Chapter 14: I am Sad

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

There is no easy way out.

And pain is a certainty in this world of ours.

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

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

But calm seas never made a skilled sailor!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m drained. I’m depleted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valentine’s Day 2013.

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

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

God has a plan for me.

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

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

Dark days keep coming.

Moments of grief still plague me.

Tunnels lie ahead.

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

NO!

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

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

I am sad today.

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

Essie Bell’s Steps for Overcoming Downers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, I have the feeling of sadness.

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

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

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Chapter 13: In the Stranger

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

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

A Simon and Garfunkel song started playing in the car.

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

No laughter this time though.

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

Grief sucks!!

Tom and Samara quickly skipped the song.

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

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

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

And I felt loved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or can you?

Maybe gutsy people can!

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

I say, stick close to those people.

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

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

It’s like we have met these people before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was hard.

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

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

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

So, my maiden voyage was a positive one.

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

A stranger called Jade was walking in the same direction.

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

As we set off, we introduced ourselves.

“I’m Essie,” I told her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He told me. And it was a Christian school.

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

He looked up at me for a moment, intrigued.

“You’re a Christian?” he asked me.

“Yep!”

And then the magic happened.

Shaun, my random mortgage broker, loves Jesus too.

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about turning a mess into a message!

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

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

And boy, did we talk for a long time!

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

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Chapter 11: Death, heaped with a pile of shit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I going insane?!

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

Great.

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

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

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

She hesitated.

I was obviously joking, but not really.

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

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

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

Hmm.

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

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

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

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

Close, but no cigar.

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

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

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

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

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

Fact: Disharmony is everywhere.

Optimism just seems stupid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was realising the true value of accepting my brokenness.

And I was starting to appreciate my own limitations.

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

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

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

That is an impressive statement.

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

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

Death is painful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a depressing picture.

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

I love what happens next.

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

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

I just love that too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screw wishful thinking. Screw optimism.

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

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

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

Chapter 9: Crazy Lady Alert

I saw my GP on Tuesday morning and relayed the past four days to her.

“He came yesterday and he looked so broken, just like a zombie,” I explained sympathetically. “He is completely lost. He needs someone to look after him.”

She didn’t look too impressed though. She was undoubtedly thinking he DOES have someone to look after him, hence he’s not at home with you.

“You need to take care of YOU,” she told me.

Going to see a friend for coffee on Tuesday at our favourite coffee shop (trying to keep things as normal as possible), I went to put on my favourite bracelet. I can’t do it with one hand. I put the bracelet over my wrist and tried to balance it on my knee to hold it in place as I struggled to clasp it together with my other hand. Mr Ex had always clasped this bracelet for me. It wasn’t working. I swapped wrists. Still wasn’t working. And that triggered another meltdown.

I JUST WANT TO WEAR MY FAVOURITE BRACELET!!!!!!!!!! WAHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

I was determined though. It took me nearly an hour of crying, trying again, crying, trying again… but I got it. I put that son of a bitch bracelet on.

Mr Ex made contact again on the Wednesday night. At 10:20pm to be exact. How considerate of him. Was he thinking, “I’ll call Essie just as she’s going to bed, so that I can get her all nice and upset and unable to sleep?!” It pointed to more zombie-like, irrational decision-making by Mr Ex.

My heart stopped when the phone rang and I saw his mobile number on caller ID. I sat on the bed. I braced myself that my dreams might be about to come true and maybe he was calling to say that he wanted to come home.

Alas, no.

He was ringing to tell me that he had decided once and for all that he didn’t want a “salvaged relationship” with me. That was the phrase he used. I was crushed. Absolutely crushed. Yet again. As if that’s even possible.

And I still don’t even know where he is!!

The next day, I went through his Facebook friends with a fine tooth comb. I also trawled through his work’s website looking for female employees. In my head, I had decided on the image of ‘her’; a drop dead gorgeous Victoria’s Secret supermodel wearing a figure-hugging mini skirt and sky-high heels. I just needed to find a woman matching that description.

I found one. Stunning. Bright red lipstick. By her Facebook profile, I saw she was newly married. Her name was Isobelle. Gorgeous name. Gorgeous face. Gorgeous body. It must be her. She had a distinctive and unusual surname, plus the initial ‘I’ isn’t the most common of initials, so I looked her up in the phone book. Sure enough, I found her! She lived with her new husband in the same suburb as my parents! Oh, the adrenaline!

That’s where Mr Ex must be staying!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Should I go there? Should I call her? Mr Ex might answer!! I should drive past? Maybe his car will be out the front!

Crazy Lady Alert.

I’m ashamed to admit that I did call her. She answered. But I [luckily] hung up straight away. Totes cray-cray, I know. I was 100% certain it was her and began plotting my plan of attack.

Later that day though, I was hit by a metaphorical bolt of lightning. Even though I’d firmly settled on Isobelle being ‘the other woman’, my subconscious brain must have been working in overdrive for days and finally came to a shocking and very unexpected realisation. One of those brainwaves where you go, Where the HELL did that come from?!?!?

For the past few months, Mr Ex had talked a little about a lady at work. Her name was Cosette. I’d never met her. She was married. No kids. She was 40-ish from memory. A marathon runner. She sometimes went for runs in her lunch break, apparently. Mr Ex told me that she only ate tuna and lettuce for lunch every day. He admired that. He told me once or twice that I should take a leaf from her book. He said that Cosette was older than me (by a fair bit, actually), but she was fit and toned.

For the Christmas just gone, Mr Ex gave me weights as my Christmas present. You know, those colourful girl weights for toning arms or something. No, I’m not kidding.

When he was talking about Cosette from his workplace, I had joked, “Do I need to be worried?” and he laughed. We both laughed actually, because we both knew Mr Ex had an unfailing loyalty to his loved ones. The notion of him cheating was ludicrous. We’re the unsinkable Titanic, remember! Mr Ex stuck by people through thick and thin. Even when people in his life didn’t deserve his loyalty, he stuck by them. He even defended his [what I would’ve called, idiot fundamentalist dickhead] father when his father was making threats to boycott our wedding. So if anyone was not going to have an affair – or if anyone was going to seriously struggle to lie and cheat – it would be Mr Ex.

But Mr Ex had told me in passing that he hoped we could have Cosette and her husband over for dinner one day.

Mr Ex had also recently taken up jogging. Jogging! A new hobby. Why not? I thought. He had invested in new Nike runners, socks, gym shorts, t-shirts and that strange arm-band device that lets you carry your iPod on your arm whilst running. We had a dog, so it would’ve made good sense to take the dog running with him, right? But no, Mr Ex didn’t want to run with our dog. He wanted to run solo. This was a solo thing.

SHIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It must be HER?!

WHAT THE FUCK?!?

I Facebook stalked her. Sure enough, Cosette was married to a man with a lovely smile. They looked happy. Really happy, actually! In fact, they looked perfect together. His name is Andrew.

I scrolled through their wedding photos. Hey, it’s not my fault she had it all open for the world to see! Her photo albums were all open to public access. Too easy! I saved a few pictures to show family and friends.

I was expecting a stunning fitness model. The ones in the gym adverts on TV who go running with full make-up, crisp clean sneakers that never get dirty, and they never, ever sweat.

To my surprise, Cosette is… well, just a normal person. Just an average, everyday brunette that you’d never look twice at. Yes, she did look older than Mr Ex. And there were photos of her with shaggy hair, no make-up, running in marathons. (Let’s just say that no one looks good when running a marathon and Cosette is no exception.) Cosette could not be found in a Lululemon Athletica catalogue. She did sweat. She did look red in the face. And her arms were not perfectly toned. Definite flab there.

But OK, yes, I’m getting petty now.

Moving swiftly on.

Right on cue, two amazing new people walked into my life. Two very special girls who went on to become two of my best friends. Sana and Bree. They’d heard about my situation from the pastor and his wife. Sana arrived at my front door with a bouquet of flowers and melting moment biscuits. I’d never met the girl before and she’s rocking up at my house with flowers and my favourite biscuits. What’s more, they both lived nearby. Most of my friends were over the other side of town but suddenly I had two new friends who lived only five minutes away showing me love and humanity.

Sana and I talked like we’d known each other for decades. We could talk about deep stuff. We could smoothly transition from a sentence about growing vegetables to a sentence about why God allows bad things to happen. The beautiful thing about these kinds of situations? Authenticity. No one has any effort for artificial conversations. It’s straight to the honest-to-God conversations.

And the best thing? I could see Jesus in them.

I was learning to see Jesus all around. When Rommet the dog would playfully drop a toy at my feet as I was sitting on the sofa in floods of tears, it made me feel warm and fuzzy inside to throw the toy for him and watch him madly scamper to retrieve it. He never tires of playing fetch. And Rommet’s cartwheels, hurdling and acrobatics that ensue never fail to put a smile on my dial. Thank you, Jesus.

My house was covered in wedding photos. Literally. Everywhere. Images of two gorgeous young people. Beaming smiles. A vision of innocence and hope.

“Maybe I should take them down,” I asked Bree. “Is my marriage over or do I keep fighting?”

“You’ll know when it’s time,” she replied.

So, the Titanic wasn’t quite under. It was still in that stage where it’s kind of vertical. Bits have broken off and fallen to the bottom of the ocean. But there are still passengers clinging to the railings above water.

I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I absolutely hate that phrase, but I do believe in what it means. I believe in marriage. I love marriage. I love love. I did NOT want to be separated and I definitely did NOT want the d-word.

But surveying the situation, it wasn’t looking good. I didn’t have any choice at all. There can come a point where you look around and realise that the other person has put down their tennis racquet and walked off the court. Literally vanished. And it’s just you left.

And you can’t play tennis solo.

Right. That’s it! I had decided. I needed to take up Penny’s help. The totes cray-cray lady needs the truth.

Chapter 8: A God Who Stoops

Coming to terms with an AWOL husband, trying to assess the state of my marriage, grasping onto life but rapidly losing my grip AND now the possibility of a private investigator trailing my husband…?!

That’s just crazy talk!

Going through my holiday snaps for the purpose of finding different face and body angles of my husband so the private investigator could form a holistic picture of him; Now there’s a task that I never thought I’d be doing!!

Everything I knew was solid was now brought into question.

I knew Mr Ex loved me. I knew Mr Ex would fight for me. I knew Mr Ex would protect me for the rest of my life. I knew nothing could ever separate me from Mr Ex.

But now?

What the fuck do I know?

I poured myself another glass of wine and started dissecting my beliefs

Aged 17, sitting in church with Mr Ex, I remember hearing that God has expectations. Standards, if you like. He is also omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent; He sees everything, He knows everything, and He is everywhere! So if you sin, you better watch out! ‘Cos God’ll know! And He’ll be angry! Even, disappointed (that’s worse than angry, right?). That was drilled into everyone.

I was taught that humans are sinful. But that Jesus died to save us from our sins. So, God has these two baskets, labelled ‘saved’ and ‘unsaved’. In his primary role as the judging overseer of all the world, God is busy sorting us into these baskets. Either you are in the ‘saved’ basket (i.e. those who believe in God, let Jesus into their heart, do all the right things, make no mistakes, live pure, clean, expletive-free lives, etc. etc.) or the ‘unsaved’ basket (i.e. living in sin, making bad choices, doomed.). …Although, that second basket isn’t so much a basket; it’s a destination involving a lot more heat.

I would be sitting in church with a hat on my head dutifully taking sermon note in my ‘God’s Girl’ notebook, sitting next to my shirt-and-tie-wearing boyfriend, while I had friends who were out watching movies, enjoying Sunday morning breakfasts by the beach, or sleeping off a hangover. So I was pretty sure that I was in the ‘saved’ basket. I mean, I wasn’t entirely clear on why I required saving in the first place and why this stained-glass window figure called Jesus needed to be tortured and executed for me. What on earth have I done that warranted that kind of punishment? But whatever.

But fast-forward to me trying to assess the state of my marriage, grasping onto life but rapidly losing my grip and now the possibility of a private investigator trailing my husband…

Thinking about this God stuff in light of my new ‘un-accepting reality’ mindset, something just wasn’t adding up for me anymore.

I am a caring and loyal friend, I do my bit to recycle, I give to charities and I am kind to animals. Not to mention, I did NOT cheat on my spouse, unlike SOMEONE ELSE I could name.

I’m a Christian. So, I am a good person, right?

HA!  WRONG, Ess!

It suddenly dawned on me.

As much as I’d love to bypass my flaws, they were suddenly glaringly obvious to me. Let’s cast our minds back to my relationship with my father-in-law.

Oh dear.

Yes, I’m broken.

I’m a crappy, selfish, broken little so-and-so.

As much as I hate to admit it, I can be unwaveringly judgmental, I hold onto grudges like a biting lizard in a jaw-lock, and I don’t like admitting when I am wrong.

But I had this warm, fuzzy feeling that God was still wrapping His loving arms around me.

Because God somehow and rather amazingly loves me – and every one of His creations, for that matter – even though He can see our flaws and our brokenness, God came to earth in human form as Jesus to give us a way out. He slipped into human skin and entered the filth and grime of humanity to show us how to find peace and hope in a broken world. All because He loves us. And, as I was quickly learning, love is a mighty force.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” -John 3:16.

John (in Chapter 8) gives this wonderful account of Jesus.

Here is this woman. An adulterer. She has been literally caught in the act of cheating: imagine smudged lipstick, flimsy clothing, a fully-fledged and undeniable cheater. The religious leaders have literally dragged her through the streets like a feral animal to where Jesus is.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” (John 8:2-5).

And indeed, they are correct. You don’t need to be a biblical scholar to know that ‘thou shalt not commit adultery’ is one of the laws in the Old Testament of the Bible. Along with six-hundred-and-something other laws given by God to Moses, the religious people of Jesus’s time had quite literally a full-time job keeping up with all the laws, ticking boxes of doing good works, avoiding food deemed to be unclean, circumcising males, sacrificing animals, and inflicting the death penalty for witchcraft, homosexuality, adultery, blasphemy, and, well, the list just goes on.

We know that the Bible is full of dos and don’ts.

But, I wonder how many people are familiar with what happened next in John’s recount.

John says that Jesus “stooped down and wrote in the dust” (John 8:6).

Umm… What now?

The accusers grew impatient with the silent, stooping Jesus. “They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up” (John 8:7).

Then Jesus starts talking.

“‘All right, stone her!'” Jesus says. “‘But let those who have never sinned throw the first stones!’ Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust” (John 8:7-8).

“When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman” (John 8:9).

John doesn’t tell us what Jesus wrote in the dust. But I am wondering if it was something like this:

GRACE. LOVE. MERCY.

Something was beginning to click in my head.

Far from being a rule-enforcing, hell-inflicting punisher, God is love (1 John 4:8).

And God, himself, says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love!” (Jeremiah 31:3).

Have I been lied to? This is not the God I was taught about.

This is not a God who created a set of six-hundred-and-something unattainable standards and legalistic laws for us to live by and then takes delight in punishing us when we fail dismally. This is not a God who inflicts on us a to-do list of morals and life expectations, expecting us to meet them or punishing us with inflicted torment when we don’t.

This is a God who loves us so much that He actually stooped to our level.

“No one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for anyone who believes, no matter who we are” (Romans 3:20,22).

Far from being a punishing, cruel, keeping-a-record-of-our-sins kind of god, our God actually loves us enough to show us undeserved, unmerited, unearned favour. Grace.

Our world is just one big melting pot of bad choices and shit storms. A whole heap of humans with revenge-seeking, self-seeking, darkness-loving hearts.

And I’m definitely a part of that melting pot.

But in Jesus, we have a God who recognised the brokenness of the world and stooped to our level to lovingly rescue us from the graves we dig ourselves.

Far from God having two sorting baskets, there is actually just one basket. It is called Earth. And we are all in it. The label is ‘human’. And God loves us all with an everlasting love.

We cheat on Him, we reject Him, we ignore Him, but He is is constantly wrapping His loving arms around us, breathing life and love back into us.

And yes, even when I am kicking, screaming and running in the opposite direction from Him, He still loves me.

“I loved you at your darkest!” -God. (Romans 5:8)

Like when Jesus stooped into the dirt when defending the cheating woman, Jesus is still constantly stooping down into the broken, painful world to defend us.

That’s exactly what love is.

And I had already gleaned a small glimpse into that window through my own half-dead-kangaroo love for Mr Ex. No matter what Mr Ex was saying to me; even when Mr Ex was running in the opposite direction away from me, I just couldn’t stop loving him.

And since we are made in the image in God (Gen. 1:27), and God himself is love (1 John 4:8), then that points to a mightily, hugely, enormously powerful love that our God has for us.

The only thing more staggeringly incredible than that is that there is literally nothing we little buggers can do to earn or achieve or deserve God’s mercy. It is completely, totally, utterly because of God’s amazing grace, based on the FACT that He loves us and based on the FACT that love never fails (1 Corin. 13:8); not based on anything we can do or give or say.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” -Ephesians 2:8.

It is kind of ironic that Christianity has become a synonym in this world for judgment, dullness, boring and being out of touch with reality.

Because in Jesus, I see a God who loves the unlovable, frees the unworthy, and gives favour to the undeserving.

So maybe the foundation for God’s two-basket sorting system actually stems from our own judgmental and despicably mean spirit, rather than Jesus or even the Bible.

Jesus has never once said to me, “Ess, I died for you so you better follow me, you sinful human, you!”

Far from it, Jesus actually says, “Ess, I see your darkness-loving, judgmental heart, and nothing you could ever do will separate you from my love.”

I still remember the realisation that nothing – absolutely nothing – can separate me from God’s love; Not my judgmental crap, not my doubting, not my fears or failures, not my f-bombs and not even a cheating husband and the crumbling of my whole life as I knew it. And, de ja vu! I had read pretty much that many times before, but this time I was reading with new eyes…

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38 – 39).

By Grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone. As simple as that.

And one of the biggest things I started to learn…

OMG! It’s really not hard to have a relationship with Jesus when you uncover His humble humanity, His awesome personality, and His unfailing love!

I remembered my Christian Studies teacher at school telling us that she hated Christmas cards that depicted the Nativity with a smiling, holy baby in an immaculate white cloth. Why? Baby Jesus was a human baby! So he might’ve been grizzling in his hay-filled manger possibly needing a nappy change in that stinky old stable surrounded by cattle (but definitely no lobsters, despite what my all-time favourite movie Love Actually may suggest! 🙂 ).

My Christian Studies teacher was onto something.

What about the images that we so often see of adult Jesus with a crisp white robe and beautiful blue eyes looking serene and holy? That figure in church stained-glass windows. I started to realise, THAT IS NOT JESUS! Yes, Jesus is divine. Yes, Jesus is God in human form. But, note the word human!!

During His time on earth, Jesus felt pain, loneliness, anguish, betrayal, anger and turmoil.  This was a rather exciting revelation.  Jesus walked on earth and experienced real emotions. He was overcome with sadness when His dear friend died (John 11), He was turning over tables in the temple out of anger (John 2), on countless occasions He approached the outcasts and misfits of society and even enjoyed meals with them (a single man seen with a promiscuous woman? Jesus had guts!), He was healing on the sabbath (a big no-no at the time), and He was even accused of drinking too much! (Matt. 11).

Jesus is awesome!

Jesus is gutsy!

Heck, Jesus is radical!

And Jesus is God!

Reading the Bible became a new experience for me. I was quickly uncovering Jesus’s charismatic and loving personality. This was the start of something new.

“But he has told me, ‘My grace is all you need, because my power is perfected in weakness.'”-2. Corinthians 12:9.

Years of dutifully attending church with Mr Ex, I’d never encountered Jesus in this way. Years of clean living and clean language, I’d never encountered Jesus in this way. Years of good choices, I’d never encountered Jesus in this way.

The real Ess was hatching out. F-bombs, red wine, questioning, like, EVERYTHING, and falling passionately in love with Jesus.

It felt like Jesus and I were both breaking our stereotypes.

And I felt like we were onto something.

I saw Jesus in the face of the people around me. I felt Jesus in my tears, weeping with me. I heard Jesus in the midst of darkness.

And perhaps that is because no one knows suffering quite like Jesus.

Jesus suffered immensely during His time on earth. As it became clear to Jesus that He would be executed by the very people He was trying to help, He went into the Garden of Gethsemane with some of His friends. He was deeply distressed beyond words. He was sweating blood out of sheer anguish. In the garden, Matthew, a friend of Jesus, writes in Chapter 26:36-46 that Jesus said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.

Jesus also pleaded with God three times in the garden to take away His suffering; “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” Jesus was no longer a stain-glass window figure of perfection, out of touch with reality and irrelevant to me. He was my best friend. He got me. And He was with me. And I was learning to pray the very powerful prayer, “God, may Your will be done.”

Fill my life, Jesus. Let me see the real you. Let me become more like you.

With hindsight, I think I started to pray less “comfort me” prayers (i.e. God, take away this pain) and I prayed more “conform me” prayers (i.e. God, use this pain for a purpose and make me more like Jesus.).

It’s a gradual thing.

But one thing’s for sure…

My God has stooped to my level and I am quite sure He loves me.

When you hold that belief – having experienced it to be true – it radically changes your life.

Sometimes God doesn’t change your reality. He doesn’t wave a magic wand to instantly eradicate the pain. Instead though, He stoops to our level, He gives us His presence, and He loves us.

He knows suffering. He knows rejection. He knows betrayal. And He is experiencing everything that I am experiencing.

The more I read, the more I prayed, the more I refused to merely accept reality… I could see Jesus carrying his cross saying, “I love you, Ess.”

“I will never leave you or forsake you…” -God. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

And I listened to Owl City’s In Christ Alone over and over again…