It’s been 2 weeks exactly since I finished my first semester of art school! What a whirlwind! I have been processing exactly what I’ve learned this semester about art & myself as an artist.
One thing that truly surprised me was how much art really healed me. These photos show probably the most near-to-my-heart art I’ve ever made.
As a young girl growing up in a conservative church I remember hearing a story containing the metaphor that women were like China plates. Every time we kissed, held hands, or lo and behold even *thought* about having sex, our China plates were chipped. Have sex before marriage? Ooh girl that plate is toast. The analogy continued that on our wedding day we were to present our China plates to our husbands and how would that man feel if we were to give him a plate that had cracks and chips?!
Now I know what you’re thinking. How on earth would you not question that? Umm. maybe because I was 12 year old goody two shoes that took everything a “trusted” adult shared as fact. Or maybe because my brain wasn’t fully developed yet - again I was 12. This was also in an era of books like “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and “The Bride Wore White” *vomit*.
This narrative of being pristine and uncracked stuck with me. I let the fear of disappointing my future husband be my main motivator in all relationships. The fear of not being perfect paralyzed me. Anytime there was a chip in my plate shame weighed me down so heavily. I would ask for forgiveness but never felt it was good enough. The shame was still there haunting me. Thankfully the guys I dated up until my now husband were extremely respectful of my China plate boundaries. However, that’s not always the case and many of my close friends didn’t experience that same respect in relationships. So I feel extremely lucky in that aspect because my shame complex could have been 10 fold what it was. But it was still there. The idea that I was no longer good enough and would never been forgiven because I was no longer pristine.
Finally once married and ready to “give my China plate” so to speak, I was caught in this narrative my 12 year old brain had held so tightly. Sexual intimacy can only bring shame. I always thought that once I was married that narrative would float away. A ceremony, a white dress and a wedding day would make me new and whole again. I was still a slave to my shame.
For the last three years I’ve been in counseling (for many reasons) but one of them being untangling this China plate web that had me absolutely trapped. String by string my godsend of a counselor helped me replace these lies with truth. I believe that though well intentioned this purity narrative in the late 90s left many girls - not just myself - confused about sex and left with a lot of shame to deal with in our 20s. But what I didn’t realize then that I know now was that it wasn’t the wedding or white dress that could take the shame away. I could only be whole again if I fully accepted the grace and forgiveness that I freely receive in Christ.
When we equate purity with ultimate holiness we revoke what God says about sin and place our own cultural law over God’s. Christ died to cover all sins (Romans 5:8). God sees all sins as equal. (Matthew 7:1-5, James 2:10). However, when the world shows more shame for a scarlet letter and can let sin like lies and gluttony slide it’s easy to confuse God’s truth with the world’s.
As I processed this narrative further I started to get angry. Why was I told this as such a young child without a fully developed brain? Why weren’t the boys given any china plate talk? How many other women are struggling with this lie, too? I was mad. Mad at adults put in leadership positions teaching this garbage. Mad at myself for believing with no question. Mad at myself for judging other women without getting the log out of my own eye. Mad at society for placing the impossible purity narrative on women. Just mad.
Then came my opportunity to heal. This semester our class had to present a final project on love. This seemed like the perfect chance to literally take a hammer to the damn China plates and be rid of this narrative once and for all.
And so I did. I gathered my collection of Goodwill china (naturally) and a hammer and started to work. Each hit brought healing. Sounds strange, but it’s true! I decided to piece them together with parts of each other and covered the cracks with bits of pink & blue translucent glass. I wanted to highlight the cracks. Show off the chips. What was supposed to be something that brought shame I wanted to bring into the light for all to see and celebrate. Because everyone has a story. Everyone has a past. Even broken, I believe these plates are beautiful.
When I gave my presentation to my class I began to tell this story. A story that started with a 12 year old girl hearing she needed to be perfect to be loved and accepted. I wasn’t sure what happened but I was overcome with tears. Pent up shame, anger, sadness, and regret manifested itself in me crying in front of my classmates. Thankfully, it was met with even more acceptance than I could have ever hoped. One friend in class even shared that “they [the plates] were beautiful but they are more beautiful for having been broken”
Ain’t that the truth about all of us? If it weren’t for the broken parts, hurts, and cracks we wouldn’t be real. No one and no plate is perfect. But instead, through our brokenness we are given a new story and identity in Christ. There is no shame. Once forgiven he sees us as new. We don’t have to be perfect to be loved by God, others or our partners.
If you wrestle with perfectionism, shame or acceptance like I do and did - hear this truth: You are fully whole and fully forgiven. You are a beautiful creation with unlimited potential and unique giftings. You are loved.