Hi. My name is Barbara. That means stranger. Not a wonderful meaning, by any sense of the word. I wasn’t named after anyone. My dad simply liked the name. He wanted my middle name to be Sue, but, my mom did now want me to have the initials BS. I’m so happy about that.
Not only that, but I was born, technically, in prison. That’s because the hospital where I was born, on Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, was torn down so that the federal penitentiary, Leavenworth Prison, could be expanded. I only weighed a bit over 5 pounds at birth. Mom says the hospital staff called me “Peanut.” Right away that’s quite a resume for someone who’s just getting started.
My name, Barbara, with its not-incredibly-beautiful meaning, seemed to be somewhat prophetic in my life. As a kid, I had trouble making friends. It’s not that I was a terrible kid with bad hygiene or anything. But, I was shy, didn’t know how to connect, and was always certain that if anyone got to know me, they wouldn’t like me.
I felt this way for a number of reasons, but mostly it was because my dad wanted me to be born a boy, and I knew that. And, he had a very bad temper. When I was 4, I drew his ire because I was terrified of a doll his mother had lovingly made me for Christmas. I really can imagine how bad she must have felt to have put so much work into this beautiful doll and then have me react like she had tried to give me a poisonous snake. And, I can imagine how embarrassed dad had been to see me act so ungratefully.
His rage directed at me took the form of forcing me to touch the doll that I was so frightened of. And, that force took time because I was 4, terrified, and he wasn’t making me any less so. Screaming at me that being afraid of a doll was stupid, and other things that I don’t really remember, broke my spirit, according to my mom. After that incident, I changed. I no longer had a preference when asked what I wanted. And, I still have trouble with that. I learned to read other people and figure out what I SHOULD like, think or care about. Without someone’s input, I was lost as to what choices to make about things.
So, you see, in a way, I became a stranger to myself. And, that has been part of who I am my entire life.
When I met my boyfriend, we became one of those high school couples and it became Barb and Jolly. We were a team. We’ve been that team for a lot of years now.
Then, I became a mom. What a wonderful thing it is to be a mother. My little girl, though challenged in so many ways due to a premature birth, was my little angel. We were best buddies. I could read her mind. Just by looking at her, I could tell what she was thinking.
We were Barb and Amber. Or, I was Amber’s mom. That was my most enduring identity.
But, when Amber died, I had that identity ripped away. Now, I fully believe that Amber is still my child, and that her spirit is living with Jesus in heaven now and forever. And, I believe we will be together again, and someday, our bodies will be redeemed. That is my belief and fervent hope. But, for now, there is not a duo going through this world. When I go places, I’m not pushing a little purple wheelchair. I go alone, much of the time.
When she left, I was shaken to the core and am still, after five years, trying to find myself, trying to figure out who I am now. The great thing is, I am not alone.
God and I have been pretty chummy since before I can remember. But, my understanding of him has evolved (in fact, I am sure he isn’t really a HE after all – for God is Spirit). As my understanding grows, I am led into new growth within my spirit.
Part of that growth came as I took a job as the secretary of the church I’ve gone to since Amber’s death. That was a step of faith on my part, because, as is customary for me, I was unsure whether I would be up to the task. Not only has it been a confidence booster and a space for growth, but, I’ve gotten to work alongside a pastor who has really helped me and encouraged me to see that I have value, that I am someone worth fighting for, as she puts it.
Then, there are the bible studies that I attend on Wednesdays. The latest one, called “Who is Jesus?” just started and each of us attending was asked to share what our names mean, who we are, and where we think God might be leading us. I shared that God has been working with me to help me with my most difficult struggle, learning to love myself. It seems almost impossible. For you see, years of conditioning by others, and myself, have warped my view so that what I see of myself most largely are my failures and weaknesses. I don’t see who I really am. I don’t know who I really am. I don’t know what I hope for, or what I want out of life. I often have a difficult time making a decision about what I’d like to eat, or wear, or what I’d like to do for fun.
But, as I shared, I realized that God was trying to transform me, and my name, so that it changes from Stranger, to One Who Is Not a Stranger to Herself. That is what I am striving for, and I truly have faith that I will get there. I’m making strides, though they seem like baby steps. Pretty soon, I just might believe that God loves me not because he has pity on some poor wretch, but because I am someone of worth, someone he planned, someone he even celebrates. To think of that does put a smile on my face.
When the day comes when I can look in a mirror and see a friend looking back, that is the day when I will truly rejoice. Right now, I see someone who’s a work in progress and that isn’t a bad place to start.