Unemployed. Crappity crap!
After returning from my holiday, my jolt back to reality was made all the more worse with the realisation that, I am unemployed. After resigning from my job on a whim in Paris via email, returning to Australia meant facing the rather uncomfortable task of starting from scratch; I did wonder if I’d made a mistake.
My I-can-do-anything-and-I-am-leaving-my-old-self-at-the-Eiffel-Tower chapter was followed by an oh-crap-I’m-home-and-I-feel-crappy chapter, so you would be forgiven for thinking that the whole Paris thing was just a passing fad. A moment of self-empowerment which was not sustainable long-term.
Thankfully though, that was not the case.
We are growing whether we feel like it or not…
Growth can feel like standing on top of the Eiffel Tower with arms outstretched feeling free, alive and unstoppable. But growth can also feel like darkness, pressure and pain. Just ask any seed!
Some periods of growth may be filled with tears and hysterics, or even anger or heartache. And we just hate ourselves because it seems like a backwards leap. And that period of feeling displaced and unhappy after returning to my hometown may have felt like a huge step back after a life-changing European adventure, but it was not.
Actually, it should have been expected that my old life was going to require some adjustments. I mean, I’d found a new level of self. I’d gained perspective and passion that did not exist before. The cookie-cutter of my old life just wasn’t going to cut it anymore.
Taking a step backward after taking a step forward? It’s not disaster. It’s the cha-cha! (Robert Brault said something along those lines).
So I guess I was just doing the cha-cha at this point. It may have been a step backwards, but I was inadvertently cha-cha-ing towards something pretty amazing.
As a fully qualified teacher who had been working in child care for nearly four years, it was time to put on my teacher’s hat and give teaching a proper go. So, I bit the bullet and put my name down at a whole bunch of unknown schools as a relief teacher.
Relief teaching is not easy. Unfamiliar environment, no idea who’s who, not knowing names or where the toilets are… it’s hard. And not all schools make an effort to assist new relief teachers.
But, growth… growth… growth…!
Chair-throwers, screamers… I experienced it all. And it’s true that necessity is the best teacher. Sink or swim.
I can just hear my old figure skating coach Ronaldo saying, “Toughen up, Princess!” A phrase that I just adore and I say it back to myself all the time.
I also started applying for teaching positions. At this point of the year, it was only private schools advertising. Government schools would not be releasing their available teaching positions until much later in the year. Working in a private school was certainly a dream of mine. Although, it was well and truly a far-fetched dream. Out of my grasp by many, many miles.
At this point, I was praying and praying and praying. Praying for direction, but feeling rather flat and unsuccessful. With hindsight though, I know for a fact that I was growing, because I was praying “God, your will be done in my life; not my will. Show me the path that you want me to take. Help me to see what you will for me. I am trying to empty myself of me and my plans. I want to be filled with you and your plans.”
All private schools in Australia are originally church-based. Some still retain a close affinity to their Christian roots. Others have chosen a more secular approach. Some might be a mixture of both.
I remember one particular school was advertising a number of teaching positions for the following year. It was a Christian school. A very Christian school. Conservative, evangelical kind of thing. And there was a 5-page questionnaire to be submitted along with my application.
They asked my marital status. I’m sorry; is this 1954?
They asked my denomination. Beats me! What was Jesus’s denomination?!
They asked, if married, whether my spouse is supportive of my standards and life? Wtf?
They asked my stance on water baptism, pop music, my leisure time and drinking alcohol.
But the question that really pissed me off was, “How long have you had assurance that Jesus is your personal Lord and Saviour?”, asking me to describe the moment when I accepted Jesus into my heart.
I imagine most Christians reading this will be wondering, what on earth’s wrong with that?
Hi, my name is Essie and I have a chip on my shoulder.
You see, for the past few years, I’d been surrounded by a church culture that used phrases like “personal Lord and Saviour”, “asking Jesus into my heart” and “turning from my wicked ways”; asked questions like “how is your walk with God going?” and was based solely around dualism, referring to people as either “saved” or “un-saved”. “Good and bad”. “Godly and ungodly”. When people gave their testimonies, it would be a neatly packaged parcel articulating the moment when they acknowledged their sin, repented, and outlined how they have been living a life of purity and goodness ever since; as if there has to be some kind of climactic moment when you “accept Jesus” and that’s it. Tick.
I just didn’t buy that anymore.
When I think about my own journey, I think I’ve always had a relationship of some kind with God. As a very young child, I remember sleeping over at my grandparents’ house and saying a bedtime prayer with them. I also had a mini model of Noah’s Ark which chimed the tune to Jesus Loves Me when I opened it. As a child, I talked to God. If I was freaking out about my spelling test or swimming lessons at school (just for the record, I love swimming but there was something horribly scary about the over-chlorinated school pool and my equally scary PE teacher), I’d ask God to help me get through it. And he did. And I’d always remember to thank him. It was all very real to me, even at the ripe old age of 7.
At 16, my parents randomly started going to church again. We had attended a different church when I was little, but then we’d drifted away through the natural ebb and flow of life. So, at 16, after several years of not attending church, my parents thought they’d try out this church. I happily tagged along. And I was even happier to tag along after meeting Mr Ex there. Mr Ex was different to other guys. He wasn’t out getting smashed on the weekends. He was thoughtful, caring, and mature. I liked that.
So, I had always believed that God was real; I don’t think this church was necessarily instrumental in that belief. But it was at this church that I kind of made it official. I said the words and went through the motions. I got baptised. And I guess that’s the age where ‘being a Christian’ is suddenly a big thing. Much more defining. Gone are the days when I’d ask God to help me get through swimming lessons with the horrible PE teacher. Now I was entering the dating world. Or, you could just say the ‘world’ in general. And this church, being conservative (I’m deliberately avoiding using denominations!), encouraged us, as young adults, to make a stand for God.
And really, Mr Ex and I were the perfect ‘church pin-up couple’. Wide eyed. Making good choices. Abstaining from sex. No drinking (well, actually we did enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage, but that was hush-hush). Definitely not living together out of wedlock. Engaged at 19 and 21. And I can actually remember when a girl joined my workplace and swore like a truckie, I had the guts to say that it offended me because I am a Christian. Crikey! I’m literally cringing as I write that. And I imagine Jesus was cringing too.
Fast forward eight years and there I am, Chapter 4 of this blog, aged 24 and totally broken, having what was arguably my most authentic and real connection with God.
So, back to the questionnaire about Jesus being my personal Lord and Saviour and the two main reasons why it annoyed the crap out of me.
Yes, I can answer that question. And there’s nothing outrageously wrong with it. Yes, Jesus is my personal Lord and Saviour. I know that. I do have assurance of that.
But my dilemma is, 1) how on earth do I define it? Was it when I was a child and I prayed to God and he helped me get through those swimming lessons? Might not seem like a big thing now, but that was a big thing to 7-year-old Essie. Was it at 16 when I started attending Mr Ex’s church and started making Christian choices? Hashtag vomit. And despite my tendency now to poke fun at that phase of my life, I did love God and both Mr Ex and I were trying to live for God. But, was my moment of accepting Jesus actually at 24-years-old when Mr Ex had just walked out, leaving me completely and utterly broken? That was certainly when I prayed my most authentic prayers, depended entirely on Jesus, and found Jesus to be my very best friend. But I don’t think that cancels out every other God-touched moment prior to that. See? It’s actually rather complex.
And, 2) how relevant is that first moment of saying, “I’m a sinner and I accept Jesus as my Saviour” anyway? Remember, Mr Ex had that moment too. He was a professing Christian. He had a testimony of the moment he let Jesus into his heart. Go back a few years and ask Mr Ex that question and he would give you a beautiful answer. If he read Isaiah 53, he’d tear up too. Despite what Mr Ex may tell you now, I don’t think you can fake that kind of emotion. It was real to him.
But that obviously means diddly-squat now!
Jesus is making me new today!
And that’s what matters.
Far from having some kind of static climax to my story, those moments at the ages of 7, 16 and 24, whether grainy or vivid memories, are all just different threads in the overall patchwork quilt of Essie Bell.
After grappling with all that, I think I ended up just settling on the 16-year-old ‘making a stand’ decision as my time-frame for the purpose of this questionnaire and I started filling in the questions.
And I had to resist the urge to write my honest reactions.
Martial Status? Wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care!
What is your view of alcohol? Only in excess!
How would you describe yourself? I am a quirky, cranky, chip-on-my-shoulder, separated, 25-year-old mess.
How long have you had assurance of Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour? Since childhood, BUT a hell of a lot has happened since then.
But seriously, for the record, I did fill in that application. Sensibly and humbly, I might add. And they actually did offer me an interview. So they clearly aren’t nearly as judgmental or narrow-minded as I am portraying. And that is probably just a reflection on me and my hang-ups, rather than the school or anyone who works there.
But if their questionnaire was annoying the crap out of me that much, then I think it is very clear that I wasn’t meant to be working there.
And just before they offered me an interview, my life took an unexpected twist. A twist that would graciously and abundantly allow for a quirky, cranky, chip-on-her-shoulder, separated 25-year-old mess.
I saw another job listing. It was for a prestigious school. Christian, but a particular denomination. An IB school. No, not Independent Baptist. International Baccalaureate. I had to google that. It was a beautiful school. I’d heard plenty about it already. It had an exceptional reputation, that’s for sure.
I remember so vividly the day of applications closing at 4pm for this particular school.
I decided not to bother applying. I mean, this school is totes amaze-balls. Outstanding. Pure excellence. What chance do I have of getting a job there? It’s impossible!
Bree randomly popped into my house on her way home from work. “How are all your job applications going?” she asked me.
I told her that I was working on a number of different applications for various teaching positions. I told her that this one particular *amazing* school had their applications closing in a matter of minutes, but that I had decided not to bother applying.
“You’re not applying for *insert name of school here*?” she asked me.
“Nah,” I remember shrugging. “I don’t have a chance there. I don’t know anything about the IB thing. And it’s well out of my league anyway.”
Bree reminded me of the teddy bear that she had given me a few months prior. The bear named Jeremiah. It was holding a love-heart with Jeremiah 29:11 on it; “‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.'”
So, minutes before the 4pm deadline, thanks to Bree’s visit, I found the application that I’d done for this amazing school and I sent it off via email.
Reading my Bible that night, something jumped out at me. No, not literally. I’d heard Romans 8:31 many, many times before. For some reason, I read it and something just clicked.
“…If God is for us, who can be against us?”
If God is for me.
That still blows my mind actually.
The creator of the universe, the One who sees my sin, the One who knows that I fail him daily, a God who hears my sarcastic and cranky chip-on-the-shoulder responses to questionnaires…
He is actually for me?!?!?!?!
A few days later, the Principal of the *amazing* school called me.
I have an interview!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I was completely and beyond-words honoured to just be given an interview at this school. Never mind about the job; the interview was an achievement in itself!!
So, I went to the interview. I took Jeremiah, the bear with me. Jeremiah was small enough to fit in my handbag. Sitting out the front of the school, I prayed. And I had this indescribable sense of peace about the whole thing. Don’t get me wrong; I was nervous beyond words!! But I could feel my best friend Jesus reminding me gently that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
One of the first questions in the interview was, “How relevant is your faith to your everyday life?”
Now, that’s an awesome question!!
Far from asking about my marital status or my view on alcohol or when I accepted Jesus into my life, the simple question of how relevant my faith is to my everyday life kind of sums it all up. Everyday life. The here and now. Today. YES!
Forget about ticking boxes. Forget about articulating my biblical stance on leisure time. Even Mr Ex could’ve given you a great answer to that.
It is far more powerful and beautiful to consider every moment in the journey. Not the origin. Not the starting point. But the growth, revelations, shit-storms and rainbows that have ensued. Because those shit-storms matter too.
And being “saved” doesn’t save you from life’s shit-storms.
Jesus’s very words are, “Humanly speaking, this is impossible. But with God, everything is possible” (Matthew 19:26).
I have a God who is for me. I have a God who delights in impossibilities.
And, by the grace of God, I got the job.