though physically I felt dangerously weak. I made it to bench 39, and soon the tears flooded my face. Before long, I heard a crashing behind me and turned around to see a large deer leaping effortlessly across a fallen log and disappearing down the other side of the ridge. It’s rare to see deer up on the top, and I immediately smiled, even laughed, and said, “Hello dear Mark! Thank you for coming to tell me you had died.” What a sweet visitation! (He probably wanted to avoid being haunted.)
A few days later I was walking in a little park near my house, and for whatever reason the grief came again like a tsunami. I sat on a bench, put my face in my hands and wailed, nearly oblivious to my surroundings. I begged and begged God for consolation with groans too deep for words. At some point I felt someone sit down on either side of me and arms stretch across my shoulders. A couple whom I’ve known casually for years were beside me, and the husband said, “We are God’s answer to your prayer this morning. We’re here for you and so very, very sorry for your pain.”
Mark’s death came just a few days after the death of LaRue Moss, my first counselor and the one who connected us. After LaRue’s funeral, I returned alone the next day to the hillside where she was buried and talked to her a long time under the blazing sun. Eventually, I told her that Mark had died, reminded her of his enormous impact on my life, and said I was so grateful she insisted I attend his first conference. Suddenly, I realized that of course LaRue already knew Mark had died and had surely escorted him gleefully all over heaven.
I am grateful for Mark’s lasting presence in the memories, minds, and hearts of so many who loved him. With renewed passion I lean into the healing work I learned how to do through Mark’s instruction. And I am consoled by the tight tenderness with which a loving God embraces me in this grief.
In the words of the hymn Mark loved (and which was played at his funeral), “It is well with my soul.”
Marnie C. Ferree