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.
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.  
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.      
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
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