Word 4 – Flawed
/flawed/ – blemished, damaged or imperfect in some way; having a weakness in character; broken, torn or damaged
Words I associated with /flawed/: compassion, value, hope, hold
“Your word this week is ‘flawed,’ Sharon said, reaching under the couch in her office and handing me a canvas. Right away, I noticed a small rip in the canvas in the right hand corner.
“Look, Sharon, the canvas is torn. Did you see the tear when you bought the canvas or did something make the hole after you arrived home?” I asked.
“Knowing my perfectionistic personality,” Sharon laughed, “I would not have purchased this if I’d seen the hole in it!” By accident the canvas seemed just right for the word of the week.
I smiled and carried the flawed canvas out her office door. In my mind, I carried the word /flawed/. Already, it was triggering unpleasant feelings of my past.
As I began to brainstorm what I might do with the flawed canvas, I thought:
Although the hole is tiny, the canvas has value.
I have compassion for the canvas even though it’s not perfect.
I can make something beautiful.
Maybe the hole is for light to come through. As John 1:5 says, ‘The light shines in the darkness and the light was not overcome.’
The canvas is me. I am flawed. I have compassion for the canvas and for myself.
I can paint the canvas black and leave the hole for light.
I can cover the canvas with pictures of myself and make it a sign of John 1:5 and hope.
Along with these ideas, I also remembered a few lines in Leonard Cohen’s song,
“Ring the bells that can still ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
The word /flawed/ took me deep into my past. Growing up, I never felt like I fit in with my classmates, partly because I wasn’t allowed to make my own choices and be the person I wanted to be. I wasn’t able to pick out the shoes I wanted to wear in elementary school. Each year, my parents purchased a pair of Buster Brown leather shoes for me to wear. They were durable and lasted for the entire school year. They were ugly. No one else in the school wore ugly, brown leather shoes.
My parents also limited my experiences. I felt stifled, not allowed to explore topics that interested me. I wanted to embroider, do crafts, and read a variety of books, all of which were inaccessible to me.
I was 14 years old when I finally had my hair cut professionally. My mother always cut my hair in a bob and it looked terrible. My friends had shoulder-length hair and I wanted to let my hair grow out like theirs. My mother purchased or made the five outfits I rotated to wear to school each week. I had no choices in what I wore or how my hair was styled.
The word /flawed/ accurately described my internal and external state, reinforced by continued neglect. I felt awkward and uneasy when I interacted with friends at school. I was uncomfortable speaking to boys. Unable to explore the things that interested me or make choices to keep myself looking stylish, I felt I must be imperfect or damaged in some way.
Along with all of this, my brother was treated very differently. He chose his clothes and hairstyle, was encouraged to attend enrichment programs, received awards for science projects, played on the high school tennis team, and had a wide circle of friends. These things reinforced my feelings of inadequacy. If only I could have these same opportunities, I thought, I too could forge ahead with self-confidence.
How did I eventually choose to illustrate the word /flawed/? I began by gathering a few black and white school pictures of myself in elementary school and junior high, making xerox copies of each one. I removed the border of the picture, and then cut the picture into triangular pieces. In the shapes, my eyes were disconnected from the rest of my face. My chin and nose were cut diagonally.
I arranged all of the pieces on the canvas like a collage. The canvas looked like a mis-matched puzzle, none of the pieces going together. The arrangement of these fragments reflected the scattered state of my mind during the years represented.
By hand, I sewed all of the photo fragments onto the canvas. Sewing on canvas was much more difficult than sewing on fabric. The canvas was thick. Pulling the needle through required a lot of strength. It took two hours for me to sew everything together.
When I finished, I looked at the canvas. The sad, angry, and disappointed feelings I experienced long ago emerged. I took a deep breath.
I suddenly remembered the hole in the canvas, now covered with remnants of my school pictures. Thinking about how even a tiny hole can let light through also helped me remember how I was aware of God’s presence during those terrible years of childhood. I knew the comforting presence of God in my heart when I prayed at home and at my school desk. At the time, I didn’t think about the possibility of God removing me from my home or putting me with another family where I could flourish. I just knew the reality of God’s sustaining presence.
I wrote John 1:5 at the bottom of the canvas. Although my knowledge of the nature of God was not broad in childhood, I did know God was bringing comfort, giving me a blanket of love that no one else seemed to provide.
Illustrating a bleak time in my life on an 8 x 10 canvas helped me discover and express old feelings. Looking at the disheveled pictures reminded me how broken I felt emotionally and socially, yet aware at the same time of how God was giving me daily strength to persevere.
The canvas with a rip was the perfect thing to illustrate /flawed/. My childhood was indeed flawed, and the flaw allowed the light of God to come through.