The Rewritten Life: When God Changes Your Story

The Rewritten Life: When God Changes Your Story

by Jessica LaGrone


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501834431
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication date: 04/04/2017
Pages: 128
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Jessica LaGrone is Dean of the Chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary and an acclaimed pastor, teacher, and speaker who enjoys leading retreats and events throughout the United States. She previously served as Pastor of Creative Ministries at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. She is the author of The Miracles of Jesus: Finding God in Desperate Moments, Set Apart: Holy Habits of Prophets and Kings, Broken and Blessed: How God Changed the World Through One Imperfect Family, and Namesake: When God Rewrites Your Story Bible studies and Broken & Blessed book. She and her husband, Jim, have two young children and live in Wilmore, Kentucky.

Read an Excerpt

The Rewritten Life

When God Changes Your Story

By Jessica LaGrone

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2017 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5018-3444-8


Abraham and Sarah

Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations." ...

God said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her."

(Genesis 17:3-5, 15-16)

Names Tell a Story

A name can function as a password, a key that allows you access to its owner. When I visit people in the hospital, that key can unlock doors or leave me standing out in the cold. When I walk into a hospital, the first person I meet is usually the receptionist at the information desk. My response to the question "Can I help you?" is generally to offer a name.

"I'm here to visit Mike Drummond," I said on a recent hospital visit. The woman paused, glanced at her computer screen, and smiled at me: "I'm sorry, we don't have a patient here by that name."

I'm used to this game. Because of privacy laws, hospitals won't give access to the room number of a patient unless the visitor knows the exact legal name entered in the records, so I tried again. "OK, how about Michael Drummond?" Same pause, back to the computer, and then another smiling response: "There's no one admitted in this hospital by that name." By this time I was beginning to get frustrated, but a few well-placed cell phone inquiries to mutual friends brought me back to the desk with my password ready: "Thomas Drummond!" I said triumphantly. Success! This time I was rewarded with a room number and directions to the elevators.

Mike lay in his hospital bed looking a bit weak but cheerful. Even cancer couldn't put a damper on his hearty personality. After asking about how he was feeling and when he might get to go home, I got to the question stirring my curiosity: "Mike, how is it that I've known you all this time and had no idea your name is really Thomas?" The story he shared was worth the trip and the delay in the lobby.

Thomas Philip Drummond Jr. was the first son to a wonderful mother and father. His dad, Tom, was proud to share his name with his little boy. The family lived in Illinois when he arrived but soon packed up and moved back home to be close to his mother's family. There was one little protest because this first-born grandson wasn't named after their father, his grandfather on his mother's side. Thomas Jr.'s parents insisted he keep the name he had received on his birth certificate, but the aunts would hear none of it. They began calling him after his grandfather anyway — Francis Marion Jennings, who went by Mike because he was too burly a guy to go by either Francis or Marion.

Thomas Jr.'s parents tried to stick to their guns but were overpowered as the whole family insisted on calling him Little Mike. Eventually even his parents gave in, and Little Mike it was. Mike claims that for the first three years of his life he thought his first name was all one word: Littlemike. It was a long time before he discovered his given name wasn't Mike at all.

Mike is honored to share the names of his father and grandfather. They were both honorable men, he says — capable, loving, strong, and family-oriented. He knows he couldn't go wrong being named after two wonderful men. He's proud to be their namesake — one given a name in hopes he or she will grow into that name and even that person's character.

Parents hope their little girl or boy will adopt his or her namesake's traits as the child is called by that name. Little Mike eventually dropped the "Little" and became just Mike. He hopes that he carries that name in a way that would make his grandfather proud. He also has great hopes and dreams for his own son, Thomas Philip Drummond III, who goes by Phil.

Oftentimes, our names are the starting point for telling people who we are. A lot of history is packed into our names, but names don't tell our whole story. In fact, sometimes we need a name change or a rewrite in our story. Thank goodness for a God who changes names and rewrites our stories, adding promises and blessings, and best of all — God's presence the whole way through.

Abram and Sarai

In Bible times, the way parents named children was definitely intended to tell a story — of who the parents wanted them to become, of the character or future hopes and dreams the parents had for them, or of what was happening in the family at the time they were born. Sometimes that got into some awkward territory!

In Hosea's family, the situation into which his children were born included their father's realization that he was not loved by their mother. Names for him and his unfaithful wife Gomer's children — such as "Unloved" and "Not Really My Son" — began to tell the story of a troubled family.

Abram and Sarai were given names that told the story of their parents' hopes for them, but they grew up to discover that the God they encountered had even bigger dreams for them — so big that their entire lives were about to change, including their names. God would do a complete rewrite of their future, and their identities would be so altered by God that their old names simply would not fit the persons they were to become. Their new names became a key to a new life, a password of sorts, given by a God who knew them even better than they knew themselves. A name in their day told a story about a person from the very beginning. If you asked someone, "What is your name?" you were saying, "Tell me your story; tell me who you are."

Abram and Sarai were certainly born to parents trying to tell a story with their children's names. Baby Abram was given a name that seems odd to us now. Not many of us would look at a tiny newborn, all squinty-eyed, with miniscule fingernails, and pronounce him "Exalted Father," which is what Abram's name means in Hebrew. To us, it seems strange to gaze at a newborn and call him "Father"; but to his parents it represented all of their greatest dreams for him. Abram's parents wanted his name to tell the story of his future life as one filled with prosperity, and for them that meant growing up to be a father with lots of children.

Without currency or stocks or investments, the measure of permanent wealth in that day was carried in your land and your children. So for baby Abram's parents to wish him a houseful of children who would exalt his name — calling him "Exalted Father" — they were wishing a life of abundance on their baby boy.

On the day of her birth, little Exalted Father's future wife was given a name that's a bit easier for us to understand. Her parents looked at their little bundle of joy and named her "Princess," a term of endearment that we might use as a nickname today. Our Little Princess, they said, and in Hebrew that came out Sarai.

The Little Princess grew up to marry the Exalted Father, and even stranger than Abram's name must have sounded at birth was the irony that he grew up — grew old, even — and had no children at all. It must have been awkward for Abram to introduce himself to someone as Exalted Father and have to answer the inevitable question: "So ... how many children do you have?" The Exalted Father was the father of none. He and his wife, Sarai, had been married so long that their friends had children — grandchildren even. But Abram and Sarai were childless. And in a culture that placed such high value on the number of offspring one had, this was a devastating blow.

Abram is seventy-five years old when we are first introduced to him and his wife (Genesis 12:4). And Sarai — well, let's just say she's no spring chick either. It's to these two seniors that God appears and begins to make outlandish and epic promises. From their first meeting in Genesis 12 and again in Genesis 17 — where, by the way, we learn that Abram is ninety-nine years old — God promises that they will become the parents of many offspring. And in chapter 15, God gives Abram a powerful visual to go with this promise: "He brought him outside and said, 'Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.' Then he said to him, 'So shall your descendants be'" (Genesis 15:5).

In the time of Abram and Sarai, the stars were an even more meaningful spectacle than they are to us today. Without electricity or pollution, more stars were very visible in the night sky, and people spent more time gazing at them because there was little else to see after dark. The stars were a beautiful gallery of art, a map to guide their way, and a great and magnificent mystery. So when God promised Abram and Sarai offspring as numerous as the stars in Genesis 15:5, it was a mind-blowing prospect.

The promise of God's blessings in Abram and Sarai's lives would be so overwhelming that they would be utterly transformed by God. An encounter with the living God means that one's life will never be the same again. For our aging friends, their very identities would be so altered that it would be like two new persons had emerged. Everything would be different. Even their names would have to be changed.

Rewritten Names

Abram and Sarai may have given up hope that their dreams would ever arrive, but God hadn't given up on them. And once God took hold of their stories, they experienced a rewrite.

God's new name for Abram made it clear that the story Abram's parents had begun for him by naming him Exalted Father wasn't being forgotten but was being fulfilled. God changed Abram, Exalted Father, to Abraham, Father of Many Nations. With this new name, God strengthened the promise of blessing and offspring!

God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you."

(Genesis 17:3b-6)

Instead of backing down on the promise in Abram's name, God put an exclamation point in it, making it stronger than ever.

God didn't forget about Sarai either. While her original name was a term of endearment meaning "our little princess," her new name, Sarah, carried with it strength, power, and royalty; it meant "A true princess, one who will be the mother of princes and kings." We hear the echo of this when God said to Abraham, "I will bless her, and moreoever I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she will give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her" (Genesis 17:16).

Sarah's new name was close to her former one, but her new name was not just a term of endearment; it was a promise. God changed Abraham and Sarah's names from something that was just a hint — a wish that their parents had tried to put into words when they were born — to a promise, a reality that only God could fulfill.

Too often we underestimate the value of small changes God makes in our lives. What looks like merely the addition of one letter to us meant the world to Abraham and Sarah. Dramatic testimonies are inspiring, but if we miss the small changes God is making in our stories, we will miss the big picture God is painting for a big future.

A New Story of Worship

Their first encounter with God in Chapter 12 has Abram and Sarai humbled and in awe of the greatest power in the universe. Their response to hearing the life-changing promises that are to come is to build an altar and call on the name of the Lord:

The Lord appeared to Abram, and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and invoked the name of the Lord.

(Genesis 12:7-8)

Building an altar implies both worship and sacrifice. Calling on the name of God means they are beginning to understand that the characteristics at the heart of God are central to the future they are now seeking. Even more than with other names in Scripture, the use of "name" in reference to God is so much more than a proper noun that can be spelled on paper or spoken aloud. It is a representation of the one who bears that name: of God's character, promises, and strength.

When Abram and Sarai call on the name of the Lord, it is about so much more than getting God's attention. They are worshiping and praising God for who God is and also looking forward to God's future help in their lives. At the beginning of Chapter 12, God approached them. Now they are coming to God, throwing themselves on the mercy of God's promises and strength.

When we call on God's name, we aren't saying, "God, do things my way"; we're saying, "God, in agreement with who you are, with all your power, love, and mercy, I call on your name — your character — to act in this situation."

Prayer that calls on God's name is not about hoping that God will come around to see things the way we do or that God will acquiesce to our will and do things our way. When we call on God's name, we are asking God to change our hearts, our character, to be more like God's — not the other way around. Like Abram and Sarai, when we call on God's name, we are offering ourselves — our very lives — in worship.

The Rest of Their Rewritten Story

Abraham and Sarah's new names and the promises behind them sounded great; the only problem was that as time went on, it seemed more and more impossible they would see those promises fulfilled. It had seemed impossible when God first promised a whole country full of offspring to a childless seventy-five-year-old and his wife. But when God confirmed that promise by giving them new names, twenty-four years had passed. Abraham was about to turn one hundred, and Sarah was around ninety. God had promised them a people as numerous as the stars, but not even one child had arrived.

Their dream seemed like a lost cause. But God specializes in lost causes! God's favorite kind of story is the impossible one. The more impossible the better. God sees impossibility as opportunities for blessings. We need to know the impossible stories God has made possible. We need to be able to call the names of Abraham and Sarah because it doesn't always feel good when you're the one living the impossible story.

For years I held on to Abraham and Sarah's story and the promise of a God who could turn impossible stories around because I was in the middle of one myself. Neither my husband, Jim, nor I were approaching the senior citizen status of Abraham and Sarah, but we had been trying for some time to start the family we longed for. We had married a little later than most of our friends, and so we were eager to become parents. I had joked with Jim that I didn't want to have kids with an "old man" over forty, and so we definitely were going to have a baby by his fortieth birthday. But as much as I like to plan and predict life, as much as I like the satisfaction of putting things on a to-do list and crossing them off, that just wasn't something in my control.

Still, the sense of accomplishment was there when I walked into Jim's home office on his thirty-ninth birthday in my pajamas and held out a present for him. It wasn't wrapped; it wasn't even sanitary. It was a pregnancy test, and it was positive! Our feelings of joy and celebration were instantaneous; they were overwhelming, and they were short-lived. We were soon confronted with the fact that this baby wasn't going to make it. Our dreams had been dangled just beyond our reach and then snatched away from us.

Over the next couple of years, this was a scenario that would repeat itself again and again — the joy of discovering the hope of new life; the devastation of learning that we had miscarried as we stared into an ultrasound screen and waited for tiny heartbeats that weren't there. The emotional roller coaster of hope and devastation took its toll on me. I tried to pray, but sometimes I didn't feel like God was even listening anymore. I was devastated and angry, and I felt so alone.

But when I read Abraham and Sarah's story, at least I knew someone else out there had understood, had been where we were — in a frozen state of hoping and praying for something we weren't sure would ever happen. I needed to read their story to know that I was not alone. I needed to hear that a story like ours could have a happy ending.

Abraham and Sarah didn't have much experience with a God who made promises and kept them. The religion of their families had been one of polytheism — the belief in many gods. In this practice, their families would have had a shrine or altar with multiple idols dedicated to different gods. When they wanted something, they would pick an idol that specialized in that area (for example, a god or goddess of fertility, war, healing, or harvest) and make sacrifices and promises to win that god's approval and favor. Worshiping at the family altar was often about what they wanted and how to manipulate their false gods to get it, rather than responding to a god who wanted something from them.


Excerpted from The Rewritten Life by Jessica LaGrone. Copyright © 2017 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 5

1 Abraham and Sarah 11

2 Jacob and Esau 29

3 Naomi 47

4 Daniel 65

5 Peter 85

6 An Unnamed Woman 103

Closing Thoughts 123

Notes 127

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