By Dr. Rachel Coleman
Being a “woman of a certain age” with limited pop culture savvy, I sometimes take a trip through the Urban Dictionary (UD) just to expand my linguistic horizons. I’d already been mulling over this color-themed piece when I ran across the UD explanation of the phrase “color me purple.” Anyone who knows me would not be surprised that this caught my attention—I have a love affair with the color purple. But the UD definition was new: “another way of saying ur guilty” (sic) or “calling yourself out in a guilty manner.” Well, that was a disappointing discovery! But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that “color me purple” was actually an apt title for this reflection.
We all have voices and messages that were sown into us as children. Sometimes those voices are powerful influencers, intentionally or otherwise, and those messages shape us in unexpected ways over the course of a lifetime. Two beloved voices from my childhood were those of my two grandmothers. Grandma Violet was taken from us too soon, when I was still in elementary school; Grandma Helen lived into her 97th year. Both grandmothers are linked to deeply “colorful” memories and formative messages in my developing psyche. Grandma Violet always had a message for me about clothing choices: “Pink is your color.” I liked hearing that, because pink is the color of “pretty,” right?
Grandma Helen must have had an opinion, too, albeit unexpressed, because I’m pretty sure that every outfit she gave me was brown! In contrast to “pink is pretty,” brown got translated into my brain as “dull, boring, and unattractive.” After all, what fairy tale princess ever dressed in brown, or what brown-clad maiden ever got rescued by the dashing prince? That childishly distorted interpretation was cemented at some point during my early elementary school years, when I overheard (yes, the evils of eavesdropping!) a conversation between Grandma Helen and one of her friends, in which she described her two granddaughters as “the smart one and the cute one.” I had no doubts, even then, about which one I was! (Don’t get me wrong—Grandma Helen always loved and supported me, in her own solid but unexpressive way; this reflection is about my childhood processing of messages, not about the quality of her love.)
It was many years later, when I was well past young adulthood and turning the corner towards middle age, that I began to realize how much that mixed color message had shaped my self-understanding at deep and unspoken levels. For all of my youth and adulthood, I had been desperately longing to be “the princess” but profoundly convinced that I would never be anything other than the dull “brain” (another lingering and powerfully shaping tag from childhood); I wanted pink to be “my color” and I frequently wore various shades of it, usually safe pastels, but deep down I was convinced that I should stick with the blandest shades of brown—beige, taupe, khaki. The external manifestations of this, in wardrobe choices, reflected an inner distortion of self-understanding and self-worth.
Somewhere in my early forties, two things happened. First, I was on an intentional journey through the Gospels, with one goal in mind: to rediscover Jesus, to really see him and his interactions as if for the first time. Part of that was watching his interaction with women; and I was astonished and moved by the incredible welcome, respect, and dignity he offered them. As I began to put myself into those stories, it was clear to me that I had to choose between my own distorted self-understanding and Jesus’ affirmation of who I was.
Right in the midst of that trek towards truth, I had a wardrobe epiphany! We were living overseas at the time, with a wonderful local seamstress who could make beautiful custom-fitted outfits at astonishingly affordable prices. For my birthday, a friend gave me some lengths of fabric in vibrant tropical hues—fuchsia, lime, orange. I remember stammering words of gratitude, all the while thinking, “Does she really expect me to wear these colors? Doesn’t she know me at all?” It turns out she knew me better than I knew myself! When I stood in front of the mirror for a fitting of the fuchsia blouse, lightning struck! If by “pink” you mean “fuchsia,” then yes, pink is my color! And brown is definitely not! In that moment, you could “color me purple,” because I realized I was guilty—guilty of wasting a lot of years while allowing distorted messages to function as barriers to truth and freedom, guilty of staying inside the safe box of the little identity I had accepted from others instead of stepping into the risky but exhilarating identity that Jesus offered.
The confluence of that gospel discovery and that wardrobe epiphany were catalysts on a journey that has carried me right into this current season of life. There’s not much pink in my closet these days, although fuchsia holds its own, and only one brown item—shot through with gold and tangerine, of course. You’ll find pretty much every shade of purple (mostly the vibrant, rich jewel tones, with an occasional spot of orchid) and bold greens, oranges, and yellows. And as my wardrobe has matured, so has my voice; it’s stronger, bolder, firmer, less fearful, more willing to risk. As much as I regret the years of timidity and lack of gospel-shaped self-understanding, on the other hand there is something about this 50-something stage of life that provides a more solid footing for the continued honest and anticipatory exploration of my identity in Christ and of his call and commission.
Rachel (a.k.a., Dr. Nana) lives in Elida, Ohio, with her husband Randy (a.k.a., the Rev), a needy dog, and a sassy cat. Her days are full to overflowing with the blessings of being an adjunct Bible instructor for Indiana Wesleyan University and Asbury Theological Seminary, as well as the regional theological education consultant for Latin America (One Mission Society). You can follow the musings of Dr. Nana at writepraylove660813036.wordpress.com, or follow her on FB or Instagram.
Cover photo by Ghana Shyam Khadka on Unsplash
Color me purple too! Enjoyed your article!
I really appreciated this reflection. It’s very interesting how the messages we receive as children about something as supposedly minor as colours can permeate into our thinking and behaviour throughout life. I also appreciated what you said about choosing between the distorted view of ourselves and the way Jesus sees us. Thanks for sharing; this post resonated with me for sure.