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I will always remember the first birthday card my new mother-in-law gave to me as her daughter-in-law. I don’t remember the card itself, or the message written in it. Rather, I remember the envelope and the names she wrote on it. She wrote all of my names. All of them.

HEIDI (the name my parents gave me, because my mother liked the character, Heidi, from the Johanna Spyri novel. Apparently, my parents came close to naming me Dorcas. Although I’m sure I would have appreciated the biblical name at some point in my life, middle school would have been rough. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for going with Swiss children’s fiction on this one.)

SUE (my middle name– the name of my dad’s sister. Bonus: my husband also has two aunts with this name.)

PETERSEN (my maiden name– a name that I did not officially keep. I sometimes grieve its loss, along with the losses of my mother’s maiden name… and her mother’s maiden name… So many maidens with lost names.)

DE VRIES (my first married name– a name I held from July 17, 1999, when I married Layton, through our single sweet year of marriage during which I was known as “Mrs. DeVries” to a first grade classroom at the elementary school where I worked as a paraprofessional, through Layton’s death in 2000 and until August of 2002 when I took my new married name.)

DE JONGE (my new married name– the name I now share with my husband of almost 17 years and with the woman who penned each of my names in her beautiful even script on the envelope of my 26th birthday card.)

Names have stories and tell us where we come from. Names change and grow. Sometimes we take new names. And sometimes we are given new names.

In Genesis 32, Jacob – exhausted from a night of strong wrestling and injured by what always seems to me to be a bit of a rule-breaking “touch” at the 11th hour of the fight – is given the new name, Israel.

Jacob’s first given name may have come from the Hebrew word that means “heel”, which makes good sense, given that he was grasping the heel of his older brother, Esau, on the way into the world. His name might also come from the Hebrew word that could either mean “to follow, be behind” or “to supplant, overreach.”

Goodness, I love the Hebrew language.

Jacob’s new name, Israel, also has a fascinating world of meaning. Some say that Israel means “God prevails” or “God perseveres.” Some say that Israel means “struggles with God,” because, as the Wrestler said to Israel, “you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome” (Genesis 32: 28).

Who struggles? Is it God or humans? YES.

With whom does one struggle? With God or with humans? YES.

But do we struggle, or do we prevail/overcome/persevere? YES.

And who overcomes? God or us? YES.

If there were ever a story – or a name – that means The Grace Is In The Struggle, this is the story. This is the name.

But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

Isaiah 43:1

Heidi S. De Jonge

Heidi S. De Jonge is a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church who lives in Kingston, Ontario, with her husband, three children, and a dog.

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