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