I was having a date with my daughter Bethany in Dunkin' Donuts yesterday morning when these two elderly women approached us. We were minding our own business, but I could tell that they were drawn to Bethany's sweetness and youth. They looked to be having a date of their own: they were quite dressed up in the formal way that elderly women sometimes have. One woman was wearing high heels and pearls.They seemed lonely for family, yet happy for the togetherness of the date. I had overheard them earlier discussing belated phone calls from their children, asking them for updates about things that had happened months ago.
When they approached us, they asked us the normal questions: how old is Bethany, is she in school, what grade is she in, does she like school, what is her name? Once we started talking about names, one of the women told us that her name was Cookie, and she showed us how to sign her name in sign language. Then she disclosed something else about her name that I wasn't expecting: "My real name isn't actually Cookie, you know," she said. "I don't tell anyone my real name. It's ugly. It's an old fashioned name. It's ugly and nasty and I've always hated it since I was a little girl."
At first I was taken aback. Then I thought..."Do I say something about what I really feel about what she just said??? Or do I just continue to speak to her on a surface level politely?" I decided to say what I felt, but kind of 'test the waters.'
Here's what I said. I said: "You know, I think that that's what happens to all of us, in some area or another. A little lie sneaks in about the way we are when we're little girls, and it tries to tell us about the way we are. It could our name, or about the way our face looks, or about something about our body, or about our personality...that little lie sneaks in and tries to tell us that something about us is ugly, and not good. And then we think we should try to hide it away forever. But it's probably not that that part of us is so bad, or even ugly. We've just been so confused by the lie when we were little and the sad thing is, it affects us even until we're adults."
She looked surprised by what I was saying, and this Miss Cookie said, "You know, you're probably right. One time, I saw this gorgeous woman." [I should give quick interjection to say that I don't subscribe to what Miss Cookie is saying by default- by saying that she saw a 'gorgeous woman' she's also by default saying that some women are 'gorgeous' are some are not. I do NOT agree. I think our culture has taught us a way of seeing and judging and analyzing beauty that is NOT the same way God assesses women and their beauty. I think that's another layer of how a lie creeps in when we're little and it dictates the way we think even as adults.] Anyway, she said, "I saw this gorgeous woman, and she had on this gorgeous black sweater, and it had my name written across the sweater boldly. She wasn't ashamed of my name at all. But I was."
I told her, "Maybe it was a sign to you that your name- that part of who you are- isn't repulsive at all actually. It's actually beautiful. You just haven't had eyes to see it." She looked at me, with wishing, with eyes that were wanting to be hopeful eyes, but with eyes that had spent too many years of believing that lie, and said, "Maybe. But I'm 71 years old. I don't think I'm going to change now." As we parted ways, I said, "I hope this year is filled with more signs for you about your name."
As you read that little interaction, you might feel, "Geez. Let the 71 year old lady use whatever name she wants to! You don't even know her!" And that is true. I went out on a ledge. I don't know her story. I don't know her.
But I DO know ME. And I do know women and the pain we collectively carry as we have ALL believed parts of us (that are actually delightful and wonderful) are ugly, gross, shameful, and unfit for others to see or hear or know about. And I do know that we have an enemy that specializes in lies. He loves to steal and kill and destroy what is actually so valuable, precious, worthwhile, well-made, crafted and beautiful
So with all of that assurance and knowledge, I felt quite comfortable taking a risk with Miss Cookie to push her tiny bit as she shared a window into the pain she had carried for her whole life. She had believed that her name- a part of her that tells who she is, that distinguishes her uniqueness, that is a significant part of her identity- was ugly. And that is just so sad. Her name is a part of the glory of who she is...and for her whole life, it's been stolen.
The other reason I felt quite comfortable pushing a tiny bit is because I have personally experience the liberation that comes when Jesus comes to a place that I've labeled as 'ugly' or 'shameful' or 'no one will love this about me,' and He calls me beautiful, wonderfully made, precious, crafted on purpose. There's nothing like that kind of love.
May we all, including Miss Cookie, experience more of that kind of piercing love that results in liberating freedom.