Updated: Jul 3, 2020
My two youngest sons are named after Civil War generals. Well, their middle names are.
Names are important, part of the definition of our unique person. My husband and I didn't plan to have seven kids, so we didn't go with a theme. Their names don't all start with the same letter. They don't all come from our heritage or the Bible. Some we just liked the sound. But the middle names all have some meaning.
The older of these two boys carries the moniker of the commander who charged down a hill in Gettysburg yelling "Bayonets!" That charge likely changed the course of the war. His name was Chamberlain. His men had run out of bullets. Rather than surrender, Joshua Chamberlain told his men to fix on their bayonets and follow him down Little Round Top toward the enemy. It worked. They won. And he secured a paragraph in history.
Chamberlain was asked to command the Union troops during General Lee's surrender at Appomattox at the war's end. As the beaten men approached, Chamberlain, on his own initiative, commanded his men to come to attention and "carry arms" as a show of honor for the defeated troops passing before them. According to reports, there was no yelling, jeering, or any sound to be heard. Only the silence of respect.
Chamberlain went home to Maine and was elected Governor four times. It was a tumultuous season. He was once attacked by some who were upset he would refuse to create a special police force to enforce Prohibition. He later was asked by an incoming governor to come back to keep the peace during a contested election. When some armed men occupied the State House, he moved them out, and then stayed there himself for 12 days while the debated election results were decided in high court. He went out to face down an armed mob intending to kill him. With a gun pointed at his head, Chamberlain managed to calm the men and the threats abated. He went on to live another 24 years, many as president of Bowdoin College, before finally succumbing to issues from an old battle wound. I wish he were around now.
My youngest son carries the nickname of one of Chamberlain's contemporaries. A deeply thoughtful, Bible-believing teacher who went to West Point with many of the men from both sides of the eventual conflict, this man was given this name at the 1st Battle of Bull Run. He said, "Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time of my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it overtake me." His name was Thomas Jackson. But he is known for standing unflinchingly at the head of his troops during battle. Standing like a stone wall. The name stuck.
Stonewall Jackson fought for the Confederacy because, as a Virginian, he believed the Federal government was overreaching its authority over state's rights. He had hoped Virginia would not separate from the Union. When it did, he felt compelled to stay with his state. Jackson never publicly spoke for or against the institution of slavery. He believed any man who did own another man must treat them as fairly and humanely as he must any person, teaching them or learning from them, revering them, caring for them, and seeking their best no matter their station in life. Himself a man under the authority of God, Jackson believed submission to a good master could be beneficial to both. He did not hold his beliefs idly. Jackson was instrumental in organizing and teaching Sunday School classes for dark-skinned folks at the local Presbyterian Church. He taught slaves to read despite the fact it was illegal in the state of Virginia to do so, and was well respected by men of all skin tones around his town.
Stonewall led his men to victory in several decisive battles. But he was hit by friendly fire from Confederate pickets in 1863. He died of pneumonia eight days later. General Lee bemoaned the loss, saying, "I have lost my right arm." Indeed, had Jackson lived to fight, the outcome of the war may have been quite different. But God had other plans. Jackson never doubted his Maker, and His Maker took him home and had the Union win.
I look forward to meeting both my sons' namesakes in heaven.
They were men of integrity and grit. I want my boys to study them, learning from their mistakes as well as their discipline and heroism.
Posthumous statues do not make them men of worth.
Their identity isn't bound up in bronze and brick.
But their names live on.
Both Chamberlain and Stonewall are names of men who were not governed by their own feelings but by their identity. They submitted themselves to the authority of heaven. Their identity wasn't based on socioeconomic class, skin tone, ability, health, comfort, understanding of science or philosophy, ancestry, or even what they wanted. They identified as men, slaves, and sons of God. They were chosen by God, accepted by Him not based on the whiteness of their skin or blackness of their heart, but by the red blood of the Savior that covered them. All their habits, decisions, lifestyle, and reputation grew from their understanding of themselves as submissive workers of the will of their Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.
I have many ways to define myself. I am a wife. I am a mom to almost two teenagers, two middle schoolers, two elementary kids, and a toddler. I am a Christian. I am a teacher. I am a friend. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a gardener. I am a homemaker. I am a farmer. I am a writer. I am a reader. I am a citizen. I am a neighbor. I am a tax payer. I am a voter. I am a constituent. I am a leader. I am a follower. I am a social media voice. I am a patient. I am a consumer. I am a runner. I am an ice cream eater. I am tired. I am a demographic. I am a sinner. I am a saint. I am a body. I am a mind. I am a soul.
(I write "I am" too many times and it really starts to look odd.)
But if I lost any - or all - of these "I am" statements, my identity would still be secure.
I am Stephanie, adopted into the family of God Himself. I am His to do with as He pleases, for my good and His glory. Ultimately, I am what I am by the grace of God.
(I Cor. 15:10)
Paul called himself the bondservant of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1). In Greek, the term is "doulos" means slave for life. He said he was "accepted in the beloved" (Ephesians 1:5-7). Paul was committed to serving the Lord by choice and by requirement for the rest of his days. This meant bringing all his desires, all his work, all his talent, all his exercise, all his comfort, all his time, even all his thoughts in line with his identity. Sometimes it made him a hero. Sometimes it got him stoned, arrested, or shipwrecked. Sometimes it made him a teacher, sometimes sick, sometimes hated. Always it was for his good and God's glory. "I am His" was Paul's motto. Paul's identity.
I look forward to meeting him in heaven too.
For many in my world today, their identity is consumed by an "-ism." They commit all their strength, thought, and hope to social humanism. Or socialism. Or Republican-ism or Democrat-ism. Some form of sexism or heterosexism. Racism (or anti-racism). Ageism. Individualism. Egalitarianism. Atheism. Or the current favorite - scientism. Any of these can take the place of ultimate identity. Dangerously.
Most of these have righteous beginnings. Humanists want to help other humans. Socialists want the government to be benevolent. Republicans champion free market capitalism. Democrats want a strong central government. Focus on sex, age, or person begins with a desire to fortify an often outcast or abused minority. And science is an invaluable method of learning about the world so we can interact with it. But as Douglas Wilson says on his podcast Blog and Mablog, "Beware all Isms except for the Prism."
All of these are cheap replacements on the throne of identity.
We were made for more. More than equality. More than comfort. More than knowledge. More even than happiness.
We were made for God.
"Indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him" -Philippians 3:7-10
We gave our sons the names of men from 200 years ago. It wasn't because they were perfect. But they knew their commission as men of God. Servants. Leaders. First in the line of fire. Last to retreat. Humble. Fierce. Wise. Gentle. Strong. Determined. Thoughtful. Brave. They were men I pray my own boys will emulate, whatever their culture or feelings try to convince them otherwise.
"We know not of the future, and cannot plan for it much. But we can hold our spirits and bodies so pure and high, we may cherish such thoughts and such ideals, and dream such dreams of lofty purpose, that we can determine and know what manner of men we will be whenever and wherever the hour strikes that calls to noble action.
This predestination God has given us in charge." - Joshua Chamberlain
What's your identity? Do you live like it?
Historical facts taken predominantly from two biographies which I highly recommend.
In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War by Alice Rains Trulock
Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend by James I. Roberson, Jr.