The group of men I was hanging with at the time was encouraged to ask God a question. From there the stories dribbled out over the next days and weeks as God answered the question: What is your nickname for me God?
I was afraid to ask. The last nickname attached to me was cry baby. I cried every time it hung on my ears like a peer fulfilling prophecy. The reason behind asking was that “Our Father who is in heaven” desires to bestow a blessing on his sons with a term of endearment. Well, that was a hard swallow only because “my father who was on earth” rarely said boo to me. Why would the Father beyond the “by and by” take time out of eternity to speak to me?
The men started sharing the answer to the destiny packed question. Names like William Wallace and Maximus and Rocky Balboa started dropping from the sky and landing like testosterone helmets. I began seeing middle aged men sniffing like Barney Fife and tucking in their shirts. They didn’t care what hung over their belts, which made me even more hesitant to pop the question to Pops.
That direct of a question was like asking the President if I could borrow a dollar. What if the answer was a non answer, crickets rubbing their legs together in the void as it were? What if Abba said to me,”Give me a minute, nothing’s coming to mind at the moment, can I get back to you?” My low expectations would have been met if such an answer whispered to me through the pines.
Well, I did finally ask. I was stepping into my car and it came out of my mouth like a burp. “Do you have a name for me?”
I shut the door, turned the key, and fastened my seatbelt. The car idled in beat with my thoughts. Nah. Seriously? Not Spidey? Not Clark Kent? Not Captain Kirk? Not even Mighty Mouse? I pulled away, leaving those thoughts in the handicapped spot.
It was a while before I returned to this “answer”. I had looked several times in the mirror for a mole and round reading lenses. There was a temptation to ask again to see if Abba might have an additional name like when I was confirmed in second grade. James was my confirmation name chosen by my parents. Maybe God was catholic and I was not yet confirmed by him. The name Gerald Allen James John-boy Barrett sounded a little “under” the top instead of over it. I think what wrinkled my brain was the “boy” part. It had associations. Like a black slave being called “boy”. Like in the movie The Man From Snowy River when Jim Craig brought the herd of wild horses into the fold single handedly. Hence, the last line of the film…”He’s a man. The man from Snowy River.” A coming of age story doesn’t end with a baritone voice squeaking into a soprano.
My mother raised me and I was outnumbered by six sisters. Hen pecked was my appropriate tag line. I can show you the pock marks on my ego. “My name is Jerry, and I’m a momma’s boy.” It’s a good attribute in my estimation and does aide in my understanding of “Venus’s”. But I was longing for an add-on. I was hoping for a hormonal hinge from which to swing. In high school I played football thinking that jocks and their straps would make a strapping young man out of me. I didn’t even like to hit which reduced me to bench sitting, one butt cheek away from “water-boy”.
Well, I kept hanging around these men for a while. I saw some good changes in the diary-of-a-wimpy-church-male screen play of which I was type cast. They ordered swords to hang above their mantles. They draped golden gloves over the roll bar in their Jeep Wranglers. They grunted to one another and fist pounded and chest bumped at man-cave-like meetings. They wore their nick-names like leather Harley-Davidson jackets. They found their pubescent rebirth of sorts, together, while “John-boy” sat and observed it all… He did? He did! I did!
Honestly, the realization didn’t pound me quite like an exclamation point. It was more like Morse code; dot dot dash dot dash over all long period of dot dot dot. I looked over my shoulder to find evidence lying like bread crumbs. It was a trail that led back to a large family on the dead end of Grand Avenue. 2020 Grand Avenue. 20/20 vision focused when I set my reading glasses down and closed my eyes. I grew up in a family only to grow out of it. Oh, I was still in the family yet as calendars filled the recycling bin I found myself standing outside of it more and more with pen in hand. Little vignettes and poems began showing up for special occasions.
About fifteen years ago I was in a church service that changed my trajectory of purpose and meaning. There was a poem threaded into the order of service. The music minister read a poem by Luci Shaw titled May 20th: Very Early Morning. At the end of the reading I had a lump in my chest, pounding, and tears crested the edge of my eye lids. My mind and my heart scooted closer together and thoughts and emotions were indistinguishable. God was speaking to the whole of me as my body shook in rhythm with the gasps of weeping. What I heard in my spirit was: You see, Jerry, your faith is so much more than utilitarian obedience. Did you feel the beauty of someone interpreting my creativity? It was just a field of wild growth wasn’t it? Enjoy the beauty I have laid out before you and share your own interpretation with the gift I have given you. My artist image has penetrated your soul and as the field of unnamed grasses reaches to praise me, I want you to know you can do it with your words.
I thought of all the scraps of paper and folders of paragraphs and poems lying around my house. The urge to bolt out of the sanctuary and leave my wife standing there in bewilderment tempted me. I wanted to run home and cradle all the written meanderings and whisper to them, “I’m back, everything is going to be o.k.” That was one time God tried to let me know he had a name for me.
A few years later I was at a Christian writer’s conference of which Luci Shaw was a participant. At this conference, held by-annually, there is tucked in the middle of it a worship service. It is a time to give God glory for the arts through music, visual arts, and written word, including poetry from the Bible. That particular service included a reading by Luci. She picked her piece May 20th: Very Early Morning. My heart was overwhelmed immediately and I sat in gratefulness that God would bless me so intimately. The author reading her own work! I heard her inflections and pauses and cadence. God nudged me again: You should know, Jerry, that my art is always there and I am reading it to you too. Learn to listen. Learn to receive. You are released to craft phrases and select words with which to invite others into the conversation. I think if I had asked “the question” right then God would have handed the name to me.
And I thought to myself, “what a wonderful world”. God of wonders. Human common senses are there by God’s design. Eyes, ears, nose, skin, and taste buds are the first responders of the Master Artist. Then brain cells rub together an interpretation of the sensual receptors to swallow into the spirit. Even today when I sing words like creation or nature my soul stands on tip-toes and envisions much of what I have received through my experiences. Tears often follow.
Something happened to me recently that underlined my nick-name. “John-boy” was worn loosely and privately since its reception. I had been escaping to my room and writing about stuff while looking out on Walton’s Mountain for some time. Then a while back my Pastor taught on the idea of dreams and the chasing after them. His words got me thinking about my words and I started looking for a writers group. I got together with an old friend who I knew wrote for a living and asked him about starting a writers group in this area. It wasn’t long after that that we started driving an hour north to an established group of writers. After a few meetings we were allowed to critique and also share some of our own work. My friend shared his piece first which was a word limited devotional piece to be submitted for publication. It was brief but well written and he sat silently (which is the rule) during the reading and critique. I got antsy and wondered what I got myself into. They were talking about commas and hyphens and split infinities…I thought what does science have to do with writing? I hope they don’t split my infinity!
Then I passed out my piece. It was long with a lot of commas and I didn’t have it proof read or anything. One person began reading. I heard a sigh. Later I heard a laugh. Midway through the piece the reader had to stop because her throat tightened with emotion. Everyone waited patiently and my friend offered to continue but she politely waved him off. When she finished, there was a slight pause and then spontaneous applause. I didn’t know. I did not know how to respond. No disrespect God, but it was if I heard a voice from heaven say, “Well done John-boy!” What followed was a grace filled critique which overlooked the technical fractures in the piece and focused mainly on content.
After the meeting I ran to the bathroom to check for a new grown mole and wash the salt water off my cheeks. Things have changed. The other day I caught myself saying “I’m a writer” instead of the usual “I like to write”. My wife calls me her John-boy now. Yeah, no swords on my wall and I don’t even own a Jeep, but I have a pen in my pocket and I am o.k. with that.
© geraldthewriter.com and parentheticallyspeakingin3d, 2012.