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Space + Place

Space + Place
The Ache of All the Lives We Do Not Live
April 27, 2016 at 12:23 pm 9
wing-221526_1920 It's easy for me to get overwhelmed with the state of the world -- the big, wide world out there and my own, small one inside. It's easy for me to feel trapped by all the feels and all that needs doing. I wish I didn't have to collapse into a puddle before telling myself that I can do hard things. One way I combat overwhelm is healthy doses of sunshine, something to hold in my hands, and hearing the laughter of my little children. So after a few hours of cleaning out all the things, we took to our neighborhood paths. I held tightly to hands and to small gifts of flowers and leaves, to remind myself that I am seen and loved. I read some good words on my phone and listened to delighted squeals at the park. On our way home, to distract my children from the extra five minutes we still had until we could fill up hungry bellies with food, I spied an airplane high up in the sky and pointed it out. We traced its path in the sky while we schlepped water bottles and my now-empty coffee cup and made our way home.  Smaller than my fingernail, I saw its path high above my very small route to and from the park, around the neighborhood, to sports practices and grocery stores, and I ached. This could be a piece about the glory of the small, but it is not.   AshleyHales on the Ache of One, Small Life   I know in my marrow that there are adventures to be found in the small -- just look at the pages Annie Dillard spends on the small, in-front-of-your-nose beauty in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Look at the messages of presence in laundry in Kathleen Norris' Quotidian Mysteries. These are words I hold onto -- the promise that there are worlds upon worlds in the blade of grass, in the laughter of my children, in the way that their curls caress their necks. But there is also the ache of the airplane -- of adventures not taken, or not yet taken. And it would behoove us as people of faith to not ignore the ache, to plaster over it with truisms, or pretty images, or saying again how the Kingdom is in our laundry piles. Because those are all true and yet, there is always the ache that things are not as they should be. I'm sitting on the hyphen between the 'already' and 'not yet.' I've said "no" to many things lately -- to editing work, to potential book deals -- and I'm in the itchy space of waiting. There are days where it feels like everyone is on that airplane and you're stuck below, just tracing its path, its shape smaller than your own fingernail. Even when you know there is good and holy work to be done by putting one foot in front of the other in obedience to the contours of the mundane, it is hard work. It is small work that is not praised or pointed out, like the trails of jet smoke are. Perhaps you too, are with me, right in the middle space, waiting. There is only the waiting and the ache of paths not taken, adventures that feel too long ago, and wondering when (or if) you'll be up in the air. But please know: it is a faithful spot to be in -- to not console yourself with truth that you do not yet feel, however true it may be. This waiting is an open space, with palms supple and fingertips drawn out into the light. It is a humble space -- you waiting to see if God will show up, will redeem, and most of all, if he will make himself intimately known. For what are airplanes and journeys if they are empty, if there is no Presence there? They are perhaps more lonely than the small life of one foot in front of the other. God's presence is in fact all I long for -- as much as I want to see the world, find stories in the stones, drink wine at the Cinque Terra, and spend a week with my husband in one of those thatched houses on a piece of turquoise water. It is only the presence of God that will make my small mean something in ripples that flow down generations, when the stone is long forgotten.  Some may think that my insistence on a God is a nice, neat narrative to help me get through the day. But there is no other narrative that sees my sin and shame and calls it like it is, and yet loves me entirely, fully, and gives me robes of welcome and a seat at the table of the King. No other narrative. There is no other story that makes my life make sense -- the small one and the adventuresome one and every one between, where there is only ache and the waiting. So today, I wait for my story to make sense and uncurl my fists from trying to make myself its author. I'll trace airplane paths in the sky and put one foot in front of the other. The sun will shine for another day. That, too, is grace. That, too, is presence.
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linkup, Space + Place
Thoughts on Place and Space (and an Announcement)
August 7, 2015 at 11:48 am 6
This is a little bit of everything for your reading pleasure today! A bit of a Five-Minute Friday post, the announcement of my book giveaway and letting you know that I want YOUR story! This month's theme for Circling the Story's Reader Stories is on "space and place." And it's coincided quite nicely with the Five-Minute Friday prompt of "here." So "here" we go! (See what I just did there?) *** Circling the Story -- Ashley Hales The idea of "here" makes me want to throw up a little. For the past few years, I've been rooted, growing and thriving in the valley under the shadow of majesty. Mountains with fuzzy green carpeting in spring, with necklaces of wildflowers in the summer, with dots of Autumn foliage, and serene, quiet snow blankets in the winter. My "here" is not longer there, it is a new place entirely. But it's supposed to be a coming back, it's supposed to be home. Home with all its safety and belonging and cozy fitted-ness. My "here" is now sea and salt air and the warmer winds of the suburbs. It's big shiny cars and fancy gyms and Starbucks. My here has morphed into a half-life where I find myself simultaneously a part and apart, find myself wanting to grasp the shiny in my hands, to finally get my fingertips on the talked-of California gold. But my here is also exactly the same. It's moderating the noise, it's jumping into the chaos with both hands open. It's breathing through the crazy, it's meal-planning and diaper-changing and fitting in a spare word and thought in-between the space of laundry and clean-up. It's grasping less tightly to my list of "I deserve" and following Jesus into the "here" and clinging to promises that he'll meet me in the daily hard; yes, even in the ordinary. My "here" is looking around and finding others to love; it's realizing that behind the glitz and the granite countertops and hyper-scheduled children, there is loss and pain and hurt. There is never quite enough -- no matter if we are here or there or half-way across the world. So I open my hands -- sometimes they're pried open -- to give, to love, to comfort and call to action. My place is here. My people are mine. I will wrap them in good soul words like blankets that protect and remind them: You are loved. You have a place no matter what.  *** Where is your "here"? What's it like? I'd love to get your stories on "space and place;" I still have 1-2 more spots open for reader stories. More details can be found out here. Lastly, thank you for everyone who left a comment on my review and giveaway post for Amber Haines's Wild in the Hollow. The winner is Robin Zastrow. Congratulations Robin! If you didn't win, be sure to pick up your own copy! Don't forget to snag your free e-book about telling your story when you subscribe.  
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Faith + Vulnerability, Space + Place, We create
When Cracks Show us the Glory of God
May 13, 2015 at 1:16 pm 0
Shivering in this northwesterly wind, I sit on the edge of dirt and pavement: this juxtaposition between organic and man-made. This concrete worn and utilitarian next to the unadorned simplicity – almost vulgarity – of the dirt. We are stuff just as these. Stones pulverized and fashioned into meaning. Organic material who hide behind makeup and jewelry and our bios. But we’re all just dust and ashes. All here to serve a God so much bigger and more incomprehensible than ourselves. A God who hung the stars in galaxies we haven’t yet discovered; a God who created atoms and molecules and things we can’t comprehend. For what? For the joy of it. For delight. (That’s what Henry James taught me – the delight in language, in the glory of the small pieces forming intricate beings called sentences that curl and twist and in which we live and move and have our being). dirt and concrete and the kingdom of God That there is something about glory that fills and moves spaces; that it is self-assured in its perfection because it is perfection that comes from humility, from sacrifice. For a Kingdom that breaks through these cracks in the sidewalk or speaks to me out of the dirt, is a Kingdom that is not about utility. It is a Kingdom that glories and dignifies the small, that notices the simple – that says a hair or a sparrow are currency in this Kingdom. In college there was a singer-songwriter who sang a song based on Isaiah 55, “You who have no money, come buy and eat” and it made no sense to me then. This Kingdom where glory comes in brokenness, where glory breaks in through the stuff of dirt and sidewalks, where glory is a free meal.– where glory fills the ordinary with good things – this, this is where I want to live. It is only here, in this Kingdom of concrete and dirt, where I am fully free. In this moment there is life, life more abundant and full and overflowing than my degrees or accomplishments. And it comes inching towards me as an offering while the thoughts about all those people who I am responsible for, for the pain and heartaches and miscommunications come racing in. But I’ve been given this moment. It, too, is an offering of dirt and concrete. And it, too, is delight.   *** Thank you to Seth Haines's guided writing workshop in Portland, at the Faith and Culture Writer's Conference. This piece came from those precious moments.      
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Space + Place
“It’s Not You, It’s Me”: On Breaking up with My House
April 28, 2015 at 1:15 pm 4
I know it's a bit quiet in here of late. It's because I'm holding all the goodbyes and hellos and the logistics of letting go so firmly and quietly inside, pondering and turning over and meditating on this place. In about 7 weeks we'll be pulling away from this 108-year-old house that is such a part of me. I find myself oscillating between wanting to keep it lovely and preen over its portrait windows, the moulding and wash all those furnace grates I always said I would do but never did, and just let the clutter and dust bunnies accumulate. The idea is that by not cleaning or caring for the house, leaving will be easier; that I'd develop a safe amount of distance to be able to say goodbye and not cry. It feels silly to think about the tears that will flow from leaving an inanimate object. But I've learned recently that my tears are not an embarrassment, they are a gift. Tears are feeling made visible. They are tokens of really seeing another. IMG_1573   It is my house -- and more, it's part of the family.  We spent a month of late nights painting and cleaning and making the home ready when we moved in. We'd put our then toddler and baby to sleep and paint until 2 in the morning. Now those babies are in elementary school. My two youngest babies came home from the hospital to this place. They've grown up with big windows, and a cowskin rug, and hardwood floors their Daddy refinished himself. My Ph.D. books sit lovingly on shelves my husband built himself in the little crevice between wall and stairs, using space so efficiently, beautifully and carefully. Even the dings and cracks are dear, because they speak of so much life that has happened here.  We've seen trees grow taller. We started with a pile of dirt for a backyard and now there is safety in the form of white fences to hem us in, to give us appropriate boundaries so we can live fully and kick soccer balls and climb porch railings. And there is the rose bush in the easement; the one that still blooms to mark the death of a young child two generations ago. IMG_1619 We've had scores of students around our barbecue, seated in cold metal chairs in summer heat. We've shooed children off to the basement to superhero games and Netflix so the adults could enjoy a cocktail party. We've had our house filled with voices. With laughter. With life. When there is real pain in the world -- Baltimore, Nepal, friends with cancer -- leaving a house feels so very trivial. Everyone moves, right? But these cracks and crevices, the natural light flooding in through my windows, that is beauty that is fleeting, beauty that is going to be lost to me shortly. And a loss of beauty is always a painful thing. Bigger hardnesses don't mean that my sadness doesn't count; they all point to the brokenness we wade through in the here-and-now, whether it's losing life or a house. So I'm going to vacuum and fold laundry now, little duties that show this house care -- that say "thank you" for sheltering us, for giving us the walls where we can live and thrive and love others. And, yeah, I'm gonna miss you.   IMG_0463
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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
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Space + Place
Home
December 9, 2014 at 12:33 am 3
Home. Such a full and throbbing word. As I sit in silence with the Christmas tree lights lit, I wonder what my children will take with them of this place. Will they remember the climbing wall in their bedroom and the light saber battles across the kitchen? Will they remember the creaking wood floor and the circles they ran between rooms? The little geographies of their days. Will they remember piling on couches to read together and gathering around the table and sharing their stories? Or will it all be a blur? A pile of feelings about a place, but without the specifics. Will they enwrap themselves in their inevitable hurts and failures, carrying them close to them, or will they lay them at my feet one day as they consider how I've messed up? And will I have the grace to say, "Tell me more"? Will home ultimately be healing?  Home | Circling the Story We have such meandering paths to home -- circuitous routes where we leave, resist, long for, and perhaps return home. I think we all long to enact those hero journeys where we re-emerge at the end, victorious yet chastened and changed. The hero of our own story. But it's a rather simple plot line. The problem with coming home is that through the process of leaving and returning, you can never really return, never get back to a moment of unconditional acceptance, without feeling the lurking presence of anxiety or shame. Those two things that tell us, perhaps more than any other, that we're grown up. We can't return to a state of blessed self-forgetfulness, to unadorned childhood. But we continue to itch for home. We fill up our the loss that invariably comes with knowing with socially sanctioned forms of distance -- with busyness and our phones and food and sex and soccer schedules. Because it doesn't ask anything of us, distance feels safe and home feels like a fairy tale. A good story, even delightful perhaps, but not true. Home | Circling the Story Yet, we keep circling, trying to land, trying to come home. We push and pull between wanting home and being fearful of what it might ask of us. There is though, a deep-seating longing to be a part of internal and external spaces that say, "No matter what, you're okay, I love you." Home perhaps is more than just a space or place, though it is anchored firmly in our tactile experience. A blanket, the smell of baking bread, the touch of a friend, the kiss of a spouse, the hot mug of tea shared weekly. Home, ultimately, is about belonging. It's about vulnerability without shame.  And I think we wonder, in this day and age, if there's any space or anyone that will embrace our shame and give us a hug anyway. So we test out the waters, we travel, we move on from people and places because we long for transformation. And transformation is always just beyond our reach, always "out there." So we think if we just moved, or tried something new, or read more about it, then, then we'd...what? Be safe? Be loved? Be important? Be successful? Be free? But home, it sneaks up on you. A place, you realize, suddenly becomes dear to you, or has been dear to you without you realizing it. And almost in the realization, its preciousness is gone. It's tinged with melancholy as it is thought about and analyzed or quite consciously created. I suppose this is part of what it means to grow up, to age; we reach back to a "golden age" that never existed or we place our hopes on future adventures, never experiencing the moment in front of us. Home is always "out there." Home | Circling the Story We're all longing for home. We're all longing for safety. We're all longing to come home to a place where we are cared for and held dear. And we're longing to not have to hide in order to be embraced, but to lay down our burdens, to own up to our shame and fear. And to take a deep breath and to be welcomed in.
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Space + Place
That’s the book I need to write
December 6, 2014 at 7:00 am 24
You guys! You guys! I'm so excited and I just wanted to share with you all a bit about it. Dear friends of ours were sharing in my mom's group on Friday about calling and place and how to love a place, and suddenly, it all made sense. Talking together about where we live, about a theology of place, about the story of the Bible being about movement from the garden to our eternal home. Things all held in isolation as cool ideas before coalesced for me in a beautiful idea. Do you ever have one of those lightbulb moments? I have a book in me | Circling the Story You see, I wrote my Ph.D. on place. Specifically, it was about immigrants moving from Britain to America around the time of the War for Independence. But what really got me jazzed about the concept in the first place was my own experience living as a foreigner, since my husband and I were Americans living in Scotland. And the book I need to write is about place. It's kind of like my Ph.D. but for normal people. It's about how places sink into our souls, about how we learn to be a part of places, about how we resist and fall in love with locales. 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. It's about all the things that Circling the Story is about -- about how life is both mundane and glorious; and it's about finding yourself again and again in the flesh and blood and meeting together as we come alongside one another, around each other's tables, and ultimately, as we long for belonging in a Home that will satisfy all our longings. I have a book in me | Circling the Story So I'm going to go ahead and let you in on a little secret and I need your help. I want to become an author. Not the academic variety right now (since I'm home with little kiddos at the moment) but I want to write; writing is something that brings life -- not only to me as a write and process, but also as I share what I write. It's life-giving in the best sense of the word. If anything I've said here at Circling the Story has resonated with you, would you consider sharing or inviting friends to like my Facebook page or subscribe to the blog*? To get published these days (the traditional route anyway), I'm going to need to build myself a platform if anyone's going to pick up my book idea. And a platform = people. We need more people to join this community we're building here at Circling the Story. Could you imagine your life online focused on grace and truth and getting fuel to show up even when it's hard? Instead of the relentless amount of noise and pictures and feeling so much like you just don't measure up? So, if you're passionate about seeing God show up in your hard, about being open and vulnerable about who you are and what you're about, and are excited to see a community built on authenticity and struggle and hope, then please stick around. I want this little piece of the Internet to be about real, and to be about hope. And, please, invite others to join in! It's scary to write it down. To verbalize my goals. But there they are. I want to write. I want to do it not just for fun, on the side, not just to earn an income, but because I finally have a voice and there's things that need saying and I think I'm the one to say it. I have a book in me | Circling the Story So join in the conversation. Let's have this not just be an espresso shot to our day -- where we read some words to get a quick jolt and go about our day. Let's make it about change, about being real, and about supporting each other as we struggle towards faith, hope and love. And I hope you'll trust me well enough to join with me here and do it. -- You can follow Circling the Story on Facebook, follow Ashley on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. * To subscribe by email, click the Folder icon above to enter your information. You can also follow my blog with Bloglovin.
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Space + Place
How places sink into your soul
June 23, 2014 at 9:39 am 5
When we were first married twelve years ago we lived in a little apartment in Pasadena. In that place was my whole new world. With a teeny tiny galley kitchen and fresh and new linens and an apartment of hand-me-down furniture. We cooked, spent way too much money, loved our church and dreamed of where life would take us. A year later we moved all our possessions into a spare room at my parents' and flew to Scotland to find our next big adventure. With a bevy of winter clothes so unfamiliar to California natives, we boarded a plane with a few suitcases and moved to Edinburgh. I so clearly remember those first disorienting and jet lagged weeks where we stayed with Bryce's sister and family just north of Edinburgh. Edinburgh is a magical city with spires and jutted hillsides and craggy hills upon which an ancient castle stands and from which you can see the Georgian regularity of the New Town and the charming (once squalor-filled) Old Town. There are views all around. At first annoying, the circuitous pathways that wove around the city became walking liturgies to an expat life. Where Indian food became the new go-to, where learning to not stick out or look like an American became second nature and spending hours reading, writing, researching and discussing big, new ideas as we worked our way through three degrees between the two of us. We took public transportation and walked miles a day; we could jet off to London or Greece or Prague or Italy (and we did). Edinburgh will always be magical and a home, and those daily paths I walked encircling crags and university and libraries and churches have ingrained themselves into who I am, wherever I am. After three years overseas, we moved back to California for work, back to Pasadena in fact. And then a year in San Diego. Those years, though they meant real work and were filled with having babies and all the requisite changes that that makes to a young couple, seem less ingrained on who we are then our Edinburgh years, and our Salt Lake years. We moved to Salt Lake City with a toddler and an infant just 19 months apart for another adventure -- this time for Bryce's work. (He was starting a college ministry at the University of Utah through RUF). We've now lived in Salt Lake for 5 years, the longest we've ever lived anywhere as a married couple; we've had two more babies here. And we've seen people come and go, we've been in one place long enough that it's not always us moving for the next thing. We bought a house full of renovation dreams in the following decades and have put our boys on skis for the first time in Utah. The changing mountain views are incredible. From their snow-capped peaks that arch like dinosaur backs to their bright green spring clothes, they have become an oasis from the heat of summer in the city, a place to laugh at the sheer joy of experiencing fresh powder and a reminder of God's faithfulness to me. For oftentimes as I drive down the interstate I remember the Bible verse, "I lift my eyes up to the mountains. Where does my help come from? It comes from God, maker of heaven and earth" (Psm 121). I'm in love with the amazing foodie restaurants, fun bars, and the architecture of our downtown library. We have an amazing park a block away with a large pond, aviary, cycling paths and playgrounds. The peace in the city, found either at the park or at the botanical garden, brings so much refreshment to the daily ins and outs of exhausting motherhood. We've traded meandering paths for a definite grid but there is much that is magical here in this relatively undiscovered mountain town. It's sunk into our souls -- in our daily rituals up and down the stairs of our home, how the kitchen is its beating heart; in our walking around our neighborhood and driving downtown, and in the wonder of winter and the fresh breath of spring. It's kind of amazing to a girl who didn't move from the house she came home from the hospital until going off to college, how many places have become a part of me, have imprinted themselves onto who I am. My tendency is to mourn the loss of each, and the relationships built in each one, but I'm choosing to see each as gifts for a time and I'm realizing how my life is built from beautiful moments (whether in California, Scotland or Utah). It becomes a choice to appreciate the now instead of longing for "then" or "next."

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