I think one of the biggest misconceptions in faith is that once we accept the concept and authority of God, we expect our lives will to of sudden come together and be perfect, that all our prayers are instantly answered, and when adversity comes God will intervene on our behalf, saving us from the consequences of our actions. God never promised that we would have perfect lives or that we wouldn’t reap the things we sowed, only that we wouldn’t be alone as we travel through this life and face those consequences. Nor did he promise that we would be perfect people. Our hearts, minds and souls are not made perfect by faith, but through the fires and trials of life we have the opportunity to become perfected by that faith; but it’s a life- long transformation. Just as we are not born to hate, we are also not born to love, forgive, be humble, or to care. These are developed traits made by the choices we make in life.
I live by two concepts. Number one – I cannot always control what happens to me. Sometimes bad shit happens that is beyond my control that I did not earn or deserve. Sometimes great things happen that I had nothing to do with. I can’t control the universe and the decisions of others that affect or directly impact me. However, I have 100% control on how I respond the good or bad that happens to me. Number two – It is not my job to save the world. God did not grant me the power to save another human being’s soul. It’s not my job to condemn them, either. It is not my job to make sure they understand the error of their ways, to repent for their sins, or to live their lives in any particular fashion. God gave me only two commands, and declares that ALL other laws and commands are wrapped in essence of these two commands: Love God, and to love my neighbor AS I love myself.
Many of us forget that last part… and I believe it is just as important as the first two. Just as God is a tri-part being, so is his Word - Love Him, Love each other, Love ourselves. So, my job is to focus on myself. I truly believe with my whole heart that if I concentrate on loving God and allowing His love to fill me, I will love myself, and then with the love “of” God, and the love within myself, I am able to love others – my family, my friends, my neighbors – humanity – unconditionally. That is my heart.
But that hasn’t always been my heart. Throughout many times of my life I was lost, angry, filled with hate and rage. I hated God, I hated the world, and I hated all the people within it, especially myself. But that hate wasn’t born in me; it was made, forged through the fires of adversity, at the hands of abuse, at the devastation of loss. Yet, I have survived. I am not perfect, by a very, very, very long shot. But, I am working hard to keep that love of God inside me, so that I continue to love myself and love the world around me. I don’t know where this strength comes from, but I have seen it rise within me during many low times in my life. That love reveres itself within the many names that I have accumulated through the years.
I’ve already told the story of how I received my birth name, now is the time for the story of how I received my childhood nickname, the name known to my family, a name I have attached to a lost little girl. In my dreams she is always the six-year old me – a cute little tomboy with long, straight brown hair, big hazel eyes, and set of dimples. I don’t have any pictures of me as a child, so she’s directly from my memories only. I can’t really tell you how I truly got my nickname, only how it’s been used over the years. I’ve heard a few different stories of its origin, but I can’t validate any of them.
My name is Sap. I was once told it was given to me because my older brother had a speech impediment and couldn’t say the word “sissy” correctly, and it came out ‘sappy’ instead. Another story was that I was so sassy when I was a toddler that my parents called me “sappy” in reference to the sweet-bitter tree gum. But, if either of those were true, what was I called when I was brought home from the hospital until I got old enough to talk, old enough to be ‘sassy’ or ‘sappy’? I don’t know, I can’t remember, and as far as anyone has ever told me, I was never called anything other than ‘sappy’ or ‘sap’. But there is a memory I will never, or can never forget that solidified the name for me. I was about six or seven and I had just witnessed my father beat my mother, yelling at her about flirting with man named William Smith. This is a name I would hear many times in my childhood as my father beat my mother. I never knew a William Smith, but I had grown up hating that name.
Anyway, watching my mother cowered in the corner of the kitchen as my father held her by the hair, hitting her, I grew angry and I ran into the room, jumped on my father and started hitting him. I knew he would turn on me, but I couldn’t just stand there and be silent. I only remember how the first hit took a few moments before I could even feel it and the room to grow dark. I couldn’t open my eyes all the way; they stung when I tried because they had been swelled shut. But, I didn’t wake up to a mother holding me, telling me everything was going to be okay, that she was going to protect me, or protect herself. I woke up to meet the glare from another swollen face, one full of anger.
She threw a cold rag at me and told me to put it on my face and her voice was cold and she said, “You’re so stupid. Do you know why I call you sap? It’s because you’re just like tree sap, that nasty, sticky mess that impossible to wipe off.”
That was the moment I began to hate to my mother. I hated her for not protecting her children. I hated her for not standing up to my father. I hated her for not saving me, for being weak, for being a coward. She didn’t protect me. She never did. For many years she would remain silent and look the other way, and teach my brothers to look the other way. It took me nearly 40 years to learn to forgive her weakness. It took until the birth of my oldest daughter for me to see her as a victim. From that day I saw her just as much as my abuser as my father. I believe I blamed her even more than my father. I believe even to this day, because of her, there is an anger that rises within me when I see a mother neglect her children, acts cruelly toward them, doesn’t put their needs first, or doesn’t protect them. It’s definitely a weak spot in me.
When I became a mother, I didn’t know how to be a mother, not realizing I had been born a mother – a mother of my five brothers. Needless to say, I was confused. I was lost. But, the day I put the needs of my children first, and made the decision to leave my old family behind – to walk away from them, was the day I shed the name Sap. I don’t think my brother’s ever understood my decision to leave them, to walk away from that family, to separate myself. They felt I abandoned them, and I suppose I did. But, I chose to be the mother I never had, and my first true act of motherhood was to protect my children from that family.
I had always hated the name Sap, but for a long time that was the only name I knew, not until my first day of Kindergarten. Mrs. Bonnet was my teacher. I can remember she was tall, skinny and had this beautiful long, black hair. She called my name, but I didn’t recognize the name she called. She called my name again, looking right at me, but I still didn’t answer. I was confused. She walked up to me and said, “Tonya, dear. I’m calling your name. When I call your name, you’re to answer Present.”
“But, you didn’t call my name,” I replied.
“Are you not Tonya?”
“Tonya? That’s not my name.”
“Yes, dear, it is. You are Tonya Lynnette.” Mrs. Bonnet pointed down to the name on top of a packet
of papers on the desk. “This is you.”
I already knew how to read and write. I was an early learner, having started reading the newspaper at age four. One of my earliest memories of reading the paper was reading about the death of Elvis Presley, I had just turned five. My name written in neat blocked letters never looked so pretty in all my life. Tonya Lynnette was a beautiful name. I don’t know why it was so beautiful to me, but I loved it in that moment, and from that day forward, when I went to school, away from home, away from my family, I was known as someone else, I was Tonya Lynnette. At school I wasn’t a sticky mess someone hated. I was praised for being smart, being sweet, being kind, and being pretty. I was the little girl that had lots of friends, and I was the pretty little girl Chris Brown kissed under the table in art class and said he was going to marry someday. I was the girl that played marbles with the boys on the playground.
Names are powerful. Their meanings are powerful. All my names have power over and within me. God has given me a new name, a name even I don’t know, that is written in the Book of Life. I have a feeling the day I see that name written in that book it’s going to feel as pretty as the first time I ever saw the writing of my name Tonya. Tonya means “priceless – beyond praise.” Many times throughout my life, people, even strangers, have approached me and told me that I was precious, priceless. Prophets have spoken over me telling me God says I am precious, priceless. Lynnette is derived from Eluned which means rescuer, image or idol. In the Arthurian tales she is a servant from the Lady of the Fountain who rescued Owain. I have spent my life rescuing.
All I know is that a name is powerful, but as I stated above, it’s not about what happens to us or what names are given to us, it’s what we do with them and the choices of how we respond that make us who we truly become. I choose to forgive. I choose to be kind. I choose to love. I choose to protect. I choose to fight. I choose to be Tonya, to be priceless, to be beyond praise. I don’t believe it was an accident that my grandmother chose that name for me, or that it was nurse I was named after. However, Tonya is not the only name I have, there are few more and I will eventually get to them, too.
Till next time,
~T.L. Gray ©2017