Today I’m honoured to host Ashley Hales on the blog. Ashley is a blogger, author and mum who loves talking about story, and believes deeply in the power of story to shape us. She’s an excellent writer & become a good friend. I’m delighted to host her here, talking today about grace. So without further ado, over to Ashley:
This post was going to be about how grace is violent, how it knocks us down and changes our categories and realigns our desires. Something akin to how Flannery O’Connor unites grace with the grotesque in daily ways. Grace does do that – it rushes in and knocks you down.
But it’s the quietness of grace, its small and ordinariness, that I want to tell you about.
You see, I grew up on a diet of “you can be anything you want to be” and “the world is your oyster.” And as an entire generation who is coming to age now knows, such statements just don’t hold water anymore.
You can’t be anything you want. You can’t just live an exotic life and get rich quick. You can no longer simply work your way up the corporate ladder and arrive at the pinnacle of success.
Because of these economic shifts and the choices that we’ve made as a family, I find myself living a rather ordinary life, having once thought of myself with vast potential to be a world changer with large spheres of influence.
I no longer live overseas; in fact, we’re moving back “home” this summer, whatever that fraught word means. My days are filled with mundane tasks like sweeping and picking up after children and making dinner. Little tasks that no one particularly sees or notices, but tasks that provide both the order of our days, and their melody. These are tasks that when accumulated, I hope will change the world through a generational rippling of sustained attention.
But for now, I monitor homework, shuttle our children around the city, and try to squeeze a writing life in-between times. As I’ve made space for writing, grace has rushed in – but not in the knock-you-down variety; instead its come through this daily discipline, in stillness. It’s come in as a wave of peace and rest. It’s come through daily moments, through the daily and ordinary practices of reading and writing.
Every afternoon when my youngest two children are resting or napping, I type away or turn my eyes to books I know will feed my soul. Sometimes the going is slippery and awkward and nothing much comes. Other days I can’t type fast enough to keep up. I’ll often turn to someone else’s words and I feel like I’m literally feeding on words for sustenance, like the body and the blood.
This life force of reading and writing brings me back to myself amidst the mundane, necessary and glory-filled life of the present – the present where I am “Mom”. I feast on soul words in small slivers of quiet. Those moments are grace; they are in fact, unmerited favor. And like all transactions of grace, they utterly transform me; but sometimes this transformation happens bit by bit, morsel by morsel.
Grace comes when I’m reading Flannery O’Connor, Wendell Berry, Madeleine L’Engle and Kathleen Norris. It is not simply the power of fiction or these authors’ finely tuned phrases that nourish my soul. No, it is something much larger. What is communicated perhaps between the words and the phrases is the smile of delight.
Feasting on words and writing my own puts me square into the category of a “creative.” It means that my life is fashioned by words. When I stop to think about my own sense of calling as a writer, it almost makes me laugh to think that my own work gets to mimic the creative energy of God. It’s made me realize in tangible ways that part of what it means to be made in God’s image is to be a creator – to create fictional worlds or bring ideas together in pleasing and new ways.
My life at my laptop, or with a book across my lap in those rare moments of quiet, reframe my mundane. They are delight enfleshed. They give me power to keep going and bring joy so that even in my writing failures, I’m participating in a wider story of redemption. I take frail and feeble words and by knitting them together, I can point to a glorious coming day full of grace and truth.
That day may be tomorrow as I’m mopping the floor and calming childhood fears. That day may be when I get my first book published, or I help another person tell their story bravely. Or that day may be my final day when I get to see all things being made new.
Whenever the day, the simple act of reading and writing has been grace to me. (you can tweet that).It has been unmerited favour from a God who gets a kick out of his children and is absolutely delighted with them. It’s a picture of a Father who runs ahead to play chase with his kids, lost in the wonder and rapture of the present, and of their shared delight.
That’s a type of God who can get me through the daily hard, through those moments when I lose it and cling to my own agenda instead of serving those around me. That is a God who endears me to Him, who invites me to experience rest and asks me to participate with him through the process of creation.
Most of all, that is a God who abounds in pouring out grace even in – and perhaps especially in – the ordinary.
Ashley Hales is a mama to 4 littles, wife to her pastor husband, and holds a PhD in English from the University of Edinburgh. She loves to help others tell their scary brave story.
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(Picture Sources: Creative Commons / Ashley Hales)
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