Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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Resting in the Reality of My Name:  The Gift of Names and Identity

January 31, 2023

Leslie Bustard

I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name . . . And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge . . . [1]

My friend Ned and I were in his car driving along Millersville Pike, back to campus from a concert one night thirty-five years ago, discussing, of all things, what we planned to name our children. Had this conversation appeared in a story, I don’t think I would have picked up any particular foreshadowing—not the hint we would be married and have children in the future or the subtle clue of what made Ned, Ned

During our car ride conversation, I shared my plan to give my mom’s maiden name to my daughter as her first name and my middle name, which was my mom’s middle name, as her middle name. And he explained he was going to give his firstborn son his name—to be the Third. Two years later we were married and in three, he was cuddling our first daughter: Carey Anne Bustard. 

More names would follow, including those for Carey’s two sisters, Margaret Ellen and Elspeth Iona. And many others would come from Ned’s imagination. For example, he named his graphic design business World’s End Images, and then our little homeschool St. Clive’s Academy, our home BookEnd, the backyard swing set-tower Minas Gûl, and our book publishing company Square Halo Books. His penchant for naming added roots into our family culture.

I think this passion for naming began when Ned was a young boy. For instance, he came up with superhero names for his family and friends. Before Marvel movies became popular, Ned was voraciously reading their comic books. These stories inspired him to turn his siblings and friends into their own superhero team, The Revengers.  He named everyone on the team (he was Knightlight), designed their costumes, and decided on their powers. 

Decades later, Ned resurrected the team and created a new generation of superheroes. Starting with our girls and me, adding in his nieces and nephews, and then the girls’ friends, he created a diverse plethora of new Revengers. [2] He delighted in naming each member and fitting the name and power to the person’s personality, peculiarities, or talents. I was Peacemaker, and he was Great Man. Carey was Power Princess (and then Reverie), Maggie was Magpie, and Ellie, was Iona. [3]  Several other members included Chocolatier, Will-o-wisp, Stryker, and Indestructiboy. 

Over the years, I have enjoyed Ned’s imagination in naming—appreciating how it is a reminder of the call that God gave to Adam. [4] Before God created the woman for Adam to be his strong ally, God brought the animals to him to name. Later, he named the woman after the serpent deceived her, and after Adam had eaten fruit from the tree which God explicitly told them not to eat. [5] Because of their disobedience, they experienced deep shame for the first time, the desire to hide and cover up, and a quickness to blame-shift. God meted out consequences for their sin but also offered grace—his promise of a future salvation and born of a woman. After all of this, Adam named the woman Eve, meaning “the mother of all the living.” This name was a gift—one that spoke to their initial reality of being made in the image of God, and of Adam’s desire that she be reminded of God’s promises, not of their failures. They had been created to spread life into the world. Being named Eve was an offering of hope when both Adam and Eve needed it. [6]

The act of Naming in the ancient Hebrew culture was a creative act. In bestowing a name upon someone or something, they participated in the creation of its destiny and identity. [7]

Before I became Leslie Anne Bustard, wife of Edwin David Bustard, Jr., I was Leslie Anne Symons, daughter of Anne and Richard Symons. 

The surname Symons is from a long line of fishermen in Cornwall, England, while Bustard comes from a long line of farmers in Donegal, Ireland.  Even though these names are easily mispronounced and are not as familiar as Jones or Smith, I like the earthiness of them. [8] They sound like the names of humble people—like Mary, Joseph, or Jesus.

‘Leslie’ was an odd name to me when I was a young schoolgirl—not very girly or common. It struck me as sounding like a boy’s name. Historically, it has been used for boys and girls, but I was given the masculine spelling and pronunciation. As a young child, I had a deep desire to be accepted and feel acceptable. My father once told me they planned to name me Jennifer or Leslie. Teenager-me would have preferred Jennifer; all the Jennifers I knew didn’t seem to struggle with feeling comfortable in their own skin. 

The awkward feelings I had over my name mirrored my own awkwardness with myself, as well as my struggle with what it meant to truly love God and believe He truly loved me. But He who began a good work in young Leslie continued to be faithful as she grew up and added the names of Wife, Mother, Teacher, Friend, and Writer to her days.  

Reflecting on the various chapters of my life, especially the times my inner-struggle affected home life with Ned and our girls, I have been recognizing His faithfulness as He revealed more of Himself and more of His heart towards me. I know now those times when I named myself Too Worldly, or Pharisee, or Failure, He was with me. He was the one helping me seek after Him to find grace upon grace and light and life in Christ Jesus. Through the work of the Holy Spirit using Scripture, worship, life events, wise counsel, and poetry, a rooting reality of the glorious freedom of being a child of God formed in me. 

Ned’s proclivity for naming who and what entered his life found its telos in me. Early on in our marriage he nicknamed me “Luvkup.” He even created a cute little red heart guy, with arms out to give a hug, to go with it. Although luvkup and the heart guy make me smile, one of Ned’s other names for me, “Wife-of-my-Youth,” is a reminder of something more soul satisfying. 

A few weeks before Ned and I were married, a dear friend of ours shared how Ned’s love for me was an example to her of Christ’s love and how he chose to set his love on his bride the Church. 

For me, her sweet words have shown themselves to be true. 

I have many stories from the past three decades of how Ned has lived out Paul’s command to husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. [9] However, during the past few years as I have developed two types of cancer (Stage 4 melanoma and Stage 2 breast cancer), I have learned in deeper ways what it means to be Ned’s beloved, and in turn, how this has reoriented my heart to better see how I am God’s Beloved. 

Ned has carried the burden of sorrow and suffering with me. And along with so many other things, he has made certain I take my meds each day and arrive on time to appointments. He also knows when something isn’t right when all I want is sleep or Multigrain Cheerios.  He carried my burdens, physically and metaphorically, all those days-upon-days when my immunotherapy, the treatment to fight melanoma, caused my knees, feet, hands and arms to swell and get stiff, making it impossible for me to care for myself in every way; he got me out of bed, washed me and brushed my teeth, dressed me, and then made meals and did laundry—he kept us going while also juggling his own work.  In the ways I needed, he was strong and caring.

During the second and third years of this fight with cancer, I experienced many changes to my body that made me feel undesirable. My clothes size went up; my cheeks grew rounder. And each time I tried to follow an exercise routine or eating plan, something physical or emotional thwarted my intentions.  I wondered, how could Ned still want me as I gained so much weight from my medicines, had weird folds in my arms where dozens of lymph nodes had been removed, had a reduction in one of my breasts from a lumpectomy, and then went partially bald from radiation to fight a brain tumor (and these are just a few)? 

Psychiatrist Dr. Curt Thompson observes everyone wants to be seen, soothed, safe, and secure. [10] How true for me now and over the course of my whole life, too. 

From teenage years through adulthood, although I tried to hide it from others and myself, I was conflicted over how I perceived myself and how I was perceived. I might not be model-beautiful, but was I attractive? Was I thoughtful enough? Loving enough? Serving enough? Theologically correct enough? These heart conflicts didn’t rule me, but they did whisper loudly (despite Ned’s love and encouragement). I wanted to embrace the truth that charm and beauty are shifting sands, while fearing the Lord is a firm foundation upon which to build one’s life; as I imagine it is for others, this was a daily spiritual battle. And now, with all the changes to my body due to the consequences of cancer, could I find satisfaction in being praised as a woman who fears the Lord while my body was a mess—my beauty really proving fleeting? [11] Could I welcome Ned’s gaze and words, “You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you” [12] as a soothing balm and a place of security? 

I am very grateful to be alive, and I do understand why all these changes in my body have occurred and I have tried to be attentive to what God is offering to teach me. One lesson has been learning to see myself as not just my physical body, while knowing at the same time, because of the incarnation of God the Son, I am my body and that is good. The gift is that these changes in my body have not stopped Ned from being effusive. He continues to celebrate my creativity while I have cancer, while also expressing I am still who he wants. Consequently, I’ve been teaching myself to believe him when he names me Beautiful, Precious, and Desirable. Knowing he cherishes me more than I can imagine is a great freedom. This freedom leads me back to loving him, my family, and myself more deeply. 

And along the way, as Ned was showing me his love, God was saying, “This is me, Leslie. Ned’s love is a picture of my heart towards you. I want you to know: you are my Beloved.” 

As I started to hear this, I imagined and ruminated on different people whom Jesus welcomed into his life. To the woman at the well, even though he knew everything about her, he offered life. To the woman caught in adultery, he said, “I don’t condemn you.” He revealed himself to his friend, Mary Magdalene, as she wept at the tomb. Sometimes I pictured myself as the Prodigal Son, who upon returning to his father was enfolded in his arms. 

Bible verses about God’s love took on a timbre of reality that I had not heard before. Truly wonderful was I John 3:1a, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God!” and Isaiah 54:10 “‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be . . . ’ says the Lord. . . ” 

And though I knew this truth theologically, I started to understand even more deeply, that when God looks at me, He doesn’t just see my sin and say, “but I love you anyway.” He looks at me clothed in the righteousness of Christ and loves me as he loves his Son. There is no “but”—no qualifications—to His love, to His cherishing, or to His promise to complete the work He has begun in me. These promises have always been there, inviting me into the glorious freedom of being His.

Before I was given the name “Leslie” or the surname “Bustard,” I was named from eternity past Child of God. And through a myriad of ways I have learned to carry in my heart, be formed by, and live into each of these names. 

Although I didn’t like the name Leslie when I was younger, I grew up to gladly be one-half of “Ned and Leslie.” Becoming Ned’s beloved Wife-of-my-Youth is a treasure. 

“Leslie,” which means “to the fortress”—a description I failed to appreciate for many years—now is quite right. One of my favorite verses says, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous runs into it and is safe.” [13] What a joy to begin to realize that I am one of those who runs to the fortress and is welcomed into its refuge. 

And from that place of refuge I am secure, ever growing and deeply knowing in my heart what before I only knew in my mind, that the Creator of all—from whom every family in heaven and earth is named—calls me: Beloved. [14]

My beloved spoke and said to me,

“Arise, my darling,

my beautiful one, come with me.“

(Song of Songs 2:10)

I have learned to hear

God call me his Beloved

because your love for

me is the parable he

wrote to teach me to believe. [15]

[1] Ephesians 3:14-15, 17-19

[2] Yes, this is a blatant rip-off of The Avengers, but keep in mind, he was a little kid.

[3] There are more family stories behind each name and power, but this is probably not the time to go down that rabbit trail.

[4] Genesis 2:18-20

[5] Genesis 2:17

[6] It is no surprise to any young student of the Bible that names and naming is important. In addition to the names of God (Creator, I AM Who I AM, Yahweh, the LORD, Jehovah Jirah ) Moses named his first son Gershom, saying, “I have been a stranger in a strange land” and then named his second son Eliezer. Eliezer is Eli, meaning God, and ezer, meaning helper. By naming his son Eliezer, Moses bore witness to God as his strong helper during the hard times leading the Hebrews out of Egypt. Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, renamed herself “Mara,” to reflect the bitter turn her life had taken, and Jesus renamed Simon to Peter and said of him, “Upon this rock I will build my church.”

[7] Steven Roach, Naming the Animals (Baltimore, MD: Square Halo Books, 2020), page 37.

[8] Symons was originally Symonds, but the “d” was dropped when my father’s parents moved to America from England in the early 1900s. I have heard it mispronounced Simmons. Bustard may have come from the word bastard, indicating some unsavory history. However, Ned likes to highlight the Bustard bird—the largest, heaviest flying bird in the world. My mother-in-law prefers to pronounce Bustard with a French flair, “Boos-stahrd.” I, on the other hand, gamely say, especially when introducing myself to a classroom full of middle-schoolers, “It’s Bustard, like mustard, but with a B.”

[9] Ephesians 5:25–33a

[10] I highly recommend everyone read Curt Thompson’s The Soul of Desire: Discovering the Neuroscience of Longing, Beauty, and Community

[11] Proverbs 31:30

[12] Song of Solomon 4:7 (NIV)

[13] Proverbs 18:10

[14] Ephesians 3:15 ESV

[15] Originally published in the collection The Goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living: Selected Poems by Leslie Anne Bustard, Square Halo Books, 2023.

Featured image is courtesy of Aaron Burden via Unsplash. We are grateful for his generosity.


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  1. Leslie, this piece is blessing me so much. It’s so hard lately for me to 1) embrace my physical self as “good” because of the sacred truth of the Incarnation, 2) believe my husband when he calls me beautiful and precious in his eyes, and 3) fight that temptation to constantly self-evaluate and self-criticize (that whole bit where you ask yourself “Am I attractive enough? Thoughtful enough? Theologically correct enough?” is SO RELATABLE!). Your vulnerable, honest, gentle words are reminding me, just when I need it most, to rest in my true identity and in the love of both Jesus and my husband.

  2. Angela says:

    This is just so so good. Thank you, Leslie!

  3. Emily says:

    What a sweet gift to see a little ‘behind the scenes’ of two people’s work I enjoy so much ☺️.
    I find myself, through different circumstances, with many of the same wonderings, and am grateful for the truth God is speaking to my heart through your writing. Thank you for continuing to share God’s work in you 💜.

  4. This is breathtaking, Leslie. Thank you for writing it, for sharing it, and for the extraordinary generosity with which you live your life with Ned. What a gift it is to know you both and call you friends!

  5. Rebecca D. Martin says:

    Wonderful meditation. Thank you for sharing these deeply personal things.

  6. Julie Kaye Henderson says:

    Thank you, Leslie, for this gorgeously written and soulful oblation.

    May you continue to experience the depth and breadth and all-around boundlessness of God’s love for you. Take care. Be encouraged.

  7. Yvonne says:

    Dear Leslie,
    Your words a balm to this listener, learning, understanding the significance of names, naming, growing. Thank you!
    Your cancer battle has not stopped the love shining out of your eyes, your story meaningful, therefore given credibility to your knowing, being, His beloved. From my heart to yours, thank you for your words, poems and stories, witness. Gratefully!

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