“There is no woman in the world who needs you to cut her down”

This is a reblogged post from Esther Emery’s site.  It showed up in my news feed yesterday and I’ve reposted it with her permission.

Check out her website, she’s got a lot of great posts, including another one of my favorites, “The Really Scary Thing About Gay Marriage.”

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Letter to a Woman Called to Leadership

I don’t know exactly who you are. Maybe a young woman, just now stepping out into your life. Maybe a mother or a crone, entering a new phase of your authority. Maybe just my beautiful dominant four-year-old, who is ready right now to start setting the world to rights.

But I know something. I know this. You are called.

You are called to stand up, speak up, use your voice. You are called to the front of the room. You are named. And you are called.

Rise up.

The darkness does not want you to use your voice. You are so full of light. The darkness will tell you that you are too much.

Too loud.
Too greedy.
Too masculine.
Too angry.
Too emotional.

Sometimes you will believe this. Sometimes you will try to make yourself small, and quiet. Sometimes you will hurt yourself trying to be small and quiet.

Do this with me. Walk outside and look up to the sky. Reach your hands up to the wide, expansive sky, far above the crowdedness and the jostling. There is room for you up there. There is room for every bit of you up there.

That place is yours.

There is enough space for all of you. I swear there is, I promise. Even or all your noise, opinions, intelligence, even for the pure size of your frame. Even fir your passion and force of will and love of justice.

This fight, to claim your right to be, is on the inside. But when you are a woman who leads, the world will try to tell you otherwise.

Oh, sweet girl…I could wish for you an easier path than this.

You will not often be the pretty one. Pretty is one part what you actually look like and two parts not being a threat. Learn to wear your beauty like a lion, or a tall tree. Learn to wear boots, and jackets. Learn to wear whatever you want.

You will not always know what you are doing. You will lead in the dark, with your eyes closed. Sometimes your mistakes will cause harm, and that will make you question your calling. Don’t. Don’t question the calling. Question your skill. Get better. Work harder. Learn to do your work well.

You will have trouble with friends. Sometimes this will be your fault. You will practice power instead of leadership. This is a trick of the darkness. You will have to learn to trust without controlling.

Sometimes it will not be your fault. A strong woman will be threatened by you. A weaker woman will betray you. Someone that you care about will tell you that you are being selfish. This will hurt like hell, and there is not a darn thing that I can do about it.

Baby, I am so sorry.

But it will help you to understand this, and this is maybe the most important thing of all. There is no woman in the world – I don’t care how brave, how beautiful, how wildly fortunate, or how questionable her values – There is no woman in the world who needs you to cut her down.

Please, lean in to other women. We have heard that we women aren’t very nice to each other, that it is our nature to cut and compete. If so, it is only from living in too-small boxes, and competing for too-small parcels of air. It doesn’t have to be that way. Make it not that way.

It will happen, too, that a man is at your side to help you. Look for that. He might be there when you are just about to lose control of the wheel and you are also trying to hold a crying baby. Listen to me, now, this is important.

It is okay to ask the man to hold the baby. 

Listen to this, too. You may find that someday you need to leave your babies in someone else’s arms. Probably this will hurt you. But beyond the hurting there is a darkness, too, that tells you this is wrong. It tells you that you should feel ashamed. Resist it. Don’t let that darkness drown out your call. Like the Buddha, turn your hand to the earth. They are all your children.

And you will see your own children soon. Again and again, you will be called back home, like Ulysses, in your time. There will be time for Sabbath, when the call is quiet and the task is rest. You can rest from the world. But you can’t rest from yourself.

Be true to yourself.

And, women, there may be a hard thing about food. If you are a woman who leads (or any other woman…or some men), you may find it hard to feed yourself. If that happens to you, please, look for the friend. She is the friend who shares her French fries with you when you won’t order food of your own. He is the assistant, or the husband, who rolls his eyes and says, “She never eats when she’s working.” She is the midwife who brings you peanut butter toast after you have given birth. She is your sister, your mother. She will save you. Please, let her feed you.

Sweet girl, I will not tell you that this road is easy.

But one day you will slip into your skin like it fits you, and you’ll look around and you won’t know what you were fighting all those years. I can’t wait to see it. I’m going to be so proud.

via Letter to a Woman Called to Leadership

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Guest Post: Cancer and Strong Women, My Heritage

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1972—she was 42 and I was 10.  It was before chemotherapy, radiation, and breast reconstructive surgery.  She took the bold step of having a radical mastectomy with my dad’s full support, a surgeon who respected her decision, and an attitude in which she never really looked back only forward.  I would say life changed for her, but I’m not really sure it did.  She was glad to be alive, went on with her profession as a college professor, got her doctorate, and she was my mom—she just didn’t have her breasts.

When I was a teenager we talked about it—how her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother had breast cancer.  At that moment it became my heritage.  Life didn’t change a lot I just started having mammograms earlier than my friends and Mom made sure I knew how to do a self-breast exam.  Life went on, I married a wonderful supportive man who knew my family history, became a veterinarian, and had two girls of my own.  20 years later Mom became a real breast cancer survivor. We always knew she was a miracle but then it became official.  However, when Mom turned 66 cancer entered her life again as she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  At first it was thought that maybe this was a manifestation of the previous breast cancer, and then we learned it was a different cancer, but they were linked together genetically.  Gene testing was just rearing its head but she was told that to have those two cancers meant she had to have a breast cancer gene—all of the sudden this family history became very real in our lives.

At this point life did change—it became filled with surgeries, chemotherapy every 3 weeks, blood tests, drugs to control vomiting, deep talks about the future, and learning how to say good-bye to a person who meant the world to me.  I was with Mom for every chemotherapy treatment except the first one, as it was done in the hospital following the initial surgery, and I had to work.   Eventually, I adjusted my work schedule to correlate with her treatment schedule.  Often, our youngest daughter, who at the time was 4, came with me to the cancer treatment center.  We read books together while the toxic drug was poured into Mom’s veins, hoping it would annihilate the cancer cells that were trying to take her from us.  Our relationship changed as I watched this strong independent woman who was my mother and had always been in charge of her life, falter and become unable to make decisions.  She would turn to me for help and it was difficult for me to take that leadership role from her.  Then she would feel better and the reins of life would be returned to her.  We eventually learned how to do this trade back and forth with grace and ease.  For a while, the therapy worked and she went into remission for 3 wonderful years.  Then it returned with a vengeance and wouldn’t respond to the same drugs so different drug protocols were tried; they would work for a while and then not.  Eventually one day Mom looked at me and said, “I’m done, I just want to come home with you.  I want to be in your home, with your family, and you holding me in your arms when I go to meet my God.”

My mom gave it a good fight, tried not to let the cancer rule her life, and went on fulfilling her life goals becoming a mediator and a CASA (Court appointed special advocate for neglected/abused children) in her retirement years but the cancer eventually won the battle.  She died at 72 and I was 39.  Yes, she died in our home and in my arms as she wished.  I provided the hospice care for her, my children learned about death, and I lost one of my best friends at much too young of an age.  My world was not the same but my mother taught me not only how to live but how to die with grace and dignity.

So, here the story changes to my story.  At 42 I had my first lumpectomy and the mass was benign.  5 years later I had a second lumpectomy and the mass was classified as atypical ductal hyperplasia—what they called a pre-pre cancer.  Due to my family history, I consulted with an oncologist who sent me directly to the genetics department to be tested for the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 gene mutations, with the knowledge that she was 100% sure I would test positive, as was the genetic counselor who took my history.  However, I tested negative.  This is good, right?  Yes and no.  I now know I do not carry the most common breast cancer gene mutations and thus could not have possibly passed them on to my own daughters. Also, my odds of developing breast cancer have dramatically decreased, however, I do not know if my mother carried one of these mutations. There are also other gene mutations that she could have carried and passed on to me—these can’t be tested for because my mother is no longer living.  So, there does remain a cloud around the futures of my daughters and myself.

I am currently seeing my oncologist every 6 months, having a mammogram once a year, and a breast MRI once a year at 6-month intervals.  I have also consulted with a plastic surgeon that does breast reconstructive surgery and am contemplating having a radical mastectomy.  I have previously had my uterus and ovaries removed as preventative measures.  I have always known I would have to make these personal decisions but I figured I would have cancer when making them.  Now, that it is here, without cancer and with the knowledge I have, it feels different then I imagined.  I often feel very raw and overwhelmed by the decisions that are before me.  I have so many more choices than my mother did and different personal health issues that come into play with my decisions, as well.

So, yes cancer has changed my life although it hasn’t hindered my ability to reach life goals it has stretched me, made life more precious to me, and taught me not to take any human relationship I have lightly.  If there is anything to pass on to my girls it is what I learned from my mom—to face life head on without blinders, to be proactive and preventative in action, and to bravely take on whatever gets thrown at you even if it’s cancer and if it is cancer not to let it rule your life.

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Cathy is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine who specializes in felines.  She loves cooking, baking, and filling her home with people to feed.  She and her loving husband of almost 30 years live in a small town in the Northwest.  Their second daughter recently moved out and they are beginning to enjoy the new-found freedom of an empty nest.  She also happens to be my mother.

Guest Post: Choosing Not To Be A Feminist

I was born in the late 1960s and as such was a daughter of America’s feminism movement of the 1970s.  Probably not literally, though.  Like Lindley, I don’t think I have ever actually had a conversation with my mom about her self-identification — or not — as a feminist.  Regardless, I was definitely surrounded by feminist ideals as I came of age in the 1980s.  As I went off to college at a university that made Berkeley look conservative, I took with me my self-attached FEMINIST label and convictions to be strong, self-directed, self-determinate, independent, and successful in any profession I chose.  I had grown up being told — by my parents and society — that the world should be open to me regardless of my gender.  I believed it and I was going to take full advantage of it.

Interesting, though, the choice thing.  While it was clear I was “allowed” to choose any profession I wanted, society was also telling me that that was the only decision I had to make.  The rest…well, I could have it all!  It was the era of the Super Mom, where women brought home the bacon, fried it up in a pan, colored their hair because they were worth it, and baked their kids cupcakes and lead Girl Scout troops after work.  There was so much excitement and empowerment and cheering from the feminists blazing the trail ahead of me.  No longer was I just expected to be a housewife.  Now I could have a career AND a family!  YAY ME!  YAY US!

Behind the fanfare, though, I saw something else.  While it was awesome that women now had a choice, instead of choosing, most women seemed to be adding.  Very counter to everything that surrounded me, I distinctly remember deciding before I left my teens that I would do things differently.  I was going to choose.  Career or family but not both, not at the same time.  I did not want to have it all because, frankly, it looked exhausting.  Feminism was about having choices, right?  So making a choice still allowed me to call myself a feminist, right?

Apparently not.

It became clear to me pretty quickly that my decision to either have a career OR a family was not an acceptable one.  Well, at least not a feminist one.  Somehow I was still being oppressed by choosing one over the other?  So I learned to keep my family plans to myself.  A number of working moms, trail blazers a couple decades my senior, got huffy when I suggested I would stop working if I ever had kids.  I got the distinct impression that that was NOT what all their hard work had been for.  Suddenly I was ungrateful and selfish.  And definitely not a feminist.  So I dropped their banner and haven’t picked it up since.

Sadly,  the times I grew up in have resulted in “feminist” having a less than desirable connation for me.  I am as eager to call myself a feminist as I am to own being a Christian.  But the truth is, at their core, their foundation, I am both.  But both terms can drag along such baggage and so quickly sort me into an assumed category of beliefs that may or may not be true about me.  And so today, at 44, married, and having chosen career instead of children, I am simply, happily, Toni.

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Toni is a dear friend of mine and an avid blogger.  Check out her blog Woodhaven Ramblings.