What’s in a Name?


“…our names are part of our wholeness. To be given a name is an act of intimacy as powerful as any act of love.” – Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

My name is Melissa, that honey-bee moniker laid upon me on the day of my birth. Over the 36 years of my life, though, I have been gifted with other names. As a child, my family and friends called me “Missy”. In high school, my friends fell to calling me by my last (maiden) name, for reasons that I have hitherto forgotten. When I entered college, the friends I met there named me “Mel” out of amusement for my last name: Gibson, and that particular name has stuck over the subsequent decade and a half. Almost everyone calls me “Mel” now.

While that is my most frequently-used nickname, it is still precious to me because those who utter it love me, and I know it, what’s more. It is an intimacy, an outward expression of their love and care for me. There is a vast difference between those who call me “Mel” and those who call me “Melissa”.

There are more names with which I have been gifted that are precious to me. My best girl friends call me “wifey”, as we are close and beloved of each other, having been friends for a decade or longer. We are also also wives and mothers of small children who support and love on each other and each other’s children. We belong to each other.

A particular dear friend, Erin, calls me her “Sam” after Samwise Gamgee in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, which I count amongst my highest honors. I call her my Bosslady, stemming all the way back to college and her sweet, loving, faithful mentoring those almost-twenty years ago.

My husband calls me “Issya”, a derivative of my name that only we two know the origin of. That name ushers from no one’s lips but his, making it infinitely precious. He also calls me “Helpmeet”, as we are partners in this life together.

When our daughter was first learning to talk, she dubbed me “Mumum”, which made me so happy to hear it babbled from her chubby, smiling face. Even now, when she says “Mama” instead of the more-usual “Mommy”, I am thrown back to her earlier years all over again.

These names, these gifts, represent intentional acts of relationship by dear ones–especially in this, my second act of life. They are an almost tangible way of knowing that I am welcome in their lives and loved by them.

“What’s in a name?” I believe that a truly given name (or nickname)  has an intimacy wrapped up in, an acknowledgement, a place, and a whisper of love. Thank you, dear ones, for my names. Thank you for how you love me.

Being Honest About What is Broken


Several Sundays ago, I heard a sermon that struck something inside me. The thoughts it brought up keep repeating over and over in my mind, and you know me. When that happens, it’s a large clue that whatever I am thinking needs saying. As it stands, it has taken me a while to get to the “saying it” point, as is evidenced by the fact that I am posting this several weeks on.

In the ancient Israel of the prophet Nehemiah’s time, Jerusalem was conquered, razed, the Temple destroyed, and the Israelites taken off into slavery. After decades in Babylon, some of them were then allowed to return to Jerusalem. However, the walls of the city remained broken down and destroyed for a long time. As the pastor giving the sermon analyzed, broken-down walls meant disgrace, defeat, and judgement, a lack of protection, and were a constant reminder of when everything went horribly wrong. In Nehemiah’s time, according to the pastor, the surrounding countries had “no respect for God or His people” and come against and conquered them because God’s people did not live up to His requirements, had set aside their faith, and ignored His messengers (2 Chronicles 36). The Israelites lived in exile for decades before being allowed to return home to rebuild their city and their Temple.

That idea about the countries surrounding Israel having no respect for God or His people stuck with me, or, more accurately, a reason behind it stuck with me. In our current day in 2019, what I have seen, heard, and what has coalesced in realization is that people outside of Christianity often have no respect or love for God or His people because His people have no love or respect for those outside. And that thought was a gut-strike, keeping itself on repeat in my mind throughout the remainder of the service.

People often “do not love and respect God” or the people who claim to be His, because the latter do not love and respect those outside their own echo chambers, or ostensibly even those inside at times. In the past several months, we have seen new holes open up in the proverbial coat of several areas of the Christian church institution. We have once again had light shone on secrets and dark corners in trusted, cherished parishes that have caused incalculable pain, damage, and life-altering trauma. At the same moment, in almost the same breath, when Christlike love and presence were needed most, in another denomination a decision made by a few was reinforced to ostracize the many, an entire community of people, and to deny them a place in that faith and, presumably by extension, in God’s love. While I have watched the beauty of Methodist churches rising up and standing in solidarity and love with their people–all of them–the reality must still be faced. Christians have—in a few very loud corners—with their tongues proclaimed to love the Lord their God with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and that they love their neighbors as themselves. Meanwhile, with their hands, they have betrayed those words and crushed them into sand that ends up blown into the eyes of those whom they have denied.

Does that come across as harsh? Maybe it does. Maybe it needs to.

I have written on this before, so it really should come as no surprise where I fall in this discussion of love, faith, and inclusion. Is it every single Christian who is guilty of this? No. By no means, no. But there are, unfortunately, enough to make a very crucial difference in the impact of our faith and the weight by which we are measured. The very last part of the sermon that Sunday hit me, this time right in the heart. It was a challenge to the congregation to “work together to bring glory to God and blessing to those who dwell in Him”. The pastor said four things that have stayed with me:

1. Do not ignore the needs in our community or in our church! Be honest about what is broken.

2. Don’t wait for someone else to get involved. Go for it!

3. Use what you have, and trust God for what you don’t have!

4. It is okay to expect a miracle, but it is not okay to wait for one.

These four admonishments may seem simple on their faces, but they are heavy with truth, Dear Ones. The one that has lodged its razor-sharp corner in my heart is “Be honest about what is broken”.

Our lack of love as Christians is broken.

Our lack of understanding is broken.

Our lack of humaneness is broken.

Our lack of mercy is broken.

Our lack of Christlikeness is broken.

Our denial, our erasure, these things are all broken.

We are broken, just as others are broken. Broken and in need. Why do we as Christians try to deny the love and open arms of God to someone else (as if we could!) when we are in such desperate need of them ourselves? Newsflash: God doesn’t need our permission to love someone. His love is not predicated on what we as fallible humans think. Again: God. Does not. Need. Our. Permission. To. Love. Someone. As Christians, we are not the gatekeepers to God’s love. We are supposed to be the instruments of it, but our actions, words, and attitudes can actively destroy the chance for that relationship to be born. We can actually get in the way of the love we claim to espouse.

Be honest about what’s broken. It seems a simple and difficult enough idea at the same time, doesn’t it? In these weeks, I have been faced with what might appear to others to be a simple choice: to post or not to post, to share or not to share. I am trying to pull all of this thinking into words and then be brave enough to “say” it out loud. I have posted a few things lately on social media pertaining to the LGBTQIA+ community and my Christian faith that I personally feel deeply and strongly about, as I have in the past. These are beliefs, statements, and stances that I know that some Christians in my life would, most likely, deeply disagree with. That alone has caused me a bit of anxiety. But, at the same time, I had a heart-nudge (which I have come to recognize as God’s prodding and actively try not to ignore), and I wanted to be true to my conscience, my faith, and my convictions.

Over the past few weeks and days, my heart has broken repeatedly. As a teacher, I look back and think of students that have sat in my classrooms over the past ten years, who have written of abuse they have suffered, of loneliness, isolation, self-hate, and fear, and the resulting trauma and self-harm. Students whom I have known to be or suspected were non-hetero, non-binary, etc., and the struggles they have battled through. I cannot fathom telling these beautiful, deep-hearted children that they are a mistake, that God doesn’t love them, doesn’t value them, or that they don’t have a place in their faith if they feel called to serve in that capacity. I cannot wrap my mind or heart around it. Not when the people I have been privileged to meet, know, love, and who have been formative in this, the second half of my life, are so broad and deep and wide and who span the entire spectrum. People whose light and love and faith have supported and walked with me through hard moments and times. Tender people who have unclenched my fists and held my trembling hands in theirs, both literally and figuratively. Beloved people who have treated me with kindness, mercy, humanity, and understanding beyond anything I could have hoped for.

President of Biola University, Barry H. Corey, recounts the day when a friend and colleague in Bangladesh took him out to lunch and then proceeded to tell him about her homosexual relationship and the partner waiting for her back in the States. He asked her why she was telling him as he was “obviously straight […] and neither a trained counselor nor LGBT ally” (Love Kindness, 60). Karen replied that she had told him “because she believed authentic Christians see people first and foremost as created in God’s image and of immense value” (60-61, emphasis mine).

So many people in the LGBTQIA+ community, both young and older, have been told, both directly and indirectly, that they are “less than” (less than desirable, less than acceptable), having any identity as God’s or being created in His image wiped away because they are “unworthy” or “wrong”. As a result, so many of them leave and never darken the door to a community of faith again because…well…who would want to? In this, I believe that the Christian church is broken. We fail to see God’s image in those different from us and therefore miss the deep value He has placed in them.

In For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards, author Jen Hatmaker unpacks this idea with open honesty:

We [Christians] are losing influence in our culture, and it isn’t even a mystery as to why. Folks are explaining plainly why they are leaving faith or are too afraid to come near it. One of the chief reasons is this: Christians.

I realize the mass exodus is multifaceted and deserves a fair analysis, but the common denominator is so abundant, we have to face it. [Cultural] conversions are happening inside and outside of Christianity and are necessary to assess and understand. But treating each other poorly is not a factor Christians can pass off.

[…] This is the next generation weeping for their gay friends and classmates, rejecting the church that maligns an entire community. This is my smart and funny friend who lives in loneliness because her Christian “friends” wounded and shamed her, and she is afraid to try again.

[…] If we are inhibiting others from finding Jesus [through our behavior] this constitutes a full-blown crisis. Ultimately, the rejection of Christians predicates the rejection of Jesus, and if that doesn’t grieve us, we have missed the whole point. Jesus tried to impress this upon us. I mean, He was obsessed.

“By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).” (190-192, brackets mine)

Something that Hatmaker reminds her readers of is that there absolutely is a correlation that can be drawn between how we as Christians treat each other and our fellow human beings and how the world that is watching us will feel about Jesus. If we say we are all about love and mercy and kindness and yet we condemn, decry, and dehumanize, how can people be anything but confused, hurt, and angry? The links between our belief, our words, and our actions are woefully broken, leaving us as Christians with a reality to face.

Our lack of love is broken.

Our lack of understanding is broken.

Our lack of humanness is broken.

Our lack of mercy is broken.

Our lack of Christlikeness is broken.

I am not waiting for a miracle. I am expecting one, yes, but I am not waiting for one. Our generation cannot afford that, and neither can the next one. I will love. I will be kind. I will pray. I will encourage. I will use what I have—my presence, my influence, my voice, my words, my arms—and trust God for the rest. I will tell my students that they are welcome in my classroom and in our school community just as they are. I will remind my friends and family—daily if need be—that I love them and thank God for them. I will do my best to speak out against injustice and call those in power to account. I will commiserate with, support, and comfort those who are suffering. I will do my best to live what I believe and write. We belong to one another, and that is how I choose to live.

“Above all, I desire to be part of God’s image-bearing people who relate to each other full of grace and truth, the same way God relates to us through Christ. Loving those who are different than we are is what we are supposed to do. And we’re called to serve together, to eat together, to have long and meaningful conversations with each other, to listen to each other, to sit on pews beside each other. […] I am working on the kindness of listening, understanding more and more the difference between listening while waiting to respond to someone and listening while wanting to learn about someone. Kindness is the latter.” (Corey 63-64, emphasis mine)

I am expecting a miracle, yes. I am not waiting for one, no. Love, listening, kindness, connection. These are the miracles I choose.

Those Amazing Moments…


One Thing…

 A few amazing and splendid things have happened since the beginning of the year. Firstly, I had a realization about my writing. I am not reaching for ‘astonishing’. I am not reaching for the bestseller list. However, I have realized of late that what I do want for my writing, my goal, my calling for this gift I have had since childhood is for it to mean something. I want my writing to be of value and good to someone. I want it to be encouraging, edifying, challenging, comforting, welcoming. I want my writing to speak God’s love to those who read it, to challenge them to keep going, keep trying, keep staying, keep loving. This is my goal.

I literally realized as I wrote that last sentence: this is my dream.

Friends, I cannot tell you the last time I had a dream. A dream to work for, a dream to reach for. Over the past decade when I have been asked what my dreams are, I have felt appallingly empty. I have had no words, no answer, no dream to speak of. And it made my heart ache; it made me cry, to be dreamless. I do not want big things; I do not want a huge, ostentatious house, to be famous, to top a bestseller list, or to speak to large crowds. Truthfully? I have accomplished many of the dreams that others might have. I have a solid job, health insurance, a strong relationship, a loving family, a healthy child, a home of my own, and enough money to cover our bills, our needs, and many of our wants, too. Are things perfect? No. Are they good? Yes. So, with all that, what else could I possibly dream for, reach for?

But, as I think about it, the more and more I realize that this is a dream. A new one! Like dear Flynn Rider (Eugene Fitzherbert to his friends), I needed to find a new dream, and…I guess I have. I do not necessarily know what comes next (sharing this post, I suppose), but the thought of having a dream is and feels nothing short of amazing.

            I’ve got a dream!

And Another Thing!

The second splendid thing was a moment of affirmation, one that meant—and still means—a great deal. On a recent Saturday, I wrote a post of thank-you’s on my personal Facebook page to my dear ones. A little while later, my phone pinged with a notification: my dad had commented on my post. Here is what he wrote:

Thank you too, for being yourself, true to openness and willingness to share such a ministry of helping others to feel that they are important, cared about, loved and have someone to lift them up. You are also willing to share their pain and climb down to where they are to keep them comfortable with your encouragement.

I really cannot describe to you just how deeply this affirmation touched my soul, particularly as it came from my dad, who has been in ministry in some way, shape, or form throughout my entire life. This is my life’s purpose and work: love. I really do believe that God put me here to do my best to love, deeply and well, those whom God has put in my path and life. Some may stay, some may leave, and some may just be passing through, but nevertheless, I am going to do my best to offer love to them all.

Encouragement is one of my spiritual gifts, without a doubt, but I learned it at my mother’s knee. She used to buy me little calendars for my study carrel (office) at school and she would write encouraging, loving little notes on them. When I went off to college, she sent prayer boxes with me (little containers with Scripture verses or prayers on them) and she would write notes on the back side of them. She never misses a birthday, anniversary, or holiday; her beautifully-chosen, loving cards come without fail. I keep many of them and re-read them when I need a heart-lift. With such inspiration and teaching, how could I ever doubt what my purpose on this mortal coil is?

My mother’s teachings, the affirmations of family, friends, ministers, dear ones, and now this timely one from my Da’…sometimes that is what a soul needs. What God knew my soul needed: affirmation that I am indeed doing what I am supposed to be doing. In that, God has given me a dream, a desire, a goal, and the confirmation that, yes, I am to step forward into it, whatever that mean. Just the next step, though.

The Work of Christmas is for Me, Too.


As this new year begins, this is me. Full disclosure: total bathroom selfie. No glasses, no makeup, hair undone, no filters. Just me.

As 2019 begins, I am considering the work of Christmas, that work that began on Christmas Day and continues on from there. The work of love. One of the things that I am going to be working on is loving myself. I know very well what I have been struggling with, one of the chief things being building more rest into my everyday life. Not just waiting for spring, summer, or Christmas breaks to actually try to rest in that admittedly limited space but acknowledging my need for it as I go along throughout my normal days and weeks.

The work of Christmas needs to begin with me, as much as it needs to involve others. As a dear friend reminded me, I need to love myself and give myself as much grace and permission as I give others.

So here I am, just me, and I am going to work on loving myself better.

Nudging the Door Open (NYE 2018)


As today dawned, I realized that I had nothing prepared to post. No reflection, no little story indicative of where my heart and mind are right now. Nothing was prepared. Even now, sitting in my daughter’s darkened room while she falls asleep, writing by the light from the hallway, I am tempted to feel like I failed by being too busy or full-minded to give this year much thought. But, then again, it has been a busy, full-minded year. I spent a good portion of this year feeling and being not altogether myself. Stress took a heavy toll in the first half of 2018, as did change the resulting different routines and schedules. I finally made a significant health change earlier this fall that seems to have helped immensely with some of my balance and peace of mind, along with some emotional and mental work and growth. It’s been heavy lifting and it’s not over yet, but I feel that I am better for it.

2018 was a year full of change, both for myself and for dear ones close to me, and also a year of some beautiful, joyful moments.  I was gifted with the most amazing birthday in years by my loving husband and dear friends (I’m still chuffed from that, too). I also had the opportunity to throw off adulthood and run away to Disney and Harry Potter World for a Dapper Day weekend with a girlfriend. It was utterly splendid!

As this New Year’s Eve wanes, I hear the wind howling outside the windows of my house, and I find myself hoping that it will sweep away the figurative dark and dank and cold, the literal scary and disappointing and painful of this year, sweeping the doorstep clear for the new one.

So I will unlock the door and nudge it open to let the cool, end-of-year air sweep through to see 2018 out and usher 2019 in. It may stand there on the doorstep, blinking in the light, confused and maybe a little scared, just as we are. For a long moment, we may stand there staring at it and it at us. I hope we will take a deep breath and step forward to meet the new year with kindness, courage, determination, and truth.

So happy New Year, dear ones. May your year and selves be blessed.

The Work of Christmas


As Christmas Eve waited on deck this week, I found myself apologizing to my husband. Apologizing that our Christmas hadn’t been more special, more meaningful, more full of sweet, reflective moments. He just cradled my face, kissed me, reassured me that it had been just fine, and, more importantly, my pastor/husband reminded me that Christmas had not even begun yet. And you know what? He was right. Christmas hadn’t begun yet and neither had its work. The work of Christmas starts with Christmas Day. It is literally the first day of Christmas and its work continues on from there.

What does that mean, though: the work of Christmas? Jesus came to live, see the unseen, love the unloved, give His life for all, and offer a place to everyone. His work was love, and that work began with His birth. So how do we do the work of Christmas? We love. How do we love? We love by encouraging. We love by defending. We love by not giving up. We love by not giving in. We love by respecting. We love by swallowing our opinions and listening to the drop and opening of others’ hearts.

We do the work of Christmas by loving, by forgiving, by standing in the gap, by hearing, by listening, by speaking up when necessary. Christmas began yesterday, the old year is on its way towards the door, and we have an entire new one coming in which to do Christmas’s work. Will you join me in carrying Christmas throughout the whole of the year? No matter what you celebrate, what you call it, will you help me do the work of love this year? Will you help me set the world on fire with it in 2019? I could use your help, dear friend. Thank you.

What a T-shirt Reminded Me About Love


Today was the first day of my Spring Break, and I spent the day (and an empty house) running errands and sprucing up the place for Spring/Motherly visit/Easter weekend. As I knew that I had errands to run after dropping my daughter off at preschool, I simply pulled on jeans, flats, and a favorite t-shirt before shrugging on my coat (yes, it’s still ridiculously cold for spring). A clearance buy from UnlockHope.com, this shirt was a soft red with “Love is a Verb” lettered on the front in white stylized artistry. Yes, it is definitely a favorite: comfy and truthful.

A lesson I have taken to heart over the past ten years is the exact one this shirt expounds. Love is many things. It is not only a feeling, an emotion. Love is a choice. Love is an action. Love is doing for others, not just saying the three little words. As I moved throughout my day, I found myself contemplating the words on my shirt: “Love is a verb.” I started to look at my day’s activities in the light of this sentence. And I realized just how true it is.

I realized that I was loving my dear ones by taking care of getting the taxes done (almost always a depressing endeavor). We’ve had the same wonderful professional taking care of our taxes since the first year of our marriage because I fully and openly acknowledge that tax codes and laws are something I am complete and utter rubbish at. Utilizing someone else’s skills and expertise helps my family in the best way while also keeping us as safe from mistakes as possible.

I was loving as I washed dishes, cleaned the stove, and tidied the kitchen table, creating space ready for cooking and eating and ease of finding things.

I was loving as I filed away my daughter’s preschool worksheets and projects, saving evidence of her progress and growth for her grandmother to see, as well as the future.

I was loving as I filled the washing machine and folded the already-dried towels, ensuring that my dear ones have clean clothes to wear tomorrow and days after.

I was loving as I sorted through toys and tidied my girl’s table where she creates her art and plays with her Legos.

As I worked and cleaned, listening to my audiobook and pausing for quick text chats with friends (and even now as I sit tired and achy from the energy spent), I found myself sighing contently at the productivity and smiling at the connection my heart was making with my hands. Sometimes I forget that the everyday tasks I perform and the things that I do are love. Love personified. Love acted out. Because it’s true, dear ones.

Love is more than just a feeling.

Love is a choice.

Love is action, whether that action is holding space, tidying a sink full of dishes, hugging someone close and letting them cry, or listening closely without saying a word.

Love is indeed a verb.