What is a Strong Woman?

That’s today’s question: What is a Strong Woman, exactly?

A Strong Woman should know, because she’s been told she is one more than she can count. But when she hears that, she has no clue what it means. Does she look physically strong? Is this the world’s way of telling her she looks more Eastern European than she thought she did?

Or does she just appear so emotionally confident and put together that people are frightened of her prowess? It must be the latter. Because the other word she gets called as much as “strong” is intimidating.

Intimidating. Her. Can you believe it?

That’s another word that has no real meaning. And apparently when she repeatedly asks someone to tell her what it means, they just feel more intimidated and are too scared to answer the rest of her questions.

It’s a frustrating cycle.

But back to the topic at hand. What does a Strong Woman do? Is she just like every other woman, with her own dreams and pursuits and talents? Or is something more expected of her?

She finds herself frustrated because she was given this title against her will, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to break out of it. She knows she may have lost some of you here, because maybe some of you long to be a Strong Woman. And it has its perks, she gets it. You don’t have to politely act interested in the guy who sells cell phone cases at the mall kiosk. You can tell the waitress that you actually ordered the fettuccini alfredo and not the beef quesadilla. And you think that you’ll finally be able to walk into a room and be unequivocally you, and not have to worry about what people think.

But that’s just not what it’s like.

Because being a Strong Woman, especially in the church, feels like being put into a box.

Because she feels like she’s not allowed to be anything other than a Strong Woman.

She thinks to herself: Is a Strong Woman allowed to cry? Is she allowed to be delicate and feminine? Is she allowed to be led? Because from her experience, it feels like she isn’t.

People assume a lot about a Strong Woman. They assume that her heart isn’t as breakable as others, because she does so well on her own. They assume that she wants to lead in every aspect of her life, because she does so professionally. They assume that she’s not interested in being desired and pursued, because she seems so independent and “intimidating”. They assume that she doesn’t want help, because she doesn’t ask for it. They assume she can constantly help others, because she’s strong enough to care for people. And they assume that she’s fine.

But she isn’t fine. Because she’s not a Strong Woman at all. She doesn’t even know what that means.

She’s just a Girl like any other. And yes, she has her strong days. She’s bold and outgoing and seems fearless and joyful. And it seems like she doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. But she has her weak days too. She’s sometimes lonely and confused and lost in life, and has no idea what she’s doing. And she worries about what people think of her.

She’s just a Girl. She’s weak and strong and everything in between. But despite all the confusion and labeling and boxing in that she feels, she’s one thing above all else.

A Child of God. And because of that, she can be a Strong Woman, even if she has no idea what that means.

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Yose(might) want to read about my weekend.

Before we move forward, I need to make it clear that I know that’s not how you pronounce Yosemite. I was doing it for the puns. I’d do anything for the puns.

Some people (and book retailers) say chicken soup is good for the soul, but I think a trip to Yosemite is far better therapy.

There’s something healing about the fresh mountain air and the solitude, and the time away from cellular data. You have to rely on nature and yourself, and you’ll usually fail. So if you’re anything like me, you have to actively rely on God for a change.

On Thursday at 5:15 am, I headed up to Yosemite National Park for four days with my two friends, a truck of camping supplies from the late 1990’s, and one night of reservations inside the valley. Were we as prepared as we could have been? Probably not. Were we going to get there? Hell yes.

Now if you’re reading closely you may have noticed an inconsistency in my last paragraph. If we were spending three nights in Yosemite, how could we only have one night of reservations? What kind of idiots would come up to the most famous national park in the world in the middle of summer with no real plan of where to sleep? These idiots right here, that’s who.

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We came up the mountain with the innocence and confidence of three small children. Completely assured of the fact that our Father would provide for us, while ignoring all signs of logic that shot down our outrageous plans.

Now, I need to be clear: we did prepare for this trip. We had food and water and a myriad of supplies that would have saved us from a small, yet dangerous disaster. We weren’t willfully ignorant or naive. No, I’d venture to say that we are actually some of the most careful, and dare I say, intelligent young women I know. And we also had faith, and that’s what makes this story different from the millions of other Yosemite trips that took place this summer.

We should not have had the weekend that we did. We should have been tired and grumpy and hungry. We should have had to go straight home after our first night, with our old supplies and disappointments tied down in the bed of the truck.

But we had God on our side. And He did provide. In every aspect we failed in, He provided in full. There were no half-fulfilled promises, no partial credit. He gave us a perfect weekend for free; all we had to do was trust in Him.

I’m not going to lie to you and say it was easy for me. God and I haven’t been all that talkative lately. And by that I mean I haven’t been talking to God as much as I should.

But the reason I’m writing this is because my time in Yosemite actually revealed a lot about the current state of my own heart and walk with Christ.

I’ve been relying on my own strength of will, and my obviously impervious planning skills to guide me through the rest of my life, but as you can probably tell, if my wilderness survival skills seem lacking, my spiritual survival skills are basically nonexistent.

And this weekend really put that into perspective. Now if you’ve never been to Yosemite before, I need to set the scene before we go on. (And you should also plan a trip as soon as you can. You already have access to the internet so you’re half way there)

When you enter into the valley, you’re suddenly surrounded by these vast walls of granite. They tower over you, thousands of feet in the air, and it’s easy to feel completely insignificant. Here is this valley, with rivers and mountains and walls of rock. It’s been shaped for millions of years by the wind and rain, and there you are: tiny and completely engulfed by rock and tree.

And the crazy thing is that we really should feel that way. The notion that we are crafted uniquely and carefully, with a distinct personality and purpose is really outrageous when you stop to think about it, especially when we live in a society that tells us we must constantly be improving and changing. We are told we will never be enough the way we are.

But we have a Father who knows every hair on our head, who carved those walls of granite, who knew our names before we were even born, one who forged those rivers and streams with care, and one who sent His son to die for us, all so we could learn to love Him.

And here I am, trying to find my own way through the wild journey that is life, with a heart that has encased itself in its own granite walls, ignoring the one person who can guide me through my own mess without the pain and fatigue that I have caused myself.

This weekend opened my eyes about trusting God, especially in the smallest of details.

If my friends were able to trust that we would get a camping spot we most definitely didn’t deserve, or that we wouldn’t run out of gas in the middle of the valley, or that we wouldn’t be mauled by bears or a lone psychotic camper, I can trust God with my life.

Because really, if He can handle three idiotic, joyful girls on a whimsical trip to Yosemite, I think He can handle my heart.

On Shame

This past Saturday, my grandfather arrived in Heaven at the age of 82, able to rest in the home that had been planned for him since long before his birth. And it has had me think a lot about how we view ourselves and how God views us.

When I think of Norman Davis, I see the grandpa who took me to the San Diego Zoo and watched baseball and basketball and any and every other sport that was televised. I think about the copious amounts of Hostess products he ate, and how he would take all the vegetables out of his food, even if they were lathered in sauce.

Every time I saw him he would ask me, “So Andrea, you got a boy?” and every time I would have to say “Nah Gramps, not right now” and he was tell me that it was ok because none of them were good enough anyway.

When I think about my grandpa, I think about the times when I was sad, and how I could always sit next to him while he watched golf or some other heinously boring sport, and we would just sit in comfortable silence.

When I think of my grandpa, I remember all the corny and politically incorrect jokes he would teach my brother and I, and I still find myself telling them to people and laughing, even years later.

And when I think of my grandpa, I think of how he raised 4 unique children, and was a grandpa to six intelligent, good-looking grandchildren.

But my grandfather didn't see himself this way.

He saw himself as the boy who had started smoking at the age of 12, as the man who began to self-medicate and soothe his soul with alcohol, as the man who gambled away his family’s money. He saw a man who was unforgivable, who could never be redeemed.

He attempted to atone for these things in the ways that only a broken person can. But, as we all know, we continually fall short and can never repay those debts on our own.

He may have seen only his own brokenness, but I know that God saw so much more.

My grandpa was a believer. He knew that Jesus was real and that He had given His life to save the world. But he struggled with the same gut wrenching feeling that many of us, including myself, have felt: That God’s grace doesn't extend to our shame, to our filth.

Shame is the Devil’s hiding place, and his strongest foothold. Shame makes us feel so completely insignificant, and yet completely exposed.

When we deny ourselves God’s love and mercy, when we pass over that gift because we “aren’t clean enough” or “will do it when we aren't so sinful”, we are feeding Shame.

It’s amazing how intrusive Shame really is, and the burden it puts on our shoulders.

It’s a backpack that keeps getting heavier and heavier, but we never ask for help because we think we deserve the pain. We think that our wrongdoings and our sin are worth the punishment, and that we don't deserve to be happy because of the things we have done.

I think this is how my grandpa felt until very recently.

I remember visiting him when he was still able to speak, and he told my mother that he was “Sorry [he] had to burden us with this”. He was sorry that he was sick, sorry that someone had to care for him, because he wasn’t even sure if he deserved that.

That is Shame. Shame wanted my grandpa alone, broken, hating himself.

But God is so much stronger than Shame. Shame is nothing compared to the vastness of God’s grace and mercy.

Prayer was powerful to my grandpa. He responded to it, even when he couldn’t open his eyes or move. And it was through prayer over the past months that God was able to pull my grandpa out of the hole that Shame had dug for him. He was able to accept that grace, and the freedom that comes with knowing that grace extended to even him. And he could rest.

I guess what I’m hoping that you will get out of this blog post is that you are not unsavable. You are not unlovable. You can be forgiven and completely redeemed and fully loved. And you can do it now. You can live the rest of your life in God’s mercy, and enjoy that freedom that only Christ brings. You can do it now.

God sees you as your wholly forgiven self. Don't let Shame’s distorted mirror change your reflection.

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

Can UC How Much I’ve Changed?

Last Tuesday, I conquered a fear I didn’t even know I had. I visited UCLA.

I was going to the Getty with my best friend, and we decided it would be fun to visit the home of the Bruins, and my parents’ alma mater. Though I was excited at first, my heart started to race as soon as we started walking down Westwood Boulevard.

Now that might have something to do with the fact that we parked roughly a mile from the campus itself so that we didn’t have to pay out the wazoo for parking, but I think most of it had to do with anxiety.

Well, pride and anxiety.

But before we continue, I need to provide some context.

Being that my parents were both proud Bruins, I’ve always felt this slight feeling of self-doubt when it comes to college. I wanted to go to a “good” school (cough cough UCLA) and have the quintessential college experience my parents had talked about for the first 15 years of my life: late nights wth friends in Hedrick Hall, crazy weekends filled with memories in Westwood, football games at the Rose Bowl, and the beauty of living on your own, out from under your parents’ wings.

Those conversations suddenly stopped when my brother started applying for college and they realized those quintessential experiences were going to cost approximately $30,000 a year. I know they felt guilty about creating this perfect picture of what college would look like, and then ripping it out of our adolescent hands.

It felt like that scene in the Wizard of Oz where they pull back the curtain and realize the wizard was a really just a frail old man pulling levers. Except in my case the curtain revealed my parents juggling a mortgage, their own student loans, medical bills, miscellaneous debt, and the life expenses for four people and two dogs.

I realized then that I would never be able to have those experiences. I would never be able to dorm at my school, or go out of state for school, or even go anywhere with more than a 45 minute drive. And I was angry for a long time.

I was angry at my parents, for not being able to provide me the experience they had promised me so many times. I was angry at God, for not giving me what I thought I deserved. I was angry at my friends, for being able to afford to go to schools that cost more than $6,500 a year. And I was angry at myself, for working so hard, and still not getting the results I wanted.

But last summer before I started school at Cal Poly Pomona, the Lord changed my heart in a miraculous way. I’d like to say that it was a beautiful and heartfelt change, where my heart was softened and I matured and grew out of my own volition. But really, God just punched me in the face.

I came to the realization that I wasn’t owed ANYTHING. Nothin’. Zip. Zilch. Nada. I could have been the mothaflippin’ Pope, and I still wouldn’t be owed anything.

I also realized that my happiness had to come from my own attitude and choices. I needed to work twice as hard to make friendships and get involved. I wanted to have at least SOME sort of college experience, and gosh darn, I was gonna get it.

And I did. I rocked the crap out of my freshman year and had the time of my life. I met some of the most amazing people in the world, and I now call them my best friends. I go out and study at coffeeshops till one in the morning, I consume startling amounts of coffee and Wingstop, and although I live at home, I’m happy to say I spend barely any time there (no offense mom and dad). I love my school, my job, and my friends.

I haven’t had the quintessential college experience, but I’d argue that what I have is better. I have taken every opportunity to be happy and live a joyful life and made the most out of it. I’m honestly more happy than I ever have been before, even if I’m also more busy and stressed. I regret nothing about my first year of college, and I’m unbelievably blessed.

But now that we have all that covered, its time to go back to UCLA.

I have had an amazing year, but as we walked up that street, towards the Bruin statue, I was so scared. I was scared that all those feelings of entitlement and discontentment would come flooding back, and I would realize that my year had actually sucked. I was scared that I would see the campus my parents had raved about and feel worthless and ashamed.

But as I walked thought that campus, all I felt was contentment and relief.

I walked by the library and Royce hall, and my parents’ old dorms, and I felt completely satisfied in my life and in what I’m doing. Sure, UCLA’s campus is insanely cool, and students don’t have to drive 20 minutes in any direction to find something fun to do, but I really love Cal Poly Pomona. I love the trees and the architecture and the diversity and even the god-awful hills. I love that I belong to a community like Cal Poly Cru that accepts me wholly and completely. I love that I can run home if I’m feeling sad or if I forget my binder, and I really love that I’m only spending $6,500 a year.

It’s so crazy to me that I ever doubted that my college experience would be anything but amazing. God did a wonder on my heart, and I’m unbelievably happy about that.

I’m not a Bruin; I’m a Bronco, and I’m damn proud of that.