At other places
Can you be a mother and be creative?
May 1, 2018 at 9:01 am 0
I don't know about you but I've had to fight for creativity -- almost sometimes, it felt like too late. I see women like Maile Smucker doing it (read this wonderful piece by Shawn Smucker on making time for writing mothers) and I know that's my story, too. I never thought of myself as a writer -- which is odd, I know, since I have a book coming out in October. But I've had to remember that all of me is okay to bring to the table. The analytical scholar, the feeling-focused inner child, the mother, the woman who likes leopard print, and the little girl who scrawled stories in a binder. But motherhood -- perhaps especially in this day and age (we are judged at every turn for what makes a good mother) -- complicates our individual desires. Suddenly we are not just an "I," we are "we" -- a "we" more intimate than even with our spouses. For Fathom Magazine, I wanted to explore how creativity is both something that helped bring me back to life (it birthed me anew) and also is something that always needs to be tied to our lived experience, concrete reality, and the everyday. Here's a sampling:
  But what of me? I was learning what it meant to be a body, but I’d lost my mind a bit in the process. After ten years, my PhD diploma that sat rolled up in a brown paper tube with Scottish postage on it. There was a beauty in pouring oneself out again and again in milk and blood. But something was missing and I wondered if it would ever return. Could I capture light and graceful sentences when I was covered in spit up for yet another year? My creativity had turned into sleep schedules and feeding schedules, watching what my children ate and how it affected their behavior. Trying desperately to help them to read, imagine, play, believe, all the while the daily stuff of earth began choking me. I had no story for a liturgy born from the body, for words that started and stopped, for grace that could drip, drip, drip even amongst dirty diapers and endless laundry. I felt guilty. So many women longed for babies and my cup runneth over. But I was drowning. So, a few years into motherhood, with four children aged six and under, I sat on our old greenish couch and began writing into the ether. I started a blog. There was no pressure: no grade, no one telling me what I’d forgotten, no one reading or looking over my shoulder. My husband bought me a Wordpress theme and a domain name and booked me a seat on a plane to a writers conference—all to find that girl who longed to fly.

Read the rest at Fathom Magazine. 

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.  
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,


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
Who’s Afraid of Big Words Like Holiness? What If It’s Not What You Think?
April 19, 2016 at 7:00 am 0
holy curiosity: Ashley Hales Curiosity is a creeping thing like the seeping of water into the grass’ edges. It not until you step into it that you realize you’re not where you thought you were. That the ground is different than you anticipated. Curiosity doesn’t write itself in the sky with bright letters. Curiosity taps you quietly on the shoulder until you either take heed of it and follow, or it leaves an ache from the bruise of constant, ignored tapping. You can choose to follow where it goes, or get on with your life, too busy to get lost in big questions. I used to think curiosity was responsible for the wanderlust: my years abroad where all the stacked layers of history were constantly new. Every place promised home, or at least adventure. Curiosity felt like a burgeoning promise as it pushed me into moving every few years for a degree or my husband’s job. And “new” felt holy too. We’d dream about grand adventures, about amassing information and making new contacts, about being God’s hands in hard soil. It felt important somehow to think of ourselves and our mission as burrowing into international cultures, or at least urban ones. We would join the ones on the edges, doing hard things for God. Yet, now we find ourselves driving a minivan miles from where we grew up. I’m learning the quiet truths as my circles constrict. Curiosity cannot be holy if it is focused on my own need for recognition. “Holy” after all means “other.” And if my curiosity is only about tracing the path of my own mind, my own mission, my own sense of calling, then I am not about the holy. I am only about myself. Holiness always propels us towards others.   // I'm writing and processing the lessons I began to learn this last week at the Festival of Faith & Writing (and I'll have more about all that soon!). Today, I get to do it at my friend, Cara Meredith's, blog. I hope you'll hop on over and read the rest. Most of all, I hope you'll respond -- I want to know if you think this idea hits home: that changing the world isn't really what you thought it was initially. That it has more to do with holy curiosity in the small, unseen moments than truth writ large. What are you curious about? What lessons are you learning about paying attention?