About Me, Confessions, Friends, Ministry

Freshman Year of College

I’m in many “sandwiched” friendships. I’m close friends with women in their 40s who are getting ready to send their kids off to college for the first time. I’m also friends with those 16-20 year old kids of theirs. It’s a really fun dynamic.

Many of our conversations are centered around the topic of college and I’ve been feeling rather sentimental about my own experience.


Let it be known that when I left for college in 2004, I was equipped with exactly zero computers.  I may have stashed my TI-83 calculator in my bookbag for good luck, but basically I had a pile of ruled notebooks. Oh, and I had a stack of floppy discs for saving my work on the library computers. (No flash drives, no google drive or dropbox, not even re-writable cds. Kevin would tell you I was completely behind the times, and I was a tiny bit, but this was how my high school had taught me.) A few months into school, I bought Kevin’s old laptop off of him so he could buy the iBook4 (which had 60 gbs of memory).

My school email address was my first ever and it was a doozy:  mf230298@arbor.edu. Kevin taught me how to AIM instant messenger and I chatted online with my college friends as “arborfish19.” (My maiden name was “Fish.”) I had a Xanga blog (which I tried to find just now and it has been archived because it hasn’t been used in 5 years …or 10).

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please note: these photos were scanned onto my computer. They were taken with film cameras. I didn’t get a digital camera until junior year. 

I didn’t get a cell phone until the end of my sophomore year and it was a Motorola flip phone with…get this…an antenna you had to pull out to make a call. There was no text messaging.  Each dorm room had a land line phone with an extension and you could call for free from across campus. To make phone calls home, I was loaded with a 1000 minute calling card. You’d better believe I had those 16 digits and a pin memorized.

mel and kevin skating

Facebook was just getting started my freshman year, and I boycotted this up-and-coming internet-thingy for one and a half school years until I succumbed to the madness. There were no games or chats or even pokes on FB. It was just faces and short statuses that all began with the prompt: “Melanie is…”

I say all this as a way of confessing that I am a bit behind the times, but also to tell you that while technology changes, the disciplines with which you choose to live your life do not need to change. 


To you, sweet girl, going off to college,

What you are about to do is most definitely a big deal. It’s a big deal for you and a big deal for your family. I remember thinking to myself, “Everything is about to change. Nothing will ever be the way it was before.” And while that’s a bit overly dramatic, it’s basically true.

But here’s the bigger truth – You are at a most exciting precipice of life, getting to step more fully into the you God created you to be.

You are going to be met with many new influences – friends, professors, employers, books, theologies, pastors – and you’re going to be forming your own individual worldview. You will take what you’ve been taught by your family, your teachers, your childhood friends, and your church and you’ll add to that foundation a broader view of life.

It’ll be a bit scary at first. You might feel like you’re questioning everything you’ve ever known. (Your parents might freak out a bit too.) But it’s good to question. Questions lead to well-developed answers, answers that you’ve researched and debated and talked to death with your friends in the wee hours of the night. And those answers will transform you. You will come out the other side stronger and more confident, firmer in your faith in Christ. Don’t fear the questions; God isn’t afraid of your questionsBecause in all that searching the Truth will come out and the Truth always sets you free.

You’re going to do a lot of growing up in the next four years. It’s a beautiful time of transition, a gracious movement into adulthood. Why? Well, you’re getting a taste of independence while still having the backing (perhaps even financial backing) of your family back home. Win-Win. But here’s the thing with independence – it must be used wisely. You can survive college on energy drinks and all-nighters and last-minute study sessions and leftover pizza; tons of people do that and do “just fine.” But the thing of it is, God has called you to live a full life, a life honoring to him. I challenge you to make each of your decisions – big and small – with this mindset (Colossians 3:23)

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.

With that foundation, here are my bullet-pointed list of goals for you:

  1. Go to bed. For the love of all that is holy go to bed at a decent hour. Like 10 or 11pm. You can stay up ridiculously late on Friday night if you want, but you’re in college for a reason and you have a job to do. Getting a decent night’s sleep is absolutely essential to living with excellence.
  2. Eat Well. The “freshman 15” is real and is sometimes more like the “freshman 30.” This phenomenon occurs because you have an unlimited buffet at every meal and no one to tell you to stop eating. So try the soft serve ice cream, but decide to limit yourself. Eat the fancy-pants, sugary cereal that your mom never bought you, but limit yourself. Indulge in the delicious French fries and the fountain pop, but limit yourself. Go ahead and buy a pizza or a burger at ten o’clock at night, but only every once in a while. (The fourth-meal syndrome is a big problem and is often solved by going to bed at a decent hour forthelove.) Choose to try vegetables you used to despise and get to know that salad bar. Maybe even have a salad for one meal a day (not with tons of ranch or caesar dressing… that kind of defeats the purpose). Eat whole fruit once or twice a day. Go out to Denny’s at 1am with your friends, but not every week.
  3. Exercise.  This one is really tough for even the best students. Getting up early to work out or run sounds like cruel torture, but it is totally worth it. Waking up an hour early is not too difficult if you’re going to bed at a decent hour and the time alone with your thoughts (often before everyone else gets up) is priceless. You’ll be energized for your day and fight off those extra pounds with ease.
  4. Create a daily routine for yourself. All of the above kind of work into this one. You may not have class until 12:30pm, but perhaps the wise thing to do with your independence is to get up around 7am, go workout, shower, eat breakfast (I know, I’m asking a lot here), and have time in quiet with the Lord.
  5. Set aside at least 30 minutes a day for private devotion with Jesus. This may be in a corner of your dorm room before your roommate wakes up or while she’s at class. It may be in a prayer chapel or under a certain tree you love or on the quiet floor of the library. But get alone with God. Pray. Listen. Journal. Read. Study. I’ll list a bunch of my favorite spiritual discipline resources at the bottom. (And I’d love to have a conversation with you about this topic if you need some guidance.)
  6. Friends. Make lots of friends. Be brave. Go up to that girl and introduce yourself. She feels just as awkward and uncomfortable as you do. Every one of you is leaving the home you’ve always known and having to live with people you’ve never met. It’s going to be hard and your going to feel out of place sometimes. But know you’re not alone. And you’re probably about to make some the greatest friendships. Living with people will do that. :)
  7. Roommates. I highly recommend leaving your freshman-year-roommates up to fate. I’ve known too many people who choose their roommate based on a high school friendship or meeting someone at registration day and then it goes horribly wrong and you lose a friend. Just let Admissions do their job the first time around. And live in a community dorm at least your freshman year. It forces you to share space with others with whom you might successfully ignore if you have a private suite-style room. It’ll be good for you, I swear.
  8. Boys. This could easily be another series of posts. I don’t have succinct advice on this one. But I will say that I made some of my best guy-friends during college and I found my husband during college. So pray a lot. Don’t give in to the pressure to get  “ring by spring.” And enjoy your friendships with guys. If you want to talk more, I’m listening.
  9. Your major. It’s ok to switch your major a million times. I don’t know how anyone expects an 18 year old to know what they’re going to be doing for the rest of your life. I’m 30 years old and only now figuring out what I’m going to be when I grow up. While you have the space in your academic schedule take a class or two that interest you, just for fun. But be sure to have that 4 year academic plan nailed down as soon as you can so you don’t have to tack on a 5th year (especially if you’re going into education.)
  10. Classes. Go to them. Get to class on time, be prepared. Take that syllabus (the whole semester’s plan) on day one and write down all assignments in a planner of some sort. By doing this for all of your classes you’ll know when your weeks are going to be heavy and when they’ll be light. Maybe, just maybe, you can plan to work ahead in one class when you have a ton of stuff due for another class on the same week. Just an idea. For the most part, no professor is going to tell you what’s due and when it’s due. The syllabus was created for that reason and you’re expected to follow it on your own …or get left behind. Sometimes readings are assigned and you’ll never hear them mentioned or even referenced in class…but then there’s stuff on the exams from that material. So follow the plan.

Ok, well, it’s past my grown-up bedtime, so I think I’ll close with this:

I love you. I believe in you. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you and challenge you and help you become more fully the person God intended you to be.

 

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Friends, Holy Yoga, Husband, Letters to My Kids, Pregnancy

Days Like This

Dear Little Girl,

Our days together, in this intimate relationship of pregnancy, are drawing to a close. As difficult as it has been to carry you, I am certain that I will miss (even grieve) your nearness. Over these months I have described many times the challenges of being pregnant. It is a hard, hard thing that cannot be truly explained with words.

But it is so beautiful. Isn’t that the way of creation? The hardest challenges can reap the most wonderful gifts? It’s even the way of God. The gift of our salvation, our restoration to righteousness, came as a result of Christ taking on human flesh and bearing a cross.

So I am grateful to be a part of this difficult, beautiful creation – your life. I cannot wait to meet you.

And I am so surprised at how I feel these days. As big and huge as I am, as near to meeting face to face as we are, I feel more “myself” than at any point during this pregnancy. In fact I feel stronger and more confident. I have been able to practice yoga every single day since the week of Thanksgiving (a first in many months!) I have been walking about 3 miles most days, often with your Daddy. We love that time together; we can’t wait to add a stroller to the mix.

And despite a cold affecting my health and the nearness of delivery looming, I decided it would be a good time to cook up that turkey and have some friends over. So I’m hosting a big, delicious dinner tonight, complete with homemade pies and cranberry sauce. Oh, and I did I mention it’s 60+ degrees out today…on DECEMBER 12TH?! what???? I might just get my wish of walking the parking lot (or the park) during early labor!

Here’s to you, Little One! Come quickly.

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Friends, Husband, Pregnancy

Niagara on the Lake

Kevin and I travel a lot. We have many church conferences and training trips and spiritual retreats and family get-togethers and a myriad of other obligations. We’re used to packing our bags, loading the car, and getting to our destination with time to spare. It’s almost a challenge, then, to change our mindset to “vacation mode” where there are no time constraints or agendas to follow. But once a year, most every November we take a week for just the two of us.

With Baby Girl on the way, we didn’t want to travel long and far (like to DC or Myrtle Beach or the Bahamas as we did in past years). We didn’t want to spend too much money or too much time getting there. The goal was time together, in a new place, with all responsibilities set aside. I tend to be the travel agent because I love researching and price comparing until I’m blue in the face.

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We settled on Niagara on the Lake, Ontario. This town is about a half hour from the more famous Niagara Falls, but its quaint quietness is much preferred for our style. We got a fantastic deal (Hotwire once again) on the Colonel Butler Best Western which is the nicest Best Western either of us has ever seen. 2015-11-12 11.07.23

The free parking and free internet and free hot breakfast are all “wins” in our book, and the sidewalks stretch from our front door to the Tim Horton’s across the street and all the way to the Niagara River and boutique shopping downtown.

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We took many walks around these historic neighborhoods, admiring the architecture and landscaping and fall foliage and emerging Christmas decor…

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…and then we’d sit at Starbucks for an hour or two. Because coffee & conversation are total wins.

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We drove to nearby Outlet Malls and Shopping Malls, mostly browsing and being together. We ordered pizza and wings to enjoy over rousing episodes of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. (We don’t have cable, so this is fun stuff, people!)

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And on our last day, we packed up, enjoyed our hot complementary breakfast, and drove to THE Falls. We had visited the American side of Niagara Falls a time or two while living in Western New York, but this was the first time in many years either of us had been to the Canadian side.

The combination of my pregnancy hormones and my sensory receptiveness and the sheer glory that is this God-wonder brought tears to my eyes. I could not contain the reaction to such a breath-taking site. If you have never been to the Falls, please plan a trip.

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2015-11-13 11.39.46 After walking around the chilly, windy mist, browsing a gift shop and snapping a few photos that don’t do it justice, we hopped back in the car. Twenty minutes later we had crossed into the US and made our way to Olive Garden for lunch on our way to Albion.  And yes, we topped off our “Baby Moon” vacation with a weekend in our former home town. It was wonderful time with dear friends and teens and littles who still share our love and lives. They showered us with a crazy-awesome amount of gifts for Baby Girl and exchanged hugs and stories.  with LeBarons 3

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I’m so thankful for our time away, our time alone, our time with friends.

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Confessions, Contentment, Friends, Letters to My Kids, Ministry

Our Church

One of my friends sent me a birthday text that included encouragement of what I’d “accomplished” in my 30 years. She listed “several flourished ministries” and I stopped dead in my tracks, thanking God for the privilege of being a part of his Kingdom Work.

Last Sunday we were excited to attend our former church family in Albion, New York. It was so glorious to be back in the presence of friends-turned-family, to feel the love and knowingness that hadn’t faded because of time or space. Being in that town makes me smile. Eating at that Tim Horton’s, walking down Main Street and waving to passers-by, walking through the halls of that familiar church building. I loved every minute, every conversation, every hug.

And I have to be completely honest when I say I expected to feel some discontentment rising up in my heart during that weekend. For we loved that place and those people fiercely and it was terribly hard to leave. The last year and a half in full time, lead-pastoral ministry has been intense for the Eccles. It’s a big job with a steep learning curve. I thought I’d want to quit and go back to my “happy place.”

But even as I braced myself for the ride home when I might cry wishing I could stay in My Albion, I found that the Lord had already laid seeds in my heart for something totally unexpected – deep contentment, true joy, and resonating peace. As we drive those many turnpike miles, Kevin and I could hardly stop talking about all the things we love about our church, Our Monroe. We had truly missed worshiping with our congregation that Sunday. We realized we truly love everything about Monroe FMC.

And I was somehow surprised that God had done this work. I was surprised that I still felt all the love and affection for my New York church while feeling eagerness and deep connection with my Michigan church. It’s hard for a pastor’s wife to feel truly safe among her congregation. There’s this unspoken expectation that our family should be better and holier than others, that we should have everything all together. It’s hard to know who to trust and who to talk to because your church people are somehow supposed to be those under your shepherding leadership, but also those with whom you share life authentically. It’s a tricky situation. So to have prayer gatherings where tears are shed, life’s hard stories are shared, meaningful hugs are exchanged…it’s like taking a deep breath of fresh air. It’s what Church is supposed to be. And I get to be a part of a growing congregation that is learning this true-life kind of Christianity.

These people know me. I mean, for Pete’s sake I received peanut butter M&Ms, Reese’s cups, Chai Tea, a Nintendo 64, music note earrings, and KALE for my birthday. Those are my favorite things ever. To be known is every heart’s desire. And to be known by the congregation to which you were called to shepherd…THAT is a true blessing. 

 

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