I was really excited to change my last name on my wedding day. It wasn’t because I couldn’t wait to get rid of my maiden name (even though many people had laughed as they cleverly called me Caitlyn Weird instead of Caitlyn Wehr). No, I liked my maiden name, because it tied me to my family, but changing my name to Caitlyn Littrell represented a whole new identity to me—one I was eager to embrace. It was an identity that would unite me with my love and create new opportunities for exploration and family. I also took nerdy-word-lover-joy in the fact that Littrell means “that which is written,” since I love words and stories.
Being Caitlyn Littrell has been an adventure I could never have imagined on my wedding day. Oh, I tried to picture my future and there were definitely little invented home movies of all my hopes dancing through my head as I married Ryan, but I couldn’t understand the enormity of joy, romance, choices, growing-pains, challenges, failures and triumphs that would come with my new name, my new life. On my wedding day—my transformation day—I began a life in which I would learn how hard and how rewarding trying to love someone selflessly can be, I began a life in which I would get to create and bring three boys into the word, and I began a life in which I have a partner in everything life presents to me. What a wonder this new name has been!
Of course, name changes are not new or unique to me. God often changed peoples’ names in the Bible. Each time he did this, the person took on a new identity—one that took what they had been and enhanced it to further bring glory to God. God changed Abram and Sarai into Abraham and Sarah, making them the Father and Mother of nations (Genesis 17:5-16). God literally wrestled for a full night with Jacob, changing his name to Israel and blessing him in the morning (Genesis 32:22). Jesus changed Simon to Peter, since Peter means rock, and he became the foundation of the church under the new covenant of salvation.
In all these examples, God gave people a new name that brought responsibility, challenge and pain. Abraham was faced with sacrificing his son, Israel’s favorite son was sold into slavery and his whole family faced famine, and Peter lived much of his life as a fugitive and was eventually martyred for his faith. But each of them also ended up living full lives of joy as well. Abraham and Sarah miraculously had a son in their old age. Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me” (Genesis 21:6). Israel was reunited with his lost son Joseph and died a happy old man surrounded by his entire family of seventy people (Genesis 46:27 and 49:29-33). Peter got to lead the early church and experience God’s power in full force. He witnessed 3000 people giving their lives to Christ at Pentecost (Acts 2:41) and then went on to write some of the most encouraging words about joy: “Though you have not seen [Jesus], you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9). Their name changes enhanced their lives, brought new adventure and infused their days with laughter and joy.
While actual name changes outside of marriage are not as frequent today, our descriptors are often fluid and changing. My list of descriptors for myself would be something like: Lover of Jesus, wife, mama, daughter, sister, friend and teacher. Besides the blessed descriptor of being my parents’ daughter, each role has been added throughout my life since birth, bringing new adventure, challenge, joy and sometimes pain. Most recently I added working mother of THREE to my list as I returned to work this last week. This week has brought with it a few toddler-like tantrums (me), missed naps (me) and bouts of weeping (once again, me). But I have also experienced the joy of seeing my boys’ faces light up when I come to pick them up, the fun that comes from interacting with my students and the feeling of purpose I have when I tackle my wonderful job.
So I pray that we will let God use whatever descriptors make us who we are to work together to bring us “inexpressible and glorious joy.” I pray that we will not shy away from the descriptors God asks us to embrace or let go, and that we will know our most important name: children of God.
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” 1 John 3:1