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

Divorce or Dating.

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

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

And that was a blessing.

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

IMG_2953

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

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

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

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

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

Crazy.

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

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

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

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

“Mr Ex and Cosette are expecting a baby.”

And that killed me.

My heart was smashed into a zillion tiny pieces.

And I broke.

Yet again.

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

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

I really, truly wanted to die.

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

Would I ever do that?

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

What saved me?

This blog.

Yep.

This blog. By the Grace of God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And social media is the WORST for that.

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

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

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

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

So, how do I stop her from creeping in?

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

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

It’s warfare.

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

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

And it has two little words inscribed:

I know

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t listen to that.

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

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

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

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

The other part of my pain?

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

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

But that’s life.

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

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

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

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

Umm… what?!?!?!?!

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

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

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

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

And Steve had no idea who I was.

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

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

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

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

ASSHOLE!!!!!

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

Let me just say, I’m glad it’s over.

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

Internet dating is truly heinous.

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

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

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

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

And that goes 100% for church dating scenes.

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

The formula goes something like this…

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

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

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

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

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

COMMUNICATE, people! Communicate!

Own your feelings!

Be bold enough to SPEAK!

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

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

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

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

But then I realised something.

It was forced.

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

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

So I made a promise to myself:

“Ess, that’s it. Don’t force it.”

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

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

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

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

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

…Yes… That does limit my options SIGNIFICANTLY.

But I’m OK with that.

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

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

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

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

IMG_4401

Advertisements

Chapter 30: The Trust Mug & The D-Word

I hadn’t heard anything from Mr Ex.

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

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

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

Because he wanted to file for divorce.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just for the record, now I pursue the abnormal.

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

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

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

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

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

So what went wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think the trouble lies much deeper:

EMOTIONAL.

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

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

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

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

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

But you know what?

It’s complex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We should be getting angry.

We should be kicking that darkness.

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

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

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

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

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

I thought long and hard.

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

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

But then I thought, NO.

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

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

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

A mug.

With one word: Trust.

IMG_2476

And that meant SO much to me.

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

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

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

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

But He’s there.

He’s always, always there.

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

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

Indeed, trust I did.

Chapter 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

387109088bd04c10655d8c6a5a97e357

Chapter 25: Grace Upon Grace

It always annoys me when people connect Christianity with judgment.

The missing element? Grace.

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

How awesome is that?!

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

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

Grace upon grace.

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

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

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

Grace: Unearned, unmerited, undeserved favour.

God’s grace is an un-coerced initiative.

No hidden agendas.

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

*happy dance*

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

Grace is a process.

Love is a process.

Forgiveness is a process.

Life is a process.

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

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

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

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

*Happy dance again*

…it doesn’t end there though.

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

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

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

Whether I like it or not.

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

Ick.

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

And Cosette.

My reaction?

Mother of fuckery! Prickles on petunias!

I don’t want a bar of it!!!!!!

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

These are some excerpts of how Luke puts it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BECAUSE IT IS NOT FAIR.

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

Ah.

Yes, God, I see.

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

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

It’s not.

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

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

Jesus’s goodness and grace was offensive.

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

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

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

That’s like grace.

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

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

It’s bad ass.

There’s nothing gentle and angelic about grace.

Grace sees shit in all its glory.

And it changes us from the inside out.

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

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

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

But my language is very deliberate. Why?

Because God goes there.

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

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

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

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

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

So, I try.

Some days, I’m better at it.

Other days = epic fail.

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

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

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

Oh, fuck it!

I’ve just fallen off the grace-wagon.

Try again, Essie!

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

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

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

But it somehow changes me.

Prayer changes me.

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

But something kind of happens.

The coercing, plotting, vengeful Essie is somehow cleansed.

And I feel peace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essie Bell: GUILTY AS CHARGED.

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

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

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

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

“He’s MY God and he’s on MY side”

*Dr Evil pinky finger to mouth*

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

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

God is love.

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

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

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

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

Like antiseptic cream, it stings at first.

But it is what heals me when I need it.

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

Chapter 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

5729f6ea73b9c6b7c42a1637e6c36ec2

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 15: Made New (not perfect)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something was different.

Something was actually really different.

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

There was just grace abounding!

What the hell happened?

We had both encountered Jesus, that’s what.

And something rather amazing ensued.

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

We both cried.

And hugged a very genuine hug.

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

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

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

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

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

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

People expect to see Jesus in churches.

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

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

And He never looks like we expect him to.

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

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

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

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

Because it’s real.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God makes all things new.

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

Heck, even having a beer with him!

A new relationship.

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

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

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

Chapter 13: In the Stranger

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

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

A Simon and Garfunkel song started playing in the car.

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

No laughter this time though.

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

Grief sucks!!

Tom and Samara quickly skipped the song.

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

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

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

And I felt loved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or can you?

Maybe gutsy people can!

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

I say, stick close to those people.

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

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

It’s like we have met these people before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was hard.

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

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

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

So, my maiden voyage was a positive one.

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

A stranger called Jade was walking in the same direction.

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

As we set off, we introduced ourselves.

“I’m Essie,” I told her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He told me. And it was a Christian school.

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

He looked up at me for a moment, intrigued.

“You’re a Christian?” he asked me.

“Yep!”

And then the magic happened.

Shaun, my random mortgage broker, loves Jesus too.

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about turning a mess into a message!

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

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

And boy, did we talk for a long time!

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

b901ff250cf7a27dcd6a03bf4535dece

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.