Thursday, March 13, 2008

Rediscovering Red

If you're keeping up with my blog, you know my favorite color is red.

But you may not understand why all things red produce in me the ridiculous level of excitement you (and the T-Mobile guy) have witnessed upon occasion.

Well, I'm going to fill you in.

For most of my childhood, from about age 7 on, my favorite color was purple. Well, lavender, and then purple. In high school, I liked maroon. In college, I favored green.

By the time college was over, I resigned myself to the fact that I actually didn't have a favorite color, but I liked all bright, primary-ish colors. Not pastels, not jewel tones. I knew that much. (Just ignore this jewel-toned blog design for the moment. I like it. I would like it better if it were red.)

One day about a year into our marriage, Jeff and I went to Sears. I meandered into the women's clothing section and mumbled something about finding a new shirt.

Jeff said, "Okay. The red ones are over there."

I said, "I don't want a red one. Why would I get a red one?"

He said, "You always buy red shirts."

I said, "I do?"

He said, "Yep."

I frowned. Avoiding the red area, I looked all over the rest of the women's shirt section, determined to prove him wrong. I found nothing I liked. After a while I submitted to his injunction and picked out the shirt I really wanted. A red one.

When we arrived home, Jeff showed me my closet. It was full of red shirts.

I tried to shrug it off, "Well, that's just because red is a good color on me."

Jeff chuckled and shook his head. "Becky," he intervened, "I think you buy red shirts because red is your favorite color..."

"No, it's not!" I retorted hotly.

Even after only a year of marriage, Jeff recognized the warning in my voice, and he let the matter drop.

But I pondered his words. For a couple of years. Could it be that red really was my favorite color? And if so, why did I balk against it? Was I embarrassed that red was my favorite color? How could admitting a love of red things possibly be shameful? Did I think red was too bold and gregarious to be an 'appropriate' favorite color? Or did it have less to do with shame and more to do with some sadistic propensity toward not getting my hopes up? I better choose the purple one because the red one will let me down?

Having none of the answers to these questions, but willing to allow myself to take a step of faith, I started shyly to acquire red things. And more shyly still, I began to allow my heart to be happy about the red things I acquired. But very cautiously.

There came a turning point in my life which I don't believe I have yet discussed on this blog, come to think of it. And I won't get into it now. But one summer, God helped me let go of very many things that were keeping me down. And in conjunction with this new-found freedom, my shyness about red things fluttered away.

The dam broke. I jumped into the world of red headfirst and reveled in it.

We began attending a new church. I signed up to attend the women's retreat. On the signup sheet, they asked what was my favorite color. I answered confidently, "RED."

A new friend approached me the following Sunday. "You're Becky? I wanted to meet you. I saw your name on the retreat signup form. My favorite color is red too!"

I bubbled over about how I had just come to terms with the fact that I loved red things, and that I hadn't even realized it was my favorite color until my husband pointed it out, and how I didn't even want to admit it for a long time, but now I was okay with it.

I won't say that I placed my identity in the fact that I loved red things. But I sure did cling pretty tenaciously to that one fact.

Why?

I spent the better part of my life not knowing who I was, and trying to be somebody else, in order to please people around me. Part of pleasing those around me was the crippling knowledge that it was horribly, horribly wrong to draw attention to myself in any way. I did draw attention to myself growing up, but there was a gargantuan amount of guilt attached to it all the time.

For me, part of the process of breaking away from the compulsion to please the people around me was deciding, for me, what color I liked best. Not what color someone else thought I should like best. What color *I* liked best. *My* favorite color.

So when I discovered and gave wing to my love for all things red, it was the very first decision I had ever made which I knew defined me. Who am I? My name is Becky, and my favorite color is red. It didn't matter what anyone else thought. I liked red for me.

What joy! What freedom from debilitating constraint! What satisfaction in knowing what to put on the retreat signup form!

You'll now see my house dotted (or consumed) with red things. I have a red wall in my living room. From where I sit, I can see my red bandanna, two red cereal bowls, a red travel mug, my red purse, my red keychain, my red cd case, three red candles, a red heart, a red rose, a red lamp shade, and a red scrunchy.

In my bedroom, my pillows, sheets and comforter are all deep, dark, rich, yummy, shiny red.

My kitchen has a red rug, red dish towels, red potholders, a red tea pot, red measuring cups, a red spatula, and more of those red cereal bowls I mentioned. (For a while I had a red crockpot, but that's another story.)

I have embraced my favorite color, no apologies. But it wasn't until our recent move back into one of my childhood homes that all the pieces fell into place for me. I think I've finally been able to answer the questions I listed above about the possible reasons for my years of red-denial.

One Sunday morning, when I was a little girl in this house, the entire family rushed around, as usual, getting ready for church. My baby brother sat in his high chair with his chubby cheeks full of cheerios. I looked up from my own breakfast to see a column of smoke barreling out of the laundry room.

My oldest brother hollered for Mom to come quick, which she did. We all scrambled over to see what was going on, and by the time I got to the laundry room door, I found my mom kneeling on the floor, hands buried elbow-deep in an overflowing laundry basket, the wall heater in front of her spitting electric sparks in every direction. She'd just smothered out a house fire.

The rest of the house filled with the acrid smell of burned clothing. And even though the fire was already out, I was sure we were still in danger, so I tried to grab my baby brother out of his highchair with the intent to carry him out to the lawn, where he'd be safe. My oldest brother convinced me the danger had passed, and after a few dazed minutes full of windows opening and the furious blinking of several sets of stinging eyes, everyone went back to their Sunday morning preparations.

After church, I found my way to the laundry room, where I examined the clothes which had burst into flame after being set too close to the wall heater. I was looking specifically for my favorite overalls, which I wanted to change into out of my church clothes. I looked for them out of habit, because I wore them everywhere. Mom had to confiscate them in order to run them through the wash, because I wanted to wear them every day.

I found them in the pile of burned clothes. What I mean to say is that I found the bib, the straps, the waistband, and a tiny bit of one charred leg. The rest of my best overalls had been eaten by the fire.

I held them up, willing them not to be ruined. I closed my seven-year-old eyes and imagined them whole, both legs intact. I popped my eyes open. Still ruined. I cried. I hugged my overalls to my chest. I hid them in my room so they wouldn't get thrown out. My heart ached for weeks. I didn't know what to wear. I was lost.

I'm sure you've guessed by now that those burned-up overalls were red.

The other day, when I stood once again at the scene of the fire, in my 'new' home, and relayed the burned overalls story to my husband, I finally understood.

It was right after my red overalls burned up that I switched my favorite color to lavender. Faded, washed-out lavender that would never let me down. Cool, aloof lavender, that I wouldn't mind saying goodbye to if it ever burned up. Cold, uncaring lavender, that I could live with but didn't have to love.

All these years later, God has enabled me to let go of my fear. The fear that if I admit that I love red things, I will somehow end up disappointed and lost. He has shown me, as He gently does, that it's okay to love the color red.

I've learned more about who I am since my red rediscovery. Most importantly, I have learned that I am God's daughter, a revelation which fills me with continuous awe and wonder.

More recently, you've all witnessed my surprised exuberance at realizing I'm creative.

This all goes back to the cocoon I keep mentioning. My life is a picture of the book of Joel. The children of Israel aren't doing what God has told them to do, so He says He sent in a locust army and, basically, chomped them down to bare ground, leaving no spot unchomped. He says, "What the locust swarm has left, the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten." (Joel 1:4)

After a long treatise on repentance ("Return to Me with ALL YOUR HEART!" Joel 2:12), Abba promises, "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten - the great locusts and the young locusts, the other locusts and the locust swarm - My great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will My people be shamed." (Joel 2:25-26)

What does this have to do with red? Everything. After my long sojourn in the desert of colors I didn't really like, God has inundated me with red things. He has allowed me to revel in what's red about my life. He is giving me plenty of red, until I am full. He is repaying me for the years the locusts (and the house fires) have eaten.

My point is this. If God can do this great work as it relates to something as simple and inconsequential as my favorite color, just imagine what He has in store for the stuff that matters!

Both in my life and in yours.