When Saul had his vision and met Jesus on the road to Damascus, God gave him a new name. When I truly made the decision of my own free will to follow Jesus, God gave me a new name. That doesn’t happen to everybody, but it did to me. God knew my desire for a new name, and God gave it to me one day when I was driving out in the middle of nowhere, Mississippi. It was somewhere between Collins and Brookhaven, an hour long stretch of…nothing much…there’s some small towns along the way but I would have to exit the highway to get to any of them. This isn’t the first time God has spoken to me when driving, particularly when I’m driving on that stretch of road. I travel that way roughly once a month, and so the drive has become somewhat familiar after a couple of years of driving it.
God spoke to me and said your name is now Mary-Clare Catherine St. Francis. I loved it immediately, it had absolutely everything I had wanted in a name. I didn’t care that it was long, it fulfilled every desire that I had regarding my name. I wanted my new name to have some kind of deep connection, as I had absolutely no connection to the name chosen for me at my birth. God gave me the desires of my heart in naming me.
My first desire was a name that meant something to me, I wanted a connection to something of importance: St. Mary Magdalene is my patron saint, and I’ve also been connecting with Mother Mary through the rosary, and so Mary is for both of them. Clare God gave me for St. Clare of Assisi. Catherine is for Catherine of Siena, and the origins of St. Francis in this context is probably blatantly obvious by now: St. Francis of Assisi. I also wanted a name that sounded to me like the person I am becoming, and this name totally fits for me. I spent months trying to find a name on my own, but after I told God what I desired, God gave me one. The other thing that was important to me was the double first name, for several reasons that I won’t disclose here. God gave me all of it. Thanks be to God for the beautiful gift.
I was raised in a cult by abusive parents who claimed that everything they did was in obedience to God. It was more like a bad 90’s horror flick more than anything, except that this shit was real. What this left me with was addiction, a fucked-up concept of God, Bipolar, Dissociative Identity Disorder, C-PTSD, OCD, and several chronic illnesses. I had always desired to know God, and I sought God with my whole heart. I loved God, but I had a terrible understanding of who God was, in fact I didn’t know God at all. All I had to go by was what I was taught about God. I made many mistakes, I became involved in the unholy, I committed many sins against God, my neighbor, and myself.
In some things, I knew better. I knew that many of the things I became involved in were blatantly unholy, and I deliberately chose to do them anyway. Other things weren’t so clear, things I had done in the name of God that I didn’t know any better, but which were still sins. Thankfully, that’s what confession and repentance is for. I had a clear moment where, like the Apostle Paul, I was asked to make a very clear decision whether I was going to follow Jesus or go my own way. With my face to the ground, I said Jesus, I choose you. I lingered, just savoring the moment, committing this to memory, so I would not forget. I had chosen Jesus.
I refuse to be who my family wanted me to be. I renounce the sins of my ancestors. I repent of and renounce the unholy. I have had several conversion experiences that have led to my choosing Jesus. I first truly met Jesus in the first Holy Eucharist that I ever received. I knelt at the altar of a small Episcopal Church, a first-time visitor who was seeking Jesus in the liturgy, as someone who knew I needed communion regularly but not sure why. The priest presiding over the mass was a priest that I had previously screamed a string of curse words at.
I knelt there, in front of a priest I had sinned against, assuming that I was unworthy of this gift, but a grateful recipient anyway. The priest looked me in the eyes, and, placing a chunk of bread in my cupped hands, said: the body of Christ, the bread of heaven. I put the bread into my mouth and at that moment, I realized that I had partaken of Jesus Christ. A woman followed behind him, holding a chalice that she guided to my lips and said: the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation. I took a sip of the wine, and in my head, I said to myself oh, shit, that was Jesus. I just consumed Jesus. Consuming Jesus changed everything for me. In consuming Jesus, I was converted, and I’ve not been the same since.
Conversion is not a one-time event, at least, that’s not how it’s worked for me. I’m not sure if it’s because of my tenacious stubbornness that frustrates those closest to me, or because I usually insist on learning things the hard way, or whatever other reason there is out there. When I had my own Saul on the road to Damascus experience, I chose Jesus. I put who I was before behind me, and I embraced Jesus and things that are good and holy.
I’m not without sin, I still fuck things up regularly, but my desires have shifted drastically. I’ve found where I belong in a world I never expected to belong in. Hell, I didn’t even expect to be alive. The only place I saw myself being as an adult was dead. It was the only thing I desired to be as an adult. Jesus wouldn’t let me die by suicide, because it seems that Jesus loved me and still wanted me around. I’m now thirty-six years old. My goal was to be dead before my twenty-first birthday.
God met me, as God often has, in the silence and stillness of driving on what seems to most to be an insignificant portion of a state highway in the middle of Mississippi and gave me a new name. The old me has passed away, and I have become new. In celebration of my deliberate choice for Jesus, I was gifted with a new name.
Thanks be to God.