Read the inspiration and story behind Sydney’s original painting of the “Formation of Women.”
The Formation of Women
Written By: Jen Hatmaker
What are the odds of this? I am the oldest of four kids, and only the youngest is a boy. I have only girl cousins on both sides of my family. I just have nieces, no nephews, and my oldest niece has… you guessed it: two daughters. What in the actual world?
My whole life has been filled with feelings, tampons, cheerleading tryouts, sisters, Oprah’s Bra Revolution, girl movies, makeup, a lot of words, and female energy. When my husband Brandon (also no brothers) first entered our family story, he and my brother Drew immediately engaged in weird boy shenanigans my sisters and I had no category for. Why are they slapping each others’ wrists until someone gives up? Why? Why would you do that? Why are you being gross? Why are you using those words? Why is that funny? We were always perplexed.
I grew up with girls, have always been surrounded by girls, fill my life with strong women, and plan to serve them till I die. This community has always made sense to me.
A few months ago, I went down hard. Now, I am a glass-half-full optimist by any standard, beyond reason. I am like Chris Traeger from Parks and Recreation: “Isn’t language fun? It’s like racquetball! For your mouth!” This is mainly how I operate, which I come by honestly because my dad is the most over-the-top enthusiast on the planet of earth. We’re here for the joy, people.
But I found myself at the absolute bottom, down in the sludge and muck where not even a ray of light could crack through the darkness. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating, I was barely breathing. I begged my mom to travel with me to my last few speaking events of the year, because I was so fragile and rattled, I couldn’t imagine even walking through an airport by myself. Even now looking back, I struggle to choose the right words to describe the despair, but what held it fast was this sense of being utterly alone.
On a particularly awful day, my ride-or-die friend Nichole Nordeman sent me a picture and a story. It was about female elephants, you know, as all good stories begin. See, in the wild, when a mama elephant is giving birth, all the other female elephants in the herd back around her in formation. They close ranks so the delivering mama cannot even be seen in the middle. They stomp and kick up dirt and soil to throw attackers off the scent and basically act like a pack of fierce bodyguards.
They surround the mama and incoming baby in protection, sending a clear signal to predators that if they want to attack their friend while she is vulnerable, they’ll have to get through forty tons of female aggression first.
When the baby elephant is delivered, the sister elephants do two things: they kick sand or dirt over the newborn to protect its fragile skin from the sun, and then they all start trumpeting, a female celebration of new life, of sisterhood, of something beautiful being born in a harsh, wild world despite enemies and attackers and predators and odds.
Nichole sent all this to me and said: We have you. You are never alone.
(David Yarrow Photography)
This is exactly what we do, girls. When our sisters are vulnerable, when they are giving birth to new life, new ideas, new ministries, new spaces, when they are under attack, when they need their people to surround them so they can create, deliver, heal, recover…we get in formation. We close ranks and literally have each others’ backs. We do the heavy lifting while our sister is down. You want to mess with our girl? Come through us first. Good luck.
And when delivery comes, when new life makes its entrance, when healing finally begins, when the night has passed our sister is ready to rise back up, we sound our trumpets because we saw it through together. We celebrate! We cheer! We raise our glasses and give thanks.
We honor this God-given, Jesus-inspired community of women that has triumphed together in every generation since the beginning of time.
Maybe you need this picture and story too. If you are closing ranks around a vulnerable sister, or if your girls have you surrounded while you are tender, this is how we do it. We take turns in the middle. We take turns in formation. We take turns being weak. We take turns being strong.
And also like our elephant sisters, we don’t forget. We remember God’s faithfulness. We remember how Jesus told us to live. We remember who surrounded us when we were down. We remember our courage, strength, ability to bring forth new life. We remember all those women who’ve gone before us and all those behind watching us now. We don’t forget one another’s stories, because they lend us bravery and bolster our resolve. We don’t forget the power of the pack.
My friends got into hard core formation around me, and as I’m sitting here, I tell you that my time in the middle is over. My sisters closed ranks and refused to budge until I could stand again. Oh my stars did they ever stomp and kick up dirt on my behalf; I could weep just thinking of it. Fierce, so fierce. They saw me through the most fragile season, and I’ll never forget it as long as I live.
May you find your tribe, surround them and surround yourself with them, and join the chorus through the ages: there is no community like a community of women.