Without arms or legs, art is her expression

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BOLIVAR, Mo. — In 1988, a baby named Swapna was born without arms or legs in India, a country where women with disabilities have little control over their lives. She was not given much hope to live.

That same year, a woman named Cathy Cox took a trip to India. Some may have called it coincidence, but God had a plan for the child.

Cox previously had read in a newsletter from a children's home about a 7-month-old girl abandoned at birth. She called a social worker friend in India who knew of Swapna through an adoption agency in Bangalore called Ashraya's.

"I saw her on her cot in her room," Cox recounted. "Somebody had her all dressed up. She smiled at me at first, then burst into tears when I came near."

The infant was not used to strangers given that she had only been surrounded by nurses at an orphanage.

Twenty-two months later Swapna arrived in the United States. She had been given a new name, Minda Catherine Deenaz Cox, partly named after her Indian social worker. Although Cathy Cox previously had adopted four other children, Minda is the one child named after her mother. Minda is her most visibly disabled child.

Cox began homeschooling Minda, teaching her how to take care of herself despite her missing limbs. It wasn't long before it became clear that the girl had a special gift.

"She started coloring by holding a marker in between her shoulder and her chin at a very young age. Then I found some art in her backpack when she was in the fourth grade," Cox said.

Now 20, Minda still has that gift and passion. Her art reflects her quiet and gentle spirit as she glorifies God with every stroke of the brush.

"I cannot run ... but my artwork can do all that," Minda said.

As a non-degree student at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo., Minda and her art teacher, Emily Frost, put on art exhibits. One of her recent exhibits was called "The Spirit of Watercolor." Although Minda works from her electric wheelchair, she has discovered while working with Frost that art is an act of freedom.

"Freedom is a gift not to be abused," Minda said. "I try to make beauty and truth visible to the eye as well as the heart. It is also an act of worship, no matter how small, and therefore it should show us what God is really like and what God sees when He looks at us."

Last December Minda and Cox, along with Frost, took a trip to India where she was able to visit her biological family. The family knew she had been adopted but had not seen her since they left her at an orphanage when they couldn't take care of her.

It was something that Minda had been dreaming of her entire life. She was led to Kolekebailu, a village in the Udupi district where her father, Shankar Shetty, was a shop owner.

With deep gratitude, Kalavathi, Minda's Indian mother, held Cox close and tearfully said, "I never thought I would see her. I might have given birth to her. You gave her life."

Life is what Minda illustrates each day.

"Art has always been my passion, although it has only been within the last three years that I have had a teacher who believed that I could paint despite my disability," she said. "Everything I want to do and cannot do with my body, art does for me and in me."

Works by Minda and Frost have won awards and have appeared in galleries and shows in southwest Missouri. Their work can be found in private collections throughout the United States.

"Minda rises above her disability with unbelievable perseverance," Frost said. "I never feel like I'm working with a person who's disabled. I don't relate to her in that way."

She perseveres in daily life by making her bed, cooking, applying makeup and getting dressed.

A determined Minda clings to the words of Philippians 4:13-14, which says, "... [R]eaching forward to what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize to which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

It might be impossible for Minda to reach out and embrace a person in her arms, but she has other methods for expressing emotions.

"I know that God, even through my bad times, has really blessed me with people like my mom, like Emily, like the community where I get love and support," she said. "I had it even through school when I was going through my awful times.... I had all those people, and therefore I have learned to trust God."