When I was a few months pregnant, I remember one night at a loud restaurant in downtown Denton, Texas where we hashed out names for the girl whose heart was beating within me with our close friends. Across the table from us sat a young couple and the young woman’s excitement about the growing baby in my body was palpable. Lindsay was bright and young, and would reach toward my growing baby bump with excitement and squeals. She was there the first time I uttered the name “Madeleine”. All of us raised our eyebrows when the name fell out on to the restaurant table.
“Huh, I like it,” I said. Everyone agreed.
A few months later, in a tragic turn of events, we would all stand graveside as Lindsay was laid to rest after a car accident. On the way to the funeral, I told my then-husband I wanted to name our baby after her. After her sparks of life and excitement. I wanted to forever remember the young teenage girl whose eyes sparkled when we talked about a baby; whose hands reached for mine in eager excitement.
And so my daughter’s name was decided. Madeleine Lindsay. And I waited for the October date to come when I’d finally hold her in my arms.
My daughter is five now, and it seems a common question, “Why did you choose that name?” Lindsay is an easy explanation. Everyone understands and nods when I tell the story about the brunette who I will always remember as young and free.
But Madeleine? That was just pretty to me. I was always a fan of Madeleine L’Engle and I loved the spelling because it was unique and didn’t remind me of the tiny bobbed French girl everyone seemed to adore so much. But as naming goes, after you name your child, everyone wants to know why. I can never give a straight reason. “I liked it,” never seems good enough for curious minds. They want scriptures, stories, epiphany moments and sparkly notes of revelation for how us parents arrived at a baby name. Maybe they want to hear about the endless hunt and baby naming parties, the arguments and family history. But I don’t have any of that.
“It just felt right,” I told a friend once. “We said it once over dinner to friends, and as soon as it came out, it felt right. It was her name.”
After our divorce, when Madeleine was two and danced around our living room in tutus with curls bouncing wildly on top of her head, I felt guilty about her name. I felt bad that I didn’t have a scripture for her. I felt bad that, as far as I knew, her name didn’t have some deep meaning. At least that’s not why we chose it. Would she feel cheated? Would she not have something to talk about when she’s spinning a keychain rack with her friends, looking for something with her name on it?
A name is important. A name is a gift. And did I carelessly give it? Did I absent-mindedly give her something without good cause? Without even trying, did I pass on to her a feeling of an aloof parent?
(These are the kind of thoughts that can spin an already anxiety-prone mother into some kind of silly madness, let me tell you.)
So it’s taken more than five years for me to sit down and seek this out. I know her now — more than I even did then. She is the baby who I cradled after my marriage fell to bits and pieces over a years time. She is the daughter who kept me moving and motivated when all I wanted to do was stay in bed and hide. She is the spark of life that reminded me life is good and that God leaves nothing unredeemed. She is the continual reminder that even in our sin and wandering, God still sees us and chooses to give life when we least deserve it.
And as it turns out, Madeleine has its roots in the name Magdalene, the city on the coast of the sea of Galilee. And Magdalene? It means high tower, coming from the Hebrew word “Migdal”. The same word that is used in Proverbs 18:10 — “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and he is safe.”
When I read these words the other night, I felt Jesus near. I’m writing this book these days about all of my worst mistakes and it has me on my knees daily — revisiting memories I’ve been trying to forget, stories I never wrote out with my own words, choices that fractured families, churches, friendships. I’m writing and rehashing all over again when I left my family, ran off with a married man, ignored correction, gave up trying to be a “good Christian”. Chapter after chapter of telling the story of how that man became my husband, how we had a child, and then how our own marriage fell apart under the same weight of infidelity and sin. I spent years pushing God away and rejecting his truth and correction, and I pursued sin and pleasure like it was my right and privilege. I reaped disappointment and heartbreak. In the darkest of my days, when I was trying so desperately to save myself, I wondered if God still saw me. I wondered if I was beyond the ever-present Grace of Heaven.
Yet, even in my own child, when I thought I had absent-mindedly selected a name, God breathed that He is near. When I was breaking relationship with family and ignoring the work of redemption, I have no doubt that He whispered to me in the chaos of that busy restaurant and gave me a name for her that would one day show me that He was always near.
I see His provision in her. I see Him in the provision of new life in the midst of death. I see Him in the way she dives into the deep of my heart and I am the one who is drowning in love. I see God reminding me in her, that His name is a tower too. And in Him, we are safe, no matter what. Every glimpse into the past shows this to me. That even when I tried to make my bed in hell, He was with me.
And when I tried to run away from Him, He created a tower, a Migdal, for me to find Him again.