A name is important to one’s identity. And that’s why, in the story of our fathers and mothers, God keeps changing people’s names. After all, the people of God never considered themselves “sons of Terah” or even “sons of Abram.” They were sons of Abraham, a name that means “the father of a multitude of nations”(Gen. 17: 5). That name seemed nonsensical at the time for this childless, homeless man. It seemed almost a mockery to call his barren old wife a “princess,” as the name “Sarah” means (Gen. 17: 15). The children of Israel, furthermore, were children of Israel. That identity reflects another name change, when the one whose name meant “deceiver,” Jacob, wrestled with God on the riverbank. God named him “Israel” because he had struggled with God and men and won (Gen. 32: 28). It sure didn’t seem as though Israel had won—on the run from his angry brother, limping away from his encounter with God. But God names things as though they are and then makes them that way (Rom. 4: 17).
Russell Moore, Adopted for Life
All of us, at some point, experience those times when it feels as if we’ve been tossed inside the trash compactor of life. You’re already caught up in the middle of a murky mess when suddenly the walls begin to close in on you. They grind, stone on stone, as they creep ever closer, and the feeling of panic begins to wring the very life from your heart. Before you have a chance to think, much less respond, your world goes dark. You can’t breathe. Your muffled cries for help go unheard and unanswered. Then you wake to find that what seemed like a vicious nightmare is your reality. And you wonder, “Where were You, God? I called for Your help, and You weren’t there!” Often when we reflect on our life’s most turbulent trials, we are willing to acknowledge God’s involvement in the healing process. We speak of His comfort, the peace that passes understanding. However, finding evidence of His hand when the storm is raging on every side is sometimes a more difficult task.
When the walls crept in on me and finally crashed down around me as my tiny baby died in my arms, I felt very much alone. I knew that God would take care of me. I knew that He wouldn’t leave me alone. What I didn’t know and couldn’t see at the time was that He had been taking care of me in ever so many ways through the smallest details leading up to and preparing me for those moments that He knew were coming. And in the midst of my storm, He gave me Theadora.
Remember, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (Romeo & Juliet, II, ii, 1-2)? While you might share Juliet’s nonchalance with names, my overly analytical mind would never allow it. I have always taken the responsibility of bestowing a name very seriously. You see how I worded that? You don’t just name someone or something. In my mind, you bestow a name because a name is a gift–the only gift, in fact, that a recipient will carry with him for the entirety of his life. I have always named my pets after having been given the opportunity to know them, taking into careful consideration their physical traits, personalities, anything that might lead me to the “perfect” name. And naming my children? What a task!
When I was expecting our first baby, I had chosen several names for girls but none for boys. Boys’ names were complicated. I would need a name that was cute enough for a baby boy but burly enough for a manly man. Finally, I decided that the most appropriate test would be the way that it sounded in the frustrated voice of a parent, in that strung-together fashion of a reprimand. (You know the one–that one that really opens your eyes to the fact that you’re really in for it, whatever “it” is–when you get all three names.) If the name passed that test, it might be a keeper. Finally, we were fairly certain that Eli Gaston (my maiden name) was our winner. However, we told no one but my doctor because I needed to see him before I made it permanent. I just knew that if I announced it, well-meaning friends would purchase sweet little monogrammed gifts. But what if I changed my mind?! (GASP!) I remember the doctor asked when she first held Eli, brand new to the outside world, for me to see, “Well, does he look like an Eli?” I studied his head full of hair and sarcastically quipped that he actually looked more like a Samson, but I figured Eli would do just fine.
Two and a half years later, I was expecting, and the daunting task of choosing a name was again looming on my horizon. We chose a boy name fairly quickly. My instincts, however, aren’t always spot-on; I was expecting a girl. Since we gave Eli a Bible name/Family name, I wanted to do the same for this baby girl. That meant that all of our previous girl names were out. Back to the drawing board. Generally speaking, girl names are easier, but not so much girl Bible names. I didn’t want to go with one of the more common names like Mary or Sarah. I wanted something unique. So, I began to search place names. And soon, there it was. Beautiful. Paradise. Eden. Eden’s middle name was our struggle. We discussed several options. However, when I learned that Darrell’s great-grandmother was named Emily Minniebelle, I was sold. I’ve always loved the name Amelia; we could name her Eden Emilia–poetic, musical even. Perfect. However, as we were waiting for the doctor to come into the labor and delivery room, (literally) minutes from her arrival, Darrell looked at me and said casually, “So we are naming her Eden Clare, right?” Eden Clare?! I thought we were naming her Eden Emilia! But just a few months earlier, Darrell had informed his grandmother prior to her hip replacement surgery that we had decided to name our baby girl after her. How does a person argue with that? Admittedly, I still wrestled with it for a couple of days. We didn’t complete the paperwork for her birth certificate until the day we were to be discharged from the hospital. Finally, when I did, I reluctantly resigned the music in my heart and signed off on “Eden Clare”. (Looking back, though, I’m so thankful that we chose this name. It gave Mawmaw Rice such joy, and Clare really suits her spunky, fun-loving personality.)
Unexpected pregnancy number three caught me off guard in every aspect, including the naming department. Again, we chose a boy name fairly quickly–Isaac (which means laughter, because we knew that one day, despite what seemed to be terrible timing, we would laugh about the arrival of this blessing) Austin (for his Daddy). I even had a back-up boy’s name just in case he didn’t look like an Isaac Austin! Of course, that meant our “he” was a “she”. My slightly off-kilter instincts are actually non-existent. Immediately I began delving into baby girl names. This time, I began with Biblical place names to carry on the trend that we set with Eden. I really loved the name Cana, but we had so many children in our congregation with hard C names–2 Kendyl’s, Corey James, Kennedy, Cameron, Chloe, Keelie, Kyle, 2 Carson’s, Kaitlin, 2 Caleb’s, 2 Caroline’s, Corrine, Carter, Kathryn; I just couldn’t add another one to that mix. Back to work!
The next night, as Darrell was getting the kids in bed, I came across the name Arimathea. I reflected for a moment on the beautiful story of the Joseph who made that town famous, the Joseph who paid our Lord such a great honor by preparing His body for burial and placing Him within his own tomb. That story has always warmed my heart. But, the name itself is also beautiful; it, too, has a musical quality. Too bad it was such a long name. Then I had an epiphany. Instead of Arimathea, we could shorten it and name her Thea! I was so excited that I was almost giddy (probably for the first time since we had learned of the pregnancy). I loved it, and I just knew that Darrell would love it, too! I couldn’t wait for him to come back into our room so that I could present it to him for consideration–beautifully adorned on a fluffy, velvet pillow.
I heard Darrell’s footsteps in the hall and jumped out of bed for a quick bathroom trip before the grand presentation. However, when I got into the bathroom, the excitement that had taken months to claw its way to the surface sank hard and fast with the appearance of the color red. In that instant, I quickly buried the name within myself. After all, if this pregnancy was in jeopardy, naming her would only make her more real and thus harder to relinquish.
Of course, we called the doctor immediately, and we went into the office first thing the next morning, as instructed. Everything appeared to be fine, she said. Hopefully I had just angered my anterior placenta when I leaned over the side of the bed while lying on my stomach. So, we would keep an eye on things, and resume life as usual. That afternoon, we ventured toward Lineville for Darrell’s family Christmas, and feeling a little more emboldened, I ventured out with the name. I had been right; he did love it. Pleased and proud, as we had never reached a conclusion on a baby name so quickly, we decided on Thea Brintsey (for Pawpaw Rice, John Brinton). Of course, we would wait to make it official so as to be sure she looked like a Thea, but this name just felt right.
A few days passed, and the bleeding continued. I returned to the doctor (multiple times, actually). I was presenting some disturbing symptoms, but she couldn’t determine what the cause might be. On the way home from one of the visits, I thought about one of the students in the class that I was teaching that year. Her name was Teddy Grace. When I learned her name, I asked her to tell me the story. After all, with a name like Teddy Grace, there must be an accompanying story. And there was. She had been adopted as a baby. Her mother named her Theodora Grace, which literally means gift of God’s grace. I looked at Darrell as we drove that day and asked, “If she happens to make it, what would you think about naming her Theadora instead of Thea? It means gift of God, and she will certainly be a gift if she’s able to pull through this. We could even spell it with an A instead of an O and still call her Thea.” (Here, I must insert that I have always been opposed to the idea of naming my children one thing only to call them something else, so this concept was shocking, most especially to me.) And so we agreed–Theadora Brintsey Powell.
Of course, if you know our story, then you know its tragic end. Our beautiful baby girl was born only days later. She was alive, perfect. At such a young gestational age, however, she didn’t really even stand a chance at life. Her soul slipped away in just a brief few moments as I cradled her in my arms.
In the hospital, they asked us her name. “We hadn’t decided,” I heard myself reply. I loved this name. What if I had another baby girl and wanted to name her Thea? Besides, God had denied me this gift. Could I honestly call this nightmare a gift of God? And what if He were to grant me another? Would my heart even allow me to name this baby? The fear monster was still lurking in the shadows of my mind. “Name her, and it will only hurt more!” he sneered.
Hospital stays are a whirlwind of pokes, prods and paperwork. Within minutes of arrival, I was flooded with all three. Paperwork–for both a birth and death certificate. It was surreal. Of course, the first boxes were for her name. I looked at Darrell, questions spilling out with the tears. “What do you want to do? Do we want to keep her name or save it? We were naming her after your Pawpaw. Would you rather not, in case we have another baby later?” And then it hit me. What was I thinking?! We would never be able to give that beautiful name to another child. If we did, it would serve as a constant reminder of the child that we lost, whose identity we had given away so flippantly to another, almost as if the first had never existed. In that moment, my thoughts fluttered through the many things that I would never be able to give to my baby girl–not one ounce of Mommy’s milk, not one kissed ouchie, not even one all-night vigil as we both fought through with tears. But there was one thing that I could give to her–a beautiful name, befitting of an angel.
I am reminded of a story from the book of Daniel that touched my heart as I read it months ago. At the time, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what made the story so moving. Today, as I reflect, I think I understand. At the beginning of chapter 10, the reader finds Daniel mourning over his people, as he has been for three weeks. At this point he sees a vision of a man unlike any other. The man touches him, and Daniel begins trembling on his hands and knees. Then he addresses Daniel directly as “man greatly loved”, a term of endearment that he uses twice in this chapter. He assures Daniel that each and every word that he spoke in prayer was heard; as a matter of fact, this “man” was sent in response to Daniel’s prayer. He then goes on to tell Daniel in the following chapters about the future that lies ahead for the nation of Israel–one that would be filled with tribulation but ultimately would end in victory. It reads almost as if God knew that Daniel’s prayers would not be answered as Daniel would have liked, so He, as his loving Father, wanted Daniel to know that that didn’t mean that He hadn’t heard or that He didn’t care. So, He sent Daniel this vision as a reminder that he was loved—greatly loved–and his prayers were valued, even if their answer would be a resounding “no”.
In those days and weeks when her future was yet uncertain, I begged God to protect my baby girl. I happened to be reading in the book of Job at the peak of our struggle. I remember stumbling on Job 38:8, “Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?” I imagined my womb being shut up with doors, as was the sea, and I begged God repeatedly throughout every day to close the door of my womb. Please, Father! Just close the doors! Keep her safe! Please! I know that You can! And yet…He didn’t. Instead, He prepared me for what was to come. It was as if He said, “The answer to this prayer is going to have to be ‘no’, Jamie. But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t heard your prayers, that I don’t love you, or that I’m not with you through this. And to prove it to you, I’m giving you this gift.” And He gave me the most precious gift, the name Theadora. God names things as though they are and then makes them that way.
A skeptic might make a good argument for coincidence; however, I know myself. I know what would have happened if I hadn’t found her name literally moments before the trouble presented itself. I would have seen the signs of danger, buried my head in the sand, and done whatever I had to do to “protect” my heart and the hearts of my family. My beautiful baby girl would never have received that gift of a name from me. But God knew that I would need that in the days, weeks, and months that would follow. It is difficult to grieve the loss of someone whom you never knew at all. I never knew the sparkle in her eyes, the melody of her giggles ringing through our halls, or even what precious things, unique to her, would incite that laughter. At the same time, I knew her as intimately as any mother knows the child that is so much a part of herself. I can’t imagine how much more difficult this grief would be if it remained nameless. In truth, her name was not my gift to her; it was God’s gift to me.
I will be forever thankful for my Theadora, my gift of God, my proof that I–as small and insignificant as I might be in the scheme of time–even I am greatly loved.