Chapter 29: My Church of Quirks

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

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

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

I’m not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, I started looking around.

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

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

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

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

“I’m 25,” I replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then it went downhill.

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

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

“Oh.”  Awkward silence.

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

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

And indeed I did go back the following week.

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

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

“I’m Essie; I met you last week.”

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

It was almost time to sit down for the service.

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

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

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

Are you shooing the new girl?!

So, I moved to the seat behind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coincidence or God-incidence?!

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

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

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

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

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

August 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 28: Sunshine Blogger Award and the Meaning of Life

I’m back!

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

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

I’m single and happy.

Hey, I just love that sentence!

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

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

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

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

Unbelievable!!

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

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

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

And I’ve never been happier. Or healthier!

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

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

With this award comes a question.

And the question given to me is:

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

Talk about a tough question!!!!!

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

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

And as I read that, I realised…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The meaning of life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because our beliefs have to be formed by our experiences.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that is not what Jesus says.

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

And that’s what I do daily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can only share my experience with you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 11: Death, heaped with a pile of shit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I going insane?!

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

Great.

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

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

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

She hesitated.

I was obviously joking, but not really.

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

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

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

Hmm.

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

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

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

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

Close, but no cigar.

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

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

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

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

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

Fact: Disharmony is everywhere.

Optimism just seems stupid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was realising the true value of accepting my brokenness.

And I was starting to appreciate my own limitations.

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

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

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

That is an impressive statement.

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

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

Death is painful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a depressing picture.

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

I love what happens next.

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

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

I just love that too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screw wishful thinking. Screw optimism.

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

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

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

Chapter 9: Crazy Lady Alert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alas, no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crazy Lady Alert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It must be HER?!

WHAT THE FUCK?!?

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

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

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

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

But OK, yes, I’m getting petty now.

Moving swiftly on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you can’t play tennis solo.

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

Chapter 8: A God Who Stoops

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

That’s just crazy talk!

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

Everything I knew was solid was now brought into question.

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

But now?

What the fuck do I know?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HA!  WRONG, Ess!

It suddenly dawned on me.

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

Oh dear.

Yes, I’m broken.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Umm… What now?

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

Then Jesus starts talking.

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

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

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

GRACE. LOVE. MERCY.

Something was beginning to click in my head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s exactly what love is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And one of the biggest things I started to learn…

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

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

My Christian Studies teacher was onto something.

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

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

Jesus is awesome!

Jesus is gutsy!

Heck, Jesus is radical!

And Jesus is God!

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

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

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

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

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

And I felt like we were onto something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a gradual thing.

But one thing’s for sure…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.