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One of my favourites things is listening to stories.

We each have them. The story of how we came to be — of what shaped us and transformed us. The words that describe us. The gritty and grace-led moments that spread their way across the pages of our lives. It’s uniquely ours.

And the stories that I love most are the ones that feel authentic and messy. The ones that grapple with real-life questions and face them head on, rather than hiding beneath filters or Instagram-perfect poses. The ones that point to an over-arching story that reaches far beyond our day-to-day lives. The story that points us to Christ. To a greater story.

This is the premise that immediately drew me to Sam Collier’s book.

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When it comes to the church, we all have stories. Some stories are of ones where we feel welcomed and included, comfortable and free to worship; while others are stories of pain and confusion, uncertainty or discomfort.

I remember my first few months away at college, hopping from church to church in a small prairie town, trying to find the one that felt most like home. One Sunday evening, while out for a walk with a friend, we encountered two elderly ladies on their way to an evening service in the school gym. I’ll never forget how excited they were when we agreed to join them, how overjoyed they were to show us off to the other attendees during after-gathering cookies and coffee. The love of Christ radiated off our new, white-haired friends. That church wasn’t the one for me, but I’ll never forget that feeling of being welcomed so warmly. That was what I was looking for in a church family: community, a warm and open invitation, and most of all, Jesus.

In Traci Rhoades new book, “Not All Who Wander (Spiritually) Are Lost,” readers are invited to look past the denominational differences that separate us and instead find Jesus amidst the differing worship styles. As she says, “We don’t all practice our faith the exact same way, but our God is big enough to embrace all the ways we encounter Jesus. And Jesus sits at the head of the table. Always.”

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It doesn’t matter who they are. As soon as she sees them walking towards her, the little hand pops up over the edge of the stroller, waving hello.

She sees them.

The neighbours. The dog walkers. The ones busily shouting into their phones. The ones walking alone. Old. Young. The ones I’d chose to avoid eye-contact with.

She sees all of them.

And I can’t help but wonder what life would be like if I stopped to truly see them too.

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“God is calling His warrior women to invest their lives in something that is bigger than themselves: the kingdom of God. These kinds of women give their lives to relentless prayer.”
– Sheila Walsh, “Praying Women”

If we’re honest, we’ve all had times in our lives where prayer has been a struggle. We may find ourselves in seemingly impossible situations, wondering if God actually hears us. Can He truly fix this? Why hasn’t He answered? Or perhaps, we enter into prayer time with the best intentions but immediately find ourselves daydreaming or drifting off to sleep. We equate prayer time with a chore, a box to check.

When it comes to prayer, we all come to the table with baggage and history. With wounds and scars. Thankfully, prayer isn’t about perfect people. It’s not about knowing the right words or being doubt-free.

It’s about our hearts. It’s about step-by-step transformation. It’s about trust, even in the silence. It’s about coming and laying it all before Him. 

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**Post originally appeared on the Christ City Church blog in 2015 as
“When Devotions Aren’t Pretty.”**

Sitting on the porch under a soft, golden-hued sunrise, a woolen blanket draped around my shoulders, a steaming drink in hand and an open Bible in the other – this is what I’ve always dreamed of.  Like a childhood word-association game, this is the image that floats unbidden to my mind whenever I hear the words “morning devotions.”

This mental picture could have very easily been plucked off someone’s social media account. It’s flawlessly filtered, cropped, and splashed with cringe-worthy hashtags like #sunrisewithJesus. The epitome of an Instagram photo, it has somehow attached itself to my ideals of what devotions should look like. And since my devotions, in reality, look nothing like this, it ends up being yet another sobering reminder of my shortcomings.

I’ll be the first to admit that this past year of motherhood has rocked my devotional time (and not in an awesome party-rock kind of way.) It seems as if each day slips away in a blur of busyness, leaving me feeling exhausted and drained. It’s easy to flip on Netflix and tune out. How many times have I raced through my devotions, viewing it as simply another item to cross of my daily to-do list? How many nights have I fallen asleep before gathering the strength to grab my Bible off the nightstand table?

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“We only have a few days left, mama!”

My son’s excitement rings out as he flips through his Bible each morning, checking to see how many days remain until Christmas morning. It’s part of our December Advent activity, working our way through the Jesus Storybook Bible. Each day we read a story from the Old Testament, leading up to the birth of Christ, and make an ornament to accompany it.

It’s been one of my favourite parts of this month: sitting down next to each other at the kitchen table and carefully turning soft pages, reading about God’s great plan together.

His excitement is tangible, his anticipation building. I’ve never seen him so eager to read his Bible. Not only are we uncovering the meaning of Advent, we’re also building a deeper love for God’s word. As we bend little pieces of wire and glue popsicle sticks together, we see how each of these stories point to Christmas morning — to the birth and life of Christ. God’s grand narrative is wrapped together better than any present we might find under our tree.

Here’s what we’ve been learning this week:
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O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
And ransom captive Israel.
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

This is one of my favourite Christmas songs.

In a season strewn with jingly tunes about reindeer and jolly, bearded men these five words, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” cut straight to the heart. They remind us of all that we long for and hope for in this Christmas season: the coming of a Saviour. Tiny and new, nestled amongst scraps of cloth and bits of hay, a King is born.

This Christmas, we are celebrating Advent as a family by reading our way through the Old Testament stories in the Jesus Storybook Bible. In this children’s Bible, there are twenty-four OT stories leading up to the birth of Christ. (One for each day leading up to Christmas!) Each night, we will be reading a different story and creating an ornament to go along with it. (I originally stumbled across this idea here.)

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Overwhelmed.

It’s a word that is probably all too familiar to most of us. From school and work, to relationships, societal pressures, inner pressures, anxiety, and general feelings of unworthiness — there are so many things that can bring us to the place of feeling overwhelmed.

And that’s why the premise of this book, “Not the Boss of Us” by Kay Wills Wyma, intrigued me: “Too much to manage and not enough time or energy to do it? What if instead of being overwhelmed with life you could be overwhelmed by Truth with its grace, hope, peace, and love?”

Sounds like a much needed reminder, right?

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Every once in a while I read a book that enrages and deeply grieves me. For me, this book was that. But it was also so much more. It was a story of faith that perseveres in the darkest of circumstances and of a hope grounded in more than just man alone.

In her challenging and inspiring book, “I Will Not Fear,” author Melba Pattillo Beals shares with us a small glimpse into some of the heartache and persecution she has faced throughout the years. In 1957, Melba was one of the nine African American students who were chosen to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The story continues throughout her life as a news reporter, wife, mother, magazine writer, and professor; highlighting the oppression she has faced in everyday life and countering it with an unwavering hope.

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The porcelain bowl glistens clean and white, the scent of anti-bacterial wipes wafting from its open lid. This has been my on-and-off view for the past few weeks; the bathroom mat a frequent companion for this newly-pregnant mama.

Retreating back to my spot on the couch, cuddled up under a brown blanket, my nose twitches at the scent of whatever it is my husband is cooking in the kitchen. I gag and growl in frustration at my endlessly-rolling tummy. No one could ever say that this is a “fun” part of pregnancy, but nonetheless, I take a deep breath and direct a quick word of thanks upwards.

Despite the discomfort, I try to remember that I am enjoying this.

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We all have expectations for motherhood. Most of us, at some point or another, have carefully crafted plans for what our motherhood will look like, how it will come about, or who our family will be. And then, inevitably, we encounter situations that test and challenge those ideas. We’re forced to re-evaluate or else flounder under unrealistic goals.

I was super excited to receive an early copy of Jamie Sumner’s book, “Unbound” as she addresses the reality of motherhood and the struggle it can take to get there. Dealing with issues like infertility, miscarriage, difficult pregnancies, and special needs parenting, this book details some of Jamie’s own difficult journey while weaving in stories and highlights from women of the Bible. This book is beautiful and challenging, written with hope, honesty, and truth — and I was so encouraged by Jamie’s story.

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Our "happily ever after" doesn't always look like what we thought it would

I like books with happily-ever-afters.

I want the novel in my hand to close with the satisfying feeling that all has been resolved. To turn to the last page and find the loose threads woven together, the dragons slain, and the broken hearts whole and healed.

For the past three years, we’ve walked through the pages of a story that have been written with tears: a stillbirth, four miscarriages, six months of negative pregnancy tests. The words are rougher and messier than what I would have penned for myself. Others see the book’s jagged edges and whisper well-intentioned platitudes like, “It will happen. Hang in there.”

And if this was a novel written by my own human hands it would certainly end with a baby born, whole and healthy with screaming lungs and flailing arms. Given the chance, who wouldn’t write out happy answers to our most heartfelt dreams? An acceptance letter into that longed-for university program, a perfect job that provide unending happiness, a spouse to snuggle up next to each night. With the rub of an eraser we would fix marriages that have been cracked or marred by human brokenness, and lives that have been devastated by sickness and poverty. With glittery rainbow-coloured markers, we would scribble out a lifetime of dreams fulfilled rather than crushed. Because if it were up to us, those things that we have been dreaming of, longing for, and praying for would always happen.

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