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

Divorce or Dating.

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

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

And that was a blessing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crazy.

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

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

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

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

“Mr Ex and Cosette are expecting a baby.”

And that killed me.

My heart was smashed into a zillion tiny pieces.

And I broke.

Yet again.

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

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

I really, truly wanted to die.

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

Would I ever do that?

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

What saved me?

This blog.

Yep.

This blog. By the Grace of God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And social media is the WORST for that.

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

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

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

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

So, how do I stop her from creeping in?

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

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

It’s warfare.

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

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

And it has two little words inscribed:

I know

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t listen to that.

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

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

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

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

The other part of my pain?

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

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

But that’s life.

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

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

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

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

Umm… what?!?!?!?!

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

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

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

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

And Steve had no idea who I was.

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

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

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

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

ASSHOLE!!!!!

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

Let me just say, I’m glad it’s over.

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

Internet dating is truly heinous.

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

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

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

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

And that goes 100% for church dating scenes.

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

The formula goes something like this…

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

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

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

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

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

COMMUNICATE, people! Communicate!

Own your feelings!

Be bold enough to SPEAK!

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

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

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

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

But then I realised something.

It was forced.

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

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

So I made a promise to myself:

“Ess, that’s it. Don’t force it.”

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

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

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

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

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

…Yes… That does limit my options SIGNIFICANTLY.

But I’m OK with that.

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 23: Cha-Cha Steps, Intruding Questions, and The Impossible!

Unemployed. Crappity crap!

After returning from my holiday, my jolt back to reality was made all the more worse with the realisation that, I am unemployed. After resigning from my job on a whim in Paris via email, returning to Australia meant facing the rather uncomfortable task of starting from scratch; I did wonder if I’d made a mistake.

My I-can-do-anything-and-I-am-leaving-my-old-self-at-the-Eiffel-Tower chapter was followed by an oh-crap-I’m-home-and-I-feel-crappy chapter, so you would be forgiven for thinking that the whole Paris thing was just a passing fad. A moment of self-empowerment which was not sustainable long-term.

Thankfully though, that was not the case.

We are growing whether we feel like it or not

Growth can feel like standing on top of the Eiffel Tower with arms outstretched feeling free, alive and unstoppable. But growth can also feel like darkness, pressure and pain. Just ask any seed!

Some periods of growth may be filled with tears and hysterics, or even anger or heartache. And we just hate ourselves because it seems like a backwards leap. And that period of feeling displaced and unhappy after returning to my hometown may have felt like a huge step back after a life-changing European adventure, but it was not.

Actually, it should have been expected that my old life was going to require some adjustments. I mean, I’d found a new level of self. I’d gained perspective and passion that did not exist before. The cookie-cutter of my old life just wasn’t going to cut it anymore.

Taking a step backward after taking a step forward? It’s not disaster. It’s the cha-cha! (Robert Brault said something along those lines).

So I guess I was just doing the cha-cha at this point.  It may have been a step backwards, but I was inadvertently cha-cha-ing towards something pretty amazing.

As a fully qualified teacher who had been working in child care for nearly four years, it was time to put on my teacher’s hat and give teaching a proper go. So, I bit the bullet and put my name down at a whole bunch of unknown schools as a relief teacher.

Holey moley!

Relief teaching is not easy. Unfamiliar environment, no idea who’s who, not knowing names or where the toilets are… it’s hard. And not all schools make an effort to assist new relief teachers.

But, growth… growth… growth…!

Chair-throwers, screamers… I experienced it all. And it’s true that necessity is the best teacher. Sink or swim.

I can just hear my old figure skating coach Ronaldo saying, “Toughen up, Princess!” A phrase that I just adore and I say it back to myself all the time.

I also started applying for teaching positions. At this point of the year, it was only private schools advertising. Government schools would not be releasing their available teaching positions until much later in the year. Working in a private school was certainly a dream of mine. Although, it was well and truly a far-fetched dream. Out of my grasp by many, many miles.

At this point, I was praying and praying and praying. Praying for direction, but feeling rather flat and unsuccessful. With hindsight though, I know for a fact that I was growing, because I was praying “God, your will be done in my life; not my will. Show me the path that you want me to take. Help me to see what you will for me. I am trying to empty myself of me and my plans. I want to be filled with you and your plans.”

All private schools in Australia are originally church-based. Some still retain a close affinity to their Christian roots. Others have chosen a more secular approach. Some might be a mixture of both.

I remember one particular school was advertising a number of teaching positions for the following year. It was a Christian school. A very Christian school. Conservative, evangelical kind of thing. And there was a 5-page questionnaire to be submitted along with my application.

They asked my marital status.  I’m sorry; is this 1954?

They asked my denomination.  Beats me! What was Jesus’s denomination?!

They asked, if married, whether my spouse is supportive of my standards and life?  Wtf?

They asked my stance on water baptism, pop music, my leisure time and drinking alcohol.

But the question that really pissed me off was, “How long have you had assurance that Jesus is your personal Lord and Saviour?”, asking me to describe the moment when I accepted Jesus into my heart.

I imagine most Christians reading this will be wondering, what on earth’s wrong with that?

Hi, my name is Essie and I have a chip on my shoulder.

You see, for the past few years, I’d been surrounded by a church culture that used phrases like “personal Lord and Saviour”, “asking Jesus into my heart” and “turning from my wicked ways”; asked questions like “how is your walk with God going?” and was based solely around dualism, referring to people as either “saved” or “un-saved”. “Good and bad”. “Godly and ungodly”. When people gave their testimonies, it would be a neatly packaged parcel articulating the moment when they acknowledged their sin, repented, and outlined how they have been living a life of purity and goodness ever since; as if there has to be some kind of climactic moment when you “accept Jesus” and that’s it. Tick.

I just didn’t buy that anymore.

When I think about my own journey, I think I’ve always had a relationship of some kind with God. As a very young child, I remember sleeping over at my grandparents’ house and saying a bedtime prayer with them. I also had a mini model of Noah’s Ark which chimed the tune to Jesus Loves Me when I opened it.  As a child, I talked to God. If I was freaking out about my spelling test or swimming lessons at school (just for the record, I love swimming but there was something horribly scary about the over-chlorinated school pool and my equally scary PE teacher), I’d ask God to help me get through it. And he did. And I’d always remember to thank him. It was all very real to me, even at the ripe old age of 7.

At 16, my parents randomly started going to church again. We had attended a different church when I was little, but then we’d drifted away through the natural ebb and flow of life. So, at 16, after several years of not attending church, my parents thought they’d try out this church. I happily tagged along. And I was even happier to tag along after meeting Mr Ex there. Mr Ex was different to other guys. He wasn’t out getting smashed on the weekends. He was thoughtful, caring, and mature. I liked that.

So, I had always believed that God was real; I don’t think this church was necessarily instrumental in that belief. But it was at this church that I kind of made it official. I said the words and went through the motions. I got baptised. And I guess that’s the age where ‘being a Christian’ is suddenly a big thing. Much more defining. Gone are the days when I’d ask God to help me get through swimming lessons with the horrible PE teacher. Now I was entering the dating world. Or, you could just say the ‘world’ in general. And this church, being conservative (I’m deliberately avoiding using denominations!), encouraged us, as young adults, to make a stand for God.

And really, Mr Ex and I were the perfect ‘church pin-up couple’. Wide eyed. Making good choices. Abstaining from sex. No drinking (well, actually we did enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage, but that was hush-hush). Definitely not living together out of wedlock. Engaged at 19 and 21. And I can actually remember when a girl joined my workplace and swore like a truckie, I had the guts to say that it offended me because I am a Christian. Crikey! I’m literally cringing as I write that. And I imagine Jesus was cringing too.

Fast forward eight years and there I am, Chapter 4 of this blog, aged 24 and totally broken, having what was arguably my most authentic and real connection with God.

So, back to the questionnaire about Jesus being my personal Lord and Saviour and the two main reasons why it annoyed the crap out of me.

Yes, I can answer that question. And there’s nothing outrageously wrong with it. Yes, Jesus is my personal Lord and Saviour. I know that. I do have assurance of that.

But my dilemma is, 1) how on earth do I define it? Was it when I was a child and I prayed to God and he helped me get through those swimming lessons? Might not seem like a big thing now, but that was a big thing to 7-year-old Essie. Was it at 16 when I started attending Mr Ex’s church and started making Christian choices? Hashtag vomit. And despite my tendency now to poke fun at that phase of my life, I did love God and both Mr Ex and I were trying to live for God. But, was my moment of accepting Jesus actually at 24-years-old when Mr Ex had just walked out, leaving me completely and utterly broken? That was certainly when I prayed my most authentic prayers, depended entirely on Jesus, and found Jesus to be my very best friend. But I don’t think that cancels out every other God-touched moment prior to that. See? It’s actually rather complex.

And, 2) how relevant is that first moment of saying, “I’m a sinner and I accept Jesus as my Saviour” anyway?  Remember, Mr Ex had that moment too. He was a professing Christian. He had a testimony of the moment he let Jesus into his heart.  Go back a few years and ask Mr Ex that question and he would give you a beautiful answer. If he read Isaiah 53, he’d tear up too. Despite what Mr Ex may tell you now, I don’t think you can fake that kind of emotion. It was real to him.

But that obviously means diddly-squat now!

My conclusion?

Jesus is making me new today!

And that’s what matters.

Far from having some kind of static climax to my story, those moments at the ages of 7, 16 and 24, whether grainy or vivid memories, are all just different threads in the overall patchwork quilt of Essie Bell.

After grappling with all that, I think I ended up just settling on the 16-year-old ‘making a stand’ decision as my time-frame for the purpose of this questionnaire and I started filling in the questions.

And I had to resist the urge to write my honest reactions.

Martial Status? Wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care!

What is your view of alcohol? Only in excess!

How would you describe yourself? I am a quirky, cranky, chip-on-my-shoulder, separated, 25-year-old mess.

How long have you had assurance of Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour? Since childhood, BUT a hell of a lot has happened since then.

Lol.

But seriously, for the record, I did fill in that application. Sensibly and humbly, I might add. And they actually did offer me an interview. So they clearly aren’t nearly as judgmental or narrow-minded as I am portraying. And that is probably just a reflection on me and my hang-ups, rather than the school or anyone who works there.

But if their questionnaire was annoying the crap out of me that much, then I think it is very clear that I wasn’t meant to be working there.

And just before they offered me an interview, my life took an unexpected twist. A twist that would graciously and abundantly allow for a quirky, cranky, chip-on-her-shoulder, separated 25-year-old mess.

I saw another job listing. It was for a prestigious school. Christian, but a particular denomination. An IB school. No, not Independent Baptist. International Baccalaureate. I had to google that. It was a beautiful school. I’d heard plenty about it already. It had an exceptional reputation, that’s for sure.

I remember so vividly the day of applications closing at 4pm for this particular school.

I decided not to bother applying. I mean, this school is totes amaze-balls. Outstanding. Pure excellence. What chance do I have of getting a job there? It’s impossible!

Bree randomly popped into my house on her way home from work. “How are all your job applications going?” she asked me.

I told her that I was working on a number of different applications for various teaching positions. I told her that this one particular *amazing* school had their applications closing in a matter of minutes, but that I had decided not to bother applying.

“You’re not applying for *insert name of school here*?” she asked me.

“Nah,” I remember shrugging. “I don’t have a chance there. I don’t know anything about the IB thing. And it’s well out of my league anyway.”

Bree reminded me of the teddy bear that she had given me a few months prior. The bear named Jeremiah. It was holding a love-heart with Jeremiah 29:11 on it; “‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.'”

So, minutes before the 4pm deadline, thanks to Bree’s visit, I found the application that I’d done for this amazing school and I sent it off via email.

Reading my Bible that night, something jumped out at me. No, not literally. I’d heard Romans 8:31 many, many times before. For some reason, I read it and something just clicked.

“…If God is for us, who can be against us?”

If God is for me.

Wow.

That still blows my mind actually.

The creator of the universe, the One who sees my sin, the One who knows that I fail him daily, a God who hears my sarcastic and cranky chip-on-the-shoulder responses to questionnaires…

He is actually for me?!?!?!?!

A few days later, the Principal of the *amazing* school called me.

I have an interview!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I was completely and beyond-words honoured to just be given an interview at this school. Never mind about the job; the interview was an achievement in itself!!

So, I went to the interview. I took Jeremiah, the bear with me. Jeremiah was small enough to fit in my handbag. Sitting out the front of the school, I prayed. And I had this indescribable sense of peace about the whole thing. Don’t get me wrong; I was nervous beyond words!! But I could feel my best friend Jesus reminding me gently that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

One of the first questions in the interview was, “How relevant is your faith to your everyday life?”

Now, that’s an awesome question!!

Far from asking about my marital status or my view on alcohol or when I accepted Jesus into my life, the simple question of how relevant my faith is to my everyday life kind of sums it all up. Everyday life. The here and now. Today. YES!

Forget about ticking boxes. Forget about articulating my biblical stance on leisure time. Even Mr Ex could’ve given you a great answer to that.

It is far more powerful and beautiful to consider every moment in the journey. Not the origin. Not the starting point. But the growth, revelations, shit-storms and rainbows that have ensued. Because those shit-storms matter too.

And being “saved” doesn’t save you from life’s shit-storms.

Jesus’s very words are, “Humanly speaking, this is impossible. But with God, everything is possible” (Matthew 19:26).

I have a God who is for me. I have a God who delights in impossibilities.

And, by the grace of God, I got the job.

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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