Some exciting news!

“God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.” Genesis 1:27 (CEB)

Neil DeGrasse Tyson gets unusually excited when he explains how humans came into being. Our molecules can be traced to the stars that exploded billions of years ago, scattering gas clouds that collapsed, forming our own solar system, then molding the earth and all creation that inhabits it. “We are not only figuratively, but literally, stardust,” he exclaims with wide eyes.

What a beautiful illustration of God’s creativity and power. Genesis tells us God spoke into the chaos and brought order. God molded the laws of physics and meticulously crafted atoms.

God created humans out of dust – stardust. Then God breathed life into humans differently than any other part of creation. You were created by God, in God’s image, with the very breath of life in you.

This same spark rests in each of us. God’s image is in us all, and from that perspective, it becomes easier to love others. You have the most important thing in common with the person who is most different from you in the entire world-God’s breath.

God of the universe, you are powerful and big, and yet you have left your mark on me. Remind me that we are all your image-bearers. Amen.

 

Some exciting news, friends – I submitted that piece ^^^ to be published in a devotional book, and it didn’t make it…BUT THIRTEEN OTHERS DID!!!

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And for some even more exciting news – Just Breathe: 365 Devotional Journal is available today!! You can get this gem at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Target (OMG something with my name on it is sold in Target, y’all).

Writing just never feels like a job. I love it too dang much. I’m so grateful to have the opportunities that I’ve stumbled upon. Shout out to Ann Swindell for giving me a heads up about the call for submissions! I took a writing class from her, and y’all – she’s the real deal. If you’re looking to hone your craft, check out her Writing With Grace course.

I can’t believe God has called me to write. It’s the thing I love most, and I get to do it as ministry – what?! May the words on the page and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to You, O Lord – my rock and my redeemer.

 

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Dear Graduates: Advice from a Millennial

Dear Graduates of 2017,

Congratulations! You made it! You could see the light at the end of the tunnel, but now you’re out of the tunnel completely! You’re done. You took all the tests. You wrote all the papers. You did your time. On to the next chapter, friends.

Transitioning out of high school is so very exciting because it’s like pushing the reset button. No matter what your high school experience was, you can move forward in a different way if you want to.

Didn’t have a great time in high school? It’s all water under the bridge!  Felt forced into a particular stereotype for the past four years? Done and done – break free! Bullied or teased? Take care of yourself – get the help you need, and do the hard work of healing. But also, move forward!

Pushing that reset button can also be terrifying – if you don’t know who you want to be. There are so many options! We have so many voices telling us who to be, what to do, what to believe, and how to act in society, that it’s really hard to decide at your age what’s next for you.

You may or may not know exactly what you want to do when you grow up, and that’s okay – my path isn’t anything what I thought it would be when I was 18. You may not know exactly who you are just yet. And that’s okay too – it gets better; the 20s are way fun! But today I’m going to give you a little bit of advice – as if you haven’t heard enough advice the past month, I know. And really, a millennial giving advice seems a bit much, doesn’t it? But despite what Boomers and GenXers with a chip on their shoulders like to say, I – a Millennial who received participation trophies as a child – have learned a few things over the years.

Tattoos are permanent.

You really only need to know two things about me: I’m a control freak, and I love the Beatles.

After graduating, I found myself caught in the rat race. I was stressed and anxious, and I never felt like I was good enough – perfectionism was my drug. This kind of lifestyle left me feeling completely out of control. And really, that’s one of the first lessons I learned as an adult – a lot of the time, I am out of control. I can’t change most things in life – what I look like, my IQ, most of my circumstances, the list goes on…But feeling out of control drove me crazy. So naturally – as any good Millennial would do – I got a tattoo.

“Let it Be.”

This was my perfect reminder that I just needed to let go and realize that I couldn’t be in control all the time.

Extra piece of advice: Y’all. Don’t get a tattoo while you’re in distress. Especially when the tattoo artist rolls his eyes and calls you “so original” when you tell him what you want tattooed on your body.

As much as I loved that tattoo – and I actually still do – looking back, I probably wouldn’t have gotten it if I really thought about the consequences further down the road. I knew what I was getting myself into – it wasn’t my first tattoo. I knew it was permanent. But I don’t think I fully grasped the concept “permanent.”

Our smallest and insignificant choices can actually turn out to be extremely permanent. What you post on Instagram, what you say to someone about someone else in confidence, what you decide to eat today. All of these little tiny choices add up, and if we keep making thoughtless and careless choices, it’s going to come back someday.

Keep in mind as you’re navigating through life that your choices matter. How you spend your time, who you spend your time with, how you spend your money, what you put in (and on) your body, it all matters. These choices all have lasting consequences.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I got into an argument. I was hell-bent on changing his mind and having my way, and I got all flustered about it. I could feel my face flush, and my words jumbled together. I was clearly out of control. In the middle of my sentence, I saw a sly smile creep across his face, and he said to me, “Melissa….just ‘let it be.’”

I can never win an argument ever again in my life because I have a tattoo that says Let it Be.

Tattoos are permanent.

Ovens are better than microwaves.

During the first couple years of marriage, our “go-to” meal was a burger patty and a sweet potato. While Bill cooked burgers on the George Foreman, I usually got the sweet potatoes ready. When we first started doing this, I tried a few different ways to cook the sweet potatoes. I boiled them, then I tried baking them in the oven, and I even made sweet potato fries once (but Bill ate all of them about 15 minutes before we went to Crossfit and got pretty sick, so that was the last time I did that).

But as life got busy, I started just microwaving them. Because it’s a lot quicker and easier. I can peel them if I want to, put them on a plate, pop them in the microwave for 15 minutes, and go do something else. And about the same time the burgers are ready, so are the sweet potatoes. No planning required.

Have you ever seen a microwaved sweet potato? It’s…weird.

It looks like a pencil eraser or some kind of sponge. Some of the extra water seeps out in weird ways that make it look like a milky film, and I can count rings on it like you do a tree. And I eat it not because I enjoy it, but because I’m really freaking hungry. I’ll tolerate it because it was easy.

But when I roast sweet potatoes – my mouth is watering just thinking about it. It takes a lot longer, but they taste so good. I set the oven, dice the sweet potatoes and toss them with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. I place them in the oven for 30 minutes. While I’m waiting, I can smell the sweetness cooking, and it makes me hungrier just thinking about it. I have to keep an eye on them to make sure they get the right amount of crispy, but if I take them out too soon, they’re rubbery. It takes time and a little bit of work.

In a world of microwavable dinners, get rich quick schemes, and this selfish mindset that we deserve to have whatever we want as quickly as possible, it’s really easy to give in to the mentality that I deserve whatever makes me happy right now.

But that’s just not true. We see it all over Pinterest and Instagram, and we hear it in chick flicks and in Twilight books, and we talk about our happiness as if it’s a microwavable dinner – that it’s quick, easy, painless, and that we don’t have to work for it. But it’s quite the opposite.

Long-term happiness and quality of life are actually inversely related to short-term happiness. For those of us who aren’t very good at math, that just means that long-term happiness sometimes comes at the expense of short-term happiness. If your goal is to have a great job someday, you’re going to have to sacrifice some of your down-time to study so you can get the grades. If you want kids, you have to stop acting like one. If you want to be able to retire at a certain age, you have to sacrifice part of each paycheck to go toward your retirement fund, which means living a simpler life right now. If you want to be fulfilled in the long-run, it takes work, sacrifice, and feeling a little uncomfortable now in order to invest in your future.

Short-term happiness is like a microwaved sweet potato. It may look good, and sometimes it even is good, but it’s not as good as roasted potatoes. The roasted potatoes take more work, and it takes longer to cook, but it’s worth it. Your long-term happiness – that I believe comes from joy in the Lord and serving others, not serving yourself – takes hard work and sacrifice. But it’s always worth it.

Ovens are better than microwaves.

Social media is not social.

So I have to admit. I actually wrote this piece a few years ago. The original text said: “How long can a video be on Vine?”

Does anyone even know what Vine is anymore?

That’s my point.

Social Media arose quickly. My high school years began with AIM (AOL Instant Messaging), and by the time I graduated, I was on Facebook. In between those years, I had a Xanga and a Myspace. It emerged quickly, but it has changed even quicker. So while you think your friendships may last past high school because of SnapChat, before you know it, that app will be obsolete. Then what?

We have fooled ourselves into thinking that we have friends because of the number of followers we have on Instagram. Or we measure our popularity and worth by the number of likes we got on our last post. How social are you, really, when you get together with your friends and all you do is pop onto your phones and not talk? What kind of depth is that?

Get off social media for awhile – and I’m preaching to the choir, y’all. Power off and look up for a second. Take in the beauty that is life. Make eye contact. Connect – really connect – with real people. Face to face.

Get plugged in to some kind of community that’s worth more than 140 characters. Talk about something meaningful – figure out ways to change the world for the better. Go outside and enjoy creation. Join a real community that’s going to last longer than the newest social media challenge – anyone even remember the Harlem Shake anymore? Find your identity in something other than the number of followers you have.

Social venues change and evolve through time, but there has been one movement, one community that has stood the test of time. It has endured empires and genocide; political turmoil and times of peace; it spans across time and space; it is not confined to one corner of the earth or one race, gender, ethnicity, or culture. This community – the Body of Christ – brings light to the darkness, and it started changing the world 2000 years ago. The Church is still changing the world today.

It’s bigger than you, and it’s bigger than me. It’s bigger than my small group or your local church or even one denomination. It’s certainly bigger than American Christianity, and it’s even bigger than our current global Christianity. When we join the Church, we join a cosmic movement and a cloud of witnesses who have come before us and will come after us. It’s so much bigger than my plans. Yet it’s small enough that it began in homes. With people. Eating bread and drinking wine together. Laughing. Talking. Singing.

This is the community I urge you to join, wherever you may go. Whether you stay near your hometown or move halfway around the world, you can find this kind of community. Wherever the bread and wine is, there is Christ. And all are welcome at that table.

Social Media is not social.

Dear ones, you have the world at your fingertips. You stand on the edge of the rest of your life, and boy, are you in for a wild ride. You’ve got ups and downs, twists and turns coming your way. You’ll learn more than you ever knew you could. You will meet the most amazing and strange and frustrating and wonderful people. With eyes wide and open hands, take it all in, green ones. You are about to embark on the most fun, scariest, toughest, and most magical days of your life. Here is your fresh start. Push that reset button, if you want to, and be on your way. Whatever your plans are after graduation, choose carefully and thoughtfully, work hard and sacrifice for your future, and change the world through meaningful community.

Reaffirming my Baptismal Covenant

OK, so I lied.

Instead of writing about 3 R words, I’m doing four. Deal with it.

When Jesus lovers are baptized into the Christian tradition, they take on a new identity – one that renounces the spiritual forces of wickedness, rejects the evil powers of this world, and repents of your sin.

That’s really hard to do. For me, it’s like walking a tight rope. I want to identify all the places in the world that suck, reject everything that’s not good and lovely and holy, but I also need to do that without being a little jerk myself. I also need to recognize that I’m capable of the same things that aren’t good or lovely or holy and that I can suck. And then I need to stop sucking. It’s in me, too.

Thank God that’s not the only part of the baptismal covenant.

Read the rest at The Hipster Ginger!

That Dirty “R” Word – Repentance

The other day, I talked about the first two R words in the baptismal covenant: renounce and reject. For someone like me, who is called to written word as a deacon in the United Methodist Church, the first two R’s are really easy. I see injustice, and I tell people about it. Sometimes loudly. What’s not easy is renouncing and rejecting evil in the world without giving in to the anger and hate that so easily entangles when I feel passionately about something. It’s also really tough to take a stance on anything without offending someone.

The latter, I can handle. I know that speaking out against evil has always been an unpopular task, and if I aim to please everyone on earth, I’m complicit in my silence. But what I cannot be okay with, is hurting someone because of my tone and how I engage in conversation.

I remember posting a status on Facebook lamenting police brutality against people of color, and it was like the sky fell, man. I was accused of perpetuating violent crime against police by fueling the fire. People I haven’t spoken with face to face in years decided now was the time to re-engage in my life. The conversation devolved into yelling points taken verbatim from some of the most conservative and liberal media out there. I tried to moderate the conversation and steer it back on track (I’m all for healthy debate on policy, but I will not debate the inherent dignity of human beings), but it ended up with a real-life #thanksobama comment and something like, “you young people just don’t know what it was like during the Civil Rights Movement, so move along.”

Woof.

My final comment before I deleted the entire thread went something like this: “Aaaaaalllrrighty then. Two thumbs down for how this went. I will not back down from my stance, and I’m happy to debate policy with anyone via private message. What I will not tolerate is people I know and love accusing others, belittling others, and refusing to actually discuss. Byyyyee.”

Read the rest at The Hipster Ginger!

Renounce and Reject

I don’t have cable. I waste enough time on Netflix, and I get enough bad news on my Facebook feed everyday. Social media brings out the monster in just about everyone. Scroll for like, five minutes, and it’s easy to see that something has gone wrong in this world. Corruption, murder, terrorism, racism, Islamophobia, genocide, the list goes on. And those are just the broad terms – I can find at least one news story today under each of these categories.

History is plagued with violent death and the abuse of power, people, and the earth’s resources. It is not simply in the large catastrophic events that we sense brokenness, but also in our own relationships, thoughts, and habits. Our proclivity toward the things that make us dead inside seems so inherent that we’re left pondering the age-old question regarding the slippery slope of our human nature: “How did we fall so far?”

I once tried to write a seminary paper disproving the doctrine of Original Sin. I didn’t get very far before I changed my mind.

We’re entangled in it – born into systems that oppress people of color, women, people with disabilities, people who look, think, believe differently than the dominant culture. It was there in the beginning. On a communal level groups of people – clubs, clans, societies, even countries – choose to give in to evil as a whole. This kind of evil can start out as small actions, but when left unchecked, transforms into oppressive systems, injustice, war, and abuse. Systemic evil leads to the destruction of all of creation – the environment, animals, and other humans. And we’ve inherited these systems of oppression and greed. As a white woman who grew up in an upper-middle class family, I have benefited from these systems.

So what does it look like to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness and reject the evil powers of this world when the world looks like this?

Read the rest at The Hipster Ginger!

Our Baptismal Covenant

The other day I disclosed that I was baptized twice: when I was an infant and again in a youth group that told me my first baptism was illegitimate. I now see that this was clearly a denominational doctrinal difference, and I embrace my infant baptism as the real one. That second one was just a celebration of what I already had done. Or something like that. Or I was just emotionally manipulated into getting baptized again. One of the two.

It’s not like my Methodist church threw some water on me as an infant then left me to my own devices to figure out this God-stuff. Churches who baptize infants have something called Confirmation. It’s like, part two of baptism. When I was in sixth grade, I went through a class with my peers, where we learned the basics of the faith, the ins and outs of Methodism, and we served people. A lot. After months of Sunday evenings in Confirmation, we had the opportunity to choose for ourselves to join the church, Some kids did, some didn’t. And before we joined, we “remembered our baptism.”

Now, this was before my second baptism, so I couldn’t literally remember my baptism. But it was another symbol. A way for us to confirm our own baptism in our lives – to confirm that God had been at work before we could even remember, and that God is continuing to work now. The pastor even sprinkled some water on us. Then we joined the church, answering these questions:

Read the rest at The Hipster Ginger!

Good Ol’ H2O

About 71 percent of this tiny swirling gem in the middle of our vast universe is covered up with water. Two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen. Almost three-fourths of our home.

The average human body is made up of 57-60 percent water. It’s in the food we eat, the air we breathe, the tears we shed, the kisses we share. Unborn babies swim in it for nine months.

Water is life.

And so, when we say baptism is a symbol of God’s grace working in our lives – even before we realize it – we mean it. The grace in which we swim, breathe, eat, share – the grace that gives us life and sustains us. God’s grace is all around us – within us, even. And the water that washes over us at baptism is the tangible reminder of that grace.

And I don’t really know what it is about the water that makes it such a magical experience, but all I know is that when when I hear the water pouring into the basin, and when I watch it wash over the head of a child of God, the space between heaven and earth feels thin.

Read the rest of this post at The Hipster Ginger here!

Water, Soulmates, and Growing Things

I like to garden. I’m not very good at it, but it still brings me joy and inner peace in a way that really nothing else does. I’m from Texas, so waiting this long to put seeds in the ground only to have them swept away by the Kansas wind or the surprise freeze still gets me. My Dad gardens too, and last month he sent me pictures and videos of his lush yard. LAST MONTH.

And I’m over here like:

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It’s…finally…time!

I bought some plants the other day, and they are thirsty! Even with some rain, they’re wilting quicker than I remember they did last year. My pansies went through half a gallon of water the other day! (For gardeners out there, is that normal? I’ve never done pansies before.)

I’ve got basil on my windowsill sandwiched between two coffee plants. That’s right – coffee plants. We like our coffee in the Gepford house.

I even have a President Obama Chia Pet that I gave up on a long time ago. That thing needs to be filled to the brim at all times – which had me watering it, like, twice a day. Thanks, Obama. No chia hair for you.

So much water.

Over Lent, I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on water. My wonderful friend and soul mate, Katie Parris Coleman, took on an incredible challenge during that season: blog every single day. About stuff with substance. Y’all. That’s tough. She invited me to be a guest blogger, and how could I pass that up? I wrote a series of posts on water – its significance in the Christian faith, baptism, our Methodist baptismal covenant and what that means for me…that kind of stuff.

Just some stuff about Katie: this chick rocks. She’s got tons of tattoos and natural bright red hair and a laugh I could recognize a mile away. She’s passionate about social justice and loves Jesus with her whole heart, mind, and soul.

Katie and I met at seminary. She sat a couple rows ahead of me, and on the first day of class Dr. Cardoza called roll.

Melissa Collier? “Here.”
Spencer Hickman? “Here.”
Ben Pascoe? “Here.”
Katie Parris? *turning around to face the rest of the class* “Here, and if you call me Katy Perry, I will slice you.”

That’s when I knew we were soul mates. I don’t believe in romantic love soul mates, but I totally believe in what Ann of Green Gables calls “kindred spirits.” Katie and I were just drawn to each other, and even though we are 3 states apart, when we talk, we pick up right where we left off.

Love, you Katy Perry!

Check out my first post for Katie here!

Vapor, Dust, Ash

vapor-dust-ash

Lent began yesterday with Ash Wednesday.

Lent is a 40 day fast leading up to Easter, during which Christians typically abstain from something or take on an additional spiritual practice in order to grow closer to God and neighbor. Ash Wednesday is the day we remember our mortality – dust. Just how fleeting our lives really are – vapor. Our sin – ash.

And boy, was I aware of all that yesterday.

I have to admit – yesterday wasn’t a good day for me. I was tired. I wasn’t the most patient. I picked fights with people I love. Ahem, sorry Bill.

My church, Tonganoxie United Methodist Church, hosted an Ash Wednesday service. We read verses from Ecclesiastes, the most depressing yet hopeful book in the Bible, sang sad songs, and received big black ash crosses on our foreheads to seal the deal.

If you ever want a super humbling experience, try leading an Ash Wednesday service and receiving ashes from your spouse after a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

“You are dust.”

“Yeah, I know.”

If you’re like me – a procrastinator – maybe you’re just now considering observing Lent this year. Or maybe you’re still figuring out what you’re going to give up…and maybe you’ll figure that out a week before Easter. Those lukewarm mainline Christians…

If that’s you, or if you didn’t experience an Ash Wednesday service, or if you did but want to double remember your mortality, check out what TUMC did.

psst – the music is rockin. Check out The Brilliance.

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