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Church life with a baby is hard. I forgot how hard.

I haven’t heard a full sermon in over half a year now. The messages are fragmented: bits here and there, snatches of verses and sentences caught and quickly forgotten as I scurry out to quiet a hungry babe. I sit in the nursery, rocking and burping. Sometimes the sermon plays through the speaker, sometimes it doesn’t. Most often us moms are all too distracted by feeds and naps and foul-smelling diapers to hear the words anyway.

Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden.

The invitation presses against my soul. To come and lay down my aches and my insecurities, my doubts and my fears, and to simply sit in His presence. To stop striving and simply worship.

This is a season too.

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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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As we draw near the end of our Advent season this year, I am so grateful for these daily reminders of God’s love, faithfulness and salvation plan. The entirety of scripture echoes His redemptive plan — a plan that includes a child born to a virgin and laid to rest in a scratchy, old feeding trough.

As we arrive at Christmas morning, we stand together with millions of others around the globe. We kneel before that babe in a manger, the straw tattooing our knees and the stench of manure on the tips of our noses, and worship. With love, we bow before the one who came and who is yet to come again. Our hearts join in with the hope-filled prayer of generations past as we cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”

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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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I remember, as a child, staring up at the big Christmas tree in my elementary school lobby. It was decorated with paper ornaments; each of them carefully (or not so carefully) crafted by sticky-fingered, glitter-covered students. It was a Jesse tree. A reminder of the generations who waited on the arrival of a Messiah.

As kids, most of our anticipation around Christmas comes with what’s found under the tree. But the truth is, this sense of yearning and longing for Christmas morning can be transformed into something so much more than our desire for new toys and sparkling gifts.

This yearning leads us to the stable — past some scraps of swaddling cloth and an exhausted mother to a newborn babe. We’re reminded of those who waited for His birth, just as we ourselves wait with open hands and hearts for His return.

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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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“Mommy, what if baby doesn’t come out in October?”

We were in the car, on our way to a routine pregnancy check-up when I heard the little voice pipe up from the backseat. At nearly 35 weeks pregnant, we’d been talking a lot about the baby that was due to arrive in a month’s time. My son had accompanied me to each prenatal appointment, listening to the heartbeat and watching my belly grow. With his head pressed up tightly against my stomach, he’d talk and whisper to his little sister, kiss her good-night, and eagerly count down the time until her arrival. There was no doubt that our entire family was eagerly awaiting the birth of this little one.

From the driver’s seat of the car, I smiled. We’d had a conversation about birthdays earlier and I assumed that this was where his question was coming from. I snuck a glance at him through the rear-view mirror, noting the thoughtful expression on his face. “Baby will definitely come by October,” I replied cheerfully. “The doctors won’t let her stay in longer than that.”

“Unless she goes to be with Jesus first.”

My heart skipped a beat.

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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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The end of March brings with it the end of our first trimester with this little bean. This milestone makes my breath catch and my heart swim. When I saw those pink lines on the pregnancy test, I was so focused on just getting through the first eight weeks, I could scarcely dream of the end of the first trimester. But here we are with a healthy, growing baby and hearts overflowing with excitement and joy.

At the same time, this month carries memories of another child I once carried in my womb. Memories of a little girl we named Avonlea. A child whom we knew for a mere seven days, a daughter whom I knew from the start we wouldn’t get to keep.

March 25 would have been her due date.

This is part of pregnancy after loss: remembering the ones who aren’t in your womb, the ones who never made it this far, and whose hearts you never saw beat. Just because a new baby grows within, doesn’t mean that the ones we lost are any less loved, cherished, or missed.

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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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