Nearly five years ago I stepped back into my former church with a fresh start on life. At the end of the service I turned to see a familiar face from the Baptist Student Union (now Baptist Collegiate Ministries). “Missy?? What are you doing here?” We gave each other the quick update on why we returned to Blacksburg (she just started a position with BCM, I returned to finish my degree). We made plans to catch up.
Later that week we met at the Squires Food Court and had lunch. When I filled her in on the events that brought me to this point in my life Missy did something no one else had done, she cried. I was instantly struck by how much compassion she could have for someone she barely knew and hadn’t seen in seven years. I was beyond blessed that God led me back to an acquaintance and made her a treasured friend.
It seems fitting that around the time our friendship began to grow she very kindly asked me to stop calling her Missy and start calling her Melissa. Just when I finally thought I’d made the mental switch, I met her in front of Bollo’s and said “Hey there, missy!” I truly meant “missy” as in how one could address a female. I’ll never forget her smiling and shaking her head as I tried to explain my unintended slip :)
As I reflect more about Melissa I remember these things:
- Melissa was the biggest networker I’ve ever met. When she met someone new she knew who shared their interests, who they would get along with and how to bring those people together. She knew not to be all things to all people but to instead put people in touch with others with whom they could build lasting relationships. Melissa knew when she could help and who to send someone to when she couldn’t.
- Melissa’s relationship with Christ was amazing. It wasn’t a cross she bore, it didn’t hold her back, it wasn’t like a showy piece of jewelry and it wasn’t strewn with guilt. Melissa’s relationship with Christ was a real, thriving best-friendship.
- When Melissa shared her opinion on a matter, you knew it was authentic to her beliefs. If she gave her opinion about scripture, it came after thought and reflection. Most of us in our very enthusiastic small group would immediately chime in to answer questions or voice opinions, but Melissa would generally take time to form her response. When she did respond, it was powerful and thought provoking. I always admired her for that (among many other things).
- I loved going places and spending relaxing quiet time drinking tea with her, but I have to laugh when I think of watching tv with Melissa. She was a hilarious person to watch tv with. Thinking of her reactions and laugh during the ridiculous shows we watched will always bring a smile to my face. When I think of her willingness to laugh and be silly it reminds me not to take the little things too seriously. Melissa knew how to have fun!
- Melissa went to so many events of friends and students. “Hey, one of my students is in … and I want to support them. Wanna come?” Not once did I hear her complain about the number of events she attended. I wish she had counted the number of theatre, music, coffee shop performances, sporting events, games or speeches she went to in a semester to cheer on those she loved. Melissa supported others with joy!
- If she wasn’t able to attend our small group, she sent emails to the group or individuals saying she would pray for their specific requests. Melissa received a large number of prayer requests, texts and emails every day but still made time to reply and reach out to everyone. Melissa took the power of prayer very seriously and was devout and faithful in her prayers.
- Melissa never told me I was wrong about feeling something, it was my reaction to what I felt that mattered the most. I have never felt so distant from and mad at God as I have felt after Melissa’s passing. But I know she would tell me to work through it. To experience my emotions, talk through them with God and supportive friends. Not to hide it or be ashamed but to constructively work through it. It blows my mind that I am using the advice she gave me in life to come to terms with her passing.
A few weeks ago I had a breakthrough in my anger with God. A very loud thunderstorm erupted during the opening hymn of Saturday mass. Hearing thunder over the sound of the piano and congregation singing made me worry about the severity of the storm but I couldn’t stop playing piano to check my weather app or look outside. I could do nothing if a tornado or other damaging weather was coming. I felt helpless until I began to realize a few things:
- I was probably in one of the sturdiest buildings in Blacksburg which also happened to be a house of the Lord.
- In a storm of earth, I was safe here with the Lord.
- In the storms of life, God has a strong temple in my soul that holds fast with strength and beauty against all things.
- God kept His temple strong and beautiful in Melissa through all of her storms.
I suddenly remembered a vision I had while in deep prayer in late April/early May 2011 for discernment and direction for Melissa. I saw Melissa in my mind’s eye on a map of Virginia in the midst of a mountainous wilderness. Two hands came down, picked her up and carried her toward the eastern end of the state. The hands did not set her down but created calm around her and eased her mind. “She will go through storms and uncertainty but I will keep her in the palm of My hand and bring her out of the storm”. I told Melissa about this prayerful vision when it happened and had forgotten about it until that moment. No matter what happened to Melissa, God kept her safe and brought her out of the storm. The Lord told me He was going to do that over a year ago but I couldn’t begin to fathom what He meant at the time.
In Melissa I found a very rare friend. A combination of unconditional love, a compassionate & non-judgmental attitude, and true advice from someone who wanted you to live your best possible life. The amazing part is not just that I found a friend who treated me this way, I found a friend who treated ALL of her friends this way. No matter what happened, Melissa was a good friend to all of her friends.
Six months later I find myself wondering how she can be gone when her spirit still feels so present. When I still think of asking her to go somewhere or when I think “I’ve got to tell Melissa” before I remember I can’t. When I realize I kept so many assorted teas at my house just to hear her say “ooh, I think I’ll try that one!” When it feels like she’s on a super long mission trip with no internet or phone and all I want to do is call her.
When my brain can’t wrap around the reality of life without Melissa (which, quite honestly, it hasn’t yet), I go back to this mission trip idea. I imagine her joyfully greeting new college students, helping them transition to their Heavenly home and grow in their walk with Christ. She left for this mission trip covered in prayer and love. The pain of missing her is eased by knowing she is in a place she loves and knowing she’ll tell me all about it when I see her again…