I heard today is International Women’s Day, a day to monument and celebrate the wonder, beauty, strength, resilience, tenderness, and power that is bound up and released in women around the globe. I have been thinking all day long about the women in my life, and this is my feeble attempt to honor them. The more I think about my own women, though, I can’t help but think about amazing women throughout history who have inspired me and shown me what it means to be brave, strong, a peacemaker, kind, in short: what it means to be a woman.
Early in my childhood I was introduced to Lottie Moon, probably one of my first missionary heroines. And of course, the woman to introduce me to my childhood hero was a legendary woman herself; my Sunday School teacher, “Aunt” Miriam. From then on, I was captivated by powerful women: Elisabeth Elliot. Corrie Ten Boom. Princess Diana. Harriet Tubman. Rosa Parks. I was completely mesmerized by these women’s stories. When I think about how I came to care about social justice so much, I used to think it was the urban ministry class I took in college, but really it was the pictures of Princess Diana alongside Mother Theresa holding the sick and poor. It was the books my own mother read to me about Elisabeth Elliot serving, living with, and loving the very people who slaughtered her husband. The impact of powerful women put before me from as early as I can remember is certainly not lost on me.
I went through a pretty serious biography phase in middle school, and I couldn’t get enough of Nancy Reagan, Laura Bush, Jackie Kennedy, and of course Michelle Obama, the list goes on. The First Ladies who have served our country never cease to completely baffle me.
I suppose I had been subconsciously working my way towards becoming a feminist all my life, but never really verbalized it until I got to college and was so graciously directed towards the obvious reality that feminism is a good thing. How can you not desire gender equality when you explore the texts written by some of the most amazing women who have ever lived? When you study the works of women like George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, Sylvia Plath, Willa Cather, Frances Burney, Zora Neal Hurston, Mary Wollstonecraft (y’all: I had to study her piece called A Vindication of the Rights of Women, written in the 18th century. SO BADASS!), women who had to change their names just to be published? Studying these women was one of the most incredible privileges of my life.
And not only did the women whom we studied amaze me. But I got to observe, walk on the same sidewalks as, and sit under the teaching of professors like Dr. Peggy Wilfong, Dr. Michelle Wood, Dr. Joy Fagan, Mrs. Brown. My advisor, Dr. Wilfong, changed my life. We considered her the “Queen” of the English department because she was so wise and brilliant and kind and simply so revered, yet she would take her students out for coffee, she drove me home in a snowstorm one day and gave me a 20 minute pep talk in my driveway about how I CAN and I WILL finish and pass and be successful in my capstone project. She made a survival package for my class finishing our senior seminar, she stopped me in the hallway one day and in 5 minutes she had told me to dream big, she told me I ABSOLUTELY COULD do the jobs I was dreaming but fearful about, and she had written contact information for someone to help me get where I wanted to go. I sobbed through chapel immediately following that encounter because I had never felt so believed in.
And then there are the women in my circles.
Korea gave me the sweetest, strongest female friendships who I hold dearly still to this day, even though we have all been scattered back around the world. Women who loved God, so intentionally loved each new foreigner who stumbled into our city, who happened to sign shitty contracts but pushed through it with grace and resilience and would pray for their really really bad bosses, women who even birthed their babies in foreign hospitals. I saw what it meant to be a faithful wife, a loving fiancé, and a devoted friend from these women and they transformed me with their presence in my life that year.
As I get older, I have started to realize more and more how significant it is to know your parents friends, and I am so proud to know my mom’s best friends. Most of the women in her circle have known me since birth, or at least for as long as I can remember them. I have learned what it means to be a very good friend because I watch my mom be a friend, and that is no small thing. I’ve watched her cry with and rejoice with her oldest and dearest friends, and the double blessing of this is that they have even cried with and rejoiced with me as I grow up. I have a whole tribe of God-fearing women who know me and love me because they have known and loved my mom for so. many. years, and that is of more value than I can express. In this circle, too, are my mom’s sisters, and my friend’s moms! Oh what a blessing it is to be woven into a line of women so dedicated to Jesus, their husbands, their families, and each other. Role models. Every one of them.
And then there are my very own women, the ones who stood beside me on my wedding day, the ones who walked with me through college, the ones who have known me as far bas as when I still had braces, and of course my sister who didn’t have a choice but she is my best friend anyway — these women have walked through it all with me. My friend Megan held me in the back of a car after a bad accident senior year. My friend Gina flew from Ohio to Charlotte in the middle of the semester just to welcome me home from Korea. My friend Rachel has called me every week that I’ve been in NC depressed and lonely because she fights on my behalf when joy seems far off. All these women have poured encouragement and love by the bucketfulls over me even though they carry heavy struggles of their own. With each year that passes I become more amazed and in awe at the women God has given to be my friends.
My mother in law is the most generous and thoughtful woman I know. She raised my husband to be the kind, selfless, hardworking, people-serving man that he is, and I will be grateful as long as I live. As my husband said just the other day (after she brought us lunch and boxes for our move) that the Orton men would be completely lost without her. Myself included.
My mom’s mom is a solid rock. She is a pillar of unwavering faith and joy in Christ. I can think of nothing more I want than to grow half as wise and joy-filled as she.
My dad’s mom is an absolute treasure. She has lived through so much hardship but she still walks on gracefully as ever (see my Facebook post on her legendary strength after my Papa died).
And my own mom is one of God’s most gracious gifts to me. The grace of God, that I get to be her daughter blows my mind every day. She is wise, funny, loving, hospitable, welcoming, never giving up, hopeful, and more beautiful as each year passes. She lights up each room she walks into. I look up to her in every way, and I have to stop there because I am crying on my keyboard now…
I truly feel like I could go on for 1000 more words to try and adequately celebrate the women in my life. But I hope this small tribute rings out loudly enough so that they and anyone who reads this knows what I hope we all know about the women in my circle, and women everywhere: that they are amazing.
As much as I champion these women and wish I could tackle hug and throw confetti for, I also want to acknowledge those for whom this day may be difficult, the case being an absense of a strong woman figure, mother, or friend. If my words accomplish anything, may it be a reminder to you that good women are not hard to find. And may we continually strive to be the women we want to be for those who need us.
Every woman in this slideshow has taught me, loved me, raised me, and shaped me more than they may ever know. I am grateful for each of you, from the bottom of my heart!