He calls you by your name

Now this is what the LORD says—He who created you,O Jacob, and He who formed you,O Israel:“Do not fear, forI have redeemed you;I have called you by your name; you are Mine! Isaiah 43:1

I am firm believer that nothing in life is a coincidence. I am positive that everything happens for a reason, and that when things seem coincidental, it is usually a message from God–your Higher Power–the Universe–take your pick.

So when I read or hear something, an idea, a lesson, a revelation, in multiple places from different people, I try to pay attention.

We’ve been thinking about names in this family quite a bit lately. You see, our oldest daughter and her husband are expecting their first baby, our first grandchild, and while THEY know her name, the rest of us have to wait until she’s born. But that doesn’t stop us from speculating!

What’s more, this has opened up discussion of family names and what we are called, too. I want to be called Nana by my grandchildren, because that is what I called my grandmothers. Clint will be Pop Pop. The aunts and uncle are still trying to figure out what they’d like the baby call them. (The truth is, we can plan, but Baby will call us as she likes!)

And then a few weeks back, our youngest daughter, who has just returned to Maine for her last year of college, texted us that she’d attended service at the same church where she had worshipped last year, and she was quite excited, because, as she said, “They remembered my name!” She’d been away since May, but still–when the regular church goers saw her, they called her by the right name, and that meant more to Cate than they could have known.

You see, our middle daughter, Haley and Cate, are four years (and six days) apart in age, but since teenagerhood, they’ve often been mistaken for twins, and frequently, people who don’t know them intimately mix up their names. This was particularly prevalent at the church where we attended for seven years and where my husband was an assisting priest. Each time it happened, it chipped away at the girls’ sense of identity and place, because the truth is, if someone cannot bother to know your name, how much of YOU do they know?

Of course, we all have acquaintances who might not know our names or might forget. WE may be that person who forgets or mixes up a name! But think about it: the people whom you know well, the people who are important to you . . . those are names you don’t forget.

*Important note: this does not apply to one’s children or grandchildren. I have no doubt that my maternal grandmother loved me and knew me, but she often called me ‘Barb-Helen-Jeanne-Cheryl-Tawdra’, covering my aunts, my mom and my older cousin. This is just a parent/grandparent quirk and does not mean you are not loved.*

Back to my not-so-coincidences: last week, a friend posted on Facebook about her four year old daughter’s indignation that her teacher didn’t know her name. This child recognized at a young age that it was important to her to called by name.

And then just last night, I picked up a book to read before bed. I often keep old favorites on my nightstand, for times when I am between new reads. For some reason, last night I chose Madeline L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door, which is a companion to the more well-known A Wrinkle in Time. I love these books; they’ve had huge impact on me since I read them as a child.

But I’d forgotten something important in this particular book. Meg, who is arguably the main character, has just met Proginoskes, a cherubim with whom she is to work in order to pass three trials. Progo, as she calls him fondly, tells Meg that she is a Namer. He talks about his last assignment, which was memorizing the names of the stars. ALL of them.

“Anyhow, they like it; there aren’t many who know them all by name, and if your name isn’t known, then it’s a very lonely feeling.”

So much truth.

Meg is relieved to learn that she doesn’t need to memorize all the star names. The cherubim, trying to help her discern what she is called to do, remarks, “When I was memorizing the names of the stars, part of the purpose was to help them each to be more particularly the particular star each one was supposed to be. That’s basically a Namer’s job. Maybe you’re supposed to make earthlings feel more human.”

As I read this passage, it connected with the other not-so-coincidental happenings. I began to ponder how and why naming is something I should be intentional about doing.

Names and naming people and things and places are important to God. Remember that the first job He gave Adam was naming animals. What fun that must have been! God also showed how much names mean when He changed the names of Abram (to Abraham), Sarai (to Sarah), Jacob (to Israel) and Saul (to Paul). The moniker switches here coincided with a turning point or transcendent moment in their spiritual walks of these men and women.

In Hosea, God instructs Hosea what to call each of his children, and let me tell you, these are not the kinds of names you’d find in the most popular baby name books. (Not My People, Jezreel and No Mercy would agree.) But He is making a point.

So what is God trying to tell me? I’m still exploring, but He is leading me through this. I do know that He wants me to be increasingly aware of how I name not only people but situations and circumstances. If I call something disastrous or horrible, I’ve just given that situation an identity, and I’ve chosen right then and there how I am going to see it and how I am going to react in it, regardless of the fact that God has put me in this place and time. I’ve limited how much I can learn by calling it bad.

Remember that in creation, we’re reminded that everything God made, He called it good.

Right now, as I write this, we’re in the middle of something that could be called frustrating or horrendous. The air conditioning in our house is not working. It’s still summer here in Florida, and the last week has been hotter than normal. Then last night, the washing machine gushed water all of the floor of the laundry room. I’ve been sick and now our daughter is fighting a virus, too. Money is very, very tight.

I am tempted to name this as a disaster. I’m tempted to lay down and wallow (but not on the laundry room floor). But what if . . . what if instead, I call it . . . challenging? Interesting? What if I react in expectation of God’s mercy and provision and love, instead of in weeping and gnashing of teeth?

We know that ingratitude is a poison that infects us and leaves us bitter. If gratitude and praising God no matter what–as Paul exhorts us to do–in all circumstances is the cure to that poison, then the first step may be Naming our situation in such a way that we can be free to praise.

I think there may be more to this Naming idea, more lessons God means to teach me on this topic. But for now . . . this is a good place to start.


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