Chapter 33: 30AF & Permission to Change

I’ve turned 30. 30AF.

Yes, the inevitable day came when I outgrew the title of my blog. *sigh*

And that day came just last week. I’m no longer ’20something and divorced’.

I’m ’30 and still divorced’.

Not as catchy!!! But it’s prompted me to re-visit my blog and the WordPress world. It has been two years since I last posted.

In that time, I’ve had two draft posts on the go, but haven’t had the time or inclination to finish them. I do, however, still love to read what other bloggers post. I’ve also whole-heartedly appreciated [more than words can express] the emails from my readers; it still amazes me that my blog found an audience five years ago and that it continues to find new audiences today.

Crazy.

Turning thirty has been an inevitably reflective experience. I’m writing this as I sit on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. I know from my last travel chapter that travel does good things to my psyche. So, to celebrate my 30th birthday, Hawaii seemed like a good idea…!

I planned to sit on the Hawaiian beach and say, Goodbye, twenties! You were defining. But, thank God, life keeps moving. Time ticks by.

One of the main reasons for not returning to blogging sooner is I am all too aware of how much has changed since I last regularly blogged. And that, for so long, felt negative. I could feel changes happening and, whenever I look at my blog, I find many things I wrote – nay, raved!! – about in earlier chapters have run their course. So, if you’re a ‘happy ever after’ seeker, stop reading now. The truth is…

  • The job I wrote about lasted three years before the wind changed direction and took me with it. It was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my life to teach there and I had colleagues who turned into firm friends, who now feel more like family, but the fairytale of “miraculously landing in an amazing school” turned out to be “only a short-term season” kind of thing… And now I’m at my third school.
  • The church I waxed lyrical about (‘my church of quirks’) is still a place I appreciate and value, but I’m not a regular attendee and I’ve sadly lost contact with the wonderful people I used to hang out with there. Nothing happened in particular. But, to be honest, there’s no where I feel more single than at church. I’ve tried a zillion times to get there on a Sunday, but it doesn’t happen. Rocking up solo is hard. And it’s so easy to feel lonely in a crowd.
  • Several of the other friends I raved about in earlier chapters, I rarely see now too. I mean, sure, I would be thrilled to pass them in the street and catch up, but I guess we have drifted apart. And sadly, that’s because the truth is that our realities do change. In my experience, a big one is when people get married and have babies. And that’s partly it. But also, my own career and postgrad study focus has also contributed.
  • Six years of living the divorced, single life… and I’m still exactly that: divorced and single. And I think maybe I’m so stuck in my single ways now, I don’t even know how to be in a relationship?!
  • Ice skating competitively was an absolute highlight of my life, but hitting 30… I’ve had to hang up my competitive skates and focus on my career. Unfortunately, I couldn’t put 100% into teaching while going to the rink several times a week before dawn.
  • Oh, and I now have wrinkles. Gahhhhhhhhh.

I think I’ll always be the kind of person who struggles with life’s chapters ending. When life doesn’t look how I want it to.

And yes, there is so much about my story that still – six years on – that still sometimes makes me cry… (oh, and I get pms now which really doesn’t help)…

But…

Here I am – 9,176km from home – on Oahu’s North Shore, listening to the Pacific Ocean send waves back and forth onto the beach and arranging a horse-riding tour for tomorrow morning when I spotted a familiar family… a family from my first school… a family I – unbeknown to them – blogged about!!!!! Two children, mum, dad and grandma.

I was hiding tactfully under my large sun hat and oversized sunglasses as my brain caught up to my eyes.

They knew me as ‘Ms Bell’, and I no longer use my married surname (we’ll bookmark that for a future blog post). It had been five years-ish since I last saw them. Five years since a family in my class gave me ‘The Trust Mug’ (Chapter 30). Back then, the children had ‘randomly’ picked a mug as a ‘random’ gift for me, their teacher. And they brought it in for me ‘randomly’. But it was the day my divorce was finalised. The families at school had no idea that was my reality.

Fast forward to North Shore, Hawaii. Five years on.

At [the gigantic, generous, scrumptiously American buffet] breakfast… waffles, anyone?… I was sitting with my travel buddy and skating sister, when the family I’d recognised approached me.

‘…Ms Bell!’, I heard them excitedly exclaim.

Bare in mind, we are a bunch of South Australians having a ‘chance encounter’ on Hawaii’s North Shore, having not seen each other for years. And this family was not just any family. They were the ‘trust mug’ family.

We sat together for a short chat. They knew nothing of the battles I was facing when I taught at their school. And I wasn’t about to off-load it all to them in that moment. But I did ‘casually’ mention I still had the mug they’d given me, and I also gently [without getting too deep and making it awkward] explained that the ‘random’ day they’d given it to me was actually a very difficult day for me and their timing was magically impeccable. The mother gave me an expression of interest and comfort, but of course the children were just keen to tell me about their snorkelling and kyacking plans for the day.

Somehow, though, I felt my heart grow ten sizes that morning.

So much has changed. Sadly.

And so much still makes me sad. (I didn’t want to blog that…)

BUT…

I believe God never abandons us.

Most days, I can confidently define myself as a teacher. A daughter. A granddaughter. A figure skater. A friend. A traveller. A lover of Saturdays and quiet time. A watcher of Big Bang Theory and I dream of Jeannie. Going for coffee with friends. A collector of Duchess Kate’s shoes. And a life documented by Pandora charms.

Other days, I’m a divorcee. I’m livid with the unfairness of the whole shebang. I struggle with it. And I feel like I can’t escape it.

And – this is now nearly SIX years since Mr Ex revealed an affair and walked out. If you had told me six years ago that – going into 2019 – I’d be single and still sometimes struggle with how life has turned out, I think I would have collapsed in grief.

But, I’m giving myself permission to be OK with all of that. To recognise that that may always be the case. And to even embrace that.

Because…

  • The three different schools I’ve taught at have shaped me into a passionate, education change-maker, on a mission to change the world of education for the sake of children everywhere. I have met colleagues who have sharpened me, challenged me and grown me (whether they realise it or not). I have spent each day with children – curious, capable, creative children – who remind me what it is to be truly alive. And, each of those schools have truly felt handpicked for me by God Himself.
  • Church… well, I think a major problem of my married years was the feeling that people HAVE to go to church. As if He’s only found there. I now think my view of God was far too small. Finding God in the most unexpected places is what I currently enjoy. And, with my class of 6-year-olds, that meant taking magnifying glasses to a nearby creek and finding God in the beauty and wonder of the tiny little insects that live there. And singing Rend Collective’s My Lighthouse [complete with actions] at Chapel does something for my soul.
  • I have family and friends who love me. They see me at my best – defined as a teacher, a friend, a traveller. And they see me at my worst – defined by baggage, cranky, putting up walls. And they still love me. I maintain I experience God most profoundly through the people in my life.
  • I still ice skate for fun with my skating friends who feel more like family. I have also started ballet lessons. For me, skating always felt spiritual. And ballet somehow comes close too.
  • And finally, yes, I do still believe. I believe this magnificent, mysterious universe and this mathematically impossible planet we live on together is not a cosmic accident. I believe this world was purposefully crafted by a loving God who wants to be in relationship with us. And I believe everyone is a loved Child of God.

And ‘the Trust Mug’ from Chapter 30 [surprisingly!] continues to teach me that…

IMG_4047.JPG

 

Twenties, goodbye. I may never be able to shake you. But I accept that and keep moving.

Thirties, who knows what you’ll hold.

God is still faithful.

It’s good to be back, blogging. I’ll write again soon.

Advertisements

Chapter 22: Snowflakes and Sparkles

11_Figure21

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 20: Bon Voyage and C’est La Vie

King Henry VIII had six wives over the course of his adult life.

He divorced Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves.

He sentenced Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard to the chopping block.

Jane Seymour died in child birth.

And Catherine Parr was the only survivor.

Walking through London museums and seeing famous landmarks, I reflected on the fate of Henry’s wives. I’d always thought the divorcees had the best deal. After all, they got to keep their lives.

Now, I’m not so sure.

The chopping block actually seems far more inviting to me now.

Yes, I was in London!

It was July 2013.

A very old city with an astounding history. It was surreal to be quite literally walking in the footsteps of Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, the Spice Girls and Duchess Kate.

I’d needed a holiday for a few months. A break from life. And thanks to my very generous parents, I had the opportunity to go travelling in Europe. There is nothing – quite literally, nothing – that will give you perspective like travel. Being plucked up from your little patch of the world to then be perched on the highest point of St Paul’s Cathedral in London? Yep, that’ll do it.

Travel is rebellion in its purest form.

We follow our heart. We free ourselves of labels. We lose control willingly.

We trade a role for reality. We love the unfamiliar.

We trust strangers. We own only what we can carry.

We search for better questions, not answers.

We truly graduate.

We, sometimes, choose never to come back.

-unknown.

And that pretty much sums it up.

I won’t go into detail about my adventures, because this is not a travel blog. But there are a couple of noteworthy moments from that trip.

“Sometimes I feel quite distinctly that what is inside me is not all of me. There is something else, sublime, quite indestructible, some tiny fragment of the Universal spirit. Don’t you feel that?” -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

IMG_0758On my 25th birthday, I climbed to the very top of St Paul’s Cathedral. Yes, the tip of the top. In fact, the tippy-tip of the top. That bit that’s not usually open to the public. It was freaky! But it’s moments like that that will change you forever.

And I can still sense that feeling of looking out over the vast skyline of London, realising how tiny and insignificant we, as individuals, are in this huge, massive, expansive world.

And how tiny my dramas are in the vastness and grandeur of the universe.

God said something along those lines to Job.

And I look forward to chatting with Job about it one day.

In our everyday lives, it is far too easy to become consumed with our troubles. To see the world through our own lens. Our own needs and wants. Our own ups and downs. But there is a whole lot of world out there. And we are but a drop in the ocean. So, one of my best tips for ‘getting over stuff’ is to go travelling.

Travelling changes us. It levels us. It unlocks a whole new facet to one’s self.

The amazing Alan Alda said, “When you embark for strange places, don’t leave any of yourself safely at the shore. Have the nerve to go into unexplored territory.” Ain’t that the truth!

IMG_1260After time in England, I also went to Paris.

There’s something about Paris.

I don’t think anyone can go to Paris and remain unchanged.

Walking down the world-renowned shopping street Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Mum and I spotted Swarovski.

I had been without a ring for several months now. After around seven years of wearing a ring of some kind from Mr Ex (first, he gave me an Irish Claddagh ring, then an engagement ring, and then a wedding ring), I was very accustomed to wearing rings. So getting used to my bare fingers was like breaking my arm and adjusting to writing with ‘the wrong hand’. Or trying to fold a fitted sheet. It’s just not right!! It feels WRONG!

Admittedly, I’d had days when I just. Couldn’t. Handle. NOT. Wearing. A ring!!

So, I’d sometimes put my engagement ring onto the ring finger of my other hand. Not in a sad, hanging-on-to-hope, half-dead kangaroo, missing-Mr-Ex kind of way. Not because it meant anything and there were no hidden messages about my psychological state.

It was simply that my fingers felt completely WRONG without a ring.

And I didn’t actually own any other rings. When you have three deeply significant and momentously symbolic rings, you don’t have any need to buy other rings. So I’d sometimes wear my engagement ring on the other hand just as a comfort thing.

Yes, I hear you say that I could’ve bought a cheap ring to tie me over.

But I wanted my ‘next ring’ to be special. Symbolic.

So, in Paris, I was on a mission to find that ring. To finally invest in a ring that would signify a whole new chapter. A ring that was all about me. Representing my new life as ME. And celebrating that I was complete, happy and free on my own. Without Mr Ex. Signifying my individuality. Rejoicing that I survived that which could have killed me.

I was throwing roses into the abyss and saying, “Here’s to the monster that didn’t succeed in eating me alive!”

And when I walked into Swarovski on Champs-Élysées, I knew I’d found the birthplace of my next ring.

My Swarovski ring sits happily on my middle finger. I’d never worn a ring on my middle finger before. It is white gold and encrusted in lots and lots of brilliant Swarovski crystals. Divine!

(By the way, the white gold was a very deliberate choice. All three of my rings from Mr Ex were ‘gold gold’ (I think the technical term is ‘yellow gold’). I just mean the usual gold colour, as apposed to silver-coloured gold, which is called white gold. If you just followed that explanation, well done to you.)

And that was it.

Hand is now complete.

All is right with the world. *Sigh of relief*

I was on a roll, really. Buying a symbolic new ring, climbing the Eiffel Tower, eating chocolate croissants at Cafe De Fleur… I’m not sure if life gets much better than that 🙂

So up until this holiday, I had basically been working in child care. Yes, I was a fully qualified teacher. Yes, I did a bit of relief teaching. But my main occupation was working for an Out of School Hours Care and Vacation Care service. Child care. And it was very much my comfort zone. Truth is, teaching actually scared the living daylights out of me. I had no intention of leaving my comfort zone. I liked the safety of ‘going with the flow’. That echos sentiments from earlier chapters, doesn’t it just?

Well, life begins on the edge of our comfort zone.

And only dead fish go with the flow.

No longer was I going to play it safe. No longer was I a slave to the ordinary.

So, in a my daring new mindset of “I choose to live outside my comfort zone and I choose to go against the flow!”, I wrote my resignation letter and emailed it to work. I thanked them for everything, but said that I would not be coming back.

For a few of my colleagues, they knew my current situation and probably would not have been surprised by my resignation.

But for many colleagues, they are possibly still wondering, “Whatever happened to that young girl who was married to a lawyer? Quiet. Really mature. Sensible. Had all her shit together. You know the one? She used to wear knitted beanies in winter.”

Yes, I still wear beanies in winter; some things never change. But definitely no ‘shit together’ anymore.

The truth is, I have no idea what happened to that girl. I think I left her on top of St Paul’s Cathedral or on the Eiffel Tower.

And I hazard a guess that she’s in good company up there. I bet lots of people leave old versions of themselves in places like that. Places of symbol and resonance.

“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” – Alan Alda.