ARRIVING in Seneca Falls, New York, one weekend in the late 1990s to visit the Women's Rights National Historical Park, I intended only a casual, touristy kind of trip. I didn't expect to be so moved.
I'm just young enough to have enjoyed the benefits of what was so quaintly called "women's lib" - but just old enough to know that the opportunities I had weren't to be taken for granted.
In a narrow sense, I've had those opportunities because of the women's rights movement that was born in Seneca Falls in July 1848, which was spurred when Lucretia Mott was denied a place at an international antislavery convention in 1840.
I came away from that weekend awash in gratitude for those women - and men - who had the gumption to publicly put their names to a Declaration of Sentiments, modeled on the United States Declaration of Independence, spelling out the lack of freedom under which women lived, and calling for change.
My life clearly was different because of what people had done in this small town 150 years before. I owe them bigtime for even such basic rights as being able to own my own home, and to choose my career field.
But I tapped an even deeper vein of gratitude that weekend: my first glimpses that freedom comes not just from political or moral advances, but ultimately from better understanding my relationship to God. The idea that I'm free because my identity is based in Spirit comes from the work of another pioneering woman, Mary Baker Eddy, and her system of spiritual healing modeled on Jesus' works.
In her main work, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," she asked the question, "What are body and Soul?" Her (astounding) reply? "Identity is the reflection of Spirit, the reflection in multifarious forms of the living Principle, Love" (page 477).
I take that statement to mean there's a rich array of ways in which we each express God. Since God is the root, the cause, the Father-Mother, we are Individuality Unbound. We're not bound by how others see us - unless we choose to allow that limitation.
This isn't just theory. At one point in my career, I was asked to take on a dream role with my company. But I was unsettled about the direction the organization was taking, and so, unsure about whether to accept. I had a weekend to think over the offer.
I stayed quiet that weekend, drew up the standard pro-and-con lists, tried to think it through. But mostly, I listened. I fiercely wanted to do what God wanted me to do. I prayed to understand that I was a spiritual creation of the divine Mind; that I could hear only the one Mind, not the blather of an unsettled human mind.
Sunday morning came, and sitting in church I heard the words as though someone were speaking to me: "You don't have to swing at every pitch."
I smiled, and marveled that God speaks to us not only in tailored ways, but with a sense of humor, too. I knew at that moment I would decline the position. You see, one of my weaknesses in playing softball had been swinging at anything a pitcher threw. No discrimination whatsoever. I think that ever so wryly, and gently, God was telling me that other opportunities would come my way.
I knew my answer would probably mean unemployment. But I kept praying, listening for ways to support the new directions the organization was taking, even if I wouldn't be part of it. Eventually, I felt totally cared for, whatever adventures - or challenges - lay ahead.
I was indeed laid off. Almost immediately, though, I was offered a short-term job for the summer in New York City. While there, one idea led to another, and eventually to a position in Atlanta, in an area of my industry that I had not worked in before. I embarked on a vital new phase of my life that has been key to my spiritual growth and my sense of purpose. But it was a move that I never could have planned or envisioned. It could only have come from God and the expansiveness that comes from letting Him design and lead the way.
In such yielding is real freedom.
March is Women's History Month in the United States.