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Ashley Hales

Books + Stories
I wrote a book.
June 22, 2017 at 6:00 am 0
It's a pleasure to be back at The Mudroom this month. I submitted the manuscript for my first book just weeks ago and it feels good to get some words down on paper again. Fortunately, this month's theme is all about books and reading, so I naturally wrote on completing my first manuscript. Here's an excerpt:
A few weeks ago, I turned in the manuscript for my first book to my publisher, Finding Holy in the Suburbs. I suppose there had been others -- scrawled words in composition notebooks and spiral notebooks, abandoned stories where I gave up writing and thought I could only write about writing, and a PhD that approximately 4 people in the entire universe will ever read all the way through (2 of which examined me on it, 1 was my supervisor, and 1 was, of course, me). It's an odd sort of pleasure and pain to write a book. I began with pretty words and sentences, intoxicated by the blank page, by all the stories that needed telling. By the very art of stringing words together to affect transformation. But morning after morning, at 5 a.m., I'd wake, drink my tea, and stare off into the middle distance for awhile. I'd plop down on my green couch, curl my legs under a blanket, and begin the writing. It didn't dazzle, not usually anyway. But I showed up, day after day, when the world was dark to write. Somewhere along the way, it became less about crafting sentences and more about utility. Less about beauty, more about substance. After all, I just wanted to be helpful to my reader. I imagined my readers sitting in their granite-countertopped kitchens, eating takeout and drinking a glass of wine after circling the suburbs in their SUVs. They'd stare at their noodles, slurp them up with a fork and bemoan their children's chaos in the other room, the latest headline on the TV, take a big breath, and get to helping with homework. They were ragged, worn, busy, supposedly full, but empty. It's the sort of discontent I felt from moving from place to place -- from trading mountain vistas for ocean ones, for trading city for suburb, for trading a long-standing community for a new one. I understood it.  
Head on over to The Mudroom for the full story.  
Two take-aways: 
  1. I'm thinking of starting a writing workshop online. Comment below or email me if you're interested!
  2. Make sure you've subscribed to get updates on my book, giveaways, and my little booklet for chasing beauty right where you are!
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Books + Stories
Interview with Jen: We laugh, we talk about privilege, home, and her new book!
May 12, 2017 at 6:39 am 1

Jen Pollock Michel is a dear friend and we had so much fun chatting for this interview about her book, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home.

In her book, Jen writes with theological richness about what it means that God is our home, how he creates home for his people, and how we follow him in the work of home. She weaves together her own story, a trove of historical research about our longing for home, and opens up the Bible to tell it as a home story.

In this fun 20-minute interview, we talk some of the themes of her book:

  • How the myth of technology robs us of a rich story of home as embodied and emplaced people;
  • How to embrace the mundane and menial;
  • You'll even see (if you make it to the end) a little surprise about what the work of home looks like;
  • And yes, we get into how a narrative of privilege has made home about consumerism and a version of Christian womanhood more about an aesthetic than a place of service.
Keeping Place Interview with Jen Pollock Michel

Buy Jen Pollock Michel's new book, Keeping Place, on Amazon or at IVP. Follow Jen at her website.

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At other places
When Mother’s Day is Hard (for iBelieve)
May 10, 2017 at 5:00 am 0
We're coming up on one of the hardest days of the year. Mother's Day. If you are a mother, it never seems to meet your expectations. But I'm not talking about the ladies who are bummed out their children aren't bringing them breakfast in bed -- I'm talking about all the women for whom Mother's Day brings up so much pain. You may feel overlooked. Unseen. Hurt. Bitter. Resentful. Invisible and with no way how to articulate the challenges of this day. So you stay unseen. You retreat to a few faithful listening ears.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

I wrote a piece for iBelieve I'd love for you to read. It's short.
I lost my first baby. I remember walking home from the doctor when I got the news, my red coat tight around me in the wind. It was suddenly clear that this coat would fit just fine, that I could wrap it tightly around my middle because my womb would not be full. I pulled it tighter.
Even as you feel unseen, know that God uses the language of mothering. And like a perfect mom, he protects, he extends himself, he shelters us:
Many passages in scripture show the tenderness of God as a mother. As Lauren Winner writes in Wearing God, God borrows the image of laboring mother to describe his desire to birth his people (Isaiah 42:14). Elsewhere God is describedhttp://www.ibelieve.com/motherhood/when-mother-s-day-is-hard.html as a comforting mother: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted…” (Isaiah 66:14). Jesus also uses the picture of a mother hen wanting to gather children under her wings (Matthew 23:37). These metaphors are more than simple rhetorical flourishes to the biblical text. When we see the many ways God uses the language of tender maternal desire and care, we know that God will meet all the needs that our fathers and mothers failed to meet perfectly. We know that God’s tenderness sees our broken hearts, our scars, our fears.
  I hope you'll read the rest and pass it on to friends who may be desperate to be seen this Mother's Day. 
Subscribe and get your "10 Days to Chasing Beauty and Sustained Attention" in your Inbox! 
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Books + Stories
A new favorite book is born!
May 9, 2017 at 5:26 am 3
Jen Pollock Michel's first book, Teach Us to Want, changed me. It was one of the first times I'd read a rigorous, personal, practical and thoughtful book on faith from a woman. As a mother to 5, Jen's stories were relatable, but relating wasn't the end game. Her first book on the tangled nature of desire and faith was a gift and won the 2015 Christianity Today award for the Best Book of the Year. Jen Pollock Michel has now birthed a second book today, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home. Friends, it's a thoughtful, gorgeous book full of tight prose, meaty stories, and much historical research to situate a discussion on home, longing, and the work we do today -- including doing the dishes and the laundry. I have a treat for you today: a Q+A with the author. Stay tuned for an interview of us together coming soon! Order the book today! Keeping Place may already be sold out on Amazon, but IVP is offering a 30% discount on the book and DVD series with the code READKP.  
Why write a book about home? Is it your experience as a wife and mother that most informs this book or something else? There’s no doubt that my experience of making a home for my family these past twenty years has informed the writing of this book. But Keeping Place isn’t only meant for wives and mothers. In fact, I think the longing for home is a human longing. It’s not particular to women. Men feel it, too—even if they might characterize that longing in different ways. I’ve spent my entire life searching for home. Partially this is because I’ve experienced so much loss in my life: the premature death of my father, the suicide of my brother, a sometimes emotionally distant relationship with my mother. It’s also true that home has been elusive simply because I’ve been so geographically mobile, somehow ending up in Toronto as an American expat. These life experiences springboard a Scriptural exploration throughout the book. I want to hear what God has to say about the longings for and losses of home. What’s the challenge of writing a book about home for both women and men? I recently had coffee with a young woman from church, and at the end of our conversation, she said that she looked forward to my book on “homemaking.” Later, I couldn’t help but wonder if she imagined a book of recipes, table setting ideas, and the best way to organize a linen closet. I think that’s the fear: that men will see a book on the topic of home and immediately think it’s a book meant for their wives or mothers or sisters. That’s why the history of home is a really fundamental part of this book (chapter 2). I want to trace how home was once a shared space for residence and commerce and industry up until the Industrial Revolution. That historical analysis might sound sort of heady, but it’s really meant to provide a backdrop for the way that we read the Bible, which never talks about “home” as something which women are solely responsible for. What books have influenced you to keep a wider perspective in your home-keeping? I really do see Keeping Place as having resonance with a lot of the great work that’s being done on theology of place. In particular, I really appreciated the early chapters of Craig Bartholomew’s Where Mortals Dwell, because it makes the case for God’s good gift of place. I have also loved books like C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison’s Slow Church, which I believe help us see the role that the local church can play to “keep place” in our cities. And a perennial favorite is also Kathleen Norris’s The Quotidian Mysteries. Beyond that, it’s always been important to me to read outside of my own experiences: books like Kent Annan’s Slow Kingdom Coming and D.L. Mayfield’s Assimilate or Go Home would be two examples. How do you combine motherhood, writing and speaking? How does your home-making life practically work in the day-to-day? A lot of my day is taken up with the practical care of my family, especially because I’m the primary parent for our five kids. And even though I’m the first person to try and find help when I need it (I pay someone to clean my house, someone else to do virtual assistant work for me), there’s also something irreducible about the labor that love requires. I have five kids and a very busy executive husband, which means that my work life is sometimes more constrained than I would like it to be because of my responsibilities at home. I can’t accept every speaking invitation I want to. I can’t write on every topic that interests me. I can’t stay connected on social media (even if truthfully, I don’t really want to). But I think this is what it means to be human. We are limited. Who do you hope is reading this book, and what do you hope they will gain? I suppose it’s fair to say that women like me will probably read the book, and I hope that they’ll come earlier to the realization that their home is a shared responsibility with their husbands. This “sharing” benefits children, for sure—who need both mom and dad fully engaged at home. It also gives women permission when other God-given callings sometimes call us away from home. But I hope it’s not just women like me reading the book. I’d love to see women and men who aren’t married, who aren’t parents, find ways they can have and make home today, especially in their local churches and communities. I’d like for people to catch a vision for justice in the world—to see that the gospel isn’t solely a spiritual endeavor to save souls but that it also inspires practices of caring for physical bodies and environments. And if I could just dream a bit, I’d love for someone on the margins of faith, maybe even on the outside looking in, to read this book and start making sense of the life and death, resurrection and return of Jesus Christ. Sadly, when we get to telling that story, we often use a vocabulary that people are not familiar with. But what if we could talk about the promises of the gospel through the lens of home? Last question: isn’t there a DVD video series to accompany the book? There is! It’s meant as a teaching companion to the book, and what I especially love about the videos (and something I can claim NO credit for) are the personal stories shared in each of the five sessions. Women talk about their dreams for home, their disappointments of home. I think it makes it really relevant to our everyday lives. You can watch the trailer here or buy the DVDs at ivpress.org.
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At other places, Books + Stories
On the importance of reading fiction; or, yes read your book!
May 4, 2017 at 9:07 am 1

Is reading a "guilty pleasure" or is it something more? Can reading fiction actually inform what we love and how we act?

  I'd love for you to read my latest piece for The Well, where I give you permission (as if you needed it) to pick up a book. Rather than scrolling through our Facebook or Instagram feeds, reading really does enable us to be more human. Here's a snippet: 
When the twin towers fell on September 11, I was an ocean away in England. I was spending most of every waking hour studying and reading medieval literature, but now my thoughts felt jumbled, and I wondered: did my academic work mean anything when terrorists attacked my homeland? Wasn’t studying — reading, really — superfluous, privileged, esoteric? Does reading matter when the world feels like it’s falling apart?
 
Reading fiction gives us a ticket to step outside the world of the marketplace where meaning is derived from economic transactions. When we immerse ourselves in good writing, we stake a claim that beauty matters. Instead of buying something online with a click of a button or turning the television on and off, I must engage my mind and heart in a book. A book becomes more than simply an escape or a pretty object to put on your shelf that makes you appear learned. It is more than a product. When we engage with the world of the novel, we place worth in beauty, grace, and the promise of transformation. When we read, we say that meaning is more than money and that money can be used in service to good art.
  Read the rest here.  I'd love to hear your thoughts. How has reading changed you? What are your own practices of reading? Do you read more fiction or non-fiction? 
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Books + Stories
Did you win Everbloom?
May 2, 2017 at 4:21 am 0

What are people saying about Everbloom?

Once I began reading these stories I couldn’t stop. Each writer is a strong woman who has learned much from life and God. Gritty, funny, painful, affirming. No punches are pulled, but grace abounds.” —Luci Shaw, poet, author of The Thumbprint in the Clay “Everbloom contains a smorgasbord of personal stories and reflections that put the strong writing of women and the reality of women’s lives on display. I suspect every reader will find themselves in one or more of these chapters." —Carolyn Custis James, author of Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women and Maelstrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World
   

But the real question is, did you win the giveaway??

The winner of the giveaway for a FREE copy of Everbloom is....

Kellie Langenhop!

(Kellie, make sure you contact me with your address and I'll mail a copy!)

 
  If you didn't win, the book is still selling for less than list price on Amazon. So snatch up a few copies to give to you and all the mothers in your life. And as a SPECIAL FANTASTIC FREE GIFT TO YOU, I'm sending out my essay to all my newsletter subscribers tomorrow. So make sure you sign up and you'll get my essay, "I am a Desperate Woman," in your Inbox tomorrow. Don't miss out; sign up here --->
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Books + Stories
Trees & Wanderers: Sneak Peek of Everbloom! (Jen Pollock Michel)
April 27, 2017 at 5:59 am 0

Do you feel like a wanderer who has yet to put down roots?

What does it look like to trust in a God who promises roots when you don't have any?

How do we long for and look towards home?

  Jen Pollock Michel is the author of Teach Us to Want and the forthcoming, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home. She is a dear friend, a sharp thinker and writer, and a wife and mother of 5 in Toronto, Canada. If you're looking for thoughtful books that engage your heart and mind, Jen's books fit the bill. Be sure to pre-order her book Keeping Place, and stay tuned because I'm going to have an exclusive interview here on the blog in a few weeks! (Insert all the celebratory emojis!) You can find Jen at her website, Twitter, and Facebook.  

Here's Jen Pollock Michel's excerpt, "The Tamarisk," from Everbloom!


 
It was dismembered in a morning. Before I had returned from driving my children to school, the crew had assembled. They were severing limbs with alacrity when I arrived. Weeks earlier, when a city arborist had knocked on the front door, conveying they’d “need to take her down to the stump,” I had nodded and feigned sadness. But the truth was: I had no attachment to the diseased tree. Three years in our Toronto rental home was not adequate time for loyalty or grief, not when the future would uproot our expatriate life. Indifference was one luxury of our impermanence. But when the chainsaws were loosed unexpectedly on a gray October morning, my detachment was felled like timber. I was angry that no one had informed us of the scheduled surgery, saddened that no one had insisted on good-byes. When the hard-hatted men broke the tree’s brittle skeleton, I thought in alarm of the picture my youngest daughter had hoped to take. “I want to remember what it looked like.” Before we could devise proper burial rites, the tree was mulched. ... Sometimes we moved for career; sometimes for the dim sense of a call. Usually it had felt right. Always it had seemed necessary. But now that we’ve lived in Toronto for five years and our bureaucratic paperwork has been renewed twice, I’ve begun to grieve the roots we have failed to plant. The children have grown tall and lean. And still— we have no permanent address. I find it immensely hopeful that Abraham, the hero of our faith, might also have been called a wanderer. He was called by God, quite insistently, to leave Haran: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house” (Gen. 12:1 esv). Despite God’s simultaneous promise of a new home, Abraham spent the remainder of his years wandering. His life replayed the same song, like a narrative needle catching a groove. Abraham pitched tents and pulled up stakes. At the time of his death, the only land Abraham owned was the cave of Machpelah, which he had purchased as Sarah’s burial site. Even Abraham’s nephew, Lot, managed more stability than he (that is, before brimstone and fire hailed on Sodom). While Abraham was a man of tents, the author of Genesis notes that Lot’s house—a more permanent structure—had a roof beam (Gen. 19:8). Genesis 12 records God’s sure promise of land and family to Abraham. I’ll give you roots, God said. But if we’re honest, throughout the course of his life, Abraham endured constant threat of instability. ...

Make sure you enter to win your own copy or pick up a few on Amazon! All proceeds go back to Redbud Writers Guild.

Stay tuned for ONE MORE sneak peek this week!

Enter to win a copy here.

Giveaway closes tomorrow!

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Books + Stories
Red Lips & Lady Danger: Sneak Peek of Everbloom!
April 26, 2017 at 8:38 am 0

What does it mean to grow up biracial in America?

What does it mean to wear red lipstick and use beauty as rebellion?

What does it mean to be fully made in the image of God and not be a poster child for the white majority?

What does it look like to do it all with grace and fire in your bones?

  Alia Joy is a gorgeous writer and a dear friend. She writes for (in)courage, GraceTable, and the Mudroom, and other various and sundry places around web. You do not want to miss her voice. You can connect with Alia on her website and Twitter.  

Here's an exclusive first peek of her essay in Everbloom:


Red Lips, Holy Rebellion, and Lady Danger

By Alia Joy

 
Oh, honey, you are much too yellowcomplected for red, plus red draws attention to your teeth. I always tell my customers to work with what they’ve got. For you Orientals, I always say stick with your eyes, they’re so . . . exotic.” She purses her lips at me, her fuchsia lipstick bleeding into the tiny wrinkles along her mouth. She tells me which parts are worthy of being seen and which parts aren’t. I leave the makeup counter with mascara. I spend my twenties wearing colorless ChapStick and lip balm because my teeth don’t line up white and brilliant. I don’t line up white and brilliant. I learn to smile with my mouth pressed shut. When I was a girl, I had never seen an Asian American model. There were no shows featuring prominent Asian American actors. There were hardly any books about Asian American characters. Our leaders were white, our television shows were white, our neighborhood was white. To be white was to belong, to be beautiful, to be someone who could smile with her whole mouth and open it and be heard. But I was just a girl. I hadn’t yet learned that I could own my story, that it could help me become someone. ... These days I don’t listen to the women at the makeup counter. I choose my color. MAC makes my favorite red lipstick. I twist it from the bullet, and it rises up in brazen scarlet and smears across my lips. Lady Danger on my lips is holy rebellion. I smack them together and lean into the mirror. I see all of me. I am a biracial Asian American woman, and I am beautiful; I am worthy of being seen. The strength to believe it is something I fight for every day. These lips were created to speak truth. I’ve got fire on my lips, blazing red. This holy rebellion says, I will be seen. I’m learning to harness my voice even when it strangles in my throat, because these things need saying. ...
You will want to read the rest!!

Pick up a copy today at Amazon, or enter to win my giveaway!

 
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Books + Stories
Padded Bras: A Sneak Peak of Everbloom!
April 25, 2017 at 7:44 am 0

What does it mean to be an aging woman?

What do we do with things like sexuality and bodies and all the messy parts of being human?

What does it mean to buy and wear a padded bra?

  Leslie Leyland Fields writes one of my favorite essays in Everbloom. It's laugh-out-loud funny; it's poignant; it gets at what it can mean to be a woman and to grow old. Leslie Leyland Fields is the author of more than 10 books, including her most recent, Crossing the Waters. She lives with her family in Alaska and commercially farms fish as well as leading a writing retreat on Harvester Island (with some drop-your-jaw authors coming). She is a fantastic writer and y'all I totally stopped her in the bathroom at the Festival of Faith & Writing because she was wearing the most fantastic black and white polka dot skirt. And red lipstick. So I obviously just had to say something.

Here's an exclusive sneak peek at her essay in Everbloom


My First Padded Bra

by Leslie Leyland Fields

The year I was to turn fifty I had plans. Big plans. I was going to get my first manicure. I was going to run my first marathon. I was going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with Joni on her fiftieth birthday. Then, my hips and joints started getting cranky. My budget for international travel seized up. I forgot about the manicure. Instead, I had a party with fifty friends. And after that, I did it. I bought my first padded bra. I’m not exactly sure how it happened. It wasn’t premeditated. I was traveling and ended up in a department store, slinking undercover through the lingerie section. (Never quite sure I belong there.) Then— brain flash—I could repay my husband for Mr. Momming the week I was away with a sexy little something. Usually it was the foreign import section for me, but the padded bras beckoned—objects of both fascination and repulsion. I had never worn one. They looked like foamy dishes and came in an astounding range, from little tea cups to Italian restaurant-size bowls. And the sizing is the same as batteries. But no size was my size. (Even batteries come in AAA!) Then on a little end rack, I found it. A flirty, spongy little number that looked small enough to fit. I’ve worn sports bras most of my life. Not the fitted ones—the stretchy fill-as-you-can kind. I’ve felt their power all these years. No matter what I was wearing on the outside, underneath I felt sporty, ready to break into a jog or an aerobic routine at any moment. And often I did. My bra inspired me. I’ve always taken pleasure in my boyishness and the freedom it brought. I’ve felt like Peter Pan refusing to grow up, my chest proof I was still young, nubile, and mobile. Despite our culture’s unflagging obsession with breasts, I’ve never felt insecure about mine. They may be less decorative than others, but few have enjoyed the same utility. Mine have fed people—six, actually—grew them from mewling newborn to stalwart near-toddler. A full six years logged on these breasts, boosting closeness, intelligence, and immunities for us both, a whole string of benefits conferred from my milk-rich low-fat deposits. But my freshman year of high school I would have traded with anyone. Breasts were so much in demand that year that tissue-stuffed bras became something of a norm, a trend I joined while hoping for nature to take its usual hormonal course. I soon gave up on the venture, especially after my tissues crept unbidden out of my shirt one day in plain view of the boy I had a crush on. When I saw his eye wander downward, I should have simply yanked out a tissue with a flourish and blown my suddenly stuffy nose, winking seductively like, Aren’t we girls inventive creatures who can stow the most necessary items in such mystical places? I do recall a few other moments, in college, when I layered a second bra over my first, aiming for some kind of collegial shape to my body. To at least belong among the freshman femininity parading before the male upperclassmen, whom we knew were surveying the goods as we clicked by on our heels, swishing our skirts. (Yes, we wore high heels and [modest] skirts. This was a Christian college where “the men looked like men and the women looked like women.” A great obsession of conservative Christians in the unisex hippie days of flowing hair, platform shoes, and jeans.) But this new bra—all foamy and thick, plush in just the right places—was more. This was not a tame bra; it was leopard-spotted. ... You'll want to read the rest...

Make sure you enter to win your own copy or pick up a few on Amazon! All proceeds go back to Redbud Writers Guild.

Stay tuned for more sneak peeks this week!! Enter to win a copy here    
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Books + Stories
Win a Copy of Everbloom!
April 24, 2017 at 1:54 pm 0
Do you ever write a thing (or paint a thing, or say a thing) and then you want to bring those words right back? Well, that was a bit what it was like writing my essay, "I am a Desperate Woman," for Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives. I wrote about bleeding and being a woman and at first, I wished I could take it all back. But here's the thing friends, I'm done with pretending that we all don't need to hear the human experience from the perspective of being female (or male for that matter). I think men should be able to read essays without blushing about birth and menstruation. After all, I read things all the time from a male perspective. So I'm standing by my essay in its vulnerable depiction of health gone awry, of the challenges of being female. I threw my essay into the lot and it's now a part of a book by some amazing writers and women from Redbud Writers Guild. You guys, it's a gorgeous book. I sat curled up and devoured stories from my writer friends. It's gutsy and encouraging, poignant, sad, and laugh-out-loud funny. There's essays. There's heart-wrenching personal narratives. There's poetry. There's prayers. There's writing prompts for you to tell your own brave story.

And I'm giving a copy away to ONE LUCKY READER!


Here's how to enter. Two things. It's simple:

  1. Sign up below for my monthly newsletter (if you haven't done so already)-->

2. Share the giveaway on social media. Be sure to tag me at @aahales on Twitter or Instagram, or at my writer's Facebook page.

I'll announce the winner on Friday!


  1. To whet your appetite, I'm giving you a little bit of my essay below. Please stay tuned, because I'll have excerpts from other essays this week! Don't miss it. 
    Most of my breakdowns happen on bathroom floors. When I did not know much about pain, I cried on the rug in my college apartment over a wedding decision standstill, feeling pulled between daughter and soon-to-be wife. A few years later, when I once had the hope of new life within me, I howled, hunched over the toilet as I miscarried my first baby. Since then, I’ve shut the bathroom door for alone time, hoping to find some inner calm. I’ve cried on the bathmat when the world felt like it was spinning out of control, when I could no longer be the one to hold together all the loose strands. The bathmat has been my altar – soaked with tears and the vessel to hold my sin, shame, and suffering. This last October, I cried in the bathroom because I couldn’t leave the toilet for more than an hour. I wouldn’t stop bleeding. I didn’t know what was wrong. My body felt twisted, confused, and ridding itself of its life force. This was it, I figured: my body was irreparably broken. I cried for healing and still the blood came, day after day, hour after hour. Find out more about how bathroom floor breakdowns helped to show me God in Everbloom
    If you just can't wait, pick up your copy today! If you buy it today on Amazon, you get the pre-order price guarantee of $12.20! Crazy deal!    
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