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

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

I tweaked it a little.

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

But I think she was onto something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

One thing is for sure: I was hurting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weddings were definitely something I loved, though.

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

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

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

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

Wedding dresses? Pfft, only good for snow camouflage!

Wedding magazines? Best used for propping up wobbly tables!

Weddings? Doomed!

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

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

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

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

Umm… WHAT NOW?!

Did I just hear him correctly?

Seriously! Of ALL the questions to ask me!!

Are you kidding?!

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

He was paused, waiting for my reply.

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

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

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

I soon realised the method to his madness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, weddings are THE worst place to be single.

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

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

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

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

YES!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am complete.

Jesus is all I’ll ever need.

I have an electric blanket and a dog!

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

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

And that was a pretty cool moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because being alone doesn’t equate to lonely.

Single doesn’t mean sad.

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

I challenge Hallmark to start making cards about that!

Solitude is the cure for loneliness.

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

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

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Chapter 17: Fairness, Forgiveness and other F-words

“It’s just not fair!”

It’s easy with hindsight to say “Thank you, God, for the mountains in our lives”, but at the time, I was saying that through gritted teeth thinking how unfair this whole thing is.

And that is something that I’ve struggled with for quite some time.

We have this ingrained ability to suss out fairness and unfairness. It’s not a concept that needs to be taught to us. We are all born with a fairness radar. And if something is unfair, we know! I work with children and they’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not fair when one person gets a bigger slice of cake. Or if someone heartlessly breaks the block tower that you just spent half an hour building.

Trying to explain to children that, when someone sticks their tongue out at you or knocks down your sandcastle, you need to just walk away…? Don’t react. Don’t retaliate. Don’t seek revenge. Doesn’t that just go against our every instinct?

And that is why karma is so appealing. Karma’s a bitch, right?!

Oh, I wish!

Believe me, I wish karma were true.

How awesome would it be if we could rest in the knowledge that, ‘What goes around, comes around’?!

And if a murderer gets hit by a drunk driver or if Cosette cheats on Mr Ex!

Unfortunately though, reality is more like an innocent mother-of-three gets hit by a drunk driver. And Cosette and Mr Ex live happily ever after.

That SUCKS!

But such is the broken world we inhabit.

The next morning at the holiday house with Tom and Samara, as I sat on a bar stool at the island bench sipping a cup of tea, my iPad sounded a new email notification.

It was the dreaded reality of an email from Mr Ex.

Not the Mr Ex that I loved, but the lawyer-mode Mr Ex. Straight to the facts. He was sending me a list of items that he wanted; items that he had apparently forgotten to collect from the house. Royal Doulton whiskey tumblers made the list. And a solid gold chain that I gave him a few years ago. And the Weber BBQ from the holiday house. He also added the tent to this list.

WHAT THE ACTUAL?!

He knows how I feel about that tent. He saw my torment and he heard my feelings.

And Royal Doulton… seriously?! Since when does he care about Royal Doulton?!

Thus began the to-ing and fro-ing of settlement.

In Australia, settlement is the process where both parties legally settle on how their property, belongings, and even pets will be split. Once this has been decided, the paperwork goes through the courts and the couple is officially separated. Stamped, sealed and separated.

So, my lawyer and Mr Ex’s lawyer negotiated.

Emails flew from lawyer to lawyer and lawyer to client. But not-so-much client to client anymore. Sad, but after seven years together, our communication happened through lawyers.

Credit where credit is due, Mr Ex let me keep our house and our furniture without a fight. And ‘The List’ was only a few items that he wanted.

But, ‘The List’ upset me no end.

Why? Gosh, I don’t really know. They were not items that I used. In fact, I’d probably never use that stuff.

But it went something like this: I’ve just lost my husband and my marriage… and there’s NO WAY I’m letting him take the whiskey tumblers that I’ve never actually used.

Yes, I hear how ridiculous that sounds.

From my perspective, my incredibly generous parents fed him, clothed him, included him in overseas holidays and treated him as their own son for seven years. So, maybe it was a bit of me wanting karma or justice. I don’t know.

I’m not saying my stance was the right one. I’m not saying that my logic makes sense. I’m saying I was hurt.

And what I’m also getting at, I suppose, is that none of this is fair. There’s nothing fair about this whole situation. It’s unfair on so many levels. And when people are hurting, it’s even worse.

I’m on one side wanting to hold onto the tent that I’d never use (because I don’t like the thought of Mr Ex and Cosette getting hot and sweaty together in our tent), while he’s on the other side legitimately wanting the tent that he would actually use.

And he’s totally justified in saying something along the lines of, “Essie doesn’t like camping and she doesn’t like BBQs, so it’s not fair that she’s holding onto that stuff JUST BECAUSE!”

And I understand that. I see that shit in all its glory.

And the thing with settlement, divorce, cheating, break-ups, relationships in general… there’s SO MUCH that’s just not fair. For everyone.

Jesus said some very annoying things.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:44).

Humph.

Jesus also says things like, “If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much! If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that!” (Matt. 5:46).

Jesus was all about loving the unlovable.

And, annoyingly, the unlovable tend to be your enemies… or the people who hurt you.

Maybe that’s why Jesus was so unpopular. He was walking around teaching this stuff in a culture which was based on the notion, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth!’.

Jesus told us not to delight in revenge, but to give our enemies food and water.

Food and water?!

For real?!?

Can’t we give our enemies a swift kick up the backside or at least the cold shoulder?? Or ideally, watch as they get struck by lightning?!

Yes, that’s my fairness-seeking, darkness-loving heart right there.

But really, in my defense, it was this kind of ‘loving your enemies’ and ‘forgiveness’ talk that got Jesus killed. People who were offended by Jesus’s radical grace and unconditional love tried veryyy hard to shut him up.

But here I am, over 2,000 years later, still reading his teachings.

And yes, I find it just as offensive as Jesus’s own contemporaries did!

And Paul said, in Philippians 2:5, “You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had.”

Ouch.

So does this just make me a doormat?

How do I reconcile loving my enemies when I’m angry and hurting and my fairness-radar is telling me THIS IS NOT FAIR.

If I try to adopt Jesus’s teachings, am I not just saying to Mr Ex and Cosette, “Hey, you guys! Come and walk all over me because I am joining a club of do-gooders and I have no choice but to forgive you! So, go ahead! Cheat on me! Go and have fun times in our tent! And I’ll forgive you!”

Screw that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

But wait.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Jesus was all about good overcoming evil.

That is why he came into this world.

To overcome evil. To defeat it once and for all.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).

So, if he’s teaching forgiveness, I hazard a guess that it has something to do with overcoming evil.

And Jesus was not a pushover.

Yes, it’s unfair that Mr Ex and Cosette get to enjoy romantic candle-lit dinners together while I sit heartbroken on the floor in floods of tears. I don’t think there’s anyone who would argue with me that that’s fair.

It’s unfair.

It’s fucking shit, actually.

But if I hold onto bitterness, anger, and pain – or if I seek revenge or hate them – maybe I’m just fuelling evil. Encouraging evil. Embellishing evil.

I think it was Wikipedia (or some other arguably secular source) that said Jesus Christ pioneered the notion of forgiveness to the world. Yes, forgiveness is definitely one of Jesus’s number one buzz words. And there have been lots of other people who have seen the benefits of forgiveness.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” -Martin L. King. Jr.

Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” -Abraham Lincoln.

“An eye for an eye just leaves the whole world blind.” –Mahatma Gandhi.

But to add to it, Jesus told us to leave revenge up to God. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone…. Don’t take revenge, dear friends. Instead, let God’s anger take care of it. After all, scripture says, ‘I alone have the right to take revenge. I will pay back’, says the Lord” (Romans 12:17, 19).

He taught us to trust God. “The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm” (Exodus 14:14).

And he told us to love. Love, love, love, love. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).

So, if I hate Mr Ex and Cosette, maybe I’m succumbing to evil. And in turn, corroding myself internally, burning myself with acidic hatred and anger.

And that’s why the world is such a horrible place. Because there is just SO MUCH HATE!

It’s a trap, really.

We think revenge or holding onto grudges will makes us feel better. We think our perception of justice is right. We think punishing those who do the wrong thing will combat evil. But, it’s an illusion. It only makes things worse.

Jesus came to be the light in a world of darkness. He came to show us another way of living. To show us that it is possible to find peace in this world. And that it is possible to set ourselves free from the hurts, anger and hatred that can otherwise engulf us.

Since starting this little blogging project of mine, I’ve been enjoying lots of blogs in the blogging world. And one stood out to me. It’s a man who cheated on his wife. I feel a sense of connection with his blog in some weird kind of way. He mentioned that he gets abuse from readers and I’ve seen some interesting comments filled with bitterness; women in my situation who have been cheated on by their husbands and are still trapped in the hurt caused by their husband’s affair. But, I can honestly say that I don’t have any anger or bitterness towards ‘cheaters’. I’m not saying that cheating is ever OK. It’s not. But consider this:

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said…

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, and who is willing to destroy a piece of their own heart?

The self-confessed ‘cheater’, who is now blogging, has acknowledged his mistakes and is living life anew in Christ. Broken and redeemed.

And I think there’s something rather powerful about me standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a ‘cheater’ and defiantly proclaiming together that evil is simply not more powerful than good.

That’s what Jesus was all about.

A light shining in the midst of darkness.

Proclaiming that evil will not win.

If I hold onto my notion of unfairness and bitterness, I’m just hurting myself. And creating a culture of hatred around me. And that is what makes the world a horrible, evil place.

There is power in forgiveness.

It’s not easy – and sometimes I’m just totally faking it – but when I love my enemies (or at least give it my best shot), I am somehow brandishing a rather large chainsaw which cuts down evil.

It’s not me being a doormat allowing Mr Ex and Cosette to wipe their dirty feet on me, but instead it’s me proclaiming that good will always triumph over evil. Actually I think that deserves bold print, capitals and an exclamation mark; Good WILL always triumph over evil!

As much as it sometimes kills me and goes against my natural instincts, I will wave my chainsaw around and cut off any hatred and bitterness, in Jesus’s name. It’s hard. Impossible in my own strength. And that’s what it is to be a follower of Christ. To triumphantly brandish a chainsaw and say, “Love and Light will always shine!”

And – surprise, surprise! – every time I die to my natural inclination to seek revenge or spout bitterness, I find a new depth of freedom.

Everyday. New. Over and over. Death and resurrection.

Chapter 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 14: I am Sad

The frustration with pain is that it demands to be felt.

There is no easy way out.

And pain is a certainty in this world of ours.

“I’ll lead with the bad news: it’s going to get worse. I’ve even begun collecting raindrops to prove it isn’t sunny all the time. I’ve spent entire days in bed and I’ve lost entire hours to lukewarm baths. It’s OK. Some days are bad. I have to get up even when I don’t want to. It happens. It is still a beautiful life.” -unknown

After a successful first solo outing and some pretty special encounters with the stranger, I was feeling on top of the world. God is in control! God is looking after me! I can do this! God is amazing! It’s easy to sing God’s praises when life is peachy. Or when things are going according to our plan.

But calm seas never made a skilled sailor!

And on that rollercoaster of emotions, there are inevitable – what I like to call – ‘downers’.

Downers. Darkness. Sadness. Pain. Dare-I-say depression.

It’s like a tunnel. An unavoidable tunnel. The only way to proceed on your path is to go through the tunnel. And you have to go all the way through. No short cuts and no emergency exits. The good news is that you will eventually come out the other end. And you will emerge stronger, more beautiful, than you ever were before. But the bad news is that going through the tunnel is never easy.

And there can be many tunnels along our path. Some are longer tunnels and some are shorter. Some are scarier. Some will freak the living daylights out of us. And some will even leave us with bruises and scars. And heck, I’m still encountering tunnels today.

But there is so much truth to the old adage that, ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger!’

I am drowning. I have no air. But everyone else around me is breathing just fine.

Other people so easily engage in cheery conversations, but I don’t have the energy or the ability to engage right now.

I can’t do this. This sadness is unbearable.

I’m drained. I’m depleted.

I’m standing on the sidelines. Lonely in a crowd.

I wish I could integrate into that conversation.  I wish I could go out today.

But I can’t because I’m useless.  No one will want to talk to me.  Mr Ex knew me better than probably any other person in this world and he has decided that I’m not loveable. I’m not worthwhile.  He doesn’t want me. He wants someone else. So, clearly I’m just not good enough. And so why the hell would anyone else want to love me? Or even want to talk to me for that matter?!

“Oh, I’m just tired,” I’d tell people.

But a wise person once noted what ‘tired’ can sometimes really mean.

T is for torn apart,
I is for insecure,
R is for really faking my smile,
E is for extremely sad, and
D is for drowning in my tears.

But I became better at recognising and acknowledging when I was feeling sad. I became better at telling the people around me [and friends like Sana became experts at reading] when I was on a downer.

It might just sound like self-pity. Even reflecting after emerging from a tunnel, I wonder why on earth I couldn’t just ‘snap out of it’. But pain demands to be felt.

And I have to go all the way through my tunnel. No one can walk it for me. Others may walk it with me. But no one can walk it for me.

Valentine’s Day 2013.

Bree came to visit. She gave me a teddy bear holding a homemade love-heart with a bible verse on it. I’d never actually encountered the bible verse before, or if I had, it just hadn’t registered with me. But this time, it did.

“’I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.’” –Jeremiah 29:11.

God has a plan for me.

I named the bear ‘Jeremiah’ and that little bear is one of the most precious presents that I’ve ever been given.

But Jeremiah isn’t telling me that my pain and sadness will magically dissipate into a poof of smoke.

Dark days keep coming.

Moments of grief still plague me.

Tunnels lie ahead.

Does that mean God has left me? Does that mean I’m not a good enough Christian?

NO!

God never tells us that he will magically remove all pain and suffering from us. No emergency exits, remember! But God does promise that he will never leave us. He has a plan and he will use my darkness for my good.

This is not a god who is holding a banner and shouting encouraging quotes from off the court. Not at all. This is a god who enters into our suffering. He is right there in the middle of the court with us. This is a god who became human like us. He wasn’t watching Jesus on the cross. He was Jesus on the cross.

I am sad today.

And at the risk of sounding very Dr Phil-like…

Essie Bell’s Steps for Overcoming Downers:

Step one is always to recognise the emotion. Note its presence.

Step two, experience the emotion fully. A wave, coming and going. Try not to block the emotion and try not to push it away. But be careful – don’t feed it! Don’t try to keep the emotion around or increase it. Just experience it.

Step three is to remember that YOU ARE NOT YOUR EMOTION. Remember when you have felt differently. Remind yourself that you will feel differently again. Don’t act on the sense of urgency that the emotion brings. Describe your emotion saying, “I have the feeling of _____”, rather than “I am _____”.

Step four, practice respecting, even loving, your emotion. Tell yourself that it is OK to have downers. It is OK to feel like this. It is OK to cry a sea of tears, it is OK to say “WHY ME?!” and it is OK to get angry at God. Don’t believe me? Read the Psalms. And it’s not only OK, it’s actually just a normal part of being human. It is one of the many things that makes us endearingly human. So don’t judge your emotion. Radically accept your emotion.

And lastly, step five, which is the most important of all. Say out loud, “No matter what I am feeling, God is working. God has a plan.”

“When I am overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” -Psalm 61:2.

Crank some tunes too.  Some possibilities; My go-to girl Katy Perry’s By the Grace of God or Roar, The Best is Yet to Come by Sheppard, Blessed Be Your Name by Matt Redman, Oceans [Where Feet May Fail] by Hillsong, In Christ Alone by Owl City, or Whom Shall I Fear? by Chris Tomlin.

If I could go back and talk to myself inside one of those tunnels, I’d say, “Essie, I’m not going to say there are plenty of fish in the sea or that it will all get better quickly. Instead, I will say that God has a plan. It’s OK to be down. It’s normal to feel alone. But say with me now, ‘No matter what I am feeling, God is working.’”

Yes, my husband no longer loves me. But guess what? God still loves me! I’ve given God countless reasons not to love me. None of them has been strong enough to change him though. Thank you, God. And I am surrounded by a bubble of family and friends who love me too.

Today, I have the feeling of sadness.

But I will be OK. Just not today. And that’s OK.

Because no matter what I am feeling, God is working. God has a plan.

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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.