Whenever my mother took me clothes shopping as an adult, for my birthday or Christmas, she’d watch me head straight for the neutrals and slowly shake her head. She lifted up the versions of the sweater or the jacket that I had picked, but these were red, purple, yellow, or green and she’d implore me to just try color. For so long, I didn’t, preferring the safety of grey, black, and brown, with the exception of the puffy winter coat she insisted I get in red. My mother wore color, sometimes to a fault, rocking multiple accessories in each ‘kicky’ outfit, and she was frustrated by my dour choices. Taste in clothing was something we never shared in common during her time on Earth.
Years later, after I’d lost a good bit of weight and needed a refresh on clothes, my fashionable friend Lisa agreed to act as my personal shopper. That day, she edged me out of my comfort zone just as my mother had, but on that particular day I agreed to, and brought home, a pair of bright red pants. You could almost hear the applause of my mother who art in Heaven.
Later that week, Lisa, our friend Becky, and I all went out to a wine bar and I bravely chose the red pants along with a crisp white shirt. I was well into my forties by then and beginning to have an inkling that I too was deserving of color (along, apparently, with ‘fancy’ wine). I was so proud of myself and thinking back on that night I do wonder why the choosing of those pants seemed so monumental and so very brave.
Between us, we ordered a glass of red, a glass of rose, and a glass of white, and as we watched the owner bring it over on a small round tray, I was struck by the beauty of all of those jewel tones shimmering together, and the beginning of what was going to be a lovely night out. A few steps later, the man bobbled and we gasped, and every single bit of that wine landed on me, my crisp white button-down, and my new red pants. If he had intentionally aimed it straight at me, it would not have landed with more accuracy. My hair was soaked, and I was a true mess, and everyone assembled in the small place looked on in horror and concern. The conclusion of this surreal story had my dear friends getting towels, my sweet husband bringing me a change of clothes, the owner agreeing to pay to replace my stuff, a perfectly wonderfully salvaged night out, and those red pants, now washed, dried and stained, sitting in my closet.
It’s been years since I considered wearing them again. The stains were only visible upon close examination and they were completely appropriate for lots of kinds of wear, but there was something in me that whispered, “See, red is not for you. What did you think was going to happen?”
I now realize that this voice is an echo of a lot of lies I’ve believed over the years; that I am somehow ‘less’ than other people, that mine is a back-up role, that I exist to support the more valuable lives of those around me, that my worth or my opinions just don’t measure up, that I don’t count.
It can take a lifetime to unwind all of the lies we tell ourselves. So much of the context of what we believe about ourselves is just like the water we swim in and questioning any of that can be like picking a thread in a sweater. It can feel like unravelling but it’s actually freedom. As it turns out, it was never about the red at all.
As I got ready to meet my grown daughter for outdoor tacos this week, the slightly stained, kind of wrinkly, yet perfectly wonderful red pants called out to me. “It’s time,” they said. And that wasn’t all. They also told me I’m just as worthy as every other human, that calling attention to myself with color wasn’t a sin or pride, that something being slightly stained or a little wrinkled doesn’t make it unworthy. That the stains tell a story; as for my pants, their story was about friendship and marriage and the hilarity of being human, of the kindness of people to pitch in and help, and of the perseverance and intentionality of fun, of the value of people and connection. I will never forget the night of the red pants, the spilled wine, the horror followed by laughter and kindness, the ride home in my friend’s new convertible. And as my red pants walked around my daughter’s city after tacos that day, they got to experience a new kind of connection, that of shared margaritas and joyful menu tasting with a grown foodie child, walking through city streets for lattes unafraid of calling attention to themselves. The realization that life is short and is meant to be enjoyed, as much as we can.
Stained, imperfect, wrinkled, bright or colorful; however we find ourselves today, let’s live life fully. Whatever the red pants are in your life, go find them and put them on today. Take them for a spin as you embody what I will now preach as the theology of the red pants:
Life is short and precious.
You are created by God and inherently worthy.
My Mom will be cheering you on, friend, and so will I.