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Announcements
It costs money to give your words away. Can you help?
December 20, 2016 at 7:44 am 0
I'm sending out my December newsletter with a picture of my family dabbing. It was amazing. And because I love you even if you haven't signed up for my newsletter, I'll put it here too. dabphoto   I know everyone is asking for your money in these last few days of 2016. We're asking our own church to be crazy generous so we can be generous people to our community. Writing is a lot like that. I think that writers should (at least in part) give away their words for free. Words are gifts. They are salve, and balm, and sometimes a knife that amputates what is rotten. words-are-salvebalm-and-sometimes-a-knife   But it costs to give away words for free. It costs money most obviously. Now we don't like to talk about money these days. It feels crass. But listen, we aren't brains and souls on toothpicks. We are embodied people, learning and fumbling how to live in community. And to do that we need resources. I just received my blog renewal update and it's more than I thought. I give my words away on aahales.com. I write for free for The Mudroom, and for The Well, and for many other places like (in)courage and The Gospel Coalition (I have an article in the queue there). It takes time, energy and often babysitting hours. I need your help. If something I've written has met you, has encouraged you, has challenged you, would you consider helping me keep writing? Any amount will help. But to break it down: -- $5 will help pay for a cup of coffee when I have a babysitter -- $45 will help pay for a babysitter for one morning -- $100 will make a dent in my blog hosting for one year My goal is $500. Anything given beyond that might get me on a plane to have a solo writing retreat to finish writing Finding Holy in the Suburbs, my book with IVP.   Here's a big orange button if you'd like to help out:   As always, I'm grateful for you -- that we get to do this virtual life together. Thank you. Ashley  
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Announcements
Huge News!
December 12, 2016 at 6:00 am 16
Dear friends, All my newsletter friends already know (make sure you don't miss out on news first: subscribe here), but I have some big news! October 2014 I had an infant, a 2.5 year old, a Kindergartner and 1st grader. My husband was starting to get antsy in his job and I had had so many babies and done so many things that I was starting to lose a bit of myself. Do you know what it's like to start to lose you? So I turned to Write 31 days, a 30-day blogging challenge just to have something that was for me. I wrote on finding beauty in the mundane because I desperately needed to find God in my busy, whiny world. Writing saved me. Not that I'd found my life's vocation or the heavens opened, but I did a small thing for me that opened me up, allowed me to think through things and helped me better care for others -- for my family, friends, and new friends met online. After that month, I kept writing. I joined Tribe Writers and Clumsy Bloggers and Redbud Writers Guild. I wrote for The Mudroom because the editor, Tammy Perlmutter, liked what I wrote. I met new friends. I went to a writing conference in Portland in 2015 and then to the Festival of Faith and Writing in 2016. I wrote for (in)courage, ThinkChristian, Books & Culture, The Englewood Review of Books, The Well, other friends' blogs (see some of those here). I was chasing what I was curious about. At Festival of Faith & Writing, I felt like I'd come home. There were academics (some of my undergraduate professors!), philosophers, poets, bloggers, authors I'd admired. We all fit there. I also met Helen Lee of InterVarsity Press and we had a lovely conversation about my book ideas. I wrote a book proposal and kept putting myself out there -- not because I wanted fame or because I felt I was "all that" -- but because I needed to chase the ideas to the very end and I'd heard how my writing had met people. How it had clarified things for them. That something that I thought could save only me was also a gift to share. Later this fall, that book proposal was revised and then accepted by InterVarsity Press for publication. I'm writing a real, live book that will get in your hands! I think I was stunned for about a month and now am in the trenches writing. It's exciting and yet I know that such work never happens in a vacuum and that writing is a form of prayer and sustained attention. The book's working title is Finding Holy in the Suburbs, it's my own journey back to suburbia and finding belonging in Jesus rather than a zip code. It's my love letter to Christians who grew up thinking they had to do something radical to really follow Jesus. When more than half of Americans live in a suburb, we need a way to practice ordinary means of grace with delight, while eschewing the idols of our places. In God's kingdom, there are no little places and the suburbs can be a place to house the glory of God. I know there are potential readers hungry for this book and that's where you come in, even now. Book-writing is a long process and it's unlikely to be on shelves until 2018 with writing and editing. But I need your help with two things. I need prayer. If you could commit to praying for my writing time daily or weekly, I need it. With little kids, a husband who is over-extended as a church planter, and all that we all do, writing happens in small cracks of time. I need prayer for those small times to be productive and Spirit-filled. Please comment and let me know if you want to join my prayer team; I'll add you to a separate, intimate list of pray-ers. I'd be honored. I need people. I'm passionate about the message of Finding Holy in the Suburbs. If there's someone you know who could use the message of this book, could you share this with them? There will be plenty of time later for launch team and promotion and all the fun parties surrounding the book. But I want to make sure that the book I'm writing gets to the people who need it. And that means they're not only aware of it but also receive my newsletters to get the first bit of info. Thank you! ivpcontract3 If you haven't signed up for my newsletter, I'd be honored if you would. I write nearly monthly. It's an intimate letter of sorts, holds my favorite book recommendations, and you're the first to know about book news and giveaways. I'm sending one soon with my favorite books of 2016. Don't miss out. Thank you friends, for being on this journey with me. I can't wait to update you all about it.

Sign up now to hear more about Finding Holy in the Suburbs and be sure to comment or email to be added to my prayer team. 

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Announcements, Books + Stories, Letters to Weary Women
On words, silence, and an invite into our cozy fort
September 13, 2016 at 4:21 pm 0

Dear loyal, kind, harried reader,

I know you have precious little time these days. What time you have to read is spent on the latest and greatest novel, the magazine you flip through to get a little peace, and the pertinent article you click through from Facebook as you stand in the grocery check-out line (if, of course, you aren't wrangling a toddler or two and trying to make sure they don't lick all the chocolate at their eye level). We have so very many words thrown at us these days. They are often big words full of scandal and political angst. They are words meant to critique with a knife-point edge, not to eradicate the ivy grown around our hearts, but to show us the dexterity of the surgeon. I've just had the pleasure of reading so many books that welcome us into worlds where words are all about flourishing. I'll be sharing more and giving them away because, after all, words are gifts Can you imagine with me: words that do not wound, or if they do -- the wound speaks to your own hidden hurts and someone's words makes you feel less alone? They are words that nudge in the best sense -- to see anew. To pay attention. To find beauty right here in the harried middle. succulentbook I can't wait to share some reviews with you shortly! And hopefully some free books too! (Eek!) I'm planning for so many lovely little things in store on this online space. I'm practically bursting at the seams from all the good ideas. But, dear reader, as a mama to four who chases dreams and words and quiet in very small slivers of time, sometimes the birthing is unseen. As far as my own words go, they've been slight here of late. I've been practicing the holy art of saying "no," or "wait," or "I don't need to be all things to all people all the time." It's a tricky thing to say. It's something that I'm learning slowly, feebly as I back off from being superwoman. "It's okay. We're all breathing. Life goes on." I'm not sure if you're in a quiet season, too. We've had a touch of cool here in southern California and it feels like blessed relief (though I'm sure it'll get back to 80F in a manner of days). I grabbed my boots and drank a bunch of coffee and desperately want to go and get a pumpkin spice latte because everyone on Instagram is doing it. But quiet internal seasons often accompany climatic changes too. As the leaves begin to change (in other parts of the world), I realize that change and even death of good things are necessary for life to grow. For life to flourish. I'm still here, writing away, but it is unseen now. I have books and documents spread and my eyes are opened anew to the gifts and landscape around me. I'm breathing it all in. And for once I'm realizing I needn't make it happen on the Internet for it to happen -- for it to be full, meaningful, rich and important. I can savor in the quiet, unnoticed spots. I can write there too. There is something both terrifying in being unseen and something quite delicious -- as if my words and I were huddled under a secret fort built cozily just for us. tent1 I'm planning on opening bits of the tent soon -- as we continue to share our stories together (go on over here and submit yours!), as we savor good books together, as we learn to chase beauty and sustained attention in a world full of noise. Because there are words shouted at us, there are words that are irrelevant mere seconds after we refresh the page, there are words we wish we could draw back from our mouths. Here, though, there will always be words that refresh. There will be words that sit with you in your pain and show you hope. Join me -- if you haven't already -- in signing up for my little newsletter. On there, I share with you first picks of what I'm reading, all the newsy fun stuff, behind-the-scenes on book-writing, and little gifts. It's just a little thank you for coming in and sitting in my fort with me. Grace to you today, dear one,

Ashley

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Announcements
Suburbanites, I need YOU!
July 28, 2016 at 2:05 pm 1
Survey at aahales.com Just kidding, I don't have prizes. (Unless, of course, you count helping out your friendly neighborhood writer as a big, fat carnival prize!!) But you do get to weigh in. In case you didn't notice, I'm writing a book. Why, you might ask? Because I like to write to figure out myself and solve all the world's problems. Okay, maybe not. Scratch that. (I'm in a silly mood today.) But I do write to find out what I think and how to live better and more intentionally in the present. Here's where you come in: I need my readers who live in a suburb to weigh in on JUST 4 QUESTIONS! Only 4?, you say. Gosh darn, I've got time for that in-between my scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, while I pretend to be productive. Yes, reader, just FOUR questions. Click HERE to access this short little survey. I promise it'll be shorter than it takes to grab that nonfat latte in the Starbucks drive-thru. And you'll have my undying gratitude, too, for helping me hone the message of my book. Pass this cute little link on to ALL YOUR FRIENDS. Because today is a day for lattes and ALL CAPS. xo, Ashley
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Announcements
Your Weekend Curated List of Good Things
April 29, 2016 at 10:37 am 0
Periodically, I like to give you a bevy of thoughts and inspiration in the form of other peoples' words. Consider this your curated list of fresh air for your soul. It's one way to chase beauty and sustained attention in a world full of noise. So grab a mug of something warm and curl into some good soul words. And let me know if you think this should be a regular blog feature. (To stay up-to-date on all my recommendations, make sure you're following me on Twitter and Facebook.) //

Read around the Web:

This piece on creativity and community from Karen Swallow Prior at The Mudroom:
So good writers read. But not all books are inked and bound. The book of life—whose chapters contain hope, expectation, love, delight, disappointment, loss, growth (in other words, people)—provides, too, the words from which we create. Endless asking, telling, listening, debating, learning, regretting, cursing, pontificating, apologizing, lamenting, lying, confessing give birth to the words we carry into our solitary writing rooms.
This interview of Tyler Wigg-Stevenson by Jamie Smith about evangelical activism, the pursuit of justice as shalom, and a full-orbed understanding of how the gospel makes sense in our small, daily lives:
The hope for the book is that if we accept that "The world is not ours to save," then we fall back on the sense that there's a necessity of living a comprehensive kingdom orientation that can't simply be evacuated into or exhausted by a good work in this direction. Rather, it is a congregation living a life of peace with God, which spills out into its pursuit of peace among the peoples, and facilitating peace in community.
The Gifts of Small Magazines in The Curator:
While avoiding this myopic concentration on experimentation, The Curatorhopes to embrace how little magazines tend to treat their writers. Little magazines aren’t just an experimental playground removed from the larger culture, but can operate as a writerly gym, a place to train a writer’s artistic and critical muscles.
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Things I'm Excited to Support:

My writer friend and fellow Redbud, Aleah Marsden, is going to Brazil to help tell their stories. To raise money, she's sending out a 30-day devotional you get when you donate $5 or more. I got to contribute a devotional to this project and friends, it's stellar. Mother Letters is a book of writerly and motherly wisdom collated by Seth Haines for his wife (and fellow author) Amber Haines when she had 3 kids age 3 and under. It's a great gift for Mother's Day!   

Watching:

This moving piece about Bono and Eugene Peterson on the Psalms, where they talk about the need for Christian artists to talk about hard marriages and be real in their art. Bono also really loved how David danced naked before the Lord and his wife didn't like it. Also, we've been binge-watching Madam Secretary on Netflix. Tea Leone is a former CIA operative turned academic-horse ranch owner who finds herself asked to be the Secretary of State when the previous guy dies. It makes my heart happy to watch something thoughtful and not too intense. coffee-1225485_1280

Listening:

This amazing piece about beauty and the universe from Nobel Prize winning physicist, Frank Wilczek, interviewed by Krista Tippett on On Being. There are too many thoughts swirling in my head from this one -- just listened to it today -- but I'm really interested in his book, A Beautiful Question. Check it out here:

Eating:

I'm gearing up for a Whole30 soon so basically I'm eating all the bread, cheese and wine! You know, to get it out of the house. ::wink, wink:: writer

From Me:

Broken and Multiplied: A Dark Devotional at Sick Pilgrim
This is more than putting bread into Ziploc bags. It is a gathering of fragments–the scattered and broken leftovers that will not be wasted. Because in God’s economy, nothing will be wasted, not even what is broken. All that is shattered will be gathered up, multiplied in meaning, resonance, and truth, until we are home.
I Stopped Searching for a Missing Sister at SheLoves Magazine
Perhaps my only-ness is a gift, giving me a wide berth to really see other women. Perhaps it’s made my eyes hungry to help another woman belong. Perhaps it’s made me notice that we’re all searching for the missing sister.
The Ache of All the Lives We Do Not Live here at aahales.com
This could be a piece about the glory of the small, but it is not. ... But please know: [the waiting] is a faithful spot to be in — to not console yourself with truth that you do not yet feel, however true it may be. This waiting is an open space, with palms supple and fingertips drawn out into the light. It is a humble space — you waiting to see if God will show up, will redeem, and most of all, if he will make himself intimately known.
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Announcements, We create
What I’m Packing & What I’m Leaving Behind
April 12, 2016 at 5:40 am 4
coffee-1225485_1280 I leave in about 24 hours to attend the Festival of Faith & Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Novelist Zadie Smith, George Saunders, Tobias Wolff and poet Luci Shaw are going to be there. These are writers that are not new to the scene. They have lived and breathed a writerly life for decades and I cannot wait to glean from their perspective wisdom. I'm meeting up with my friends from The Mudroom, and SheLoves Magazine. I'll get to hang with the lovely folks at Her.meneutics and my writerly sisters from The Redbud Writers Guild. I'll see online friends I have never met in person and hope to catch two of my college professors there. But this year, I'm going as a writer.  I'm not going to this event as an undergraduate, just to learn and get class credit and write an essay. I'm not going as a critic and editor (though that's another career path I absolutely love). I'm going as a writer with a book proposal that says I have words and readers need them. It takes tremendous courage to own up to who God is calling you to be when you're waiting in free fall. I don't know if agents and editors will want to continue conversations and yet, I trust in a God who is faithful and true. He does not lead us into the wilderness to starve us and shake his finger at us. He does not shame us and punish us. Similar to the same way that I get a kick out of my kids' art, God gets a kick out of mine, I think. I don't criticize my child's drawing as not to scale, I delight in my four-year-old son's mind and the way he describes the shape of a heart ("a circle with a down, and two paths"). I just love it. So I'm trusting that when I step on the plane that I'm bringing the smile of a good, good Father. And how does that compare to a publishing deal? But here are some of the things going in my suitcase: a big purse, business cards, and a whole lot of leopard. What I'm Bringing Ashley Hales I'm also going to pack a ton of snacks, a water bottle and a portable phone charger. I'm paying attention to the small things that bring me delight like gold file folders and leopard print, black and white. It makes me feel myself. It makes me feel strong and when a wave of anxiety washes over me, I need something tactile that grounds me -- that reminds me who I am. I'm leaving behind the posturing, the one-upmanship and the insecurity that can plague the creative lot. I've learned how much insecurity can masquerade as bravado and I've seen how insecurity can leave us stuck in corners when we should speak out. So, I'm wearing my leopard print and my red lipstick. I'll introduce myself and have conversations with writers, agents and editors -- some of which might flop terribly. But I'm also trusting that the outcome does not define my identity. No matter what I have readers like you who say my words matter. That they met you right when, where and how you needed them. I have friends and a tribe of people who tell me that all our stories matter. I'm just telling my story (granted, at a huge conference with influential people), but that's all I'm doing. And I have a Father who smiles at my storytelling. Show up, do the work, be present. That's what I'm bringing to the Festival. // Sign up for my newsletter below and get a sneak peek of the book I'm writing. I'm sending it out before I go, so sign up: * indicates required
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Announcements
Recent Good Reads
March 29, 2016 at 5:38 am 2
I'm pulling time like candy floss, trying to get all the words to cohere on my book proposal. I'm sending out my newsletter soon -- all about the crazy of writing and starting a church and some of my recent reads. Don't miss it! In the meantime, here are some of my favorite reads around the Interwebz of late. Some of these aren't new anymore, but they are words that have stayed with me past the quick Facebook share or Twitter retweet. Enjoy! This gorgeous piece from my friend Aleah Marsden at The Mudroom on her recent trip to Rwanda will help orient your everyday. Aleah asks such good questions:
Am I hitting the mark? A full belly today, but what about tomorrow? In the face of crushing poverty, does my offering of hot broth and a smile make any difference? [...] I have been asking the wrong question. It’s not whether I’m making a difference, but how am I joining into the difference being made? The kingdom of heaven is like a king who gave a wedding feast to his son. The invitations to the great banquet have been sent to all. I am not the one throwing this party, nor is it my job to elbow my way to a place of honor at the table. Today my job is to serve soup to hungry kids. Often, this is the same job I have at home, thousands of miles away.
Alia Joy writes about holy rebellion and red lipstick over at SheLoves Magazine. Alia and I trade tired 5am Voxer messages. It's good to have a writer friend in your corner, especially one is vulnerably willing to expose sin:
I’ve felt it my whole life. It’s the playground where they would pull their eyes into a grotesque slant and chant, “ching chong China girl” at me. It’s the makeup counter telling me what is not beautiful about me. It’s a thousand other times when I’d slink away unseen or uninvited. When a stereotype would suffice for the whole of me. But this time I’m not silent. I am not a girl anymore. This time 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.
Make sure you read the fabulous synchroblog on faith in the dark at Addie Zierman's blog for the release of her second memoir, Night Driving. In this roundup she compiles quotes from all the entries! (Plus her book is on sale right now for less than $9 on Amazon!)
Night Driving is my story of faith and darkness. I have told it as honestly as I know how, and I believe it’s an important story, “Not,” as Frederick Buechner once wrote, “because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that it in many ways it is also yours.”
I'm still loving this piece by Alissa Wilkinson at Books & Culture on Why Criticism Matters.

We've produced all these in spades; I've probably written all three varieties myself. But what evangelicals have lacked on a broad scale is a vibrant culture of criticism. We know how to criticize, even critique, but true critical engagement with entertainment and the arts has been restricted to small pockets that take hits on all sides. We don't know what criticism is, or what it's supposed to do. We don't read it, support it, or produce it, and in many cases, we actively disparage it as harmful to our mandate to be creators.

I can think all the big things but then there's things like making the bed and folding the laundry that's, um, been in bins for a week. If you're "domestically challenged" like me, this piece  by Sarah Mae at Ann Voskamp's blog helped me exhale.

If you struggle with keeping and maintaining a home, I want you to know today that you are loved regardless of your cleaning ability or lack thereof. God knows exactly who you are; He made you. He knows every weakness, every strength, and He loves you the same.
This piece on little children by Scott Sauls was so good, regardless if you have or don't have children of your own:
By their honest example, children invite us to live authentically. They invite us to cry out and ask for comfort. They remind us that there is safety in being our real selves; that we need not be posers and actors hiding behind a mask. We are safe because we live every moment of our lives in the presence and beneath the gaze of a Parent – of a Good, Good Father – whose love, approval and favor can be assumed at all times.  
Tell me what you're reading these days? //

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Announcements
Feeling Stuck? Try Story Therapy!
March 12, 2016 at 6:00 am 2
Life is crazy and hectic and I SO get it. But I also know the feeling of being stuck. When I've been down, or confused and didn't know how writing could help save me, I've been surrounded by several good writing friends who have walked me through it. They've read my words and affirmed my calling and said, I'll read draft 3 or draft 10. They've given me the courage to dive right back into the messiness and redemption of my story. You might be feeling stuck too. You might need another pair of eyes to affirm the words you write. You might need someone to help you see. I'm here to help your story get just a bit unstuck. Our actions and decisions today will shape the way we will be living in the future.   All you need to do is sign up for my free 20-minutes of story therapy to get started. I promise it'll be a gentle way to work hard at your story -- whether you're looking for help for publication, for yourself or being able to share your story in a way that's applicable to a wider audience. You're not alone anymore. And in case you wanted some real-life examples, here's two: "Ashley's feedback regarding my work provided helpful direction where I was stuck. Her genuine, thoughtful suggestions gave me the motivation to move forward. I appreciated her time and the way she offered a reader's honest response to my story." -- Kate Motaung "I can’t thank you enough. This is just perfect. I get everything you said and find it immensely helpful. I believe I can be mindful of your comments to achieve improved writing in the future. Again, thank you. I’m thankful to have benefitted from your generous offer and thoughtful critique." --Debby Hudson What are you waiting for? Subscribe and email me some words with "story therapy" in the subject line. It'll be a great way to keep writing your story. 
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Announcements, We create
Do you need to take your story to therapy? Free help is here.
January 27, 2016 at 6:00 am 2
My face flushed hot red in third grade when a boy noticed I was crying during the video of Black Beauty. In third grade you weren't supposed to be crying during school. After all, it was just a story. So I dried my red eyes and told a bold-faced lie, that I had something in them that made them water. I couldn't be seen crying over a horse in an old story. More than two decades later, I'm learning that tears are not weakness. I'm owning my tears now and realizing that they are nothing to be ashamed of. They are gifts to share with another. I have another gift I want to give you. Another gift of vulnerability. I talk a lot about free words here at Circling the Story. As I'm pushing into my calling as a writer, I'm realizing that it's mostly other writers who subscribe and want to be a part of storytelling alongside me. It's why I write about creativity and vulnerability and being brave. It's why I write about failure and know that you know what I mean. So here's where my gift starts: Do you remember bringing a flashlight into bed and sneaking out a novel and reading way too late because you just couldn't bear to put your book down? I still do that. Oh, how I long for a story to "swallow me whole" as Amber Haines writes in Wild in the Hollow. It's the sort of thing that makes my heart start beating fast, that makes time stop, and gives me courage to tackle the mess made by 6 people in a small space every day. Stories have not only driven my tears, they've given me meaning. I want to help you tell your story. And I want to help you tell your story better. So here's what I'm offering to my cohort of storytellers, totally for FREE: when you join our secret storytelling gang (because c'mon, we all want to be a part of a secret gang), you'll get my guide to telling your story AND I'm giving away 20 minutes of storytelling therapy. Free Storytelling therapy from Ashley Hales @ Circling the Story You send me your work and I'll give you 20 minutes of my expertise. I read for sustenance and pleasure. I have a Ph.D. in literature -- which means, essentially, that I like books a whole lot and several people in Scotland determined that I could write cogently about published words and theory. I've worked as a freelance editor for companies and literary magazines and you guys, more than all that, words are just totally my thing. If you want words to be your thing too, I want to hold your hand and point out the trail together. I'm busy. You're busy. I have four kids and dance parties in the living room and sports and homework to help with. Not to mention I'm a wife to a church planter. But I can squeak out 20 minutes for you. And you can know that your courage to write and tell your story will be heard. So go on over and subscribe and, after you've read my guide, send me an email with a writing sample no more than 1,500 words. Let me know what you want help on: Are you stuck? Do you need help organizing your story or your writing piece? Do you need help with voice? Do you want help connecting the dots between internal and external knowledge? Help with character development? Something else? Do you just want to know if it's good? I'll send you back an email with ideas, encouragement and suggestions for how to make that "shitty first draft" (thanks Anne Lamott for that one) into something that reflects more of you.

This isn't just a free editing gig. This is how you start to own your story. 

// Hey, I know it's scary to put your words out there and to fight the gremlins in your head (thanks Micah J. Murray for that one!). But it's only as we begin to tell our stories that we can own them. We can then walk confidently into who we are meant to be. We can find that through words -- and, you don't even need to call yourself a writer to start telling your story. We all have a story to tell and I'm here to listen to yours. So, sign up and let's share our stories together! 

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*If you've already subscribed, send me the email right away! In all emails, please title your email: Story Therapy. Let's tell our stories together!
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Announcements
The Best Reader Stories of 2015 at Circling the Story
December 30, 2015 at 5:00 am 0

Please welcome some very lovely and talented writers to Circling the Story's 2015 Best Reader Stories edition. 

  It is a supreme pleasure to open up my virtual space to other writers and it's something I think is imperative in a world of ladder-climbing -- that we give away words and space to others. (Stay tuned, I'm thinking through this more for my 2016 goals). Some of these reader stories were solicited, some submitted. Some came wonderfully written like little gifts and some I had the pleasure of working on and editing the piece with the writer. Thank you all for sharing your stories with me this year. I can't wait to see what 2016 looks like! Submit yours here. These are stories of love and death, of the hard in-between, of motherhood and sex and the surprise of joy and grief. All the raw of life right here. //

 Circling the Story's TOP READER STORIES OF 2015

Let's Talk about Sex by Cara Strickland

Let’s talk about sex.

In most rooms, especially those filled with Christians, I don’t feel like I’m allowed to do this. I’m not supposed to know enough to contribute to the conversation, and if I do, it’s not something that is held in the same regard as the words spoken by those safely ensconced in marriages.

Whatever you have to say on the subject, you can sit with me. Maybe you’re sexually experienced and you regret it (or you don’t). Maybe you’ve never been kissed, never held hands with someone you thought was pretty cool. Maybe the entire question of choice was taken from you by force and the thought of sex fills you with dread. Whatever story your body and mind tell about sex, this is a safe place.


 

The Last Enemy by Eve Bradshaw

After three first-trimester miscarriages, my first child, Caitlin, was born prematurely and lived only two hours. Nearly twenty years later, my son Aidan died suddenly in our home. An artery in his lungs ruptured. I knelt in his blood and pushed on his chest, but could not bring life back into his eyes. He was not quite fifteen. The grief of losing a child who did not even get to draw her first breath or who only lived for a few hours or days is a specialized club in the story of grief. We grieve not only for the loss of the child, but also for the loss of the entire future with that child. We never got to create memories. Our arms felt heavy, ironically, with their emptiness.
 

The Turning World by Joanna Lamb

Five years later, we decided it was time for a new plot twist to keep the story exciting: we started trying to get pregnant. In my mind, I’d gotten the “in sickness,” “for poorer,” “for worse” phase out of the way. We’d survived. My husband had a job; we’d bought a house; I was writing my dissertation. Children were clearly the next step. Then the narrative began to change. I began experiencing debilitating chronic pain. Each month, the pain was worse. A year passed, and still I had not conceived. I was diagnosed with endometriosis and uterine fibroids. I am infertile.
 

Becoming my Own Mother by Annie Reed

One of the things that has surprised, delighted, and occasionally frightened me about motherhood is that in becoming my own mother—becoming the version of a mother that I am—I am also becoming my own mother—becoming like my mom.
 

I Didn't Think He'd Walk Down the Aisle by Tammy Moyle

Family members and friends hugged hello and laughed.  Appetizers were brought out.  Wine corks were popped.  The warm jacuzzi steamed against the frozen skyline.  It was a reunion.  A celebration.  A declaration of love.  A proclamation of hope for the future.  It was  beautiful revelry. And in the midst of the noise, although I spoke and laughed and smiled with my loved ones, my heart was silent — holding on to my internal  fear: “He won’t walk down the aisle.”
 

The Shock of Another Anniversary by Caiobhe

Eighteen months ago I believed our marriage to be dead. We had experienced years of difficulty as we lived with the pain and exhaustion of watching our children suffer serious and debilitating chronic ill health. We had survived in the best way we could but the experiences we’d endured had left us changed and depleted. We didn’t communicate. We couldn’t communicate. I fell in love with another man, and I was ready to leave my marriage to be with him. But then things ended with that other man and I told my husband all that had happened, all that I’d felt and all that I didn’t feel. I threw myself on God because I had nothing else. I had neither a marriage nor an alternative. I didn’t expect to stay married. Yet here we are. Celebrating another anniversary.
 

A Book, A Baby, A Biopsy: My Descent into Resurrection by Chris Phillips

One week in March 2012, my wife Emily and I learned that we had conceived a new baby. My first book, seven years in the making, was finally published. And we learned that Emily had cancer. They say that good news comes in three’s. They say that about deaths, too. But what the hell was this trio about? This was a long-deferred moment of professional triumph, a time for rejoicing after the devastation of a recent miscarriage. Was I—were we—to just forget all that, give it up as soon as we received it? I learned the diagnosis on the phone while I walked home from work on a Friday afternoon. I remember losing track of where the cars were as I robotically followed my usual route.
// Enjoy these stories that are in themselves word offerings. More is coming as I think about giving our words away in 2016. Would you like to join me? Subscribe below to be added to my email list and you'll also get my guide to telling your own story. I'm convinced that exchanging stories is a gift and a blessing. 

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