The bonds of womanhood
Many strong women have impacted my life, and today I celebrate three who, through their spirit, faith and leadership abilities, inspire me to impact other women and girls in a positive way. International Women's Day (March 8), is a time to reflect on the progress women around the globe have made, and on this day I will celebrate their acts of bravery and perseverance, and how they have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.
Each of these women have touched my soul. Thanks, in part, to them, I have been charged to be the best mother to my beautiful daughter Arielle.
In photo: Jolene Russell and her daughters Alanna (left) and Shanay
Jolene Russell - Widow
Jolene Russell is a widow with two beautiful teenage girls. She was married to Andy for almost eight years, when he got sick and died suddenly in March 2012 from a brain aneurysm. We experienced the pain of losing a loved one nine months apart and we shared uplifting and motivational thoughts in the process of learning to heal and cope. Her kind words of encouragement helped me cope with the sudden passing of my dad in several ways. She exemplifies the true meaning of courage and faith after losing her best friend of 15 years and loving father of her two beautiful daughters.
Here is her story and what she says about empowering her two beautiful girls to be strong women.
"I was not ready for the sudden change that turned my world upside down. I was enraged at God and questioned, 'why me?' How could He take away the person who, for 15 years, had made my heart dance?
I had lost 30 pounds in less than a month, and no longer felt the will to go on. I recalled when Andy would sing the song If Tomorrow Never Comes. I was standing in my tomorrow, and as if he was speaking to me; my thoughts immediately turned to our two young daughters, who had just turned 11 and nine; and raising them without my true love.
While I wanted to give up, I had to find the will power to go on for them. I enrolled in family grief counselling and had some candid conversations with God. What I found out next is that the promises of God are true, and He placed people in my life who would serve different purposes.
On June 28, 2012, a friend and colleague shared with me 'The Widow's Prayer', based on Psalm 146:9, and it has become my daily prayer. I took on a determination to survive and be the best mother to our children in the face of adversity. I enrolled the girls in any programme that would engage their minds and take them away from the house for many hours in a day, and I got wrapped up in their activities. I had to show the girls through my life and faith walk that God is faithful and you can always count on Him when He is all you have.
Born and raised in Keynsham, Manchester, I had not lost my country roots. Missing my late husband - a contractor - I cried when I had to do the yard work he normally did. I now clean the yard, mow the lawn, cut back overgrown bushes on the fence and clear weeds from the flower garden. I have learnt to juggle all this and the many challenges that I face as a single mother.
It's been almost five years and the girls have learnt that I may say no to some things, but I am always going to do my best to protect them and support their interests. Both daughters take voice lessons; Shanay plays soccer, basketball and flute, while Alanna does cheerleading and plays the violin. I am my daughters' best friend without compromising my position as a mother first and making sure they have the basic necessities. We don't do sleepovers and I'm not afraid to tell them they cannot wear something they bought, because it's too short or I don't think it's appropriate to wear out of the house. They have also seen my sacrifices - bringing lunch to work every day, couponing, going without cable so we can save to have the roof replaced or be able to take a family vacation, no matter how short.
I may be empowering my daughters, but they are also empowering me. I have learnt to be a better listener because they have a voice, and I want them to use their voice - a parenting style that differs from my mom's and sometimes causes problems. It encourages them to advocate for themselves as life is not guaranteed and I may not always be around. I have become more open-minded and flexible. We spend quality time together and are learning to smile again without losing sight of the fact that an important person in our life is missing. He will never physically celebrate our achievements, but his memories will last a lifetime.
In photo: Felicia Thomas and her daughter.
Felicia Thomas - Single mother
A gifted, warm-hearted, super crafty seamstress/designer, Thomas is one amazing chick. Her vintage style and creative mind are to be reckoned with - she inspired me to continue my journey, my
therapy, my hobby, sewing and crafting. I have seen how she has showcased her talent and has made women around the globe look and feel amazing. She is an entrepreneur with a heart of gold.
This is what Thomas has to say about working as an entrepreneur and creating masterpieces for women while empowering her daughter, as a single mother.
"My journey was never easy. How I landed here in this crazy world of 'Feesewcrafty' (her business), I have no idea. On October 21, 2009, I found out I was going to be a mother, which was a life-changing experience.
For nine months, I created a bond with someone I had never met. I knew she was something special because God was already working everything out before she arrived. Let's just say before my first trimester was up, I was no longer homeless and I was working two jobs.
I was determined to succeed and made a vow to her that she will never face the challenges that I did. I knew I had to become the best role model and give her the opportunities I was never given.
At the age of two, I took Nyemah to her first exposition. There were endless crafting projects for kids, so we spent about five hours just enjoying our time and being creative. Seeing how much she loved crafting, we started bonding while working on 'mommy and me' projects.
[At] our next local festival, I purchased three bars of handmade, natural soap. I arrived home with the soap, used it, to only see how it disintegrated and melted in the shower. In that very moment, 'Feesewcrafty' was born. If you had told me 10 years ago I would be making soap, furniture and custom clothing with no training, I would have laughed at you. God prepares us for the amazing journey and He revealed to me my gifts when he knew I was ready for a change. I was hopeless and the birth of my daughter gave me hope. I had buried my gifts, and through self-discovery and motherhood, I came to the actualisation that I had to use them. This path still seems surreal to me, but I am truly enjoying the ride.
We all have gifts and talents that we have to ignite. It is sometimes during challenging periods, we have to discover them when we least expect it, and when God is ready to do amazing things. I am empowering my daughter Nyemah by showing and teaching her that she can use her natural talent and love for art as a source of income. I will continue to push and uplift my daughter and others through my art, my craft, my talents and my brand.
Follow Felicia Thomas on Instagram or Facebook at Feesewcrafty. Mother/Daughter looks created by me.
In photo: Maxine Reyes and her daughter Victoria
Maxine Chang Reyes Military mom
Maxine Chang Reyes and I became great friends during our last year in high school after our prom night in 1995. We both migrated from Mandeville, Jamaica, in the early '90s to the United States.
I knew some of the same people who participated with her in Girls' Championship when she attended Holmwood Technical High School. Little did I know that my prom date would cancel the day before! Maxine was going with a group of friends, but instead of allowing me to go solo, she decided to join me. I knew from that day that there was something special about her. After graduation, she left for the army, but we remained friends. This runner, inspirational singer, motivational speaker, presenter, entrepreneur, soldier, military wife and mother, is one phenomenal woman - just like the song she penned and published.
In 2000, she inspired me to touch young lives when she and her husband, despite their busy military schedule, created a scholarship programme at her former primary school in Marlie Hill, Manchester. She created the non-profit, Fit For The Role Inc, and has received recognition for her philanthropy and leadership including a proclamation by the City of Orlando, Florida, that honoured her with her own 'day'.
This is what Chang Reyes has to say about her trips around the globe and empowering women and her daughter.
I have travelled the globe, lived in luxurious places and areas where most would never dare visit. My view of the world is different from many and I feel blessed to have experienced all of these places, because my adventures have helped me to put things into perspective and proceed on a path less travelled. My inherent worthiness of being a mother is my reason for proceeding with life the way I do. My purpose has gained more clarity in the past several months and I am learning to love life more and more, unapologetically! What people know most about me is the fact that I have a gift for singing and building relationships while giving back to my communities wherever my job takes me.
I've always wanted to be a mother, but my husband and I waited 11 years to start a family because we wanted our goals to be aligned. God blessed us with the perfect opportunity in 2009. My existence now revolves around our daughter - a child that we longed for, would refer to in conversations, and buy gifts for long before she was even born. I felt so blessed that the Lord granted me the privilege of becoming a mother and I vowed to make the most of this responsibility. Now I fully understood what my own mother felt over the years.
The only wrinkle in this wonderful tale was that the army wanted me back in nine weeks after my paid maternity time off. Now came the challenge of finding someone who I could trust with my most prized responsibility.
If I were back in Jamaica, this would have been simple. Between my grandmother and all my aunts who helped raised me, any of them would be honoured to provide care while I worked. But this isn't Jamaica, and the military can be an exacting master. I considered separating from the military and working from home, but I did not want to end my career. I wanted to be an exemplary role model for her to look up to. I desired to show her, through example, how a woman can overcome challenges set before her. Victoria is now eight and is one of the most resilient children I know. With the utmost humility, I am blessed to report that she has told me, with wisdom beyond her years, that she admires that I am a soldier. I appreciate being her mother and will continue to develop her to be more authentic, courageous and graceful. I want to equip her with the knowledge and confidence to choose whatever profession she deems worthy of her time. Being a mother, wife and a soldier is a display of strength. Mothers who choose to have a career should be admired for their aspirations.
(Read more about Reyes's journey in her upcoming memoir, The Courageous and Grateful Life, Army Officer, Army wife. Follow maxine on Instagram @sincerelymaxine)
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