Chapter 32: That corrosive, life-changing love

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

The ones I never wanted.

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

And, yes, sometimes I do.

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

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

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

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

-Beau Taplin, The Picture.

And that’s exactly right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I HAVE EXPERIENCED THE JESUS STUFF TO BE REAL.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, bang! Crash! Kick up the butt!

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

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

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

Same sorting system. Just different sorting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is always on the other side.

Damn it.

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

~~~

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

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

And she quickly began dating British Comedy Dude.

You guessed it; I didn’t like her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But inevitably, the unthinkable happened: Danielle said hello.

And I was now in a conversation against my will.

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

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

God never sits still in our best formulations.

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

HUH?!

It was effortless.

Beyond-logic, Holy Spirit effortless.

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

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

But more than that, it also changed me.

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

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

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

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

In that moment, a mutual love was born.

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

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

~~~

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

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

Instead, He loves us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And those people were never the same again.

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

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

Jesus’s love is life-changing.

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

I can say that now with 20/20 hindsight.

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

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

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

You certainly don’t read that on Hallmark cards!

But I wonder.

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

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

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

~~~

IMG_4978

Danielle and I are best friends today.

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

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

Advertisements

Chapter 25: Grace Upon Grace

It always annoys me when people connect Christianity with judgment.

The missing element? Grace.

Jesus spent the vast majority of his time on earth with people on the margins of society. He washed feet, dined with the outcasts and touched ‘unclean’ people.

How awesome is that?!

Yet, somehow, people still manage to connect Christianity with Type A personalities, perfect lifestyles and hierarchical dualism.

“Out of his fullness, we have all received grace upon grace!” -John 1:16.

Grace upon grace.

Not just a bit of grace, but a whole LOT of grace.

When my father-in-law and I had that heart-melting moment of love and grace abounding, it was because we’d both encountered Jesus. Love and grace. Jesus.

And when I landed my dream job at the amazing school against all odds, that is God’s grace in action right there.

Grace: Unearned, unmerited, undeserved favour.

God’s grace is an un-coerced initiative.

No hidden agendas.

Even when I am kicking, screaming and jumping up and down declaring how unfair my shitty, shitty life is, God just wraps his loving arms around me and he loves me. When I fall from grace, God just reaches down, picks me up, and dusts me off. Over and over again.

*happy dance*

“God’s mercy and grace are new every morning” -Lamentations 3:23.

Grace is a process.

Love is a process.

Forgiveness is a process.

Life is a process.

And maybe that was my beef with the question in a previous chapter about “when” I became a Christian. Because it is a process. A journey. An adventure!

None of this, “Oh, I’m a Christian so I’m all good now!” Pfft!

More like, “I’m a Christian; I totally stink, but my flaws are a canvas for God’s grace.”

God just keeps reaching down, picking me up, and dusting me off. Over and over. Grace is amazing. Amazing grace. An uplifting, inspiring, liberating feeling of arriving home. Finding your true identity in Christ. Finding wholeness. My chains are gone; I’ve been set free! My God, my Saviour, has ransomed me! (yes, I’m quoting the song). And that is a wow-factor moment. And it frees me to be me! That whacky-doo mess that I am.

*Happy dance again*

…it doesn’t end there though.

While that is such an a beautiful concept to come to terms with, I could never seem to escape the reality that I will be set free when I give grace to others.

Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

And I often find that He is saying that to me.

Whether I like it or not.

In the form of a not-sugar-coating-anything friend or in a Bible verse that pops up or through the example of someone else showing grace, love and forgiveness to someone else who hurt them.

Ick.

Yep, I face the rather unnerving task of somehow attempting to show grace to Mr Ex.

And Cosette.

My reaction?

Mother of fuckery! Prickles on petunias!

I don’t want a bar of it!!!!!!

As Jesus was dying on the cross, crucified by the very people he was trying to save, he cried out, “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34). Let’s not forget that Jesus was, in fact, completely innocent. He had done nothing wrong – only teach us that we should love each other – and we found that so offensive that we crucified him. Jesus’s disciples, who were witnesses to this whole miserable affair and then went on to all write books which can be found in the Bible, all give an account of this.

These are some excerpts of how Luke puts it:

Pilate told the high priests and the accompanying crowd, “I find nothing wrong here. Jesus seems harmless enough to me.” But the crowd kept insisting, “He stirs up the people…”

Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, because he sent Him back to us. Clearly, He has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore warn him and release him.”

At that, the crowd went wild: “Kill him! Give us Barabbas!” (Barabbas had been thrown in prison for starting a riot in the city and for murder).

Pilate still wanted to let Jesus go, and so spoke out again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!'” 

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.”

What happened next? Plot spoiler: Barabbas, a murderer, was released from prison and Jesus, an innocent man, was tortured and executed.

Again, I say, mother of fuckery! Prickles of petunias!

Jesus loves the people who wanted him dead. Jesus is loving us. Jesus is loving me.

We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.” (Romans 5:7-8).

Now, that’s love. And grace. And forgiveness.

Grace is essentially the opposite of karma. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve, and not getting what you do deserve.

Grace is God giving peace to the broken, love to the unlovable, hope to the hopeless, and light to the darkness.

And that gripes me when I think of Mr Ex and Cosette.

BECAUSE IT IS NOT FAIR.

They don’t deserve grace. And they don’t care whether I give them grace or NOT!

Ah.

Yes, God, I see.

When Jesus told the story of the vineyard workers, the lazy good-for-nothing workers who slacked off and only worked half a day were paid the exact same amount as the diligent workers who sweated it out all day long.

How is that fair?!?!?!?!?

It’s not.

And that is Jesus’s point. He says, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matt: 20:16).

And that is how there came to be a screaming, mocking crowd wanting to crucify Jesus.

Jesus’s goodness and grace was offensive.

Because we don’t realise that it is what we need most.

It’s like posture. I know full-well that I shouldn’t slouch. I know I should keep stomach muscles in, chest out, and shoulders back. But dammit, shoulders curved over and back slumped over is just SO much more comfy.

But, alas, then I get a sore back and feel like an 95-year-old. And the more I try to sit upright, the more it feels uncomfortable. Even when physios or the health and safety expert at work tell me about correct alignment-blah-blah, I just keep thinking, I wanna slouch! But, lo and behold, when I do actually suck it up and stick my shoulders back – pushing through the initial feeling of un-comfort – I end up feeling much, much healthier from within.

That’s like grace.

Writing that, I do feel like a bit of a pansy. I have this image of grace going hand-in-hand with fairy floss, unicorns and rainbows. Like that marshmallow fantasy land in Nintendo’s Super Mario Party.

But I am reminding myself everyday that grace is actually hardcore.

It’s bad ass.

There’s nothing gentle and angelic about grace.

Grace sees shit in all its glory.

And it changes us from the inside out.

A friend once told me that she loved my blog, but she was surprised by my swearing. And I reckon there are probably at least four or five other people in my life who have read it and thought the same thing, but don’t want to say that to my face.

So, I prayed about it and I gave it serious thought.

I could easily sanitise my blog.  I could remove the f-bombs and replace them with cleaner, wholesome words and a glossy cherry on top.

But my language is very deliberate. Why?

Because God goes there.

Yes, God meets me there in my pain-filled, gut-wrenching f-bombs. That is how low he will reach down to rescue us. And he will go lower still. There is no limit to how wide his grace-filled arms will span.

And really, ‘Christian’ is NOT a synonym of pansy, pushover, sucker, or weakling.

When Jesus prayed for the very people who wanted him dead, that would take SERIOUS GUTS.

When Jesus asked God to forgive the very people who wanted him dead, that would take SERIOUS GUTS.

And when Jesus said some of his final words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” that would also take SERIOUS GUTS.

So, I try.

Some days, I’m better at it.

Other days = epic fail.

Grace is when I work through the chips on my shoulder.

Grace is when I accept that some Christians might choose to abstain from alcohol and dancing. Some Christians might prefer to dress modestly. Some Christians might favour the King James language. And, Essie – note to self – that is OK. Just because I think that’s bullshit, conformist and culture rather than biblical, doesn’t mean that I have to compromise my compassion for those people.  The truth is that there are Christians in those conservative, fundamentalist churches and they are still people who are passionate about God. The same God that I worship.

Grace is every time I bite my tongue when I want to actually email Mr Ex to tell him about my AMAZING new job at the AMAZING new school. I’d absolutely LOVE to rub it in his face that MY God has blessed me, while HE and Cosette are up shit creek without a paddle.

Oh, fuck it!

I’ve just fallen off the grace-wagon.

Try again, Essie!

Grace is every time I manage to pray for Mr Ex and Cosette.

Yuck, muck, schmuck, bluck, cluck, ruck, stuck in chuck.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

But it somehow changes me.

Prayer changes me.

I start praying for Mr Ex and Cosette through gritted teeth.  I start praying, feeling either like, 1) a fraud who just wants to see Mr Ex and Cosette BURN in a FIREY PIT while I get to watch whilst enjoying popcorn and a glass of Molly Dooker, or 2) an absolute PUSH-OVER, weakling, doormat, and downright CHRISTIAN IDIOT who is praying for my ex-husband who CHEATED on me (MADNESS to pray for him, right?!?!)

But something kind of happens.

The coercing, plotting, vengeful Essie is somehow cleansed.

And I feel peace.

God reaches down, plucks me out of my ditch, and gives me a heart transplant. Makes me new. Resurrects me.

Don’t ask me how. But I can tell you now that that process is FAR BEYOND anything I could ever do. On my own, there is NO FRIGGIN’ WAY that I could EVER find that peace.

And that is another of the many reasons that I believe in God.

Then, on other days, I just screw it all up. Actually, I can sometimes screw it up something chronic.

My vengeance-loving, justice-seeking heart gets in the way. And the result? Grace incorrectly administered. And a thwarted view of the Bible and Christianity in general.

I have a particular memory in mind. It is one of those memories where I’d much rather just keep my mouth shut and move swiftly on. But, in the interest of authenticity and honestly owning my story, I admit that, early on this whole shebang, I sent Mr Ex a text. It went something along the lines of, “I am doing really well and I’ve never felt closer to God. That’s because I have God on my side.” And then I included that motherload Bible verse where God says “Vengeance is mine.” It is EASY-PEASY lemon-squeezey to use the Bible for bad. Or to twist it to suit our own purposes and our own emotions.

Essie Bell: GUILTY AS CHARGED.

And the sad thing is that it happens all the time.

Christians send that exact text message to pretty much every non-Christian everyday without even realising it.

“God is out to get you unless you change your cheating ways!”

“God SAID he’s gonna get revenge for ME”

“He’s MY God and he’s on MY side”

*Dr Evil pinky finger to mouth*

Yes, God does say that vengeance belongs to him. God is telling us to not take revenge, but to leave it up to him.

But really, I don’t think we are capable of understanding exactly what God means when he says that.

God is love.

And the thing with God, is that He doesn’t have our mean, vengeance-loving, spiteful heart. So when he ‘gets vengeance’, He can actually do it from a place of love.

And, I know I can speak for myself when I say that is SO beyond my comprehension. I can only imagine vengeance coming from a place of hatred and spite. I can’t even begin to imagine vengeance coming from a place of love.

By the way, don’t get me wrong; It would be completely inappropriate for me to tell Mr Ex and Cosette that I love them. He is my ex-husband and she is ‘the other woman’. I don’t think for one second that God wants me to email them saying, “Hey guys, just wanted you to know that I love you!”

But I can show grace by praying for them. And just for the record, I don’t get bogged down in praying for them everyday. That’s ridiculous. On a good day, they’re far from my mind. And that’s awesome! I shouldn’t be thinking about them. I have plenty of other things to think about and pray about. But on a bad day, I get bitter and twisted. And that’s when I need to practice grace. To pray for them. And to pray that God’s will be done in their lives.

Like antiseptic cream, it stings at first.

But it is what heals me when I need it.

And like a flood, His mercy reigns. Unending Love. Amazing Grace.

Chapter 19: Free Will and Throwing Ink Pots

Divorce is hell.

There. I said it. And I probably just made a whole bunch of people feel really uncomfortable. But, as Father Mulcahy (one of my favourite fictional characters of all time) from M*A*S*H says, “If you can’t say ‘hell’ in hell, when can you say it?”

So, what was the catalyst for my elaborate declaration that divorce is hell?

Copious emails were flying through cyber space as our lawyers negotiated ‘who gets what’. And after two months of this, the Binding Financial Agreement (BFA) was finally complete. All I had to do was go to my lawyer’s office to sign. Sounds simple enough, right? Don’t be fooled.

I couldn’t bring myself to take my parents. Even though my parents are two of my absolute bestest friends, I just couldn’t do this with them. Too painful. Sana took me instead.

So this was about June 2013.

We had been separated since January of that year.

My lawyer put down a slab of papers and a bunch of tissues in front of me. It must be hard being a lawyer specialising in family law. I can’t imagine daily watching hurt, broken, confused spouses signing their settlement paperwork, often against their will and in a state of trauma.

And that was me. Against my will and in a state of trauma.

I hated the feeling that I had no control. This wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t initiate any of this. I was riding on a non-stop train ride, bound by my feet and ankles and a large piece of gaffer-tape covering my mouth.

My lawyer had run me through the contents of each page via email. So now she just handed me a pen.

I had to initial every. SINGLE. page!!

And we’re talking about, like, fifty pieces of paper.

I’d sign a page, lift my hand slightly, and she’d take the page off the pile, revealing the next page. I’d sign that, lift my hand slightly again. Sign. Lift hand. Sign. Lift. Sign. Lift. Sign.

And that kept going for what seemed like forever.

I couldn’t even see what I was signing through the thick stream of constant tears.

And my signature looked more like a 2-year-old’s attempt at drawing fairy floss.

And that was it. We were legally separated. That was the process of settlement done and dusted. We had settled. Settlement pending divorce after one year. It’s ironic how rather-unsettling settlement actually is.

It’s supposed to be closure. But, as I’ve said before, the problem with this kind of situation is that there is no closure. There are – and probably always will be – so many unanswered questions.

But it is what it is.

All the emotions and grief are made worse by the act of going to a lawyer, seeing the black and white print of our lives and marriage summarised on paper, and the physical signing of papers. Life wasn’t meant to be like this. And I’d find myself crying to the point of dry-reaching.

The whole concept of free-will is an interesting one. It is something that I pondered a fair bit, perhaps because most of the events of early 2013 were entirely against my will.

And that was an incredibly strange sensation. To go from being in control of my life, to suddenly having absolutely no control. To be at the mercy of an AWOL husband who was calling all the shots, arranging legal papers… It baffled me (and still does baffle me) that so much could unfold against my will.

It takes two people to get married, but it only takes one person to end it.

Even under the umbrella of being ‘Christian’, there are many different perspectives and interpretations surrounding free will.

And it’s something that people have asked me about. Fair enough, too, because it’s perfectly valid to ask, “Why, exactly, did God give man free-will if He knew we’d just use it to do evil? And make the world such a horrible place? And eventually get ourselves in hell?”

People asking this apt question are thinking, God is apparently omniscient (i.e. He knows everything from before the beginning of time through to all eternity), so if he really is a loving God, then why did he give us free-will to choose evil if he knew it would lead to the situation of a fallen, broken world, with billions of people going to hell? If he knew we would stuff up, why did he let that happen?”

That doesn’t sound like a very loving God and certainly not a God that I would want to be worshiping.

I get it.

But, like I always say, if we don’t question our thoughts, beliefs and actions, we fall into the very dangerous predicament of merely accepting reality. Boring, afraid of being challenged, two-dimensional, and unsure of what we actually believe in or who we bloody are! That kind of mindset is simply not sustainable long-term.

So I discovered that it is OK to ask questions.

To delve deeply, rather than to merely accept.

In fact, it’s necessary!

But first up, just to clarify – and this is an overarching view of mine – I don’t try too hard to understand God.

It is ridiculous to reduce God to something that we can comprehend.

And I believe that if I could fully understand God using my human brain, he wouldn’t be a particularly powerful God.

I know I’d much rather serve a God who is too powerful, too almighty, and too mysterious for me to comprehend. If I could logically understand and articulate God, he wouldn’t be particularly amazing.

When it comes to free will, my personal belief is that we can’t choose God by our own goodness or abilities or strength. On my own, I can guarantee you that I’m pretty useless! I feel that it is the Holy Spirit who gives us faith and trust in Jesus and in the cross. Far from us choosing Jesus, I believe Christians can rejoice that Jesus has made a decision for us, to die for us, and to forgive our sins.

But I guess what I was starting to piece together at this point of time, was the necessity of free-will in true love.

Yes, God is loving. That is so unbelievably apparent throughout Jesus’s teachings. He pretty much has a giant billboard with flashy lights saying, “God loves you! God is love! Go and love others!”

I’d even say that the most commonly known Bible verse begins with, “For God so loved the world…”.

The Bible also makes it very clear that God does not want his creations (that’s us!) to suffer. 1 Tim. 2:4 says, “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

I saw a pin on Pinterest around this time of legal separation. It said, “True love is not a feeling; it’s a choice!”

I also found a Pinterest photo of an old, grey-haired couple walking hand-in-hand into the sunset with a caption, “How did you manage to stay together for so long?  It’s simple, really. We are from a generation where, if something is broken, we fix it; not throw it away.” That’s the theme of choice coming through, too.

Another Pinterest quote; “True love is an act of the will – a conscious decision to do what is best for the other person instead of ourselves.”

And finally, yet another quote from Pinterest, “Love is an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person. To love somebody isn’t just a feeling. It is a decision, a judgment, a promise. A choice.”

They are all secular, non-religious, non-theological views of love.

And – surprise, surprise – there is a trend of choice.

Choosing that person day after day. Through the ups and downs. Seeing that person’s shortcomings, brokenness, and crap, but loving them anyway.

And that’s exactly how God loves us.

He actually loves us in that way; seeing our crap but loving us anyway.

So, I realised that free-will is an essential ingredient in love.

And if God wanted us to love him, maybe it was essential for God to give us free-will. The ability to choose for ourselves. Because maybe choice is the key to true love.

I don’t know, exactly. And maybe I shouldn’t write about stuff unless I’m totally sure about it. But the alternative would have been for God to make us all robots. Mechanical beings with no free choice and no ability to choose for ourselves. If we were all just blindly loving God and obeying God through our mechanical settings, is that really love?

If I had programmed Mr Ex to love me every day without choice, is that love? Or would I even want Mr Ex’s love if it wasn’t freely given to me?

No.

“Love” that is not freely given is not love at all.

Maybe humans have free will, because in order for us to truly love, we must be able to choose.

Maybe God wanted his creations to love willingly. Not to love him because we are programmed robots, but to love him willingly. To worship him willingly. To bow down to him willingly. To choose him willingly.

Because then, and only then, are we truly loving.

So what about the question of humans using their free-will resulting in evil, resulting in a broken world, resulting in hell?

…resulting in broken marriages?

Watching the evening news, it’s only logical to ask, “Was free-will really worth it?”

I guess what I’m actually asking there is, “Is love really worth it?”

If free-will makes evil possible, then maybe God should have sacrificed his desire for us to love him using our free-will, so that evil wasn’t possible. That sounds logical, right?

But remember one of the most pivotal hinges of the Christian faith; God makes all things work together for good.

God can turn literally all evil into pure goodness.

Yes, he is that powerful.

He makes evil into good.

He makes old into new.

He is a God for which all things are possible (Matt. 19:26).

And I think that’s really just what he is working on, day after day. He loves us. He wants us to love him. And he is turning evil into good. Everyday.

Now that’s a God who is worthy of worship.

So yes, maybe God gave us free-will knowing full-well that we would use it to cause problems and get ourselves into dark, deep ditches.

BUT, he is powerful enough to turn evil into good, gracious enough to reach down into our dark, deep ditches to pull us out, and best of all, he gave us the ultimate solution.  Jesus.

He came to us in human form as Jesus.

Jesus showed us that it is possible to have peace in this world. That it is possible for a light to shine in the darkest of places. And that evil is simply not more powerful than good.

So through my dry-reaching, my mental breakdowns and my pillow full of tears, I can say with conviction and certainty, I use my God-given free-will to declare that I LOVE GOD!! GOD IS IN CONTROL.  GOD IS WORKING IN THIS SITUATION FOR MY GOOD.  ONE DAY, THIS WILL ALL MAKE SENSE.  I TRUST GOD!!!!!! And, even though it hurts beyond words, I pray that God’s will be done in my life, not my will.

Sometimes there’s unbelievable pain in the offering of those words, but I choose to love God. I choose to give him praise and glory and thanks. I choose to trust God’s plan for my life. I choose to die to my own plans. I choose to die to my own constructs, expectations and notion of perfection.

And I make that choice through the work of the Holy Spirit, NOT in my own strength.

The Holy Spirit with and within me.

The Holy Spirit which makes me into what I cannot make of myself.

I know that God brings goodness out of the worst evil, so I dump my divorce at the foot of the cross and I hand it over to God.

When Martin Luther, a former Catholic monk who refused to merely accept reality and began the protestant reformation, was translating the whole Bible into everyday language for the common person to understand (as opposed to the Bible being solely for the use of priests and clergy) in 1522, history tells that he threw his ink pot at the devil and declared, “Be gone!”

And, as crazy as this may sound, I found great comfort in doing that too.

No, not throwing a literal ink pot. I can’t say I have an ink pot lying around my house. But I have been known to yell defiantly at the devil or the darkness or the pain or the anger or whatever you want to call it. It’s not a man with pointy red ears and a red catsuit, holding a pitch fork. No. I have no idea who or what it is.

But I know that there have been times when I was in a dark ditch, feeling an extreme, intense, tormenting, dry-reaching and gut-wrenching agony, feeling like the walls of pain were rapidly closing in on me.

And in that state, crying out in defiance somehow made things better. Defiantly proclaiming in Jesus’s name, “Be gone!” and clutching a firm fist on my faith, I’m yelling at the darkness, the doubt, the devil… whatever it may be.

Not because I belong in an insane asylum, but because it actually helps me to stay strong. To keep my peace. To cling to Jesus. To resist darkness and doubt. To say, “fuck you!” to whatever that evil or the rapidly closing walls may be.

God is love. God is peace. God is hope to the hopeless. God is light in the darkness.

And anything else is hell, for want of a different word.

Hell is separation from God.

So, with the blessing of perspective, I no longer think that divorce is hell. And I don’t think it’s worse than hell, either.

I think divorce is painful, extreme suffering, agonising, and a whole lot of other words come to mind too.

But, not hell.

Because hell is separation from God. And I was never – not even for one second – separated from God.

Don’t get me wrong; there were times when I did feel like God had left me on my own.

I definitely experienced the feeling of ‘godforsakenness’.

But I took comfort in the fact that Jesus experienced godforsakenness too.

But, even when we are feeling godforsaken (yes, just like Jesus who fully experienced our humanness, our fears and our darkness), God is there. He is always there. Sometimes He is quiet. And sometimes He doesn’t answer our cries for help right away. But He does stay with us. He is always, always, always with us. And He is always, always, always making things work together for our eventual good.

And whenever I defiantly proclaimed that God is on the throne, it didn’t change my reality. I was still staring down the barrel of a tragic, heartbreaking divorce against my will. But it did change how I felt about my reality.

I think God’s answer to, “Is love really worth it?” is pretty obvious.

Love is definitely worth it.

Worth the pain. Worth the tears. And worth the heartbreak.

Because when we do choose to love someone, it is such a beautiful thing.

When we choose that person…

When we see their crap but love them anyway…

When we put someone else’s needs above our own…

When that person’s love is an act of their free-will…

When there is the risk of that person leaving us, but they choose to stay…

…Now that’s true love.

C.S. Lewis – what a legend! – said, “So why, then, did God give man free will?  Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the ONLY THING that makes any love or goodness or joy WORTH HAVING.”

Chapter 18: The Pink Guitar

5729f6ea73b9c6b7c42a1637e6c36ec2

May 2013. About four months following D-Day.

Declaration Day, I mean.

It was around this time that I found a song by Rudimental, simply titled ‘Free’. And I felt like I had written it.

I am Free. That is such a terrific thing to be able to say. But it didn’t come easily.

Freedom is a really interesting concept.

I wonder if freedom actually scares most of us. Or maybe we don’t even realise that we need freeing, because we convince ourselves that we are perfectly happy.

When I think back to married life with Mr Ex, I was happy. I was damn sure of it too. And I didn’t want anything to change. Don’t forget, we were the unsinkable Titanic!

But maybe that was because life with Mr Ex was all I knew.

I know who I am with Mr Ex.

But I don’t know who I am on my own.

I’ve never been on my own.

They say that abused wives will often stay with their abuser, even when given the chance to leave. Maybe there’s an aspect of half-dead kangaroo love there. Or maybe it’s something different altogether. I’m not an expert and I wouldn’t like to speculate too much. But I do wonder if it’s something to do with having a fear of the unknown. The known is safer. Better the devil you know, or whatever that saying is.

I’m not at all saying that Mr Ex was abusive. I’m just saying that I think we all have this desire to stay inside our comfort zones. For better or worse. Whether life is good or actually kind of bad, we like to stay in our comfort zones with our rose-coloured glasses and just keep telling ourselves that life is dandy.

Don’t question anything.

Don’t change anything.

Just keep all your arms and legs inside the comfort zone at all times.

And I’m the first to put my hand up and say that I had every intention of staying inside my comfort zone, thank you very much!

Let’s back-track a few years.

In my first year studying to be a teacher, I was walking through a shopping centre with Mum. There was a pop-up music store in the middle of the walkway. It had quality musical instruments on sale. I played a couple of instruments in primary school but I wasn’t especially musical, so I can’t say that the pop-up musical instrument sale attracted my attention whatsoever. But something caught Mum’s eye. A pink acoustic guitar. And upon closer inspection, I had to agree; it was just gorgeous!!! So I was filled with inspiration that I would learn to play the guitar and even play for the children that I would be working with as a teacher one day. You know, Spaghetti and Meatballs, B-I-N-G-OOld McDonald… good ol’ campfire favourites!

So, we bought the pink guitar and I took it home.

And that was it. It was perched majestically in my house!

I got caught up in my studies, working and the day-to-day running of life… then getting engaged, getting married… and when Mr Ex and I got married and moved into our new home, the pink guitar became a display feature on the landing at the top of the stairs.

I’d often walk past that guitar and wish that I could play it.

I’d often consider calling my childhood music teacher, who could teach guitar too, but it never happened. There was always something else that needed to be done, a better way to spend our hard-earned dollars or just that it’s all too hard attitude.

But I was happy. And so was Mr Ex.

(Or so we obviously told ourselves).

And yes, Mr Ex obviously concluded at some point that he wasn’t happy.

But in all honesty, for the most part of our seven year relationship together, we were both very happy.

But my ‘happy’ was probably a bit thwarted.

I tried hard to be perfect.

And I thought I was nicely succeeding.

Think Hyacinth Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances! Haha, no, I was never that bad. But I was certainly the kind of person who would clean the house just before the cleaners came, so as to make sure they didn’t think our house was ever that messy. And I was careful to always project an outward perfection to the world.

For years, that worked!

Perfect life. Perfect house. Perfect everything. Perfection = happiness.

I had absolutely no idea that I was in desperate need of freedom.

And I think that feeling of a ‘desperate need for freedom’ is what Mr Ex was starting to cotton onto.

But he maybe dealt with it by having an affair and leaving.

As for me, I started to realise something even more liberating…

I am not perfect.

And that is exactly how I found my freedom.

“We please Him most, not by frantically trying to make ourselves good, but by throwing ourselves into His arms with all our imperfections and believing that He understands everything –and still loves us!” -A.W. Tozer.

Jesus was about freeing us. Liberating us. Giving us an abundant life. He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

I would go so far as to say that people who don’t know Jesus don’t know real freedom.

That’s a big statement, I know!

I believe all humans have an innate desire to search for answers. To seek freedom. To seek something more. And maybe that it exactly what Mr Ex was doing (whether he could articulate it or not) when he shacked up with Cosette.

But I believe that our wandering hearts can only be truly satisfied by the One who created them. Someone famous said that, not me. Maybe CS Lewis?

Anyway, Jesus is about freeing us from the graves we dig ourselves, freeing us from the brokenness of our world and freeing us from the messes we inevitably create.

“…wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17).

And I think that is one of the most exciting aspects of the Christian faith.

We are freed from the necessity to work our own redemption. We are freed from trying to climb the staircase to God’s love, because God came all the way down. This means that we are freed from the captivity of hierarchical dualisms one usually finds in religions -A.Christensen.

John Eldredge wrote one of my favourite books, Beautiful Outlaw. He talks about testing our culture and language by “dropping it in the middle of a bar or on a bus”. If we can’t connect with people in these places and if we can’t drop our church culture and language in these places, then it is not from Jesus.

Because that is exactly what Jesus could do.

He could connect with anyone. Any place, any time.

Jesus is about freeing us: “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

It is incredibly freeing to be able to say, I am not perfect. And I don’t need to be. In fact, in my own strength, I actually can’t be.

I make bad choices. I am flawed. I stumble, trip and sometimes even fall flat on my face.

BUT God’s amazing grace to me is that my shit is not the end of the story. He sees that I am a mess but he loves me anyway! So I choose to give myself over to Jesus. To die to myself everyday. I come as I am to the cross where I find renewal, regeneration and restoration.

Jesus is also about love: “As I have loved you, love one another!” (John 13:34).

I think that’s the hallmark of someone who intimately knows and loves Jesus. They love others. Including those who are different. Including those who might have differing beliefs or opinions.

Jesus-followers have the passion to reach out to anyone, full-stop.

None of this attitude of, “Oh, I don’t agree with that couple living together before they are married, so I’m not going to their house” or “he left his first wife and I don’t agree with that, so I’m not going to his second wedding.” Jesus-followers kind of understand that we all make bad choices and we are all saved only by God’s abounding grace.

And that is incredibly freeing too.

Through grace and love, comes an amazing confidence to be ourselves.

We are taught in Sunday School, “Jesus loves me!” We see images of Jesus always saying “I love you”.

And while that’s absolutely true and valid, it’s more than that.

Jesus’s love is radical. Life-changing. Ferocious.

It’s the kind of love that changes lives.

Once you have experienced Jesus’s love, you are never the same again.

There is something oh-so-powerful about being loved just as we are. And that changes us. That is what kills us and breaths life back into us.

“Embrace the glorious mess that you are!” -Elizabeth Gilbert.

And that frees me to live!

That frees me to live enthusiastically! To live with gusto! To live uninhibited! To be free from my own fears and weaknesses!

To be human!

“The fact that we are embraced by God means we are freed to be fully and honestly human. We are freed to be eating, drinking, excreting, sexual, working, sweating, hoping, fearing, crying, nurturing, and thinking beings.” (Christenson, 2004).

And to be free in the here and and now. Not staying away from this place or that, but by being whole wherever we might find ourselves.

I really love that word, ‘whole’.

And I love that I don’t have to be ‘whole’ all on my own. Actually, I can’t be whole all on my own. Believe me, I’ve tried. And I fail every time.

But I have an unlimited source of wholeness who makes up for my brokenness.

And that is Jesus.

Harold Kushner offers the following commentary…

“My candidate for the most important word in the Bible occurs in Genesis 17:1 when God says to Abraham, ‘Walk before me and be tamim.’ The King James Bible translates it as ‘perfect’, the RSV takes it to mean ‘blameless’ …. Contemporary scholars take the word to mean something like ‘whole-hearted.’ My own study of the verse leads me to conclude that what God wants from Abraham, and by implication from us, is not perfection but integrity …. That, I believe, is what God asks of Abraham. Not ‘Be perfect,’ not, ‘Don’t ever make a mistake,’ but ‘Be whole.'”

So, I don’t think I need to cut myself off from the world in order to follow Jesus. I don’t need to complete a checklist entitled ‘thou shalt not’, nor conform to a prescription of what I should wear or how I should talk or who I should spend my time with.

I think it’s more like, when you follow Jesus, everything just changes.

And it’s not me. But it is Christ in me.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

So here I am at 24.

Learning to be me!

The broken, messy, quirky, crappy ME. With an awesome, loving, freeing Christ who is a constant source of wholeness for my brokenness.

Dad was walking to the post office and literally bumped into my childhood music teacher. They hadn’t seen each other in more than ten years, but they recognised each other straight away and had a chat in the walkway. Thank you, Jesus! She was retired from full-time music teaching, but Dad told her about my untouched pink guitar and she was keen to give me guitar lessons.

And so began the adventure.

I discovered that I absolutely LOVE playing the guitar.

My finger tips get calluses and I’ve lost my pick inside my guitar more than a few times (and then I have to spend an hour prizing it out, which is much like trying to get the ball into the hole in one of those annoying and impossibly difficult toys inside a Happy Meal), but I love every second of it.

I also discovered I love music festivals.

I love pastel pink lipstick.

I love not camping.

I love writing.

I love doing my weekly shopping at a Farmer’s Market, because how can supermarkets compete with buying bread in a brown paper bag?

Also, I love going out on weekends with my friends. I know. I know. A 24-year-old who didn’t know she liked going out on weekends with friends…? Very odd.  But when you’re settled in married life, doing the whole ‘grown up’ thing instead of just being a free-spirited 20-something, and you have a spouse who you just do everything with (go out for breakfast with Mr Ex, go for a beach walk with Mr Ex, go to the movies with Mr Ex…), it’s easy to fall into the routine of spending all your spare time with your spouse. Or just stay at home. Because you have someone to stay at home with. So it kind of eliminates the need to physically go out. And it limits the need to spend time with friends. There’s also the consideration that I didn’t really like going out with friends too much if I knew that Mr Ex was at home alone. So it becomes ridiculously easy to get into that rhythm of spending all your downtime with your partner.

But now that I was suddenly living alone and making new friends, I discovered an enjoyment of going out with friends. My diary had never been more busy.

I discovered that I love Saturday morning brunches at quirky coffee spots.

I love organic pizza cafes.

And I love going to bars and enjoying wine or cocktails into the wee hours.

I also discovered a few things that I can do, which I never thought possible.

I can catch a spider in a glass and take it outside.

I can reverse the car down a challenging driveway.

I can fill the car up with petrol.

I can order my own drink in a noisy, crowded bar.

I can bury a dead blue tongue lizard in my backyard. (Actually, it was only half a dead blue tongue lizard. I have no idea where the other half was).

And I hear you; you’re probably saying, “OK, burying a dead lizard is just gross, but filling up a car with petrol or reversing a car… No big deal.”

But, you know what, they are all things that Mr Ex would automatically do.

And, because of that, they were all things that scared the living daylights out of me. For the first couple of times anyway. But now I can catch spiders and order drinks like a pro.

And, above all else, I discovered that I am significant to God. I am loved. I am a disciple and friend of Jesus. I have been redeemed. I have been reconciled to God. And nothing can separate me from God’s love. I have an assurance that all things in my life are working together for my good. I am complete in Christ. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

And I can now say with passion and conviction, I am Free.

“Because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving spirit has freed you…” (Romans 8:2).

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.

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 10: They are happy!?!

Penny, aka Agent 99 from Get Smart, was on the job within days.

But she was not immediately successful. She was at Mr Ex and Cosette’s workplace, but she hadn’t been able to find Mr Ex’s car AT ALL.

“He is definitely at work today!” she told me. “I’ve seen him, but I can’t find his car anywhere!” And in the time that she was looking for his car, he had disappeared. Oh well. Try again tomorrow. I spent the rest of the evening wondering what tomorrow would bring.

Later that evening though, I got another phone call. This time it was a lady from their workplace, Jillian.

Talk about RANDOM!!!!!!!!!!!!

An angel is disguise, perhaps.

Jillian was ringing to tell me that she had noticed something ‘wrong’ with Mr Ex. And this had been on-going for quite some time. She was genuinely worried about him. Jillian proceeded with caution as she spoke, however I quickly confirmed to her that Mr Ex was having an affair with Cosette, that he had left me, and I had no idea where he was living at the moment.

Jill was absolutely shocked.

She didn’t think for one second that Mr Ex was capable of having an affair or that he could ever actually hurt me.  Join the club!

Jill said that she had recognised unusual patterns in his behaviour and that he was very friendly with Cosette. And since all their offices were made from transparent glass, she would often see that Mr Ex would receive a text message, then send one, and then Cosette in the glass office next door would receive a text message, and then send one. And then – lo and behold! – Mr Ex would receive a text message. And it was apparently like watching a tennis match. Back and forth, back and forth.

Jill had also noticed that whenever Mr Ex and Cosette sat at a table next to each other, their arms would often touch. Or their elbows. Or whatever. Touching. And that’s not a normal colleague-to-colleague interaction. Usually, if someone’s arm is right next to yours, you’d move it a little to give that person some space. But Jill noticed that there didn’t seem to be much concept of personal space between Mr Ex and Cosette.

But, perhaps most convincingly, Jill noticed Mr Ex and Cosette were eating the same brand of tuna and crackers for lunch everyday. And avocado! Gone were the days when Mr Ex would buy a pie for lunch.

So, Jill, being an intelligent human being and using the gift of eyesight, could effortlessly see that there was something going on between them.

Although, Jill didn’t know it was serious. She didn’t expect the Titanic to have struck quite such a massive ice berg. And she certainly didn’t expect the Titanic to be vertical in the water, half under. Critical.

“He absolutely adores you, Essie,” she told me, puzzled. “I’ve seen the way he looks after you lovingly and protects you. He talks about you and your life with total joy. He used to always have a skip in his step when he was going home to you and Rommet. Such a good head on his shoulders. I’ve always admired Mr Ex because he has his whole life on track at such a young age; successful career, a nice house, a loving marriage. Why would he throw that all away?”

Excellent points. My sentiments exactly.

I told her everything. Literally everything. Including about Penny, the P.I.

And, to my amazement, Jill was incredibly supportive of me. She even said that she would do anything to help me and she told me the make and model of Cosette’s car. A bright green Mazda 3!

Penny’s reaction?

“Are you serious?! Bright green?! That’s not even a challenge!”

The next afternoon, Penny found the bright green Mazda 3 within seconds.

“I’ve got it!”  Three beautiful words of success from Penny. As we spoke on the phone on that first day, Penny saw Cosette emerge from the offices and get into her car. Five minutes later, Mr Ex also emerged and walked over to meet her in the car.

So they’re travelling to and from work together. But are they actually living together?

Penny filmed everything. She had the most amazing spy-savvy equipment and she was able to capture everything – every tiny little detail – on DVD. I was regularly in touch with Jill, receiving updates about what Cosette was wearing (to help Penny pinpoint Cosette in a busy crowd) or a text message from Jill as Cosette or Mr Ex were leaving the building so that Penny could be on the ready. A bit of added excitement to their normally mundane workplace.

So, Day #2 of surveillance proved to be very interesting.

Cosette and Mr Ex had a flat. It was nothing special; there was graffiti on the fence out the front, but it was walking distance from the beach. Her bright green Mazda 3 pulled up out the front. She got out the driver’s seat. He got out the passenger’s seat. They both took bags out of the boot and walked inside.

Absolutely no sign of the broken and tormented zombie-like Mr Ex who had been at our house days earlier reluctant to talk. This Mr Ex was jovial. Smiling from ear to ear. Laughing. There was the skip in his step that he used to have with me! He looked smitten. Besotted even.

They are happy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Then a few minutes later, they both emerged from the unit in a change of clothes. He was in his holey grey tracky-pants and a daggy, tatty, ridiculously old t-shirt to check the mail box. She followed him out and stood in the doorway, dressed in a baggy skirt and peasant top.

GOOD GRIEF!! 

They’re in the ‘comfy stage’ already?!?!?!?!?!!?!?

Images of my husband partying with a blonde bombshell and sipping cocktails til dawn James Bond-style suddenly melted into the reality of my husband shacked up in a run-down graffiti-covered unit with a 40-year-old.

Next, a short while after, I watched their sofa being delivered. Mr Ex made small talk and joked with the delivery guys. Fuck that!

What would those delivery guys think if they knew the truth about that couple? Do they think Mr Ex is living with his mother?!

I contemplated what I could do.

I know where they live!! I should fucking infiltrate their fucking water supply or put dog poo in their fucking letter box!! (For those tracking the stages of grief, I had worked through ‘bargaining’ and I was now onto ‘anger’).

So, I plotted my revenge and rehearsed what I would say if I showed up at their door step. We all have that uncle – the black sheep of the family – who is good at breaking legs or at least ruffling feathers. I decided I could send him over there to shake things up a little. Or I thought I could spray paint their door with some creative verbs and adjectives to describe their actions. Or, since Mr Ex’s car is parked on the grass around the corner from their unit and a bit out of sight, I thought it might be easier for me to egg his car and cover it with corrosive acid of some kind.  *Evil Mr Burns fingers*

And, yep. There it is!

My excellent revenge-seeking, darkness-loving heart.

My in-built ability to suss out fairness and unfairness, to hold a grudge, and to plot revenge accordingly.

In Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen writes, “It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.”

So… What did I do?

Nothing. Zilch. Zippo. Nada. Nil.

And to Jane Austen’s fabulous quote, I add, “It isn’t what we say or think OR WHAT HAPPENS TO US that defines us, but what we do.”

So I put the Day #2 DVD footage into a hidden drawer, straightened my metaphorical tiara and walked away like a boss.

I cranked up the iPod and played Katy Perry’s Roar on full volume. Do it. You’ll be surprised how it helps.

And it seems that every time I die to my natural inclination to seek revenge or put dog poo in their letterbox, God resurrects me with a new lease of freedom. Over and over. Dying to my darkness-loving heart. And resurrection to peace. Again and again.

The catch? It takes time.

SO many times, I’ve told God, “I’M A PUSSY for not standing up for myself and, dagnamit, Mr Ex and Cosette are GETTING AWAY WITH [what feels like] MURDER!!!!!! WHY HAVEN’T THEY BEEN STRUCK BY LIGHTNING?!”

And I’ve wondered, “Why have you left me TOO, God?!? Nothing’s going MY way and I just keep seeing Mr Ex and Cosette in Happy-ville!!!!”

God the Father listens with His unfailing love. God the Holy Spirit is with me, calming me and comforting me, whether I realise it or not. And God the Son has already walked this path, having prayed a similar prayer.

In Matthew 27:46, Jesus’s friend recounts that Jesus cries out from the cross, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

I always thought that God was separate from Jesus. I separated them with my logic and reason. God is Jesus’s father. Jesus is God’s son. That makes them separate.  But that’s not quite right.

But during His time on earth, Jesus said, “…I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11), “For in [Jesus] all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). God in the form of Jesus, who is fully human as well as fully divine.

So, that is not Father God in a neutral, detached position watching a separate entity in Jesus. That is God right there on the cross.

And that means that God knows what it is like to feel God-forsaken.

Because He became human – for our sake – and He experienced what it’s like to be us. The suffering and injustice of a broken world; He knows. He felt it, too.

They say knowledge is power and yes, Penny’s findings over the course of a month or so did serve the purpose of helping me come to terms with the reality and gravity of the situation. Had I not seen the DVD footage, I would have probably still been hell-bent on reconciliation. But that wasn’t healthy. I needed to come to grips with the magnitude of events. My husband was happy living with another woman; even setting up a bank account with her, buying bottles of wine to share together, buying furniture as a couple, going to see Michael Bublé in concert and making long-term life plans together.

But what really hurt?

Yes, seeing Mr Ex and Cosette acting lovey-dovey like a happily-ever-after couple.

Also, seeing his brothers arrive at their unit with pizza to share for dinner and greeting Cosette with affection. The realisation that his family were accepting his choice of partner. They like her!!

Oh, and Cosette getting Mr Ex’s warm, all-embracing, problem-melting hugs.

That really, really, really hurt.

But, as ghastly as it was to have a voyeuristic view of my husband and his chosen woman, my comfort was knowing that my best friend Jesus was present, grieving with me and He understood. And just like Jesus, I held onto the promises (even when I didn’t feel like it…) that my Father God had made to strengthen me and rescue me.

“So do not be afraid; I am with you. There is no need to fear, for I am your God. I will make you strong and I will help you. I will hold you safe in my powerful hands.” -Isaiah 41:10

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 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.