Life on the Road
By the second week of December 2011 Maggie, Paige and I hit the road to drive out West. Our house was given up, the rest of the furniture (not sold off) was packed away in storage, and I was pulling a little trailer with what we felt we needed for the next 2 months. Unfortunately, to fund this adventure and what was to come, I sold my very expensive welder I had bought 10 years prior along with a bunch of other tools. Maggie also had me turn in the silver I had accumulated. It was regrettable, and painful. So much “stuff” accumulated over the years from owning houses, and we were dragging it all behind us every single time we moved. I started to realize and reprioritize what was truly important to me. So my thinking became, “If this is the sacrifice I have to make to save this family and make Maggie happy, then this is what I am going to do.” I got to a point where I just didn’t care about material things any more. I saw it as a point of pride, and pride was the last thing I needed. I recognized that God was doing things in my life because I had finally humbled myself. I was becoming more reliant on God. And I was still in awe of how instead of Maggie and Paige getting on the plane, we were now all in our car driving together. (Granted, Maggie only delayed her plane ticket until March 1st, but this was the time needed)
The road to Western Australia was amazing. Our family has always been curious and adventurous, but this was certainly a new level of adventure. I never appreciated the interstate system of the United States until I moved to Australia. I always thought Australia should have a road system like it. That was until I actually drove some distances. It is literally a two lane country road for most of the distance across Australia. Truth is you don’t need an interstate, as we could drive for miles and not pass or see another car. It brings on a whole new meaning to desolate places. And our family was soaking this up like a sponge. We drove by day and camped under the stars at night. And in the morning we hit the road only to do it all over again.
One of our favorite places we stayed was Lucky Bay campsite in Esperance. It is a small and tidy campsite right on the ocean with a fantastic shower facility and an outdoor kitchen that would be the envy of any backyard BBQ enthusiast. We were surrounded by mountains and hiking trails and the crash of ocean waves that would lull you to sleep at night. But one of the coolest things about this park is the wildlife. Kangaroos are everywhere and some are so docile they will even let you pet them. All of us were in awe.
After an amazing sunrise and a brisk hike to one of the local peaks, we loaded up the car and trailer once again to make our final destination of Mount Barker, WA and the farm we were going to watch for the next month. What lay ahead for us was anybody’s guess. But I know God had a plan in all this. And I was praising Him for giving us this chance.
Australia is Awesome!
It took all of four days to travel across country to our final destination of Mount Barker, WA. I have been known to drive through a night and put in 18+ hours of driving in a day. But before we took off from Melbourne, I was warned to get off the road at dusk due to the animals that come out at night. And believe me when I say, one ambitious kangaroo jumping in front of our car at 3am in the middle of nowhere would make a fun trip disastrous.
Late on the fourth day we arrived at the farm to be greeted by Mark and Michelle and their three kids. They were in a desperate situation where they wanted to travel to Australia’s East coast to be with Michelle’s mom for Christmas as her father had recently died. Us watching their house was the answer to their prayers. Little did they know they were the answer to mine. They had dinner prepared for us as well as inviting the neighbors so we could meet them. It was a great night as we joked about our adventures and our experiences in Australia thus so far. What seemed so strange to me was how Maggie and I were joking with each other like our old selves. I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone else there knew of the tension between Maggie and me and how she was still planning on leaving. And the way Maggie and I would laugh at each other, even I had to wonder what was going on.
The next morning Mark and Michelle gave us the grand tour and explained what we needed to do. It was relatively simple… feed the dogs kangaroo meat they had frozen in a freezer. Give the cows a bail of hay every other day. Feed the chooks (chickens) everyday as well as grab their eggs. Relax and have fun. And this is what we needed. We were surrounded by mountains and hiking trails. The coast was only an hour away. Wine country was three hours away, which we planned a long weekend to go to. And we were taking one day at a time. And I was praying one day at a time. Trusting God is all I could do. I had to believe there was a plan in all this. Matthew 6:34 says “34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” I was living it!
Farm Livin’ is the Life for Me…
Mark, Michelle, and family left that afternoon for the airport leaving me, Maggie, and Paige to watch this house. And just as we normally functioned, we started exploring our new surroundings. We would all jump on the 4-wheeler and tour the property with the dogs following. Or we might grab a couple traps and catch Yabbies (crayfish) down at the pond to cook for dinner. But the number one thing that started happening is we started to relax and have fun again.
One of our first local trips we took was hiking the mountains that were literally in our back yard. It was rainy and cold, but I don’t think any of us cared. We had endured much worse and a little rain never stopped our fun. But what was happening during this time was I believe God was giving Maggie and me an opportunity to see and remember why we got married in the first place. We went from the chaos created for so many years, into the simplicity of living on a farm where we didn’t have any bills other than food and fuel. Now I know that is not realistic because we all have more bills than that, but what it did for me was paint a clear picture of how I had complicated our lives with “stuff”. And while I had already began a purging of “things”, living simply on this farm solidified my resolve that I was going to stop putting value on things on earth.
Two things I have to mention here. Beyond my control, the Holy Spirit was still making sure I woke up by 6AM every morning. I literally had no control over this as I awoke bright and well rested no matter what time I went to sleep. I was also fasting one of my favorite morning routines as well… coffee. I was the guy you don’t talk to unless he’s had his first cup of Joe. But not any more. My morning routine consisted of a small cup of tea, prayer (on my knees which makes a difference), and Bible reading. For the first time in my life I had a routine that solely focused on putting God first at the beginning of the day.. a routine that still carries to this day. I had to wonder what God had in store for us.
During most of our marriage neither Maggie nor I wore our wedding rings, except on the occasion of going out to a function of some sort. This was due mostly to the fact that we both did so much work with our hands it became cumbersome quickly. But for some reason I had packed my ring in my suitcase. It was here I made a conscious choice to wear my ring no matter what. Maggie asked me one day why I was wearing it. I told her simply, “I think I need to remind myself of the privilege it is to be married to you. You know how annoying it is to wear this, but if this is what I have to do to remember, then so be it. And I won’t take this off until I’m either dead or divorced.” I don’t know exactly what Maggie was thinking at that moment. But this was a commitment I had made to myself and to God… I wanted to honor this marriage even if Maggie wouldn’t.
Christmas in WA (Western Australia)
By Christmas of 2011 we all had become very familiar with the local are having taken many day trips hiking and going to the beach. One of our favorite places was a beach about an hour away just outside of a quaint little town called Denmark. We spent several sunny days there playing in the water, taking long walks, and just generally spending time together as a family. It was a wonderful time and no doubt what God was wanting for us. I remember distinctly goofing off with Maggie one day at the beach and for any outsider looking at us, you would think we were little kids that were best friends just playing with each other. But that was the absolute nature of our relationship. We were best friends that loved each other deeply. We both can be “goofy” with our own unique sense of humor that few people understood. But that is what made our relationship so special… we “got” each other and we didn’t care what anyone else thought.
By Christmas there was much more of that old “Mark and Maggie” that so many people were used to seeing. We ventured off to a beach just outside of Albany, WA for another day trip. Maggie made a “sand angel”, and we both decorated a small twig we had planted in the sand. We ate from our picnic basket we packed for lunch and just took in the sun. I had to wonder what God was doing, but I just remember getting a sense of “enjoy the moment”. And I think that’s what life is all about… enjoying these good moments that you’re afforded. With Maggie and me, we had built up so many of these wonderful moments, and this day was one of them. I praised God that day because when it looked like everything was going to go bad, somehow He got Maggie to stay a little longer. And just as we had planned months earlier, we were camping and having fun as a family during Christmas. It was an awesome Christmas!
Closer to God…
During this entire time God was doing something amazing in me. I was hungry and humble to do whatever God wanted me to do. And maybe fighting for Maggie wasn’t exactly the best motivation considering the Bible is so clear that God is enough, but saving my family was a huge motivator. As I sat and prayed those mornings I was realizing how much everything around us is such a distraction. And I believe God purposely put Maggie and me in such a simplified situation to strip away the “things” in life that preoccupy and distract. All that was left was “us” and God. I have no doubt that God must have been reaching out to Maggie trying to show her truth. What Maggie was thinking and how she responded I cannot say.
One day while I was out in the barn reading my Bible, Maggie came out to see what I was doing. I don’t know what prompted me to ask her this, but I said to her plainly, “Maggie… I don’t get it. all those times your mother did you wrong… manipulated situations, barged into places where she wasn’t welcome, hurt your relationship with Paige… all that got swept under the rug. It was never dealt with properly and discussed and yet here you are in a relationship with her. I have owned up to anything and everything I have done and literally handed you an apology on a silver platter even despite you cheating on me. That’s something that I don’t know ANYONE has ever done for you. Especially not your mother and especially not your X-husband. But this is our family… I just want to be open about this and deal with this.” Maggie just stared at me not knowing what to say. I stared back with nothing more to say. I honestly don’t know what was going through her mind, but it must have stirred something. Without saying a word, Maggie turned and walked out of the barn. Thinking she went back into the house I just let it go. I soon realized she just disappeared. Two hours later she reappeared as Paige and I were preparing dinner.
I would like to think that God was trying so much to reach out to Maggie. I believe God is ALWAYS trying to reach out to us. It was only because I had become very sensitive to the Holy Spirit that I heard God so much more. But the one thing about when we are brought to that quiet still place where we can really have that intimate one on one relationship with God is our sins are exposed. There is no hiding from them with distractions. And most times people won’t go to that quiet place because unresolved issues can be painful. God revealed to me months prior a black emptiness that Maggie was holding onto. I was praying for her so much to just deal with it for once in her life. When Maggie came back from wherever she went, our barn encounter was never discussed again. She swept it under the rug.
One of the strangest feelings for me during this time was sleeping alone again for the first time in over a decade. Maggie and Paige took the master bedroom while I was left to myself. I suppose this worked out as I wasn’t disturbing Maggie or Paige during my early morning Bible studies. But the truth is I was lonely. I was watching myself get dragged through the slow and painful destruction of our family. I wanted so badly for Maggie to see and understand what she was doing to Paige and me. But most days I just bit my tongue and let the day go on with whatever we had planned.
Maggie was typically “hot and cold” with her behavior towards me. Some days we would do an activity as a family and she was the Maggie I had fallen in love with. Other days she was more quiet as if harboring contempt. You just never knew what was going to happen from day to day. But as the weeks went on Maggie was mellowing. In fact there were days that we were outright flirting with each other. I’ll never forget a day trip to a beach in Denmark, WA. Just the two of us would take long walks down the beach and explore and joke and mess with each other just like we always had. I had to wonder if Maggie was softening. One evening she was on the computer and she asked me to help her sort something out. As we were looking at the screen our heads were getting closer like we would normally do when we would kiss. It was as if she was trying to see how far she could go before pulling away either testing me, or even herself. We never did.
One evening Maggie asked me to stitch a dress I had recently purchased for her from a opp-shop. It fit her so well with the exception of a rather revealing cleavage line. But I had offered to help her with this. In the bathroom I stood right in front trying to pin up her dress while she was wearing it. My fingers figgeted as I tried to grab the silky material on her cleavage. Maggie leaned in more laughing. With our torsos practically touching I had to wonder why was she doing this. Was she realizing what was still in the relationship? We laughed a little more. I just couldn’t hold back anymore. I gently embraced Maggie and went in for a kiss. But before I could finish Maggie stopped me with a firm, “What are you doing?” I couldn’t believe it. Any time we had been this close before it always led to a physical intimacy. And in this case especially, Maggie seemed to be sending some very clear signals. But Maggie affirmed me of our current relationship status and denied any “mixed messages” when confronted with the body language I know she was putting out.
In the end I apologized. Was this a matter of me misreading Maggie? Doubtful, as this was not the first time she had put herself in a position of being close to me. Nor was this the last.
I’m Seeing Double
When I first started dating Maggie I took Paige on as my own. Being a child of divorce myself and pretty much growing up without a father, I recognized the gap in my life of that fatherly role model. The truth is we all need a “healthy” 2-parent structure to balance out our upbringing. The one thing no one can refute is how Maggie and I saw eye to eye on our parenting style with Paige. And even to this day I attribute both of our contributions to the beautiful young woman Paige is becoming. But it was about 6-months prior to their USA departure I really started noticing the relationship change between Maggie and Paige. More specifically the “mother/daughter” roles started swinging into the realm of “friend”. And not the healthy kind of “friend” either. It was more like as Maggie started pulling away from me, she started to rely on Paige for her emotional support. And as I started to recognize this months prior, I started to bring it to Maggie’s attention. Unfortunately this was met with great resistance with Maggie denying any co-dependency. But I saw what I saw.
Now we’re in the middle of Western Australia with Maggie’s emotional state in constant flux. I had to wonder what Maggie was thinking. But as the weeks went on and we took these day trips around the Mount Barker area, it was as if I saw Maggie regressing. Our relationship always had a “child-like” spirit about it, which is what made it so fun and made us a great couple. And if you knew the old Mark-and-Maggie there was no denying the outward playfulness and love we had for each other. But this was something different. This was a retreat to acting like someone fresh out of High School. Sure she had a “goofy” charm about here (which is what I was always attracted to), but Maggie was dressing with a more youthful attempt with behavior to match. I didn’t understand where this was coming from, but it was extremely concerning.
I’ll never forget this one day we went hiking in the Sterling Mountains, WA. Paige had tied her hair in pigtails to keep the hair out of her face. But what was so scary was how Maggie had done so as well. Now maybe this isn’t something I should be alarmed by. I mean after all Paige looked so much like her mother to begin with. But I couldn’t remember a time Maggie ever wore her hair this way. And what was really disturbing was Maggie’s behavior. It’s hard to describe the nuances and perhaps could be easily dismissed. But it was the subtle gestures, voice inflections, and overall juvenile behavior that was just “off” from the Maggie that Paige and I knew. What’s worse was most of this was interactions I observed between Paige and Maggie. ie: It seemed as if the relationship model was changing from mother/daughter to older sister/younger sister. And it was as if I was the “outsider”. Overcome with such concern I brought it up this day how this just didn’t seem right. Unfortunately my opinion was dismissed by Maggie as she told me how she loved her daughter and they always behaved like this. And then I was accused of “controlling” Maggie. Knowing how fragile her mood could be at times I backed off. But I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
As the weeks went by in Western Australia it seemed as if Maggie’s mood and temper was leveling. If we stayed at the house we played games as a family. We ate dinner together as a family. And even Maggie and myself took a couple hiking excursions by ourselves. (Of course I think Paige had had enough hiking… Maggie and I couldn’t get enough) Maggie even felt comfortable enough to wear my t-shirts around the house from time to time. And all I could do is pray that this was God’s plan and Maggie would open her eyes to see the road she was heading down.
One last push to explore Western Australia brought us up the Western coast North of Perth. Once again we were back to camping and exploring unbelievably remote coastline that even few Australians have ventured down. It was an absolute dream for us. And this was perhaps the most relaxed I had seen Maggie. We were “goofing” with each other like we always did. These were becoming special moments and memories that at the very least I would remember for a lifetime. The only thing that was an indicator that something was not right between us was Maggie’s unwillingness to cross the line of kissing, handholding, or anything perceived as physically intimate. But she came as close as she could.
As we were pushing into the last weeks of January 2012 it was about time to make the trek back home to Melbourne with a quick stop in Perth. By this time Mark, Michelle, and family had returned to their home in Mount Barker and were holding a few of our things that we were to pick up when we made our way back through there. While in Perth we stayed with a good family friend name Gihan that we had met through Enjoy Church. I know it was nice for us to see him as he had moved temporarily there as there was no work in Melbourne for him. However the rest of his family was back there and he was just sending money. So to see some familiar faces was a real treat.
That Sunday we attended this tiny Salvation Army church that was maybe a speck on a map. By comparison, Enjoy church typically seats 1000+ people for any given service on a Sunday. Here there might have been 20. What’s worse was the gentleman speaking that day brought me right back to the church I had grown up in. It was completely dry and boring with hardly any scripture read and pretty much zero chance of being challenged. For me it was such a far cry from where God was taking me. Even Paige’s memory of it is rather blunt as she describes it as a church that will never grow. But I’ll never forget Maggie’s reaction how she absolutely “loved how cute” it was. That’s when I really started to put a lot of pieces together of where Maggie was. For months she had complained about Enjoy’s music being so loud and the lights too bright, but we had been to several concerts louder and brighter so I didn’t understand. Here we are at a little church some might consider “dead” and she was loving it. And maybe loving it because there was no conviction. I realized then maybe church was a matter of ticking off a box for her. While Maggie had some sound reasons to be unhappy with me, it’s not like I was a drinker or drug user. I never beat her or was a gambler or cheated on her. I began to wonder maybe the problem was much bigger. Maybe this was a crisis of faith. Maybe this was even a matter of Maggie not even being “saved” to begin with. But instead of confronting her with any of this, I chose to bite my tongue and just enjoy the time we had together. That would be a matter between God and Maggie.
Maggie’s Final Days
Throughout this entire trip Maggie was steadfast in her resolve to go back to the USA in March to see her father who was supposedly ill. I didn’t try and convince her to stay in Australia as I was waiting on God to do this. But I also figured for our relationship to heal and move forward, Maggie had to come to her own decision and stay for her own reasons… not mine. Was her father really ill? For the last decade Phil had health issues. When I first met him he was 6-months post spinal fusion surgery. Over the years he had been in and out of the hospital for various things, including heart surgery. And before Maggie and I left for Australia this weighed heavily on our decisions. In the end Maggie and I agreed, despite Phil seemingly at death’s door every other month, we didn’t want to live our lives waiting around for someone to die. At the rate he was going it could be another decade. But this time Maggie was so determined to “be there” for her father. Being a nurse, she has the know-how to help her father greatly. And time after time she would tell me how nobody else in the family is watching out for him. I understood this and had compassion for the situation, but I had seen Maggie like this before. Maggie was making yet another decision based purely on her emotions with little regard to the repercussions.
The 1st week of February we rolled back into Melbourne. Thankfully we found refuge with the mother of Paige’s best friend, as we had no house to come back to. Cathy was incredibly gracious giving us an open ended invitation allowing us the time we needed to find a rental, but we were only weeks away from Maggie departing back to the USA alone. Maggie saw that Paige didn’t want to leave Australia, and she was doing so well in school and had such a solid group of friends. Thankfully it seemed like Maggie was going to allow Paige to stay. And the plan was Maggie would go back to the USA to tend to her father for a couple months giving Paige the opportunity to continue with school in Australia. I would finish all I needed to file the bankruptcy in the USA and fly back to meet Maggie for our court date in Orlando. Paige would stay in Australia and my mother would fly in to watch Paige and care for her. After the bankruptcy was done, I would fly back to Australia to finally find work and continue taking care of Paige. Maggie, after tending to her father, would hopefully join us again at a later date. It was a complicated plan that required careful planning. But it was a plan that seemed to make sense.
February became about finding a place to live quickly. And with Maggie’s flight back to the USA the first week of March, there was no time to spare. During that time Maggie and I were getting along like we always had… which was amazing. In fact Maggie agreed to us having a “date” for Valentines Day. I got all dressed up and took her down to St. Kilda Beach to have a light dinner. Afterwards we sat looking at the ocean where I gave her some sappy little hand written lyrical story about the two of us. I remember she just took pause after reading it asking why I couldn’t have done this before. I told her how this was the “new me” and while maybe I took her for granted before, I now recognized where she was. Driving back to Cathy’s that evening through the harbor area of Melbourne we were both looking around marveling at what a beautiful city Melbourne is. We even started talking about buying a small apartment down the track. And in the weeks that followed Maggie and I would flirt with each other constantly. In fact it was so obvious that even Paige’s friend asked Paige, “Are your parents flirting with each other?” For Maggie and me, this was “normal”… at least normal when all was going well. These were all good signs.
The final week of February we signed a lease and started moving into a modest 3-bedroom house. The timing couldn’t have been any better as we started setting up our things and getting settled in. Paige was into the routine of school leaving Maggie and I to arrange the furniture and put away all the housewares put in storage that wasn’t sold off. Night time we all had dinner together and then would adjourn into the living area to watch some programs before turning in for the night. I had asked if Maggie would sleep in the same bed knowing this would be the last time for a while. She agreed. I was just hoping this would be a reminder of the life she was soon to be leaving. But Maggie was bound and determined to leave Australia.
The final night Maggie was in Australia we sat up talking for almost two hours about the future and our relationship. It was such a mix of conversation topics, but the one thing I wanted to convey was what my perspective of love is and what does it look like. For me love is a choice and not necessarily a feeling. My “feelings” for Maggie had hit both ends of the spectrum over the years and had I relied on those “feelings” to guide me we would have broken up long ago. But love and marriage (for me) is completely about commitment and looking out for each other. Had I made some errors in judgement over the years not looking out for Maggie? Regrettably so. And I think there was a time my judgement was very clouded. Having this family crisis put a lot of thing into perspective for me, and instead of letting it all go and moving on, I chose to fight for my wife and fight for my family. I just wanted to get past this and be the best Maggie and Mark we’ve even been.
Somehow the conversation turned towards her feelings for me. I cannot remember the exact dialogue, and perhaps I was the one that suggested it, but I challenged her to kiss me. She had been flirting with me this long I was hoping somewhere in all of this she might actually remember one of the reasons why we were together. I really wish I could say sparks flew, but I think it might have been awkward for Maggie. Here it had been 6 months since our last kiss, and she had cheated on me in the interim. From some people’s perspective I am sure you would think I’m crazy to even pursue someone after they would cheat on you. Deep down I knew her issues was something more than the surface level. Almost as if the cheating, the erratic behavior, the impulsiveness was symptoms of a much greater problem. Now frustrated with Maggie I asked to try again. This time I gently put my hand on her chest while kissing her. She withdrew feeling terribly uncomfortable and I stopped. I believe at this stage we were both frustrated. Maggie trying to sort out her emotions and me frustrated that Maggie was so out of touch with the reality of what she was about to do.
Early the next morning Paige and I dropped Maggie at the Melbourne airport. It was a sad and awkward “good bye”. Paige was in a bit of shock that her mother was getting on the plane. I just couldn’t believe it myself. I gave her one last kiss and a huge hug at the International terminal and told her how much we loved her. And without showing emotion she turned and walked away. March 1st 2012 would be the last time we ever saw this version of Maggie. She was gone.
Waiting with Peace
With Maggie gone it was now just a waiting game to get word for when we could go to bankruptcy court. Everything was filed with the accountants, lawyers… nothing more to do. However, in the weeks that followed Maggie’s departure, something very strange happened within the house. Something Paige and I had not been accustomed to in years. Peace! It’s such a horrible thing to realize, but an aire of tension had lifted. Paige and I had a normal routine from day to day. I would get up with Paige making sure she got to school. And then I would continue my day doing various projects or watching some of the trading I was involved in at the time. At night I had dinner ready where Paige and I would sit at the table and talk about the day. Then we would watch a program at night and laugh together. She would give me a big hug before she went to bed, and I would stay up and read my Bible only to do the same thing all over again the next day. There was no more drama..
But I missed Maggie so much. This was the first time in 14 years I felt alone. It was as if a huge void appeared in my heart with nothing to fill it. Before Maggie left she asked to be left alone. She didn’t want me calling her or trying to convince her to come back. And I respected her wishes. Maggie would call just about every night checking in though. In trying to respect her wishes I was cordial but short with my conversations. But as the weeks went on I could tell this was affecting her greatly. She sounded “different” and rather lost. I knew something just wasn’t right.
One evening I could tell she really wanted to talk with me.. almost longing to just be here back in Australia with us. She went on about how bad her father was doing. She told me about how she was jogging a lot, but of course what was strange about that she told me about how these men would always watch her as she jogged. I don’t know if she was trying to get a reaction out of me, but I had to ask why she continued running that route. Mind you, I had to be very careful how I worded everything. The last thing I wanted to do was ruin the fragile foundation I believed I had started to repair. But Maggie asked me a big question that really made me think she was starting to crumble. “Do you think I’m a bad mother?” Oh wow, I wanted to lay into her so badly. All I could think of is what kind of mother leaves her 16 year old daughter for what I considered selfish gain. She was running away from this family and her problems looking for that proverbial green grass on the other side. But I also had so much compassion. (Unfortunately not a lot of understanding) In the end I placated her and assured her she wasn’t a bad mother. And the truth is up until that final year she was an amazing mother. That’s what made all of this so difficult. We were a team of 3 that did everything together and one member just left.
In one of the phone calls though Maggie threw something out there that I just couldn’t believe. I don’t remember the dialogue of how we got to this point in the conversation, but Maggie slipped it in, “Well after all… you raped me.” WHAT??? I was in absolute shock as to her accusation. WHAT DO YOU MEAN I RAPED YOU!!! With further investigation, Maggie was calling the conversation the night before she left and my hand touching her chest “rape”. Doesn’t matter that I totally backed off. Doesn’t matter we were flirting with each other for weeks. In Maggie’s mind, I raped her. This is the level of absurdity I was dealing with. I was accused of selfishly throwing myself on her. Even our friend Jan, who asked me over the phone about this “rape” accusation (because Maggie said this to her as well)… after I told her what happened her exact words with a rather disgusted voice was, “That’s not rape!”
The first week of April my mother flew to Melbourne. Sticking with the plan, she would watch Paige for the next several weeks while I went back to the USA to finalize this bankruptcy. And by doing this I would finally be in a position to make money again and get back to business as usual. Despite Maggie being gone for a month and a half and us missing her so much, it really was calming to have routine. But just days before I was to depart to the USA, Maggie called with excitement in her voice. She told me how she had a”plan” that could make us work. She didn’t want to tell me on the phone, but really wanted to tell me in person. With trepidation I just agreed that I couldn’t wait to hear about it. All I could think was, “What am I flying into?
Back in the USA
Arriving back in Orlando Florida, I immediately drove to my accountants and my bankruptcy lawyer to ensure all the paperwork with filed quickly. The meter was ticking with my mother back in Melbourne watching Paige. Once all the paperwork was handed off (along with some rather large checks) it was just a matter of going through the process and awaiting a scheduled court date.
Maggie was still living with her parents 6 hours away in Apalachicola while I was staying with our good friends Frank and Liz in Orlando. By this time I had known Frank and Liz for almost 10-years. They had become good family friends over the years as we often went out to dinner, shared holidays together… watched each other’s kids grow up. And now they were watching my family implode. I was always incredibly grateful for their friendship and I still am to this day. They too were in touch with Maggie throughout this trying to be a friend to her and listen to her. But they also always tried to give her “Godly” advice along the way. As much as they would reach out to Maggie, to them it always seemed that Maggie was hell-bent with her own agenda. This was incredibly troubling.
Maggie and I were speaking over the phone periodically during this time. It was very hard to gauge her mood as it went from periods of calm to periods of manic. Sometimes you just never knew what you were going to get. But she had something pressing she wanted to tell me… a plan of sorts. I asked her to come to Orlando so we could at least see each other and try and hash it out. It sounded as if this was not something to discuss over the phone. In other words, I didn’t want to be in a position where I was presented with a plan that I disagreed with and then should I disagree, Maggie would have the ability to hang up the phone and then tell everyone “well I tried”. One could say it was manipulation, but I was not about to put myself in a position of failure. And the truth is, I wanted to see Maggie. I missed her so much. It had already been 2 months since the last time I saw my wife and I wanted to spend some quality time with her if given the opportunity. Maggie reluctantly agreed to come telling me she would stay with a friend.
After a few days we finally met at a park in Orlando as she refused to meet me at Frank and Liz’s home. I have a feeling she believed Frank and Liz were beginning to “take sides” and didn’t want to deal with it. It was at this park that Maggie presented me with this grand plan.
The plan was for the entire family to come back to Florida. She felt that her father’s health was failing and she wanted to be there for him. She also wanted Paige to be back as well knowing these might be the last years she gets to spend with him. I listened with understanding and patience and really saw where she was going with all this. I was in agreement, despite Paige’s attachment to Australia. But then Maggie dropped the bomb I was anticipating. She said, “Well we have to get divorced, but here’s how we’ll work this… I will be committed to you and we can wear our rings and it’ll be just like it was, but I can’t be legally tied to you.” In moments like this I think there are basically three reactions. Anger and outburst, shock and silence, and then the approach I took. With great calm I acknowledged what she said and told her I had to think about this. Now what I was thinking was,” You are flat out crazy out of your mind. After all these years, after all the blessings we had seen God work in our lives, after all the teachings about divorce… WHAT DO YOU THINK GOD THINKS ABOUT YOUR PLAN!!!” Oh I wanted to scream it. But her reasoning was we were going through bankruptcy solely because of me. I was the one that caused all of this and there was zero accountability on her part. Thoughts raced through my head about all the upheaval we had done over the years… that was never part of my plan.
We sat talking some more. We talked about how it would work with us back in the USA. The one point I could not get beyond was Paige’s desire to stay in Australia. And I cannot blame her. She had switched schools so many times in her life. All I ever wanted for her was stability. That was the whole reason why I put so much sweat and tears into our home in Pennsylvania. Maggie seemed to understand that, but she kept emphasizing how she wanted me to be on her side and that Paige needed to spend this time with her grandfather. what made it worse is Maggie used the death of my grandmother and the time I spent with her before she died as a tool/reason to come back to the USA. This was something I had a hard time arguing with as she was right. But only “right” if her intentions were to keep the family together. ie: The choice was let Maggie create a chaotic situation in the USA on her own with Paige and I staying in Australia (keeping stability but leaving Maggie with no support), or another upheaval for Paige and myself to walk into a family destroyed (if I didn’t get assurances from Maggie she would make this work). This was an incredibly difficult decision. I knew Paige did not want to leave Australia, and neither did I as this became our “home”. But I also made a commitment to Maggie when we got married to be there for her. Within this whole conversation I said something that was perhaps the greatest foreshadowing and prophecy to which I can never forget. I stated, “Maggie… please listen to me.. you are at the edge of this rabbit hole and I’m telling you now if you choose to go down this, Paige and I are not going to follow you.” Maggie just looked at me queerly in silence not knowing quite what to say. But I asked her straight, “Do you want to keep the family together?” Maggie assured me, “Yes I do.” With that said I reluctantly agreed to go back to Australia and break the news to her personally that we would return to the USA in the interest of keeping our family together.
After a while of more conversation Maggie and I were easing the tension of the conversation. And I would like to say Maggie and I were starting to fall back into the same playful behavior we always exhibited. So much so that we ended up seeing a movie that afternoon. I never gave Maggie an answer as to her plan other than to say I would think about it. From there Maggie returned to Apalachicola and waited for our lawyer to provide us with a court date. I went back to Frank and Liz to tell them how the meeting went. They too were just as shocked at Maggie’s plan.
Our Day in Court and More
About four weeks after Maggie and I had met up we were scheduled for our bankruptcy procedure. It was a Wednesday morning in May Maggie and I arrived at the courthouse and met our lawyer. I remember being concerned that Ed (the guy that sued us) would show up. Maggie and I had such contempt for the man considering we did everything we could to be honest and forthcoming only to realize in the end he was about as shrewd as they come when he tried to bilk another 25k out of us. Thankfully he never did. But one thing that was a little concerning through the process was a small hiccup concerning the value of our car back in Australia. Our lawyer assured us though this was nothing and a matter of filing some extra paperwork for us. Done and dusted!
Outside the courthouse Maggie and I thanked our lawyer as he departed. I felt this huge relief and couldn’t believe it was done. I went and hugged Maggie, but she was upset. She explained how she was so concerned that it wasn’t done (due to the paperwork that still needed filing). I questioned her, “What are you talking about? This is done… our lawyer is going to do what he needs to do and it’s over finally.” Maggie just couldn’t accept this fact and could not relish in the moment blaming me that not everything was finished. I could somewhat understand her frustration, but there was no need for this.
Despite Maggie’s agitation we continued to Walmart together to do a little shopping. Maggie seemed to ease up, and remarkably she and I started laughing about things like we always did. And while Maggie was changing clothes trying on new things, she started flirting with me once again. I was thinking is the pressure finally over and Maggie is realizing once again what our relationship had always been… a perfect fit. I had to tread lightly as something still was “off”, but couldn’t help but wonder was this the miracle that God was working in us. After shopping Maggie departed and headed back to Apalachicola.
Later that week I got a call from Maggie… a call I can never forget. Maggie asked me about her proposal for divorce, but to stay together. What I didn’t understand from our discussion a few weeks prior was despite Paige and I returning to the USA, Maggie and I were always getting divorced. Maggie felt in her mind that we needed to be divorced for financial reasons. As clearly and calmly as I could explain I told Maggie that I didn’t believe in divorce. I explained how I thought what she was doing was wrong in that how could she rip apart what we both knew (so I assumed) God had put together. That’s when the flood gates bust loose. Before all this had gotten started with Maggie’s infidelity, Maggie was already dealing with fits of rage within the house. This was an issue that Maggie had acknowledged and knew needed work. This day I saw a whole new level of blind rage never seen before. It’s hard to describe unless I had a recording of this, but to say that every other word was a four letter curse word would be a good start. But behind it was a rage and perhaps a hatred I had never seen. In truth, it was downright disturbing. There was no chance nor reason to argue with her. Maggie dominated the conversation proceeding to tear me into shreds as she went into detail with all the private information and feelings I had shared with her over the last 14 years taking shots at every bit of me down to my core. It was rage in its purest sense. The call ended with Maggie bitter and angry.
Frustrated and concerned with this phone call and seeing the degree of Maggie’s rage, I consulted our good friends John and Jan. They too had been talking to Maggie along the way trying to give her advice (none of which she was taking). They were having a hard time understanding and appreciating this new turn Maggie was taking. In fact I think they were doubting the validity of the degree of rage Maggie was exhibiting as this was completely foreign. Nothing like the Maggie they had grown to love. In fact I believe they felt I was being overly emotional and perhaps exaggerating the degree of Maggie’s rage. Deep down I just knew something wasn’t right with Maggie. The one piece of advice John and Jan gave me was accurate.. they said that Maggie and I didn’t have “boundaries”. I had allowed her to be able to speak to me in this manner. I questioned this asking, “What am I supposed to do? Hang up on her?” In unison realizing a flicker of light had illuminated my brain they both exclaimed, “YES!” I couldn’t believe what they were saying. I was trying to be nice about the entire situation, but they were right… I was ALLOWING Maggie to walk all over me. I was trying to go beyond this rationalizing and looking at the deeper levels of Maggie’s behavior, but instead I should have been addressing the surface level, much like you do with children. I didn’t want to treat Maggie like a child, but you cannot reason with someone and get them to look into the deeper motivation of their actions when blinded by emotion. This was so hard for me to accept as Maggie had never been like this, with only one exception… Pennsylvania. Back then she was so hell-bent on leaving to escape feeling the feelings she did back then that she was willing to make changes without any concern of the consequences. This was no different. So when I explained to her that if she chose to go down this rabbit hole that Paige and I weren’t going to follow her, Maggie didn’t believe it nor did she comprehend it. So I made a choice… I was not going to allow Maggie to treat me like this again.
A few days later Maggie called once again. And once again her blind rage showed itself. She was literally screaming at me peppering her systematic personal attack with curses and insults. But this time I took action. I warned Maggie once that if she couldn’t regain control of herself I was going to hang the phone up. As expected, this enraged Maggie even more. I had no choice but to discontinue the conversation. Maggie called back immediately in an increased rage. Once again I had to warn her and once again I had to hang up. This went on one more time and then as if something snapped in me I told her clearly with emphasis, “Fine… if you want a divorce, fine! You got it! I’m going to give you exactly what you want. But if you do this, I’m done. I don’t want you to ever call me again. I don’t ever want to speak to you again. We are through and I will do everything in my power to forget you and put you behind me despite all the amazing times we had!” An eerie silence came over the phone with an extremely delayed pause. I had nothing more to say. In a completely different tone Maggie meekly said, “I think we need to go to a counselor.” Still fed up with Magie’s outrage, I coldly said, “Fine… I’ll set it up and make it happen.” Maggie agreed.
Weeks earlier I had been researching Christian counselors in Tallahassee (as this was a middle meeting place between Orlando and Apalachicola) with the hopes of getting Maggie and me help. Throughout these weeks leading up to the bankruptcy I was insisting that Maggie go with me, but she had refused the entire time insisting “all this was my fault”. This was the first time Maggie showed any sense of humility. I was grateful, but also cautious. Our counselor Tricia was happy to see us.
I met Maggie at Tricia’s office where we waited to be seen. Maggie seemed rather distant, but calm. Shortly after, Tricia finished with a client and asked Maggie and me to make ourselves comfortable. Starting our hour session I think both Maggie and I tip toed around not knowing what to make or get out of the session. But the calm was all too short lived. I chose not to point fingers or place blame trying to take the higher road. By this time I had accepted responsibility for any lack, but it seems I was pretty much the only one. Maggie began to systematically tear me down in an unrelenting verbal tyraid. And the laundry list was extensive!
Mark didn’t teach me guitar
Mark didn’t support us financially
Mark made me feel unloved
Mark didn’t dance with me in Las Vegas
And the list went on and on, but the last one that completely threw me…
MARK BEAT ME!
WHAT???!!! I was in absolute shock. My eyes wide open and mouth agape in disbelief I looked right at Maggie and exclaimed, “WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” Immediately I thought was Maggie trying to set me up and get Tricia to “side” with her? That’s when Maggie described the event from 8-years prior… the event in the car as we were driving to the airport. To recap, Maggie and I were driving to the airport running very late for a flight. And with Maggie screaming at me at the top of her lungs, with an open hand I gave a medium to light tap on the back of her head saying, “Will you just shut up!” It was something I apologized profusely for and something I held myself accountable for. But even since then Maggie and I “straightened up” our lives becoming very involved in the church. What’s more I personally was looking for a closer relationship to Christ realizing that Christ needed to be first before the marriage. This (in my eyes) had become a non-issue as it hadn’t even been discussed since we worked through it. And it was 2-years after that incident that we got married. Eight years later I am hearing this again.
During this session Maggie became extremely agitated. It seemed like Maggie was trying to pull out all the stops to justify her actions. I barely was able to discuss anything regarding her infidelity and any other issues I might have had with her, and I don’t know that I could have. Maggie dominated the conversation pointing fingers and placing blame. And she dug deep to bring up personal information of the tiniest confrontation. I just remember feeling like I had been run over with a steamroller. But at the end Maggie agreed to continue seeing Tricia. I agreed to pay for it. I was hoping that at least if Maggie had a Christian voice of reason in her life, maybe she would see all that she was doing because I knew none of her friends or family who she was consulting had the same core beliefs. And since Maggie agreed to see this counselor on a regular basis, I agreed to stick with the plan to come back in the interest of keeping the family together.
Going Home (to break Paige’s heart)
A couple days after this I was on a plane back to Melbourne. Along with me was a second suitcase with a smattering of new clothing for Paige. These were Paige’s new clothes Maggie and Sue had bought more than 6-months back when Maggie and Paige visited the USA. And at the time they left all of the clothing with Sue thinking they would be returning to the USA shortly. The one thing Paige wanted back during this trip to the USA was for me to get her clothes, and now I was coming back with hardly anything. What was worse was I had to break it to her that we were all going to come back to the USA for the sake of keeping the family together. I knew this was going to be hard. After all this was uprooting the family once again, but I felt the alternative (divorce) was even harder.
Back in Melbourne I was greeted by my mother and Paige. It was so good to see them again and be back in familiar territory. After a few days of jet-lag I had to put my mother back on the plane to SanDiego, and Paige and I were alone once again. And now I had the burden of breaking the news to Paige about a return. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but I’ve always been the guy that when faced with difficulty like this I just try and take it head on… rip if off like a band-aid. And Paige was constantly asking me what was going to happen. I couldn’t put this off any longer. So within a week of arriving back in Australia it was time to break the news to Paige. Ideally it would have been best if Maggie and I could have done this both in person, but to at least act like Maggie and I were making this team decision, I suggested we do all this over the phone to include Maggie.
My 16-year old Paige sat on the couch across from me with a phone handset and me on the second handset with Maggie on the other end in the USA. Getting to the point I dropped the bomb of bad news. Paige’s reaction was quite simple… she looked at me as if to say, “You’ve got to be kidding me Mark!” and dropped the phone in disgust while walking out of the room and locking herself in her bedroom. She wasn’t going to hear it. I told Maggie we would call back and hung up.
For Paige, this news was absolutely devastating. Having started 10th grade only a few months prior, Paige had become incredibly established in her school. She had a tight circle of friends she could count on, have fun with, and trust. And now her parents were deciding to rip her away from all this. Maggie had made such a strong case for a USA return, and she wanted me to back her up, to which I was willing to do. But this shook Paige to the core. When I entered her room she was absolutely bawling as if everyone she knew and loved had died. Paige pleaded with me not to do this. It didn’t matter to her trying to keep the family together. In her eyes mom was gone. This was all mom’s doing, and she was angry that I was getting sucked into her mother’s chaos once again. To a degree she was right. But when I saw my daughter’s eyes I understood what Australia meant to her. This was Paige’s “home”. We were in a decent house living a rather simple life and happy despite 1/3rd of our family missing. And Paige could live with the fact that Maggie was gone. This could be easily written off as the silly request of a young girl, but I knew better. This was a lot more than just another move.
I called Maggie back explaining maybe we needed to consider another plan. Maggie was upset. She accused me of not backing her up and that we “had to do this!” But Maggie didn’t see Paige’s reaction, nor did she see the sincerity of Paige’s pleas. And despite me trying to explain this to Maggie, she demanded I put Paige on the phone. I went to Paige’s bedroom door asking her to hear her mother out. After much coaxing, she reluctantly agreed.
I left the room. Over the course of 15-minutes I heard crying, arguing, and desperate pleas of, “Mom you don’t understand.” It wasn’t good. Paige emerged from her room handing the phone to me while in tears. Maggie wanted to talk to me, but instead of continuing with the conversation I suggested we just let this be for the moment so emotions wouldn’t cloud our judgement. Maggie didn’t like that answer, but it was the right decision.
I tried to console Paige, but then Paige said something that I couldn’t believe. “That’s not my mother!” At first I took this as just a silly emotional statement. But then Paige went into great detail explaining to me how during this phone conversation Maggie’s demeanor was from one extreme to another. It was emotional blackmail one moment telling her she was “selfish for not wanting to see her grandfather before she died”, to flat out cursing at her calling her every 4-letter word possible, to crying and pleading, to laughing trying to make it seem like it would be fun, and then back to raging. Maggie was showing her hand… she was completely out of control. And what Paige experienced was exactly what I had back in the USA. For the rest of the evening I just tried to comfort Paige. This was a hard day.
Let the Chaos Begin
Over the course of the next several days/weeks it seemed I was talking to Maggie daily. And every single day there was a new “plan” thrown at me. One day it would be, “Send Paige back now because my father is going to die in the next 6-months and then we’ll both come back to Australia in January so Paige can return to school.” Or it was, “Both of you need to come back now… I need your support.” Or it was suggested, “Both of you come back, but you have to go live with your friend Ted in Pennsylvania.” Every day it was different. But the one thing I was incredibly concerned about was Maggie’s unhealthy co-dependent relationship with Paige. It was something I had witnessed for years and as time went on it seemed to get worse. I tried to talk to Maggie about this in Western Australia and I was quickly dismissed as Maggie explained that I just didn’t understand their relationship. Now Maggie was in a position where Paige could not support her and she was “going nuts”.
In a carefully worded email I expressed my deep-hearted concern for her dependence on Paige. I went into great detail with such a heavy heart explaining how her relationship with her daughter had become unhealthy. What I am about to tell you is what became a critical part of this story. In this email I wrote something (to later be revealed) that was my attempt to make her see the reality of where Maggie was. I wrote, “You need to see the reality of what you are doing. Just think about this for a moment… what would you do if God took Paige away from you. How would you deal with this?” And the entire context of the paragraph and email addressed this “toxic” relationship. I knew Paige was confused and frustrated with where her mother was going, and she certainly didn’t agree with her mother’s choices. I could foresee that if Maggie continued down this rabbit hole it wasn’t going to end well… hence why I told her this back in the USA. I was truly trying to help her, but in her defiance and stubbornness Maggie was bent on destruction.
Within 3 weeks after returning to Australia I received an email from Tricia in Tallahassee (the counselor Maggie was seeing). I knew Tricia was not legally allowed to go into detail of her sessions with Maggie. But by this time she had 2-3 sessions with her alone. The email said simply, “Do you have money for a psychiatrist?” I quickly wrote back, “Maybe… why? Do you think I need one?” “No… it’s for Maggie.” My heart sank and jaw dropped. Without knowing the details of the discussions I had to imagine what was said. I asked to discuss the matter with her on the phone to which she agreed to give me a free 1-hour phone call.
Tricia maintained a professional relationship with me not going into much detail, but the one thing she said that was very very clear, “Maggie does not have a grasp of reality.” I probed asking what she meant. Tiptoeing around details given, it came down to Maggie’s perception of what was happening and the consequences of her actions and how she felt were “off”. I could tell she wanted to go more into detail, but wouldn’t. In the end I just told her I would find the money somehow and just to do it.
By this time in my discussions with Maggie the last thing I wanted to do was upset her and make her angry. Reality for me was starting to set it as I realized more and more I was dealing with an incredibly unstable person. I loved Maggie so much and all I wanted for her was to see her get help. In the midst of this Maggie suggested that I should go see a psychologist. In an effort to appease her and not rock the boat, I did. The last thing I wanted to do was upset Maggie with how unstable she was. I feared to upset her would get her to stop seeing a counselor and ultimately a psychiatrist.
During this time I was trying to get a lot of Christian counsel. Prayer was plentiful as I reached out to God hoping something could be done. But I was getting pulled in so many directions. Maggie wanted Paige in the USA. Paige wanted to stay. Counselors in Australia were saying stay. Tricia in Tallahassee said clearly, “If you want your marriage to work I don’t see how you’re going to do it from Australia.” It was an incredibly confusing time, but all I really wanted was to hear from God what to do.
Getting Back to Work
Since day one Maggie was complaining I didn’t have a “job” and that she had been supporting us for the last 10 years. The absurdity of this statement frustrated me to no end as she was well aware of many of the things I had purchased for us, not including all the improvements on our homes. This doesn’t even address the monies I put up to get us to Australia. In Maggie’s eyes it was all her. And even when I disputed this and wanted to literally show her how much money I had earned and where exactly it went, Maggie refused. In her eyes she made all the money and she always worked. And as a result of her working all the time I “robbed her of her time with her daughter”. The solution was I needed a steady job. And I was led to believe if I could show some stability Maggie would humor keeping this family together.
Truth is I was itching to get back to work. Shortly after I had arrived back in Australia and right around this time I heard from Tracy, I was putting out resume’s all over the place. Now that the bankruptcy was done and over there was nothing restricting me from getting back to work on a full time capacity. I had wanted to go back into photography and videography, but in that kind of industry your ability to generate work is mostly based on your reputation. I had barely established myself in Australia so to go after this kind of work was an incredibly risky venture. And I was in no position to take risks as any “safety net” I had was gone. To add to the calamity of all that was going on, monies that I had invested for Paige over the past few months got wiped out on a somewhat risky venture. Looking back at it, I never should have put myself in a position like that, but I believe deep down I wanted to be the “hero” for Maggie.
Every two weeks on a Wednesday I went to Rudy’s house to meet up with a bunch of guys for a men’s Bible study. These were they guys that had prayed diligently for us before we went to Western Australia. Well knowing I didn’t have much money left and rent was coming, there was no time to wait for a job. That was my prayer request. God was walking with me this whole time and I believe God knows exactly what we need and when we need it. This is not to be confused with “want’s”. ie: I “wanted” to work as a photographer or perhaps even as a welder as I had done so a year previously. So the very next day I received a call from one of the agencies I had applied to asking me if I wanted to work as a mechanic for Caterpillar. I thought about it on the phone for a minute and told the recruiter I was possibly interested but wondered if he had any welding jobs. He said he didn’t. So I thanked him and said I would get back to him by the end of the day. Within 5-minutes of that phone call the thought entered my mind just like this… “Hey Mark… you prayed for a job last night and you just had a job land on your lap. What are you waiting for?” I called the recruiter back immediately and told him I could start tomorrow.
Maybe for some of you reading this it was obvious I was foolish for initially passing up this job. But this illustrates an amazing point that is a lesson to be learned. It’s that when God comes to help, it’s not always as you expect. In fact in my experience, it’s almost NEVER like I expect. And while I knew I needed a job, my expectation was completely different. This is why I initially passed it up. It reminds me of a rather popular joke about the guy who drowned and went to heaven.
A religious man is on top of a roof during a great flood. A man comes by in a boat and says “get in, get in!” The religous man replies, ” no I have faith in God, he will grant me a miracle.”
Later the water is up to his waist and another boat comes by and the guy tells him to get in again. He responds that he has faith in god and god will give him a miracle. With the water at about chest high, another boat comes to rescue him, but he turns down the offer again cause “God will grant him a miracle.”
With the water at chin high, a helicopter throws down a ladder and they tell him to get in, mumbling with the water in his mouth, he again turns down the request for help for the faith of God. He arrives at the gates of heaven with broken faith and says to Peter, I thought God would grand me a miracle and I have been let down.” St. Peter chuckles and responds, “I don’t know what you’re complaining about, we sent you three boats and a helicopter.”
I passed the first boat, but took the second.
Chaos Builds Again
Throughout the months of June and beginning of July 2012 I was working at Caterpillar while Paige was going to school. We had a really “normal” routine and life. I would get up around 6am to make myself coffee and breakfast. And every morning at 6:30 I would watch Joyce Meyer on TV to start my day before I went off to work. Paige would get up on her own and use public transportation to get to school. At the end of the day I would come home to shower, make Paige and I dinner, and we would watch television for a couple hours before retiring for the evening. And the one rule I had was we had to give each other a hug and kiss before going to bed. (A request I still have to this day)
In the middle of our attempt at “normalcy” we had Maggie calling from the USA almost every evening. She was missing Paige tremendously. But by this time Paige was disgusted with her mother. That phone call weeks prior when Maggie took on a new level of “crazy” really changed the dynamic of the relationship. And even before this when I was in the USA, Maggie and her grandmother were calling Paige so much that she asked my own mother to lie on the phone that Paige was “busy”. The truth is Paige had enough of the persistent phone calls from both mother and grandmother. More importantly she was aware that despite her inability to put a finger on exactly what was going on, she was well aware that everything her mother and grandmother was doing was “wrong”.
As much as I tried to block out Maggie’s chaotic behavior, every time she would call I would hear of a “new plan” in an attempt to get me and Paige back to the USA. And I had enough on my plate dealing with my own emotions and feeling of loss. We even had pastor Tom, a counseling pastor, come over to our house to have a discussion to help Paige and I put this all in place. It might seem simple to make decisions in all of this, but Maggie had a way to utilizing half truths mixed heavily with a lathering of emotional blackmail. You hear enough of this enough times and it’s hard not to doubt yourself. Compound that with the fact I was just told by a psychologist Maggie “didn’t have a grasp of reality” and that she needed to be seen by a psychiatrist. And while Tom felt I was getting “set-up” by Maggie, I was realizing day after day the seriousness of how ill Maggie just might be.
The one common point Maggie was stressing in all the conversations was she felt her dad’s health was waning. And what came with that was emotional blackmail using my grandmother’s death as a motivator. I saw very clearly that she was using this as leverage to get me to cave and buckle to get Paige sent back to the USA. But despite this, if Phil’s health was seriously deteriorating, this might be the last opportunity Paige would get to see Phil alive. And it’s true how I treasure those final years with my grandmother. So I would talk to Paige about this and how she might feel to not ever see her grandfather again. There was no denying the bond Paige had with her grandparents, but Paige was not keen to go back. Paige was also 16 years old at the time with a focus on friends in Australia. It’s the right mindset for an adolescent, but I was also thinking I didn’t want Paige to look back at this decision and have any regrets.
It was an incredibly difficult decision, but I was willing to humor Maggie for several reasons over and above her own father’s health reasons. The first was trying to keep the peace. I was still talking to Tricia in Tallahassee in broad generalizations and she emphasized how she didn’t feel my being in Australia could help things. (This was also counter to Maggie’s request for me to “get a job” to prove to her I could earn… yet another hoop for me to jump through) But to not send Paige back to the United States for at least a temporary stay I felt would have been the kiss of death for any reconciliation despite Paige’s unwillingness to return to the USA. And my concern for Maggie’s mental health was increasing. As her husband I was willing to do whatever I had to to see Maggie get help. So in an attempt to appease Maggie I would agree to a 6-month long visit for Paige for the sake of seeing her grandfather. But in doing so I had an incredibly long talk with Maggie about an absolute return in January so Paige could continue with her schooling. As well, I emphasized just how devastated Paige would be if she didn’t return. I also emphasized how I wanted Maggie to continue seeing Tricia and to really work with her if I was paying for it. Maggie was agreeable to all these terms, but there was one thing I didn’t like about all this and that was Maggie’s unaddressed codependency on Paige. For me to send Paige back to the USA I likened to giving an alcoholic a bottle of whiskey and saying, “Have fun.” But if there was any truth to Maggie’s claims of her father’s health, I would have been the guy that wouldn’t let his daughter see her grandfather… and that would have been horrible.
Tickets were purchased for Paige and this “plan” for Paige to go to the USA with Maggie and Paige returning to Australia in January. Strangely however, a week after this Maggie got her father to buy tickets for her to come BACK to Australia with a return with Paige. I was perplexed by this asking, “Why did you do that?” Her simple explanation, “I wanted to see some people and make sure Paige got on the plane.” I was appalled. Here it is we owed enough money to Maggie’s parents and she was going and spending even more (of her father’s money) on a round trip ticket. What made this worse was ultimately Maggie would blame ME for buying the tickets. I said to her, “What are you talking about??? I’m not the one that got that crazy idea to come back here. I’m not the one that pushed the ‘purchase’ button when you booked them online. I never told you to do any of this.” It was very difficult to keep my composure and not show how infuriated I was, but I knew if I lashed out this would give Maggie even more reason to act even more erratically. Somehow I convinced Maggie I would put Paige on the plane (which I always had the intention of doing once the decision was made and money spent), but leading up to the moment she got on the plane the phone calls were constant as she feared I wouldn’t. But on July 19th 2012 Paige got on a plane back to Apalachicola Florida. Paige was not happy. Maggie’s plane ticket was never used.
My final days in Australia
I have no doubt that many people reading this would see sending Paige back as a mistake. I didn’t like the idea myself. But in all of this I saw Maggie as ill. Something wasn’t right, and my recent trip to the USA to deal with the bankruptcy, all the phone calls, seeing Maggie’s erratic behavior… nothing added up. This is why Paige and I say the last time we truly saw Maggie was back in March just before we got on the plane. But even then I have my doubts. What kind of mother leaves her own daughter like this? The simple answer is one that desperately needs help. With the incident of Maggie purchasing another plane ticket and then blaming me for the purchase, this was one of those perplexing things I had to address with Tricia, Maggie’s counselor in Tallahassee. Her response was so simple. “Mark… THIS is exactly the kind of thing I am talking about with Maggie not having a grasp of reality.”
My heart was breaking. This woman I loved so much… I didn’t know what was happening to her. Maybe it was a “mid-life crisis”, or maybe it was a chemical imbalance that somehow was triggered by the dizzy spells she was having a year prior. And I wanted to tell Maggie’s parents about what Maggie was doing hoping maybe to get some help, but there was still a rift between us. They had never listened to logic before, so there was no reason why they would listen now.
I prayed all the time for guidance. I spoke with several key people to ask for their advice. I did research on other people’s experience with spouses that had similar behavior. I even paid for a one on one phone consult with a so-called marriage expert. I just wanted answers! But what was probably one of the key factors into making decisions was a conversation I had with an old friend from Seminole church back in Florida. For the sake of privacy I will leave her unnamed. But her husband 10-years prior went through a total mental breakdown and was hospitalized later to be diagnosed with a unique form of bi-polar disorder. I asked her how she got through it. Her answer was simple, “By the grace of God that’s how. I didn’t know what was going to happen Mark, but I reached out to God and sought guidance. And somehow God saved our marriage. But it wasn’t easy by any means.” I couldn’t help but remember what my friend Mick had asked me early on if Maggie was “it” and if she was then I needed to get ready to do whatever it took to fight for Maggie. Talking with this friend I was realizing I was possibly entering a new level of commitment.
At the same time I felt God was trying to now get my attention as well. God has a “funny” way of talking to us at times. In my experience, there are several ways He does this. In extremely rare occasions there is that small still voice like I’ve heard twice. Sometimes it’s a “stirring” of your spirit. Sometimes it’s someone sent your way to intervene. Sometimes it’s a sermon at church. And most times it’s through God’s word the Bible. And no matter what’s thrown your way, the Bible needs to be your “go-to” to weigh ALL up against. ie: if what you are feeling or hearing or seeing doesn’t align with God’s word, it must be discarded. Even a partial alignment doesn’t work, and that’s how Satan can trip you up sometimes. During this entire battle the #1 thing I would always pray for was wisdom. And what I kept running into and being reminded of was my covenant relationship I made between Maggie and God. Despite Maggie’s infidelity, I was going to fight. The infidelity, to me, was a symptom of a much greater issue at hand. And as the months had progressed to this stage and seeing Maggie’s erratic behavior, I was correct in believing a much deeper issue was driving Maggie’s decisions. Maggie would tell you differently. She would tell you she was “Done with Mark” and then likely give a long laundry list of reasons. But in all this you would never hear all the detailed truth… how could you when (as per Maggie’s counselor) she “doesn’t have a grasp of reality”. As these weeks went on and I was trying to seek Godly wisdom, through scripture and sermon for the entire month of August a pervasive message was brought before me. Not only did I need to go back to the USA, but I had to do it with “boldness”. It was something I wrestled with for weeks, but the message was clear and constant. I had no job prospects there, Maggie wanted us to move to Jacksonville where I knew no one. I had a good job with Caterpillar where they had offered me a more full time position. It made absolutely no sense whatsoever to return. But I’ve come to realize this is what we call faith. (Proverbs 3: 5-12) There are times God will ask something of us that makes absolutely no sense at all. We always have choice to do or not do what is asked of us. But if we are to truly walk in faith, so long as we are sure what’s asked of us is coming from God and aligns with His word, it’s our job to just obey an do what is asked of us if we want to receive God’s best. In this circumstance the message was clear… “go back to the USA and do it with boldness!”
Right around this same time an opportunity presented itself to me to travel to Africa for a missions trip the beginning of September 2012. The chance for me to return to the USA in time to make this trip was extremely slim, but I’ve also found that when one door closes another opens. For me this was absolutely a wide open door. It was a hard decision, but I was committing to returning to the USA to try and save my family and get Maggie help. It was a huge risk, but by this stage Maggie was a little more peaceful with Paige back in the USA and was consistent with seeing the counselor. I didn’t want this to stop. And by this time anything I owned was potentially a stumbling block. What did a couch or a chair or anything materialistic mean if in the grand scheme of things it meant I kept my family together. I was prepared to live very meagerly if it meant Maggie was going to get help.
And that’s what I did. I managed to pack all essentials into the equivalent of 3 cubic meters of space. I made a decision to sell my last guitar amplifier to pay for the $2000 cost to ship everything back to the USA. Anything else that was left was sold. This included all the expensive appliances purchased when Maggie and I first arrived in Australia that came from the money I had saved to make the trip. I was letting it all go in an effort to save the family.
My Final Days in Australia – God is With Me
After making an incredibly difficult decision to return to the USA, I had a certain peace and acceptance of the situation. The wheels were in motion. To get a visa for the Central African Republic I literally had to send my passport overnight to the USA to be pre-stamped by a CAR (Central African Republic) consulate along with medical paperwork proving I was immunized. I also paid a fee to break my lease and to make a “clean break” from Australia. The items I was keeping were boxed, dropped off with a shipper, and already traveling across the Pacific on its way to Florida. And there I was selling off the rest. I found that it didn’t take long to discard the last of my personal effects.
In all of this so many people were praying for this family. So many people hopeful and appreciating what I was doing despite not knowing much of the details. I was going back for one simple reason… to get Maggie some help and save the family. I was hopeful, but the truth is my hope was in God, not Maggie. The only thing I knew for certain was whatever was about to come would not be easy.
As the weeks came closer to my departure, Maggie seemed to be calming down as well. In fact in one of our conversations she talked about how she had found us a church near her apartment in Jacksonville and found a good counselor for both of us to start sessions with. This seemed encouraging. And although I was dreading living in Jacksonville, I was accepting of the idea.
During the final week a rather major issue developed regarding my trip to CAR (and the USA for that matter). It seems that the agency handling my visa had left all my paperwork on a desk to be forgotten. This meant that I was just days away from trying to jump on a plane, and I had no passport. With many urgent phone calls and a lot of headache I was able to get these people to finally take action. But the biggest issue was getting the paperwork back to Australia in time for me to jump on a plane. It was looking like this might not be a possibility. And if that didn’t happen I was looking at over $1000 worth of rebook fees, plus the possibility of not going to CAR as that trip started only 5-days after my arrival to the USA.
I cannot tell you how much we prayed about this situation, but looking back at this all now I believe this is all a precursor to the events to come. It’s also an incredibly critical lesson (and a hard lesson) to learn, that lesson being that “God is in control”. It’s all too common to for us as humans to try and dictate and manipulate situations. I have to wonder how many times God aligns blessing in our lives only to have us stuff it up by being impatient and making decisions that are not “of God” or in His timing. Maybe we try and accelerate things… maybe we make a phone call, or visit someone, or make a purchase… all these things that are not what God wants. I have no doubt God want His best for us. But in my experience I would say 99% of the time it’s not in MY timing, nor is it exactly what I think it would be. Maggie told me before all this started she was praying for God to “change me” and to make our marriage better. But Maggie always did everything in her time. When she didn’t see God take action immediately, she started making “moves”… sinful moves like adultery, lying, and manipulation. And because of her choices to step out of line with God, she was about to pay for this heavily.
That morning at 10 AM I sat at the airport waiting for my passport to be delivered to me by courier. My flight was at 11:15. Bags were standing by with the agent to be put on the plane. At 10:30 the courier found me and handed me my passport along with a visa stamped to allow entry into the Central African Republic. I hopped on the plane with the bags secured below me. I’ve heard it said that God is never late and seldom early… this time I think God was just showing off!
My friend Phil, whom I went to the Philippines with over a year prior, had now become a full time missionary and was organizing this trip to CAR. And when I arrived in the USA I had only 5-days to get ready for the trip before I would jump on the plane again. So in the interest of simplicity with Maggie, I opted to stay in the Orlando area with Phil as Maggie was 2-hours away in Jacksonville. I had training every day as well as equipment preparation. It just made sense. But I so wanted to see both Maggie and Paige… it was over a month since I had seen Paige and 3-months since I saw Maggie. And having been told all I was told by Maggie’s psychologist, my heart was breaking for her.
Every day Phil and I would wake up around 5:30 to leave by 6:30 for the missions office. Our job in CAR was to be on a supportive level bringing solar technology to several key villages that were translating the Bible. As I discovered exactly what I would be doing, I became more excited. Field translators in CAR would email their local versions of translated scripture to a central HQ in Bangui, CAR. But to do so, sometimes natives would have to walk up to 12-hours in one direction to the next village that had internet service. Add to that, these translations would be transported by USB thumb drives. And if these thumb drives were inserted into a publicly used computer, it was very common for computer viruses to be automatically dropped into these thumb drives (without anyone’s knowing) and brought back to the translator’s computer at home, thus slowing the process (and in some cases completely disabling a laptop). Our job was to go in with solar powered satellite communications, and uninfected thumb drives loaded with anti-virus software. With this we were not only cleaning up the local’s computers, but also making a way to expedite the translations. You literally could be in a field in a remote part of the world and send an email via these battery powered satellite internet connections.
This trip was plagued with problems though. Nothing by our doing, but rather little hang ups with equipment supply. Visa issues (like my own) were common leading up to this point. And perhaps one of the “scariest” things happening was the USA had just declared CAR a “red zone” meaning it strongly discouraged any travel to CAR for the sake of military uprising. Within all of this I was hoping to get to see Maggie and Paige before I left, but that wasn’t going to happen. While we were supposed to meet for dinner in St. Augustine, it turned out Paige had caught the flu and was in no condition to leave the apartment in Jacksonville. And while I had hoped to maybe just meet up with Maggie, it was just going to be impossible with what I had going on. Maggie instead asked for Phil’s address and how far it was away from Jacksonville. We left it at that.
I’ll never forget this conversation I had with Phil less than 2-days away from our departure. As we walked into his house and after a long weary day of troubleshooting problems, Phil just stopped me saying, “Mark, we need to really start praying about this trip.” I replied, “What do you mean?” That’s when Phil explained to me many more of the problems he had encountered along the way. And as Phil put it, “The ‘enemy’ doesn’t want us to make this trip for some reason.” I don’t expect many people to understand this sentiment, but for a Bible believing Christian, there is an enemy that’s real and that enemy is active. Very active. And understanding the conflict Phil had come against for the months prior to this, I would have to agree that we were against something sinister.
The next morning I awoke at 5:30, showered, and went to the breakfast table to eat a bowl of cereal. Just after 6AM in the middle of me taking a bite, there was a knock on Phil’s front door. Phil’s wife Shelly answered and in the distance I heard someone ask for my name. I immediately thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” And on that fateful morning 24-hours away from jumping on a plane to the Central African Republic, Maggie had me served for divorce.
After I signed the papers I returned to the kitchen in shock. But I wasn’t the only one. Phil, Shelly, and their two kids had to witness this as well. I was absolutely numb. All I could think about was how days earlier I was in Australia. I thought about all the “things” I had sold off to make this happen. I thought about a conversation I had days earlier while still in Australia with Maggie asking her, “You aren’t just saying all this to lure me back to the USA to serve me..” which she denied. It was in this moment I realized the level of deception and cruelty Maggie was capable of. She had sunk to the level of using people like pawns of an incredibly sick game. I called her phone to not surprisingly get her answering message. I left a pretty simple message with her. I didn’t yell or get upset… it was more disappointment. “Maggie… I can’t believe what you just did. All I did was love you, but this is by far the cruelest thing anyone has ever done to me.”
Phil suggested that I not go into the office that day with him. I agreed. And as the day pressed on I called Maggie’s (now X) counselor Tricia in Tallahassee. She was in shock as well, but explained to me the last contact Maggie made with her. Maggie just cancelled an appointment, and told her she would no longer be seeing her as she was moving to Jacksonville. But she also explained to me how Maggie always explained how she was going to divorce me. In Tricia’s eyes, to get past that hurdle she felt I needed to be back in the USA to possibly work through this. But I was angry. I had explained to her the “cost” of moving back in an email a month prior to this. I know it’s supposedly professionalism to not share with me Maggie’s intentions, but by not telling me I realized this cost me everything. I had nothing left in Florida. No job prospects, no family, very little money, and no place to live.
As the day wore on I thought about this trip to CAR. Should I go? I weighed many options, but it came down to a very simple thing as I worked through this. I was certain God had told me to come back to the USA, with BOLDNESS no less. I had absolutely no idea why. And Phil made it very clear we were up against something with this trip. I felt that to not go was letting the “enemy” win. And with that in mind, I chose to continue on this trip. So when Phil called later that day to see how I was doing, despite him giving me an “out” to not go, I told him clearly, “NO! I’m doing this!”
As I fell asleep that night I replayed all the events that led up to this moment. All the lies and deception. I wondered how sick and sadistic one would have to be to even manipulate the situation to this degree. Something wasn’t right for sure. This is not the Maggie I fell in love with so many years ago. This Maggie, this new Maggie… I didn’t know who this was any more. But I wanted answers. And then the thought occurred to me. Paige! Paige was right in the middle of all of this. And then my heart broke for her.
The next day it was as if I was just going through the motions. My bags were packed and I was at the Orlando airport on my way to Washington DC for an overnight stay to pick up a early morning flight to CAR from DC. It was all a blur. I remember standing outside the Washington Dulles airport awaiting a taxi to take me to the hotel with my gear. Everything was so green. A warm breeze and a fragrance I associate with living in the North East hit me in the face. I took it in, but couldn’t help thinking how years earlier Maggie and I seemed so happy in our house in Pennsylvania. I thought about had we stayed we likely would have had the house paid off by now. Instead with all the moving and all the chaos, there was nothing.
I arrived at an amazing hotel with an atrium in the main courtyard. I considered exploring and walking around, but instead I chose to stay in my hotel room. I curled up in my bed with the TV on and just lay feeling sick. I wanted to cry, but couldn’t from the sheer shock I was in. I just thought to myself, “This can’t be happening!” The loss at this stage was completely overwhelming as I replayed all the events over and over again leading up to this point. Did I miss something? Did I miss a cue from God? With my mind overwhelmed I eventually dozed off.
At 4AM the next morning I awoke hoping it was all a really bad dream. But it wasn’t. This was my new reality. I hadn’t spoke with Maggie, nor spoken with Paige, and wasn’t going to for at least the next two weeks. It was that hanging unknown that so many people can fear where one can speculate what might happen or the reasons why things happened. My only refuge was my Bible and a book Tricia had suggested I read.
I met up with Phil and Ruben (my two traveling partners) back at the Washington Dulles airport for check in. We were absolutely overloaded with gear and were hoping to not have issues with weight and size. Amazingly the trip to DC there was nothing, but on this next leg it wouldn’t be so easy. I believe God wanted to “show up” at this stage to 1) show us He was with us and 2) create levity. I was 48-hours into being served and I was hanging by a thread. As we tried to check our bags in one of our gear cases was 20 lbs overweight plus our solar panel boxes didn’t meet the dimension criteria. They were already packed tight enough. Phil and I started repacking hoping to shift enough weight from one bag to another. As we reweighed the bags (and I was wearing 3 layers of clothing by this point) we were still overweight on three of the bags. While my friend Phil was discussing this with the agent, I was standing right beside the two. In the middle of their discussion with a smile on my face, I waved my hand like a scene right from Star Wars and literally said, “These aren’t the bags you’re looking for.” I did this three more times talking right over the two. All of a sudden the agent let two of the three bags go through. He asked us to try and repack the 3rd. We did our best but there was no possible way it was going to happen. Again we tried and the agent refused. Wielding my mighty jedi hand I stated again over the two talking, “These aren’t the bags you’re looking for.” Amazingly the agent let the bag go through. Then Ruben, in his young and naive youth piped up, “What about the bag on your back?” All this time I had an extremely overweight camera backpack on. I just looked directly at Ruben and with a cheezy grin on my face said to him, “Ruben… he just said all the bags are fine. Got it” I believe I could literally see the light bulb go off over his head as he said, “Oooooh… ” I grabbed Ruben by the arm and started walking with him to security.
Past security Phil, Ruben, and I sat down with a coffee while awaiting our flight. It was then that I went into great detail of what had just happened. We laughed at the ridiculousness of my Jedi gestures. But with the sequence of events and the manner to which it happened, we had only one conclusion… God. I think at that point we had a new focus of the importance of this trip.
Central African Republic
So there I was on the plane reviewing everything that had led up to that moment hoping this wasn’t reality and asking God for support, wisdom, and direction. CAR, in effect, was a bit of a relief. This gave me time to regroup and collect my thoughts as opposed to doing anything that could hurt me. ie: phone calls, trying to talk with Maggie, etc.
CAR was a real eye opener for me. It was the first time I had ever been to Africa and gave me a small peek into the window of unrest that is around the world. During this trip I watched many United Nations planes fly in and out of Bangui, the capitol city. And what made such a lasting impression was this one soldier I saw at the airport. I’m a fairly big guy standing 6’2″ and around 195lbs. Not too much intimidates me. This soldier had to be about 45 years old 6’4″ with the stature of a professional athlete. But this guy was dressed in combat fatigues, had a rather large knife strapped to his leg that was partially covered by an even bigger gun that he shouldered. And if threatened I am sure he would have known just what to do with either weapon.
The blessing in disguise of this trip was our solar panels getting lost by the airline. We were so worried customs would clean us out. It’s very common for a customs agent to ask what you were bringing into the country, and then assess you a duty of upwards of 50% the value. We had some cash on us, but nothing for this. Two days later when the panels arrived the airport was practically empty. And so we believe the customs agent Phil dealt with was possibly not the “normal” person. As such there were ZERO duty fees incurred. This is unheard of. This could have equated to over a thousand dollars. We didn’t pay a cent.
Another issue I ran into was my visa. Every time you fly, even if still in country, you have to show your travel visa. Midway through the trip we were going to fly into a remote region. When I went to show my visa we realized the original consulate in Washington DC had written the wrong year on the expiration so it actually would read that it had expired before I even got there. But the officer who caught this mistake had an uncle that worked for the government. With God on our side and 24-hours later, my visa was corrected. Again this worked to our benefit as we scrapped the original destination hearing the village had become overrun by rebels.
We finally were able to fly into the remote village Carnot. This became like a huge event for the people as few people fly in. I remember all the children with smiles laughing and playing. They don’t know what an iPad is nor do they have any concept of the scale of the internet, or the world for that matter. Their world was that village and with the technology we were bringing to the village it would allow the Bible to be translated and taught.
We finished the installation of our solar panel mount late that afternoon just as the sun was setting on the horizon. And instead of immediately getting down from the roof, I just sat there watching the sun set for the next 30-minutes. And I thought about Maggie and Paige. We had always talked about doing missions trips since I started going and I wanted them to go to the Philippines the year after I had gone. What a far cry this family was from making a trip like that. I sat watching the sun set and thought this was an experience they were missing… Missing because of one woman’s decision to not honor the covenant she had made with me and God. And as the sun fully set I understood this is the free will God gives us. Looking back I realize Maggie had made her choice long before this. She was bound and determined to leave. But her decision was based on a deception that I had yet to discover. And my discovery would come with a heavy toll.
My return… take a big breath and here we go!
Back in the USA my plan was to confront Maggie and deal with this head on assessing where she was. But I also planned on making sure Paige was okay. The day after I returned from CAR I drove to Jacksonville and Paige’s school to see her. I was hoping to get truth from her before I saw Maggie and to see how miserable she was. This was the worst case scenario and I had promised Paige that should her mother pull anything like this I would do my best to make it right and get us back to Australia.
At Paige’s school office I announced who I was and that I had wanted to see Paige. It was towards the end of the day so I didn’t think much of it. What I didn’t know was that Maggie had alerted the school that I was a “dangerous” person and should I show up she was to be called immediately. I waited for the better part of 30 minutes before the principal asked me to take a phone call from Maggie. On the phone I just flat out said to her, “Maggie… what are you doing?” She calmly but assertively told me to meet her and Paige at a restaurant down the road. I said, “Fine.” and we agreed on a time. I hung up the phone. As I walked to my car out of the corner of my eye I saw a local sheriff walk into the office eyeballing me. It was obvious this was for me.
Down the road at this local restaurant I waited patiently for Maggie and Paige to show up. I was anxious to get to the bottom of what was going on. Upon arrival Maggie and Paige sat across from me in a booth. It was a fairly tense moment, but I could tell Maggie was bound and determined to go through with this. I asked Paige to leave Maggie and me alone for a moment. One of the things I asked her was if Paige knew about her affair with Blakely. Immediately Maggie became beligerant spouting out how I was the one that got us here. And once again I heard the long laundry list of what I did and didn’t do that apparently got us to this position. I thought to myself, if Blakely wasn’t the reason, then why are we in Jacksonville 10 miles from where he lives? Why if I did everything she requested of me was it not good enough. It was in this moment I saw something in Maggie’s eyes. As Maggie’s eyes welled up with tears, I saw a glimpse of humanity and the “old Maggie” I had once fallen in love with. It was as if Maggie was saying, “I loved you with all my heart, but you crushed it.” Any opportunity to refute her accusations were futile. Maggie had made her mind up and absolutely no one could tell her differently. The problem with this decision is Maggie was not in her “right mind” and even had a professional psychologist saying so. This would be the last glimpse I had of the old Maggie.
Like an onion… everything unfolds and it STINKS!
I am grateful to Phil and Shelly for taking me in at this stage and allowing me to stay with them. Had it not been for them I would be homeless. My money was very limited, and now I had no job with a wife trying to crucify me. I had to do some real soul searching during this time. Prayer was constant. And the one theme that rang loud was “FIGHT”. It was obvious… God wouldn’t send me back to the USA just to turn me back around to Australia. In the midst of this I saw a very lost woman taking the plunge down the rabbit hole I warned her ablout, and a desperate attempt to drag her daughter down with her. And so I went through the legal system to dispute this divorce for two basic reasons… Maggie’s mental health, and Paige.
As the weeks progressed Paige started to fill in many of the blanks for me as I tried to meet up with her often. She told me how she saw Maggie and Blakely together all the time now, but supposedly “just friends”. But what was so disturbing was Maggie putting Blakely in a position to replace me. ie: Maggie tried to get all of them to take a “family picture”. Paige absolutely refused. Paige told me a story of how Maggie and Paige were at a riverwalk in downtown Jacksonville where Maggie suggested the two of them get their palms read. Paige immediately shouted out, “But isn’t that against God mom?” Maggie quickly backed off. But perhaps the biggest shock and most twisted line of thinking was revealed to me when Maggie told me she “knew I was going to kill Paige.” WHAT??? This was Maggie’s reason for luring me back and playing nice. She actually thought I would kill Paige. Why? From the email I sent her. I made a statement 4 months prior challenging Maggie, “What would you do if God took Paige away.” If you read that one singular line and thought I was a killer, maybe that could be twisted into an honest fear. But in the context of the entire paragraph that addressed my concern for her co-dependency of Paige, it would be obvious to any rational thinking person that I was just being a loving husband very concerned with her mental state. But the operative word here is “rational person”. And while Maggie may have been able to give enough fragments to friends and family to “paint me black”, this would only be for a moment in time.
Concerned for Paige’s mental health, I immediately sought a Christian counselor in Jacksonville. Soon I discovered a man (George) that is part of the Focus on the Family Christian group. George was an elderly man in his early 80’s that ran a very small office by himself. He wasn’t for the money, but a counselor for the love of people. But he was about as much of a straight-shooter as one could image with decades of wisdom behind his words. I took Paige to see him on several occasions to try and make heads or tails of what was happening. As well, Paige was starting to get completely isolated. She hated school as all her friends were back in Australia. Her mother was promising her she would figure out how to call overseas. What’s worse, Maggie was spending very little time in the apartment she was renting. Paige’s life consisted of getting up early for school. Being miserable as she was forced to associate with her peers she wanted nothing to do with. Coming home to an empty apartment after school to feed herself. Maggie might stop in after her work and stay (which would lead to the two arguing about going back to Australia), or Maggie would change clothes and duck out to go “shopping”. This was code for “I’m pursuing this adulterous relationship with Blakely.” (Paige at this point still was unaware of this relationship being adulterous in nature) As a result, Paige was constantly sick from the stress. And Paige was justifiably angry at her mother. I was hoping George could help her work through this.
Paige was begging me to go back to Australia at this stage. George made it very clear to me though… Paige was trapped. To try and go back to Australia now without Maggie’s consent would have made me a downright criminal. Paige was desperate though and even told me, “Just go back and make a place for us… make a place so that when I turn 18 I can come.” It was very tempting to just go. But with every phone call and with every conversation, I saw Paige’s spirit literally dying. I feared that to leave would have set Paige up for failure. I ended up being the last beam of hope for her in a really rotten place.
After seeing George a few times we managed to convince Maggie to come into a counseling session. Maggie’s body language said it all. She sat slouched on the couch with her arms crossed. As Paige’s eyes welled up with tears, Maggie was unfazed and sticking to her resolve. Even George was a bit surprised by her steely candor. We tried to reason with Maggie and show her the damage she was doing, but nothing was going to sink in. Session over. I asked if I could drive Paige back to the apartment to which Maggie reluctantly agreed. Driving back I stopped in the parking lot of her school to have a real heart to heart with her. I assured her I would always be there for her and I was going to help her get through this. Paige put her head on my shoulders crying and afraid and said to me clearly, “I don’t know who my mom is anymore.” In that moment I had the most wicked sense of deja vu. I had been in the place before. And in an instant it all came rushing back to me. Over ten years ago I heard those same exact words in this same exact scenario. It was when Maggie’s mother Sue was giving us trouble in Tallahassee and Maggie had just come from the counselor. It was the same exact words, “I don’t know who my mom is anymore.” as Maggie was crying on my shoulder.
To say I was a little freaked out is a pretty safe way to describe it. I dropped Paige off and called Maggie on my way back to Orlando. I tried to very gently explain to her that she was doing the same thing to Paige that her own mother had done to her. This was met with an extreme refusal to accept. While it might not have been the best move on my part, my motivation was to try and wake Maggie up a little to at least give her an opportunity to preserve what little relationship she had with her own daughter. Sadly, Maggie didn’t listen.
There’s No Stopping Her…
As the weeks wore on Maggie’s resolve and determination to end this marriage was like a runaway freight train. In her eyes this was freedom. The problem with a runaway train however is sooner or later that ride is going to end and it will most likely be catastrophic. From time to time my mother would call me checking in, but ultimately give me briefs of what Maggie was up to from her Facebook feed. (Maggie had cut me off) It was amazing what Maggie was doing and posting. It was a very married woman brazenly and unapalogeticly posting images of her adulterous relationship with Blakely. They were still not officially together, but so many of my Christian friends from Seminole church were calling me as well as they too watched this woman deliberately destroy her own family. After a month of hearing about her adultery and the utter emotional neglect towards Paige, I just got to a point with everyone (including my mother) where I asked them to stop with the updates. This person was my best friend. Imagine your best friend deliberately taking a knife and slitting their wrists, and the only thing you can do is watch. You know their thinking is not right. You know you can help them and work through anything. You know they are dying. And yet you have to sit there and watch completely helpless. How long could you stay there watching and pleading only to have your words fall on deaf ears?
Paige was pleading with me to return to Australia. I felt so badly for her hearing about her frustration with school, and disgust for her mother. She too was feeling what I was going through and so confused how a woman that was so loving for so many years and was so close to her, was tearing their relationship to shreds. Maggie’s solution to her daughter’s frustration was to take her out shopping from time to time. But that was like putting a band-aid on open heart surgery. Maggie was unremorseful and uncaring to her own daughter’s pleas explaining to Paige with an aire of insanity, “Mark was going to kill us!” And when Paige tried to bring anything up with Maggie about Blakely or Australia, it was met with manic tirades of how I had been such a bad person and how “selfish” Paige was. It was common for Maggie to say things like, “I deserve to be ‘happy’!” As Paige put it to me one day, it was if Maggie was saying, “This is MY time.” But perhaps the best example of how oblivious Maggie was during this time is a story Paige told me. They were driving in Apalachicola discussing the current situation where Maggie just was exclaiming how bad I was and trying to “paint me black” in front of Paige. Paige was so sick of her mother’s rantings feeling they were so unfounded she just started shouting back, “Stop… just stop!” Maggie ,in a panic, stopped the car and asked Paige, “What? What is it… was I about to hit something?” completely oblivious to what she was doing. Maggie had no clue of her own destruction.
During this time the only person I saw as the voice of reason in Maggie’s life was Jan. She was still talking to Maggie somewhat often. And while I confided in her and begged her to challenge Maggie with what she was doing, Jan would tell me the same thing over and over, “Maggie doesn’t want to hear it.” And she would tell me how Maggie would interrupt and try and dominate the conversation justifying her actions. The scary thing is I had seen Maggie like this. Not to this degree, but Maggie had been in situations before where logic and reason get tossed out, and emotion and irrational behavior rule. So it’s no wonder Jan’s words fell on deaf ears. In Maggie’s mind she was “right”.
For Maggie to get to this point, this was a process. Maggie would allow negative thoughts to enter her mind. It started small, but these were things Maggie internalized for years. When it built up enough, what Maggie would do is selectively tell friends and family bits of information omitting large chunks of the whole story. She even did this to Paige one day saying, “If you had a friend that said ‘What would you do if God took this person away’ would you think they were trying to kill them?” Much to Maggie’s dismay, Paige challenged her. Paige replied, “Well maybe, but I don’t think so.” Ultimately Maggie revealed what I had written which is when it backfired on Maggie when even Paige pointed out the context of the entire paragraph. But this was Maggie’s modus operandi. Share bits of information to put a spin on reality. And if someone challenged or disagreed with her, their opinion was completely tossed out. Maggie was looking for justification from others, and by this time she had enough people ill informed to bolster her resolve. Jan, Paige, our counselor George… and any sound voice of reason was not getting through.
2 Timothy 4:3 says
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
I look at this passage now as I write and it’s chilling and scary how I watched this passage come to life. This is why God talks so much in scripture about “being humble” and how “pride” is such a killer and stumbling block. Prideful people don’t listen. It takes humility to accept being “wrong”. For many years I was that prideful person. But through a series of events (including what I was going through) I was being seriously humbled. And it was in my humility that I was able to continue to love Maggie through this, even with her destroying our relationship. Pride would have caused me to walk away. Pride would have told me, “You’re right, so forget her.” But recognizing the love I had for Maggie had me hanging in there no matter what accusations she made. I just saw her as hurt and broken and I had to just keep reaching out to her even if she wouldn’t listen.
Uganda and Figuring Things Out
At this stage I was living with Phil, Shelly, and their two kids, but I knew this would not last long. I would go into the office with Phil throughout the week just to give myself something to do, but it was if I was semi-paralyzed. I was contesting this divorce for the sake of Paige, as well as Maggie’s mental state, so everything was tied up with the court system. I would call Paige as much as possible in an attempt to give her hope, but it seemed as if every other week she was home sick. And then she would tell me how bad it was with Maggie and how her behavior was becoming more erratic. In the midst of all this Phil approached me asking me to start making other living arrangements. But he also offered me another opportunity to travel to Uganda. I know it sounds crazy to take these trips in the middle of a crisis, but it was so hard to make plans with everything in flux.
Maggie was already trying to dominate and control my interactions with Paige. Thinking like we were already divorced, she would present me with these crazy time-sharing plans with Paige. In the meantime, Paige and I were both thinking how absolutely out of her mind Maggie had become. We weren’t at that stage of treating this like a divorced family. We were both just watching this woman once again make choices with little to no concern for either of us. I am sure she would consider herself as “fair”, and what exactly was going on is hard to describe. But it was truly as if Maggie had zero grasp of reality and the long lasting damage she was doing to both Paige and myself. She had moved on quickly pursuing this adulterous relationship, and getting rid of me was a matter of an appearance in court. Paige was like luggage to be taken from place to place.
With Thanksgiving approaching and Phil giving me an expiry date, I started making some plans. Thankfully a good friend Mike, from my old church was going to allow me to stay with him and his son Jack for what was supposed to be a couple weeks. I also felt God pushing me to make this trip to Uganda. And with aid from my aunt, this trip was possible. But I was also forced to make a decision about “time sharing” with Paige and the holidays. I would take Thanksgiving while Maggie would get Christmas. And with my time, I offered to take Paige to my mother’s in San Diego California hoping to create some relief from the chaos we were both experiencing.
Uganda was another blur, but my mission was clear. I documented the entire trip for this mission as well as acted as a support tech for the villages we went to. Arriving back in Orlando Florida my plan was to rent a car to pick Paige up from Jacksonville, and then drive back to Orlando to catch a plane with Paige to see my mother. I had recently received a tax return in my Australian account and had hoped to use that money for the rental car, but upon my return my debit card was declined. Perplexed, I went so far as to call my bank in Australia to get to the bottom of this. What I discovered was Maggie had transferred my $2000 tax return I was needing.
I was shocked and infuriated, but keeping my composure I called Maggie. Maggie was apologetic and offered to return “some” of the money, but one of Maggie’s biggest complaints about me was that she felt I saw her as a “money grab”. In the interest of trying to prove her incorrect I told her to just keep the money. And while it did make things a bit inconvenient for the moment, the last thing I wanted to do was create a situation that would fuel her diatribes about me. Truth is, I loved her, and if this was the shot I had to take in the chin for the moment, then that’s what I was going to do. I saw Maggie as lost and sick, and to love her in this moment was for me to forget about myself and be giving. Maggie begrudgingly agreed to drop Paige off at Frank and Liz’s house where we were staying for the night before our San Diego trip.
Later that evening with Paige I explained to her what had happened. That’s when Paige told me earlier that week she and Maggie had gone to the bank to transfer that money into her American account. Paige questioned Maggie’s intentions claiming what she was doing was cruel. Maggie’s remark, “I know, but I deserve this.”
San Diego is exactly what Paige and I needed. It was an opportunity to relax and forget about the stress of what we were going through… even if for just a moment. My mother was so accommodating and understanding and really just wanted to provide a refuge for us. Paige and I even managed to volunteer on thanksgiving day at my mother’s church. And we just did our best to relax and not think about Maggie and what she was doing to us.
There was no getting around it though. Between the fun things Paige and I did and the laughs we had, it was visible the worry and stress Paige was under. One evening I pulled my 16-year old daughter into a stairwell at my mother’s apartment as she was about to break down crying. Paige begged me to take her back to Australia. As much as I wanted to fulfill my promise to her that was made back in Australia, we were stuck. Paige would not be able to go anywhere legally until she turned 18. With tears now streaming, she exclaimed, “Go back now (to Australia) and make a place for us. And when I’m 18 I’ll come.” My heart was completely shattered and I felt so guilty as I was the one that made the choice to send Paige back to the USA in the interest of keeping the family together. I knew it would come at a cost, and I had even considered the idea of a worst case scenario. But now to be living it first-hand, I had to really question God and His intentions and His plans. Surely if God is all knowing, He had to know I would be in this position.
I consoled Paige as much as I could, but despite her pleas, I made the choice to not go back. Not any time soon at least. With every phone call I had made to Paige over those few months it was as if her very soul was dying. Any and all hope was lost for her and neither her own mother nor grandparents could be trusted with her feelings. She was alone and I was the only one that gave Paige a glimmer of hope for ever returning to Australia. While I could have left and re-established a place for us, I couldn’t for three main reasons.
- Paige needed much more support than she knew. And while it was tragic for the moment, we had to trust God was in control, and more importantly I needed to be an example of someone that trusted God in a time of great darkness and sorrow.
- I was so in love with my wife. Despite all she had done I just wanted her healthy and to see reason and to be accountable. She was hurt, lost, and comfortable in her sin.
- God wouldn’t have me go to all this trouble to just turn me around to go back to Australia. And while I always had that choice to leave, the decisive choice I made was to trust God no matter what was thrown at me.
Back inside the apartment Paige and I settled in for the evening. She wasn’t happy about my choices, but the one thing I assured her was that I would always be there for her.
Later that evening I was perusing the collection of books in my mother’s bookshelf. One book that jumped out at me was titled, “He Came to Set the Captives Free” by a Rebecca Brown. It’s a book that touched on a personal experience with spiritual warfare and dealing with Occult beliefs. I thumbed through it glancing over the stories that seemed to be heavy hitting and very real. “Mom… did you read this book?”, I shouted. She came over to me grabbing the book and then handing it back to me, “That book was too scary for me. I don’t know if I’m ready to deal with demons.” She agreed to let me take the book. While intriguing, I also felt that I had to approach this book cautiously. The author was rather unknown to me and some of the stories were pretty hard to believe. What’s more is I later discovered there is a lot of controversy about the author. But knowing I was in the midst of a spiritual battle, I considered it might be a good read.
Paige and I were so sad to leave and go back to the reality of Florida, but time marches on, and this was not a reality we could avoid. I remember sitting on the plane half way across the United States, and Paige just curled up next to me and put her head on my shoulder to fall asleep. Normally this is not something I would notice, but as Paige was growing into her teenage years she had become much less physically affectionate. I never considered it as a “snub”, or a rift between us. It was just Paige growing up. So for her to choose to break down this barrier she had built, it was a massive subconscious statement. The relationship with her mother and grandparents was disintegrating despite her desperate pleas. I had become the only one Paige could count on.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, Maggie and I had our first meeting in court with an appointed mediator. This is someone that tries to get the two parties to agree to conditions that will solidify a divorce (and presumably save time and money) before going before a judge. I had no lawyer and no idea what to expect.
As I was ushered into a room, I caught a glimpse of Maggie and her lawyer in an adjacent room. She seemed to be in a good mood and was joking with her lawyer, but I knew better than to presume that attitude would be reflected in what was about to come. Nervously I waited for the mediator knowing that on this very day I could be divorced.
The mediator greeted me by shaking my hand and then asked me to take a seat. She had already spoken with Maggie and her lawyer, so at this stage she explained her role, the process of mediation, and what Maggie was looking for. Maggie wanted the rest of her “things” that had recently arrived from Australia, as well as around $7000, and wanted to limit my time sharing of Paige. My jaw just about hit the table as I was in absolute shock. All I could think of was how Maggie for months (and perhaps years) had wrongfully accused me of using her for money. Now she was after me for money after I sacrificed everything to save this family. She was after me for money after she just took the $2000 tax return out of our joint bank account in Australia. She wanted money from me after I was lured back to the United States and essentially left for dead. And one thing that wasn’t even in the forefront of my mind until that moment was the retirement annuity from Maggie’s workplace containing over $12,000 that was sitting back in Australia. I didn’t want it, and had never brought it up, so taking into account all of Maggie’s demands I was absolutely dumbfounded.
The absurdity of this situation took me a couple of minutes to ingest. As I tried to regain my composure, I started to consider what was at stake. I already had written proof from Maggie’s counselor that she didn’t have a “grasp of reality”, and she didn’t. Maggie was completely out of control and there was no stopping her. The amount of “stuff” that was hers was minimal at best and strewn throughout 30+boxes that I hadn’t even seen since I parted with them in Australia. But then my focus turned to Paige. In 2-months Paige would start the 11th grade if she were back in Australia. And that was Paige’s #1 desire. She didn’t care about her mother or her grandparents as she was already confused and disgusted with their behavior. Her sole focus was to return to Australia in time for 11th grade. She wanted her friends. She wanted the calm and “normalcy” we were living in after Maggie left. So within that moment I made a choice of self-sacrifice. I told the mediator I would agree to Maggie’s terms and give her the divorce and the money she wanted, and whatever “things” she thought I had, if she allow Paige to return with me to Australia so she could finish high school. I knew it would be a long shot, but for the sake of Paige and trying to provide a better outcome for her I was willing to sacrifice my marriage.
As the mediator left the room I went to use the restroom that was connected to the room I was in. This happened to be closer to the room Maggie and her lawyer were in separated by a rather thin wall. Through the ceiling tiles I overheard the mediator present my proposal to Maggie. Maggie’s reaction can only be described like I drop-kicked a beehive. With every other word a new twist of profanity, Maggie ripped my character to shreds claiming how “unfit” I was as well as how “Mark robbed me of my time with my daughter this long, he’s not going to rob me of what little time I have left!” The absurdity of just that statement alone was ridiculous and something I had heard for years. While my income had its ups and downs over the years, even when I was making great money I would hear this from time to time from Maggie. Even in Australia I offered to take on a full time position and have her stop working, which she declined. But it was also as if Maggie saw a finite end to her role and responsibility as a parent, whereas I saw Paige turning 18 and finishing high school no different than her turning 19 or 20. I planned on being her dad and supporting her any way I could for the rest of my life as well as spending the rest of my life with Maggie.
The mediator came back into the room and told me Maggie wasn’t going to take the deal and had stormed off. I was also supposed to pick Paige up after the mediation and take her to George her counselor. The mediator informed me that Maggie wasn’t going to let me take Paige to counseling any more. Once again I was in shock.
I thanked the mediator and apologized for Maggie’s behavior and went downstairs to find Maggie. I couldn’t believe that in her anger and rage she was willing to hurt her own daughter further by not allowing counseling. I walked downstairs to the cashier to pay for mediation and there I found Maggie at the counter. I approached her and gently asked, “You can be mad at me, but why would you do this to Paige?” I tried to continue, but without even looking at me, and with venomous disdain she muttered through her teeth, “If you say another word I’m going to get a restraining order against you!” All I could do was stare at her. Who was this person? Less than two years ago we were in Thailand having the time of our life and celebrating Paige’s 15th birthday. Less than a year ago it seemed like there might have been hope in Western Australia as we were running down the beach and laughing with each other. And then I remembered the blackness within Maggie’s heart that the Holy Spirit showed me. It was the hurt and unforgiveness Maggie had been harboring for the last 20+ years. This is what was fueling her rage. But this didn’t explain why Paige and I were seeing a “new Maggie” evolve. Not entirely at least. No… Maggie’s entire character was evolving. Her hair was different, she supposedly didn’t need glasses anymore, her taste in music had changed (according to Paige)…. Many little things that made up the character of the Maggie Paige and I knew and loved were gone.
I didn’t say another word and just stood there at the counter saddened by the choice Maggie made. Maggie walked away. Perplexed, I drove to see George and to apologize for Paige not coming and for having to cancel the counseling session. George understood, but said something rather sobering. “Mark… it’s time to focus solely on Paige and let Maggie go.” I knew he was right, but I didn’t want to believe it. That’s when he introduced me to Mary. Mary was a friend that occupied the same building that was a lawyer. She had already been briefed by George on the situation. Mary was a tough woman that had been through a difficult divorce herself. In fact having been left to the wind by her own x-husband, she decided to put herself through law school to become a divorce lawyer. Mary could see I still loved Maggie, but she was also very candid and blunt with her words. “Mark… you’re going to have to get over the fact that Maggie doesn’t want to be with you. It’s now time to protect Paige.” As much as Maggie and her parents loved Paige, the kind of love they were giving was a conditional and manipulative love. I just might be the only voice of reason in Paige’s life that could love her unconditionally. I had always tried to guide Paige as best I could without ever putting my foot down. And had I parented Paige in a demanding way, she’s the type of personality that would rebel from this. So if she wanted to pick a side and go with her mother, I knew I couldn’t stop her. But this was different… her mother was gone. This “new” Maggie was selfish and manipulative and full of half-truths and lies backed by grandparents that seemed to be supporting Maggie’s decisions. Paige saw right through it and wanted nothing to do with it. So on that day I hired Mary to be my lawyer. Maggie was going further down the rabbit hole.
Into the Lion’s Den
Before mediation I would receive calls or texts fairly often from Maggie. It was never to “shoot the breeze”, but always to discuss logistical issues with Paige. After mediation, Maggie stopped calling me altogether. Communication completely broke down.
It was right around this time I felt a prompting by the Holy Spirit to go to Apalachicola to speak with Maggie’s parents. Specifically, the Holy Spirit wanted me to speak with Maggie’s father Phil about Christ and salvation. This was a tough pill to swallow and I had to question, “You want me to do WHAT?!?” By this time I was praying so often that I felt rather in tune with God’s will in my life. This was difficult to fathom however. I hadn’t seen Phil or Judy in almost 3 years. They never really liked me. And now I was to go drive 6 hours from Orlando Florida to Apalachicola purely on faith that the Holy Spirit had said this to me. I would love to tell you I was fearless and filled with courage from the Holy Spirit, eager to take this head on . That, however, would be a flat out lie. I was thinking this has got to be the craziest request I have ever heard.
Before I made the trip to Apalachicola, I went to Atlanta to drop in on an old friend of mine Jake from the days when I was photographing cars. Jake had become a Christian years earlier and was very involved in missions much like I had become. Over the past several months we had reconnected a few times as I looked for prayer warriors to help. But Jake was also someone who had gone through what I was going through before. I wished he had encouraging words regarding Maggie, but his advice was, “This is Maggie’s choice and while God could intervene, God will not likely get in the way with how she’s driven.” He even went so far as to say, “You should ask for half of that annuity Maggie has because you’re entitled to it.” I never cared about the money, and to put Maggie’s annuity on the table would only feed into Maggie’s false belief I wanted her for money. This fight for me was never about money. This was about Maggie’s soul, and this spiritual battle was something Jake recognized as well. Jake prayed for courage before I drove to Apalachicola. I sure needed it.
When I drove into Apalachicola there was a nervousness and uncertainty running within me, but there was also an undeniable seriousness about what I was about to do. I was going in to speak with Phil about Christ. Knowing his health was waning over the years, I thought it possible I might be the last person in Phil’s life to speak about God’s truth. I stopped off in the parking lot of the local gas station and just prayed, “God are you sure you really want me to do this?” Before I could even finish that question, an overwhelming feeling came over me with the words in my spirit, “Yes Mark… this is what you need to do, but I will be with you.” The feeling and presence was undeniable. I had to wonder if this is what Daniel had felt when he knew he was about to be thrown in with the lions. Did God say to him, “I will be with you.” Did a peace come over him? Or was he still just as nervous as I was, despite his faith?
I left that parking lot with nervous trepidation, but also with a boldness that this had to be done. I could have turned the car right around and driven back to Orlando. But this is also the kind of choice I had back in Australia where I could have chosen to stay. I could have chosen not to put Paige on the plane. However, with every incremental urging of the Holy Spirit, I knew I just had to keep pressing forward believing the path I was walking through would take me to a better place that God had planned.
I pulled into the dirt path of Phil and Judy’s little plot where their double-wide trailer sat. I caught Phil on his riding lawn mower. At first glance he seemed to be in pretty good health for his age. All I could think of was Maggie telling me less than a year prior how she didn’t think her father had more than 6-months to live. Seeing me, Phil stopped the mower. As I approached him he mumbled in his typical gruffness, “What do you want?”
“I came to talk to you and Judy.” I replied.
“Well Judy’s inside and I’ve got nothing to say.”
This was the greeting I was expecting. Instead of walking right in like I had so many times in the past, I knocked on the door and waited for Judy. She came around the corner. Seeing me, Judy was surprised and had to do a double-take, and in typical fashion put on a smile.
“What are you doing here?” she said in a pleasant Southern twang.
“I’ve come to talk with you and Phil.”
“Oh… well Phil’s right there, but I don’t know if he wants to talk to you.”
“I doubt he does..”, I replied “but I drove all this way. I really want to talk to the two of you together.”
Judy recognized my persistence. “Well Phil’s right there. Go see if you can get him to come in.”
I cannot even imagine what the two of them were thinking when they first saw me that day, but I’m sure it wasn’t good. Back outside, I somehow convinced Phil to join Judy and me so I could talk.
As I sat down inside, I noticed the décor of the room and how very little had changed. I remembered those first months I was dating Maggie as I would come here as often as I could to be with her and Paige. The couch Judy sat on was the same one we would chase Paige around when she was 2 in an effort to wear her out before bed. The sounds of her giggling and laughing always made Maggie and me laugh. These were the moments that helped us all bond and consider ourselves a family. And there I was 14 years later with just a handful of memories and a mission.
Phil entered the room and sat in a chair far from where Judy and I sat.
“Well, say what you have to say Mark.”
I was pretty much on “auto pilot” having rehearsed the general idea of what I was wanting to talk about. As difficult as it was to face the reality of my on financial failure, I knew I had to address this with them. All I could think was, “be humble”.
“I know you are aware of some of the financial difficulties Maggie and I encountered over the years. For this I am truly sorry. I know this probably doesn’t carry much weight, but regardless of what happens with Maggie and me, I am going to do my best to pay you back.” They nodded in disbelief. Truth is, I was flat broke. I had no idea how I was going to do this myself, but I also knew in my heart that God could provide anything.
And with boldness, I spoke, “The real reason why I’m here however is for you Phil. I know you both are going to think this is crazy, but I have to tell you the Holy Spirit told me to come and talk to you (Phil) about Christ.”
For just a moment I thought to myself, “Did I really just say that?” The words had jumped from my tongue with the greatest of ease landing like a drop of water on a calm pool. I continued with speaking God’s truth, but that’s when the floodgates burst open for Phil as if I had dragged my fingernails against a chalkboard and he couldn’t take any more.
With a hardened heart Phil ranted, “I don’t want to hear any of this. You want to preach, you go down and get yourself a license and go preach somewhere else. There are lots of places you can go do this. But don’t you come into my house and tell me about God because I don’t want to hear it.”
I managed to chime in with the kindest voice I could with compassion, “It doesn’t matter if you want to hear it or not Phil. This is the inevitable truth and you at least need to know.”
Before Phil could say any more, Judy spoke as if to dissuade my attempt, “Oh I’ve been trying to talk to Phil for years about this Mark, but he won’t listen. Don’t worry about him.”
I had to think for a moment what was just said. Judy has at times said she “believed” in God, but never had I really witnessed her show the “fruits of the Spirit” either. I let that lay while Phil continued.
“And another thing Mark, because I want you to be very clear on this… If I ever hear anything about you hurting Paige, you’re going to have to answer to me. Do you understand me? Maggie is one thing, but Paige is a child.”
I just sat there slightly confused, but out of respect nodded and said, “I understand.” Phil, in disgust, walked away. As he did, Judy, with a charming Southern twang assured me, “Phil’s just a stubborn old man… you need to just let him go.” Those words just didn’t sit “right” with me. Here I am fighting for Maggie because I love her. Here I am not giving up in spite of what things seem like. And here’s this woman with a husband she supposedly loves, with a God she supposedly believes in, and she’s “given up” on this man.
I questioned Judy, “Well what do you think of all this? What do YOU think of God?”
With an aire of smugness, Judy said assuringly, “Oh, I know where I’m going when I die.”
I was taken back by her response. She seemed so sure of herself, and yet I had never witnessed her actions align with the Word of God. I chose not to probe this further, but took a different tact.
“Well if you know where you’re going Judy, and you believe in God, then you know very well what Maggie is doing goes directly against God. She is in an adulterous relationship.”
Judy responded by saying, “It’s only adultery because you won’t sign the divorce papers. Maggie deserves to be happy.”
“We had some bumps in the road Judy but we WERE happy. Maggie is MARRIED TO ME! You don’t stay with someone 13 years if you are so unhappy.”
Judy was quick to respond, “Oh yes you do… Oh yes you do stay with someone.” I recognized she was talking about her own marriage. “But Maggie is happy now and you don’t need to mess with that.”
I was in shock. Judy, who had said to both Maggie and me over the years that she was a Christian, rose to Maggie’s defense of this adulterous relationship with Blakely. Right then I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to ask the burning question, “Did you encourage Maggie to pursue this relationship?” Judy wouldn’t look at me. I asked again, “Did you encourage Maggie?”
Judy, looking down at the floor, muttered, “Maggie deserves to be happy.” In that moment I knew what had happened. All those times Maggie would argue with me… Maggie would turn to her mother. Maggie would take this poisoned advice that stemmed from Judy’s own miserable and failed marriage to Phil, and project it on me. With time, she believed she wasn’t happy, and that she deserved to be happy. And I became the focus of what she thought was making her unhappy. With it, a lot of unnecessary conflict… conflict that castrated me and caused me to doubt myself creating even more problems.
Without prompting, Judy added, “I’m not going to let you rob me any more my time with my daughter, just like you did with Paige.”
I sat back on my chair with the hair on my arms standing straight up. “What are you talking about Judy?”, I asked with cautious trepidation.
“When you went to Pennsylvania with Maggie and Paige… you took them away from me and robbed me of my time with them.” Judy added, “Back in Tallahassee when you and Maggie cut me off and wouldn’t let me have Paige, I used to park down the street and watch you working on your car hoping Paige would come out just so I could get a glimpse of her. But it’s okay now. That was a long time ago and doesn’t matter now.” Judy finished as if satisfied with her work.
I sat and stared at her and it was as if time was standing still. In this moment all the pieces had come together. It was enough to hear Judy tell me how Maggie “deserves to be happy” to determine the seed planted in Maggie. I had been hearing this for months. But to hear “You robbed me of my time…”… I was in a catatonic state. These were the exact words I had heard from Maggie for years starting when we first moved back to Florida. “You robbed me of my time with my daughter!” I always thought it was the most absurd statement Maggie would make, as I was told this even when I was making a lot of money and she was only working 4-days a week. It was in this moment I realized Judy’s role she was playing. I owned up to my part and my neglect. But I also always showered Maggie with a lot of love. This was something more.
I realized spending any more time there was futile. Phil had left the room and was watching television, and Judy had said enough. I thanked them for their time, and got in my car to drive six hours back to Orlando.
Six hours is a lot of time to think about things, and my mind was trying to digest all that I had heard. I thought about how I was prompted by God to go to Apalachicola for what was perhaps the only thing that would have motivated me… sharing God’s Word. What I left with I was not expecting. I thought about how I had never seen anyone’s heart as hard as Phil’s. I thought about how he could even consider I would touch Paige. And then I wondered if Maggie, in her attempt to discredit me, lied to them and possibly everyone else, that I beat her. My thoughts drifted to Judy. I remembered Judy in our car back in Arizona after our wedding, telling me how I was her “new favorite son-in-law”. I thought about Maggie telling me a year prior to this visit how Judy “didn’t like me and all she said was a lie”. And then I wondered just how sick are you that you would park down the street stalking someone just to get a glimpse of your grand-daughter that was originally sheltered from her grandparents because of THEIR behavior. Judy had harbored this contempt for me for over a decade. How evil do you have to be to hold onto resentment like that. And then I thought about the prophetic words I had spoken so long ago as Maggie, Paige, and I were driving to New Jersey. In our exodus from Tallahassee, I had said to Maggie, “If Judy ever gets between us again, she will destroy us.”
I was angry… angry at myself for letting my guard down. Angry at being blind to Judy’s deception. Angry at Maggie for failing to leave her father and mother and cleave to me… her husband. But now I knew what I was up against. This had become an all-out spiritual battle.