20160311-Hales-LooseEnds

When we moved back home this summer, after 18 years away to plant a church I thought I’d done the grieving I had needed to do. I thought I’d embraced change. We even had the Pinterest-inspired art up in our house to prove it: a subway sign with all the street names we’ve lived on since we were married 13 years ago. It wouldn’t be such a big deal to add just one more name. After all, we’ve moved across countries and oceans. What was any different about this time?

But after the adrenaline of the move wore off, I felt itchy. Something just wasn’t quite right. It was more than just adding another street name to our home décor. Moving jobs and cities was more than a matter of miles; it upended who I thought I was. I walked around in a daze, questions on the edge of my thoughts:

Where was I? How could this place be my home? And how was I going to learn to be happy here? How could I embrace this change?

When my story is more loose ends than neat narrative, I remind myself of the ancient, true, and fabulous story of grace. That an almighty God entered into our finitude and messy dishes. That Jesus walked along dirt roads and saw the pain, the beauty, and the glory all rolled up together in humanity. That after feasting, feeding, healing, and teaching, He went right into the heart of pain and died a death reserved for traitors.

But here is what gets my heart beating faster: on the third day, when hope too had died, He rose again. Even death came untrue. Like a symphony, I imagine that joy spilled out of the empty tomb in waves; it rolled with a laughter flowing from the heart of creation itself. I imagine the tender words He spoke to His followers as they realized with a shock of surprise that sadness, disease, and even death itself had come undone.

And so, even now, as a Christ follower I get to participate in daily deaths and resurrections. It’s part of becoming more like Jesus. Sometimes change feels like joy and laughter rolling in uncontainable containers, and they spill out leaving flowers in our wake. But sometimes, embracing change looks and feels like death.

This move has meant the death of those little idols I turned to instead of Jesus to find my worth. Daily, I have to choose to lean into this pain of change, knowing that there is resurrection on the other side. My desire for a neatly tied-up story has been left hanging raggedly open. But the gift of faith has meant holding on to those separate strands with open hands and mouthing, “Not my will, but Yours.”

It has meant staying present in the pain and not making myself too busy so that I don’t feel the pain anymore. Embracing change means that I grieve. I fight to stay present, so I can see where God is leading me right here and right now. Why, you might wonder, stay in this unfinished part of the story? Why lean in to pain when you can run or distract yourself? What is the point?

The point is this: all the distractions do not bring me closer to life; they are just numbing agents on the way to death. But death — whether of bodies or dreams — does not get the final say. And beautifully, Jesus is marvelously close in the dying of my own selfish dreams. When I’ve held tight-fistedly to control, I never knew that His words of delight and surprise would also be a benediction over me: “See, I am making all things new!”

So I invite you to unclench your hands with me. Sit in the pain of unknowing with the ragged ends of your story loose in your hands. Let us pray for the gift of faith — to press in to Jesus, so that one day we might see how all the ends are tied up into a story more beautiful than we could even imagine.

For we know the age-old story: death descends into the glorious, surprising burst of resurrection.

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The gift of faith has meant holding with hands open and saying, “Not my will, by Yours.” {Tweet This!}

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  • Bev @ Walking Well With God

    Ashley,
    I have found that sometimes distraction is good as a temporary technique…but we can’t stay distracted forever. At some point, God calls us to deal with the grief we are experiencing and by doing so we are drawn into His loving and comforting arms. Holding off grief, can be in essence, holding off the merciful love of God. When I let Him in, then He can begin to restore and renew.
    Speaking of change, I would like to thank all my faithful friends, here at (in)courage who have prayed with me for the foundation I work with (Redeemer Christian Foundation). Yesterday our application for 501c3 tax exempt status was approved!! HUGE PRAISE!!! The attorney said he’s never seen one go through so quickly…just more evidence that God is ALWAYS at work. I want to thank them all for being my/our prayer warriors!! Ladies, you rock!!
    Thank you Ashley for reminding us that God loves us through ALL the changes…good, difficult, and otherwise!
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      Thank you Bev! You are so right that holding off the grief, holds God at arm’s length. And praising God with you on your tax exempt status. :)

    • Beth Williams

      Bev,
      Congratulations on the 501C3 status! God is awesome! May He continue to bless you and your family!!
      Blessings :)

      • Bev @ Walking Well With God

        Thanks Beth!! :)

  • Stephanie Ravencraft

    Ashley, these words were perfect in my time of death of dreams, change, and loose ends. It was as if what is happening to me right now was exactly what In your words God is leading me to realize. I thank God for your words today. May God bless you for the ability to write what I imagine many will connect with.

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      Stephanie, I’m so glad these words met you.

  • Dawn

    Really needed this today. Ready to give in to despair.

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      Thank you for your brave comment, Dawn. I am praying for you. So hard.

  • http://www.bethcoulton.com Beth

    I love this statement, “The point is this: all the distractions do not bring me closer to life; they are just numbing agents on the way to death.” I recently have become aware how much this is true…I’m a big fan of the stick-your-head-in-the-sand-and-let’s-get-distracted way to deal with problems, but my husband has been the wise one to recognize that no, distractions are merely that; temporary bystanders that keep us from what we should really be facing and dealing with. I had to admit that he was right…all our “busy-ness” and movement were just hopeful bandaids covering a gaping wound that hurt when acknowledged. We still don’t have our answers, but are certainly learning things along the way as we let God lead us.

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      It takes so much courage to not stick your head in the sand. Well done for leaning into all the hard and trusting God will lead. Faith is such a crazy journey.

  • Stephanie

    Thank you for these words of encouragement Ashley! Truly needed this message today after almost losing hope. God Bless you!

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      Thank you Stephanie for being here and commenting. I’m glad my few words encouraged you. We all need to be desperately reminded we have a good father who gives good gifts, even hard ones.

  • Susan

    O! what a day it will be!

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      Amen! Thank you for reading, Susan.

  • http://faithspillingover.com Betsy Cruz

    So many loose ends in my life right now. Thanks so much for your words of encouragement and for telling your story. (I’ve moved many times too! And church planting, done that too!) I’ll join you in pressing into Him today.

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      Thank you for reading, Betsy! Thank you. Pressing in to Him (even when we’re kicking and screaming sometimes) is the only way to go. So glad this encouraged you.

  • http://joleneunderwood.com/ Jolene Underwood

    Oh Ashley, how touched I am by this piece. It resonates deep in my core as I passionately long to share the freedom which comes from leaning into pain & finding Jesus in it. To see it through to healing & redemption. These words, “I get to participate in daily deaths and resurrections. It’s part of becoming more like Jesus.” – So much yes, sister. Thank you.

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      Thank you, Jolene! Right along with you — all the amens and pressing in through pain.

  • Rachel B

    Thank you for sharing… This touches my jagged soul.

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      So thankful, Rachel. Thank you for reading.

  • A

    Ashley, thank you for being open to share these words that the Lord is speaking. As I have been healing from a life of abuse and pain, He is asking me to give up all that was and move forward, knowing that He tenderly holds those strands and will bring such beautiful closure and peace from it all. He is that closure, that place, that person, the open-ended strands end with. This beautiful post speaks so much to trust, so much to trusting His faithfulness instead of distractions. Praying that we all have that trust today to face into the Cross and hope in the Resurrection :) May He bless you and all with His peace :)

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      Yes, yes, he is that closure. I love how you put that. The road to and in forgiveness is so hard. Courage to you today!

  • Wini Schiemann

    What a precious story, Thank you!

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      Thank you, Wini.

  • http://anchoredvoices.blogspot.com Chara

    Ashley,
    Absolutely lovely! We felt God leading us away from the church we thought we would grow old in this past year. It was harder than I ever imagined. Though I can already see the good fruit of obedience, I felt this struggle: “Embracing change means that I grieve. I fight to stay present, so I can see where God is leading me right here and right now.” I have been working these things out lately, diving into what Jesus is doing, trying to be willing to die where I must. I always enjoy your words, but these ministered deep.

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      Chara, I SO appreciate your encouragement. I’m grateful that some words I wrote are being used. It feels like too much sometimes. Too much goodness. But there is also so much pain and healing and dying, too — in all of it. Grateful for you.

  • MelAnn

    The title alone drew me in. Seems to be the theme in my world right now…actually a long while. ” It has meant staying present in the pain and not making myself too busy so that I don’t feel the pain anymore. Embracing change means that I grieve. I fight to stay present, so I can see where God is leading me right here and right now.” Thanks for sharing your words.

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      Thank you for reading the title and still reading! :) I’m happy to know my words met you in your life. They’re certainly true of my own and it’s always wonderful to feel we’re not alone. Thank you.

  • http://livethegoodnews.com Crystal Hall

    This statement speaks so much truth, “all the distractions do
    not bring me closer to life; they are just numbing agents on the way to
    death.” In the small scheme of things we don’t realize that at the time,
    but in the big picture it does lead to a slow spiritual death. This has me
    thinking about the distractions in my life and how I need to look to
    God. Thank you for sharing your story Ashley.

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      Thank you for reading and commenting Crystal. I hope you have much fruitful reflection that is also bathed in grace.

  • Rebecca Jones

    Hebrews 2:14 says it, how for our sake, He took upon Him flesh and came to defeat the devil who had the power of death. Resurrection is such a beautiful and sacred concept. Surely, just as salvation is ongoing in our lives so is resurrection. I pray He resurrects the best in us all, hopes, dreams, and bring healing and wisdom this season. Beautiful post!

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      Thank you Rebecca! I pray for redemption and resurrection too.

      • Rebecca Jones

        I was just reading about the stone being rolled away, that’s another aspect of the resurrection story.

  • Anna Smit

    What a beautiful thought: “And so, even now, as a Christ follower I get to participate in daily deaths and resurrections. ” YES!! Oh how this rings true for the road I’ve traveled. More and more is being shed, and it’s painful, so painful: but also SO incredibly freeing…and is bringing deeper and deeper joy, precisely in the midst of the grief. Thank you for these encouraging words today, Ashley.

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      Anna, thank YOU for reading and commenting. You’re right — it’s hard and painful but so very freeing. I’m glad my words could bring you some encouragement today.

  • Inspired Life

    Sweet Ashley,

    We are in the thick of it together friend. Your post resonated SO DEEPLY with me because I have been writing and rewriting and editing a blog post on where I am right now. As a writer and speaker, I construct words that have a clear opening, middle and close. Well last year God threw me for a loop and now my story is not so neat. I’m having trouble articulating it because it is open ended, yup as you said more loose ends than neat narrative. I love your approach to leaning into all of the emotion it brings. That’s the tale I’m telling too, that there is beauty in ALL of my experience not just the neat parts. I’m learning to be open and vulnerable. Blessings to you friend as you grant yourself permission to feel.

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      Yes! All of the hard and pain and looseness of it all pushes us not only to vulnerability, but to Jesus. Thank you for your kind comment.

  • Martha

    Good to read this – but so hard. I am struggling with loose ends in relationships that are difficult to let go, and difficult to trust that the Lord will heal them. Some are partly my fault, and the regrets are very hard to live with. Longing for the day when there are no more tears and all the pain is made untrue.

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      Martha, I’m longing for that day too. You are right — all the loose ends are so very painful and we’re not guaranteed ease or healing necessarily. Know that there is one who sees the sparrow and that you have a father who runs to meet you. That’s what keeps me going. He sees.

  • Beth Williams

    Ashley,

    Change/messy stories can be hard to handle! My dreams have taken a big shift to the left! For a couple years now I have been dealing with aging parent and medical issues. This year was the worst with a major medical issue. I thought it was over, but God had other plans and healed him. Meantime I had to quit a good paying/benefitted job to care for my dad.
    “The gift of faith has meant holding with hands open and saying, “Not my will, by Yours.”–I have been living that faith for almost 9 months now. He has never failed me. I know He has better plans for me.
    Blessings :)

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      So good to read of God’s faithfulness to you and your family. Many blessings to you, Beth.

  • Kate

    Goodness. God knew I needed these words today. Bookmarking to come back again another day. Thank you for being faithful to use your gifts and your story to fill and bless. You are a gift. Grateful for you, and this message!

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      Thank you, Kate. Thank you for your encouragement and cheering me on! I so appreciate you, friend.

  • Diana

    Ashley, your thoughts have touched my heart in a number of ways. One in particular is how what you wrote here is just another wondrous reminder I’ve had today that the only true help for our griefs, troubles, and pains is to keep our eyes on our Lord and Savior who knows intimately the sufferings we are going through. I so appreciate how you noted the need to turn away from trying to distract ourselves from the pain but rather move into it with Jesus guiding us through it. Bless you and the others here as we encourage each other to keep turning to Him remembering that though death of “our little idols” must come first, the resurrection that follows will bring us joy that outweighs even the most grievous trials.

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      Thank you Diana. Yes, isn’t it so amazing that we have a High Priest who is ABLE to sympathize in our weaknesses? I hold that line close many days. Blessings on you as you navigate all the pain and uprooting that’s so normal to us all.

  • http://www.maryanderingcreatively.com/ Mary Hill

    Ashley, this is wonderful and so on point. A beautiful reminder of whom holds my story, untidy ends and all. I pray for your during this period of change. I know God will see you through. :)

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      Thank you so much, Mary.

  • Gina

    Love this! I’m writing a book on transition, and this resonates with so much of my experience. I love this line, “This move has meant the death of those little idols I turned to instead of Jesus to find my worth.” So true!

    • http://www.circlingthestory.com/ Ashley Hales

      Thanks Gina. All the best on your book writing!