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Ashley Hales

Books + Stories
How Lasagna Shows Us What our Marriages are Made of
May 11, 2018 at 7:52 am 0
No matter how many years you've been married, marriage is a beautiful challenge. The process of two-become-one sometimes look like pure delight. Other times it feels grueling as our rough edges are rubbed off. Sometimes everything comes out over lasagna.  I wanted to share with you a lovely book by Dorothy Greco, Making Marriage Beautiful. She offers so much hope for marriages. Making Marriage Beautiful is incredibly vulnerable, surprisingly funny, and outrageously hopeful. It's grounded in Scripture and includes interviews with eight diverse couples.     

Making Marriage Beautiful would be a fabulous gift to tuck into your gifts for weddings. It'd be a lovely and thoughtful anniversary present, or a great resource to go through with your church small group. Here's a bit from the book, so you know how you must go and snag a copy!

 

Surprise! We're giving away a copy if you're in the US. Here's what you need to do:

*Use whatever social media platform you like *Tag me at @aahales and be sure to tag 3 friends (I'm sure @dorothygreco would love a shout out too!) *Use the hashtag #aahalesreads
   

Not Your Mother’s Lasagna

Thanksgiving was my first holiday as a married woman. With the flip of a coin, my husband and I decided to spend the weekend with his extended family in upstate New York. On paper, our families of origin are more similar than not. Our fathers went off to the Korean War, our mothers mostly stayed at home, and we each have two siblings. But if you looked closely, you would notice significant differences, especially if you happened to stop in during dinnertime. Meals in our WASP home were civilized affairs. We sat at the kitchen table except for major holidays and birthdays. We never raised our voices or interrupted one another and always valued the quality of food over quantity. In Christopher’s Catholic, Italian-American home, life centered around one of five strategically placed tables. The question wasn’t if you would sit at the table; it was which one. The table held epic symbolism in the Greco household. As soon as we each claimed a spot at the dining room table, I began to realize just how different our families were. There was twice as much food as we needed, including lime Jell-O and canned green beans submerged in a thick, gray sauce. After the turkey—and two huge trays of lasagna—were ceremoniously placed front and center, the curtain went up and the opera began. Unlike at my home, there was no turn taking or insightful follow-up questions. One person simply started talking—to no one in particular—and then another layered their thoughts on top but not before turning up the volume. Then a third and fourth jumped in, making it impossible to really listen to anyone—something I eventually learned was not a priority. I’ve never been a fan of opera and even less so when I’m thrust into it without an opportunity to rehearse my lines. This experience helped me better understand Christopher, but I was not able to extrapolate his genetically-coded mealtime expectations until we had a substantial fight not long after. At our inaugural dinner party, we invited three couples over. Unlike Christopher’s family of origin, we only had one table that was woefully inadequate for six adults. We made do. The conversation was lively and the food excellent. Everyone seemed to enjoy the evening—except Christopher, who made several less-than-affirming comments about my culinary efforts. This same scenario played out multiple times before I pointedly inquired, “Why are you so critical of how I prepare meals for guests?” He shot back, “Because you don’t cook enough food and you never put out extra sauce when you make pasta!” The fight that followed opened our eyes to a shocking reality: our family cultures had so deeply influenced our preferences, biases, and beliefs that we each reflexively judged anything different as wrong. By normalizing our family’s customs and concluding that our version of reality was morally superior, we had become ethnocentric: in other words, assuming the inherent superiority of our culture and ethnicity. I was guilty of ethnocentrism when I harshly evaluated his family’s Thanksgiving traditions. He was guilty of ethnocentrism when he judged me as incompetent simply because I didn’t put extra marinara sauce on the table. If we lack awareness regarding our ethnocentrism, we can become oppositional and needlessly criticize and judge one another. As my husband and I have repented of our moralizing and committed to honoring each other’s traditions, we’re less dogmatic and more grateful. Now, when I need to talk through something, Christopher no longer expects me to replicate his family’s operatic style of communication. And when we have dinner guests, I try to serve more food than I know we need because I want to validate rather than dismiss his traditions. On a good day, I even remember to put extra sauce on the table. This (pseudo) excerpt is from chapter two of  Making Marriage Beautiful. Excerpt provided courtesy of Dorothy Greco and David C. Cook. 
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Announcements
Mother’s Day Book Giveaway!
May 7, 2018 at 5:00 am 0
What do mothers want -- a spa day, a night of sleep, a fancy brunch, jewelry? These are the things that we see on Instagram. But how about some good words that just get you?

For Mother's Day, I'm giving away TWO books: a copy of Rachel Marie Stone's Birthing Hope and Suzanne Stabile's The Path Between Us

  First, Birthing Hope. This book is part birth memoir, theological rumination on life and death, and study in family history, anxiety, and how hope shines through darkness. Rachel Marie Stone's writing is gorgeous and you should read it just for her excellent prose. When I had a second with her at the Festival of Faith & Writing in April, I asked her how she managed to weave together so many things and still come out with such a work of art, rather than a bunch of jumbled threads. She answered "lots of drafts," and that she followed Marie Kondo's advice: first take out everything from the drawer and only put back in what sparks joy. Birthing Hope is my favorite read of 2018 so far.  If you're into the Enneagram and you enjoyed The Road Back to You (Stabile and Cron's first primer on the Enneagram with IVP), you'll love The Path Between Us. (If you haven't read The Road Back to You, pick that one up too).  The Enneagram seems to be the personality typing program du jour, but don't let that turn you off. It's a wonderful tool that really helps you grow into health, rather than a "take me as I am" box-you-into-a-personality. Stabile's latest, The Path Between Us (that also has a separate study guide!), is a wonderful start to discovering how different numbers on the Enneagram relate. It's an absolute must to navigate your relationships -- with your spouse, friends, and children (if you have those!).

And I want to give these two books: one gorgeous, the other more practical, female-authored books to ONE LUCKY WOMAN.

Yes, it's a Mother's Day giveaway but you don't need to be a mother to win. All of our stories can be told as birth stories, Rachel Marie Stone writes.  

Here's how you enter to win:

You get an entry for each item you do. Giveaway closes on Wednesday! a Rafflecopter giveaway    

Giveaway is open to anyone in the US and closes on Wednesday!

*Links are Amazon associate links, which means if you purchase a book through this link a few pennies go back to help run this website.    
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At other places
Can you be a mother and be creative?
May 1, 2018 at 9:01 am 0
I don't know about you but I've had to fight for creativity -- almost sometimes, it felt like too late. I see women like Maile Smucker doing it (read this wonderful piece by Shawn Smucker on making time for writing mothers) and I know that's my story, too. I never thought of myself as a writer -- which is odd, I know, since I have a book coming out in October. But I've had to remember that all of me is okay to bring to the table. The analytical scholar, the feeling-focused inner child, the mother, the woman who likes leopard print, and the little girl who scrawled stories in a binder. But motherhood -- perhaps especially in this day and age (we are judged at every turn for what makes a good mother) -- complicates our individual desires. Suddenly we are not just an "I," we are "we" -- a "we" more intimate than even with our spouses. For Fathom Magazine, I wanted to explore how creativity is both something that helped bring me back to life (it birthed me anew) and also is something that always needs to be tied to our lived experience, concrete reality, and the everyday. Here's a sampling:
  But what of me? I was learning what it meant to be a body, but I’d lost my mind a bit in the process. After ten years, my PhD diploma that sat rolled up in a brown paper tube with Scottish postage on it. There was a beauty in pouring oneself out again and again in milk and blood. But something was missing and I wondered if it would ever return. Could I capture light and graceful sentences when I was covered in spit up for yet another year? My creativity had turned into sleep schedules and feeding schedules, watching what my children ate and how it affected their behavior. Trying desperately to help them to read, imagine, play, believe, all the while the daily stuff of earth began choking me. I had no story for a liturgy born from the body, for words that started and stopped, for grace that could drip, drip, drip even amongst dirty diapers and endless laundry. I felt guilty. So many women longed for babies and my cup runneth over. But I was drowning. So, a few years into motherhood, with four children aged six and under, I sat on our old greenish couch and began writing into the ether. I started a blog. There was no pressure: no grade, no one telling me what I’d forgotten, no one reading or looking over my shoulder. My husband bought me a Wordpress theme and a domain name and booked me a seat on a plane to a writers conference—all to find that girl who longed to fly.

Read the rest at Fathom Magazine. 

   
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Books + Stories
Parenting is Hard. Win a copy of parenting book: First Ask Why!
April 19, 2018 at 12:40 pm 0
  Friends, I'm so excited to introduce you to my friend Shelly Wildman. She's the mom of three adult daughters and she's written a parenting book not because she has it all together, but because she's asked some good questions. It's called First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God through Intentional DiscipleshipAs a mother to four young kids, I've already learned a ton from Shelly's book and I want you to have your very own copy!

Shelly Wildman is a former writing instructor and author of  First Ask Why (Kregel). Shelly holds degrees from Wheaton College (BA) and University of Illinois at Chicago (MA), but her most important life’s work has been raising her three adult daughters. She and her husband, Brian have been married for 32 years and live in Wheaton, IL. Shelly speaks to women’s groups in the Chicago area and spends much of her free time mentoring young women. When she has time, she loves to cook, read, and travel. Connect with Shelly at her website or on Instagram and Facebook. You can still preorder First Ask Why at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kregel.com since it comes out on April 24th.

Read more below to find out about the book and how to win!


 

Instead of managing our children's behavior, Shelly Wildman says we need to first ask why.

To enter to win a copy of her book -- which is perfect for parents of children who are tweens and younger -- all you need to do is subscribe below. (If you're already subscribed, comment on this post instead.)


 

Shelly was so kind to answer a few questions. Read on to find out more about the book!

    Writing about parenting can be a powder keg—people have pretty strong opinions about raising kids. Why did you choose to write a parenting book? I kind of feel like I didn’t choose to write a parenting book, but that the book chose me. (Sounds like a scene from Harry Potter, doesn’t it?) I fought writing it for a long time because I knew I wasn’t a perfect parent—I had messed up so many times that I didn’t feel qualified to write this book. I still don’t. But the idea kept nagging at me for so long that I finally felt like God might have been pushing me to do it.   What makes your book different from other parenting books? So many parenting books are “how-to” books. They seem to say, “Just follow these ten steps and here’s what you’ll get in the end.” But I don’t believe we can parent by formula. I think we have to look at our unique family and ask why.
  • Why are we doing what we’re doing as a family?
  • Why are we emphasizing these spiritual values? And are there others we should consider?
  • Why are we even here as a family? What’s our purpose for being put together in this unique combination of individuals?
Asking why gets to the heart of the matter; it exposes our motivations and desires for our family. Asking why leads to intentionality. And asking why helps give our children a sense of purpose as we lead them.       What was your lowest parenting moment? You mean besides that time I locked my one-month-old in the car? (True story!) I think my lowest moments were the times I let my daughters down. When I betrayed their trust by sharing too much with others. Or when I didn’t fulfill a promise I had made. Parents can feel their kids’ disappointment, which hurts so much. But more than that, too many disappointments lead to mistrust or a lack of respect, and I never wanted that to happen. That said, parents are human. We do mess up. We do let our kids down. And those are the times we have to humble ourselves with our kids and apologize, sincerely. We need to let our kids know that we don’t always do things perfectly or say the right things or even parent correctly. But that we need grace and the help of God as much as they do.   Who do you hope will read this book and what do you hope they will gain? I hope parents with kids of all ages will read this book, but especially parents of younger children. I hope grandparents will read this book. And I hope it sparks lots of discussion between husbands and wives, moms groups, or even small groups in churches. My hope is that parents will come away from reading this book with a stronger sense of their purpose as parents and that they might gain a couple of new ideas that they can implement in their own family. I also hope people will read the last chapter very carefully and prayerfully. The last chapter of the book is on letting go, and it’s a concept that I think is becoming lost a little bit today. It’s so hard, but it’s so important, even when your children are young, to start thinking about letting go. We’ve got to be parents who demonstrate faith in God’s sovereign work in the lives of our children.  

Is your appetite whetted for a book that will help you ask all the good and hard questions so you can intentionally disciple your children?

To win the book, all you need to do is enter your email (or comment). 

 

Giveaway will end on April 24, 2018.

Share with all your friends who could use some love on their parenting journey.

If you can't wait you can order First Ask Why right now!

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Motherhood + Marriage
Grace for the Middle Years
March 11, 2018 at 7:25 am 0

A Sunday reflection

  I commented the other day that we're in the middle years; though we're nearing the end of our thirties, and by all standards still fit into the "young" category, it feels like we're right in the middle. And though "middle aged" has a bunch of connotations about grey hair and going all in for a red sports car, there is something both mundane and beautiful about being in the middle. We're past the baby-rearing stage, and we glimpse the teenage years barreling towards us. Our parents will have health flare-ups but we're not yet sandwiched between launching children and caring for parents. But the years of going to weddings and baby showers have slowed. We don't spend our weekends traveling for parties or attending themed galas. We've been married long enough to know that there will be cycles of intimacy, distance, and clinging to one another for grace. That, as our marriage grows and deepens it does so in the normal day-to-day activities of making each other coffee, sacrificing our whims for the good of the other, for planning date nights and sex and learning to be silly when the weight of the world feels like it's on your shoulders. These are the small ways love looks in the middle. I've fought the middle for a long time. The way it feels so predictable and boring. Raised on Disney stories and my own idealistic and unrealistic expectations about love, marriage, parenting, and friendship, I thought the thrill would never leave. What I'm finding is we have a choice in the middle years: will I yearn for the early years when everything was fresh and full of promise, or will I patiently practice love in all the intervening small spaces of self-sacrifice? Will I try to make someone (a friend, a child, a mate) into someone they're not or will I love them as they are? The middle can be boring. It's often unsexy. It lacks the thrill of the beginning when all was new. But it hasn't yet arrived at the warm full-bodied sense of glory that's waiting at the end. I want other people's stories of life in the middle. I want stories that will seep into my bones about the goodness of the gospel in the ordinary, daily moments. I want stories about people, places, and things -- nouns that show us that living a life of faith is possible right in the ordinary. Today, I'm living in the middle. Of course it's lost its sheen, but that is not the point. We are headed somewhere together and all good journeys take a deep breath and dig in for the middle. It's in the middle where you really catch your stride. It's in the middle where a stalwart confidence and deeply grounded sense of self grow. So I make coffee for my husband as he leaves early to set up for church. I'll pour cereal for my children and teach Sunday School. I'll reach out to new faces at church and stay to welcome them, and I'll know my children can play unattended for a bit in these middle years. We'll come home and rest our bodies and I'll cuddle up with my big boys for movies. This is the bodily language of the middle and it, too, is a gift.
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