Making Meaning out of the Experiences of our Lives
by Charlotte Caron
The Barb Wire Collective is a group of nine Canadian women who believe that women with disabilities and chronic illnesses are important to the well-being of the world. All of us in the Collective are women who live with disabilities and chronic illnesses. All of us are women of faith. We have come to believe that we know the power of love and of what is holy in new ways because of our experiences with our bodies and minds.
The process for our learning began as each of us individually wrote an article about the spiritual paths on which we are traveling and resting. This writing project emerged out of an event of the Saskatchewan Christian Feminist Network which examined life on the margins including, among other perspectives, living with disabilities. Barb Elliott, one of the founders of the Network, had begun to explore feminist perspectives on disabilities. The sharing of her experiences at that event, as well as those of others, inspired women to begin to articulate more fully the challenges of living with disabilities and chronic illnesses.
At Barb's death, funding became available through her estate to support projects addressing issues of concern to women with disabilities. I invited other women across the country to become part of the Barb Wire Collective, and under this title we received funding to develop our project on the spiritual resources we found in and made out of our lives.
Because we are spread across the country, we initially shared our writing by mail. Then all nine of us came together to talk about what we had written. For many of us the consultation was the first time we had gathered in a group where we identified ourselves as women with chronic illnesses and disabilities to talk with other women who made the same identification. Our hope is to have all our writing published in a collective work under the title "We've Learned a Lot."
We worked and laughed together. It was good to be with other women with similar experiences in life. Often the stories told were about hurtful things that had happened but when we shared them with drama, or named the things we wished we had said, or heard potential responses from others, we roared in healing laughter. Our lives and our disabilities/ illnesses are different, but we were able (to use Elinor Johns words) "to share faith, fury and frustration" in significant ways. We felt safe together, trusting that we would not have to defend the vulnerable parts of our lives. One woman said, "I haven't had such a safe learning space for more than 20 minutes ever before!"