Somewhere in the middle of running the San Antonio half-marathon a few years ago, I heard a spectator call out my name. Years later, I remember this moment much more clearly than the moment when I crossed the finish line, as it came during a stretch when I was feeling the worst. He said, “Go, Dianne! Good job, Dianne! You can do it!” Just a second before this happened, a gnat flew into my eye. One eye closed and tearing, hands furiously rubbing at my face, I couldn’t see and I didn’t recognize the voice. I still have no idea who it was that called out to me that day as I stumbled past. I wonder if it was just a kindhearted person, who saw my name next to the number pinned to my front. Regardless, that day, having someone cheer me on, by my name, lifted my spirit. It made me feel like I was seen and supported.
God chooses names for people throughout scripture. After wrestling with God through the night, Jacob is named Israel. Onesimus, who was the slave of Philemon, meets Paul in prison and becomes “brother.” Mary was called a servant girl and becomes “blessed.” And in coming to earth incarnated as a human in Jesus Christ, God gave us all the names “son” and “daughter.” We all became God's children and, therefore, brothers and sisters to one another. God is constantly calling out to us with these true names, the ones that were written on our hearts before we were born.
We don’t always hear our name being called so clearly as someone yelling from the side of the road, but God is there, persistently offering to call us beloved. In fact, it can be easy to miss because there are so many other names that we give to ourselves or that are given to us by other people. We label ourselves: success, failure, consumer, producer, perfect, flawed, worthless, deserving and on and on. But if we listen well, we can hear God calling our name in the times when we are the most hopeless and we can choose to say yes to that name.
We recently witnessed the miracle of someone claiming their God-given name. A woman from Ethiopia had been stuck in detention for months. She escaped what likely amounted to slavery and came to this country almost completely hopeless, having no one in the whole world to call family. No one in the whole world who called her sister or daughter. She was completely alone in detention. But she kept praying for help and God reached out to her in her loneliness.
A phone number that had been passed along over the last six months from person to person in the prison made it into her hands and she decided to dial it, using phone minutes borrowed from a fellow inmate. And when she reached a compassionate voice on the other side, she didn’t let go. She called every day, expressing her hopelessness and asking for prayer. She shared her struggles and talked about how alone she felt. Then, slowly, the mountains began to move.
Today, after miraculously being given a bond and then our church miraculously being able to find the $15,000 requested on a moment’s notice, she is here with us. She is staying in a warm room and is well-fed with her favorite foods. She is in a place where people ask her how she feels and if there is anything else she needs or wants. She is surrounded by the love that was always possible but had been hidden from her. The forces of evil in this world tried to convince that her name was “nothing” but she decided to choose the names that God was calling out to her, “precious” and “blessed” and “daughter.”
I recently heard someone say, “we are all in the same storm but we are each in different boats.” I think that is partly true. Yes, right now we are all going through this storm of the pandemic that has enveloped every person on this planet. And it is true that we all came into this storm with our own struggles and supports. We have all now been made more aware of what our boats look like. But some of us were going through a storm already, or many storms, before this universal one.
Regardless of how high the waves are that are crashing down on us or how powerfully we are being tossed from side to side, we all have a choice of how we respond. We can’t choose our storm. We can’t choose the boat that we have been given. But, we can choose who we are. We can choose to accept God’s name for us. Like this woman from Ethiopia, we can accept one tiny thread of a lifeline that appears before us through the lashing rain and we can claim it. We can make it our own.
We don’t get to decide what happens to us, but we get to choose how we respond. We get to search for God calling to us through the noise and claim our name. We get to choose to reach out and know that no matter what is happening around us, we are not alone. We are blessed. We are beloved. We are, all of us, children of God.