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We create

We create
Writing to Save Your Life
October 10, 2016 at 6:39 am 10
A few Octobers ago, I wrote to save my life. I'd become angsty, entitled, and was flailing to find my place with four kids age 7 and under. I found out about a blogging challenge Write 31 Days (where you, surprise!, write for 31 days) and I decided to try to find beauty in my mundane. I spent my nights writing and finding pictures and reading and commenting on other blogs. I felt like I was a part of something. I felt like all my pent-up creativity finally had an outlet. I felt like I was alive again. Writing was like that for awhile, something like oxygen to gulp down when you've just realized you've been holding your breath. It was full of play and twirls and spins and twists. It was full of little squeals when a "real live author" would comment on something I said on Twitter. It felt like life itself. Then I realized that artists are people, too -- complete with laundry, to-do lists, and the hard work of creating not just their prose but also all the marketing to go along with it. That authors are just people who do their thing -- just like CEOs and attorneys, stay-at-home moms and those in the service industry. We're all just doing our thing. One foot in front of the other. Some tasks are delightful and others a slog, but isn't that a bit how life is? I think I'd expected the writing life to be the answer to all the angst inside, because it was for awhile. I still write to find my way home. I still write to give my words away. I write because storytelling is the best way I know how to chase beauty and practice sustained attention. I write because it helps me to stay curious about my own life and stop pressing all the easy buttons. But writing -- or creating or making enough money or buying that new dress -- will not actually solve the angst inside. It comes out sideways when we push it into new containers that we expect will fill us up. I'm learning to hold those emotions with open hands. To not push away those negative feelings of resentment when my insides itch. After all, they're little warning flags asking me to pay attention, to show up boldly in my own life. They're flags that tell us something is rotten in Denmark. So it behooves us to pay attention. Yes, I'll keep creating because that is just what I do. It's how I'm wired. But I can't ask it to save me. So even though I know that I'd get some terrific content out of Write 31 Days, that I'd get some more blog readers, and be encouraged, I'm in a season of "no" right now. I'm trying to realize I need to match my output with what I'm actually capable of in my real life. That means right now, lots more time outside, driving my kids to soccer, reading with them, and trying to keep my room clean. It means long walks and good food. It means I work towards longer writing projects in early morning hours that no one will see. It means I can breathe. For I'm finding, without margin there is not much room for the Spirit or my spirit to move. Of course, there on the edge, the wide expanse feels scary. It's hard to know what I'm falling into. But I'm convinced that only there -- when I intentionally make room -- will writing make me come alive again not because it scratched an emotional itch, but because it is what I'm created for. It is my glory song back to the one who hovered over the expanse. Who called all of it good.  
  More: My friend Mary Hill interviewed me for her Write 31 Days theme: 31 Days of Christian Women Bloggers. I'd love for you to read more about the writers who inspire me, and how apparently I'm really reticent to have a "favorite" of anything (song, bible verse, etc.) here. Read on for other women writers to inspire you, too.  
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Faith + Vulnerability, Motherhood + Marriage, We create
Have years of making PB+J meant I’ve lost the woman I was?
August 23, 2016 at 6:00 am 1
Have so many years of making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made me number to mystery, to beauty? Ashley Hales: Motherhood and Mystery aahales.com I had a few hours completely alone the other day. I felt torn between working out, sleeping, cleaning and writing. I settled on writing -- the others I can take children along for the ride while doing them. It felt blissful, quiet, with a cup of coffee I didn't need to reheat 20 times in the course of the day. I turned on my favorite Spotify writing playlist and let the notes sink in in ways they hadn't done in awhile. Suddenly I wondered if I was still the woman that could be moved by notes struck on the piano. In college I'd had a CD of Beethoven that accompanied me (along with a Starbucks baroque playlist) on my studying sessions. I'd procrastinate from philosophy and English essays by writing poetry, about musical notes and meaning and depth. All those things that as a mother, I find harder to come by. I wonder if that woman is still in me somewhere. I spoke with my husband the other day about this whole mothering business. That it feels impossible some days to even keep the house in any semblance of order. That my days are spent in the space between children, monitoring homework, breaking up sibling fights and bickering sessions, returning the stolen toy from an offended sibling, and sitting in my daughter's tight embrace while she sits on the potty (apparently, I've turned into her lovey). That it all doesn't play to my strengths. Sometimes I wonder if I exist amidst all the chaos. Or if I'm simply the frayed rope holding it (often hopelessly) together. I tend to explode in a pile of mess (my own and theirs). The emotions become too much, too loud, too rich, too chaotic. I dream about coffee, or the glass of wine, or the quiet home when they're all old enough to be in school at the same time and my days aren't spent in an endless loop of drop-off to pick-up, circling in my minivan. I'm the frayed rope and they all have a hand on me. But in those rare moments of quiet, can I get to that part of me whose soul soars with music, with a well-turned phrase, with the quickness of the Spirit of God? Or has she become numb to mystery after too many years of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, diaper changes, and children's extracurricular activities? Some say those things can usher us into the presence of God. I hope beyond all hope that they're right -- that doing the dishes will help me become more contemplative, that cooking and cleaning will increase my gratitude, that wiping bums will help me to take myself less seriously and learn empathy. I hope. I pray. But I doubt, too. Because I'm just a bit tired of taking on the emotions of my familial world and running alongside them like a parent running next to her child on a two-wheeler for the first time. There's elation, fear, and relief as we carry the sorrows, cares, and anger of those we care about. It numbs sensitive souls, but perhaps it's more useful. Less self-referential. How do I crack open those deep, seeing parts of my being when I'm swirling in chaos? How do I soften myself from the hustle so I can hear those notes again? Beauty is a painful muse and I wonder if I want her enough to have all my self cracked open to her touch. Or, if it's just convenient and comfortable to use my circumstantial chaos to push her away. Maybe I -- maybe you -- are scared to really feel and know what goodness and truth looks like. Maybe. When we crack ourselves open, who knows what can happen? Who knows what can get in.  
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Announcements, We create
What I’m Packing & What I’m Leaving Behind
April 12, 2016 at 5:40 am 4
coffee-1225485_1280 I leave in about 24 hours to attend the Festival of Faith & Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Novelist Zadie Smith, George Saunders, Tobias Wolff and poet Luci Shaw are going to be there. These are writers that are not new to the scene. They have lived and breathed a writerly life for decades and I cannot wait to glean from their perspective wisdom. I'm meeting up with my friends from The Mudroom, and SheLoves Magazine. I'll get to hang with the lovely folks at Her.meneutics and my writerly sisters from The Redbud Writers Guild. I'll see online friends I have never met in person and hope to catch two of my college professors there. But this year, I'm going as a writer.  I'm not going to this event as an undergraduate, just to learn and get class credit and write an essay. I'm not going as a critic and editor (though that's another career path I absolutely love). I'm going as a writer with a book proposal that says I have words and readers need them. It takes tremendous courage to own up to who God is calling you to be when you're waiting in free fall. I don't know if agents and editors will want to continue conversations and yet, I trust in a God who is faithful and true. He does not lead us into the wilderness to starve us and shake his finger at us. He does not shame us and punish us. Similar to the same way that I get a kick out of my kids' art, God gets a kick out of mine, I think. I don't criticize my child's drawing as not to scale, I delight in my four-year-old son's mind and the way he describes the shape of a heart ("a circle with a down, and two paths"). I just love it. So I'm trusting that when I step on the plane that I'm bringing the smile of a good, good Father. And how does that compare to a publishing deal? But here are some of the things going in my suitcase: a big purse, business cards, and a whole lot of leopard. What I'm Bringing Ashley Hales I'm also going to pack a ton of snacks, a water bottle and a portable phone charger. I'm paying attention to the small things that bring me delight like gold file folders and leopard print, black and white. It makes me feel myself. It makes me feel strong and when a wave of anxiety washes over me, I need something tactile that grounds me -- that reminds me who I am. I'm leaving behind the posturing, the one-upmanship and the insecurity that can plague the creative lot. I've learned how much insecurity can masquerade as bravado and I've seen how insecurity can leave us stuck in corners when we should speak out. So, I'm wearing my leopard print and my red lipstick. I'll introduce myself and have conversations with writers, agents and editors -- some of which might flop terribly. But I'm also trusting that the outcome does not define my identity. No matter what I have readers like you who say my words matter. That they met you right when, where and how you needed them. I have friends and a tribe of people who tell me that all our stories matter. I'm just telling my story (granted, at a huge conference with influential people), but that's all I'm doing. And I have a Father who smiles at my storytelling. Show up, do the work, be present. That's what I'm bringing to the Festival. // Sign up for my newsletter below and get a sneak peek of the book I'm writing. I'm sending it out before I go, so sign up: * indicates required
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At other places, We create
How alive do you want to be? On the Creative Life
April 5, 2016 at 6:00 am 2
THE BEST VIEW   They say that when you live abroad that it goes in cycles: the first year is the honeymoon year. You swoon at the language, the accent, the magic of it all. It’s like Liz Gilbert in Italy: it is bathed in golden light and you just want to eat the whole thing (and gain 20 pounds in the process). The second year, you turn into a cynic, where “home” has become multifarious and all of sudden, those endearing qualities of your honeymoon turn out to be what gets under your skin. The third year (and perhaps beyond), you’re rooted in both “home” and “away.” There is no “grass is greener.” There is just grass. No better or worse; it’s all of a piece. “Home” is perhaps wherever you are not, or wherever you are, or all places at once, or none. You give up making sense of it all, mentally translating or making pro and con lists. You just get on with the living. So it is with writing. The love affair, the affinity for words and how they taste drips sweet; words make your tongue thick with the wanting, the way colors and phrases swirl together and go down like a rich cabernet. Then there is the green-eyed envy, where you figure that everyone else has said it already, and besides, better than you, and the muse has left. Thankfully there's a final stage. It's when you settle into the the work itself. To state the obvious: writers must write. The words beckon— sometimes electric like a new lover, at other times we slouch toward them sullenly like a jilted boyfriend or perhaps, we're just a bit chummy, like a lover-turned-roommate, sitting comfortably next to you on an overstuffed couch with your matching cups of Earl Grey. The words are always there, waiting.   // I'm writing at The Mudroom all about how the butt-in-chair writing life actually is the saving part. Not the book deal, or the free swag, or everyone thinking your the best (or worst) writer ever. No. You know what matters? It's the writing itself -- because the writing (or whatever kind of creating you do) makes you come alive. That is worth failing for. That is worth dancing and getting all the steps mixed up. For the simple joy of being alive. I hope you'll join me over at The Mudroom and read the whole thing. Please share, too, if you found it encouraging.   
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We create
What Do You Need More Than Routine & Efficiency? It’s This.
March 14, 2016 at 3:52 pm 4
Why I write: Ashley Hales at Circling the Story I could fill this "why I write" manifesto with a lot of pretty phrases. I'm really good at pretty phrases, actually. That's the easy part. The hard part is the scratching under the surface, where your soul feels like its clawing to get out, and finding the words for all the thoughts and feelings. The hard part is crafting a story that is often caught right in the messy middle. You're maybe a lot like me. You begin to get lost in the morning routine, work, working out, and all the family obligations. You thought you were supposed to be a world changer, but now you drive a minivan. Life begins to feel dull and routine and you feel like you're drowning for want of beauty. For me, there are moments when chopping onions can bring me out of myself (maybe, it's just the tears!), but unless I intentionally make time to chase after beauty, it doesn't happen. All the cares of the world choke out those still moments where the world seems blissfully connected. This blog is my little offering that says: You matter. Beauty matters. Your small story can change the world. Don't you want to be motivated by a wild beauty that could actually change how you work, how you mother, how you eat? Here, I chase beauty in sentences. And I believe that stories can change the world. It sounds perhaps a touch idealistic, but wouldn't we die if we did not have stories to anchor us? We'd drown in the mundane. Without beauty, we'd lose our capacity for connection. And without connection, what are we left with? We're left with empty, hollow eyes of dead efficiency. I write about all sorts of things -- from my ordinary life mothering 4 children, to the writing life, to reviews on cultural objects and books, to devotionals. This blog is perhaps more like a potluck feast than a carefully curated five star meal. And I'm okay with that. There will be time for fine dining, with the time and mental clarity for linen napkins and fine wines, but now? Now, I need beauty and story to enliven my every day. I bet you do, too.  This little place is not simply my story, my chasing after beauty. I bet you crave a bit of distance -- the ability to step back and see a bigger picture than all the details affronting your senses each morning. Maybe you're looking for hope in your glorious mundane. That's where story therapy comes in.  Story therapy is my free gift to you. It's a "me, too" for all creatives out there -- whether you write, paint, bust a move at family dance parties, or love dreaming on Pinterest. We're all creative beings. We all need beauty to keep us going. And we all need to see how we fit -- what our story is all about. That's what I want to offer you with outstretched hands. Consider me your story therapist. We'll talk, ask questions, and work together on chasing beauty. What are you waiting for? See what others are saying and sign up here to get started.   IMG_0358  

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// I'm participating in Jeff Goins' 7-Day Blog Like a Pro Challenge. When I start to feel stuck, I find that sometimes starting new projects helps jog my creativity. So along with launching a church this Sunday, mothering 4 littles and working on a book, I'm devoting a few minutes to this challenge. Join in!
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Announcements, We create
Do you need to take your story to therapy? Free help is here.
January 27, 2016 at 6:00 am 2
My face flushed hot red in third grade when a boy noticed I was crying during the video of Black Beauty. In third grade you weren't supposed to be crying during school. After all, it was just a story. So I dried my red eyes and told a bold-faced lie, that I had something in them that made them water. I couldn't be seen crying over a horse in an old story. More than two decades later, I'm learning that tears are not weakness. I'm owning my tears now and realizing that they are nothing to be ashamed of. They are gifts to share with another. I have another gift I want to give you. Another gift of vulnerability. I talk a lot about free words here at Circling the Story. As I'm pushing into my calling as a writer, I'm realizing that it's mostly other writers who subscribe and want to be a part of storytelling alongside me. It's why I write about creativity and vulnerability and being brave. It's why I write about failure and know that you know what I mean. So here's where my gift starts: Do you remember bringing a flashlight into bed and sneaking out a novel and reading way too late because you just couldn't bear to put your book down? I still do that. Oh, how I long for a story to "swallow me whole" as Amber Haines writes in Wild in the Hollow. It's the sort of thing that makes my heart start beating fast, that makes time stop, and gives me courage to tackle the mess made by 6 people in a small space every day. Stories have not only driven my tears, they've given me meaning. I want to help you tell your story. And I want to help you tell your story better. So here's what I'm offering to my cohort of storytellers, totally for FREE: when you join our secret storytelling gang (because c'mon, we all want to be a part of a secret gang), you'll get my guide to telling your story AND I'm giving away 20 minutes of storytelling therapy. Free Storytelling therapy from Ashley Hales @ Circling the Story You send me your work and I'll give you 20 minutes of my expertise. I read for sustenance and pleasure. I have a Ph.D. in literature -- which means, essentially, that I like books a whole lot and several people in Scotland determined that I could write cogently about published words and theory. I've worked as a freelance editor for companies and literary magazines and you guys, more than all that, words are just totally my thing. If you want words to be your thing too, I want to hold your hand and point out the trail together. I'm busy. You're busy. I have four kids and dance parties in the living room and sports and homework to help with. Not to mention I'm a wife to a church planter. But I can squeak out 20 minutes for you. And you can know that your courage to write and tell your story will be heard. So go on over and subscribe and, after you've read my guide, send me an email with a writing sample no more than 1,500 words. Let me know what you want help on: Are you stuck? Do you need help organizing your story or your writing piece? Do you need help with voice? Do you want help connecting the dots between internal and external knowledge? Help with character development? Something else? Do you just want to know if it's good? I'll send you back an email with ideas, encouragement and suggestions for how to make that "shitty first draft" (thanks Anne Lamott for that one) into something that reflects more of you.

This isn't just a free editing gig. This is how you start to own your story. 

// Hey, I know it's scary to put your words out there and to fight the gremlins in your head (thanks Micah J. Murray for that one!). But it's only as we begin to tell our stories that we can own them. We can then walk confidently into who we are meant to be. We can find that through words -- and, you don't even need to call yourself a writer to start telling your story. We all have a story to tell and I'm here to listen to yours. So, sign up and let's share our stories together! 

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*If you've already subscribed, send me the email right away! In all emails, please title your email: Story Therapy. Let's tell our stories together!
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Scary Brave, We create
How Rejection Was Actually the Beginning of the Real Thing
January 26, 2016 at 5:00 am 10
"...stand on your place of pain, your Ground Zero, and create something beautiful" -- Makoto Fujimura 
Everyone from Liz Gilbert, Brene Brown and now, visual artist Mako Fujimura are championing vulnerability as the path to bravery. Citing weakness as the way of transformation. It is the narrative of the cross -- that the way up is down. That from our weakness Christ is made strong. Frankly, I do not want this to be so. Perhaps I am a glory vacuum, where I suck it all the dust bunnies towards me and hope that in my cells and marrow, that dust and ashes will turn into art. That they'll turn into beauty as the pieces of life filter through my veins and comes exploding out in perfectly formed sentences and thoughts. Then, I reason, then, I'll have arrived. Recently, my writing was rejected. There's nothing like failure to show you how your ideals don't meet with reality. You see, I think that I thought awhile ago that writing bravely -- writing words that were a bit scary to publish -- would also result in more "yeses" than "no's." I thought that bravery (a la Brene Brown) would be my ticket to glory. I thought that I could use vulnerability as a ticket to somewhere other than being out on that limb, waiting to see if my word offerings were taken as gifts or not. It turns out brave is never easy or comfortable. And, it turns out, bravery is entirely about glory.  It's just nothing like I thought. You see, it's never been my own glory project. Truth be told, that stings. I want to hoodwink Jesus' crown of glory and take it for my own, all surreptitious-like, and cover it in nice pretty Christian bows that sometimes feel more comfortable than "vulnerable," "raw," and "rejected." It comes out in all sorts of ways. I fail to delight in the people right in front of me and ravenously eye others' successes. I lose the dance of language. I lose the ability to see and be grateful for little blessings -- sunshine, breeze, a good night's sleep. These, friends, are luxuries that I begin to feel are rights. Instead, I get an empty pit in my stomach when I hear "Unfortunately, after careful consideration...". Because as my stomach sinks, as my anger and envy increase, when I get comfy with cliche, then I am becoming a shell of who I was made to be. So right now, I'm practicing the fine art of taking every thought captive. That means this for me: I will not eat away my sadness. I will not resolve away my frustration. I will not lash out at my family because I am bummed. I will not make myself look better than x,y,z successful people so I feel good about myself. No, none of that is brave. public-domain-images-free-high-resolution-quality-photos-unsplash-0218   Friends, bravery is standing in your pain and owning it. I confess my pain is so very minor. I am healthy, I am not fleeing persecution, I have a roof over my head. I am free and safe and loved. But we all have pain; we all are overwhelmed with panic, fear, pain and depression. We're overwhelmed by the state of the world and the state of our hearts. We're overwhelmed with the future and fixated on the past. Frankly, I'm tired of living so much in my own head where it feels as though the planets revolve around me. Bravery is admitting failure. It means I confess my sins to my children -- often feebly, weakly and without enough empathy. Sometimes my offerings are very paltry. But I pray that they grow into abundant grace as they are somehow mysteriously multiplied by a Spirit that lives outside and inside of me. Because when I admit my weakness, when I own up to my own pain and the pain I've caused others, then there opens a wide space for healing by hands that are not mine. But bravery always has cause for hope. It is the hope that when things are dead and dying that there is always and forever hope of resurrection. You see, when I get focused on my own glory project, I try to squeeze out new life like the end of toothpaste tube. You know what this is? A yucky mess. Glory only comes from dying first. And it comes unexpectedly, like a joke, like a hero soaring out of the sky, like a royal proclamation and like the dawn of each new day. Glory always comes when you least expect it. So the task my friends is this: to take your pain and make beauty, like Mako Fujimura said. This is the tending of the soil of our age. This is the dutiful work of showing up, digging our hands in the dirt, and planting bulbs. And then we wait while all we have to show for the hard work is dirty fingernails. When the world around us is blanketed in snow, when all is dead and dying, there is the promise of spring curled up in winter branches (as my writer friend, Christie Purifoy writes in Roots & Sky). So our good work is to tend the garden and wait. That means that I eek out words. They are my offering and my garden of delight. Sometimes they fumble and other times they sing. But they are true and they are good work. So I plant words and I wait. I give them away for free. I have no idea if some words will produce a large harvest and others will fall on rocky soil. But that is not my problem: to follow and micro-manage my words, to baby their reception like tender shoots that perhaps need to die to give life to the ones next to it. No -- my job is to throw them out there, liberally, like a sower. Ashley Hales - Circling the Story -- The gift of rejection When I get caught up in the Sower's song, I get caught up in the song that has been passed down through ages. A song that has been born in baby's coos and is echoed in galaxies we cannot yet know. It's a song that bursts from the color yellow, that trembles in the spring sunshine, and hovers between the wings of birds. It's a song that I cry and ache in deep groaning when my body bore my children, with all the messy glory of becoming. It's a song that all peoples, places and languages, all political affiliations and classes must bow their heads to. It is the song of the trees, of the dirt, of the mama washing dishes and rocking babies. It is the song of redemption and it is much grander, kinder and gentler than my own song that I squeak out of my own two lips. When I am caught up in the beauty of the only one who rightfully deserves glory -- where glory is a rough-hewn garment instead of a haughty crown -- then, and only then, can I see that my own glory project was just infantile posturing. Immature grabs at power, prestige, making a name for myself. And there is no healing there, just empty aching. Shall we try on this new bravery together friends, though it feels a bit odd and awkward? For bravery is simply this: Stand in your pain. It is your gift. Scatter it liberally. It will not return void.  // I'd be honored if you considered subscribing to blog posts or my newsletter. I'd also love to host your story, too.
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We create
The Healing of That Old Ache
January 4, 2016 at 5:00 am 4
“Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.” ― C.S. LewisThe Weight of Glory
The Healing of That Old Ache -- Ashley Hales  
The New Year often feels fresh and clean and full of promise. A year ago I was madly finishing up my little guide to telling your story (my free gift for subscribers) and the writing world felt full of hope as I launched Circling the Story. It felt like a gift waiting to be opened, with the eager anticipation children have when their secrets come bursting out in a joy that's all elbows and dancing; it's uncontainable. Today I sit and listen to the Sufjan Stevens' Carrie & Lowell album and am okay with the just sitting, letting the melancholy and melody roll over me. 2015 has been a year of transition and 2016 is likely to be more of the same. I'm a bit rootless and a bit achy. I'm learning with shaking and feeble hands to accept these as gifts, to watch as this weight of glory slips nimbly through my fingers. I'm waiting to see the unfurling of all longing -- to see how the story makes sense. Glory always comes through knowing. Glory comes through the very stuff of earth, through flesh and bone. Oh, how I desperately want it to be abstract. How I want glory to hover above heads, shelved away neatly and tidily, so I can put it securely on my bookshelf. I'll classify and annotate it and sound smart in the process. But glory, as we've just celebrated at Christmastime, comes through broken flesh, through an outpouring of blood and sweat and tears. Glory, it turns out, never arrives how we think it will. In the first garden, there was the communion of cool evenings and I think God must've sat with Adam and Eve on their front porch with a drink in hand, watching life walk by. How they must've commented on gecko colors, the rippling movement of the mountains, and the perfect pliability of an avocado. How laughter must've spilled over into song and love and delight. Delight birthed from presence. It must've been untinged by yesterday or clouded by tomorrow, delight without shame or fear. Delight without brokenness. hiking Glory sometimes feels like joy, in tiny snatches of front-porch delight, where light seeps out of pores and there is beauty in each leaf and ray of sunlight -- and even, in the shadows. In those times, my flesh is golden with hope. It is unselfconscious. Sometimes then the glory spills over, wide and deep. Just the other day we turned up the music too loud -- all six of us -- and I danced like no one cared, because they didn't care, or rather they cared appropriately. I grew breathless from it all. We shimmied and laughed and bounced off couches. In the shadow of the waning Christmas lights and a tree gone limp from so many days of festivities, we stomped and flew. My two-year-old daughter does not know the voice of self-reproaching shame; she just knows the glory of movement, of twirling and spinning and jumping with "I yump, mama, I yump!" My husband and I sing earnest love songs, the songs that were the soundtrack to our teenage electricity and now feel a bit tired and worn in their naivete. We chuckle at their lack of nuance, but there is something in their simplicity, too -- something that makes me wish love were as simple as it started. As I stomp and run and circle my hips, I am the young lover. And I am the tired, old woman. But his eyes on me -- there -- there, is the gentle coal glow of love. It just needs a bit of fanning to burst into wild, phoenix flame. We're all waiting for resurrection, for the surprising delight of glory bursting forth where it just shouldn't be. Where it can't possibly be true. We're waiting to erupt in laughter for the goodness and inappropriateness of it all. But the ache follows like a ghost. mamabeach harrietxmas writer   At other times, the times I try to lift and carry glory, to stuff it into my small frame, there is only its weight. I'm buried beneath it, hopeless to push away rocks from the tomb. When I am worn out from the To Do lists and platform-building and amassing words for self-worth instead of giving them away as gifts, I am spent. Then there is nothing left to do but sit in the dark and wait. That, as much as the dancing, is also an offering -- waiting with empty hands, cupped ready for the body and the blood, small flecks of earth to fill a void that gapes wider than the elements. How can things like bread and wine plaster over soul famine? When we live where violence and oppression are flung like arrows and gunshots and knock at my own heart, what then? What to do when I am entangled in the death of dreams? Those days my breath is caught in my throat. I am quiet, crouching -- waiting for hope that is burrowed deep and dormant. Because most days the noise and chaos gets the best of my resolve and I'm left in a puddle of "should haves" and shame. Glory feels like a far-off dream, the stuff of fairy tales, with a threshold too impenetrable to cross over. With the weight of glory too heavy for our shoulders, we walk around with gaping wounds and bleeding dreams, and we figure the time in the tomb feels too long, too dark. When glory feels like another pretty story, our eyes grow dim with cynicism and anger, and we push off responsibility and point fingers. Our limbs age, they grow cold and hard. Meanwhile we walk thirsty and homesick, finding no place to lay our heads.  We find names for "that old ache," that longing for glory, that longing for home. We call it "childhood" and speak of growing up as the loss of innocence. We talk of abuse and shame and cultural narratives that bind our hands behind our backs and dim our eyes. We talk of circumstances and responsibilities piled like rocks in our pockets so we just can't run anymore. We tame the ache by naming it new again. Then we package the ache up into containable intellectualized packages that befit our modern sensibilities. We buy and re-buy the ache in the chocolate and wine and the gym resolutions. We buy the ache in granite countertops and vacations and do-gooderism -- all to push off its invariable return. When that fails, we try a different tactic to push off the ache; we pin our hopes to the future: "When I achieve this..., get the bonus check..., marry the right person..., when my children are grown..." But the ellipses never end and the blank spaces are never filled. The ever-receding horizon stretches on and we become black holes, convinced that we can be filled by the promise of gold and glory. So we consume and suck things that we term "life" right into our marrow. But there is nothing there. We're empty white-washed tombs longing for a cold drink of living water. All the while we wonder if water would really slake our thirst. Healing of that Old Ache Ashley Hales   But, when we heave off that glory stone, and our insides are burst apart from a glory that cannot fit in our frames, then -- then, there are finally cracks for the water to seep in. What happens after the explosion is the healing of that old ache. Of course, the wounds stay open on this side of the door. But even now, on the outside of the door to that great feast, we taste little morsels of the Kingdom. We taste and see that the Lord is good. We laugh. We dance. We feast. And it is only through death that we are born again to new life. It is only in the falling apart that there is room for crumbs of glory that we gather from under the table. Only then can we erupt in laughter. As we wait in the tomb and as we dance, may glory rise from the ashes and may it be a sweet offering. May we take our ache to the well of living water that never runs dry. May our thirst be satisfied. I'll sit with you with your ache, because it feels different from mine. I'll strain my eyes to see the home that is a long way off, with a father waiting on the porch who scans the horizon for his boy to come home. I pray we may hear our names called from the other side of the door. And on that day there will be laughter.
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We create
Is blogging really dead? An open letter to the storytellers
June 14, 2015 at 2:47 pm 33
Dear writer, I've just read an interesting article that is the latest in a series that decries the death of blogging. It cites all those studies we've read about how the Internet makes us stupid and that we can't handle being on Twitter, or Instagram or Facebook without losing our minds, becoming depressed and envious. The Her.menuetics article mentions those haters in comment sections and so, as we've all heard, writers are turning off comments. And then there's debate on micro-blogging or long-form. What's going to win out? Frankly I don't care. What I care about is this: If you're a writer, you need to find an avenue to give your words away for free. Academics, don't stay hidden behind your subscription-only journals where your knowledge hides behind a slew of language that is inaccessible if you are not a part of the same field. Writers, don't hole away in your coffee shop or ivory tower producing book after book, that only other writers or people in your same social/political/economic/religious group will read. Poets, don't simply publish your chapbook, write your words on coffee cups and leave it for someone to find. We desperately need good words. We need accessible and FREE words. Give your words away. They are a gift We need words that speak to something universal to our human condition. We need words that will lift us out of the mundane and make the everyday extraordinary in its beauty. We need words that will give us a rhythm and cadence for our tasks, our thoughts, our vocations, and our dreams. Yes, there will be haters, and trolls, and immature, mean people who use their Internet usage for a mask of insecurity. But does this mean we pack our bags and head out of town because we can afford the gated community? Does this mean we choose safety and self-preservation over the duo of self-sacrifice and freedom? Of course, this also means we have limits and boundaries to hedge us in and behind. Yes, this also means that we don't overshare or exploit ours or others' vulnerability for the sake of our story. But writers, we cannot pack our bags and hide our words. We must give them away.  We need good, soul words as an offering. Writers, we need your words. We all need to hear another person's story, so we can say, "Yes, me too!" For as we tell our stories, as we write our words, we become a part of a vast network of words that unite us to the past and bring us into the future. And we need these words to be accessible -- not simply in books or or behind subscription-only password-protected journals. (I'm not knocking these places, but we do need to still have FREE words.) We need words to recapture and reframe beauty. We need words to inspire. We need words to show us the way home. So writers, please keep writing. Every story matters. whether it's told orally, put into a book or published online. But please, find avenues to always give away your words. We cannot put our words behind bars and make them into commodities that are only able to be bought and sold by a select few. No matter our access, words need to be available. For without air and freedom, our words suffocate and start to get all moldy. So join me. I don't think blogging is dead. It may be changing. But that's not the point. The point is that you must continue to give your words away; they're a gift after all. Let's release our word offerings and not make them yet another product that is dependent on class, privilege or social status. Your storyteller in arms, Ashley P.S. I'd love to know how you have or want to give away your words. Leave a comment and let me know. *** Give away your words for free with me this summer. You can subscribe here for details coming soon! (Also, I'll have a series going up soon about Good News for Good Girls to go along with my open letter to pastors' wives about marriage. Stay tuned.)  
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We create
Don’t we all need a bit of beauty?
June 5, 2015 at 9:54 pm 0
In case you needed a little reminder, because I do:   We all need beauty @ Circling the Story With the weight of the world weighing heavily on our hearts -- with scandal, and abuse, with injustice and pain and poverty, not just the world over, but right here, right here -- don't we all just need a bit of beauty? So tonight it's late, but I'm running a bubble bath and I'm wrapping myself in familiar words. In sentences that I've read so many times, they run through my bones, like an old friend. To get lost in words that paint sadness and loss as elegant offerings, that show me the holiness of the mundane, that point to new mercies in the morning. We move in 2 weeks. I'm a ball of confusion and anxious wonderings. What should I be thinking and feeling on the precipice of "the next thing"? What do I do, how do I love my people, how do I help my littles work through transition? How do I hold the weight of all of this? (And here I become a split personality:) Honey, that's not your job. Your job is not to carry the weight and solve the world's problems and weigh in on every little thing that explodes all over the internet. No, tonight it is enough (more than enough) to revel in a bit of beauty. Because beauty can save the world. (Thank you, Dostoyevsky.) So take a walk, drink a cup of tea, talk to a friend, bake some bread. Move your body into rhythms that remind you that you are a whole you (not just a mind). Soak up beauty and storehouse it for the famine years and cup it in your hands so others can come, wide-eyed in wonder, and stare at it together. And toss it into the sky, watch it scatter like lightning bugs, and run and dance with its melody, because we all need something good to propel us forward. We all need the hope of beauty.
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