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Restoring My Name

My given name at birth was Debra; I was probably named after the perky actress Debbie Reynolds and I remember really loathing my name. While Reynolds is five feet tall (if that) I’m six feet and have been since I was twelve. I was perceived as a young adult well before I was one! And I was treated like an adult. I grew up in a non-Christian home with both parents working away from home. So there was little guidance for us kids and even less energy to be involved with us.

Thinking back on my young life as the oldest of four children—three of them brothers—I remember thinking I was different. I didn’t really fit in. I felt awkward in my family, awkward with my peers and awkward throughout my growing-up years. During the teen years, the fact that I was awkward and had little oversight set me up for the sex, drugs and alcohol, and rock-and-roll culture of the 60s and 70s. Even in that hazy environment I can see I was trying to find something that would help me feel more whole. But I never really did find any sense of ease about who I was. I remained awkward and anxious about it.

At fourteen years old I entered high school wanting to be known and liked but always on the outside of any friend group. I wasn’t particularly outgoing; I seemed to lack the skills to get involved with school activities, which resulted in heightened loneliness and vulnerability. And, of course, I really wanted to be one of the “cool” people.

I began to become acquainted with much older men outside of school who seemed to value me, approve me and love me. While it was not something I intentionally went after, I discovered after the fact that I’d been enjoying their attention. And, of course, they were all too eager to pursue an inexperienced young female. What, in fact, I received from them was far less than what I truly needed. There were certainly some nice guys along the way but what drew me were those who reflected the cool and exciting times I grew up in.

What I actually received was sexual pressure, even to the point of force. In my naiveté, I did not understand what was really happening to me, nor did I realize there were consequences for my actions: physically, emotionally and spiritually. Further, I received a kind of naming in the midst of the defilement. Now my name sounded more like “worthless.” I knew at my core that I was really only wanted or good enough for one purpose. Through it all I was insecure, lonely, afraid and disconnected from anything good within myself. I don’t think I really knew how to care about myself. It never crossed my mind. I still didn’t fit in.

Not until much later did I understand that much of my insecurity had its origins in a lack of being tied to my mother. She returned to work immediately after I was born. In addition, I experienced childhood sexual abuse by a friend of the family as well as by my dad; Mom was nowhere to be found. My dad chose to abandon our family when I was twelve. Early brokenness from these childhood sources engendered more brokenness as I grew up.

I had such a skewed sense of self. What I thought I needed was for someone—in particular, a man—to tell me that I was worth caring for, beyond what I could give him. I needed to know that I, Deb, was worth loving and protecting, body and soul. I needed to belong to someone! Those needs went unmet. Yet what I thought I needed was not, in truth, a mere human being.

Many years passed before I learned something about who God intended me to be—who I actually am as His daughter. Scripture speaks of how I was created “fearfully and wonderfully” (Ps 139), but my heart was far from being able to contain that truth. Instead, I’d learned to carefully guard my person from any male or female who could potentially exploit me. I had carefully developed strategies to stay “safe.” Guarded by tall walls, I could keep out intruders while inside I still longed for something I’d not known thus far. Yet through it all, the Holy Spirit was patiently and faithfully drawing my heart to Himself. Year after year, He was teaching my heart to yearn for Him.

Still more years passed before I came to understand that much of my childhood had familiarized me with the fallout of something called “misogyny.” Misogyny displays a profound contempt for, or prejudice against, women. Meaning “hatred of women” in Greek, misogyny is demonstrated through the disrespect and dishonor of women through a variety of means.

While much of the misogyny toward me was through the overt misuse of my person, the more subtle and covert damage to my heart, mind and spirit occurred through the abandonment and lack of protection I’d received as a girl. I would not know for some time just how much those deprivations shaped how I viewed myself and others. Nor would I see the internal bondage I was living in.

Not until I happened upon a Living Waters program did I recognize the tall walls I’d built to stay safe. Nor did I begin to understand that my responses to not knowing my worth and not feeling valued were actually broken responses. Looking to others to fill the immense need in me simply could not—would not—be enough. I had looked to my husband to fill the void, to my children to keep me busy so I’d have no time to see the void, and to focusing on a variety of ministry efforts to meet the vast need inside. In many respects, it seemed to work. But in quiet moments I knew little had changed in me.

Yet the yearning God had placed in me was growing as I was drawn toward the One who patiently pursued me. I was more and more being filled with Him. He was the One who was awakening and restoring my capacity to contain the respect and honor and dignity He’d designed for me. He was teaching me that as His daughter I am treasured and held in high esteem, by Him! And He was teaching me to expect and to receive the same from others.

What a curious discovery to learn I was created in His image! I was awed by the truth that together as men and women we can learn to represent Him well as the imago dei. What an amazing experience to stand with brothers in Christ, ministering alongside each other, and to experience a greater revelation of God in our midst! It is such a blessing and gift to honor men rightly and to be honored rightly by them.

I would love to be able to say that I am completely healed. Not true! I am continuing to heal. When I experience disrespect or dishonor from a man or woman, there is still a reactive part of me. However, more often there is a simultaneous yielding to the Lover of my soul who reminds me He has chosen me, has betrothed me, and is protecting me. I’ve come to value His esteem over others’ esteem while in the midst of His community.

Throughout these many years, the Holy Spirit has continued to reveal the majesty of God as He directs my attention to the power of the work done on the cross of Christ. He has allowed for my self-made tall walls to be dismantled, and is rebuilding with my help the ancient ruins and the places long devastated (Is 61). My God has also restored my name back to me. He has named me Deborah. He has given to me a heart of worship and praise to Him who sits upon the throne. And He has called me to walk in the confidence and boldness He has given me.

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