Around the Table

Around the Table, Faith + Vulnerability, We create
What it Looks Like to Find Home (yet again)
April 15, 2015 at 1:11 pm 8
We almost moved to Portland in 2009 to do an apprenticeship with a church. We fell in love. We wanted to be downtown people. We wanted to walk on lazy Saturday mornings with a cup of hand-crafted coffee and browse in Powell’s. We ached for urbanism, books, meaning, and craft beers. We longed for the coming together of pubs and stories; of the gospel and hipsters; of beauty and brokenness. And then it turned to ashes. We didn't move. And we felt like death. Six years later, this last weekend, I returned to Portland and even in the span of three days and three nights, I am resurrected.
Home is Belonging: Circling the Story (Esther Emery, Velynn Brown, Ashley Hales)

Velynn Brown, Esther Emery and I all write at The Mudroom and met in person this weekend.

  I am more fully alive, more fully myself, more a member of a tribe than I dreamt possible. There is a quiet back and forth between the prophetic fire I feel stretching for release inside of me and the long, slow soul-digging necessary to make a life of writing work. And it all is good work. Because now I believe I have a community of soul friends; where, hunched over drinks around a table, even though we come from different backgrounds and theological viewpoints, we are home. There, around the table, we are most fully ourselves, most fully alive. Because home was never about being right. Home is belonging. Home is where we hash out who we are and what we believe; but surrounding that process, is a womb of protection. Home is where we can be messy, scared, broken, angry. And a true home can hold us as we thrash about as we are birthed into ourselves.

A night of soul friends

  I found a little slice of home there in the drizzly northwestern rain. I found a home by myself, sandwiched between earth and concrete, feeling as much a part of one as the other. I found home in a Kingdom that is wide and deep and long and a breath of air. I found home in words that filled me, where I marveled at beauty and truth wrapped around one another like lovers. I found home in the eyes of my friends, when I could listen to their hurt, to their cries of lament from systemic oppression; or where I could weep at the violence done to them because they were sacrifices to a system. These are systems based on fear or control, where the image of God becomes something to squelch and squash, like my toddler squishes Play-Doh back into its plastic tin. I found home in the words of meandering faith journeys, where we hold holy space open for each other. I found home in my tears. Portland birthed me. Me. Not in my writerly garb, but just me.   Ashley Hales @ Circling the Story   I have some resolutions of sorts, some lessons to take away and tape up to my bathroom mirror, to remind myself what I will do:   I will dig gently. But I will dig. I will tell myself the truth of the middle day. That there is dusk and there is dawn and at these threshold moments we are the verge of beholding glory. I will see. I will pause, slow down and not rush to resolution. My first duty is to see. I will proclaim truth. I will point others to glory. And, I will show them home.   *** Thank you for being a part of my journey. I'm planning to tell you more about my time -- including how the publishing pitches went in my next newsletter coming out in days. Make sure you don't miss the details and I'll have a pretty little gift for you too! Sign up here and subscribe (be sure to check the box that says you want the monthly newsletter!). Feel free to join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook, too.     Tweetables: [tweetthis]Because home was never about being right. Home is belonging. @aahales[/tweetthis] [tweetthis]There is a quiet back + forth btwn the prophetic fire inside of me + long, slow soul-digging work[/tweetthis] [tweetthis]I will point others to glory. And, I will show them home. @aahales[/tweetthis]  
Around the Table, Celebrate, Faith + Vulnerability
When We Celebrate the Daily Hard
March 7, 2015 at 8:44 pm 15
It was one of those days where the breaking point passed me by, where the grumpies ruled and nothing much sat prettily in my soul. Anger boiled up too quickly -- perhaps I've been neglecting those good soul care practices that bring me life (writing, reading, exercising). Today, the words wouldn't come, but the doubts did. I scratched and clawed to write something, but all that came out was mediocrity. circling the story -- celebration + failure It began to feel like the good writing was just a dream. That my stringing together of images and thoughts and ideas was more like a preschooler haphazardly stabbing ugly beads on pipe cleaners than it was the simple beauty of pearls. So I wrote it, got it out and left the ugly creation there. I drove to the grocery store for dinner items. And I sat in the silence, the blessed silence of the car for a few minutes, feeling the movement of the sun and the palpable quiet. I ran in and picked out crusty bread and fancy olives and decided tonight was going to be a celebration. Tonight we celebrate grace. It wasn't a noteworthy day and we'd all been a bit put-out and stir crazy, even with the glory of early spring sunshine. But, I had to ask myself, do we only celebrate perfection and achievement? We opened the good wine and poured it out. We laughed and told each other what we loved about one another. We ate cheese and olives and salami and bread. We shushed the screamers and told the toddler to sit on his bottom about 107 times. My husband called me "brave" and made me well up with all the knowing that creeps by unnoticed. Because at the end of the day, or the end of life, I don't want to be grasping at everything that didn't happen. I don't want to be just waiting to cup perfection in my hands -- whether of perfect sentences, or perfect behavior or having done all the things right. No. Tonight we celebrate mistakes and redemption. Tonight the wine is poured out in the midst of laughter and frustration. For there is a good God who sees, who knows, and who lavishes grace. Grace for another day and hope for new words and peace tomorrow. And that is enough. It is more than enough.  
Around the Table
The Legacy of Gathering
November 25, 2014 at 4:26 pm 3
Today, I've invited my friend Laura Jane Roland to the table today, here at Circling the Story. You can follow here on Twitter at @thelaurajane. Let's listen in as she talks about life around the table.


I woke up this morning aching for my Grandmother.
The dream was little more than a cluster of impressions. Her patience, her love, and (oddly) a bunny figurine that used to sit in a corner of her house that I haven't thought of in years.
In the two years or so since her passing, this feeling has popped up a number of times. Especially in times of high stress or feeling lost, I find myself looking for that feeling I had around her. Like I was safer than safe. Loved, just because.
One of her best-loved recipes is on my Thanksgiving menu this year, and every year. Looking at the ingredients on my counter is a little like looking forward to hanging out with her. 
Her cinnamon rolls were my first kitchen lesson. Cracking eggs, kneading dough, sprinkling the cinnamon and sugar. I loved how gently she held the dough, and when she separated the batch into roll-out-able portions, she called the sections "little dough babies" and she'd pat them like little baby bottoms.
She was a genius with soup; her basement pantry was always filled with pickles and marinara sauce and green beans; and when my mom inherited Grandma's recipe boxes, there were more cookie recipes than anything else.
And, while my grandmother was so much more than the food she made for us, it's the magic of the senses - tasting, smelling, kneading - that brings up all the feelings and comfort I felt when sharing a meal or making a treat with her.
What I want - what I hope - is that those who eat at my table can take away that same comfort. I hope friends know that there is nothing to earn or prove, and that children know they are loved and safe. I hope that even when there are tears because we can't watch My Little Ponies while we eat, what my daughter remembers is time focused on one another, listening, talking, daydreaming together.
I hope that when she wakes up aching for that calm in the storm, she finds it at her own table.
This is what we are here for: to love because we are loved. To come to the table hungry, and to walk away with more than just a full stomach.
Grandma Jane's Cinnamon Rolls
1/3 cup melted butter 1/3 cup sugar 1 cup milk 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 package yeast
1/2 cup warm water
4 cups flour
1 egg
For dinner rolls:
Scald the milk then cool to luke warm. Add sugar, butter, and salt.
Dissolve 1 package yeast in 1/2 cup warm water.  Add to cooled milk mixture. Add 2 cups flour and stir smooth. Add 1 egg and 2 more cups flour. Stir, then knead for a few minutes on a floured surface. Cover and let rise about 1 1/2 hours. Punch down, cover with a towel and let rest for ten minutes. Form dough into rolls.  Let rise for about an hour. Bake at 350 for about 12 minutes. When you take out of the oven, top with a little melted butter.
For cinnamon rolls
You will also need:
2 cups brown sugar
one stick of butter
1 cup of corn syrup
Scald the milk then cool to luke warm. Add sugar, butter, and salt.
Dissolve 1 package yeast in 1/2 cup warm water.  Add to cooled milk mixture. Add 2 cups flour and stir smooth. Add 1 egg and 2 more cups flour. Stir, then knead for a few minutes on a floured surface. Cover and let rise about 1 1/2 hours. Punch down, cover with a towel and let rest for ten minutes.
Divide dough in half.
Roll out dough in to a rectangle roughly 10 inches by 20 inches.
Cover rolled out dough lightly with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnemon and sugar generously.
Roll up dough so it creates a 20 inch long log (that's what she said)
and slice in to roughly 12 pieces.
In a saucepan, combine brown sugar, syrup and butter and warm until bubbly.
Pour in to the bottom of a 9x12 casserole dish
Placed rolled sections of dough on top of the warm syrup mixture
Cover and let rise for about an hour. Bake at 350 for about 12 minutes
When you take them out of the oven, turn the pan immediately upside down on wax paper so the gooey goodness covers the rolls.
Around the Table
Real Food + Real People = World Changed
November 19, 2014 at 6:00 am 9
I've said it before:  we buy and consume to fill up our own scarcity. That latte will make me feel better. That new pair of shoes will make me feel young again, or attractive, or at least put together. That new book holds out all the promises of transformation that I yearn for. Stuff, stuff, and more and more stuff. And it all piles up and collects dust and breeds more dissatisfaction. And we're overwhelmed and tired from the cycle, and oh so very alone. Real Food, Real People Challenge | Circling the Story I think our North American culture really values invisible women, women that don't take up too much space, physically or in the public sphere. Women who don't have an ounce of extra fat on them, women whose jawlines have become taut again through surgery, women who say the right things and do the right crafts and don't mess up. It's becoming an epidemic -- this stepfordization of women -- where we feel we only make a difference if we can fit into a plastic mold. What if we could break free from this cycle of wanting and envying and feeling like we just don't measure up? Where we snatch sly glances at the mirror to see if our bodies look alright, or where we blame others for our emotional messes. What if we could break free?

Real Food, Real People Challenge | Circling the Story

And here's where life around the table enters in. It comes rushing in with "yeah, me, too", with mess and softness and the mercy of daily gifts of food and sustenance. It's the antidote to consumption and the tyranny of self-evaluation that we have as our daily handmaidens. You guys, I want to start a movement. Or join a movement. I don't mean to get all Les Mis on you and start chanting at the barricade, "Will you join in our crusade, who will be strong and stand with me?"...but I kinda do, too. Point is, I want so much more for us. Here's my vision and it's simple: I see homes filled with tables around which people come and join together to eat real food regularly. At these tables (where perhaps the homework piles have just been cleared off), people gather. They invite their families and friends and neighbors and even, the stranger, to partake with them. They put down their phones. The meal doesn't need to be Instagrammed or the pithy quote Tweeted; instead, they begin to focus on each other. And stories are finally told.  Can you imagine that? Being invited in to a meal that not only fed your body but your soul also? And this isn't just some fancy Martha Stewart-esque night of entertaining where you get out your precious plates and dress up -- no, this is a daily, weekly or monthly thing. With the freedom to wear your yoga pants, even if you've never done yoga a day in your life. With the space to breathe, to try out new recipes and fail and end up ordering pizza. To laugh and ask questions and finally be present -- really present -- with one another. To stop talking about your To Do list and start living now. We'll just do life together, around the table.  Real Food, Real People | Circling the Story The table becomes the vehicle for real community. Shauna Niequist has a great talk on hospitality where she gives her audience a simple formula for inviting people into your home: 15 minutes, baby wipes and bacon (or onions if you're vegetarian). (Check it out here; she's the second one). What is remarkable about Shauna's talk is that it's really pretty easy -- just inviting people in. I get it, inviting people in -- and we're talking more than just inviting people over -- is scary. Because inviting people really into your mess opens us up to truth and vulnerability and then who-knows-what. And we fear that when we invite people in that we'll be judged. So we set up our homes like fortresses instead of havens of safety.  So here's my radically simple idea: 1. Invite someone over to your home. Give yourself a goal (a once-a-week coffee date with another mom; a family in your house once a month, etc.). Make a plan to do it; pencil it in on your calendar. 2. Have them help out. Cook together or clean up together. But start to abolish the hierarchy that comes from a dinner guest feeling like they're there to either impress or feel insecure. 3. Let them in. Practice vulnerability; make not only your home but yourself a safe place. Ask questions. Start with something simple: maybe it's about how challenging your work is because it brings up your own desire to compete with others in unhealthy ways; maybe it's how excited you are to have them in your home but that it's also a bit scary; maybe it's how you're looking forward to an event because you've just been tired, or depressed or anxious. The point is to practice vulnerability, because it never happens on its own. 4. Repeat. As we practice being present regularly and as we eat together -- as we use time with others intentionally -- we'll see growth and change. It's not a magic pill, it's often a slow walk towards community and being known. Invite. Help. Vulnerability. That's it. Real Food, Real People | Circling the Story Will you join with me in doing hard things? Simple things, but still hard things. Please share with others and comment below if you'd like to be a part of making other people seen around the table. Because I think that there's something good and right and freeing about eating together; and it's only in breaking bread together that walls fall down. You guys, this world is only gonna change if we do small things consistently with great heart. So come back and share, too, once you've done it. I'll join you. Let's do this! And please spread the word by sharing, pinning or telling your friends about this.   -- This month I’m writing on life Around the Table. I hope you’ll join me, cook with me, and invite others in to your real and virtual spaces. Please take time to comment below and share this post if it resonated with you. *And if you haven't read them all yet, please read Shauna Niequist, Glennon Doyle Melton and Brene Brown; they have been writers who have shaped much of my thinking on vulnerability and living life around the table. **Other posts of mine that discuss similar ideas are: Invisible Women; Kale, Kombucha and Food Guilt; Vulnerability and the question we're all asking; and, Mama to littles, I got your back.  
Around the Table, At other places
How do you create daily habits of gratitude?
November 18, 2014 at 10:57 am 0
Today, I'm over at Jenn Thorson's blog, The Purposeful Mom, sharing about 3 Easy Ways to Create a Culture of Gratitude in Your Home. Jenn's got a great blog about living purposefully with grace in daily ways; and, it's been a pleasure to be invited to speak to her readers.
Here's just a snippet: Creating thankfulness means that we really see another person, and this is where story comes in, in the listening.
IMG_1722 So go on over there and read the whole thing, and take a look at her pretty blog, too. It's so easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged by what you feel like you should do, or what Mrs. Crafty Pinterest shows are the ways you can be thankful this season. But like much of life, I'm finding it's the same with gratitude; it's little daily choices that add up that create new habits and new attitudes. I'd love some more ideas! Please join the conversation. What are ways that we can all learn from one another about how to grow thankfulness? What do you do?