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 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 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.

Chapter 19: Free Will and Throwing Ink Pots

Divorce is hell.

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

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

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

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

So this was about June 2013.

We had been separated since January of that year.

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

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

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

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

I had to initial every. SINGLE. page!!

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

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

And that kept going for what seemed like forever.

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

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

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

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

But it is what it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I get it.

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

So I discovered that it is OK to ask questions.

To delve deeply, rather than to merely accept.

In fact, it’s necessary!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s exactly how God loves us.

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

…resulting in broken marriages?

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

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

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

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

God can turn literally all evil into pure goodness.

Yes, he is that powerful.

He makes evil into good.

He makes old into new.

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

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

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

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

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

He came to us in human form as Jesus.

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

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

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

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

The Holy Spirit with and within me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hell is separation from God.

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

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

But, not hell.

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

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

I definitely experienced the feeling of ‘godforsakenness’.

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

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

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

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

Love is definitely worth it.

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

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

When we choose that person…

When we see their crap but love them anyway…

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

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

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

…Now that’s true love.

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

Chapter 17: Fairness, Forgiveness and other F-words

“It’s just not fair!”

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, I wish!

Believe me, I wish karma were true.

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

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

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

That SUCKS!

But such is the broken world we inhabit.

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

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

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

WHAT THE ACTUAL?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, ‘The List’ upset me no end.

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

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

Yes, I hear how ridiculous that sounds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus said some very annoying things.

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

Humph.

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

Jesus was all about loving the unlovable.

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

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

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

Food and water?!

For real?!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch.

So does this just make me a doormat?

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

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

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

But wait.

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

Jesus was all about good overcoming evil.

That is why he came into this world.

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

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

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

And Jesus was not a pushover.

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

It’s unfair.

It’s fucking shit, actually.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a trap, really.

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

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

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

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said…

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

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

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

That’s what Jesus was all about.

A light shining in the midst of darkness.

Proclaiming that evil will not win.

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

There is power in forgiveness.

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 14: I am Sad

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

There is no easy way out.

And pain is a certainty in this world of ours.

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

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

But calm seas never made a skilled sailor!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m drained. I’m depleted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valentine’s Day 2013.

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

“’I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.’” –Jeremiah 29:11.

God has a plan for me.

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

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

Dark days keep coming.

Moments of grief still plague me.

Tunnels lie ahead.

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

NO!

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

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

I am sad today.

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

Essie Bell’s Steps for Overcoming Downers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, I have the feeling of sadness.

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

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

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Chapter 13: In the Stranger

“The movement in our relationship to God is always from God to us. Always. We can’t, through our piety or goodness, move closer to God. God is always coming near to us. Most especially in the Eucharist and in the stranger.” –Nadia Bolz-Weber, a fabulously controversial pastor in the US.

Sitting in the backseat – sans rings – on the way to Tom and Samara’s family dinner.

A Simon and Garfunkel song started playing in the car.

Mr Ex and Tom are Simon and Garfunkel fans. Samara and I would always roll our eyes when the boys listened to Simon and Garfunkel and even more so when they started to sing along. The truth is, I actually quite like Simon and Garfunkel. But it was fun to take the mickey. The boys would be enthusiastically singing just to annoy us. And we’d be groaning and rolling our eyes. The four of us always had a hoot together. By the way, it wasn’t nearly as cheesey as that just sounded, but hopefully you get the idea. It was fun.

No laughter this time though.

Simon and Garfunkel started playing and, instantly, the tears came flooding.

Grief sucks!!

Tom and Samara quickly skipped the song.

At their family dinner, Tom and Samara, and Tom’s family, were exactly what I needed.

They were the Carpathia ship coming to pick up Titanic survivors from the icy waters, offering warm blankets, hot drinks and comfort.

Too often, people minimise pain by telling us that everything will be OK (which it will), but that’s not what we want to hear. Too often, people trivialise pain by saying that there are bigger problems in the world (which there are), but that is also not what we want to hear. Instead, Tom’s mum told me that it hurts because it mattered. She said that it’s OK to be sad. We all played ‘Balderdash’ and drank cups of tea.

And I felt loved.

The most wonderfully spectacular – and yet modestly simple – way that God has shown His love to me is through the people in my life. Those that have crossed my path, seemingly random yet oh-so-beautifully orchestrated. And He is still doing that today.

Tom’s family are technically ‘Mr Ex’s people’. Team Mr Ex. Mr Ex’s side.

I mean, Tom and Mr Ex have been friends since childhood. So it is only natural that Tom would remain loyal to Mr Ex.

But it struck me as impressive and amazing that Tom still also remained loyal to me.

There are plenty of others on ‘Team Mr Ex’ who have kept me at an arm’s length since our separation. I would take a stab in the dark that it is not because they agree with Mr Ex’s actions. I guess it’s just easier to keep me at an arm’s length because they love Mr Ex and they don’t know how to still love me too. Mr Ex’s mother and extended family would fall into that category. And I’m not having a go at them. I get it. It’s easier to remain loyal to only one player in a tennis match.

It was a shame though. I always clicked effortlessly with Mr Ex’s aunt (his mother’s sister). I also really liked his other aunts and his grandmother. But I’ve never heard a peep from that clan. EVER. And that’s OK. Again, I get it. It makes me sad. But I do get it.

And really, to refer back the tennis player analogy, you can’t barrack for two opposing players in a tennis match, right? Just like you can’t show simultaneous support for two opposing political parties. And you can’t love someone AND love their ex.

Or can you?

Maybe gutsy people can!

Tom’s family are gutsy; grace and love abounding. They have so beautifully walked the tricky path of showing love and grace to both sides of the fence. And they’ve had plenty of practice; they did the same when Mr Ex’s parents divorced. Some people just ooze love and grace.

I say, stick close to those people.

When God brings strangers into our lives, it is never random.

Penny the PI, Jill from Mr Ex’s workplace, my new friends Sana & Bree, Tom’s family… they were just the start of a long list of strangers who became very, very dear friends. Strangers who parachute-landed in my life bringing love, wisdom and humanity.

It’s like we have met these people before.

And it seems that through chance and circumstance, we are meeting them again. But we are not. It’s a first-time encounter. Maybe that feeling of being re-united is because we are actually encountering Jesus – Jesus is with and within these people – and it is Jesus in them that we are recognising.

Our souls kind of say, “Oh, there you are! I’ve been looking for you!”

And I think there are too many Christians out there who think that God is only working with and within other Christians. I call bullshit to that. I don’t think God is limited by our ability to recognise Him at work in our lives. Just because someone calls themselves an atheist or says they are indifferent to religion, doesn’t mean that God isn’t at work in their life.

Shortly after Mr Ex’s last appearance, my friend Nicky invited me to a festival with her and a group of her friends. A really big step for me: Going somewhere as a single person.

And with no rings on my finger.  Yikes! This is a first.

I got a bit dressed up, donned some make-up, and spruced myself up. It was incredibly nerve-wracking to venture into a group of strangers, only knowing Nicky, and fly solo.

Maiden voyage of Ms. Essie Bell: First solo expedition to circumnavigate a festival amidst strangers.

This was exactly the kind of thing that I’d never done solo before. Mr Ex would always be there with me. Whether buying a drink, walking through town, or just being with a group of people who I didn’t know very well, Mr Ex would always be there. His presence was always a comfort. A safety blanket. A guaranteed person to talk to or just stand next to. Now it was only me. No safety blanket.

It was hard.

By joves, I admire single people. It’s SO much easier having a safety blanket.

It was hard to make small talk. The past few weeks of my life had been anything but normal. Trying to integrate back into normal social settings is weird at the very least. But I did it. I’m not one of those extroverts who finds small talk easy. I actually find small talk incredibly cumbersome. But, I am not shy and I do love making authentic connections with people and talking about deep and meaningful things. And that trait was to stand me in good stead for later in the evening.

A great evening, great food, great wine, great entertainment, and lots of great people around.

So, my maiden voyage was a positive one.

At the end of the evening, I had to walk through the city to get to my car.

A stranger called Jade was walking in the same direction.

“We can walk together, if you like?” she asked. This is maybe 11pm, so probably a good idea to walk through the city streets together.

As we set off, we introduced ourselves.

“I’m Essie,” I told her.

“I’m Jade. Lovely to meet you, Essie, how are you?”

Never, ever underestimate the power of those three little words. How. Are. YOU?

You could be standing next to someone who is completely broken and you’d never know. Ask them, “how are you?” and you might just alter the course of their life. No kidding.

Those three little words have the power to make a world of difference. They really do.

So I proceeded to tell Jade exactly how I was. The flood gates of honesty opened. I told her about the significance and the challenges of this evening’s first solo voyage because my husband had just recently left me for a colleague and I was trying to make head or tail of a new ‘normal’. She definitely got more than she bargained for! I’ve never had any trouble getting straight to authentic conversations with people. It’s small talk that I really hate.

Anyway, Jade and I walked and talked through the CBD to our cars. And, little did we know at the time, that was the first “walk and talk” of many!

It turned out that she loves Jesus too and she lived in the suburb next to mine. We exchanged numbers and from that week onwards, Jade, her friend Lily, and I went walking and talking weekly. Beach walks, walks through the local national park, up hills, down hills, over bridges, under bridges… Jade, Lily and I were walking buddies! And it was like we’d been friends for decades. Maybe even longer. Jade and Lily quickly went from being total strangers to my dear friends.

Mr Ex’s emails about “The Practical Stuff” (i.e. sorting out our finances, insurance, properties, etc.) kept coming. He said that I needed to see our mortgage broker to arrange house details.

A couple of days after my maiden voyage, our mortgage broker, Shaun – who was, for all intents and purposes, a stranger to me – came over with a stack of paperwork.

You see, Mr Ex and I had recently purchased another house in the Hills. It was an investment that we hoped would soon become our family home. Yes, Mr Ex is a lawyer who had an impressive pay cheque at the time, so we were sitting pretty comfortably on Easy Street. Not bad for a 26 and 24-year-old. We bought that property in November 2012. Interesting timing, since you might recall Mr Ex telling me that his affair had been going on for two months in mid-January 2013. So we were literally buying our future family home in the same month that he was starting an affair! What a busy month it was for Mr Ex!

Anyway, the bank owned most of it. It would just be a matter of selling it and giving money back to the bank.

As Shaun, the mortgage broker and virtual stranger, was going through the massive wad of papers to sort out administration for the bank, I saw a photo of three children on his laptop’s desktop background.

“Cute kids,” I smiled. So he told me their names and ages.

“What school do they go to?” I asked. Typical teacher question.

He told me. And it was a Christian school.

“Oh! I’d love to teach at that school one day,” I replied.

He looked up at me for a moment, intrigued.

“You’re a Christian?” he asked me.

“Yep!”

And then the magic happened.

Shaun, my random mortgage broker, loves Jesus too.

But not only that, Shaun had been married with a child for several years and his wife cheated on him and left him! WTF?!

Just like my situation, Shaun had had no heads up, no warning signs; A bolt of lightning in a clear blue sky.

Shaun hit an all-time low in his life. Alcohol abuse, depression and other dark stuff. He didn’t want God, or church, or anything to do with Christians. He’d had no exposure to religion or faith of any kind. But, in a valley of darkness and pain, he went searching for answers to life’s big questions; suffering, the meaning of the existence, etc.

And there, in the midst of messiness and brokenness, Shaun reluctantly stumbled across Jesus. He’s been a follower of Jesus ever since.

Many years later and he is now re-married with another couple of kids. He offers counselling and speaks in churches about his experiences, giving comfort to people who are on that same road of being single against their will and/or having a cheating spouse.

Talk about turning a mess into a message!

When Mr Ex and I had ‘randomly’ selected Shaun to be our mortgage broker four years earlier when we purchased our first house, it was because of his credentials and his locality. We’d never spoken about personal things with Shaun. It was strictly business. Professional. But God knew exactly what he was doing.

So there we were, Shaun and myself having an in-depth, no-holding-back, souls-connecting discussion about our experiences of finding Jesus in the midst of grief.

And boy, did we talk for a long time!

Jesus pops up in the face of a stranger. And it’s always when we least expect it.

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Chapter 11: Death, heaped with a pile of shit

I fluctuated from moments of strength…: Throw me to the wolves and I’ll come back leading the pack!

…To moments of defeat: This is never, ever going to stop hurting.

The emotional roller-coaster was enough to make anyone projectile vomit.

Interestingly, about ten months prior to this messy January 2013, I had had conversations with two different friends on two different occasions. Both times, I’d ended up in tears saying that my biggest fear was my beloved Mr Ex dying. I was frightened of Mr Ex dying and me ending up on my own. Becoming a widow was the worst possible scenario for my life. The absolute worst. Nothing could be worse than that, I thought. And it was actually a very real fear. I was scared of being alone. I knew I couldn’t face life without my other half, Mr Ex.

So, it is rather ironic how ten months later, my ‘worst possible scenario’ was kind of coming true… but actually in a far, far, far worse way than I even imagined.

Yes, the death of a loved one is horrid. Unbelievably horrid. I don’t want to take away from any of the grief and trauma that accompanies the death of a spouse.

But my GP explained that the ‘advantage’ (for want of a better word) of death is that we have [that rather equivocal word] closure. With death, we [usually] know for certain what happened, we can grieve appropriately, and then we can heal. It’s by no means easy, but it is assisted by the absence of your spouse’s active rejection and betrayal of you.

The process of comprehending a cheating spouse is firstly grieving the ‘death’ of your spouse (i.e. coming to terms with the loss of the person you love) PLUS a whole lot of toxic waste dumped on top: rejection, betrayal, uncertainty, disbelief, loss of self identity, trust issues, self doubt, legal dramas, and definitely, unequivocally, no closure.

It’s death, heaped with a pile of shit.

On my roller-coaster of abandoned wife emotions, my brain would recall our happiest memories and I’d see flashbacks in my mind’s eye of our wonderful holidays, special milestones, and highlights of the last seven years, convincing me over and over again that our love was worth fighting for. Date nights watching episodes of Friends on TV, munching on spaghetti carbonara, snuggled on the sofa. It was all so real in my mind.  And my brain would actually see us in the future as grey-haired nomads touring the country in a caravan once the children had left home and hosting Christmas lunch at our place with our grandkids unwrapping presents under the tree.

Am I going insane?!

“No,” my GP assured me. “After years of you projecting and planning your lives together – and expecting beyond any doubt that you’d grow old together – the brain has so many fixed scenarios and plans. It will take you years, maybe even longer, to get over that.”

Great.

We live in a world where technology makes magic happen around us every day. We can chat in real time to our friends on the other side of the globe through a computer, we have maps that direct us step-by-step to our destination, we can jump on a plane and be on the other side of the world within hours, and billions of text messages are sent daily across the globe arriving at their destination within seconds.

But according to my lovely GP, we haven’t figured out a way to instantly heal from rejection and betrayal, other than the elapsing of years…?

“Isn’t there a hemisphere in my brain that you can just surgically remove? To make me forget all about him and move on?” I asked.

She hesitated.

I was obviously joking, but not really.

My GP, as truly amazing as she is, couldn’t give me any definite promises that I would be OK anytime soon. She could give me strategies for being optimistic, she could refer me to a psychologist, she could pass on tips for ‘building resiliency’, but she couldn’t actually say, “YES, ESS, YOU WILL BE OK!”

I went to the psychologist a few times. But that was about as successful as growing an apricot tree in the North Pole. The psychologist sat behind her desk with a clipboard making notes. She asked me sterile questions to get inside my head. She wanted to pinpoint motives for Mr Ex’s affair by asking delving questions about his childhood and comparisons of his hippy, yoga-loving, anti-Christianity mother and his fundamentalist-Christian, anti-schooling, anti-TV-watching father. And yes, that’s a very interesting topic and there is a lot that can be speculated. With one staunchly religious parent and one freedom-fighting parent, there is so much that one could say. But really, how much of that is helpful at this point? We could talk for hours about possible motives, but it wasn’t going to change reality. And Mr Ex is a complex human, just like the rest of us, so trying to get inside his head (let alone his parents’) seemed impossible as well as useless.

I asked the psychologist about me. Me moving on. Me healing. Me making sense of this mess. And she recommended a book. It was called You Can Heal Your Life. Surprise, surprise; It’s a best seller.

Hmm.

That title didn’t actually fill me with much anticipation.

Here I am, feeling broken. Useless. Rejected. Hopeless.

Do I really want to put my hope of healing in myself and my own abilities?

The book suggests that “by choosing loving, joyous thoughts, you can create a loving, joyous world.”

Close, but no cigar.

Yes, the secular, non-threatening sentiments might validate you and send you swooning into happiness and self-empowerment as she constructs a world where you can fashion your own reality based on wishful thinking and optimism. But I question how deep that can ever really be.

Looking at myself in this moment… THIS SITUATION IS SHIT. I think it would be darn-right ridiculous to be spouting loving, joyous thoughts. My reality is horrible right now. And no amount of loving, joyous thoughts is going to change that.

To me, it’s silly to say that we are capable of transforming our own lives. Not because I’m a negative person who doubts my own strength. Not because I’m pessimistic. Not because I’m cynical.

But because I know there are some days when I am a mess. There are some days when I am grouchy, impatient, insecure and overtired. And there are times when I just don’t give a crap! Because, hey! I’m human! And in those moments, I can guarantee that I don’t want to be solely reliant on my own strength and abilities.

The world is broken. That Bible says that. But it’s also bloody obvious!  Just turn on the TV news to hear what’s happening in our world today. It’s a sad, sad place. There are unimaginable atrocities and ridiculous injustices. There are wars raging, tsunamis creating devastation, people killing, hatred galore, children and animals being abused… it’s endless really.  And closer to home, go for a walk around the local city and we are confronted with homeless people, broken marriages, feuding neighbours and friendship breakdowns.   Even on a smaller scale, Management Teams at work places can’t agree with each other on how to do ‘XYZ’ and the coaches of a sporting club can’t work together to agree on a plan for the season and we have unions, reconciliation tribunals and police stations because, well, get any group of humans together and there will be problems, fractures and divisions.

Fact: Disharmony is everywhere.

Optimism just seems stupid.

I want to put my hope into something that goes beyond that.

Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:31).

It’s ironic. I do love irony. And I find that irony pops up a lot.

The Bible is often viewed as a rules and regulations book of oppression and judgment which holds no relevance in today’s society. (By the way, I can totally see why someone might think that. I mean, some of the books were written more than 3,000 years ago!)

But, in my experience, the Bible gives me scarily accurate depiction of today’s world and how to deal with it. The Bible gives me accounts by people I can relate to; useless, damaged, unspecial and ordinary. And how God loved them no matter what.

And, more irony! As I was slowly realising and accepting my own mortality, my own sinful heart of stone, and my inability to fix things on my own, I was actually finding a new depth of freedom!

I was realising the true value of accepting my brokenness.

And I was starting to appreciate my own limitations.

Because in my weakness, God is strong. He is a source of wholeness for my brokenness.

With Jesus, I don’t need to cover up my mistakes or my messes. He already knows. Instead, I can come to the cross as a broken, grouchy and impatient human who is feeling empty and rejected. And Jesus will take me as I am. And He will make me new. Over and over again.

In John 11:25, Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.”

That is an impressive statement.

Resurrection. Defeating death. New life. Adding more to the story.

While I was looking at this current situation as my husband’s ‘death’, it was perhaps more poignantly, my death. Never mind about Mr Ex. I was the one who was in the process of dying. Dying to myself. Dying to my own constructs of perfection. Dying to my own wants and hopes. Dying to my own plans for my life. Dying to my vengeance-seeking heart.

Death is painful.

And I’m not even vaguely exaggerating when I say that it felt like death. Yes, a cheating spouse and betrayal by your most beloved IS that painful.

But the beauty of Jesus’s promises is that death and resurrection is his specialty.

He gives us a new life. He adds more to the story.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

The Bible doesn’t say that all things ARE good. It says that all things are working together for good.

So, some things in life are bad. Some things in life are horrible and evil and painful. But we have a God who makes all things work together for good. He is that powerful.

Three days after Jesus’ death, a couple of Jesus’s friends were walking along a road (Luke 24). Their best friend, Jesus, who claimed to be God in human form, had just been successfully killed. I can only imagine how they were feeling. Gloomy, to say the very least.

Then, a man (I hate to ruin a good story, but it’s actually Jesus) comes along, asking “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” The Bible describes Jesus’s friends’ faces as downcast, as they reply “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard what’s happened… The things that happened to Jesus… He was a man of God… dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got him sentenced to death, and crucified him. And we had hoped that he was the One…”

What a depressing picture.

Jesus’s friends continue, “And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.”

I love what happens next.

Jesus lovingly and cheekily says to them, “So thick-headed!” and reveals to them that it is indeed Him. He has risen from the dead.

The next account of Jesus appearing to his other friends (I guess they didn’t have Facebook to share the good news in seconds) who are out fishing. Jesus just casually strolls up to them and asks, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They naturally freak out, thinking that they are seeing a ghost. Jesus calmly tells them, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” The Bible then says that they were in shock and amazement, but they give Jesus a piece of fish which He took and ate.

I just love that too.

I mean, Jesus is actually deity, so you’d think He would be born in a palace and make His guest appearances and re-appearances in the holiest of holy temples. But no, Jesus was born in an overcrowded stable, surrounded by barn animals, and He meets His mates when they’re out fishing, not asking them to bow down to Him, but actually asking them if they have anything to eat.

And yes, Jesus has conquered death. He shed His blood on that cross with real nails that went through his human hands and feet, crucified by the very people He came to love and save, so that we (little unworthy scumbags) could have everlasting life.

And voila! An act of evil – and Jesus’s immense suffering – was turned into something good.

Sana gave me a Psalm. It was Psalm 27. As I read it, my Bible pretty much illuminated with flashing fairy lights.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear?   The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?” -Psalm 27:1.

How do I know it will all be OK? How can I be certain in a situation bleeding with uncertainty?

In those moments when I’m lying on the floor unable to pick myself up, I can tell you quite confidently that I do NOT want my hope placed solely in myself.

In those moments when I feel completely consumed by vengeance and bitterness, I can NOT flick a switch in my own strength and spout sugar-coated thought bubbles.

In those moments of sheer terror of the future or the utter grief of losing Mr Ex the best friend I’d had, I do NOT want to be putting my hope in myself or any other mere mortals.

“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
that I would see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.” -Psalm 27:13.

“…the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”  That’s just a fancy way for saying goodness in this world. In other words, I will see goodness in this life. I clung to that. I read Psalm 27 over and over. First thing in the morning. Last thing at night.

All the GPs, self-help books and psychological therapies in the world can’t make that promise.

Screw wishful thinking. Screw optimism.

God gives us a guarantee. An assurance. That I WILL BE OK.

I WILL BE OK. I WILL SEE GOD’S GOODNESS IN THIS LIFE.

“Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He will strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!” -Psalm 27:14.