In Proverbs 31 we are told that “strength and dignity” should clothe a woman. I wonder what that looks like. Is it marching, clenched fist in the air, while spewing hatred and vulgarity towards those sacred, life-giving parts of our body? is it the denial of what sets us apart as a unique sex or the acceptance of propaganda that says anyone can be us? Is it hating who we are, trampling our femininity and mocking motherhood?
Or is it the embracing of life’s unexpected, unplanned and even impossible situations and making them our own?
Some of my heroes are the pioneer women of Kansas. The hardships they endured could coin the term “Kansas strong.” For some reason, all things about my life that I thought were hard kind of evaporated as I read about them in PIONEER WOMEN: Voices from the Kansas Frontier. This pioneer daughter’s description of them sums it up well:
“[they] gave their youth, health, courage and the very best of their lives…at a cost no one will ever be able to reckon. There were no words of complaint; just a slow but steady advancement in the face of difficulties and obstacles that stagger one who considers them now. Surely not a star in Heaven will be too bright for the crowns of those brave women who, with lonely hearts and the dismal music of coyote calls, often watched the stars from humble homes, ‘out where the West begins.’”
What got the pioneer woman through when most people gave up and went home? A fierce determination to succeed and a sense of ownership. This wasn’t simply her husband’s dream she was living. It had become hers too and every hardship was seen as something that would only make her stronger. Some would say that this is exactly what women are fighting for today: bodily autonomy, ownership of their future, and equal opportunity in every situation. Yet as a woman myself, I don’t feel pride or camaraderie in these causes. In fact, I feel ashamed when I read the slogans and see female reproductive organs on public display. Womanhood has a sacred role in society but in this era it’s up for auction to the highest bidder and the loudest voice.
Sometimes I wonder what the women of history would think of our current events. Women like:
- Esther~confronted with a life she did not choose and yet she saved her people from being massacred
- Mary~a young girl faced with an unexpected pregnancy and yet she loved her Son even at the foot of His Cross.
- Grandma Moses~risked her life and lost so much for the sake of freedom. Even after she made it to safety she went back over and over again to rescue more people.
- Irena Sendler~risked her life and suffered torture and yet she didn’t stop saving hundreds, if not thousands, of Jewish children from certain death.
- Mother Theresa~who left everything comfortable and everyone she loved to minister to the most destitute, most unlovely people imaginable.
And then there are my heroes of today. Women like:
- My mom~who suffered atrocious abuse as a child but shunned being a victim and chose to own her story and live victoriously.
- My sister~ who fought and beat breast cancer. And even though it changed the course of her life in a way she wouldn’t have chosen, she has embraced her story and shares it with life-giving results.
- The ladies I serve with at our pregnancy resource center ~ who have abortions in their past and seek to lovingly show moms in similar situations that there are other options. They have turned their guilt and shame into instruments of life.
- My friends~ who have suffered abuse and are now moms living with joy and ensuring their children are happy and thriving. They are overcomers.
- My mom friends ~ who have large families. Exhaustion and little time alone are routine aspects of the day and yet they keep choosing joy. Their families get their best and one day will rise up and call them “blessed among women.”
- Those close to me~who routinely battle anxiety and depression and yet they refuse to be defined by these cruel afflictions. Every day they seek to live well and offer hope to those around them.
These are women who have been empowered by hardship. That is strength. These are women who have owned their story and share it with confidence and joy. That is dignity.
Listening to rants, seeing the rage, reading the propaganda and feeling the erosion, I often feel like I’m spinning in place trying to hold on long enough to make sense of anything. It’s the second part of that proverb that makes sense: “she laughs at the future.” The woman strong in her identity and dignified even in the throes of trial can look confidently ahead. She doesn’t have to change herself or find love in new places or slaughter new life or mock men to get ahead or be more. She embraces her story, hardship and all, makes it her own and becomes an anchor upon which future generations are built. That is empowered womanhood.