Chapter 24: Plan B

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.

YES!

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.

Ha!

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.

Yes.

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.

Plan B.

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).

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Chapter 23: Cha-Cha Steps, Intruding Questions, and The Impossible!

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.

Holey moley!

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!

My conclusion?

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.

Lol.

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.

Wow.

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.

Chapter 22: Snowflakes and Sparkles

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When I got back home, I remember a deep-rooted feeling of displacement. From the Eiffel Tower in Pairs to Wittenberg in Germany, returning home to Australia made one feeling rather clear to me: Australia is not where I want to be anymore. I was returning to familiar places and surroundings that held significant memories. Married memories. But I was single now. Horribly single. And that was tough to transition back to.

My first night home in Australia, I stayed at Mum and Dad’s house. My furry friend, Rommet, still had one more night at his 5-star doggy resort and I was rather jet-lagged and exhausted, so I stayed at Mum and Dad’s that night. It was actually the first night I’d slept there since before I was married. I remember lying awake, feeling ridiculously over-tired but unable to switch off. And a damn email from Mr Ex came through on my iPad at around 11pm, just as I was trying to get to sleep.

Fuck him! I’ve only been back in Australia a few hours and he’s on my case already! It’s as if he KNOWS that I’ve just stepped off a plane and I’m trying to get some much-needed sleep! Gah! Douche-bag, you can’t ruin our marriage AND my sleep patterns!

Yes, I was overtired and hating the painful jolt back into reality.

And no, Mr Ex didn’t know that I’d been overseas and he also didn’t know that I was jet-lagged, grouchy and trying to get to sleep. That was just a happy coincidence.

In this new email, Mr Ex was asking me to send some documents. Paperwork. Something about superannuation. Blah, blah, blah.

But interestingly, I also got an email from Jillian in the next day or two. You know, the lady who worked with Mr Ex and Cosette, who had become a very dear friend of mine, as well as informant extraordinaire for Penny, the P.I.

Jill’s news? Mr Ex and Cosette were moving!

To Bristol!!

Bristol, England!!!

What the actual?!

I was surprised. Really surprised. And it totally explained Mr Ex’s email wanting paperwork and documentation.

Mr Ex and Cosette hadn’t really ‘come out’ at work.

They’d sort of outwardly maintained that they were just friends. But Mr Ex had told Jill, “You may have noticed that I’m spending a fair bit of time with Cosette.” Pfft!

A couple of other ladies from Mr Ex and Cosette’s workplace contacted me too.

They had been in a very similar situation and their hearts went out to me.

To this very day, I still catch up with those three ladies for breakfasts and coffee dates.

And, with Mr Ex and Cosette moving to Bristol, it freed up Australia to be my home-sweet-home again. And it freed me up to have those breakfast and coffee dates with Mr Ex and Cosette’s work colleagues.

Mr Ex lived in the U.K. for a portion of his childhood. In fact, those years were probably his cheeriest childhood memories because his parents were happily married in the U.K. His parents later divorced and returned to Australia where things just went from bad to worse. Mr Ex always talked with unending love and joy about his memories in Ireland and the U.K.

Cosette is also from that region. She is Irish. An interesting connection, I think.

For those really observant readers, you may remember that Mr Ex and I gave each other Irish Claddagh rings representing love, friendship and loyalty during our dating years. They’re beautiful rings. A heart representing love, held by hands representing friendship, and a crown on top representing loyalty. And Mr Ex was still wearing that fucking ring when he was having a fucking affair. Pardon my French, but the irony is unbelievable. If anyone should’ve known what the ring stood for, it was Irish-native Cosette!!!! Hashtag Vomit.

And I can still sense that feeling of anger and pain, thinking of Mr Ex and Cosette starting their life anew.

And I do sometimes wonder if Mr Ex and Cosette have exchanged Irish Claddagh rings of their own?

Or what did Mr Ex ever do with the Irish Claddagh ring that I gave him?

Vomit, vomit, vomit, vomit.

But, as I always say, every time that I dump that anger and pain at the foot of the cross, I somehow find a new depth of freedom that I never knew existed. And I experience Jesus yet again. We don’t serve a distant, aloof God who sits on a throne watching his creations feel like crap. We serve a God who enters into our suffering and weeps with us. He’s right there with my mascara-smudged face and pillow full of tears. Through Jesus. Jesus, our Immanuel.

And Immanuel means, ‘God is with us’.

I have always loved Disney on Ice. As a child, I went to Disney on Ice each year religiously and I always bought the over-priced glossy program. I remember spending hours looking through the pictures, imagining what it would be like to skate like them. I’d read the bios of the principal skaters and stare at the sparkly costumes and skating boots, wishing that I could be a part of that.

After seeing what was probably my tenth Disney on Ice show in my first year at University (FYI it was High School Musical: The Ice Tour), I started figure skating lessons. That must’ve been around 2006. I was crap at it. Total crap. I’d never skated before. Needless to say, we don’t get snow or ice or anything like that in this country. Learning to skate in my first year of Uni was hard. But I did love it. And I continued on-and-off for a few years.

But, somehow, just like that pink guitar that I bought about the same time, skating fell off the priority list. Sad, really. But it’s true. Married life took over. Day-to-day routines and the mundane existence of two play-it-safe DINKs took over.

And so, here I am. Separated from Mr Ex. Still dealing with the abrupt ending of our marriage. A superb, life-changing, self-discovering overseas holiday. Fabulous revelations and experiences in Europe. A new ring to mark those milestones. But now, jolted back to reality. Learning how to find peace in my hometown. The town where I met Mr Ex. The town where I got married. The town that held umpteen-million memories of my relationship with Mr Ex. Is it even possible to find peace in this place?!

As I was saying, vomit, vomit, vomit.

*Lay it at the cross.*

And bang! Voila! Ta-dah! Zip-a-dee-doo!

Jesus, Immanuel.

My parents gave me a card. It read, “Do more of what you love!”

How beautifully simple.

YES! I thought. And what do I love?

I love figure skating.

And so I went back to figure skating. My previous coach was no longer there. Probably a blessing because it meant that I didn’t need to explain my period of absence to anyone.

The club had had an overhaul of staff and skaters. It was new!

I do love that concept of ‘new’!

If there is anything that will give you the unrelenting drive to nail a one-foot spin, it is pain. Pain gives you a bitch of an appetite. It pushes you better than the harshest of coaches. Pain propels you further into the galaxy of abilities than any NASA rocket could ever do.

And pain launched me further into figure skating than I had ever been before.

I was made to feel super-dooper welcome by a skater called Rosie. Rosie is Mum’s age. And she was on a synchronised skating team of amazing women. All around Mum’s age, actually. But don’t let that fool you! They are sharp skaters and oh-so-fun to hang around with. And they warmly invited me to be on their synchro team. Woot!

I got to know my fellow skaters over many months. But one thing was rather God-ordained. I’m always going on about how one of the most poignant ways that I encounter God is in the stranger… well, Rosie is another perfect example of that.

There was one day when we were standing in the middle of the rink. She said something about church and my ears pricked up. Yep, Rosie is a Jesus-follower. And it was really nice to make that connection. Always nice to find a fellow follower of Jesus.

But, things got seriously amazing a month or so later. Taking our skates off, I asked Rosie about her children. Rosie told me about her children and grandchildren. She had one child in particular though, who was a teacher. Single, apparently. And a Christian. Hmm… A single, 30-something-year-old Christian? There’s gotta be a story there! And amazingly, Rosie started that unbelievable sentence that her daughter had been married, BUT…

*Ding, ding, ding!*

It’s really, really exciting when you find parts of your story in other people. That, right there, is another perfect example of my soul saying, “Oh! There you are! I’ve been looking for you!” And I am totally convinced that’s one of the many ways of encountering Jesus.

Putting on my figure skating boots post-separation, after several years away from the rink, was life-changing. Life-altering. Life-inspiring.

And best of all, Jesus was all over it!

I also met two amazing coaches, Donna and Stacey. Both incredibly talented and warm human beings. And I had so many unforeseen opportunities.

A definite highlight that came along just recently was skating in Broadway on Ice.

I’d never thought I’d get the opportunity to skate in front of people. That was always a far-away dream of my 5-year-old self who stared at Disney on Ice programs for hours on end. But in true Cinderella style, I say that a pair of shoes CAN change your life! And for me, my life-changing glass slipper was actually a figure skating boot!

Sparkly costume, top hat and tails! I’m a Broadway star, baby!

Well, not quite.

But close!

And underneath the sparkly costume and stage make-up is just a little girl who fell in love with Disney on Ice. Not 20-something and separated.

I could recreate myself in a positive, new light. So I threw myself hook, line and sinker into skating.

Figure skating is a ‘survival sport’. Much like sailing, I imagine.

When you’re doing it, you have to be 100% in the moment. Focussed 100% on what you are doing. In order to ‘survive’. If you are not concentrating 100%, you are highly likely to stack it in a rather spectacular fashion. And get massive bruises. So when I skate, I’m in the moment. No room for other thoughts or worries. No room for baggage. Or history. Or Mr Ex. It’s all about me. And the jump that I’m landing.

I do sometimes wonder what heaven is like. It kind of does my head in a bit though. Too massive, too surreal and too incredible to grasp. I wonder if there will be an ice rink there!

Think about that hobby or that task that you do, which makes you feel like time flies. That thing where you feel like you’re doing exactly what you were made to do. Whether it is painting, or playing a sport, or listening to classical music, or gardening – we all have that ‘thing’ that makes time fly. Makes our soul sing. I think that’s what heaven will be like.

And for me, figure skating – oh! and writing – gives me that feeling.

I think everyone should search and search and search until they find that.

Chapter 20: Bon Voyage and C’est La Vie

King Henry VIII had six wives over the course of his adult life.

He divorced Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves.

He sentenced Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard to the chopping block.

Jane Seymour died in child birth.

And Catherine Parr was the only survivor.

Walking through London museums and seeing famous landmarks, I reflected on the fate of Henry’s wives. I’d always thought the divorcees had the best deal. After all, they got to keep their lives.

Now, I’m not so sure.

The chopping block actually seems far more inviting to me now.

Yes, I was in London!

It was July 2013.

A very old city with an astounding history. It was surreal to be quite literally walking in the footsteps of Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, the Spice Girls and Duchess Kate.

I’d needed a holiday for a few months. A break from life. And thanks to my very generous parents, I had the opportunity to go travelling in Europe. There is nothing – quite literally, nothing – that will give you perspective like travel. Being plucked up from your little patch of the world to then be perched on the highest point of St Paul’s Cathedral in London? Yep, that’ll do it.

Travel is rebellion in its purest form.

We follow our heart. We free ourselves of labels. We lose control willingly.

We trade a role for reality. We love the unfamiliar.

We trust strangers. We own only what we can carry.

We search for better questions, not answers.

We truly graduate.

We, sometimes, choose never to come back.

-unknown.

And that pretty much sums it up.

I won’t go into detail about my adventures, because this is not a travel blog. But there are a couple of noteworthy moments from that trip.

“Sometimes I feel quite distinctly that what is inside me is not all of me. There is something else, sublime, quite indestructible, some tiny fragment of the Universal spirit. Don’t you feel that?” -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

IMG_0758On my 25th birthday, I climbed to the very top of St Paul’s Cathedral. Yes, the tip of the top. In fact, the tippy-tip of the top. That bit that’s not usually open to the public. It was freaky! But it’s moments like that that will change you forever.

And I can still sense that feeling of looking out over the vast skyline of London, realising how tiny and insignificant we, as individuals, are in this huge, massive, expansive world.

And how tiny my dramas are in the vastness and grandeur of the universe.

God said something along those lines to Job.

And I look forward to chatting with Job about it one day.

In our everyday lives, it is far too easy to become consumed with our troubles. To see the world through our own lens. Our own needs and wants. Our own ups and downs. But there is a whole lot of world out there. And we are but a drop in the ocean. So, one of my best tips for ‘getting over stuff’ is to go travelling.

Travelling changes us. It levels us. It unlocks a whole new facet to one’s self.

The amazing Alan Alda said, “When you embark for strange places, don’t leave any of yourself safely at the shore. Have the nerve to go into unexplored territory.” Ain’t that the truth!

IMG_1260After time in England, I also went to Paris.

There’s something about Paris.

I don’t think anyone can go to Paris and remain unchanged.

Walking down the world-renowned shopping street Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Mum and I spotted Swarovski.

I had been without a ring for several months now. After around seven years of wearing a ring of some kind from Mr Ex (first, he gave me an Irish Claddagh ring, then an engagement ring, and then a wedding ring), I was very accustomed to wearing rings. So getting used to my bare fingers was like breaking my arm and adjusting to writing with ‘the wrong hand’. Or trying to fold a fitted sheet. It’s just not right!! It feels WRONG!

Admittedly, I’d had days when I just. Couldn’t. Handle. NOT. Wearing. A ring!!

So, I’d sometimes put my engagement ring onto the ring finger of my other hand. Not in a sad, hanging-on-to-hope, half-dead kangaroo, missing-Mr-Ex kind of way. Not because it meant anything and there were no hidden messages about my psychological state.

It was simply that my fingers felt completely WRONG without a ring.

And I didn’t actually own any other rings. When you have three deeply significant and momentously symbolic rings, you don’t have any need to buy other rings. So I’d sometimes wear my engagement ring on the other hand just as a comfort thing.

Yes, I hear you say that I could’ve bought a cheap ring to tie me over.

But I wanted my ‘next ring’ to be special. Symbolic.

So, in Paris, I was on a mission to find that ring. To finally invest in a ring that would signify a whole new chapter. A ring that was all about me. Representing my new life as ME. And celebrating that I was complete, happy and free on my own. Without Mr Ex. Signifying my individuality. Rejoicing that I survived that which could have killed me.

I was throwing roses into the abyss and saying, “Here’s to the monster that didn’t succeed in eating me alive!”

And when I walked into Swarovski on Champs-Élysées, I knew I’d found the birthplace of my next ring.

My Swarovski ring sits happily on my middle finger. I’d never worn a ring on my middle finger before. It is white gold and encrusted in lots and lots of brilliant Swarovski crystals. Divine!

(By the way, the white gold was a very deliberate choice. All three of my rings from Mr Ex were ‘gold gold’ (I think the technical term is ‘yellow gold’). I just mean the usual gold colour, as apposed to silver-coloured gold, which is called white gold. If you just followed that explanation, well done to you.)

And that was it.

Hand is now complete.

All is right with the world. *Sigh of relief*

I was on a roll, really. Buying a symbolic new ring, climbing the Eiffel Tower, eating chocolate croissants at Cafe De Fleur… I’m not sure if life gets much better than that 🙂

So up until this holiday, I had basically been working in child care. Yes, I was a fully qualified teacher. Yes, I did a bit of relief teaching. But my main occupation was working for an Out of School Hours Care and Vacation Care service. Child care. And it was very much my comfort zone. Truth is, teaching actually scared the living daylights out of me. I had no intention of leaving my comfort zone. I liked the safety of ‘going with the flow’. That echos sentiments from earlier chapters, doesn’t it just?

Well, life begins on the edge of our comfort zone.

And only dead fish go with the flow.

No longer was I going to play it safe. No longer was I a slave to the ordinary.

So, in a my daring new mindset of “I choose to live outside my comfort zone and I choose to go against the flow!”, I wrote my resignation letter and emailed it to work. I thanked them for everything, but said that I would not be coming back.

For a few of my colleagues, they knew my current situation and probably would not have been surprised by my resignation.

But for many colleagues, they are possibly still wondering, “Whatever happened to that young girl who was married to a lawyer? Quiet. Really mature. Sensible. Had all her shit together. You know the one? She used to wear knitted beanies in winter.”

Yes, I still wear beanies in winter; some things never change. But definitely no ‘shit together’ anymore.

The truth is, I have no idea what happened to that girl. I think I left her on top of St Paul’s Cathedral or on the Eiffel Tower.

And I hazard a guess that she’s in good company up there. I bet lots of people leave old versions of themselves in places like that. Places of symbol and resonance.

“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” – Alan Alda.

Chapter 19: Free Will and Throwing Ink Pots

Divorce is hell.

There. I said it. And I probably just made a whole bunch of people feel really uncomfortable. But, as Father Mulcahy (one of my favourite fictional characters of all time) from M*A*S*H says, “If you can’t say ‘hell’ in hell, when can you say it?”

So, what was the catalyst for my elaborate declaration that divorce is hell?

Copious emails were flying through cyber space as our lawyers negotiated ‘who gets what’. And after two months of this, the Binding Financial Agreement (BFA) was finally complete. All I had to do was go to my lawyer’s office to sign. Sounds simple enough, right? Don’t be fooled.

I couldn’t bring myself to take my parents. Even though my parents are two of my absolute bestest friends, I just couldn’t do this with them. Too painful. Sana took me instead.

So this was about June 2013.

We had been separated since January of that year.

My lawyer put down a slab of papers and a bunch of tissues in front of me. It must be hard being a lawyer specialising in family law. I can’t imagine daily watching hurt, broken, confused spouses signing their settlement paperwork, often against their will and in a state of trauma.

And that was me. Against my will and in a state of trauma.

I hated the feeling that I had no control. This wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t initiate any of this. I was riding on a non-stop train ride, bound by my feet and ankles and a large piece of gaffer-tape covering my mouth.

My lawyer had run me through the contents of each page via email. So now she just handed me a pen.

I had to initial every. SINGLE. page!!

And we’re talking about, like, fifty pieces of paper.

I’d sign a page, lift my hand slightly, and she’d take the page off the pile, revealing the next page. I’d sign that, lift my hand slightly again. Sign. Lift hand. Sign. Lift. Sign. Lift. Sign.

And that kept going for what seemed like forever.

I couldn’t even see what I was signing through the thick stream of constant tears.

And my signature looked more like a 2-year-old’s attempt at drawing fairy floss.

And that was it. We were legally separated. That was the process of settlement done and dusted. We had settled. Settlement pending divorce after one year. It’s ironic how rather-unsettling settlement actually is.

It’s supposed to be closure. But, as I’ve said before, the problem with this kind of situation is that there is no closure. There are – and probably always will be – so many unanswered questions.

But it is what it is.

All the emotions and grief are made worse by the act of going to a lawyer, seeing the black and white print of our lives and marriage summarised on paper, and the physical signing of papers. Life wasn’t meant to be like this. And I’d find myself crying to the point of dry-reaching.

The whole concept of free-will is an interesting one. It is something that I pondered a fair bit, perhaps because most of the events of early 2013 were entirely against my will.

And that was an incredibly strange sensation. To go from being in control of my life, to suddenly having absolutely no control. To be at the mercy of an AWOL husband who was calling all the shots, arranging legal papers… It baffled me (and still does baffle me) that so much could unfold against my will.

It takes two people to get married, but it only takes one person to end it.

Even under the umbrella of being ‘Christian’, there are many different perspectives and interpretations surrounding free will.

And it’s something that people have asked me about. Fair enough, too, because it’s perfectly valid to ask, “Why, exactly, did God give man free-will if He knew we’d just use it to do evil? And make the world such a horrible place? And eventually get ourselves in hell?”

People asking this apt question are thinking, God is apparently omniscient (i.e. He knows everything from before the beginning of time through to all eternity), so if he really is a loving God, then why did he give us free-will to choose evil if he knew it would lead to the situation of a fallen, broken world, with billions of people going to hell? If he knew we would stuff up, why did he let that happen?”

That doesn’t sound like a very loving God and certainly not a God that I would want to be worshiping.

I get it.

But, like I always say, if we don’t question our thoughts, beliefs and actions, we fall into the very dangerous predicament of merely accepting reality. Boring, afraid of being challenged, two-dimensional, and unsure of what we actually believe in or who we bloody are! That kind of mindset is simply not sustainable long-term.

So I discovered that it is OK to ask questions.

To delve deeply, rather than to merely accept.

In fact, it’s necessary!

But first up, just to clarify – and this is an overarching view of mine – I don’t try too hard to understand God.

It is ridiculous to reduce God to something that we can comprehend.

And I believe that if I could fully understand God using my human brain, he wouldn’t be a particularly powerful God.

I know I’d much rather serve a God who is too powerful, too almighty, and too mysterious for me to comprehend. If I could logically understand and articulate God, he wouldn’t be particularly amazing.

When it comes to free will, my personal belief is that we can’t choose God by our own goodness or abilities or strength. On my own, I can guarantee you that I’m pretty useless! I feel that it is the Holy Spirit who gives us faith and trust in Jesus and in the cross. Far from us choosing Jesus, I believe Christians can rejoice that Jesus has made a decision for us, to die for us, and to forgive our sins.

But I guess what I was starting to piece together at this point of time, was the necessity of free-will in true love.

Yes, God is loving. That is so unbelievably apparent throughout Jesus’s teachings. He pretty much has a giant billboard with flashy lights saying, “God loves you! God is love! Go and love others!”

I’d even say that the most commonly known Bible verse begins with, “For God so loved the world…”.

The Bible also makes it very clear that God does not want his creations (that’s us!) to suffer. 1 Tim. 2:4 says, “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

I saw a pin on Pinterest around this time of legal separation. It said, “True love is not a feeling; it’s a choice!”

I also found a Pinterest photo of an old, grey-haired couple walking hand-in-hand into the sunset with a caption, “How did you manage to stay together for so long?  It’s simple, really. We are from a generation where, if something is broken, we fix it; not throw it away.” That’s the theme of choice coming through, too.

Another Pinterest quote; “True love is an act of the will – a conscious decision to do what is best for the other person instead of ourselves.”

And finally, yet another quote from Pinterest, “Love is an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person. To love somebody isn’t just a feeling. It is a decision, a judgment, a promise. A choice.”

They are all secular, non-religious, non-theological views of love.

And – surprise, surprise – there is a trend of choice.

Choosing that person day after day. Through the ups and downs. Seeing that person’s shortcomings, brokenness, and crap, but loving them anyway.

And that’s exactly how God loves us.

He actually loves us in that way; seeing our crap but loving us anyway.

So, I realised that free-will is an essential ingredient in love.

And if God wanted us to love him, maybe it was essential for God to give us free-will. The ability to choose for ourselves. Because maybe choice is the key to true love.

I don’t know, exactly. And maybe I shouldn’t write about stuff unless I’m totally sure about it. But the alternative would have been for God to make us all robots. Mechanical beings with no free choice and no ability to choose for ourselves. If we were all just blindly loving God and obeying God through our mechanical settings, is that really love?

If I had programmed Mr Ex to love me every day without choice, is that love? Or would I even want Mr Ex’s love if it wasn’t freely given to me?

No.

“Love” that is not freely given is not love at all.

Maybe humans have free will, because in order for us to truly love, we must be able to choose.

Maybe God wanted his creations to love willingly. Not to love him because we are programmed robots, but to love him willingly. To worship him willingly. To bow down to him willingly. To choose him willingly.

Because then, and only then, are we truly loving.

So what about the question of humans using their free-will resulting in evil, resulting in a broken world, resulting in hell?

…resulting in broken marriages?

Watching the evening news, it’s only logical to ask, “Was free-will really worth it?”

I guess what I’m actually asking there is, “Is love really worth it?”

If free-will makes evil possible, then maybe God should have sacrificed his desire for us to love him using our free-will, so that evil wasn’t possible. That sounds logical, right?

But remember one of the most pivotal hinges of the Christian faith; God makes all things work together for good.

God can turn literally all evil into pure goodness.

Yes, he is that powerful.

He makes evil into good.

He makes old into new.

He is a God for which all things are possible (Matt. 19:26).

And I think that’s really just what he is working on, day after day. He loves us. He wants us to love him. And he is turning evil into good. Everyday.

Now that’s a God who is worthy of worship.

So yes, maybe God gave us free-will knowing full-well that we would use it to cause problems and get ourselves into dark, deep ditches.

BUT, he is powerful enough to turn evil into good, gracious enough to reach down into our dark, deep ditches to pull us out, and best of all, he gave us the ultimate solution.  Jesus.

He came to us in human form as Jesus.

Jesus showed us that it is possible to have peace in this world. That it is possible for a light to shine in the darkest of places. And that evil is simply not more powerful than good.

So through my dry-reaching, my mental breakdowns and my pillow full of tears, I can say with conviction and certainty, I use my God-given free-will to declare that I LOVE GOD!! GOD IS IN CONTROL.  GOD IS WORKING IN THIS SITUATION FOR MY GOOD.  ONE DAY, THIS WILL ALL MAKE SENSE.  I TRUST GOD!!!!!! And, even though it hurts beyond words, I pray that God’s will be done in my life, not my will.

Sometimes there’s unbelievable pain in the offering of those words, but I choose to love God. I choose to give him praise and glory and thanks. I choose to trust God’s plan for my life. I choose to die to my own plans. I choose to die to my own constructs, expectations and notion of perfection.

And I make that choice through the work of the Holy Spirit, NOT in my own strength.

The Holy Spirit with and within me.

The Holy Spirit which makes me into what I cannot make of myself.

I know that God brings goodness out of the worst evil, so I dump my divorce at the foot of the cross and I hand it over to God.

When Martin Luther, a former Catholic monk who refused to merely accept reality and began the protestant reformation, was translating the whole Bible into everyday language for the common person to understand (as opposed to the Bible being solely for the use of priests and clergy) in 1522, history tells that he threw his ink pot at the devil and declared, “Be gone!”

And, as crazy as this may sound, I found great comfort in doing that too.

No, not throwing a literal ink pot. I can’t say I have an ink pot lying around my house. But I have been known to yell defiantly at the devil or the darkness or the pain or the anger or whatever you want to call it. It’s not a man with pointy red ears and a red catsuit, holding a pitch fork. No. I have no idea who or what it is.

But I know that there have been times when I was in a dark ditch, feeling an extreme, intense, tormenting, dry-reaching and gut-wrenching agony, feeling like the walls of pain were rapidly closing in on me.

And in that state, crying out in defiance somehow made things better. Defiantly proclaiming in Jesus’s name, “Be gone!” and clutching a firm fist on my faith, I’m yelling at the darkness, the doubt, the devil… whatever it may be.

Not because I belong in an insane asylum, but because it actually helps me to stay strong. To keep my peace. To cling to Jesus. To resist darkness and doubt. To say, “fuck you!” to whatever that evil or the rapidly closing walls may be.

God is love. God is peace. God is hope to the hopeless. God is light in the darkness.

And anything else is hell, for want of a different word.

Hell is separation from God.

So, with the blessing of perspective, I no longer think that divorce is hell. And I don’t think it’s worse than hell, either.

I think divorce is painful, extreme suffering, agonising, and a whole lot of other words come to mind too.

But, not hell.

Because hell is separation from God. And I was never – not even for one second – separated from God.

Don’t get me wrong; there were times when I did feel like God had left me on my own.

I definitely experienced the feeling of ‘godforsakenness’.

But I took comfort in the fact that Jesus experienced godforsakenness too.

But, even when we are feeling godforsaken (yes, just like Jesus who fully experienced our humanness, our fears and our darkness), God is there. He is always there. Sometimes He is quiet. And sometimes He doesn’t answer our cries for help right away. But He does stay with us. He is always, always, always with us. And He is always, always, always making things work together for our eventual good.

And whenever I defiantly proclaimed that God is on the throne, it didn’t change my reality. I was still staring down the barrel of a tragic, heartbreaking divorce against my will. But it did change how I felt about my reality.

I think God’s answer to, “Is love really worth it?” is pretty obvious.

Love is definitely worth it.

Worth the pain. Worth the tears. And worth the heartbreak.

Because when we do choose to love someone, it is such a beautiful thing.

When we choose that person…

When we see their crap but love them anyway…

When we put someone else’s needs above our own…

When that person’s love is an act of their free-will…

When there is the risk of that person leaving us, but they choose to stay…

…Now that’s true love.

C.S. Lewis – what a legend! – said, “So why, then, did God give man free will?  Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the ONLY THING that makes any love or goodness or joy WORTH HAVING.”

Chapter 18: The Pink Guitar

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May 2013. About four months following D-Day.

Declaration Day, I mean.

It was around this time that I found a song by Rudimental, simply titled ‘Free’. And I felt like I had written it.

I am Free. That is such a terrific thing to be able to say. But it didn’t come easily.

Freedom is a really interesting concept.

I wonder if freedom actually scares most of us. Or maybe we don’t even realise that we need freeing, because we convince ourselves that we are perfectly happy.

When I think back to married life with Mr Ex, I was happy. I was damn sure of it too. And I didn’t want anything to change. Don’t forget, we were the unsinkable Titanic!

But maybe that was because life with Mr Ex was all I knew.

I know who I am with Mr Ex.

But I don’t know who I am on my own.

I’ve never been on my own.

They say that abused wives will often stay with their abuser, even when given the chance to leave. Maybe there’s an aspect of half-dead kangaroo love there. Or maybe it’s something different altogether. I’m not an expert and I wouldn’t like to speculate too much. But I do wonder if it’s something to do with having a fear of the unknown. The known is safer. Better the devil you know, or whatever that saying is.

I’m not at all saying that Mr Ex was abusive. I’m just saying that I think we all have this desire to stay inside our comfort zones. For better or worse. Whether life is good or actually kind of bad, we like to stay in our comfort zones with our rose-coloured glasses and just keep telling ourselves that life is dandy.

Don’t question anything.

Don’t change anything.

Just keep all your arms and legs inside the comfort zone at all times.

And I’m the first to put my hand up and say that I had every intention of staying inside my comfort zone, thank you very much!

Let’s back-track a few years.

In my first year studying to be a teacher, I was walking through a shopping centre with Mum. There was a pop-up music store in the middle of the walkway. It had quality musical instruments on sale. I played a couple of instruments in primary school but I wasn’t especially musical, so I can’t say that the pop-up musical instrument sale attracted my attention whatsoever. But something caught Mum’s eye. A pink acoustic guitar. And upon closer inspection, I had to agree; it was just gorgeous!!! So I was filled with inspiration that I would learn to play the guitar and even play for the children that I would be working with as a teacher one day. You know, Spaghetti and Meatballs, B-I-N-G-OOld McDonald… good ol’ campfire favourites!

So, we bought the pink guitar and I took it home.

And that was it. It was perched majestically in my house!

I got caught up in my studies, working and the day-to-day running of life… then getting engaged, getting married… and when Mr Ex and I got married and moved into our new home, the pink guitar became a display feature on the landing at the top of the stairs.

I’d often walk past that guitar and wish that I could play it.

I’d often consider calling my childhood music teacher, who could teach guitar too, but it never happened. There was always something else that needed to be done, a better way to spend our hard-earned dollars or just that it’s all too hard attitude.

But I was happy. And so was Mr Ex.

(Or so we obviously told ourselves).

And yes, Mr Ex obviously concluded at some point that he wasn’t happy.

But in all honesty, for the most part of our seven year relationship together, we were both very happy.

But my ‘happy’ was probably a bit thwarted.

I tried hard to be perfect.

And I thought I was nicely succeeding.

Think Hyacinth Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances! Haha, no, I was never that bad. But I was certainly the kind of person who would clean the house just before the cleaners came, so as to make sure they didn’t think our house was ever that messy. And I was careful to always project an outward perfection to the world.

For years, that worked!

Perfect life. Perfect house. Perfect everything. Perfection = happiness.

I had absolutely no idea that I was in desperate need of freedom.

And I think that feeling of a ‘desperate need for freedom’ is what Mr Ex was starting to cotton onto.

But he maybe dealt with it by having an affair and leaving.

As for me, I started to realise something even more liberating…

I am not perfect.

And that is exactly how I found my freedom.

“We please Him most, not by frantically trying to make ourselves good, but by throwing ourselves into His arms with all our imperfections and believing that He understands everything –and still loves us!” -A.W. Tozer.

Jesus was about freeing us. Liberating us. Giving us an abundant life. He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

I would go so far as to say that people who don’t know Jesus don’t know real freedom.

That’s a big statement, I know!

I believe all humans have an innate desire to search for answers. To seek freedom. To seek something more. And maybe that it exactly what Mr Ex was doing (whether he could articulate it or not) when he shacked up with Cosette.

But I believe that our wandering hearts can only be truly satisfied by the One who created them. Someone famous said that, not me. Maybe CS Lewis?

Anyway, Jesus is about freeing us from the graves we dig ourselves, freeing us from the brokenness of our world and freeing us from the messes we inevitably create.

“…wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17).

And I think that is one of the most exciting aspects of the Christian faith.

We are freed from the necessity to work our own redemption. We are freed from trying to climb the staircase to God’s love, because God came all the way down. This means that we are freed from the captivity of hierarchical dualisms one usually finds in religions -A.Christensen.

John Eldredge wrote one of my favourite books, Beautiful Outlaw. He talks about testing our culture and language by “dropping it in the middle of a bar or on a bus”. If we can’t connect with people in these places and if we can’t drop our church culture and language in these places, then it is not from Jesus.

Because that is exactly what Jesus could do.

He could connect with anyone. Any place, any time.

Jesus is about freeing us: “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

It is incredibly freeing to be able to say, I am not perfect. And I don’t need to be. In fact, in my own strength, I actually can’t be.

I make bad choices. I am flawed. I stumble, trip and sometimes even fall flat on my face.

BUT God’s amazing grace to me is that my shit is not the end of the story. He sees that I am a mess but he loves me anyway! So I choose to give myself over to Jesus. To die to myself everyday. I come as I am to the cross where I find renewal, regeneration and restoration.

Jesus is also about love: “As I have loved you, love one another!” (John 13:34).

I think that’s the hallmark of someone who intimately knows and loves Jesus. They love others. Including those who are different. Including those who might have differing beliefs or opinions.

Jesus-followers have the passion to reach out to anyone, full-stop.

None of this attitude of, “Oh, I don’t agree with that couple living together before they are married, so I’m not going to their house” or “he left his first wife and I don’t agree with that, so I’m not going to his second wedding.” Jesus-followers kind of understand that we all make bad choices and we are all saved only by God’s abounding grace.

And that is incredibly freeing too.

Through grace and love, comes an amazing confidence to be ourselves.

We are taught in Sunday School, “Jesus loves me!” We see images of Jesus always saying “I love you”.

And while that’s absolutely true and valid, it’s more than that.

Jesus’s love is radical. Life-changing. Ferocious.

It’s the kind of love that changes lives.

Once you have experienced Jesus’s love, you are never the same again.

There is something oh-so-powerful about being loved just as we are. And that changes us. That is what kills us and breaths life back into us.

“Embrace the glorious mess that you are!” -Elizabeth Gilbert.

And that frees me to live!

That frees me to live enthusiastically! To live with gusto! To live uninhibited! To be free from my own fears and weaknesses!

To be human!

“The fact that we are embraced by God means we are freed to be fully and honestly human. We are freed to be eating, drinking, excreting, sexual, working, sweating, hoping, fearing, crying, nurturing, and thinking beings.” (Christenson, 2004).

And to be free in the here and and now. Not staying away from this place or that, but by being whole wherever we might find ourselves.

I really love that word, ‘whole’.

And I love that I don’t have to be ‘whole’ all on my own. Actually, I can’t be whole all on my own. Believe me, I’ve tried. And I fail every time.

But I have an unlimited source of wholeness who makes up for my brokenness.

And that is Jesus.

Harold Kushner offers the following commentary…

“My candidate for the most important word in the Bible occurs in Genesis 17:1 when God says to Abraham, ‘Walk before me and be tamim.’ The King James Bible translates it as ‘perfect’, the RSV takes it to mean ‘blameless’ …. Contemporary scholars take the word to mean something like ‘whole-hearted.’ My own study of the verse leads me to conclude that what God wants from Abraham, and by implication from us, is not perfection but integrity …. That, I believe, is what God asks of Abraham. Not ‘Be perfect,’ not, ‘Don’t ever make a mistake,’ but ‘Be whole.'”

So, I don’t think I need to cut myself off from the world in order to follow Jesus. I don’t need to complete a checklist entitled ‘thou shalt not’, nor conform to a prescription of what I should wear or how I should talk or who I should spend my time with.

I think it’s more like, when you follow Jesus, everything just changes.

And it’s not me. But it is Christ in me.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

So here I am at 24.

Learning to be me!

The broken, messy, quirky, crappy ME. With an awesome, loving, freeing Christ who is a constant source of wholeness for my brokenness.

Dad was walking to the post office and literally bumped into my childhood music teacher. They hadn’t seen each other in more than ten years, but they recognised each other straight away and had a chat in the walkway. Thank you, Jesus! She was retired from full-time music teaching, but Dad told her about my untouched pink guitar and she was keen to give me guitar lessons.

And so began the adventure.

I discovered that I absolutely LOVE playing the guitar.

My finger tips get calluses and I’ve lost my pick inside my guitar more than a few times (and then I have to spend an hour prizing it out, which is much like trying to get the ball into the hole in one of those annoying and impossibly difficult toys inside a Happy Meal), but I love every second of it.

I also discovered I love music festivals.

I love pastel pink lipstick.

I love not camping.

I love writing.

I love doing my weekly shopping at a Farmer’s Market, because how can supermarkets compete with buying bread in a brown paper bag?

Also, I love going out on weekends with my friends. I know. I know. A 24-year-old who didn’t know she liked going out on weekends with friends…? Very odd.  But when you’re settled in married life, doing the whole ‘grown up’ thing instead of just being a free-spirited 20-something, and you have a spouse who you just do everything with (go out for breakfast with Mr Ex, go for a beach walk with Mr Ex, go to the movies with Mr Ex…), it’s easy to fall into the routine of spending all your spare time with your spouse. Or just stay at home. Because you have someone to stay at home with. So it kind of eliminates the need to physically go out. And it limits the need to spend time with friends. There’s also the consideration that I didn’t really like going out with friends too much if I knew that Mr Ex was at home alone. So it becomes ridiculously easy to get into that rhythm of spending all your downtime with your partner.

But now that I was suddenly living alone and making new friends, I discovered an enjoyment of going out with friends. My diary had never been more busy.

I discovered that I love Saturday morning brunches at quirky coffee spots.

I love organic pizza cafes.

And I love going to bars and enjoying wine or cocktails into the wee hours.

I also discovered a few things that I can do, which I never thought possible.

I can catch a spider in a glass and take it outside.

I can reverse the car down a challenging driveway.

I can fill the car up with petrol.

I can order my own drink in a noisy, crowded bar.

I can bury a dead blue tongue lizard in my backyard. (Actually, it was only half a dead blue tongue lizard. I have no idea where the other half was).

And I hear you; you’re probably saying, “OK, burying a dead lizard is just gross, but filling up a car with petrol or reversing a car… No big deal.”

But, you know what, they are all things that Mr Ex would automatically do.

And, because of that, they were all things that scared the living daylights out of me. For the first couple of times anyway. But now I can catch spiders and order drinks like a pro.

And, above all else, I discovered that I am significant to God. I am loved. I am a disciple and friend of Jesus. I have been redeemed. I have been reconciled to God. And nothing can separate me from God’s love. I have an assurance that all things in my life are working together for my good. I am complete in Christ. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

And I can now say with passion and conviction, I am Free.

“Because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving spirit has freed you…” (Romans 8:2).

Chapter 17: Fairness, Forgiveness and other F-words

“It’s just not fair!”

It’s easy with hindsight to say “Thank you, God, for the mountains in our lives”, but at the time, I was saying that through gritted teeth thinking how unfair this whole thing is.

And that is something that I’ve struggled with for quite some time.

We have this ingrained ability to suss out fairness and unfairness. It’s not a concept that needs to be taught to us. We are all born with a fairness radar. And if something is unfair, we know! I work with children and they’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not fair when one person gets a bigger slice of cake. Or if someone heartlessly breaks the block tower that you just spent half an hour building.

Trying to explain to children that, when someone sticks their tongue out at you or knocks down your sandcastle, you need to just walk away…? Don’t react. Don’t retaliate. Don’t seek revenge. Doesn’t that just go against our every instinct?

And that is why karma is so appealing. Karma’s a bitch, right?!

Oh, I wish!

Believe me, I wish karma were true.

How awesome would it be if we could rest in the knowledge that, ‘What goes around, comes around’?!

And if a murderer gets hit by a drunk driver or if Cosette cheats on Mr Ex!

Unfortunately though, reality is more like an innocent mother-of-three gets hit by a drunk driver. And Cosette and Mr Ex live happily ever after.

That SUCKS!

But such is the broken world we inhabit.

The next morning at the holiday house with Tom and Samara, as I sat on a bar stool at the island bench sipping a cup of tea, my iPad sounded a new email notification.

It was the dreaded reality of an email from Mr Ex.

Not the Mr Ex that I loved, but the lawyer-mode Mr Ex. Straight to the facts. He was sending me a list of items that he wanted; items that he had apparently forgotten to collect from the house. Royal Doulton whiskey tumblers made the list. And a solid gold chain that I gave him a few years ago. And the Weber BBQ from the holiday house. He also added the tent to this list.

WHAT THE ACTUAL?!

He knows how I feel about that tent. He saw my torment and he heard my feelings.

And Royal Doulton… seriously?! Since when does he care about Royal Doulton?!

Thus began the to-ing and fro-ing of settlement.

In Australia, settlement is the process where both parties legally settle on how their property, belongings, and even pets will be split. Once this has been decided, the paperwork goes through the courts and the couple is officially separated. Stamped, sealed and separated.

So, my lawyer and Mr Ex’s lawyer negotiated.

Emails flew from lawyer to lawyer and lawyer to client. But not-so-much client to client anymore. Sad, but after seven years together, our communication happened through lawyers.

Credit where credit is due, Mr Ex let me keep our house and our furniture without a fight. And ‘The List’ was only a few items that he wanted.

But, ‘The List’ upset me no end.

Why? Gosh, I don’t really know. They were not items that I used. In fact, I’d probably never use that stuff.

But it went something like this: I’ve just lost my husband and my marriage… and there’s NO WAY I’m letting him take the whiskey tumblers that I’ve never actually used.

Yes, I hear how ridiculous that sounds.

From my perspective, my incredibly generous parents fed him, clothed him, included him in overseas holidays and treated him as their own son for seven years. So, maybe it was a bit of me wanting karma or justice. I don’t know.

I’m not saying my stance was the right one. I’m not saying that my logic makes sense. I’m saying I was hurt.

And what I’m also getting at, I suppose, is that none of this is fair. There’s nothing fair about this whole situation. It’s unfair on so many levels. And when people are hurting, it’s even worse.

I’m on one side wanting to hold onto the tent that I’d never use (because I don’t like the thought of Mr Ex and Cosette getting hot and sweaty together in our tent), while he’s on the other side legitimately wanting the tent that he would actually use.

And he’s totally justified in saying something along the lines of, “Essie doesn’t like camping and she doesn’t like BBQs, so it’s not fair that she’s holding onto that stuff JUST BECAUSE!”

And I understand that. I see that shit in all its glory.

And the thing with settlement, divorce, cheating, break-ups, relationships in general… there’s SO MUCH that’s just not fair. For everyone.

Jesus said some very annoying things.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:44).

Humph.

Jesus also says things like, “If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much! If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that!” (Matt. 5:46).

Jesus was all about loving the unlovable.

And, annoyingly, the unlovable tend to be your enemies… or the people who hurt you.

Maybe that’s why Jesus was so unpopular. He was walking around teaching this stuff in a culture which was based on the notion, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth!’.

Jesus told us not to delight in revenge, but to give our enemies food and water.

Food and water?!

For real?!?

Can’t we give our enemies a swift kick up the backside or at least the cold shoulder?? Or ideally, watch as they get struck by lightning?!

Yes, that’s my fairness-seeking, darkness-loving heart right there.

But really, in my defense, it was this kind of ‘loving your enemies’ and ‘forgiveness’ talk that got Jesus killed. People who were offended by Jesus’s radical grace and unconditional love tried veryyy hard to shut him up.

But here I am, over 2,000 years later, still reading his teachings.

And yes, I find it just as offensive as Jesus’s own contemporaries did!

And Paul said, in Philippians 2:5, “You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had.”

Ouch.

So does this just make me a doormat?

How do I reconcile loving my enemies when I’m angry and hurting and my fairness-radar is telling me THIS IS NOT FAIR.

If I try to adopt Jesus’s teachings, am I not just saying to Mr Ex and Cosette, “Hey, you guys! Come and walk all over me because I am joining a club of do-gooders and I have no choice but to forgive you! So, go ahead! Cheat on me! Go and have fun times in our tent! And I’ll forgive you!”

Screw that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

But wait.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Jesus was all about good overcoming evil.

That is why he came into this world.

To overcome evil. To defeat it once and for all.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).

So, if he’s teaching forgiveness, I hazard a guess that it has something to do with overcoming evil.

And Jesus was not a pushover.

Yes, it’s unfair that Mr Ex and Cosette get to enjoy romantic candle-lit dinners together while I sit heartbroken on the floor in floods of tears. I don’t think there’s anyone who would argue with me that that’s fair.

It’s unfair.

It’s fucking shit, actually.

But if I hold onto bitterness, anger, and pain – or if I seek revenge or hate them – maybe I’m just fuelling evil. Encouraging evil. Embellishing evil.

I think it was Wikipedia (or some other arguably secular source) that said Jesus Christ pioneered the notion of forgiveness to the world. Yes, forgiveness is definitely one of Jesus’s number one buzz words. And there have been lots of other people who have seen the benefits of forgiveness.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” -Martin L. King. Jr.

Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” -Abraham Lincoln.

“An eye for an eye just leaves the whole world blind.” –Mahatma Gandhi.

But to add to it, Jesus told us to leave revenge up to God. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone…. Don’t take revenge, dear friends. Instead, let God’s anger take care of it. After all, scripture says, ‘I alone have the right to take revenge. I will pay back’, says the Lord” (Romans 12:17, 19).

He taught us to trust God. “The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm” (Exodus 14:14).

And he told us to love. Love, love, love, love. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).

So, if I hate Mr Ex and Cosette, maybe I’m succumbing to evil. And in turn, corroding myself internally, burning myself with acidic hatred and anger.

And that’s why the world is such a horrible place. Because there is just SO MUCH HATE!

It’s a trap, really.

We think revenge or holding onto grudges will makes us feel better. We think our perception of justice is right. We think punishing those who do the wrong thing will combat evil. But, it’s an illusion. It only makes things worse.

Jesus came to be the light in a world of darkness. He came to show us another way of living. To show us that it is possible to find peace in this world. And that it is possible to set ourselves free from the hurts, anger and hatred that can otherwise engulf us.

Since starting this little blogging project of mine, I’ve been enjoying lots of blogs in the blogging world. And one stood out to me. It’s a man who cheated on his wife. I feel a sense of connection with his blog in some weird kind of way. He mentioned that he gets abuse from readers and I’ve seen some interesting comments filled with bitterness; women in my situation who have been cheated on by their husbands and are still trapped in the hurt caused by their husband’s affair. But, I can honestly say that I don’t have any anger or bitterness towards ‘cheaters’. I’m not saying that cheating is ever OK. It’s not. But consider this:

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said…

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, and who is willing to destroy a piece of their own heart?

The self-confessed ‘cheater’, who is now blogging, has acknowledged his mistakes and is living life anew in Christ. Broken and redeemed.

And I think there’s something rather powerful about me standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a ‘cheater’ and defiantly proclaiming together that evil is simply not more powerful than good.

That’s what Jesus was all about.

A light shining in the midst of darkness.

Proclaiming that evil will not win.

If I hold onto my notion of unfairness and bitterness, I’m just hurting myself. And creating a culture of hatred around me. And that is what makes the world a horrible, evil place.

There is power in forgiveness.

It’s not easy – and sometimes I’m just totally faking it – but when I love my enemies (or at least give it my best shot), I am somehow brandishing a rather large chainsaw which cuts down evil.

It’s not me being a doormat allowing Mr Ex and Cosette to wipe their dirty feet on me, but instead it’s me proclaiming that good will always triumph over evil. Actually I think that deserves bold print, capitals and an exclamation mark; Good WILL always triumph over evil!

As much as it sometimes kills me and goes against my natural instincts, I will wave my chainsaw around and cut off any hatred and bitterness, in Jesus’s name. It’s hard. Impossible in my own strength. And that’s what it is to be a follower of Christ. To triumphantly brandish a chainsaw and say, “Love and Light will always shine!”

And – surprise, surprise! – every time I die to my natural inclination to seek revenge or spout bitterness, I find a new depth of freedom.

Everyday. New. Over and over. Death and resurrection.

Chapter 16: Conquering Mountains

April 2013.

Coming up to three months of life (or rather, existing) without my husband.

Mr Ex and I communicated about “The Practical Stuff” (his term for the bills, mortgage repayments, legal matters, and so on) via email. He went into lawyer-mode. As a lawyer by profession, you can correctly assume that he is bloody good at putting on a poker face. Hidden emotion. Doesn’t give anything away. Mr I-can-keep-a-lid-on-ANYTHING-that-I-am-feeling. And that’s just him. And that’s OK. Possibly a coping mechanism from a childhood of watching his parents bicker, argue and then divorce, coupled with his career choice of a being lawyer. Or possibly just a personality trait that he was born with.

Mr Ex’s best friend, Tom, and Tom’s girlfriend, Samara, used to regularly go away for weekends with us at my parents’ holiday house near the beach. We’d make pizzas on the Weber BBQ, go sailing and make plans for holidays and adventures together.

You know what’s crazy? At the very beginning of this horrendous January 2013 – yes, the very month that Mr Ex revealed his affair – we had actually been at the holiday house with Tom and Samara having a fabulous time!

We first went down to the beach after Christmas with a friend of mine who was visiting from Canada. She had a new boyfriend and it was serious. Like, looking-at-my-engagement-ring-to-get-ideas kind of serious. With my 20/20 hindsight, I can now see that Mr Ex was a bit ‘funny’ whenever my Canadian friend and her boyfriend talked about engagement rings and wedding dresses and the like. But I didn’t think anything of it at the time though, because they’d only been together for a few months and it was ridiculously soon to be talking about weddings!!

We went to a New Year’s Eve party nearby with them. There was a pastor and pastor’s wife there. I remember Mr Ex avoided talking to them like they had the Bubonic Plague. Mr Ex was distracted with emails or something on his new iPad, a Christmas present which was of course still new and exciting. So, again, I didn’t suspect anything. Damn you, 20/20 hindsight; making me look like an idiot.

Then in the first week in January, the Canadian friends left and Tom and Samara joined us. I remember Mr Ex, Tom, Samara and I were making plans for a possible Sydney trip together.

No sign of any issues. No hint that Mr Ex would be making an earth-shattering revelation of an affair only two and a half weeks later.

At the time, to me, he seemed totally normal and present in our reality. Making future holiday plans together, holidaying by the beach with friends, celebrating the purchase of a new house… It was plausible that he was just sending a couple of emails with good reason and, of course, I trusted him.

So, going back to this beach house post-affair revelation was going to be tough.

In a bid to show me that life will continue and things can still happen without Mr Ex in my life, Tom and Samara were happy to keep going away for weekends with me. What champions!

I will always admire that.

So, we went away for the weekend in April 2013. And I knew this would be a painful trip. Not just because of the recent holiday that Mr Ex and I had share there….

BUT….

Because Mr Ex proposed to me in this seaside town.

Yep. Memories. Ouch.

But, my parents have a beach house there, so I have two options. 1) Never go to the beach house ever again, or 2) Face some rather large ogres head-on.

There is a landmark in this seaside town. It is a hill – or mountain, depending on your definition – and it is covered with massive rocks. Mr Ex proposed to me on top of one of the rocks on that mountain. It is a tourist attraction as well as a remarkable spot to visit. If I wanted to make my peace with this seaside town and be able to appreciate the beauty of its natural landmarks, I was going to have to climb that mountain and triumph over that rock where Mr Ex proposed. Hike up that mountain, stand in that spot where he popped the big question, and just ‘be’. Be in that moment. Face it head on.

So, Tom, Samara and I climbed the hill.

And I was confronted with the humongous rock. Yes, this is the spot.

Perhaps it’s God’s sense of humour or perhaps God knew I’d be blogging one day and He wanted me to have good material, but there was a couple enjoying a picnic on our rock. Two ladies having a romantic picnic on the exact spot where Mr Ex proposed.

IMG_2297

I shed a few tears. But the element of witticism was not lost on me. There was so much symbolism on so many levels.

I stood in the moment. In the pain.

Samara held an arm around me.

I felt an overwhelming sense of loss and grief. Grief over the loss of my best friend and beloved husband, Mr Ex, as well as the loss of my identity as Mrs Bell and the shattering of my every life expectation.

It was on that rock that Mr Ex asked me to marry him.

And that was the easiest question to answer because I knew I’d spend the rest of my life with him.

“There is a particular kind of suffering to be experienced when you love something greater than yourself… Like the pained silence felt in the lost song of a mermaid; or the bent and broken feet of a ballerina. It is in every considered step I am taking in the opposite direction from you.” -Lang Leav.

And by simply standing in that moment of anguish – feeling everything – I was, without any profound music or round of applause, letting go.

I’d conquered a mountain, both metaphorically and literally.

At least, that’s what I kept telling myself.

Fake it ’til you make it, right?

Well, I learnt that the concept of ‘letting go’ is never as theatrical as in the movies. No triumphant music and no special effects.

It hurt.

It hurt bad.

And while I didn’t have the inclination to dance around on that mountain top belting out ‘Let it Go’ at the top of my lungs like Elsa, looking back now, whether I felt like it or not, I was actually growing.

I was learning to be me.

And, although it didn’t seem like a particularly special or poignant moment at the time, it was.

Often, I don’t think we realise the significance of a moment until they become history.

And that’s the thing with growth. It can feel like shit at the time. It can feel like we are going nowhere. It can feel like nothing is happening. But with hindsight, we were conquering mountains. Whether we realised it or not.

IMG_2295We returned to the house where we made dinner. Homemade pizza on the Weber BBQ as per usual. And it was delicious. Samara and I enjoyed a bottle of bubbly. Tom had beer. I’m sure it must’ve been a little odd for him. His best mate would normally be there to enjoy a beer with him. But Tom’s commitment to the cause was touching. That’s impressive, hey.

 

 

 

IMG_2294I am now Tom and Samara’s “third wheel”. And that is OK.

So I began feeling a little happier and a little stronger with it all.

Yay! Go me! I can do this! I’m a success story! Watch me conquer mountains! *happy dance*

And then, at the end of the evening, I was acutely aware that I was walking up the stairs to bed on my own.

Tom and Samara went to the guest bedroom where they always slept on our weekends away. Mr Ex, Rommet and I would normally go upstairs to bed. This time, it was only one flight of stairs, but it felt like another mountain. And it was.

Fuck. This sucks. Pain sucks. Mr Ex sucks. Cosette sucks. Life sucks. And this is sucky-unfair.

Mr Ex and the C-word are probably canoodling in bed together RIGHT-bloody-NOW, while I’m here, going up to bed all alone.

They are the ones who cheated, yet THEY get to be happy.

And, again, while it felt like I was making absolutely no progress whatsoever, I was moving mountains.

I was healing. I was breaking open. I was becoming the person I was always meant to be. And my love of Mr Ex was, actually, dying. Painfully, tragically, gut-wrenchingly dying.

Nauseating highs and lows. Conquering mountains and finding new valleys.

But progress nonetheless. And if there was a silver lining, it was simply that I could conquer mountains and endure valleys with dear friends by my side.

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still (Exodus 14:14).

Chapter 15: Made New (not perfect)

My father-in-law and I arranged to catch up again.

After our initial meeting at a café (back in Chapter 6, which I’ve just significantly revised today after I remembered some ‘minor’ details which I’d conveniently forgotten 🙂 ), we emailed a couple of times. My father-in-law’s wife sent me a couple of emails too. She has walked this road of dealing with a cheating husband who left her, so she knew exactly where I was at. Two of the most powerful words when we are living a nightmare are “me too!” Whenever I ran into someone who could say “me too!” about my situation, it was always magical. No words are needed to explain. They just know.

So I went to their home. They had recently moved onto this property.

It is a large acreage in the Australian countryside situated amongst pine forests, wild flowers, kangaroos and other native animals, and plenty of walking tracks. Access to the property is by dirt track. The house only has a couple of in-tact rooms and there are brick ruins all around where other parts of the property once existed but have collapsed over time. They live an unusual, back-to-nature lifestyle omitting many of the modern conveniences of the average person. Very different to my city-slicker upbringing.

We went for a walk. Their young children wearing gumboots ran ahead picking dandelions and green stalks. My father-in-law, his wife, and I chatted as we strolled. I recounted Mr Ex’s recent final visit to collect the rest of his stuff and they showed a very genuine care for me and my wellbeing.

My father-in-law and his wife are unlike anyone else I know. And I suppose, we really have nothing in common. The city mouse meets the country mice. I mean, let’s be honest. I’d never be caught alive wearing socks and sneakers with a skirt. And they would never spend $600 on a Mimco handbag. But, for some strange reason, we were suddenly getting along like old friends.

Something was different.

Something was actually really different.

There was no tension. There was no judging. By either party.

There was just grace abounding!

What the hell happened?

We had both encountered Jesus, that’s what.

And something rather amazing ensued.

For the first time ever, I was authentically connecting with my father-in-law, who I would’ve just a few weeks earlier described as a judgmental and hypercritical dictator.

We both cried.

And hugged a very genuine hug.

And we shared stories of Jesus popping up in our lives.

“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are gone; and all things are made new.” -2 Corinthians 5:17.

Now, this is a really hard thing to term. When Christians say things like, “I found Jesus” or “I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour,” I can totally understand why that just sounds bizarre to bystanders. Ridiculous. Pious. Crap!

“I let the LORD into my HEART!” “I’ve TURNED from my SIN and now I am SAVED!” “I SURRENDERED to God!” Yikes. That talk just sounds so unappealing. And it makes the speaker sound like they’re joining some brain-washy occult. I get it. It just sounds ludicrous. They give the impression that finding Jesus is some kind of spectacular, flashy, pious encounter and they are now professing a perfect life of purity and cleanliness. They’ve said and done a few things and now they pledge a lifestyle of “not doing stuff”.  Something along the lines of “I used to smoke and drink and speak profanities, but now I DON’T because I’m a Christian!” And maybe it is like that for some people, I don’t know.

But in my experience, the whole concept of “finding Jesus” is not about me finding at all. It is much more like Jesus randomly popping up right where I least expect Him. And maybe even when I am totally convinced that I don’t want or need Him. He just casually pops up. And perhaps even kind of scares the bejeebers out of me.

Just like I’d previously discovered, when Jesus died and reappeared again, He popped up in front of his friends who were fishing. A casual encounter. No fanfare and no red carpet. Jesus pops up and asked how many fish they have caught; just like when He pops up in the face of the stranger, like my mortgage broker Shaun with his “me too!” common experiences and comforting words of wisdom, or possibly in the face of that homeless guy I walked past the other day.

People expect to see Jesus in churches.

But newsflash! Jesus spent very little time in church. He was always out and about. Meeting people, walking, on the street, engaging with those on the margins of society. He was dining with the mightily unpopular tax-collectors and talking to – even touching! – outcasts and lepers.

In my experience, Jesus would hands-down choose to sit on a bar stool in a crowded nightclub rather than a church pew.

And He never looks like we expect him to.

When Jesus rose from the dead and came back to earth, Mary Magdalene was the first person to see him. Perhaps the most unlikely, un-special, un-pious person around. And what’s more, a woman! She was near His tomb where his body was buried and Jesus casually walks up to her. She saw Him, but she just thought He was the gardener. The gardener! If Mary Madgalene was thinking Jesus was the gardener, maybe He wasn’t looking like an angel with a white robe and halo of light.

I mean, Jesus had been ridiculed, spat on, tortured, executed and died a ghastly death. But here He is, resurrected. Made new. But Mary Magdalene thinks He’s the gardener! Has there ever been a more down-to-earth, humble man? I don’t know about you, but if I’d just conquered death, I think I’d be going for the Edward Cullen sparkly skin, a puffy cloud to float on, and a rather spectacular array of fireflies to surround me for added effect. But that’s not Jesus. At all!!!

So maybe being ‘made new’ isn’t about projecting an outward perfection to the world.

Maybe ‘new’ can be imperfect. And messy. And unglamorous. And looks more like a gardener than royalty.

Because it’s real.

And with Jesus casually popping up like a pikelet in a toaster, in my experience, He’s actually about making me new. And my father-in-law. And our relationship with each other. New, not perfectly polished in a neatly tied package with a bow.

And if I am made new, then ‘new’ can be scarred. ‘New’ can have touch-up paint. ‘New’ can have stitches.

“New looks like recovering alcoholics. New looks like reconciliation between family members who don’t actually deserve it. New looks like every time I manage to admit when I was wrong and every time I manage to not mention when I’m right. New looks like every fresh start and every act of forgiveness and every moment of letting go of what we thought we couldn’t live without and then somehow living without it anyway. New is the thing we never saw coming – never hoped for – but ends up being what we needed all along.” -N. Bolz-Weber.

If God had hobbies, I wonder if car or furniture restoration would be one of them. He specialises in Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang-style makeovers. He just keeps taking on dilapidated, crappy people and their fragmented relationships with other dilapidated, crappy people and fitting together the broken bits.

And, through his handiwork, the end result is always much better than what it was to begin with. Our loving God keeps reaching down into the muck and grime of our messed up world, pulling out our hearts of stone, giving us a much-needed heart transplant, and resurrecting us from the rubbish piles we land ourselves in through our penchant for grudges, selfishness and pride.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” –Ezekiel 36:26.

Left to my own devices, there’s NO way I was going to be having a heart-to-heart with my father-in-law. HA! That was just not possible. Out of the question.

And even if I had eventually managed to let go of my grudge from the wedding (as unlikely as that is) my stubbornness and pride would’ve stopped me from actually going through with having a cup of tea with him and chatting civilly.

But Jesus pops up, gives me a heart transplant, and resurrects me from my ditch.

And the fact that I truly, honestly and whole-heartedly LOVE my father-in-law today is one of the many, many, many reasons that I believe in God.

God makes all things new.

And here I am, having a heart-to-heart with my father-in-law, genuinely connecting.

Heck, even having a beer with him!

A new relationship.

Catching up, visiting his family on their acreage in the hills, enjoying a laugh together, staying in touch, chatting about what Jesus is doing in our lives and, best of all, defiantly declaring that we are two crappy, stubborn, rotten individuals who are made new by a loving God who specialises in heart-transplants and resurrections.

And this is what God’s still doing for me. He’s making me new. Every day. Over and over.

By the way, just for the record, I’d be a hypocrite if I said that I now have a happy-clappy relationship with everyone I encounter because I am a Christian. That would be the biggest load of bullshit. I still get pissed off. I still get annoyed. I still hold grudges. BECAUSE I AM HUMAN. But I have a loving and gracious God who just keeps picking me up, dusting me off, giving me a heart transplant, and putting me back on my path.

Chapter 14: I am Sad

The frustration with pain is that it demands to be felt.

There is no easy way out.

And pain is a certainty in this world of ours.

“I’ll lead with the bad news: it’s going to get worse. I’ve even begun collecting raindrops to prove it isn’t sunny all the time. I’ve spent entire days in bed and I’ve lost entire hours to lukewarm baths. It’s OK. Some days are bad. I have to get up even when I don’t want to. It happens. It is still a beautiful life.” -unknown

After a successful first solo outing and some pretty special encounters with the stranger, I was feeling on top of the world. God is in control! God is looking after me! I can do this! God is amazing! It’s easy to sing God’s praises when life is peachy. Or when things are going according to our plan.

But calm seas never made a skilled sailor!

And on that rollercoaster of emotions, there are inevitable – what I like to call – ‘downers’.

Downers. Darkness. Sadness. Pain. Dare-I-say depression.

It’s like a tunnel. An unavoidable tunnel. The only way to proceed on your path is to go through the tunnel. And you have to go all the way through. No short cuts and no emergency exits. The good news is that you will eventually come out the other end. And you will emerge stronger, more beautiful, than you ever were before. But the bad news is that going through the tunnel is never easy.

And there can be many tunnels along our path. Some are longer tunnels and some are shorter. Some are scarier. Some will freak the living daylights out of us. And some will even leave us with bruises and scars. And heck, I’m still encountering tunnels today.

But there is so much truth to the old adage that, ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger!’

I am drowning. I have no air. But everyone else around me is breathing just fine.

Other people so easily engage in cheery conversations, but I don’t have the energy or the ability to engage right now.

I can’t do this. This sadness is unbearable.

I’m drained. I’m depleted.

I’m standing on the sidelines. Lonely in a crowd.

I wish I could integrate into that conversation.  I wish I could go out today.

But I can’t because I’m useless.  No one will want to talk to me.  Mr Ex knew me better than probably any other person in this world and he has decided that I’m not loveable. I’m not worthwhile.  He doesn’t want me. He wants someone else. So, clearly I’m just not good enough. And so why the hell would anyone else want to love me? Or even want to talk to me for that matter?!

“Oh, I’m just tired,” I’d tell people.

But a wise person once noted what ‘tired’ can sometimes really mean.

T is for torn apart,
I is for insecure,
R is for really faking my smile,
E is for extremely sad, and
D is for drowning in my tears.

But I became better at recognising and acknowledging when I was feeling sad. I became better at telling the people around me [and friends like Sana became experts at reading] when I was on a downer.

It might just sound like self-pity. Even reflecting after emerging from a tunnel, I wonder why on earth I couldn’t just ‘snap out of it’. But pain demands to be felt.

And I have to go all the way through my tunnel. No one can walk it for me. Others may walk it with me. But no one can walk it for me.

Valentine’s Day 2013.

Bree came to visit. She gave me a teddy bear holding a homemade love-heart with a bible verse on it. I’d never actually encountered the bible verse before, or if I had, it just hadn’t registered with me. But this time, it did.

“’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.’” –Jeremiah 29:11.

God has a plan for me.

I named the bear ‘Jeremiah’ and that little bear is one of the most precious presents that I’ve ever been given.

But Jeremiah isn’t telling me that my pain and sadness will magically dissipate into a poof of smoke.

Dark days keep coming.

Moments of grief still plague me.

Tunnels lie ahead.

Does that mean God has left me? Does that mean I’m not a good enough Christian?

NO!

God never tells us that he will magically remove all pain and suffering from us. No emergency exits, remember! But God does promise that he will never leave us. He has a plan and he will use my darkness for my good.

This is not a god who is holding a banner and shouting encouraging quotes from off the court. Not at all. This is a god who enters into our suffering. He is right there in the middle of the court with us. This is a god who became human like us. He wasn’t watching Jesus on the cross. He was Jesus on the cross.

I am sad today.

And at the risk of sounding very Dr Phil-like…

Essie Bell’s Steps for Overcoming Downers:

Step one is always to recognise the emotion. Note its presence.

Step two, experience the emotion fully. A wave, coming and going. Try not to block the emotion and try not to push it away. But be careful – don’t feed it! Don’t try to keep the emotion around or increase it. Just experience it.

Step three is to remember that YOU ARE NOT YOUR EMOTION. Remember when you have felt differently. Remind yourself that you will feel differently again. Don’t act on the sense of urgency that the emotion brings. Describe your emotion saying, “I have the feeling of _____”, rather than “I am _____”.

Step four, practice respecting, even loving, your emotion. Tell yourself that it is OK to have downers. It is OK to feel like this. It is OK to cry a sea of tears, it is OK to say “WHY ME?!” and it is OK to get angry at God. Don’t believe me? Read the Psalms. And it’s not only OK, it’s actually just a normal part of being human. It is one of the many things that makes us endearingly human. So don’t judge your emotion. Radically accept your emotion.

And lastly, step five, which is the most important of all. Say out loud, “No matter what I am feeling, God is working. God has a plan.”

“When I am overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” -Psalm 61:2.

Crank some tunes too.  Some possibilities; My go-to girl Katy Perry’s By the Grace of God or Roar, The Best is Yet to Come by Sheppard, Blessed Be Your Name by Matt Redman, Oceans [Where Feet May Fail] by Hillsong, In Christ Alone by Owl City, or Whom Shall I Fear? by Chris Tomlin.

If I could go back and talk to myself inside one of those tunnels, I’d say, “Essie, I’m not going to say there are plenty of fish in the sea or that it will all get better quickly. Instead, I will say that God has a plan. It’s OK to be down. It’s normal to feel alone. But say with me now, ‘No matter what I am feeling, God is working.’”

Yes, my husband no longer loves me. But guess what? God still loves me! I’ve given God countless reasons not to love me. None of them has been strong enough to change him though. Thank you, God. And I am surrounded by a bubble of family and friends who love me too.

Today, I have the feeling of sadness.

But I will be OK. Just not today. And that’s OK.

Because no matter what I am feeling, God is working. God has a plan.

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