These are my three daughters, Nicole, Madeline, and Julie. I don’t talk about them very often on my blog, because I want to respect their rights to be the owners of their own stories, and because I don’t have any aspirations to be a mommy blogger.
But today I want to tell you a little about them because they inspire me and give me reason to do the work I do. I want to make the world a better place not only for the women of my generation that I work with, but for the women who come after us, who will step into their own leadership roles, serving the world as they feel called.
My daughters are far from perfect. They fight – with each other and with their dad and me. They have insecurities and make bad choices sometimes. Like all teenagers, they’re finding their own paths in the world and so they have to make their own mistakes and stumble over their own weaknesses.
This morning, though, I want to focus on their strengths.
My oldest daughter, Nicole (on the left), has spent hours and hours working on a big history project that she’s presenting in class this morning. She chose to make her hour-long presentation on the history of feminism, and in the process has dug up all kinds of interesting stories of trailblazers and truth-tellers in the feminist movement. Every day she shares new tidbits that she has learned and I’ve been learning a lot vicariously through her. (Sadly, I can’t read the whole presentation as it’s in French.) Most of the girls in her class are hesitant to call themselves feminists (and she anticipated that some might even put up resistance to what she’ll be presenting), but she doesn’t care. She’s passionate about history and human rights and she’s choosing her own path.
My second daughter, Julie (on the right), left this morning on a three day back-country canoe trip. She’s an adventurer and a leader, and though she hasn’t done much canoeing, I know that she’ll take to it naturally and I’m almost certain that she’ll step into her natural leadership ability at the campsite and will be teaching less-experienced people how to set up tents and how not to freak out when wood ticks show up. If they run into challenges on the journey, her friends will (as they always do) look to her for direction on how to stay calm and resolve the problems. She will step up to the challenge.
My third daughter, Madeline (in the middle) had her year-end synchronized swimming show yesterday. She is passionate about being in the water and she loves the challenge of being able to hold challenging poses while staying afloat. She is not a slender child (like many of the girls in the pool), but that doesn’t seem to bother her at all. She would live in a bathing suit if she could and I’ve never once heard her complain about the way her body looks in a bathing suit. None of her friends or sisters like synchronized swimming, but that never affects her love of it. She’s found her own path and she’s following it.
Though they face the normal angst and self-doubt of teenage girls, they all seem to have a strong sense of who they are. My husband and I have tried hard to let them know that whoever they are is fine with us – we’ll love them unconditionally.
As I watch my daughters blossom into amazing young women, I can’t help but wonder…
What if they learn to trust in their own power and never develop a fear of it?
I know that’s an idealistic question, and I have already seen evidence of them shrinking from their own power, when they’re afraid to do things wrong, when they’ve been made fun of by friends, when they pay too much attention to how the media tells them they “should” look or act, or when they haven’t received the right support from me or other family members. But I can still be hopeful that they won’t learn as many self-destructive habits as so many of the women I work with in my own generation have developed.
We have learned to be afraid of our own power.
I see it again and again. Women (myself included) have picked up a lot of messages (both external and internal) that tell them they shouldn’t be too confident, too powerful, too mystical, too shiny, too large, too expressive, too bossy, too strong, too creative, too dark, too wild, etc., etc. Just this past week I had a coaching conversation with a woman who’d seen evidence of her own power and was struggling with what to do with it. So many old stories are getting in the way of her embracing the power she knows she has. And she’s not alone. I have conversations like this nearly every week.
Why? Because women’s power is a dangerous thing. Women’s power is mystical and unpredictable. Women’s power is fierce and it upsets the natural order of things. Women’s power is wild and full of passionate love and it defies logic and order. Too many women stepping into their own power would cause the world to shift and women themselves are afraid of holding that responsibility. Those who currently hold power are afraid of it too.
The patriarchy has worked long and hard to control and contain women’s power. They have kept women silent by using religion, rules, force, and fear tactics. They have tethered women’s strength by convincing us that “logos” has more value than “mythos”, force has more value than love, science has more value than art, hierarchy has more value than collaboration, analysis has more value than spirituality, structure has more value than wildness, and consumption has more value than ecology.
We see evidence of the patriarchy’s fear of women’s power every time we turn on the evening news. When men shoot a young woman, or kidnap hundreds of other young girls, just because they dared to go to school, it’s evident that they know that educated women are dangerous women who might challenge the power of the patriarchy. When Hollywood makes it difficult for women to get acting roles that show them as intelligent and independent of men, it’s evident that they’re afraid if women are allowed to say what they really want to say, the world might have to change. When churches don’t allow women to step into pulpits or make their own choices, it’s clear they’re afraid that women’s stories might shift the shape of religion.
It’s often said that “women are their own worst enemies” and that is true and untrue all at the same time. It’s true in the sense that a lot of our battles are internal and it’s often the stories that a woman carries that convince her that she is not worthy. But it’s not true in the sense that she is solely responsible for the existence of those stories. Those stories were planted there over generations of women being repressed and silenced. Something that has been collected over generations and centuries cannot easily be outdone, and so women need to stop beating themselves up over not being able to let them go easily.
I know, for example, that these generations of stories have been implanted into my daughters’ hearts, even though I’ve done my best to keep them from taking root. They can’t help but be impacted by what they see all around them in the media, in the education system, and even in their home. They still will have their own work to do to really learn to trust their own power and to be courageous in the face of apathy and resistance.
My own journey to power has been a long one (and it will continue for years to come).
Nearly fourteen years ago, I landed on my back in a hospital bed in the middle of my third pregnancy. Due to a complication and a botched surgery attempt, my pregnancy was suddenly in jeopardy and I had to put everything in my life on hold to try to save my unborn child.
During the three weeks leading up to my son Matthew’s death and birth, I had a lot of time for silence, contemplation, conversations, and personal reflection. Those three weeks became a time of spiritual awakening and an awakening to my own power and calling. It shifted everything in my life.
For one thing, I had a rather frightening and awe-inspiring spiritual experience in which I became aware of a spiritual force that was directing me toward bigger, bolder work in my life. For another thing, people in the hospital started being inexplicably drawn to my room (doctors, nurses, patients, and visitors), and would sit and share their stories with me and look to me for guidance and/or spiritual direction (very much the kind of conversations I now have in my coaching work). It was surprising and a little overwhelming.
After Matthew died, it took me a long time (years) to process what had happened in the hospital. I was afraid of it. I knew that I was being asked to step into bigger, more powerful work as a teacher, spiritual guide, and leader, but that terrified me. What if I screwed up? What if I disappointed people? What if I was delusional? What if I was “too big for my britches”? What if I fell on my face?
I was unworthy. I wasn’t smart enough. I didn’t have the right education. I didn’t know how to talk about the thing that happened to me in a way that wouldn’t scare people or make them laugh.
It took nearly ten years before I was ready to begin to accept this invitation into my own power. I say “my own power”, but really I need to say that it is “a power that is gifted to me from the Divine”. Even after ten years, I felt scared and unworthy. I was afraid of what people would think, I didn’t know how I’d make any money, and I was pretty sure I’d fail and make a fool of myself.
Each time I had to cancel a class or workshop because not enough people would show up, I’d have to fight the voices that were saying “You’re just not good enough. Give up and get a real job.” Each time I’d face resistance or criticism, I’d shrink a little and step back into self-protection mode, afraid to speak of what I really felt called to speak of.
Last week, two things happened that reminded me that I’m on the right path and that I am gradually learning to accept the power available to me.
Firstly, on my birthday I invited my readers and social media contacts to support my fundraiser to educate more girls through the Uganda Kitgum Education Foundation. In just four days, we raised $2269! Wow! I was blown away that the work I’ve done in building relationships and sharing stories with people had built a community of people who were so willing to step up and support a good cause. That’s powerful! Now the wheels in my head are turning… if we can raise that much in four days with just a simple invitation and the help of friends, how much more can we raise if we organize a bigger fundraising campaign?
Secondly, over the weekend, I hosted a women’s retreat together with my friend Jo-Anne (who’s passionate about food and ecology) and the sixteen women who showed up dared to be vulnerable and authentic. The stories they shared in the closing circle (and the emails I’ve gotten since) showed how they had been transformed by what had been awakened for them in just a short time through meaningful conversations with other women, personal reflection and creativity. As I always am at these gatherings I host, I was blown away at how powerful it is to simply create intentional space for exploration, contemplation, conversation, and meaning-making. I always feel like I do so little, and yet I am reminded again and again how powerful the right kind of hosting can be.
I share these stories not out of arrogance, but out of humility. I am humbled that I have been chosen to do this work. I am humbled that God has gifted me with the power to impact change. I am humbled that people show up and engage with what I offer.
When we stop being afraid of our own power, amazing things can happen.
If you’re still carrying around stories that are keeping you from being powerful, it’s time to do the work of excavating those stories so that you can turn them into something of value and you can access what is being gifted to you.
Imagine you’re carrying around a backpack of old stories that feel heavy on your shoulders and keep you from dancing down the path. Imagine that each of those stories is a large, rough stone, and buried under the roughness is a beautiful diamond just waiting for you to chip away the ugliness to unearth the beauty. Imagine that, with the right work, you could find the diamonds and wear them proudly on a string around your neck instead of carrying them like a burden on your back.
If you’re ready to do this work, you might want to start with a journey through Pathfinder or Mandala Discovery. If you need a guide while you do the work, I will have some coaching spaces available over the summer and would be happy to work with you.
You are powerful. You are beautiful. You are worthy.
I invite you to step into the courage it takes to discover the power available to you.