There is a homeless woman in our community named Angela (not her real name, to protect her privacy). She has been a resident of our town for decades, is well known by everyone, and she considers our church her church home. She fluctuates between mental wellness and mental chaos, personal order and disarray. As the church receptionist, I come into contact with her quite often, and our exchanges are normally quite cordial. (She is convinced that, with my last name being Henry, that the O’Henry candy bar is named after me. Somehow I’m missing out on some royalty checks!)
A couple of weeks ago, Angela came into my office, and I said “Good morning beautiful, how are you today?” Immediately she rose up and said quite sternly, “Mrs Henry, that is NOT my name, that is a bullying name, that is NOT what is on my birth certificate! Don’t CALL me that!” I could tell this was one of those not-so-together mental conversations with her. She went on for several more minutes, becoming more and more agitated until finally I broke in with, “Angela, I apologize for offending you, but you do not come into my office and start yelling at me like this. If you would like to talk, I am happy to do so, but you do not yell.” To which she said, “OK, we are going to do this again!” and she walked out of my office in a huff. I took a long sip of my coffee and a deep breath. This will be interesting.
A few minutes later she came back in and I greeted her. “Good morning Angela, how are you this morning?” She replied with “Good morning Mrs. Henry, I am well thank you. Now see, isn’t that better? You see, Mrs Henry, when you have been called every name in the book, when you have been teased and bullied and people call you names, all you want is for people to call you the name you have been given.”
I was struck silent. In the midst of her rambling and agitation, her words rang clear… What would it be like to live a life where people didn’t call you by your name, didn’t even care to find OUT your real name, but instead called you by what they thought of you? “Slob” “Bitch” “Good for nothing” “Worthless” “Unwanted”
She went on to tell me that when she was born, her parents had her first name picked out, but couldn’t decide on her middle name. But when her father went out into the waiting room, he overheard someone say “Oh doesn’t a new baby bring such joy?” He immediately went back into her mother’s room and said “JOY! Her middle name must be joy!” Her smile spread wide on her dirty, disheveled face as she said “See? My name is Angela JOY – I brought them joy – and so when people talk to me, I say “Angela Joy is my name, please don’t call me anything else’ and if they call me other names, I just keep walking, because those names, they don’t belong to me.”
As I sat there, listening and watching her tell me this story, I heard the holy spirit whisper in my heart… “Are you listening? What names belong to you? What lies are you listening to, names that you call yourself (or others call you) but don’t have anything to do with who I created you to be?” Instead of focusing on those, I need to look to the One who created me and lean in to the names He has given me… “Beloved” “Worthy” “Chosen” “Friend” and yes, thanks to my parents and husband, “Sally (which means ‘Princess’) Ann (which means Prayer) Henry (which means Home Ruler)” I’ll take those names any day of the week, for they are mine, and, like Angela did, may I refuse to listen to any others.