I Will Give You a New Name
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Esther Fleece Allen recalls the pain of being abandoned by both her father and mother when she was young. She tells how God breathed new life into her broken spirit, and later prepared her for her new name and role as a wife.
I Will Give You a New Name
Bob: In the Bible, God often changed people’s names after they encountered Him to show that they were different people now that they belonged to Him. Esther Fleece Allen thinks all of us can learn something from that.
Esther: There is such significance to naming that I thought: “I’m missing something. I missing something in my walk with God, because these labels I’m attaching to are more comfortable to me than living out of who God says I am; and something needs to change.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, May 5th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. What are the names or the labels that define you, and are those names or labels that God has assigned to you or that others have given you? We’re going to talk more about that today with Esther Fleece Allen. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, it occurs to me that, probably, the deepest kind of pain/woundedness that we can experience is family pain—
Bob: —marriage/family connectedness. We can experience pain in any relationship; but when it happens with blood/with kin, that’s probably the deepest and most profound. If that’s the case, then the deepest work God can do/the deepest healing God can do is when He steps in and brings beauty from those ashes; right?
Ann: Yes, I think marriage has that effect; but there is something, too, with kids with parents—
Ann: —that the pain is so deep; and we don’t generally know how to express it or how to heal from it.
Dave: I mean, personally, as many know, the greatest pain in my life was from my mom and dad. Yet, the greatest victories and the greatest presence of the very face of God in our lives has been the healing through that pain.
Bob: We’ve got a friend of yours joining us on FamilyLife Today.
Bob: Ann, you want to introduce Esther again to our audience?
Ann: This is Esther Fleece Allen. She’s written two books, and we’re talking about both books. One is No More Faking Fine, and the other one is a book called Your New Name.
Esther, welcome. It’s so good to have you with us. I feel like our family is here.
Esther: I know; thank you. It’s so good to be in the room with you and Dave.
Ann: Why did you name this one Your New Name?
Esther: Well, it was interesting; because I was actually going through a physical name change. I had recently gotten married and was wondering, “Do I keep my old name, Fleece?” As I was writing Your New Name, you know, I was realizing God gives us new names in Scripture. Sometimes, it’s hard to let go of old labels—and even good names and good seasons—it’s hard to move forward sometimes.
I found in Scripture that there is this theme about newness—that God is always doing a new thing—and one of the things that He does is give us a new name. I felt He was giving me a new name, physically, even here on earth in marrying my husband Joel, who comes from a wonderful Christian family. They’ve served God for generations; and it was so neat to take on this new physical name as God was giving me new spiritual names, as well, as I was writing the book.
Bob: Esther, you shared with us already; your dad was besieged with mental illness issues. He was violent in the home; he and your mom divorced; your mom remarried, and then she left you. Did you have any ongoing connection with your stepfather, or did that—
Esther: No; no.
Bob: So at age 13, you’re without a family—
Bob: —and without a part of your identity at that point. What do you do with that, when you’re 13 years old, and you don’t belong to anybody?
Esther: I think—yes, I found my home in the Scriptures. It says, “Even if your mother forsakes you, that God will not.” The Lord said in Hebrews 13:5 that “He will never leave [me] or forsake [me].” By the grace of God, I was introduced to the gospel; and God adopted me into His family and then provided physical families for me to live with, so I didn’t have to go into the foster care system; I wasn’t lost.
It was very hard not belonging, honestly, Bob. It was hard not even having a last name of one of the families that took me in. For years, I want to be an Ellis, or I wanted to be a Meyerand; I wanted to be an Elam. I wanted to have that association with these different families that provided family to me; but I had to keep going back to: “Okay; I’m an adopted daughter of God, and my identity and my inheritance is in Him. Even if I’m not chosen here by a physical family or a physical husband”—you know, I didn’t get married until later in my 30s—“I [have] to believe that I was chosen, and accepted, and adopted by God.”
Dave: Now, we know you were sort of faking fine; but there was still a sense of—even/I think about your wedding day, when you had different dads walk you down the aisle in place of your father—because they really were dads.
Esther: Yes, yes.
Dave: God provided in a unique way His presence through another family, right?
Dave: I mean, even that moment, what did that feel like?—walking down the aisle to your new name.
Esther: Yes; I mean, I never thought I would get married. I believed a lot of labels; some of them were true. I was orphaned—you know?—and I had to lament that. I was a victim, and I need to grieve that; but I think I was not identifying with them for too long. I just didn’t know the new names that God had for me and, maybe, even how to live out of them. For years, I didn’t even want to date because I just thought I was unwanted, and unadoptable, and unworthy.
I remember distinctly when God was taking me on this journey of believing who I really am—because it’s not just enough to like read the Bible—like, we’re really tasked to believe God and to believe the words of God. I felt like the Lord had whispered to me: “You are going to be a good bride, because you already are a good bride: you’re serving the church; you love the church; you don’t gossip about the church; you don’t slander about the church; you’re not using the church. All of these things that would make a good physical bride, here on earth; you are already a good spiritual bride to Me.”
It was just this encouragement that God was giving me in my own times with Him. You know, I didn’t go and Facebook®: “Oh, God called me a bride today.” [Laughter] It was just this like reassurance that God saw me as His bride, and He was actually proud to have me as His bride.
Bob: When you said you didn’t know if you’d ever get married, was it because you didn’t know that marriage was an institution that you wanted to be in; or because you saw yourself as damaged goods and didn’t know that anyone would want you?
Esther: Damaged goods, Bob. That was definitely one of the labels I believed for years. I just thought, “If my own parents didn’t want to stick around for me, what man would really want me?”
Bob: So when a guy met you in your 20s—and thought, “She’s cute,” and “She’s nice,”—and he would want to get to know you and, maybe, ask you out—
Esther: It’s called the friend zone. [Laughter] They got to stay in the friend zone. I have lots of great guy friends to this day.
Dave: So they stayed in the friend zone because—
Esther: They stayed in the friend zone.
Well, I mean, I would like to say, “Because I was, you know, serving the Lord like Paul and felt this call to singleness,”—no; it was just really I had a lot of fear—I had a lot of fear, and I felt like I wanted to protect myself.
Ann: How did Joel break down those walls? What happened?
Esther: Well, a lot of the breaking happened before I even met Joel—was learning these new names—that God says I’m chosen; God actually says I’m beautiful; He delights over me, and—
Ann: How did you hear those names, Esther? How did you come to realize them?
Esther: I would like to say I was spiritually mature enough to hear great sermons and apply them; but sometimes/but honestly, Ann, it was in these quiet moments with God and just reading the Bible, and realizing I related more when God was like correcting someone in the Old Testament—like, sometimes, He would say, “You’re a stiff-necked people.” [Laughter]
Ann: Me too.
Esther: And I was, at the time, living with one of these spiritual families. I was broken because I felt like my life wasn’t what I thought it should be or where I thought it should be. I was processing my quiet time with this family; and I said, “I’m probably just a stiff-necked person. I’m like the Israelites here.” They said, “Where are you seeing that? You are living obediently. You love God.” They had to help me see the labels I was living out of and the labels I was believing.
I think that’s for many of us; we need other people in our circle to say: “Who do you see yourself as?” and “What are you hearing?” because, many times, it’s accusations; it’s not the voice of God that we are allowing to speak over us. I needed the help of other believers to really show me who I was in Christ.
Dave: When we hear these names in our head—and you start your book with this concept: “What’s in a name?”—there’s a part of me that thinks, “Oh, it’s just”—I hear myself saying—“’unworthy’ or ‘unwanted’; no big deal”—but you start the book by saying, “What’s in a name is very important; because those names that you attach to yourself, or allow others to attach to you, can define you”; right?
Esther: It’s so critical, Dave. Especially after studying it, I’ve seen that. There’s so many things that God does in His name and for the glory of His name. It’s a commandment to not take His name in vain. I mean, God takes naming very, very seriously.
As I looked at Scripture, I realized, “These labels that I’m attaching to myself, based on relationship, status, or circumstances—like: ‘Where are those coming from?’ and ‘Why do I take those on as my identity?’”—come to find out the word, “label,” in the original language is hardly ever spoken. When you see the word, “label,” it’s like somebody is calling you something; but yet, if you were to research how many times “name” appears in Scripture, it is woven throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament. We’re to do things in the glory for the name of God. We know that our names are written in the Book of Life.
There is such significance to naming that I thought: “I’m missing something. I’m missing something in my walk with God, because these labels I’m attaching to are more comfortable to me than living out of who God says I am; and something needs to change.”
Dave: So talk about the wrestling between—because, actually, I’m sitting here, looking at two women that I know who have wrestled from the old identity/the old name—sort of stuck there for decades for both of you; I don’t know if Bob and I are in the same thing—but now, you start to understand a new identity, and a new song, and a new life, and a new creature. I know that isn’t just: “Oh, yesterday was this, and today is this.” There is that back and forth—right?—that goes on.
How do you wrestle through that?—because you are pulled back often; and you know it’s not who you are; it’s who you were—but now you have to live in this new name. Talk about that—that struggle.
Esther: I love that question, Dave, because there is a tension, you know, about the old and the new. Even as Christians, we’re called to share our testimonies of what God has done. So many times, we do have to remember the old and, then, make a distinction of: “Here is who I am now.”
I think the greatest example to me in Scripture is the story of Jacob, who is wrestling with God; and in the middle of Jacob wrestling with God, God says, “What is your name?” It was in that moment that God renames Jacob, and He names him Israel. It wasn’t after Jacob cleaned up his life; Jacob didn’t go and restore his relationship with Esau in that moment. I mean, it was right smack dab, in the wrestling with God, God renamed him.
That gave me such hope—like I might not have all the answers of reconciliation with my biological family; I might not ever be married; but like, right here in the middle of the wrestle, I can ask God for a new name. I can ask: “What do You have for me in the future?” and “Can the future be different from the past that I came from?”
Dave: And what do you do when you find yourself slipping back to the old name/the old identity—either in your thoughts or in your actions—what do you do?—because that’s not going to go completely away, like you never remember. How do you dig out of that?
Esther: Yes; I think, really, the only times I’m seeing in Scripture when God says, “Remember no more”—I used to think that meant: “Just move on. Forget the past; just join another small group,” “Go get another accountability partner.” I just thought it was all action based.
When God is saying, “Remember the past no more,” it’s because the Israelites were blaming God. He is saying like: “In order to move forward, please stop blaming Me and move forward. See that I am doing a new thing in you. See that I’m calling you forth to new things.” It doesn’t mean that—like the time in the desert is erased, or the abuse just goes away, or the marriage is just healed over night—but there comes a point in our walk with God that we stop blaming God. We remember no more, and we say: “God, help me move forward. I need Your strength to move forward”; and by His Spirit, He helps us to move forward out of these new names.
It is not overnight. I think, for many of us, it’s for the rest of our lives we’re going to be wrestling with these new names and these labels. We have to choose to believe God. It says, even in the Book of Daniel, after he survived the fiery furnace, he prays the name of God. He survived that furnace because he believed God, and we have the opportunity to believe God about who He says we are.
Bob: Esther, there is something about marriage—you’ve probably learned this over the years—that even the parts of our past/our baggage—that we’ve been able to successfully keep closed off and hidden and even, maybe, managed on our own—all of a sudden, in marriage, all of these things come to the surface; they pop out. We’re like: “Where did that come from?” “Why did I…?” “Why am I even acting that way?” How long have you and Joel been married now?
Esther: Three years, so I’m an expert. [Laughter]
Bob: In three years of marriage, have you had some of the old patterns/old habits—things, where you go, “Why did I respond to him that way?”—
Bob: —now, you can go, “Oh, that’s because of what was built into me when I was five years old.”
Esther: Yes; you know, early on in our marriage, my first book came out. I was on the road, speaking. I really wanted to be a good wife; so I would put food in the crock pot in the morning, and I would try to be home that evening. There was one instance in particular. He got caught up with work. I flew back into town, and he wasn’t there. Bob, it just triggered this abandonment issue; I was so upset with him, and I didn’t handle it like I should have. I felt like he abandoned me.
Of course, I mean, we were happily married; we were newlyweds; we were super in love. He just was running late; but he didn’t tell me because he was newly-married. He didn’t know you were supposed to do that. [Laughter] I just—I was so afraid that I was being abandoned in that moment.
It’s interesting—marriage was an institution that I ran from for years because it did cause me deep pain, as a child, to see divorce happen, and abuse, and abandonment; but it has been the greatest tool of healing in my life. When he came home, and after we had to work through that—and bring even a counselor in to help me through that—I’m so grateful that that root isn’t there anymore. It was through the love of my husband in loving me through that that I didn’t have to stay stuck in that fear of abandonment.
Bob: We talked about how guys might have been attempting to pursue you, and you kept them in the friend zone. How did Joel break through the friend zone? How did he get you to open up and say, “Okay; I’m open to marriage”?
Esther: I had resigned from my job. There was a season of life I was living through some pretty severe stalking from my biological father.
Bob: You share about this in your first book, right?
Esther: I do.
Esther: I do; truthfully, I didn’t know if my faith was going to survive. I felt—I was like trying to do all the right things to please God, and my circumstances weren’t changing.
I’ve always connected to God; I’m a feeler—so I’ve like felt His presence—it just wasn’t the same. It was kind of like a dark night of the soul; you’ve heard probably people reference that before. I knew Scripture said to worship God with your heart and soul and mind and strength, so the only thing I knew to do was just to go study Him. I thought, “I’m not connecting with Him emotionally, so I’m just going to go study who God is and just stay in the faith/whatever I can do to just stay in the faith and endure.”
I found myself at Oxford University, studying theology; and my classes overlapped with my, now, husband Joel. Joel was actually in class with a spiritual father—one of the four men that walked me down the aisle—who later married us. His name is Jason Elam. Jason had observed Joel for a whole year in this class of theology, and Jason knew not to tell me he had somebody in mind for me. [Laughter]
As I went to do a similar program, our classes overlapped. I guess I just—it surprised me—I was more open than I thought; and you know, Joel, within that first week, even asked Jason permission to start dating me. That meant a lot; because I was going through so much trauma with my father, biologically. For this man, Joel, to ask a spiritual father if he could date me, I knew that he was safe; and I knew that he was different.
Bob: So listeners understand—it wasn’t so much that he was asking for permission; he was wanting to be careful. He was asking somebody, who knew you better than he knew you, “Is it safe for me to pursue without doing damage?” That’s the care he had for you, right?
Esther: It was really a way of honoring me.
Esther: Yes; I think, sometimes, our culture can—we see this rise of feminism defined in really weird terms that are not pro-women. I mean, the way that Joel pursued me was the most, like pro-woman thing a man could do. He just cared about me, as a person, not about what was in it for him.
Esther: There was just such intentionality there. I’m glad that I was open. [Laughter]
Dave: Yes; and I’ll tell you—meeting Joel, and even watching you two at the Weekend to Remember®, he loves you.
Ann: He adores you.
Dave: He cares for you.
Ann: He’s careful with you.
Dave: He’s got a gentle spirit.
Bob: You’re going to make her cry. I’m—she’s starting to tear up, right here.
Dave: Ann and I commented on it, just as we sat with you Friday night and talked. It’s like there’s a cherishing that God’s given you through this man that you missed for many years. That was so beautiful. I mean, we felt like we were looking at the heart of God for you and for everyone. It’s a picture of the title of your book: God has a new name, a new future, a new day; there’s a new name that God blesses us with. It’s from the resurrection; it’s new life.
Esther: Yes; and some of the greatest people we know will never get married, so it’s not that that’s the crown—
Esther: —of achievement; but I am grateful that I was given this gift. I was grateful that I was given this name of bride.
That’s the thing about all of our new names: whatever those new names are, they’re better than we could see for ourselves. They are more beautiful than we could have written for ourselves. That’s the hope for the listener—is that we don’t stay stuck in the brokenness/we don’t get renamed out of the sin—God has new names and new seasons for every single one of us, and they are more beautiful than we could have ever imagined. I’m so grateful that mine came in the form of Joel, and I’m glad you guys got to see him.
Bob: Well, and we’re grateful that you have helped all of us understand that we’re supposed to live in how God sees us—and not in our past, and not in even in the self-talk, and not in what the enemy whispers in our ear about who we are—because one of his great tactics is to say: “This is who you are. I mean, look; this is who you’ve been; this is what you’ve done. Of course, this is who you are.” God says, “I see you differently”; and we should listen to His voice and look at what the Scriptures say is true about us.
Esther, thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for sharing your wisdom on all of this, and great to meet you; great to have you here.
Esther: Thank you.
Bob: Yes; and then, thank you for the books too. Thank you for your new book, Your New Name: Saying Goodbye to Labels that Limit, and your first book, No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending. We’ve got both of these books in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of either or both of the books from Esther Fleece Allen. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. If it’s easier to order by calling, our number is 1-800-FL-TODAY—that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Ask for the books by Esther Fleece Allen when you get in touch with us.
David Robbins, who is the president of FamilyLife®, is in the studio with us today. This has been quite a season for us here; hasn’t it?
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to have a conversation about the value, and importance, and worth of women. Eric Schumacher and Elyse Fitzpatrick join us to talk about how we can elevate the role of women in our homes, in our churches, in our culture today. I hope you tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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