Wednesday, October 08, 2014

In Conversation With...Mark Murray Stevens

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, October 1, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.


The kitchen of Mark Murray Steven’s bungalow in Malagash is white, bright and spotless. It doesn’t fit the stereotype of the bachelor pad for a musician who performs rockin’ country tunes. 
A few years ago, a reporter might have walked into a completely different scene but today, Mark is committed to a clean and faithful lifestyle.
The 33 year old admits that’s still a day-by-day journey. The cleansing of his heart and soul didn’t come early and it didn’t come easy.
“In elementary school, I had my own desk in the principal’s office,” he explains. “I was always getting suspended for something. She’d send me home with a suspension slip and I’d throw it out the bus window. When I got home, I’d try and play it off that all was good but she caught on after awhile what was going on. It went on throughout high school,” Mark adds. “I was smoking and drinking and skipping class and running around with girls and stealing cars.”
When Mark says he’s been in jail, he’s not using a metaphor for being spiritually lost; his first taste of incarceration arrived when the police showed up at the door on his twelfth birthday and took him to the Shelburne Youth Centre.
“I was in jail in total 11 years,” Mark admits.   “Six years in juvenile and jail and another five years in prison.” 
Those 11 years inspired a song called “Do My Best” on his recently released collection of gospel songs. Mark wrote all the songs on the self-titled CD and produced and recorded it in the living room of his Malagash home. 

Mark shares his home in Malagash with his dog Mika.
As a boy growing up in Pugwash River, Mark spent his childhood hunting and trapping, working in the woods, working with dogs, but his father also handed Mark the tools he’d one day use to rebuild his life and make that CD possible.
“My dad bought me a guitar for Christmas when I was eight years old,” Mark remembers. “I started banging on it, broke all the strings. It was the first thing I ever refinished, that guitar. I took furniture stripper to it and stripped it all down, sanded it, stained it then put polyurethane all over it. I had no idea that I even knew how to do it.”
But the affinity for music was no match for his proclivity for bad behavior and it wasn’t until he was lying in the infirmary at the prison in Dorchester, healing a broken ankle and plotting revenge against a fellow inmate, that Mark discovered a way to change.
He knows the date and time of his life-changing moment: May 23, 2003, shortly after midnight. 
“For three days, I’d been wracking my brain how to get back to Springhill to get those guys,” Mark says. “I said to myself, ‘God, if you’re real, I need you to show me right now.’  Just like that, in that second, I don’t even think I’d finished saying ‘now’, I felt an invisible hand reach into my stomach and grab a hold of all the garbage, all the hate, the fear, the anxiety, the worry, the pain, everything I’d been holding onto, everything I’d been carrying around, the whole reason behind why I wanted to get back at these guys, all of that was grabbed hold and pulled out like a handful of tar. When that let go, I took a deep breath and for the first time in my life, I felt completely clean.”
Mark says that feeling terrified him.
 “I cried myself to sleep and when I woke up the next morning, I automatically took a deep breath and I thought, ‘Wow, it was real.’ At that point, I knew God was real. I knew God had intervened in my life.”
Having only gone to church once in his life, when he was 12, Mark says he knew nothing about God or Jesus or the Bible.
 “The only thing I related God to was a cross. I knew a cross was at a church and that had to do with God and these religious freaks who would lay down their drinking and smoking and good times.”
While that experience in the prison infirmary opened a new door, it also opened a long-closed one.
“That same day, I wrote my first song,” Mark says. 
The clean and sober life was a hard one for Mark to maintain. Although he started working as a commercial painter and gained success in Moncton as a musician, his demons kept rising up and he hit rock bottom again and again. 
“Little by little, God revealed himself in my life,” Mark says. “What’s known as the Holy Spirit has been nudging me to do certain things, like clean up my lifestyle and quit drinking, quit smoking, quit doing drugs.”
It didn’t happen in a day or even a year; it’s been happening over the past ten years. Now, Mark has been clean for a year and a half and has chosen to live alone while he follows what he believes is God’s true calling for him. 
With that choice, though, came perhaps the hardest lesson of all: In learning to be true to himself, other people were hurt.  He’s coming to terms with that as he supports himself with his own painting, refinishing and restoration business while embracing what his musical talent really means.
“What I’ve come to realize is that it’s not about playing in church. It’s about why I was playing,” Mark says. “Before I was playing to glorify Mark Stevens; that’s what God wanted to cut out. There’s a lot more to it than saying ‘I’m going to play gospel music’ because there’s all sorts of singers who play gospel music but they’re only in it for themselves. There’s also country singers because they’re in it because they want to glorify God. It’s all about why are you doing this music. The first time that I said ‘I’m going to do it for God,’ it succeeded. I just sold my first hundred CDs.”
Mark admits he’s provided what he calls “the pulpit version” of his story.
“It’s been such a dramatic process getting to this point,” he says. “It’s far from the end point but hopefully those crazy, crazy times are behind me. I have ten years in now.”
But he admits even those ten years since May 23, 2003, just after midnight, have ben crazy. 
“The only explanation is that angels were holding me up.”
He believes the point of telling his story, in words and in music, is so that someone can see there’s always hope. 
“Nobody’s trash,” he says. “Nobody’s written off. Anything is possible.”

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