What’s In A Name?

“You’re pregnant.”
No words more profoundly shape a woman’s future than these.
But at forty six, that new mama, she’d mistaken pregnancy for menopause and maybe another gallstone.
The doctor’s diagnosis, it felt surreal, like a dream.
Flatly, the doctor continued, “It’ll be retarded,” followed by silence.
Maybe it was actually a nightmare.

IMG_4222She glanced over at her newlywed husband, reading his expression as the physician suggested an abortion on the east side of the state. Seven years before Roe v Wade, disposing of products of conception was more inconvenient. “Absolutely not,” that new daddy rebuffed protectively.
When you’ve spent five years fighting for your life in a tuberculosis sanitorium, you cherish each breath God gifts you with and you wouldn’t dare take that away from anyone else. No matter what.

Everybody has defining moments, the ones that give shape to the rest of your story, the ones that take you down a path who’s steps can’t be retraced.
That daddy, he pointed his compass north and grabbed hold of his long history of fresh new mercies and projected them forward with hope and bathed them in prayer.
And waited.

IMG_4227Then one balmy August morning in 1966, that baby introduced herself to the world, a perfectly healthy 8 pound girl whose only blemish was a big strawberry birthmark on the back of her head.
“Congratulations,” the same doc extended a hand to that new daddy in the waiting room.
There were no apologies or accusations between them, just gratitude intermingled with sheer delight.
mg_6331Friends and family came to celebrate asking, “What are you going to name her?”
And the Daddy, the words rolled off his tongue like a blessing.
“Her name is Hope Jewel because we hoped for her and she’s a jewel.”

That’s how my story began. I came onto the scene a miracle, right down to my very DNA. A surprise to my parents, maybe, but not to the God who knit me together in my mother’s womb.IMG_4226

I’ll admit, I didn’t appreciate my name when I was a girl. I wished people called me Kimberly or Kathy or Lisa, so I’d feel more popular, but I coasted through childhood using a nickname, saving my real identity for the monumental leap into adulthood when I traded my pink bedroom for a college dormitory.
And with time, my name, it grew on me.

You see, names give definition to our lives and personalize our story.
I slept upstairs all by myself when I was a little girl.
“Lay by me, mom. I’m scared,” I’d plead after bedtime family prayer. And she would. She’d sing me to sleep repeating a handful of her favorite tunes, indelibly tattooing their lyrics into my soul. One of them went like this:

When He cometh, when He cometh,
To make up His jewels,
All His jewels, precious jewels,
His loved and His own.

He will gather, He will gather
The gems for His kingdom,
All the pure ones, all the bright ones,
His loved and His own.

Little children, little children,
Who love their Redeemer,
Are the jewels, precious jewels,
His loved and His own.

Like the stars of the morning,
His bright crown adorning,
They shall shine in their beauty,
Bright gems for His crown.

The amazing mystery of our identity and value as unique persons is not just that God formed us according to His distinct design, He also chose us by adoption. He calls me daughter, giving me a double guarantee that I am His. And as my Creator and Father, his formative influence on my identity shapes my value fundamentally and His appraisal deems me a precious, intricately chiseled, treasured, priceless jewel.

DSCF1868Names inspire us to be what we’re called.
I have a hefty Spotify playlist entitled Hope. I listen to it loudly and often because I need a constant perspective alignment from the moment my alarm rings to the final twitch before sleep prevails. Being melancholy, every chapter of my story has a bittersweet element and this particular chapter is being written around a storyline featuring parental aching. Left to myself, I could easily be swallowed up by despair but Hope anchors me when the wind is wild and I’m tossed around like a dingy in a gale. And every fresh new morning, regardless of how stiff my fingers feel or that chronic ache in my back and my heart, I tell myself my name and it helps me scan the horizon beyond the storm for the rainbow of fresh, new mercies and the everyday graces too.

My name not only informs today’s gifts, it assures me of future mercies.
And I sing along with my Bluetooth speaker,

I have this hope
In the depth of my soul.
In the flood or the fire
You’re with me and You won’t let go

So, whatever happens I will not be afraid.
Cause You are closer than this breath that I take.
You calm the storm when I hear You call my name.
And I believe that one day I’ll see Your face.

I have this hope.
(Tenth Avenue North, I Have This Hope)

And as I sing I’m reminded that someday I’ll trade in my non-descript image of God’s reflection in my hazy mirror for a face to face gaze at the One who gave me something to hope for.

Names connect us to others, to family and to culture.
My little girls, they poured over our dogeared, marked up paperback entitled 2000 Best Baby Names. They’d underline and circle their favorites selecting something personal to initiate every new stuffed animal or dollyhouse figure into our family. Some names we get to choose and others we don’t. Our four year old didn’t understand this yet when her baby sister was born. A friend phoned to congratulate us and big sister announced authoritatively, “Her first name is Starla. Her middle name is Rose but we haven’t decided on her last name yet.”

IMG_3925That name on the mailbox, it’s about more than delivering letters and bills, it tells what family we’re connected to. It indicates the ethnicity that shapes our values and traditions. My given family name is Dutch, which is a synonym for frugality. And frugality isn’t the only badge of honor the Dutch adorn themselves in. They’re respected for their integrity, faith, family loyalty and work ethic. “You’re a Vander Meiden,” my dad reminded me proudly and often, like I’d been inducted into some sort of elite club and I better act like it. Digging deeper for the message embedded in those words, my dad was communicating, “You’re not just your own person. You’re in our family. You’re my daughter. You’re one of us. Forever. No matter what. And don’t you forget it.”

Names can hurt and names can heal.
Like Eve in the garden, Satan whispers cunningly as a serpent distorting our true identity as sons and daughters of God. And before we are old enough to understand it, shame bores super highways into our souls. Sometimes we hear it in the cruel name calling of people who label us small in an attempt to enlarge themselves, or the insensitive tags slapped on us based on achievement or looks or money or beliefs. Over time we’re convinced that we’re inferior goods and our real names are replaced with aliases like Unlovable, Failure and Reject. Then God comes to us tenderly, quietly through his Word and his Spirit exposing the deception, reminding us that he’s inscribed our names in his Book of Life penned with His blood and sealed with the emblem of the cross and the words Unconditionally Loved and Accepted.

The best gifts aren’t necessarily the ones wrapped in shiny paper with a bow on top.
My dad, he gifted me with a name.
And a good name is better than great riches. (Prov. 22)
That internal compass, the one that informed his decision about an abortion, he passed it on through naming.
My name, it anchors my identity to the eternal pointing my own compass true North.
How I ache to put my arms around his back and feel his scruffy whiskers along the side of my face and tell him, “Thank you, thank you, dad, for my name”.hopegramps

There’s a lone daffodil in the wild part of my garden today. It’s the first bloom of spring and it whispers Hope.IMG_4230

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