Beauty in the Mundane

Beauty in the Mundane, Books + Stories, Faith + Vulnerability
We are scared to be human. It’s time to stop.
March 17, 2016 at 6:00 am 2
I live in a world of shiny surfaces -- where the quickest way to get attention is to shout the loudest and work the hardest. I used to climb ladders of success and figured I'd get a terminal degree (a PhD in literature) because surely then, I figured, I'd finally be seen. I'd finally be somebody. I'd be recognized, and published and loved by students. I'd make a name for myself. We're walking in a world of invisible men and women. Women who work harder, try to balance careers and children, and find time to get their abs ready for spring break. Men decompress with video games and sports because relationships are hard and work is harder. We're stuck on a treadmill of busy and it's slowly killing us. It doesn't have to be that way. We think the only way to chase meaning is to work hard, be successful and spend our time however we choose. We think that ease will save us. We think that work will save us. We think that if we could make it to the next rung of the ladder, then the blessings would flow down like flower petals in a silly rom-com. That is not the answer. You know what is? It's something we lost a long time ago and a few wise poets and prophets still chase. It's beauty. beauty is only complete when it is shared It's not the rom-com beauty. It's a beauty born of pain and dirt. It's finding the beauty in the pain, in the shattered or slowly dying dreams. It's finding beauty in being vulnerable, even when you gently open your heart up for hurt. Because, friends, I believe that there is a beauty that is always deeper still. I belive in the power of story. I believe in the power of beauty to warm hard hearts and draw us into life. It creeps up on you, this beauty. It moves slowly and warms your heart. It's in the smile and shaking arms of my daughter as she flings her body down the grassy hill. It's in the hilarity of "potty humor" that cracks up my older boys. It's in the glory of a fine sentence that breaks my heart right open. It's in the shared bottle of wine. And it's in the nodding around the table -- it's someone that really sees you. And we'll miss it if we're always ready to move on to the next thing. This is the beauty I crave. It's hard-won, like a long, hard work out, where the endorphins fly and you're just so glad you made it through. This is the beauty I chase as I type out sentences. This is beauty as I write my own story, again and again. It's not that my story is unique at all, but that in sharing stories, we know more of each other, we know more of ourselves. Self-knowledge, of course, can paralyze. We can get stuck looking inward so that we sit dumb-struck, awe-struck or full of shame (depending on our temperament). But beauty always moves us towards. Beauty does not leave us in a navel-gazing, selfish state, like Narcissus at the edge of the lake. No, beauty is only complete when it is shared. That's why I'm here. To seek out beauty-- ruthlessly even amidst the busyness of raising little children, of writing and church-planting. Ultimately, the source of beauty (I'm convinced) is in the eyes of Jesus. The God-Man who does not shame or condemn us, but the savior who heals, who touches lepers and bleeding women. He sits among the unholy. He sits among those too proud to bow their head, the ones that think they've got it all figured out. And he mercifully meets them, right in our poverty of ladder-climbing, right in our thinking that if we could just do x, y, z, that then we'd have arrived. He smiles at us. Instead of sitting alongside this man of beauty, we scream out our importance or we stay silent. We back ourselves into corners or work out until we're exhausted. We indulge our bodies with wine and sugar and caffeine, or we starve them, because we are desperate for our flesh to say either that we exist or that we do not. We want to use our flesh to say boldly that "We take up space!" or we hide away in too-big sweatshirts and leggings. We are so scared to be simply human. Our bodies betray our souls. Because they are not separate entities. But our bodies (and our whole selves) are more than efficient machines, they are more than ways to get out the underlying soul. They are beautiful sacraments of being. Our limbs proclaim a glory that we cannot know. Our sinews, muscles and minds make us move not only through space, but allow us to connect with others. Our bodies, our words, usher in empathy. They offer us connection. There is more than success. There is more than comfort. Security will not save you. Your 401(k) will not help you sleep at night if your soul is tied up in knots and you are making your body into a product of invisibility. It's time to break free. It's time to reclaim beauty. Right here, right now. It's time to slow down, take a breath, and treat our minds, hearts, and souls with the respect they deserve. It's time to be gloriously human. It's time to sit in the uncertainty, to gather your safe people around you, and chase beauty together. Let's chase beauty together, even though it feels a bit like a fool's errand. It feels like childhood all over again and so we label beauty-chasing with words like childish, juvenile, naive. But it is right where we belong. We never grow old of "fairy stories" to bring us back to beauty and there -- there, we will find evangelium, the "good news,"* that there is redemption. That out of my own sorry, sad, story of twists and turns and the very death of dreams -- out of struggle -- that there is always, forever the hope of redemption. May we hope to spend our whole lives chasing a beauty that we only see fully on the other side.   // *Tolkein, "On Fairy Stories" Do you want to chase beauty and story too? Do you want some practical ways to do it? Then sign up for my secret monthly newsletter, where we get to chat together about what this looks like. I'm giving you a free ebook too -- with tons of tips to help you own your own story. Don't miss out. Life is too short to forget beauty.
Beauty in the Mundane, Celebrate, Faith + Vulnerability
When all is said and done
November 27, 2015 at 9:58 am 4
Happy Thanksgiving week . I hope you have (and had) a table to gather around where people are real and true and good. Or, at least you have Adele to unite us all. I think Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because it is just people coming together around a table. We missed out on two family members joining us -- one because she had caught a bug and her immune system is weakened from preventative chemo and the other because her brain is going, she's old and dying. I so wanted them there, even in all the chaos from little children running around. So today, when all the shoppers are out early, I'm cuddled in a special hand-knit blanket of my grandma's by a fire. I want to restore order to my house so it will reflect her and be a gift to others. Small acts of kindness multiply like loaves and fishes and feed multitudes. But most of the time I'm consumed with the here-and-now, bickering about who spilled what, overwhelmed by the mundane. Can the mundane really be about worship? Like Kathleen Norris writes, can the quotidian be part of showing radical hospitality? (Sarah Bessey has a lovely post on that exact thing.) What can you give away instead of hoarding this week? Your words? Your time? Food for the hungry?   Give your words away. They are a gift   I'm thinking a bit about what Thanksgiving will look like in years and years, when my own littles have their own littles, the holidays where I need to be indulged. What will they remember? Surely not their Christmas lists that they're fashioning so carefully. They'll remember all the things we did as part of the season -- the thankfulness jar, the Minivan Express to look at Christmas lights, how church was the warp and woof of their little lives (happens when you're church planting, of course). But when I'm the elderly woman who can't make it to the holiday gathering, what will they remember of me? I hope they remember that I grew into generosity. I hope they remember me growing into grace. I hope they always remember the smile of their mother. I hope they see a generosity of soul, that I gave myself and my words away, for them -- always for them.   //     Don't forget to sign up for my newsletter! I'm going to send along some great gift ideas there. 

Subscribe to Circling the Story

* indicates required
Subscription preferences (choose ALL that apply):
Email Format
Beauty in the Mundane, linkup
Keep pouring the coffee! Keeping it real and chasing beauty (a #wholemama post)
August 18, 2015 at 12:38 pm 12
Sometimes life doesn't look like beauty at all. And I'm not talking about the big stuff even -- racism, economic inequality, shame, fear-based leadership, bullying -- nope. Just the every day BLAH. Where do you go then? How can we reclaim beauty even in the mundane? Take today. My kids woke up too early and went to bed too late. I kept having dreams about children drowning. (Freak out!) I'm tired and I'm both can't-wait-till-my-kids-start-school dancing and sad about all our adventures ending. (None of which was Pinterest-worthy and that is so A-OK in my book). So today, I grabbed my coffee and my cute ripped jeans and wore lipstick and sandals I like. I made sure I ate well and drank water. I need even minuscule drops of beauty (lipstick, good food, new nail polish) that remind me I'm a human being and I deserve to be taken care of. Beauty doesn't need to come in full sweeping moments that take you away to inspire-me-forever-Neverland. Nope. Beauty can be just getting yourself ready for the day. Beauty can be the sentence that you have taped on your mirror from a good book. Beauty can be you hiding for a few moments from your kids. Because friends, this is what makes us creative and better mamas. Lisha Epperson was talking on Twitter last night in our #wholemama chat, how she lets her kids see her chasing beauty. You guys, this got me all excited! I want to have my kids dancing with me for family dance parties; I want them to see the flowers unfurling with a bit of shy trepidation, like I do. I want them to notice.  coffee + mamahood But how do you chase beauty on an everyday Tuesday? How do you chase beauty when you're just plain tired, or grouchy (and ahem, so are your kids)? You give yourself a pass. You wrap yourself in a grace that can withstand the BLAHs. You realize you don't have to do this mama thing perfectly. You breathe. You pull back the schedule so you can play and invite them into your play. (I usually turn into crazy woman who has a need to control everything -- especially cleaning my external environment, because I can't control my inner self. Don't do that. Don't turn into crazy cleaning woman). So this afternoon, we'll probably go to the pool or for a walk so, even if they're bickering, I can catch the wind in my hair and see the trees dancing. And I'll maybe drink too much coffee but we'll call it a day. Then we'll pray for sleep and rest and grace for another day. Maybe tomorrow will be a day to get caught up in a river of beauty that flows into all the cracks and crevices. Or maybe not. But there will be grace again and beauty then too. *** Be sure to check out what #wholemama is all about over on Esther's blog and do yourself a favor and read Lisha's gorgeous post on beauty and motherhood.    
Beauty in the Mundane
You are a Person, not a Product
April 23, 2015 at 1:15 pm 0
I've been sick with a stomach bug the last several days; shirking my responsibilities, walking around in a daze and I can't tell if I'm nauseous or hungry. I start to get a bit angsty about all the work that lies undone, all the words that need to be written, all the social networking and planning that needs to happen for our upcoming move. But then I stare out at the spring green tree branches dancing outside my window and it makes me smile. How I wish I could just be so very easily and effortlessly. So here's a reminder for your Thursday: You are a person. Your personhood is so much more than a product. We buy and sell products, we promote products. We use products. You are not a product. You are not something that can be bought, sold or promoted. You cannot be used up and thrown away; your value has nothing at all to do with your performance or how many people "like" your status on Facebook. You get to be a dancing green leaf, attached to so many other leaves, all doing the same thing: just responding to the wind that blows them. You're rooted. You're surrounded by others. And you are beautiful just the way you are.
Beauty in the Mundane
Sinking into Your Soles
March 16, 2015 at 12:28 pm 2
Last night was momentous. I didn't get up once in the night with my daughter, my husband did. It's been 439 nights of interrupted sleep (I won't dare to count up my three previous children's nights of non-sleep). I slept. I ate a breakfast with eggs, kale and avocado. I put the kids in the buggy and we did the 1.5 mile loop around the park by our house. The sun was coming out and I wiggled my feet in my shoes as I walked home. All seemed right with the world. But it's not. It was just my daily circumstances had combined to make me a kinder, gentler person than who my heart really shows me to be. Because most days, before the coffee hits and before my eyes are open, I can take out all my resentment and lack of sleep on those around me. Do you, like me, use your circumstances to dictate your actions? To use them as fire for why you were short with your kids or why you need the latte or chocolate? I sure do. So I'm thinking through the idea of "sinking into my soles" a bit. Letting my feet wiggle around and take up space and just be me. To feel what it's like to be me in tactile ways. When I'm short on sleep, or stressed, or haven't eaten well, my anger creeps up and I suddenly want to be everyone else. That woman who goes to work every day. That woman with the book deal. That woman who is childless. My husband who gets to leave the kids each day and return to running hugs. My thin and beautiful friends. My wise and kind friends. My rich and fun friends. I have a hard time living in my skin, owning up to my own body and sinking my feet happily into my very own soles in a daily, I'm-fully-present-here sort of way. Maybe you do, too. // I've been reading some great stories over at The Mudroom for Women's History Month. Each writer is telling the story of a woman -- some mundane, some famous -- who lived extraordinarily and courageously. Sometimes the courage was in loving her family well, sometimes it was in loving a whole nation, or even validating that girls had a right to the same activities as boys. To love others well, to love courageously and bravely no matter the size of the arena, each woman had to be able to sink into her own soles. To be herself. To not pine for a series of "anothers" (that word that we turn to in our own discontent). To be happy to just be her so she could then focus on others. I hope you'll join me in wiggling your feet a bit and finding out who you are, who you're supposed to be, and who you are right now in this very second as you read this. Leave behind the grass-is-greener and anothers, Take a deep breath. We get to be people who love other people. That is so simple and yet extraordinary. For me, right this second I'm in gym clothes and going to hop up and get to the dishes, not out of resentment or duty or fear, but simply because they need doing and I'm the one to do it. Right here, right now, that's what I'm supposed to be doing. I'll use the suds and the quiet and turn them to prayer, a petition to be fully here, right now. I'll wiggle my feet in my gym shoes and not pine for my corporate heels or my sandals or ski boots, but realize that this -- the now -- is blessing too. Wiggle your toes and press them into the soles. Let your feet relax and sink into them. You're alive. You're here, now. And that is extraordinary.     Tweetables: [tweetthis]I have a hard time living in my skin, owning up to my own body and sinking my feet happily into my very own soles[/tweetthis] [tweetthis]How can we love others well, to love courageously and bravely no matter the size of the arena?[/tweetthis] [tweetthis]I'll use the suds and the quiet and turn them to prayer, a petition to be fully here, right now.[/tweetthis]  
Beauty in the Mundane, Faith + Vulnerability
Clinging to promises and the daily hard
December 21, 2014 at 9:04 pm 10
I shared this lovely, beautiful post over at the Facebook page for Circling the Story. But it deserves another share. It's a post that captures in words and pictures our fight to stay present, our fight to be real and authentic and vulnerable amidst the daily hard we all face. Here are just a few gems that jumped out at me:
The idea of perfection had become more important than honesty. You may feel broken.  You may feel imperfect. You may feel like this chapter of your story is not one worth remembering. But it is.  The most beautiful chapter of life is the one that does not go unnoticed.
What do you notice? For me, as I've been thinking about what this photographer might see in my day, might capture in me, so often it's not beautiful little moments of care and connection. No, the raw that she might see would be me: fists clenched feeling the need to have my way, to have the kids be quiet so I could get time just to myself. That I deserved it. That I pour myself out again and again for a ragamuffin band of little people that have no clue. Sacrifice never feels like enough. It always feels like too much. When we bear it ourselves, when we look with us alone, it is too much. And as a friend said to me, we keep wishing those moments away. I think when it comes down to it, those moments that someone else might capture -- all the daily hard -- are moments when I have to prove something. Have to show myself and those around me what I'm made of, because if I don't -- if I actually "take up my cross and die" well, then, what? Then I'll disappear. Sometimes staying at home with children feels like disappearing. Disappearing from a workplace where you're validated and critiqued or even have a quiet space to work out ideas. At home, I just have laundry, and a To Do list and my inner perfectionist critiquing it all. Who tells me all the ways I don't measure up to perfection. It's too much. The hamster wheel. The mama guilt. The fear and worry that accompanies the dailyness because I didn't measure up -- or was selfish, or needed time away, or needed something from someone, anyone. Anyone to hear and say "Yes, I see you." But the raw feels like failure. The raw feels like disappearing. It feels unproductive. But it is only in giving up that we can be made to be filled up and full again. Overflowing with a strength of character that says, "yes", "tell me more", that says, "I will be present in the now. Even in the hurt. Even in my anger. Even in my frustration, I will be present." And it makes promises: I won't steamroller you because I'm angry. I won't hurt you because I'm wrestling with God about how my needs are met. No, I lay down, hour by hour, arms outstretched and say "yes". It means I say I'm sorry a whole bunch because most of the time I walk around with my teeth clenched; it means I give space and time for the emotions to firm up so they can be said. This "letting go" is the hardest thing I've ever done. It's not even the "letting go" of my growing-up children that's the challenge -- it's the day-in and day-out challenge of letting go of the expectations and thoughts I had of how great I'd be or how amazing life would be now -- married with children, owning a house, career path and passions and friends. Because this letting go, is a letting go that strikes at the root of who I am. But I'm confident, deep in my bones and even as I falter, that something lovely will rise from the ashes. That by being raw and truthful and seeking beauty amongst the ruins, that hope and life and fullness and joy will follow. For that's what's promised. So I'm going to sink my nails into that promise and cling to it with all I've got.
Beauty in the Mundane
Writing — finding beauty in the mundane
October 31, 2014 at 8:04 am 4
I've written now every day for a whole month. Some days I felt the posts were inspired and the words flew. Other times I sat down late at night because of the discipline of writing. I've shared about being defined about how I look, marriage, little things like flowers and laundry and lots on vulnerability (here and here). It's taught me that little moments that bring beauty are easily overlooked and easily forgotten unless we look for them, unless we practice seeing them. It's been a worthwhile journey. Words matter. Stories matter. Your story matters and so does mine. And maybe as we tell them to each other, we can begin to see connections and bring hope, that yes, we're all broken but we're also all beautiful. As we tell our stories to one another, as we write them, we remind ourselves of what it looks and feels like to be human. And this, I think, is worth doing. Is worth practicing and is worth setting pen to paper (or typing away at a keyboard). I hope you'll join me this next month for our theme, "Around the Table." I'm excited to write about hospitality, breaking bread and drinking wine, and share a few recipes too! I won't be posting quite as much (I'm aiming for 3-4 times a week), but I'm hopeful it'll nourish your body and spirit as we look at life around the table. IMG_1573 I'd love for you to keep up with Circling the Story on Facebook or subscribe in the sidebar on the right to get posts delivered straight to your Inbox. You can also follow me on Instagram and I've started a Pinterest board I'd love to invite you to pin to for November's theme (just let me know your Pinterest name in the comments and I'll invite you). With love and gratitude for the journey, Ashley -- flower photo1 This is the final post for the Write 31 days challenge, where I wrote every day through the month of October. I’d love for you to comment, pin the above image, share posts and subscribe to receive posts to the right in the sidebar as we work through these things together. Posts in the series are all linked to from the first post.
Beauty in the Mundane
“It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful”
October 30, 2014 at 6:40 am 1
Every time I'm in my bathroom, washing my hands, I smile. It's the combination of pretty little things. They're simple. A thrifted silver tray with delicate little feet that remind me of a clawfoot tub. There's the new pumpkin-flavored candle, and the Kleenex box that's black and white (this makes me happy since it's my favorite color combination ever), and the pretty bath salts and soap my husband bought me from Anthropologie one Christmas that I keep to look pretty. It's memories and time and a little moment of beauty while I wash my hands with lavender-scented soap. (Dear reader, lest you think I get these moments of beauty often, please realize this is because 1) I've locked myself in the bathroom to pee by myself! Luxury for moms to littles! and 2) To see this little vignette, I'm ignoring the other things like waded-up TP left by my baby girl as she stands and grasps on to the TP holder, or the shoe prints on the counters from boys who think counters are step stools. But I digress.) IMG_0463.JPG IMG_1619.JPGCreating little beautiful moments in my house not only help me to bring beauty into the daily and mundane tasks of washing my hands and using the restroom, but also speak much more boldly and on a much grander scale. Though little, they are physical moments that evidence a care and concern for the small. That small spaces -- however imperfect and broken or not-what-we-want -- carry within them the possibility for beauty and refreshment. Or as Myquillin Smith says, "it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful." Little vignettes or moments of whimsy (like the twinkle lights in my backyard or the silver faux deer and moose heads in our living room) are daily reminders to not take myself too seriously, to welcome the magic and twinkle of lights against the sky, and realize in a physical way the value of piecing together broken and cast-off things to create beauty. My thrift store tray points to a spiritual reality -- that we're all broken, all cast-off, all longing for redemption and usefulness. And as it props up my pretties, and as I scrub my hands, I remember that God delights in bringing cast-offs like us together, inviting us to sit down together at a glorious feast, where we all will have a place and all be made whole.   flower photo1 (This whole write-for-31-days thing started with the "Nester," Myquillin Smith, and her series this year is on vignettes.) This is the thirtieth post for the Write 31 days challenge, where I’ll be writing every day through the month of October. I’m excited to see what comes of this daily practice. I’d love for you to comment, pin the above image, share posts and subscribe to receive posts to the right in the sidebar as we work through these things together. Posts in the series are all linked to from the first post.    
Beauty in the Mundane
In pictures: beauty in the mundane [10.29.14]
October 29, 2014 at 7:00 am 2
Beauty in the mundane in pictures, Instagram-style. Follow me over at Instagram or document your beautiful moments with the hashtag #beautyinthemundane.   Roses still blooming on our walk this weekend: IMG_1588.JPG   The soft Autumn light against the changing trees is my absolute favorite: IMG_1587.JPG   Simple pleasures, soup ingredients and bread: IMG_1602.JPG   My eldest boy holding the toddler's hand to make sure he stays safe as he crosses the bridge. I loved exploring with these two: IMG_1580.JPG   A lovely meal with friends that reminds me of the graciousness of God and his lavishness. Also, I'm excited that I'll still be writing in November, this time on the theme of "Around the Table." Hope you'll join me here! IMG_1573.JPG   -- flower photo1 This is the twenty-ninth post for the Write 31 days challenge, where I’ll be writing every day through the month of October. I’m excited to see what comes of this daily practice. I’d love for you to comment, pin the above image, share posts and subscribe to receive posts to the right in the sidebar as we work through these things together. Posts in the series are all linked to from the first post.
Beauty in the Mundane
Thank you starts here
October 28, 2014 at 7:00 am 5
You are like the drowning man who can't be helped because he clutches and grabs. -- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
It was a terrific weekend full of walks and friends and crunching fall leaves. With sunshine at our backs and blue skies and warm bread and butter to share at the table. It was also -- like most weekends -- full of not enough sleep, a bit too much TV, and bickering. And I took the cake on the arguing. A clean house, or a hike in the woods, or a good meal can't make up for a preoccupied heart.  I have plenty of circumstances that I like to point the finger at: my baby who was gassy and therefore didn't sleep from 4am onwards unless she was lying on top of me; my too-long to-do list which includes sewing Halloween costumes all this week; trying to eek out dinners before the next paycheck. But essentially the problem isn't my circumstances, it's me. Me, grasping and grasping to be appreciated, needed, loved, respected. Fill in the blank. And when I keep grasping, my fingers just close tighter on nothing, and anger and hurt and resentment spew forth like the drowning man's splashes. And honestly, when I'm confronted with my grasping, I tend to naturally work harder to get what I want, to just keep asking for more and more validation. IMG_1596.JPG   It's only when my fists uncurl and I realize that I've just got it all wrong, that anything changes. It can't be what's around me, because I can't control when the baby sleeps, or if I'm always able to get exercise in, or if the kids are quiet enough so that I can read or write. No, it's me, me who needs changing. I'm learning to practice gratitude as an antidote to my needy grasping. I've been meaning to take up writing cards to people again as a little moment to pause and to brighten up someone's day when they receive real mail in the post. So today I took out one of those cards that I'd laid aside for the purpose of brightening a friend's day and wrote an I'm sorry note to my husband. It doesn't automatically change that I've hurt him and treated my family poorly. But it does help my heart to remember that thank you starts here, at home. Thanking my husband for emptying the dishwasher even when he just does it out of duty; thanking my children for their smiles and hugs and quickness to grant forgiveness when their mama's in a bad mood; thanking my sweet baby girl for her smile and kisses that reign down like grace on whomever receives them; thankful for food, and a roof, and so many conveniences that make life simple. And thankful for a God who rejoices over me with singing, a Father who stands at the end of the road, scanning the horizon and runs when his child returns home. -- flower photo1 This is the twenty-eighth post for the Write 31 days challenge, where I’ll be writing every day through the month of October. I’m excited to see what comes of this daily practice. I’d love for you to comment, pin the above image, share posts and subscribe to receive posts to the right in the sidebar as we work through these things together. Posts in the series are all linked to from the first post.