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…”

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Chapter 28: Sunshine Blogger Award and the Meaning of Life

I’m back!

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

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

I’m single and happy.

Hey, I just love that sentence!

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

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

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

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

Unbelievable!!

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

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

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

And I’ve never been happier. Or healthier!

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

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

With this award comes a question.

And the question given to me is:

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

Talk about a tough question!!!!!

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

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

And as I read that, I realised…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The meaning of life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because our beliefs have to be formed by our experiences.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that is not what Jesus says.

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

And that’s what I do daily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can only share my experience with you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I tweaked it a little.

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

But I think she was onto something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

One thing is for sure: I was hurting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weddings were definitely something I loved, though.

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

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

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

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

Wedding dresses? Pfft, only good for snow camouflage!

Wedding magazines? Best used for propping up wobbly tables!

Weddings? Doomed!

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

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

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

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

Umm… WHAT NOW?!

Did I just hear him correctly?

Seriously! Of ALL the questions to ask me!!

Are you kidding?!

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

He was paused, waiting for my reply.

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

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

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

I soon realised the method to his madness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, weddings are THE worst place to be single.

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

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

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

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

YES!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am complete.

Jesus is all I’ll ever need.

I have an electric blanket and a dog!

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

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

And that was a pretty cool moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because being alone doesn’t equate to lonely.

Single doesn’t mean sad.

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

I challenge Hallmark to start making cards about that!

Solitude is the cure for loneliness.

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

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

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Chapter 24: Plan B

So, if there’s one thing I had learnt, it is that I love making plans. And my plans suck.

Maybe it’s a human thing. Or maybe it’s just me. But I like to create long-term strategic initiatives because it makes me feel safe. I like to see where I am going. I like to have a safety net around me.

But the problem?

My plans invariably fail.

When I was in primary school, my Reception teacher wrote in my school report that “Essie is a worry-wart.” Isn’t that just lovely. A worry-wart.

But she was right.

And, just like my 5-year-old self, I do worry about things. I can’t help it. If something isn’t going according to my plan, I worry. If I might lose something that I like or want or need, I worry. If I don’t have something, I worry. Heck, if I do have something, I worry!

And really, worry is just a nicer word for fear. Unglamourous, unrelenting fear.

A fear of the unknown. A fear of loss. A fear of uncertainty.

A feeling of having no control over a situation. Uncontrollable variables or outcomes.

Definitely not something that I feel comfortable with.

So, landing my dream job was a life-changing event. I will forever be indebted to that school for taking a chance on me.

And, that unexpected, unbelievable, nothing-short-of-a-miracle event gave me a new perspective on this thing called hope.

Bear with me as I back-track for a moment.

After returning from my overseas holiday, I had a birthday celebration with a selection of dear friends. About twenty of my nearest and dearest friends who had been my front-line emergency support team over the past few months.

It was possibly my favourite birthday celebration to date.

I wore my new navy wedges which I bought from Hobbs in London, a white mini dress and a bright pink Zara blazer.

I’ve always had plenty of friends. But our truest, honest-to-God, heart-and-soul friendships are the ones that are formed during our biggest trials. The ones that we ring up at 2am in tears. The ones that see us in our mascara-streaked pain. The ones who pick up the shattered pieces of a broken marriage and painstakingly help us to rebuild.

That’s not something I would’ve understood prior to 2013.

But it’s absolutely true.

We gather our most genuine, authentic friends during life’s deepest valleys.

And they’re usually weirdos!

What I mean, is that they are unexpected. Not who we would normally meet. Not who we would usually choose. But they are everything we need!

My advice is to treasure those weirdos.

It was the best birthday celebration of my life and I had a ball!

However, that birthday celebration did – by my own diagnosis – mark the end of one chapter and the start of something scarily uncertain.

For months, I had been riding the wave of unconditional support, wow-factor new friends, travel adventures, a big birthday bash… and now it was back to reality. Now it would be time to move on and get my new life underway. That meant job hunting and relief teaching. Remember, at this point, I was still unemployed, after quitting my child care job whilst in Paris.

It was time to get on with life. And I was very, very worried about this massive, overarching, scary cloud of uncertainty.

So, after a dessert degustation and a wonderful evening of laughter and enjoyment in celebration of my 25th birthday, one of my friends dropped me home. But as I got in the car, after a superb evening, I remember rather dramatically declaring to her, “I have to go back to reality now. My life is fucking shit!”

I was happy; don’t get me wrong. But this was my “clock striking midnight” moment.

It just hit me that I was unemployed, single and facing extreme uncertainty.

Never before in my life had I experienced this level of uncertainty.

When I walked down the aisle at the mere age of 20, Mr Ex and I had our lives planned out. We had a grand master plan. Houses, babies, pets, careers and schools picked out for the kids. It was all part of our strategic plan. And we knew what we were doing. He was a successful lawyer with a staggeringly impressive income for a 26-year-old. I was working in childcare, even though I was a fully qualified teacher. We had just bought our second home, which would be our family home. The plan was for Mr Ex to continue working, while I got pregnant and was a stay-at-home mum for the next ten years. I planned to continue working in child care and then maybe I’d eventually teach once the kids were all grown up. That kind of thing.

So, now, having just turned 25 at this point of the story and living life as both separated and unemployed, I was coming to terms with a new reality; I am the epitome of uncertainty.

I remember just breaking down in tears in the car with my friend. And I also told her that “I’m never going to get a teaching job”, “no one will ever want to life happily ever after with me” and “I may as well just give up on my life, because my life is officially over!”

But, of course, from reading my last chapter, you know what was just around the corner. You know that less then two months after my declaration that “my life is fucking shit”, I landed my dream job.

It’s funny how that works.

Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life…” (Matt. 6:25-34) “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you, by worrying, add a single hour to your life?”

Easy to read. Difficult to action.

Of course, Jesus is right. Birds don’t seem to have a care in the world, yet they get everything they need AND they get to fly. Yes, Jesus. I know. I should be more like a carefree, trusting bird.

So what’s stopping me?

Maybe it’s because I like to have control. I like to have a plan. I like to know what is around the next corner.

And because I don’t like HATE uncertainty. I hate the unknown.

But probably the number one reason is simply that I get bogged down in the ‘here and now’. What I can see right now. What I am feeling right now. What the situation looks like right now.

I remember writing in an earlier chapter that, as Christians, our hope is not based on optimism or wishful thinking. It is based on a believed fact; having experienced God’s love first-hand and knowing that God himself is present in all circumstances. The good, the bad and the shit-house ugly.

To have optimism or wishful thinking would be to say, “Yes, everything is OK!”

And I get the idea that that is exactly what people think Christians believe. Blind. Wishful thinkers. Optimistic. Unaware of the harsh realities that exist.

But I call bullshit to the idea that Christians go about pretending that everything is OK.

As Jesus, God the Son entered into the muck and grime of humanity. He entered into the big, dark void of uncertainty that quite frankly scares the bejeebers out of me.

In Jesus, I see a God who dined with society’s outcasts. I see a God who went out of His way to show us that our brokenness isn’t the end of the story. He conquered death with resurrection. He gives us light for our darkness. Hope for our fear. Peace for our worry.

But I don’t think He does that by creating mortal minions who blindly go about pretending that everything is OK.

The Christian faith is actually far more gutsy and ballsy than most people realise.

I read an amazing quote the other day.  In Bruce Cockburn’s book Kicking the Darkness, he writes that The Christian faith is one that kicks at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.

YES!

Can I get an ‘Amen’?!

I don’t know about you, but when I am feeling shitty and my future is looking uncertain at best, I don’t want to be told that everything is OK. I don’t want to be told by well-meaning Christians that they have been blessed by God and their life is great. I don’t want to be told that it’s all good.

I want to be told that we do live in a broken world. We are broken beings. And we will fail each other and God and ourselves. BUT THERE IS MORE!!!!!

Hope is seeing the reality of my daily struggles, feeling the pain of unemployment and wondering if I’m destined to live life solo for the rest of my days.  Hope is seeing, recognising and understanding that my future is uncertain. No pretending.

But hope is also knowing that there is a bigger picture that transcends the murky, uncertain reality in front of me. There is more. Always, always, always, there is more.

I’m often going on about resurrection and God’s habit of making old, crappy things new again. And that’s just it! Resurrection. New. Always more!

And, as proved by my declaration in the car after my birthday party, I have an endearingly human habit of declaring that my life is over.

That’s it! My marriage is over. I will die childless. I am unemployed. I’ll never get a teaching job. Impossible. Full-stop.

I know that is a human trait because that is exactly how the disciples reacted following the world’s most famous execution.

When Jesus’s dead body was placed in a tomb, they were bummed out. Reality was looking grim. The man who claimed to be God in human form had just been killed. Full-stop. End of story.

But, it wasn’t the end.

Ha!

Far from it actually, because it is now over 2,000 years later and there are more than 2 billion people who are still following Jesus today.

God brings life out of dead things!!!

Just as reality was looking like evil and death had conquered Jesus, God surprised us with a resurrection.

Just when we think life’s over… Just when we think something is dead… Just when we think we are broken… Just when a situation is looking hopeless… Just when reality couldn’t get any worse…

God surprises us by breathing new life into us. Resurrecting us. Adding more.

That is a lesson that I am still learning over and over again. I am a slow learner, but like a turtle going uphill through sand and seaweed, I will power on.

And I will defiantly proclaim that there is always more.

While I try not to worry – yes, I do try to be a bird like Jesus suggests – I know I will worry again. But then I will remind myself, again and again and AGAIN whenever necessary, that THERE IS ALWAYS MORE.

THERE IS ALWAYS MORE THAN OUR REALITY.

Our reality might be darkness, gloomy, broken, pain, hurt, and anger.

Yes.

That’s actually quite possible.

But there is more. There is always more.

And, that is where Plan B comes into play. Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, Plan E, Plan F… and the alphabet goes on.

Jesus’s dead body was placed in a tomb, but there was more.

I was unemployed and it was looking very, very unlikely (OK, let’s be honest; it looked darn-right IMPOSSIBLE) that I would find a job anytime soon, but there was more.

I was married and hoping for a baby when my husband walked out, but there is more.

Plan B.

For me, my Plan A was to live happily ever after with Mr Ex, have two or three children with Mr Ex, rent out our townhouse, live happily in the hills, picket fence, a dog and a cat, stay-at-home mum while Mr Ex brought home the bacon (yes, I was dreaming of the 1950s apparently…), and then maybe becoming a teacher one day when my children were all grown up. In, like, ten or twenty years time. That was a good plan, hey?! (insert sarcasm) Oh, and I also was pretty much on non-speaking terms with a father-in-law that I loved to hate.

But, Plan B: Mr Ex and I couldn’t seem to have children together. Mr Ex cheated on me. Mr Ex left me. I’m now single. I’m working as a teacher and LOVING it. I am passionately following Jesus and LOVING it. Oh, and I love my ex-father-in-law too.

The big question:

Do I still want Plan A? Would I change anything if I could? Would I revert to my former self?

The answer is a definite no.

Does the future scare me? Yes.  Do I worry still? Yes.

I see that sometimes things are NOT hunky-dory.

I see I might not ever find a bouquet-catching ‘happily ever after’ life.

But instead, I’ll kick the darkness until it bleeds light; declaring that there is ALWAYS MORE!  I will defiantly proclaim that I believe in resurrection. I believe that all things work together for good. AND I believe that God loves me.

Thank you, God, for giving me exactly what I didn’t want. And thank you that there is ALWAYS more.

“I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” (Rev. 3:8).

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 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…