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)