About the Author
Dennis Mansfield was a leader in the evangelical public policy arena and pro-family movement for almost two decades. He helped lead the fight for traditional family values while working in association with Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council. An early leader in the Promise Keepers movement, Dennis led the efforts to launch Promise Keepers across the nation, beginning with the first regional event in Boise, Idaho, and he was the Pacific Northwest host for the first Promise Keepers Radio. As a candidate for the U.S. Congress in 2000, Dennis learned of his elder son’s drug use when it was discovered by the media just five days before his unsuccessful bid for election. Dennis and Susan then turned their attention to helping drug addicts and their families, only to see the death of their son in 2009. In that same year Dennis helped form 8:4 Pictures with Larry and Eugene Kelly; he currently writes and works there as an executive producer.
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Beautiful Nate Chapter One
It was a pre-spring day like so many we’d experienced in lovely Boise, Idaho. The snow was melting, and green tulip bulbs were quietly sending leaf shoots on their way through the thawing earth. Like in so many other cold-weather states, sand or salt is often used as a slide inhibitor for the spots of sheer ice that you can see and the black ice that you cannot. As I walked from our home to my car in the driveway, I heard the soft crunch, crunch, crunch of sand underfoot. Once at work, walking from the parked car to the office, the same sound greeted my ears. It was just the normal sound of a normal close-of-winter day in our life. The calendar marked the day as March 11, 2009.
I’m a self-employed businessman; I almost always have been. In 2006, my business partner and I developed a new firm that housed ex-addicts and ex-inmates after they had completed their time in jail or prison. In the parlance of the industry, these houses are called “staffed, safe, and sober homes”; each normally has from five to twelve men or women. It’s an unusual business and one that neither of us ever anticipated owning. Nonetheless, as businessmen, we saw a need to help ex-addicts, and we met that need with the tools and resources available to us. Both of us had sons who had brushes with the law due to drug abuse. Though our sons could not benefit personally from the houses that we developed (due to conflict of interest), as partners and fathers we saw how we could help other parents as they struggled with their sons and daughters in jail and in prison. Others joined us in putting time, treasure, and talent into this endeavor.
My wife, Susan, and I have three children: firstborn Nate; our second born, our daughter, Meg; and our caboose boy, Colin. We had an intentional, planned, and purposeful family. The kids grew up in a family environment of faith, fun, adventure, and travel. We often combined these elements and traveled across the globe, helping on foreign missions, assisting others who simply did not have the advantages we had as a family. Throughout these global jaunts, we would all be amazed at the commonality of people—regardless of the nation of region in which they lived. Children were born to parents, lived with them until maturity, and then went off to start their own lives. In the end, no matter what country, children became adults, parents passed away, and children buried their parents. This was the expected way to experience life.
On that date in March 2009, I left the office and went home to have lunch with my third child, Colin, then a homeschooled high school junior. Colin was attending a co-op school for home-educated kids, a school that brought students together twice a week in class and then allowed them to learn on their own for the other three days a week. On this day, my son was home working on math problems. Susan and our adult married daughter, Meg, were back at my office having their regular weekly Bible-study lunch with other women, including female ex-inmates. They came together once a week to mentor ex-addict women from a biblical perspective. Scripture was used as well as books from well-known female authors. The ex-inmates were treated with respect, honor, and dignity. Since the study was always held at lunchtime, food was provided, with special salads and hot dishes prepared by the nonaddict women attendees. Laughter and joy were always present, as were frequent tears.
As I walked through the door of my house, my cell phone rang. It was Meg. “Dad, come back to the office immediately. We just got a call from Missouri. There’s a problem with Nate.” The silence behind the phone call was deafening. If there were sounds of women laughing or talking, I did not hear them. The call from my daughter was forcefully factual, straightforward, and crystal clear: “Come now.”
There was a different tone in her voice than there had ever been during the previous ten years of dealing with her older brother’s drug addiction. I hung up and turned to Colin. “Nate’s in trouble again. Would you like to go with me to our office and find out what’s going on?” My youngest son paused, thought about it, and nodded. We headed out our front door and heard the crunch of snow-mixed sand under our feet as we walked on the icy driveway to our family car.
We drove the two miles from our home to what was then our family’s company office in complete and unusual silence, as if the Lord were preparing us for some very difficult times. As we got out of the car, we both looked slowly around the very normal outside comings and goings, similar to any office complex on any ordinary day, and then walked toward the entrance. Each step’s crunch of sandy salt on the sidewalk seemed to carry with it a preamble of the gritty brokenness that awaited us.
As I opened the door, I heard the Lord quietly say to my spirit, “Your life will never be the same once you open that door, but it will be all right.”
I walked in, turned the corner to my left, and saw my bride, Susan, sitting in a high-backed conference table chair next to our daughter and surrounded by their friends from the Bible-study lunch.
She was sobbing with tears I had never seen before. Susan looked up at me and said almost in a whisper, “Nate’s gone. He’s dead.”
Emotions buckled my knees, and even as a man of faith, I fell sobbing and moaning against the back of a chair at that conference table. At twenty-seven years of age, our beautiful boy, Nate, was dead—apparently because of drugs.
I was a leader in the national profamily movement. I loved my son. What happened to our intentional, planned, and purposeful parenting?
My mind stopped. My heart nearly did as well.
How had our family come to this? I was a leader in the national profamily movement. I loved my son. What happened to our intentional, planned, and purposeful parenting?
All the family legislation and marriage conferences we worked on suddenly seemed to amount to nothing; all the homeschooling, all the summer vacation Bible schools, all our parental warnings of “the outside world,” and all the energy in constructing a godly Christian barrier to that world seemingly amounted to nothing.
Why had all our efforts not worked?
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