When Happily Ever After Isn’t Easy
June 20, 2016 at 6:00 am 6
Happily Ever After Isn't Easy -- aahales.com We celebrate being married fourteen years this week and really, I still want to just run away with you. This is not because we are perpetually in love. It is however, born from a happily ever after that hasn't always been so. We married on a summer morning, with peonies and roses in hand. We were children, really, though we felt like we had waited too long already. We wanted to get on with our life, we wanted to not have to say good bye each night. We wanted to fall exhausted to sleep in arms that were always meant for holding each other. I walked down the aisle and you teared up as we said vows, as we made a covenant that felt full of joy that day. Its champagne bubbles made us laugh and hiccup in delight. They bubbled over into wine, dancing, strapless wedding gowns. We said words like richer and poorer, sickness and health, and really, we didn't know what those somber words meant. But our eyes were earnest. We said them as best we knew. And that was enough. Because if we knew it all then, would we have said "I do" then? But we promised those abstract words. And they rose up real and true, loud and strong. And you gave me the platinum band that made it to my knuckle and I pushed it all the way down and it clinked with the engagement ring -- the one that I somehow lost years later in Scotland while doing the dishes. But you never shamed me for losing what cost you years of teenage sweat and work. For losing the symbol of our love. For losing something that was so precious. Because, you see, even the diamonds were not the thing. The covenant was. "Covenant" is a big, often clumsy word and it feels like stately pews and things that are perhaps, a bit out of date. We didn't know then that "covenant" meant that it would encircle our kisses, our years of international travel and starry eyed wonder at the beauty and majesty of living life together as husband and wife. We didn't know then that something like that word could stretch so large and wide to encompass 8 moves, 4 children and one unborn lost baby. We didn't that covenant would grow to accommodate job and career changes, loving new cities, stretching in ways we didn't know possible. We couldn't know that a covenant could stretch and grow and fill in the cracks of silent anger where we turned our backs on each other. We didn't know that covenant meant it would repair the hurt and angry words yelled across wood floors and bitterness felt through the reverberation of slammed doors. I think because you're the pastor and I'm the pastor's wife, that we somehow got a pass on this marriage deal. That we were wired for more holy, more sacrifice, and because we'd looked starry eyed at each other so long, that surely the rings would make it all only easier. Surely by virtue of our roles, your vocation, that marriage would come easily. Surely God owed us that?  Surely marriage would be blissful, because love always had been. We didn't know the beauty of a covenant that can get battered and beat up and somehow look more beautiful on the other end. I thought that the nicks just made it ugly, but never knew that when a marriage is tousled and comes out the other side, that it (like the Velveteen Rabbit) is more real. But we coasted for awhile on champagne love and a friendship that looked like independence. There were years where we could each do our own thing, play the role of adult in our jobs, and spend $50 on a gourmet salad for a dinner party, because what else was there to do with money but spend it? In graduate school, we could find cheap flights and spend the weekend in London in a drab part of town, but it didn't matter because we were young and adventure was always to be had. We drank in the world. We skipped like children on cobblestone streets and if we were not still drunk on love, we were happily content to walk side-by-side, pursuing our own individual dreams, working hard. But then the babies came, and the one that never was to be born was the first one to make me swell with mama-pride. And I became a protective hen, circling my future brood, drawing all mama knowledge to myself. It was then I lost a bit of myself as your lover, as our covenant grew to accommodate more love enfleshed. We became parents, we divided and conquered. We fell exhausted to sleep but there was no encircling arms. We were too tired, too busy to reach out to the other. In all those years of merely surviving, of roles changing, the anniversaries piled up, celebrated in dinners and cards. Our covenant felt cracked, it didn't make our eyes light up and the giddiness of those first several years had long ago gone flat. I didn't want something as boring as covenant then, I wanted the bubbling excitement of those early years with kisses that spoke volumes, with touches that sent electricity through my finger tips. I figured covenant meant disavowing all our early excitement. I was always leaking milk, or covered in sticky-fingered messes or spit-up from the next baby. Instead of pressing into the beauty of those early parenting years, of seeing myself as more real and loved, I floundered, my head barely above water. Where was I? Who had we become? I had turned into a mother. I morphed into a role that felt too big and never big enough. And maybe mother was a more comfortable role to grow into than wife and lover. Its path was clear. Our children are young, they're covered in dirt, and their voices are too often too loud. And as they needed tending, I bowed to the tyranny of the urgent. I figured we were both self-sufficient adults. You didn't need me. Not in the same way anyway. Just in the abstract. And abstract didn't hold much water. We had years of repelling each other like magnets, where we retreated to our corners, licked our wounds and felt unloved. It was never something major, just the accumulation of thinking the covenant would take care of itself, that we were owed something by each other and by God. We forgot the basic truth: when we said "I do," we vowed to always be on the same team. As the good news of a good God who runs after his children when we're stubbornly clinging to our own record of rightness sunk deeper still, we thawed and turned toward each other. You walked in instead of walking away. I practiced saying "I'm sorry." We laughed. We took long walks. We cooked together again. We retraced the liturgies of our early love-making. Now, too, there is a bit of space now to run away again.  It is time to reimagine us, to put time back into this structure, to weave our stories together again. It is time to see the beauty in well-worn furniture. We're not jetting off around the world, or even far from town, and yet, I can't wait to run away to celebrate the 14 years that this covenant has held us up. I do not need the miles. I do not need the airplane, even as I feel the ache of all the lives we have not lived -- because an airplane is not the only adventure. Moving place is not necessary to travel well. Adventure happens when your eyes are open to see what is always there. If this marriage covenant is supposed to hold us up, ours is not particularly alluring anymore. It's not the sexy, modern chair in the hotel lobby -- the one that is never actually used. But ours is sturdy like those wooden pews, it is solid and has weathered rain and taken a beating. The nicks each tell a story. And perhaps those gauges, nicks, and weathering are what is going to make this structure far more beautiful. Perhaps becoming real looks vastly different than what I imagined when we danced on our marriage morning to the song that we heard on our first date. Because looking back, I think I was hoping for a marriage that always felt new. I wanted to be picture perfect, to be adored, to be whisked across the sea on endless adventures with umbrella drinks and museum trips. I wanted everything that Facebook pictures and the magazines promised romance would be. Champagne, pearls, and witty repartees. But on the other end of 14 years, we can sit cross-legged on a beat-up wooden pew and know without a doubt that we will be held. You have seen me at my most vulnerable -- bringing our four children into the light through swears, fear, and strength -- and you have never left me. You have never used my weakness as shame, it has always been a crown of courage. We will always have a sturdy place to land, as we've worked to rebuild the broken places of our love. We have a safe place to rest our weary feet. Because I've lost the diamond ring. The champagne goes flat. The money for the adventure runs out with four little birds in our nest. We are left then with either bitterness, envy, or the solid hope in a covenant that encircles, bends and stretches through loss, anger, grief and fear. Because ultimately the strength of that covenant doesn't rest on words we said when we were just babies. It rests on the great I AM who says he will never leave us or forsake us, who runs to welcome his wayward bride, who clothes us with the robes of family. He is the rock of ages and, on that foundation, we can keep placing our little wooden marital pew. We can say I'm sorry, will you forgive me? We can crack our anger open and let the sadness pour like egg white until there is nothing left. On that rock we will have the courage to crumble and throw our bodies on solid ground when we feel we are melting with confusion, or upended when life looks nothing like it did when the air was thick with peonies and diamond hope. But on the other side of 14 years (though I would never say no to a trip around the world) I'll take the small adventure any day. I'll take a beat-up wooden seat every single day of the year. It has stood out in the rain and proven itself as solid, sure, faithful, and true. And "covenant" is such a beautiful word -- of shame met with faithfulness -- that it's the beginning of a story I want to fall deeper into. It is our story. And it's far more beautiful than champagne promises. So my love, let's run away together. There are always adventures to be had. Even ones that look like ordinary and start with faltering words of vulnerability. We have room again for promises and dreams in abstract words that we're unsure what those will  look like. We've stretched that far before. We can have the courage for those dreams, too. We do indeed have a soft and sturdy place to land.    
She died last night
January 14, 2016 at 11:00 am 16
My grandma died last night. It all felt like too soon. I had brought 2 of my 4 kids to see her yesterday and they played peekaboo barn on the iPhone and ate Nana's chocolate and said "I love you Nana" when I asked them to. I had plans to bring my bigger boys today after school. I held her trembling hands and told her she was brave and doing a good job as she drifted in and out of sleep. When we left -- there were naps and older children to still attend to, life always continues to go on -- I touched her shoulder and prayed for comfort in the transition to glory. I prayed for the Spirit to surround her and envelop her. She didn't know my name anymore. And yet I mothered her in her unknowing and it felt right no matter the names forgotten. I think death must be so similar to birth, right in the moment when you don't think you can go on, when you're feeling you'll fall apart, right then is when something new is ready to be born. When we go into the pain then we're actually free to bring forth life. I'm trusting -- sometimes boldly, sometimes feebly -- that "on the other side of the door" my Nana has been born anew where the sting of death is no more. nanahands   // I'd like to republish a piece below that I wrote for her over a year ago when her health began failing. It's my story but it's also very much hers.   
"I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I'm old, and you said, I don't think you're old."  (Marilynne Robinson, Gilead)
She's dying, maybe not today or tomorrow or next month, but soon; I feel it in my bones. With fluids leaking out of her, with her confusion mounting, she just wants to go Home.  With diagnoses that she keeps forgetting, with her body and mind slowly failing, she's just letting go as her body shrinks and her smile flickers in and out. I remember just this summer how she fawned over my baby girl's bright blue eyes and kept saying again and again, how she wouldn't miss seeing me and my children "for the world." I remember early childhood sleepovers with blue and white china and soft-boiled eggs and toast with marmalade and grapefruit with its special spoon. I never got why she always served grapefruit when I didn't like it. And her red Revlon nail polish staining cotton balls in the bathroom trash. There were days spent swimming the sand of the beach off into the pool, and the glistening promise of treasure that a giant brown marbled jar of pennies held out. There was the ordered line-up of rubber bands stacked on the gear shift of a Cadillac. Of new presents of twirly dresses. Of her starched white button-down shirts and red lips. I remember generational stories of the Anderson girls; of small Southern towns swelling with growth and of trains of handsome soldiers passing through for a dance. And then of one particular soldier, Johnny Bunker, a boy from California with a dashing smile and penetrating blue eyes. And stories of letters crossing the ocean as he was stationed in Europe, and I can see him now (my grandfather dead these last 23 years) in that dusty photograph of his exultant smile all decked out in a Highland tartan on leave. And that California boy married that Southern girl and they moved to Los Angeles, where she was overwhelmed with freeways and congestion and so many people. But she made a home and birthed three children and threw parties while her youngest fell asleep amongst the fur coats. She embraced the salty sea air of the west and yet, for her and in very Southern fashion, family was everything. She always had a weakness for little boys and when I had three of my own, thought each was perfect. IMG_1358.JPG Even as her mind goes, she's bright and beautiful and full of spunk. She still hides her dark chocolate and enjoys her indulgence of a bourbon and water; she laughs and gives "love pats" and wears berry-colored lipstick (even if it's a bit askew now). And when that spark flickers when she goes through patches of hospitalization, that's where it gets scary. For, who is this? How could this be my beloved grandmother who tells the silly stories again and again about how I have "manners my parents didn't even know I had"? Where is the beauty in the mundane event of dying? Because honestly death is frightening. It's a great becoming, one that we really don't know what do with. So disconnected from the daily rhythms of life and death these days, we approach death with the same trepidation with which many face birth. And what I've learned from my four births is that it is a great unveiling -- this magnificent pain of bearing through and down -- where you are raw to your core, where you cannot control it and that your body knows what to do. I assume it's the same with death: your body knows how to die, how to give up and that you cannot control it. And yet, in death, there all these people around you who are forced to let go, too. To walk a parallel path of grief and laughter and of letting go. But the beauty comes in little moments of release, of giving up. Isn't that what we're all learning along the way anyway? That it's about releasing who we think we are, relinquishing the power and control we pretend to have? The only hope that I have in this final letting go comes in the image of a lowly shepherd, whose thick staff and calloused hands provide reassurance in the dark of unknowing.  I love the stately and poetic way the KJV renders this gentle leading:  "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. [...] Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over...". So I guess we'll just walk, you and I, as I hold onto your elbow to steady you. We'll simply follow that great Shepherd of the sheep, picking our way carefully and slowly along the path -- you on the path to glory and me making meaning from the glorious mundane. // I'll likely be writing more to process all of this. I didn't want to stay silent when my heart is strangely quieted as the weight of grief washes over all of us. Grief is, after all, meant to be shared. But tonight, I'm making soup for family that are coming near and far. We'll share stories and toast her with the Jack Daniels she loved. We're stepping forth gingerly onto holy ordinary ground. Thank you for your prayers.   
Love and Death in the White Spaces
December 22, 2015 at 3:35 pm 2
An Advent meditation merry2 These days I find poetry scary As if the space between lines threatens to swallow me up. There is so much space And I am crowded between the curve of a consonant and the claustrophobic vowel huddled next to it.   It's hard to move back in time To reclaim a form that held juvenile hopes -- To come back to poetry On the other side of womanhood After sex, and birth, and love and death.   But I'm trying.   I'm learning that love is death, too. That around all the black typescript -- There, in the terrifying open white space, You can breathe. And you need the spaces So the letters make sense.   There's life in the white spaces, and death, too.   I guess all those things that pry us open: love, death, transition, and even, a baby born in a manger, are just a dance of letting go, of bearing down, and pushing death and dreams into the light, and seeing what will take its first breath.   Because that first-born cry is joy and delight and the dying of all you thought you knew. Sometimes I tantrum like a toddler Wanting my way and not the way of a manger, the way of a cross. But my story is His -- wrapped up in grave clothes of dark and light, of sweat that feels like blood, and then -- there's a laugh that escapes sideways borne right in the center of grief -- resurrection, somehow made more joyous because it had died.   So I'll pray through my line breaks and white spaces and wait for the joke. What else can any of us do? merry3 merrymerry4
As we wait in a world of “not enough” (Gina Butz)
December 9, 2015 at 2:54 pm 0
An Advent Meditation   I don't know if you're feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the crazy around this green earth of ours. And it's not just the big, scary crazy. There are friends dealing with mean accusations, friends who are sleep-deprived and just plain worn out, and there's me, who so easily resorts to nagging my dear family. Friend, I'm assuming you're weary a bit like me this Advent season -- both in the big problems of the earth and in your little spot on it. I wanted to feature Gina Butz's words here today as a sort of Advent meditation -- for all those days and times when you run out of "enough." I'm learning -- quite the hard way -- that right at the end of me, is right where Jesus meets me so tenderly. I hope you'll love hearing from Gina today. -- AH IMG_0556   //   Two months into the fall, and it feels like I am just not enough. The month of September asked me to walk through the toughest season of ministry my husband has ever experienced. I watched him come home day after day for a month like a weary soldier, battling through hard conversations and appeasing disgruntled workers. He was like a boxer coming to the corner so I could towel him off and send him back in, though my heart wanted more than anything to keep him in the safety of home. And while my husband was on the other side of the world, it called me to lead our teenage boy through a spiritual battle alone, asking me to help him land in conviction, not condemnation, at the sight of his own sin: a tough distinction for a kid with a sensitive heart. September brought the agonizing decision to allow our 13 year old to play varsity soccer on top of her current club team so she can move closer to that dream of hers. When we finally say “yes” I cried for a full minute, knowing that her dreams ask more of me than I think I have. While she sees more time playing the game she loves, I see the logistics of 8 more hours of practice impacting our family. Parenting teens in general, this fall, feels like it requires a counseling degree I don’t have. My ministry responsibilities have called me to a greater degree of isolation than I’ve known in years. Writing, preparing to speak – they keep me at home, by myself. Those extra practices mean many hours in my car alone. The absence of deep fellowship with others leaves me feeling empty, less than, depleted. I just don’t feel like I have enough. Not enough wisdom. Not enough strength. Not enough courage. Not enough connection. Not enough of me for what I am called to do. That’s what it feels like. As we wait in a world of not enough -- Circling the Story The reality is that all this scarcity reveals what has always been true – no, I am not enough. But I was never meant to be. I need to stop expecting that somehow I will find that enough, at least in myself. The truth is that in all those boxing ring corner moments, I felt His grace. He gave me words I never knew I had, helped me sit with someone else’s hard in a way I didn’t know I could. His grace filled in my not-enough places. In those dark days with our son, when fear gripped me and I watched him wrestle with his faith, His words carried us. As we poured over scripture together, and turned back to Him again and again in prayer, He was enough for us. When we looked at that decision, the kind that feels like trying to shoot a target in the dark because you have no idea what would be best, we felt His peace and were guided by His wisdom. The living out hasn’t been as hard as we thought it would be, because He’s giving us enough to do it. And in this lonely season, I’m reminded that though it would be lovely to have more time to connect deeply with friends, what I ultimately hunger for is Him. I want to find Him to be enough for me. So each day I start here: There is enough. We do not live in a kingdom of scarcity, but abundance. There is no end to His resources. There is enough grace, enough strength, enough wisdom, enough of Him for all of me. Enough for today. There is freedom, here, to say, “It’s ok that I am not enough.” I bring my nothing and get more than I need. In the words of Isaiah, I come and buy without money and without cost, because that’s how His economy works. Everything for nothing. It doesn’t matter what I have, if I am enough or not. He is. Value to the valueless. Wisdom to the foolish. Strength to the weak. Grace for our gaps. There is always enough, if we will seek it.   //   Gina Butz @ Circling the Story Gina spent 13 years living overseas in Asia on crazy adventures with her stellar husband and two beautiful kids. She counts any day a good day if she is able to spend part of it creating something with her words or her hands. She hates coffee, insincerity, and being cold, which is why it's fantastic that God most recently called them to live in Orlando, Florida, where they serve in full time ministry. She blogs at www.ginabutz.com. Say hi on Twitter or Facebook.   Thank you friends for being a part of Circling the Story. I've written about scarcity and abundance before, such great themes that Gina brings up. I hope you'll consider subscribing to my little letter to friends. One is coming out soon! And, may the PEACE OF CHRIST dwell in your hearts richly, as we wait -- as we groan and long -- in eager anticipation of that day approaching.  --AH    
Advent is Kind of Like Needing to Pee
December 2, 2015 at 5:00 am 1
An Advent Meditation Advent is Kind of Like Needing to Pee -- Ashley Hales   If you’re anything like me there is a sort of pause when you think about Advent and Christmas. It all sounds like fairyland with the Christmas traditions we see splashed over Pinterest – from the Elf on the Shelf, making cocoa with fancy peppermint swizzle sticks, hanging and making your own stockings, and creating an inviting tablescape. Throw in the Elf on the Shelf and family devotions and wanting to make it about Jesus while there’s gifts to buy, trees to decorate, and keeping up with the normal household stuff. So you might feel just a tad tired before we even get to December – heavy with all the expectation. It all feels like too much expectation. In case you missed it, this last Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent. Advent is traditionally the space of time where we have a different sort of heavy expectation. It’s an eager anticipation for the arrival of Jesus. Advent comprises the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas day. The church universal has traditionally celebrated each Sunday by lighting candles, reading particular passages of Scripture, and praying prayers and focusing our attention on Jesus. I want to think about heavy expectation a bit together. Here’s what I’m hoping. I’m hoping that we’ll be a group of people that are set free from our own expectations and what our families and friends (or Pinterest) says we must have and what we must do to be successful this Advent and Christmas season. I want us to really lean in to the freedom that the gospel gives. Here’s how it often looks for me: I spend my time researching great “family Christmas traditions” and get all excited. I spend my time and money to create memories but then I don’t have something for the sugar cookies, or my toddler spills the flour everywhere, or we’re all just too tired or too hungry or too “done” to be able to enjoy the holiday movie night. I tend to get angry or depressed when my plans go awry. And I stomp and pout and say, “This was supposed to be about the magic of Christmas, goshdarnit!” Plans go awry. People are complex creatures. I’m learning that “good enough” is acceptable. Advent, though, is the time to wait and lean in to a period of heavy expectation. Not the guilt-inducing heavy expectation, but the ready to burst feeling. You’ve had it right? When you are hurrying to the bathroom and are squeezing your legs with everything you got while simultaneously running? Or, your kids when they’re jumping off the walls before getting to open Christmas presents on Christmas day? Or when you’re waiting to hear test results from the doctor and you pick up the phone with baited breath? I usually get annoyed waiting. We bust out our phones to fill silent moments. But there is a hush of holiness to this waiting period that we’re in, friends. The waiting and the longing is born from our experience in a fallen and sinful world and the tension as we wait for it all to be made right. That is what Christmas is about. It’s about God entering into our flesh and our sorrow. Into our joys and pain. It’s about the promise of restoration. It’s about Hope – the hope of all things being redeemed and being made new. It’s Hope in the flesh. Here's a bit from Isaiah 55:
“Come, everyone who thirsts,     come to the waters; and he who has no money,     come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk     without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,     and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,     and delight yourselves in rich food.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven     and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout,     giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;     it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,     and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

12 “For you shall go out in joy     and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you     shall break forth into singing,     and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;     instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord,     an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

(Just go ahead and listen to Andrew Peterson's "Sower's Song" and feel your heart bursting with all that is to come.)

 Ashley Hales @ Circling the Story

Matthew Henry wrote: “In Christ there is enough for all, and enough for each.” These promises are not too good to be true. They come from God who loves you and wants to save you. When you are thirsty, there is living water. There is wine and milk – things needed for sustenance – in abundance. When you are hungry, there is bread. When you seek, God may be found. There is delight, there is rich food. There is compassion. And get this: God’s word does not return void. The prophet asks “Why do you spend your labor on what does not satisfy….?” And so as we think right now on bursting edge of December: How can I spend my time and energy on all the trappings for the season without quieting my heart? Why do I spend my time and energy on looking good when God has given us everything we need – wine, rich food, milk – all that we need! We fret and preen and get anxious and depressed when we don’t see Jesus as meeting our needs. We run out and fill up Christmastime with good, good things when we don’t allow Jesus to meet our needs. So let’s breathe a bit. Pay attention to your longings. Those little nigglings are often when the Holy Spirit uses us to show us our need. If we don’t feel our thirst, we won’t drink living water. If we are not hungry, we will not be satisfied with rich food of the gospel. If we do not see how we’ve sinned and been broken and ashamed, how is it good news that God wants to establish an everlasting covenant with us? The gospel is only good news when we’re in a position of longing. What are you longing for?   Over to you -->   Where do you experience longing? Or the gap between your ideals and what you want?   What are your goals for this holiday season? What one word will help you focus your attention on what really matters?    
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
Around the Table, Celebrate, Faith + Vulnerability
When We Celebrate the Daily Hard
March 7, 2015 at 8:44 pm 15
It was one of those days where the breaking point passed me by, where the grumpies ruled and nothing much sat prettily in my soul. Anger boiled up too quickly -- perhaps I've been neglecting those good soul care practices that bring me life (writing, reading, exercising). Today, the words wouldn't come, but the doubts did. I scratched and clawed to write something, but all that came out was mediocrity. circling the story -- celebration + failure It began to feel like the good writing was just a dream. That my stringing together of images and thoughts and ideas was more like a preschooler haphazardly stabbing ugly beads on pipe cleaners than it was the simple beauty of pearls. So I wrote it, got it out and left the ugly creation there. I drove to the grocery store for dinner items. And I sat in the silence, the blessed silence of the car for a few minutes, feeling the movement of the sun and the palpable quiet. I ran in and picked out crusty bread and fancy olives and decided tonight was going to be a celebration. Tonight we celebrate grace. It wasn't a noteworthy day and we'd all been a bit put-out and stir crazy, even with the glory of early spring sunshine. But, I had to ask myself, do we only celebrate perfection and achievement? We opened the good wine and poured it out. We laughed and told each other what we loved about one another. We ate cheese and olives and salami and bread. We shushed the screamers and told the toddler to sit on his bottom about 107 times. My husband called me "brave" and made me well up with all the knowing that creeps by unnoticed. Because at the end of the day, or the end of life, I don't want to be grasping at everything that didn't happen. I don't want to be just waiting to cup perfection in my hands -- whether of perfect sentences, or perfect behavior or having done all the things right. No. Tonight we celebrate mistakes and redemption. Tonight the wine is poured out in the midst of laughter and frustration. For there is a good God who sees, who knows, and who lavishes grace. Grace for another day and hope for new words and peace tomorrow. And that is enough. It is more than enough.  
Circling the Story’s Top 5
December 23, 2014 at 3:28 pm 2
There's so much chatter and static and noise inside our heads and around us -- especially this time of year. (Does anyone else have their To Do list on a constant internal loop? Or is that just me?) My hope and prayer for you, my dear reader, is that this season would be full of hope and light and breath. Little things that communicate care and consideration -- whether that's the joy of reading a graceful sentence, a hot steaming cup of tea, a thoughtful present from a loved one, a flickering candle, or even a moment of stillness. I hope you find something small to hold on to, to keep you going. Because it's not the grand gesture that speaks volumes, it's the showing up, day-in and day-out, that communicate care. Maybe something here could give you that little something to mull over, words to cup into your hands and heart as you end the year. Here are Circling the Story's Top 5 posts; the posts that readers keep reading and sharing. I hope you'll take a look. Drumroll.... 5. Stories save us: "As I walked the paths of the bookstore, lingering by enticing covers and feeling the heft of what-might-be in my hands, I really was longing for redemption." Stories save us | Circling the Story 4. Am I enough? The god of the scale: "Every morning I strip down and step on the scale and I look to its numbers to tell me what I’m worth. With the softness of a belly that has swollen and receded four times, I ask it to tell me if I’m okay, if I measure up." The god of the scale | Circling the Story 3. Real Food + Real People = World Changed: A manifesto about the simply subversive act of having people in your home for dinner. Real food, vulnerability, get people to help out; rinse and repeat. Real Food World Changed | Circling the Story 2. That's the book I need to write: Yep, I'm working on a book. "It’s about how places sink into our souls, about how we learn to be a part of places [...]. It’s about daily little liturgies of walking your kids to and from school, of bumping into friends at the supermarket and about feeling a sense of your own smallness in big places." That's the book I have to write | Circling the Story 1. Red cup righteousness: My most-read post this year. "We think that the red paper cup holds out relief, or validation, or just respite from the weariness of the daily." Red cup righteousness | Circling the Story I hope you'll have a very restful Christmas -- that even in the chaos, you'll take time to savor the moments of truth and beauty, even if (and when) it's hard, or ugly or unlovely. Those moments are the ones that help to grow us into even more beautiful and graceful people. Thank you for reading Circling the Story dear friends! I hope something I've written has been encouraging to you; if it has, please consider sharing. See you in 2015! Love, Ashley
Words to hold on to and last-minute gift ideas
December 18, 2014 at 11:05 am 0
  • This is a lovely post by Lisa-Jo Baker on SheReadsTruth. If you're a mom and feeling a bit down please go and read it. Here's a gem: "So when Mary and Elizabeth literally break into loud, unashamed song declaring the wild purpose of the new life bottled up inside them like so much rich treasure, I want to hold on with both hands and be part of that understanding of womanhood." Wow. Print that one out when you're drowning in whining and dishes.
  • If you need a last-minute homemade gift for your neighbors or teachers or just someone passing by, consider this Whiskey Caramel Sauce, by Becky Rosenthal, @SLCfoodie (and check out her blog, it's great!)
  • There has been so much horrendous suffering in the news and all around us of late -- children lost, so much sickness and death and suffering. I really loved this post on What I don't mean when I say Black Lives Matter from Colleen Mitchell.
  • I finally got my gold Antho initial mug and love it! But when I was getting some stuff at CostPlus World Market for stockings, found they have some really cute initial mugs there, too. If you need something quick, it's a great gift idea! And at only $6, a steal!
  • Finally, what are you reading? Some of my absolute favorite titles that I've read recently are: Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table; Brene Brown's Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection; Anne Lamott's Help, Thanks, Wow; oddly I haven't reached much for fiction lately. I guess I'm trying to study the non-fiction genre. What's on your Xmas reading list??
Celebrate, Space + Place
Home now and a year ago
December 15, 2014 at 2:23 pm 2
"Home" today means staying in, even though it's sunny outside. Home means grabbing what I can find to eat as I hold my feverish baby, a baby born a year ago tomorrow. For, I am home to this little one, as she curls on my chest trying to get comfortable amidst her runny nose and warm forehead. She wakes briefly to smile and point at her brother, emanating joy even in her sorrow. IMG_1253.JPG A year ago, I waited and waited for her birth. I couldn't really believe I was going to have a girl after three boys and it all felt new for the first time, though I'd already had three babies. Her entrance in the world was steady and true and came through the pain of bearing down when I just didn't want to do it anymore. But my beautiful Harriet Susan Joy came at the appointed time. And then was later whisked away to the NICU for breathing problems. I felt like my joy was stolen. No baby cuddles in the middle of the night, except through beeps and wires. No blissful rooming-in as we watched the snow fall outside the window. I was in my room and she in hers and every three hours, I visited her, my breasts an offering and a letting go. I walked that pathway -- from room, down halls, to elevator, to NICU, to elevator, to room -- as a labyrinth, looking for illumination and meaning, yet just feeling separated from her and alone. And so today, though there is much to be done, nothing is more important than now and nothing is more important than this. Today there are no NICU walls or wires to separate us. This ministry of presence, of just being here, and showing up. Whether you're showing up for a spouse, a friend, a colleague or a sick child, I hope that you, too, will show up and be present and let the inconsequential fall away. Because "home" is your people. Wherever you may find them.   IMG_1943.JPG