Shortly after the new year I drove back to Pennsylvania for a month for some minor repairs on the house as well as retrieve the last of our “stuff” with the moving truck. I left Maggie and Paige back in Florida to begin some semblance of “normalcy” acclimating to the Florida lifestyle. I think Maggie was just happy to not be freezing.
During the year after my grandmother died, my own mother Sue started acting out of the norm. I think the only way I can describe it would be a “restless spirit”. Years prior to this she went back to college to finish a degree in Fine Arts. But she couldn’t find a job. After my grandmother died she started making trips out to California to visit a friend. I remember asking my step-father Al one day what was going on. He said he didn’t know but that my mother was losing it. I remember that summer of 2003 having lunch with my mother and Maggie. Sue had just come from the doctor for a checkup. She was freaking out complaining about all the diet Coke she had drank for years and how due to the Coke the beginning stages of Osteoperosis were found. I later learned that when Maggie and I went to Las Vegas she didn’t want to take care of Paige because she didn’t want to be a “grandma”. This was her mid-life crisis.
January of 2004 my mother left for California. The day after she left, the sheriff delivered divorce papers. What’s worse… my youngest sister Leslie, who was 18 and a senior in High School, was the first to open the door and receive the news. When I heard about this I was disgusted! My mother had put herself in the same category as my biological father. She just took off for California. I just didn’t want to even know my mother at that point feeling that my step-father got screwed. How could she do this??? He was a good guy always providing for the family. Now he was without a wife. At least my brother and two younger sisters were around, but they were no real support. And neither was I… I was dealing with 2 houses and a move 1100 miles away.
It’s funny how people react to adversity. I was up in arms making a stink about this, while my brother and two sisters took it in stride. But it was my youngest sister Leslie that said it best, “What can I do about this? Nothing. Mom is just going to do whatever she is going to do.” They were sobering words, but it made me even more steadfast in my resolve regarding divorce.. it is NOT an option. Divorce is for the weak. Divorce is for those who give up. Divorce, in a circumstance like this, is incredibly selfish and just a blatant disregard for the covenant relationship made with God. What angered me even more was the nonchalant attitude so many people have towards divorce. “Well it happens.” I heard. Divorce is a tragedy! But it has become so mainstream and commonplace that we accept it and live with it. And the real icing on the cake was when my stepfather had a girlfriend within a couple months. I don’t know the timing of all this and if he was “cheating” on my mother. But what bothers me so much is how we can lose focus of the vows we make. I am idealist and an optimist. Reality says we give in to sin.
About a week before I was to return to Florida I received a call one morning from my stepfather Al. Al had the duty to inform me that my neighborhood friend Mark had died that morning.
I had known Mark for 25 years. He was 2-years older than me and lived three houses down. Mark was a prankster and a generally fun guy to be around. But as he grew into his late teens and early twenties he discovered alcohol. And the truth is I, along with several others in our group, discovered it as well with him. By the time I was 16 I had become so dissatisfied with the church I went to. I felt judged because I wouldn’t fit into the “cookie cutter Christian” mold. And when I finally got a job that required me to work on Sunday’s I jumped at the chance to ditch the boring hellfire sermons preached by the sitting pastor. Mark, on the other hand, had never gone to church for anything other than a wedding. Church was just one big joke.
As the years went by I grew apart from Mark and those friends. I felt there was a much bigger world out there than rural New Jersey. But I would see him every time I came to see my parents. So when I received the call that morning I was in shock. Mark was only 36-years old. And the story I was told is he walked onto the construction site (for house framing), told someone he wasn’t feeling well, sat down in a corner, and died on the spot. It was bizarre. And an autopsy revealed nothing. We still don’t know how he died to this day.
So I went to the funeral a few days later. Some funerals are somber and sorrowful. Some are joyous. The only way I can describe this funeral was shock and disbelief. Mark was young and healthy and now we were about to bury him. As I sat down for the proceedings, who happens to cross in front of me and walk to the front but old Pastor Scott from the church I grew up in. I couldn’t believe it. I can only assume he was chosen as he is one of a handful of local pastors in the small town I grew up in. I don’t remember all that was said that day, but two things stood out. The first was when asked to speak about Mark nobody said ANYTHING. No one volunteered. Too many people were just trying to absorb the fact that this guy was alive one day, and dead without explanation the next. The second thing was Pastor Scott. He didn’t know Mark. But what he did that day was appalling. “If Mark were here today he would be telling you all to repent.” he said. The way I interpreted it was, “Mark is in hell right now, but it’s not too late for all of you.” When Pastor Scott said that my jaw dropped. And then I looked at Mark’s parents and I saw his mother just shaking her head.
Attending this funeral brought me right back to my childhood. The scorn and the shame preached by pastor Scott… it’s no wonder why I left the church. But having had the experience of God speaking directly to me more than a year prior to this had me thinking there has to be more to it than fire and brimstone. I had no idea what was in store for me.
My most regrettable moment
After my time in Pennsylvania fixing the house for sale, I drove back down to Florida to try and start the new race season. By this time I had a lot of the editors telling me how their budgets were getting majorly slashed. ie: With me in Florida, they would use me less for sake of the travel expenses. Before we left for Florida I warned Maggie my income could take a major hit if we moved. She didn’t care! She was desperate to get out of the cold. And I agreed. Sure enough my fears became reality. The magazines started using me less and less, all the while my frustrations grew. We had a house in need of major repair. We had a second house in Pennsylvania I poured my heart and soul in that I had to let go of. My mother was off to California to find “happiness”. And to top it all off, my income was dropping. I was miserable!
On one of my business trips I had to go to New Orleans. I had never been there and neither had Maggie. I figured this might be a good way for just the two of us to spend time with each other. Even as I write this I just have to shake my head as this was good intensions gone wrong. The day of the trip we were running late for the airport. I was frantic as I tried to shoo Maggie out the door. We sped to the airport trying to make the flight and to save time I took a toll road. What I didn’t realize is I forgot to take cash for the tolls, so I had to run through the tolls where one would normally have a transponder to pay. I begged Maggie to call the toll authority as I was afraid of receiving a ticket. The sequence of events from here on are a little fuzzy, but one thing that is crystal clear is Maggie screaming at me at the top of her lungs. I just couldn’t take it any more. And with my hand open I lightly popped her on the back of her head saying, “Will you just shut up!” There was this eerie silence in the car and I knew what I did was completely wrong. There was no getting around what I had done. And no excuse would justify what I had done. In a meek voice I just started to apologize. Maggie laid into me telling me we were through. I didn’t know what to do.So that summer of 2004 I was scrambling. Tensions between Maggie and me were high. I was so frustrated with her that she would walk away from all that we had. I understood the cold was an issue, but the other side of that is we also still had so much fun. And when you compound all the other issues I was dealing with… well it didn’t do anything good for our relationship. We would get in arguments over the littlest things, and the truth is I was not handling it well.
Somehow on the side of the road we managed to work out what had just happened. I was so sorry and I was in tears. The pressure of everything that had built up until that moment… it’s no excuse, but it was as if everything around me was crumbling. But Maggie agreed to go with me to New Orleans still.
In all reality we had a wonderful time while there. I did my shoot, and then Maggie and I became tourists sampling the local quizine and driving into the bayou. I continued to apologize for my error. Maggie seemed to appreciate I recognized my wrong doing and appreciated how well I treated her from that moment. I never did it again.
My new hobby
Around the time all this was going on I decided to spend a little money on myself getting back into a hobby I did for a while as a kid. Remote control airplanes and helicopters. I made fast friends with the owner of a local hobby shop and dove into the hobby buying some gear and joining a local club. And with my first flight I was hooked! It was relatively cheap, and the joy it brought me was immense. Maggie and Paige didn’t mind too much as they saw I was happy. Of course, I probably had too much of my gear laying around the house at one time or another. But I remember crashing one of my planes one day. I wasn’t upset about it, but I came home with a smashed wreck and told them the story of what had happened… in my version a tree reached out and grabbed the plane. But our daughter Paige thought it was the funniest thing that I smashed up this plane. I thought it was funny too. And this became an ongoing joke every weekend. I would come home from a morning of flying and Paige would ask me if the plane crashed. She would look so disappointed when I told her “no”.
That summer of 2004 I was feeling my days with the magazines could be numbered. While I was still working, the vigorous pace I was used to was dwindling. Now within this hobby there is a style of flying called 3-d. It’s a set of maneuvers where you get your airplane or helicopter to do some wild things. This type of flying thrilled me, but there was no place to learn how to do it. I scoured the internet for videos and forums. I checked out DVDs… nothing could teach me.
During one of my trips to New Jersey that were few and far between, I stopped at a local hobby shop close to where I used to live in Bethlehem. I started asking people about learning to fly 3-D. One guy behind a counter told me, “There’s some kid around here that’s really good. You should go try and find him. Oh wait a minute… there he is right there.” I turned around and here was this scrawny little 16 year old freckled red-head named Chris I wouldn’t have even noticed. I approached him and struck up a conversation about 3-D flying. In short order he invited me to his local flying field to watch him fly. I was excited.
Sure enough, at the field he dazzled me with all his maneuvers taking me through a gravity defying sequence. I wanted to learn from him. And then it struck me. I cannot be alone in my pursuit of knowledge. And having my photography and video production background, I offered to produce a DVD featuring Chris. He jumped at the idea. The very next month I flew him down to Florida, and within a week of shooting I had enough footage to put together a full length DVD. My new hobby turned into a business.
It was during this time I met a guy at the flying field named Frank. Frank had just moved to Florida himself from Connecticut along with his wife Liz and two sons. Frank was a good guy, slow to give an opinion, and always willing to help if you asked. To be honest, at the beginning he didn’t strike me as someone I would know for a long time. (Sorry Frank) But the truth is he had a patience and a slow temper I admired. What also struck me was his generosity. Where I grew up in New Jersey, the people I call friends I would help them out for whatever someone needed and never expect anything in return. You need a lift to the airport… what time do you have to be there? You need me to watch your kids… Is it okay if I order pizza for them? You need me to come help roof your house… I’ll be right over. And I expect nothing in return. This is who I am and this is who Frank is. It was the start of a great friendship, not just with him, but his entire family.
Back to Church
That summer of 2004 Maggie really was pushing for our family to find a church. I believe her reasoning at the time was she wanted Paige to grow up with a good foundation. I also believe she was trying to better herself and knew going to church might help. And perhaps she believed it would help our relationship. Me… I was still reeling from the funeral and old pastor Scott who delivered such a damning message. But I wasn’t about to stop Maggie on her quest. I wasn’t about to help her either. So I told her, “You find us a church you think we can all go to and I’ll come.” I thought that was enough to placate her while I was busy my Saturday and Sunday mornings at the flying field.
Weeks went by with Maggie trying out churches. And then one Sunday afternoon she came to me… “I found a church I think you’ll like.” I dreaded this day would come, but I had to go by my word. So the following Sunday we all went to church. For me, it was the same. Old hymns to sing. Hard wood pews to sit on that delivered enough pain to keep you awake. And up front was a pastor spewing out condemnation. This is exactly what I ran away from. I was not about to run back to this. But what sealed the deal was when Maggie introduced me to the pastor. Shaking hands for me is a very big thing. I believe you can tell so much about the character of a man by his grip, but most importantly by one’s eyes. Well when I shook this man’s hand and looked him square in the face, all I saw was he was “dead”. Sure he was breathing, but I could see right through his lifeless persona. I was done here.
Driving home Maggie was so happy I went and wanted to know what I thought. “Did you like it? What did you think? Do you think we’ll go again next week?” I took a big breath and just said calmly, “I am never going to that church again! That guy has no life.” Maggie couldn’t believe it. She erupted, “What? I looked for so many weeks for a church… I worked so hard. Well FINE! YOU FIND US A CHURCH!!!” I was on the hook. There was no way I was getting out of this one.
I have no doubt all of this was God’s plan. It just so happens that the property where I flew my model airplanes was going to be the future site of the new Seminole Community Church. Week in and week out I saw the placards that lined the drive to go back to our flying field. They had a website, so I took note of it. Looking back I remember fearing how this was going to eat into the time of my new hobby. How foolish I was. So I looked up the website, and tried my best to get a feel for what they were all about. They seemed tame enough, so to Maggie’s delight, the following week we planned to attend.
I remember that first Sunday driving there giving instructions on what to do and what NOT to do. “Just say ‘hello’ if they greet you calling you ‘my brother’ or ‘sister’.” “Be friendly, but not overly friendly.” “And whatever you do, DO NOT STAND UP if they ask who is new. They will come and want all our information and then next thing you know we’ll have people calling us.” Maggie thought it was a bit extreme, but I was still dealing with a childhood impression. As we pulled into the parking lot I noticed a few empty spots with signs for “new visitors”. I passed right by them. Maggie said, “Why don’t you park back there with the new visitors?” I exclaimed, “Are you kidding??? They probably have this whole parking lot scoped out. We’ll park there and then they’ll want our information. No way!” I laugh now, but I am not exaggerating with my candor.
So we all got out of the car and headed for the entrance. We were greeted and handed a program, but I don’t think anyone even noticed us. We quietly sat down in a small auditorium with cushioned chairs. I didn’t spot any hymn books either so I knew that was a good sign. And then they started the music.. with drums and guitars no less. People seemed happy, but they weren’t dancing down the isles… another good sign. And when pastor Jerry came out and spoke, his message was real. No beating you over the head with judgmental condemnation. Just a simple sermon using a small amount of scripture anyone could use in real life. The entire service was short and we left without incident. It was that easy. On the way home Maggie asked me, “So what do you think?” To her relief I answered, “I could go there again.”
For the next several weeks we started attending regularly. And every week it was just this simple message without condemnation. In fact one could say it was truly a message of love. And then one Sunday God really struck me. That day Jerry was preaching a message so simple. It was the idea of how we compare ourselves doing good deeds to “earn” our way into heaven. And the point was “None of us are good enough! Because what your concept of “good” may not be another person’s concept of “good”. The answer is “just believe!” “Could it be that simple?” I thought to myself. Within my spirit I could sense myself wrestling with God right then and there. “If it’s that simple I can do that. But I like who I am. I don’t want to change. What about my friends? I’M HAPPY WITH WHO I AM GOD!” That time I didn’t hear that audible soft voice, but this time it was within my spirit, “I want you exactly as you are Mark.” I took pause and thought about that. And then I said in my mind, “Okay God… I believe in you and your son Jesus.” And just as simple as that my entire life changed.
It’s amazing how God started working in my life as well as Maggie’s life. There were very few arguments between us (which there generally wasn’t many to begin with) but the relationship took on a new character. We started attending church regularly and really getting involved with many of the activities. Maggie started helping with the coffee team, and I started playing in the worship team. Our daughter started going to youth. Our daughter and I also got baptized. Maggie had apparently already done so a long time ago. In short, everything had changed for us.
During this time many changes started happening within the church worship team. Just after the new year into 2005, they hired on a part time worship leader John. This was in leu of the people that volunteered. But I believe the idea was to usher in a more contemporary style of music. John and Jan were a very young newly wed couple only 30 or so at the time. Maggie and I were just a few years older. But very soon we started hanging out with them and just got to know them better. But John and Jan ultimately became a very special couple in our lives.
In the spring of 2005 I had just about given up on the magazines. I was struggling with them. But with one DVD produced, I decided to produce yet another one. This time it became even more successful than the second. I was on a roll. And with the money dwindling with these magazines I had worked for for the last 6-7 years, and enough money coming from DVD sales, I decided to take a break from shooting. But as much as things were going well with DVD sales, the house was becoming an even bigger project than anticipated. And we were living in it all! The truth is, I was burned out. I had worked so hard on the Pennsylvania house that my motivation was petering out to do the major construction we needed. It became the “money pit”.
Maggie and Cars
I have to talk about this, because looking back this is funny, but also gives a little better window to the dynamic of the relationship as well as our (Maggie and my) character. Maggie always seemed to have issues with cars. I mean it was never ending in that all too often something would go wrong. Sometimes it was her fault, and others… well things just happened. And a lot of those times I was the one fixing the situation, so it became this ongoing joke. But I got to a point when I was on the road where if Maggie called me, I was anticipating something had gone wrong while I was gone.
While in Tallahassee, she has a Honda Accord her parents gave to her. One day she called me while I was on the road telling me someone rear ended her. Instead of just getting the back fixed, I suggested taking the insurance money and allowing me to paint the entire car. So I painted the entire car, and then a month later she totaled the car slamming into the back of another driver. To her defense, the roads had a slurry of dirt and rainwater. But the freshly painted car was toast.
While on one of my trips to New Jersey Maggie gave me some of her cash saved and allowed me to purchase a car for her. It was a very nice Nissan Maxima. About six months later one early morning I got woken up to Maggie in tears. She had run a red light while turning to attend to Paige and got t-boned by another car. I remember arriving on the scene and immediately picking up a bawling Paige. The one saving grace to the entire accident was the truck that hit her hit square between the front and rear doors striking the pillar connected to the roof. There were no injuries. Amazingly though, the insurance company FIXED the car instead of totaling it. Truth is they should have totaled it. Eventually the exhaust developed a crack due to the accident and the car was loud.
After we moved in with my grandmother in New Jersey I finally had the time to fix this. Unfortunately it required me to pull the entire engine out. But with the new welder I had just purchased, I fixed all that needed to be fixed and put the motor back in. That was of course until I got a call from Maggie about a month later telling me the car overheated. Sifting through the details I realized she saw the temp gauge was pegged in the red, so instead of pulling over immediately, she tried to make it to the next exit off the highway where eventually the engine seized altogether. I wasn’t about to do any more work on that car, so I paid a junk yard $600 to slap in another engine.
This worked for a while, but ultimately we gave the car to a pastor that really needed transportation. It was also around this time I purchased my grandmother’s Honda Accord from her. I didn’t exactly “give” Maggie the car, but it became a family car that both of us drove as I had a Toyota that was my main car. And this worked for a while…. but I remember after we came back down to Florida, Maggie took a trip to New York City leaving the car at the airport. I don’t recall all the details, but all I knew was the antennae was broken and marks on the paint where the security gate had slammed down on the car. The car was falling apart. What was the kiss of death for that car was when Maggie came to me one day telling me the transmission was acting “funny”. Sure enough, it was not shifting properly. I had had it! I was sick of working on cars and fixing issues. They weren’t all Maggie’s fault, but too many things just happened.
So we finally bit the bullet in the late summer/fall of 2005 and bought a brand new car off the lot. We also put PLENTY of insurance on it. I don’t know if it was the best move financially, but at the time my DVD sales were doing well, Maggie was doing well with her job, and a new car removed “car issues” from my plate of issues I was dealing with at the time… the main of which was “house issues”.
Shortly after we bought that car, hurricane Katrina ripped through the lower Louisiana/Mississippi area. In truth the area was descimated. Our church joined with many other churches in the Central Florida area putting together crews of people to help in any way possible. Maggie, being a nurse, could help in many different ways. And I wanted to help too. Pastor Jerry had asked me to grab my video gear with the idea of putting together something together for all those in the Central Florida region. In a way, a sort of “feel good” piece. I jumped at the idea.
So Maggie and I committed ourselves to helping for 2 weeks during October of 2005. We teamed with a local church in the Mississippi region that set up make-shift lodging. Another church came in with a portable shower facility on wheels. And all our food came from donations. Let me tell you… it was like a war zone. I had never (and still have never) seen anything like it. We figured out quickly that it wasn’t the wind that did the damage, but rather the ocean storm surge. For those unaware of how a hurricane works, typically ahead of the path of a hurricane, winds push the water ahead of itself. This would be much like if you were in a pool and you took your flat hand to splash someone. Think that, ut on a much greater and more powerful scale. We were about 1/2 mile from the shoreline working in a neighborhood that would be considered your typical average middle class. Every house was demolished.
Somehow the crew from our church got connected with this one family. The story they told was incredible. This area was known to be on higher ground, so all the family members from the area congregated to this one house. But “higher ground” wasn’t saving anything. The waters from the ocean had pushed in the 1/2 mile and were rising quickly. In an effort to save themselves, all the family members retreated to the attic. But after they went to the attic, the waters continued to rise. I can’t remember what they said they were thinking, but in the attic they were in waist high water contemplating if they should bust through the roof and take on the high winds instead of the rising waters. Fortunately the waters never got any higher and they rode the rest of the storm out.
When they came down from the attic they realized that nothing was saved. But what was worse, anything that was left had to come out of the house. When we got there the owners father was digging with a shovel and wheelbarrow everything that was inside. He cried and was so grateful to get the help.
This trip was so good for Maggie and me. It allowed us to really reach out to others first of all. Granted, this is a selfish reason. But more-so, there’s something amazing that happens when you go help someone in need. And all we wanted to do was go and spread God’s love. The second thing it did was allow us to get to know all our church-mates on a much different level. We bonded as a church and really got to know these people on an intimate level. And in going I realized something so important… church is people! It’s not the building. It’s not the pastor. It’s the community. THIS is what God wants… people helping others for the sake of love for each other and love for God.
Maggie and I drove home from Mississippi on such a high. We were fulfilled and thrilled we were able to help so many people. I remember driving into the night with just a little smile on my face. And then it struck me… I’m going to marry Maggie.
Am I really doing this?
The entire time we were in what we considered a committed relationship, but we were not married. We might as well have been though. We were already on our second house we owned together. This was greatly due to Maggie. Early in our relationship (within the first two years) I “hinted” around the marriage topic. I remember this one time I did and Maggie gave me this look where I realized I should never bring this up again if I wanted to stay with her. The way she talked about her “X”, you would think he was a serial killer. She would go on about how he abused her and would never work. Apparently Maggie had 3 jobs at one time. Marriage was the LAST thing she wanted to hear so I never pushed it with her.
But as we got more involved with church, it was the Holy Spirit that was starting to really put pressure on me to make things “right” between Maggie and God. Hats off to the folks at our church for not condemning us for our co-habitation. I remember even speaking to one of the pastors about this. His explanation was that the church really tried to take an approach of “love” rather than the approach of “condemnation”. THANK YOU GOD FOR PUTTING ME IN THIS CHURCH!!! That really was no accident that God would lead me here, because if it was anywhere else, I likely would have left.
But coming home from Mississippi I was fairly certain that God wanted Maggie and me to marry. However, my biggest issue was going to be when could we get engaged and how to get the money to purchase a ring. While I was making money selling DVDs online, I still had a lot of bills. So how on earth was I going to pull myself out of the hole AND buy a really nice ring? As I write this I think “silly me”… I recognize now how God gives us everything. But I prayed at the time something really simple and put it all on Him. I said, “God… if you want Maggie and me to get married YOU are the one that is going to have to provide the funds for that.” I was off the hook. If God wanted us to get married, He was going to have to provide.
Right around Christmas 2005, or shortly after, all these very larger orders for DVDs came in. Not just a few here and there, but rather hundreds were sold at a time. I was floored. And going into 2006 I looked at the balance that was in my bank account. Not only was there enough to pay the bills I owed, there was an abundance to cover the cost of a nice engagement ring. God provided.
The next question was when. Maggie provided an answer. January of 2006 she came to me wanting to go on a family vacation. After much discussion, we decided to go to Puerto Rico. Neither of us had been there, and it seemed remote enough for us to have a good time. We booked our tickets for February of 2006. Next thing I did was going “ring shopping”. I remember going to the store finding a beautiful ring and wanting to shop around. The owner was helping me, but in a way challenged me asking if my hesitation was in the thought of getting married. I do like to shop around and compare prices, but his comment made me think, “I left it to God to provide and He came through.” Right then I pulled out my credit card.
Our trip got off to a bit of a rocky start they day we flew out. Maggie had worked a night shift and then we pretty much got on a plane late morning. I had everything arranged with suitcases and with Paige and school. On the plane Maggie tried to sleep as much she could, but as with most people… planes are uncomfortable to sleep on.
Once in SanJuan, PR we still had another 50 mile drive to get to the south side of the island. And what should have taken an hour took 3 between the massive traffic to get out of SanJuan, to the fact that I can’t speak Spanish and I got a little lost as the sun had set. Oh don’t worry… by the end of the trip I knew how to say my favorite thing.. Cafe con leche. (Coffee with milk) But we got to the hotel in Ponce and pretty much crashed.
When we have taken trips in the past we love to explore as a family, and this trip was no different. We would pretty much pick a spot on a map the night before and just drive to it and explore the area. And we would do this every day sometimes driving 3 hours in one direction. We went hiking, lounging on the beach and even made great use of the snorkel gear I had bought for everyone. One of the highlights was a half day snorkel trip to a coral reef. We were like little kids just playing with each other. For our family though, this was normal. It was always the three of us, Me, Maggie, and Paige and we always did everything together.
The day I decided to ask Maggie to marry me was in the middle of the 6-day trip. We visited some caves that morning, taking lots of pictures ofcourse. And then we continued to the Western side of Puerto Rico. It was later in the day and I happened to find a beach where there was no one to be seen. It was just the three of us. We played in the water with each other for a while just laughing and having fun. And then Maggie and I laid down on some towels we had brought with us. We were just laying there talking small talk when Maggie brought it up. “What do you think about us finally getting married?” I was in shock! Here it is this woman I loved, but was so scorned from marriage ASKING ME what I thought. I tried to play it so cool. “What? Are you serious? I thought you didn’t want to go down that road.” Maggie responded, “Yeah… well it would be good for us and for Paige. I don’t know. Nevermind.” She tried to cover her trail. I just sat there with a straight face.. as much as I could at least. But I was grinning on the inside. I let another minute or two pass and then I turned to Maggie. “Are you serious about getting married?” She responded, “Yes.” I then told her, “Well if I’m going to do this right you’re going to have to stand up.” “What?!? What are you doing?” I said, “Stand up Maggie.” And right then and there I asked Maggie to marry me. She was in shock. But we huggged and kissed and brought Paige in and hugged her and kissed her as well.
The rest of the trip was more of the same with hiking and snorkeling and just general exploring, but it was as if everything was a new and fresh experience of joy. We were in love with each other and I felt marriage was just the next step. By this time we were together for seven years. It was about time. And I still thank God for this.
After coming back from Puerto Rico Maggie and I put the plans into high gear. We wanted something really unique and special, but also very intimate. Only our very close friends and family were invited. We had been to Key West a few times and kicked around the idea of chartering a boat for a sunset wedding. It was a very appealing idea. But I suggested something absolutely over the top. The Grand Canyon. I had been there a few times myself and had always told Maggie about it. If you’ve never been there all I can say is you have to go… there is nothing like it. We were determined! What really made it challenging is we decided to set the date in only 3-months. I know that sounds crazy, but we figured it was a small wedding so it’s not like we planned for 100+ people. It was more like 30.
This is where Maggie can shine. She is a very organized person, whereas I am not. At least in certain areas. Maggie started making phone calls and making decisions and just started planning. And I helped where I could too. With my graphic design/photography background I designed all the invitations as well as put together all the media to entertain our guests at the reception. But I trusted Maggie to make all the right decisions. I would joke with her that I thought she found her calling. She would roll her eyes. But she even found hotel rooms for everyone at special rates just outside the Canyon entrance.
June 6th 2006 we flew out to Phoenix Arizona. In our group was Maggie, Paige, Maggie’s mother Judy, our German friend Uwe (pronounced Ooo-vay), and his two daughters Danja and Yanna. We rented a 15-person passenger van for the week we would be in Arizona. At first I wasn’t too keen on having the whole party with us on what would be our honeymoon, but by the end of the trip I wouldn’t have had it any other way. But you might notice one person was NOT with our group… Maggie’s father Phil. I recall it coming up several times throughout the trip that he wasn’t there. Judy kept saying to Maggie, “You know how your dad is about flying.” We all knew it was a lie. We could have had the wedding in his back yard and he might have peeked out the window to see if we were done. It was very clear that the rift I supposedly created was still there. But that’s Phil… stubborn and selfish and set in his ways without any regard for those he hurts. Maggie kept a lot of it in, but Phil not being at the wedding devastated her.
We slowly made our way to Flagstaff to spend the night. From Flagstaff we drove the 80-miles to the Canyon to scope it out. Now when most people go get married at the Grand Canyon they do it very close to the El Tovar Hotel which is the main hotel on the South rim. The problem with this is sight seers are EVERYWHERE and anyone could have stopped and watched. Maggie and I had zero interest in this. But somehow Maggie had found a very private area that was Indian property, and for a small fee we could rent it for the day. This was perfect. It was 5 miles from the El Tovar hotel where we were having the reception, and no one was to be seen. What we saw was a 100 yard long, 20 yard wide spire of land that jutted out into the canyon. And on both sides of this spire… well it was a LONG way down! I still have seen nothing like it. It was perfect. Maggie and I decided we would have the ceremony right at the end with Pastor Jerry performing the ceremony.
The following morning was the day of the wedding. Early morning a torrential rain storm swept in with so much hail I ventured into the parking lot afterwards and made “hail-balls” with my friend Ted that flew from New Jersey. We kept our eye on the surrounding storms, but kept the 1PM time with some option available. I just prayed and by noon we had a clearing with sun and patchy skies. The wedding was on.
As a joke, I bought 30 kazoos to give to all our guests. And since we didn’t have any wedding music, I thought it was a better idea to have our guests usher Maggie in with their off-tune rendition of your typical wedding procession. But Maggie walked to the end of the mesa we were standing and joined me with pastor Jerry and our daughter Paige. Maggie was beautiful. And there we stood before our closest friends, and God.
After Jerry did his duty, we took pictures and hung out on this perfect mesa. Way in the distance a small storm cloud was rolling in prompting us to continue to the El Tovar hotel for the reception. I wanted to sit with Maggie and just enjoy her company. Just as we were about to leave we snapped a few pictures of the two of us. Way in the distance there were two rainbows. Some could say it was coincidence, but I would like to believe it was just God’s seal of approval.
After the wedding and the reception half of the wedding guests followed us to Las Vegas. We stayed there for a few nights catching some shows, going out to dinner, and just having a great time with some great people. From Vegas our van of 7 people (and friends Frank and Liz) ventured off to Sedona to do some hiking and exploring. And then from there it was back to Phoenix where we caught a flight back to Florida. The whole trip was amazing and memorable. But most importantly.. God worked wonders in both of us to make our relationship right in the Lord.
So here we are at the middle of our story. To summarize… Maggie and I are finally married and we are so in-love with each other. We’re back in church and things are doing well and we are growing in the church. Paige is in school and doing okay… she never fit in with a lot of kids, but her grades are hanging in there. The relationship with my mother Sue is still stressed. While I did invite her to the wedding, I was still angry with her how she had broken up the family. The rift between Maggie and her parents “seem” okay, but Maggie has been deeply wounded by her father who never showed to the wedding. I tried consoling Maggie to the point where I got annoying so I backed off. Maggie put on a convincing front. DVD sales were doing so-so by the summer of 2006, but I had another DVD lined up. But the real nagging issue that summer was the house. I had spent the last 2-years trying to fix so much and it was over whelming. I ripped up floors, took down walls, fixed anything the broke… but I was running out of motivation and money to fix things. It was overwhelming and I just wanted out!
I look back now and see things much clearer. And what I see is a systematic breakdown of our family. It was so subtle, but it was like one little thing after another (with a few biggie issues). Even as I write this I can’t help but thinking… Satan wants to kill and destroy everyone. I’ve said that so many times never realizing the depth of that statement. But it is most of humanity Satan will take down with him. The stakes are real and the consequences are everlasting. And so I fight for my wife!
The rest of 2006…
Right after Maggie and I got back from Arizona, our church was taking about 200 kids into Western North Carolina for a camp retreat. There they would play games, go white water rafting, rappelling, and do Bible study. A big part of that was the camp band which I was an integral part of. Worship leader John and wife Jan were also there with their newborn son Joseph. It was a week of literally “playing” with the kids. And since I am a big kid at heart I managed to slip right in.
After North Carolina I managed to score a huge job shooting aerial shots of all the Disney golf courses from a remote control helicopter. I was tickled to see yet another job come through with what started out as a hobby. Maggie and I were in a good place. In truth, not much changed between the two of us. We went out to dinner a lot with Frank and Liz. We went to church regularly and was very involved in groups and functions. Things were pretty simple.
By the end of the summer of 2006 I was gearing up to shoot my third DVD. I was literally 2-weeks from hitting the road and going into production. And then I heard someone in passing, “Hey… did you hear about the new video coming out?” I was in shock! It was the same exact concept I was going to shoot, but what really sent me over the top was one of the people that was supposed to be in the video was in this one. Now I don’t know for certain if the idea was stolen. I have no proof. But this situation was a huge set-back, especially considering the expanse of the equipment I purchased just to shoot this. I could have tried to move forward as well, but I felt people would have seen me as a “copy-cat” trying to ride on someone’s coat tails. I immediately pulled the plug on production.
At that same time two things were echoing in the distance that I was concerned about. Now, I am not trying to come across like an economic guru, because I am not. But being invested in stocks still with my inheritance, I always kept my ear to the ground regarding market trends. And the one thing I kept seeing little news blips about was the sustainability of the real estate market. And at this point we had a huge burden on our hands with a house in disrepair and a 2nd mortgage. We needed to get out from under this elephant.
At the time it seemed our new neighbor might provide a solution. This guy came in with money. Not just some money, but a lot of money. Before they moved in I watched about $100,000 get put into that house. In passing, I told him how I would love to sell my house but was still working on it. At that point the conversation quickly turned to, “I’ll buy your house in whatever condition it’s in.” Oh did my ears perk up! I was thinking let’s take the money and run. I had already sunk a huge amount of money into this pit of a house, and it was going to take even more to finish it. And now with my next DVD at the crash and burn stage, I would have done just about anything to get out and lower our monthly bills.
Maggie and I started looking for houses at that point, and we actually found one only a half mile away. It was smaller with less property, but the most important thing about it was it needed nothing. Maggie could see how desperate I was to get out from under this house. It was a constant sticking point for us. But it was still all contingent on selling what we had. We squabbled in price with our neighbor a little, and in the end came close to an agreement but nothing solid. The new house we looked at… we knew it was going to slip through our hands if we didn’t jump on it. In fact it DID slip through our hands as the owner sold it to another buyer. But Maggie told me two weeks later she had a dream we would get the house. Another 2-weeks after that I had the seller Ed, coming back to us asking if we still wanted the house.
Now here’s where I have to take pause and explain what was going on in our thinking. We needed out from under a massive amount of recurring monthly debt. Maggie and I both had school loans, we had car and house payments, and we had a very sick house where the only cure was going to be more money… money which was diminishing because my last DVD was already a year old and there wasn’t a new one coming. Here was an opportunity that made sense. If we got into this smaller house we get out from under the money pit. Our monthly payments would have dropped significantly with the smaller mortgage. And what was really attractive was with the difference in price between our old house and our new house, there was enough to put down more than 20% for the mortgage, PLUS PAY OFF ALL OUR EXISTING DEBT! The question was, “How do we pull this off?” Looking back now, we made a deal with the devil. Maggie and I went to her parents asking if they would give us a temporary loan to buy the second house. It looked like a safe bet at the time because the difference between the two homes was so great that even if we had to come down in price on “The Pit”, we would still be okay. And the owner of the new house owned the house outright and was willing to just take a down payment and self finance for a year. All I can say is we had good intentions.
A New House and Some Old Headaches
Right after the new year we made the deal with Ed, the owner of the new house we were buying. He agreed to “self-finance” for up to a year, and then Maggie and I would have to have a bank mortgage the house. With the sale of our old house we felt there would be enough money to pay off Maggie’s parents, pay off Ed, pay off all our student loans, and put 20% or more down with any bank to get a mortgage. That’s how huge of a difference there was in price between the two houses. And that difference was the only reason I believed the risk made sense. We could have dropped the price significantly and still come out breaking even.
During this same time, negotiations with our neighbor broke down. We were also seeing something “funny” going on. In the end we believed he was trying to “tie up” our house with a contract with the intention of brokering the house. Or buying the house for himself contingent on selling the house he had just moved into. It was a strange situation, but either way there was no money and no deal.
Maggie and I were THRILLED to be out of that old house. It was a nightmare! Over the years as I had worked on the house I realized how this was like a rotting onion that got worse as you peeled back the layers. Every time I would start a new project I thought would be easy, it always turned into something major. I ripped out the wood paneling in the garage replacing with sheet rock walls. Well that project led to relocating the hot water heater into the laundry room. But to do that I had to jack up the concrete floor to run new copper piping. After I ran the new copper piping and started building out a closet for the new hot water heater. In doing that I realized that not a single wall was plumb or square. So I had to make calculated compromises for it to at least appear that the walls weren’t crooked, or that the tile floor lined up square. When I ripped out the water jet bathtub that didn’t work and intended on replacing with a walk-in shower, I had to replace a bunch of beams damaged from termites. And during that project I learned that entire corner of the house had been previously replaced from termite damage… a detail the previous owners failed to disclose. It was never ending and these are just the highlights. So when I say we were glad to leave, I am not exaggerating.
Time Continues… Little Changes…
In the About Me section I spoke a bit about my biological father Mark Sr. My memory of him was that of a very flawed person that God seemed to use from time to time. (We all are) But Mark Sr. was especially broken in that he never could take the blame for anything. In my childhood I would hear grandiose stories that somehow circled and pointed the finger at anyone but himself. For example, when I finally told him off when I was 18. I got so frustrated with him. I explained myself so clearly and thoroughly why I didn’t want a relati0nship with him (at that moment) and he could not accept his part in the situation. Instead he called my mother thinking I was on drugs. And because he couldn’t accept any responsibility for his part, it was another 20-years before I would have contact with him again.
It was during this time with purchasing the house I was contacted by Mark’s wife Valerie through Facebook. I didn’t know if it was real or what he wanted, so I proceeded with a great deal of caution. It was during this time I learned about all my half siblings I had through all my father’s “flings”. To be honest, I was disgusted and angry. I knew of 3 of them as I knew of the marriage before my mother and the one marriage during the time in the childhood I knew him. But I had no idea of the rest.
It was a strange situation with my correspondence with Valerie though. She contacted me out of the blue. Told me my older two siblings wanted to get to know me. And then when I showed caution and gave Valerie a little bit of the background of why I broke contact with Mark sr., she turned it around and started lashing out on me through email and then told me my siblings didn’t want to speak with me either. It was such a strange situation. Now my thought at the time was I wondered if Mark Sr. was starting to reflect back on his years and realized he made some mistakes. If he could have owned up to some of the things he had done, I would have humored starting up a relationship with him. Instead what I got was his wife defending him to the death.
In the middle of all this I was able to contact my older sister for the first time ever. We immediately struck up a relationship as we both wanted to get to know each other. And in doing so we started comparing notes about our very flawed father, as well as how Valerie flat out lied to me. All of this caused me to press further into the truth of the matter to find out why this estranged family is the way it is. While I could write an entire book on this incredibly flawed family, I have to summarize it down to this. The sins of the people of this family have been passed on down, and I was the lucky one. My mother divorcing him and raising me on her own with the aid of my grandparents… I believe that was divine intervention. If I was a part of that family I would not be who I am today. What’s important to understand is my father’s mother (who is still alive and in her 80’s) still feels so much guilt to this day for things that happened 50-years ago, that she STILL coddles her eldest son… my father. He can do no wrong! And THAT is why he cannot take any responsibility to this day. She placates him and runs to his rescue… STILL! And 80yr old woman defending a 60yr old man. I feel sorry for them.
In the mix of all this, I received a scathing email from Mark Sr. defending his actions placing blame on my mother for so many things. Mind you, this is 38 years after they divorced. But what came out of this exchange was a story so crazy I had to pursue to get the facts. He told me, “I tried to protect you for all these years from your crazy mother. Did you know that when you were an infant your mother tried to kill you? She took you as a baby and threw you up against a wall not just once, but twice.” I didn’t see how he was “protecting” me all these years, especially considering he was removed from my life. But as for these allegations, I had to go get the other side of the story.
I forwarded this email to my mother thinking this was an exaggeration. Surely this was bending the truth in a cheap attempt to gain my respect. I received a phone call shortly after from my mother. She started, “Mark… there was never a good time to tell you this story.” My jaw dropped! And then my mother went on to tell me the sordid truth. It was 100% true that my mother had tried to kill me by throwing me up against a wall several times. But that was a very small piece of the puzzle. It turns out my father went to great efforts to isolate my mother in a very rural part of Maine, even from his own family. He was trying to juggle an x-wife with 2 children that was after him for child support. He also didn’t want my mother knowing anything more about his comings and goings, so this was a form of control. My mother watched two cars get repossessed. He couldn’t maintain a job. And she found out he was cheating on her. So imagine a 21-year old “girl” with a newborn, isolated in nowhere Maine, with a philandering husband. My mother snapped. She was committed to a hospital for observation. But when my grandmother (my mother’s mother) found out what was going on, she turned into the rescuer. She drove from New Jersey to Maine, checked me and my mother out of the hospital, and ran for the hills. Immediately after, my father was served with divorce papers.
As crazy as all this is, sorting out these details did one very important thing. It bridged the gap between my mother and me. I had an impulse to defend her and took compassion on another very flawed individual. I still didn’t agree for what she did to my step-father Al, but seeing her in this light gave me a glimpse into what she dealt with growing up and trying to understand her even now. And as for my father… while there are gaps in my life as to what a “man” and a “husband” should be, I’ve come to the conclusion furthering any relationship with him would do me no good. That was his own doing.
With no deal on the table for our old house, I started fixing a lot of the little issues hoping to put it on the market. With us not living in it, things were much easier as I didn’t have to tip toe and segment what I was fixing. (Basically the ENTIRE house became a construction zone now) But in May of 2007 my neighbor that was interested in our old house approached me with a contract to buy. It wasn’t all I was hoping for, but I had to jump at this as we were seeing a stagnant real estate market.
This tied up the house for 30-days. I remember being at that summer camp in the N. Carolina mountains with our church again in June of 2007 calling our neighbor wondering what was happening with the sale. When I got back I realized our neighbor could not get the financing necessary for the purchase. This set me into major action as we needed this house gone. Thankfully, my mother gave Maggie and me $15,000 to finish the repairs on the house so we could sell it. I guess this was a peace offering in her mind, but to tell you the truth, between this money, the stunt my biological father pulled, and time, the relationship with my mother was healing. With that money I hired someone to help thrash on this house. And thrash we did. Walls were fixed and painted. New AC units were installed. New doors replaced old crooked ones. Wood flooring was refinished. A bathroom was completely gutted and fixed. And finally new carpets throughout the house. I had never seen this house look so good! In fact Maggie’s parents came into town and they observed all the work I had done. Phil commented, “Oh you’ll sell this house!”
The same week of 2007 that we put the house back on the market was the same week the entire housing market crashed. I had never seen anything like it. People were panicking! And not just ordinary people.. major heads of state, owners of banks, lawyers, IMPORTANT PEOPLE!!! In three months the difference in price between our old house and our new house completely vanished. We had no more margin. In fact it was getting worse because the projected value of our old house dropped below the value of the agreed price of the house we had purchased. I didn’t know what to do at that point. We hoped and prayed. Nothing! And there we were sitting with two houses and a deadline looming for when Ed (the old owner of the new house that agreed to finance us for a year) was going to be asking for the balance of the house contract. We were stuck.
Paying the Piper
2007 came and went for us. We grew in the church all this time, especially getting closer to John and Jan, our worship team leader and wife. In fact Maggie and I found great kinship with them. But they were also aware of our dilemma. By the end of 2007 I couldn’t even GIVE our old house away despite all the remodeling. The value just kept plummeting. We did get one offer, but it was below what we owed on the mortgage. Things were not looking good. Ultimately I had to come back to the old owner Ed and telling him honestly our situation. Our thinking was it was going to hurt to take the loss and just pay Maggie’s parents back as well as give the house back to Ed. But that was just the beginning. It seems that in the state of Florida in a situation such as this, Ed would be entitled to recoup the house and any DIFFERENCE in monies agreed upon. For example, if we agreed to buy the house for 300k and when he took the house back and sold it for 200k, Maggie and I would be responsible to pay him the remaining 100k. And that’s exactly what Ed did. He sued us. We were flat broke struggling with what to do.
The first thing we did immediately was refinance the old house. We did this to lower our monthly bills, give us some relief, and protect us from what was potentially coming. But to do this we had to borrow MORE money from Maggie’s parents. We knew there was a possibility we would have to file bankruptcy making any thought of refinancing impossible. By spring of 2008 I had already contacted a lawyer to at least find out what our options were. It seemed we were going to at least be able to keep our old house.
The hardest thing about bankruptcy is getting over the idea of “bankruptcy”. Maggie and I always kept up with our bills rarely making a late payment. So the thought of NOT paying bills and having this huge black mark on you was, at least for me, a huge hurdle. But in the course of all this a huge wall was going to prevent us from filing bankruptcy. This is yet another one of my not so proudest moments, but I still had to file taxes for a few years with the business. This was a huge irresponsibility on my part. My only excuse is with all the moving and construction and trying to stay afloat, filing became something I would “get around to” that never came. When you are an employee you get your w-2 at the end of the year. And with things like Fast Fax and all those computer tax filing programs, things are pretty easy. I made it complicated having a business, using an accountant, having write offs. It’s no excuse, and please don’t think I am trying to make one for myself here. But if you, the reader, have always worked for someone, the government makes it fairly easy to file.
By summer of 2008 I was losing it. Every time you would turn on the television it looked as if the world was going to end. I had Maggie pressuring me. She tried to be supportive, but we found ourselves bickering from the stress. And by summer/fall of 2008, even though we had refinanced the old house it was looking like we could lose this one as well. Our daughter Paige seemed to be having difficulties in school with the kids there. She was never one to go along with the crowd, so she found herself just not fitting in. And to add one more lump of pressure into the mix. During that summer, Maggie had an emergency gall bladder removal. So there we were juggling so so much. We were getting sued. Both our incomes were hurting. Our daughter was hurting. We were losing everything, and it looked like the country was collapsing. So what do you do when all these problems keep coming? MOVE TO AUSTRALIA!
Yes.. I did say move to Australia. Years prior to this all happening Maggie and I actually had tossed around the idea of moving to Australia. Maggie and I always had a passion to travel and explore new places.. a trait that Paige has picked up now as well. And within 2-years of moving back to Florida we tossed around the idea, but it never came to fruition. It was kind of one of those dreams couples say like, “Wouldn’t it be great if…”, but perhaps with a little more possibility than most. Well when it appears you are going to lose pretty much everything, Australia started looking very attractive. And in a way, a lot of it made sense… I could work on the bankruptcy from overseas. With Maggie’s profession, we would have no worries getting work. We knew it would be an adjustment blending into the new culture, but we had already traveled so much we didn’t feel it was going to be much of an issue. But we also did this with the intention of it being a temporary stay. We figured maybe 2-years… at least enough to get through the bankruptcy and back on our feet. We would then assess the situation and move back to Florida, or where ever.
One thing I have been challenged on several times was whether this is what God wanted us to do. That’s a really tough call, because I still look back trying to understand all that has happened. We really felt blessed to purchase that house to get out from under the other, but I have to also question it in a major way with the end result. Isiah 55:8 says “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. Do I still feel we were led to go to Australia? Actually yes. So why would we go through all that we have? That’s a great question, but I’m getting ahead of myself here though. The fact of the matter is we felt Australia is where we needed to go.
So in fall of 2008 we started making moves to leave as soon as possible. I started selling EVERYTHING. I was making deals with the last of the DVDs I had. We sold furniture and appliances. Accessories of any kind had to go. And in truth, it was an incredibly liberating experience. For ten years we had acquired so many “things” we didn’t need. We lugged all those “things” in three truckloads from Pennsylvania. We had too much! So in getting rid of a lot of it I was starting to feel a relief and awareness of the things of this world we were holding onto so tightly. What we kept was a few pieces of furniture, clothing, and a lot of my tools purchased for all the home remodeling. We still needed more money, but that was my job. I told Maggie I would cover all our moving expenses if she just kept the household running. And we continued working towards our exodus.
Just before Christmas of 2008 we decided to break the news to Maggie’s parents about our pending move. We had no idea how they were going to react. Amazingly they said very little. However their biggest fear was they didn’t want us moving back up North. (Again.. this was a form of control as the wounds from 8-years prior weren’t even bandaged, much less healed) So I can only imagine what they were thinking when we told them we were all moving to Australia for 2-years.
Our plan was to hit the road for 10-days during the Christmas holiday to say good bye to a lot of people. Because Maggie’s workplace was such a stickler about taking time off, one of the things we had to do was schedule an elective surgery for Maggie for an issue she had wanted to take care of for years. In fact her workplace still even complained about her surgery, but Maggie didn’t care, and with good reason. She had worked at this hospital for years and never once was able to get off for Christmas.
Within a few days of the surgery we hit the road. (What a trooper!) First stop Alabama to see all Maggie’s side of the family. We had mostly mixed reactions to this large move, but overall most people were happy for us. From there we hit New Jersey and New York City to see my folks and spend Christmas morning with them. Onward to Maine to visit my newly found half sister I was keeping in touch with. And from there, upstate New York to drop in on my uncle. It was great to see all these people as we had no idea when we would see them again. All that was ahead of us was a great unknown, but that was what Maggie and I were hoping for. Something of a fresh start without the baggage of what had accumulated in the United States.
A Stop in Haiti
Early in 2009 I had an opportunity to go to Haiti through an organization (Open Door Haiti) associated with my church. I wasn’t expecting this considering we were getting ready to leave for Australia. My focus was on saving money, and I was getting very worried as I didn’t think we would reach our goal. However, someone within the church offered to pay for my trip knowing I would go down and shoot a documentary with my camera gear if given the chance. And jump at the chance I did! I love to travel and I appreciate cultures other that the USA. And now I was presented an opportunity to not only travel somewhere I had never been, I was going to use my God given talents to further the kingdom of Christ.
My thoughts at the time was that of helping an impoverished people. Reality was that I was impoverished… spiritually speaking. We, in the United States, complain about so much. Grumble about so much. Feel entitled about so much… go some place where they have nothing and are HAPPY, and your perspective on everything changes. I helped in many ways as the video I pieced together for the mission was used and I am sure God was able to use my video to draw more interest in Open Door. But what struck me about the people in this one village was their faith. In America, we go to church, sing a few songs, hear a sermon, and try and rush home to get on with our day. We can then tick the box for “church attendance”. In Haiti, they are singing at the top of their lungs in true worship. Clinging onto every word the pastor speaks. Hanging out and praying with each other until the sun sets. I had never seen anything like it. And in a way, I was embarrassed for my country… a country that was falling apart.
During one of the final days our group was taken to a hill that is known as a “Holy place”. There we had a very impromptu church service led by Open Door president Pastor Wiljean. (pronounced Will-John) It was short but to the point. But then Wiljean encouraged us to all go and pray by ourselves. And so I did. I just sat there enjoying the cool breeze trying to clear my mind. I can’t tell you how long I was sitting there on this hilltop, but just like the time I was fretting over my grandmother’s salvation, the Lord spoke to me very clearly in a small soft voice once again. It was so simple, “Mark you will have enough money.” I had to second guess myself… did I really hear that right? And just as quickly as I was questioning myself, God said something else. “You have to stop blaming Maggie for Pennsylvania.” I was in shock! I never was expecting that one. Yes, the issue of leaving Pennsylvania was a sore spot for me for many years. I was happy and successful… we had everything. So to leave there was more than difficult especially considering how everything seemed to go down hill from there. But to hear it like that… I had to take it very seriously.
Sure enough, when I got back to Florida from that trip I sat Maggie down in our bedroom to tell her all that happened. I told her how God had spoken to me, but I don’t know that she believed me. It was strange too because she was there when this happened before with my grandmother. I guess maybe she just didn’t know how to react. But I knew in my heart I was going to have to do my best to never bring it up again.
This can be a touchy subject for a lot of people, because I believe so many of us are afraid of this unknown realm. We dismiss a lot, think demons aren’t for real, or maybe something that “used to be”. I’m here to tell you that is a lie. If we go to scripture, John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” The “thief” is Satan. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” The way lions hunt is they prey on the weak. Their prey will stay in a group trying to stay together hoping to defend themselves in numbers. But you see, what a lion will hope to do is scare the group enough that one of the weak ones will split from the group… and then it is all over.
Shortly after my return from Haiti we were able to get our visas in order with Australia immigration. Maggie had a job already lined up, and I had already paid for a container to ship the rest of our goods. Things were progressing. But ALL OF US were under serious oppression and challenges. Paige seemed to have a lot of kids picking on her at school because she just didn’t fit in. I wasn’t worried about money any more, but the stress of this move was overwhelming. And Maggie was trying to keep it together at work, but there were two doctors that seemed to really have it out for her.
In late March of 2009 Maggie was assisting in surgery when one of those doctors decided to do something really dumb. A lot of you not in the medical field probably don’t realize how much “unprofessional” things happen in operating rooms. Crude jokes, improper use of medical instruments, sexual flirting… this is more common than you know. This doctor, trying to be “funny”, decided to squirt Maggie with a saline filled syringe, which just happened to hit her on a bare hand which had healing cuts. This syringe just came out of a person that had Hepatitis C.. an incredibly easy transmutable disease that passes through blood. ie: open wounds, shared drug use, sex… etc.
Maggie came home from work and told me this story. I was outraged! And then reality started to hit me… to be on the safe side, I could not have any physical contact with my wife. NOT EVEN KISSING! I was devastated and angry. What’s worse was we wouldn’t know for 3-6 months if Maggie had been infected. Test results show anywhere from 3-6 months after infection. And while treatable, there is no cure for Hepatitis C. We considered suing, but at this point we were literally 2 months away from getting on a plane and leaving. And whatever money recouped from this law suit would have been swallowed up by Ed suing us. So what did we do? We clung together as a family. We recognized that something was trying to drive a wedge between us and we held onto each other tighter. You can dismiss this and say this was circumstance, but having lived it you won’t convince me. But it was our strong desire to pull together as a family that got us through.
By the time we were ready to leave, Maggie and I had built many relationships with many people within the church. This was especially true of John and Jan. They were a couple which both Maggie and I love so very much. And that last year we were there, Maggie and I would go to their house every Sunday night for coffee and desert. Leaving them, as well as our other great friends Frank and Liz was going to be difficult. And our church.. they were all behind us, but I knew we would miss them fiercely.
A week before we were to fly out, we loaded the container with all of our things. Furniture, clothing… basically what we had left from everything I had sold off. (If you look carefully at the left picture you will also see the piece of sheetrock Maggie and Paige decorated for me when I returned from Texas after 9/11… it made it to Australia) And after paying for the plane tickets, the shipping container, the visas, the medical exams, the passports, and the ridiculous amount of money we had to pay to lawyers to finally have me adopt Paige, I had plenty of cash to make an overseas move not only possible… we had a good amount of “buffer” for incidentals. God had certainly provided!
We had no idea what lie ahead of us, but Maggie, Paige, and I were excited for this move. And we also felt very blessed for this opportunity. We were Australia bound.