Our kids came to us through foster care and foster care rules specify that foster families cannot change a child's name during the time they are in foster care. That only makes sense. It's hard enough having to bounce from foster home to foster home, let alone having to learn to answer to a new name at each home. We also learned that even children who are in an adoptive placement can't have their names changed UNTIL the adoption is final. Since we were in adoptive placement for two years, we didn't change our girls' names ... very much.
Veronica was the oldest of the sibling set of three we adopted last year. She was nearly six when we got her and eight by the time the adoption finalized. "Veronica" has never been on my top list of names I would choose for a child of mine, and I asked her if I could call her "Nikki." She agreed.
It's been three years since the girls moved in with us -- three years of changing, adjusting, and growing. And Nikki has, without a doubt, blossomed. She came to us as a tantrum-throwing jekyll-and-hyde. Her cute face belied an angry spirit. When things went her way, her eyes sparkled and her smile lit up the room. She was an absolute joy.
Should we dare ask her to complete a chore or deny a request, her angelic demeanor immediately morphed into white-hot rage. She threw herself to the floor, kicking and screaming and striking out at anything or anyone who was in the near vicinity. Blessed with vocal chords that surpass normal volume capabilities, her tirades could be heard by neighbors across the street and down the road.
Usually, her tantrums lasted until she would finally collapse hoarse and exhausted, physically unable to continue. She would literally wear herself out. Minimum tantrum time was two hours. Daily.
Once she slipped into tantrum mode, reasoning with her was impossible. All we could do was let her fight it out on her own, make sure she didn't harm herself or anyone else, and endure. When it was all over we'd pick up the pieces with her, go over what had led up to the tantrum, reassure her of our continuing love for her, pray with her, and move on.
Over time (a lot of time, actually!), as she began using the managing tools we were teaching her, the tantrums waned. We weren't so aware of it at first, but those outside our family began commenting. "She's so sweet!" someone said. "She's a new girl!" my mom exclaimed. "She looks happier." a friend observed.
Most importantly, Nikki noticed. The other day, she sat down next to me and said, "Mom, remember how I used to be called Veronica?" I nodded. "I'm glad I'm not called that anymore." Curious, I asked her to explain. "Well," she began, "Veronica used to be really bad. She threw tantrums and got in lots of trouble. That's the old me and she doesn't live here anymore. Now, I'm Nikki!" I understood perfectly. She associated her old self with her old name. She wanted a new start and a new identity.
Our conversation made me think of a verse in Revelation 2. Here Jesus promises to give all who overcome a new name. What a wonderful hope we have! Someday, when Jesus takes us home, we will also be able to say, "That old, sinful me doesn't live here anymore. I am a new person!"