'Morning, Penny, nice to see you!
She charged past me in the church side aisle, intent on delivering small fry to children’s ministry.
Did my face show any emotion?
I could barely choke out an answer.
It happens every time. Every time I am called Penny. That rising bilious feeling. The denial of the name. A refusal to allow it to define me.
That’s who I was. A small round personage, chubby, filled with a desire to please:
Good girls eat everything on their plates. Waste not want not. Anything left and you will have it for breakfast. The starving children in Africa would be grateful for that. We can’t afford to waste food.
My mother was proud of the name she had given me. Penelope Jane. She had chosen it long before she met and married my father, for it was the name of someone she admired, an older woman in the office where my mother worked when she was evacuated in the war.
A tall, elegant woman, I was always told. Beautiful. I know nothing more about her. But when I arrived, I was given her name.
I was born on my maternal grandmother’s 70th birthday. Your present, my mother told her: one penny. And so the diminutive became the norm. Penny.
And Penny was a good girl. Penny ate what was put in front of her. And so Penny grew. And grew and grew. Round as well as up.
My father was fond of me, I know. But at the church jumble sale I well remember him auctioning me. I was four years old. Lifted on to the White Elephant stall. Who will give me one penny for this Penny? he cried. They laughed at their young curate and volunteered their pennies for his Podgy Penny. I raised a lot of money that day as they turned out their purses and donated their pennies in my honour for the church funds.
(It was a VERY long time ago; pennies were worth a lot more then)
I was mortified. I was worth a mere Penny.
But Topsy -like, I grewed. The friends at Primary School called me Podgy Penny too.
Children can be so cruel sometimes.
But then we got a dog and I discovered a love of walking with her. And I had a bicycle for a birthday and discovered a love of riding with the wind in my hair and a sense of freedom.
Exercise. And my legs grew faster than anything else. Suddenly I was the tallest person in the school. Still slightly podgy but still growing.
Nicknames stick however. Maybe - especially - within families.
But as my early thirties approached, I made a decision. No longer was I Penny. I would be tall and elegant, the full Penelope Jane. So I simply refused to answer if called Penny.
Whether my husband or my mother, my friends or my colleagues, all had to relearn me by a new name.
My birth name. My baptismal name.
And as I changed from Podgy Penny to Penelope, I tried to shrug off those feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. Learned the story of a faithful, long suffering Penelope who sewed and embroidered and remained true.
Became a little more like the Penelope I was meant to be.
My name is Penelope.
I am not Podgy Penny.
And I do not have to eat everything. (But that is another story)
* * *
God gives us new names. He gave Israel a new name, just as he had to Abram and to Sarai.
The nations will see your vindication,
and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
that the mouth of the LORD will bestow. (Isaiah 62:2)
And one day, we will each have a new name.
Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give some of the manna that has been hidden away in heaven. And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17)
A new name, given by the Lord and known to Him and to the one to whom He gives it. A new secret nickname: it’s what the Father names His child, and it’s known to just the two of them.
That speaks to me of such intimacy. Such love.
It contrasts so strongly with the uncertainness of this life - its nicknames, its hurts. Its imperfectness, its misunderstandings.
Where sometimes I am unsure even of my own identity.
I will be known by my Heavenly Father, called by His name for me, as He whispers to me what He has written on the white stone.
Just for me.
A new name.
I am so excited!
What will my new name be?
He knows. He knows.
Just as He knows me already through and through –
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. (face to face) All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. (1 Corinthians 13:12)