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At other places

At other places
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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At other places
The Year I Lost Fall (for (in)courage)
October 8, 2016 at 6:00 am 0
There's a bit of cool on the edge of the breeze here in southern California, but that doesn't mean that we've retired our flip flops and are reaching for the jackets. It feels different still, yet so much the same. The seasons shift slightly here so you have to be extra attentive to see and feel. You have to pay attention. When we moved a year ago, it felt like I'd lost fall. I'd lost that season of change that shows me that there is rebirth on the other side. That there is a glory to the letting go. Instead I was stuck with what felt like endless summer. Stuck like Groundhog Day into living the same thing, the same feelings, the same thoughts because the weather didn't change much. IMG_1358   This is the story of the year I lost fall.
Fall was about seeing the world magically change before my eyes. Fall was about seeing the earth begin to die as, before each leaf dropped, it turned to a blaze of glory. Even when leaves were dead they was raked into piles and the source of delighted squeals from little boys who jumped in again and again. Fall showed me most clearly what I’m scared of: That dying is never the end — whether that’s when we’re approaching the end of life, or when we’re dying to ourselves day-in and day-out. There is something mysterious in the golden color change. That to drop and fall is a gift, too. It is not the end.
  Ashley Hales at incourage // I'm at (in)courage today writing about fall, the year I lost it, and the lessons of the trees teach us about giving up, letting go, and showing us the way. I'd be pleased if you'd read it.  Don't forget while you're there to sign up to receive free daily notes from (in)courage, sent right to your inbox!  
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At other places
Dry Bones, Dust and Meaty Hands: A Dark Devotional for Sick Pilgrim
September 30, 2016 at 8:11 am 0
You may think devotionals are weird, sugary sweet things that do more to distance us from holy wonder than bring us closer to it. If that's you (if you, like me, have an edge of cynic in you), I'd love to invite you to take a look at Sick Pilgrim. It's fabulously weird and I promise will provide much food for thought and is top-notch writing. Today I'm writing about death, life, and rebirth and dry bones. You know, happy clappy stuff:
Mary Karr wrote of the longing of the corpse of Christ for “two hands made of meat.” Sometimes I like to stay in this rickety ol’ bone pile. It’s comfortingly melancholy. I grab a leg bone and an arm bone and try to make music, turn dead things into art. But I also want to believe in a God that is about the business of resurrection, that “make[s] beautiful things out of the dust.”  I want both–death and new life, that jaw-dropping moment of hope, the touch of two meaty hands that will put all my broken hinges back together.
  Click below to read the whole thing: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sickpilgrim/2016/09/dark-devotional-out-of-the-dust/
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At other places, Books + Stories, Faith + Vulnerability
#MamaPhD and the Delicate Circles of Relation (for The Well)
September 27, 2016 at 6:00 am 0
writer If you've been reading things I've written on motherhood, academia and this odd confluence of writing/motherhood/research/ministry, then you may have seen me use the hashtag #MamaPhD. It's after a fabulous book by the same name and so clearly encapsulates this life of motherhood combined with scholarship. I'm not in the classroom these days, but I still find that my Ph.D. matters quite a bit. Not just as some pretty letters after my name -- though I've been known to pull that out in conversation to feel "more than just a mom" (here my own insecurities are surfacing) -- but my Ph.D. matters because it is so engrained in who I am, my story, and the fact that I spent almost a third of my life (at that point) obtaining it. Today I have the lovely privilege at being over at one of my favorite new internet spots, The Well. It's a spot just for women in the academy and beyond. It's a spot that says that women can love God with all of their mind. I love that women share their stories there (from graduate school, academic vocations, and beyond), review good books, and care for our souls. We aren't just brains on toothpicks. We are whole people. And that's something that took me a Ph.D. and not teaching in the classroom to learn.  I'd be beyond thrilled if you wanted to read a bit more of my story:
We live boundaried lives. We can fight against the edges of our circles – where we come into intimate relationship with others and are responsible to them, or we can discern how to live faithful lives given those constraints. I pushed at my circle for years trying to expand it ever wider. I stewed like a petulant child — angry that my bright future was now full of dirty diapers, toddler tantrums, and my own inability to take it in stride. It would have been a valid choice to put children in daycare and to go about finding a successful job, but it wasn’t mine. And yet, I couldn’t seem to find God exclusively in the liturgy of the ordinary. Like Brene Brown says, if creativity isn’t used, it festers. I grew resentful, blamed my husband’s ministry job changes, and bought the lie that a tenure track job would satisfy all my longing for meaning and significance. Here I was, Ph.D. now in hand (9 years after I started), not in the classroom, but with three little children, and one on the way. What was I doing with my life? How could this be God’s plan?
And, I'd love to hear how you have both resisted and moved comfortably around in your own circles of relation. Go on over to The Well to read the rest // As always your support by "liking" my Facebook page and subscribing to my monthly newsletters helps. It helps me know I'm not alone and that we can share our quiet stories together. When you sign up for my monthly newsletter expect exclusive content and gifts just for you. Plus, you'll be on the cutting edge of all book-related awesomeness! Thanks friends.

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At other places, Motherhood + Marriage, Review
Bad Moms and Neighborhood Parties
August 19, 2016 at 6:00 am 0
Are you a bad mom? aahales.com I don't know about you, but for me, I like to analyze things. Like a lot. Like to death. And sometimes I totally make my husband listen to all my brilliance. Sometimes that's entirely too much for any one man to handle. I've been turning over motherhood and culture after seeing the movie Bad Moms. I've been thinking about neighborhood dynamics and how being a Christian means we should be good neighbors after reading, Next Door as it is in Heaven. Thankfully, too, I have a few wonderful editors who see fit to publish my ramblings  brilliance. So if you've seen Bad Moms, tell me what you think. Here's a bit about what I thought: I guffawed. I cried tears of laughter. I sent my girlfriends knowing side glances when we had a girls night at the movies to watch, Bad Moms. I made everyone feel okay with laughing out loud because I did so much of it. But after all the laughter, I had to reflect on and think about what the movie was espousing. It hits a certain soft spot for women these days -- women who love their children, sacrifice their time, energy, sanity and money for them, and yet still feel like a failure. I kept turning it over in my head -- particularly thinking about the dynamic between men and women in the movie -- and instead of (entirely) boring my husband to death, I wrote about it for ThinkChristian.
The “bad mom” mantra becomes Amy’s campaign slogan when she runs for PTA president. Her openness encourages other women to stand up to confess their own “bad mom” moments. In the school’s gym, they enact a secular ritual of confession—calling out the ways they haven’t met up to some idealized standard of motherhood and finding solidarity in their failures. It’s interesting, and perhaps humorous, that this solidarity is not found in being called to something higher, but by setting the bar lower. Yet confession and vulnerability without the Gospel isn’t good news. It’s just our dirty laundry.
Read more about what I thought about Bad Moms at ThinkChristian.  
  What has your summer looked like? Has it meant more or less neighborly time? I thought a lot about how we all ache for community and shun it at the same time. Here's a bit from my review of Next Door as it is in Heaven:
We all care deeply about where we are placed, and we all long for home to feel like a firm foundational place of belonging. The problem is that we elevate the nuclear family and our physical houses instead of concomitantly seeking the good of our neighborhoods, cities, and world. Authors Ford and Brisco are desperate to recover a sense of the neighborhood as the space of connection, where the gospel takes on flesh. The premise for Next Door As It Is in Heaven is simple: we are disconnected in our modern age of so-called connectivity, yet being a good neighbor is at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. It is a book that challenges the reader to do what David Brooks wrote about in an op-ed for the New York Times: “We need to be more communal in an age that’s overly individualistic; we need to be more morally minded in an age that’s overly utilitarian; we need to be more spiritually literate in an age that’s overly materialistic; and we need to be more emotionally intelligent in an age that is overly cognitive.” We tend to think of emotional, spiritual, moral, and communal development as happening in classrooms or churches. But each of these areas Brooks highlights can be found by faithfully and intentionally practicing presence in your own neighborhood. Neighborliness matters. It is, after all, the basis for Jesus’s most famous parable of the Good Samaritan. Living out the Kingdom of God then is not something professionals do with fancy words; it is, instead, patterned in our small moments of noticing others.
Read the entire review at The Englewood Review of Books.   Buy Next Door as it is in Heaven and tell me what you think: // Sign up for my email newsletter to help you chase beauty and sustained attention in a world full of noise.

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At other places, Books + Stories
Cue the superhero music: Reading CAN change the world
August 16, 2016 at 10:12 am 0
Reading can change the world -- aahales.com

My towering bedside reading

I read a lot. Sometimes I even get to write about what I read. And since I think that reading has become both more commonplace (we always have our phones out when we have 2.5 seconds of free mental space), it's also become harder to read slowly, well, and with intention. Never fear! There's a book about that! C. Chris Smith, the editor for Englewood Review of Books, wrote a book called Reading for the Common Good. Do you wonder how reading really can change the world? Does it feel inconsequential or escapist to pick up a book these days? How might reading affect our neighborhoods and churches? This isn't about a cheesy Christian book club. This is a book that is about reorienting ourselves as a community, towards the flourishing of our neighborhoods and we can do it in small, daily, routines -- like reading. Take a look at my review over at The Well. It's geared for Christian women academics -- so as a #MamaPhD, I have a lot in common with that audience -- and yet, it's a great book to pick up no matter your vocation. Here's a snippet: Books were always my first love. As an only child, I spent my childhood wrapped in novels with the sounds of Disney’s Electric Parade on the background. It seemed only natural that my love for reading catapulted me into studying English as an undergraduate and then on to a master’s and Ph.D in literature. In all the focus on theory and dissecting novels like biology experiments, it became easy to think that reading would always (and only) serve a particular end. Pleasure and learning were subsumed into how a book was useful, how it perpetuated ideological categories. I wish I had had C. Christopher Smith’s new book, Reading for the Common Good, in those heady graduate school years as a gentle guide to reading for others. Smith’s book, Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish, is the practical outworking of the Editor of The Englewood Review of Books’ previous co-authored book, Slow Church. Where Slow Church left off — advocating a return to incarnational living in church community rather than the McDonaldization of attractional churches — Reading for the Common Good continues. In it, Smith centers the local church; he writes: “For disciples of Jesus, our first and primary vocation is to follow in the way of Jesus as part of a church community.” How do individuals living their vocation within the context of their churches and communities begin to flourish? How do we slow down, invite conversation, and practice ethical, intentional discipleship? How do we learn to love the places where God has put us? Smith argues that reading buttresses the common good. In many ways it seems ludicrous that the idea of reading is a revolutionary and transformative act. Isn’t it too basic for that? For most women in the academy, reading has been part and parcel of a way of life, simply the water we swim in. // Read more at The Well! While you're at it, make sure you've signed up for my email newsletter. You get a free guide to telling your story and more goodness coming soon! --AH  
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At other places, Simplify
When I want to Throw it All Out the Window
August 10, 2016 at 6:00 am 2
Simplifying doesn't buy peace. Ashley Hales (AAHales.com) If you’re anything like me you pendulum swing between extremes. One day, I’m browsing Pottery Barn and CB2 catalogs and am determined to save my pennies for all the sparkly things in the West Elm store or for *the* best pair of leather boots on sale at Nordstrom (because, people, when you snag a sale, then you can justify the crazy prices because, I mean: SALE! Right?). The next day I decide that the best plan of action is to just throw out all of our things (including all the plastic junky toys that my children are suddenly enamored with) and pare down to a capsule wardrobe. Burn ALL THE THINGS! Finally get a chore chart that we can stick with! Get a meal plan and a new calendar and a white board and a family motto! Donate all the clothes that we don’t wear! (Or even just really, put your own dishes in the dishwasher. That would be a good start.) I keep reaching for outward systems to fix my internal chaos. I read books and blogs about minimalism. And then I see the pretty house, the new throw pillows, the cute belt, and my eyes get wide-eyed for something I think I’m missing. I know that stuff won’t fix my own holes of neediness. I know that a new outfit, or pair of shoes, or decorating scheme, or bigger house only digs my own sense of unbelonging deeper. There is always never enough when we operate out of scarcity. Likewise, I know (somewhere theoretically) that defining myself by lack — by how much I save, or how much I don’t buy, or how wise and resourceful I am — does not satisfy either. One time I tried to do that Marie Kondo method. (The idea is that if something doesn’t spark joy when you hold it in your hands you toss it.) I donated 8 trash bags full of clothes, accessories, and shoes. And then I was left with a few things, not all of which sparked joy — because, I needed to actually wear clothes, man. // I'm over at The Mudroom writing about the elusive search for the simple life. Do you have a hard time letting go of stuff? Please tell me I'm not alone in my crazy swing from one extreme to the other. I'd love for you to go to The Mudroom to read the whole thing.
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At other places
Finding Love in the Present Tense (for The Mudroom)
July 12, 2016 at 6:00 am 0
The theme for July at The Mudroom is Relationships, True Intimacy, and Lasting Connection. I asked the other writers what they were writing about -- motherhood, marriage, friendship, something else? -- so we would hit different themes. In the end, I wrote about ALL THE THINGS because sometimes the flood gates open. This is a love letter to love and an apology -- that I have most often used relationships to write a story about me. Maybe you have too. I'd love to share a few words with you here, but head on over to The Mudroom to read the whole thing. --AH Finding love in the present tense -- Ashley Hales -- aahales.com On the cusp of womanhood, we dreamt of boys who would sweep us off our feet, play the guitar, and in the sun-drenched summer days of southern California, carry a surfboard under muscular tanned arms. We wrote bad poetry and were waterlogged from long days at the pool. We ate cookies, drank Coke, and didn’t worry about waistlines while we spilled slumber party secrets. We traded best friend necklaces and dreamt of friendship that would always return like the rhythm of ocean waves. We were 17 — babies in love. I wrapped telephone cords around my finger during those hours where we plumbed emotional depths. Conversations about the sunny future where our hopes and dreams always seemed to align perfectly. Soul mates. Destiny. Knight in Shining Armor. You name it — we trotted out each cliche, but they felt newly awoken in our mouths. There were novels written in kisses in those early days. But then there were budgets, moves, babies, and ministry that consumed all of our creative energy. Then, years later, there was the fresh newborn head smell that I willed my senses to remember. Each babyhood became somehow more precious because I realized how fleeting time really was. When before, I’d smirk at the coos from gray-haired ladies, now I realized I was well on my way to becoming one. By my third baby (I’m a slow learner), I had become used to the lack of sleep, the mess, the way motherhood pours you out from reserves you didn’t know you had. And I fell in love anew with blonde curls, sparkling eyes, and how I could fully be someone’s entire world. That my body, my arms, my attention could meet every need. Then there were the friendships forged over red coffee mugs, the ones where we owned our anger, our feeble steps of faith and doubt, how as pastor’s wives we felt broken, vulnerable, and confused about calling. How we just needed a date night to fall in love with our husbands again. How we vacillated between fiercely loving our children while also wishing they’d just leave us for a moment of peace. When we moved away and the miles separated us, I cried to you on the phone, shut up in my minivan: I didn’t know how to do life away from you. And now, you’ve lost your dad, I am miles away and I do not know how to hold up your grief that I cannot see. // Read the rest here.
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At other places, Books + Stories
When the Spacious Place Feels Claustrophobic (GraceTable)
June 17, 2016 at 6:00 am 0
Sometimes you get invited to a spacious place. This isn't always corollated with more room physically, but it is a place where you feel like you can breathe. Often, I find those places in the words of friends. Christie Purifoy, is such a friend whose book, Roots & Sky, is the summer book club selection for GraceTable. (Get it on crazy sale for less than $9 here -->) Roots & Sky is a book for slowing down, for internalizing seasons, for reading about Christie's homecoming to a farmhouse in southeastern Pennsylvania. But it's more than just her story. I promise you'll find yourself on the pages, too. Today I have the lovely pleasure of writing about her section on "Winter" for GraceTable, which of course, feels such an odd thing to do given temperatures here in southern California are meant to sore to the 90's this week. I just took my kids to the pool. And yet there are times and seasons to burrow, to put down roots, and to wait for glory. It doesn't matter if you haven't read the book, go on over to GraceTable and get a little nibble.   //

Image via Christie Purifoy

The first time I read Christie’s words on winter, I cried all the way through. I nodded through her words about the pain of waiting, of anxiety. And, when Christie writes of trading the palm trees of wilderness for Maplehurst’s maple trees, I cried because I had just moved to my own palm tree-lined paradise, a paradise that can also feel like a wilderness. I missed the snow I would never see again. I missed the magic of winter, of skiing powder, and the way that snow quiets everything. As if all the world is caught in a hush and only what is vital rises to make a sound. But I am heartened by her words that “gardens are born in winter.” Because even if I do not have snow, I have winters of the soul and I bet you do, too. There are not only dreams in seed catalogs. There are the long weeks of work, of tending carefully to small, furtive shoots and we wonder if anything will grow. Yet we do the work. We show up. We stay faithful. With numb hands, we hope in the promise of spring. I am not a gardner but it is something I want to learn, even as I water a small pot of cilantro growing on my windowsill with two baby shoots emerging from the dirt. Those shoots are dreams of homemade guacamole, of neighborhood gatherings, of laughter and connection. Always, there are metaphors in the dirt and in the sky if we ask for eyes to see. Within the tiny seeds of winter, dreams of abundance curl like tiny promises. But for now, our job as garden-tenders is to do small, unseen work and pray for the hope of rebirth. //   Read the rest here Over to you: What season speaks to you? What is waiting for rebirth in your life?   Post contains affiliate link.
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At other places
Why I’m Framing my PhD over the Changing Table (for SheLoves)
June 2, 2016 at 6:00 am 3
harrietbeach I don't know what you think about being a woman, or a parent, or if you are any of those things. I don't know if your life has taken you by surprise -- like it has me -- or if you are carefully following your 20-year plan. I imagine, however, that detours have drawn you to know more of who you are and more of your community. I imagine that you, like me, found yourself in cities you never dreamt you'd live in, with not-enough or more-than-enough people and things clamoring for your attention. Detours are the path of adulthood. I think, too, that detours are the way of faith. I'm reading Marlena Graves' book, A Beautiful Disaster, and there is much talk about the beauty and hardness of wilderness spaces. We like to think of wildernesses as anomalies. Yet, the detours show us how the paths may be circuitous even if our destination is sure. Our wildernesses may be physical, spiritual, mental or bodily -- or all of it wrapped into one. For me, my first real "hit the wall" detour -- my place of barrenness --  was in a fruitful womb. Motherhood has been a teacher that has hit me upside the head with a 2x4 and one that has hushed and nurtured me like I do my own littles. It sounds crass to say that having children has been a mixed blessing when I have dear friends who have struggled and continue to struggle with infertility. It's like the prom queen complaining about being popular (FYI, I was so NOT the prom queen). All that to say, our wildernesses may look very different, but all places can still teach us lessons of abundance. And sometimes, the barren spaces (even if they look quite full) show us more of Jesus and more of ourselves. What sort of detours have you taken? // I was dragged into a life of mothering that was antithetical to how I imagined life should be. Progressing from elementary school, to junior high, to high school, to college, and to grad school seemed easy enough. School was straightforward and I wore my grades like crowns. Now, most days, I spend my time on my hands and knees scrubbing sticky stuff underneath the dining room table accumulated from four little children. It's the easy thing to get bitter there on the ground. To feel defeated when you're stuck in a life that pulls you to your end most days. But I am reminded of this beautiful phrase in scripture, "and yet." It is a phrase of hope, but not the pie-in-the-sky kind, not a pat-on-the-back, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps hope. It acknowledges the loss of a life I could have lived, it hollows out the ache and sits with us there. But the phrase "and yet" does not leave us there. It propels us onward and inward, to find new journeys that may look like failure, or resignation, or "not using your gifts" to those on the outside. Motherhood is my greatest teacher. Instead of ladder-climbing, I slow to see my toddler daughter dance or walk along the curb following the footsteps of her brothers. I stare into the thoughtful blue eyes of my preschooler and admire his latest drawing. I belly laugh with my first grader as, even now, he's got impeccable timing in his jokes. And with Ezra, the one who thrust me into this motherhood journey, I hold close because I know I may not have many more years left when this boy wants to tell his mom everything he's been reading and cuddle close at bedtime. // I'm thrilled to share a bit of my journey about detours this month for SheLoves Magazine. I hope you'll join me over there for some great storytelling and to hear why I've decided to frame my Ph.D. over the changing table. Read the rest at SheLoves Magazine! Don't forget to sign up for my newsletter or to get posts sent directly to you. No spam. Just words that meet you in your crazy and call you back to beauty. 
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