20s&d on Insta: Take 2!!

OK, so back in January this year, I joined Instagram for like a week… and then I worked out that a few people with rather direct connections to Mr Ex et. al. had found me on Insta… and I panicked… and I pulled the plug. This blog does freak the bejeebers out of me sometimes. It’s heart and soul honest-to-goodness. And that is confronting sometimes. I so often want to sanitise it or delete certain bits that might not paint me in the best light. I so often want to trim the edges or place a nice little filter over the top.

But every time I attempt to do that, I just can’t go through with it. Because, I know that this blog has to remain 100% authentic to me and my story.

My goal was to own my story, so own my story I will. #freakout #scary #ineedguts

And in that spirit, I’m back on Instagram!

Here’s what I said when I first joined Insta back in January this year…

They say that a picture tells a thousand words!

If you’re a follower of 20something & divorced and you’re finding it too long in between ‘drinks’, follow me on Instagram for regular snippets and tidbits!

Waiting for the next chapter? Bide your time with all things pink, Jesus, new beginnings, figure skating, Saltwater Sandals, general messiness of a divorcee, finding light in the darkness, and more!

Visit www.instagram.com/20somethinganddivorced

Love & Light,

Ess

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Chapter 32: That corrosive, life-changing love

My most successful relationships are the ones I never saw coming.

The ones I never wanted.

I would love to say that I always experience God as a happy-clappy, sunshine and butterflies bubble of fun.

And, yes, sometimes I do.

But, a lot of the time, I experience God as a brutal heart transplant that I find offensive and corrosive.

I stumbled across this “love” quote recently. It’s not the usual happy-clappy, sunshine and butterflies interpretation that one usually finds on Pinterest. It’s gutsy and daring and ferocious and threatening and upsetting and unnerving. I love it.

“Life’s good,” she said. “All I need now is somebody to settle down with, somebody to complete the picture.”

Her friend laughed. “Love is never convenient,” she replied. “And it’s certainly never comfortable or complacent. Love strikes when you least expect it. Love upsets the careful balance of a life and leaves it in absolute ruin. Complete the picture? No. Love is the corrosive that strips your canvas bare and starts all over. So if you are looking for something that will slot seamlessly into your little old life, my god, look elsewhere.”

-Beau Taplin, The Picture.

And that’s exactly right.

When I talk about the effortlessness that successful relationships need, I am talking about how they come about in the first place and how they develop. When the Holy Spirit is in it, there is an effortlessness that just works. It is not forced. It flows.

But in addition to that sense of effortlessness, it should be life-changingly ferocious and unsettling.

I know there are people out there who think I have, a) a diminished brain capacity because I believe this airy-fairy Jesus stuff, b) a blind faith based on wishful optimism and/or a fear of facing a universe of nothing-ness, or c) an affinity to overlook scientific logic and reason that apparently debunks the Jesus stuff.

And, you know what? I get it; the Jesus story is indeed a pretty crazy story…!

A bunch of prophets with funny names and too much time on their hands came up with some nice ideas for the future, which were later somehow connected to a dodgy conception, a man flouncing around with lepers and prostitutes preaching forgiveness and grace and love, claiming to be God in human form, and a death by crucifixion and then suddenly re-appearing again.

Yes, it’s weird and, yes, so much can be explained away.

Maybe Jesus never really died. Maybe he survived the crucifixion. And that’s why he was walking around with holes still in his wrists three days later.

Or maybe Mary was some knocked up teenager who was too embarrassed to tell her fiance that she got pregnant to some other guy, so she came up with one heck of a cover story.

Maybe Jesus was just some do-gooder with fancy ideas about forgiveness or an extroverted attention-seeker who badly wanted a spotlight. i.e. Not actually God in human form, but just some regular mortal who pioneered a new way of thinking which is all well and good, but that’s it.

And maybe he knew what the dead prophets had projected about an eventual Messiah, so he did a little tweaking to tick all the right boxes and – just like when you read your horoscope and you go, ‘ohhh… yeah, I did make an exciting new discovery this week, so my horoscope was 100% spot on’ – maybe we’ve all just given Jesus a little ‘nip and tuck’ treatment and worked the Old Testament prophecies to suit this Jesus guy. No more, no less.

But every time I start to wonder about the many theories that float around in the cosmos – and every time I hear human logic and reason explaining Jesus away or portraying God as an inconsistent, now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t Cheshire Cat – I just can’t get past one thing:

I HAVE EXPERIENCED THE JESUS STUFF TO BE REAL.

And not just once, but over and over and over and over again.

For me, Christianity is about death and resurrection. A death and resurrection that comes from beyond myself. Something that I know I can’t make work on my own.

And it has everything to do with what Jesus was saying all those years ago and is still getting across to me today.

I first experienced it with my father-in-law back in earlier chapters of this blog. You may recall, I hated the man. I hated that he made my mum cry with his wedding-boycotting antics. I hated that he placed rules and expectations on his children in the name of “the lord”. I hated that he tried to tell me homeschooling was the only way to “bring up godly children”. I hated that he had a mentality of people being “good” (Christian/saved/not of the world) or “bad” (worldly/unsaved/not Christian).

So I had my father-in-law all sussed out.

And again as you may recall from earlier chapters, I ignored him. I stayed well away from him. And if I did have to go to his house with Mr Ex for some unfortunate reason, I’d be stand off-ish and keep him at an arm’s length.

Then, bang! Crash! Kick up the butt!

In 2013, post-separation from Mr Ex… My friend Sana speaks the truth to me.

I hadn’t overcome my father-in-law’s “good vs. bad” mentality.

I had just created my very own Essie Bell version of it.

Same sorting system. Just different sorting.

I had put me on the “good” side and my father-in-law on the “bad” side. And tried to carry out my own justice accordingly.

Well, I experience Jesus regularly in the form of a friend who speaks the truth.

In the case of my father-in-law, it was my truth-speaking friend Sana back in 2013.

Sana tells me that God’s grace is not just for me; it’s for my father-in-law as well.

Sana also tells me that every time I draw a line in the sand with me on one side and that person who is pissing me off on the other side, Jesus is always on the other side.

Every time I draw that line in the sand separating me and them

Jesus is always on the other side.

Damn it.

And you can read how things turned out with my father-in-law in my much earlier chapter, Made New (Not Perfect).

~~~

You would’ve thought I’d learnt my lesson.

But in early 2015, a girl called Danielle started going to my Church of Quirks.

And she quickly began dating British Comedy Dude.

You guessed it; I didn’t like her.

Several months later, I went to a friend’s engagement party and I wasn’t feeling very well that night. I’d had minimal sleep and I wasn’t in a socialising mood.

So, I was sticking close to Annie, a dear friend who has always felt like a cosy blanket of sunshine and butterflies and we all need that in our lives.

But, I think God knew I also needed some corrosive, life-changing love, too.

Because, at this engagement party, yes, you guessed it again; Danielle was there.

And, at one point during the party – much to my absolute horror – Annie, my sunshine and butterflies, walked over and began talking to Danielle and British Comedy Dude. Grr!

I had two choices: 1) stay on my own and look like a loner, or 2) follow Annie and face possible conversation with people I wasn’t keen to talk to at all.

I took option 2. I followed. But I had zilch intention of making conversation.

So, standing next to Annie and avoiding excessive eye contact with anyone else, I thought I could slide under the radar unnoticed.

But inevitably, the unthinkable happened: Danielle said hello.

And I was now in a conversation against my will.

I thought, I’ll just fumble through some surface-level small talk, laugh at some jokes, show  interest in a few things and then I’ll be on my merry way.

Well, fortunately for me, God always has other ideas.

God never sits still in our best formulations.

Three minutes into my conversation with Danielle, I was laughing. And I realised I wasn’t actually faking it.

HUH?!

It was effortless.

Beyond-logic, Holy Spirit effortless.

We connected like two lobsters in a tank of goldfish. Two crazies in a world of sanity. Two galahs in a tree of magpies.

It worked. Our relationship really worked. And that is where my idea of ‘effortlessness’ (mentioned in earlier chapters) comes into play. ‘Effortless’ because I could hear my soul saying, “There you are! I’ve been looking for you” and it all unfolded without either of us forcing it or willing it or wanting it; Without either of us even seeing it coming.

But more than that, it also changed me.

It was God’s signature heart-transplant, where He reaches down into the depths of my dark, stubborn, vengeance-seeking heart of stone and He replaces it with a beating heart of love and life.

I had Danielle pegged. I had her sussed out. I knew I didn’t like her.

(Just like my ex-father-in-law three years earlier.)

But here we were – Danielle and Ess – literally spending two hours sitting off to one side at that engagement party, chatting and engaging oh-so-genuinely happily with each other.

In that moment, a mutual love was born.

And it didn’t start as convenient, complacent or even comfortable.

It started as upsetting and offensive and it completely, absolutely ruined my careful balance.

~~~

It’s like God loves me too much to sit idly by as I kill myself with bitterness.

God doesn’t sit still in our best formulations and I am so thankful for that.

Instead, He loves us.

And God’s love never starts off as an easy, happy-clappy, sunshine and butterflies thing. It starts with all of those things in the quote above: never convenient, never complacent, never comfortable.

It’s annoying. It’s offensive. It’s painful.

And that is exactly because it goes against our every notion of justice, fairness and right vs. wrong. It goes against our instinct of how to treat the people who hurt us.

It’s like God’s love has to break us… in order to change us… in order to save us from ourselves.

“Love upsets the careful balance of a life and leaves it in absolute ruin.”

“Love is the corrosive that strips our canvas bare and starts all over.”

That’s exactly what God was doing when He took on human skin and bones and walked among us as Jesus of Nazareth. When Jesus preached unconditional love and worked both sides of the street, He came to make a change in our little old lives. He was being outrageously offensive in His notions of forgiveness and grace and He absolutely quashed our best articulations of justice, fair vs. unfair, and how to deal with the people we just don’t like. Hence, the hearers of these teachings crucified Jesus in a bid to shut Him up.

But Jesus’s life, love and lessons, as much as they ruined the hearts of the people who heard, they also changed the lives of those people for GOOD.

Did those people wish they could return to the pre-Jesus days?! NO WAY!!

And those people were never the same again.

So, that’s what God was up to when I had my father-in-law all sussed out and when I knew I didn’t want to like Danielle.

And that’s what God is up to whenever I experience a friend speaking the truth to me. When I’m in a shitty, shitty mood and feeling all sorry for myself and Sana speaks truth to me, I experience God all over again.

Jesus’s love is life-changing.

It’s rarely easy to swallow, nor is it what we are necessarily looking for.

But it’s ALWAYS, always, always exactly what we need.

And it ALWAYS, always, always comes with a certainty that change has arisen from beyond ourselves.

Because that light – as offensive as it may seem at first – is where true freedom and compassion and love and solidarity and LIFE is found. And it is something we can never reach or achieve or attain on our own.

~~~

So, when I think about love within our own friendships, relationships and marriages, I now wonder if we are looking at it all backwards.

We want to find someone/something that affirms us in a happy-clappy sort of way. We want someone to complete our picture. And while that’s great, I wonder if there’s actually far more depth and life in someone/something that changes us.

In my marriage with Mr Ex, I was closed to change.

I can say that now with 20/20 hindsight.

I hated the idea of being open to another person changing me. And I get it; being changed by another person sounds like a dodgy practice. I mean, we all get fed nice little self-affirming statements, like “stay true to yourself” and “follow your heart”. Well, I’m now thinking that maybe remaining true to myself isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and following my heart is downright dangerous.

I can say with 100% certainty that because I met Sana and Danielle, I have been changed for good.

So, I wonder – and I’m only wondering this now with three and a half years of post-separation experience under my belt – whether the real power of love and friendship is being open to someone changing us, challenging us, coming out of left field and upsetting the perfect little equilibrium of our life.

You certainly don’t read that on Hallmark cards!

But I wonder.

Maybe love (just like God’s love for us) should strip our canvas bare and leave us in absolute ruin.

Because in post-ruin freedom, the light breaks in.

In post-ruin freedom, we are changed for good.

~~~

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Danielle and I are best friends today.

And we often have a laugh about that first conversation that began through my gritted teeth which almost instantly evolved into this effortless, post-ruin magic.

This chapter is dedicated to those people (you know who you are!) who speak beautifully, wonderfully, divinely corrosive truth to my stubborn little heart, who upset the careful balance of my life, and who strip back my canvas to bare. In post-ruin turmoil, I find new depths of life, love and freedom.

Chapter 31: Divorce and Dating: My Unwanted D-Words

Divorce or Dating.

I’m not sure which D-word I dislike more.

The actual process of getting divorced was pretty straightforward. We’d had the legal red tape and rigmarole when we were legally separated in early 2013. That was hard. But the divorce was much, much easier. I only had to sign one piece of paper, as opposed to the fifty-something back in 2013. Sana came with me to a Justice of the Peace (JP) and I signed the page that Mr Ex had also already signed. There was a long line of people waiting for the JP, so it wasn’t even a situation involving small talk. It was just, “alright, sign here… alright, next person!”

And that was a blessing.

Two weeks later, my divorce certificate arrived in the post.

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Julia, my work colleague and dear friend – the one who randomly rocked up at my Church of Quirks on the day I first visited there, a couple of chapters ago – was separated and pending divorce, too. Her ex-husband and my ex-husband (no connection whatsoever) were both arranging our divorce paperwork, albeit from different countries. Mr Ex was in Bristol, England and Julia’s husband was here in Australia. Yet, unbeknown to both Julia and myself, our ex-husbands lodged our divorce applications on the exact same day. No mean feat for two strangers living in different countries! How bizarre.

So, Julia and I both received our divorce certificates in the post on the exact same day. Surreal. I have a divorce buddy. A fellow Jesus-loving, starting-life-from-scratch-again, had-a-cheating-husband, now-living-out-Plan-B buddy. (Not something I ever thought I’d say!)

It never fails to amaze me how easy it is to get divorced.

Sadly, I think buying a house with another person is actually a far bigger commitment than marriage and significantly harder to ‘get out of’.

Marriage, on the other hand, is ridiculously easy to get out of!

Crazy.

So, anyway, I was now divorced and feeling quite content and happy. That sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s true. I was OK.

That lasted only a short while, before my next mother-load tunnel popped up.

An email from my ex-father-in-law.

He wanted to share some news with me. He wanted me to hear it from him, rather than anyone else. He wanted to give me time to digest it.

“Mr Ex and Cosette are expecting a baby.”

And that killed me.

My heart was smashed into a zillion tiny pieces.

And I broke.

Yet again.

It’s one of the three times in my life that I have experienced darkness beyond words.

The first time was when Mr Ex revealed the affair and walked out. The second time was when I signed my separation papers. And the third time was hearing that Mr Ex and Cosette had a baby on the way.

I really, truly wanted to die.

I remember sitting on the bathroom floor in a mess. No will to live. There were sleeping pills on my bathroom shelf.

Would I ever do that?

I thought about it. But, no. Despite my very best efforts to be an atheist and despite my very best efforts to give up on myself, my life and my God, He just doesn’t let me go.

What saved me?

This blog.

Yep.

This blog. By the Grace of God.

After a time of dry-reach crying and hysterically throwing metaphorical ink pots around my house, I logged onto WordPress, my beloved blog host, and I wrote what would form a part of Chapter 19: Free Will and Throwing Ink Pots. Writing is my therapy. And a gift from God, I believe.

So, a big thank you to each and every one of my readers. And thank you, God, for 20somethinganddivorced.com.

In that chapter, I wrote about the feeling of the walls closing in. And me fighting back, like Martin Luther when he literally threw ink pots at what he perceived to be the devil. This was my ink pot moment.

While that chapter worked perfectly within my blogging time-frame (I was up to the bit about signing my separation papers), it was well and truly inspired by my reaction to Mr Ex’s pending fatherhood.

Oddly enough, my parents and friends didn’t see the baby news as upsetting. Sure, they thought it was annoying, unfair and perhaps a little shitty, but definitely not ground-breakingly terrible.

So why did I react in the way I did???

Perhaps knowing for years that I would be the person to have Mr Ex’s children, I was mourning the loss of the children that I may never have.

I’m not sure what it is with women and babies.

I spend 99.999% of my time grateful that I can be a selfish, single person with no nappies to change and the divine luxury of sleeping in (when I’m not skating, that is). I do what I want, when I want.

But then I’ll see a deliriously happy couple (you know the ones… they sit on a church pew and rub each others backs) and I want what they have.

And social media is the WORST for that.

I call it “IRWWTH” (pronounced “earth”) syndrome. I Really Want What They Have.

But, when I truly, honestly, deeply listen to myself… I mean really listen to myself… I am happy. I am complete. I am content and fulfilled and all that jazz. I really am.

It is only when I listen to the universe – through social media or that son of a bitch stereotype that tells us couples, marriages and children are the epitome of fulfillment – that I get jaded.

I don’t want to be that bitter, jealous, angry ex-wife. And I’m actually not.

So, how do I stop her from creeping in?

Fight like hell to listen to God, not the world.

And when I say ‘fight’, I do quite literally mean fight.

It’s warfare.

Much like my chapter about throwing ink pots, I had to fight. Fight the demons that tell you bullshit about your life. Fight the little voices in your head that belittle you and erode your sense of fulfillment.

And that is why my beautiful parents bought me a dog tag. It’s not your average, everyday dog tag. It’s a Tiffany & Co dog tag!

And it has two little words inscribed:

I know

One of my dearest, dearest friends at Happy’s (church), Michelle, gave me the idea.

“I know” signifies the beginning of my go-to Bible verse. Jeremiah 29:11.

‘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’.

God tells me that I am loved as I am. God tells me that I’m complete as I am. God tells me that there’s nothing I could do that could ever separate me from His love. God tells me that I am made new. God tells me that I am worth it. God tells me that He has a plan for me. And a future.

The world tells me that I need a partner, a baby, a Thermomix and those annoying ‘My Family’ car stickers.

Don’t listen to that.

One of my favourite books in the Bible is Ecclesiastes. I can totally relate. It was written by King Solomon and I’m SURE he was feeling emo and dark when he wrote it. He wrote the book of Proverbs first (the previous Bible chapter), which is all nice and rosey and chipper. But then maybe he lived a little and discovered how shittily, shittily unfair this world can be.

Ecclesiastes starts off with, “Everything is meaningless; completely meaningless”. A little while on, it says, “I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless – like chasing the wind.” Not the most commonly known Bible verse, that’s for sure. But I love it. Because it addresses the universal disappointment that we experience when we place our hope, identity and faith in anything other than God. We will be disappointed. Guaranteed.

But in God, we have hope. We have completeness. We can move mountains with Jesus.

That sounds really preachy. But, truthfully, I’m writing that to myself more that anyone. Because that is the stuff I need to be reminded of regularly.

The other part of my pain?

HOW, HOW, HOW, HOW, HOW is it fair/possible/OK for Mr Ex and Cosette (who cheated on their respective spouses) to have a baby, when there are SO MANY beautiful, faithful couples experiencing infertility?! And HOW, HOW, HOW, HOW, HOW, HOW is it fair/possible/OK for Mr Ex and Cosette to get pregnant seemingly at the drop of a hat, when Mr Ex and I were trying for HOW LONG?!!?? And we didn’t get pregnant?!

SOOOOOO FREAKING UNFAIR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

But that’s life.

And truthfully, I know I should be thankful that I never had children with Mr Ex. Because if we had children, things would be SO much more complicated, painful and unfair. I know that. But still.

It was in that headspace following the Mr Ex/Cosette baby news that I signed up for internet dating. eHarmony, to be exact. Just the free trial. (Thankfully, I didn’t part with any dollars.)

It really hit me that I am single. And he’s totally not.

I went on a blind date with one guy. We had several mutual friends, so it seemed like a safe bet. I lasted on this date for 32 minutes, before I managed to excuse myself and escape! I rang Andrew, Cosette’s ex-husband and my now-dear friend, as I was walking running to my car. We just laughed. It was an utter disaster! Basically, the guy (a 33-year-old Christian) was still living at home with mummy and daddy, he actually told me that his mummy does his washing for him and that’s why he likes living at home, he told me that he’s never had a girlfriend before and that he has lots of first dates but they never go any further AND he told me that he understood my divorce because HIS BEST FRIEND MOVED TO QUEENSLAND.

Umm… what?!?!?!?!

A best friend moving interstate DOES NOT equate to your spouse CHEATING on you and walking out!!!!!!

He’s probably a really lovely guy. And I’m sure his awkwardness and nervousness would be endearing to the right girl. But that was definitely not me.

My next internet dating experience didn’t actually result in me meeting anyone at all.

A friend of mine had been dating some guy called Steve. She told me a little about him; Steve, aged 30, a Restaurant Manager from Glenelg. I was really happy for her! And although it was still new, it sounded positive! No one had met this Steve guy yet.

And Steve had no idea who I was.

But I think God revealed His epic sense of humour and desire for me to have good blogging material, because eHarmony emailed me a notification of a ‘kiss’ and ‘5 questions’ from…guess who? Steve, aged 30, a Restaurant Manager from Glenelg.

WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?!?!?

The guy that my friend is dating IS ALSO ON eHARMONY?!?!? Dating my friend but also shopping around for girls online?!? Sending me creepy questions and a ‘kiss’?!?! VOMIT!!!!!!

And you know what’s worse?? He’s a Youth Leader at a local church.

ASSHOLE!!!!!

And thus ended my very short 1-week spell on eHarmony.

Let me just say, I’m glad it’s over.

And I’m glad I never parted with any money. And I’m glad I never uploaded a photo of myself or any specific details about me.

Internet dating is truly heinous.

A little while later, there was a guy (not internet dating, but real life) who asked me out on a couple of coffee dates. I wasn’t sure if he was “interested” or not, but I later found out that, yes, he was. The couple of coffee dates were followed by a pier-side dinner at Glenelg (I did wonder if we went to 30-year-old Steve’s Restaurant?!) and a couple of pub catch-ups. You would think I’d have big trust issues, considering my history with Mr Ex, but oddly enough, I do trust people easily. Stupid me, perhaps. But anyway, I enjoyed his company and I considered him a friend, so I had him over to my place for dinner and British comedy. Let’s call him British Comedy Dude.

Despite catching up with British Comedy Dude on a number of occasions, sharing a friendship circle and developing a [what I thought was genuine] friendship, he then unexpectedly began ignoring me. Like, literally just stopped talking to me and responded to any texts with a couple of words max.

I don’t know what happened. Someone later told me that he was interested in me, but he changed his mind. All I can deduce: British Comedy Dude heard ‘my story’ (i.e. the abridged version of this entire blog) and he ran a mile. At least I think that was the reason. He never communicated, but timing-wise it added up. And it pissed me off, mostly because I thought we were friends.

So, I see a major problem with the dating scene.

And that goes 100% for church dating scenes.

I’ve seen it time and time again with others and I’ve experienced it myself once.

The formula goes something like this…

Guy is interested in girl. Guy asks girl out for coffee. Guy and girl get coffee. Guy and girl get to know each other. Guy and girl hang out a bit more. Guy changes his mind. Guy backs right off.

Is it just me, or is that not OK?!

I can’t offer any amazing revelations for an alternative to this formula, but my two cents worth is: I don’t think we should ever compromise our compassion.

And it seems to me that that formula seriously compromises compassion.

If we decide we don’t want to pursue a friendship/relationship/any kind of connection with someone we’ve been hanging out with/investing in/share a circle of friends with, I would say it’s never OK for you to just start ignoring that person.

COMMUNICATE, people! Communicate!

Own your feelings!

Be bold enough to SPEAK!

Have the guts to tell that person how you’re feeling.

There’s a good chance that person may agree with you. And if they don’t, at least have the heart to show respect to that person by giving them some kind of communication. Sure, conveying our feelings can be shithouse to give and receive. But I think it’s just common courtesy to tell a person how you are feeling. They deserve that. Because they gave you their time and energy and they let you into their world.

And in my case, at the risk of sounding woe-is-me, I was a damaged, recovering soul.

While I didn’t think British Comedy Dude was a good match for me whatsoever and while I didn’t feel any spark there, I did consider him a friend and I did take the leap of faith in sharing my story with him.

But then I realised something.

It was forced.

I was reacting to my hurt, pain and devastation at Mr Ex’s happy little life with pending child. I was being reactive.

My most successful friendships are the ones I never saw coming. The ones I never even wanted. The ones I didn’t pursue or hope for or self-generate. The ones that effortlessly happened.

So I made a promise to myself:

“Ess, that’s it. Don’t force it.”

And so, dating was over before it even properly began.

If I ever embark on the world of dating again, I have two rules in place:

  1. He loves Jesus more than me.
  2. It must be effortless*. Like, Holy-Spirit effortless. That deep-down effortlessness that you just feel in your soul.

*I described ‘effortless’ in In The Stranger. There are those people in life where your soul just goes, “Oh there you are! I’ve been looking for you!” and I think it is Jesus in and within these people that our souls are recognising. You connect on multi-dimensional levels and you are sure you’ve been friends for years.

I was talking to Andrew (Cosette’s husband) recently and I acknowledged the fact that I really have limited my dating options. I said to Andrew, “If I ever date, it’ll be with a fellow wine-drinking Jesus freak, who is the same breed of crazy as me, and who isn’t fazed by my F-bomb-riddled life.”

…Yes… That does limit my options SIGNIFICANTLY.

But I’m OK with that.

And if I’m single forever and ever, I’m OK with that too.**

(**And if I ever doubt that, I’ll just scroll up and re-read this chapter; what God tells me, versus what the world tells me).

And on that note, Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City has some wise words of wisdom…

“…The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you can find someone to love the you you love, well, that’s just fabulous!”-Carrie Bradshaw.

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Chapter 30: The Trust Mug & The D-Word

I hadn’t heard anything from Mr Ex.

After he collected his stuff in early February 2013, that was it.

Settlement ensued. The t’s were crossed and the i’s were dotted. All loose ends tied.

And it wasn’t until January 2015 when I next heard a peep from him.

Because he wanted to file for divorce.

Now, by this stage (that’s January 2015), exactly two years had passed since Mr Ex first walked out. I was in a good place. I had landed my dream job as a Junior Primary teacher in a leading school and I was surrounded by a hoard of legends: family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, church family, my tribe of crazies…

I was also on this exciting journey with a God who was continuing to re-reveal Himself everyday; a God who, despite my efforts to be an atheist sometimes, just doesn’t let me go. And I praise Him for that.

“God is hanging onto you. He’s not waiting for you to save yourself and mature into someone who no longer needs Him. He will not let you go, come what may.” -Tullian Tchividjian

So, my life wasn’t exactly lacking. I was happy.

Nelson Mandela said it best; “There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” And that is exactly right.

At this point, I had worked out that my life when married to Mr Ex was normal. Nothing amazing. Nothing extraordinary. We did everyday things. We made practical plans and strove to execute them. We were sensible and careful and, yeah, pretty normal.

Just for the record, now I pursue the abnormal.

I recently went back and revised most of my earlier chapters. Even now, I remember things from early 2013 that I had since forgotten. The brain is funny like that.

One thing I have never specifically addressed in my blog is why I think my marriage ended; a question I’ve asked many times, but most prominently back in 2013. Why did Mr Ex leave? Why did a seemingly perfect match end in disaster? Were there signs? Why did the world’s most loyal husband cheat on me?

The answer is, I don’t know. And I will never really know.

Mr Ex and I have never had a conversation about it. And I can’t say I ever want to. But, for the sake of my blog (and because I know I have a couple of readers who are interested in my opinion on the topic!), I’ll give it a crack…

One thing is for certain: Mr Ex and I were ‘the perfect couple’. We knew we’d be together forever. We were everything to each other. Mutual adoration and respect. I really can’t stress that enough. (I know people reading this would be thinking that we must’ve had cracks to begin with. Fact: We didn’t. We both went into our relationship as a 17-year-old and 19-year-old who whole-heartedly believed and whole-heartedly wanted our relationship to last forever.)

So what went wrong?

  1. Did we get married too young? PEOPLE CHANGE MASSIVELY IN THEIR 20s!!!! That is my observation, anyway. So there would be nothing like marriage in your early twenties to make life all the more complex and if you grow apart, well, o-oh.
  2. Is marriage actually quite hard? When I was married, marriage was just ‘normal’ and I didn’t think of it as being ‘hard’ at all. But now that I’m single, I look at marriage and I see just how hard it is! Everyday, you have to be selfless, willing to compromise, and choosing that person again and again. You have to see their flaws and shortcomings and love them anyway. That’s actually not that easy.
  3. Were we pressured into an early marriage? Because we mixed in a church culture where you didn’t dare live together before marriage, maybe you reach a point where marriage is an unspoken expectation. I’ve seen that to be true. Did we fall into that?
  4. Were we incompatible? Yes, we are both fairly different people, but there are plenty of successful couples out there who have many differences. Opposites attract. How much common ground does a couple need?
  5. Did he go off the rails? I certainly wondered if he was losing the plot. That kind of made it easier to deal with. But, worse still, maybe he was totally sane?
  6. Did he get better sex elsewhere? I’ve included that one because yes, a well-meaning family member once told me, “Oh, Ess, he’s probably getting the most worldly sex from her“. Thanks. That makes me feel great.
  7. Was it our infertility? I’ve alluded to this in earlier chapters and I certainly thought this was a key reason for a long time.

So, out of those seven possible reasons which were all entertained by various people as highly plausible, the one that I personally referred to a lot in the early days post-separation was our fertility troubles. We were trying for a baby for more than a year. It wasn’t working. And we were literally days away from officially starting the IVF journey.

I have so much heart, love and respect for couples who go through infertility. I feel your pain because I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to take a million pregnancy tests on the day your period is due, only to be shattered over and over and over again by the dreaded single pink line: Not pregnant. It sucks. And the more you want it, the more it sucks. Agh, just writing that now, I’m remembering the pangs of sadness and emptiness. It’s fucking shit.

For a long time, I blamed that for our marriage breakdown.

“Mr Ex had always wanted to be a father and he was so devastated by our inability to conceive so he ran off with an older woman to make that problem go away.”

It’s a reasonable statement, but I have no idea how much truth it actually holds.

With hindsight now, my opinion is that that statement would be me over-simplifying things.

I think our infertility shock (I mean, what 24 and 26-year-old couple has trouble starting a family?!) was a catalyst for Mr Ex’s affair. But I don’t think it was the be-all and end-all.

And I don’t blame any of the earlier reasons either. Well, not on their own.

I think the trouble lies much deeper:

EMOTIONAL.

I don’t think that physical reasons are responsible for marriage breakdowns. Not wordly sex, whatever the hell that is.

I also don’t think that ‘getting married too young’ or ‘marriage being hard’ or ‘pressured into it by the church’ are good enough excuses, either.

Realistically, all of those things can be overcome by CHOOSING that person everyday, over and over again. Choice. That’s the key. Choosing to love that person and stick by that person daily. None of those reasons on their own are valid for someone having an affair and walking out.

So, perhaps for us it was a culmination of, 1) getting married very young, before either of us had lived out of home or spent time getting to know ourselves (and our hopes, dreams, wishes and goals for the future) as individuals, 2) Mr Ex was on a slippery slope of becoming a very high income earner in a cut-throat legal world which, quite frankly, I now believe is soul destroying, 3) I, Mrs Bell, was an insular, co-dependent spouse who relied 110% on Mr Ex for my own happiness, fulfillment, self-confidence and identity, having very little (if any) idea of who I actually was and what made me happy, and this was all fuelled by, 4) a false church projection that young couples must get married and have babies to be ‘perfect’ as well as our own acceptance of being mass-produced ‘factory Christians’ who do all the right things and don’t do all the wrong things, but have absolutely no concept of the hardcore, exciting, lively Holy Spirit who enters lives and mucks up our notion of perfection.

Perhaps those four elements – and maybe others – were our fatal flaws. And perhaps the infertility diagnosis was our ice berg.

But you know what?

It’s complex.

And if you ask me again in 6 months time, I might have a different response.

Mr Ex is also a complicated person. Just like me. Just like everyone.

And I don’t think there’s ever just one easy answer.

Interestingly, it’s not something that people really talk about. Why marriages end.

I’ve always thought it’s tragic how two people who used to mean the world to each other could end up essentially total strangers. It’s tragic. Utterly tragic. Yet it is so common!!!!!

50% of marriages end exactly like that. HOW SAD!!!!!!!! I don’t think divorce angers us enough. I think we have become complacent to how SHOCKING it is!!!

And if you’re a married person reading this, pleeeease go and give your spouse a massive hug right now and tell them ten reasons why you love them. Go and book tickets to a movie this weekend or find a new restaurant to try for dinner.

It really upsets me that society has made divorce so normal. Trust me; IT’S NOT NORMAL!!! And it is stupid for us to pretend like it is. We SHOULD get upset by it!! We should wrestle with it!! It should be on our minds!!

And, you know what, when there are KIDS involved!!!! BOY, don’t even get me started!!! SO sad and painful and hard, I can imagine.

We should be getting angry.

We should be kicking that darkness.

Because only in kicking that darkness, can the light begin to bleed out.

I wish more married couples would talk about divorce. Yep, I’ve had some strange looks when I’ve said that out loud. I wish more people would own their stories. In my experience, it’s actually very therapeutic!

So anyway, as I started off saying, January 2015 is where I’m up to in this whole ‘owning my story’ thing.

January 2015. And Mr Ex had just emailed me, saying that he would like to file for divorce.

He explained to me that I had 3 options: 1) I join him in a joint divorce application, which meant no court appearance and it would all just happen, or 2) He files for divorce and I would then need to go to court so that it could be ‘served’ on me, or finally, 3) I do nothing and it would eventually be ‘served’ on me at home anyway (like, where a court representative rocks up at your front door and hands you divorce papers).

I thought long and hard.

And in the end, I made the choice to go with #1.

Perhaps a controversial decision, because I was filing for joint divorce, which maybe looks like I’m giving up on my marriage. A whole lot of Christians would possibly raise their eyebrows right now. And yes, part of me thought that maybe I should just let him divorce me and then I could be all innocent like, “oh, this all just happened to me!”

But then I thought, NO.

At the end of the day, I have nothing to prove. And no matter what I say or do, I will end up divorced. I could be stubborn about it, but then I’d just be in the traumatic position of either going to court or having a court person at my door. Realistically, our marriage covenant was broken two years earlier when Mr Ex had an affair and walked out. And that’s it.

So, I eventually replied to his email and told him that I would proceed with a joint divorce application.

The next day, I got to school and a child in my class had a random gift for me. The families and children at work had no idea what was happening in my life outside of work. But kids often bring in little offerings for their teacher; flowers from the garden, homemade card, origami hats, crayon drawings. But this was distinctly different.

A mug.

With one word: Trust.

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And that meant SO much to me.

Aldous Huxley, an atheist, famously compared God to the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The Cheshire Cat would appear or disappear at will, and all that was left was its rather arrogant and frustratingly cocky grin. That is all that is left of the out-dated concept of God, presiding over a meaningless cosmos. But I don’t agree.

In the little things, I see God. I see God in a small child who (according to the parent) had the random idea to buy me a present. And went into a gift shop. And made the decision – out of EVERYTHING in that shop – to buy me a mug. With the word ‘trust’. I don’t even think this 5-year-old could articulate what trust even is. But they chose it. Go figure.

I don’t think God appears or disappears at will.

I think we think He does. And I think maybe it may seem like it’s the case.

But He’s there.

He’s always, always there.

Not being able to see God at work in our ordinary, mundane lives is kind of easy. We can miss His presence so easily. But I have a deep, unwavering conviction; if you look for Him, He’s totally there.

That child will never know the impact their present had on me.  It’s proof that random acts of kindness go far, far deeper than we ever realise. And can impact a person in ways we’d never imagine.

Indeed, trust I did.

20s&d on Instagram!

They say that a picture tells a thousand words!

If you’re a follower of 20something & divorced and you’re finding it too long in between ‘drinks’, follow me on Instagram for regular snippets and tidbits!

Waiting for the next chapter? Bide your time with all things pink, Jesus, new beginnings, Saltwater Sandals, general messiness of a divorcee, finding light in the darkness, and more!

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Love & Light,

Ess

Chapter 29: My Church of Quirks

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The other day, I was driving someone in my car. My iPhone’s playlist was randomly streaming in the background. A Hillsong Jesus-y God-praising song came on and I subtly skipped it. Yes. I skipped it. I pressed the button on my steering wheel that makes my sound system proceed to the next song. I didn’t want my new friend judging me by my Jesus music.

And then I realised that I’d done it again. Unfaithful to God.

People who know me often think I’m a fantastic Christian because I have a Christian blog and/or I go to church and/or I’m “such a nice person”.

I’m not.

I’m actually a dilapidated, broken person who fails daily in my relationship with God.

But, the thing with God – which never fails to amaze me – is that He actually still loves me. He loves me even though I fail Him daily.

Just when I think, “That’s it; I’ve done it now! Surely God won’t love me anymore because of ___”, His love tells me that I am cherished and He just keeps loving me back to life.

“I will not forget you. I have written your name on the palms of my hands” -God. (Isaiah 49: 15-16).

Back in 2014, this seemed to me to be a missing element in many churches.

I was convinced that I had experienced Jesus in my life. I’d experienced the radical heart-transplant that the Holy Spirit so beautifully and traumatically carries out. I’d experienced God’s unfathomable willingness to enter the muck and grime of humanity. And even though I was unfaithful to God and spiritually rough around the edges (and still am!), I was convinced that God loved me more when I was honest about my brokenness, than when I was sitting in church pretending to have all my shit together.

At this point, I was still going to the church where Mr Ex and I had attended as a married couple, albeit on and off.

First off, let me say it is a terrific church that meets the needs of so many people and is undoubtedly a work of the Holy Spirit. But I didn’t fit in. For two reasons, I thought.

  1. I felt like it was a group of people with all their shit together. Adults who don’t say “shit” and children who skipped out to Sunday School during the last verse of the third hymn. Married couples. Families. Perfection. And what would I have in common with that?! I didn’t see how couples who married at 21 would have any understanding of what it is like to be single-again. That sounds a little self-indulgent (“no one understands me!!”), but it’s how I felt. [Just for the record, the truth is, they do have their own troubles. All people do. Illnesses, infertility, working through past traumas, issues with their children… not every married couple who looks like they have their shit together actually has their shit together. But, perceptions rule our thinking].
  2. Everyone could quickly and accurately rustle through the pages of their bible to the correct chapter within 5.5 seconds. So, the guy up the front would say “Today’s bible reading comes from Hebrews 11” and there would be 5.5 seconds of page rustling before everyone found the spot. But I couldn’t find Hebrews chapter 11 in 5.5 seconds. Heck, I still probably can’t. And that kind of thing made me feel inadequate and out of place. That’s just one silly little example, but for me, it was a big deal. I remember going to a Bible study group at that church and I drove home in floods of tears because I didn’t understand what the leader was talking about – King James talk makes less sense to me than Shakespeare (and I majored in English at uni)! – and I didn’t pray as articulately and succinctly as they did. Again, that was 100% based on my own perceptions and personal hang-ups rather than anything remotely truthful or accurate about that church and the people who go there, but you know, as I said, our perceptions rule our thinking.

Church shopping is not something I recommend or endorse. Generally, I think we should pray long and hard before church shopping. My general rule of thumb is that it is better to stay where you are because leaving rarely solves the problem. And because, really, you can see my flawed reasons for moving on. My reasons were based totally on my perceptions and interpretations, rather than on anything remotely factual.

But for me, I knew it was time to fly.

So, I started looking around.

One church that I visited asked me if I’d be interested in joining a bible study group during the week. That sounded kind of promising, although, with my Christian “L” plates, I was still very cautious of bible study groups.

“Singles or couples?” the well-meaning lady asked me.

I hesitated and replied, “Well, not couples. So, I guess singles?”

“Great!” the lady enthused. “How old are you?”

“I’m 25,” I replied.

“Oh…Singles might be a little too young for you then, dear!” the lady replied.

And that felt like being swamped by a tonne of bricks.

It’s a sad, sad world when 25 is considered too old for the singles group.

I also went to another church for around 6 weeks. Things started off great! I noticed people who looked to be in their twenties who weren’t wearing wedding rings. It was good to see that there were people my age who weren’t all married off. It made me feel comfortable. No, I wasn’t husband-shopping. It just made me feel a little more normal.

But the problem was that week after week, I ended up sitting on my own.

One day, I met the pastor’s daughter, a jolly, extraverted, larger-than-life girl, possibly a year or two older than me. She bounced over introducing herself. We chatted happily for a while. Small talk. Jobs, careers and that kind of thing. She was a nurse who had done aid work in multiple third world countries.

After some small talk, she asked if I’d be interested in joining a weekly bible study group. That seemed to be a trend that churches offer, perhaps to give me a chance to get to know people better outside of the church context and to kick-start relationship connections. I was interested and keen to make friends.

“It’s for us singles!” she quipped, obviously making an assumption based on my lack of finger bling.

Nice that they cater for singles. And nice that she’s late-twenties and single.

But then it went downhill.

“Never found The One, huh?” she smiled, tilting her head. I think it was a joke. I think she was trying to connect with me or be funny or sarcastic or something. Then she quickly blamed all her overseas aid work for her late-twenties singleness. Because, you know, God forbid she was single because no one wanted her. Foreign aid is a much better reason for singleness. *Insert sarcasm*

“Umm…” I said, unsure. “Well… I am actually separated… so I’m kind of in no-man’s land at the moment”.

“Oh.”  Awkward silence.

“It’s all good!” I spoke up. “I’m fine; I’m happy. I’m moving on!”

And the conversation seemed to quickly move to a more comfortable topic of weather and current affairs. We chatted happily and apart from that brief awkwardness, it was a great chat.

And indeed I did go back the following week.

I walked in, I looked around, and I saw the jolly, extraverted, pastor’s daughter gleefully laughing and joking in a gaggle of girls. I thought I’d resist my natural inclination to fade into the background, so I approached them. And she DIDN’T. RECOGNISE. ME! At all!

That’s OK. She’s probably had a busy week. And I bet she meets heaps of people as she’s the pastor’s daughter. I’ll just jog her memory gently.

“I’m Essie; I met you last week.”

“Oh yeah, yeah, yeah! That’s right, darl!” But I was betting she had no idea.

It was almost time to sit down for the service.

She hugged each of her friends and gave prolonged hand-holds to each of them, before all proceeding to sit down next to each other in a row of chairs.

You’re not farewelling them. You’re just sitting down next to them.

As people took their seats and others moved in, I was shuffled along to the end of the row. And then the girl next to me turned to say, “Sorry, this seat is taken.”

Are you shooing the new girl?!

So, I moved to the seat behind.

The pastor’s daughter was still surrounded by her gaggle of girls. They held hands during some songs and they took notes during the sermon. And when it ended, they went off to the tea and coffee table and I was left alone. Again.

Six weeks there and no one ever remembered me from one week to the next. Needless to say, I threw in the towel.

For a year on, I received occasional updates via email from that church. But I would bet $1,000,000 that not one person there would know who I am.

Then over the subsequent two weeks, I mentioned my unsuccessful church hunting experiences to three colleagues at work at separate times. I chatted with them at over lunch in the staff room on different days, but all three gave me the same advice: “Try Happy’s Church!”

“Happy’s” isn’t the actual name of this church. For privacy reasons, I’m not using the church’s real name, so let’s go with the nickname “Happy’s”.

It struck me as kind of odd that three separate colleagues were recommending Happy’s to me, without any idea that others were recommending the same.

Coincidence or God-incidence?!

And at the end of that roughly two-week period of three different Happy’s recommendations, during Junior Primary choir on a Thursday afternoon at school, I was watching my class on stage practicing for the up-coming Grandparents Day.

“Give me a home among the gum trees….” they sang, “with lots of plum trees… A sheep or two, and a kangaroo, a clothesline out the back…. verandah out the front… and an old rocking chair” and they all rocked back and forth out of time with each other.

I became aware of someone just to my left. Someone different. A relief teacher.

James, the new relief teacher, was really chatty and joined in with the song’s actions even though it was his first time at Junior Primary choir. He looked to be about my age. To cut a long story short, we got talking and I found out that he regularly attended Happy’s. He highly recommended Happy’s to me. He also said I should come that Sunday and that he and his girlfriend, Rebecca, would look out for me.

That’s four people at work who have recommended it now.

August 2014.

I remember vividly driving up the cold, dark, wet road to Happy’s. It felt like forever. It was winter. And it was raining cats and dogs. I wanted to turn back. In fact, I was *this close* to turning back.

In the darkness and bucketing down rain, I missed the church’s carpark entry. GoogleMaps told me to turn around. And at that point, it all felt too hard.

“Make a U-turn whenever possible,” GoogleMaps told me.

Pfft! Screw it! I’m just gonna go home.

But then I saw the Happy’s carpark entry. And I drove in, hesitant and uncertain.

I pulled into a parking space and sat in my car, praying.

God, I’m SO sick of trying new churches. I’m not great at small talk. I’m sick of being the only broken one. I don’t fit into the ‘Christian’ scene. If you want me to try this church, please make it really obvious. Please just open the door or slam the door shut. Show me what to do because I’m feeling disheartened and I’m… I… I… Julia!!!!???!??!

First, I saw her colourful scarf. Then her stripey top. And then her umbrella. And then recognised her car!!!

Cast your mind back to my chapter about starting my new job. Julia was a teacher at my new school. Similar story, similar scars. She doesn’t go to Happy’s, but she was visiting that night for – hold onto your hats – a guest speaker!!!

And she wasn’t one of the people who had recommended Happy’s to me. She had no idea I was going to be there that night. With all the rain and wintery darkness, she hadn’t even recognised me or my car.

We were both as equally shocked to see each other there. And to have parked next to each other.

I’m not saying God is a genie who answers prayers on cue with an obvious “ta-dah!”  He’s not and He doesn’t. But I am saying that sometimes (and often when we least expect it) He gives us a tiny miracle – coincidence or God-incidence, whatever you think it is – which fills our hearts with a “Essie, I’ve got this!” reply.

So, I had someone to walk in with! (Believe me, that makes a world of difference when visiting new churches)

And best of all, if Julia hadn’t pulled into the carpark next to me, I can’t guarantee that I would’ve got out the car into the rain and walked into that church that night.

“Then you shall call and the Lord will answer; you shall cry and He will say ‘Here I am.'” (Isaish 58:9).

So after walking in with Julia and sitting with her for the service, afterwards I met two amazing girls: James’s sister Tasmin, better known as Taz, and his girlfriend, Rebecca. Followed by a whole line-up of amazing people, who will feature in upcoming chapters 🙂

What sets this church (aka Happy’s) apart…

  • I’ve never once sat alone. Week after week after week, never alone. I was welcomed right from the start with authentic, genuine love.
  • One of the first times I went there, the pastor got up to begin his message and he started with, “I love unusual people!” Amen! I feel at home! It is a bunch of real people. Normal and abnormal people. Fits and misfits. Crazy and quirky. Boring and effervescent. Black sheep. White sheep. Rainbow sheep. All are welcome. It’s not strange to see a person with mismatched socks, dreadlocks, a total nerd or a surfie-dude. It is home to all types. I love that there is no cookie-cutter to fit into. All come before the throne of grace where they can worship God, a constant source of wholeness for our brokenness.
  • The first time my ‘story’ came up in conversation, I braced myself for the usual awkwardness. But there was none! I felt like I’d known the Happy’s crowd for years and talking to them about my history was never weird or awkward and never followed by a hasty transition to discussing the weather and sports.
  • The second time I went to Happy’s, the guy leading the songs and worship up the front shared some of his own thoughts with the congregation. He was talking about Jesus, the real Jesus; the Jesus who walked our earthly streets and felt anger and hurt and pain. Jesus who wants to have an adventurous, wild, authentic relationship with us in our everyday lives. Not the stained-glass window, out-of-touch-with-reality Jesus that so many people put on a pedestal. YES! That was exactly my kind of topic!!
  • Fellowship and friendship over a glass of red. After church, everyone will sit around together, sharing a meal and a bottle of red. That is where the magic happens. I have nothing against bible study groups – they are vital – but I think it is vital to also just hang out and chat. Talk about everyday things. The boring. The insignificant. That’s important too.
  • Grace-filled theology. Not perfection. It is impossible to find a church that is perfect. Churches are filled with people. And people are never perfect (despite what they may project to the world). As humans, we anger each other, we fail each other, we make cliques, we change our minds, we get things wrong and we misinterpret, like, all the time. The truth is, we don’t have our shit together. And I love it when people are honest and authentic about that. Sharing our hurts, sharing our struggles, sharing our shit-storms, sharing our doubts. It’s real. It’s messy. It’s broken. But, I love my Happy’s family because they are grounded in the grace and love of Jesus Christ and I see that in them – in their love, their words, their actions. Things go wrong and I’ve been there long enough to see the ugly side that forms when any group of humans come together. But we have a God who is slowly, painfully and divinely piecing us all back together continually; us all knowing ourselves to be broken when left to our own devices and in constant ongoing need of our saviour Jesus.

Above all, I have a supernatural deep-seated belief that that’s where I am meant to be.

One of the first songs I ever sang at Happy’s was “One Thing Remains”.

“Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me…

Higher than the mountains that I face… One thing remains…”

Chapter 28: Sunshine Blogger Award and the Meaning of Life

I’m back!

For those who have been wondering, no, I haven’t lost interest in my blog. I’m still very enthusiastic to write my way through the past two years of my life (although, it’s more like the last three years now!).

And no, I’m not in a new relationship. Some people have wondered whether my absence from the blogging world over the past couple of months is because I have a new someone in my life. No, I haven’t.

I’m single and happy.

Hey, I just love that sentence!

I love it because I never thought it would ever be true. Throughout every millisecond of my marriage, I thought – heck, I knew! – that I needed to be in a relationship with Mr Ex to be happy.

I now sometimes wonder if happiness is the realisation that you can be happy without the one thing you always thought you needed to be happy.

For those keen-as-mustard readers who remember back to earlier chapters, you’ll remember that I re-discovered Figure Skating post-separation. When I wrote Chapter 22: Snowflakes & Sparkles, I really thought that I’d hit the big-time with my skating. I thought that last year’s Broadway on Ice, which I skated in, was as good as it would get for me. And, it was pretty gosh-darn good!

But, what I didn’t know when I wrote that chapter, and what I never dreamed possible, was I would go along to a skating workshop in late July 2015 and I would be picked for a state-level team.

Unbelievable!!

And I am preparing to soon represent my state in the National Figure Skating Championships.

I’m not being melodramatic AT ALL when I say that is NOT a sentence I ever thought I’d say!

So, 6am training sessions, padded-up toes inside my skating boots, and trying to nail a spiral like Sasha Cohen (a girl can dream, can’t she?!) is the story of my life at the moment.

And I’ve never been happier. Or healthier!

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I am super excited to be uploading the ‘Sunshine Blogger Award’ badge to my blog (thank you, Warrior Princess for your very kind nomination!!).

I was humbled to receive a nomination from my favourite blogger (you can visit her blog here and, in fact, I highly recommend you do!)

With this award comes a question.

And the question given to me is:

“What is the meaning of life and how important is faith, hope and love in light of this?”

Talk about a tough question!!!!!

Humankind have been pondering this question for centuries and almost everyone has their own take on it.

In preparation for writing this chapter, I was skimming through a few of my own chapters earlier today and read that I didn’t believe in evolution “because how can you get something out of nothing, which is the bottom line of evolution”.

And as I read that, I realised…

Both evolution and creation are theories/explanations (whatever you want to call them) for how the universe and everything in it came to be. And by that very definition, both are explanations of how we got ‘something’ out of ‘nothing’.

I guess what I meant when I was writing that earlier chapter was that I, personally, don’t buy evolution’s explanation of how the earth was born and why human beings exist. I look at the intricacies of the human eye, the perfection of the water cycle, the intelligence of a bee finding pollen from a flower, the suitability of Earth to sustain life, and the wonder of the sun, and I think everything points to a designer.

Talking to a dear science-loving friend the other day about the discovery of water on Mars (she had a reputable science journal with evidence of life on Mars billions of years ago), she marvelled in amazement as she explained to me, “The chances of Earth evolving are so slim it’s actually ridiculous; and the moon being formed by a random collision; and the chances of tiny little bacteria evolving into animals and then humans… But that’s what happened and it’s pretty cool!”. She was laughing, but she still totally believes it. She is heading towards a PhD in something sciencey and she unwaveringly believes that the meaning of life is simply that we randomly evolved into an abundantly-filled, living planet and when we die, that’s it.

Maybe it does sound more reasonable to believe that things are what they seem and there is nothing more. And a collision in the universe millions of years ago spitting crust material into orbit formed the moon.

But I don’t. And that’s OK. There’s no law that says we all have to agree on everything.

It does, however, make me realise that both evolution and creation involve far-fetched beliefs. Whether you believe that tiny bacteria evolved over millions of years into human life or whether you believe that a designer created this world, either way, it is an explanation for getting something from nothing.

Personally, I believe in a creator who artistically designed this world. He created the universe, he put the starts in the sky, he made human beings in his own image to be in relationship with him. Now, I could go on and on about the ins and outs of what went wrong and today’s brokenness, but getting back to the question…

The meaning of life.

My answer? Ess Bell believes that the meaning of life is to be in relationship with God.

I believe we were created to be in relationship with God and our souls will be restless – falling short of their full capacity – until we enter into a relationship with God.

And by that, I mean that God wants to love us and to have us love him back.

I believe that in doing so, we find true completeness, wholeness, and our purpose for our life.

Some people will agree with me. Some people will disagree with me. And some people will think I’m disillusioned and will feel sorry for me.

I don’t mind what you think and I’m not going to try to convince you of my beliefs.

Because, I realised something the other day as I tried to explain to a fellow teacher that the Inquiry pedagogy for teaching is the best way that children learn. My friend, a teacher, did not agree. We are both teachers. We both have a class of children that we teach everyday. But I believe whole-heartedly that Inquiry is the far superior teaching practice that produces best results, while she believes whole-heartedly that it is not. I couldn’t convince her. And she couldn’t convince me.

And I realised that trying to convince someone of something is never going to be successful.

Because our beliefs have to be formed by our experiences.

So, my belief that being in relationship with God is based on my experience of that being true.

And my belief that being in relationship with God gives us a completeness, wholeness and purpose that we would otherwise not have, is based on my experience of that being true.

Figure Skating makes my heart sing. I feel happiest, most complete, when I am on a freshly zambonied ice rink.

Teaching makes my heart sing. I feel happiest when I am in my classroom making new discoveries with my kiddos and witnessing their light-bulb moments.

Skating and teaching now take up a large portion of my daily life. In fact, my life can probably be greatly summed up by those two words right now. And I believe that God led me to those avenues. I believe that the heart is best satisfied by the One who made it. When I thought I was in control of my life, marrying Mr Ex, working in child care, I thought my life was perfect. I thought a future with Mr Ex was the best, the ONLY, path to happiness.

The second part of the question relates to the importance of faith, hope and love in our lives.

Well, unlike my stance on the meaning of life, I do think everyone would agree with me that faith, hope and love are essential ingredients in life.

And I think everyone has all three of them, to some extent at least.

Faith: Everyone has faith in something, whether it’s the brakes in your car, your hairdresser, the computer guy, or a higher spiritual being. You put your faith in something or someone.

Hope: We all hope for something, whether it is a new car, a loved one being home for Christmas, or winning the lottery. We all have hope. “Hope you have a great holiday”, “Hope you’re going well?”. It’s a happy-clappy, harmless little word that pops up all the time.

Love: I’m not going to try to explain how and why we fall in love. Beats me! But I do know that we all love. And I think there is something about love that transcends understanding. That half-dead kangaroo, holding-on-against-all-odds-and-logic kind of love that most people experience at some point in their life.

But I think maybe there’s something rather wishy-washy or consumerist about those three elements. I can buy jewellery engraved with the word “Faith”, white decorative wall features spelling the word “Hope”, and garden features of puppies holding a loveheart with the word “Love” inside. People buy that stuff. And I do too! It sells. It’s pretty. It’s inspiring. It reminds us that we want all three of those words in our lives, as reinforced by society.

But if I talk about what faith, hope and love actually look like for me, I suppose it would be a whole lot less aesthetically-pleasing than what Hallmark cards make it out to be.

The picture of faith, hope and love in my mind is not spectacular, nor pretty enough to warrant hanging on my wall for decorative purposes. It’s also not particularly easy.

In my life, it’s a picture of 20-something divorcee who is continually dying to self.

Dying to her notion of perfection, dying to her bitterness or anger that might creep in sometimes when she hears that her ex-husband is living on Cloud 9, dying to her mental picture of what her life should look like right now, dying to her inner streak that thinks she doesn’t need a god. It is a 20-something who had already picked out names for her three children (and knew she’d have them at 25, 27 and 30) but who, now at 27, is single and childless.

And that goes against the popular mentality that self-actualisation comes from within ourselves. “Look inside yourself and you’ll find your true self; you can work your own happiness.”

But that is not what Jesus says.

Jesus says, “Lose yourself to find yourself” (Matt. 16:25).

And that’s what I do daily.

Lose myself to find myself. Death to self. Resurrection to life. That’s the meaning of life.

And for me, it looks like that same 20-something finding a passion and purpose in the art and science of teaching. Teaching children. And figure skating. Representing her state in competitive figure skating. Uncertain of what the next year will bring. Uncertain of whether she’ll ever find a partner or have children or who-bloody-knows-what’s-going-on! But having faith, hope and love, from first-hand experiencing that throughout the uncertainties, messes, disappointments and darkness, there is an inextinguishable light that shines.

I don’t think anyone can get far in the Christian faith by trying to reason and logically ‘work out’ God. Debating creation versus evolution or discussing the validity of the Bible (is it a collection of nice moral stories? Or is it the living word of God?) is only going to get you going around in circles.

I’ve never met anyone who said, “I’ve worked out the Bible is true, so I’m a Christian.”

Nope. It’s not, “five points to creation and three points to evolution, so Christianity wins! I’m a Christian!”

It’s always been about experience; what I’ve experienced to be true.

And that’s not something I can sell to you.

I can only share my experience with you.

My experience is that even when I was happily married, I was only reaching between 5 and 10% of my actual capacity as a human. I had no idea. I thought I was happy. And I thought I knew exactly what I wanted.

I don’t think Christianity is about proving or convincing.

The foundation of Christianity is in sharing experiences and stories; Not stories about how the world was created or step-by-step instructions of how to get yourself ‘saved’ (you know how much I hate that hierarchical dualism mistakenly believed by many to be central to Christianity. It’s not.).

Christianity is based around stories told by real, flawed, un-special people of how their lives have changed beyond doubt, having experienced first-hand a relationship with God. A God who dwelt among us initially as a carpenter from Nazareth and today as the Holy Spirit.

I see it all around me. I experience it daily. And I can’t deny that.

For me, that is what is truly maddening and truly beautiful about God.

Stay tuned for my next chapter coming soon: “How I found my church for quirks” 🙂

Chapter 27: Alice, Dorothy, Single at a Wedding, and Electric Blankets

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a husband.”

I tweaked it a little.

The original quote from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was about men.

But I think she was onto something.

There is an overarching culture that enforces marriage and relationships as the hallmark of success and fulfillment.

So – side note to readers – if you are wondering where my most recent chapter ‘Plan B’ disappeared to, I edited it and moved it backwards in the chronology of my blog. I thought the ‘Plan B’ chapter worked better in the context of landing my dream job. So, if you’ve read the original ‘Plan B’, you’ll recognise some of the following… but with a new slant!

January 2014. It was coming up to one year since Mr Ex revealed an affair and walked out on our marriage. That same month, I was also on bridesmaid duties for a friend’s wedding. Great.

Don’t get me wrong; I was absolutely honoured and thrilled to be a bridesmaid.

But there was a half-selfish, half-hurting streak inside me who was pissed off at the whole thing. Pissed off because my Disney fairytale idea of love and marriage was tainted. Pissed off because I now had a nervous twitch when I looked at young, wide-eyed, PDA-ridden, pass-me-a-bucket couples. You know the sort. Couples who just ooze this vibe of, “we know we’re going to live happily ever after”. And Christian couples seem to be the worst!

Maybe that’s because I saw in them myself and Mr Ex. Maybe I was remembering us in that same young, wide-eyed, PDA-ridden vomit. And maybe it was the Titanic-survivor within me. I know Titanic references are kind of dramatic. But gosh-darn-it, I swear there are no other metaphors in the English language for my marriage. And being at a wedding just days before my one-year anniversary of singleness*, it was as if I were a Titanic survivor going back in time, watching passengers embark the magnificent, unsinkable ocean-liner and screaming, “Don’t do it! It’s doomed! You think it’s unsinkable but THERE! ARE! ICEBERGS OUT THERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

One thing is for sure: I was hurting.

*Singleness: “The state or quality of being single” -Dictionary.com, 2015.

*Singleness: “An art-form that should be celebrated!” -Ess Bell, 2015.

As a child, I collected bridal magazines. I kid you not. Other girls at school were reading Barbie Mag or Girlfriend but I’d use my pocket money to buy The Bride’s Diary and Weddings Australia. One of my favourite activities at my grandparents’ house was going through Babushka’s (grandma’s) sewing books. Specifically, the weddings section! Maybe it was because I was a flowergirl five times. Maybe it was because my grandma made bridesmaid dresses. Or maybe it was because I absolutely loved Cinderella, ball gowns and the idea of ‘happily ever after’. After all, let’s remember that Elsa was not yet a Disney princess, so all the Disney princesses at that point had their very own prince charming.

Although I always wanted to be a teacher, I did go through a phase of wanting to also be a bridal dress designer. I remember when Lindsay Lohan’s The Parent Trap hit cinemas and her mother in the movie was a bridal dress designer. I decided I’d grow up to have my own boutique called ‘Especially for you, By Essie’ and I’d design and make wedding dresses.

The only snag in my plan was that I am a horrible artist. I can’t draw! I’m also not particularly creative. So I’m definitely not a visionary when it comes to designing or creating wedding dress masterpieces.

I do love writing, but since I can’t write a wedding dress, I had to concede that I was never going to make a living from wedding dresses.

Weddings were definitely something I loved, though.

And I remember being in a wedding dress shop at around the age of 12; I saw my dream wedding dress. It had to have a pink bow.

So, when I eventually married Mr Ex, yes, my dress had a pink bow.

But here I am at this point of the story: January 2014 and single for one year.

Trust me, I was no longer a fan of weddings.

Wedding dresses? Pfft, only good for snow camouflage!

Wedding magazines? Best used for propping up wobbly tables!

Weddings? Doomed!

I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the whole concept of living happily ever after and I definitely wasn’t buying the Cinderella story anymore.

So, preparing to walk down the aisle in my friend’s wedding was going to be a challenge. A challenge because I needed to snap out of my negativity to be a good friend. A challenge because I was coming face-to-face with the institution that I once loved and believed in, but had caused me great tragedy. And a challenge because – let’s face it – nothing will highlight your singleness like a wedding!

At the ceremony rehearsal, I was holding my water bottle as a mock bouquet and standing in line with the other bridesmaids at the top of the stage steps. The celebrant and his assistant were fussing around trying to work out where, exactly, the bridesmaids should stand. At the top of the steps? Or over next to the pedestal? Decisions, decisions.

Then the celebrant turned to me and sharply asked, “Are you married?”

Umm… WHAT NOW?!

Did I just hear him correctly?

Seriously! Of ALL the questions to ask me!!

Are you kidding?!

I hesitated, looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights.

He was paused, waiting for my reply.

My brain processed possible answers at top speed. Yeah, I guess I am legally married still. But my husband walked out and I haven’t seen him for 11 months and 2 weeks and he now lives with his girlfriend in a different time zone, so I wouldn’t really say that I was ‘married’ per se. But from a legal perspective, I suppose I am married. Or is ‘separated’ a legitimate legal term? I guess it is…?!

My actual answer, though, was a quiet, soft, unsure “No…”.

He then proceeded to ask each of the other bridesmaids down the line the same question: “Are you married? Are you married? Are you married?”

I soon realised the method to his madness.

The celebrant was trying to ascertain which of us had had weddings of our own and could, therefore, provide him with advice on where the bridesmaids would best be positioned.

So really, I could’ve happily advised him. My wedding was a magazine feature and I had been in a grand total of eight weddings at that point, not to mention years of reading bridal magazines under the covers with a torch. But, by that stage, my heart was aching and I was over it. I wanted to cry. I wanted the ground to swallow me up.

The next day, it was the actual wedding day. The biggest day of my friend’s life. I was trying jolly hard to get into the wedding spirit, to believe in the eternal-love branding of weddings and to put this country’s dismal marriage statistics to one side.

But really, I felt like drinking wine straight from the bottle and lighting up a cigarette. This was a dry wedding reception, though. And I don’t smoke. I’ve never smoked.

When it comes to weddings in general (and I’m thinking of all the weddings I’ve been to in the past two years now), I sometimes find myself asking some pretty shallow questions.

We were JUST as happy as them IF NOT MORE!!  Why didn’t this marriage concept work for me?!  Why do some people get to live the dream forever?!

Well, weddings are THE worst place to be single.

1) The bouquet toss: Beyonce’s All The Single Ladies blasts loud and clear over the speakers and you know it’s that time of the evening. I had never participated in a bouquet toss and I wasn’t planning on starting now. Getting married at 20, I was the one who got to watch all the desperados diving for the bouquet. But now, for the first time ever, I was being dragged by well-meaning friends to participate. Gah!

2) Couples dancing: All the couples hit the d-floor first. And, of course, singles can join in, but then it just gets awkward when slow music starts to play. Weddings are a couples’ world. Thankfully though, my friend Kayla, who was another bridesmaid in that wedding, had her 4-year-old at the Reception. He was my dancing partner.

3) All that talk about “two being better than one”: The Bible says, (in Ecclesiastes chapter 4) “Two are better than one… if one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! And, if two lie together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?” I’ve heard it quoted a billion times at weddings. And it negates the many other Bible verses that talk about the blessings and benefits of singleness. Not to mention the fact that Jesus himself was single, so it can’t be THAT bad.

“I have an electric blanket; that’s how I keep warm alone!” my chipper friend told me.

YES!

Yay for electric blankets!  (And, in my case, a dog!)

By the way, a side note to that celebrant: In this day and age, don’t flippantly ask random people “Are you married?”  I seriously think that is one of THE worst questions to ask a stranger. Some people are single against their will, some people would give their right arm to be married, and some people don’t know the exact definition of their marriage status at all (that one was me, by the way).

I don’t blame the celebrant though. Silly question, unfortunate timing. Not his fault. No one would look at 25-year-old Ess and think it remotely possible for me to have been married and separated.

Well, I’ve heard it said that Cinderella didn’t go out looking for a prince. She asked for a pretty dress and a night off.

So, I remember promising myself that night that I would never. EVER! be one of those girls who is hellbent on finding a man and misses out on life in the meantime.

And at some point at that wedding reception, in my coral bridesmaid dress and spray tan, I whinged a prayer. Yes, whinged a prayer! That’s a thing. It goes something like…

God, this sucks. It really, really sucks. I feel like shit. Maybe you’re growing me or refining me or improving me, blah-blah-blah, but I don’t want to be improved or grown right now. Weddings suck. PDA-ridden couples suck. Singleness sucks. I don’t need to be changed; just leave me in my rut.

Well, time and time again, my relationship with God is always God coming down to me. Stooping. Plucking me out of my rut. Or grave. Or ditch. It is always God coming to us. Resurrecting us. Making us new. And sometimes it’s whether we like it or not, and even if we are running in the opposite direction! God just comes to us anyway. Maybe in a dear friend who speaks the truth or maybe in a heart-transplant, exchanging our hearts of stone with a heart of flesh.

I am complete.

Jesus is all I’ll ever need.

I have an electric blanket and a dog!

And if I wanted SO much to make it work with my cheating, lying, AWOL husband, then just imagine how awesome love could be with someone who doesn’t cheat on me, lie to me, and abandon me.

Hold the fort!! I think I like who I am becoming.

And that was a pretty cool moment.

(Don’t get me wrong; singleness has its challenges, but that’s a whole other chapter!)

Rather than identifying with Cinderella, I saw the greatness of Alice. Alice in Wonderland. She had to fall pretty hard down a deep hole. But she made it to Wonderland. And her wise words were, “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”

And Dorothy who made it to Oz. She even had Toto. That’s me to a T. Caught up in a tornado and a black-and-white world, her little house and her little dog landed smack-bang in the middle of Munchkinland. Colour! Pizzazz! And munchkins! But, best of all, a yellow brick road journey, making new friends, and a whole lot of growth and learning. It wasn’t what she wanted and it wasn’t what she expected, but it was everything that she needed.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a man.

But I think that is a culture. A frickin’ annoying culture.

So I decided, from that point, that I wanted to ENJOY my single years. Whether I’m single for six more months, six more years, or forever, I want to enjoy it.

Because being alone doesn’t equate to lonely.

Single doesn’t mean sad.

And flying solo isn’t a transition faze before a relationship.

I challenge Hallmark to start making cards about that!

Solitude is the cure for loneliness.

Engagement, wedding and anniversary cards, new baby cards and graduation cards are all well and good. But what about single cards? Cards that celebrate singleness! There should be a Single and Loving It Day.

“[God]… is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” -Ephesians 3:20

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Chapter 26: Anam Cara

I think I’ll have this engraved on my tombstone: “Yes, terrible things happen. But sometimes, those terrible things – they save you.”

That is a quote from Chuck Palahniuk.

It’s now around November 2013.

By the grace of God, I had landed my dream job with a bunch of exceptional people who were fast becoming my second family. I discovered that my lifelong dream to teach was indeed my passion or my calling or whatever you call something that is simply an extension of yourself. The 5-year-old who lined up her Barbies and teddies and gave them spelling lessons, put stickers and ticks on their ‘work’, and taught them how to count turned into the 25-year-old who was living the dream. Even at the end of the toughest day, I still go home thanking God for planting me there and, with a skip in my step, I look forward to returning the next day and doing it all over again.

I’ve come to realise that is rare.

Most people just exist at work. I get to live!

When your life is on God’s course – and when you feel that God himself put you on that course – you are your most powerful. Because no matter what comes your way, no matter how long or icy your winter may be, you will be spurred on by an invincible inner springtime. Or, if you’re anything like Elsa and myself, maybe the cold never bothered you anyway.

I think Steve Jobs said it best: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

At my new workplace, Narelle was one of the first people I connected with. Twenty years older than me and a total stranger, but Narelle had the exact scars as me. Her husband left her in January 2013 after revealing an affair. Snap! Crackle! Pop! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s exciting when we find bits of ourselves in other people. Our soul says, “Oh, there you are! I’ve been looking for you!”

A wise lady once told me that a scar just means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you. And I started to realise something:

Damaged people are dangerous, because they know they can survive.

Damaged Christians are even more dangerous, because they know they can survive AND they have experienced first-hand grace and love from the creator of the universe.

“It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness.   Now I take limitations in my stride, and with good cheer; these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” -2 Corin. 12:10.

I also quickly connected with Julia. Same scars, same story too.

And I went on to discover a whole heap of inspiring women at my new work who had scars of one form or another.

There is a compassion, a sensitivity, a depth, an inextinguishable fire in the belly of those people. And they wear their pain like they do L.K. Bennett stilettos. No matter how much it hurts, they just get more beautiful.

But there was someone missing from the picture at this point. Someone who often popped into mind.

Andrew, Cosette’s husband.

After hearing in the early stages of this whole shebang that Cosette was married too, I felt inextricably linked to him – whoever he is. Two strangers with a hell of a lot in common. My husband and his wife were shacked up and living large. What a bizarre connection to share with a total stranger.

Thanks to technology and the likes of Google, I found Andrew’s work email address. And I sat down to email him.

Holey socks!

Getting the wording right was hilariously impossible.

“Hi there, You don’t know me, but our spouses know each other wayyyyy too well…!”

LOL!

No, I didn’t say that.

In the end, I didn’t give it too much thought.  I figured I’d just get some kind of collection of cohesive English words onto the page, send it off and forget about it. I mean, there was every chance that he might not want anything to do with me.

Don’t over-think it, Ess.

It might be too painful for him to reply. Or he might actually be celebrating the end of his marriage!

But, within a day, Andrew replied.

And I couldn’t have asked for a nicer reply. He suggested that we meet up, so we arranged to meet by the beach the following weekend.

I remember feeling surprisingly un-nervous. It was a natural progression. Organic.

I arrived first and waited at a white plastic table and chairs on the foreshore. The sun was shining brighter than ever and the sea was bluer than blue.

I remember Andrew walking straight towards me; no hesitation on his part, just a 100kW smile. We greeted each other like old friends. There was this unspoken camaraderie. Instant family.

And really, that is just so damn hilarious considering we have absolutely NOTHING in common apart from Mr Ex and Cosette.

A mo-fo sized universe with nine known planets, 204 countries on earth, 809 islands, 7 seas… and I am having coffee with a 40-something-year-old (remembering that Cosette is a fair bit older than Mr Ex) Irishman with a sciencey PhD and a keen interest in crustaceans and golf.

Utterly uncanny. Bizarre. Downright ridiculous!!

And he was no doubt thinking the same thing about the 20-something-year-old Aussie figure skater and Jesus-freak that he was talking to.

LOL!

Granted, we both enjoy a glass of red. So we’re not totally incompatible 😉

But, I guess what really resonated with me was that Andrew could’ve been an asshole.

Andrew could’ve been unhappily married, miserable in his life with Cosette, and thrilled to be set free from her.

He could’ve so easily been a dickhead husband who treated her like shit.

But, reality?

I remember just thinking, Ah geez… Andrew loved Cosette.

Andrew adored Cosette.

And he’s not an asshole. He’s one of the kindest, sweetest, most generous people you’ll ever meet.

How shittily, shittily, shittily unfair is that.

In many ways, it would be so much kinder if he was an asshole. But, much like my amazing work friends with their scars and stiletto-wearing pain-threshold which makes them the most beautiful people I know, BAD STUFF HAPPENS TO GOOD PEOPLE!

AND THAT SUCKS!!!!!!

Even Jesus himself struggled with the ravages of pain and hurt (Matthew 26). Jesus said, “…In this world you will experience troubles and pain. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world!” (John 16:33).

Reading that in November 2013, I had new ears. I’d heard that verse many, many times before. But, I kind of always pictured Jesus as a high and mighty overseer who was serenely preaching about how bad we all are and how good he is.

But, as usual, I had missed the essence completely. And I’m sure Jesus has lovingly rolled his eyes at me many, many times.

How did Jesus conquer the world? I wondered.

OMG! RESURRECTION! Messy, hardcore resurrection!

And in resurrection, there is hope.

Jesus is God in human form. So, this is a God who has experienced birth, childhood, friendship, love, betrayal, lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, hard work, arrest, trial, death, and burial.

And Jesus’s followers were feeling mightily depressed when he died, because it looked like the light of the world – a man who taught that goodness will always overcome evil, if only we LOVE each other – had just been successfully killed. Talk about a depressing anti-climax to the teachings of someone who claimed to be God. And talk about an epic disappointment in the good versus evil debate. It looked like evil had triumphantly won.

As Jesus’s disciples were wandering along a dusty road with glum faces and feeling rather duped, Jesus casually walks along beside them and asks what they are talking about. They don’t recognise him, so start recalling recent events of Jesus’s death. One of Jesus’s disciples then says, “We had hoped that He was the One…” (Luke 24:21) but, of course, Jesus had been dead three days and it wasn’t looking good. At all.

But here he is, resurrected! Made new. “The resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

And just as the disciples are saying “we had hoped…” in a heart-heavy, feeling very let-down, ‘this didn’t go according to our plan’ kind of way, they realise that THAT IS JESUS right there walking with them! The very guy that they saw buried three days earlier.

Jesus has come back to life! Death could not hold him! Evil did not win!

And it’s heartily spectacular that a cross of crucifixion which is a symbol of death, evil and destruction can be turned into a symbol of hope and light and overcoming.

Only a god who has bore real suffering can bring us real hope.

And that’s it!

Jesus’s take-home message is my overarching mantra.

Evil is simply not more powerful than good.

Because God CAN and DOES bring goodness out of the worst evil.

“And we know that for those who love God, that is, for those who are called according to his purpose, all things are working together for good.” -Romans 8:28.

Thinking back to Andrew’s 100kW smile as he greeted me, I was amazed at his resilience. Talking to Andrew over coffee that afternoon, I remember an overwhelming realisation that he had been just as broken, devastated and downright shattered as I was. It amazes me that humans have a strength and resilience that transcends scientific reason. And since we are made in the image of God, that points to a beyond-imagination amazing God.

I think it all comes down to having hope.

And for me, I see that as resurrection. Goodness conquering evil.

I can’t imagine looking at the vastness of the ocean or the expansive sky and putting my hope in optimistic thoughts and wishful thinking. For me, the symbol of the cross – an act of evil which was conquered by goodness – is all that I need. Resurrection is all around us.

When a child has cancer and the whole community raise funds to pay for life-saving treatment… When a murder victim’s family is supported by the killer’s family… When a site of death, pain and horror is covered in memorial flowers and messages of hope and love… When two victims of an adulterous relationship join together for coffee and support under the bright sunshine…

That’s resurrection. Hope. Goodness conquering evil.

And we joked that we should take a selfie with the sun and sea in the background and send it off to drizzly Bristol where Mr Ex and Cosette were now living.

Andrew and I chatted about our hesitation going into our first Christmas as singles. Thinking back to the previous Christmas, both of us were happily married to our respective spouses, or so we thought.

Quick flashback to Christmas 2012:

Mr Ex and I were happily married (if you’d asked me). We enjoyed a Chrissy lunch at my parents’ house. All the trimmings. Family, food, and festivities. And life was looking pretty sweet! Mr Ex was in a new position at work. I was starting my fourth year in child care.

At the Christmas lunch, Mr Ex retired to my parents’ upstairs sofa with his iPad, complaining of a headache. When I went upstairs to check on my headache-suffering husband, he put his iPad to one side, pulled me to the sofa, and I just remember him being all hands.

WTF?!

So much for a headache!

It’s Christmas Day and we’re having lunch with my family!!!!!!!

Hindsight, of course, is 20/20. And my beloved, randy husband was undoubtedly communicating with Cosette. Headache-schmedache.

On that same Christmas Day, Cosette and Andrew were visiting their homeland, Ireland. Neither Cosette or Andrew have family in Australia, but had been living in Australia for a few years, working. Going back to Ireland to spend the festive season with their family would be a special time of closeness and quality time. But, Andrew’s 20/20 hindsight made it all-too-clear that his beloved Cosette was somewhat distracted on that trip too, spending time on her laptop.

And then, around one month later, January 2013 long weekend and Mr Ex revealed his affair and bugged out. Horrible, darkness, evil, and just like the disciples who said, “We had hoped…”, I can echo those same sentiments. It’s all looking pretty glum. Looks like evil has won.

Fast-forward to Christmas 2013:

Ess and Andrew: Two victims of Mr Ex and Cosette’s relationship, single against their will, covered in cut-marks from the shattered glass of their respective marriages to Mr Ex and Cosette, and dreading the Christmas 2013 holiday festivities.

“One of the most beautiful gifts in the world is the gift of encouragement. When someone encourages you, that person helps you over a threshold you might otherwise never have crossed on your own.” -John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom.

So, in the spirit of goodness overcoming evil – or resurrection, as I like to say – we spent Christmas Day 2013 celebrating together.

Andrew caught a taxi to my parents’ house. The taxi driver, an Indian man, made small talk with Andrew, asking where Andrew was off to. Andrew explained. The taxi driver’s response? “Wait… So let me get this straight… You are going to your WIFE’s LOVER’s WIFE’s FAMILY’s house for Christmas lunch?!?!?!?!?!” Haha! Yep!

Sitting at the same table where, only twelve months prior Mr Ex and I had been sitting, hand-in-hand unwrapping presents together, was rather bizarre. Despite the bizarreness though, I love that my family and Andrew could all eat, drink and be merry together for that Christmas 2013. And even more bizarre is that I had this rather random new addition to my family; Andrew, my newest big brother. Andrew will always be a member of my family. And I think his arrival into my family is a way of us kind of saying, “Get stuffed!” to the evil, darkness, hurt and pain that we have all felt – and sometimes do still feel.

A year of brokenness, shattered dreams, pain, anger, evil… and yet, the shining rays of goodness and hope prevail. Resurrection.

For Christmas that year, Andrew gave me Christmas a giant bunch of flowers, a bottle of Moet, and Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom.

And Anam Cara means ‘soul friend’.

Chapter 25: Grace Upon Grace

It always annoys me when people connect Christianity with judgment.

The missing element? Grace.

Jesus spent the vast majority of his time on earth with people on the margins of society. He washed feet, dined with the outcasts and touched ‘unclean’ people.

How awesome is that?!

Yet, somehow, people still manage to connect Christianity with Type A personalities, perfect lifestyles and hierarchical dualism.

“Out of his fullness, we have all received grace upon grace!” -John 1:16.

Grace upon grace.

Not just a bit of grace, but a whole LOT of grace.

When my father-in-law and I had that heart-melting moment of love and grace abounding, it was because we’d both encountered Jesus. Love and grace. Jesus.

And when I landed my dream job at the amazing school against all odds, that is God’s grace in action right there.

Grace: Unearned, unmerited, undeserved favour.

God’s grace is an un-coerced initiative.

No hidden agendas.

Even when I am kicking, screaming and jumping up and down declaring how unfair my shitty, shitty life is, God just wraps his loving arms around me and he loves me. When I fall from grace, God just reaches down, picks me up, and dusts me off. Over and over again.

*happy dance*

“God’s mercy and grace are new every morning” -Lamentations 3:23.

Grace is a process.

Love is a process.

Forgiveness is a process.

Life is a process.

And maybe that was my beef with the question in a previous chapter about “when” I became a Christian. Because it is a process. A journey. An adventure!

None of this, “Oh, I’m a Christian so I’m all good now!” Pfft!

More like, “I’m a Christian; I totally stink, but my flaws are a canvas for God’s grace.”

God just keeps reaching down, picking me up, and dusting me off. Over and over. Grace is amazing. Amazing grace. An uplifting, inspiring, liberating feeling of arriving home. Finding your true identity in Christ. Finding wholeness. My chains are gone; I’ve been set free! My God, my Saviour, has ransomed me! (yes, I’m quoting the song). And that is a wow-factor moment. And it frees me to be me! That whacky-doo mess that I am.

*Happy dance again*

…it doesn’t end there though.

While that is such an a beautiful concept to come to terms with, I could never seem to escape the reality that I will be set free when I give grace to others.

Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

And I often find that He is saying that to me.

Whether I like it or not.

In the form of a not-sugar-coating-anything friend or in a Bible verse that pops up or through the example of someone else showing grace, love and forgiveness to someone else who hurt them.

Ick.

Yep, I face the rather unnerving task of somehow attempting to show grace to Mr Ex.

And Cosette.

My reaction?

Mother of fuckery! Prickles on petunias!

I don’t want a bar of it!!!!!!

As Jesus was dying on the cross, crucified by the very people he was trying to save, he cried out, “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34). Let’s not forget that Jesus was, in fact, completely innocent. He had done nothing wrong – only teach us that we should love each other – and we found that so offensive that we crucified him. Jesus’s disciples, who were witnesses to this whole miserable affair and then went on to all write books which can be found in the Bible, all give an account of this.

These are some excerpts of how Luke puts it:

Pilate told the high priests and the accompanying crowd, “I find nothing wrong here. Jesus seems harmless enough to me.” But the crowd kept insisting, “He stirs up the people…”

Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, because he sent Him back to us. Clearly, He has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore warn him and release him.”

At that, the crowd went wild: “Kill him! Give us Barabbas!” (Barabbas had been thrown in prison for starting a riot in the city and for murder).

Pilate still wanted to let Jesus go, and so spoke out again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!'” 

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.”

What happened next? Plot spoiler: Barabbas, a murderer, was released from prison and Jesus, an innocent man, was tortured and executed.

Again, I say, mother of fuckery! Prickles of petunias!

Jesus loves the people who wanted him dead. Jesus is loving us. Jesus is loving me.

We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.” (Romans 5:7-8).

Now, that’s love. And grace. And forgiveness.

Grace is essentially the opposite of karma. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve, and not getting what you do deserve.

Grace is God giving peace to the broken, love to the unlovable, hope to the hopeless, and light to the darkness.

And that gripes me when I think of Mr Ex and Cosette.

BECAUSE IT IS NOT FAIR.

They don’t deserve grace. And they don’t care whether I give them grace or NOT!

Ah.

Yes, God, I see.

When Jesus told the story of the vineyard workers, the lazy good-for-nothing workers who slacked off and only worked half a day were paid the exact same amount as the diligent workers who sweated it out all day long.

How is that fair?!?!?!?!?

It’s not.

And that is Jesus’s point. He says, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matt: 20:16).

And that is how there came to be a screaming, mocking crowd wanting to crucify Jesus.

Jesus’s goodness and grace was offensive.

Because we don’t realise that it is what we need most.

It’s like posture. I know full-well that I shouldn’t slouch. I know I should keep stomach muscles in, chest out, and shoulders back. But dammit, shoulders curved over and back slumped over is just SO much more comfy.

But, alas, then I get a sore back and feel like an 95-year-old. And the more I try to sit upright, the more it feels uncomfortable. Even when physios or the health and safety expert at work tell me about correct alignment-blah-blah, I just keep thinking, I wanna slouch! But, lo and behold, when I do actually suck it up and stick my shoulders back – pushing through the initial feeling of un-comfort – I end up feeling much, much healthier from within.

That’s like grace.

Writing that, I do feel like a bit of a pansy. I have this image of grace going hand-in-hand with fairy floss, unicorns and rainbows. Like that marshmallow fantasy land in Nintendo’s Super Mario Party.

But I am reminding myself everyday that grace is actually hardcore.

It’s bad ass.

There’s nothing gentle and angelic about grace.

Grace sees shit in all its glory.

And it changes us from the inside out.

A friend once told me that she loved my blog, but she was surprised by my swearing. And I reckon there are probably at least four or five other people in my life who have read it and thought the same thing, but don’t want to say that to my face.

So, I prayed about it and I gave it serious thought.

I could easily sanitise my blog.  I could remove the f-bombs and replace them with cleaner, wholesome words and a glossy cherry on top.

But my language is very deliberate. Why?

Because God goes there.

Yes, God meets me there in my pain-filled, gut-wrenching f-bombs. That is how low he will reach down to rescue us. And he will go lower still. There is no limit to how wide his grace-filled arms will span.

And really, ‘Christian’ is NOT a synonym of pansy, pushover, sucker, or weakling.

When Jesus prayed for the very people who wanted him dead, that would take SERIOUS GUTS.

When Jesus asked God to forgive the very people who wanted him dead, that would take SERIOUS GUTS.

And when Jesus said some of his final words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” that would also take SERIOUS GUTS.

So, I try.

Some days, I’m better at it.

Other days = epic fail.

Grace is when I work through the chips on my shoulder.

Grace is when I accept that some Christians might choose to abstain from alcohol and dancing. Some Christians might prefer to dress modestly. Some Christians might favour the King James language. And, Essie – note to self – that is OK. Just because I think that’s bullshit, conformist and culture rather than biblical, doesn’t mean that I have to compromise my compassion for those people.  The truth is that there are Christians in those conservative, fundamentalist churches and they are still people who are passionate about God. The same God that I worship.

Grace is every time I bite my tongue when I want to actually email Mr Ex to tell him about my AMAZING new job at the AMAZING new school. I’d absolutely LOVE to rub it in his face that MY God has blessed me, while HE and Cosette are up shit creek without a paddle.

Oh, fuck it!

I’ve just fallen off the grace-wagon.

Try again, Essie!

Grace is every time I manage to pray for Mr Ex and Cosette.

Yuck, muck, schmuck, bluck, cluck, ruck, stuck in chuck.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

But it somehow changes me.

Prayer changes me.

I start praying for Mr Ex and Cosette through gritted teeth.  I start praying, feeling either like, 1) a fraud who just wants to see Mr Ex and Cosette BURN in a FIREY PIT while I get to watch whilst enjoying popcorn and a glass of Molly Dooker, or 2) an absolute PUSH-OVER, weakling, doormat, and downright CHRISTIAN IDIOT who is praying for my ex-husband who CHEATED on me (MADNESS to pray for him, right?!?!)

But something kind of happens.

The coercing, plotting, vengeful Essie is somehow cleansed.

And I feel peace.

God reaches down, plucks me out of my ditch, and gives me a heart transplant. Makes me new. Resurrects me.

Don’t ask me how. But I can tell you now that that process is FAR BEYOND anything I could ever do. On my own, there is NO FRIGGIN’ WAY that I could EVER find that peace.

And that is another of the many reasons that I believe in God.

Then, on other days, I just screw it all up. Actually, I can sometimes screw it up something chronic.

My vengeance-loving, justice-seeking heart gets in the way. And the result? Grace incorrectly administered. And a thwarted view of the Bible and Christianity in general.

I have a particular memory in mind. It is one of those memories where I’d much rather just keep my mouth shut and move swiftly on. But, in the interest of authenticity and honestly owning my story, I admit that, early on this whole shebang, I sent Mr Ex a text. It went something along the lines of, “I am doing really well and I’ve never felt closer to God. That’s because I have God on my side.” And then I included that motherload Bible verse where God says “Vengeance is mine.” It is EASY-PEASY lemon-squeezey to use the Bible for bad. Or to twist it to suit our own purposes and our own emotions.

Essie Bell: GUILTY AS CHARGED.

And the sad thing is that it happens all the time.

Christians send that exact text message to pretty much every non-Christian everyday without even realising it.

“God is out to get you unless you change your cheating ways!”

“God SAID he’s gonna get revenge for ME”

“He’s MY God and he’s on MY side”

*Dr Evil pinky finger to mouth*

Yes, God does say that vengeance belongs to him. God is telling us to not take revenge, but to leave it up to him.

But really, I don’t think we are capable of understanding exactly what God means when he says that.

God is love.

And the thing with God, is that He doesn’t have our mean, vengeance-loving, spiteful heart. So when he ‘gets vengeance’, He can actually do it from a place of love.

And, I know I can speak for myself when I say that is SO beyond my comprehension. I can only imagine vengeance coming from a place of hatred and spite. I can’t even begin to imagine vengeance coming from a place of love.

By the way, don’t get me wrong; It would be completely inappropriate for me to tell Mr Ex and Cosette that I love them. He is my ex-husband and she is ‘the other woman’. I don’t think for one second that God wants me to email them saying, “Hey guys, just wanted you to know that I love you!”

But I can show grace by praying for them. And just for the record, I don’t get bogged down in praying for them everyday. That’s ridiculous. On a good day, they’re far from my mind. And that’s awesome! I shouldn’t be thinking about them. I have plenty of other things to think about and pray about. But on a bad day, I get bitter and twisted. And that’s when I need to practice grace. To pray for them. And to pray that God’s will be done in their lives.

Like antiseptic cream, it stings at first.

But it is what heals me when I need it.

And like a flood, His mercy reigns. Unending Love. Amazing Grace.