Australia… We Have Arrived!
June 1st of 2009 we landed in Melbourne Australia. After 24-hours of traveling with close to no sleep on a plane, I don’t care how much “new-ness” there is about you… you just want to sleep. When we arrived in Australia I had maybe 2-hours, if I was lucky. And then I was thrust into a rental car in a foreign land where I had no idea where I was going, all while driving on the “wrong” side of the road. Amazingly, I somehow managed to actually drive the 20 miles to our destination without being lost. While back in the USA, Maggie had arranged a small apartment rental for us to “look” at when we arrived. It was expensive as it was right on the beach, but we couldn’t find any other “short term” rentals cheaper, and hotels were absurdly expensive. So we committed ourselves to stay there a month until we could find suitable housing. This all happened within three hours of actually landing. And then I crashed to sleep.
When I woke, Maggie and Paige started telling me about all the things they had done in the local area. It was so cool. We were all so excited with this new adventure. The following days and weeks we took a lot of time to acclimate to the area trying to familiarize ourselves with just getting around. But our top priority was finding a more permanent rental house and a car. The car came first. I had plenty of cash where I put down $7000 deposit and we financed another $6000. With that we were able to lose our expensive car rental. But finding housing was much more challenging. Typical in Melbourne, real estate agents will list a house rental, but they will designate a specific day you can go look at it, and you only have 15 minutes to look. I know it sounds absurd, but this saves a lot of time going back and forth with rentals for the agent. What this does for the renters however is make for a very competitive and frustrating experience. Maggie and I would start a day trying to look at houses and we would have all the viewing times lined up. Sometimes they would be back to back. 10:15 at one house… look for 5 minutes only to dash down the road to make the next house showing at 10:30. And when you got to these places, 20 other people would be competing for the same house.
After almost 4 weeks of this Maggie and I were getting frustrated and nervous as our time was running out in our rented flat. We started expanding our price range hoping that might help. Maggie (nor I) exactly wanted to do this as we were hoping to keep our bills down, but we were running out of options. However, by doing this I managed to find a very nice house that would work for us. This would be our home for the next 2 years.
Many months before we left the USA we were trying to sort out where we would go in Australia. We had heard Sydney was very expensive so we didn’t really want to go there. We felt the West coast of Australia would keep us isolated so we didn’t think of that as an option. In the end I left it up to God. I’ll never forget praying at my desk one day asking for guidance and God answering prayer. I can’t tell you how I got there, but I found a church online called “Enjoy church”. What a great name! I looked at their website, listened to their videos, read about what they believed… it just felt right. I followed them for a few weeks and really felt this is where we were supposed to be. So within the first week of arriving in Australia we started attending church and becoming a part of it.
For the last year we attended Seminole Community Church in Florida, playing in the worship team I just felt so stagnant. I believed deep down there was more to this Christian life. A deeper relationship with Christ. But at the time with SCC it was as if I could go no deeper. Maybe it was me, but either way something had to change. Enjoy Church was exactly the change I needed. The music was amazing, the message felt more alive, and the people were very friendly. We were “home”. Maggie went along with me for a while, but she was nowhere near as excited as I was. None the less, she was supportive of me.
Back to the USA
A week before we left for Australia I wrapped up a huge gig with my photographer friend Dave shooting video for a Marriott hotel in Southern Florida. At the time these new cameras came out that were transforming the way we shoot video. In fact it was so cutting edge I sold all my video equipment to get into this. And the people at Marriott were thrilled with the work we had produced. So much so that David lined up one of the largest Marriott properties.. the Orlando World Marriott. By October of 2009 Maggie and I had already received our container of personal items, set up our house, and got into a basic routine. So when I stepped into the plane in late October to go back to the USA, I felt comfortable Maggie and Paige would be okay for the month I would be gone.
Going back to the USA at this point was a good thing. As much as we had prepared for Australia, we were thrown a few curve balls. For instance, clothes cost much more and the quality is inferior unless you are paying for name brands, and you pay through the nose for that. So I had quite the shopping list from Maggie and Paige. I also had one last major item to sell that would net us some much needed money. We were doing okay financially, but there were a few expenses we weren’t prepared for where a couple extra thousand dollars would help.
Surprisingly, our shoot schedule for this hotel was only a week, so I literally had 3-weeks afterward to go shopping and handle anything we needed to do. But the reality was I needed this time for shopping and to tie up loose ends. During this time Maggie’s mother and brother Brad decided to come visit us just after the new year and Maggie wanted to book the tickets in November. As a promise to Maggie’s parents, we agreed to send Paige back every Christmas. So the plan was to send Paige back solo, and then return in January escorted by Maggie’s mother Judy and Brad. However to coordinate this was not exactly easy. And Maggie was putting pressure on me to buy the tickets. The only problem was my money from this gig had not come in yet and I agreed to pay for this. By the time I had this money Maggie called me in the USA telling me the tickets would be DOUBLE because Paige had to be on the same flight with her mother and brother. Had Paige actually flown by herself, which was entirely possible, the ticket would have been normal price. I protested this at first, but for those of you who are married… you probably know when you get to a point in an argument where arguing anymore is just stupid. And that’s where I was. I got backed into a corner and was going to have to just pay for it. So pretty much all the money I had gained from the sale of my last item left in the USA got swallowed up by a massive plane ticket. So much for a “buffer”.
Back in AU | Christmas and New Years
After my shoot in Orlando and a lot of shopping, I returned to Melbourne. I was only home a week when Maggie and I put Paige on a plane back to the USA so she could see her grandparents. This left Maggie and me alone for the first time in a while. We took advantage of this time driving to Canberra for an overnight. We also did a lot of downtown sight seeing in Melbourne. It was a great time for us. But what we were also getting excited about was Paige’s return with Judy and Brad. They had never been out of the country, and we were excited to show off our newly adopted country.
When we first arrived in Australia, a short Italian man name Rudy extended an invitation out to our family for dinner. Rudy is about 20 years my senior, but because I came from a very Italian neighborhood and understood the mannerisms and the brashness of Italians, he and I clung to each other. I felt like I was back home in New Jersey. And his whole family accepted us.
Maggie and I were invited to Rudy’s brother-in-law’s house new years day for dinner. We jumped at the chance looking to make more friends and fit in. While there we were greeted like family, and had a wonderful meal. Afterwards Maggie and I went home. It wasn’t until weeks later that Maggie confided in me this, but she asked me about that day at Tony’s house (Rudy’s brother in law) She wanted to know what I thought about Tony and if he was an “okay”guy. I told Maggie I thought so, but wanted to know why. It was then that Maggie finally told me how she thought Tony “might” have touched her butt. I was in shock. Maggie explained the scenario to me, and I must say it was questionable. It wasn’t really a “grab” but a situation where everyone was in close quarters and maybe the back of his hand rubbed up on her. Either way, it was not enough to really saying anything. We never blew it off, but always wondered.
Shortly after the new year while Maggie’s mother and brother was visiting, I was approached by my new friend Mick. He was leading the men’s group at church and wanted to try something different with their monthly assemblies. It seemed as if the men’s group had hit a plateau in terms of growth, so Mick wanted to try a new video style of entertainment featuring two members Ronnie and Gabe. Ronnie and Gabe had known each other from childhood. All while growing up they busted each other’s chops straight into adulthood, so to see the two together you would think they might be enemies if you didn’t know them. But their pokes and prods were all in fun. They really were great friends.
This was a very good fit for me volunteering with the church. It allowed me to improve my video skills, as well keep my creative juices flowing. But getting more involved with the church exposed us to meeting more people. And, for me, I knew setting roots was very important if we were going to make it. By this time Maggie and I were marveling at how awesome our newly adopted country was. So instead of this being a temporary stay, we really considered this as more permanent. Maggie loved her workplace and made many new friends there as well. Everything seemed to be settling in. But the one thing looming that I was having a hard time with was preparing for the bankruptcy.
As much as Maggie and I were having fun and doing lots of stuff, we felt constricted. To meet the requirements of bankruptcy our incomes were going to have to come down. So how do you do that when Maggie was locked into a shift schedule making too much money? I didn’t have an answer. On top of that, I was starting to feel the effects of the serious financial loss we had just taken. I think Maggie tried to play off a lot, but every once in a while she would take jabs at me with snarky comments. I look back at it now and kick myself, but I didn’t realize how much she was hurting too. But that’s how Maggie can be at times… put a smile on her face and stuff it all down. I had no idea.
Mother Needs Help
April of 2010 my mother Sue was talking to me on the phone about what a mess she had left back in New Jersey with my step father Al. (Literally the mess) She was describing how top to bottom the whole place had years of “stuff” that really needed to be cleared out. And it did. Everyone that had lived there had left things in piles with zero organization. In a way the house became a storage facility. So in talking, I offered to fly back and help my mother organize if she would buy the plane ticket. I looked at this as an opportunity to shop again for our family as well as try and help. My mother agreed.
So the end of April I flew to my home town in New Jersey. My mother was right… the place was a disaster. There was literally two decades of collected “stuff” that needed to be dealt with, and there was no time to spare. The day I arrived I started ripping into the basement sorting out all the things my brother Chris had deposited. He had just moved back due to an unexpected medical condition. But my mother and I went room to room clearing out everything. There was so much “junk” that got tossed the neighbors thought the house was secretly sold and everyone was moving out. By the end of the two weeks I was there so much was gone, but the house became livable.
During this time I did a lot of shopping for myself and family. My old high school friend Ted had shown me a new video game he had gotten called “Call of Duty”. I wasn’t too much into gaming, but with this game you had a headset where you could talk to other online gamers. I loved this idea, because it was going to be a way for Ted and I to stay connected despite the distance. We had even set up designated times to jump into a game together. And with that and all the other things I bought for our family, I flew back to Australia once again.
Taking Pictures WAS paying
When you look at a brochure, or a website, or a billboard you might see a couple running down the beach, or maybe a mother and daughter reading and interacting. Typically the people that design those sorts of things don’t hire a photographer to take that picture. They will more likely go to a stock photo agency and buy the “rights” to use that photo. This way a photo can get sold over and over again. When I first met my photographer friend David back in 1998 he showed me all his “stock” photos. There were some images of his that made upwards of $50,000+. I was floored at this industry. But through his initial guidance and a watchful eye on my part, I learned very quickly how to do this type of “lifestyle” photography. And over the years while shooting for the magazines I had assembled a small collection of images worthy of reproduction.
In 2007 I joined a major stock agency called iStockphoto. Back then they were really just starting out. Today…. they have managed to put a lot of other companies out of business. Over the years I put together just over 500 images that they still sell to this day. Several of those photos are even of Maggie and Paige. By the time we left for Australia I was making a few thousand dollars a month from this. It wasn’t great, but it was all “passive” income… meaning whether I took a photo or not that month, I was still making money. And by the time when we left the USA my monthly sales were rising sharply. My plan for when I hit Australia was to continue shooting and adding to my portfolio. That was the plan at least.
In Australia I had two major problems. The first was the typical “look” of many of the people I encountered was not appealing… at least for what I needed. Most of my models were actually people from my church. And maybe it was the water they were drinking, but overall most had that good looking all-American look to them. Not in Western Melbourne. It was slim pickings. But the second major issue I had was so many people were apprehensive and suspicious. It was so odd! I went from a church where people were sometimes begging me to take their picture, to a place where they didn’t understand why I would want to take their picture for free. And that’s how I typically worked… I’ll GIVE you all the photos, which I would typically charge upwards of $1000 for a sitting, if you just sign the model release so I can sell the images. It was a really great trade, especially for so many families at our old church. In Australia…. I never did a “lifestyle” shoot. The only thing I can figure is it is the culture saw this idea as so foreign. Maybe at least in Melbourne.
This was the kiss of death for me. Early in 2010 iStockphoto revamped the payment structure which took on a more “what have you done for me lately” theme. Meaning, if you weren’t uploading new photos on a consistent basis, your old images got sent to the bottom of the pile. I guess this helps keep fresh images up front for the overall health of the business, but for me and my situation, I got hosed! By mid 2010 my sales were now dropping and that money made used to contribute to the family started trailing off. While in the USA helping my mother clean, I did fly down to Florida to shoot a couple families, but two shoots doesn’t exactly help the cause. I was in trouble.
By September of 2010 it seemed our family had our normal routine of going to church. But as the months progressed Maggie started complaining about a lot of little issues. She liked the message supposedly, but she felt the music was too loud and the lighting too bright. And to a degree she was right, especially when compared to our little church in Orlando. But my counter to Maggie was the music and lighting was much less than any concert we had seen over the years. Maggie didn’t care. So what she would do is sit outside in the lobby and miss the worship part of the service. Eventually she pulled Paige out there with her too. And then she told me she wanted to go to a different church. I was dumbfounded. Here I was so involved with this church. We made a lot of friends. I also believed this was the place God wanted us as well. I tried to reason with Maggie and come up with alternative solutions. I probably should have been more open to the idea, but I couldn’t put my finger on what was going on at the time. In the end we never went anywhere else. Looking back, while her complaints about the music and lighting might have been true, I wonder if Maggie was starting to be convicted of some of the sin in her own life. I truly don’t know. And if you were to ask Maggie, I don’t doubt she would tell you “no… it was just the music.”, but that’s who Maggie is. She seems to glance over what could be important issues never going deep or dealing with motivations behind actions.
In October of 2010 my friend Rudy was having a huge 60th birthday party at a local restaurant that Maggie and I were invited to. As a tribute to him, I had his son and daughter come to my house where I could video them and put together a presentation to be played the night of the party. It was good fun as I got to find out a lot of the back stories from his kids.
That night they were expecting well over 100 people to show. The one person Maggie and I were expecting was Tony, Rudy’s brother in-law that we weren’t sure had touched Maggie’s butt months prior. Maggie and I had a game plan to make sure we always stayed together the entire evening. I had to drop off my television before the party so we could watch this video and then rush home to shower and then get ready.
That evening the restaurant was PACKED! Sure enough about 100 of Rudy’s closest friends and family showed up for drinks, a wonderful meal, and a celebration of Rudy’s 60th. I know it was bittersweet for Rudy as his wife had died about a year and a half prior to this… just before we had arrived in Australia. We ate, had great conversation, and cheered for Rudy only as they do in Australia. It was a great party.
On the way home Maggie and I were commenting on how great it all was, and then I got around to asking if anything happened with Tony. Maggie was silent. She wouldn’t tell me anything, but I knew something happened. And what made it worse was Tony was 5 minutes behind us dropping my television back at our house that I used at the restaurant. Instead of figuring out the details right then and there, I shooed Maggie into the back bedroom so there wouldn’t be any confrontation. I didn’t know any of the details. Tony then showed up and helped me put my TV back in its original position. That’s when I shook his hand and I knew… something happened. He wouldn’t look me in the eye, but I let him go. I needed to know exactly what happened first.
I went into the back bedroom and that’s where Maggie told me how she was at the bar and I had just turned away when it happened. Tony was strategic. It wasn’t until MONTHS later that Maggie finally told me the graphic details of exactly what happened, but this was no passing touch. Tony grabbed Maggie right in the middle of her crotch and got a really good feel. As I write this I am sick. Had I known just how bad this was at the time I would have done some serious bodily harm to Tony. But Maggie blew it off, nor was she completely forthcoming that night. Maggie was more worried about my relationship with Rudy being spoiled from this. Maggie didn’t want to disrupt Tony’s wife and two kids. It wasn’t until much later when this whole thing blew up that I understood what was going on with Maggie. For the sake of privacy I will not go into detail here, but there are things in Maggie’s past that cause her to react this way. But there I was trying to comfort Maggie, with her blowing it off. No tears. I had no idea how this might affect her.
The Next Step
That night I had a rush of emotions going through me. I wanted Tony to feel pain, but my heart was telling me to resist any knee-jerk reaction. This man violated my wife! It was my job to protect Maggie and I felt like I failed. Maggie was emotionless. I didn’t understand what was going on with her. But because of her non-reaction I chose to talk with my pastor friend Mick about all this, instead of taking things into my own hands.
Mick was in shock. Tony was a man fairly involved in volunteering at the church. In fact his entire family was. I wanted action to be taken now. Mick took this very seriously and took this upon himself to confront Tony. Mick had warned us though that he doubted Tony would own up to this sort of thing, but what do you do? You have to confront this sort of act head on. Amazingly enough, Tony admitted to his act. In fact, Tony admitted this was not the first time he had ever done this. Apparently this happened at several business parties as well. Drinking was typically involved, so he said. It also came out that he beat his children from time to time. This was a violent and dangerous man.
At that stage the church stepped in to handle this situation. They assured us that this would be handled swiftly and with serious action taken. They also reached out to us to get counseling, but Maggie refused it. I asked repeatedly if she was okay. She just blew me off saying she was more worried about Tony’s wife and kids. I didn’t understand that at the time, but with assurance from Maggie that she was okay and assurance from the church that this situation would be handled, I chose not to do anything directly that could potentially cause my family complications.
Maggie and I were planning a trip to Thailand after the new year to meet our friends from our old church John and Jan. Jan had actually grown up in Thailand as a missionary kid and spoke fluent Thai, so that was an opportunity to get a tour of the country, as well as have our own personal translator with us. In November of 2010 Rudy approached me suggesting I should get a job where he worked welding. I knew we needed more money, and I was not holding up my end of paying the bills, so I went and applied. If you recall, early in my photography career I bought a welder for myself. All throughout the years I taught myself welding fabricating car parts for myself and for friends. I had even considered opening up my own auto fab shop to supplement when I wasn’t shooting photos. But I had enough on my plate between the houses, friend’s cars, and photography. So when Rudy approached me to go weld with him, my only apprehension was I am not certified.
When I went into this shop and talked with the manager about working for them, we agreed on a wage and a work schedule. I could only pull 4 days a week as I wanted the extra day to work on the bankruptcy. And Maggie and I had already committed to taking a 2-week holiday to Thailand in January. He was fine with this. I passed my welding test without a hitch, and I was on the roster for the following week replacing another worker that was going in for knee surgery.
Over the years, mostly before I met Maggie, I had taken several jobs in construction so I was familiar with how to carry myself amongst some pretty tough guys. But to be honest, these guys were animals! All of them seemed to try and out-curse each other dropping “F-bombs” all over the place. Sex and getting drunk seemed to be common themes. One guy came to work with a black eye he had received when he flirted with a friend’s girlfriend. One had pictures of naked women taped all over his workbench. Another didn’t make it into work on a Monday because his car wouldn’t start. He had been convicted of a DUI so the court forced him to install a breathalyzer in the car so it would start only when sober. His Sunday drinking was so much that he hadn’t worked the alcohol through his system by the following morning. And there was Rudy and me… two Christian guys trying to make it through. Rudy had asked me to work because he knew I could use the money, but he also needed the moral support. I even told Maggie the reason I took this job was to help Rudy… a comment I would later regret as it had been taken the wrong way. But there I was, working for someone else for the first time in 14 years. But I was having fun doing something so outside the norm. And Maggie was happy for the help as well.
Shortly after the new year Maggie and I traveled to Cheng Mai Thailand. We arranged this so not only would we meet our friends John and Jan there, they would also be escorting our daughter Paige with them. How cool this was. We all love to travel, but what made this trip so special was our dear friends John and Jan.
John and Jan had their own woes in recent years as they too got caught up in the US housing debacle. Having lost their house in 2010, they were actually in Thailand to pursue if this is where God was leading them. Both are certified educators and Jan’s father had started a school specifically for children of missionaries in Cheng Mai decades before this. I went with them to this school to check it out and shoot a little video in case they did pursue this and needed to piece together something for support.
From Cheng Mai we parted ways with John and Jan. They went back to the USA while Maggie, Paige, and I flew to Phuket. This is more of a resort/beach area versus the more urban traditional Thailand Cheng Mai has to offer. We spent a week there soaking up the sun, jet skiing, eating amazing food, and exploring with scooters. In fact that was one of my favorite parts was I rented scooters for us so we could literally get lost. And that’s what we did… I had a general sense of where we were going, but we discovered a waterfall, an incredibly secluded beach, and just had an amazing time as a family. Even on one of our day trips we took a boat out to one of the remote islands where several movies were filmed.
It was an amazing two week trip where I thought we bonded as a family. I later found out from Jan that this was the beginning of some initial “grumblings” with Maggie. Jan found it odd that despite my working with Rudy welding, Maggie STILL was complaining I wasn’t holding my weight making money. She didn’t think much of it at the time, but how was either of us to know what was coming from Maggie.
Mom and Australia
About a week after we arrived back in Australia from Thailand, my mother came for a 5 week visit. Maggie and I were feeling overwhelmed already, but for our own schedules this was going to be the best time to do this. I went back to work on a 2-day schedule which was prearranged with the fabrication shop. This actually worked out well as the guy who went away for knee surgery had come back and took his workbench over. They were having a hard time putting me anywhere and giving me things to do as work had slowed down. But the guy that came back was by far the biggest animal of them all. 2-days a week was enough for me with this situation. Even Rudy was on the verge of quitting.
So with my mother in Melbourne, we took her to all the places Maggie and I had discovered. The coast, downtown Melbourne… all over the place. But the highlight of that trip was a trip to the Whitsunday Islands. This is considered one of the primo spots in all of Australia. Very tropical with teal blue water, white sandy beaches, and warm all year around. While there, we took a boat trip, explored and swam at an amazing waterfall, and just had an awesome time. But Maggie and I seemed to be bickering even more. To me, it was almost like she was picking fights. To her defense, I will admit I was acting a bit more sensitive those days. The constant pressure of this looming bankruptcy was so much. But Maggie would constantly accuse me of being “controlling”. This was all from asking what I would think was a simple question to ask information. For instance, “Maggie why are you going to the store?” or some other non-important thing. That quickly got twisted into me being controlling. I didn’t understand it, but it seemed to be happening more often.
Philippines and Phil
Back in our Florida church I had a friend Phil that I really didn’t get closer to until the end of our time there. But over the years while I was in Australia Phil and I would connect often on the phone. He too was in the middle of going through a bankruptcy and seemed to be losing his house. In fact his house situation was so bad it would be impossible to recoup any loss as the golf course the house was situated on shut down from bankruptcy as well.
In April of 2011 I got a call from Phil about an up and coming missionary trip to the Philippines our friend Jody was putting together. (Jody is the father of my friend John with whom Maggie and I had just been to Thailand with.) I told Phil it sounded like a great opportunity to shoot another video, but that I had no money to do this. And Phil offered, “Let me see what I can do.” In a very short time, Phil managed to get enough donations for me to make the trip happen. I was surprised and excited. Welding was starting to peter out as well, so I was hoping to parlay this into pursuing more video work.
It was awesome to meet up with several of my old Seminole church-mates in Manila. We reconnected over a meal and then flew out the next morning into the jungle. And when I say jungle, I am literally talking about the jungle. Half the time we slept in grass huts a stone’s throw from the ocean. The other half of the time we stayed on a mountaintop where Jody had built a Bible school. It was impressive as I saw 30 years of work God and Jody had done. And all week long I managed to piece together photos and video footage that I would later assemble into finished media that Jody still uses to this day for ministry.
After the trip I returned to my family and told them about everything that happened. I was excited and wanted them to experience everything I had the following year. Even if I wouldn’t go myself the next year, I was hoping the bankruptcy would be done and I could at least send Maggie. She needed an experience like this.
Sickness, Tony, and Addiction
After I came back from the Philippines I got sick. REALLY SICK! I was knocked out for 2-weeks sick and wasn’t fully recovered for four. I also went to the doctor for meds twice. In any typical year I will get sick once with a common cold. It lasts a week, I get better, and life goes on. But whatever it was I had put me down hard. I even got a test for Malaria thinking maybe I caught it as I had gotten a few mosquito bites. Whatever it was had me staying home. You might recall a year prior to this I was in the USA helping my mother with cleaning out the house and while there I bought a game “Call of Duty”. Well by this time I had really gotten into playing this. For me it was a challenge, but what it also was for me was a way of escape. Dealing with this bankruptcy was just a constant reminder of failure to me and to my family. And every time I sat down to handle it, I just felt badly.
I can’t say that I was ever addicted to anything in my life. I have usually had good self-control and been able to walk away from most anything people would call a “vise”. Call of Duty hooked me! It affected so many aspects of my life. But what it hurt most was my relationship with Maggie. The rub there was after the new year Maggie started treating me differently. Back in January she had drawn this line in the sand telling me by September I had to be making so much money. It was an impossible goal considering we still had the bankruptcy to go through. And what made it worse was, instead of Maggie encouraging me, she started taking on a position of stripping me of my masculinity. And it started back in Thailand with these little verbal jabs telling me what a “man” should be. It was mixed messages from Maggie as well… one moment she would tear me down verbally, and the next she was affectionate. So when put into a position where it seemed all was against me, Call of Duty was a real escape. And when I got sick that month and really couldn’t do anything, my “addiction” to COD grew. I was going into a really bad place.
I know Maggie tried to reach out to me during this time too, but she was also in a bad pace. I was asking a few people that had taken over the “Tony issue” about what was being done. It seemed he was under observation. No discipline what-so-ever. We never received an apology. It basically became this thing that never got addressed properly with Maggie and me left to the wind. They did offer Maggie counseling, but Maggie kept insisting she was fine. The truth is she wasn’t fine. Maggie started to withdraw from the church. And I think what made it worse was my involvement with the men’s group shooting video. Maggie felt I did enough “free” work for this church. I saw it as a way to increase my skillset and build a resume’. But when this happened with Tony I believe her thoughts were, “My husband is working for free for a church that didn’t even protect us and take proper action against how I was wronged… and he continues to work for free. He should protect me and leave this church. ” The resentment was building.
During our entire relationship it always seemed like Maggie had “guy friends”. At least much more than women. In fact Maggie maintained a friendship with an X-boyfriend from high school until we finally got married. (Although she did maintain an email relationship with him) It was never anything that bothered me much as I was never the jealous type. And the way I saw things, Maggie, Paige, and I were a team. I had known Paige since she was 2 years old. Paige was now 15! But over the years I got to the point with Maggie where I wanted her to break off all contact with this high school “X”. She told me she wouldn’t and that I “didn’t understand”. Eventually it became a sore spot of contention.
After we went to Australia it seemed that this “X”, due to the distance, became more a distant memory. But Maggie started a friendship at work with a guy named “Ben”. Ben was about 10 years younger than Maggie, and as per Maggie, was a basket case. He had problems at home, depression issues, girlfriend issues, and just issues in general. At first, he was not a threat to me. But I started noticing things like more text messages and Facebooking between the two. I asked Maggie on several occasions about who Ben was to her. “Just a friend… he needs someone.” I was thinking to myself he can have anyone he wants… just not my wife. But there were times that Maggie and I were talking or even arguing and Ben would text in the middle of it. Maggie would return the text and sometimes even walk away from our conversation entirely. This sort of thing infuriated me. But what bothered me even more was it seemed Maggie didn’t even care.
In June of 2011 Maggie had borrowed a book from Ben to read. One day while reading in our bedroom I approached her to talk about Ben and how I believed he was undermining our marriage. I even went so far as to ask if she was cheating on me with him. She denied this. I wanted Maggie to completely pull back, and if possible, stop all social engagement with him. Maggie refused. I tried to reason with her, but she just didn’t want to hear it. She told me I was controlling her. I saw this as just another “thing” that was pulling our family apart. Maggie rolled her eyes and went back to reading, discarding anything I had to say. In my frustration and trying to get her attention of how serious this was, I ripped the book out of her hand and threw it. It smashed and the binding broke. But instead of Maggie seeing how upset I was about Ben, she was more upset with the fact that I broke Ben’s book. I didn’t understand what was going on. All I knew was we were arguing more. Maggie talked to me in a way that was stripping me of any self confidence. And I didn’t understand exactly what was happening.
End of Days and Money
During June to August of 2011 I was doing a study on Revelation and how it correlated to the times were are currently going through. I scoured a lot of information discarding most. But there was one guy that seemed to come up that concerned me… Lindsey Williams. Lindsey was a pastor at one time that supposedly had an “in” with some of the “high up” people in business and government. What was scary about this guy was the degree of complex deception he described about some of the current and possibly future events. I started talking to other people about this, because at the time it did not look like things in the world were going well. The stock market was plummeting, housing couldn’t recover, jobs were scarce… it was looking like doom and gloom. Maggie seemed to listen at first, but later she just told me not to tell her anything. I didn’t understand her thinking at the time. I had to explain how I filtered so much and was only presenting certain factual information. It was no use. Looking back today, I realize Maggie thought I was “crazy” and losing my mind. I don’t think it was me losing my mind so much as it was I was frantic looking for answers and how to get out of, or through what we were going through with bankruptcy. I was looking for ways to protect my family.
One of the ways I did this was by buying silver. I knew we had to go through this bankruptcy and needed a back up in case we needed money. I sold my grandfather’s stamp collection and bought silver. I sold other personal items and bought silver. My money from iStockphoto I used to buy silver. I saw it as protection and savings in an alternative way to get through some tough times. One of the other things I was doing was learning about currency trading. I saw it as a risky proposition, but friends that were doing it were actually making money. Very few do, so I tried to educate myself as much as possible. But what also started happening was it was encroaching on the time Maggie wanted to spend with me. Because we were in Australia, the best time to be awake was when the USA market was open. That usually meant for me being at my desk from 6PM until 4AM on any given day. And since I worked at home it was difficult to separate family life from work. (Over the years I always made sure my office was in the furthest room, a basement, or separate from the house completely for the sake of my focus and the sake of my family. This was the closest in proximity I had been in years) Maggie would try and pull me into the living room to watch a movie or spend time with her or Paige. I wanted to so much, but I knew that if we were to get past our financial woes I had to be focused. I would tell Maggie I would never come to her hospital and distract her at work so to please respect what I was doing. Maggie felt it was completely different and she would go away thinking I didn’t want to be with her. I tried to assure her that was not the case, but Maggie didn’t see it that way. This fed into a growing (false) belief that she felt I didn’t want to be with her anymore. For me, this was an incredibly difficult thing to manage. I had to make money, get us through the bankruptcy, spend time with the family,and spend intimate time with Maggie (who seemed to put me down constantly and accused me of constantly trying to control her)… my frustrations with our situation was overwhelming.
By July/August of 2011 things between Maggie and me were crumbling, but I had no idea how bad. I didn’t understand what was going through Maggie’s head, and she didn’t exactly tell me either. In fact, looking back I realize just how much was kept from me. But what gave me a clue into this was when Maggie wanted to go to a group marriage course the church was offering. Of course I agreed to go. Maggie would tell me today about how she “tried” to tell me in an effort to keep this marriage together, but the truth is kept so much of her true feelings from me. And I was scared of our situation. I didn’t know how to fix this without getting through the bankruptcy, so I would just tell Maggie to hang in there. Maggie’s frustrations with me, justified or not, had gotten to a point of being unbearable for her.
This was not the right place for Maggie and me. And had I known what I know today, we never would have wasted our time with this. This course offered by the church was for marriage partners going through little problems and little quirks in their relationships and how to compromise to make peace. Maggie and I had been together for 13 years by now… we knew each other inside and out and we always knew how to put up with each other’s garbage. We knew what “”buttons” would set each other off, and we knew how to make each other appreciated. The issue came down to this… I needed to make steady money. But for that to happen we needed to get past the bankruptcy and recover financially. But Maggie did not help the situation. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I was hoping to pull us out of this and was hoping to be able to do it solo. I wanted to be the “hero” to Maggie. What Maggie was doing was tearing me down with verbal assaults piece by piece. Maggie would have these bursts of rage where I would have to say to her, “Maggie… you have to stop this. You have some real anger issues going…” and Maggie would reply, “You’re right Mark… I really have to work on this.” I think there were times she would be consumed by this anger and she wouldn’t even understand what she was doing.
As her husband, I was absolutely concerned, but I didn’t know what to do about it and because of the nature of her verbal assaults and the guilt Maggie would lump on me was so great I felt paralyzed. For example, Maggie typically worked 4-days a week. At times they might call her in for 5, but that wasn’t often. One of Maggie’s favorite digs was “You robbed me of my time with my daughter!” Well if I was in the picture or not, Maggie would have still worked the same amount. Even when I was welding, Maggie still grumbled about me not being supportive and how much she had to work. Even a year prior to this I offered to take a regular 9-5 job to give Maggie relief. Maggie turned me down saying, “I’m not going to stop working… I love my job.”
While work and money was the surface issue, it was a much deeper issue brewing that I didn’t really figure out until much later. But by taking this course I believe Maggie felt she did her best to stay in the marriage. In my eyes and after all that I have gone through in the past 2 years, that’s not even beginning to “fight” for a marriage. Maybe it was all Maggie could do. Maybe it was the justification she needed to walk away. But we both walked away from that marriage course feeling like “what now?”
Maggie is Ill
For months Maggie was having these spells of light headedness. She could be sitting for a while, and when she went to get up Maggie would just about pass out. And it was progressively getting worse. We didn’t know if it was diet so I started modifying what I cooked for dinner. But this feeling of fainting was happening more frequently and we didn’t know how to address it. And to be honest, I was beginning to be afraid for Maggie.
One day in August of 2011 I got a call from Maggie asking me to pick her up from work. It seems she just about passed out while standing in the middle of a surgery case. I rushed right over wondering what was going on. After a short discussion we both agreed she should be admitted into the hospital. Arriving at the hospital, I went in with Maggie filling out all the necessary paperwork and made sure she was going to be well taken care of. I told Maggie, “I’m going to go get Paige and then we’ll be right back here. I’m praying for you Maggie.” Paige was about to get out of school and I didn’t want her alone by herself and I didn’t want Maggie left alone either. And neither Maggie or I knew if this was going to be serious. She had complained of chest pains as well, so who knew what was going on.
After I picked up Paige, we swung by the house so she could change, and so that I could get a bag packed with Maggie’s things in case she had to stay long. Thoughts rushed through my head of what might be going wrong. Quickly Paige and I left the house and went back to the hospital where Maggie was. By the time we got there she had already been seen by her doctor and they were doing a work up of tests, but she was going to be there for a few days of observation. I remember going to bed that night and praying to God for Maggie just hoping something could be found in the testing. Maybe that seems odd, but the one thing we didn’t want was a test to come back “inconclusive”. How can you fix what you don’t know is wrong. But that was the first night in years I slept in our bed alone.
After three days of testing my biggest fear came to be… the test was inconclusive. I was afraid for Maggie. I knew this could always happen again, and we had no idea how serious any of this was. Maggie came home and rested for a few days before returning back to work. Little did I know she secretly blamed me for being in the hospital.
During our time in Australia I could tell Maggie was longing to go back for a time. We loved Australia, but I could see it in her face from day to day she was feeling isolated and alone. Regardless of our ability to adapt, Florida is Maggie’s “normal”. And here it is, both Paige and I had been back twice, while Maggie had been there two years. I then made a suggestion. Since every year plane tickets were so much money to fly Paige for Christmas and because Maggie was longing to go back, I suggested they go now. And this way we would all spend Christmas together and go camping. It was a good plan. I had hoped that Maggie getting refreshed in the USA would help with much of the arguing between us. One other benefit I saw to this was a period of time where I could get all the paperwork ready for the bankruptcy. This had lingered on long enough and was a real sticking point for Maggie. I agreed, but to finish I needed to be focused. My time alone would give me that. But I was also hoping to surprise Maggie for when she got back. I knew she would see that things were finally moving in the right direction.
Maggie and Paige departed in September of 2011 for a month. I must say I absolutely hated that time without my family. Regardless of the problems we might be having, Family is always of utmost importance to me. And while I didn’t exactly understand some of the ways Maggie was bickering with me, she is the love of my life. Leaving the family is not an option. And I thought Maggie felt the same way. We had been together this long, shared so many great experiences as a family together… and once we were past the bankruptcy we could really start rebuilding.
Midway through their trip I received a call from Maggie while she was in Alabama visiting relatives. She seemed more agitated than normal. I asked her what was going on and she blew it off saying that nothing was wrong. I knew better. I cannot exactly describe the sequence of events that got us into a full blown argument, but I remember getting off the phone feeling “set up”. What I mean by that is Maggie was touching on some real soft spots with our situation. As if to provoke an argument. I have no doubt Maggie would deny this, but what I later found out was this moment was the tipping point for Maggie. (More on this later) But it was a trap and I walked right into it. It was as if Maggie needed to “justify” her decision to leave me. When I argued with her it gave her the justification to say to herself, “Mark is a jerk… I can’t take this any more!” And I later found out from Paige that after that conversation, Maggie went to all the other women relatives where they had a pow-wow solidifying Maggie’s resolve as they tore me to shreds.
A few days later Maggie and I were talking on the phone and that’s when she dropped the bomb on me. She was leaving. I didn’t understand it. We had a plan to find a new rental after they returned to reduce our bills. Paige was right in the middle of her school year. I was at the cusp of filing for the bankruptcy. We had just modified our visa so we were now permanent residents. Everything was in place to get past this. The truth is this is somewhat common with how Maggie operates. And months before this I had even said to her, “You make decisions without any regard for the wake of destruction you leave behind.” And when Maggie makes the decision in her mind… that’s it! There’s no coming back. But what was so hard to understand was the “flawed logic” behind a lot of decisions. Even when you would try and break a situation down in a practical manner, it just didn’t matter as any form of logic didn’t apply. It was as if Maggie was ruled purely by her emotions. If someone wronged her in her eyes, they are labeled “bad” never to come back from the abyss. I had seen her do this for years to other people. Someone might rub Maggie the wrong way and instantly a label would be put on them. Now the spotlight was on me. I had seen Maggie do this almost ten years prior when she wanted to leave for Jacksonville while living in Pennsylvania. Make the same claims of wanting to be near her high school “friends”. It’s a kinship I never quite agreed with or understood. But never before was there this kind of tension between us. This family was in trouble!
So here we are… Maggie was set out on a path to leave Australia and move back to the USA with Paige. I felt like I just had the rug pulled out from under me. And I hadn’t gotten a chance to speak with Paige yet, but I know she was devastated and confused by what her mom was doing. Maggie and Paige were set to return to Australia by the end of October so they could pack, and then shortly after they were going to return to Florida and move in with Maggie’s parents. I don’t believe in divorce having a father married umpteen times and watching my mother do this to my stepfather. I didn’t have much of a leg to stand on, but I had only one play in my book at that point… PRAY!
Putting the Pieces Together
The first thing I did when this all started was to call my friend Mick from the church. Over the years he and I had gotten to know each other fairly well, and with him being a pastor I hoped he knew what to do. Immediately he whipped together a prayer team and they started praying for this family. But in conversation Mick asked me plainly, “Mark… is Maggie ‘the One’ for you?” I believe he wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting into. I thought about it for a moment, but it was one of those questions where it just did not make sense. We had been together for over 13 years. We raised a daughter together. We took trips everywhere. We were a team! I looked at Mick and said, “Mick… there is no one else… she’s IT” That’s when Mick said some sobering words, “Well then get ready mate, because this could take years.” I sat there thinking, “Is this possible? What is going to happen?” As I write this it’s over two years later… Mick was right.
One of the next things I did was call Jan and another friend Michelle back in the USA to find out what was going on. They both told me very similar stories. Maggie had met up with each individually and told them she was leaving me. Michelle and Jan were shocked. Maggie gave a long laundry list of problems, and they both challenged Maggie asking, “Does he know you have these gripes?” Both times Maggie said, “Well he should know.” “You have to tell him! If you haven’t communicated this to Mark, how is he supposed to know?” Apparently Maggie brushed it off. The both asked Maggie if she loved me. Both times Maggie replied, “Yes.” Maggie was never one to cry, so what shocked both Jan and Michelle was they had never seen Maggie so upset. Both emphasized to me, “Maggie was bawling.” But both had suggested to Maggie, “You have to tell Mark how you feel!” “Oh you’re right… I will.” I never heard anything. And from piecing it all together I understand she went to Jacksonville to stay with a friend Blakely.
Blakely was a school friend of Maggie’s she had known for a very long time. They grew up together in that same small Florida town, and the two had been friends for a while. I had asked Maggie throughout the years if there was any romantic interest in Blakely. Maggie many times would laugh and tell me, “He’s like a brother to me. We tried to date a long time ago, but there just wasn’t anything.” I never heard of Blakely ever dating anyone so I assumed he was single. But Maggie had stayed at his place in the past, and it was my understanding he had other male roommates so I never thought anything of it. I knew the guy to a degree. In fact he was at our wedding party Maggie and I had many years prior. He was harmless.
When I saw the Facebook pictures go up I knew something was terribly wrong. Maggie was in some very inappropriate positions with him, but what I couldn’t believe was she had the audacity to post such pictures. I immediately questioned Maggie about it. “Oh he’s just a friend. You don’t understand. Stop trying to control me.” And then I started getting phone calls in Australia from our church friends in the USA that also saw these pictures on Facebook. “Mark did you see the pictures? What is she doing? This isn’t right!” I agreed. This was about the same time I received that phone call from Maggie while she was in Alabama. In that phone conversation I remember feeling like I was “set up” and pushed into an argument. That’s the argument where Maggie made a decision in her mind to leave me. I didn’t know it at the time, but somewhere before this Maggie and Blakely had become intimate to a degree. To what degree I doubt I’ll ever know, but it was a blatant violation of our wedding covenant. But how I knew for sure was when I intercepted an email between the two describing the details of what happened one night. I was mortified. But now I knew what was going on… Maggie cheated on me.
I Was Wrong… Preparing for Maggie’s Return.
When you get thrown into situations such as this I can tell you first hand, it sobers you up. Maggie and I were still talking on the phone, but I was also trying to limit the conversations. I knew there was not going to be much I could do while she was gone. I finished all my paperwork for the taxes and the bankruptcy as a surprise to Maggie. But Maggie had turned it around and surprised me wanting to leave. I felt so cheated because all this time I was trying to get our family out of this mess. Now once again the rug was getting pulled out from under us.
But it was during this time I was consulting Mick and a church counselor Tom about this situation. And I put myself on a fast track of what to do, but also an understanding of Maggie’s possible perspective. And here’s what it boiled down to. Maggie was angry about the bankruptcy not being finished because this stopped our ability to start paying her parents back. Maggie felt rejected by me when I would focus so much on trying to get us through this. But Maggie also needed me to provide steady money vs. what had been happening for years. Over the years since the days of shooting for the magazines my money would come in big chunks, but it was sporadic. Sometimes I would make more money than Maggie and sometimes I wouldn’t. But I either got paid by the gig or once a month. So years ago we figured Maggie would pay the day to day expenses and I would come in and buy the things we wanted or needed. For instance, our first house… Maggie didn’t pay any of the remodeling costs and I had purchased most of the custom furniture. Over 2-years that was around $50,000 cash. Our second house I dropped a tremendous amount of money into remodeling it… some came from a second mortgage, but the majority came from money I made through the business. We had separate AND joint accounts, so many times Maggie never even saw the amount of money spent as I just funneled my business money through my personal account and bought what I needed to remodel. I never realized the degree of resentment that had grown in Maggie with this situation. In her eyes, she thought I wasn’t contributing for years. This wasn’t going to work any more.
One other big thing with Maggie was my diving into end-times research. I believe it scared Maggie, but Maggie saw me as “crazy”. It’s one thing to read revelation and say “oh sure… this will happen one day.”, but it’s another when you really start to believe it and understand it. Did I go overboard? Probably to her, especially considering where Maggie and my relationship was at the time, as well as Maggie’s relationship with Christ that was waning. It drove an even bigger wedge between us, which I believe caused Maggie to look for an escape. I didn’t provide a “safe place” for Maggie. But in all this… in all that I had done, regardless of Maggie cheating, I was ready to own up to it all. I just wanted a chance to reconcile and work through this.
Here Comes the Hurricane!
I picked Maggie and Paige up at the Melbourne airport beginning of November of 2011. I knew what to expect out of Maggie. I had seen her make decisions like this before. Many times in the past Maggie would come to a conclusion about something or someone, or even a scenario. I believed it was more of a convoluted mix of half truth and warped perspective that caused her to come to a conclusion that was, at times, undeserving. For instance, while I agree her first husband (having dealt with him personally) was a “piece of work”, the way Maggie would describe him you would think he was a serial killer. Another example would be when she decided to leave Pennsylvania after all we had built. She came back from Florida all gung-ho to move to Jacksonville. She was frantic about never going through another winter again, but her eye was set on Florida as she felt it was the only thing that was going to bring her happiness. It was pretty much the same scenario this go around (with the exception this time she had more on me to point a finger at). Maggie was homesick and hadn’t been back to Florida for some time. She consulted these same friends from High School that really don’t know me, other than what Maggie has told them. Somehow back then I was able to slow her down and get her to see reason. I didn’t expect to be given that opportunity this time. Maggie was determined that leaving me and moving in with her parents back in Florida was going to make her happy… mind you this is without any concern of the repercussions of her actions.
It was expected… Maggie had the house packed in three days and she was making plans. I would take Paige with me to the mall or just drive around and we would talk about what was going on. She completely didn’t understand how “crazy” her mother was becoming. And one very peculiar thing was Maggie not wearing glasses. Maggie had needed eye glasses for the last ten years. Her eyesight was bad enough that even her driver’s license required her to wear them. Now Maggie was claiming “I can see” and didn’t need her eye glasses any more. Even Jan felt Maggie was “full of @#%$”. I did my best to be honest with Paige, however I never told her that her mother had cheated. Paige was angry and confused. She and I had both set roots in Melbourne. This was our home! And now we had a woman making decisions that many people would have to pay for, including us.
In the midst of all this, I would have talks with Maggie. One of the first things I brought up however was her infidelity. She would not own up to it at first, but then I showed her the email I intercepted. Instead of showing any remorse, she reasoned it, justified it, and blew me off saying “it was only a kiss”. I knew better. I don’t think I’ll ever know just how intimate those two were, but the damage was done. Maggie crossed a line with me. But this is where the dam broke for Maggie. Instead of being accountable for her actions, she presented me with a long laundry list of resentment that had built up. Reasons I had no idea she was harboring. I didn’t teach her guitar. I didn’t teach her photography. I didn’t take dance lessons with her (and I should have). I was even told this crazy story about how she had to eat crackers for dinner right before we went to Australia because we didn’t have enough money. How this is even possible I have no idea as I had saved thousands by this point just to get us to Australia. The list went on. One big claim I had issue with was Maggie said she had been supporting us for the last eight years. The absurdity of this just floored me. For years she had seen the money I made, the improvements to the house, and the money it took just to even get to Australia (which was substantial!) Nope! In her mind she was supporting us. And when I went to show her the business “books” to prove otherwise, Maggie refused. She didn’t want to see it. This was my first glimpse into the abstract reality that was about to come. I didn’t understand it. Logic did not apply.
Looking back, I absolutely should have done all those things that she asked. However, the way my (man) brain works is I stay very focused. And if you don’t emphasize to me how important something is, I might even forget you asked anything of me. This however, is stupid thinking on my part. And I recognized it. I would say to Maggie, “Why didn’t you tell me this meant so much to you?” to which she would reply, “You should just know!” I couldn’t help think how absurd that was, but in my defense I said, “I didn’t know… I’m not a mind reader. But I am willing to show you all these things. You’re my wife. I love you.” In tears Maggie would reply, “You’re only saying that now because I’m leaving you.” In frustration I replied, “I’m saying it now because you’re just telling me how important this was to you. And of course I don’t want you to leave. This is our family. You are my wife!” Maggie wasn’t budging. Fortunately Maggie wasn’t leaving for another four weeks. I was hoping something could be done in that time.
Oh God… Where Are You?
When people get thrust into situations like this I think there are generally three ways people will react. The first is anger. I could have gotten angry with Maggie and cursed her out. We would have gone separate ways and the story could have ended right there. The second is to break down and become sad and paralyzed. I could have just sat there sobbing and begging and before you knew it, both Maggie and Paige would be gone. The third is to fight. And this is what I chose to do. Not fight in a sense of “fight with my wife”, but rather fight FOR my wife. (Hence the title of the website :)) And when you are fighting for someone, whether it be a spouse, a friend, or a loved one, you truly have only one being to turn to… God himself!
This is where the story is going to get very interesting. If you are not a Born Again Christian, a lot of the things I am going to talk about will likely seem foreign, outlandish, and perhaps flat out crazy. Even if you are a Born Again Christian… many of the things I will talk about that have happened to me in this fight are just flat out incredible. But the Bible says in Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” It’s one thing to read this passage of scripture and say, “Oh sure God… I trust you, and I’ll listen to you.” It’s a whole other thing to take action when what you believe is asked of you doesn’t make sense. I expect very few people to agree or understand some of the things that have happened during this journey. But this is why God asks you to be of a humble spirit. With a humble spirit it’s a lot easier to follow that passage to “Trust in the Lord…”. It’s not for me to always understand. It’s my job to submit and obey.
Within the first few days of Maggie and Paige being back in Australia I was getting counsel from one of the pastors named Tom. Tom was very aware of Maggie’s situation and with her background as he is someone that specializes in broken women. We talked for many days about Maggie’s behavior, but it always came down to one simple thing… Maggie will not find peace until she finally humbles herself before God and lay all her problems before him. While I had my part in Maggie wanting to leave, there was something even bigger behind all this. But Tom said something so critical during this time. He said, “Mark… I don’t know what this means, but I strongly feel the Holy Spirit is telling me you need to remind God of the covenant you took in marriage. I don’t know what that means but I STRONGLY feel this, but there’s also something in Ephesians 5 you need to understand in this.” I looked at Tom with an odd and perplexed look. Who was I to be reminding God of anything. But Tom reassured me this is what he felt I needed to do. And like a flash within my spirit I knew he was right. Not only did I know he was right, but I knew exactly the manner in which I had to go approach God. I had to go to Mount Macedon and pray!
Climb the Mountain
Many times throughout the first four books of the New Testament you read about Jesus parting from his disciples and hiking into the mountains to pray and be closer to God. He did this often. Mount Macedon is a place Maggie and I had been to a couple times about an hour drive outside of Melbourne. We had gone hiking there a few times, and it is just one of those places close enough to Melbourne for a nice day trip, but far enough away to know you are not in the city any more. How I knew this is what I had to do I cannot explain. But there is a phrase in the Christian world when you get a stirring within your spirit and you “know when you know when you know!” I had to go.
The next morning I set out with my Bible in hand and drove to Mount Macedon and a special place of solitude I had envisioned of in my mind. It was close to one of the hiking trails, but far enough away so as not to be disturbed. But I was determined. I was not coming off that mountain until God spoke to me. And having had two very distinct and direct experiences with God Himself, I thought I knew what I was in for.
I don’t doubt God knew just how determined I was at that point, but here’s the thing about God… He will not come down to our level. It’s not like an attitude where God thinks He’s too good for us. The simple answer is God is Holy! Isaiah 64:6 says it best… “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” God wants us to know Him, but we are the ones that have to step up and put ourselves in check. As I sat there and prayed for the first hour I was getting frustrated. “I’m not leaving God, but it would sure be nice if you said something.” That’s when it occurred to me I was doing this the wrong way. There’s nothing humble about me asking God to talk to me… in fact it becomes downright demanding. No… I was the one at fault. And that’s when I started to get my heart “right” with God. I prayed asking forgiveness and started changing my attitude. I started to enjoy the day and praised God for all He had made. I was reading scripture and thanking God for His Word.
With a heart in the “right” place this is when I started reading Ephesians 5 starting with verse 21 giving instructions to Christian households. I read it over and over again. I kept thinking to myself, “I understand this and in part of this I failed, but what am I not getting? What am I missing in all this.” I prayed through this asking for God’s assistance. I kept reading. By this time it was already over two hours I was praying, praising, and reading. For some reason I was fixated on verse 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” I focused on this for at least ten minutes or more. I read it over and over again asking God, “What does this mean?” And if you read the subsequent verse it talks how this is a “profound mystery”. I knew there was something so powerful in this, but I just couldn’t make the breakthrough. And then it dawned on me as if the Holy Spirit pulled back a curtain. This was my revelation. God’s plan for a husband and wife is for the two to be together forever. And when two people marry and consummate the marriage through sex, there is something that happens that truly is a profound mystery, but in fact the two people truly become one flesh. They become one in the same sharing each other in a union that is indescribable. Not just physical bodies, but mind and spirit as well. There is something about the act of intercourse that is so powerful, but it’s in this sinful world where we miss this. Maggie and I are one in spirit. It was at that moment that I understood… I could see into Maggie. And that’s when it struck me. God showed me EXACTLY how Maggie felt through this indescribable bond I have with Maggie. And what I saw was horrible! Not only did I see the pain and sorrow I had caused Maggie, I saw the horror of Maggie’s past and all the pain and suffering caused by EVERY GUY that ever hurt Maggie. It was like a big black ball of torment that sat within Maggie that was the driving force behind so much. What’s worse was God made me FEEL this pain and suffering. For what I would say was a period of about ten seconds I literally felt what it was to be in Maggie’s shoes. And it was only through this understanding of this sacred bond I have with Maggie that God was able to do this.
I was a wreck. I bawled my eyes out for perhaps ten minutes before I could regain my composure. Having felt this, I could not help but have only compassion for Maggie. I understood her like never before in my life. All I wanted from that point was another chance. All I wanted was to hold her and make her feel better. I understood how God wanted me to be as a husband. But would Maggie give me the chance?
I had no idea what God was doing with me at this time, but there were some strange things happening with me. I have always been a “night person” for as long as I can remember. I will stay up late and sleep in as long as I can. But strangely, I was now waking up at 6AM. It didn’t matter how late I stayed up… I was being woken up now at 6AM every morning. I even went to bed at 2AM a few times. 6AM would roll around and, not only was I waking up so early, I felt refreshed. What time I went to sleep just didn’t matter. I can only explain that as something God was doing. The other thing I was now doing differently was praying on my knees and being deliberate in my prayer times. Before this it might be as I was getting into bed, but never like this.
At this point my friend Rudy was already having a men’s Bible study at his house once a week. Rudy took it upon himself to get all the men in prayer for my situation with Maggie. Those were some seriously powerful nights. But God was starting to mold me into what He wanted me to be, and most of the scripture we were all discussing was spot on. It was in Mark 11:22-25 where Jesus spoke about moving mountains that I realized maybe God was going to save this, but it was going to take me trusting God to do this on my behalf. Mark 5:35-42 spoke of this girl who had died. But because Jarius BELIEVED, Jesus brought this girl back from the dead. I was coming across many faith building scriptures like this and I was drinking it up like a sponge. I was doing my best to believe that, while it appeared this relationship was dying or dead, I believed Jesus could raise it up from the dead so it could be better than before.
One of the guys, Daniel, said to me that he was going to start fasting for me on top of prayer. I was floored! It’s one thing to have a bunch of your peers praying for you. It’s another to have someone truly make a sacrifice on your behalf. It was perhaps one of the most humbling things anyone had ever done for me. But that’s when it occurred to me as well.. why couldn’t I fast too. For me it had to be practical. And what I chose to fast truly was a sacrifice. I LOVE coffee! It’s something I wake up in the morning looking forward to. I can drink an entire pot myself while I start my day. And in Australia they don’t do the watered down filtered coffee. It’s all latte’s and espresso drinks, and I have been known to have several in a sitting. That’s what I cut out cold-turkey. I had tried this before to limit my coffee intake, but I always found myself grabbing a coffee in the afternoon before I dosed off at my desk. This time around I had zero side effects. No craving, no headaches, and no tiredness. And I was still being woken up at 6AM. I can only explain that as a “God thing”.
Things were not looking good however. Maggie, in her frenzy, had already purchased plane tickets to go back to the USA the first week of December. And she was insisting that her father’s health was dwindling. He hadn’t been doing well for years, but we had decided before we left for Australia years prior we weren’t going to let that dictate our own lives. Priorities were changing. But this became our #1 prayer… Our group (and many many others) prayed Maggie and Paige would not get on the plane. So many of our lives were being affected by just one person’s dogged determination. But I knew God is much bigger than Maggie.
As a final “hoorah”, Maggie wanted to take Paige to a couple places we hadn’t been to, but always wanted to go. It was such a strange time too as Maggie wanted to take our car and leave me stranded without transportation, but then turned around and asked if I would go. I thought if you are leaving me why do you want me to go. Even Maggie asked me, “Is it strange I want you to come?” I thought to myself, “Heck yeah this is strange and awkward and make zero sense whatsoever.”, but instead I went along and told her politely, “No.. I think it’ll be fun.” But “mixed messages” like this were DAILY during this period. For instance, Maggie and I seeing each other without clothes was just commonplace. But after her arrival back in Australia she didn’t want me seeing her. However one night after drinking with her pals from the hospital she undressed right in front of me and was flirting with me. I didn’t know what to make of this and just respected her original wishes. Another time she verbally tore me to shreds calling me a “loser” and “not even a man”. She was screaming this and full of rage. I couldn’t understand the level of anger and where this was coming from. Thankfully my identity is in Christ and not who she said I was. But I asked her with an aire of disbelief, “What are you going to do… go and strike up a relationship with Blakely?” She sheepishly said, “Maybe…” I couldn’t believe it. After all this time together to be saying such things. I couldn’t believe she was going to go after someone describes to Paige and I as a “brother”. These tirades were typical as it seemed Maggie was so conflicted.
One of the first places we traveled to was Mount Buller. This is a ski resort about 3 hours from Melbourne, but since we were coming into summer it made for a great place to go hiking. And hiking was the one thing we all loved to do as a family. We spent 3 days doing all these day hikes enjoying the outdoors. It really was wonderful, but at the same time awkward. I remember all of us finishing a wonderful dinner at a restaurant connected to the hotel. Once finished I sent Paige back to the room so I could speak with Maggie alone. We talked for maybe 30-minutes or so about the future and this choice Maggie was making and the consequences. I didn’t want Maggie to leave and that was obvious. But Maggie was upset with me as, in her eyes, it seemed like “now” I was willing to help the family. “Now” I’m fighting for her because she wants to leave. I remember saying to her, “Of course I don’t want you to leave… you’re my wife! But all these issues you’ve had with me… this list you’ve kept to yourself… how am I supposed to know what’s going on if you never tell me?” Maggie didn’t agree with me. But I so remembered the conversations I had with Jan and Michelle when they told Maggie directly, “You need to tell Mark!” and yet she didn’t. But they were right. Had I known the depth of Maggie’s gripes I might have listened. Maggie walked away from the dinner table in tears defiant and determined that leaving with the only option.
A week later we took a long weekend to go hiking and camping at Wilson’s Prom. Wilson’s Prom is a national park also about 3 hours away from Melbourne on the coast. We had purchased a tent about a year prior to this with the intention of camping as a family, but never quite found the time to do so. (Another sore spot with Maggie) It was wonderful. We did these huge long walks taking pictures and just bonding as a family, which is what normally happened when we all went together like this. In fact if you saw all of us together during these trips, you would never know anything was wrong. We were laughing and joking with each other like everything was normal. But nothing was normal. Maggie was hot and cold… perhaps conflicted. But one thing seemed certain… she was leaving by the end of the month and nothing was going to stop her.
Life for me at this point was basically about one thing.. prayer! My family was everything to me, and I wasn’t going down without a fight. Especially considering life within the house, with the exception of intimacy, was pretty “normal”. And that was going to come to a grinding halt in only just a week when Maggie and Paige would get on a plane. But so many people were praying for us. Maybe 100+ in Australia. Maybe another 50+ back in the USA. But that last week Maggie was not showing any signs of budging. And this is how Maggie operates… when she sets her mind to something, right or wrong, there is no stopping her. There is no “middle ground” so to speak. I had to leave it in God’s hands.
At this point I was feeling like coming back to the USA might be the best thing for me if the two of them left. Looking back, it was foolish to go chasing after Maggie, but so much was unknown and nothing made sense. And Paige was getting dragged around through all of it. Our lease came up on our house, and in what I would call a “good will gesture”, Maggie was looking for me online for house-sitting situations. In all of this I was looking for work, trying to save my family, and just deal with the general chaos and upheaval. That’s when Maggie came up with a solution. One of the ads she came across on the house-sitting website was a longer term watch of 6 weeks. But there were several conditions. The first was it was on the other side of Australia… a 4 day drive. The second was we had to be there in 10 days. That meant we had roughly 5 days to pack our household goods into storage and clean a house rental we had been in for 2 years+. The third was this was a farm and we had to feed a couple cows and chickens and dogs. But what stunned me was just over 24-hours from Maggie and Paige getting on a plane to go back to the USA… Maggie wanted all of us to do this. Let me repeat… 24-hours before Maggie and Paige were to get on a plane back to the USA we had a plan for ALL OF US to drive out to Western Australia, watch a house for 6-weeks, and then venture up the Western coast to explore some more before making our way back to Melbourne!
How was this possible? I later told Maggie how this was a miracle as we had been praying for this exact thing. And while Maggie dismissed it saying, “How is that God? I made the decision to not get on the plane.” I knew very well only God was the one that could change Maggie’s mind. I later found out through Jan what happened as Jan asked Maggie a direct question, “Why did you go to Western Australia with Mark?” Maggie replied, “I wanted to see if there was still anything in the relationship.”
So there we all were beginning of December of 2011. What furniture I had left got put into a storage unit. I put new tires on the car and did some routine maintenance. And my little trailer I had bought a couple years prior was loaded with all our clothing and camping gear we were going to need for the two months we were going to be gone. What lay ahead I had no idea. But one thing was certain… God answered my prayer!