Posts tagged Strength
She is You

I love a woman who loves herself. A woman who knows she's not perfect and embraces that. A woman that not only loves herself, but FALLS in love with herself every single day. She knows that she doesn't always say the correct thing, but she is kind, humble, and oh so selfless. She understands that the world isn't always beautiful, but she does her best to add her own beauty to her life and to the ones closest to her heart. She hesitates when making decisions for her family, because she fears not making the right ones. There is fear in her heart, but you’d never know, because she is peace — the binding factor of why her world holds together, even if it’s not even close to perfect.

She has insecurities, like every other human being. But she isn't like everyone else. She makes a difference — even more than she could ever imagine. To her children especially — when they grow up and think of the person they want to be most like in their lives, it will always be her. The way she can whip up a dessert and have it taste like heaven, the way she drops everything without a blink to help someone in need, the way she seems to have all the answers when you don’t know where to turn. When she looks in the mirror, she only sees the wrinkles and the creases of her eyes and her mouth, and the growing grey intertwined in her blonde hair. But the world sees her contagious smile, her laughter and silliness that brightens up the darkest room, the joy they wish to see in every aspect of their own hearts and lives, and the patience she has for values not like her own. How is it that she helps others see who they truly are, more than their own souls do? She sees the curves of her body, more weight than she had years ago, and stripes on her tummy from when she once carried her own babies.

She doesn’t see herself as beautiful because society doesn’t deem her as so — she isn’t young or olive colored skin, or perfectly perky breasts, and her house isn’t clean and doesn’t look like an article right out of the magazines she loves to read. She doesn’t yet realize that beauty isn’t everything. She doesn’t see the power she possesses, because if she did, she would know that she can literally move mountains to create the life she dreams of. She is real in an increasingly false world. She flourishes in her existence, like a flower pushing through concrete. Her real self shows in every breath she takes. Her strength isn't always stronger than her softness, as much as she tries to make this so.

My sweet friend, she is you. Your greatest gift is the power you hold inside yourself, and being the truest soul you can ever imagine. Don’t you dare even deny it — the Earth thrives with you in it. Let us create beauty and love, my love.

JOURNALIST: Bethany Bourgoin


I'm on mile 5 of 10, running the longest leg for my Ragnar Relay team. We are running from Madison, Wisconsin back to Chicago. It's early June so the sun isn't at her hottest yet. But it's midday and you can see the heat rising off of the pavement, making the road ahead shimmer. I'm reduced down to my sports bra and shorts as I hear my mom's voice ringing in my ear, “Dress 20 degrees warmer when you run. If you are still hot you can always take layers off.”

I am lost in my thoughts. Feet pounding the pavement, stride after stride. Pushing my body harder than I have in a long time. I’m proud of myself. It took a while, but I am proud.

I hear more footsteps, another runner coming to pass. I wait until they get closer before opening my mouth to say some words of encouragement. It’s a runner thing.

But she beats me to it. 

“Beautiful tattoo!” She genuinely exclaims, almost as if she knows my pain behind it. It’s as if, she too, is a Survivor.

Taken aback, I reply “Thank you!”

She continues on.

I wasn’t yet a mother on that sweltering day in June. I was still recovering from years of self-destruction and abusive relationships.

I remember 2 months before, a weekend in April, I had returned home to Michigan for a quick visit with my family. Sitting with my mom in our living room. There were tears, uncontrollable tears. Tears of sadness as I poured my heart out to her. 

She sat there patiently while I declared that I never wanted to be in love again. The suffering I went through was too much. My healing heart couldn’t bear the thought of being broken, not even one more time.

As I cursed love, I also confessed my heavy fear of child bearing. The thought of bringing another human, let alone more than one, into this dark and cold world terrified me. Knowing what I know, everything I have been through.

I couldn’t…

No, I wouldn’t…

My relationship with my mom hasn’t been the easiest, your typical mother daughter affair. But in this moment, she was more than my mom. She was my refuge.

She didn’t cut me off as I unloaded years of plight on to her. She took it all in, collected her thoughts and so beautifully consoled me.

As I remember that day, my stomach begins to knot up. Anxiety creeps in.

You see, I am now a Wife and Mother. A Mother of two.

I am a Mother of two who has seen the darkest depths of humanity.

A Wife. A Mother. A Survivor, as my tattoo boldly testifies.

But I fear the day I have to explain this tattoo to my children. There is so much to tell, so much innocence lost.

How do I tell my daughter that her mother was a victim of child sexual abuse, by not one but 2 members of the family? That for years she feared the dark and locked her door at night. That she turned to men, sexually, because that is all she knew.

How do I tell my son that his mother allowed young men to take their fists to her face? That one time in college she had too much to drink and became a rape statistic. That she still fears the dark.

How do I tell my children that their mother lost herself in alcohol, barely making rent, and dug for loose change everyday to quench her thirst? That she drank to erase the memories. That she drank to hide from her past.

How do I tell my children that not everyone has good intentions without taking away their innocence? Is it fair to tell them the truth? How do I warn them of the shadows without causing them to fear the light?

My parents did their best to keep me safe while warning me of those shadows.

“Don’t talk to strangers.”

“If anyone touches your privates, tell us”

“If you need a ride home from the party, please call.”

Words I can hear myself saying to my kids years from now.

But kids will be kids and my words will most likely glide in one ear and right out of the other, with no thought of them lingering as they run off with their friends to play.

So until then, I will think back to that day with my mom. My memory of her so vivid. Her words echo in my heart. Her presence unmoved by my waves of emotions.

She has been here before, she too a Survivor.

My worries coming to a calm, I have reached a decision.

The day my children ask about my tattoo, I will tell them my truth.

I am a Survivor. Coming from generations of Survivors.

I will speak of the shadows, not so they fear the light, but so they know what courage and strength looks like in the darkest of nights.

That courage and strength looks like me. It is me.

I would not be the Mother I am today without it.


JOURNALIST: Shea Gardner



Letting Weakness Shine

I never wanted to be strong.

But from the age of 16, when my spine was fused together with titanium, and my typical teenage problems disappeared into the bleeping of ICU monitors, I was told to be strong. I had to get out of bed the next day and learn the shape of my new spine.

Physically, my spine twisted for no apparent reason. There was no underlying condition. I was just a dancer and a dreamer, struck by this lightning.

Thankfully, scoliosis didn’t take away my dreams, but when my daughter’s terminal diagnosis 12 years later brought me right back to the same ICU, face to face with the same surgeon in the same hospital, I felt it was too much to bear. This doctor fixed me 13 years ago, but he could not fix my child. This was just a formality.

I longed to protect her. She was too weak for any surgery. Her bones simply broke from lack of usage. She lived three bright, beautiful years and then she was gone.

Stay strong, mama.

I rejected that phrase like I rejected her diagnosis of Spinal Muscular Atrophy.

No one could tell me my daughter, my sweet, gushy, 4 month old, longed for daughter was dying from a disease that was literally eating her strength. Run the tests again, I asked, because this is impossible. I believed if my strength was big enough, the outcome would change. And then I went to bed and vomited. I was sick for days. Heartsick and broken.

Stay strong, mama.

I rejected that phrase when at 13 months, my daughter was intubated and we were told to leave the room. I went into complete, animal shock, dizzy from anxiety and trauma. I begged them to let me stay in the room. I’ve seen a lot, I told them, I’m not afraid, please, please, let me be there.

And like officers of the law, they gently escorted me from the room and told me I might faint. They told us to wait in the empty ICU family room with bone dry Tetley teabags and saltines. Food for the weak. Food for the sick at heart.

Stay strong, mama.

I rejected that phrase when I went for a massage, for some self care, and received a call from my daughter’s home nurse and from my husband. Something was wrong with Florence, would I please come home?

I screamed and wailed, willing the traffic to move faster, wishing for a way to get home faster. When I got home, she was so upset, in so much pain. I threw my stuff down: what happened? What the hell happened?!

I was just changing her diaper, the nurse replied calmly, and she has not stopped crying. Crying for my daughter required a lot of strength and often put her into respiratory distress.

I was 20 weeks pregnant, sick to my stomach, when my husband and I went to the ER with her. They asked us what happened and eyed us suspiciously when we said there was no fall or accident, but she was in pain. Something was wrong. I filled out a form. They were assuming we did this to her. I didn’t care what they thought, but I needed to help her. Hours later, they confirmed both her femurs were fractured. I thought I couldn’t lose any more of my mind, but when they said that her disease had simply caused her bones to become brittle and thin, I lost the part of me that I still haven’t found.

What more could we handle? Why this complication? Wasn’t a fatal diagnosis enough? Why did she now have to suffer with pain and osteopenia?

I wanted to rip the hair right from my scalp, when prayers for strength came pouring in. What I didn’t realize then, but perhaps realize now, is that those prayers were meant to call forth the God of strength that resides in me. Just as my daughter’s bones needed to be infused with medication to help prevent fractures, so too did my bones need to be fortified with an otherworldly strength.

I am not very strong, and I’m happy this way. My strength was gone long ago. It was a facade that caved in over time. Motherhood demands that we stay strong, but it’s simply unkind to ask parents to do the impossible.

The kind of strength I possess now is the strength that I inherited from my daughter. I believe my little girl was tied to heaven her whole life, linked by a gossamer cord, like a bean to a sprout, a baby to an umbilical cord. 

I have learned to milk the strength from that cord, a cord that appears ethereally thin and threadbare, but it is substantial.

It’s the kind of strength I hope to pass onto my son. 

When my son is afraid of something, I call forth his middle name, Brave, and ask him what it means.

“Don’t ‘fraid,” he replies with his two-year-old tongue.

“That’s right,” I reply, “don’t be afraid, to be weak, to be soft, to be tender.”

Don’t be afraid to be afraid, I whisper.

In my darkest moments, when I was at my lowest, I learned to let the weakness in. I delight in my weakness, if you will, and I let my son see it all.

Mama misses your sissy. Mama is sick. Mama has an owie. Mama is sad.

My son sees me in my weakness, and yet he sees me rise each morning, filled with strength. He sees me laugh and he sees me cry.

I am teaching him that it is okay to be weak, because when we are weak, we are strong. When we are real, we are strong. When we are truthful, we are strong. When we are soft, broken and vulnerable, we are fully alive.

Journalist: Michaela Evanow  (@micha ela_evanow)

Photographer:   Jozi Grant Photography