Chapter 32: That corrosive, life-changing love

My most successful relationships are the ones I never saw coming.

The ones I never wanted.

I would love to say that I always experience God as a happy-clappy, sunshine and butterflies bubble of fun.

And, yes, sometimes I do.

But, a lot of the time, I experience God as a brutal heart transplant that I find offensive and corrosive.

I stumbled across this “love” quote recently. It’s not the usual happy-clappy, sunshine and butterflies interpretation that one usually finds on Pinterest. It’s gutsy and daring and ferocious and threatening and upsetting and unnerving. I love it.

“Life’s good,” she said. “All I need now is somebody to settle down with, somebody to complete the picture.”

Her friend laughed. “Love is never convenient,” she replied. “And it’s certainly never comfortable or complacent. Love strikes when you least expect it. Love upsets the careful balance of a life and leaves it in absolute ruin. Complete the picture? No. Love is the corrosive that strips your canvas bare and starts all over. So if you are looking for something that will slot seamlessly into your little old life, my god, look elsewhere.”

-Beau Taplin, The Picture.

And that’s exactly right.

When I talk about the effortlessness that successful relationships need, I am talking about how they come about in the first place and how they develop. When the Holy Spirit is in it, there is an effortlessness that just works. It is not forced. It flows.

But in addition to that sense of effortlessness, it should be life-changingly ferocious and unsettling.

I know there are people out there who think I have, a) a diminished brain capacity because I believe this airy-fairy Jesus stuff, b) a blind faith based on wishful optimism and/or a fear of facing a universe of nothing-ness, or c) an affinity to overlook scientific logic and reason that apparently debunks the Jesus stuff.

And, you know what? I get it; the Jesus story is indeed a pretty crazy story…!

A bunch of prophets with funny names and too much time on their hands came up with some nice ideas for the future, which were later somehow connected to a dodgy conception, a man flouncing around with lepers and prostitutes preaching forgiveness and grace and love, claiming to be God in human form, and a death by crucifixion and then suddenly re-appearing again.

Yes, it’s weird and, yes, so much can be explained away.

Maybe Jesus never really died. Maybe he survived the crucifixion. And that’s why he was walking around with holes still in his wrists three days later.

Or maybe Mary was some knocked up teenager who was too embarrassed to tell her fiance that she got pregnant to some other guy, so she came up with one heck of a cover story.

Maybe Jesus was just some do-gooder with fancy ideas about forgiveness or an extroverted attention-seeker who badly wanted a spotlight. i.e. Not actually God in human form, but just some regular mortal who pioneered a new way of thinking which is all well and good, but that’s it.

And maybe he knew what the dead prophets had projected about an eventual Messiah, so he did a little tweaking to tick all the right boxes and – just like when you read your horoscope and you go, ‘ohhh… yeah, I did make an exciting new discovery this week, so my horoscope was 100% spot on’ – maybe we’ve all just given Jesus a little ‘nip and tuck’ treatment and worked the Old Testament prophecies to suit this Jesus guy. No more, no less.

But every time I start to wonder about the many theories that float around in the cosmos – and every time I hear human logic and reason explaining Jesus away or portraying God as an inconsistent, now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t Cheshire Cat – I just can’t get past one thing:

I HAVE EXPERIENCED THE JESUS STUFF TO BE REAL.

And not just once, but over and over and over and over again.

For me, Christianity is about death and resurrection. A death and resurrection that comes from beyond myself. Something that I know I can’t make work on my own.

And it has everything to do with what Jesus was saying all those years ago and is still getting across to me today.

I first experienced it with my father-in-law back in earlier chapters of this blog. You may recall, I hated the man. I hated that he made my mum cry with his wedding-boycotting antics. I hated that he placed rules and expectations on his children in the name of “the lord”. I hated that he tried to tell me homeschooling was the only way to “bring up godly children”. I hated that he had a mentality of people being “good” (Christian/saved/not of the world) or “bad” (worldly/unsaved/not Christian).

So I had my father-in-law all sussed out.

And again as you may recall from earlier chapters, I ignored him. I stayed well away from him. And if I did have to go to his house with Mr Ex for some unfortunate reason, I’d be stand off-ish and keep him at an arm’s length.

Then, bang! Crash! Kick up the butt!

In 2013, post-separation from Mr Ex… My friend Sana speaks the truth to me.

I hadn’t overcome my father-in-law’s “good vs. bad” mentality.

I had just created my very own Essie Bell version of it.

Same sorting system. Just different sorting.

I had put me on the “good” side and my father-in-law on the “bad” side. And tried to carry out my own justice accordingly.

Well, I experience Jesus regularly in the form of a friend who speaks the truth.

In the case of my father-in-law, it was my truth-speaking friend Sana back in 2013.

Sana tells me that God’s grace is not just for me; it’s for my father-in-law as well.

Sana also tells me that every time I draw a line in the sand with me on one side and that person who is pissing me off on the other side, Jesus is always on the other side.

Every time I draw that line in the sand separating me and them

Jesus is always on the other side.

Damn it.

And you can read how things turned out with my father-in-law in my much earlier chapter, Made New (Not Perfect).

~~~

You would’ve thought I’d learnt my lesson.

But in early 2015, a girl called Danielle started going to my Church of Quirks.

And she quickly began dating British Comedy Dude.

You guessed it; I didn’t like her.

Several months later, I went to a friend’s engagement party and I wasn’t feeling very well that night. I’d had minimal sleep and I wasn’t in a socialising mood.

So, I was sticking close to Annie, a dear friend who has always felt like a cosy blanket of sunshine and butterflies and we all need that in our lives.

But, I think God knew I also needed some corrosive, life-changing love, too.

Because, at this engagement party, yes, you guessed it again; Danielle was there.

And, at one point during the party – much to my absolute horror – Annie, my sunshine and butterflies, walked over and began talking to Danielle and British Comedy Dude. Grr!

I had two choices: 1) stay on my own and look like a loner, or 2) follow Annie and face possible conversation with people I wasn’t keen to talk to at all.

I took option 2. I followed. But I had zilch intention of making conversation.

So, standing next to Annie and avoiding excessive eye contact with anyone else, I thought I could slide under the radar unnoticed.

But inevitably, the unthinkable happened: Danielle said hello.

And I was now in a conversation against my will.

I thought, I’ll just fumble through some surface-level small talk, laugh at some jokes, show  interest in a few things and then I’ll be on my merry way.

Well, fortunately for me, God always has other ideas.

God never sits still in our best formulations.

Three minutes into my conversation with Danielle, I was laughing. And I realised I wasn’t actually faking it.

HUH?!

It was effortless.

Beyond-logic, Holy Spirit effortless.

We connected like two lobsters in a tank of goldfish. Two crazies in a world of sanity. Two galahs in a tree of magpies.

It worked. Our relationship really worked. And that is where my idea of ‘effortlessness’ (mentioned in earlier chapters) comes into play. ‘Effortless’ because I could hear my soul saying, “There you are! I’ve been looking for you” and it all unfolded without either of us forcing it or willing it or wanting it; Without either of us even seeing it coming.

But more than that, it also changed me.

It was God’s signature heart-transplant, where He reaches down into the depths of my dark, stubborn, vengeance-seeking heart of stone and He replaces it with a beating heart of love and life.

I had Danielle pegged. I had her sussed out. I knew I didn’t like her.

(Just like my ex-father-in-law three years earlier.)

But here we were – Danielle and Ess – literally spending two hours sitting off to one side at that engagement party, chatting and engaging oh-so-genuinely happily with each other.

In that moment, a mutual love was born.

And it didn’t start as convenient, complacent or even comfortable.

It started as upsetting and offensive and it completely, absolutely ruined my careful balance.

~~~

It’s like God loves me too much to sit idly by as I kill myself with bitterness.

God doesn’t sit still in our best formulations and I am so thankful for that.

Instead, He loves us.

And God’s love never starts off as an easy, happy-clappy, sunshine and butterflies thing. It starts with all of those things in the quote above: never convenient, never complacent, never comfortable.

It’s annoying. It’s offensive. It’s painful.

And that is exactly because it goes against our every notion of justice, fairness and right vs. wrong. It goes against our instinct of how to treat the people who hurt us.

It’s like God’s love has to break us… in order to change us… in order to save us from ourselves.

“Love upsets the careful balance of a life and leaves it in absolute ruin.”

“Love is the corrosive that strips our canvas bare and starts all over.”

That’s exactly what God was doing when He took on human skin and bones and walked among us as Jesus of Nazareth. When Jesus preached unconditional love and worked both sides of the street, He came to make a change in our little old lives. He was being outrageously offensive in His notions of forgiveness and grace and He absolutely quashed our best articulations of justice, fair vs. unfair, and how to deal with the people we just don’t like. Hence, the hearers of these teachings crucified Jesus in a bid to shut Him up.

But Jesus’s life, love and lessons, as much as they ruined the hearts of the people who heard, they also changed the lives of those people for GOOD.

Did those people wish they could return to the pre-Jesus days?! NO WAY!!

And those people were never the same again.

So, that’s what God was up to when I had my father-in-law all sussed out and when I knew I didn’t want to like Danielle.

And that’s what God is up to whenever I experience a friend speaking the truth to me. When I’m in a shitty, shitty mood and feeling all sorry for myself and Sana speaks truth to me, I experience God all over again.

Jesus’s love is life-changing.

It’s rarely easy to swallow, nor is it what we are necessarily looking for.

But it’s ALWAYS, always, always exactly what we need.

And it ALWAYS, always, always comes with a certainty that change has arisen from beyond ourselves.

Because that light – as offensive as it may seem at first – is where true freedom and compassion and love and solidarity and LIFE is found. And it is something we can never reach or achieve or attain on our own.

~~~

So, when I think about love within our own friendships, relationships and marriages, I now wonder if we are looking at it all backwards.

We want to find someone/something that affirms us in a happy-clappy sort of way. We want someone to complete our picture. And while that’s great, I wonder if there’s actually far more depth and life in someone/something that changes us.

In my marriage with Mr Ex, I was closed to change.

I can say that now with 20/20 hindsight.

I hated the idea of being open to another person changing me. And I get it; being changed by another person sounds like a dodgy practice. I mean, we all get fed nice little self-affirming statements, like “stay true to yourself” and “follow your heart”. Well, I’m now thinking that maybe remaining true to myself isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and following my heart is downright dangerous.

I can say with 100% certainty that because I met Sana and Danielle, I have been changed for good.

So, I wonder – and I’m only wondering this now with three and a half years of post-separation experience under my belt – whether the real power of love and friendship is being open to someone changing us, challenging us, coming out of left field and upsetting the perfect little equilibrium of our life.

You certainly don’t read that on Hallmark cards!

But I wonder.

Maybe love (just like God’s love for us) should strip our canvas bare and leave us in absolute ruin.

Because in post-ruin freedom, the light breaks in.

In post-ruin freedom, we are changed for good.

~~~

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Danielle and I are best friends today.

And we often have a laugh about that first conversation that began through my gritted teeth which almost instantly evolved into this effortless, post-ruin magic.

This chapter is dedicated to those people (you know who you are!) who speak beautifully, wonderfully, divinely corrosive truth to my stubborn little heart, who upset the careful balance of my life, and who strip back my canvas to bare. In post-ruin turmoil, I find new depths of life, love and freedom.

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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 16: Conquering Mountains

April 2013.

Coming up to three months of life (or rather, existing) without my husband.

Mr Ex and I communicated about “The Practical Stuff” (his term for the bills, mortgage repayments, legal matters, and so on) via email. He went into lawyer-mode. As a lawyer by profession, you can correctly assume that he is bloody good at putting on a poker face. Hidden emotion. Doesn’t give anything away. Mr I-can-keep-a-lid-on-ANYTHING-that-I-am-feeling. And that’s just him. And that’s OK. Possibly a coping mechanism from a childhood of watching his parents bicker, argue and then divorce, coupled with his career choice of a being lawyer. Or possibly just a personality trait that he was born with.

Mr Ex’s best friend, Tom, and Tom’s girlfriend, Samara, used to regularly go away for weekends with us at my parents’ holiday house near the beach. We’d make pizzas on the Weber BBQ, go sailing and make plans for holidays and adventures together.

You know what’s crazy? At the very beginning of this horrendous January 2013 – yes, the very month that Mr Ex revealed his affair – we had actually been at the holiday house with Tom and Samara having a fabulous time!

We first went down to the beach after Christmas with a friend of mine who was visiting from Canada. She had a new boyfriend and it was serious. Like, looking-at-my-engagement-ring-to-get-ideas kind of serious. With my 20/20 hindsight, I can now see that Mr Ex was a bit ‘funny’ whenever my Canadian friend and her boyfriend talked about engagement rings and wedding dresses and the like. But I didn’t think anything of it at the time though, because they’d only been together for a few months and it was ridiculously soon to be talking about weddings!!

We went to a New Year’s Eve party nearby with them. There was a pastor and pastor’s wife there. I remember Mr Ex avoided talking to them like they had the Bubonic Plague. Mr Ex was distracted with emails or something on his new iPad, a Christmas present which was of course still new and exciting. So, again, I didn’t suspect anything. Damn you, 20/20 hindsight; making me look like an idiot.

Then in the first week in January, the Canadian friends left and Tom and Samara joined us. I remember Mr Ex, Tom, Samara and I were making plans for a possible Sydney trip together.

No sign of any issues. No hint that Mr Ex would be making an earth-shattering revelation of an affair only two and a half weeks later.

At the time, to me, he seemed totally normal and present in our reality. Making future holiday plans together, holidaying by the beach with friends, celebrating the purchase of a new house… It was plausible that he was just sending a couple of emails with good reason and, of course, I trusted him.

So, going back to this beach house post-affair revelation was going to be tough.

In a bid to show me that life will continue and things can still happen without Mr Ex in my life, Tom and Samara were happy to keep going away for weekends with me. What champions!

I will always admire that.

So, we went away for the weekend in April 2013. And I knew this would be a painful trip. Not just because of the recent holiday that Mr Ex and I had share there….

BUT….

Because Mr Ex proposed to me in this seaside town.

Yep. Memories. Ouch.

But, my parents have a beach house there, so I have two options. 1) Never go to the beach house ever again, or 2) Face some rather large ogres head-on.

There is a landmark in this seaside town. It is a hill – or mountain, depending on your definition – and it is covered with massive rocks. Mr Ex proposed to me on top of one of the rocks on that mountain. It is a tourist attraction as well as a remarkable spot to visit. If I wanted to make my peace with this seaside town and be able to appreciate the beauty of its natural landmarks, I was going to have to climb that mountain and triumph over that rock where Mr Ex proposed. Hike up that mountain, stand in that spot where he popped the big question, and just ‘be’. Be in that moment. Face it head on.

So, Tom, Samara and I climbed the hill.

And I was confronted with the humongous rock. Yes, this is the spot.

Perhaps it’s God’s sense of humour or perhaps God knew I’d be blogging one day and He wanted me to have good material, but there was a couple enjoying a picnic on our rock. Two ladies having a romantic picnic on the exact spot where Mr Ex proposed.

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I shed a few tears. But the element of witticism was not lost on me. There was so much symbolism on so many levels.

I stood in the moment. In the pain.

Samara held an arm around me.

I felt an overwhelming sense of loss and grief. Grief over the loss of my best friend and beloved husband, Mr Ex, as well as the loss of my identity as Mrs Bell and the shattering of my every life expectation.

It was on that rock that Mr Ex asked me to marry him.

And that was the easiest question to answer because I knew I’d spend the rest of my life with him.

“There is a particular kind of suffering to be experienced when you love something greater than yourself… Like the pained silence felt in the lost song of a mermaid; or the bent and broken feet of a ballerina. It is in every considered step I am taking in the opposite direction from you.” -Lang Leav.

And by simply standing in that moment of anguish – feeling everything – I was, without any profound music or round of applause, letting go.

I’d conquered a mountain, both metaphorically and literally.

At least, that’s what I kept telling myself.

Fake it ’til you make it, right?

Well, I learnt that the concept of ‘letting go’ is never as theatrical as in the movies. No triumphant music and no special effects.

It hurt.

It hurt bad.

And while I didn’t have the inclination to dance around on that mountain top belting out ‘Let it Go’ at the top of my lungs like Elsa, looking back now, whether I felt like it or not, I was actually growing.

I was learning to be me.

And, although it didn’t seem like a particularly special or poignant moment at the time, it was.

Often, I don’t think we realise the significance of a moment until they become history.

And that’s the thing with growth. It can feel like shit at the time. It can feel like we are going nowhere. It can feel like nothing is happening. But with hindsight, we were conquering mountains. Whether we realised it or not.

IMG_2295We returned to the house where we made dinner. Homemade pizza on the Weber BBQ as per usual. And it was delicious. Samara and I enjoyed a bottle of bubbly. Tom had beer. I’m sure it must’ve been a little odd for him. His best mate would normally be there to enjoy a beer with him. But Tom’s commitment to the cause was touching. That’s impressive, hey.

 

 

 

IMG_2294I am now Tom and Samara’s “third wheel”. And that is OK.

So I began feeling a little happier and a little stronger with it all.

Yay! Go me! I can do this! I’m a success story! Watch me conquer mountains! *happy dance*

And then, at the end of the evening, I was acutely aware that I was walking up the stairs to bed on my own.

Tom and Samara went to the guest bedroom where they always slept on our weekends away. Mr Ex, Rommet and I would normally go upstairs to bed. This time, it was only one flight of stairs, but it felt like another mountain. And it was.

Fuck. This sucks. Pain sucks. Mr Ex sucks. Cosette sucks. Life sucks. And this is sucky-unfair.

Mr Ex and the C-word are probably canoodling in bed together RIGHT-bloody-NOW, while I’m here, going up to bed all alone.

They are the ones who cheated, yet THEY get to be happy.

And, again, while it felt like I was making absolutely no progress whatsoever, I was moving mountains.

I was healing. I was breaking open. I was becoming the person I was always meant to be. And my love of Mr Ex was, actually, dying. Painfully, tragically, gut-wrenchingly dying.

Nauseating highs and lows. Conquering mountains and finding new valleys.

But progress nonetheless. And if there was a silver lining, it was simply that I could conquer mountains and endure valleys with dear friends by my side.

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still (Exodus 14:14).

Chapter 13: In the Stranger

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

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

A Simon and Garfunkel song started playing in the car.

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

No laughter this time though.

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

Grief sucks!!

Tom and Samara quickly skipped the song.

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

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

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

And I felt loved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or can you?

Maybe gutsy people can!

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

I say, stick close to those people.

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

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

It’s like we have met these people before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was hard.

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

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

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

So, my maiden voyage was a positive one.

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

A stranger called Jade was walking in the same direction.

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

As we set off, we introduced ourselves.

“I’m Essie,” I told her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He told me. And it was a Christian school.

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

He looked up at me for a moment, intrigued.

“You’re a Christian?” he asked me.

“Yep!”

And then the magic happened.

Shaun, my random mortgage broker, loves Jesus too.

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about turning a mess into a message!

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

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

And boy, did we talk for a long time!

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

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Chapter 12: Perfect Peace And The Rings Come Off

I trust you, God. I trust that you are in control of this situation.

Mr Ex started sending me emails about what he called “The Practical Stuff”.

He wanted the home phone line transferred into my sole name and credit card payment details changed to mine.

“When are you going back to work?” he asked via email. “We have bills to pay and mortgage repayments to meet.”

He also wanted us both to get lawyers. Probably a wise decision on his part, but it hurt. It hurt bad.

Then he arranged an afternoon for him to come by “one final time” to collect the remainder of his stuff.

I knew I had an army of friends praying for me. My phone was flooded with texts of support and Bible verses.

“I give the gift of peace to you – my peace. Not the kind of fragile peace given by the world, but my perfect peace. Don’t yield to fear or be troubled in your hearts. Instead, be courageous!” -John 14:27.

I was sitting at the top of the stairs watching the front door, expecting his imminent arrival and unsure how to act.

Maybe I should do something while I’m waiting? But WHAT?!

Flick through a magazine? Play Tetris on my iPad?

How ridiculous!

So I sat on the top step and prayed.

I was praying for peace. Praying that Jesus would wrap his loving arms around me and give me perfect peace. After all, Jesus is referred to in the Bible as the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) so if anyone knows about peace, surely it’s Jesus.

Mr Ex’s car pulled into the driveway. So normal, and yet so strange.

This was my not only my husband, but actually my best friend as well as soul mate walking in the door. But we greeted each other by cautiously saying hello. No hugs or anything like that.

How sad. How truly, truly sad. That two people who once meant the absolute world to each other could get to a stage of coldly greeting the other like a stranger at a bus stop.

We made our way into the lounge room and both sat down. He was distinctly confident this time. He was willing to sit down, for a start. And there was an air of certainty in his body language.

“Essie, sweetheart, I’m not coming back.”

My inner voice screamed a rather deafening, “Nooooo…..!!! THIS IS NOT WHAT I WANT!!!!!!”

And that was the moment that the Titanic slipped completely under.

I could feel the death inside me. I could feel the screams. I could feel the agony.

But there was also a serenity. A composure. That very strange juxtaposition of utter turmoil but complete peace. Perfect peace. It’s a powerful thing.

“…the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 4:7.

It’s that peace which allowed Corrie Ten Boom to assist many Jews in escaping from Nazi death camps and strengthened her to withstand imprisonment, Martin Luther to stand up to the corruption of an entire church hierarchy which was influencing a nation of people, as well as what empowered my great-grandfather to continue spreading the word of Jesus in a country that was murdering Christians.

I’m certainly not saying that I have any idea what any of that would be like. I don’t. Not even close. But I can see that the perfect peace that Jesus promises is a powerful, powerful thing.

“The mountains may move, and the hills may shake, but my kindness will never depart from you. My promise of peace will never change,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” -Isaiah 54:10.

Believe it or not, Mr Ex still wouldn’t reveal his girlfriend’s identity to me.  And he still wouldn’t say where he was living. He did say a vague area, but didn’t want to be too specific. I think he was worried that I’d go around there and cause a scene. Or, perhaps more to the point, that my uncle would go around there. Ironic, really. Because I’d known their location, as well as Cosette’s identify, for what seemed like weeks. But Mr Ex had no idea.

Mr Ex said to me, “She’s decided to leave her husband, so I guess you can figure out what that means.”

What that means, hey? Happily ever after for you and Cosette??

I didn’t even have the desire to be angry. I just felt sad.

Not a bitter kind of sad. Just the soul-breaking kind of sad.

“Do you know who I feel sorry for in this whole situation?” I asked Mr Ex. He shrugged, probably expecting me to say my grandmother or my parents, who were all wounded by current events. But that’s not who I had in mind.

“Who?” he asked.

“Andrew.” I replied.

Silence.

Remember, Andrew is Cosette’s husband. And I’d found that out thanks to Facebook.

Mr Ex was staring at me, most probably thinking, “How the hell does Essie know about Andrew? Does this mean she discovered Cosette’s identity?!”  I can’t be sure what was going through his mind at that point, but he had obviously never revealed to anyone the identity of his lover, so I imagine the fact that I was able to refer to his lover’s husband would’ve startled him.

I like to think he shat himself.

But in true lawyer style, he kept a lid on his emotions. Mr Ex is a mastermind at keeping a lid on his emotions at the best of times.

“Yeah, Andrew’s a great guy,” he nodded.

I asked Mr Ex, “So you’re not a Christian? You’ve been faking it all this time? You deserve a Logie!”

He chuckled. “Yeah, I’ll have to address my beliefs at some point in life. But not now.” Then he laughed, “I’ll probably be in and out of a psychologist’s office for the rest of my life.”

“And you’re OK with that?” I questioned, showing genuine care and concern. He just shrugged and laughed.

We chatted. Some kind of weird parallel universe, out of body experience. A calm, serene and sound-mind version of myself who was able to chat reasonably and peacefully with Mr Ex. This wasn’t a stereotypical scorned wife and cheating husband talking.

“What did I do wrong?” I asked. “How did this all happen?”

Please don’t blame yourself,” he emphasised, compassionately. “This is not about you. You were the best wife. I’ve just been unhappy for a very, very long time. And it’s my fault because I didn’t tell anyone and I didn’t talk about it.”

“Are you living together?” I asked Mr Ex, about his relationship with Cosette. Remember, I knew the answer. I had seen the answer.

“No,” he replied. “But we do spend a lot of time together.”

NO???? Seriously?!?

LIAR, LIAR, PANTS ON FIRE!!!!

Lying to my face is obviously the new norm.

I had seen first-hand that they were indeed living together AND they had rented a flat together because she was transferring monetary payments, entitled ‘rent’, into his bank account. So, I think a blind mouse with his head in a tea pot could confirm that, yes, Mr Ex and Cosette are living together.

But I didn’t feel a need to challenge him.

And I didn’t feel any desire to shove the DVD-footage in his face or spitefully reveal the extent of my knowledge.

Granted, I could have. It was a golden opportunity. And it really does genuinely surprise me – even writing this now – that I didn’t feel the need to sting Mr Ex.

My natural vengeance-seeking heart would normally jump at the chance to burn the people who hurt me. But, this time, I just didn’t feel that. And that is one of the many reasons I believe in Jesus.

“Do you love her?” I asked him, calmly. He looked back at me, tilting his head in an ‘I can’t bare to answer that question honestly so I’m just going to look pitifully at you’ kind of way.

“Right.” I whispered, realising the answer to my question.

So, that seemed rather final: My husband has fallen in love with Cosette. Not exactly sure why. No real reasons or definitely explanations given. He wants to be with her, not me. He doesn’t want a life with me. He wants a different life. Simple as that.

“Why don’t you hate me?” Mr Ex asked. “Why don’t you throw my stuff on the street or scream in my face?”

“Because I love you,” I replied, almost puzzled that he would think screaming would be my style. He was uncomfortable with my reply. He moved his gaze and looked out the window, avoiding eye contact with me.

“You’re not making this easy on me, are you.” He added, quietly.

Then we started walking around the house as he picked a few items that he wanted to keep. Just some things from his study, his clothes, a kitchen knife, and a Superman mug.

He also wanted the tent. So they could go on a holiday together.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME??????

OK, that stirred up some pretty massive emotions in me. There’s no way on earth that he’s taking our tent for them to go holidaying in.  Just the thought of them getting down and dirty in our tent made me feel physically ill.

But, again, I managed to approach it peacefully.

“I can’t stand the thought of you and Cosette in that tent together,” I told him, calmly.

And he actually seemed surprised that I’d feel that way.

“Don’t dwell on it,” he replied with a rather large grin. Even a bit of a chuckle.

My natural response…

WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?

DON’T DWELL ON IT?!

WAS HE SERIOUS?!?!

DON’T DWELL ON MY HUSBAND HAVING SEX IN OUR TENT WITH HIS LOVER?!

OH, I’M SORRY – MY BAD! YOU’RE RIGHT, IT IS RIDICULOUS TO DWELL ON SUCH A THING.

AFTER ALL, IT IS TOTALLY ACCEPTABLE TO HAVE SEX WITH A MARRIED COLLEAGUE, SO SILLY ME FOR DWELLING ON SUCH AN INSIGNIFICANT MINOR DETAIL.

Turd!

And exhale.

Yes, that’s the real me. And I’d be lying if I said that I ALWAYS go about showing grace to people who hurt me. Because, I don’t. The real Essie shows her face and I get shitted off, especially when I feel hurt or mistreated. The whole peace thing is a journey, not a destination. And some days, I’m better at it. Other days, I fail spectacularly. But, every time I relinquish that natural instinct to irk up, Jesus resurrects me to a new lease of life and peace.

And amazingly, in the moment, dealing with Mr Ex walking around the house selecting objects to keep, I had peace. Perfect peace.

He didn’t take the tent. I appreciated that.

After about 45 minutes, he had what he wanted and was ready to go.

He asked if he could give me a goodbye kiss me on the cheek. I agreed. He put his hands tightly on my shoulders. A quasi hug.

And then I hugged him. A proper, heartfelt hug.

And that was it.

Plot spoiler: I haven’t seen him since.

I spent the next couple of hours just sitting on the sofa contemplating the Titanic’s sinking and I listened to Laura Story’s Perfect Peace on repeat.

Tom and Samara came over that evening to pick me up. Mr Ex and I used to frequent Tom’s family’s monthly dinners. Tom and Samara were happy for me to still go.

Tom was/is Mr Ex’s best friend. When Tom started going out with Samara, Mr Ex and Tom were very keen for Samara and I to get along. And we did! Probably a bit too much! Because we actually became best friends.

Tom owed me no loyalty. After all, Mr Ex and Tom are long-time best mates. So really, Tom would’ve been completely and justifiably warranted in sticking by Mr Ex’s side and giving me sympathy from afar.

But, showing true humanity and unconditional love, Tom and Samara picked me up and took me for dinner with Tom’s family.

As I grabbed my handbag to go with them, I glanced at my rings.

A custom-designed trilogy engagement ring with three diamonds representing past, present and future. And a diamond-studded wedding band designed to fit perfectly around the trilogy ring.

The rings went on in true ceremonial style complete with wedding vows, 150 guests watching on, an elaborate custom silk gown with light pink bow, long pieces of tulle wrapped around chairs, and a veil embellished with Swarovski crystals.

The rings came off with no ceremony. No on-lookers. No amazing dress. And definitely no tulle-covered chairs. Just that juxtaposition of utter turmoil and perfect peace.

An indentation on the skin of my ring finger showed where the rings once majestically sat.

I put them on the kitchen bench and followed Tom and Samara out the front door.