The Bee with a Heart

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Photo by Jamie Sutter

I was named after Barry Manilow’s dog. Or Scott English’s dog. Or maybe a Quaalude. So maybe I don’t know who (or what) the song “Mandy” is about, and maybe my mom didn’t either. But she did love the song the year I was born. She and my father had a deal. If I was born a boy, he could pick my first name and she would pick the middle name. If I was a girl, it would work the other way around. I would be named Amanda Denise and she would call me Mandy.

No one expected that I would come into the world with so much drama. And no one who knows me today would expect me to have arrived early. I was over two months premature and my birth involved a helicopter life flight to Long Beach Memorial Hospital. Hearts stopped, drugs were administered, and by the time they were ready to record the name my mother was out cold. So my father decided to get sneaky and choose both names. Melissa Denise. He didn’t count on the depth of my mother’s resolve, however, and I have been called Mandy my entire life. I think if he’d told them to put Elizabeth or Tawanda on the birth certificate she still would have called me Mandy.

I was confused when I entered school and had to learn to write the name Melissa on papers. I spelled it with two l‘s and one s for the longest time. As I got older I kind of liked having an alias, and was always amused the first day of roll call when I got to correct the teacher calling out Melissa to inform them that “I go by Mandy.” When I entered college I decided I would switch to my real, grown-up name. It lasted about seven minutes. I never knew people were talking to me, even though I’d introduced myself as Melissa. I was back to being Mandy by the second day of class.

When I first got involved with church as a teenager I found out that names have meanings, and I was excited to find out what my names meant. I was particularly stoked that I had an extra blessing of purpose over my life with the two name business. So I went to the corner Christian bookstore with my new Christian friends and bought some Christian CDs and Christian name cards. There was an entire turning rack devoted to these name cards, sorted alphabetically like the name key chains you can buy in a truck stop. Names were scrawled at the top in flowing script and a short line of meaning and a Scripture verse were all printed over a busy floral background.I found the Melissa card and the Mandy card and took them, along with my Jars of Clay Christmas album, to the checkout counter. A very nice lady in a denim dress took my money, gave me my change, and handed me a bag with some free bookmarks that had Bible verses printed on them.

It turns out that Melissa means “honey bee.” This was very disappointing. Honey bee? What does that even mean? I’m an imaginative girl, and I couldn’t come up with a way to make that significant. Mandy was much more promising – it means “worthy of love.” That was cute.

As I matured a little bit, however, I discovered I had a serious issue with the idea of receiving love. I was full to brimming over with Shame. I was convinced there was nothing good in me, nothing that wasn’t rotted and dark and evil and broken. My only hope was that Jesus loved me anyway. But there was nothing worth loving in me. I wore long hair in my face, caps with brims pulled over my eyes, avoided mirrors or eye contact. These issues went a little beyond low self-esteem; I loathed myself. I could only function in the world by trying to forget that people could see me. I’m sure I was a difficult person to befriend during those years, always spurning and rejecting the love offered to me. And I was surrounded by loving people who went above and beyond to demonstrate their love, their unconditional acceptance, to speak affirmation and purpose into my spirit.

One of the first times I remember feeling the love of another really penetrate my psyche was when I dated a certain guy in my early twenties. He bought me one of those Christian name cards and included it in a birthday gift. He’d written that I was indeed worthy of love, and that he was humbled to be the one to love me. He was a truthful boy, kind and gentle and sincere. I had a choice to make: reject his words and call him a liar or accept what he said, as hard as it was to hear. I chose to trust him, and much of our relationship was spent by me learning how to accept his love. In the end the relationship wasn’t meant to last, but the impact of marinating in someone’s love was permanent. I started seeing a counselor and sought to work through my shame and self-hatred issues.

It has been a long journey, and it continues today. I’ve spent countless hours meditating on the words of Scripture speaking love and redemption and renewal over me. I’ve worked hard to accept compliments and acts of love directed my way, to not shrug off or reject the kind words and deeds of others. When hateful accusations crash through my brain I try to respond with words of gentleness and self-acceptance.

Sitting alone in my church sanctuary one day when I was twenty-five I was praying and reading my Bible, desperate for direction. I was being asked to accept a huge change in my life and I felt paralyzed with fears of inadequacy. I put an unfamiliar CD into the back stereo system, turned it up so that the music would fill the room, and sat in a corner on the floor. Then I did something I never, ever do (I swear!). I opened my Bible and let it fall to a random spot, asking God to direct the pages. As my eyes fell on the words, the singer in the speakers began to sing the exact same lines I was reading:

“I have called you by name; you are Mine.”

It was one of those eerie, holy, weird moments. I felt chills up my spine at the sheer coincidence that I would hear this song with lyrics pulled directly from Scripture as I randomly began to read the same words in the middle of this 566-page book. My attention was certainly caught, and I began to run that line over and over in my head. God has called me by name. I am His. He calls me by name. He knows my name. He calls me worthy of love. I am His.

I realized that it was just possible that my mom’s love for that Manilow tune might have been divinely inspired. Maybe it was through her that God called me by name, insisting that I forever be reminded that I am worthy of love. That before I knew Him, during the atheist days of hating the thought of God, through the suicidal darknesses and philosophical questionings, I was always His. Always safe. Always loved.

A few years later I was thinking about this name thing, realizing that the more I grew to accept my love-worthiness the more free I felt to love other people. I had so many hurting people in my world all the time, and it was beautiful to see my own capacity to love increase. I thought about the honey bee, flitting about carrying the essence of life from one beautiful thing to another. I laughed out loud, a little self-mockingly, as I realized that Melissa might have more significance as a name than I’d ever believed (cheesy though it may be).

When I went in for the tattoo I had no idea if I would walk out with one. All I could tell the artist was that I wanted a bee, not too cartoon-y and not realistic (ew, I hate insects). And I wanted the idea of love incorporated, but I didn’t just want a bright yellow bug in the center of a heart. I knew I would be super picky, and I wasn’t sure how tolerant he would be. But his second design was perfect. Keeping with the henna coloring, he worked the word “love” into the wing design – genius! The heart at the center was subtle but significant. And the bee design was exactly what I wanted without realizing it: simple, different, sweet. So many namesakes to keep up with. But so worth the effort to try.

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4 Comments

  1. kyle said,

    August 17, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    these have been some beautiful posts, fascinating and very powerful. thanks for sharing!

  2. whimzie said,

    August 19, 2013 at 2:18 am

    Beautiful, beautiful post. Loved this.


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