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As a 17-year-old starting college, freedom meant one thing to me: escape. New experiences, different faces, starting over in a world that didn’t know me and couldn’t make my choices for me. That thirst for independence is a natural part of growing up, and I certainly had quite a bit of growing up to do. But I think I was missing an integral notion of what it means to be free.

It took me a long while to realize that freedom is not synonymous with control. The freedom to live, speak, and worship as I desire are priceless to me, and I do not take them for granted. However, personal freedom also means being willing to take chances: in work, in play, and most of all in relationships and letting people in close. Without the courage to love and ask to be loved by others, freedom looks an awful lot like just being alone.

For me, real freedom also means crawling out from under the stifling hood of perfectionism and expectation. Freedom does not guarantee pleasure, but it does ensure that I move forward and learn. To be free is to open myself up to mistakes with the conviction that I am also opening myself up to growth, to finding new ways and new passions.

I could cook only the recipes I already know; paint only pictures for which I have practiced the brushstrokes; stick with the books already on the shelf and the names already in my address book. I would certainly have increased measures of comfort and security in doing so, and that sort of smug satisfaction that comes from doing it “right.” But freedom? No, I would not have that.

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The piece of art above is titled Be Free, and it’s a multimedia collage using vintage papers, vellum, and a hand-made felted landscape. I have felted before, but never to achieve a flat, representational design. I love how it turned out, in part because I took a step into my personal artistic unknown to create it.

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Praying you find the freedom today to imagine and hope, to take risks and build in new directions.

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