The power of women’s stories…of YOUR story

There’s an old, old story told that begins with a narcissistic, paranoid, and power-hungry man (which sounds vaguely familiar); an Egyptian Pharaoh who was worried about the slave population growing too fast. So he issued a decree that all newborn sons were to be put to death (as though it were up to him: the choices women made). And who was to carry out this ridiculous and violent rule? Yes, women. He mandated that the midwives in his employ would make sure the deaths happened – the very women whose sole purpose was to make sure life happened.   

Two of those midwives decided that their principles, their ethics, their choices mattered more than his, so they ignored his mandate – not willing to participate in genocide. They continued their work. They stood alongside women, reminded them to breathe, wiped the sweat from their brows, talked them through their pain, and placed their children – no matter the gender – into their waiting arms. 

At one point, the two of them were brought before the Pharaoh – now even more red-faced and angry than before (which also sounds vaguely familiar). “How is it that the slave population continues to grow? Did I not say that all the boys were to be killed?” Without missing a beat, the two of them explained that the Hebrew women were not like Egyptian women. “They are too quick! They give birth before we even get to their home!” 

The story ends by saying that “…the people multiplied and increased greatly.”

If I were preaching a sermon (which, admittedly, I sort of am), here’s my first point:

Women’s advocacy, friendship, and support for one another changes everything. Everything! 

I suppose it’s possible, even probable, that one midwife could have stepped out of line on her own and saved a generation of humans. But the fact that she didn’t have to, that she wasn’t alone, is what makes this story so powerful. Together, the two of them let the baby boys live…which caused the Israelite nation to keep growing…which created the conditions for an entire nation’s escape from slavery to liberation. These two women did this! Their advocacy for one another. Their friendship. Their support. In the face their courage and integrity, the Pharaoh didn’t stand a chance. Not really. Not ultimately. These two women (who are rarely, if ever heard of) changed everything. 

We have the same capacity, you know. We are advocated for, befriended, and supported by the women we know and love. Even more, we are accompanied by the generations of women upon whose shoulders we stand – including the two midwives.

We are not alone! Ever.

And with this much beauty, power, and wisdom in our corner, what can’t we change? 

One more point (I’m making myself stop at only two): 

The stories of women (even when unknown, unheard, uncelebrated) are what enable the possibility of so many more yet to come. 

At about the same time of this story, another one was taking place. A baby boy was born. His mother, understandably afraid that he would be killed, put him in a basket made of reeds and let him float down the river – hoping that he would be rescued and given safety. Her hope was fulfilled when the Pharaoh’s daughter, bathing in the river, happened to see the basket and rescued the baby. Though that boy grew up in affluence and privilege, he could not ignore the ongoing mistreatment and oppression of the Hebrew people. He left his position and power behind – leading their rebellion and escape. His name was Moses. Maybe you’ve heard of him? The parting of the Red Sea. The 10 Commandments. And a few other juicy tales…

Could the midwives have possibly known how their courage would instill hope in others? Could they have possibly imagined that their actions would lead to one mother’s willingness to do whatever was required on behalf of her son’s life? Could they have known that this mother’s choice compelled compassion in yet another woman – the Pharaoh’s daughter – who took in that baby in as her own? Could they have known that their story would birth, nurture, and enable not only the story of Moses, but that of the Hebrew people’s deliverance? 

Of course not, but that’s the point. The stories of women, the ones we know and perhaps even more, the ones we don’t, are what enable the stories that are yet to be told.  

Guess what?! This includes your story. You are this powerful, this influential, this amazing. Just like the midwives. Just like Moses’ mother. Just like the Pharaoh’s daughter. Just like story after story after story of women since… Just like you. 

When we know these stories – the strength, courage, and beauty from which we descend – we begin to recognize just how powerful we are, the ways in which we shape the future of all that is yet to come, the way in which we have the capacity to change everything

Imagine all that you are yet to do – companioned by such a legacy of women; living your own story in ways that will champion so many more yet to come. How amazing are you? (I already know the answer.)

And it’s only Monday! 

May it be so.

[Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash]

Being Militant. Choosing Hope. Pursuing Desire.

(A Sunday Sermon, of sorts – even though it’s not a Sunday…)

To refuse to participate in the shaping of our future is to give it up…Each of us must find our work and do it. Militancy no longer means guns at high noon, if it ever did. It means actively working for change, sometimes in the absence of any surety that change is coming. (Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider)

Mmmmm. This is relevant, yes?

It is far too easy – and tempting – to not be militant; to let minutes, hours, and days pass with a wish and a prayer that things will get better. But to intentionally choose to shape our future? Militancy, indeed, is required. 

Militancy PLUS every bit of the courage, strength, heart, wisdom, passion, and tenacity we possess. 

Here’s the good news: we have every bit of these things in endless supply! It’s what, and who, we are at core as women. (Don’t let anyone – especially yourself – tell you otherwise!)

And because we possess all of this and then some, there is hope.

Hope for change.
Hope for justice.
Hope, period.

I’ve had acquaintances over the years who have critiqued me for holding on to hope – as if it’s somehow too whispy and whimsical, not practical enough. I completely disagree. Clinging to hope is what turns our eyes and heart toward what can be, what must be, and everything that we desire. And desire? Don’t get me started…

Well, ok, just this: if I know anything it is that a woman’s desire has the capacity to change the trajectory of the entire human race! It’s that powerful. You are.

So pursue desire (no matter who you upset along the way).

Choose hope (and defy anything that would influence you otherwise).

And be militant (on behalf of the change, the future, the world we long for and deserve).

 

Practically speaking, in the very near term, this means voting, advocating, speaking out, showing up, and doing everything in our immense-and-unstoppable power to actively work for change, yes, “sometimes in the absence of any surety that change is coming.”

And just because: one more worth-repeating quote of Audre Lorde:

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

May it be so.

[Photo by Jennifer Griffin on Unsplash]

The shadows are not our home

We wake up each morning and watch the world around us burn. We see corruption, scandal, and the decimation of democracy. We see sickness and intentional disregard for collective healing and health. We see injustice, racism, violence, and willful perpetration of all three. It is heartbreaking, infuriating, and exhausting. So it’s not surprising that we sometimes prefer to pull the covers over our head, cross our fingers that things will get better, and go back to an unsettled and restless sleep.

The shadows seduce, to be sure. But they are not our home.

I know this because of my own stories – lived experiences in which I’ve feebly-but-miraculously watched the darkness dissipate as I stepped into the light, into my own strength and voice and agency. I know this because of the countless stories of women I love, reimagine, retell, and take respite in – again and again. Overcoming centuries of maligned tellings, they are light personified and embodied; they are beacon and guide. And I know this because of so many other stories I cherish.

One of my favorites is The Lord of the Rings. I have read the book and watched the extended edition films almost as ritual. Throughout, Frodo, Sam, and those who aid their quest, are far more familiar with shadow than light. At times the pressing weight is more than they can bear; somehow, they persist and (barely) survive. This scene offers me both respite and invitation. Sam says,

“I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something.”
“What are we holding on to, Sam?”
“That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo…and it’s worth fighting for.”

Indeed. When we step out of the shadows and into the light, when we hold on, when we keep fighting, we become the switch that’s flipped in a pitch black room. The cellphone flashlight that nearly blinds. The lone candle that warms an entire space. The campfire that glows. The bonfire that cleanses. The star that shines. The laser that burns.

Even as the world burns, an election looms, and systemic bigotry and hatred run rampant. Even as we lose jobs or struggle within them. Even as we internally debate about speaking up or staying silent. Even as we wrestle with compliance, compromise, and the cost of defiance. Even as we rage, ache, and weep. In every bit of it – always, all the time – the light endures. We do.

Further into the story and far from home, Sam reflects:

“For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing; there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”

The shadows are not our home. We must trust that the light endures…and step into it.

And how? The answer is as unique as each of our stories. We speak up. We stand tall. We say no. We say yes. We step forward. We act. We choose. We vote. We rage. We love. We hold on. We fight. We blaze – brilliant, blinding, breathtaking.

When we do, the darkness has no choice. It must flee.

May it be so.

[I am not remotely confused: I write these words for my own sake, for my own encouragement, for my own clarity and compulsion and next steps. I’m hopeful they offer you even a taste of the same, a bit of light in the darkness, a Sunday sermon of-sorts.]

Photo by Chronis Yan on Unsplash

A shocking event (with some context)

A Sunday sermon, of sorts, that I hadn’t planned to write…

You know those movies that start with a shocking event? After the scene is set up, the next 90 minutes take you back in time and slowly, bit-by-bit, carry you forward until you can see the event again – this time with comprehension and context.

That’s the way of life, isn’t it? Something shocking happens. We go back in our minds. We pour over every detail, every circumstance, every conversation in order to make sense of things. Simultaneously we are required to move forward, albeit haltingly; we put one foot in front of the other, almost surprised that we can do such a thing until, finally, we catch ourselves in a present moment, clear, awake, and aware.

My shocking event: I resigned from my job on Thursday.

Let’s go back…

Last week I wrote about crossroads, staring over the edge of a cliff, and knowing there will be consequences and costs no matter what decision we make. It was about saying ‘no,’ not compromising, and choosing self – always – no matter what. (And weirdly, wildly…or not…I wrote it before knowing what this week was yet to bring.)

How are we to know if our decision is the right one? How are we to rely on (or cling to) some level of confidence and surety, no matter the s**t storm that is about to descend?

My answer to these questions – for myself (and for you)? We listen to our soul.

I know. It sounds a little bit cheesy. Less-than-practical. “Where are the pro and con lists, Ronna? The Excel spreadsheets? Weighing all the options?” I’m not opposed to any of these; I’ve utilized them myself, believe me. Still…

First, last, always, the soul is where we turn. It’s our deepest knowing. The still, small voice. Or maybe not still and small at all: it’s the voice that screams within. We feel its press, its pulse, its presence. It stays.

Of course it stays. It’s our soul. It is the essence of who we are. It is endlessly intact. It cannot be shaken, shrunken, or silenced. It is our wisdom. Your wisdom. Not conventional wisdom, not objective wisdom, not book wisdom, not dogmatic or doctrinal wisdom. Not wisdom sanctioned by others. Yours. It’s what you know. Even (and maybe especially) if you can’t make sense of it for others, at times, yourself included.

It’s a life’s effort, of course. I have countless stories in which I couldn’t acknowledge my soul’s accuracy and trustworthiness until after-the-fact. I didn’t make the decision I knew I should, but inevitably looked back and said, “I knew. I knew. I knew!” And in that reflection, I learned. I have other stores (fewer of them) in which I took the tiniest, bravest steps forward. It was (and is) scary, foggy, unknown. But with each movement, no matter how tentative, I felt the ground beneath my feet get firmer. I looked around and ahead and said, “I do know. I can do this. I am right.” (My soul was right.)

I’ve been rewinding so many of these stories in past days. In the midst, I have deliberated, crafted pro-and-con lists, and even constructed an Excel spreadsheet or two. I’ve had countless conversations with myself and others. And I have heard my soul speak with impossible-to-ignore clarity. I’m still free-falling a bit, to be honest. But I’m also completely confident the ground will rise up to meet me.

I can hear my soul breathe, ‘yes.’

I could not have done this were it not for so many of my own lived stories – the ones in which I did NOT listen and, thankfully, a few in which I DID. I could not have done this were it not for the beautiful and brilliant tribe of women who support, advocate, and cheer me on. (Thank you: you know who you are.) I could not have done this were it not for the generations of women who have gone before – a chorus of wisdom that dwells within and says, “We are here. We know. We see. We understand. You can trust your soul. You can trust yourself. Hear our ‘yes.’”

And now, one more soul has joined that chorus: Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Shocking. Heartbreaking. Incalculable loss.

But when we rewind, her wisdom and legacy remain and sustain. Her soul speaks to mine (and I’m guessing yours) in ways more powerful and undeniable than ever:

“So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune.”

Confirmation. Affirmation. Advocacy. Yes, another ‘yes.’

So, movie over. Popcorn gone. A Monday on the way. And if the film was any good, lots to keep thinking about, feeling into, reflecting on. That’s my plan – accompanied by the wisdom of RBG, so many other women, and what I’ve learned to rely on in myself, my very soul. Hearing ‘yes’ everywhere. Letting it compel the next, tiniest, most hesitant of steps forward…Hopefully for you, as well.

May it be so.

‘Yes.’

[Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash]

A crossroad, a cliff’s edge, decisions, and then some…

Over a lifetime, we find ourselves at crossroads: a relationship, a marriage, a divorce, a career decision, a location change, health issues, endings, beginnings… When peering over the cliff’s edge of a decision, we often feel as though few-if-any options exist. We feel stuck, lost, torn, frustrated, anxious, afraid, any number of emotions. (Or maybe it’s just me.)

We look into the unknown future and wish for an answer. But we need not look so far, so hard, or so wistfully to find one. The answer(s) are closer than we imagine or believe. They are already within. They are always within.

Just in case you’re not hearing them or not certain I’m right about this, here are three “answers” to apply at your crossroad, your cliff, your dark night of the soul. They’re trustworthy, I promise. (And I’ll tell you where they came from in a bit…)

Sometimes ‘no’ is the right thing to say.

I know: you’ve been trying to get to a ‘yes.’ You’ve been looking for a middle ground, some kind of give that will allow you to stay, to manage, to make it work. ‘Yes’ is the answer others expect you to give (almost as though they’d never considered you’d say anything other). But what if the answer needed here – and the one that will create the clear path forward – is a definitive ‘no’?

Say no to circumstances that cause you to second guess your values, your strength, your integrity, your voice. Say no to people who push you to give in, to come around, to agree with their way of thinking, their perspective, their feelings. Say no to situations that harm. And say no, unequivocally and with great haste, to the anything that deserves our firm and unyielding response: racism, sexual trafficking, domestic and child abuse, gun rights… The list is long.

Listen to the wisdom (I promise) is within. Then give yourself permission and claim the authority to say ‘no.’ Sometimes it is not only the right thing to say, it’s the only thing to say.

Do not compromise.

I know this place well. Years in a marriage that felt too costly to leave; an avalanche of guilt that had me believe that compromising myself was the right thing to do vs. compromising my children. (I can see now that these weren’t mutually exclusive; in fact, compromising myself WAS compromising my children.) Way too much time in a job that felt too costly to leave – and a sneaky, endless voice within that told me I wouldn’t survive without it: “It’s not that big of a deal. Take the paycheck. Be satisfied. Compromise a bit, will you?”

Do not misunderstand me: I am clear that these are huge decisions with vast consequences. In such places, much grace must be extended – to ourselves, to be sure, and to women we know who are struggling. Perhaps our role, for self and others, is to remind ourselves that we deserve no compromise, that we deserve the reality that eludes, that we deserve dignity and clarity of mind and the strength to stare over the edge of that cliff and then leap…

Do not compromise. But if that’s not feasible, at least not yet, know that you are worthy of living a life that does not require or demand such of you. Ever.

Choose yourself – always no matter what.

I know: completely counterintuitive to what most of us were raised with, socialized into, and what feels our very nature. But as above, things are not mutually exclusive: choosing yourself does not mean that you cannot choose another. The point here? Do not not choose yourself – ever – no matter what.

Which means that we must not compromise. Which means that we must say ‘no.’ Which means that we must, yet again, sit at the edge of the crossroad or cliff and make the decision, make the call, make the leap – guided first, foremost, and always by choosing self – always, no matter what.

There is an old story told about a beautiful woman whose husband, the king, was about a week-deep into a party with his advisors and staff. At one point in the debauchery, he called for her, commanding that she show her beauty to his guests. Some versions of this story say he wanted her to come dance for them, others say she was to parade before them completely naked. No matter the details, she was faced with a decision. (Before going a step further, let’s acknowledge that to the king, there was no decision here. She wasn’t asked. She wasn’t conferred with. No one even considered this a choice. ‘Sound at all familiar?)

She knew she had a choice whether anyone else did, or not. She knew the consequences that would befall if she did not obey. She knew it was more than risky. She knew it was unthinkable. She knew it was unheard of. She knew.

And still, she said no.
She refused to compromise (herself).
She chose herself, that time, always, no matter what.

So what happened? As you might imagine, the king was enraged. He met with his advisors and staff to see what they recommended. Their brilliant answer: “Her behavior might negatively influence our wives and all the women in the kingdom. Best to make an example of her so that they don’t get any ideas.”

The queen was banished. But not before the wives did get other ideas. I have to believe that her ‘no’ reverberated through the kingdom and that nothing was ever the same again. Because that is the power of a woman’s will, a woman’s ‘no,’ a woman’s knowing. No matter what.

This is what all of us need to witness and believe in order to turn the tide: examples of other women who have done what we need to do, want to do, must do. Not shiny examples in which everything gets better (though those are VERY nice to hear); rather, ones in which the costs are swift and exacting and it’s still clear that her decision was the only choice and the right one. We must champion a world in which saying ‘no,’ hardly merits punishment – rather, celebration; where any form of compromise seems laughable, a non sequitur; where choosing ourselves is simply, always, obviously, the best and only thing to do.

Nothing more was ever heard of the queen, but that was hardly her story’s end. In fact, her choice created the conditions for another woman to take the throne. And that woman eventually saved an entire nation of people from genocide.

In her story, just like her predecessor’s, her ‘no,’ her unwillingness to compromise, and choosing herself rippled throughout history, changed history, and altered its trajectory in redemptive and powerful ways. I’m pretty sure that’s always the case…(Or maybe it’s just me.)

I don’t think so.

Every woman’s story links to another. We are never alone in our hardship, our challenges, or our choices. We are bound – you and me, all of us, past and future. One crossroad crossed, enables another to do the same. One cliff stared down and jumped from, strengthens someone else. One woman’s decisions are not inconsequential. They are what empower us to make ones we cannot yet imagine. Which means that it’s worth it. Always. Every time.

Recognizing and calling on this connection to every woman who has gone before is what allows you to trust that wisdom does, without question, dwell within. Within you! You can trust it – all the time, and definitely in circumstances that require a decision, a direction, an answer:

Sometimes ‘no’ is the right thing to say.
Do not compromise.
Choose yourself – always – no matter what.

Should you still wonder if you have it in you to follow this wisdom, this advice, here’s one more thing to ponder: you’re not only accompanied by a queen, you are royalty yourself. The line of women from whom you descend give you the strength, the courage, and a bloodline that cannot be weakened. So rise up. Leap off and over the cliff. Do not fear: we are here to catch you, if you fall. But even more, we are here to watch you soar – knowing that we are now able to do the same.

May it be so.

‘Seems like the way to start a new week…a Sunday sermon, of sorts.

[Attribution to the ancient, sacred story of Queen Vashti for my inspiration – and hopefully yours.]

Photo by Einar Storsul on Unsplash