You’re the ones who listen to me when I’m rambling, right? That’s what family is for, right? Well, that and being the voice of reason on the other side of the table?
Because today I’m going to ramble. Here’s the brain dump, all under the verbose subtitle of “Thoughts On Being Sunshine When I Am Not.”
Our family was never big on nicknames, were we? Not when I was young, anyway, because I remember being inordinately proud of “Sunshine” and all that it entailed. Grandpa started it, I think, and I was always a little jealous if I ever heard him call someone else that name. It was special, it was mine (in my eyes), and it felt unique in our family of formalities (until Babes and her litany came along and the rest of us dissolved into the shortest versions possible, right? Heh.).
The new one is “Rae” here at school, unless you’re the dude at the counter at Joe’s last night who saw my ID and said my full name and threw me for a loop because only Lady and Nae really do that. I reintroduced my shortened self so it wouldn’t be awkward, which it was anyway. It was a bit of a jump, a blip in the day, a bumpy precursor to what happened today.
Something about a name…funny how a name wraps you up in a brand new wardrobe that you maybe used to wear. I’m my full name in certain workplaces, sometimes at home, and in a lot of old memories–some wonderful, some darkly less than that. Sometimes that name feels like a homecoming, sometimes it feels like an inside joke, but more often it feels far older than I am; something other than myself and what life is now.
I like “Rae,” though. I like being “Rae” at school and at home and at my new job. I like a new version to occupy, because so much of me feels new. Whether that is through the renewal of God or my own poor choices is still being sorted through.
But “Sunshine”…that is the old standby, the old spelling, the OG. The first other name I can remember that I wanted as mine. But sometimes it feels like the farthest thing from who I am now than I have ever been. I remember times when it was a glorious pinpoint of identity: times in middle school and early high school when someone else applied that designator without any idea of what it meant to me. But the flip side of that coin have been the times when that name was–is–dredged up like an old photograph: a toothless child, a version of me 50 lbs ago, myself in a tracksuit in garish 90s colors. I’ve never had a mirror quite like that name – a recalcitrant, encouraging, reflective, combative, warped, airbrushed, far-seeing mirror. A mirror that speaks back to me of pasts joys and past sins, present statuses and present failings, future possibilities and future impossibilities. I love and hate and don’t always want the expectation and promise and lingering of a name that doesn’t feel entirely mine but I can’t actually let go.
Sorry, I told you it was a ramble. Here’s the pb&j version, the 411, the juddering in my day after yesterday’s brief tremor: I was introduced to my replacement at a job. A lovely, lovely person: an older newlywed, new believer, excellent conversationalist, good listener, and already a friend (in the “I-just-met-you-today” sort of way). I was my work self, which means I can be chatty, laughing, engaging…all of those proper things that were made easier by her honest and friendly response. [Side note: I just realized that I have truly have the best sort of people to train. People who do my job far better than I and who allow me to exit with peace that the job will be done well, regardless of whether that means my way or not.] We laughed, talked, and will probably meet for coffee outside of our two Saturdays together, because her interests and mine converge in a way that can’t be explored when we’re talking about investments and securities.
Half an hour into the morning, after introductions and wheres and whys, she asked, “Is your family Christian?” –I nodded and smiled [and by the grace of God in your lives and mine, Parentals, I was able to be proud]–“because you have such joy.” The conversation blinked into something else and that comment didn’t initially register. Not until we left at the same time, after only two hours together, and walked out to see her husband waiting for her. She eagerly wanted to introduce me and in the quick, muddled conversation that happens in unexpected introductions, she said: “She’s such a ray of sunshine!”
And I returned the compliment–genuinely, because I’m looking forward to a longer time with her–and walked down my little alleyway to the train that takes me back to my home here in the city where I’m “Rae,” which she didn’t know, 520 miles away from where I used to be “Sunshine,” which no one here knows, where I’m not “[full name],” where I’m a version of myself that feels like all of those don’t coexist. I can’t describe to you what it feels like to have someone ignorantly, instantly apply those names to you as if they are the most natural thing in the world and of course these three iterations of myself are all the same person. Of course what’s on my birth certificate and what was my childhood and what is myself now are all the same person. Of course. Of course.
Funny how saying that doesn’t make it any easier to reconcile. Because I’m not “Sunshine,” and I haven’t been in a long, long while. I’m functioning in endless variations of different worlds: one where God is so, so good; the other where He is so, so incomprehensible. The former is external, my lexicon, the world of “Sunshine,” the world of Moody speech and Moody expectation, the world of conversation and pat answers, the world where I’m drawing from the words of faith that I have existed in for as long as I have been alive. The latter is the internal, the heart language, the world where names attack and answers falter and words feel as useless as paper promises that never become real.
Yeah, I should have probably warned you that this is not a brain dump; this is a heart dump, too. Someday I’ll write to you of the faithfulness of God that is continually and graciously walking me from the words of His goodness to the truth of it. Today I heard all of the names I have ever wanted for myself and today I heard all of the names I have that used to be myself and today I heard all of the names that are not myself. And they were all the same.
Final thought [Side note: if this letter were in ink you’d never receive it because the postage for this book would put me in the red]: I am not any of those names. I am not the name on birth certificate, I am not the name first written on a whiteboard inside a welding cell, I am not the nickname heard while smelling lacquer and sawdust. All of those are mine, but they are not always me. And I cannot return or embody all of the history and assumption that each of those names create.
I have to untie those threads of expectation, I have to acknowledge those old photographs, I have to confess those good and dark memories, but I do not have to occupy their paths, because they aren’t me. They’re part, not the whole, and not the fault of the label or the labeler; they exist and mean something but not everything and sometimes I forget that.
Sigh, sorry, I think this is actually the end of my ramble: Today I was jarred by the realization that I am not what I would like to be, but what I would like to be is not who I was. Today I was grabbed by an old and present and future self and saw my warped reflection in an unexpected mirror. Today I needed my God for the simple reason that I needed to be known better than anyone else has ever known me. Today all I wanted was to be named by the He Who calls me His. Today I needed to know that who I truly, truly am is a wavering sinner rescued by unwavering grace. Today I needed Isaiah 41.
“But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.'”
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.”
“Since you were precious in My sight,
You have been honored,
And I have loved you;”
“Everyone who is called by My name,
Whom I have created for My glory;
I have formed him, yes, I have made him.”
Maybe missing you and realizing again that you love me a little like Him,