About three years ago, I went to therapy for the second time in my life. I was blessed to have Rhonda as my therapist. When I saw this picture, I emailed it to Rhonda. During one of our early sessions, she asked a question about coloring books and crayons from my childhood. Huge portions of my childhood are still buried deep in the caverns of my brain, but there are things I do remember.
Rhonda gave me one of her raised eyebrow looks. “Why don’t you like coloring books? Do you ever get coloring books and color with your grand kids?”
“No, I don’t. I still have the same thoughts that got me into trouble back then. It was so much work to stay inside the lines. It seemed silly. I told the teacher I didn’t want to finish filling in a picture someone else drew. I wanted to draw my own pony or tree or flower. She said you couldn’t do that unless you were an artist and could draw well enough for people to know what you were drawing. Seriously? An artist drew the stupid pony? So, I did what they wanted and colored the damn pony. I colored it pink. That made them mad, too. I finally decided to stop making people mad.”
Rhonda smiled. “You have spent a lot of your life doing it the way ‘they’ wanted?”
It’s true. I spent far too much of my life finishing other people’s pictures, coloring inside the lines, and being who I was expected to be. I have been changing. It is a slow process. One day I colored the pony brown, next time, yellow, then orange, and eventually I got brave enough to color it pink. Then I just went hog-wild and drew my own pony.
I started to think about the ways I have stayed “inside the lines” over my life. I don’t go outside the lines just to prove to a point or to say I am better than you are. I am different, not better or worse. Different isn’t always bad.
I can hear my Grandmother’s voice now. “Fat girls don’t wear white pants.” “You have to wear stripes going down, never across”. “People should not dye their hair…..God gave you the hair color he wanted you to have.” “Fingernail polish, NO!” The only jewelry you should wear is a cross necklace and a wedding ring.” “No white shoes before Easter or after Labor Day.” You see all the rules. Yes, she really did say all those things.
I wrote about breaking some of the rules in my blog Red Hair, A Feather, and Funky Blue Fingernail Polish. I wear white pants and last fall I wore a pair of white sandals after Labor Day. It’s who I am.
I stayed “inside the lines” when I went to college and got married right away. We knew each other six weeks when we eloped. I was only eighteen years old and knew nothing about real life. It was a very unhappy and unhealthy marriage, but I stayed there for almost 17 years because it is what they told me God expected me to do. God didn’t tell me that, but other people who said they represented God did.
SPOILER ALERT——In the movie Blue Like Jazz, the main character is talking with an atheist. “Do you forgive me,” he asks, “for misrepresenting God?” I have been guilty of it myself. Have you?
Here are a few other things they said God expected of me:
- You can’t have African-American friends or invite them to church. (We have to add gay people to that rule now.)
- You are a woman. Know your place. (God obviously doesn’t like women.)
- You must be in church every time the door is open and take every position offered to you. (Accept you can’t be ordained as anything because you are a woman.)
- You may not interpret scripture. You may not ask questions. You must accept all we say as though it is direct from God.
- You must not learn about other cultures and religions. And, remember that Catholicism in is a cult.
- Rock music is bad, dancing is bad, makeup is bad…….. ad infinitum
Family rules were impressive as well.
- You must eat everything on your plate or children in China will die.
- Don’t ask questions. You will be informed on a need to know basis.
- You must feel guilty about something every day.
- Conform—dress like everyone else, read what they read, listen to what they listen to, etc. (everyone at church, that is)
- Don’t tell anyone anything that goes on in your home or with your family. That included all the types of abuse that were going on in my life. It also meant you had to lie when asked. I think that surely violated some rule from the things God didn’t want you to do.
There are more and you may have your own list. I tried so hard to follow all the rules. I did a good job for a very long time. I know because I was so very miserable. I couldn’t do it anymore. I managed to go so far outside the lines that I went off the page.
When my life on this earth is over, I want everyone to see my life as an amazing picture. I want to draw it myself. It should have beautiful colors and shapes. I want it to be a picture my family and friends look at and see something special just for them. When you look at my picture, you will never see the person God called me to be if I live”inside the lines”.