Chapter 30: The Trust Mug & The D-Word

I hadn’t heard anything from Mr Ex.

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

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

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

Because he wanted to file for divorce.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just for the record, now I pursue the abnormal.

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

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

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

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

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

So what went wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think the trouble lies much deeper:

EMOTIONAL.

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

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

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

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

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

But you know what?

It’s complex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We should be getting angry.

We should be kicking that darkness.

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

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

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

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

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

I thought long and hard.

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

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

But then I thought, NO.

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

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

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

A mug.

With one word: Trust.

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And that meant SO much to me.

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

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

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

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

But He’s there.

He’s always, always there.

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

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

Indeed, trust I did.

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Chapter 29: My Church of Quirks

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The other day, I was driving someone in my car. My iPhone’s playlist was randomly streaming in the background. A Hillsong Jesus-y God-praising song came on and I subtly skipped it. Yes. I skipped it. I pressed the button on my steering wheel that makes my sound system proceed to the next song. I didn’t want my new friend judging me by my Jesus music.

And then I realised that I’d done it again. Unfaithful to God.

People who know me often think I’m a fantastic Christian because I have a Christian blog and/or I go to church and/or I’m “such a nice person”.

I’m not.

I’m actually a dilapidated, broken person who fails daily in my relationship with God.

But, the thing with God – which never fails to amaze me – is that He actually still loves me. He loves me even though I fail Him daily.

Just when I think, “That’s it; I’ve done it now! Surely God won’t love me anymore because of ___”, His love tells me that I am cherished and He just keeps loving me back to life.

“I will not forget you. I have written your name on the palms of my hands” -God. (Isaiah 49: 15-16).

Back in 2014, this seemed to me to be a missing element in many churches.

I was convinced that I had experienced Jesus in my life. I’d experienced the radical heart-transplant that the Holy Spirit so beautifully and traumatically carries out. I’d experienced God’s unfathomable willingness to enter the muck and grime of humanity. And even though I was unfaithful to God and spiritually rough around the edges (and still am!), I was convinced that God loved me more when I was honest about my brokenness, than when I was sitting in church pretending to have all my shit together.

At this point, I was still going to the church where Mr Ex and I had attended as a married couple, albeit on and off.

First off, let me say it is a terrific church that meets the needs of so many people and is undoubtedly a work of the Holy Spirit. But I didn’t fit in. For two reasons, I thought.

  1. I felt like it was a group of people with all their shit together. Adults who don’t say “shit” and children who skipped out to Sunday School during the last verse of the third hymn. Married couples. Families. Perfection. And what would I have in common with that?! I didn’t see how couples who married at 21 would have any understanding of what it is like to be single-again. That sounds a little self-indulgent (“no one understands me!!”), but it’s how I felt. [Just for the record, the truth is, they do have their own troubles. All people do. Illnesses, infertility, working through past traumas, issues with their children… not every married couple who looks like they have their shit together actually has their shit together. But, perceptions rule our thinking].
  2. Everyone could quickly and accurately rustle through the pages of their bible to the correct chapter within 5.5 seconds. So, the guy up the front would say “Today’s bible reading comes from Hebrews 11” and there would be 5.5 seconds of page rustling before everyone found the spot. But I couldn’t find Hebrews chapter 11 in 5.5 seconds. Heck, I still probably can’t. And that kind of thing made me feel inadequate and out of place. That’s just one silly little example, but for me, it was a big deal. I remember going to a Bible study group at that church and I drove home in floods of tears because I didn’t understand what the leader was talking about – King James talk makes less sense to me than Shakespeare (and I majored in English at uni)! – and I didn’t pray as articulately and succinctly as they did. Again, that was 100% based on my own perceptions and personal hang-ups rather than anything remotely truthful or accurate about that church and the people who go there, but you know, as I said, our perceptions rule our thinking.

Church shopping is not something I recommend or endorse. Generally, I think we should pray long and hard before church shopping. My general rule of thumb is that it is better to stay where you are because leaving rarely solves the problem. And because, really, you can see my flawed reasons for moving on. My reasons were based totally on my perceptions and interpretations, rather than on anything remotely factual.

But for me, I knew it was time to fly.

So, I started looking around.

One church that I visited asked me if I’d be interested in joining a bible study group during the week. That sounded kind of promising, although, with my Christian “L” plates, I was still very cautious of bible study groups.

“Singles or couples?” the well-meaning lady asked me.

I hesitated and replied, “Well, not couples. So, I guess singles?”

“Great!” the lady enthused. “How old are you?”

“I’m 25,” I replied.

“Oh…Singles might be a little too young for you then, dear!” the lady replied.

And that felt like being swamped by a tonne of bricks.

It’s a sad, sad world when 25 is considered too old for the singles group.

I also went to another church for around 6 weeks. Things started off great! I noticed people who looked to be in their twenties who weren’t wearing wedding rings. It was good to see that there were people my age who weren’t all married off. It made me feel comfortable. No, I wasn’t husband-shopping. It just made me feel a little more normal.

But the problem was that week after week, I ended up sitting on my own.

One day, I met the pastor’s daughter, a jolly, extraverted, larger-than-life girl, possibly a year or two older than me. She bounced over introducing herself. We chatted happily for a while. Small talk. Jobs, careers and that kind of thing. She was a nurse who had done aid work in multiple third world countries.

After some small talk, she asked if I’d be interested in joining a weekly bible study group. That seemed to be a trend that churches offer, perhaps to give me a chance to get to know people better outside of the church context and to kick-start relationship connections. I was interested and keen to make friends.

“It’s for us singles!” she quipped, obviously making an assumption based on my lack of finger bling.

Nice that they cater for singles. And nice that she’s late-twenties and single.

But then it went downhill.

“Never found The One, huh?” she smiled, tilting her head. I think it was a joke. I think she was trying to connect with me or be funny or sarcastic or something. Then she quickly blamed all her overseas aid work for her late-twenties singleness. Because, you know, God forbid she was single because no one wanted her. Foreign aid is a much better reason for singleness. *Insert sarcasm*

“Umm…” I said, unsure. “Well… I am actually separated… so I’m kind of in no-man’s land at the moment”.

“Oh.”  Awkward silence.

“It’s all good!” I spoke up. “I’m fine; I’m happy. I’m moving on!”

And the conversation seemed to quickly move to a more comfortable topic of weather and current affairs. We chatted happily and apart from that brief awkwardness, it was a great chat.

And indeed I did go back the following week.

I walked in, I looked around, and I saw the jolly, extraverted, pastor’s daughter gleefully laughing and joking in a gaggle of girls. I thought I’d resist my natural inclination to fade into the background, so I approached them. And she DIDN’T. RECOGNISE. ME! At all!

That’s OK. She’s probably had a busy week. And I bet she meets heaps of people as she’s the pastor’s daughter. I’ll just jog her memory gently.

“I’m Essie; I met you last week.”

“Oh yeah, yeah, yeah! That’s right, darl!” But I was betting she had no idea.

It was almost time to sit down for the service.

She hugged each of her friends and gave prolonged hand-holds to each of them, before all proceeding to sit down next to each other in a row of chairs.

You’re not farewelling them. You’re just sitting down next to them.

As people took their seats and others moved in, I was shuffled along to the end of the row. And then the girl next to me turned to say, “Sorry, this seat is taken.”

Are you shooing the new girl?!

So, I moved to the seat behind.

The pastor’s daughter was still surrounded by her gaggle of girls. They held hands during some songs and they took notes during the sermon. And when it ended, they went off to the tea and coffee table and I was left alone. Again.

Six weeks there and no one ever remembered me from one week to the next. Needless to say, I threw in the towel.

For a year on, I received occasional updates via email from that church. But I would bet $1,000,000 that not one person there would know who I am.

Then over the subsequent two weeks, I mentioned my unsuccessful church hunting experiences to three colleagues at work at separate times. I chatted with them at over lunch in the staff room on different days, but all three gave me the same advice: “Try Happy’s Church!”

“Happy’s” isn’t the actual name of this church. For privacy reasons, I’m not using the church’s real name, so let’s go with the nickname “Happy’s”.

It struck me as kind of odd that three separate colleagues were recommending Happy’s to me, without any idea that others were recommending the same.

Coincidence or God-incidence?!

And at the end of that roughly two-week period of three different Happy’s recommendations, during Junior Primary choir on a Thursday afternoon at school, I was watching my class on stage practicing for the up-coming Grandparents Day.

“Give me a home among the gum trees….” they sang, “with lots of plum trees… A sheep or two, and a kangaroo, a clothesline out the back…. verandah out the front… and an old rocking chair” and they all rocked back and forth out of time with each other.

I became aware of someone just to my left. Someone different. A relief teacher.

James, the new relief teacher, was really chatty and joined in with the song’s actions even though it was his first time at Junior Primary choir. He looked to be about my age. To cut a long story short, we got talking and I found out that he regularly attended Happy’s. He highly recommended Happy’s to me. He also said I should come that Sunday and that he and his girlfriend, Rebecca, would look out for me.

That’s four people at work who have recommended it now.

August 2014.

I remember vividly driving up the cold, dark, wet road to Happy’s. It felt like forever. It was winter. And it was raining cats and dogs. I wanted to turn back. In fact, I was *this close* to turning back.

In the darkness and bucketing down rain, I missed the church’s carpark entry. GoogleMaps told me to turn around. And at that point, it all felt too hard.

“Make a U-turn whenever possible,” GoogleMaps told me.

Pfft! Screw it! I’m just gonna go home.

But then I saw the Happy’s carpark entry. And I drove in, hesitant and uncertain.

I pulled into a parking space and sat in my car, praying.

God, I’m SO sick of trying new churches. I’m not great at small talk. I’m sick of being the only broken one. I don’t fit into the ‘Christian’ scene. If you want me to try this church, please make it really obvious. Please just open the door or slam the door shut. Show me what to do because I’m feeling disheartened and I’m… I… I… Julia!!!!???!??!

First, I saw her colourful scarf. Then her stripey top. And then her umbrella. And then recognised her car!!!

Cast your mind back to my chapter about starting my new job. Julia was a teacher at my new school. Similar story, similar scars. She doesn’t go to Happy’s, but she was visiting that night for – hold onto your hats – a guest speaker!!!

And she wasn’t one of the people who had recommended Happy’s to me. She had no idea I was going to be there that night. With all the rain and wintery darkness, she hadn’t even recognised me or my car.

We were both as equally shocked to see each other there. And to have parked next to each other.

I’m not saying God is a genie who answers prayers on cue with an obvious “ta-dah!”  He’s not and He doesn’t. But I am saying that sometimes (and often when we least expect it) He gives us a tiny miracle – coincidence or God-incidence, whatever you think it is – which fills our hearts with a “Essie, I’ve got this!” reply.

So, I had someone to walk in with! (Believe me, that makes a world of difference when visiting new churches)

And best of all, if Julia hadn’t pulled into the carpark next to me, I can’t guarantee that I would’ve got out the car into the rain and walked into that church that night.

“Then you shall call and the Lord will answer; you shall cry and He will say ‘Here I am.'” (Isaish 58:9).

So after walking in with Julia and sitting with her for the service, afterwards I met two amazing girls: James’s sister Tasmin, better known as Taz, and his girlfriend, Rebecca. Followed by a whole line-up of amazing people, who will feature in upcoming chapters 🙂

What sets this church (aka Happy’s) apart…

  • I’ve never once sat alone. Week after week after week, never alone. I was welcomed right from the start with authentic, genuine love.
  • One of the first times I went there, the pastor got up to begin his message and he started with, “I love unusual people!” Amen! I feel at home! It is a bunch of real people. Normal and abnormal people. Fits and misfits. Crazy and quirky. Boring and effervescent. Black sheep. White sheep. Rainbow sheep. All are welcome. It’s not strange to see a person with mismatched socks, dreadlocks, a total nerd or a surfie-dude. It is home to all types. I love that there is no cookie-cutter to fit into. All come before the throne of grace where they can worship God, a constant source of wholeness for our brokenness.
  • The first time my ‘story’ came up in conversation, I braced myself for the usual awkwardness. But there was none! I felt like I’d known the Happy’s crowd for years and talking to them about my history was never weird or awkward and never followed by a hasty transition to discussing the weather and sports.
  • The second time I went to Happy’s, the guy leading the songs and worship up the front shared some of his own thoughts with the congregation. He was talking about Jesus, the real Jesus; the Jesus who walked our earthly streets and felt anger and hurt and pain. Jesus who wants to have an adventurous, wild, authentic relationship with us in our everyday lives. Not the stained-glass window, out-of-touch-with-reality Jesus that so many people put on a pedestal. YES! That was exactly my kind of topic!!
  • Fellowship and friendship over a glass of red. After church, everyone will sit around together, sharing a meal and a bottle of red. That is where the magic happens. I have nothing against bible study groups – they are vital – but I think it is vital to also just hang out and chat. Talk about everyday things. The boring. The insignificant. That’s important too.
  • Grace-filled theology. Not perfection. It is impossible to find a church that is perfect. Churches are filled with people. And people are never perfect (despite what they may project to the world). As humans, we anger each other, we fail each other, we make cliques, we change our minds, we get things wrong and we misinterpret, like, all the time. The truth is, we don’t have our shit together. And I love it when people are honest and authentic about that. Sharing our hurts, sharing our struggles, sharing our shit-storms, sharing our doubts. It’s real. It’s messy. It’s broken. But, I love my Happy’s family because they are grounded in the grace and love of Jesus Christ and I see that in them – in their love, their words, their actions. Things go wrong and I’ve been there long enough to see the ugly side that forms when any group of humans come together. But we have a God who is slowly, painfully and divinely piecing us all back together continually; us all knowing ourselves to be broken when left to our own devices and in constant ongoing need of our saviour Jesus.

Above all, I have a supernatural deep-seated belief that that’s where I am meant to be.

One of the first songs I ever sang at Happy’s was “One Thing Remains”.

“Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me…

Higher than the mountains that I face… One thing remains…”

Chapter 28: Sunshine Blogger Award and the Meaning of Life

I’m back!

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

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

I’m single and happy.

Hey, I just love that sentence!

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

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

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

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

Unbelievable!!

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

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

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

And I’ve never been happier. Or healthier!

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

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

With this award comes a question.

And the question given to me is:

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

Talk about a tough question!!!!!

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

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

And as I read that, I realised…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The meaning of life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because our beliefs have to be formed by our experiences.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that is not what Jesus says.

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

And that’s what I do daily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can only share my experience with you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 26: Anam Cara

I think I’ll have this engraved on my tombstone: “Yes, terrible things happen. But sometimes, those terrible things – they save you.”

That is a quote from Chuck Palahniuk.

It’s now around November 2013.

By the grace of God, I had landed my dream job with a bunch of exceptional people who were fast becoming my second family. I discovered that my lifelong dream to teach was indeed my passion or my calling or whatever you call something that is simply an extension of yourself. The 5-year-old who lined up her Barbies and teddies and gave them spelling lessons, put stickers and ticks on their ‘work’, and taught them how to count turned into the 25-year-old who was living the dream. Even at the end of the toughest day, I still go home thanking God for planting me there and, with a skip in my step, I look forward to returning the next day and doing it all over again.

I’ve come to realise that is rare.

Most people just exist at work. I get to live!

When your life is on God’s course – and when you feel that God himself put you on that course – you are your most powerful. Because no matter what comes your way, no matter how long or icy your winter may be, you will be spurred on by an invincible inner springtime. Or, if you’re anything like Elsa and myself, maybe the cold never bothered you anyway.

I think Steve Jobs said it best: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

At my new workplace, Narelle was one of the first people I connected with. Twenty years older than me and a total stranger, but Narelle had the exact scars as me. Her husband left her in January 2013 after revealing an affair. Snap! Crackle! Pop! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s exciting when we find bits of ourselves in other people. Our soul says, “Oh, there you are! I’ve been looking for you!”

A wise lady once told me that a scar just means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you. And I started to realise something:

Damaged people are dangerous, because they know they can survive.

Damaged Christians are even more dangerous, because they know they can survive AND they have experienced first-hand grace and love from the creator of the universe.

“It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness.   Now I take limitations in my stride, and with good cheer; these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” -2 Corin. 12:10.

I also quickly connected with Julia. Same scars, same story too.

And I went on to discover a whole heap of inspiring women at my new work who had scars of one form or another.

There is a compassion, a sensitivity, a depth, an inextinguishable fire in the belly of those people. And they wear their pain like they do L.K. Bennett stilettos. No matter how much it hurts, they just get more beautiful.

But there was someone missing from the picture at this point. Someone who often popped into mind.

Andrew, Cosette’s husband.

After hearing in the early stages of this whole shebang that Cosette was married too, I felt inextricably linked to him – whoever he is. Two strangers with a hell of a lot in common. My husband and his wife were shacked up and living large. What a bizarre connection to share with a total stranger.

Thanks to technology and the likes of Google, I found Andrew’s work email address. And I sat down to email him.

Holey socks!

Getting the wording right was hilariously impossible.

“Hi there, You don’t know me, but our spouses know each other wayyyyy too well…!”

LOL!

No, I didn’t say that.

In the end, I didn’t give it too much thought.  I figured I’d just get some kind of collection of cohesive English words onto the page, send it off and forget about it. I mean, there was every chance that he might not want anything to do with me.

Don’t over-think it, Ess.

It might be too painful for him to reply. Or he might actually be celebrating the end of his marriage!

But, within a day, Andrew replied.

And I couldn’t have asked for a nicer reply. He suggested that we meet up, so we arranged to meet by the beach the following weekend.

I remember feeling surprisingly un-nervous. It was a natural progression. Organic.

I arrived first and waited at a white plastic table and chairs on the foreshore. The sun was shining brighter than ever and the sea was bluer than blue.

I remember Andrew walking straight towards me; no hesitation on his part, just a 100kW smile. We greeted each other like old friends. There was this unspoken camaraderie. Instant family.

And really, that is just so damn hilarious considering we have absolutely NOTHING in common apart from Mr Ex and Cosette.

A mo-fo sized universe with nine known planets, 204 countries on earth, 809 islands, 7 seas… and I am having coffee with a 40-something-year-old (remembering that Cosette is a fair bit older than Mr Ex) Irishman with a sciencey PhD and a keen interest in crustaceans and golf.

Utterly uncanny. Bizarre. Downright ridiculous!!

And he was no doubt thinking the same thing about the 20-something-year-old Aussie figure skater and Jesus-freak that he was talking to.

LOL!

Granted, we both enjoy a glass of red. So we’re not totally incompatible 😉

But, I guess what really resonated with me was that Andrew could’ve been an asshole.

Andrew could’ve been unhappily married, miserable in his life with Cosette, and thrilled to be set free from her.

He could’ve so easily been a dickhead husband who treated her like shit.

But, reality?

I remember just thinking, Ah geez… Andrew loved Cosette.

Andrew adored Cosette.

And he’s not an asshole. He’s one of the kindest, sweetest, most generous people you’ll ever meet.

How shittily, shittily, shittily unfair is that.

In many ways, it would be so much kinder if he was an asshole. But, much like my amazing work friends with their scars and stiletto-wearing pain-threshold which makes them the most beautiful people I know, BAD STUFF HAPPENS TO GOOD PEOPLE!

AND THAT SUCKS!!!!!!

Even Jesus himself struggled with the ravages of pain and hurt (Matthew 26). Jesus said, “…In this world you will experience troubles and pain. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world!” (John 16:33).

Reading that in November 2013, I had new ears. I’d heard that verse many, many times before. But, I kind of always pictured Jesus as a high and mighty overseer who was serenely preaching about how bad we all are and how good he is.

But, as usual, I had missed the essence completely. And I’m sure Jesus has lovingly rolled his eyes at me many, many times.

How did Jesus conquer the world? I wondered.

OMG! RESURRECTION! Messy, hardcore resurrection!

And in resurrection, there is hope.

Jesus is God in human form. So, this is a God who has experienced birth, childhood, friendship, love, betrayal, lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, hard work, arrest, trial, death, and burial.

And Jesus’s followers were feeling mightily depressed when he died, because it looked like the light of the world – a man who taught that goodness will always overcome evil, if only we LOVE each other – had just been successfully killed. Talk about a depressing anti-climax to the teachings of someone who claimed to be God. And talk about an epic disappointment in the good versus evil debate. It looked like evil had triumphantly won.

As Jesus’s disciples were wandering along a dusty road with glum faces and feeling rather duped, Jesus casually walks along beside them and asks what they are talking about. They don’t recognise him, so start recalling recent events of Jesus’s death. One of Jesus’s disciples then says, “We had hoped that He was the One…” (Luke 24:21) but, of course, Jesus had been dead three days and it wasn’t looking good. At all.

But here he is, resurrected! Made new. “The resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

And just as the disciples are saying “we had hoped…” in a heart-heavy, feeling very let-down, ‘this didn’t go according to our plan’ kind of way, they realise that THAT IS JESUS right there walking with them! The very guy that they saw buried three days earlier.

Jesus has come back to life! Death could not hold him! Evil did not win!

And it’s heartily spectacular that a cross of crucifixion which is a symbol of death, evil and destruction can be turned into a symbol of hope and light and overcoming.

Only a god who has bore real suffering can bring us real hope.

And that’s it!

Jesus’s take-home message is my overarching mantra.

Evil is simply not more powerful than good.

Because God CAN and DOES bring goodness out of the worst evil.

“And we know that for those who love God, that is, for those who are called according to his purpose, all things are working together for good.” -Romans 8:28.

Thinking back to Andrew’s 100kW smile as he greeted me, I was amazed at his resilience. Talking to Andrew over coffee that afternoon, I remember an overwhelming realisation that he had been just as broken, devastated and downright shattered as I was. It amazes me that humans have a strength and resilience that transcends scientific reason. And since we are made in the image of God, that points to a beyond-imagination amazing God.

I think it all comes down to having hope.

And for me, I see that as resurrection. Goodness conquering evil.

I can’t imagine looking at the vastness of the ocean or the expansive sky and putting my hope in optimistic thoughts and wishful thinking. For me, the symbol of the cross – an act of evil which was conquered by goodness – is all that I need. Resurrection is all around us.

When a child has cancer and the whole community raise funds to pay for life-saving treatment… When a murder victim’s family is supported by the killer’s family… When a site of death, pain and horror is covered in memorial flowers and messages of hope and love… When two victims of an adulterous relationship join together for coffee and support under the bright sunshine…

That’s resurrection. Hope. Goodness conquering evil.

And we joked that we should take a selfie with the sun and sea in the background and send it off to drizzly Bristol where Mr Ex and Cosette were now living.

Andrew and I chatted about our hesitation going into our first Christmas as singles. Thinking back to the previous Christmas, both of us were happily married to our respective spouses, or so we thought.

Quick flashback to Christmas 2012:

Mr Ex and I were happily married (if you’d asked me). We enjoyed a Chrissy lunch at my parents’ house. All the trimmings. Family, food, and festivities. And life was looking pretty sweet! Mr Ex was in a new position at work. I was starting my fourth year in child care.

At the Christmas lunch, Mr Ex retired to my parents’ upstairs sofa with his iPad, complaining of a headache. When I went upstairs to check on my headache-suffering husband, he put his iPad to one side, pulled me to the sofa, and I just remember him being all hands.

WTF?!

So much for a headache!

It’s Christmas Day and we’re having lunch with my family!!!!!!!

Hindsight, of course, is 20/20. And my beloved, randy husband was undoubtedly communicating with Cosette. Headache-schmedache.

On that same Christmas Day, Cosette and Andrew were visiting their homeland, Ireland. Neither Cosette or Andrew have family in Australia, but had been living in Australia for a few years, working. Going back to Ireland to spend the festive season with their family would be a special time of closeness and quality time. But, Andrew’s 20/20 hindsight made it all-too-clear that his beloved Cosette was somewhat distracted on that trip too, spending time on her laptop.

And then, around one month later, January 2013 long weekend and Mr Ex revealed his affair and bugged out. Horrible, darkness, evil, and just like the disciples who said, “We had hoped…”, I can echo those same sentiments. It’s all looking pretty glum. Looks like evil has won.

Fast-forward to Christmas 2013:

Ess and Andrew: Two victims of Mr Ex and Cosette’s relationship, single against their will, covered in cut-marks from the shattered glass of their respective marriages to Mr Ex and Cosette, and dreading the Christmas 2013 holiday festivities.

“One of the most beautiful gifts in the world is the gift of encouragement. When someone encourages you, that person helps you over a threshold you might otherwise never have crossed on your own.” -John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom.

So, in the spirit of goodness overcoming evil – or resurrection, as I like to say – we spent Christmas Day 2013 celebrating together.

Andrew caught a taxi to my parents’ house. The taxi driver, an Indian man, made small talk with Andrew, asking where Andrew was off to. Andrew explained. The taxi driver’s response? “Wait… So let me get this straight… You are going to your WIFE’s LOVER’s WIFE’s FAMILY’s house for Christmas lunch?!?!?!?!?!” Haha! Yep!

Sitting at the same table where, only twelve months prior Mr Ex and I had been sitting, hand-in-hand unwrapping presents together, was rather bizarre. Despite the bizarreness though, I love that my family and Andrew could all eat, drink and be merry together for that Christmas 2013. And even more bizarre is that I had this rather random new addition to my family; Andrew, my newest big brother. Andrew will always be a member of my family. And I think his arrival into my family is a way of us kind of saying, “Get stuffed!” to the evil, darkness, hurt and pain that we have all felt – and sometimes do still feel.

A year of brokenness, shattered dreams, pain, anger, evil… and yet, the shining rays of goodness and hope prevail. Resurrection.

For Christmas that year, Andrew gave me Christmas a giant bunch of flowers, a bottle of Moet, and Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom.

And Anam Cara means ‘soul friend’.

Chapter 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 5: Love and The Half-dead Kangaroo

Sunday morning. I had survived two nights following my husband’s revelation of an affair and his decision to walk out.

I started googling inspirational quotes. There’s a lot of wishy-washy rubbish out there, but this one spoke to me…

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Viktor Frankl (1905-1997)

And that quote has continued to speak to me ever since. It is a perfect reminder that we always, always, always, always, always, ALWAYS have the ability to choose. No, we cannot choose our circumstances; but yes, we CAN choose how we respond. I was on my way to understanding this, albeit with ‘L’ plates on.

I received an email from Mr Ex that afternoon.

I stared at the new email in my inbox before clicking to open it. I braced myself for a surplus of reasons why I am a bad wife. Maybe he would be slinging mud or off-loading anger.

Instead, I got a bewilderingly kind email apologising!

It started with, “Hi Essie, So this is a really weird and screwed up situation. I know it doesn’t mean anything at this stage – but you should know that I regret causing you this heartache and pain, and I am ashamed and sorry.”

That threw me. Oh, the relief! The tin man has a heart!

Mr Ex continued, “I’m not a Christian – no real surprise right. I don’t know what to do with that reality, whether I want to pursue it further, or even whether I believe any of it anymore. It doesn’t feel real and hasn’t for a long time. I’m so sorry about everything. Please protect yourself and make sure you blame me and people understand this is my screw up. You have every right to be angry.”

This didn’t make me angry though. It actually further empowered me to stand by him even more. My husband just sounded lost, confused and sad.

I sent him a long email beautifully articulating my love for him and logically explaining why he should come back to me.

I also sent him articles that I found on the internet about divorce:

“Divorce: Trading One Set Of Problems For Another

“After the Locusts: Why Divorce Is Never The Answer”

“The Unthinkable Consequences of Divorce And Why Divorce Is Never An Option”

I also sent him testimonies of couples who had been in this same crisis, ended up divorcing, but, with hindsight 30 years on, wish they’d stayed married and worked it out.

All the statistics say that couples who form a relationship based on one, or both of them, cheating on their spouse have a 25% chance of their relationship lasting. I would’ve liked this statistic to be lower, so I actually don’t think I specified the exact percentage. Or maybe I lowered it a little.

He wrote back, “Essie, I can’t control how you feel – and I know this has come as a surprise, and you are struggling to think of reasons or see whats happened. But I wish you would stop sending this stuff through. Let go.”

Did I let go? No.

Maybe I should have.

But I was sitting around at home with my thoughts. No husband. Marriage status: critical. I had nothing to lose. And I missed him. I really, really, really missed him.

So, I wrote, “You’re my husband. I choose to fight for our marriage. We are one. Trying to forget someone you love is like trying to remember someone you’ve never seen before. You’ve been EVERYTHING to me for ALL of my adult life!!!!!!!!” (granted, I was only 24!)

And – you’re going to think I’m nuts – I sent him more articles:

“10 ways to a stronger marriage…”

“19 steps to reviving your marriage after an affair…”

“12 reasons why your marriage is worth fighting for…”

Then, things got rather final.

“Essie, you obviously think I’m making the wrong decision, I don’t agree. Neither of us is going to convince the other. I have strong feelings for someone else. I might have regrets to my dying day but I am sticking with my choice.”

I day-dreamed a lot. I day-dreamed of him knocking on the front door, me opening the door, and us lovingly falling into each others arms with him apologising profusely.

I recalled scenes from Reese Witherspoon’s movie Sweet Home Alabama: “You were the first boy I kissed and I want you to be the last,” she declares as she embraces her ex-husband.

Less than two weeks before this nightmare unfolded, Mr Ex and I had attended a friend’s church wedding. The minister’s sermon was heavily based on the Bible verse, “Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8).

Oh, shit! Day dreaming one day, I remember being hit by a metaphorical bus. Mr Ex was fidgeting the WHOLE time through that sermon. He was trying to play games on his iPad ALL through the ceremony. And when I put my arm around him, he didn’t respond or ANYTHING! He didn’t even want to hold my hand!!!

Oh, double shit!! After the ceremony, he said he was feeling sick, he dropped me back home, and then he went to the walk-in doctor’s surgery. But he said the doctor had an unusually long waiting time, so he’d be “about three hours”. THREE HOURS IN A DOCTOR’S WAITING ROOM?!?!??!

…I started to realise the full extent of the affair. There was calculated opportunities for an affair. I just didn’t think of it as suspicious because, well, I trusted him.

GAH! I had even spoken to Mr Ex on the phone as he was apparently in the doctor’s waiting room. I rang him with the loving intention of ‘keeping him company’ while he waited. But he couldn’t get off the phone fast enough.

There was no doctor’s visit. No waiting room queue.

This was the sailing trip all over again.

TTTTRRRIIIIIPPPPPPPPLLLLLEEEEE SSSSHHHHIIIITTTTT!!!!

But, you guessed it! I messaged Mr Ex yet again! Saying what? Reiterating that he is my beloved husband and that I had vowed to love and cherish him in sickness and in health til death parts us. And that I intended to stick by that.

Was I the only one taking that whole ring exchange and vows thing seriously?!

I fully intended to fight for him and fight for our marriage.

Gee, love is strong. And forgiving. And persevering. And full of hope. And overlooks tonnes of crap. And really quite amazing.

Hmm… deja vu! Where have I heard something along those lines before? 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 in the Bible was ironically read at our wedding; a pleasant, non-threatening, and [what I thought was a] fairly generic summary of love, but suddenly its validity and accuracy was glaringly obvious to me:

IMG_1963.PNGMy love for Mr Ex wasn’t diminishing any time soon, even though he was blatantly rejecting me. He was saying he didn’t want me. He was refusing to come home. And he was cheating on me!

Why didn’t I just ditch him? Turn my back on him? Say “good riddance to this scumbag”?!

Love.

Like a half-dead kangaroo lying on the side of the road after being hit by a truck, the kind thing to do at that point would’ve been for someone to shoot me. Just put the poor bugger out of her misery.

No such luck though.

When the person you love tells you that they don’t love you anymore and they don’t want to fight for your relationship, that should just kill you instantly. When the person you love has been actively, creatively and ruthlessly lying to you, you should just keel over and die. No one should have to live through the pain of rejection by the person they love. No one should have to live through rejection and betrayal by their most trusted, lifelong companion.

Or at the very least, there should be an emergency switch in our brains which allows us to immediately abort all feelings of love and compassion towards that person in situations like this. If someone rejects you, your brain should instantly self-destruct all memories of that person, all hope in that person, and all love for that person. Wouldn’t that just save a whole lot of heartache. And certainly that would save us from ending up like roadkill. But, alas, that is not how love works.

Love is the strongest of all emotions.

It is even stronger than grief.

Stronger than fear. Stronger than pain.

Our capacity to love and be loved transcends all pain and logic. That is truly astounding.

And the half-dead kangaroo which should be put out of its misery (aka me) epitomises the strength and power of love. Love hangs on. The fact that my love for Mr Ex could turn me into roadkill, yet I was still hanging onto that love for him, shows our innate aptitude to love and why true love – when returned – really is so special. A mighty force.

The irony is not lost on me.

I am learning more about love now that I am on my own, than through all those seven years of being in love with Mr Ex.

I am learning more about love through Mr Ex’s rejection, than I ever did through Mr Ex’s love.

And something else started to ‘click’ in my head. Another light bulb moment.

“For God so loved the world...” -John 3:16.

Chapter 4: Please help me, God.

I was living from hour to hour. Every hour that passed, Mum congratulated me for getting through. Then we would set the goal of surviving the next hour. Then congratulate ourselves all over again.

Breathing was the only thing I could achieve for that whole day. Mum and Aly reassured me that that was OK.

Meltdowns added some variety to the afternoon.

MY HUSBAND HAS BEEN HAVING AN AFFAIR.

MY HUSBAND HAS BEEN ACTIVELY LYING TO ME.

MY HUSBAND DOESN’T WANT TO COME HOME.

MY HUSBAND WON’T ANSWER ANY OF MY QUESTIONS.

WHERE ON EARTH IS MY HUSBAND????????????????????

The pastor from church, and his wife, came over to see me. They hugged me. They talked with me. They prayed with me. They comforted me. It gave me a sense of peace amidst the madness. Their love and warmth was abounding.

And they told me that no matter what, God was in control.

HA! Now that’s a little hard to believe!!, I thought. And if he IS in control – and he let this happen to me – then he’s not such a loving god!!!

I come from a Christian family. They’re no particular denomination and my ancestors have pretty astounding histories involving their relationships with Jesus Christ. My great-grandfather was a minister in communist-ruled Belarus where he held Bible studies and church services underground. He ended up being murdered for his Christian beliefs, which he chose to stand by.

I attended an elite all-girls school. Originally founded by the Presbyterian Church, it is now only vaguely Christian. I think the majority of students would not identify with a faith. So I didn’t really have “Christian friends” at school growing up. I had an eclectic mix of peers.

I did, however, attend church with my family. At church, I was taught that “Christian” and “Science” were opposing. You had to choose; Team Christian or Team Science. So as a high-shooler, I weighed up the pros and cons of creation and evolution and decided on creation. I was never good at science at school, so that was the primary reason for my choice. The creation versus evolution debate is a never-ending one with people on both sides devoting their entire lives to proving their stance (Hello, Sheldon Cooper!). I mean, you just have to google both terms and you’ll find a plethora of websites proving and disproving these convincingly. But what I have since come to realise is that the two need not be on opposing sides. It is not – and should never have been – a case of one or the other.

I guess I’ve always just had a gut instinct that there must be more.

When I was 16, my parents and I started going to the church where I met Mr Ex. My parents never put any pressure on me to take on any kind of ‘religion’ for myself. But at 16-ish, I did take it on. It was at that church where I *found God* (or whatever you want to call it). You can read more about that later.

At 17, I started dating Mr Ex. Mr Ex was an active member of that church and he would regularly lead the singing and take part in prayer meetings. Our relationship blossomed. We were both quite sure that God had brought us together and was blessing our relationship. We met other young Christian couples and were in a world of pure and utter joy going from strength to strength. Life was blissful! We gave each other Irish Claddagh rings representing love, friendship and loyalty. During our Uni years, we chose to stay away from pub crawls and nightclubs and we chose to *wait*. And then after about two years, we got engaged and then married; all trying to do the right thing according to the Bible and ‘what God would want’. (FYI, I’m literally cringing as I type all that! LOL).

We were the epitome of the perfect couple! We were the stunningly beautiful UNSINKABLE Titanic, DAMMIT! So if we’ve done everything ‘right’, then why the hell is this nightmare unfolding?? Where did this fucking ice berg come from? Shitty-shitty-bang-bang, I’m turning into a swearing truckie now too!

That night, I walked upstairs to our bedroom. And everything came tumbling down.

I fell to my knees in a rather spectacular fashion.

Tears, screams, and trembling uncontrollably.

Crying to the point of dry-reaching.

In a state of total brokenness.

Complete darkness.

Hopeless.

And I started to pray.

Please help me, God. I can’t deal with this on my own. I’m scared shitless right now.

There were no bolts of lightning. No flashes of light nor clouds of smoke. But my awkward and feeble prayer was helping somehow.

Praying suddenly seemed to flow naturally.

For the first time in my life, I was entirely comfortable praying. I wasn’t thinking about what words to use or how to sound intelligent. I wasn’t crafting well-thought-out sentences or reciting commonly used prayer phrases. I was talking to God from my heart, not my head. I had no energy for the superficial. This was all real. Messy. Disjointed. Rambling. Questioning. Anger. Pain. But 100% authentic.

We pray our most authentic prayers when we are completely broken.

And that night, I actually got some sleep.

Chapter 3: This was calculated.

The next morning, I sat on the sofa in my dressing gown. Empty. Lifeless. Comatose.

I watched the clock in my lounge room tick. For hours and hours. I just sat on the sofa and watched those clock hands move. How did this happen?! My brain worked in overdrive dissecting every aspect of our marriage. I mentally trawled through the past few years trying to detect the slightest hint of trouble.

But I actually struggled to find anything that could be remotely responsible for THIS to be unfolding!!

Our marriage was the Titanic. A stunningly beautiful vision. Impressive. Inspiring. UNSINKABLE.

And we’d just had our ice berg moment.

A massive tear in the hull of our marriage.

This was me assessing the damage. Is this fixable? Can we patch it up and keep going? Is water pouring in? Are we going under?

I looked through photos from our recent road trip in November 2012. That was only three months prior to this. Happy times. And I have the happy snaps to prove it. We took Rommet with us. It was my very first camping trip. I thought it went beautifully.

We’d also just bought a second house in November 2012 which we planned would be our family home one day. We had already arranged to rent it out in the meantime. Talk about entrepreneurial, successful DINKs!

My assessment? Life was sweet!

But, there was one small ‘negative’ that I could pinpoint. And it was all I could find to offer some kind of explanation for this nightmare….

We were trying to have a baby. And it wasn’t happening for us. Coming up to a year and a half.

And we were one week off starting IVF.

On the morning of that ‘Disaster Friday’, I got my period. And I’d told Mr Ex that. It was the ‘green light’ – so to speak – that I, once again, was not pregnant and we would therefore go full-steam ahead for IVF the following week. Injections and tablets were all lined up. This is our time!

We had an amazing fertility doctor and her team were super supportive. Good to chat to. Easy going. Light-hearted. And that’s exactly what you want in a fertility team, considering they’re required to insert probes to suss out the thickness of your uterus lining, ask awkward questions about your sex life and examine your sperm under a microscope.

It wasn’t doom and gloom though.

We had been told that we had unusually excellent chances with IVF due to our young age and the tip-top condition of my insides. We would be good for their statistics.

So, that all seemed really positive. To me, at least.

I was actually excited!!

Mr Ex and I often chatted about baby names. I liked the name Amelia. He wanted Neave. He said he liked Irish names (remember that; it’ll be a useful piece of the puzzle down the track!). Mr Ex was a complete natural with children. Like, even better than me and I work with kids! That was one of the many things that drew me to Mr Ex, actually. I knew he’d be a brilliant dad.

So anyway, the only reasoning that I could find for ‘problems’ in our marriage was the fertility journey. Maybe it has affected Mr Ex harder than me? I wondered.

I then looked through my 2012 diary trying to determine dates and times when Mr Ex may have had an opportunity to be having an affair (when was he ‘working late’ or perhaps when he may have been acting strangely?). I couldn’t find much of a window for an affair though. We spent SO. MUCH. time together! Admittedly, yes, I acknowledged he had been a little stressed in the previous weeks, but he was in the running for a significant promotion at work – soon to be earning over $100,000/year at work – and a little bit of stress is only natural in the circumstances… right?

So, to me, it just didn’t make sense.

He has a high-income lawyer job. Two houses. Excellent IVF chances. Holidays. Church. Great couple friends also having babies. Life’s predictable and sensible and safe and, well, once that baby comes along, it’ll be 110% perfect!

(Yes, I’m hoping you are starting to see cracks, even though grieving Ess was completely oblivious!).

Again, how did this happen?!

This ship is unsinkable!! Everyone said so!! So, how is this even possible?

I always thought that when a relationship was in trouble, both people would realise. Surely both people could sense if there was an issue. Both would know that something was not right. But I never saw this coming. I AM HEAD OVER HEELS IN LOVE WITH HIM , I thought.

The ice berg was completely unforeseen.

Mum and Aly were at my house. There was nothing anyone could say to change the situation. They couldn’t give me any answers. They just listened to me ramble on and on whilst going around in circles trying to find answers. And they sat in comforting silence with me when I couldn’t speak.

At 2pm, Mr Ex made contact.

He texted me.

He said that he wasn’t coming home any time soon.

But I remembered that he was going sailing that weekend. He must be texting me just before he sets sail, I thought. OK, that’s not too bad. He just needs some thinking time. Sailing will clear away the cobwebs. The fresh sea air will do him a world of good.

“You’re better than this,” I texted, trying to encourage him. “Come back to me. Come back to reality. Come back to God. We will get through this and be stronger for it. I love you no matter what.”

No reply though.

“Are you sure he’s actually gone sailing?” Mum asked me.

Of course I am sure! This is a man with integrity and honesty.  I know my husband.  I mean, he obviously couldn’t live a lie long-term so that’s why he fessed up and told me the truth. He couldn’t live with the guilt so he came clean. That’s a good sign, right?

We had been a couple since I was 17 and he was 19. I had spent seven years defending him, backing him up, and standing by him. That instinct and reflex to defend your spouse is not easy to override.

But my ever-thinking mum rang the sailing club.

There were no boat races that weekend.

My body went into a cold sweat as the realisation sank in. He is not sailing. When he told me weeks ago about the race, it was all a lie. And he is still lying. He is not crossing the gulf. He has been plotting, scheming, LYING for weeks, maybe months!!!!!!

Was it all a big lie to spend the weekend with her?

Things had suddenly changed.

This is not a spur of the moment thing.

This was calculated.

And yes, just like the Titanic, that was that gut-wrenching, earth-shattering, heart-stopping moment where I realise that there aren’t enough lifeboats on-board.

Everyone knew that this incredible ocean liner – aka our marriage – was a beacon of perfection. Seemingly faultless, impeccable and magnificent. So, surely, it doesn’t require lifeboats for everyone on board. Because IT IS UNSINKABLE!! But, here we are. Icy water is pouring in. Rapidly.

Suddenly, the world’s most perfect ship has obvious fatal flaws. And there’s nothing anyone can do.

I had moments of disbelief:  Who needs lifeboats if a ship is unsinkable?! There is absolutely, irrevocably and undoubtedly NO chance of this going under!

And, I had moments of reality: We’re taking on water and this ship will be on the bottom of the ocean in a matter of hours, unless there is some kind of miracle.

Chapter 1: Disaster Friday

Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we’ll ever do.

So here goes…

Nearly two years ago, my husband came home from work and told me that he was having an affair. We had been married for nearly four years. Four very happy years filled with life’s abundant blessings.

I was 24 and he was 26.

It was the Friday night of the January 2013 long weekend as well as the last day of Summer school holidays. I was on cloud 9 because, as a co-ordinator at a popular Vacation Care service for children, the end of school holidays meant the end of our busiest season. Woohoo! So I came home that evening feeling totally exhausted after six weeks of school holidays filled with taking sixty chaotic children, aged between four and twelve, to the zoo, co-ordinating games of Stuck in the Mud, making fruit skewers and fashioning crocodiles out of cereal boxes and egg cartons (ahh, the memories of multiple burns on my fingers from the hot glue gun!).

My husband – for privacy’s sake, let’s call him Mr Ex – had texted me earlier in the day saying, “I love you, Ess. I’ll pick up ciders on my way home to celebrate you surviving [Vacation Care]!”

After getting home and changing into an oversized t-shirt and comfy leggings, I was sitting on the floor in the lounge room watching TV. Nothing in particular; just blankly watching TV to fill in the time before my beloved husband returned home from work.

Rommet, our fur baby, heard his papa’s car pulling up and started barking excitedly.

Next came the sound of his keys in the door.

“I survived!!” I cried out with a smile from ear to ear, thinking of the busyness at work over the past six weeks.

No reply came.

That’s odd.

Mr Ex is a lawyer. He walked into the room, putting his briefcase onto a kitchen chair and my celebratory ciders on the bench, and came over to stand in between me – still sitting on the floor – and the TV.

“Essie, I have something to tell you and it is going to hurt you,” he began.

I braced myself and hit the mute button on the TV remote control.

“I have been seeing someone else.”

My instant reaction was to laugh. I didn’t. But his statement was 100% far-fetched, impossible, out of the question, ridiculous, laughable, etc. etc. I mean, that was my best friend standing in front of me. My soul mate. My other half. The only other person in this world who really ‘got’ me. A person who could never lie or cheat or do the wrong thing by me. A person with a heart of gold and compassion to match. So his statement was ludicrous in every possible and impossible way.

It must be a joke. That’s the only explanation.

Within milliseconds, I realised this was not a joke.

I started crying and shrivelled into a little ball, expecting him to come down to my level, hug me, and tell me how much he regretted it and that I was the only girl for him.

He didn’t.

He continued standing over me with a horrifying look of vacuity.

Who is this person?!

I got up and wiped away the tears, realising that sobbing on the floor was futile.

“Who is she?”, “How long has this been going on for?” …all the questions that you hear jilted wives asking on soapies. Mr Ex didn’t say much though. Instead, he walked back to the kitchen bench, buried his head in his hands, and said that he wanted some space away from me.

WHAT?! He hasn’t “needed space” away from me in the past seven years!!

Occasionally, he was a crew member on a sailing boat that competed in races. The races were always during the daytime, but he’d told me for the past couple of weeks that he was doing his first overnight race that long weekend, leaving Saturday morning and returning Sunday afternoon. I had made a note of that in my diary with a sad face. I’d absolutely hated the thought of being home alone overnight. In fact, I’d absolutely hated the thought of being without him for any period of time.

“I’m going to stay with a friend tonight and then I’m still going sailing tomorrow,” he quietly told me, still with his head in his hands. I tried to pull his hands away from his face. I wanted to talk. I wanted answers. I wanted to know details. But he muttered, “We might both get lucky and I’ll fall overboard and drown.”

“Don’t say that!” I snapped.

In exasperation, I stamped my foot. I begged him to stay. I begged him to talk.

But it didn’t work.

He slowly removed his face from his hands and looked deeply at me.

“Can I call someone for you to talk to?” he asked. He seemed strangely calm.

“I only want to talk to you!” I slapped his forearm in desperation. A pitiful little girl slap. He looked at me with a face of sympathy and sorrow, then he grabbed some sailing things and walked out the front door.

With Rommet at my feet, I walked to the glass sliding door and looked out into the backyard. All I could see in the darkness was my reflection.

How to describe this moment?

Utter devastation. Disorientation. Confusion. Trauma.

I started uncontrollably bellowing.

How in all the WORLD did this HAPPEN to us?! He’s my EVERYTHING!! I’m NOTHING without him! We’ve been INSEPARABLE for the past SEVEN YEARS!! We met in CHURCH! We are CHRISTIANS!! We have friends who are Christians!! If there REALLY is a loving God out there, he would NOT let this happen!! What went WRONG???

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