My maiden name is Martin. It means ‘warrior’. In my single days, I decided I'd hyphenate my last name after marriage. It appealed to me for two main reasons: first, having your last name stand for warrior is pretty intense and I didn't want to give that up; second, I felt having a hyphenated last name would show I wasn’t just married to a man but married to a fight for a movement. Don’t ask me how hyphenating a name can prove that, because I simply do not know. It just resonated with me at the time, so I went for it. If I didn't do the hyphen, I figured I'd at least use both names like Coretta Scott King and Harriet Beecher Stowe did.
Then, one day the winds changed and like my gym routine or avoiding cheese, I was just over it. Years later my husband showed up after I spent the entire decade of my 20's without a date. When I found out his last name was Bennett, I loved it, because it reminded me of Pride and Prejudice.
I grew up in a matriarchal family. In my eyes my mother, grandmas and aunts were capable of doing anything. Not much has changed since then, except the passing away of my dear grandmas. My mom and aunts are still my ultimate superheroes. My family is full of strong, hardworking, creative women, whom I'm immensely proud of. The ladies in my family combined can run a small business, negotiate the sale of a house, flawlessly decorate a space, make a mean portuguese stew and put unruly children in their place.
Growing up I saw the women in my family take care of one another. My grandmother’s house was once affectionately known as ‘grand central station’. If anyone needed a place to stay, she’d open a room. Along with compassion and generosity, my mother and her sisters are survivors. They weren’t raised with a silver spoon, and life hadn’t always dealt them an easy hand. From a young age I heard whispered tales of domestic violence, divorce, discrimination and pain. I’ve always been thankful for my mom who raised me and my brother as a single, divorced parent. I was in a different school every year from 1st grade through 5th, and those years included time living with either my mom or dad in California and Connecticut . My mom did her best to make life work, and any success I have today is because she fought for me to make it.
Even though I grew up in a family of strong, proud women, I still struggled with the idea of being a feminist. In college I assumed feminism was all about loving Gloria Steniem, pushing for abortion rights and belittling men. By the time I got on campus I was a Christian, conservative woman who didn’t quite know where I fit in the battle for women’s rights.
Interestingly enough, my journey towards feminism began with first loving myself. Before I could ever fight for another woman, I had to fight for me. The way I begin to fight was to believe the best about who I am. I always felt awkward as a kid. Maybe it was the braces, glasses and the constant need to escape into works of literature. Maybe it was the fact that when my friends were dating, I couldn’t get a glance thrown my away. Whatever the reason be, I dealt with issues of insecurity and feelings of rejection for the majority of my life. It’s funny, because I look back at childhood pictures of myself now and there’s been a softening. I’ll gaze at that familiar young face and think, “I was pretty cute and I was special.” The kids teasing me didn’t see it, and I regret that I ever valued their words over my own voice.
When I came to know Jesus he showed me that I am a unique person He cherishes. The love of God broke into the dark places and gave me a reason to live. It wasn’t an easy process but little by little I learned to trust that I am lovable. God also helped me discover my voice. I learned that even though I’m small in stature, I have a lion’s roar inside of me. As I read scriptures about the God who loves justice, I realized that I wanted to join him in that fight. More than anyone else in my entire life, God gave me confidence and strength. To this day He’s my biggest cheerleader and the best coach. Even when I’m tangled up in fear, He see’s the best version of me and encourages me to see it too.
One of the important ways in which I see myself is as a pro-life feminist. I identify in that way, because I am committed to fighting for the protection and well being of women. I don’t discriminate on their ages either. From the pre-born child to the elderly woman I seek to love them all and love them well. Over the years I’ve found many opportunities to grow in love for women. Their was the time I spent volunteering at a retirement home and sitting with lonely ladies who wished to see their children. The months I spent in Mozambique and the African women I reached out to help. The countless hours I spent in dorm rooms not my own, mentoring women. The summer camp programs, inner city work, missions trips and passionate prayer meetings have molded me into who I am today. In all those situations I saw first hand the beauty, power, and ability of women. When I reached out to them I got more back in return. I learned that every little girl has dignity, value and a purpose for her life. Regardless of their situation, they are all worth fighting for.
Today I spend most of my time helping pregnant women in practical ways. I work with moms and help them to come out of fear and into hope. Along with an amazing team of others we work for a non-profit pregnancy center that gives out free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, material resources, parenting classes and much more. Some ladies need help finding a place to lay their head, others need to know they can leave an abusive boyfriend and some are looking for the mother figure they never knew. We can’t do it all, but we do what we can and their smiles and gratitude prove we make a difference.
I’m strongly pro-life and unashamedly so. That just serves to make me more committed to loving women because I value them before they’re even born. When their heart is just beginning to beat, I fight for it to continue to do so. When they come into the world I am there to stand alongside their mother and celebrate their existence. Being pro-life doesn’t take away from my love for women, it enlarges it. Even the mother who choses to end that heartbeat through means of their own, will not be abandoned in my sight. The woman doctor who participates in the taking of life, also deserves my love. That is my calling and the passion God’s placed in my heart.
I’ve got a long way to go in fighting for women, and that’s fine by me. I know all the ways in which I am lacking in love. I see the weak places, the need for growth and the areas in which I fall short. Yet, I believe the God who loves me and loves all women is in this battle with us to the end. So, I keep pressing, keeping hoping and continue to fight. On this International Women’s Day I ask you to do the same. Keep praying for the girls caught in sex trafficking and work to set them free. Call up that teenager and take her out for ice cream. Sit with the elderly lady who feels she has been forgotten. Write a letter to your friend who is struggling in a new and unfamiliar town. Buy some diapers for that single mom and make it a big pack. Tell the girl you’re jealous of that you think she’s fierce. Be the best version you can be of yourself.
My freedom was found when I decided I wouldn't let the world tell me I couldn't be a feminist. I fight for women on my own terms, and I fight hard. Don't let others dictate to you what your fight for women should look like. Pick up the broken out of the dust, wash them off and wrap them in warm robes of love. Know that even the angry ones are never our enemies. They’re just in need of love to heal their places of pain. Their attempts at liberation may lead to imprison their soul, but you can help them see truth. Believe that whether it’s one or a million, every single women you love is one that is better because of it. If we all just take one step together, before you know it millions of us will be marching to make the world a more just place for womankind.
Happy International Women's Day!