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]

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

Take your seat at the head of the table

All of us know times, even seasons, in which we struggle and strain to feel like we’re on solid ground…in our minds, not to mention our lives. We toss and turn. We hear the inner fight. We know it’s not helpful, even sane. And yet we can’t seem to get ourselves out of the looping, the spiraling, the repetitive messages that do not help and worse, are not true.

I won’t assume to know what those internal messages are in your mind, but I’m highly familiar with the ones that circle and spin in my own.

In such times, we need something to grab on to. Not like a carousel ring; more like a pylon. Maybe what we really need is something that grabs on to us, that holds us tight while we finally let our breath slow and the internal storm calm. That stronghold, that safety, that holding comes from wisdom. And that wisdom comes from within.

I could tell you why we don’t turn toward this wisdom automatically, why it evades, why we often feel devoid of what we most need. But analyzing more deeply why we do the things we do isn’t the only avenue that heals. For right now, and in service to the calm that’s desired and deserved, let’s just allow it in (or perhaps remember that it already dwells within). No matter what, it longs to hold you fast so that you can hold on.

As you read what follows, maybe even for these few minutes, imagine some wise sage or crone reading your palm – more likely your heart – and offering you three truths. Each of them simply is. There’s no need to argue or dismiss. Just accept. Now, inhale. Breathe deep.

This first truth is an imperative, a directive, a call to place; a place that is yours.

TAKE YOUR SEAT AT THE HEAD OF THE TABLE. This is where you belong – even now and all the time. Assume this spot of distinction. Look at the people who surround – as they look at you. They are not surprised to see you here. They understand and unquestioningly accept your distinction, your belonging, and your role. You are honored. You are revered. As it should be. As you deserve.

And do not miss this one singular and significant point in the sentence above: sit down. Let the chair that’s only yours support you. Let the weight of your body be fully held and finally still. Exhale. You are here. We want you here. Ahead is the nourishment you most need.

Now, seated where you belong, hear this second truth.

YOUR ROLE IS SIGNIFICANT BEYOND MEASURE. Nothing is required of you to make this true. It just is. You just are. This statement intends no pressure, nor is it some marker by which you measure everything you’ve done (or not) thus far. It is simply (and always) true. You matter. You impact. You influence. And in ways beyond imagining, “beyond measure.”

What if, instead of wondering how this could be, you just believed? What if you just take this in? And what if you choose to live from and with this knowing? That’s the invitation – yours to accept – because of the third truth.

YOUR LEGACY IS CERTAIN. “Certain.” The word feels foreign, strange even. Especially now. But it’s the one you most need to hear, most need to draw on, most need to believe (yes, again). The less certain you feel, the more this deep wisdom-that-is-yours needs to be clung to tenaciously, fiercely, with every bit of grip and grit you can muster.

And what exactly IS certain when so much feels out of control – both within and without? You. Your lasting impact. Your legacy. The way in which your life lives and breathes beyond you. Done deal. Amen.

You may feel tenuous about what I’ve offered here. Uncertain, faltering, questioning, doubting. Which takes me back to where I started. We deeply, desperately need to believe what is more true, what is actually true – instead of the endless din that shouts within and without.

Let it in. Then let it hover like a fragrant offering to the ancient, endless wisdom within you. Listen with reverence and faith. And breathe deep, then deeper still. Now, push your chair back from the table. Rise up to the immeasurable power of your role. And stand in the full and glorious stature of your certain, incontrovertible legacy.

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

Because I’ve been writing (again and finally). Because I need to remember, recall, and believe in what’s deeper, truer, wiser. Because I’m guessing you do, too.

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

Photo by Nadia Valko on Unsplash.