"This is your God-given name", my mother scold when I asked to change my name as a teenager.
"The term given name refers to the fact that the name usually is bestowed upon a person, normally given to a child by its parents at or near the time of birth."- Wikipedia
Katherine Lee was the name they put on my birth certificate and if Jacob of the Bible had one, his would read Jacob. As well Peter and Abraham and many others.
My given name, "Katherine" after a Southern wrinkly aunt who's fragile aging appearance and a sweet smelling house was contrasted with stiff drinks and words that shot like arrows into my young tender heart. Like venom they were said to me, to my siblings, and even my parents. We smiled politely hands folded and swallowed the words. These words connected to the word Katherine followed me around like a dark shadow. A tinge of shock each time it was read in front of the class at school or in the waiting room at the doctor's office. That isn't me. I am not her. Or was I her. I didn't know. I did know hearing the words Katherine would send me back to the room with the couch where I was told who I was. "An ungrateful spoiled brat" and "The Devil's child."
Did Simon have negative associations with his name? I don't know. But I wonder if he did and I wonder if it held him back.
Katherine wasn't the only one who threw names around like candy at a parade, the name calling a family tradition accepted just like stockings are on Christmas. As much as I tried to run away from the names and the verbal lashings, it lived inside of me. It grew and took hold wrapping around my soul. It swallowed me whole.
When I began to attempt to break free from the family pattern, I stumbled along unable to find my footing. Where was Lee? Where was the person inside that God created? I couldn't find her.
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For six months I revolved in and out of locked units in hospitals meant to help me reclaim my life that had crumbled when depression and an eating disorder consumed me.
I was who they said I was. I was who they named me to be. The hospital offered me more names to add to my list. Names with diagnosis attached to it. Anorexic, clinically depressed, suicidal.
Now they weren't just said to me, but written in documents. Real words in medical files reminding me of my brokenness.
But, God is in the business of putting the pieces back together. And Jesus is in the business of taking his nail-scarred hands to tenderly touch those places that names and words had cut me open.
A new identity a new name.
"Your name will no longer be Jacob, the man told him (when Jacob was wrestling with God)
"From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won." Genesis 32:28
I wrestled too but with a fantastic community, treatment team and leaning into the love of God who saw me who I was, not who they said I began my healing. Piece by piece I chipped away the old names and began to lean on the ones God calls me. The one he calls you.
Not an easy task as the voices of those who loudly punctured my heart would and can often return to haunt me. I thought of Simon / Peter and longed for a future that would let go of the chains that held me in.
God, can I have a new name?
When I married my husband I not only took his name but erased the Katherine name of my past. An adult drawing a line in the sand as I stood in the courtroom with my hand held high and a history of abuse dissolving.
What I didn't realize was there was more work to be done.
When I began to write my memoir, the research included retrieving my medical records. All of them. Pages and pages detailing the actions of my dark and tormented mind.
More names, the clinical ones that boldly printed words about me in my medical files. Secretly I kept these pages as a reminder to myself, of where I had been and what I had done to me, to God and to my family. Shame and regret reminded me, there was always a former me crazy and locked in a hospital. On days many years later when depression would return to torment me I would pull the large stacks of paper out of the bin in my closet. To remind me. Tormenting myself again, because now with no one calling me names it was as if I needed it.
The deep power of words.
"The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning."- Lamentations 3:22-23 NLT
Could I truly accept these words?
"Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, "Your name is Simon, son of John—but you will be called Cephas"(which means "Peter"*).
* Peter, no longer Simon, was Peter. God's rock. John 1:42 NLT
I wanted a "no longer".
We have to let go in order to step into the life God calls us to be. Even if we wrestle.
And sometimes, even though we know letting go is the right answer the best answer, we hold on. At least I did, for a while.
Returning to therapy in my 40's, my wise therapist was adamant that I destroy the papers. I was terrified. It took me six months to have the courage.
Finally, I took the white stacks of documents on one cold afternoon and built a large fire in our living room. One by one I sat on my knees with papers in my hands letting them fall into the flames, watching them disappear into the chimney.
There Is Power in the Name
The old is gone, the new has come.
Paper after paper as I prayed, Lord. Help me be the Lee you want me to be. Not the Lee the world expects, not the Lee of the past, and not the Lee diagnosed by doctors.
Peter is not Saul. Lee is not Katherine.
When God gives someone a new name it is to give them a new identity.
God restores what is broken in us, we just have to open our hands and let go.
With smoke in the air and the papers now gone, I could imagine God saying. You are mine. You, my sweet girl, are adored by me. Just as you are. Step into the person I want you to be.
"What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we're called children of God!" 1 John 3:1 (MSG)
I want more of that...don't you?