Tag Archives: Strength

“The Secret Life of Bees”: I am enough

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd was recommended to me by my Dad’s co-worker, a Catholic chaplain at a federal prison. At a Christmas party, we were chatting about authors who wrote on spirituality (like Thomas Moore, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Henri Nouwen) and he suggested that I might like The Secret Life of Bees.

bees

Source: https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Life-Bees-Monk-Kidd/dp/0142001740

I’ve never spent much time contemplating Mary, the mother of Jesus. Growing up, Mary was part of the Christmas story and didn’t show up the other 11 months of the year. Yet in Catholic traditions, she is part of everyday life. I think I like that: having a spiritual woman part of my everyday life. Reading The Secret Life of Bees truly made me grateful that I am a woman, and that doesn’t happen too often. The love, joy, forgiveness, and genuineness that Sue Monk Kidd creates within and between her characters had me mesmerized. Lily, a young teen with a dead mother and an abusive father, saves her housekeeper from jail and they run away together and into the lives of three extraordinary women: May, June, and August. These three sisters keep bees and sell honey, yet they have also created a community around the tradition of a black Mary. These women support each other and have true friendships that uplift and challenge each other to love more.

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Source: http://www.pluggedin.com/movie-reviews/secretlifeofbees/

Monk Kidd’s novel tackles racism, abuse, sexism, and depression. She does not shy away from issues that most people like to ignore. In the novel, she creates situations that seem so outrageous, yet most likely happened. Situations of black women being beaten in prison by their white male accusers. White people standing in the way of black people registering to vote. Black teens being arrested for throwing a coke bottle at white men. Yet the three sisters–May, June, and August–are strong and they gather other women around them to encourage them and support them. Lily, who has run away from home, is treated with kindness and love, and with a patience that seems unworldly. As she works with the bees, she learns more about herself and about reality:

“The sting shot pain all the way to my elbow, causing me to marvel at how much punishment a minuscule creature can inflict. I’m prideful enough to say I didn’t complain. After you get stung, you can’t get unstung no matter how much you whine about it. I just dived back into the riptide of saving bees”  (pg 167)

I love Lily’s attitude. Stung, yet dove back into the work and didn’t get angry or upset at the bees. August keeps reminding her to send love to the bees and to remain calm and observe. Life lesson!

Lily isn’t always calm and patient, and has some fantastic moments of rage and pain about how life has treated her. We follow Lily’s progression from an angry, confused girl, into a young woman who is learning that the most subversive thing a woman can do is love herself. As Lily helps the sisters care for the bees, she learns a lot of about herself:

 

Her hands stayed where they were but released their pressure. “And whatever it is that keeps widening your heart, that’s Mary, too, not only the power inside you but the love. And when you get down to it, Lily, that’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life. Not just to love–but to persist in love.”

She paused. Bees drummed their sound into the air. August retrieved her hands from the pile on my chest, but I left mine there.

“This Mary I’m talking about sits in your heart all day long, saying, ‘Lily, you are my everlasting home. Don’t you ever be afraid. I am enough. We are enough.'”

I closed my eyes, and in the coolness of the morning, there among the bees, I felt for one clear instant what she was talking about. (Pg 289)

Lily learns something that most people struggle, not only to say, but to believe: I am enough. The three sisters have a statue of Mary that was inspirational to many black slaves in the area and they continue to draw strength from this statue. Yet in this conversation with August, Lily tries to find strength from outside of herself and August reminds her that Mary is there to draw out the best: Mary’s power doesn’t come from her statue, but instead comes from empowering others to see the beauty and love in themselves.

mary

Source: http://beesbeesbees.weebly.com/the-daughters-and-son-of-mary.html

I found this book refreshing: looking at spirituality, Christianity, from a female perspective. And a wonderful reminder in Lent that yes, I am enough!

enough

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/i-am-enough/

“Our Lady is not some magical being out there somewhere, like a fairy godmother. She’s not the statue in the parlor. She’s something inside of you. … You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still have to find this part of ourselves inside.” (Sue Monk Kidd)

“Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with you.” (From the “Hail Mary” prayer)

The Immaculate Heart of Mary

The Immaculate Heart of Mary. 2010 Stephen B. Whatley

Source: http://www.stephenbwhatley.com/1_the-immaculate-heart-of-mary-2010-30-x-24in-by-stephen-b-whatley-copy-jpg

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“Milk and Honey”: loving yourself

I love that a book of poetry is a best seller.  I love that a book of poetry that is so empowering to women is a best seller.  Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur is the best birthday gifts I got this year.  For a moment at my family birthday party it got a bit awkward because my two-year-old nephew kept flipping through the pages.  He liked that it had pictures and black pages (too funny!).  I’m grateful that no one else really tried to flip through it because sometimes there’s a time and a place for conversations about sexuality.

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Source: https://www.amazon.ca/Milk-Honey-rupi-kaur/dp/1502784270

I quickly realized that Kaur’s collection was not a one-time read; I knew that I would need to read this a few times in order to let the honesty and the power of the words sink in.  I applaud Rupi Kaur for her bravery and honesty, yet I also understand her compulsion to write the collection, as written in her foreword:

my heart woke me crying last night

how can i help i begged

my heart said

write the book

This foreword set the tone for the entire collection.  It’s about revealing and healing from past hurt.  It’s about finding and regaining control and power over heart and body.  It is a journey of realization and surviving.  Mostly, it is about healing.

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Source: http://femmagazine.com/2015/02/24/rupi-kaur-the-poetess-behind-milk-honey/

One of the things I loved most about this poetry collection is her overall positive message about being women.  Women are constantly being stripped of power and dignity through media and through patriarchal systems, yet she reminds her readers that women are strong and resilient:  “collectively, we’ve seen the worst of humankind and lived.  we have a piece of god in us… we are soft even when the roughness comes and breaks our skin–we live.  we fall and get up and keep living. we live through it all.  so every part of us is worth celebrating.” (From “Rupi Kaur: The Poetess Behind Milk & Honey” by Sabrina Estrella from “UCLA Feminist Magazine“)  I love that line, “every part of us is worth celebrating,” because it is one thing to say this/ write this, but is an entirely different to believe it and honour it.

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Source: https://thebookwars.wordpress.com/2015/05/15/review-milk-and-honey-by-rupi-kaur/

Having just broken up with my boyfriend, I think that my sister, who gifted me this book, knew that I needed it.  I needed to see my relationship as a gift, as moments to treasure and moments to learn from.  I needed to feel confident in myself again, to love myself first.  I do see my past relationship as a gift, and I always did.  Yet now I needed a reminder that I am enough.  I needed to remember that I am beautiful the way I am.  I needed to remember that I am a whole person and I don’t need someone to complete me.  I can find a partner, yet if I can’t love myself I will never be truly happy.

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Source: http://rebloggy.com/post/relationships-poetry-poem-living-relatable-milk-and-honey-rupi-kaur-woc-writers/138170724635

Ever since my grade 13 English class, I have known that poetry is powerful.  Poetry can heal.  I am so grateful for Rupi Kaur for writing Milk and Honey and the healing it has allowed me to find.

rupi kaur

Source: http://www.hercampus.com/school/cincinnati/book-changed-my-life

“if you were born with /  the weakness to fall / you were born with / the strength to rise” (Kaur, Pg 156)

“So God created humans in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

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Source: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/10-rupi-kaur-quotes-girl-read

“Faith and Feminism”: authentic living

My thoughts on someone else’s thoughts about writers’ thoughts.

I picked up Helen LaKelly Hunt’s book Faith and Feminism: A Holy Alliance because of the last tag line in the title: “Five Spirited and Spiritual Women Throughout History.” Spirited women!

helen
Source: http://www.amazon.com/Faith-Feminism-A-Holy-Alliance/dp/0743483723

On the back of the book, the synopsis asks the question, “Why do so many women of faith have such a strong aversion to feminism? And why do so many feminists have an ardent mistrust of religion?” I resound with that second question. I do believe that my faith enriches my feminism. Helen LaKelly Hunt, through her thoughts on five females figures, is offering a challenge for a life of wholeness, to live a life that finds strength in vulnerability.

Stained Glass Depicting Jesus Christ March 4, 2004

Stained Glass Depicting Jesus Christ March 4, 2004


Source: http://www.living-consciously.com/2013/08/jesus-is-a-feminist.html

Throughout the book, Hunt looks at five different women and the contributions they have made to faith and feminism. She looks at five different areas of life and how these women provide insight into these five areas: pain, shadow, voice, action, communion.

I found the book inspiring and engaging, but I mostly enjoyed, or rather needed, the chapters on pain and shadow.

1.) Pain: Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
At some point in school or in life, everyone has read or seen one of Emily Dickinson’s poems. She was a transcendental poet. In it’s simplest form, transcendental poetry sought to show the good in humanity and in nature and the corruption of institutions. Some speculate that Dickinson had some horrible emotional experience at school that drove her to stay home, and some speculate that she lived with the crippling pain of rheumatoid arthritis. Either way, her pain was very real and stayed with her constantly. So why is it that Dickinson and her poetry is chosen by Hunt to show the pain of life? Hunt states that “Emily Dickinson’s life teaches us that embracing the pain in our lives can be the doorway to deeper meaning and purpose” (24). Furthermore, Hunt writes that “Emily did not allow . . . hopelessness to deaden her feelings. Instead, she used it to deepened her experience of grief . . . her poems become a celebration of feeling … Emily understood that pain and joy are eternally mixed–and that each can be access through the other” (34).

This paradox of joy and pain is true. Her poetry is able to see through the every-day busyness and see life for what it truly is, whether it be a dark, lonely night or a bird bathing in a puddle. As Hunt says, “Emily’s poetry charts an evolution from avoiding pain to claiming and being defined by it. Pain shapes us, breaking us open so that we can reconfigure ourselves in a way that more deeply mirrors our authentic self” (36). Pain allows us to cut away all of the trim and masks that we wear and to be our authentic, true selves. Pain cuts to the core, whether it be physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental. By having Dickinson as an example, women, and all humans, can see an example of how pain allows us to not only see ourselves more clearly, but to also see those around us more clearly. Pain creates empathy and understanding, something that Jesus was famous for during his time on earth.

I think that if Dickinson was alive today, she would appreciate the song “The Valley Song” by Jars of Clay: “I will sing of your mercy that leads me through valleys of sorrow to rivers of joy.”
emily.1
Source: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/emily-dickinson

2.) Shadow: Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
Ever since I read Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Learning to Walk in the Dark, I have had a new appreciation for shadows and darkness as a part of life. While in a Spanish convent, Teresa struggled with the desire to have a social life (something that was common in nunneries at the time because of the wealth and power of the church) and the desire to truly love God completely, away from distractions. In her struggles, she revolutionized how people pray and is still taught as a Doctor of the Catholic Church. The struggles she encountered trying to accept herself and then figuring out how to live a fulfilling life caused her to explore her shadows. She never shied away from admitting her flaws and owning her darkness. As Hunt writes, “Shadow characteristics can become detriments or assets. It depends on whether they remain hidden and examined or are accepted with vulnerability. Teresa’s story illuminates the path of courageous self-acceptance that leads to the open heart” (53).

Vulnerability yet determination to create change. Teresa was aware of herself, the bright and the dark. Knowing herself, she was able to find the confidence to create positive change while maintaining her belief that she should not forget her shadows and how they are a part of her true self.

teresa
Source: http://communio.stblogs.org/index.php/2015/03/saint-teresa-of-avila-at-500/

In the remaining chapters of the book, Hunt tells the story of Sojourner Truth, a former slave, who learned how to voice her opinions and sought equality for all people; Lucretia Mott, an influential leader within the Quakers and in the USA, who took action to ensure that women were treated equally, even down to her marriage which was a true partnership during a time when most wives were repressed; and Dorothy Day, whose relationship with God came through her humanitarian work, who valued community and communion with others. All of these women were heroes of faith and feminism who inspired Hunt and I appreciated reading Hunt’s own journey to wholeness by learning from amazing women who struggled before.

From Hunt’s book I am reminded that in our lives, we need to remember that we are complicated. We need to spend time listening to ourselves so that we can live a whole life. We have bright spots and dark shadows; we have chances to speak and to act; we have opportunities to join and live in community with those around us. In order to live a full life, we need to accept and love who we are and be inspired by those around us. Being open to an authentic life leads to authentic actions, as shown in the lives of these five amazing women.

wonder
Source: http://comicsalliance.com/wonder-woman-feminism-meredith-finch-david-finch-dc/

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

“The point of telling our stories, even if only to ourselves, is to help us resurrect the parts we have buried. When we unearth them, even if it’s difficult, we can integrate them into our sense of who we are. Often in our buried self our true power lies.” (Helen LaKelly Hunt)

Reasons-not-to-be-a-feminist
Source: http://sotospeakjournal.org/category/local-feminists/

“Who Do You Think You Are?”: International Women’s Day

The adult book club I belong to (I also lead a book club at work for teens) is getting me to read all kinds of books I would have never chosen to read on my own. We call it Wings and Winning Words Wednesday. We meet for wings on Wednesday and we pick a book to read from a major list of award winners. This month’s book? Who Do You Think You Are? by Alice Munro.

munro
Source: http://www.amazon.ca/Modern-Classics-Who-You-Think/dp/0143054953

Our discussion about this book was very interesting. I had a really hard time connecting with Rose. Rose is the main character in a series of short stories, all the way from childhood to parenthood. Rose did not seem believable to me because growing up I was never around such a weak woman who changes herself so quickly to the people she makes herself dependent upon.

I am so very lucky. I grew up around strong women. My Grandma worked as a nurse, raised five children, and still managed to help my Grandpa around the farm. She gardened, baked, cooked, and babysat the 10 kids that lived on the family farm. My Mom worked full time as an admin assistant in town, milked cows, worked on the weekends on the farm, raised three children, baked, cooked, had amazing gardens, and enjoyed doing painting crafts. I like to joke that the women in my family (Grandma, Mom, and my aunts) worked in town to support their husbands’ hobby farm.

cow
Source: http://blogs.ft.com/beyond-brics/2011/04/03/fund-file-the-imminent-demise-of-the-taiwanese-cash-cow/

The women in my family worked together. They shared, they encouraged, and they survived. This attitude of confidence and strength in ability has been passed on to my cousins and all of my female cousins are strong, independent, and confident women. They are professors, legal assistants, designers, teachers, historians, youth workers, and wonderful women who are truly beautiful from the inside out.

Back to Munro’s novel: the strength and support of the women surrounding me as I grew up is why I could not relate to the character Munro creates in her short story collection. In the collection, Rose has to compete with her mother. Her mother constantly tries to out complain and show up her daughter in every instance. Everything is a competition. As Rose grows up, she is curious in a passive way and she allows herself to be manipulated and pulled all sorts of ways. At one point she realizes she does not love her fiance and tries to break it off with him, yet realizes that without him she has no sense of self or purpose. How sad and tragic! Yet, one of the other book club members could relate entirely. Rose’s history and Rose’ mother were all too familiar in the personalities of their mothers and their sisters. I was shocked. I had no idea that the stories Munro wrote were mirrors of some women’s lives.

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Source: http://sophiemarlowelcmedia1415.blogspot.ca/2014/10/gender-stereotypes.html

This week I have been listening to the album Stay Gold by First Aid Kit. One of the songs on the album, “Heaven Knows,” seemed to fit perfectly with this collection of stories: Heaven Knows.

Here are some of my favourite lines:

You’ve spent a year staring into a mirror
Another one trying to figure out what you saw
Paid so much attention to what you’re not
You have no idea who you are

You’ve lost yourself in others’
Expectations of you
Now you prefer this caricature before being true
But you’re better than that…

Lost in others’ expectations and paying so much attention to what you’re not that you have no idea who you are.
Those are terrifying ideas and descriptions.

So, on the eve International Women’s Day, I am so grateful for the women I have in my life. I am grateful especially to my Grandma and my Mom who were strong and independent in a time and place where I think that the majority of women were lost and submissive.

This weekend I will make sure that I support the women around me who are strong and especially those who need the encouragement and support to see themselves for who they are and to see the beauty and strength that lies within them. God created humans and he loved them. He doesn’t love one more than the other and He never assigned roles for each. Society assigns gender, so I am even more grateful that I belong to a family who sees humans as they are: creations of God.

Here are some hashtags to get us started: #MakeItHappen #womensday #IWD2015 #internationalwomensday #PaintItPurple

happen
Source: http://www.freeallpictures.com/international-womens-day-theme-2015.html

God created human beings; he created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature. (Genesis 1:26)

Man is defined as a human being and a woman as a female – whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male. (Simone de Beauvoir)

Women are leaders everywhere you look — from the CEO who runs a Fortune 500 company to the housewife who raises her children and heads her household. Our country was built by strong women and we will continue to break down walls and defy stereotypes. (Nancy Pelosi)

women
Source: http://www.happywomensday2015quotes.com/top-10-inspirational-happy-womens-day-2015-shayari-sms-messages-in-hindi-for-facebook.html

“The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor”: standing strong

All guts, no glory. I feel like that might be a good way to describe Charlotte Taylor. She was an amazing woman who was independent and stood up for her own rights in the face of a lot of opposition. She was a woman who was living a life style that was ahead of her time. She believed in equality, compassion, and perseverance. Yet I only heard of her because I read this novel!

taylor
Source: http://www.bookbits.ca/sarmstrong.html

Sally Armstrong, Charlotte Taylor’s great-great-great granddaughter, writes the story of this amazing woman and fills in some of the blanks with her own best-guesses. So, it is a blend of fiction and non-fiction.

Brief timeline:
1.) She runs away from her stuffy British life with the family butler, but he dies after they run away across the Ocean, leaving her pregnant and alone.
2.) She meets a nice sea captain who tries to make her go back to England via Nova Scotia, but she meets a lot of Acadians and Mi’kmaq people in the area and realizes she likes this new place.
3.) She runs away to a Mi’kmaq camp to avoid leaving on a ship for England and the Mi’kmaq welcome her and she makes a special friend and they have a life-long relationship.
4.) She marries a privateer, moves to his cabin, and has more kids.
5.) Said husband dies from a rotten tooth. She remarries a local entrepreneur.
6.) She has more kids. Her husband never comes home and is presumed dead.
7.) She marries a local politician and has more kids.
8.) Things are getting heated, literally, so she decides to move her family to a new island.
9.) Her husband dies.
10.) She spends the rest of her life canoeing with her Mi’kmaq friend.

Yet Charlotte Taylor is not forgotten! You can explore her life as the “Mother of Tabusintac” in New Brunswick on a tour.

taylor.2
Source: http://www.tourismnewbrunswick.ca/Products/T/FollowtheStepsofCharlotteTaylor-Tabusintac-Centennial-Library-and-Museum-EC.aspx

I did find the life of Charlotte Taylor fascinating because she was so strong, intelligent, and determined, yet I really enjoyed the way in which Armstrong wove in a lot of Canadian history into Charlotte’s story. Some of her ancestors have put together an amazing timeline that truly shows the changes that were happening and how incredible it was for Charlotte to survive and thrive.

The Expulsion of the Acadians. The land grab that pushed out the Mi’kmaq people and other nations. The ruling that settlers could petition to own land, yet the First Nations only received Crown Land which was often sold or encroached upon. The danger of Americans trying to take over the land. The dividing of the colony into provinces. Charlotte’s everyday life might not have been affected by all of these events, yet she lived in an interesting time.

Armstrong is not the only relative of Charlotte Taylor to write about this incredible woman’s life. Mary Lynn Smith also has done a lot of research and writing about her ancestor. She makes it clear on her website that she did not help Armstrong and that Armstrong’s novel should be read as that, a novel–not a biography.

As a member of a large family, I can only imagine what would happen if someone tried to write the history of one of my ancestors and fictionalized the account. It might divide the family and as Mary Lynn Smith states on her website, Charlotte Taylor would have fought anyone writing about her life with “tooth and nail” just as I believe any of my ancestors would react to a fictionalized account of their lives.

Yet at the end of the day I found Armstrong’s story compelling and fascinating. I love learning that there are strong and independent women in our Canadian past who had beliefs and didn’t stay silent when they were fighting for their rights and for the rights of their family. Charlotte Taylor was a woman who stood strong and remained compassionate, intelligent, fair, and honest throughout her entire life. As a person who defies convention in life, her legacy of defiance lives on in the lives of her family.

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Source: http://quotes-pictures.vidzshare.net/the-only-thing-we-learn-from-history-is-that-we-learn-nothing-from/2/

The tally of her life comes out in her favour, she decides. But she has no respite from losses. (pg 380)
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.(Hebrews 11:13)

strong
Source: http://www.nuttytimes.com/a-strong-women/