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

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

I tweaked it a little.

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

But I think she was onto something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

One thing is for sure: I was hurting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weddings were definitely something I loved, though.

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

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

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

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

Wedding dresses? Pfft, only good for snow camouflage!

Wedding magazines? Best used for propping up wobbly tables!

Weddings? Doomed!

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

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

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

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

Umm… WHAT NOW?!

Did I just hear him correctly?

Seriously! Of ALL the questions to ask me!!

Are you kidding?!

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

He was paused, waiting for my reply.

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

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

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

I soon realised the method to his madness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, weddings are THE worst place to be single.

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

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

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

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

YES!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am complete.

Jesus is all I’ll ever need.

I have an electric blanket and a dog!

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

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

And that was a pretty cool moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because being alone doesn’t equate to lonely.

Single doesn’t mean sad.

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

I challenge Hallmark to start making cards about that!

Solitude is the cure for loneliness.

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

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

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Chapter 26: Anam Cara

I think I’ll have this engraved on my tombstone: “Yes, terrible things happen. But sometimes, those terrible things – they save you.”

That is a quote from Chuck Palahniuk.

It’s now around November 2013.

By the grace of God, I had landed my dream job with a bunch of exceptional people who were fast becoming my second family. I discovered that my lifelong dream to teach was indeed my passion or my calling or whatever you call something that is simply an extension of yourself. The 5-year-old who lined up her Barbies and teddies and gave them spelling lessons, put stickers and ticks on their ‘work’, and taught them how to count turned into the 25-year-old who was living the dream. Even at the end of the toughest day, I still go home thanking God for planting me there and, with a skip in my step, I look forward to returning the next day and doing it all over again.

I’ve come to realise that is rare.

Most people just exist at work. I get to live!

When your life is on God’s course – and when you feel that God himself put you on that course – you are your most powerful. Because no matter what comes your way, no matter how long or icy your winter may be, you will be spurred on by an invincible inner springtime. Or, if you’re anything like Elsa and myself, maybe the cold never bothered you anyway.

I think Steve Jobs said it best: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

At my new workplace, Narelle was one of the first people I connected with. Twenty years older than me and a total stranger, but Narelle had the exact scars as me. Her husband left her in January 2013 after revealing an affair. Snap! Crackle! Pop! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s exciting when we find bits of ourselves in other people. Our soul says, “Oh, there you are! I’ve been looking for you!”

A wise lady once told me that a scar just means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you. And I started to realise something:

Damaged people are dangerous, because they know they can survive.

Damaged Christians are even more dangerous, because they know they can survive AND they have experienced first-hand grace and love from the creator of the universe.

“It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness.   Now I take limitations in my stride, and with good cheer; these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” -2 Corin. 12:10.

I also quickly connected with Julia. Same scars, same story too.

And I went on to discover a whole heap of inspiring women at my new work who had scars of one form or another.

There is a compassion, a sensitivity, a depth, an inextinguishable fire in the belly of those people. And they wear their pain like they do L.K. Bennett stilettos. No matter how much it hurts, they just get more beautiful.

But there was someone missing from the picture at this point. Someone who often popped into mind.

Andrew, Cosette’s husband.

After hearing in the early stages of this whole shebang that Cosette was married too, I felt inextricably linked to him – whoever he is. Two strangers with a hell of a lot in common. My husband and his wife were shacked up and living large. What a bizarre connection to share with a total stranger.

Thanks to technology and the likes of Google, I found Andrew’s work email address. And I sat down to email him.

Holey socks!

Getting the wording right was hilariously impossible.

“Hi there, You don’t know me, but our spouses know each other wayyyyy too well…!”

LOL!

No, I didn’t say that.

In the end, I didn’t give it too much thought.  I figured I’d just get some kind of collection of cohesive English words onto the page, send it off and forget about it. I mean, there was every chance that he might not want anything to do with me.

Don’t over-think it, Ess.

It might be too painful for him to reply. Or he might actually be celebrating the end of his marriage!

But, within a day, Andrew replied.

And I couldn’t have asked for a nicer reply. He suggested that we meet up, so we arranged to meet by the beach the following weekend.

I remember feeling surprisingly un-nervous. It was a natural progression. Organic.

I arrived first and waited at a white plastic table and chairs on the foreshore. The sun was shining brighter than ever and the sea was bluer than blue.

I remember Andrew walking straight towards me; no hesitation on his part, just a 100kW smile. We greeted each other like old friends. There was this unspoken camaraderie. Instant family.

And really, that is just so damn hilarious considering we have absolutely NOTHING in common apart from Mr Ex and Cosette.

A mo-fo sized universe with nine known planets, 204 countries on earth, 809 islands, 7 seas… and I am having coffee with a 40-something-year-old (remembering that Cosette is a fair bit older than Mr Ex) Irishman with a sciencey PhD and a keen interest in crustaceans and golf.

Utterly uncanny. Bizarre. Downright ridiculous!!

And he was no doubt thinking the same thing about the 20-something-year-old Aussie figure skater and Jesus-freak that he was talking to.

LOL!

Granted, we both enjoy a glass of red. So we’re not totally incompatible 😉

But, I guess what really resonated with me was that Andrew could’ve been an asshole.

Andrew could’ve been unhappily married, miserable in his life with Cosette, and thrilled to be set free from her.

He could’ve so easily been a dickhead husband who treated her like shit.

But, reality?

I remember just thinking, Ah geez… Andrew loved Cosette.

Andrew adored Cosette.

And he’s not an asshole. He’s one of the kindest, sweetest, most generous people you’ll ever meet.

How shittily, shittily, shittily unfair is that.

In many ways, it would be so much kinder if he was an asshole. But, much like my amazing work friends with their scars and stiletto-wearing pain-threshold which makes them the most beautiful people I know, BAD STUFF HAPPENS TO GOOD PEOPLE!

AND THAT SUCKS!!!!!!

Even Jesus himself struggled with the ravages of pain and hurt (Matthew 26). Jesus said, “…In this world you will experience troubles and pain. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world!” (John 16:33).

Reading that in November 2013, I had new ears. I’d heard that verse many, many times before. But, I kind of always pictured Jesus as a high and mighty overseer who was serenely preaching about how bad we all are and how good he is.

But, as usual, I had missed the essence completely. And I’m sure Jesus has lovingly rolled his eyes at me many, many times.

How did Jesus conquer the world? I wondered.

OMG! RESURRECTION! Messy, hardcore resurrection!

And in resurrection, there is hope.

Jesus is God in human form. So, this is a God who has experienced birth, childhood, friendship, love, betrayal, lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, hard work, arrest, trial, death, and burial.

And Jesus’s followers were feeling mightily depressed when he died, because it looked like the light of the world – a man who taught that goodness will always overcome evil, if only we LOVE each other – had just been successfully killed. Talk about a depressing anti-climax to the teachings of someone who claimed to be God. And talk about an epic disappointment in the good versus evil debate. It looked like evil had triumphantly won.

As Jesus’s disciples were wandering along a dusty road with glum faces and feeling rather duped, Jesus casually walks along beside them and asks what they are talking about. They don’t recognise him, so start recalling recent events of Jesus’s death. One of Jesus’s disciples then says, “We had hoped that He was the One…” (Luke 24:21) but, of course, Jesus had been dead three days and it wasn’t looking good. At all.

But here he is, resurrected! Made new. “The resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

And just as the disciples are saying “we had hoped…” in a heart-heavy, feeling very let-down, ‘this didn’t go according to our plan’ kind of way, they realise that THAT IS JESUS right there walking with them! The very guy that they saw buried three days earlier.

Jesus has come back to life! Death could not hold him! Evil did not win!

And it’s heartily spectacular that a cross of crucifixion which is a symbol of death, evil and destruction can be turned into a symbol of hope and light and overcoming.

Only a god who has bore real suffering can bring us real hope.

And that’s it!

Jesus’s take-home message is my overarching mantra.

Evil is simply not more powerful than good.

Because God CAN and DOES bring goodness out of the worst evil.

“And we know that for those who love God, that is, for those who are called according to his purpose, all things are working together for good.” -Romans 8:28.

Thinking back to Andrew’s 100kW smile as he greeted me, I was amazed at his resilience. Talking to Andrew over coffee that afternoon, I remember an overwhelming realisation that he had been just as broken, devastated and downright shattered as I was. It amazes me that humans have a strength and resilience that transcends scientific reason. And since we are made in the image of God, that points to a beyond-imagination amazing God.

I think it all comes down to having hope.

And for me, I see that as resurrection. Goodness conquering evil.

I can’t imagine looking at the vastness of the ocean or the expansive sky and putting my hope in optimistic thoughts and wishful thinking. For me, the symbol of the cross – an act of evil which was conquered by goodness – is all that I need. Resurrection is all around us.

When a child has cancer and the whole community raise funds to pay for life-saving treatment… When a murder victim’s family is supported by the killer’s family… When a site of death, pain and horror is covered in memorial flowers and messages of hope and love… When two victims of an adulterous relationship join together for coffee and support under the bright sunshine…

That’s resurrection. Hope. Goodness conquering evil.

And we joked that we should take a selfie with the sun and sea in the background and send it off to drizzly Bristol where Mr Ex and Cosette were now living.

Andrew and I chatted about our hesitation going into our first Christmas as singles. Thinking back to the previous Christmas, both of us were happily married to our respective spouses, or so we thought.

Quick flashback to Christmas 2012:

Mr Ex and I were happily married (if you’d asked me). We enjoyed a Chrissy lunch at my parents’ house. All the trimmings. Family, food, and festivities. And life was looking pretty sweet! Mr Ex was in a new position at work. I was starting my fourth year in child care.

At the Christmas lunch, Mr Ex retired to my parents’ upstairs sofa with his iPad, complaining of a headache. When I went upstairs to check on my headache-suffering husband, he put his iPad to one side, pulled me to the sofa, and I just remember him being all hands.

WTF?!

So much for a headache!

It’s Christmas Day and we’re having lunch with my family!!!!!!!

Hindsight, of course, is 20/20. And my beloved, randy husband was undoubtedly communicating with Cosette. Headache-schmedache.

On that same Christmas Day, Cosette and Andrew were visiting their homeland, Ireland. Neither Cosette or Andrew have family in Australia, but had been living in Australia for a few years, working. Going back to Ireland to spend the festive season with their family would be a special time of closeness and quality time. But, Andrew’s 20/20 hindsight made it all-too-clear that his beloved Cosette was somewhat distracted on that trip too, spending time on her laptop.

And then, around one month later, January 2013 long weekend and Mr Ex revealed his affair and bugged out. Horrible, darkness, evil, and just like the disciples who said, “We had hoped…”, I can echo those same sentiments. It’s all looking pretty glum. Looks like evil has won.

Fast-forward to Christmas 2013:

Ess and Andrew: Two victims of Mr Ex and Cosette’s relationship, single against their will, covered in cut-marks from the shattered glass of their respective marriages to Mr Ex and Cosette, and dreading the Christmas 2013 holiday festivities.

“One of the most beautiful gifts in the world is the gift of encouragement. When someone encourages you, that person helps you over a threshold you might otherwise never have crossed on your own.” -John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom.

So, in the spirit of goodness overcoming evil – or resurrection, as I like to say – we spent Christmas Day 2013 celebrating together.

Andrew caught a taxi to my parents’ house. The taxi driver, an Indian man, made small talk with Andrew, asking where Andrew was off to. Andrew explained. The taxi driver’s response? “Wait… So let me get this straight… You are going to your WIFE’s LOVER’s WIFE’s FAMILY’s house for Christmas lunch?!?!?!?!?!” Haha! Yep!

Sitting at the same table where, only twelve months prior Mr Ex and I had been sitting, hand-in-hand unwrapping presents together, was rather bizarre. Despite the bizarreness though, I love that my family and Andrew could all eat, drink and be merry together for that Christmas 2013. And even more bizarre is that I had this rather random new addition to my family; Andrew, my newest big brother. Andrew will always be a member of my family. And I think his arrival into my family is a way of us kind of saying, “Get stuffed!” to the evil, darkness, hurt and pain that we have all felt – and sometimes do still feel.

A year of brokenness, shattered dreams, pain, anger, evil… and yet, the shining rays of goodness and hope prevail. Resurrection.

For Christmas that year, Andrew gave me Christmas a giant bunch of flowers, a bottle of Moet, and Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom.

And Anam Cara means ‘soul friend’.

Chapter 22: Snowflakes and Sparkles

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When I got back home, I remember a deep-rooted feeling of displacement. From the Eiffel Tower in Pairs to Wittenberg in Germany, returning home to Australia made one feeling rather clear to me: Australia is not where I want to be anymore. I was returning to familiar places and surroundings that held significant memories. Married memories. But I was single now. Horribly single. And that was tough to transition back to.

My first night home in Australia, I stayed at Mum and Dad’s house. My furry friend, Rommet, still had one more night at his 5-star doggy resort and I was rather jet-lagged and exhausted, so I stayed at Mum and Dad’s that night. It was actually the first night I’d slept there since before I was married. I remember lying awake, feeling ridiculously over-tired but unable to switch off. And a damn email from Mr Ex came through on my iPad at around 11pm, just as I was trying to get to sleep.

Fuck him! I’ve only been back in Australia a few hours and he’s on my case already! It’s as if he KNOWS that I’ve just stepped off a plane and I’m trying to get some much-needed sleep! Gah! Douche-bag, you can’t ruin our marriage AND my sleep patterns!

Yes, I was overtired and hating the painful jolt back into reality.

And no, Mr Ex didn’t know that I’d been overseas and he also didn’t know that I was jet-lagged, grouchy and trying to get to sleep. That was just a happy coincidence.

In this new email, Mr Ex was asking me to send some documents. Paperwork. Something about superannuation. Blah, blah, blah.

But interestingly, I also got an email from Jillian in the next day or two. You know, the lady who worked with Mr Ex and Cosette, who had become a very dear friend of mine, as well as informant extraordinaire for Penny, the P.I.

Jill’s news? Mr Ex and Cosette were moving!

To Bristol!!

Bristol, England!!!

What the actual?!

I was surprised. Really surprised. And it totally explained Mr Ex’s email wanting paperwork and documentation.

Mr Ex and Cosette hadn’t really ‘come out’ at work.

They’d sort of outwardly maintained that they were just friends. But Mr Ex had told Jill, “You may have noticed that I’m spending a fair bit of time with Cosette.” Pfft!

A couple of other ladies from Mr Ex and Cosette’s workplace contacted me too.

They had been in a very similar situation and their hearts went out to me.

To this very day, I still catch up with those three ladies for breakfasts and coffee dates.

And, with Mr Ex and Cosette moving to Bristol, it freed up Australia to be my home-sweet-home again. And it freed me up to have those breakfast and coffee dates with Mr Ex and Cosette’s work colleagues.

Mr Ex lived in the U.K. for a portion of his childhood. In fact, those years were probably his cheeriest childhood memories because his parents were happily married in the U.K. His parents later divorced and returned to Australia where things just went from bad to worse. Mr Ex always talked with unending love and joy about his memories in Ireland and the U.K.

Cosette is also from that region. She is Irish. An interesting connection, I think.

For those really observant readers, you may remember that Mr Ex and I gave each other Irish Claddagh rings representing love, friendship and loyalty during our dating years. They’re beautiful rings. A heart representing love, held by hands representing friendship, and a crown on top representing loyalty. And Mr Ex was still wearing that fucking ring when he was having a fucking affair. Pardon my French, but the irony is unbelievable. If anyone should’ve known what the ring stood for, it was Irish-native Cosette!!!! Hashtag Vomit.

And I can still sense that feeling of anger and pain, thinking of Mr Ex and Cosette starting their life anew.

And I do sometimes wonder if Mr Ex and Cosette have exchanged Irish Claddagh rings of their own?

Or what did Mr Ex ever do with the Irish Claddagh ring that I gave him?

Vomit, vomit, vomit, vomit.

But, as I always say, every time that I dump that anger and pain at the foot of the cross, I somehow find a new depth of freedom that I never knew existed. And I experience Jesus yet again. We don’t serve a distant, aloof God who sits on a throne watching his creations feel like crap. We serve a God who enters into our suffering and weeps with us. He’s right there with my mascara-smudged face and pillow full of tears. Through Jesus. Jesus, our Immanuel.

And Immanuel means, ‘God is with us’.

I have always loved Disney on Ice. As a child, I went to Disney on Ice each year religiously and I always bought the over-priced glossy program. I remember spending hours looking through the pictures, imagining what it would be like to skate like them. I’d read the bios of the principal skaters and stare at the sparkly costumes and skating boots, wishing that I could be a part of that.

After seeing what was probably my tenth Disney on Ice show in my first year at University (FYI it was High School Musical: The Ice Tour), I started figure skating lessons. That must’ve been around 2006. I was crap at it. Total crap. I’d never skated before. Needless to say, we don’t get snow or ice or anything like that in this country. Learning to skate in my first year of Uni was hard. But I did love it. And I continued on-and-off for a few years.

But, somehow, just like that pink guitar that I bought about the same time, skating fell off the priority list. Sad, really. But it’s true. Married life took over. Day-to-day routines and the mundane existence of two play-it-safe DINKs took over.

And so, here I am. Separated from Mr Ex. Still dealing with the abrupt ending of our marriage. A superb, life-changing, self-discovering overseas holiday. Fabulous revelations and experiences in Europe. A new ring to mark those milestones. But now, jolted back to reality. Learning how to find peace in my hometown. The town where I met Mr Ex. The town where I got married. The town that held umpteen-million memories of my relationship with Mr Ex. Is it even possible to find peace in this place?!

As I was saying, vomit, vomit, vomit.

*Lay it at the cross.*

And bang! Voila! Ta-dah! Zip-a-dee-doo!

Jesus, Immanuel.

My parents gave me a card. It read, “Do more of what you love!”

How beautifully simple.

YES! I thought. And what do I love?

I love figure skating.

And so I went back to figure skating. My previous coach was no longer there. Probably a blessing because it meant that I didn’t need to explain my period of absence to anyone.

The club had had an overhaul of staff and skaters. It was new!

I do love that concept of ‘new’!

If there is anything that will give you the unrelenting drive to nail a one-foot spin, it is pain. Pain gives you a bitch of an appetite. It pushes you better than the harshest of coaches. Pain propels you further into the galaxy of abilities than any NASA rocket could ever do.

And pain launched me further into figure skating than I had ever been before.

I was made to feel super-dooper welcome by a skater called Rosie. Rosie is Mum’s age. And she was on a synchronised skating team of amazing women. All around Mum’s age, actually. But don’t let that fool you! They are sharp skaters and oh-so-fun to hang around with. And they warmly invited me to be on their synchro team. Woot!

I got to know my fellow skaters over many months. But one thing was rather God-ordained. I’m always going on about how one of the most poignant ways that I encounter God is in the stranger… well, Rosie is another perfect example of that.

There was one day when we were standing in the middle of the rink. She said something about church and my ears pricked up. Yep, Rosie is a Jesus-follower. And it was really nice to make that connection. Always nice to find a fellow follower of Jesus.

But, things got seriously amazing a month or so later. Taking our skates off, I asked Rosie about her children. Rosie told me about her children and grandchildren. She had one child in particular though, who was a teacher. Single, apparently. And a Christian. Hmm… A single, 30-something-year-old Christian? There’s gotta be a story there! And amazingly, Rosie started that unbelievable sentence that her daughter had been married, BUT…

*Ding, ding, ding!*

It’s really, really exciting when you find parts of your story in other people. That, right there, is another perfect example of my soul saying, “Oh! There you are! I’ve been looking for you!” And I am totally convinced that’s one of the many ways of encountering Jesus.

Putting on my figure skating boots post-separation, after several years away from the rink, was life-changing. Life-altering. Life-inspiring.

And best of all, Jesus was all over it!

I also met two amazing coaches, Donna and Stacey. Both incredibly talented and warm human beings. And I had so many unforeseen opportunities.

A definite highlight that came along just recently was skating in Broadway on Ice.

I’d never thought I’d get the opportunity to skate in front of people. That was always a far-away dream of my 5-year-old self who stared at Disney on Ice programs for hours on end. But in true Cinderella style, I say that a pair of shoes CAN change your life! And for me, my life-changing glass slipper was actually a figure skating boot!

Sparkly costume, top hat and tails! I’m a Broadway star, baby!

Well, not quite.

But close!

And underneath the sparkly costume and stage make-up is just a little girl who fell in love with Disney on Ice. Not 20-something and separated.

I could recreate myself in a positive, new light. So I threw myself hook, line and sinker into skating.

Figure skating is a ‘survival sport’. Much like sailing, I imagine.

When you’re doing it, you have to be 100% in the moment. Focussed 100% on what you are doing. In order to ‘survive’. If you are not concentrating 100%, you are highly likely to stack it in a rather spectacular fashion. And get massive bruises. So when I skate, I’m in the moment. No room for other thoughts or worries. No room for baggage. Or history. Or Mr Ex. It’s all about me. And the jump that I’m landing.

I do sometimes wonder what heaven is like. It kind of does my head in a bit though. Too massive, too surreal and too incredible to grasp. I wonder if there will be an ice rink there!

Think about that hobby or that task that you do, which makes you feel like time flies. That thing where you feel like you’re doing exactly what you were made to do. Whether it is painting, or playing a sport, or listening to classical music, or gardening – we all have that ‘thing’ that makes time fly. Makes our soul sing. I think that’s what heaven will be like.

And for me, figure skating – oh! and writing – gives me that feeling.

I think everyone should search and search and search until they find that.

Chapter 14: I am Sad

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

There is no easy way out.

And pain is a certainty in this world of ours.

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

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

But calm seas never made a skilled sailor!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m drained. I’m depleted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valentine’s Day 2013.

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

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

God has a plan for me.

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

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

Dark days keep coming.

Moments of grief still plague me.

Tunnels lie ahead.

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

NO!

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

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

I am sad today.

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

Essie Bell’s Steps for Overcoming Downers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, I have the feeling of sadness.

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

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

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