book review

Books + Stories
How Lasagna Shows Us What our Marriages are Made of
May 11, 2018 at 7:52 am 0
No matter how many years you've been married, marriage is a beautiful challenge. The process of two-become-one sometimes look like pure delight. Other times it feels grueling as our rough edges are rubbed off. Sometimes everything comes out over lasagna.  I wanted to share with you a lovely book by Dorothy Greco, Making Marriage Beautiful. She offers so much hope for marriages. Making Marriage Beautiful is incredibly vulnerable, surprisingly funny, and outrageously hopeful. It's grounded in Scripture and includes interviews with eight diverse couples.     

Making Marriage Beautiful would be a fabulous gift to tuck into your gifts for weddings. It'd be a lovely and thoughtful anniversary present, or a great resource to go through with your church small group. Here's a bit from the book, so you know how you must go and snag a copy!


Surprise! We're giving away a copy if you're in the US. Here's what you need to do:

*Use whatever social media platform you like *Tag me at @aahales and be sure to tag 3 friends (I'm sure @dorothygreco would love a shout out too!) *Use the hashtag #aahalesreads

Not Your Mother’s Lasagna

Thanksgiving was my first holiday as a married woman. With the flip of a coin, my husband and I decided to spend the weekend with his extended family in upstate New York. On paper, our families of origin are more similar than not. Our fathers went off to the Korean War, our mothers mostly stayed at home, and we each have two siblings. But if you looked closely, you would notice significant differences, especially if you happened to stop in during dinnertime. Meals in our WASP home were civilized affairs. We sat at the kitchen table except for major holidays and birthdays. We never raised our voices or interrupted one another and always valued the quality of food over quantity. In Christopher’s Catholic, Italian-American home, life centered around one of five strategically placed tables. The question wasn’t if you would sit at the table; it was which one. The table held epic symbolism in the Greco household. As soon as we each claimed a spot at the dining room table, I began to realize just how different our families were. There was twice as much food as we needed, including lime Jell-O and canned green beans submerged in a thick, gray sauce. After the turkey—and two huge trays of lasagna—were ceremoniously placed front and center, the curtain went up and the opera began. Unlike at my home, there was no turn taking or insightful follow-up questions. One person simply started talking—to no one in particular—and then another layered their thoughts on top but not before turning up the volume. Then a third and fourth jumped in, making it impossible to really listen to anyone—something I eventually learned was not a priority. I’ve never been a fan of opera and even less so when I’m thrust into it without an opportunity to rehearse my lines. This experience helped me better understand Christopher, but I was not able to extrapolate his genetically-coded mealtime expectations until we had a substantial fight not long after. At our inaugural dinner party, we invited three couples over. Unlike Christopher’s family of origin, we only had one table that was woefully inadequate for six adults. We made do. The conversation was lively and the food excellent. Everyone seemed to enjoy the evening—except Christopher, who made several less-than-affirming comments about my culinary efforts. This same scenario played out multiple times before I pointedly inquired, “Why are you so critical of how I prepare meals for guests?” He shot back, “Because you don’t cook enough food and you never put out extra sauce when you make pasta!” The fight that followed opened our eyes to a shocking reality: our family cultures had so deeply influenced our preferences, biases, and beliefs that we each reflexively judged anything different as wrong. By normalizing our family’s customs and concluding that our version of reality was morally superior, we had become ethnocentric: in other words, assuming the inherent superiority of our culture and ethnicity. I was guilty of ethnocentrism when I harshly evaluated his family’s Thanksgiving traditions. He was guilty of ethnocentrism when he judged me as incompetent simply because I didn’t put extra marinara sauce on the table. If we lack awareness regarding our ethnocentrism, we can become oppositional and needlessly criticize and judge one another. As my husband and I have repented of our moralizing and committed to honoring each other’s traditions, we’re less dogmatic and more grateful. Now, when I need to talk through something, Christopher no longer expects me to replicate his family’s operatic style of communication. And when we have dinner guests, I try to serve more food than I know we need because I want to validate rather than dismiss his traditions. On a good day, I even remember to put extra sauce on the table. This (pseudo) excerpt is from chapter two of  Making Marriage Beautiful. Excerpt provided courtesy of Dorothy Greco and David C. Cook. 
What Falls From the Sky
January 19, 2017 at 10:07 am 2
Friends, in this new year, I'm hoping to add more micro-reviews to my blog. Short and sweet. Reviews that will give you the feel of the book. Nothing fussy. Just enough to see if it's a good fit for you. Here's my first one on Esther Emery's What Falls from the Sky. Several of you know Esther as the woman who lives in a yurt, part of the duo of the YouTube channel, Fouch-o-matic Off Grid, and a beautiful writer. What Falls from the Sky is her debut book, a memoir about finding God in the quiet.
It's pitch dark so that the light coming from my computer is harsh. I am caught in a flood of rain, with it hitting every window. It's the sort of rain we don't see much in California, the sort of rain that makes you feel small and where the sky might fall. In it, creation comes closer. I am suddenly aware of how I use the ground beneath my feet unthinkingly. It becomes something else to consume. I need to feel the sky around me, even in the middle of my couch, in the middle of the suburbs. I loved Esther Emery's memoir, What Falls from the Sky, for just that reason: it reorients you. You'll find yourself savoring sentences, slowing done, re-learning quiet. It puts you not only back in touch with creation, but with God himself. When we turn off the noise, what will we hear? It's the story of the year without the Internet. It's the story of going so fast in your own life that you're headed down a highway and all you crave is speed. It's a story of coming to terms with the ghosts of our pasts, finding hope after infidelity, and learning how to leave space open for silence, and yes, even for God. The book is organized by season and all that falls from the sky: snow, rain, sun, and fog. It's a book that follows the seasons of the year and seasons of the heart. It follows Esther's quiet, slow journey away from noise and performing for others and moves her into the arms of God. Here's a sample of her achingly lovely prose:
On the Internet: "And I know that, yes, in truth, it is isolation that I have come looking for no matter how many times I've said the opposite. In all the tales of heroes, growth begins with a pilgrimage...this is my pilgrimage: out form under the shelter of my screens, to see the sky. On motherhood: "I cried because I couldn't do it. But I also cried because my ego was disappearing. I was losing self in little bits, like fingers, and I knew even then the change was irreversible...You can call that magic if you want, but it is a real and painful magic, neither sudden nor inexplicable." On giving up performance in favor of presence: "Never in my life have I felt such total anonymity as I do right now. Never in my life have I stood so far from the portal that frames the stage. I used to think that it would be like dying. But it isn't like dying. It's much more like having a quiet place to rest."
Do you need a quiet place to rest? You might not make the choice, like Esther and her family, to move back to the land. But you can put down your phone. We can learn to think about our choices of consumption -- whether that's of the Internet, people, new stuff, or ethically sourced products -- no matter where we live.

Rain is what is falling from the sky. What will you find when you take the space to look?

  Pick it up. It's just $14 for a gorgeous hardback today on Amazon.
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Rescued from the Life I Wanted: Shannan Martin’s Provocative New Book
September 20, 2016 at 5:36 am 3
I never had a scheduled c-section, but I imagine that's a bit what birthing a "book baby" feels like. Except that book babies take a whole lot longer than 9 months to gestate. Today we celebrate Shannan Martin's debut book, Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I always Wanted (Thomas Nelson). fallingfree4 When I first met Shannan face-to-face it was in about 90 seconds at the Festival of Faith & Writing. We were running around the campus, trying to find each other, and we ended up with about a minute of "Hi!", hugs, and general craziness before my Uber driver came to take me to the airport. Then I met her in California when she was in town for an (in)courage event and on death's door. Her life is clearly amazing and full of surprises. Most importantly, when I heard the subtitle of her book, I knew I had to have it. Because we're all looking for "the good life," and Shannan had it. But God (in the wonderfully upside-down way of his) kept poking and prodding and asking Shannan and her family to look differently, to live differently -- to live fully. They sold their farm -- their slice of the American Dream; they grew their family through adoption; they adopted a young man and former felon; they moved to a run-down part of a small city in Indiana; they left their white collar, political jobs and now spend time befriending those in jail (her husband is a jail chaplain). But they're also doing the same things as you are: they're keeping their doors ajar. They're walking to school. They're showing up in their neighborhood. They're no different from you and me. They're not holier, better, kinder, gentler, or more in touch with God. They are just living out his goodness when and where he asked them to be faithful. fallingfree1 It's a beautiful book. I want you to hear a bit of her writing:
Embracing our smallness is the skeleton key for living the abundant life. This is the hope we’ve been given. Living small is not about having less, but being less—less respected in the eyes of the world, less successful, less wealthy, less esteemed, less you. Less me. And more Jesus. Here, in this abundance of less, where more of us is stripped away, we’ll uncover the person we were made to be, the one created in the image of a God who sank holy feet into our human mess.
But we keep believing lies -- we believe that more will always satisfy. And in our search for more, we starve our souls. As Shannan writes: "It’s hard to pine for heaven when you already believe you’re there." But, the antidote isn't work harder, change your priorities, get your calendar in order, make your kids obey. Nope, it's surrender. That's what "always the beginning of a better dream." The message of her book is timely and timeless. I'm so reticent to let go, to loosen my grip and realize that in dying to self, I'll find life. I'm much more keen to change plans, re-route, re-commit to new theories and practices. But instead, Jesus calls me to a surrendered life, a life where I'm not in control. It turns out to be a blessed gift when you aren't measured by "do more, be more." It's a book for weary women and burnt out followers of Jesus. It's for the harried mom and overworked family. Maybe there really is an abundant life and we're choosing to not live it. Maybe if we fall free, we'll fall right into a freedom that let's us rest. This book is not a pie-in-the-sky cheesy call to abundant life. It is not all sunshine and rainbows. It is a call to live more fully. It is a call for the hard work of loving others in their (and our) brokenness. It is a book that will awaken you to abundance and the goodness of Jesus who meets us wherever we live.
When we know the one who ordained the seasons and the wingspan of a singular burnished oak; who invented sugar and salt and the perfect sphere of a hardy cherry tomato; who knew how comforted we would be by things like wool and tea and the light in our babies' eyes: when we *know him*, we know that all his schemes, even the seemingly nutso ones, are for our gain. And when we trust that, when we really believe it, our fingers start to loosen their grip, and we reach out to touch the very edges of freedom. That's what letting go is, after all. It's freedom.
fallingfree2   Grab yourself a copy. Prepare for your insides to be poked and prodded in the way that good and holy truth can. It's worth it. I promise. //   I had the immense pleasure of interviewing Shannan for The Mudroom (stay tuned for that to go live in a week or so!) and we talked salsa, kiddos, and of course, her book! Shannan's blog: Order Falling Free: or at Amazon: Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted   Photos courtesy of Shannan Martin and Falling Free Launch Team members. *post contains affiliate links  
Announcements, Books + Stories, Letters to Weary Women
On words, silence, and an invite into our cozy fort
September 13, 2016 at 4:21 pm 0

Dear loyal, kind, harried reader,

I know you have precious little time these days. What time you have to read is spent on the latest and greatest novel, the magazine you flip through to get a little peace, and the pertinent article you click through from Facebook as you stand in the grocery check-out line (if, of course, you aren't wrangling a toddler or two and trying to make sure they don't lick all the chocolate at their eye level). We have so very many words thrown at us these days. They are often big words full of scandal and political angst. They are words meant to critique with a knife-point edge, not to eradicate the ivy grown around our hearts, but to show us the dexterity of the surgeon. I've just had the pleasure of reading so many books that welcome us into worlds where words are all about flourishing. I'll be sharing more and giving them away because, after all, words are gifts Can you imagine with me: words that do not wound, or if they do -- the wound speaks to your own hidden hurts and someone's words makes you feel less alone? They are words that nudge in the best sense -- to see anew. To pay attention. To find beauty right here in the harried middle. succulentbook I can't wait to share some reviews with you shortly! And hopefully some free books too! (Eek!) I'm planning for so many lovely little things in store on this online space. I'm practically bursting at the seams from all the good ideas. But, dear reader, as a mama to four who chases dreams and words and quiet in very small slivers of time, sometimes the birthing is unseen. As far as my own words go, they've been slight here of late. I've been practicing the holy art of saying "no," or "wait," or "I don't need to be all things to all people all the time." It's a tricky thing to say. It's something that I'm learning slowly, feebly as I back off from being superwoman. "It's okay. We're all breathing. Life goes on." I'm not sure if you're in a quiet season, too. We've had a touch of cool here in southern California and it feels like blessed relief (though I'm sure it'll get back to 80F in a manner of days). I grabbed my boots and drank a bunch of coffee and desperately want to go and get a pumpkin spice latte because everyone on Instagram is doing it. But quiet internal seasons often accompany climatic changes too. As the leaves begin to change (in other parts of the world), I realize that change and even death of good things are necessary for life to grow. For life to flourish. I'm still here, writing away, but it is unseen now. I have books and documents spread and my eyes are opened anew to the gifts and landscape around me. I'm breathing it all in. And for once I'm realizing I needn't make it happen on the Internet for it to happen -- for it to be full, meaningful, rich and important. I can savor in the quiet, unnoticed spots. I can write there too. There is something both terrifying in being unseen and something quite delicious -- as if my words and I were huddled under a secret fort built cozily just for us. tent1 I'm planning on opening bits of the tent soon -- as we continue to share our stories together (go on over here and submit yours!), as we savor good books together, as we learn to chase beauty and sustained attention in a world full of noise. Because there are words shouted at us, there are words that are irrelevant mere seconds after we refresh the page, there are words we wish we could draw back from our mouths. Here, though, there will always be words that refresh. There will be words that sit with you in your pain and show you hope. Join me -- if you haven't already -- in signing up for my little newsletter. On there, I share with you first picks of what I'm reading, all the newsy fun stuff, behind-the-scenes on book-writing, and little gifts. It's just a little thank you for coming in and sitting in my fort with me. Grace to you today, dear one,