I never felt more unsure of myself than that moment.
“What?” I whispered to her, praying that I had misheard.
“I think you have poop on your pants,” Candice whispered back. The mixed expression of terror and empathy on her face told me she was not joking.
My 6th grade mind flashed to the events leading up to this point: I’d fed my horse that morning. I’d sat on a beam in the barn. In my white pants (that’s a middle schooler for ya). I was late so I raced to the bus without checking a mirror. And now, I had just stood in front of my third period 6th grade English class confidently editing a sentence on the board. With evidence of someone’s defecation for all to see.
Yep, you’re still not cool, I reminded myself. How could you have been so dumb?
The bell rang. Candice and I stood up. She offered me her sweatshirt to tie around my waist since my mom wasn’t able to bring me pants and there was not one-single-way I was borrowing a pair from the nurse’s office. Heck no.
“I’ll wash it tonight,” I whispered gratefully as I took her sweatshirt. We headed down the 6th grade hallway toward our lockers. I now had a new understanding of the subtle stench I’d been smelling all morning.
And so, it was with countless experiences like this during my 6th and 7th grade years that I label them as my “Lowest Confidence Years.” Perhaps you can relate?
But to battle that confidence problem, God placed a middle-school warrior smack-dab into my life. His name was Charlie Campbell. He was the father of two other girls my age, and he was a youth group volunteer.
On Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, beat down by comparisons of popularity and athletic prowess – both of which I lacked – I would open the heavy, front doors of the church with anticipation and a little confidence, expecting to hear that big, booming voice proclaim, “Weeeeeeell, look who just walked in! Mac! How the heck are ya?” The smile on Charlie’s face told me he was legitimately glad to see me. ME, of all people. Molly McCracken, a.k.a Mac to him.
In that moment, the anxiety of the girls’ locker room would disappear, and I’d feel peace and confidence expand in me like the steady inflating of a balloon.
At school, I was a quiet, unsure Molly. But at church, I was a loud, confident Mac. Because Charlie blew life and confidence into me each week.
During those years, my favorite place to be was at church. It’s where I felt the best about myself.
That’s what a good nickname can do (and an adult who keeps showing up…I see you, youth workers!)
(Side note: eventually, my sister would join the youth group, also with the last name McCracken, so then I became Big Mac and she was Little Mac. I couldn’t tell Charlie that no teenage girl wants to be BIG anything, so I never said a word. I just embraced being Big Mac, which he still calls me to this day. Eventually our other two younger sisters would also enter the youth group and become Mini Mac and Micro Mac to Charlie.)
Jesus knew the power of a good nick name, too.
In Mark chapter 3, Jesus selects His twelve disciples. Verses 16-19 list the twelve names, and next to James and John, the Bible tells us that they are both sons of a man named Zebedee, so we know they are brothers. Then, it says, “But Jesus nicknamed them ‘Sons of Thunder.’”
This line just makes me smile so big. Jesus, often known as a party-killer in today’s society, is the one making the nick names. I’m telling you He was a FUN GUY. People LOVED being around Him, and children couldn’t get enough of Him. And children know the fun people. Let this always remind you that if you’d been around Him back then, you would have really liked Jesus. And it’s one more reason that Heaven will be so. much. fun!!
Anyway, as a teacher, I can picture these two brothers. I’ve known a few “sons of thunder” in my day. You see them coming through the doors, their hands all over each other, their feet always at full-speed, their mouths constantly pouring forth words…and loudly.
I’ve known some “sons of thunder” as a student, too. Algebra class. Two friends, like brothers, and when they walked into the classroom, the mood changed. They’d often announce their presence to everyone, and I sometimes wondered if our teacher’s deep breath and slow blink revealed her thought: Really, can they never be absent? Not just once?
Nice boys. But they were a lot. They were loud and demanded attention. Like thunder.
So, I can see that when James and John arrived to a place where Jesus had told the disciples to meet, that they didn’t arrive quietly. I can imagine that they always had something to say, and it was probably never calmly.
Some resources say it means they had a nasty temper, too. They were quick to get angry and be defensive. Outbursts of rage.
Why would two brothers be this way? It makes me wonder what their childhood was like. Was their dad angry? Did he work too much and never have time for them? Maybe their mom lacked confidence (or sleep) and parented from desperation which allowed them to get away with too much, to steamroll people? Were they outcasts in society, mocked by the other kids? Did something worse happen to them? Why were they so angry?
I don’t know. But Jesus did. And He wanted them anyway. He truthfully but lovingly acknowledged this personality trait of theirs that everyone noticed. He gave them a nickname about it. And whenever they arrived, I bet He’d say something like, ““Weeeeeeell, look who just walked in! Here come The Sons of Thunder! How the heck are ya?” The smile on Jesus face told them He was legitimately glad to see them. THEM, of all people. James and John Zebedee, a.k.a “The Sons of Thunder” to Jesus.
These two rowdy guys would be changed by Jesus’ love for them. James, John and Peter would be the only three witnesses of the transfiguration of Jesus when His human appearance transformed in front of them, and they saw who He really was. Dead Elijah and Moses joined them miraculously for that event, too (see Matthew 17:1-9). It was a very powerful moment, something humans don’t normally see, I’d imagine. I wonder what all Jesus said there.
But this love in the person of Jesus would lead Rowdy James to become the very first martyr after Christ’s death and resurrection. And Rambunctious John, who nicknamed himself “The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved,” – probably half-jokingly and half because he knew it to be true – would go on to write the books of John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation. Two unlikely men with two eternal purposes.
A loving nickname can do that. A nickname can make you feel seen, confident, and the most loved. It is a seal of the depth of your relationship, a smile-inducing name reserved for a certain prized person. It can also be the spade that first breaks open the hard soil of hearts to let Love in.
Of course nicknames can also tear down. But that’s not what Charlie did, and it’s not the kind of nick names Jesus gives us.
Do you wonder what nick name Jesus would give you? The name that only He would call you because of the time and experiences you’ve had together, or the name He uses to tease you about that one thing. Never cutting, just funny.
Perhaps He identifies the thing He knows He wants to mold in us the most, reminding us that we can stay light-hearted about it because He already knows where He plans to grow us.
“The Sons of Thunder” may have originally been known for their loud and booming (and perhaps a bit obnoxious) ways, like the kind of annoying thunder that wakes a finally sleeping child. But by the end of their lives, Jesus used them to leave a loud, explosive, and resounding mark on humanity, like the kind of robust and rumbling thunder that makes your mouth drop open in awe.
Ask Jesus what He calls you.
Whatever He sees in you, He has a plan to make your mouth drop open, if you let Him.
[Another side note: it wasn’t until writing this that I remembered the nick name “Big Mac.” I smiled because we just named our son Mac (in honor of my dad who does not have a son to carry on the McCracken name) and a middle name Martin (in honor of Guy’s dad who has passed away). Then, Mac entered the world at a whopping 9 pounds and 6 ounces, so he earned himself the nick name “Big Mac.” Yet another reminder to me that God is always weaving the best stories. Even when I was in middle school, God already knew about another Big Mac that would enter my life one day during a season of redemption. You sneaky God!]