So, if there’s one thing I had learnt, it is that I love making plans. And my plans suck.
Maybe it’s a human thing. Or maybe it’s just me. But I like to create long-term strategic initiatives because it makes me feel safe. I like to see where I am going. I like to have a safety net around me.
But the problem?
My plans invariably fail.
When I was in primary school, my Reception teacher wrote in my school report that “Essie is a worry-wart.” Isn’t that just lovely. A worry-wart.
But she was right.
And, just like my 5-year-old self, I do worry about things. I can’t help it. If something isn’t going according to my plan, I worry. If I might lose something that I like or want or need, I worry. If I don’t have something, I worry. Heck, if I do have something, I worry!
And really, worry is just a nicer word for fear. Unglamourous, unrelenting fear.
A fear of the unknown. A fear of loss. A fear of uncertainty.
A feeling of having no control over a situation. Uncontrollable variables or outcomes.
Definitely not something that I feel comfortable with.
So, landing my dream job was a life-changing event. I will forever be indebted to that school for taking a chance on me.
And, that unexpected, unbelievable, nothing-short-of-a-miracle event gave me a new perspective on this thing called hope.
Bear with me as I back-track for a moment.
After returning from my overseas holiday, I had a birthday celebration with a selection of dear friends. About twenty of my nearest and dearest friends who had been my front-line emergency support team over the past few months.
It was possibly my favourite birthday celebration to date.
I wore my new navy wedges which I bought from Hobbs in London, a white mini dress and a bright pink Zara blazer.
I’ve always had plenty of friends. But our truest, honest-to-God, heart-and-soul friendships are the ones that are formed during our biggest trials. The ones that we ring up at 2am in tears. The ones that see us in our mascara-streaked pain. The ones who pick up the shattered pieces of a broken marriage and painstakingly help us to rebuild.
That’s not something I would’ve understood prior to 2013.
But it’s absolutely true.
We gather our most genuine, authentic friends during life’s deepest valleys.
And they’re usually weirdos!
What I mean, is that they are unexpected. Not who we would normally meet. Not who we would usually choose. But they are everything we need!
My advice is to treasure those weirdos.
It was the best birthday celebration of my life and I had a ball!
However, that birthday celebration did – by my own diagnosis – mark the end of one chapter and the start of something scarily uncertain.
For months, I had been riding the wave of unconditional support, wow-factor new friends, travel adventures, a big birthday bash… and now it was back to reality. Now it would be time to move on and get my new life underway. That meant job hunting and relief teaching. Remember, at this point, I was still unemployed, after quitting my child care job whilst in Paris.
It was time to get on with life. And I was very, very worried about this massive, overarching, scary cloud of uncertainty.
So, after a dessert degustation and a wonderful evening of laughter and enjoyment in celebration of my 25th birthday, one of my friends dropped me home. But as I got in the car, after a superb evening, I remember rather dramatically declaring to her, “I have to go back to reality now. My life is fucking shit!”
I was happy; don’t get me wrong. But this was my “clock striking midnight” moment.
It just hit me that I was unemployed, single and facing extreme uncertainty.
Never before in my life had I experienced this level of uncertainty.
When I walked down the aisle at the mere age of 20, Mr Ex and I had our lives planned out. We had a grand master plan. Houses, babies, pets, careers and schools picked out for the kids. It was all part of our strategic plan. And we knew what we were doing. He was a successful lawyer with a staggeringly impressive income for a 26-year-old. I was working in childcare, even though I was a fully qualified teacher. We had just bought our second home, which would be our family home. The plan was for Mr Ex to continue working, while I got pregnant and was a stay-at-home mum for the next ten years. I planned to continue working in child care and then maybe I’d eventually teach once the kids were all grown up. That kind of thing.
So, now, having just turned 25 at this point of the story and living life as both separated and unemployed, I was coming to terms with a new reality; I am the epitome of uncertainty.
I remember just breaking down in tears in the car with my friend. And I also told her that “I’m never going to get a teaching job”, “no one will ever want to life happily ever after with me” and “I may as well just give up on my life, because my life is officially over!”
But, of course, from reading my last chapter, you know what was just around the corner. You know that less then two months after my declaration that “my life is fucking shit”, I landed my dream job.
It’s funny how that works.
Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life…” (Matt. 6:25-34) “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you, by worrying, add a single hour to your life?”
Easy to read. Difficult to action.
Of course, Jesus is right. Birds don’t seem to have a care in the world, yet they get everything they need AND they get to fly. Yes, Jesus. I know. I should be more like a carefree, trusting bird.
So what’s stopping me?
Maybe it’s because I like to have control. I like to have a plan. I like to know what is around the next corner.
And because I
don’t like HATE uncertainty. I hate the unknown.
But probably the number one reason is simply that I get bogged down in the ‘here and now’. What I can see right now. What I am feeling right now. What the situation looks like right now.
I remember writing in an earlier chapter that, as Christians, our hope is not based on optimism or wishful thinking. It is based on a believed fact; having experienced God’s love first-hand and knowing that God himself is present in all circumstances. The good, the bad and the shit-house ugly.
To have optimism or wishful thinking would be to say, “Yes, everything is OK!”
And I get the idea that that is exactly what people think Christians believe. Blind. Wishful thinkers. Optimistic. Unaware of the harsh realities that exist.
But I call bullshit to the idea that Christians go about pretending that everything is OK.
As Jesus, God the Son entered into the muck and grime of humanity. He entered into the big, dark void of uncertainty that quite frankly scares the bejeebers out of me.
In Jesus, I see a God who dined with society’s outcasts. I see a God who went out of His way to show us that our brokenness isn’t the end of the story. He conquered death with resurrection. He gives us light for our darkness. Hope for our fear. Peace for our worry.
But I don’t think He does that by creating mortal minions who blindly go about pretending that everything is OK.
The Christian faith is actually far more gutsy and ballsy than most people realise.
I read an amazing quote the other day. In Bruce Cockburn’s book Kicking the Darkness, he writes that “The Christian faith is one that kicks at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.“
Can I get an ‘Amen’?!
I don’t know about you, but when I am feeling shitty and my future is looking uncertain at best, I don’t want to be told that everything is OK. I don’t want to be told by well-meaning Christians that they have been blessed by God and their life is great. I don’t want to be told that it’s all good.
I want to be told that we do live in a broken world. We are broken beings. And we will fail each other and God and ourselves. BUT THERE IS MORE!!!!!
Hope is seeing the reality of my daily struggles, feeling the pain of unemployment and wondering if I’m destined to live life solo for the rest of my days. Hope is seeing, recognising and understanding that my future is uncertain. No pretending.
But hope is also knowing that there is a bigger picture that transcends the murky, uncertain reality in front of me. There is more. Always, always, always, there is more.
I’m often going on about resurrection and God’s habit of making old, crappy things new again. And that’s just it! Resurrection. New. Always more!
And, as proved by my declaration in the car after my birthday party, I have an endearingly human habit of declaring that my life is over.
That’s it! My marriage is over. I will die childless. I am unemployed. I’ll never get a teaching job. Impossible. Full-stop.
I know that is a human trait because that is exactly how the disciples reacted following the world’s most famous execution.
When Jesus’s dead body was placed in a tomb, they were bummed out. Reality was looking grim. The man who claimed to be God in human form had just been killed. Full-stop. End of story.
But, it wasn’t the end.
Far from it actually, because it is now over 2,000 years later and there are more than 2 billion people who are still following Jesus today.
God brings life out of dead things!!!
Just as reality was looking like evil and death had conquered Jesus, God surprised us with a resurrection.
Just when we think life’s over… Just when we think something is dead… Just when we think we are broken… Just when a situation is looking hopeless… Just when reality couldn’t get any worse…
God surprises us by breathing new life into us. Resurrecting us. Adding more.
That is a lesson that I am still learning over and over again. I am a slow learner, but like a turtle going uphill through sand and seaweed, I will power on.
And I will defiantly proclaim that there is always more.
While I try not to worry – yes, I do try to be a bird like Jesus suggests – I know I will worry again. But then I will remind myself, again and again and AGAIN whenever necessary, that THERE IS ALWAYS MORE.
THERE IS ALWAYS MORE THAN OUR REALITY.
Our reality might be darkness, gloomy, broken, pain, hurt, and anger.
That’s actually quite possible.
But there is more. There is always more.
And, that is where Plan B comes into play. Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, Plan E, Plan F… and the alphabet goes on.
Jesus’s dead body was placed in a tomb, but there was more.
I was unemployed and it was looking very, very unlikely (OK, let’s be honest; it looked darn-right IMPOSSIBLE) that I would find a job anytime soon, but there was more.
I was married and hoping for a baby when my husband walked out, but there is more.
For me, my Plan A was to live happily ever after with Mr Ex, have two or three children with Mr Ex, rent out our townhouse, live happily in the hills, picket fence, a dog and a cat, stay-at-home mum while Mr Ex brought home the bacon (yes, I was dreaming of the 1950s apparently…), and then maybe becoming a teacher one day when my children were all grown up. In, like, ten or twenty years time. That was a good plan, hey?! (insert sarcasm) Oh, and I also was pretty much on non-speaking terms with a father-in-law that I loved to hate.
But, Plan B: Mr Ex and I couldn’t seem to have children together. Mr Ex cheated on me. Mr Ex left me. I’m now single. I’m working as a teacher and LOVING it. I am passionately following Jesus and LOVING it. Oh, and I love my ex-father-in-law too.
The big question:
Do I still want Plan A? Would I change anything if I could? Would I revert to my former self?
The answer is a definite no.
Does the future scare me? Yes. Do I worry still? Yes.
I see that sometimes things are NOT hunky-dory.
I see I might not ever find a bouquet-catching ‘happily ever after’ life.
But instead, I’ll kick the darkness until it bleeds light; declaring that there is ALWAYS MORE! I will defiantly proclaim that I believe in resurrection. I believe that all things work together for good. AND I believe that God loves me.
Thank you, God, for giving me exactly what I didn’t want. And thank you that there is ALWAYS more.
“I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” (Rev. 3:8).