What Strong Women Do

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None of the ladies in my family shrink back. Distinctly southern, full voices fill the room when we enter. We’re known for our loud laughs and warm embraces. We aren’t afraid to speak our minds and take the lead. We see a space and fill it. We see a need and fill it. I never grew up with the misconception that, as a woman, I wasn’t capable.

I grew up with a mom who worked equally as hard outside the home as my dad to provide for our family. She worked full-time as well as nights and side jobs at various points in mine and my sister’s childhood. Despite that, I remember her being present at every event. Each dance recital or band competition, game or school function. She showed up. She volunteered. She was known and beloved by all my friends. She appeared to do it all with ease.

I’ve always prided myself on being part of a line of strong women. It wasn’t until I was a young working mom myself, wracked with anxiety brought on by all the things I believed I should be doing but couldn’t manage, that I realized a weakness I inherited, too. The waters of all the expectations I placed on myself were rising higher than I could swim. I was going under.

When I started admitting my feelings of failure, the women around me echoed back my anxiety. “Why can’t we do it all?” we said. We all felt weak, believing the strength of a woman meant being all the things to all the people all the time.

My mom admitted the disquiet she lived with as well. She never let us see it as children, but she struggled to keep her head above water, too. When I looked at her as a real person and not just Supermom, I saw the crack in the facade, the weak place I’d missed before: her inability to rest.

Just like the women before me, I was weak when it came to caring for myself.

I’d let myself believe that feminine power means carrying everyone else. If our muscles start to tremble, we must power through it. If someone else is in need, we must deny ourselves. We give our all to our partners, our children, our churches, our communities. We come last.

This sounds good and right. It sounds biblical. And it is. And it’s not. Power doesn’t come from constant movement. Strength doesn’t mean we always show up and always say “yes.”

Jesus served and commands us to serve; we do it whole-heartedly. Jesus also rested and commands us to rest; we aren’t so sure about that one.

This is a weak area of my life I’ve been trying to strengthen for years, a wounded place I ask God to heal constantly. Letting go is work for me every single day. Over the past week in this strange new world of distancing we find ourselves in, I felt the darkness closing in again.

Do you feel it, too? The pressure to be everything right now? Wife, mom, worker, and teacher and counselor to newly house-bound and grieving children. Producer in all our free time (really, have we ever been less productive than right now?). There’s the need to be online to stay up-to-date on news and checking in on vulnerable friends, and the longing to be present to the people shut-in with us.

Sisters, I know some of you feel it, too. The knotted muscles in our backs, the tightness in our chest and shortness of breath, the sick and feverish feelings we have that aren’t from a virus. They’re from forgetting where our power comes from.

We were daughters before we were sisters. We were children before we were mothers. We were the creation before we were creators. We were receivers before we were givers. God knows our weakness and fills it. God knows our desire and meets it. God knows our hunger and satisfies it. God knows our weakness and provides connection to the Source of strength.

Maybe for you, it’s getting moving or finally being still. It’s creating something beautiful or ceasing activity. It might be finding God in the silence of centering prayer or finding community in online church. It’s writing, reading, or a movie cuddled up with those who can be near right now. It’s messaging a friend or staying in bed all morning.

This morning for me, it was slipping into the dark hours to type these words because writing is my release. This week it is a commitment to getting out of the bed early to pray, write my morning pages, and practice yoga before the day of work and at-home learning (and fighting and weeping) begins.

It also looks like calling my mom to see how she’s doing, distant though mere miles separate us. She’s still spends every day caregiving for others. Yesterday she was out picking up meals and delivering them to fire stations. That’s what strong women do. Today she was watching a movie with my dad, bemoaning all the things she needs to be doing instead. That’s also what strong women do.

Our powerful hands stir and knead, tidy and sweep away, teach and mold, give and serve, motivate and raise up, create and enable. Our tender hands also cradle and nurture, comfort and encourage, still and quiet, bind up and heal.

May our open hands also fold in prayer, find times to be still, and stretch to the sky to receive what we do not have the power to do on our own.

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