Motherhood + Marriage
Grace for the Middle Years
March 11, 2018 at 7:25 am 0

A Sunday reflection

  I commented the other day that we're in the middle years; though we're nearing the end of our thirties, and by all standards still fit into the "young" category, it feels like we're right in the middle. And though "middle aged" has a bunch of connotations about grey hair and going all in for a red sports car, there is something both mundane and beautiful about being in the middle. We're past the baby-rearing stage, and we glimpse the teenage years barreling towards us. Our parents will have health flare-ups but we're not yet sandwiched between launching children and caring for parents. But the years of going to weddings and baby showers have slowed. We don't spend our weekends traveling for parties or attending themed galas. We've been married long enough to know that there will be cycles of intimacy, distance, and clinging to one another for grace. That, as our marriage grows and deepens it does so in the normal day-to-day activities of making each other coffee, sacrificing our whims for the good of the other, for planning date nights and sex and learning to be silly when the weight of the world feels like it's on your shoulders. These are the small ways love looks in the middle. I've fought the middle for a long time. The way it feels so predictable and boring. Raised on Disney stories and my own idealistic and unrealistic expectations about love, marriage, parenting, and friendship, I thought the thrill would never leave. What I'm finding is we have a choice in the middle years: will I yearn for the early years when everything was fresh and full of promise, or will I patiently practice love in all the intervening small spaces of self-sacrifice? Will I try to make someone (a friend, a child, a mate) into someone they're not or will I love them as they are? The middle can be boring. It's often unsexy. It lacks the thrill of the beginning when all was new. But it hasn't yet arrived at the warm full-bodied sense of glory that's waiting at the end. I want other people's stories of life in the middle. I want stories that will seep into my bones about the goodness of the gospel in the ordinary, daily moments. I want stories about people, places, and things -- nouns that show us that living a life of faith is possible right in the ordinary. Today, I'm living in the middle. Of course it's lost its sheen, but that is not the point. We are headed somewhere together and all good journeys take a deep breath and dig in for the middle. It's in the middle where you really catch your stride. It's in the middle where a stalwart confidence and deeply grounded sense of self grow. So I make coffee for my husband as he leaves early to set up for church. I'll pour cereal for my children and teach Sunday School. I'll reach out to new faces at church and stay to welcome them, and I'll know my children can play unattended for a bit in these middle years. We'll come home and rest our bodies and I'll cuddle up with my big boys for movies. This is the bodily language of the middle and it, too, is a gift.
Books + Stories
Win a book every mom needs! Catherine McNiel’s Long Days of Small Things
February 21, 2018 at 6:43 am 0
Friends, I'm so excited for you to read Catherine McNiel's book: Long Days of Small Things. I've introduced you to some great books by my friends Dorcas Cheng-Tozun (on start-ups and marriage) and Beth Bruno (on raising girls). Catherine McNiel writes to open eyes to God’s creative, redemptive work in each day—while caring for three kids, two jobs, and one enormous garden. Catherine is the author of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress 2017), and loves to connect on TwitterFacebook,Instagram, or at  

Her book, Long Days of Small Things, is a must for every mother who has felt the beauty, the monotony, and the blessing in doing small things on many long days.

I don't know about you, but I am hungry for words to help me live this mothering life well. You'll find that in Catherine's book.   Long Days of Small Things is a book that looks at the real life work we do in our everyday lives, and finds God right here in the midst of it. It’s a book for moms (or dads…or grandparents…or caregivers…) who know they don’t have any extra time or energy, but still want a way to connect with God and discover how to find Him.  In each chapter Catherine tells stories from our real lives—the seasons and stages of motherhood, pregnancy and delivery, infant days, sleepless nights, caring for children of all ages—and the tasks that fill them. She looks at spiritual tools that already hide there—like sacrifice, surrender, service, perseverance, and celebration—and considers how we can open our eyes to the spiritual boot camp we walk through every day. Without adding anything extra to our live or to-do lists, we practice so many disciplines every moment of the day.

Guess what friends? I get to give a copy away!!

Here's what you need to do: simply put in your email here (or comment if you're already a subscriber) and you'll be entered to win! Giveaway ends in one week.

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Catherine was so kind to answer a few questions about her book:

  How has motherhood impacted your understanding of spirituality? We think of spirituality as something that happens in our minds, in silence. We are taught that our bodies, our mess and complications and noise hold us back from being with God. That doesn’t leave a lot of hope for moms, whose pregnant or post-partum bodies, newborns, toddlers, and van-full of carpool kids have no end of loud, messy, physical, chaotic needs. But God made us, didn’t He? Genesis describes Him getting in the dirt and forming us from the dust by hand, then breathing His own breath into our mouths. That’s pretty physical and messy! Then He actually took on a body Himself. The King of Kings wiggled around in a woman’s womb, surrounded by amniotic fluid. He entered the world through her birth canal. God was born, you guys. That’s our Good News. All this physical stuff that we feel keeps us from Him is the same stuff He used to meet with us, to speak to us, to save us.  So Long Days of Small Things is a book for moms “who have neither quiet nor time” as the cover says—or dads, grandparents, and other caregivers.   Describe an experience that first caused you to understand motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline. I was shopping with my three kids. Can you imagine the scene? Lugging my infant in one of those terribly unwieldy baby-carriers. Holding my toddler by the hand, while my preschooler zoomed around the store. The diaper bag was falling off my shoulders, and I clenched the grocery bags with the same hand that grasped my toddler. And then…the door. I couldn’t figure out how to get us all through. The baby was wailing for milk and a nap, the toddler and preschooler needed lunch (and a nap). I wanted lunch and a nap too, truth be told. But mostly I just wanted to get us out the door. No one held it open for me, but plenty of people watched me make a fool of myself trying to wiggle us all through without banging any heads or pinching any fingers. It felt like a hero-feat, an epic win. When I finally got everyone home, fed, and sleeping, I sat down to read an article I’d been saving; a short biography of a favorite Christian teacher. The biographer described this hero of the faith as so spiritual, he radiated peace just by walking through the door. This stopped me in my tracks. The memory of how I looked going through a door was so fresh in my mind. I realized that if spiritual growth entailed developing an aura of peace and radiance, I was never going to arrive—at least not without getting rid of these precious babies! The contrast between this teacher and myself was so stark, and I realized he and I were simply on two separate paths. I was seeking God through the chaotic but life-giving seasons and tasks of motherhood, and this was going to look entirely different from the classic spiritual practices. “Results may vary” as they say.   How is this book different from all the other books and conversations out there regarding motherhood today?  There are so many books out there for moms on the topic of devotion and spirituality.  Almost all of them have this in common: after admitting that moms are exhausted, stretched too thin, without any margin or time or energy, they look for a few extra minutes here or there which might be harvested for God; or offer a Bible study or prayer list that might fit in the tiny slots. Get up at 4:30am before the baby wakes at 5am! Read two minutes of the Bible each day! I’m all for doing these things when it works, but I’m convinced that we don’t need to exit motherhood to have a spiritual life. Our children are what we create, and this is where our Creator God meets us. I’m certain of it. Without adding more “should’s” or “to-do’s” to our days, we can open our eyes to a unique spiritual journey, made just for us—and find him here. We’re already doing it. All that waits is for us to breathe deeply and being to drink.

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Giveaway winner will be emailed within one week.

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 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.  
At other places
Finding Love in the Present Tense (for The Mudroom)
July 12, 2016 at 6:00 am 0
The theme for July at The Mudroom is Relationships, True Intimacy, and Lasting Connection. I asked the other writers what they were writing about -- motherhood, marriage, friendship, something else? -- so we would hit different themes. In the end, I wrote about ALL THE THINGS because sometimes the flood gates open. This is a love letter to love and an apology -- that I have most often used relationships to write a story about me. Maybe you have too. I'd love to share a few words with you here, but head on over to The Mudroom to read the whole thing. --AH Finding love in the present tense -- Ashley Hales -- On the cusp of womanhood, we dreamt of boys who would sweep us off our feet, play the guitar, and in the sun-drenched summer days of southern California, carry a surfboard under muscular tanned arms. We wrote bad poetry and were waterlogged from long days at the pool. We ate cookies, drank Coke, and didn’t worry about waistlines while we spilled slumber party secrets. We traded best friend necklaces and dreamt of friendship that would always return like the rhythm of ocean waves. We were 17 — babies in love. I wrapped telephone cords around my finger during those hours where we plumbed emotional depths. Conversations about the sunny future where our hopes and dreams always seemed to align perfectly. Soul mates. Destiny. Knight in Shining Armor. You name it — we trotted out each cliche, but they felt newly awoken in our mouths. There were novels written in kisses in those early days. But then there were budgets, moves, babies, and ministry that consumed all of our creative energy. Then, years later, there was the fresh newborn head smell that I willed my senses to remember. Each babyhood became somehow more precious because I realized how fleeting time really was. When before, I’d smirk at the coos from gray-haired ladies, now I realized I was well on my way to becoming one. By my third baby (I’m a slow learner), I had become used to the lack of sleep, the mess, the way motherhood pours you out from reserves you didn’t know you had. And I fell in love anew with blonde curls, sparkling eyes, and how I could fully be someone’s entire world. That my body, my arms, my attention could meet every need. Then there were the friendships forged over red coffee mugs, the ones where we owned our anger, our feeble steps of faith and doubt, how as pastor’s wives we felt broken, vulnerable, and confused about calling. How we just needed a date night to fall in love with our husbands again. How we vacillated between fiercely loving our children while also wishing they’d just leave us for a moment of peace. When we moved away and the miles separated us, I cried to you on the phone, shut up in my minivan: I didn’t know how to do life away from you. And now, you’ve lost your dad, I am miles away and I do not know how to hold up your grief that I cannot see. // Read the rest here.
What I’ll Yell At You When I See You at Target: A Letter to the Mamas
May 5, 2016 at 2:07 pm 2
An unasked-for, yet totally needed note to the young mamas out there:  IMG_1658 Dear Mama, We live our lives connected through pretty smiles and cute workout clothes. We wear leggings and drink our wine, or we work too many jobs to discuss soccer schedules and PTA meetings. Some of us have more children than we would have planned for, others find their arms empty for too long. But women: we are all mothers. And pardon my language (if you're offended by such things), but even on the shitty days, you are doing a damn good job. I decided when my kids are grown, I'm going to be that mama in the grocery store that tells the frazzled young mom that I've been there and they're doing a damn good job, just showing up day in and day out. There's no vacation from motherhood. I'll be the older mom offering you to go ahead of me in the check out line when I see your hands are full and your kids are melting down. I'll be the mama that shouts out to you across Target when you have one kid refusing to leave while you're carrying your second like a football to high-tail it out of the store before it gets even more crazy. "You're a great mom!" I'll shout. Because she is and so are you and so am I. I'll tell the mama with the pile of kids what a blessing each of her kids are. That her hands and heart are full to the brim. Mamas, it's time we sit back and realize something: our children are not accessories. They are not stepping stones that we can use to get us from one place to another. They are not ladders we can climb to prove we are real, we are capable of being seen. We're all gloriously and painfully human. We all hurt. We all inflict and receive pain. We all are doing the best job we can. We all think everyone else has it all together. We don't. Some moms go to the gym. Some moms are excellent room moms. Some moms work long, hard jobs for their kids. Some moms are losing it. Some moms feel entirely fulfilled by their children. Some women wish they were moms. It's time we stop seeing each other for what we are not: not baby wearing, not breastfeeding, not formula-feeding, not co-sleeping, not cry-it-out, not organic, not processed, not baby-lead weaning, not weaning at a year, not spanking, not gentle disciplining, not private school, not public school, not name brands, or vacations, or privilege, or grades or sports, or any other created thing we use to climb a ladder and beg it to tell us we are worth something. It's time we see each other for what we are: humans. Women entrusted with the care of other humans to nurture, love and protect and one day (all too soon), they'll leave. But they'll still be humans and that is always our job: to love other humans. So mama, you needn't cling to every last baby bootie, and small handprint as if it decried a death knell. No, we are in the business of raising and seeing humans. That is all. When we erect walls and make this motherhood thing about how we can do it correctly, we lose the ability to nurture because our children's behavior is what justifies. When we judge the workout mom when we're the hot mess, we fail to recognize her gifts that she is offering to her children. And we never, ever know anyone else's full story. We do not know what goes on in heads, hearts and behind doors. So let's get about our work -- to love, cherish and protect our children. But let us hold them all loosely because they are humans after all, not some sort of machine that we input all the good and assume that only good will flow out of it. For we are all such a compilation of dark and light, and we do not even know our own hearts at their depth. Let us simply be about the business of seeing one another. That, I think, would be the most lovely of Mother's Day gifts. So mamas, as you prepare for Mother's Day, and as it may bring much pain, hurt, confusion or just plain exhaustion -- know you're doing a damn good job. I'll yell that to you in Target when I see you. And I'll buy your latte. Love, Ashley   // Sign up for my newsletter and free story therapy here. Really. It's awesome. And it's free.