X

Reader Stories

Reader Stories
Reader Stories: The Heavens Declare
August 25, 2016 at 6:00 am 1
Welcome back to Reader Stories! It's been awhile. Be sure to scoot on over here to see the newest prompt for the Fall. Writers, readers, friends: I'd love to host your story! I'm looking for a handful of good stories. Share Your Reader Story at aahales.com Today's comes from Anna Christenson. I can't wait to introduce her to you: Anna Christenson: Reader Stories at aahales.com Anna spends her days seeking well-chosen words. By day, she teaches English to middle school students. By night, she reads good books and writes everywhere - in journals, on her blog, and across calendar pages. She loves summer days, rocks a lot of polka dots, and is learning to see Jesus in ordinary moments. You can find her on her blogFacebook , Twitter, and Instagram. // It happened the way the best love stories do. It was sudden. It was unlikely. It was life-changing. It happened on an ordinary drive home, on an average evening. I fell in love with the sky. I am not talking about just any sky. My sky hangs over a gravel road, seven miles from the nearest town and sixty miles from the nearest Target. It is almost in Canada, on the prairies of far northwest Minnesota. That is where I grew up. When I describe it, people raise their eyebrows. They wonder why anyone would choose to live in the boondocks, where soybean fields, long winters, and flatness are our strongest assets. We seem far removed from anything of interest, much less beauty. I used to agree with them. That was before I learned to see. That was before I began to love the sky. The sky was background noise for years. I noticed it sometimes, tuned it out often. In fifth grade, inspired by Harriet the Spy, I started carrying a journal in my backpack. One entry detailed the sunrise on a winter morning. (The next analyzed my crush’s antics on the playground.) High school geography class passed as I stared out classroom windows, guessing by the clouds if blizzards, and snow days, would come. Spring, and the end of basketball season, was approaching when I left the gym after practice and still saw the sun, seared orange. Summertime walks with my parents raced the sunset, after which the mosquitos were strong enough to carry grown humans away. Our broad, open sky was constant. Occasionally impressive. Mostly just there. The dark sky surprised me, on the first trip back from college in the city. I had grown accustomed to streetlights striving to be stars and blinds shut against the ever-present suburban glow. The black was unsettling, until I saw the stars. They blinked, a wide sea over tiny floating yard lights. I’d forgotten their presence. They slowed my car, and I gaped out the windows. They lit the way home. stars The sky still wins my attention now, when I leave the city behind and turn onto I-29. It stretches, expanding as the land flattens. The highway snakes under it. I drive north distractedly, catching glimpses of clouds and sunsets and constellations. They are like my front porch light and the yellow lab wriggling from his dog house as the car door opens. You have arrived, they say. During college, I spent my summers lifeguarding. When I worked the late shift, my commute aligned with the sunset. My rearview mirror blazed the whole way home. I got out at stop signs, sometimes, to stare back into it. Cell phone pictures could never frame that panorama of peach and swirling blue, deepening as I drove further into the country, wrapping around the fields. It was wild, beyond me and my ability to capture. I once drove into the ditch on a night when temperatures dipped below zero. Snow had crusted over the gravel road, and I had been bested by it. My grandpa fired up the tractor to dig me out. The stars flashed while I shivered in my boots. They were diamonds, sharpened by cold, and I was just a dot on a gravel road. A dot among my grandpa and my dad and my brother, who grabbed shovels and hitched chains. A dot whose only role in this rescue was to hold the flashlight. A dot among millions of others. A dot who was known and seen among all the jewel-like stars. That kind of smallness is cliché and striking. No wonder it features in our songs and salvation stories. To think that you are one among millions of stars and humans is startling. To think that you are loved and known among millions of stars and humans is more startling still. The stars, the sunsets, the sky, they show me the grace of the world. God offers his love to us in his creation. The beauty around us, its ordinary majesty, is his gift to us. Here he shows us himself, and ourselves. We accept his mercies when we choose to see them. We must choose to get out of the car at stop signs, to pause, to pay attention to his glittering presence surrounding us, to fall in love. That is the daily miracle of all grace: it knows we may ignore it, and it offers itself anyway. The sky was waiting for us to see and wonder since God formed it with a breath. It was waiting when I was small, staring out school bus windows. It waited while I drove gravel roads twice a day, morning and evening. When I stop and see, it shows me myself, and worlds beyond my comprehension. It speaks love. I stand in awe.    // I love this one from Anna. It makes me want to take a big breath of sky. For comment: What allows you to experience the peace of wild things?    Scurry on over and submit your Reader Story, or just subscribe below so you don't miss one!

Learn how to slow down, find beauty, and practice sustained attention. I promise it'll help you find your place.

* indicates required
Subscription preferences (choose ALL that apply):
     
CONTINUE READING ...
Reader Stories
Reader Stories: Becoming Woman in the Midst of Abuse by Tracey Casciano
February 12, 2016 at 6:00 am 2
Some stories are not neat and pretty. Some stories are full of pain and abuse. This story by Tracey Casciano is one such story. She recounts her fears of pregnancy while being sexually abused by her father. I am choosing to publish Tracey's story not as a piece of exhibitionism, but because I believe (like Tracey) that Christ can heal our stories -- that he can bring redemption out of the darkest beginnings, that he really brings life from death. Thank you Tracey for being brave and sharing your story because someone else may need to know they are not alone. -- AH // We all know the biological definition of becoming a woman. As my sons’ pediatrician put it, “things get bigger and hairier.” I remember how scary it all seemed and I carried supplies in my purse waiting for the dreaded day that it started. For me personally, that wasn’t the worst part. I was worried about getting pregnant. I had been sexually abused by my father for almost a year when I became a woman. My mother was a severe alcoholic and knew what was going on, but didn’t do anything to stop it. I told no one because I was scared of the repercussions. If my father got in trouble and left, I’d be left with my emotionally abusive, drunk mother. My father showed me love and affection (that I desperately wanted) and assured me that since we both loved each other it was ok. The dreaded day arrived. I stared at the evidence in my underwear, paralyzed with fear as I was preparing for swim team practice. I called to my mom and didn’t have the words, so I just showed her. I will never forget her response, “No wonder you’ve been such a B*TCH recently.” She handed me a box of tampons and left the room. I had no idea how I was supposed to use them and stared at the box blankly as she said, “hurry up, we need to leave for practice in 10 minutes.” That was it. No hug or congratulations on becoming a woman. I loved swimming because it gave me time to think. As I swam that afternoon, I thought about how suddenly everything had changed. Yesterday I had been a girl. When I woke up that morning, I was still a girl. Now I was a woman. I began imagining the conversation that I would have with my father that evening. I convinced myself that the abuse would have to stop or I’d get pregnant. I was unsure of what his reaction would be, but felt happy and relieved. It would finally be over! Why hadn’t I thought of this before?! I was nervous as I approached the subject with my father later that night. Our nights together had become a regular event and my mom often passed out on our living room couch. When I embarrassedly told him my new situation I expected him to be mad or disappointed. However, he smiled and gave me a big hug and congratulated me. I was so confused. Tracey Casciano at Circling the Story I asked, “So, you’re not mad?” He replied, “Why would I be mad?” I stammered, “Because, now we have to stop, you know….” “Why?” he asked Defensively I said, “Because I don’t want to get pregnant!” He put his arm around me and said, “You don’t need to worry about that. I’ve been fixed.” My heart sank. My official entry into womanhood brought on changes in my body and as I entered high school I began to notice boys. Soon the boys noticed me back and I had my first boyfriend. It was about that time that the abuse from my father finally stopped. The physical abuse had ended, but the emotional scars would remain. I’ll never forget that day I officially became a woman and promised myself that if I ever had a daughter that we would have a “becoming a woman” celebration. Because being a woman is worthy of celebrating! As I got older, I had to face my past. It was difficult as I had never told anyone and was convinced that I was the only one. I know now that there are many women who have stories similar to mine. I have chosen to share my story to help others who may feel alone as I did. No matter what has happened in our past, we must remember that we are beautiful, unique, beings created by a God who loves us and saved us with His grace. // Over to you: Where have you seen God move in the midst of horrible circumstances? Do you have moments of redemption popping through? When has the reality of a life transition been different than your idealism?   traceyTracey is a passionate speaker and writer ready to shine a light for Jesus. She shines that light through encouraging words as a blogger, speaker, and writer to help others who may be suffering or doubting themselves on their current path in life. After a childhood with an alcoholic mother and abusive father, her love for the Lord helped rise above her past. She describes this in her book, “Out of the Darkroom, Into the Light: A Story of Faith and Forgiveness After Child Abuse.” She is happily married and in the midst of raising four wonderful sons. Tracey has a background in Special Education, has taught History in public high school for eight years, and has been a missionary in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. Learn more about Tracey and her book at her website www.traceycasciano.com, on her blog, Twitter, and Facebook page. // Consider submitting your own story for March on "creativity and resistance." Don't forget I'd love to help you with a free story therapy session, too! 
CONTINUE READING ...
Reader Stories
Becoming Woman: The Promise of Red Lipstick by Mallory Larsen Redmond
February 5, 2016 at 5:00 am 7
Mallory Larsen RedmondYou guys, this month the theme is "becoming woman" here at Circling the Story. It's a doozy. I'll be writing more all about it. But to whet your appetite, I get to welcome fellow Redbud writer, Mallory Larsen Redmond to share her story. Here's a bit about her: I am Mallory—a [brand new!] wife, a writer, and an avid window shopper. I love dry humor, clean sheets, sunny days, and frequent reminders of grace. These days, I hang out at mallorylarsen.com, where I tell my stories with the hope of uncovering places of connection in our humanity. You can find Mallory at Facebook and Twitter
//
I clearly remember the weeks leading up to my 29th birthday. I was a broke and single grad school student; so, you know, my one-line bio wasn't exactly dripping with self-confidence. I did, however, know that I was in a very formative process of becoming. I was becoming more and more the woman I was created to be. And I loved it; I craved it. I wanted to be a strong, independent, confident woman. I wanted to be a woman who loves herself and others well, and one who uses her voice. I wanted to embrace my quirks and traits. I wanted good things—it’s just that I was still figuring out how to step in to all of that goodness. What would it look like for me to be the woman I was created to be? One thing I knew for sure is that I deeply admired women who rocked some red lipstick. In my opinion, red lipstick is bold, classic, feminine, and brave. Red lipstick says, "I am woman and I am here and I am freaking serious." I wanted to be woman and "here" and taken seriously. So, I decided that on my 29th birthday, as a practice in embracing my womanhood, I would get some red lipstick and I would rock it all day long. It didn't matter if I spent the day in my pajamas or in a ball gown, one unchanging cornerstone of my birthday wardrobe would be bright red lipstick. The day commemorating my birth in mid-February came, as it always does, and, with it, came my entrance into the world of red lipstick. The thing is, I've always been more of a lip balm lady. I had bought one tube of lipstick in my entire life—the one I wore to my senior prom. I appreciate a good moisturizer for my lips but, when it comes to color, I have, historically, steered [literally] clear. Mallory Larsen Redmond at Circling the Story NOT TODAY! From morning until late in the evening, after a celebratory dinner with dear friends, I wore that red lipstick. Mission accomplished, deed done, womanhood embraced. As I went to bed that night, my heart full, I knew I had taken a big step in becoming more of the woman I was created to be. After all, I had learned that I am not a woman who can rock some red lipstick. The truth of it is, I felt "off" all day when wearing the lipstick. I didn't feel very feminine or powerful or bold or brave with my lips colored bright red. In fact, I actually felt more insecure with the red lipstick and without my trusty, colorless lip balm. What a failed birthday mission, right? My goodness, absolutely not! I am becoming more of the woman I was created to be, which means I'm not quite there yet. Everything I learn about myself moves me closer and closer into more fully embracing what womanhood means to me. I consider it a major victory, in terms of my sense of self, that I could come to an understanding that while I adore the look of red lipstick on some of the strongest, fiercest, most gorgeous women I know—it simply doesn't feel right on me. That does not make me any less “woman” than my red-lipstick-rocking friends; it makes me more me.And any way that I can be more of myself contributes to my journey of embracing my womanhood.  The goal is not in just becoming woman, or in becoming "more" woman, because what does that actually mean? Each woman embodies womanhood in a different way—which is a beautiful thing! To me, it is about becoming more Mallory. In becoming more me, I may become more of the woman I was created to be; and more of the wife, daughter, sister, friend, and writer I was created to be. Now, nearing my 32nd birthday, I know I am an authentic woman when I am true to myself. I haven't bought a tube of lipstick in 3 years. Today, I stick with moisturizing lip balm. I sometimes wear stilettos, which make me feel fierce and feminine, but most often am in a worn pair of flip-flops. I am Mallory, a woman who writes from a place of honesty and vulnerability. My fingernails remain un-painted because I chip them far too easily. I love watching football and super sappy made-for-TV movies. I am terrible at returning phone calls, I didn't begin to learn how to cook until I was in my thirties, and I get a cramp in my neck whenever I apply mascara. All my life, I've been told to quiet down; I am finally growing more confident in using my loud voice to speak words of truth and love. I am learning to love my round face, the semi-permanent crease from my furrowed brow, and my not-so-flat stomach. I want you to like me but know it's [probably] not the end of the world if you don't. I am still quick to cower in the presence of those who hold more power (systemically or otherwise) than me. (But I’m working on that.) I am more comfortable with a hug than a handshake. I am Mallory—wife, writer, woman—becoming and, yet, already here.
// I love rocking red lipstick and I love how Mallory doesn't. Womanhood is so much more complex than certain stages or accessories. What makes you feel like a woman? Give Mallory some comment love.  Don't forget to send me your story on creativity and resistance AND sign up for your free story therapy session here
 
CONTINUE READING ...
Reader Stories
Reader Stories: When Grief Drops by Monica “afrotasticlady” Vance
January 29, 2016 at 5:00 am 2
Circling the story guest postWe've got another reader story for you today! Because stories, like the grief that Monica writes about here, are best shared. Monica “afrotasticlady” is currently in a graduate social work program. She loves to sit with people and help them sort through their challenges, and along the way, she also enjoys writing. She frequently blogs about how she holds onto God’s love during the transitions of life at afrotasticlady.com.   You may even see her drinking a cup of coffee from Starbucks when she’s not being frugal. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter and read more at afrotasticlady.com   // I’ve never had a full appreciation of snow. Last year, it snowed frequently in New England. We trudged through snow castles. We struggled to dig out our cars. Grief reminds me of a heavy snowfall.  Trees are strewn with the white chunks. Sidewalks are buried in it. Folks are crammed in their houses. They demand a return to their daily activities. Still, the snow continues to drop.  Grief dropped into my chest when I was a teenager. The doctors had informed my family that my sister, Wanda, had only six months to live. Yet, Wanda lived longer than the time frame that the doctors gave her. While she lived with multiple sclerosis for over fifteen years, I wrestled in snow. I gasped in the wetness. I willed the tears back into my eyelids. My parents were her daily caregivers, and we’d figured out that we could communicate with Wanda through facial expressions.  A grimace showed us that she was in pain. A twitch of her head displayed that she’d heard us call her name. A few days before Wanda eventually died, I kissed her forehead. My brother and his adorable young daughter kissed her as well. I wonder if we knew that death was approaching. Or that we would sit on the back porch, with people surrounding us with their sympathies and store-bought chicken dinners. When Grief Drops by Monica Vance We were all in the house when we heard my mom howl, “She’s dead. She’s dead.” I leapt, and I found a rambling mother and a lifeless sister. My dad followed and saw the condition of his daughter. Death had arrived, but l wanted to reverse it. I grew up in a home and in a church where God was the author of miracles. An upbringing in which I learned that one’s faith could transform negative circumstances into light. When I texted my friends and left a voicemail for my supervisor, I told them that my sister was dying. I believed that the paramedics would pound on her chest with their equipment as though we were in a medical TV drama. My sister would live. My exhausted body drove my mom and my other sister, D., to the hospital. We’d meet my dad there, as he’d decided to ride with Wanda in the ambulance. When we arrived at the hospital doors, I vented my anger on a traffic cone. I kicked it and screamed. My beautiful sister who could have been a model before disease ravaged her body was dead. There wouldn’t be an earthly revival. My uncles, aunts, and cousins joined us as we kissed Wanda’s forehead in a dark room. I listened to my mom and aunts chat about how peaceful Wanda looked. Her spirit was in Heaven now. I scowled at their words. There was nothing magnificent about her worn body. My security had been scrambled. Perhaps, I had never been secure. Or, I had never been faith-filled. For years, Wanda’s name was on our church’s prayer list.  I’d written Isaiah 53:5 on an index card and hung it on her bedroom wall. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was on him; and with his stripes we are healed. Had God answered our prayers for Wanda’s healing through her release from multiple sclerosis’ control? I’ve discovered that I am on a grief journey that doesn’t always make sense. I am still healing from my sister’s suffering. But, God holds my face and breathes on my neck when my prayers are guttural. He lifts the snow. // I'd absolutely love to share YOUR story here on "creativity and resistance." Details are here! Don't forget, when you join our band of merry storytellers, you'll get a FREE 20-minute story therapy session! Don't miss it!  
CONTINUE READING ...
Reader Stories
Reader Stories: The Grace of Snow by Abby Paumen
January 28, 2016 at 7:14 am 4
One of my favorite things about Circling the Story is opening up my space to readers and new writers. Abby Paumen is a college student and writer and I'm thrilled to host her words here. She writes about the blessing of an unexpected snowfall (Can you tell I'm dreaming off some winter white in southern California? Also? I'm not complaining about my current wardrobe of flip flops). -- AH head shot-abby paumenHere's a bit more about Abby: "I’m a “good girl” learning that I need oceans of grace every day and that God is much more willing to lavish that grace on me than I think. I’m an English major, aspiring writer, lover of all kinds of literature, and frequenter of any spunky local coffee shop I can find. I currently work as a writing tutor at Liberty’s Undergraduate Writing Center. You can find me on Twitter and Facebook and read more about my journey with grace on my blog A Testimony of Grace for the Good Girl."    // I haven’t started my paper…again. I have 12 hours left…if I don’t sleep at all. I pray a last-ditch sheepish prayer: God please help it snow enough so school will be canceled. I immediately feel silly and childish. I reason that it was okay for me to beg God’s mercy when I had only failed a few times. But now, now is too much. I am asking for the thousandth chance. I’m out of excuses. Still, a glance out the window gives me a shred of hope. The thin dusting of snow grows heavier. Aimlessly, I wander into my parent’s bedroom. “Is there any news of school closings?” Not yet. I am left to ruminate on my frustration with myself. I’m convinced that God wants nothing to do with a lazy sloth like me. I do the most damaging thing I can do: I take my eyes off of him and navel-gaze at myself. Why do you keep procrastinating? Get it together. You had plenty of time to work on this paper over the weekend. This is embarrassing. What? Are you going to tell Mrs. Ipsan that you couldn’t find time to work on the paper because you have dedicated your life to binge-watching youtube? Why can’t you by like Kathryn? She always allows plenty of time to work on her papers. Don’t ever let this happen again. As I heap endless reproaches upon myself, the waves slowly engulf me in a sea of despair. Abby Paumen at Circling the Story After a few hours, I hear cheers sounding from my parent’s room. My heart leaps. Can it be true? Is school cancelled? With lifted spirits I return to my room and record the episode in my journal: “God helped me. He blanketed Virginia with a beautiful white sheet. I couldn’t help but gasp at the wonder of it all and feel at peace and think that maybe, just maybe, God did it for me. He’s given me the thousandth chance. Father, help me not screw this up!” Although I am so grateful for the grace that God has given me, I still somehow walk away with the conviction to try harder. Though I write of that evening in glowing terms, in the back of my mind I am still kind of convinced that God is giving me the snow day begrudgingly. The weight of his grace makes my burden heavier. I have to prove that I’m worth his grace. I have to prove I can change. I give way to the lie that this really is my last chance to prove that I am worth his love and attention. In the moment, I miss the point. It is not until I re-read the entry three years and a thousand more “screw-ups” later that I see the irony. God doesn’t give grace begrudgingly but lavishly. I never expected a redeeming snowfall at the end of March in a southern state. But the snow fell. It dusted grace on my procrastination before my eyes. God gave me the thousandth chance that I did not dare to hope for. I could not help but remember the words of a favorite song: “A thousand times I’ve failed still your mercy remains and should I stumble again still I’m caught in your grace.” The key comfort in these lyrics is that God not only has enough grace for our present failings but our future failings as well. I am a college student that still procrastinates and falls short in a host of other ways, and I still receive grace, and I still forget that God’s grace is unlimited. And yet, God still has grace for me even when I forget to ask for it. His grace envelops like snow, even when unbidden or undeserved. // Give Abby some comment love: Where have you also tried harder and thought that that would make you worthy of love?    Consider sharing your story for March. I want to help you tell your story better. When you subscribe, we'll work together on how best to tell it and you'll receive a free 20-minute story therapy session!

 Subscribe to Circling the Story

* indicates required
Subscription preferences (choose ALL that apply):
CONTINUE READING ...
Reader Stories
Reader Stories: Powerless by Christiana N. Peterson
January 22, 2016 at 5:00 am 7
Christiana PetersonYou guys, I'm thrilled to open up Circling the Story to Christiana Peterson. She's a gorgeous writer and mama. She studies theology with dirt under her fingernails -- exactly the sort of woman I want to read. Here's some more: Christiana N. Peterson is a writer, mama, wife, community member, and failed mystic. She feels the daily call of faith, farm life, food, and occasionally fairies. She has written for her.meneutics, Art House America, and Good Letters--an Image Journal blog, where she is a regular contributor. You can find links to her writing at christiananpeterson.com and follow her on twitter @christiananpete.
// Christiana Peterson for Circling the Story Mid-way between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, an ice storm knocks out our power. With an unseasonably warm season, this blast of icy weather has reminded me that we live in the Midwest and it is indeed winter. Our apartment, in a building we share with two other families on a farm, sits only yards from our pigs, chickens, cows, and a large community garden. The well that supplies our drinking and flushing water and the water for all the animals depends on electricity to run. As I get cozy with my three children on the couch, we have no idea that we are only at the beginning of two and a half days without water, heat, a stove, or, gasp, the internet. My two older children and I make a fun afternoon of it, reading and swapping books. When evening comes and the power is still out, my husband grabs his camping stove from the basement. We have a dinner of reheated turkey soup by candlelight and headlamp. As we enjoy the momentary romance of a simpler evening, our parent-child conversations are predictable. Did you know that when my grandparents grew up on a farm, they didn't have any electricity? They didn't even have indoor toilets. Or washing machines. Or movies! They had to make their own music. Won’t we be thankful when the power comes on tomorrow? But the next morning, the lights are still off. The house is 50 degrees. The unflushed toilet has begun to stink. The downstairs wood floors are cold. There is no internet for the kids to watch movies, and I can’t wash the mounting piles of dishes or work on my dead laptop. The lesson-learning on this, Day 2 without power, feels cliché. But oddly enough, I’m not thinking about how thankful I will be when the lights come back. I’m not thinking about how grateful I am to have modern conveniences. I am thinking about St. Francis. Before my fascination with the Saints began, I believed that Catholics prayed to and venerated the Saints because they were holier versions of us. But I’m learning that the wisdom of studying the Saints is because of their humanness. The Saints give us examples, which though exemplary, are still fully fleshly attempts to follow Christ. I need those human examples. When the lights go out and the lessons we teach our children don't seem to change anything, I need to hear what the Saints have to teach about following a different way, a way that took them out of the clutches of their homes, possessions, and the things that made them feel secure. What the Saints, and St. Francis in particular, repeatedly live out is that abundance comes from a smaller life, not a larger one. The less wealth, material possessions and success there are to depend on, the wider a heart can become. Christiana Peterson for Circling the Story When the lights finally come on again, I am having tea with an older woman with whom I haven’t visited in over a year. We are talking about the way things were when she was a child. We are having the same conversations I had with my children. But somehow they take on more meaning when they come from her. Just as St. Francis’ story moves me, so her story, her truth, her life shapes and encourages my faith. I clean up the mess of my thawed and stagnant house. I make no big changes in my lifestyle because of our break from electricity. But I read Richard Rohr’s words as a call to something terribly small but also immeasurably large: “You can now let Francis and Clare show you how to die into your one and only life, the life that you must learn to love.” I long to love my life. To die into it. To be fully present in it. To not wish for more power. I long for the courage to stay with the discomforts, living into the freedom of the duties of life. Accepting that living in a small, old, house on a farm means we will lose our power sometimes. Accepting that being in community will be joyful and painful. Accepting that difficult relationships will bring out the worst in me, and therefore allow God to shine through my brokenness. Maybe dying into my life and loving it are the same. I cannot be a Saint, but I will be a mother, a wife, a writer, a woman. And my efforts in every small human moment will add up to life, death, and love all at once.   // Isn't this just gorgeous? Readers and friends, I invite you to share with all of us here in the comments the small ways you, too, long to love your life. Where have circumstances stripped you down to show you "how to die to your one and only life"? It's such a good question. (Also take a look at sharing your own story.) -- AH
CONTINUE READING ...
Reader Stories
Reader Stories: Gratitude for Merry and Bright by Cristi Mamer
December 18, 2015 at 5:00 am 1
Cristi @ Circling the Story (Ashley Hales)It's a pleasure to welcome Cristi to Circling the Story today. In her own words, Cristi Mamer is a neurotic, detail-oriented, obsessive compulsive wife and mother of four. She has been an educator, business owner and local philanthropist. She lives in a small town with her husband, two daughters, two sons and beloved dog Max. You can find her at I Kind Of Like That About Myself or on Twitter.   // Christmas is a myriad of ideals. Sights and smells and sounds and sensations that are unique and fill the memories of our childhood with senses of wonder. Recollections of happiness or simpler times or perhaps missed opportunities. Whatever our experiences, as parents we want to recreate the good memories for our children and dispel all the the disappointing ones (as if it were just that easy.) Sometime around the first week of December, I make a large pot of hot chocolate and pour it into individual thermal cups for all six of us. Some want marshmallows on top of the hot, thick liquid, others go with whip cream and peppermint sprinkles. We drive around town in our pajamas listening to Christmas music looking at all the various house lights and lawn decorations. Christmas is new again and we are all excited. We are under a spell for a moment believing in the magic of Christmas lights lighting up the night. Inevitably someone gets overly animated, a fight breaks out. The spell is broken. Hot chocolate gets spilled. Older children make up inappropriate words to carols. Crying and impolite singing ensue…laughter overtakes enchantment, it’s all part of the fun that is now tradition. I drive with one hand on the steering wheel, the other hand trying to push one kid off another in the back seat, while not missing a word to Silent Night is a talent, as far as I’m concerned. But what starts out as a spirited Christmas fete, sometimes ends with feelings of defeat. Gratitude for Merry and Bright - Cristi @ Circling the Story But then comes “The Tree” and so many reasons to be thrilled all over again. The bigger the tree the better. I do the lights, then the children decorate with ornaments they’ve received through the years. Each one holds a memory. One from the first year of baseball, the year we had a gingerbread party, the week spent at space camp, a ballerina as a remembrance of an outing to The Nutcracker Ballet; and so it goes one ornament at a time. Everyone has their favorite, oohing and awing over the beauty of it and sharing a story from a past Christmas. The delight on their faces is infectious and swells through the air. There is peace in the house. And kindness. Until the tired children can do no more and one by one go to sleep to dream of Christmas trees, and ornaments, and sugarplums. Then I demonstrably reorganize all the ornaments…because everyone knows you can’t have a ten foot tree with ornaments only on the bottom third! In the process of loving and providing for our children it is often they who teach us. Righting the past or making everything perfect or something that can be bought is not what Christmas is all about. What is most important is that Christmases have come and gone and will come again all too quickly. Someone once told me,“You can only make magic for your children for so long.” So year after year I keep working to spark that enchantment in each of their lives. The older they get, the harder it is. Their childhood memories are honestly part delight and part dysfunction. But the magic I do make for them instills the power to believe, which is really faith. And this is especially significant at Christmas, when love itself was born and good things are bestowed on those who are believers. The holiday will bring excitement and surprises and favorite foods. But a simple Christmas Eve will happen first -- full of board games and snacks and old Christmas movies after church. Traditions that we have shared for decades now. The adult children will be home, we will all be together again. And that will be what matters most. My Christmas wish now is that joy will radiate from every face and fill the air with laughter. My heart will overflow with gratitude as my children will once again be merry and the house will shine brightly with love. // What makes your house "merry and bright" this season? Don't forget to submit your own story to Circling the Story for January (the deadline has been extended to Dec. 22): details can be found here. Also, I'm sending out a Christmas update so be sure to subscribe!    
CONTINUE READING ...
Reader Stories
Reader Stories: All that Glitters by Kaitlyn Schiess
December 11, 2015 at 5:00 am 4
Kaitlyn Schiess 001 This month the reader stories I'm featuring are on the prompt of "merry and bright." I love this take by Kaitlyn Schiess. Kaitlyn is a recovering success-addict, an accidental writer, and a senior at Liberty University. She blogs about turning ideas into practices and head-knowledge into heart-truth at www.thatkindoflegacy.wordpress.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.   //   When I was sixteen, all I wanted for Christmas was glitter. I wanted the packaging even more than I wanted the content. A pretty case for the makeup, a golden jar the scented candle filled, even the polka dot box for new earrings. I wanted all that glittered, even though I knew what was inside wasn’t gold. There was always one special present my mom would hide on Christmas morning, leaving a trail of riddles for my sister and I to follow. That year, my sister discovered a pair of boots nestled behind a potted plant. I followed clues to the back of a crowded coat closet to unwrap a tiny row of golden eyeshadows. I had never been so thrilled in my life. I spent the rest of the day opening and closing the delicate case that held them. Five years later, that case of colored chemicals is sitting in the bottom drawer of a desk at my parent’s house. I was never terribly interested in using the gift – I wanted to admire the pretty casing and enjoy the thought of owning something so expensive and beautiful. I spent high school oversleeping, rushing through a shower before running out the door. But when I’d climb into bed that afternoon to do my homework, I’d distract myself with a glance to the pretty eyeshadows displayed on my desk. Occasionally I’d lift the lid and gaze at their perfect little dots of glitter – unscathed by a brush, they maintained their light sheen. In a sense, I fully enjoyed this underutilized Christmas gift. Its value was never in its use, but in its appearance.   All that Glitters -- Reader Stories at Circling the Story I decided to settle for shiny packaging because I thought truly full-bodied beautiful was asking for too much. It was more than believing my appearance defined me (a belief I also firmly held). I thought I could do no better than an artificial façade. I’d been fed a diet of magazine covers and airbrushed models, and I’d learned not to expect much underneath. Becoming truly beautiful required a massive inward change I couldn’t muster. I had more than a cracked outside, I was crumbling on the inside and couldn’t hope to rebuild. I could put on a pretty exterior, but I’d always be a mess underneath the eyeshadow. I’ve since given up on glittery eyeshadows, like many of us do. But instead of dealing with my deeply-rooted belief that my heart and soul have suffered irreparable damage, I’ve simply changed the wrapping. I’ve traded lip gloss for Christian clichés and new earrings for Bible verse coffee mugs. As much as I spend time talking about the transformative power of my God, I still seem to think He’s more What Not To Wear than Extreme Makeover. Sure, He can change the things I do and the words I say, but thinking He can transform my heart seems to be asking too much. To believe that He can radically alter my desires, change my dreams, and burden my heart for what breaks His is a revolutionary idea. I was bumping along a dirt road in a bus crammed with middle schoolers when I watched it happen. It was the last day of camp, and as we turned onto the highway, it slowly dawned on me: I loved this. I loved every minute of that sweaty, dirty, slime-filled week. The glitter-eye-shadow girl was rolling down a muddy hill because it made her girls laugh. The rational intellectual was weeping as a little girl gave her life to Jesus. This skeptic was certain that the God of the universe was asking her to make some big life changes. Kaitlyn Schiess for Circling the Story   I’ve started asking for a change that goes deeper than my social media presence, and I’ve learned to be careful what you ask for. There’s no better way to learn than by experiencing – letting a message slowly take over your heart, hearing a lesson come out of your own mouth, feeling the weight of the examples in your hands. When I asked Him for change, He delivered in all kinds of ways I didn’t expect. He plucked me from my Five Year Plan and into an internship at a church that would give me a fierce love for His children. He put in my path a lifelong friend who challenges me daily and prays for me often. This law school hopeful found herself touring a seminary, teaching a Bible Study, and discovering a newfound love for writing. None of this was superficial – I felt Him changing my desires, shaping my interests, and gifting me for challenges all along the way. I’ve watched Him transform the inside I thought was irredeemable, and I’ve become convinced that sometimes, the packaging doesn’t lie. I’d become so accustomed to shiny exteriors concealing disappointing content, that I’d lost hope in true beauty. But my God is turning me into someone I never thought I’d be – messy, honest, and unafraid – and it’s real.   // Thanks, Kaitlyn, for your story today. Over to you all: Where have you focused on the glittery packaging?  Don't forget to get in your January story submission!  
CONTINUE READING ...
Reader Stories
Reader Stories: Enough in the Season of More by Lindsey Andrews
November 13, 2015 at 5:00 am 3
I just love hosting your words here at Circling the Story. November's theme is "enough." Have you ever felt like you just weren't enough in this (often frantic) holiday season? Today, Lindsey Andrews is sharing with us about just that. Plus, she's got some ideas about how to do remember there is more than enough already.  -- AH    Lindsey Andrews is a lawyer, writer and speaker whose passion is seeing people fall in love with who they are in this life. A wild haired bohemian in spirit, with her feet trapped in the corporate world, she daydreams of a nose ring and a wrist tattoo. She is tolerated by two kids and a husband but is adored by a French Bulldog, Walter. She lives in Oklahoma and writes at http://www.lindseyandrewswriter.com.  She re-tweets @ethiopiabound and follows too many people on instagram @linzandrews.   // There is a part of me that hates this time of year. Is that terrible to write? I haven’t always felt that way. My father’s birthday is November 26 and who doesn’t love gathering those they need the most in life around a table full of good food and even better laughs? The season of “thanks” has historically been one of the most look forward to events in my life. When the leaves begin to turn and fall off in pixels and the disappearance of the sun puts a chilly wisp in the air, it makes me crave sweaters and thick socks. But for as much I love the things of fall and the need for remembering all the good things in my life, there is a piece of this season people seem to rush past. Stores open earlier and earlier in a sprint to get us closer to Christmas. Parties and final semester assignment before school breaks only add to the never-ending “to be done” list. There are days I'm too tired to remember to say thank you. Some days, I believe I’m too old to remember whether or not I said thank you or not. Did I say it to the barista as she handed me my coffee this morning? I was in such a hurry sitting in the drive-thru I don’t recall. I couldn't notice appropriately because I was more focused on the cup and the lid not spilling and the meeting I was already late for . Home is no different. The 2nd and the 5th grader both have separate school programs this month and I’ve already forgotten which one is to dress like a chicken or is it a turkey and the other to be a historical figure. Again, I didn’t write it down or not put the school’s note at the bottom of the recycle bin. Oh mama, are you slipping or are you just not paying attention? Some days I believe they are both the same. Yet, perhaps they are both equally my fault. Lindsey Andrews @ Circling the Story There is such a hurried rush from blowing out the candle on the jack-o-lantern Halloween night and the race into Christmas. Days it seems the Americanized world has forgotten about a small holiday at the end of November. We’re so busy planning for what we are going to get or give, we forget to look around at what we already have. I want our family foursome to be intentional this year. Rushing past Thanksgiving and full on into the Christmas holiday is not how I want to waste our days. Engaging one another and the thing we have surrounding us, I’m ready to breath the air of contentment. I am so weary being in the mindset of “more.” The word for my family in this season is “Enough.” Before we rush into what we want, we will give thanks for what we’ve already be given. And like most great changes in our lives, the question is “How?” We are looking into some volunteer opportunities around the holidays, especially ones where the kids can come along to help. Having an open dialogue about what others have and don’t have has encouraged great conversations. My children are excited about buying gifts for others and looking forward to possibly visiting a nursing home with cookies and serving coffee and donuts to the homeless in our area. It’s been fun watching their engagement and removing some of the fervor around the toy and clothing catalogs that bombard our mailbox this time of year. My husband and I have been watching our schedules more tightly too. Working full-time as a family and domestic relations lawyer, my work ramps up this time of year, creating less family time at home. Instead of being able to have date nights, sometimes we grab coffee between meetings or I’ll bring breakfast after the kids are at school. We are also being selective about spending our free time: saying no to too many extracurricular events or activities, which can only lead to more stress about time. It’s challenging, but there’s a lot of freedom in it. I’ve even sectioned off our usual Thanksgiving celebrations to two separate weeks: one night of cousins and friends where nothing but a one-pot meal is on the menu, in order to pair down the amount of people in our home, but to amplify the intimacy of spending time together. They are small changes and we’re still learning. This is all good. The decorations, the planning, the parties will all fall where they may and I am trying to not let any of it add stress. The tinsel, or the lack thereof, elaborate food or its simplicity, and the presents (or scaling back on those) are all icing on the cake. We still have more than enough. Yes, there will be presents and tinsel and lights and plenty of things colored red and green, but they will have to wait. We are having a pretty great time knowing and growing around the things we’ve already been given. That’s my prayer for all you too. Before you worry about the height of the presents under the tree, may you reflect on what gifts from last year your kids and family even remember. Whether you want the appearance of a Pin-worthy holiday or whether you are struggling to wrap gifts in the Care Bear paper left over from their birthday parties, as long as you are fully invested in the moment, it is more than enough.  Happy Holidays all!   // Over to you: Have you battled "enough" in the holiday season?  
CONTINUE READING ...
Reader Stories
Reader Stories: The rush and roar of harvest by Christine Hides
October 23, 2015 at 5:00 am 1
During Write31Days, I'm still featuring readers' stories -- because who doesn't love a good story? Today's story about harvesting comes from Christine Hides. Don't forget to submit yours for November (I'm still accepting submissions).  cvhides bio photoChristine Voreis Hides is a mother of two daughters, a part time seminary student, and Director of Faith Formation at a suburban Chicago church. Because she thinks and dreams and feels in words, writing has become her way to try to make sense of this big, mysterious faith. She blogs about faith formation at Bless Each One (www.blesseachone.wordpress.org).   //   I remember the lights of the tractors making their way down the lane, lining up for the scales. While the grain dryer roared, I quickly balanced the weights and recorded the result in the spiral notebook. I carefully followed my grandfather’s system, writing the date, field, weight, moisture and wagon number in one of the eight boxes ruled onto the page. From the scales, I rushed up to the unloading station with a coffee can. As the wagons spilled their contents into the concrete lined pit that fed the grain bin I snatched a bit of corn from the stream. Then another. And another. Ensuring a random sample for testing in the garage was serious business for a young girl. The rush of tractors into the night, the smell of drying grain, the deafening sound of the dryer, and the weight of responsibility are my memories of my family’s grain harvest. The rhythm, scents and cares of farm life were imprinted on my soul when I was young. Farming was not just what we did, but who we were. Generations of my relatives worked the same land. Weighing wagons was my first job which paid twenty-five cents per night. I was ten years old. My parents were in the midst of a divorce. Family farms around the country were failing, quickly. My grandparents’ home, just down the road from my own, was my refuge. I felt important and trusted as wagon after wagon pulled up the lane each night. There is no harvest without the spring planting. The pace and smells of the two tasks are different. Spring is fresh earth, wet and acrid, whiffs of ammonia in the air while farmers wait impatiently for the weather to turn warm and dry enough. In fall, they race without rest to finish before the snow. In the spring of my own life spent on the farm, my grandparents were carefully sowing seeds of love and faith in me. They nurtured me through the emotional storms that appeared on the horizon of my parents’ split. As I got older and moved on to college, what was sown in my heart was trusted to the sunshine and rain of life’s experience. Reader Stories @ Circling the Story After four decades of growing, I am beginning to reap the harvest of my grandparents’ quiet sowing. Love has multiplied in my heart, with wagons-full for my husband and daughters, my family, my friends, my neighbors and the youth and children at my church. My faith has slowly grown and matured, too. In Jesus I have found community, mystery, assurance, vocation and my call. Grandma would be proud to know that I am on the path to ordination. The autumn of my life is beginning and I am gathering in and weighing the harvest of my spirit. In the measuring of my life so far, I am coming to terms with what it means to have grown up on a farm but no longer be a part of the farming. A combination of family dynamics, desires, personal choices and sadly, gender, have led me to other careers in education, motherhood and the church. Though my family still farms, I will likely never be a farmer. Just writing that reminds me of the loss of that way of life, a piece of my identity. Now I live in the suburbs and make yearly trips to the corn maze and pumpkin patch- places that smell of candy apples and pumpkin spice rather than fall earth and roasted grain. Bundles of decorative corn evoke those long-ago memories of the rush and roar of wagons rolling in, my grandparent’s deep faith and unconditional love. I long for the sights and smells of my childhood on the farm. No matter who I am now, the rhythm of the harvest on the fall breeze will awaken old yearnings. //   Thanks friends for being a part of life here, in this little corner of the Internet. I'd love for you to submit your story and catch up on all of my #LettersToWearyWomen. Don't forget you can get my free little ebook on telling your story just for swapping your email address.  Letters to Weary Women
CONTINUE READING ...