We've been working for weeks now on one of the core issues of Incarnate: identity. Asking students such questions as "How do you identify yourself? What do you believe about yourself? How have others identified you? How has God?" A big issue for artists, who are frequently told they can't be who God wired them to be: artists.
Elbie came to Incarnate with a hurting heart, having broken off an engagement in September. From Pretoria, South Africa (though a native of Namibia), Elbie came with the joy and enthusiasm of twenty-four years old--and internal wounds of fear, shame and despair. Convinced that a good marriage was a hopeless dream, unconditional love impossible, and fear of ever opening her heart again.
And then the impossible became possible. Unconditional love became something to receive, as well as to give. Fear and shame were exposed, and renounced. And Elbie received a new name.
I was teaching the fifth module of The Hero's Journey: Opponents, Villains & the Shadow. Elbie recalled a dream--one that had come prior to her engagement, warning her to break it off, which she did. And yet, she felt as though she had been robbed of a name--a husband's name--as well as the authority that comes from being married. Her new identity was Forsaken Bride.
Elbie's dream returned during the teaching. The Shadow was still alive and well in her fragmented heart; fear, shame and despair had descended into the cellar of her soul, to poison not only her view of marriage, but her theology. How could a Forsaken Bride respond to a God who identifies himself as Bridgegroom, and invites us to a wedding feast? She spent the better part of two days crying, fasting, and calling out to God. She was a bride without a name, and she wanted a new one.
In our small group time after the teaching, Elbie broke down as we talked about the Shadow. We prayed for her, hugged her, passed the tissues. Later that evening one student received a vision for her and shared it with Elbie. We puzzled together over what its symbology, which included a wedding ring and a door to go through, but were encouraged by the timing of it. We didn't have long to wait before the code was at least partially cracked.
The next day, under a tree on our side lawn, in the balmy sun of a premature Spring day, God showed up. I happened to look out my window at almost the exact moment, although I had no idea the Eternal had just intercepted the temporal. I only saw Elbie sprawled on the lawn, notebook open before her, pen dropped from a hand relaxed open....she had fallen asleep journaling. I wished I had my camera handy and thought with a chuckle, "We're wearing our students out!"
That may be true, but in this case, Elbie had just finished writing out some verses she had 'randomly' come across in Isaiah 62:1-5:
"You will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord's hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. Not longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah (My Delight is in Her), and your land Beulah (Married); for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you."
As Elbie had journaled, the voice of the Bridegroom was whispering his pleasure in her, and that he did indeed want to walk her down an aisle. Now she could rest--spiritually and physically. She had wrestled with God and received her reward: a new name and all the authority that comes with being the Bride of Christ. She slept among the spring flowers pushing up all around her, the spring birds chirping, in the warm sunshine--it was all positively bridal.
And I got to witness it, and hear the full story later that evening. But then there was another student...for whom Elbie's story had a particular impact...