The Women That Strength Built

Just another WordPress.com weblog

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.

Advertisements
 

A Woman of a Certain Age September 29, 2010

“Age puzzles me. I thought it was a quiet time. My seventies were interesting and fairly serene, but my eighties are passionate. I grow more intense as I age. “

– Florida Scott-Maxwell

“A woman of a certain age” is a European term which means a woman of maturity, mystery, wisdom, and substance.  I like this term so much better than the terms we use in America – terms such as an older woman, a senior American, or even a mature adult.  But then, Europe herself can be viewed as a woman of a certain age, while America is a younger, more youth-centered country.  I believe, however, that it’s time we start taking the negative labels off our more experienced population and view them as the treasures they are.  And while men have often been seen to get better with age, women seem to have been viewed and discussed only in negative terms as they get older.  Perhaps it’s time to reconsider that.

Look at the women pictured above.  Raquel Welch and Sophia Loren are both in their 70’s, Cheryl Tiegs is in her 60’s, and Iman is in her 50’s.  And despite the fact they may have had a little help maintaining their looks, they are all still beautiful women.  Next consider Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton, both in their 60’s, who are still acting, directing, producing, writing and continuing very lucrative careers.  For that matter, consider Betty White, who at almost 90, is still making movies, campaigning for animal welfare, and may be a future host of SNL.  Then there are the women who didn’t even start their well-known careers until after they turned 50, Julia Child being just one example.

I admit I have a personal reason for wanting this change – myself, as well as most of my friends, are already somewhere into middle age.  As women, we are often prone to accepting the negative labels and applying them to ourselves.  But consider how limiting these labels are.  If I accept that I’m older, that my days of youth, adventure, and second chances are past me, I will give up and quit living.  After all, why bother?  But if I think of myself as a woman of mystery, wisdom, and substance, I will continue to live my life fully. After all, women of mystery are supposed to continue to surprise us.  I know which description I prefer.  From now on, I will see myself as “a woman of a certain age.”  Who will you see yourself as? 

– 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

 

A Practical Magic April 26, 2010

“Magic is believing in yourself.  If you can do that, you can make anything happen.”

–       Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 Today, instead of discussing how we can change ourselves and the world, let’s talk about something practical we can do to increase our self-confidence.  Women, as a whole, are severely lacking in self-confidence.  At least we have finally become aware of it.  Instead of raising our daughters to follow the whims of fashion and the dictates of their peers, we are trying to instill in them confidence from a very young age.  Groups such as the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, Girls on the Run, and Girls, Inc. start early to try to encourage girls to be strong, self-confident, and self-reliant.  If only some of us who are older had had exposure to groups such as these when we were young women think how different our lives might have been. 

If you’ve reached your 30’s, 40’s, 50’s or older being unsure of yourself, it’s not too late to begin to shore-up your self-esteem.  The following steps are very beneficial.  However, a word of warning here:  you must succeed in your goals or your self-confidence will take another hit.  So with that caveat, I would strongly suggest you find someone to help you – a friend, a women’s group, a counselor, pretty much anyone who will be on your side.  The payoffs are worth every minute of it. 

  1. Brainstorm things you’ve always wanted to do but never got around to doing.  These items should be something you’re passionate about and have the inspiration to pursue.  They should also be somewhat realistic.  You may want to travel around the world in 80 days.  But if you don’t have the money and can’t take that much time off from work that obviously won’t be a goal you can accomplish.  However, a trip to one of the places on your itinerary, such as Belgium or Spain, might be very doable.
  2.  Once you’ve chosen your goal, plan out all the steps you’ll need to accomplish it.  Then set reasonable timeframes to accomplish each of these steps.  If you’re going to need someone’s help to complete a step, be sure you check with them before setting a timeframe.  For example, if someone needs to watch the kids for a week while you tour Spain, make sure your helper is available for the time you’re planning to take your trip.
  3. Give your support person a copy of your goal, plans, and timeframes.  Remember that person I suggested you find to help you?  This is the person you want to share your plans with.  They will help keep you accountable and encourage you to try again if your plans fall through.  This is crucial to your success.  Say you’ve been planning your trip for the past six months and the week before you buy your ticket your water heater breaks.  There goes the money for the trip.  If you just give up at this point, you never reach your goal.  But worse, you feel less confident than before and less willing to try again.  This can result in a downward spiral we want to avoid at all costs.  Your support person can help you dust yourself off and recast your timeframes so you reach your goal at a later date.
  4.  Realize life will interfere and that’s not reason enough to give up.  Keep your timetables somewhat flexible.  Things will come up from time-to-time to postpone your goals.  That’s OK.  It’s not OK to give up.  I work with a company that coaches people to run marathons.  If you’ve never run a marathon, you don’t know that it’s a grueling 4 – 6 months of getting up at 4:00 am to go run four times a week.  It’s half of one day each weekend running from two hours (to start) to four or more hours (near the end of training).  It’s cross training on your days off from running.  It’s being sore and tired almost all the time.  Can you imagine putting in that much effort and then breaking your ankle right before the race?  Out of each class we train, a few runners will never make it to that marathon they trained for.  Ultimately a few people in the course of a year will give up and never try again.  They will never know the elation the rest of the runners feel when they complete that first race.  But you’d be surprised how many heal from their injury, and then turn around and start training again.  Which group do you think grows the most in confidence?  Which group would you want to be in?
  5. Celebrate your victory!  Once you meet your goal – celebrate.  Your goal may be fun and may be part of the celebration.  If it’s something you’ve had to work for however, such as finishing your college degree, plan a party.  You deserve it!  Not only will you feel good that you set out to accomplish what you planned, you will feel stronger.  You will want to try something else.  And on days when life is difficult, you will have more strength to persevere.
  6.  Start again with a new goal.  Use each goal as a step towards rebuilding your confidence and strength.  Believe me, when you accomplish something you didn’t think you can do, you have a newfound strength to rely on.  You have a confidence no one else can take away.  And you have something you can share with the next generation of women who will see you as a positive example.

 Goethe also said, “Action has magic, grace, and power in it.”  Sometimes trying to take action turns out to be much harder than we thought it would be.  But if you persevere and follow these steps, you will find your life transformed by the steps you take.  And this is practical magic at its best.

 

Up, Up, and Away in My Beautiful Balloon April 7, 2010

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.  It’s the life in your years.”

–       Abraham Lincoln

 I met a woman today who is getting ready to turn 40.  She told me that so many people waste a ton of money on milestone birthday parties.  Instead, she wants to use her money to help herself and others in a way that will have a lasting effect.  For the 40 days leading up to her birthday, she is going do something different each day.  Since she is a triathlete, she is running a couple of full and half marathons, and bicycling in a 100 mile event to challenge herself.  On the day of her actual birthday, she hopes to run 40 miles.  On days she is not pushing herself, she gives time to others.  She has set up shoe donations so that one day she can give 40 or more pairs of shoes to the homeless.  On another day, she plans to take 40 balloons to the park to give out to all the children. 

Wow!  What if each of us did this every time we had a birthday?  What if in the days leading up to that special day each year we did something momentous?  What if we combined service for others with challenge to ourselves?  Think what each one of us could accomplish.  And think how memorable our lives would be by the end of our time here. Imagine even further what the world would be like if we taught our children to do the same thing.  At 5, kids could pick five things to do.  At 10, their excitement and planning would be that much greater.  And by adolescence, we’d have raised a generation of generous adventurers.

Certainly it would be a huge challenge just to fill the days the first time you planned this.  It could take another whole year to come up with the plans for the next birthday.  Let yourself brainstorm.  What would you have on your list?  Think of all the things you would love to do in this lifetime.  Could you make them part of your birthday celebration?  And what have you always wanted to do for others?  That would be a great place to start.

And lastly, there’s not a better way to have more self-confidence and to feel stronger than to successfully challenge yourself or to help others.  I know I feel better whenever I do either.  So what are you waiting for?  If you have a great idea, share it here.  Let’s help each other come up with our list before the next birthday rolls around, and one more forgettable day slips by.

– 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.

 

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