Celebrating Strong Women: Finding Your True Narrative

unnamed-1Today, I am honored to introduce Sarah Burton, one of the first women who comes to mind when I think of inspiring, strong women. Sarah loves to travel, cook and bake, and drink more wine than she’d admit to in front of her mother. She has served in the Peace Corps, been in nonprofits for 15 years, and currently is an executive director at a nonprofit providing crime prevention and safety services in San Francisco, where she lives with her cat and husband.

Finding Your True Narrative 

We have all been asked at one point in our lives who our role model is.  I sometimes think of my grandmother or other family members, but more often than not I choose larger than life women that are influencing the world and history of today. As my role models, their examples inspire me to do greater things in my own life.

Sometimes, though, I end up comparing myself to those role models and feel less successful because I know that it is unlikely I will be as famous or as impactful as them. I hold myself to standards impossible to reach, turning inspiration into an “I’m not good enough” narrative.

I have been thinking about this a lot, partly because Annie asked me to write this guest blog in her “strong women” series. I am always flattered when someone tells me that they consider me a strong woman, but then I start thinking they must only say that because of my age, my job, or because I’ve fooled them into thinking it. Thus starts my inner dialogue that will invariably question the validity of any positive statement someone says about me.

One of the most difficult aspects of being a woman in today’s world is living up to all the expectations. I should be thin (perfect bikini bod in time for summer!); I should do my best to stay looking young (they have a cream for that); I should be married (to a man, of course); I should have children (wait, you don’t have kids yet?!); I should be smart (but not a know-it-all); I should be successful (Mark Zuckerberg was, like, 23 when he started Facebook); and of course I should be sexy – but not too sexy, because that’s just trashy.

Women have such a fine line to walk – be smart, but not too smart. Be thin, young and beautiful, and make it look effortless. Be domestic and successful. Be a lady and a freak. There are so many external expectations on us in our society which we internalize, then we add many of our own expectations (realistic and unrealistic) on top of those. By the time we’re finished, no matter how much someone compliments us or acknowledge our success, we can somewhere in our lives where we fall short to counteract that positive.

How can we possibly live up to all these expectations? We can’t. Just because I did not change the world by the time I was 35 while also maintaining a perfect 20-year-old body does not nor should not lessen the true narrative of my own strength or success.

So here’s my advice, from one strong woman to many: start using the right standard – yourself. Think about what you want, and what will actually make you happy.

Take the inspiration you need from the world and set realistic expectations for yourself. Celebrate accomplishments. Acknowledge strengths. Use failure to move forward and grow in a positive way. Forgive yourself. Take the time to recognize the many difficult and wonderful things you achieve on a regular basis, regardless of whether or not someone else would write about it in a history book. This is not about history – this is your story.

It’s not easy. It’s an ongoing commitment to hold yourself to kinder standards, to work tirelessly at achieving goals that you have chosen for your own growth, and to love your wonderful, flawed self in the face of unrealistic expectations.

Unrealistic societal expectations won’t go away entirely, and you may still face criticism for not living up to them. But by not making them the standards by which you live gives you the opportunity to move beyond the paralyzing impossibility of success to a place of courage and freedom to explore what strength and success looks like to you.

Taking Time to Nest

Well, we are officially overdue. Bea was nine days late, so apparently we make babies who are content to bake as long as possible. Philosophically, I’m all about letting babies decide on their own when to enter the world. Emotionally, during a hot week at the end of July? I cannot wait to not be pregnant. (And, of course, to meet this new member of our family!)

Since there’s no baby, I thought I’d continue blogging. After a false alarm hospital visit, where I had a brief quandary over whether or not our little girl counts as a “living child,” I thought about writing a post on the importance of language in light of the Planned Parenthood controversy, but that seemed beyond my mental capabilities at the moment.

Exploring the Botanic Gardens
Exploring the Botanic Gardens

Then, I thought about writing about our recent six year anniversary. We spent the day changing a dead car battery, making scones, and having a family adventure at the Botanic Gardens. It was not a fancy day, and perhaps didn’t look like anything out of the ordinary, but it was a good reflection of our life now and this quiet, nesting phase that we’re in. The reality right now is that I don’t have much energy to write posts that make connections to life and greater ideas.

So, I thought I’d write a little slice of life of where we’re at in this moment. Frank took the week off in the hopes of spending a week with our new baby. While it didn’t happen as planned, it’s been a perfect week of connecting as a family and relaxing at home – no projects or home improvements, just walks to the park and the store and special treats. I think it was a necessary week of connection before our lives change with this new baby.

A week filled with special treats.
A week filled with special treats.

I also needed a week of full-time two parent attention for Bea. Because we’ve been anxious and there have been a couple false alarms, we’ve been on edge and so she’s been on edge. Emotions have been running especially high and I am so thankful Frank was able to be here to carry some of the weight with breakfast dates, snuggle and swim time, and the novelty of having him home all day long. My parents stepped in, as well, giving Frank and I time to walk, to nap, to take a break from our sweet but high strung daughter.

Especially with an overdue baby, this period of nesting has dragged a bit and taken on different incarnations. From the traditional painting the room and arranging furniture at the beginning of the month to chores and baking and tying up loose ends in the middle to this time of waiting. Our nesting now has looked like reading books and having leisurely breakfasts on the patio. It’s looked like spending time together in ways that will be difficult in the coming weeks.

It’s a reminder that, no matter how prepared I am, sometimes preparation looks less like doing and more like being. Like listening to the needs of myself, of my three year old, even of our dog and recognizing we are all waiting and we all need to process in our own way.

What does your life look like at this moment?

The Thirties

Even though I’m only a few years in, the thirties has been a great decade. Granted, I’ve looked forward to these years for a while. As a teenager, planning my life, the thirties seemed to be the decade where everything comes together: After living in the selfish twenties, my thirties would be where I figured out life.

In 10 years, she'll be 13...!
In 10 years, she’ll be 13…!

While the details are certainly different from when I was fifteen and dreaming, much of that sentiment has held true. I love that, ten years ago, I was about to start my first “real” job, was halfway through grad school, and was living in a city I enjoyed. Over the next years, a lot of 10-year anniversaries will happen: 10 year friendships, 10 year book club meetings, 10 years of marriage.

I love looking ahead 10 years, too. Of still being in the craziness-of-raising kids phase in life and yet it will look so different. Bea will be in middle school (!!), perhaps I’ll be working full-time, hopefully our kids will be more independent.

I love this middle ground that the thirties have to offer. Of reflection and anticipation. I’m sure this sounds naive, especially if you’re reading well beyond your thirties. Hopefully every decade in life offers this opportunity for reflection, but I am glad that I’m in a place where I can take some time to enjoy this moment.

Which decade was your favorite? Or, which are you most looking forward to?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.

Celebrating Strong Women: Strong is the New Sexy

10628722_10100683415686469_5260412961739833615_oI’m so excited to introduce Kristin Menson! Kristin and I met in Paris and have kept in touch, thanks to the magic of notecards mixed with social media. Kristin is a family of one (two if you count her furkid) living in the bayou state for her 10th year which all began as a trip to volunteer following Hurricane Katrina. By day, she works to connect partners working on solving community issues and by night she swims, bikes and runs to raise money for research on a rare disease close to her heart. She can also be seen at the dog park, volunteering at the food bank and helping with a local triathlon club.

Strong is the New Sexy

I never imagined I would be 38 and single with no kids. Growing up I was one of those kids who would draw pictures of her wedding dress. I talked about what I would name my kids. I wanted the American Dream–a fulfilling job, a husband, 2.5 kids, and a dog–a dream reinforced by the American church. But there were other plans for my life.

In college and just after, I began to take notice of some amazing women who were not married. These women were strong and doing things that left an impact in their wake, from Gabrielle a college minister to Marilyn a missionary in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. These women weren’t waiting around for a guy to do anything, they were doing it themselves. So after college I followed their example and ended up in Paris after a couple of years working with international high school kids and that’s where I got to meet Annie.

As a single woman doing it yourself becomes a way of life. Something breaks, you have to fix it. You get sick, you take care of yourself. You have an idea, you get it done. Your dog kills a mouse in the house, you have to clean up the crime scene. Strength is not an option it’s a requirement. Now don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of strong married women including Annie, the author of this blog, but I think the strength of the single woman gets overlooked, especially in the church where we celebrate families and forget that “one” makes a family, too.

I remember when I became strong enough to say that I was a family of one. When I did it was very well received, but it took many years because I looked at myself as an individual as did much of society…but I live in a house that I own and celebrate life’s ups and downs with myself and make decisions on my own…and I am ok with that. I am a family unit.

Outside of my family of one (but if you count my furkid of one year, we are now, two), I surround myself with strong women of all walks of life. We don’t all subscribe to the same belief system or ways of doing things or even the same definition of strength, but these women have shown me that women can do great things…that doing something #likeagirl is worth doing! Women can be healers, coaches, hunters, athletes, mothers, executives, bosses…and they can be beautiful, powerful, sexy, strong, intelligent and more all at the same time! They can wear pink on Wednesdays and still kill it as a lawyer in the courtroom…they can be a marathon running mother of four with a full time job…they can be raising money for rare disease research by training for and completing an Ironman triathlon.

Looking back on my life, which I did a little this morning looking for a picture of Annie and I from our days together in Paris, I don’t think I would have it any other way. I know that I may not be single for the rest of my life, but right now, it’s where I am and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have done many things other people only dream of…I have lived in Europe, traveled a lot and as far away as Asia, moved across the county (a couple of times) been to 49 out of the 50 states, completed an Ironman triathlon–that’s 1.2 miles of swimming/112 miles on the bike/26 miles of running. I learned many lessons during those experiences that have come in handy when life has gotten difficult, when the job didn’t turn out the way that I hoped, or when the tumor decided to take up residence in my leg, or when the guy I began thinking about in future terms decided things were over. Here are just a couple:

  1. You are more than you think you are and can do more than you think you can. A quote famous in the endurance sports community by the founder of the Leadville 100, one of the hardest foot races in the country–Kenneth Chlouber. It’s true, you really can. You may think you can only run when being chased, but you can run whenever you want. And you may think you could never run a marathon, but you can if you are willing to put in the time and effort to train for it. And what you decide to do has a ripple effect on the other around you that you will never know about. Watch this TED video if you want to hear more about that (link: http://on.ted.com/Dudley).
  2. Big Dreams are contagious. You can quote me on this one. If you want to dream bigger for yourself than hang out with people who have bigger dreams than yours. When I was lying in my hospital bed after having a baseball sized tumor taken out my thigh bone I could have been content with just walking again but my friends and I had signed up to do an Ironman together. At the time, I had no idea if I would be able to complete the race 51 weeks later, but I worked harder because I was dreaming big and my dream was supported by those around me who stoked the fire with their big dreams.
  3. Strong is the new sexy. Strength is something developed on the inside over time. Mental strength and physical strength both take time and experience to mature. And it is only when they are truly tested that you are sure they are there. Other people will often see our strength before we do and it’s ok to hold on to their faith that it’s there until we develop the confidence in ourselves. Embrace your strength and draw from it when times get tough, that’s what it is there for…that is why you put all that work in on the front end. Sexy may fade away, but your strength will always be there.

What lessons about strength have you learned over the years? What experiences have helped to develop your inner strength?

If you want to hear more about my story and what I am up to (usually running, biking and swimming) feel free to check out my blog at kokoroux.com.

Waiting in Anticipation

A few months ago, we were at Costco. Usually I avoid this chore like the plague – it’s crowded, I’m not a fan of grazing the samples, and I always leave wondering about the state of humanity. Bea counts Costco as one of her top “date” places with Frank, just after Menchie’s. I think she knows how much I dislike it because she always uninvites me when Frank wants to plan a family shopping date. (Frank’s hope springs eternal in thinking I’ll one day enjoy this time…)

Bea's reaction to finding out I was tagging along.
Bea’s reaction to finding out I was tagging along.
On this particular Saturday, I was by the deli, waiting for Frank and Bea to do one more snack lap before we moved onto the next section. It was raining that day and my non-maternity coat was stretched over my big-but-not-enormous-yet baby bump. A woman came up behind me and declared, “Seven fourteen!”

Excuse me? “Seven fourteen! I’m never wrong,” she said, eyeing my bump. Ah! July fourteenth! She was estimating my due date. I laughed and said something about it being earlier than the doctor’s prediction, so I’d take it.

Her words burrowed into my mind, and as July 14 approached, I began longing for a Bastille Day baby. I organized nesting and last minute chores around the fourteenth, wondering if she really was never wrong. When contractions started a few days before, I thought, Maybe this is it!

Well. The fourteenth passed and the contractions died down and our baby is still baking. Which is a good thing – the longer she’s in there, the better. But, the experience got me thinking about waiting.

Normally, there seem to be two types of waiting: One with an actual date or deadline and a more nebulous, idea-filled waiting. The first one is easy waiting – we wait for birthdays, for start or end dates, for events. Once the date approaches or passes, our waiting is finished.

The second type is more difficult – waiting for something in general or a dream. We’re waiting for the day when work settles down, when we can travel again without a thousand items to pack, when our kids are more independent and I’ll have time to pursue ideas that are impractical at this stage. All these dreams will most likely happen – in some incarnation or another – but I have no idea what sort of timeline is involved. I keep them on the back burner, simmering away but not worried about them at the moment.

The last weeks of pregnancy don’t fit into either category. Yes, we have a date and I can’t be pregnant forever, but really, we wait for this independent little girl. It’s all up to her and her own timeline. Nothing we can do will make this happen faster or on an exact date. It’s a lesson in letting go, in being ready without obsessing, and in living in this moment.

It reminds me of that verse in Romans:

For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. (Romans 8:22-23, NLT)

I’m no theologian, but I always thought Paul was talking about active labor – that hard, difficult push but the end is in sight. Now, I wonder if he’s really talking about this pre-labor waiting – this time of anticipation, of knowing the end is near, but having no idea when or how it’s going to look. We prepare, but there’s really only so much we can do.

I think about the groaning of injustice, both worldwide and right here at home. I think about how impatient I get that things aren’t moving fast enough. This experience reminds me that all I can do is prepare and ready myself while simultaneously letting go of all control.

I believe in the restoration of this earth – that we are part of bringing the Kingdom to earth. I can easily get overwhelmed and wonder what my part in all this really is. And, I remember – just as I need to remember while waiting on this baby – that my part is to be ready, to be open, to be an active participant, but to know that it is out of my hands.

What are your views on waiting? How do you actively let go of control?

Remembering Love

I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom lately. Freedom tied to privilege; Freedom of speech; Freedom of choice; Freedom to marry. It’s been in the news, in conversation, and its definition has felt a bit divisive lately.

It’s interesting to think that, just about 250 years ago, our freedoms were literally a revolutionary idea. That the idea of giving (white landowning men) a list of freedoms was so out of the norm, a war was fought over it. (Well, and a lot of other things, but it’s more romantic to think of our War for Independence in those terms…)

I think there’s a tension in living with these freedoms, though. While I am incredibly grateful to live in a country where my status as an educated woman grants me so many freedoms, I find the balance of holding tight to those freedoms and loving my neighbor a difficult one to achieve.

I believe that the number one commandment of the Bible is to love our neighbor. From Micah 6:8’s “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God” message to Jesus’ repeated themes of loving God and loving neighbors, of loving the poor, of remembering the last will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, I see the message of love – not freedom – being preached over and over.

I’m not sure these two ideas have to be exclusive, but I do wonder if, when we are so worried about our freedoms being taken away, we forget to love. And I wonder how that would look – if we focused on love rather than freedom.

How do you view freedom? How do you find the balance between celebrating freedom and loving your neighbors?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.

Celebrating Strong Women: Maysha Dawson

728067_origMaysha Dawson is beginning our series on Celebrating Strong Women. I asked Maysha to contribute because she is such an inspiration of balancing family and outside interests. She and her husband, Thomas live in southern California with their one-year-old daughter. Maysha earned Teacher of the Year and joined the Mojave Chamber of Commerce all in her first year of motherhood. She just started blogging at http://www.myadventure-book.com.

My Journey

I grew up as the 4th of  6 siblings. Often shadowed my older siblings’ successes and receiving less attention due the demands of younger siblings, I was the typical middle child. I sought attention from outside the family. My older sister and I had a nontraditional sister relationship. We rarely disagreed; rather we were close and shared all of our adventures. Our relationship helped me endure many of obstacles I have faced.

I have failed in many aspects of life. I have failed at relationships, failed at pursuing my dream career as a physician, failed in finances. While these failures defined who I was temporarily, they gave me the courage to try something new. I suppose I’ve always had the optimistic view that great things await me. I knew that if I was persistent, I would eventually land a well-paying job, the “white picket fence house” and a wonderful small family.

Entering adulthood, I realized that my choices and attitude define who I am – not my successes and failures. I have learned what it means to be a strong person and the importance of making the world a better place. A strong person is able to maintain a positive attitude even when faced with challenges. Currently, I am going through a transition at work. I have been removed from my current position and asked to serve at a different location. Although this transition will cause unnecessary challenges, holding resentment will negatively affect not only my work performance, but the attitude of other employee and students.

When I was young girl, I was victim of sexual abuse. Learning to forgive (or at least put it behind me) allowed me to look ahead and be optimistic about the future I have in store for me. I no longer consider myself a victim because I was able to cope effectively. Currently, I teach high school students and they often tell me that I have the dream life. One girl said that I should start a blog because others would enjoy reading my stories. My students say that I have put in the hard work to become educated and get to enjoy my life, and this is all true. I have a loving husband, a beautiful baby girl, and a job that I love (most days :)). I have manageable debt and can live within my means. I have more happy experiences than I do sad ones. How did I get here? I practice forgiving the people that have hurt me and forgive myself for hurting others.

One of the hardest struggles that I have faced has been forgiving myself for the harm that I have done to others. I do not think that there is deeper pain than seeing loved ones hurt because of the choices I made. How can I be happy when I’m the cause of their suffering? Repentance- reviewing one’s actions and then committing to a personal change.