Finding a Voice

Saturday, January 27, 2007

rambling thoughts towards a book review

I'm reading my second book for The Christian Week: Revelations of a Single Woman: Loving the Life I Didn't Expect by Connally Gilliam (Tyndale House Publishers, 2006). It's one of those books that I want to finish to say it's complete, but want to savor and never have it end. I have underlined copiously and will reference this book for a long time to come. It's one of those books that I will buy for other people rather than lending it.

Initially I emailed my rambling thoughts to a host of friends: they were so raw that I'm was not ready to post them on my blog, but I wanted to share this with someone while it was fresh. However, with the many and long responses from both singles and marries, I realized that my review had touched a nerve and that this is a subject which needs a voice.

So, here are some notes about the book:

Thus far, this excerpt has had the deepest impact on me. Perhaps it's because I can imagine Dr. Houston having this conversation with someone. In the context of the excerpt, Connally had been in Vancouver and visited Dr. Houston and his wife for an evening, eating, playing Scrabble, and talking. I have been in their home doing exactly the same things. I played Scrabble with Mrs. Houston once after a breakup. Someone recommended that I call her, so I did. She picked me up, since I didn't have a car, drove me to her home, put out the Scrabble and a pot of tea, and in her lovely motherly and matter-of-fact way helped me to face the fact that reorienting was going to take some time and pain. Here is Connally's encounter with Dr. Houston as he drove her back to her hotel:

"Dr. Houston quietly spoke. 'You've suffered much being single.' I couldn't tell if he was asking me or telling me. ... 'Your mother, too; she has suffered in your singleness.' ... I tightened my stomach, trying to muffle the chord his words had struck.
"'The question, of course,' he continued, 'is how will you suffer? Will you suffer with bitterness or will you suffer prophetically?' O Lord, I don't like how this sounds. 'You see, your generation is experiencing the fallout of a culture profoundly confused about who God is and therefore about what it is to be human and what it is to love. Your relational disappointments and suffering are, sadly, emblematic of the age. ... like the prophets of old, take the pain--which is also the pain of this culture--to the Lord. Seek his heard of love and direction for yourself and for others.'
"In retrospect, it was strange what that conversation with Dr. Houston did to and for me. Somehow, in linking the word 'suffer' to my unintentionally single state, he legitimized something at work in my guts, some pain that I wanted to avoid for very good reasons. ... in calling it 'suffering,' he was legitimizing a part of me that did ache at sleeping alone every night. And the simple acknowledgment--having the ache compassionately seen and known by another--did its own quiet, little miracle. Something in my guts unclenched.
"More than that, however, Dr. Houston's words flipped my why question on its head and left me asking, What now? How then should I live? I wasn't sure what living prophetically meant (images of wild-haired, wide-eyed, angry men cam to mind), but I knew at minimum it meant living in the truth. It meant admitting that the confusion plaguing me (and so many of the men and women around me) was real and not easily navigated. It meant owning my unmet desires and the related disappointment. And it also meant holding on to and holding up the goodness and the realness of God in the midst of it. Dr. Houston's words about suffering prophetically had felt like a gut-level punch. But in reality, they were more like the compassion-induced Heimlich maneuver, freeing me to live.
"For today I am called to be single. I cannot say about tomorrow." (pp130-131)

Dr. Houston is the founding prinicipal of Regent College in Vancouver. My first encounter with him was in taking a class at Briercrest Seminary. Then, in my first year as a student at Regent, I was in his community group, which was much like a group therapy session, with occasional social events. That same year I dated a lovely guy who was very wrong for me and we had a few "spiritual direction" sessions with Dr. Houston, who told me that a relationship is a catalyst not unlike conversion.

Dr. Houston and his wife Rita are a delightful Scottish couple. He is soft and ruminant, a stereotypically absent-minded professor. She is brusque and practical and keeps a very clean and homey house. They are perfect together.

Connally's writing is descriptive but not overdone with metaphors, skillfully paced. Her grade 12 English teacher warned the class, in so many words, that "Sarcasm isn't a wit substitute" (124). Well, Connally is witty, without stooping to sarcasm. Oh, she admits the temptation to be sarcastic, but she gracefully sidesteps it.

Cathartic. Several times I wept with relief that someone was articulating my experience, or because the book dredged up (expunged?) things that I had buried. I laughed too, at the comic relief Connally provides. I cried with Connally (ch.16), felt awkward with her at the New Year's party where she was embarrassed to be the only single, "the remainder," laughed with her at ___ ... I'm curious. I wish I had the money to buy up several copies and distribute them to single friends to see if they have similar emotional responses. It's true, as Amy Taylor writes in her endorsement, "Every friend, relative, and pastor of a single woman should read Revelations of a Single Woman." But hold on. If you're married or the parent of an unintentionally single woman, please do not buy this book and give it to her without reading it, especially if you feel any pity for her. Buy it for yourself. Read it. Let it inform your relationship, and if you give it to her, let her know how it affected you. Do not judge this book by its cover. "Do you really want to know what it's like to be living (and really trying to love) a life you didn't expect?" asks Amy Taylor. "Read this book. This is what it's like."

Realistic. We all know that cliche, "The grass is greener on the other side," and we all know with our heads that the grass isn't necessarily greener. But the other side of the fence is still the other side and, for better or for worse, it seems like most people are over there, which can leave the unintentionally single person feeling pretty isolated, even defective. Even my divorced friends and relatives got to try being on the other side. I keep getting stuck between the rails and hung up on the barbed wire in trying to get across.

Being unintentionally single can leave a woman wondering if there's something wrong with her ... or if there's something wrong with single men. Or both.

Connally is very honest about her desire for a husband. What she doesn't dwell on is the biological clock. desire for children. In her equation, children are a matter of course: you get married, have kids. Or perhaps they're a moot point. In any case, she doesn't dwell on them. In my equation, they were the deal breaker, because I was anxious for children and did not want to imagine bearing them without a husband (unlike my friend who visited a sperm bank and came out with delightful twin boys born on my birthday). One can be married without children, but it's ideal to be married with children. It wasn't until I exposed to the air my raw wound of grief over not having children that I freed from my desperation to be married. Marriage can come at any time in life; children cannot -- and I had never wanted to get married post-menopausal. If I can release the suffocating desire for children to the Lord, and the perceived timeline that constricts my planning, then I am free to pursue any direction.

The problem is, I don't actually want to pursue any direction. What I want is the definition of having a husband. Even if that husband were to die early into the marriage, somehow it feels preferable, more acceptable, to trade the grief of longing for the grief of loss.

I had a dream that a friend's boyfriend planned an elaborate proposal, culminating at a Middle Eastern restaurant with a big group of friends. I conspired with him over the details, but in the end other people with lesser roles were allowed to watch, but I was excluded from witnessing the event. It felt like a slap in the face and left my stomach feeling vacant, in spit of the pile of yummy foreign food on my tray. I felt insignificant, even while congratulating them with my best cheerfulness.

See if you can find this book ...

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posted by Colleen McCubbin at 8:52 PM 3 comments

what is a mystic?

"To live a live that is not dominated by the desire to be relevant but is instead safely anchored in the knowledge of God’s first love, we have to be mystics. A mystic is a person whose identity is deeply rooted in God’s first love."

Henri J.M. Nouwen, In The Name of Jesus, p. 28


posted by Colleen McCubbin at 8:50 PM 0 comments

Thursday, January 25, 2007

unity week

You really really would like these sisters. When I returned from working at the home care office yesterday, I got into a wide-ranging conversation with them. They know how to work hard, but they also love conversation, especially about the Lord. I had noticed that their car is a Mercury Mystique Sport and mentioned that it is a fitting car for two energetic mystics! Sr. Therese demured that in the past two months, with packing and moving, it has been hard to be "mystique," but they are thankful that the Lord is always with them. I noted Brother Lawrence with Jesus among the pots and pans. Then I asked if they had read Henri Nouwen and their eyes lit up and they almost melted. Each of them has about 4 Nouwen books on the go. Sr. Therese is currently reading Here and Now; Life of the Beloved; and Spirituality for Laypeople. Sr. Bernadette reads him in French and is currently reading about the Eucharist.

Mom & Dad invited them for supper last night and, sharing a simple meal of homemade bread and turkey soup, our conversation was pure fellowship. I asked about their decisions to enter vocational life and why Sisters of the Presentation of Mary. They have two older sisters (92 and 85) who belong to Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood, a contemplative order in St. Hyacinth, QC. (Their mother also joined "Precious Blood" after their father died.) The bottom line is that they both wanted to give themselves completely and actively to the Lord.

Near the end of our supper, Sr. Therese marvelled at the goodness of God and how he orders our steps, particularly that they moved into this building during Unity Week! They are very ecumenical, preferring to focus on commonalities rather than divisions.

Sister Therese and Sister Bernadette are a tremendous gift to us already. And they love my cats.

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posted by Colleen McCubbin at 10:42 AM 0 comments

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Real Sex review published, plus reprint

This book review was published in The Christian Week, an established Canadian newspaper. contacted me (unsolicited) for permission to reprint it on their website, so here it is!
Simple, Difficult Truth About Sex by Colleen Taylor


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posted by Colleen McCubbin at 4:54 PM 2 comments

Friday, January 05, 2007

new year, new day planner, & nuns coming "home"

Last Sunday our interim pastor, Vern Munshaw, preached about the new year (surprise) from the perspective of buying a new pocket-sized personal calendar. For years this was the gift he bought himself for Christmas -- always the same, and better than any of his other gifts. "Someone" (his wife) eventually realized how important this purchase was and now she buys it for him.

new year, new day
pages, empty
yet full of
promotions ...
empty pages,
like an unopened door.
someone knocks,
you open, and there
stands a stranger,
the Unknown.
Release your fears,
welcome the stranger
bringing blessing and bain.
Release control,
open the door,
open your hands,
release and receive,
release and receive.

The image of looking for a new day planner really resonated with me. I had been looking for my new day planner but holding off the purchase. The brand I keep returning to is Quo Vadis, the style Minister Prestige. The paper is creamy (in both colour and texture) and heavy (ink never bleeds through); the layout is ideal (1 week on 2 pages, 8am-9pm, with lots of room for notes); the extras are handy (anno-planning, world maps, time zones, receipts and payments section, address book). And recently, in shopping around, I have learned that the paper comes from environmentally friendly mills in France!

Listening to Pastor Vern talk about new calendars and new years confirmed to me that it was time to really welcome the new year, so I had my uncle pick up a new Minister Prestige planner at Staples on his last trip to Saskatoon. Last night I finished the transfer from the 2006 book to 2007. Feels good.

More than ever a good calendar is imperative. 2007 is starting out crazy!

When I came to Spiritwood last fall, my parents moved down to my grandpa's apartment and I moved into their spacious bedroom suite (300+ sq ft). For many months Mom & Dad have been fielding queries about renting space here, but have never felt like they had the right set-up for boarding. That all changed a few weeks ago when they learned that the local nuns had sold their house and, not wanting to leave Spiritwood, were looking for a place to live. (Sister Therese and Sister Bernadette who are not only vocational sisters but biological siblings, too.)So my parents offered the apartment, the sisters came to see it, and Therese could hardly sit down she was so excited! This is where Sister Therese and Sister Bernadette lived several decades ago when they first came to teach in Spiritwood, so it's like coming home for them -- except that they never imagined it could be so beautiful! They would like Dad & Mom to build a little chapel space somewhere so they "can bring the presence of God into the place." Mmmmm.

It's exciting all around -- a home for the sisters, some rental income for Mom & Dad. But then it also means that Mom and Dad want their bedroom suite back, which means carving out different space for me in the south end upstairs.

Add to the mix a handful of international farm workers (employed at Fast Genetics) who are looking for places to live and a desperate lack of rental accommodations in Spiritwood, giving my parents have other possibilities for renters, which means more potential renovations on this 9000 sq ft 1950s former convent. And a lot of tradespeople have moved to Alberta!

I had hoped that January would be a quiet month to settle into my thesis and finish that thing, but I've been assigned several training & relief shifts at the Spiritwood home care office, I've got at least 5 Norwex shows in the next 2 weeks, and there are some exciting things happening with a glyconutrient company, so I'm going to Caronport and Weyburn next week "on business." I'm also considering getting certified as a Birkman consultant. (Training in Orlando, Florida, February 6-7 or Orange County, CA, March 13-14. Ask me about my introductory rate.) Interestingly, being so busy provides structure and perspective that somehow helps me to be more productive than when life is slow, increasing my motivation to write! Strange how that works, but I won't argue. Guess I'm just going to have to cram that thesis into the small spaces!

Stay tuned! ...

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posted by Colleen McCubbin at 11:58 AM 2 comments