We moved to a small town in North Carolina at the summer I turned ten, and for some inexplicable reason my parents let me fill in the school application.
“What does ‘nickname’ mean?” I asked.
“It’s a name everyone calls you that isn’t really your name,” my mom explained.
“Or a name you want people to call you?”
“Something like that,” she answered absently as she kneaded bread.
‘Anita’ sounded girlie, and I wanted a name to fit my personality. Something outdoorsy and tough. I wrote A.J. down on the nickname line.
From then on, I insisted that family call me A.J. It took a while to adjust, but since I stubbornly refused to answer to ‘Anita,’ they capitulated. School posed no problem. As far as names went.
Fitting in? Not so easy. I had little previous experience with big classrooms—the largest school I had attended only had eight kids in the entire school. My new classroom had 25 fifth graders. I failed my first social studies test, and wondered if I’d ever figure school out.
New Friends to the Rescue
The most popular girl in class came to my rescue. Loucretia Ball. She explained how to study the textbook and took me under her wing. I eventually made friends with other kids in my classroom, too—Leah, Dawn, Kelly, and Becky.
By sixth grade, I’d had a crush on every boy in my class for at least a week. The Clark twins, Clive Possinger, Danny Morton, Paul Jenks. Some of them even sent me notes that said, “Will you be my girlfriend? Check the box, yes or no.”
Two years later, we moved again. This time to the other side of the country. I changed my name back to ‘Anita’ because in 7th grade, A.J. sounds too boyish. New friends welcomed me. I grew and changed and left ‘A.J.’ behind. High school, college, grad school, marriage, career.
Each friend I made along the way held a little piece of me—a snapshot of me at that time. The horseback riding tomboy named A.J.; the racoon-eyed pre-teen wobbling around on her first pair of Candies; the girl reviled by her entire freshman class (ok, maybe just the girls); the confident sophomore; and the new girl at yet another new school her senior year.
When I joined Facebook 10 years ago, I had no idea how reconnecting with all of my friends from all of those places would make my world seem a little smaller. I immediately sat down at my computer and did a search for kids from fifth grade. I found Loucretia, Kelly, Dawn, and Becky. I caught up with classmates from every era of my life.I had no idea how Facebook would shrink my world. #fmfparty Click To Tweet
A Facebook Search
Today, a gymnastic troupe from a university in Nebraska stopped by to perform for our students. As I hurried towards my house after the show, their bus driver nodded and asked me if I had come with the mission group.
“No, I work here,” I said.
“You look familiar, for some reason,” he told me.
I asked his name, and it didn’t ring any bells. We said goodbye, I wished him safe travels, and I headed home. But his name nagged in my memory. I whipped out my phone, opened my Facebook app, typed the name in, and hit ‘search.’
Everything fell into place. I turned around and hurried back to the bus driver. “Paul Jenks? From Fletcher and Captain Gilmore Elementary School? Fifth grade?”
“What’s your name?”
“Anita. Anita Strawn de Ojeda.”
We chatted for a few minutes about mutual friends—the gal he married is Loucretia’s good friend from college. And he still keeps in touch with other people I know.
Twenty minutes after I said goodbye, I finally figured out why he recognized my face, but didn’t connect with my name. I introduced myself as ‘Anita,’ not ‘A.J.’
No matter. It’s fun to be recognized (even if I think nothing of the ten-year-old A.J. remains in me).
More importantly, I know something now that I didn’t know back then. I have a heavenly Father who knows me by name (even if I change it). He knows every hair on my head and he loves me (quirks and all). He has searched my heart and knows my mind (even when I don’t seem to know it) (Jeremiah 17:10).
And when I search for him with all my heart, I will always find him (Deuteronomy 4:29). My search for him as led me to finding me.