I was planning to do some sort of trivia exercise or something to get people to guess what the book title was going to be. Alas, this idea was overtaken by events (I’ll blame it on my procrastination).
A couple of weeks ago, I got an urgent call from the publisher around 7 pm or later. We’d been shooting emails back and forth, trying to come to a consensus on what the book cover should look like. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. I wanted something minimalist and without a whole lot of color or a whole lot of stuff going on. The book cover designer had other ideas, though, so I kept rejecting different samples. Out of exasperation (ha ha), the publisher asked if I could rush over that evening. I was still on leave then, thank goodness, so I was over there in a few minutes. His thought was that the designer and I needed to actually meet each other in person so I could tell him face-to-face what I wanted, rather than via email. We all huddled around a computer in the publisher’s office that evening. I think it took us about an hour of talking and tweaking things until we all finally stood back and stared at the large computer screen with a satisfied silence.
‘We’ve got it,’ I said. ‘No more tweaking. This is it.’
They both agreed.
‘That’s it,’ the publisher said.
‘I never would’ve thought this lack of color would work out,’ the designer said, ‘but I can see what you mean. We’re done.’
The book cover was needed in a hurry because it had to be part of the publisher’s catalogue of books that will be released in 2014. I just found out the day before yesterday that the book catalogue was out. Since it’s in the public domain now (the catalogue, that is), I thought I should share the cover here as well, right away.
The book has an unusual title, but one that I think is appropriate, and will either resonate or generate curiosity. In the Preface of the book, I explain what the title is really about. I’m going to share the Preface here for now and take it down later. Much of it will be familiar to regular readers of the blog. It’s being copy-edited as we speak, but not much is expected to change.
Why this book was necessary
I started writing this book for one reason and finished writing it for another.
When I began writing it, I was a married Christian woman going through a divorce. Writing was cheaper than therapy. Writing was my therapy. I needed to talk in order to heal and so I had talked to whoever cared to listen, trying to make sense of what had occurred in my marital life. I learned that you can only talk so much to your family, friends, and other loved ones without sounding like a broken record. After a while, you begin to sense that your ‘talking time,’ as a person desperate to heal, is up. Writing picked up where others left off.
With the passage of time, I became a divorced Christian woman. My reason for writing necessarily evolved. I still found writing therapeutic, but that’s not the only reason for which I wrote. Looking back, I now realize that, subconsciously, I wrote to create ‘elbow room’ for myself and others like me – in the Church, in Africa – Christians that just happened to have experienced divorce. I wanted to emphasize that there’s enough room for us, too – for us and our realities.
One of the first books I read after I came to the decision to file for divorce was Stacy Morrison’s Falling apart in one piece: One optimist’s journey through the hell of divorce. As this author put it: ‘My family and friends had gone with me on this journey as far as they could go. I would have to go the rest of the way on my own.’
This book represents ‘the rest of the way’ for me. It has afforded me the luxury of having an endless conversation with myself, fostering one layer of healing after the other. It has allowed me to say as much or as little as I have wanted, when I have wanted, when I have needed to. The book is part of a process that has helped me make sense of the demise of my Christian marriage, and in so doing, create closure for myself.
It began as a collection of memoir-based essays on my laptop just over a year ago. It began entirely for me and no one else. I discovered that if talking was therapeutic, there was also something incredibly restorative about putting things down on paper. And then I started to share the essays with my sister and she encouraged me to start a blog, patiently walking me through the process of setting one up via phone and email. And then, I started getting comments on the blog from people I had never met and probably never will. And I realized that the issues I was writing about, which I thought were all about me, actually had a much broader application. The issues pertained to other women, too, and the larger society. I occasionally wondered why none of the books I had found about other women’s divorce experiences were by African women like me. And I kept writing.
One of the earliest blog posts I wrote was entitled ‘Strange Women.’ I wrote it right after a church conference during which the Christian women in attendance prayed against ‘strange women’ – that is, women that their husbands were already romantically involved with, or could potentially end up in extra-marital affairs with. I was fascinated by this particular prayer angle and later discovered that it is actually quite common among African, Christian women. I soon noticed that some of the most popular internet searches that brought women to the blog contained words such as ‘prayers against the strange women in my husband’s life.’ As I write this, the most recent visitor to the blog arrived from East Africa by entering the following words into her search engine: ‘prayer bullets to eliminate the strange women.’ Another visitor arrived on the blog from North America a few minutes before this, after using the search words ‘prayer points against husband snatchers.’ Similar search words have brought, and continue to bring, what I’m presuming are African women, from literally all over the world, to the blog. As a result, the ‘Strange Women’ essay was the number one post on the blog for a long time.
Although I believe deeply in prayer, I grew concerned by what I saw as the immense amount of pressure that Christian women seemed to be putting themselves under to ensure their husbands’ faithfulness (as if doing so were their mandated role, or even possible). It occurred to me that these actions represented a sort of ‘stranglehold,’ for lack of a better term – one that could potentially lead to the asphyxiation of many important phenomena: of one’s joy, peace, and self-esteem; of critical, practical actions that could actually save a marriage; and, finally, of oneself. While I have never personally prayed the ‘Strange Women’ prayer, I have definitely experienced my share of ‘strangleholds’ in different forms, and in this book, I have not been shy about revealing and dissecting almost every one of them. Nearly every chapter in the book showcases a mindset, a belief, an attitude, or an action, that represents a potential ‘stranglehold’ which inhibited my own marriage from remaining strong, or which could have served as a stumbling block during my transition to, and in the aftermath of, divorce.
Employing the medium of writing, I ‘remember my journey’ (Micah 6:5, NIV) through marriage and, ultimately, to divorce, as an African, Christian woman. My hope is that, by reading about my experiences and memories, other professing Christians in my part of the world will become more comfortable with the idea of telling the truth – will realize that it’s okay to tell the truth about the unexpected ugliness that sometimes creeps up in all of our lives. By telling the truth myself, I also hope to ‘spark a process’ by which African churches and African society at large can deal with divorce more honestly, astutely, compassionately, and effectively. Along this journey, I have found myself continually problematizing divorce – revealing it for the immensely complex, multi-dimensional concept that it is. Hopefully, this process will be useful for others that are in the same place as I was when I started writing, and for the loved ones in their lives. Hopefully, it will help us all refrain from oversimplifying the issues that often lead to divorce, so that our solutions to these predicaments can be better thought-out and more practical and successful.
I have to warn you, though: the book is not written in chronological order by any means. I write about whatever comes to me, whenever it comes. This is a healing process, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that healing can often be haphazard.