By Paige K Slighter
Melissa began attending Woodland fifteen years ago as a student at Bethel University in St.Paul. After graduating, she made the decision to call WH home.
Melissa remembers a happy childhood: she grew up dancing to the Beach Boys and singing oldies with her sisters. She fell in love with the outdoors while spending summers by a lake in Wisconsin and attended a Lutheran church, which laid the foundation for her faith.
As a young adult at college and later at seminary, she established and developed more of her beliefs through the deconstruction and reconstruction of her faith. But it wasn’t until her late 20’s that she realized she was struggling with an eating disorder. She started obsessing over her body image and the idea that “thin equals beautiful.” In college, she was exposed to a lot of behaviors that solidified this message. Trapped in a cycle of shame, she began to eat less and exercise more.
She didn’t fully recognize she had a problem until her therapist brought it up. At first, Melissa was defensive, but after she considered her relationship with food and exercise, she realized why life was becoming increasingly difficult to navigate. As she processed the lies that she was believing, she began to fight back. She signed herself up for some intensive treatment and saw a miraculous shift in her wellbeing. She said, “I knew that God wanted me to thrive and live a full and joyful life and that wasn’t the path of the eating disorder.” Through God’s redemptive healing, she was able to experience his reality and redefine authentic, eternal beauty.
Melissa is now a Marriage and Family Therapist as well as a certified Spiritual Director. She said, “I have the privilege of partnering with others as they navigate their journey with God, helping them to dig deeper into God’s invitations and action in their lives.” She also teaches a course on wellbeing at Bethel. She said, “The whole course is premised on pursuing the kind of wellbeing found in Shalom. As God’s people, we work toward renewing our own wellbeing, so we can show up differently in our relationships and our communities; all in the hopes of being a more renewed embodiment of who and what God calls us to be as his people.”
She’s also on a mission to help others cast off the world’s narrative and invite God in. She says, “Anything that opens us to God’s life in our midst, opens us up to eternal beauty.” A great example of this is practicing mindfulness. Melissa says, “When we take the time to slow down and recognize God’s goodness, kindness and compassion, we have new eyes to see beauty. Noticing the gift of my breath, the intricacies of nature, the love in a friend’s smile, the joy my niece and nephew have as they splash in puddles, there’s a whole world of beauty.”
Melissa is also opening the door for impactful conversations with other like-minded beauty ambassadors on a podcast she started. She’s chatting with people from all backgrounds with a passion for change. Melissa’s ideas aren’t just for women; men play a huge role in cultivating and reflecting God’s eternal beauty. Melissa recently had a conversation with Jonathan Self, an English-based photographer who loves capturing people’s hearts and their God-given essence. His unique approach to photography results in amazing transformation and empowerment. Many clients come to him feeling ugly and insecure in their own skin, so he strives to reveal how God feels about them.
As Melissa continues to make connections with other like-minded Kingdom people, she’s learning more and more about God’s vision for loveliness in a broken world. Woodland has also played a huge role in her journey. She said, “WH’s teachings on the image of God have been pivotal to my formation of beauty.”
We are inspired by Melissa’s mission and encouraged to know that she is shining a light on God’s true character. If you want to rediscover God’s beauty in your own life, check out Remembering The Forgotten Beauty, from our sermon archive. Let’s continue living in love, freedom, and power as we bring more and more beauty and truth into the world!