The name echoes from across the room, but I pay it no mind. I squeeze my way through the throngs of people shouting a mixture of English, Spanish, and some kind of Northern European language over the blaring 90s rock song. I pay the bartender 5 quetzales (approximately 65 cents) and he hands me a sticky mojito to match the sticky restaurant floor.
I turn to walk away from the bar and finally see the friend I’ve been waiting for.
“Alisha, hi. I’ve been calling you,” he says.
“Hi, sorry I couldn’t hear you,” I lie. I’d forgotten I’d once introduced myself to him as Alicia (pronounced Ah-lee-see-uh) when I thought he only spoke Spanish. Later I learned he also spoke English and took the liberty to back translate my name to Alisha. I didn’t have the heart to tell him my real name is Alexandra.
“Come on, let’s dance, Alisha,” he says as he grabs my hand. Alisha, Alicia, he could even call me Allison as long as there’s salsa dancing involved, so I swivel on the sticky floor and let him take the lead.
I’ve found identity is a bit more of a fluid concept in a foreign culture. Here I’m not just Aly, non profit writer, church goer, friend.
Here, I’m any combination of Aly or Elly or Aleksandra or Alejandra or even Luis (yes, pronounced like the man’s name, not my own last name). I’m “the girl I see at the park” or “the girl who’s not a missionary or a bartender.” The girl who kind of knows how to dance salsa. The girl whose Spanish is not completely unintelligible. I’m the gringa. The canchita (slang for blond or light-haired).The foreigner.
Over the last few months, I’ve found myself focusing on the things that I’m not anymore: a responsible full time employee with health benefits, a member of Coast Vineyard, a citizen of San Diego, a roommate of dear, dear friends.
For so long I’ve defined myself by what I do, where I go, how I spend my time, that this relocation has done a number on my own identity, on who I believe that I am.
My church here in Guatemala just started a new series called “My name is…” (o mi nombre es…), which I find ironic because I haven’t even come up with a consistent way to introduce myself here.
I’ve given myself false names, both literally and figuratively: lonely, empty, alone, too shy, too scared, unproductive.
I cling to these false names, false identities, and then sit back and wonder why I don’t feel like me, the Aly that I know and love.
I forget the Source of my identity has not changed just because I’ve changed time zones and zip codes and language preferences.
With the new year, I’ve been thinking a lot about beginnings and new things. New verses, new names, a new life, a new chapter in this adventure.
I’ve been snubbing discipline, effort, work, wanting this time to be a season of rest and recovery and restoration. But it’s honestly been torture, feeling useless and unproductive.
I think it’s because I’ve forgotten the important work, the discipline that is life-giving and restorative.
In their book, Compassion, Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison write about this discipline:
“Discipline is the effort to avoid deafness and to become sensitive to the sound of the voice that calls us by a new name and invites us to a new life in discipleship.”
What if I focused my efforts on avoiding deafness? On listening to His voice? Instead of on the work I am or am not producing?
What if I had the boldness to ask, “What is the name you have for me?” In this place, in this time, in this town? Even if everyone else gets it wrong or can’t easily pronounce it or doesn’t care to remember it, What is the name you call me?
I’m going to be spending the next few days and weeks and probably months really seeking the answer to this question and I invite you to do the same.
What is the name that He calls you? What false names and labels is He asking you to surrender?
In my favorite poem, ee cummings writes, “now the ears of my ears awake.”
I pray we would have the discipline and the courage to awake our ears. To listen to His voice. To take on new names like Cherished and Loved and Free. To awake our eyes. To awake our souls. To move in the joy of the life He has for us, with the identity He gave us long before we were born and with the new names He seeks to give us now, in this place, in this time, in this season.
Come Lord, awake our ears. Give us new names.