By Mark Ellis –
Mark and Frances Smith had a whirlwind romance and marriage after the two believers met on a computer-dating website, match.com, in 2011.
It was a second marriage for both. Mark’s wife had died of brain cancer. Frances came out of a failed marriage complicated by her children’s chronic health problems.
They both devoted their lives to Jesus in their youth. Frances gave her life to Christ when she was eight-years-old in response to an evangelist’s message at a revival meeting. Following Mark’s commitment of faith, he had become an ordained minister and certified missionary with the Southern Baptist Convention.
“Once we saw each other, we realized we actually had met on a beach in South Carolina, 30 years before, for five minutes,” Frances recounts. She is the author of Lamp to my Feet (Evergreen Press), describing her quest to find hope in the midst of a painful journey filled with suffering.
“We instantly hit it off and we were making wedding plans within three weeks,” she says. “We just knew.”
Mark’s description of his life as a missionary in Alaska when he was 19 inspired Fran to write her first book. “All of a sudden I thought this is what I’m supposed to write,” she says. She saw how God used Mark in remarkable ways on the mission field.
After Mark’s experience as a missionary, he became a youth pastor. On one particular youth group outing he rode a mechanical bull and suffered a back injury.
“He had a disc split half way through in the accident. He couldn’t do anything about it (surgically) until it split all the way through.” Mark lived with that pain for another 17 years until the disc finally split while he bounced his baby boy.
After undergoing spinal fusion surgery, he re-broke that spot when he fell at Slide Rock State Park in Sedona, Arizona and underwent a second fusion surgery.
“He was pain-free years after that surgery in 2002,” Fran notes. “He was able to be a scoutmaster and made the most of his pain-free years.”
But not long into their marriage in 2011, Mark’s back started hurting again. “He was never an alcoholic, but a drink made him relax and made the pain better. One drink became two drinks, became three,” she says. He took Ambien to help him get to sleep at night.
Mark had worked briefly as a minister, and then went into the church supply business, helping churches with their stewardship programs. He also taught Sunday School. But because of his chronic pain, he was not able to work and was finally declared legally disabled in 2017.
His doctors also had Mark on hydrocodone, an opioid pain medication. When he mixed hydrocodone with alcohol horrible things began to happen.
“He totaled an Infiniti convertible one night,” she recalls. “He got mad and I jumped in the car to try and stop him. We went airborne and hit trees and crashed into a fence. It is a miracle nobody got hurt that night.”
Their house became a battlefield. “One morning I heard crashes and him running around. There was a loft above the living room and he had thrown everything down in one place.
“He would not remember the next morning what he had done.”
Mark also collected guns. “He had an arsenal in the house,” Fran reports. “He had guns from his dad and grandfather and great uncle. He didn’t shoot very much but he was very good at it when he did. There were times when I had to wrestle guns away from him and call police for help.
“One time he shot a gun in the house and it went through the floor and ceiling.”
Despite the aberrant behavior, Fran remained committed to the marriage. “It was horrible, but we were both Christians and had dedicated ourselves to each other before God. When two Christians marry there is no going back. It never crossed my mind to get out of that marriage,” she says.
“There were times I felt unsafe and I got out and got help. Getting out doesn’t mean you are giving up on the marriage. Sometimes, I feared for my kids and my safety.”
In August 2018, Mark had his fourth and final surgery, this time to fuse the spine in his neck. “It was a last ditch effort that was supposed to help but didn’t. He just lost hope.”
The following month, Mark and Frances attended the National Quartet Convention, featuring Gospel quartets from around the world converging on Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
“Mark had gone to get a steroid shot, hoping he could get through the week. Late Monday night he said, ‘I need to go home. I don’t feel good.’
Fran drove him home and got him situated in bed by 2 am that night.
They texted each other Tuesday and Wednesday. “On Wednesday evening the tone of his text messages started to change,” Fran recounts. “I could tell something was up.”
Worried and somewhat alarmed, Fran jumped in the car and drove home. “He wasn’t expecting me to arrive. When I walked in I could tell he had been drinking,” she says.
In his system that night was a combustible combination: Hydrocodone, alcohol, Ambien, Lyrica, and steroids.
With this mixture in his bloodstream, his anger could flare up suddenly, in a volatile fashion. “He grabbed me and his hands were very strong. I still don’t think he meant to hurt me, but his hands were very strong,” Fran recounts.
“I got away from him and still didn’t know what I was going to do so I got in the shower. I heard all these crashes in the house. When I got out of the shower there was carnage where he had thrown things and torn things up all over the house.”
Fran still didn’t know what she was going to do. “I thought if I can get him to go to sleep he will be fine. He was sitting on the bed. I crawled up in bed with him and I started rubbing his shoulders, which is what I would do to get him to calm down and go to sleep.
“He grabbed my arms again and I got away. Then he picked up a lamp from the nightstand and physically tore it apart.”
As Mark reached out toward Fran again with a menacing look in his eyes, she heard the voice of the Lord:
Heeding His warning, Fran ran out the front door, jumped in her car, and drove back to the convention.
When she reached her hotel room she attempted to call but there was no answer. She texted him frantically.
Sadly, between the time Fran left the house and got to the hotel Mark pulled out a gun and shot himself. He died instantly and went into the presence of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Fran believes if she had not followed the Lord’s command to flee, it would have been a murder-suicide.
She spent the following months grieving, healing, and working on her book about their years together, which she finished in April.
“There is pain he went through and pain I’m going through now,” Fran confesses. “God made me rip this book out of my soul. I’ve had to go back through it, relive it. I just want to help somebody. It is worth it if it helps somebody.
“God has carried me,” she says. “It is not my strength.”
“Even in the midst of the worst pain you can have, God is always there.”
If you want to know more about a personal relationship with God, go here
For more information about Fran’s book, go here