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


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

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. 


The Glory Days

Pregnancy has been a different journey than I could have anticipated. Those first two trimesters were not very enjoyable. I dealt with body image issues, weight gain, nausea, acid reflux, physical limitations, shortness of breath, exhaustion, and finding a whole new wardrobe. I didn’t enjoy any of that. Little Girl wasn’t moving noticeably which meant my mind wasn’t making the connection that all of those changes were due to a growing child in my womb.

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Thus, I was surprised and relieved to experience such peace and joy during these first six weeks in the “dreaded” third trimester. I’m certain that my golden days are limited as Baby Girl gains weight rapidly and my “glow” turns into a pleading expression of “please get this child out of me.” But for now I’m relishing this feeling.

What’s changed for you, Mel? you ask?

Feeling Baby Girl moving almost continually is the most glorious experience no one can describe. I’m trying to bottle up these memories of movement, to cherish them in future days. Part of my MyersBriggs personality is “sensing” and I finally understand how strongly I am driven by my five senses. For instance, it is normal and important for me to have the perfectly shaped mug with the perfect temperature of tea, while sitting in the perfect chair, with the perfect amount of light, with the perfect book to accompany me. Sound ridiculous? Maybe it is. But it’s my reality. I say all that as background support for the concept that experiencing my unborn Baby’s movements are intensely important and wonderfully glorious for me, particularly because of my sensory perceptions.

Oddly enough my physical body feels more “like me” than in the previous trimesters. I am eating more like pre-pregnancy Melanie used to eat, desiring healthy salads and fruits, drinking tons of water, enjoying meat, and limiting the breads and dairy. None of this is intentional, it’s just where my body has naturally equilibrated. Having spent most of my first months eating junk food, dairy and breads (after a year or more basically bread-free) I felt really yucky. That perhaps added to the fullness (bloating) in my face and arms that I noticed rather early on. I have had my dream come true at least 5 times in the past week as I’ve heard friends, family, and strangers say, “You can’t even tell she’s pregnant from the back.” Seriously. dream. come. true. I’m so very thankful that my body seems to have figured out how to care for me and my child while maintaining a new normal of health and strength.*IMG_4403 - cropped

For some reason I had crazy flare ups of heartburn, nausea, morning sickness, and vomitting over the past month. Even with my prescription meds I was throwing up from all the heartburn. But that didn’t manage to deter the positive mood I seemed to be carrying. Weird, but I’ll take it.

Another “negative but not really” has been my sleep patterns. First of all, I haven’t needed to get up during the night to use the bathroom at all. And during first and second trimesters it was 2-4 times a night. Strange. I have, however, begun to need less sleep, going to bed later than user, waking up bright eyed a few times during the night, and still getting out of bed as early as 5 or 6am without an alarm. What the…? If this the Lord’s way of preparing my body for caring for my newborn daughter, I’m ok with that.

My husband and I have been enjoying quality date times on a regular basis, which has always been a favorite activity. We’ve been especially thankful for the number of friends who have sent us gifts in the form of gift cards for dates. I know Baby will change things, but we strongly believe in the importance of our dates, even if just for coffee. This theory has been reinforced by many wise people in recent days.

2015-10-28 19.07.26We set up the Baby’s crib together (thanks so much to my parents and grandparents for this gift). We have washed loads of beautiful clothes and blankets and washcloths and bibs and burp rags (from more friends than we can list). I have figured out how to operate the fancy schmancy breast pump (thanks so much, Sara!). The car seat installation has been practiced and it’s ready to go in coming weeks. We’ve kept up on developing an organization and storage system for baby products (thanks to mom for getting me started). I began compiling a hospital bag packing list that will work for me based on a slew of Facebook threads and Pinterest posts. The breast feeding class has been registered for, and Cathy gave us a private tour of the maternity ward at the hospital.

It all feels real and so close. We’re ready to meet this beautiful daughter of ours. And certain that nothing can prepare us for all of the ways she will rock our world. To God be the glory.

Always Aware

My dear, sweet girl,

There is so much about pregnancy that no amount of research or real-talk with friends can prepare you for. I knew you would kick and squirm now and then. I had seen pictures or videos of the baby’s movements in mother’s belly. But I never imagined how incredible your motions would feel inside of me. It’s absolutely indescribable. It’s a holy thing, really. God…creating life…knitting you together…plumping you up…choosing me to keep you safe all these months. 

As your movements get super intense (to the point of you startling me now and then) I wish I could share the experience with others…especially with your dad. No one gets to see your kicks or feel you move or anticipate your turns like I do. But this journey is just for you and me, Little Girl. It’s a beautiful, quiet journey…a sort of sweet loneliness.

And I’ve finally come to a place of acceptance with the physical changes in my body. Things have “balanced” out as you’ve made your presence known to all who look at me. I appear decidedly pregnant and not awkwardly chubby. I like that. And even now God is refining my own self-image, preparing me for what my appearance may or may not be after giving birth. He is teaching me grace. The beauty of freedom and peace and confidence.

So I will carry you with confidence.  I will carry you with joy. 

We have just 8 (ish) weeks left in this intimate setting, Child. A part of me cannot wait for next step – meeting you face to face, holding you in my arms. But the other part of me knows I will never get this opportunity again; this chance of intimacy between you and I; this knowing and feeling of you in my inmost being. So I will cherish the next weeks, for they will certainly go by too quickly. Even as my belly (and ankles) swell with you, Child, as positions get uncomfortable and complaints lengthen…I will remember. I will choose joy. I will be a vessel worthy of carrying you until the Lord says, Now.

All my love,

Your mama