The Red-Violet Crayon

A few days before Christmas, the kids and I drove an hour away to the assisted living facility where my husband’s grandmother lives. We met cousins, an aunt and an uncle in the parking lot to have a COVID-style visit with our favorite Memaw. We stood outside her window, blowing kisses through face masks and singing Christmas songs. And we held up homemade posters displaying messages of “Merry Christmas”.


This was a different celebration than what we’ve had in years past. When I first married into the family 23 years ago, Memaw would set out cups of boiled custard which tasted like thick, melted ice cream and Fenton glassware bowls piled high with ambrosia and peanut butter rolls and divinity. She had a Christmas village on display and a bedecked Christmas tree by the window. But she and Pepaw sold their home several years ago and moved into the assisted living facility so that he could have round-the-clock care. Pepaw is gone now, and Memaw is quarantined to her room for everything, including meals.


The night before we went to visit her, the kids and I worked on our posters. I found coloring book pages of elves and snowmen and a Christmas tree. I spread them out on the table and dumped a container of crayons next to the sheets, and we got to coloring them. I have always enjoyed coloring, especially with crayons. Growing up, my sisters and I prized those 64-count Crayola boxes with the built-in sharpener. We were particular about how the pointed end of the crayon should be worn down at an angle. The tip reserved for darker outlining. We loved the names of the crayons. Why say blue if you could say: Cerulean or Aquamarine or Cornflower? But the wrappers on the crayons can be deceiving. I remembered this trap as I searched for a red crayon amongst the jumble of colors.


“Why are there only red-violet crayons when you need a regular red one?” I asked as I rummaged through the heap.


“What’s wrong with red-violet?” my youngest son asked.


After I found a true red crayon, I made a few marks to show the difference in the two colors. “See? This one is too pink. I want my elf’s outfit to be red and green—Christmas colors.”


He wasn’t moved by my argument. I’m pretty sure he saw the difference in the colors, but he didn’t see why I was so resolute in my holiday partialities. “Why does it matter?” he asked. “Why can’t you just use it anyway?” (By the way, 80% of his share in our interactions is in the form of questions.)


Of course, he’s right. If my little North Pole Elf wears a green and red-violet coat in a poster, it’s really not a big deal. The big deal is our beloved 96-year old Memaw stuck in her room for an indefinite amount of time. The big deal is loved ones everywhere with deep hurt and loss right now. The big deal is hungry kids struggling during this extraordinary period in history.


We have all been looking for the true red crayon—the familiar, the ordinary, the expected—but we keep picking up that unwelcome red-violet crayon over and over again. Bad news seems to be lurking around every corner. So I’m going to attempt to accept the crayon I’m offered and create a new picture, possibly something unfamiliar and unexpected, but with God’s help it will hold a new kind of beauty.


Proverbs 3:5-7 gives us wisdom for this distressing time: “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all.” (The Message)


Our home has had more work done on it than an aging movie star. Roof, siding, bathroom renovations, kitchen renovation, basement renovation, carpet, carpet again (after the flood of 2010), the addition of a sunroom, and gallons and gallons of paint. It’s gone through a lot of changes, so it isn’t unusual for us find something down in the basement or up in the attic or even out in the yard that just doesn’t make sense.


A few summers ago, we had to have a portion of our front yard dug up to repair the gas line. One might hope to find a treasure buried beneath all that dirt, but we weren’t so lucky. We mostly found rocks. One puzzling thing we did find was a random black cable. The length was indeterminable, and the cut end was just sticking out of the dirt like a curious garter snake. Though we’ve been assured that it isn’t connected to a power source and no electrical current is pulsing through it, we have left it there. Each time I walk past it, I am reminded of what it is to be rendered inept, defective, powerless.


I’ve felt the same as that cable many times, hopeless and broken down, unable to make a difference or exchange bad for good, disconnected from power. But I’m told in the Scriptures that I’m not so powerless as I sometimes feel. I’ve just forgotten where the Power is coming from.


In Ephesians 3, Paul says: “…I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (NLT)


Tapping into the power of God’s spirit gives me strength, peace and confidence, but more than that, it allows me to be an adapter. Wired for the highest voltage and fitted with the ground wire of Christ-like humility, I am equipped to help pass that spirit along to others.


After Jesus’s death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, his disciples got busy spreading the Good News. There were times when their message was met with acceptance and joy, and other times when they were run out of town. Once, Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish council. They had healed a lame beggar and a crowd had formed, anxious for answers and more miracles. The Jewish leaders didn’t like where this was heading, so they wanted to shut them up. Acts 4 tells us that Peter and John were filled with the power of the Spirit as they boldly refused to stop speaking about Jesus. The Jewish leaders eventually gave in and released them.


Peter and John hurried to meet with the other disciples to share what had happened. They prayed together, asking God for courage and even more miracles and healings. Next, the place where they were meeting shook, vibrating with the presence of God’s Spirit. But this isn’t where it ends. If this were a Marvel movie, we might expect that those who were electrified would become selfish and power-hungry. Instead, we read that they were compelled to testify to the story of Jesus and give away all that they had so that no one was needy.


When I feel helpless, I can still help others. When I feel powerless, I can still plug into the power of God’s Spirit. And when I feel defeated, there is still something I can control. I can choose to submit to the will of the One who ultimately holds all the power.