Celebrating Strong Women: Weapons of My Warfare

unnamed-1Today’s Strong Woman is Shannon Maddox, my first blogging friend. Shannon, aka “Auntie,” is a writer, artist, and musician whose 9 to 5 …well actually 5 to 9… job is as a Member Care Specialist at her local YMCA.  Her blog, The Iron Diva (www.iron-diva.blogspot.com), chronicles her ongoing quest for total health (and anything else that may be swilling around in her grey matter).  She resides in Weaver, Alabama.  

The Weapons of My Warfare

Thanks to my sister-in-blog, Annie, for the opportunity to share.

When I looked up the word strength in the dictionary, among every definition was a common theme—power.  Power conjures up the image of a superhero with superpowers.

Most people would understand my power if I were a wife, a mom, or a CEO.  But don’t be fooled, I have mighty weapons they in themselves don’t seem like very much, but they bring strength and courage to others.

The First Weapon:  A Crochet Hook

Picture in your mind a young lady pregnant for the first time with a child who wasn’t planned.  Then picture a 30-something career woman who feels she doesn’t have time for a baby right now.  Then picture a 40-something divorce’ pregnant with her fourth child.  Her husband cheated on her, and she really doesn’t want any reminders of him to deal with.  Now, bring her to a pro-life crisis pregnancy center.  Not only does she get kind, loving words, but real help.  The first gift she receives is a pair of baby booties.  Why?  She needs to know that there is a real little person with feet growing in her womb.  Not tissue, not a cluster of cells, and not a mistake to be erased, but a real person to love.  The baby booties give her power to carry her child to term and care for the child or lovingly give him up for adoption.  I’ve made hundreds of pairs of booties for our local center and plan to make 100’s more.

My crochet hook also brings comfort and strength to deployed or wounded soldiers, joy and strength to the elderly in nursing homes, and loving strength to children fighting illness.

The Second Weapon:  A Paint Brush

Nehemiah 8:10 says “…for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”  Recreating the beauty of the world on a canvas or paper not only brings me joy, but shares that joy with all who will look.  Art critics are notorious for saying that a piece should “say” something.  The main “statement” of my art is “Feel the joyous strength.”  If I can’t relay that message, anything else I try to say will be lost.

My paintbrush brings joyous strength to all who view it on my blog or social media pages, those who purchase or receive it as a gift, and to my local senior citizens center.  I am on the lookout for ways that my paintbrush can bring even more strength to those who need it.

The Third Weapon:  A Keyboard or Pen

I hold true to the old adage “The pen is mightier than the sword” though sometimes my “pen” is a computer keyboard.  Words have power.  Proverbs describes words as having the ability to build or tear down.  The Bible also says that words reveal the true nature of the heart.  I try to use my words to build up the good and tear down the evil.  Others have found strength through the words of my blog or essays I’ve written.  Some found strength to keep fighting for their health, while others have taken up the “pen” themselves to pass on their own version of strength.

For those who only see one kind of power, my weapons may seem flimsy and not up to the task. For those who truly understand that power and strength come in multiple forms, my weapons are mighty indeed.

Celebrating Strong Women: Fear, Love, Strength

Kathy picOur Strong Woman this week is Kathy Swigle. Kathy is a connector who first invited me to MOPS and then encouraged me to start blogging. Kathy is a Denver Native who loves God, her hubby, her girls, emerging urban leaders, sports, coffee, writing, having fun, & working at her church. She hopes to move from fear to freedom in this lifetime! Currently, she is pursuing life-coach training and public speaking opportunities. She blogs at Coaching 4 Calling.

First Comes Fear, Then Comes Love, Then Comes Strength…

Strong women jump out of airplanes, do stand-up comedy, smoke cigars while speaking about literature in swanky uptown bars in New York City, and run successful corporations. Right?

Strong women don’t cry all night because they are afraid of the decision they just made to move into an inner city neighborhood. Strong women don’t ask for people to pray for them because fear is consuming them. Strong women don’t wait until their upstairs neighbor gets home at 3:00 am to finally fall asleep because now they feel safe. Or do they?

Much like the Ugly Duckling saw only its flawed exterior and was shocked when it had transformed into a beautiful, majestic swan, I only saw my fearful self, crying out to God and wondering why I had chosen to move into the ‘hood.  I wasn’t strong or brave. I just loved the kids I worked with and wanted to live nearby to understand their lives and world better. But somehow in the process of being fearful, I became strong.

I learned to trust God’s word that said he would protect my coming and going. I recently read my journal entry dated a few days after I moved in. “Tonight was pretty scary. As I was getting out of my car, I heard multiple gunshots which at the time I thought were fireworks but unlikely since it was December.  I became nervous and ran inside my apartment. Later, the news reported that a man in his wheelchair had been fatally shot 25 times just three blocks from my apartment. Supposedly, the victim’s arm stayed extended as he pointed his weapon at the police and they continued to shoot at him.”

But as I reread my journal and think back to those days, I know the Lord was right by my side showing me His love and asking me to love my neighbor. He’d say, “I love you, my child. Don’t be afraid. You have so much joy and radiance and it will be shown to your neighbors. They need love. Will you love them?”

One afternoon, my new neighbors said hello. I found it funny that the first thing they said to me was, “Hita, (Spanish for daughter), we ain’t rapists or thieves or nothing….

It was both endearing and disturbing, but each morning Antonio was there to say, “What’s your story, Morning Glory?” We would catch up on life and wish each other a great day. 

Through multiple positive interactions with people in my neighborhood, I began to trust and develop caring relationships.  I began to learn the truth of “perfect love casts out all fear.” I began to view everyone, even people I probably shouldn’t have, as safe loving children of God who needed love and some TLC.  Looking back, I can see that I was transformed into a woman of strength. I took risks, prayed with honesty, and loved well in the midst of being a fearful little soul.

After living in my little apartment a few years, I bought a home in the heart of my neighborhood, taught at one of the toughest inner city schools in Denver, and mentored many children. My scared little soul blossomed into a fearless and strong one!

People often tell me they think I am strong, but I wish they could know that I freak out when I think of wearing a dress and looking pretty out in the real world; that I shake like an earthquake before I get up to make an announcement at church; that I’m terrified to blog but really want to be a writer and speaker.

Do you think that’s the case with all of us? Whether we jump out of planes, lead others, or live in a community as a minority, I’ll bet there’s fear involved. Rhonda Britten, author of Fearless Living, says, “You’ve heard it said a thousand times, when it gets down to it, there are only two emotions: fear or love.”

So, what’s your fear? Do you only see your Ugly Duckling fearful self right now? What risk would you be willing to take to overcome that fear and be transformed into a Strong, Beautiful, Fearless and Loving Swan?

This post was edited by Kelly Ann Compton: kkddt@comcast.net.

Celebrating Strong Women: Finding Your True Narrative

unnamed-1Today, I am honored to introduce Sarah Burton, one of the first women who comes to mind when I think of inspiring, strong women. Sarah loves to travel, cook and bake, and drink more wine than she’d admit to in front of her mother. She has served in the Peace Corps, been in nonprofits for 15 years, and currently is an executive director at a nonprofit providing crime prevention and safety services in San Francisco, where she lives with her cat and husband.

Finding Your True Narrative 

We have all been asked at one point in our lives who our role model is.  I sometimes think of my grandmother or other family members, but more often than not I choose larger than life women that are influencing the world and history of today. As my role models, their examples inspire me to do greater things in my own life.

Sometimes, though, I end up comparing myself to those role models and feel less successful because I know that it is unlikely I will be as famous or as impactful as them. I hold myself to standards impossible to reach, turning inspiration into an “I’m not good enough” narrative.

I have been thinking about this a lot, partly because Annie asked me to write this guest blog in her “strong women” series. I am always flattered when someone tells me that they consider me a strong woman, but then I start thinking they must only say that because of my age, my job, or because I’ve fooled them into thinking it. Thus starts my inner dialogue that will invariably question the validity of any positive statement someone says about me.

One of the most difficult aspects of being a woman in today’s world is living up to all the expectations. I should be thin (perfect bikini bod in time for summer!); I should do my best to stay looking young (they have a cream for that); I should be married (to a man, of course); I should have children (wait, you don’t have kids yet?!); I should be smart (but not a know-it-all); I should be successful (Mark Zuckerberg was, like, 23 when he started Facebook); and of course I should be sexy – but not too sexy, because that’s just trashy.

Women have such a fine line to walk – be smart, but not too smart. Be thin, young and beautiful, and make it look effortless. Be domestic and successful. Be a lady and a freak. There are so many external expectations on us in our society which we internalize, then we add many of our own expectations (realistic and unrealistic) on top of those. By the time we’re finished, no matter how much someone compliments us or acknowledge our success, we can somewhere in our lives where we fall short to counteract that positive.

How can we possibly live up to all these expectations? We can’t. Just because I did not change the world by the time I was 35 while also maintaining a perfect 20-year-old body does not nor should not lessen the true narrative of my own strength or success.

So here’s my advice, from one strong woman to many: start using the right standard – yourself. Think about what you want, and what will actually make you happy.

Take the inspiration you need from the world and set realistic expectations for yourself. Celebrate accomplishments. Acknowledge strengths. Use failure to move forward and grow in a positive way. Forgive yourself. Take the time to recognize the many difficult and wonderful things you achieve on a regular basis, regardless of whether or not someone else would write about it in a history book. This is not about history – this is your story.

It’s not easy. It’s an ongoing commitment to hold yourself to kinder standards, to work tirelessly at achieving goals that you have chosen for your own growth, and to love your wonderful, flawed self in the face of unrealistic expectations.

Unrealistic societal expectations won’t go away entirely, and you may still face criticism for not living up to them. But by not making them the standards by which you live gives you the opportunity to move beyond the paralyzing impossibility of success to a place of courage and freedom to explore what strength and success looks like to you.