The Women That Strength Built

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Out of the Ashes a Heroine Rises June 24, 2011

I have some strong women in my family.  Unfortunately, we seem to have become that way by trial by fire.  Sometimes I wonder if that’s the only way women become strong, or if there’s some other way to forge that strength without difficulty and suffering.

The strongest woman I’ve known was my aunt.  She recently died after her fourth battle with cancer.  During her life, she raised three children by herself while going to school to get her CPA license.  It took her 10 years to accomplish.  During that time, she battled depression, loneliness and financial difficulty.  While her children were young, she suffered her first bout with breast cancer.  When she went into remission, we all celebrated her success.  Unfortunately, the cancer would return one more time as breast cancer, later as stomach cancer, and even later as lung cancer.  The last time around she was given only three years to live.  She made it past that time and was able to see two of her children married and two grandchildren born.  Despite her difficulties, she stayed positive and hopeful.  She was my hero.

Only two months after she died, her son died unexpectedly.  He left behind a wife and two little boys.  He was only 39.  He had been the glue that held together his own family and our extended family.  His death left a huge hole in a lot of people’s lives.  His sister, my cousin, has had to pick up the slack.  She helped with the funeral arrangements for both her mother and brother.  She is helping her sister-in-law with childcare while she tries to pick up the pieces.  And she has stepped into the place her brother occupied as the family anchor.  She has done all this while to trying to deal with her own grief.  She has been amazing.

And lastly there is my cousin’s wife.  I don’t know what the future holds for her and her sons.  I know this wasn’t the life she had planned.  She was a stay-at-home mom who depended on her husband to take care of everything.  Now he’s gone, and she is finding her way along an unforeseen path.  Whether or not she feels strong, she will have to be so for her boys.

But women seem to have an amazing ability to rise from the ashes of daily life.  All humans have a strong will to survive and to rise above their struggles.  But women have so many people depending upon them that they keep going even when they have no desire to do so.  Somehow I think my cousin’s wife will manage to hang on and will eventually succeed.  And as her boys witness her strength and spirit, they will develop a heroine of their own – their mom.

 

Come Visit April 24, 2011

I started this blog over a year ago in the hopes it would help better the lives of women.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that I could use some help and inspiration myself.  As the experts are always telling women, we must take care of ourselves first before we can take care of others.  This may explain why I’ve lost some of my motivation to keep this site updated.  So in an effort to take care of myself and hopefully continue to help others, I’ve started a new blog.  The name of the new blog is “Joy Rising,” and you can find it at tojoyrising.wordpress.com.  If you are looking for encouragement and direction, you can still find it at my new site.  I hope to see you there.  And I hope to meet you back here sometime in the near future.  Thank you for your patronage over the past year and a half.

–  Kandice

 

You and Me Together, Helping Each Other January 19, 2011

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

                 Two things coincided in my life this January.  We celebrated the efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr., and I just finished reading The Help set during the start of the Civil Rights Movement.  If you’re one of the few people who haven’t read the New York Times Bestseller, you may find a synopsis useful.  Set in Mississippi in the early 1960’s, The Help tells the story of several black women who risked sharing their stories during those troubled times.  At risk to their jobs, their families, even their own lives, these women shared both the good and the bad of their daily work situations.  Two women in particular, Minny and Aibileen, take us through their challenges and heartbreaks.  Skeeter, the white writer who records their stories, takes her own risks as well, and in the process loses her friends, her boyfriend, and eventually her hometown.  Kathryn Stockett’s point as she tells this story seems to be that we are all the same at heart.

                While reading this book, I was taken back to an uncomfortable time in my own life.  While I was just a baby during the time outlined in The Help, I still faced the consequences of the Civil Rights Movement during my middle school years.  The school I attended in Seattle was still undergoing busing for integration.  None of the kids were happy with the situation.  While we didn’t understand the reasons for the process, we did know everyone had difficulty getting along.  One day in gym class, I was approached by two black girls.  I was running late for class, and I was the only one left in the locker room.  (At this point, I should probably state that I’m white.)  The two girls were known bullies in the school, and they started hassling and picking on me.  At some point, it turned physical.  I was crying and trying to think of a way to get out of there, when another student walked through the locker room door.  She was a big girl, heavy and slow-moving usually, but quick to come to my aid that day.  She walked right up to the other two girls and told them to leave me alone.  She took my arm and walked me right out of there, onto the gym floor, where she sat me down and stayed next to me for the remainder of class.  For the next few weeks, she kept her eye on me whenever we were in gym class together.  I was never more grateful for a friend, even though I barely knew her.  Did I mention she was black?

                I don’t know that I agree that we’re all the same at heart.  Some of us are strong, courageous, and rebellious, just like some of the characters in Stockett’s book.  Others of us are vulnerable and need help and protection.  Some of us can be heroines and some of us may be victims.  But all of us have the right to find out who we truly are and what we can make of ourselves – without fear for our lives, our homes, and our families.  Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for that right – not just for blacks but for all of us.  If, as a woman, you are looking for strong female role models, I urge you to read Stockett’s book.  Her characters are both strong and vulnerable, even while facing discrimination, spousal abuse, and threats to their lives and security.  And if you are among the many that need help, it’s there – although it may come from the most unlikely place.  Sometimes you have to ask.  Sometimes it just shows up.

               All these years later I’d like to say “thank you” to my youthful heroine.  Thank you for saving a scared 11-year-old.  Thank you for stepping in.  Thank you for having the courage to help.  I hope that help has been returned to you many times over.  May you prosper and continue to be amazing! 

– Kandice

 

Grace. It Is Amazing. May 17, 2010

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.

–       Leo Buscaglia

            Grace.  Everyone knows what it is when they experience it.  Webster’s defines it as “unmerited assistance coming from God.”  However, they also define its synonym, mercy, as “lenient or compassionate treatment (bestowed by anyone).”  As such, grace or mercy can be shown by anyone to any other living creature on earth.  That means you can bestow grace or mercy on others.  Even more interesting is that while you probably know forgiveness is important, forgiveness is not necessary for grace.  Let me give you an example.

            A few years ago I was going through a divorce.  Let’s just say I did not feel forgiveness, mercy or grace for my ex.  In fact, I felt anything but.  After years of emotional abuse and then losing absolutely everything through the divorce, I could not even comprehend thinking of him in a positive way.  I don’t explain this to point blame, as I know I was somewhat at fault for our failed marriage as well.  But I offer this background as a way to give you some idea of my mindset when the following occurred.

            At the time of this story, I was working in a bookstore after losing a business I’d spent years building.  I was just trying to survive day-to-day.  The only thing that made me happier was actually being able to help the customers in the store.  One day a woman asked me if we had any books on how to survive abusive relationships.  I showed her what we had and helped her check out after she’d made her choice.  I had met many women recently who had been in abusive marriages so I also shared with her some community resources I’d heard of that might be of assistance as well.  One thing that struck me was that she exuded peace and contentment.  I couldn’t understand how that could be the case if she was in an abusive situation herself.  I was curious as to how she could exude such positive feelings as compared to my negative ones.  As we spoke, she said she was actually looking for the book to help someone she knew.

            It turns out that she had been married to an abusive man just a couple of years before.  They were divorced, and he was now remarried.  His new wife was somewhat functionally disabled.  The customer I was helping explained that she was buying the book for the new wife.  The customer said she had tried to befriend the new wife because she felt she needed help.  Apparently the new wife had no family and no one to turn to for help.  My customer said she knew how abusive her ex could be and was still struggling to resolve her feelings about him.  But she wanted to do everything she could for this other woman.  She said simply, “She’s going to need help from someone one of these days soon.  I want to do whatever I can to be there for her.”

            After she left, I was dumfounded.  Here I was wallowing in my grief while she had stepped outside herself to provide mercy to someone else.  I felt very strongly that I had been touched by the wings of Grace as it passed by.  Not only did this woman reach out to make someone else’s life better, but she inadvertently changed the lives of those who witnessed this act as well.  There are scientific studies that show that an act of compassion not only changes the lives of the parties involved, but also the lives of anyone witnessing the exchange.  I believe that.  That event has stayed in my heart to this day.  And every time I’m tempted to lash out at someone who has hurt me, I remember the lady I met that day.  If another human being is capable of grace, then we all are.  So while I may not be able to forgive everyone that’s hurt me, I can find a way to show compassion to others who have been injured by life’s blows.

            It may not be something that’s occurred to you before, but you can start looking for ways to spread grace and mercy to those you encounter.  While it may take a little effort on your part, especially if you’re feeling hurt, think what a significant impact it can have on others’ lives.  While I’ve never had the opportunity to be as generous as the lady I met at the bookstore, I have had the chance to ease peoples’ lives a little as they passed my way.  And if someone’s life is a little easier because of me, then maybe I did what I was put on this earth to do.  I certainly hope so.  Nameste

– Kandice

 

Can Marriage Lead to Poverty? March 19, 2010

45% of all women who have gone through divorce are now living at the poverty level in this country.

– Statistic provided by H&R Block 

I learned this amazing fact when I went through my divorce.  And it was easy to believe.  All I had to do was look at what my life had become.  I went from being a successful business owner with a home, a husband, two cars, and several pets to having absolutely nothing.  Suddenly, I was living in an apartment, driving a 10-year-old car and making $6.25 an hour working retail.  Do I need to mention that $6.25 an hour didn’t even cover my bills?  In time, I found a somewhat better retail job.  But things are still tight.  I still struggle to make ends meet.  And I never go on the trips, have the possessions, or do the things other people seem to do.  And it’s hard struggling day after day.

 At least I’m not trying to support any children.  Many of the women who fall into the above statistic are single mothers whose husbands don’t pay child support.  They are in a far worse situation than I am, and their lives are much more difficult.  I believe it’s this fact that scares many women into staying in unhappy marriages.  Without their husband’s paycheck and insurance, how would they survive?  If he skipped out on child support, how would they and their children live?  These are very valid questions.

 It is easy to convince yourself to stay in an unhappy marriage.  It is much harder to find the courage to leave, especially if doing so would put you at a disadvantage.  But too many women think the decision is up to them.  What do you do when he comes home one night and says he wants a divorce?  What then?

Don’t wait until you find yourself faced with this situation.  There are ways to prepare yourself.  If you never need them, that’s fine.  But it’s better to be prepared.  Find the time and money to go back to school.  Work part-time, even volunteer, so you will have some skills for a resume.  Start your own savings account.  Have at least one credit card in your own name.  Have contingency plans.  Where will you go?  Who will help you?  What resources can you take with you?

 Listed on the blogroll are some sites that provide assistance to women in need.  They are there if you need them.  All you have to do is reach out.  And even if you are in a happy marriage, you may still need contingency plans.  Don’t be like my best friend whose husband had a heart attack in his 40s.  Even with life insurance, etc., she had three children to raise and had never worked a day in her life.  Planning ahead makes you strong.  It keeps you safe.  It gives you options.  And options give you freedom.  Believe me; you would rather have the freedom to choose your own life than to let someone else choose it for you.

 

Did You Want to Join the Circus? March 1, 2010

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”

–       Rachel Carson

 I went to see Cirque de Soleil today.  And I marveled at all they accomplished in only two hours.  They created a small universe of exquisite beauty and talent.  The sets, costumes, and lighting were unparalleled.  Their performers’ talent was truly amazing and unique.  And the show’s ability to transport the audience back to childhood wonderment was truly worth the price of admission.  But more than that, I marveled at how there’s a place for everyone in the show, and if you extrapolate, a place for everyone in this world no matter how different they are.

For example, on one stage I saw contortionists, fire dancers, acrobats, singers, musicians, and clowns.  Where else in the world do you see some of these people?  And do you wonder if when they were little they worried where they might fit into the big picture?  Most children who go to their parents and say “I want to be a fire dancer” will be steered in another direction.  They will be gently, and then more firmly, encouraged to pursue another career.  But ultimately there will always be children who don’t fit into the norms of society.  It’s nice to know that whatever interest they have, there is ultimately a place in this huge world for them – if they only have the courage to search that place out.

And that courage is key – to discover who you are and to find your place in the world takes great determination.  When I was little, I had many interests.  And when I would take them to my parents, I was gently discouraged from pursuing them.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I wanted to be a writer, a film maker, an ice skater.  Even more practical pursuits were discouraged for practical reasons – we just didn’t have the money to send me to law school or medical school.  The result is that I’m still looking.  I still haven’t found a place in this world to call my own.  At middle age, that’s rather discouraging.

So I would ask two things of you.  As a woman, and possibly a parent, you have great influence over the children in your lives.  Encourage them in their dreams and pursuits.  Help them discover their place in the world – even if that place is on a high wire for Cirque de Soleil!  Let them start early to define themselves.  This gives them so much more time to shine and to positively influence the world around them.

And secondly, if you never found your own  place, start looking.  Our talents are uniquely matched to where we belong.  And it’s only through giving our talents to the world that we fulfill our destiny in this life.  So this afternoon, I sat in a paper snow storm watching a clown cry onstage.  Tomorrow, I go into the storm of life to discover what I’ve missed and where I belong.  Won’t you come with me?

 

Dreams Are Not Just for Olympians February 17, 2010

“The dream was always running ahead of me. To catch up, to live for a moment in unison with it, that was the miracle.”

–       Anais Nin

 It’s the month of the 2010 Olympic Games, and most of us have tuned in to watch as world athletes pursue their dreams of gold.  Have you noticed it’s not the win, however, that engages us, but rather the stories behind the medals?  The sacrifice, the repeated attempts and failures, the time running out, the family members in whose honor the athletes compete – all of these reasons draw us in and make us root for particular individuals.

And yet, dreams are not relegated to just athletes.  All of us have had our dreams.  And many of us have failed at these dreams.  It is one reason the struggle of these athletes resonates with us.

When I was a very little girl, my mom took me to ice skating lessons.  As I twirled around the ice, I dreamt of growing up to be an ice skater like the Olympians on TV.  As I got older and took writing classes in school, I dreamt of being a world-class journalist or an award-winning novelist.  In college, I went to film school and dreamt of being the next Steven Spielberg.  Later, my dreams resided closer to home – finding a knight in shining armor and having a family of my own.  Unfortunately, none of my dreams came true.

If you fail at your dreams often enough, it’s very easy to give up trying and to feel your life has been a failure.  But dreams are made of hope.  And as President Obama pointed out, hope is an audacious thing.  It doesn’t let go easily.  So what can you do if it’s obvious you won’t fulfill the dreams you had earlier in your life?

You have two options.  You can incorporate elements of those dreams into your current life.  For example, did you want to be an actress?  Then perhaps you can act in local community plays or direct a children’s theater production.  Did you dream of being the next Annie Leibovitz?  Then turn your photos into art to hang on your walls and give as gifts.  Did you want a house full of children but have none?  Volunteering at a children’s hospital can surround you with the love and fulfillment you miss while helping others who desperately need it.  And bringing those dream elements back into your life can help you feel strong and confident again.  You may not be famous, but you’ll be doing something you’ve always loved.  And that’s a wonderful validation of yourself.

In the event that incorporating your dreams into your current life is just too overwhelming, or seems too much like a lost cause, then pick a new dream.  The tricky part with this solution is that you need a dream you can fulfill, or else you’ll be left feeling bereft again.  The solution is to break the dream down into achievable steps so you feel an accomplishment each step of the way. For example, you’ve always wanted to make documentaries.  Go get a digital recorder.  Buy the necessary software for your computer.  Write an outline.  Do some research.  Get going.  You may decide to take filmmaking or editing classes.  You may just post your results online.  But along the way, you may find the happiness you’re searching for.  And isn’t that why we have dreams in the first place?

So in this month when dreams will come true for so many others, isn’t it time you reinvested in your own dreams?  While you may not win a medal, you could find happiness shining softly in your life again.  Your soul could feel validated, and your spirit could be lifted. You could even find some small part of yourself you lost along the way.  Isn’t that almost as good as a medal?  If you think so too, then I’ll see you back on that road to where dreams reside.

– Kandice