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

Divorce or Dating.

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

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

And that was a blessing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crazy.

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

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

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

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

“Mr Ex and Cosette are expecting a baby.”

And that killed me.

My heart was smashed into a zillion tiny pieces.

And I broke.

Yet again.

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

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

I really, truly wanted to die.

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

Would I ever do that?

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

What saved me?

This blog.

Yep.

This blog. By the Grace of God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And social media is the WORST for that.

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

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

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

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

So, how do I stop her from creeping in?

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

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

It’s warfare.

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

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

And it has two little words inscribed:

I know

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

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

‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future’.

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

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

Don’t listen to that.

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

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

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

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

The other part of my pain?

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

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

But that’s life.

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

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

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

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

Umm… what?!?!?!?!

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

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

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

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

And Steve had no idea who I was.

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

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

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

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

ASSHOLE!!!!!

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

Let me just say, I’m glad it’s over.

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

Internet dating is truly heinous.

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

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

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

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

And that goes 100% for church dating scenes.

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

The formula goes something like this…

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

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

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

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

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

COMMUNICATE, people! Communicate!

Own your feelings!

Be bold enough to SPEAK!

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

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

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

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

But then I realised something.

It was forced.

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

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

So I made a promise to myself:

“Ess, that’s it. Don’t force it.”

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

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

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

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

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

…Yes… That does limit my options SIGNIFICANTLY.

But I’m OK with that.

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 30: The Trust Mug & The D-Word

I hadn’t heard anything from Mr Ex.

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

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

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

Because he wanted to file for divorce.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just for the record, now I pursue the abnormal.

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

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

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

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

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

So what went wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think the trouble lies much deeper:

EMOTIONAL.

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

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

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

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

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

But you know what?

It’s complex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We should be getting angry.

We should be kicking that darkness.

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

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

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

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

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

I thought long and hard.

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

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

But then I thought, NO.

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

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

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

A mug.

With one word: Trust.

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And that meant SO much to me.

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

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

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

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

But He’s there.

He’s always, always there.

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

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

Indeed, trust I did.

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!

wpid-sunshine-award-300x300

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

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

With this award comes a question.

And the question given to me is:

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

Talk about a tough question!!!!!

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

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

And as I read that, I realised…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The meaning of life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because our beliefs have to be formed by our experiences.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that is not what Jesus says.

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

And that’s what I do daily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can only share my experience with you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I tweaked it a little.

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

But I think she was onto something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

One thing is for sure: I was hurting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weddings were definitely something I loved, though.

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

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

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

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

Wedding dresses? Pfft, only good for snow camouflage!

Wedding magazines? Best used for propping up wobbly tables!

Weddings? Doomed!

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

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

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

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

Umm… WHAT NOW?!

Did I just hear him correctly?

Seriously! Of ALL the questions to ask me!!

Are you kidding?!

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

He was paused, waiting for my reply.

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

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

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

I soon realised the method to his madness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, weddings are THE worst place to be single.

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

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

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

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

YES!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am complete.

Jesus is all I’ll ever need.

I have an electric blanket and a dog!

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

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

And that was a pretty cool moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because being alone doesn’t equate to lonely.

Single doesn’t mean sad.

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

I challenge Hallmark to start making cards about that!

Solitude is the cure for loneliness.

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

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

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Chapter 22: Snowflakes and Sparkles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Bristol!!

Bristol, England!!!

What the actual?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vomit, vomit, vomit, vomit.

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

And Immanuel means, ‘God is with us’.

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

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

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

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

As I was saying, vomit, vomit, vomit.

*Lay it at the cross.*

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

Jesus, Immanuel.

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

How beautifully simple.

YES! I thought. And what do I love?

I love figure skating.

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

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

I do love that concept of ‘new’!

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Ding, ding, ding!*

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

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

And best of all, Jesus was all over it!

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

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

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

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

Well, not quite.

But close!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 19: Free Will and Throwing Ink Pots

Divorce is hell.

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

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

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

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

So this was about June 2013.

We had been separated since January of that year.

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

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

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

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

I had to initial every. SINGLE. page!!

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

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

And that kept going for what seemed like forever.

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

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

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

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

But it is what it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I get it.

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

So I discovered that it is OK to ask questions.

To delve deeply, rather than to merely accept.

In fact, it’s necessary!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s exactly how God loves us.

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

…resulting in broken marriages?

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

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

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

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

God can turn literally all evil into pure goodness.

Yes, he is that powerful.

He makes evil into good.

He makes old into new.

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

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

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

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

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

He came to us in human form as Jesus.

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

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

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

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

The Holy Spirit with and within me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hell is separation from God.

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

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

But, not hell.

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

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

I definitely experienced the feeling of ‘godforsakenness’.

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

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

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

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

Love is definitely worth it.

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

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

When we choose that person…

When we see their crap but love them anyway…

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

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

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

…Now that’s true love.

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

Chapter 18: The Pink Guitar

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May 2013. About four months following D-Day.

Declaration Day, I mean.

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

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

Freedom is a really interesting concept.

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

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

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

I know who I am with Mr Ex.

But I don’t know who I am on my own.

I’ve never been on my own.

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

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

Don’t question anything.

Don’t change anything.

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

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

Let’s back-track a few years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I was happy. And so was Mr Ex.

(Or so we obviously told ourselves).

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

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

But my ‘happy’ was probably a bit thwarted.

I tried hard to be perfect.

And I thought I was nicely succeeding.

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

For years, that worked!

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

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

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

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

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

I am not perfect.

And that is exactly how I found my freedom.

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

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

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

That’s a big statement, I know!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because that is exactly what Jesus could do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is incredibly freeing too.

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

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

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

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

It’s the kind of love that changes lives.

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

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

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

And that frees me to live!

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

To be human!

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

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

I really love that word, ‘whole’.

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

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

And that is Jesus.

Harold Kushner offers the following commentary…

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

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

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

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

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

So here I am at 24.

Learning to be me!

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

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

And so began the adventure.

I discovered that I absolutely LOVE playing the guitar.

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

I also discovered I love music festivals.

I love pastel pink lipstick.

I love not camping.

I love writing.

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

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

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

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

I love organic pizza cafes.

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

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

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

I can reverse the car down a challenging driveway.

I can fill the car up with petrol.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 17: Fairness, Forgiveness and other F-words

“It’s just not fair!”

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, I wish!

Believe me, I wish karma were true.

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

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

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

That SUCKS!

But such is the broken world we inhabit.

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

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

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

WHAT THE ACTUAL?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, ‘The List’ upset me no end.

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

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

Yes, I hear how ridiculous that sounds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus said some very annoying things.

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

Humph.

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

Jesus was all about loving the unlovable.

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

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

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

Food and water?!

For real?!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch.

So does this just make me a doormat?

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

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

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

But wait.

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

Jesus was all about good overcoming evil.

That is why he came into this world.

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

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

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

And Jesus was not a pushover.

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

It’s unfair.

It’s fucking shit, actually.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a trap, really.

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

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

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

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said…

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

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

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

That’s what Jesus was all about.

A light shining in the midst of darkness.

Proclaiming that evil will not win.

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

There is power in forgiveness.

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 15: Made New (not perfect)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something was different.

Something was actually really different.

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

There was just grace abounding!

What the hell happened?

We had both encountered Jesus, that’s what.

And something rather amazing ensued.

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

We both cried.

And hugged a very genuine hug.

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

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

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

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

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

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

People expect to see Jesus in churches.

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

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

And He never looks like we expect him to.

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

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

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

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

Because it’s real.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God makes all things new.

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

Heck, even having a beer with him!

A new relationship.

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

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

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