The Lord Knows My Name
The Lord called me from the womb,
from the body of my mother he named my name. Isaiah 49:1
“Mom,” I asked, “did you ever have the sense when you were pregnant with me that I should have had a different name?”
She said, “Yes, I wanted to name you “Grace” after my grandmother, but it didn’t go with “Svensson”. ‘Grace Svensson’ was just too hard to say.”
I asked my mom that question after meeting some people who told me that they waited until the Lord told them what their child’s name was before they named him.
The Lord knows my name. He calls me by my name. But what if I had been given the wrong name? What if I changed my name?
My name for the first 49 years of my life was “Jonnie”, pronounced “Johnny.” My mom had been a big fan of Louise May Alcott and she liked the idea of having a family full of girls with boys’ names. My mom was raised in China where baby girls were abandoned in “baby towers” outside the cities, or killed by drowning, as soon as they were born. Girls had no value.
That is the lie I grew up with.
“Were you supposed to be a boy?”
“Was your dad hoping for a boy?”
“What’s your real name?”
“Were you supposed to be a boy?”
How does a child answer these questions?
I guess so. Why else would I have this boy’s name? Nobody ever told me it was a good thing to be a girl, or that girls were special, or that girls had value, or that girls could be loved. I guess I was supposed to be a boy. I am wrongly made. By whom? Who decided that I would be male or female? Who is the force behind the “supposed”? Who decides what is “supposed” to be or not to be? I don’t know. I’m confused, unloved, unwanted, have no value.
What’s wrong with girls?
Everything. Nobody wants one. It’s wrong to be one. I hate them. I hate me.
Girls don’t matter.
I hate boys.
I hate girls.
Because girls don’t matter.
Girls get thrown away in China.
Girls get thrown away here.
Really? How do you know?
Because I got thrown away.
Girls don’t matter.
It doesn’t matter what we think, what we do, what we want, where we go, or how we feel.
Girls don’t matter.
This was my war but I didn’t know my enemy. I didn’t know the one “supposed” that I would be a girl. I wasn’t “a girl”. I was something else that was “supposed to be a boy”. (I told a counselor my story recently and he said, “It is a good thing that you are not going through that now. Someone would give you a sex change operation.”)
I did everything I could to not be a girl. I hated curls and dolls and dresses. In those days girls had to wear dresses to school so when I got home I ripped off my dress and wore my jeans. I played with stick horses and I wandered the hills of California with my dog.
I didn’t know the Lord then, but I somehow “prayed” when I was about 10 years old that the things that happened to girls’ bodies as they grew up would not happen to me. I refused to look at my body. When I was about 12 my mom took me into the bathroom to teach me how to shave under my arms. I didn’t know I had hair under my arms. When I got my shirt off, she said,”Oh, we need to get you a bra, too.” I didn’t know I had breasts. That experience in the bathroom mortified me. I did not look at my body again, at all, until I was in my mid 30’s when I forced myself to stand in front of a mirror and look. By that time I had been married for 12 years and had two children.
I blamed my name for lots of troubles I had in my life.
In my 40’s I thought, “If I were to change my name, what would I change it to?” I thought about Bible characters who had changed their names after an encounter with God, and I thought, “Grace”. I would change my name to Grace. It is only by his grace that I am where I am today.
And where was I? I had been walking with the Lord for 20 years. I was living in the house that had been my grandparents home. My marriage was disintegrating. My daughters were both in college. I was a student, too, at Regent College, a graduate theological school in Vancouver, BC. I had met a girl at Regent named Grace. As I worked my way through much inner healing I realized how much grief my name had given me throughout my life. If I had been treasured as a girl, and a woman, I am sure I would not have had such a hard time with my name. I blamed a lot of my troubles on my name. I didn’t seriously think about changing it though, not then.
But later, when I married Tim, I struggled with my name in another way. “Jonnie Lukens” just did not work. I couldn’t write it; I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t make a signature out of it. My mom and Tim both encouraged me to go ahead and change it. I was 50 years old. Changing your last name when you get married is one thing. Changing your first name, the name people call you, is a whole different matter! But with Mom and Tim’s encouragement, I decided to do it. I would become Grace Lukens.
Then the problem of a middle name came up. What would I give myself as a middle name? Since Grace has one syllable and Lukens has two, I figured that my middle name should have three syllables, but I couldn’t think of anything that I liked. Elizabeth? Annemarie? Eloise? No. Then I remembered one of the lectures I heard at Regent. Gordon Fee pounded on the podium as he taught from Galatians, “Grace, plus nothing, equals right standing with God!”
Grace plus nothing. (Now, “plus nothing” has three syllables, but that’s not what I thought!) I thought, “I didn’t need a middle name.” Grace Lukens was enough. Very well. That would be it.
So, I went to the courthouse and filed the papers to change my name to Grace Lukens. I was given a court date five days later.
That same day I dropped off a computer to be fixed. When the technician asked me my name, I told him “Grace.”
“Very good, Grace, we will call you when it is ready.”
Wow!!! That was amazing! He called me a feminine name! He didn’t ask me how to spell it. He just said it! I floated out of that building as if on air. For the first time in my life I felt like my name fit. Indescribable.
Then I went home and starting writing letters to my siblings to tell them what I was doing. As I wrote those letters I realized that my three sister each had feminine names: Nora Nylund, Christine Elaine, and Gloria Jane. Gloria Jane was Janie. When Christy and I were little we couldn’t say, “Gloria” we said “Glowy” so Mom decided that we would all call Gloria, “Janie”.
“Gloria” I thought as I wrote the letters. “Gloria” has three syllables. Gloria goes well with “Grace” and it would be a wonderful tribute to Janie to name myself after her. Janie had died 14 years earlier. She had been the first in our family to become a Christian, and she prayed me in–even while I mocked her. I would be “Grace Gloria Lukens.”
I thought about going right down to the courthouse to change the papers, but decided that I could do it on Friday when my “case” would be heard. I was excited.
I had a friend who was also excited about my name change. She had changed her name by adding a middle name. I had called her when I first made the decision to change my name. She didn’t know anything about my struggle and decision over the middle name. She just knew that I was going to change my first name to “Grace.” She asked me to meet her on Friday, for lunch, before the court date. She told me that she had something I “had to see.”
When we were seating across from each other she pushed a book across the table at me. “You have to read this,” she said. The book was “Hinds’ Feet in High Places”. The book is an allegory, the story of a young woman making her way to the Lord. The part of the book that Mary Kay wanted me to read was at the end when the young woman is making her final climb to the Lord. The Lord hands her something and says, “Your name is no longer “Much Afraid”, your new name is “Grace and Glory.” Hallelujah! What a beautiful confirmation from the Lord for me. Your new name is Grace and Glory.
So now I am Grace Gloria Lukens. When I first started thinking about changing my name I had looked up the meaning of Jonathan, the closest thing to Jonnie. John, Jonathan, means “gift from God” or “God has been gracious”. Indeed. I realized that I had had the correct word for my name, just the wrong translation. The Lord knew my name. He still does.