Every once in awhile a something comes across on my Facebook that makes me cringe: a post or a share or a dramatic declaration that oozes feminism. To be clear, I should say that I don’t believe feminism to be a bad thing, strictly speaking.
Different but equal, if you will. Modern society, though, has bastardized the concept. I liken it to the ripple effect of hazing. Like when upperclassmen spend a year or more “initiating” freshmen by demeaning, disrespecting and demoralizing them so much so that when age and status place those same freshman in a position to institute change, they fall back instead on repeating an ugly cycle. I suppose that there are women who have been so unjustly treated for so long that–given a voice–they act out in ways that go beyond equality and cross over into belittling the male gender as a whole. Too far a pendulum swing for me. Whether it’s a Facebook post or a sensationalized news story or even an offhanded remark overheard in the grocery store checkout line, sentences that include both the words “strong” and “woman” tend to give me pause.
With that backstory in place, it might be easier to understand why I hesitate to say that mine is a five generation family of strong, strong women.
In late July I had the opportunity to fly to Boise for a milestone birthday gathering in celebration of my Grams. Those three days marked the first time all five generations of our family had gathered in one place since Charlie was born in May. It was a beautiful weekend during which we:
- Saw Shakespeare under the stars
- Had third row seats at Living Proof Live Boise with Beth Moore
- Spent cherished time just enjoying each other’s company
I came away from that weekend with fresh perspective on what it means to be a strong woman. I hope you don’t mind if I share.
Grams is one of those stoic remnants of the generation born in the aftermath of the Great Depression. Within her I imagine there to be a complex sorting system that decides which emotions she will display and which will remain veiled. Not the kind to withhold genuine expressions of a fierce love for her family, she freely gives both hugs and smiles on a regular basis. In all my 37 years of knowing her, though, I can recall only four times when I’ve seen tears in her eyes.
- At a Christmas Eve candlelight service held three months after her daughter lost a battle with cancer.
- When once out of burning anger and teenage stupidity I nastily declared that I hated my mother.
- When I gave her a piece of jewelry that memorialized my late aunt’s signature.
- When we hugged goodbye as I headed to the airport after our most recent weekend together.
She is a strong woman because the things she has seen and the experiences she’s lived in her 75 years have made her so. She is a strong woman because of her faith in a God who is infinitely stronger. She is a strong woman not because she boasts of her own worth, but because she doesn’t.
I have some really beautiful memories of my childhood. Memories of campfire singalongs and inside jokes and days spent boating under a warm sun on a lake that stretched for miles. My memories have bleed lines, though–fractures. There was an innate fear that the littlest thing might set off a raging storm of violence acted out against the first woman I ever loved: my mom. Whereas I can count the times I saw Grams in tears, the tears I watched my mom cry would fall like sand through my fingers. Like most every story hers isn’t as straightforward as it seems. I learned from her that love can be both a weakness and a strength.
She is a strong woman because she bent but didn’t break. She is a strong woman because her heart loves on, in spite of the risk. She is a strong woman not because she grips tight, but because she knows when to let go.
The third generation is mine. And though it seems odd to document my strength, it fits in the story.
When I think of my own strength, I think of my most vulnerable, desperate moment. I think of the night that my youngest daughter was born and I was little more than a girl myself. I was folded up in a heap, a disheveled mess spilled out over the edge of a bathtub in a Georgia hospital room. My eyes were swollen from so many tears wept, my heart was shattered to pieces by the diagnosis they delivered. I was alone in that room as I cried out to the God I’d known but mostly ignored since childhood. I was alone in that room so it made no earthly sense to me to feel a physical presence pull me to my feet again. I was alone in that room with not even an ounce of will so it made no earthly sense to me that I could–and did–go right on living. Despite. And everyday, every disaster big and small since then, I’ve gone right on living. Despite.
I am a strong woman because I know where my strength comes from. I am a strong woman because even at my weakest, He is strong. I am a strong woman not because I am, but because He is.
My firstborn is at a stage in her life in which she hasn’t fully realized her strength. A new mom, she’s navigating unfamiliar waters and trying to find balance between the life she knew and the life she has now. I remember. I pray these desperate prayers for her because when I imagine stepping into that transition in this age of Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, well, I can’t help but shudder. All the insecurity and second-guessing and perceived shortcomings we naturally feel as new moms are so grotesquely magnified when compared to the shiny snippets found in our Facebook feeds.
She is a strong woman because fear doesn’t cripple her. She is a strong woman because she chooses to go her own way. She is a strong woman not because she necessarily says it, but because the in and outs of her days prove it.
The itty bittiest among us has yet to prove the depths of her strength, but I’ve no doubt she will. The women who’ve come before her have seen it all. We’ve been laughed at and rejected and adamantly told no. We’ve been betrayed and fired and beaten down. We’ve been hard-pressed and desperate and left alone. We’ve been cheated on and lied to and put upon.
But yet here we are.
When I sit across from any one of them at the table, it’s not what they’ve endured that I see; it’s who they’ve become because of it. And when that fifth generation is able to sit around the table with the rest of us, I hope she sees that we live watercolor lives. That for each of our own personal tragedies, we’ve got personal triumphs–wild, blooming colors that bleed in over top the darkness. That–I think–defines strength.
It’s a good way to live–the best legacy we can hope to give.