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Books + Stories

Books + Stories
Kindle Deals on Some of my Favorites! Just today!
November 28, 2016 at 3:35 pm 2
It's cold out and who couldn't use a lovely book to curl up with in front of the fire? These are some of my favorite reads (or on my to-read list) and wanted you to know about them! From what I can tell the crazy Kindle deals are only good today.

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Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted by Shannan Martin

$2.99 Kindle // $12.67 Paperback Shannan is the real deal. She laughs like she can't hold it back. She's thoughtful, smart, and deeply broken (like all good people are) and I'm encouraged to see how God has shaped her life's path. Great prose. Perfect for: Those who don't want to live "normal" lives but aren't sure how to step out in faith.  

The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life by Ann Voskamp

$4.99 on Kindle // $13.79 Hardback I listened to a wonderful podcast with Ann Voskamp all about her book and brokenness and being connected to her land. I really think that the type of leadership Ann offers could help center a lot of the messiness of evangelical celebrity. This is one I'm snagging! Perfect for: Fans of Voskamp, women who need to know that not being perfect is how God uses us.  

Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Isolation, Judgment and Fear by Scott Sauls

$8.57 Kindle // $9.02 Paperback (not a huge Kindle deal, but a great price on the paperback!) I reviewed Sauls' book for The Englewood Review of Books. Quite simply it's such an important for people of faith in this moment in time. Grab a few copies and read it with your friends (and make some friends who are different from you). The format is great to digest in smaller chunks. Perfect for: The Christian who is tempted to live in polarized spheres but wants to change.  

The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines

$4.99 Kindle // $15.87 Hardback (40% off!) If you haven't already fallen in love with this HGTV designer duo, then this will clinch it. This is totally on my list. I'm such a sucker for design, a love story, and the story of underdogs.  

The Best American Essays 2016, edited by Jonathan Franzen

$9.99 Kindle // $8.79 Paperback (Look at that paperback discount!) This is on my list because I love a compilation book full of good writing. That's like less than a dollar for an essay. Cheaper than coffee and lasts longer! Add it to your list. Perfect for: the person who loves good writing but can't be nailed down.
befriend There's bunches and bunches more like: Where'd you go, Bernadette? ($2.99), the latest Pat Conroy novel ($1.99) and Nicholas Sparks' latest, Two by Two ($3.99); Amy Poehler's hysterical memoir ($3.99), and Shauna Niequist's Present Over Perfect ($4.99).   I'll be back later this season with some other favorites, but for now, take note and grab these deals before they leave!   *post contains affiliate links, which enable me to write and run this site.

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Books + Stories
Are you tired of waiting? Win a FREE copy of this Advent devotional!
November 20, 2016 at 10:42 pm 0
You guys! It's getting all Christmassy up in here! Below, there's a giveaway and a video interview and it makes me want to just curl up under some blankets by a fire and chat. Wouldn't that be great to do? Well, in lieu of that option, come on over to my cozy online space, watch our fun video, and enter to win a book you can curl up with...
My good friend, Kris Camealy (who is an all-around wonderful mama-writer and curator of GraceTable), wrote the prettiest book for Advent called Come, Lord Jesus: The Weight of Waiting.   There are a ton of products and companies and books vying for your dollar this season. I'll tell you why I recommend Kris' book:
  • It's not fluffy. Her words sit with you with the itchiness of the waiting season;
  • She always points me back to the gospel: that there is a blessed Redeemer who is coming;
  • It's manageable. It isn't too short or too long on any given day so you feel like you have just enough to chew on -- just one reflection question that helps center you even with kids running around;
  • It'll refocus your season. I promise.
I even had the immense pleasure of holding a bit of Kris's story in this interview that I cannot wait for you to watch!! (Plus you get to see my totally excitable hand movements, so, bonus!) In this interview you'll hear:
  • How this Advent project surprised Kris herself;
  • How a busy mom of 4 carves out time to wait and to write;
  • How to carry the weight of waiting well and see waiting as opportunity;
  • What the work of waiting is for Kris;
  • How "feeding people is what brings [her] back in" and helps her practice presence; and
  • Kris' hopes for the book and how to not get sucked into feeling everything this season needs to be perfect or meaningful.
  But, wait! There's more! Make sure you enter to win a FREE COPY of Come, Lord Jesus below. (Tell ALL your friends! For real! Can you tell I'm so excited to partner with Kris to give a reader a copy?!) a Rafflecopter giveaway The giveaway ends midnight on Wednesday, so enter soon! And if you don't win (or even if you do, it'd make a terrific hostess gift as you travel for Thanksgiving!), pick up a copy by clicking the cover below:   Read more from Kris at her blog, at GraceTable, and see her gorgeous photos on Instagram
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Books + Stories
Win a FREE copy of The Road Back to You
October 6, 2016 at 6:30 am 7
We're busy, we read sound bites, and we think we don't have time to read. But I wanted to encourage you to do just that. So I'm partnering with a few publishing companies who have graciously given not only me a FREE BOOK (which feels like Christmas every time I open the mailbox!) but also want to give YOU a FREE BOOK! I'll be starting a series of snippet reviews -- nothing big, but something to help get you a feel for the book.
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Can you guess my kids' enneagram numbers based on this picture?

  First up, is Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile's new release called The Road Back to You, published by Intervarsity Press. If you haven't heard about the enneagram, this book is a great place to start. The enneagram is an ancient personality system that won't put you in a box, but that puts you on a path of learning how to be compassionate with yourself and others. It helps us to see the sin patterns of our personalities. It helps us see how to grow and where we go when we're stressed, angry, or healthy. It's actually been life-changing for our marriage. Because instead of seeing my husband (or he seeing me) as "he's just that way," it's helped me to see that beyond his exterior of having it all figured out and what I see as marching forward unfeelingly, he is a vulnerable, tender person underneath. Then I can learn compassion and empathy. Only then can we grow. There are 9 enneagram numbers. And each number has "wings" where you drift to a number close to your number. You all can psychoanalyze me now, I'm a 4w3, which means I desperately want to be a special snowflake, that my life is characterized by longing, and also because of the 3 wing, I want to be the best at it. So yeah, super intense. What number might you be?

Type 1-Perfectionists (Nelson Mandela and Hillary Clinton)

Type 2- Helpers (Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu)

Type 3- Performers (Taylor Swift and Tiger Woods)

Type 4- Romantics (Vincent Van Gogh and Angelina Jolie)

Type 5- Investigators (Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates)

Type 6- Loyalists (Ellen DeGeneres and George H.W. Bush)

Type 7- Enthusiasts (Mozart and Stephen Colbert)

Type 8- Challengers (Martin Luther King Jr. and Serena Williams)

Type 9-Peacemakers (Pope Francis and Garrison Keillor)

  The Road Back to You is a book on the enneagram that shows us how to do the work; it doesn't shy away from our sin and it points us toward spiritual growth. This is a fabulous book if you're looking for an enneagram primer. If you already have read all about the enneagram and even have the app on your phone like I do, this is still a wonderful resource. I love that they have numbered lists about what it's like to be each number and conclude each type with ways to grow spiritually. It's a full resource that doesn't leave you navel-gazing. It helps you to understand yourself and others so that you can grow, not stay boxed in to a type.

I WANT TO GIVE ONE LUCKY READER A COPY!!

  a Rafflecopter giveaway     While you're waiting to see if you win and if you're interested in learning more about the enneagram, you can listen to The Road Back to You podcast or this great interview with the authors on The Liturgists Podcast. Grab your copy:
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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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Announcements, Books + Stories, Letters to Weary Women
On words, silence, and an invite into our cozy fort
September 13, 2016 at 4:21 pm 0

Dear loyal, kind, harried reader,

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

Ashley

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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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Books + Stories
If I was in a relationship with “work” on Facebook, I’d say it was “complicated”
August 1, 2016 at 5:47 am 0
Review of A Woman's Place -- aahales.com I don't know about you but I imagined my working life would be pretty straightforward. I'd go to school, grad school, land the perfect tenure track job and settle down as a professor. I'd inspire, hone students' writing, and teach them how literature engages us in empathy. Sure, I'd have children, I reasoned, but the who/what/where/why/how of that and ensuing child care didn't bother me. We'd figure it out. But after my first baby was born, I found myself leaving my academic job after just two years. My college had clustered my classes in such a family-friendly way that I only had to go in two days a week to teach. I could prep for classes, grade, and take care of my newborn at home the other days. It was ideal. But then God loves detours, doesn't he? (It's why I'm hanging my PhD above the changing table.) We moved from LA to San Diego for a church planting internship for my husband's career. There we were surprisingly blessed with another baby. Trying to work on my PhD with a toddler and a newborn was nearly impossible. Then after a year, when church planting didn't pan out at that time, we moved to Salt Lake City to start a  campus ministry. Each  move we weighed together, prayed, and sought council. Each move and each baby meant that a traditional tenure track job was less likely -- not because my husband didn't believe in me, but because of our circumstances. You see, every time you commit to someone (whether that's a spouse, child, or church) you are necessarily limiting your options. Committing to another person means that my needs for self-actualization in a vocation don't come automatically. It means that as the babies have come, as God has lead our family from one place to another, that "work" looks complicated. It's simply not "his turn" and then "my turn." It's meant a malleable back-and-forth, where we each must ask how we can help the other come fully alive, serve each other and our children, and ultimately, heed God's call. If "work" and your womanhood are also a bit more complicated, if you grew up with woman being told they must stay at home to be a good mother, if you find your desires met (or unfulfilled) by your vocation, there's great food for thought right here in the form of a review I wrote. I had the immense pleasure of reviewing Katelyn Beaty's book, A Woman's Place, for The Englewood Review of Books. Here's a snippet:
What I found in Katelyn Beaty was a woman who understood the pull of work, womanhood, and Christian faithfulness. Beaty is the youngest (and only female) managing print editor for Christianity Today — a job she accepted the same day her engagement ended. This back story provides the impetus for Beaty’s book as she traces a cultural view of women in the workplace and then shows scripturally how bearing the imago dei means that both men and women were created to work — in the home, in the marketplace, and in the world.  
In a recent article in The Atlantic Monthly, Beaty stated that a stay-at-home mother lacks the cultural influence of a corporate worker. It’s a statement with which I patently disagree, and yet one which I held before a baby, my husband’s job changes, and a failed economy meant I stopped teaching. And yet, in another way, I didn’t stop teaching or writing. That work just took other forms. I may not make a salary right now, but my early morning hours writing make me a better mother.
I hope you'll go and have a look at the review! (contains affiliate link) // Don't forget: I'd love your feedback on living in the suburbs. It's just 4 questions and will help me immensely as I write my book and fashion my book proposal this month. Click here for the survey!
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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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Books + Stories
What’s On My Nightstand: The Desire Edition
June 7, 2016 at 6:00 am 7
Books are pretty much life to me. I realize that may be slightly overstating it but, yeah. They're life. I escape in them, I think through them, I find myself and friends and people light years away from my own experience in them. I learn empathy, imagination, prejudice, and grace. I can get lost in the turn of a sentence, the thrill of plot, and the pondering of memory. In fact, I have a tottering pile of books on my nightstand currently. Exhibit A: Too many books? Read about more from Ashley Hales I'm usually reading at least half a dozen books at a time, depending on my mood and writing deadlines. Books, like good food, are meant to be shared. I'm realizing that most of the books I'm returning to, or reading for the first time, are about desire. It's fitting as I've been thinking much about the ache of home and longing for glory, while working on my book. But, without further ado:

Here are a few non-fiction favorites I've picked up lately:

Jen Pollock Michel, Teach Us To Want: I'm revisiting my friend Jen's book because 1) it's awesome and 2) we're going to use it for a mom's group study in the fall. Here's why you want it -- Do you ever get caught up in what you want and what you think you're supposed to want? How does being a Christian change our desires? Where does desire fit into a holy life if God really isn't a kill-joy? Jen is smart as a whip, thoughtful, funny and a terrific writer. Give it a go.   C. Christopher Smith, Reading for The Common Good -- You'll have to wait until later this summer for a proper book review from me. Chris Smith is editor for the Englewood Review of Books. I met him in person at the Festival of Faith & Writing and we had a terrific conversation on writing, space and place and of course, books. I loved his book he co-authored called Slow Church, and Reading for the Common Good does not disappoint (even in the first few pages). This is why you want this book: reading can be thought of as an escape from doing good and loving your neighbor, but in Reading for the Common Good, Smith gives us a book that integrates both and sees reading as a practical spiritual discipline. Plus, there's a reading list at the back, yippee!   James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love -- I'm a total lightweight since I've bypassed Jamie Smith's first large book, Desiring the Kingdom, for his more popular version. I'm planning on reading the tome later but have been reading the popular version with folks from our church. It's a simple message really and it like a chorus sung at the back of your mind, when you finally hear the words articulated, it all makes sense. Smith argues that "you are what you love" -- that we are not brains-on-a-stick, but longing and desiring creatures. We are shaped not by what we think, but by what we love and that as we form our habits and liturgies we prepare the soil for proper loves. Definitely an invigorating read.  

Fiction and poetry that I pepper throughout lately includes:

  Death Comes for the Deconstructionist by Daniel Taylor -- funny, quirky, learned and a great read, especially for literature folks. Also there's a lovely review of it in Books & Culture.   Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte -- Somehow I missed reading this in its entirety, which is horribly embarrassing. How does that happen when one has a PhD in literature? I shall hide my head in shame.   Sabbath Poems by Wendell Berry -- What I pick up usually on Sundays when I need some refreshment.   Ashley Hales I've also recently watched Michael Pollan's Netflix docu-series called "Cooked." Worth a watch. It even gave us the idea to go and buy supplies to make bread as a family, which was enormously fun and yummy. Plus you'll get really hungry and you'll start thinking carefully how creating meals in your home is actually a subversive and countercultural act.

What are you reading?

Have a book you love? Comment below so I can add it to my teetering pile! // Be sure to sign up for my newsletter, too. I'm offering a free subscriber giveaway (cue the applause! confetti! lights!) this summer and you won't want to miss. No spam or anything. Just good words just between friends. It's as easy as pie and nearly as tasty -- sign up below: * indicates required
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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? 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