by Erin O. White
University of Wisconsin Press, 2018
Hardcover, 208 pages
Reviewed by Casey O’Leary
I ask myself two questions when I pick up a new book: Will I be able to personally relate to the subject of this book? If not, am I going to read something that will invite me to learn and grow? A book that answers yes to either of these questions is a treat; if a book answers yes to both questions, I’m all in.
Such was the case with Given Up For You, written by Erin O. White. She is in a relationship with a woman and raising two children, as am I, so there’s the relationship with the subject matter. White is also Catholic, and therein lies the opportunity to learn something new: how does a person thrive in a same-sex relationship within the strict confines of a religious practice?
I read eagerly and found that the answer to that question was significantly more complex than the answer to the first one. White juxtaposes the experience of meeting the woman who became her wife, Chris, with the process of becoming Catholic, two life events that overlapped chronologically and catapulted White into unknown territory. White seems to make the choice to follow her heart by marrying Chris, and the focus of the book shifts toward their life together and away from Catholicism. But as they raise two daughters and White becomes a stay-at-home mom, her need for religious ritual leads the story back to her faith and its impact on her daily life and relationships.
White begins attending her local church in a small Massachusetts community, and although she finds spiritual comfort there, her longing for Catholicism keeps her from fully engaging with the congregation. Still, her religious calling is at odds with the person she has become, and the push/pull between her longings leads White to a painful decision.
I connected to Given Up For You on so many levels, but each time I finished a chapter, I had a sense that there was more to the story, something that hadn’t been written down. There is a distance between the author and the reader, mimicking the emotional distance between White and other people in her life. A battle rages inside her, and she’s facing it alone. The result is an almost tangible cloud over her story, and the weight of it threatens the sheer beauty of White’s skillful writing.
In my own journey of recovery, I have only recently become aware that life requires balance (the dreaded charge to modern mothers everywhere), a gray area in a sea of black-and-white thinking. That includes a sense of emotional balance when it comes to my relationships. It’s easy for me to tell the stories that garner gasps, nods, or laughter from other people, but I’m not telling the whole story if I don’t include the moments that, seemingly, no one cares about but me: the thrill of holding hands with my girlfriend for the first time; the way my infant daughter and I gazed at each other while I bathed her for the first time; the bliss of hugging my teenage son after realizing he’s only half an inch shorter than his mother. Writing about the reality of being a partner, a stay-at-home parent, or a person of faith must include moments of personal joy to fully flesh out the experience for the reader.
I’m left wondering if the loss of White’s religious affiliation is still so painfully raw that she’s able to tell only this much of the story, that the rest of it will come in time. That’s a story I look forward to reading someday.
© 2018 by Christian Feminism Today