Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. -- II Corinthians 3:17
The image of this painting came to me after watching survivors of a natural disaster on TV talking about how they were going to move on and start over fresh. In some ways, I thought for a moment, starting over so completely would be freeing.
I began wondering what it would be like to feel truly free, to not be concerned with any of the many things in life that get us stuck, hemmed in, locked in old ways, limited.
As I prayed, a woman joyously danced across my mind, arms outflung, hands outstretched as though letting go of things as she swirled around, unabashedly moving with complete freedom. The movement of the air around her took on the look of a whirlwind, and I thought of all the mental “stuff” one who was truly free would have to let go of, mental and material things from the past, worries about the future.
I started my life with a lot of limitations imposed on me. My first five years were in the loving home of my maternal grandparents, followed by many years with my mother and stepfather, who did not like me. From age six through 18 I was the subject of constant criticism and voiced doubts about my abilities and fitness to do much of anything. I wasn’t considered as good at schoolwork as my mother had been though I did very well; I wasn’t considered to have musical talent though tested as exceptionally talented, instead was told girls never make good musicians; I was told it was a shame I had dark hair like my father, his nose, his eyes; it was a shame I wasn’t more like my cousin, a shame I was a girl, a shame I just wasn’t ... somebody other than who I was.
Since these words came from figures of authority, beautiful and accomplished people, I took their words as truth. I developed a lifelong feeling that I had to earn love and that it was a losing battle, because I just didn’t measure up. Limitations. This is one story of mental abuse of a child, and it is largely for women who have gone through mental abuse that I paint my women series.
In school, I scored extremely high on aptitude tests and earned high grades, higher when I had an encouraging teacher, but I once failed a course because I was so afraid I couldn’t write a term paper that I didn’t even attempt it. I didn’t attempt college either, having been told often that I’d have to put myself through college, but that it was beyond my abilities, financially and intellectually.
Not ten years later, though, I was painting portraits and illustrating a newspaper, then winning awards as a journalist - more than 60 first and second place awards for writing, design and photography competing against professional, college educated journalists from hundreds of newspapers in the respected Delaware-Maryland-D.C. Press Association and Chesapeake Publishing Corporation and receiving numerous public service commendations, as well as awards for my paintings.
Self taught and learning on the job, I became an illustrator, newspaper feature writer and later editor, magazine editor, designer and photographer, and established a profitable one-woman design & PR firm, raised funds for various non-profits. In the years since, I've gained a following as one of the Mid-Atlantic’s most collected artists.
What happened between the year I failed that course and the year I began winning awards?
Observing people living their faith, I began seriously studying the Bible and discovered my true Father and Mother, the Infinite, ever-present, all-loving Source of my abilities, a God who didn’t pick and choose or judge by the way you look, but one who loves unconditionally and from whom all creativity and intelligence comes.
Through the Spirit in whom I ‘live and move and have my being’, I found the freedom and courage and strength to be who I really always was.
When people tell me they envy my talent, I usually respond, “I bet you have talents of your own.” When they say no, I answer, “I bet you have talents you don’t even realize you have. I bet you’re great at your job, or you’re a good cook, or a good organizer, or a loving parent or grandparent. I bet you do a lot of things well.” Always they start to talk about the things they do well. “See, you do have talent,” I reply. “Yes,” comes the response along with a big, joyous smile, “I do!”
We’re all assailed with things that threaten to shackle us, stifle our dreams, keep us from being free to do all we are created with the ability to be, whether it’s lack of trust in our own God-given abilities or labels others have put on us....
You’re too young, too old, you don’t have enough money, you don’t have enough education, you need to earn this much or you’re a failure, you don’t have enough talent, you don’t have the right contacts, you’re in the wrong occupation, you don’t have enough time, you can't do this, you can't do that, you made the wrong decisions, you’re not pretty enough, handsome enough, you’re not the right gender, you have an accent, you don’t live in the right neighborhood, you don’t drive the right car, you don’t have the right clothes, you’re fat, you’re skinny, you’re black, you’re white, you’re purple, you’re pink, you’re green. The last three are obviously ludicrous. It’s the ones that aren’t so obviously untrue that keep us from soaring.
They don’t have to.
When I was shown that I could accept only my Divine heritage, I sprouted wings. All of the honors and awards, the letters of thanks, commemorations, art collector praises that followed in the coming years were the result of letting go of the false images I’d accepted about myself early on and replacing them with the concept that I was created in the image and likeness of my heavenly Father, that I had all of the abilities of all other children of our one Creator and that I could use those abilities for a force for good.
I went from "knowing" that I couldn't to understanding that I could.
I made a choice to stop believing in the limitations that had been thrust at me. There have been other challenges threatening to hold me back, but one by one, as they come, I chose not to give in, instead listen for guidance and move in the direction I feel led. Sometimes I have to repeat the effort a few times, sometimes more than a few, but I've learned not to give up. It’s a choice.
My successes don't mean the voices from the past are completely gone. They still pop up and say "you can't" during challenging times. For most who have suffered mental abuse, it is an ongoing battle to shed the old false messages, but it's possible to do it.
I painted Freedom as a reminder to you, and to myself, to let go of any and every false negative idea you've ever entertained about yourself. Freedom is one of the few paintings I hang in my home where I can see it prominently every day.
It makes me feel like "I can..."
I hope it does the same for you.