Nicknames. They can make us feel special, well-known, loved. Or they can hurt and shame.
Personally, I enjoy having a nickname. My mother sometimes called me “P” – my daughter name. My children call me “Mama.” My grandma name is “Poo,” which comes from my high school nickname of Paula-Poo, given to me by my best friend, Sandy. Each name is special to me, and all have a different meaning.
Did you know God has many names? The most well-known are obvious: God, Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Jehovah, Yahweh. But there are others, and each has a particular meaning. Unless you’ve done some fairly stout bible study, you may not have stumbled across all of them.
El Shaddai—God Almighty or God All Sufficient. God first revealed this name to Abram in Genesis 17. He used that name to reveal to Abram He would provide all He promised. A strong name to stand for a strong promise.
Elohim—The Living God. This ancient name for God contains the idea of God’s creative power as well as his authority and sovereignty. Supreme. Absolute. Greatest. Another strong name.
El Roi—The God Who Sees Me. This name was spoken by Hagar in the wilderness when God sent his messenger to her. What a personal, affirming name. It encourages and comforts. We know we are never alone.
There are over 100 names for God in the Bible. But my absolute favorite is “I Am.”
It’s hard for me to verbalize why this name is so important to me. It exemplifies strength. It reassures me. I read this name and I know everything will be okay. Because God Is.
This name is powerful. Confident. Unchanging.
God uses it more than once. It is in one of my favorite verses. “Be still, and know that I Am God.”
In our world today, that implacability calms me. No matter what happens—in politics, with the virus, in our relationships—God Is. He is in control. I read this verse, and it settles me.
We’re going to be okay. We’re going to emerge on the other side. There is no power in hell that can stand before the Great I Am.
Jared Anderson and New Life Worship puts it far more poetically than I in their YouTube video.
I spent a few hours with some teenaged girls this week. I eavesdropped on their excited chatter as we headed home, me in the driver’s seat, them scattered behind me in the van. A surprise awaited them, and all their focus was on what to wear. Four of the five wanted to wear dresses. The lone jeans fan distressed herself over the possibility of being different. She really didn’t want to wear a dress, but couldn’t convince any of the others to join her on Team Jeans.
Finally, I couldn’t hold back. “Wear what you want! Be brave.” I pictured five sets of eyes glancing my way.
The momentary silence quickly dispersed, and they resumed their conversation as if I had not spoken. I shook my head. I’ve forgotten how difficult it is to be different, to stand out when you’re that age.
Occasionally, a brave soul appears, determined to be that mythical drummer following her own beat. A memory surfaced from my first few years of teaching at Burleson High School. Shelby definitely bucked the routine and normal. Here is a story from 2003,
A small sigh of relief escapes. It’s 4:05, and my day is about to be kid-free. I sit at my laptop to check email. Behind me, my class is noisy with chatter and laughter as the kids wind down. Anticipation of the 4:15 bell frees them from the strictures of the school day, and they’re getting loud. I don’t listen to anything in particular. It’s the background noise of my professional life. Without warning, a single phrase lifts itself from the general clutter of noise and shoots into my ear like an arrow.
“Did you sniff my head?”
Hmm. That sounded like Shelby. Staring at my computer screen, I mentally rewind that, sifting through my vocabulary to find a set of five words that sounds like “Did you sniff my head?” without actually being the five words “Did you sniff my head?” My cranial magnifying glass waves back and forth across my brain but comes up short. No files found. What did she say?
I swivel around in my chair and look. Sure enough, Shelby is perched in a desk near mine. She sits sideways in her chair with one knee pulled to her chest, held close by one curved arm, the other foot tucked underneath her. She looks to the right at Jordan, who sits behind her. I assume he is the recipient of the question.
Jordan slouches comfortably in his chair, his long feet propped heavily on the wire basket under Shelby’s seat, his hands lying relaxed on the top of his desk. He stares at Shelby with an uncomprehending look in his eyes. Matt sits one row over, watching this exchange. He has a tiny frown line between his eyes. I catch his eye when I turn, but I hide my smile.
I look at Shelby. “Did you just say, ‘Did you smell my head?’” I speak slowly, enunciating my words with care so there is no chance for mistake.
“Yes.” Her answer is cheerful. “I smell heads when I sit behind people. I just lean forward and sniff.” She demonstrates for us with the empty air of the unoccupied desk in front of her, her pert nose sniffing daintily. The three of us stare.
“I sniffed Matt’s head when he sat in front of me.” Her voice is bright, happy.
Matt’s eyes widen slightly in surprise. Would a person, I wonder, notice if someone behind him leaned forward and sniffed his head? Unless he had very sensitive hair follicles that would register that small tug of air, probably not. Matt wears his hair short and tidy. It’s not like there’s a lot of hair to disturb.
Jordan has still not said a word, but he is now looking at Shelby with interest.
“Well, I guess people’s heads smell pretty good.” I try to inject normalcy into this bizarre conversation. I picture the fruity concoctions of shampoo and conditioners in my shower. Bottles with names like Chamomile-Lemon and Ginger-Papaya. My efforts are shot down.
“Matt’s head didn’t.” Shelby doesn’t miss a beat. Matt’s eyes widen even further. I can practically see the thoughts racing through his mind.
My head doesn’t smell good? What does my head smell like?
Eww. What does Matt’s head smell like? A mental picture of sweaty fifth-graders comes to mind. Eww.
Still trying gamely to rescue the conversation and now Matt, I try once again to make this sound like a conversation I’ve had before.
“Well, Shelby, that sounds like…” I try to think of what sniffing people’s heads sounds like. Odd? Weird? Bizarre?
Animals pops out before I can stop it. “It sounds like what animals do.”
Arrgh! I give myself a mental slap to the forehead. That’s not the effect I was going for in my rescue. I picture the exuberant greeting my dogs give me when I come home, sniffing my legs and my shoes to discover where I’ve been that day and to find out what other dogs I’ve cheated on them with. Then my mind takes the animal sniffing picture one step further. Suddenly, I’m horrified that the three of them may be thinking the same thing that I am thinking, and I realize my efforts to save this conversation are falling wildly short.
Jordan, I notice through my consternation, has wisely still not said a word.
Thankfully, at that moment, the final bell rings.
Shelby stands with fluid grace. Her bright red canvas high-tops peek out from underneath the legs of her jeans. Her silky, long, navy blue scarf covered in white polka dots flows over her shoulder from where it’s wound loosely around her neck.
“’Bye, Mrs. Peckham!” She sails from the room with a cheery farewell.
Jordan, who has never taken his eyes from Shelby’s face throughout the entire conversation, also stands and heads out, shaking his head silently, smiling at the floor.
Matt leaves with a frown on his face. I wonder if he’ll figure out a way to sniff his head that night, to be sure about how it smells. I manage to wait for the room to empty before I laugh.
What, I wonder, do I miss hearing each day?
I’m sure God sends me messages every day, messages I don’t pick up. What a loss.
How can we ensure our lines of communication are open? How do we keep the line from being busy when He calls?
I think a good way to clear the obstructions is to start the day with prayer. Quiet time with God sets the tone for the day, reestablishes the connection. Plus, it puts us in a frame of mind to listen, to actively search for the messages He sends.
I don’t want to miss God’s call. I imagine my world would be a lot nicer and more satisfying if I receive what He has in store for me.
What about you? What messages does God have for you? Wouldn’t you love to know?
I recently learned an online magazine accepted a poem I wrote for publication in their inaugural edition. Inspiration for the poem came from a tragic accident experienced by the family of a friend of mine at church. Her six-year-old daughter, Raven, suffered a head injury and was declared brain dead. The family donated her organs. It was terribly sad and seemed so senseless, but the family–and the grace with which they handled–it shared a strong testimony to all who followed the ordeal. The Bible tells us in Romans that God can work all things to the good of them who love him. We saw that verse lived out. Here is the poem. I hope you enjoy it.
The Garment of Sadness by Paula Peckham
Sadness is a heavy garment.
A well-made garment, with tightly-sewn seams.
We can forget—for a moment—that we wear it.
It would be easy to drown under that garment.
But faith is persistent.
And it seeps through those tightly-sewn seams
One drip at a time.
Faith Faith Faith Faith Faith is our lifeline.
We grab it like a drowning person grasps an offered hand.
Though the garment is heavy, and it weighs us down,
We grasp that lifeline, and struggle through the next breath.
We force the next step.
We search through the darkness for the tiny spark of life inside.
The spark that faith protects for us while
And die inside.
When there is trust enough to let sadness go,
H T I A F lifts it away and leaves peace in its place.
And we realize we can breathe again.
We leave the garment of sadness lying in a sodden heap
Heavy with its soaking from our tears and horrible sorrow.
And we crawl from underneath its crushing weight.
So we wait on the LORD for that day.
And when that moment arrives,
We realize by its absence how heavy that garment had been.
Late afternoon sun slips between the plastic slats of the blinds, painting parallel lines in the room. The stripes melt over the edge of the mattress and land on the floor, getting wider and wider as they go. I sit on the bed, watching my grandfather. They moved him to the “rehabilitation center” today (it’s not a nursing home, everyone insists) after spending time in the hospital. I know this is a turning point in our lives. He won’t go home again.
He sits in his wheelchair, facing me. I am his mirror image, sitting motionless, facing him. Sterile plastic crackled beneath me when I first sat down. My mind shies away from the ramifications of that sound.
This is my grandfather.
He glances at me and cracks his familiar grin, cocking his head slightly to the right. The smile splits his face from side to side, revealing the gap between his two front teeth. He knows it’s me, but I sense from the quiet confusion in his eyes he doesn’t quite know where he is. He glances away, maybe ashamed to ask me, maybe embarrassed he doesn’t know.
This is my grandfather.
I sit, watching him be. The sun streams in golden from his window, also casting stripes across his face and body. Dust motes dance in the alternating pattern of light and the dimness of his room.
It’s quiet where we are, alone at the end of an L-shaped hall. We’re in the last room. The constant stream of day-to-day noises from the nurses and other residents seem far away from our golden cocoon. His room is a double occupancy, shaped like the wings of a butterfly with the shared bathroom in the position of thorax. The other butterfly wing, however, is empty. It is just the two of us.
I fight back tears as I watch him. His hand moves up slowly, and his fingers touch the side of his face. The tip of his index finger traces the curve of the shell of his ear. Each movement is slow, methodical, thoughtful. It’s as if a current has broken between the synapses in his brain controlling his movements and the actual muscle contractions that follow. I wonder briefly if they gave him a pill.
His ears make me smile through my tears. A memory surfaces. We took a picture of him from behind, while he was holding my infant son. We stood on the sidewalk in my mother’s front yard. The similar silhouettes of their two round, almost-bald heads with their ears sticking out slightly to the sides made us all laugh, and we told him to hold it while we found the camera. He was so tall, so strong, holding my baby. He was my grandfather. We laughed…
Pop lays his hand gently, slowly back in his lap. It joins its gnarled, age-mottled partner, both facing palm up with fingers curled inward, relaxed and defenseless. He glances at me again, and I quickly wipe my face and smile back at that grin I’ve known all my life.
This is my grandfather.
This is the man who sailed a boat on Lake Benbrook with my grandmother. This is the man who, during the summer I was twelve, spent hours touring me around on his motorcycle during the once-a-summer week I spent with them each year. My feet and my bottom were numb from the vibrations before we got home, but I can still see my skinny arms wrapped tightly around his sturdy back as he drove and drove. This is the man who whistles, because the joy inside has to come out somehow.
This is my grandfather. And he will never be the same.
I sit in this golden, quiet room, and I love him.
Finally, I reach out and wrap my fingers around his. “Pop, I have to go home. Someone will come tomorrow to see you.”
He looks at me, quiet, uncertain, but that grin cracks out again. He doesn’t answer and doesn’t try to talk me out of leaving him. I lean forward and press a kiss against his bristly face, feeling the tips of whiskers prickle against my lips.
I am flooded with another memory. He stands in his bathroom, feet braced wide apart, white undershirt tucked into his pants, belt unbuckled. Morning sun streams in through the frosted window pane to his right. He stretches his cheek tight with one hand while his other rubs his electric razor across the night’s growth of beard.
I can’t remember ever feeling whiskers on his face before now. Love floods my chest so strongly that for a moment it is hard to breathe.
I walk down the hall, leaving my heart in the room. I press buttons to open doors. They’re simple buttons. They’re even labeled so people will know which to push. But they trap the residents behind the doors as surely as a prison gate. Buttons empowered by the dimness in their minds.
This is my grandfather.
I sit in the parking lot, unable to drive because of the tears flooding my eyes. I chant, like a mantra.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.
Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.
I speak out loud, through the tears slipping down my face. “This is my grandfather, God. He has loved You all his life. Now, love him well.”
And I know He did, and He does, and He always will. Because there, in that golden room, was also my Father, and He is a God with a plan, a God who loves.