When my mother was taken by cancer at the age of 55 and I was 33, there was no estate to divide, no money to deposit, no silver to share. After she was gone, I wasn’t saddened by the loss of anything tangible like an inheritance, but because there were questions I would never have answers to.
For instance, where did my name come from?
When my mother passed, I felt unsettled about this piece of my life. The older I got, my identity and family history became more and more important. I had never heard the background, the whys or whos of my name. There was no connection to the past, no legacy left via family stories with the particulars. This left me feeling un-moored– although I’d been Jody as long as I could remember, certainly she had intentionally chosen the name Joanna, but why?
It never occurred to me to ask my her while she was alive.
My mother was Helen Elizabeth. Names matter; and I got neither name. I really would have liked Elizabeth, perhaps for a middle name. No, I was Joanna Lee–Where did ‘Joanna’ come from? And how did I become ‘Jody’? (Of course when I was little I was called by my ‘in trouble name’, “Joanna Lee!”)
The question remained, Who was I named after? So imagine my joy when several years after my mother died, I read the name ‘Joanna’ in the passage in Luke recalling Jesus’ resurrection story.
Luke Chapter 8 records:
“1 And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him,
2 And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities,
Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils,
3 And Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward,
and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance.”
Joanna was a believer in Herod’s palace? In the middle of all those unbelievers?
She is mentioned again on the first Easter morning in Luke Chapter 24:
“8 And they remembered his words,
9 And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven,
and to all the rest.
10 It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James,
and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.”
My namesake discovery assured me that although my parents may not have taught me who I was and how or why I was named, God named me before I was even born.
And each year when the Easter season comes around, I am reminded that Joanna was one of the first three women to see Jesus alive after the Resurrection. My naming may have been accidental but there’s nothing coincidental about it, if you ask me. God planned my birth and my name, even if my parents didn’t know Him at the time.
It turns out my mother left me with so much more than ‘just’ my name, she gave me a legacy spoken before I was born. A forthtelling of who I would be–the best of names–a Christian, ‘little Christ’–even if it took me years to welcome that identity.
The fact of Easter is true~there is a resurrection and we have a Redeemer who buys back all our wandering years. He knows us before we are born and names us on purpose. We are in God’s story, written before time began.