One morning, I can’t remember exactly when, sometime at the beginning of March, I woke up with the word DIVORCE superimposed before my eyes. It took me a full ten minutes to make it disappear. That frightened me; I’d never had it happen before, and besides, I did not want a divorce. Yes, even though I was glad Dan was gone and determined he would stay gone until he changed, I didn’t want a divorce. It’s not that divorce was alien to my family. In my mother and her four siblings there had been seven divorces. My father, an only child, divorced my mother.
The next day before I opened my eyes, I saw the word DIVORCE standing on the inside of my head. This time I argued with the word. “Where did you come from?” I demanded impatiently. Any infirmity presents itself as a nuisance, and something corrupting the eyesight is especially annoying. “You’re coming at me from the outside in. That means you can’t be coming from God. Get out! I command you in the name of Jesus.” But it took another thirty minutes for the word to fade.
All day I chewed on that word. “God?” Did that word come from You? You know I don’t want a divorce. I want Dan, the promise of Dan, the man you created him to be. Please change him and don’t make me get a divorce!” This led into a huge debate as I don’t read the Bible that way. People have been imprisoned for centuries thinking they are stuck for life with impossible people, because it is the unforgivable sin to get a divorce. That’s simply not so. The only unforgivable sin is to deny that Jesus is the Son of God and reject Him as your personal Lord and Savior.
My kids were no help. Essentially, they both said, “Mom, do whatever is right for you.”
Finally, being hounded by heaven, I wrote Dan a letter telling him I wanted a divorce. I told him I was going to France for the month of April, and if I still felt the same when I returned, then I would file the divorce papers. The letter stayed on my desk for several days allowing me to read it and re-read it, making sure it said what I wanted to say. I preferred to send it with love and to speak with simple clarity then to include any unwanted innuendoes. I changed a word or two but finally, I could see it was settled in my spirit. And I sent it. Only then did the word “Divorce” depart from standing before my eyes.
Dan received it just before going into his private counseling session. He read it on the path to the office and threw it on his counselor’s desk. “What do you think of that!”
The counselor read it, then looked up and said, “Thank God! All your supports have been pulled out from underneath you. Now it is up to you. What are you going to do with your life?”
Dan expected sympathy and was therefore shocked. The two of them decided Dan should take a silent retreat and consider the counselor’s question. He came back with this assessment of himself: “I want to be free. I don’t want to change for Maggie, I don’t even want to change for God. I want to change for me.”
“Good!” his counselor said, “Now we can really get to work.”
Everybody on staff read the letter, and they counseled Dan not to get the divorce, that my letter had served its purpose of getting him to make a commitment, so divorce would not be necessary. Ruth talked to me. She said the only reason women divorced the men in the program is because the women had gotten tired. She was probably right. And if so, my fatigue was too deep to allow me to turn around. Besides, every time I thought of recanting, the word “DIVORCE” came and stood before my eyes.
Dan was the only one who didn’t seem to be too upset about it. Just before leaving for France, I asked him by phone, “What did you think of my letter?”
“I don’t know. Do what you want; you always have.”
I sighed, “What does that mean?”
“Well, you’ve told everybody in the world; now this will prove it.”
“Is that the only thing that you got out of the letter, that your cover would be blown?” I huffed.
His tone softened, “That’s not true. It doesn’t thrill me that now everybody will know, there won’t be any doubts left, but the important thing is that you do what you need to do. To tell the truth, your letter helped me to see that I really do want to get something out of this program. In fact, I’m sure I’ll sign up for another six months.”
I figured that was coming. It had become evident that Dan needed more than six months to assimilate the program. “That’s great! But what do you think about getting a divorce?” There! I’d said the word out-loud to him.
“Like I said, what’s important is that you do what you need to do. We can talk about that when you get back from France. I hope you have a really good time and give my love to all our friends there.”
It disappointed me he didn’t put up a little bit of a fight, but there was none. If anything, I detected his being slightly offended; no matter how I turned his words or tried to capture some hint of inflection, I found no desire for me, no suffered love. Something in me still looked for that commitment I asked him to give me lo these many years ago. Wasn’t it buried in him somewhere deep down?
The trip to France loomed before like a frightening giant. The Lord had told me I would be moving to France on July 1, and my mind resisted such an impossible thought. Didn’t He realize I was all alone? It meant I had to find a place to live, buy a car, and somehow support myself over there. So, I told the Lord, before leaving the U.S. that if this was His idea, then He must supply my needs. Before April ended, I had a place to live, a contact to locate a car, and a ministry to work for.
Once again, my friends Charles and Barbara welcomed me, and I stayed with them, ministering in their various outreaches. I preached in their church, spoke at Barbara’s Women’s Meeting, met with the women who lived in their halfway house, and prayed for them. I discussed Dan with Charles and Barbara. They assured me I always had a place with them.
Imagining myself living in the halfway house with the other women and their dimpled children, seeing myself constantly babysitting, wiping the noses of neglected kids, well, I just couldn’t find any peace about that. One of the women, while I was there, put her kids in the bathtub, left and went shopping. Fortunately, someone else found and rescued the children, but daily life consisted of things like that. I was too stressed out to accept that responsibility.
However, the Lord had spoken the words “St. Tropez” in my heart and I figured I would work with a gregarious couple living in that area named Greg and Alice. After about a week I drove to the Gulf region, tooling along in my French rental car, singing “April in Paris” revamped to use the name St. Tropez. I figured that is where I would live, so I drove right into town, skirting along the Gulf of St. Tropez, enjoying a little regatta of skiffs skimming the surface of the water, and parked in what must be the world’s most expensive parking lot.
Walking the circle of the enclosed harbor I passed the Lipton Tea Sloop, yachts registered in the Cayman Island big enough to tangle with the Atlantic Ocean, and boats ranging from ones to row, to ocean liners. The cafe-bars lining the harbor street were peopled with the rich and famous from every nation, who lazily sipped their espressos, languidly watched the workers work, and dismissed me with a glance. But this wealth impressed me not, nor intimidated me. With jutting jaw, I headed for the Catholic Church as Barbara had told me I must read the plaque about Saint Tropez.
About 11:30 a.m. I walked through the doors of the Provencal painted building, blazing mustard yellow, and found the desired plaque. After reading it, moved with compassion that this modern Sodom and Gomorrah, which St. Tropez was openly called, could have fallen from such a noble beginning. I sat on a pew and cried inwardly, “God, if this is my place, You have to speak to me and let me know!” I wanted to be the woman to meet the spiritual need and restore holiness to St. Tropez.
I am an unabashed romantic, but the voice I distinctly heard bashed my romance and said, “This is not your place. Get out now!”
Flustered, I stood and headed for the door, but then I calmed myself with reason. Hadn’t the Lord given me a vision where I discerned the map of France and saws two feet—mine—carrying the Gospel through the land? Hadn’t He given me tremendous favor with the French when I lived in this country? Hadn’t He appeared to me in an open vision and said plainly, “Maggie, I said France!”?
Granted, I am slow in obeying as that open vision occurred six years ago, but the Lord wouldn’t put St. Tropez on my heart if He didn’t mean St. Tropez. So, I stepped around a corner to read another plaque of more recent history. Satisfied that I had understood all the French, I turned to discover my solitude, being the only one in the church!
Where had everybody gone? A good dozen people had been mingling about the sanctuary when I disappeared around the corner to read the second plaque. It panicked me. I went to the exit and trying the huge wooden doors, I found them bolted with irons that could have secured the Titanic! I kicked the doors, pounded them, cried out, and then screamed. I marched to the little door that priests use behind the altar and repeated my performance there, receiving no response. What was I to do? I didn’t want to wait till five o’clock, or maybe even tomorrow, to use a restroom, for example!
Finally, my presence of mind returned. I said, “Lord, You always have a way out. Please show me my way out.” He indicated the giant, ancient doors situated prominently in the center, reserved only for the use of kings or richly clad hierarchy of the church. Blocked from public use, I pulled aside the curtain that hid them. A tiny slip bolt secured those enormous doors. I unslipped the bolt, creaked open that massive door, and stepped out into the bright Van Gogh sunlight, sighing my relief. Perhaps they would think Jesus had returned when they found the great doors open, but I didn’t care. I inhaled my freedom.
That death-defying event called for an ice cream cone, and I headed back to the harbor. After paying $4 for the tiniest little one-scoop ice cream cone that I had ever seen, I paid the impounding on my car, or so it seemed, and drove on around the Gulf. I only realized the whole area was called the Gulf of St. Tropez when I drove up to Port Grimaud, a recently created, Venice-like village lined with canals which were lined with condos. A real estate sign boasted of serving the Gulf of St. Tropez. So, this cute village could be my place!
Strutting to the sky, a big empty church stood on an island connected by a bridge to a finger of land. According to the sign posted by the door, only in July and August is the church used. The Reformed Church holds its meetings on Sunday morning and the Catholics hold theirs at night. The open door beckoned, the huge unadorned sanctuary sat empty, so I entered like an egret, craning my neck here and there to be sure it was okay. Thick stained-glass windows directed colored lights to the altar, adding all the garnish the dull concrete walls needed.
Sitting in a pew, I surprised myself by bursting into tears as the Lord exploded on my heart a full-blown vision of all that He wants for this Gulf region of St. Tropez. I saw hundreds of people approaching the altar, coming up one aisle and returning down the other. They received Salvation, Healing, Deliverance, Freedom, Peace, Love, Joy, and experienced days of heaven here on earth. I didn’t know what it would take to transform this fleshpot into a sanctuary for the Lord, but I wanted to be a part of it.
Regretting to leave the church on that balmy day in April, I had lunch, visited the other villages nearby, and I blithely drove up the mountain to see my British friends, nestled away in a little village called La Garde de la Croix, which dated back before Christ. Greg and Alice had been Christian chaplains to the people living in the region of the Gulf of Saint Tropez for four-and-a-half years. They married people, they buried people, and they baptized people. Alice directed a Sunday school in a British pub on Sunday mornings for the waifs whose parents got an early start on their drinking. Every Christmas they directed a pageant, and of all the people I knew in France, I wanted to work with these two, so I thought I ought to tell them. As I drove through the hairpin turns of the mountain road, I mentally noted I did not want to live in their village. Port Grimaud seemed more my style.
Having called to let them know I would be there late afternoon, I parked in the place in front of their house, which was the end of a row of houses, and therefore, was surrounded on three sides by street. Brown plaster placidly covered the face while blue painted shutters, framing two windows on each of the three floors, gave the appearance of eyes, except on the ground floor that eliminated one window favoring the necessity of a front door.
I parked in front of the fountain, noting several plastic jugs sitting on the circular, rock rim apparently waiting to be filled by the extremely old people standing about in clusters. They eyed me with contempt, and they looked spry enough to tackle me and do me away! A fifty-year-old sign, if not older, read “Eau Non Potable,” meaning Water Not Drinkable. Alice explained later. Riddled with springs, whose purity the residents swear by, La Garde de la Croix, recognized for the longevity of its residents, attributes their healthy nature to the water, unofficially. Plus, the residents feel like penguins in the zoo when tourist season arrives, what with everyone crowding in on them, staring, taking their precious parking places and spoiling their quiet winter.
Alice laughs the kind of laugh that lilts through the house ascending like an opera singer, punctuating the moment with joy. She calls everybody “Dahling’ and makes you feel darling as well. Greg, in a different life, might have smoked a pipe and worn a velvet smoking jacket. He exudes peace and everything being as it should be. If you present him with a problem, he directs the discussion, slips in the solution, and makes you think you found the answer all by yourself.
Cozily ensconced on their couch after a most satisfying meal, blandly sipping tea, thinking how pleasant it will be when I live in the area, too, and am working with these utterly delightful people, Alice erupted with one of her laughs. She said, “Oh, dahling, why don’t you just move in here with us? You can have the third floor all to yourself. There’s a full bath up there and two bedrooms. The view is awesome. We have a second car we never use; you can use that. We’ll minister to the English speaking, and you can minister to the French. What do you say? That doesn’t disrupt any of your plans, does it?”
Disrupt my plans? I practically jumped for joy. “No, in fact it gives me a plan! Thank you!” In bed that night I lay rigid as a corpse, realizing I was now a minister in the Gulf of St. Tropez, sink or swim.
One night that week Greg toddled off to bed about ten, and Alice sat up with me. She coaxed me to tell her what was happening in my life because it seemed clear to her that all was not well. It didn’t take much coaxing: I spilled everything into Alice’s lap. Alice is a good five inches shorter than I am, but she sat on the couch and put her arm around me like a good mother, and I sobbed. Would the tears ever end? Her counsel soothed me like oil put on chapped skin. She affirmed me and encouraged me to go ahead with the divorce, and that maybe having his life slapped like that, Dan would change.
The next morning at breakfast, Greg, obviously informed of everything by Alice, put his arm around my shoulders and said he was for me and he, too, encouraged me to go forward into my own future. I didn’t know how to react. Having people know and talk openly about it was foreign to me because I had hidden the truth for so long.
Now that these two knew it seemed to be all I could talk about. They were so patient, tolerating every return to the issue, listening quietly and encouraging me. They gave me a rare gift, a listening ear. No judgment issued from their lips, no scorn crossed their faces, their hearts simply stood open, and I walked in. I must have needed their compassion more desperately than I comprehended because I left feeling soothed and settled.
Then I visited Marie Louise, my dear friend going back years. She had known about Dan for some time. I mulled over with her what I could say to other Christians that ridiculed my divorce, and her advice proved to be simple and effective. She said, “Tell them Dan decided to go his own way.”
Marie Louise gave me the name of a car dealer in Belgium who took care of missionaries by finding them the best cars available for the price they could afford. I tucked the number away, thinking I would never need it, the little car belonging to Greg and Alice would serve me very well.
Charles and Barbara took me to a meeting in Macon, and there I met a minister who intended to start a Bible School on the Cote d’Azur. He invited me to teach there. My prospects were building! In the crowd attending Macon’s meetings, I encountered the wonderful young man from my earlier days in France, only much changed. His long, greasy, beatnik hair had been replaced by an up-town coif. He looked like something out of GQ. His wife had made equal changes.
“Look at you!” I exclaimed. “You look beautiful! You look like you stepped out of fashion magazines. What happened?”
She laughed and said, “God’s people are the most beautiful people on the earth, so we should look like it too.”
Later, the young man sat beside me during one of the meetings and said, “I understand you and Dan aren’t together anymore. I am sorry to hear that. Can you tell me what happened?”
That took me so much by surprise that I burst into tears. How had news traveled so fast? I wasn’t telling anyone in France, and Charles and Barbara assured me they were not talking about it, so who was? Through my tears I said, “Dan has a sexual addiction, which he also had when we lived in your community, I might add. He’s living in a rehabilitation facility now, but I don’t see any change in him. When I go home, I’m going to file for divorce.” No one, in my opinion, could be trusted more than this young man could be, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell him Dan was a homosexual.
Once the tears started, they would not stop. The shame of the lie I had lived, the deceit, the subterfuge, overwhelmed me. I had sinned against God, betrayed the good will of men, and worst of all I had dumped all over myself. The wonderful young man put his arm around me while I cried. “Maggie, you are my sister in Christ and you, personally, are dear to my heart. I’ll always be here for you.” That made me cry even more.
Charles sat me down at one of the meals. He found a vacated table in the big hall, pushed the debris aside from other dinners and said, “Look, you are wanted in France. But you must come to us clean. You can’t be dragging any baggage with you. Sometimes the world is smarter than the Body of Christ. If they make a bad marriage, they dump it. Take a tip from the shrewd world, that’s what Jesus called them, and dump your bad marriage.”
If tears cleanse, then that weekend I became sparkling clean. During the last anointed service, the Lord confirmed His reassurance to me and said again, “Go home and divorce Dan.”
Writing has been in my blood, so to speak, but when I surren-dered my life to Jesus Christ and He told me to write, all my trepidations rolled away and I began in earnest! After all, if God Almighty says it was His idea that I be a writer, who am I to stand in His way? My hope is that you not only like what I write, but that your life is moved by it, and that your party to Jesus and with Jesus turns your life into days of Heaven on Earth.