Sunday, February 08, 2009

what's in a name?

I first met Much Afraid in my early twenties, introduced by a mutual friend who adored Hind's Feet on High Places and, as usual, determinedly wanted me to share in her delight. The more she persisted, as was her nature, the more I resisted, as was mine. Perhaps it was the dated cover image, perhaps it was just a subconscious attempt to say to her "I am not as like you as you'd like me to be," but, for whatever the reason, I just wasn't interested.

I don't know why I picked up the book years later, nor do I know when. All I know is that the timing was right and the story was even more so. How this author knew me so intimately, I'll never know. But there is was--the inner workings of my heart--played out in allegorical form for all to read. I have never related so strongly to a story before, nor have I since.

Hind's Feet on High Places tells the story of little Much Afraid, a crippled and disfigured young woman who lives in the Valley of Fear with all of her Fearing Family relatives. Much Afraid loves the shepherd who comes and tends his flocks there, and as he befriends her, he begins to tell her of the High Places upon which he roams. She longs to accompany him to these High Places, but is certain her disability will prevent her from ever being able to do so. Finally, however, in a moment of desperation, as her relatives attempt to force her to wed her cousin Craven Fear, she goes away with the Shepherd and accepts his promise that he will make her feet like the feet of the deer.

The story is an allegory of the spiritual journey many of us embark upon when we set off to follow Christ and become, in our feeble and lame attempts, more like him. Her journey could not have possibly been any more relateable to me. Given Sorrow and Suffering as her companions, she heads off on her way, only to discover that the path leads her AWAY from the mountains, not toward them. This is but the first of her detours as she is pursued by her Fearing relatives who are determined to bring her back, lest their darling son Pride be wounded. Deserts, desolate beaches, sheer rock cliffs, and fog-enveloped forests are but some of the things she must endure as she learns Acceptance with Joy and Bearing the Cost. They are lessons hard learned, but unlike me, who would still be standing at the very first crossroads stomping my feet, she does, indeed, learn them.

Much Afraid makes it to the High Places, though the journey is not what she at all expected. But Fear cannot abide with Perfect Love, and so she must be given a new name to mark her tranformation. The Shepherd changes the names of her travel companions into Joy and Peace--the companions she had wished for all along. And upon our little Much Afraid he bestows the title Grace and Glory, and she is so overcome she cannot speak.

For years I prayed that God would transform me from Much Afraid into Grace and Glory. It was the cry of my heart for nearly a decade. And then I got pregnant.

As I began to search for a name for my firstborn, I scoured every name book I could find. Finally, one day, the thought dawned on me that I should look up my own. I flipped through the pages, headed for the L's. There it was: Lorie. I did a double take.

Lorie: Literally Crowned With Laurels; Victorious, Glorious Victory. Hmmm... Very interesting.

I moved on to my middle name, flipping back to the A's. Finding Anne, I gasped.

Anne: Grace.

Grace. Glorious Victory. Grace and Glory. How was this possible? How did my parents, seeking merely to add a unique spelling twist to a popular name of that period, name me EXACTLY what I would pray for later in life? But the story gets even more interesting, thanks to my friend Kim.

Sometime in my early growing up, I decided I did not like the name Lorie. I can't remember why. I just didn't. And so I announced this to my mother, decrying her choice and lamenting Why did you name me that? "That's fine," she responded with an impish grin. "We'll just call you Gertrude instead."

And so she did. Gertie stuck, and was my nickname for nearly twenty years. Fortunately, I have a good sense of humor, and even more fortunately, I actually liked it. To this day, I will still sometimes sign cards to my mother with this moniker, and have even made it a part of my current email address. Which is why Kim knew this additional namesake, and, I'm assuming, why, when reading a recent post in which I lament not being able to live up to my name, she must have looked it up.

It is no secret I have lived much of my life feeling defeated. It is also no secret that I long for this to change. I long to stand, both here and in eternity, with the crown of laurels upon my head and know that I have seen the victory over all that has bound me. Victorious over my fear and anxiety. Victorious over my lifelong fight with depression. Victorious over my struggle with my weight. Victorious over my struggles with food. Victorious over the chronic pain. Victorious over selfishness and pride. Victorious over marital depreciation. Victorious over the voices in my head that tell me I can't, I shouldn't, I won't. But how? How does one who has lived as Much Afraid find this victory? It is amazing to me how my mother has aptly named me not once, but twice.

Gertrude, Kim informs me, means Beloved Warrior.

When I read her comment, I laughed out loud at the God who put my name upon my mother's heart over 38 years ago, knowing I would pray years later for such a name and countenance. And I laughed even louder at the wonder of a God who named me yet again, years later through this same woman, for me to experience, today, in a moment of need, Him pressing yet another reminder of how he sees me onto my war-weary heart.

So you must excuse me, as I must be off to climb a mountian. Renewed in strength, I will take the hands of my companions and trudge forward. After all, the High Places await...