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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. 
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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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At other places, Faith + Vulnerability
Making Marriage Beautiful
April 13, 2017 at 4:42 am 0

How do you do more than simply "make do" in marriage with all the demands of schedules, children, and jobs?

Here's a bit of my story:  We were making our sixth home together — after first jobs, graduate school in another country, ministerial internships, and now, after two little babies came whooshing into our life. I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember shouting that echoed off of wood floors, how I didn’t have words for the tail spin of all that I thought life should be and what it clearly was. So instead we screamed. I didn’t have words for all the ways it was easier to blame him than to grow with him— for the many moves, for adventures that took at least two years to feel at home, for our growing family and the demands on me as a young mother.
It was easier to thrust his own issues on him, run and hide from mine, and make him be the scapegoat for all the angst I felt at the hard process of growing up.
No, I didn’t have the words to own up to my own birthright of sin. So we shouted. We slammed doors. We both were so alone. Now, after more than half our lifetimes together and nearly two years into move number eight, we’ve added two more children, we’re planting a church back home in the suburbs, and I’m writing a book. We’re exhausted. But we’re not exhausted in a way that leads to shouting and door slamming. The change gradually seeped in through lots of prayer, counseling, and going through Sonship, an intensive discipleship program. As we do things we have no more energy to do on our own strength like writing books and church planting and raising four children — I’ve seen the sin patterns in my navel-gazing, my own fear of invisibility if I wasn’t out in the work force being productive, and how it’s easier to blame shift than to see the truth of your own heart.
We make our marriage beautiful because we choose, day by day, to be for each other.
... Read the rest at Dorothy Greco's site. ... Dorothy Greco has written a fantastic resource on marriage, Making Marriage Beautiful: Lifelong Love, Joy, and Intimacy Start with You. It's relatable, helpful, and filled with stories of people working hard to make their marriage not only thrive but also be beautiful. Buy it here.
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At other places, Faith + Vulnerability
5 Tips to Develop a Healthy Habit: Read Your Bible (for iBelieve)
March 13, 2017 at 5:08 am 0
I'm a pastor's wife and I have a hard time reading my Bible every day. There I said it. It's actually the thing I'm trying to focus on during Lent this year -- how to create a small habit that I know will feed me. To that end, I've written a short article on some tips to develop a habit of reading daily. I think I'm still revolting over those little check-boxes Bible reading plans in my youth -- how the boxes became the reason to read through the Bible more than any other love. But we can also make the mistake of waiting around for lovey dovey feelings before we start something new. This is yet another way to fall off the wagon. Sometimes the discipline comes first, sometimes the feelings do. But to start any habit we need to help till the soil for growth to happen. And just like exercise and diet, we make small changes that add up:
I love to fit into my skinny jeans, but I also really love to eat good food. When my pants start to get a bit tight, I’m faced with a dilemma: will I change my eating habits or not? Deciding is never a question of knowledge: I don’t need to know more about nutrition, or even plan out a rigorous diet if I want to lose ten pounds. More information and more advice will never affect change. What I need for change is to be captured by a greater love. I need to want to be healthy and fit into my jeans more than I want to eat chocolate cake. Being physically healthy is made up of a thousand small decisions about how I talk about my body, what I put into it and how I exercise it. We change when we are captured by a greater love. Our spiritual lives are no different: to change we must pay attention to what we put in to our souls. If we say that God’s Word should shape our lives, then we need to move around in it. It needs to shape us. And it can’t shape us until we’ve first developed a healthy habit of simply reading it.
  I'm over at iBelieve with "How to Develop Healthy Bible Reading Habits: 5 Tips." And don't worry, they're fun.   
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How do we find holy in the land of suburban desires?
January 23, 2017 at 7:28 am 0
I live in the suburbs. I am your suburban mom with a minivan full of kids, picking them up from school, doing errands, and taking them to sports practices. But I'm also uncomfortable with that reality. Because it's complicated knowing how to love Jesus and be his church in the suburbs when everything has a sheen of affluence. It's why I'm writing my book, Finding Holy in the Suburbs, and it's why I'm writing about living in the land of desire.  I'm grateful to The Gospel Coalition for publishing an article of mine today. Here's an excerpt:
When we told our donors we were leaving the campus ministry to plant a church in the southern California suburbs—land of affluence and megachurches—we not only lost several, we also heard the repeated question: Aren’t there enough churches there already? I wondered too. Couldn’t we be more useful in an unreached part of the country? Or overseas? We can subtly think that when Jesus said to “go to the ends of the earth” he meant only jungles and inner cities, not the affluent suburb next door. But all places—suburbs included—need the good news and abundant life found only in Jesus. And the good life isn’t the biggest house and the latest kitchen remodel. In helping my husband plant Resurrection OC, I’m learning how the gospel saves us from our suburban desires for comfort and self-sufficiency, and replaces them with something much greater.  
Click over here to read the whole thing.    I'd love to know how you respond spiritually to living in the suburbs. Comment away!  
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The Ministry of Spongy Wallpaper and Cramped Hospitality (for Jen Pollock Michel)
December 9, 2016 at 7:47 am 0
When you're a writer with a herd of children and unattached to a university, nonprofit, or other place where writers, thinkers, and artists gather, you can feel all kinds of lonely. I started reading Jen Pollock Michel's Teach Us To Want last year and reached out to her because I so resonated with her story -- a wife, a mom, a writer, and a Christian trying to put all the pieces of a vocation together. After several months of voxer conversations, she's become a dear friend. I'm honored to be at her spot of Internet today writing about home (one of my favorite topics) and the subject of her forthcoming book, Keeping Place. (Pre-order it here!)  
Yet it was there in those cramped quarters where we learned not only to be a married couple, but how hospitality blossoms like the gospel.
 

Edinburgh. Image via Unsplash.

 

The Ministry of Spongy Wallpaper and Cramped Hospitality

1/5 Leith Walk BMT, Edinburgh, UK We wore our wool coats in the middle of a southern California summer, waved goodbye to our mothers, and boarded a plane to Scotland a year after we said our “I do’s.” We touched down in northern Scotland a day later, bleary-eyed and discombobulated watching a foreign countryside fly past on the wrong side of the road. When we made it south to Edinburgh a fortnight later, we were struck we didn’t know what “BMT” stood for — the ending to our first address as expat postgraduate students in Britain. It was the basement and when we’d creaked open that peeling paint of the blue main door and walked down the stairs, we realized why our rent was so cheap. We’d imagined all sorts of exotic sounding appellations for BMT with no idea that it meant a “basement” flat with one tiny window to let in the light. We didn’t know enough to be sorely disappointed. We hadn’t yet puffed ourselves up with multiple children and proper jobs to feel we were entitled to a better habitation. It was sufficient. It was what we could afford. We could walk the several miles to university and back. We could make it work. There was enough love and tea to go around. And plenty of books.  
But it wasn't always so lovely... Read the rest here.   
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At other places, Faith + Vulnerability
Deliver Us from Christmas Cookies, We Pray (for The Mudroom)
December 7, 2016 at 6:40 am 0
  merry2   It's the season of sweets. As much as I want to indulge, there's often a tug-a-war on what to eat and what not to eat going on under the surface. Or, most likely, I chuck it all and indulge and vow to eat healthily later. I'm finding that eating (like most things) isn't often about eating at all. It goes much deeper. Today, I'm at The Mudroom writing about food, deliverance, and prayer.  
The problem isn’t the food or my inability to eat healthily, to say “no” to what is bad for me and hunger after what is good. The problem isn’t food at all. Like so much else — relationships, sex, church, houses — food is a gift. It is sustenance and grace and provision. Like good gifts it is meant to be received and enjoyed. But when we obsess over it, Gollum-like, through our indulgence or abstention, we’re simply using the gift of good food to say something about ourselves. That I don’t measure up unless I measure up. That I use food to feel my feelings because I’m too scared to feel them. Swallowing them is much easier. That I feel productive when I eat healthily so I’ll beat myself up when I deviate from my plan. That I deserve this coffee or cocktail or this cookie because somehow it’ll make up for hard decisions, tired mornings, and feeling unseen and unappreciated. As if food could solve soul problems. Food is the safest drug we have.
Read the rest here. 
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Leaning in to the Weight of Waiting (for Kris Camealy)
November 30, 2016 at 6:01 am 0

ComeLordJEsus

Perhaps the snow this year has already lost its luster. Or instead of snow, you just have wind that goes right through your bones. Or if you're in a sunny spot, you long for what you do not have: the snow boots, the snowmen, the glint of sunlight on icicles. We're always waiting, aren't we?

I live in the midst of wait-ers. We wait for the bonus, the promotion, the sale, that will put us over some financial edge that will allow us to finally attain the good life. But the edge keeps moving back. The houses and the cars don't satisfy. If we do get what we want, we're on a walkway that moves so quickly we don't have eyes to see anymore. It takes more shopping, more stuff, more alcohol, more fancy vacations to quell the ache.

Or, we have a particular Jesus-y version of the suburban gods of accumulation: we reason if we had a better quiet time, more "authentic" worship experience, a different (bigger, better) church down the road, followed through on a Bible reading plan,  a mentor/counselor/spiritual director/therapist who really saw me, then we'd arrive.

But we still wait.

What if the waiting was actually how God comes near? Maybe waiting is (at least part of) the whole point? Maybe we need to lean into the pain of waiting and offer up our broken hearts. That's all we have to give.

I'm thrilled to be over at my friend Kris Camealy's blog today writing on these themes. Here's an excerpt:

The world is heavy these days. Every day we have an onslaught of news — of hate winning, of earthquakes and air strikes, of just feeling buried under the grind of the mundane. In our world, all that has been broken for a very long time has reached the surface. It’s as if all the things that were cheap, easy, and horribly bad for it, we’ve been feeding to our collective body and they have made our skin green and our insides twisted. We just now see it. It’s hard to pull away from online chatter, it’s hard to do the good, hard, next step: show up, make dinner, seek forgiveness (not just across party lines, or racial and class lines, but even in your own family). It’s hard to be present when you find yourself weighed down with the weight of waiting.

When all you have is a broken heart, you wonder if that’s enough. Can your brokenness be more than a defect? Can it even help heal a nation, a community, a soul?

I'd be honored if you'd read the rest here. 

Ashley Hales

Image courtesy of Kris Camealy


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A Lament for Books & Culture
October 19, 2016 at 6:00 am 2
Lament for Books & Culture -- Ashley Hales
Do you ever have something that viscerally brings back you in what feels like a former life? For me, that's Books & Culture, a Christian review periodical. I know it sounds weird. But I guess that's what you get when you've been steeped in literature your entire life.

As a student at Westmont College, I would wait for professors in the small common area in the English building. Among the leather couches, creaking floorboards, and wardrobe items from C. S. Lewis’ estate were always copies of Books & Culture: A Christian Review. The magazine’s articles, including some by my professors, would flit from book reviews to cultural commentary to personal stories. The magazine was like a dance and the editor, John Wilson, was the choreographer. Inspired by all the ideas at play, I'd tuck my own burgeoning binder of poetry under my arm and get to work editing the college literary magazine.

To have a review there last year really felt like I was living into my calling. I may not be teaching in the academy, but I was still a part of it. Even better, at Books & Culture the conversation was wider than the narrow academic halls of esoteric banter.

I was gutted when I heard it was announced it was closing last week. It's sort of like what happens when you realize you've grown up -- not that we've left Books & Culture behind like it was childish because it was by no means, quite the opposite -- but because we've somehow turned a corner and lost something magical that we can't get back.

I think I may have more to say about the development of the Christian imagination and why we can't seem to support great artists (or often even to raise them up in a day of flinging words like weapons). But for now, I have a piece up at ThinkChristian about my own lament for Books & Culture.

In it, I ask some hard questions about what we lose when we neglect good critique and why it's needed. Plus any essay with something from film critic Alissa Wilkinson, C.S. Lewis, and philosopher Jamie Smith has got to be good, right? At any rate, I hope you'll read the rest.

Most of us are not creators or critics; we are consumers. We consume our music, our movies, our books, even our churches. We gulp down content without chewing. Too often, we settle for anything to fill us up, rather than seek out food (actual, intellectual, or spiritual) that is full of sustenance, care, creativity, planning, and presentation, food that makes us feel loved, seen, and cared for. And so we need artists-as-critics who can point us to this food and teach us how to chew it, who can show us again how to delight and what to love.

Read the rest at ThinkChristian.

//

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Spaghetti and Social Justice (for The Mudroom)
October 12, 2016 at 6:00 am 0
  1385812_10153288324672068_595498795207315206_n-2 America feels so divided and polarized. So much so that we don't know how to talk to each other. We don't know how to fight for justice in ways that are life-giving, that allows space for fumbling, poor attempts. Because we're all at the ready to fight back. Like my friend Heather Caliri said, social justice is awkward. Well, at least it is for those of us born into privilege. For others it is the song of the caged bird; sadly many of us are just know hearing it for the first time. I'm over at The Mudroom stretching my writing muscles on the topic. I'd love if you went and had a read and shared your own best practices of doing justly and loving mercy.    
I didn’t want to write a post on social justice. It feels fake sitting on my couch in my largely white, affluent, suburban neighborhood. What do I have to say? As a white woman, I feel like my steps at connection across lines — even on Facebook — feel privileged, bumbling, and awkward. I say the wrong things. I’m patronizing when I don’t mean to be. I’m not sure what to do. The problems seems so big and the distance between people so very wide and I don’t know how to help others find their common humanity. That being made in the image of God means something out on the streets. ... I don’t want to use people as props in stories. To swirl a narrative around in a glass so you’ll drink it down, intoxicated, but the euphoria is fake and short-lived. I want to learn the quiet way of attention to the flesh and bone in front of me. I want to see “God with us” in the face of everyone I meet. Especially as we “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly,” we can’t flatten those who are different from us into supporting characters — where we often are the hero of the story. Where we write all the time about us, us, us. It’s why I didn’t want to write about social justice in the first place. Yet we need word enfleshed. We need stories. We need faltering stories like this one...
  Cliff-hanger!! Read the rest here.  
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