Ashly Hilst

About Ashly Hilst

Ashly Hilst is a developmental editor for writers who need support and guidance as they finish their book (finally). She loves encouraging all writers in the worthiness of their words and the value found in the process of writing. Ashly has been teaching writing and providing editing for writers for four years, and goes through withdrawals if she doesn’t get to mark-up a page on a regular basis. Ashly cut her teeth on Dickens and threw the Hunchback of Notre Dame across the room when she was 13 because she didn’t like the ending, but she also has real qualifications, like a BA in English literature and teaching certifications in multiple states. When she’s not marking up pages and reveling in stories, she loves cooking with a wine glass in hand and Vince Guaraldi in the background, or exploring Portland with her husband and daughter.

Posts by Ashly Hilst:

A Winter Prayer

Madelyn snuggles up in her blankets, the glow of the nightlight illuminating the curve of her cheek and her small fist rubbing her eye. 

“Do you want to say anything to God?” I ask as I tuck the blankets around her. 

“Yeah,” she says. I stop in surprise. For weeks I’ve been asking if she wants to pray at night. She’s always told me, “You can do it.” 

“Go ahead,” I say, not wanting to make a big deal of it. Inside, my mommy heart is beating a little faster and my throat is a little tight. 

“God, please, I want you to send snow, because I love snow and I want it to snow and I want to play in the snow.” Her words tumble out, then stop abruptly. She looks at me, uncertain what to say next.  

“Amen,” I say and kiss her forehead as I calculate in my head the odds of her prayer being answered. 

I remember another young girl with dark hair and a voracious capacity for wonder who prayed a similar prayer. I was a little older than my daughter is now and prayed for snow too despite living in the desert, surrounded by prickly cactus, dry, cracked ground and colorless rocks. I called the weedy, anemic patch of green in my backyard “grass” and hoped every year that we would get a snow day. Year after year, my prayers went unanswered. 

But I believe that God has heard my little girl’s prayer. I leave her room that night with a plan to check the weather app. 

The odds don’t look good. It is our first winter living in the Pacific Northwest, a land where green is deep and the water plentiful. A land with seasons and a beauty that leaves this desert girl stunned. But even here, snow in December is uncommon. The weather projections say we will get rain – lots of it – and then the temperature is going to heat up to a balmy forty degrees. Snow isn’t anywhere on the forecast for the next two weeks. 

A week later, the rain is falling late in the afternoon, as it often does, but this time it’s mixed with ice. As I wash the dishes, I notice the small round pebbles of frozen rain accumulating on our porch. 

Scrub, wipe, rinse. I glance out the window – still dreary gray drops. Scrub, wipe, rinse. I watch the soapy bubbles slide off the pan and swirl down the drain. Where is the little girl who could see grass in a patch of weeds? The little girl who offered prayers for snow in the desert? Not here, that’s for sure.  

No matter how hard I try, I can’t see the rainbows in the soap bubbles. 

But I am desperate that day for just a little bit of wonder. So, I close my eyes and I whisper: “God, please let it snow.”  

I feel childish as soon as I utter it. If it snows, it won’t be because one tiny little human asked for it, will it? Surely, it will be because the air temperature dropped a few degrees, or maybe because God has other grand plans for the weather, not because a tired mom prayed while scrubbing dishes. 

I look out the window again as I dry my hands on the dish towel. Perhaps it is a trick of the light, but the icy raindrops did look a little more flaky now. I walk over to the sliding glass door and stick my hand out trying to catch them. One lands in my palm. It looks sort of round and crunchy – not like snow but definitely not rain. 

There is a great deal about winter that I have yet to understand. Before this, I thought there was simply snow and rain. But apparently there is also freezing rain as well sleet that stubbornly refuses to be snow. 

I go to the door one last time, drawn by a weird hope that maybe if I stare hard enough I will see a miracle occur right before my eyes. Pulling the door open, I catch my breath. There, floating in the air, is a very small snowflake.  

I rush for the stairwell where I can hear Madelyn playing with my sister. 

“Sister! You guys need to see this. Get up here!” I can’t help smiling, as I grab pink socks and boots for Madelyn. “It’s snowing – really snowing,” I call. “Hurry!” 

We shimmy into boots and rush out into the cold, forgetting our jackets in our hurry to get out into the snow. 

The porch is getting whiter by the second and off in the distance, I can see the rain slowing and turning into white specks that hang in the air, falling in slow motion, like gravity is momentarily suspended. 

I turn my face up toward the sky and watch large, fat flakes drift lazily toward me. I catch one on my tongue and taste the icy cold of winter. “Needs sugar,” I chortle. 

My daughter giggles and spins in circles. “It’s snow, it’s snow, it’s snow!” she crows, her hands in the air while she twirls. 

My sister and I vacillate between awestruck silence and childish giggling. “It’s snowing!” we say over and over, looking at each other in surprise. Was this really happening? My daughter shows no surprise, only unadulterated delight. 

The white gathers in corners of the yard, and the silent street pulls the snow over itself like a white quilt. I take a deep breath. So, this was real winter. I bask in it like sunshine and drink up every icy drop. 

Madelyn throws a snowball at her unsuspecting aunt, eyes alight with mischief. My sister scoops up a mound of snow herself and launches it in return. Madelyn’s shrieks echo in the snowy silence. Inside our neighbors’ houses, lights glow in windows and the sky darkens as snow continues to fall steadily. It transforms our porch, the trees, the rooftops, and – perhaps the most transformed of all – me. 

I turn my face up toward the sky to watch the flakes falling. At first, I only see the blur of white dots, streaks across the sky. But then I focus on one, just one, a single snowflake formed like a thumbprint, individual like my daughter’s prayer, my prayer, and this miraculous answer. I spin in wonder. 

I catch the flake in my palm. This one is for me, I am certain. 


Words by Ashly Hilst.


Permission to Play

My daughter, Madelyn, waltzes into the bathroom and puts her hand on her hip. She is every bit a confident three -year-old. “How do I look?” she asks, striking a pose.

It’s a rhetorical question. She knows what I’m going to say.

“You look beautiful!” I exclaim, scooping her up so we can look at our reflection together. I look at her brown eyes, crinkling from her smile. My daughter is my little mini-me – in every way my twin, but with a healthier self-esteem.

I put her down and glance in the mirror. I am surprised for a moment by my reflection, and frown in frustration. My shirt is snugger than it used to be, my stomach spills over the top of my jeans, and my hips have a little bit of extra padding. I don’t look in the mirror too often anymore and for a moment I’m glad that I don’t.

I struggle to be kind to that girl looking back at me with tired eyes.

The truth is, I am ashamed of my reflection. My body has never (ever) looked the way I want it to and as I look in the mirror I feel guilty. You have no one to blame but yourself, a snide voice whispers. If only you drank less wine, ate less chocolate cake, and loved working out, then yourbody would finally be beautiful.

“We’re both beautiful,” Madelyn adds, interrupting my train of thought as she wraps her tiny arms around my legs. Her enthusiasm is contagious.

“Yes, we are,” I say. “Ready to go to the park?”

At the playground, I trail behind her with my hands shoved deep in my jacket pockets. Madelyn, impervious to the cold wind, rushes eagerly around the playground, as though she has to touch each slide, each ladder, each swing to make sure they don’t go anywhere.

The internal shaming begins again as I watch her climb and slide, walk with one foot in front of the other on the cement curb. She seems to move nonstop.

Maybe if you moved more – like Madelyn – you’d actually fit your clothes, the voice begins. I sigh and let it yammer on for a bit as I help Madelyn clamor up a rock wall. I’ve named this negative voice in my head Nancy. In a way it’s an old friend of mine, albeit one I’m not too fond of.

As Madelyn settles into climbing up the slide (and slipping down) over and over again, I find myself by the fireman’s pole, watching her and feeling defensive toward Nancy. I actually do fit in my clothes, I respond. They’re just a bit more snug than they used to be. I idly grab the pole and let my weight hang against it. I’m unexpectedly delighted by the feeling of resting against nothing, the way my body is suspended against air, held up only by my arm. I feel a sudden urge to swing.

I look around feeling awkward. There is no one else around, but I still don’t want to be that strange grown-up on the playground. I dismiss the urge and straighten up.

Nancy is immediately critical. Perhaps, this is why you aren’t thin, she hisses, because you don’t move. You stand here, and you don’t move.

Maybe, I respond, clutching the pole again. Or, maybe, I’m so busy feeling bad about my body that I miss the chance to move. I pause. No, not move, I correct myself, play.

Madelyn crows as she slips down the slide, then runs past me on her way to the swings. I don’t view the playground or the mirror or any number of things like my daughter does. But I wish I did. I wish I saw myself the way she sees me, with love instead of criticism, with joy instead of disappointment. I wish I saw moving my body the way she does, as a chance to play instead of a means to an end.

The surest way to make sure nothing changes is to keep doing everything the same, and it is this thought that pushes me over the edge. I decide to swing on the fireman pole, not because of Nancy, not because moving might help me lose weight, but because it just might be fun.

I swing my weight giddily on the pole, smiling at the feeling of my body falling free, the slight swooping sensation in my stomach. I swing again. And again. I do it exactly as many times as I want to and not a single swing more.

Madelyn tires of the slide and is now walking on the curb like it’s a tightrope. I join her and we walk on the curb together, giggling when we fall off, exaggerating our flapping arm movements in an attempt to stay on the curb. As I watch her, I realize I know her secret. I’ve known it all along: she is too busy living in her body to spend any time at all thinking about what it looks like. She has legs for chasing and arms for hugging, a smile that lights up the room. And me? I have all those things too.


Words by Ashly Hilst.

Markers, Mud, and a Messy Life

hello there, friend

“Look! It’s purple!” My daughter climbed onto the couch and waved the marker in front of my face. I eyed the uncapped marker, visions of purple stains on my shirt, the carpet, and the couch flashing through my mind.

“That’s beautiful. Do you like purple?” I reached for the marker, but she snatched it away from my hand, the moist tip coming dangerously close to my oyster-toned couch. Why had I thought oyster was a good color for a couch? I probably should have gone with black.

“Madelyn, we shouldn’t have the marker on the couch without a lid. Let’s go find some paper and –”

But I was too late. As she jumped up excitedly from the couch, the marker grazed the gray-white cushion and left a trail of purple in its wake.

I sighed in exasperation and took the marker away. “This is why we don’t play with markers on the couch,” I said over her frustrated wailing.

I escaped into the kitchen, feeling the tension mount inside at the new mess, my crying child, and the overwhelming sense of suffocation I felt. I took breath after breath, tucking in my own feelings while she cried.

After a minute or two, I returned to the living room with a resolute calm. I pulled her into my lap and I rocked her as her tears slowed. I wanted to lecture her about the proper handling of markers, but I just held her against me instead, putting the anxiety (and the cleaning) aside to deal with later. She snuggled against me and I tried to stay in the moment and not wonder whether dish soap or white vinegar would be the best cleaner for marker stains.

The next morning, the smell of coffee – burnt chocolate, nutty, a pinch of earth – drew me out of bed. I ignored the dishes piled in the sink as I poured the steaming liquid into a mug and carried my cup to the living room.

I settled on the couch, eyeing the purple-marker stain grumpily. I was frustrated by the new addition to my long list of things to clean – the carpet had crumbs, the dust bunnies were gathering in the corners, and the laundry was currently tottering at terrifying heights. The weariness didn’t stop with household chores though. I felt messy all the way to my very bones: from the pills I swallowed in the morning, to the year of marriage counseling, to the social exhaustion I experienced trying to keep it all inside.

How did my life get so messy? I shook aside the internal cry of longing and frustration and cracked open my Bible to the Gospel according to Matthew. Sipping my coffee, I read about how Jesus spent his time with the messy ones: the prostitutes and the tax collectors, the sinners and the sick ones. Yet surprisingly Jesus had no patience for the Pharisees, those people who were so clean and tidy, so completely together, at least on the outside. In fact, Jesus called them whitewashed tombs: clean on the outside, dead on the inside.

The marker stayed on the cushion all day while I tried to clean the house for a playdate. A quick sweep hid the dust bunnies. I put out a healthy snack of hummus and carrots. The light-hearted conversation centered around how much we loved rain and when we would let our daughters read Harry Potter, and never once suggested that I was anxiously awaiting a phone call to set up an appointment with my therapist or that I had almost canceled the playdate when the familiar feeling of hopelessness had come creeping into my day.

That evening I snuggled up with my daughter, exhausted and ready for a break (read: wine and Netflix). I chose her bedtime story at random from the library books strewn across the floor. The book was about a mud fairy named Bloom. I was pretty sure I had my own little mud fairy, her golden-brown head lying against my shoulder, her eyes alight as she exclaimed over the beautiful castle in the story.

Though Bloom had built the glass kingdom, it wasn’t too long before the people in the kingdom grew weary of Bloom because she was quite messy: she had mud in her teeth, left mud tracks everywhere she went, and was frequently noisy. So Bloom left the kingdom, much to the delight of everyone.

But then the glass kingdom began falling into disrepair and the people realized they needed Bloom to use her magic to rebuild the kingdom. They sent kings and queens to request her help and each time she responded by placing a bucket of mud in front of them. Outraged that she withheld her magic and instead offered them mud, they left immediately.

Then one day a serving girl came and asked for Bloom’s help. When Bloom showed her the bucket of mud, she didn’t flinch, but asked questions. Then Bloom showed her how to make bricks out of mud and how to build a house out of bricks. And through the messy process of building mud bricks and houses, the serving girl learned that the magic Bloom offered was the mud. And she could now teach others how to rebuild the kingdom.

I closed the book and kissed Madelyn on the head. Sometimes we need a new story to help us understand an old one. I saw now why Jesus had no room for whitewashed tombs. Because life exists in the mess.

I thought about my own mess. The marker stain, the therapy, the dishes, and the broken heart. But in the midst of all this mess was life. A messy sink meant full bellies. A messy, marker-stained couch meant my daughter was sharing her excitement with me. A messy session with my therapist meant hard-won intimacy with my husband. A messy floor on a playdate meant being real and giving another mom the chance to be the same.

That night I stood for a long time with a wet, soapy sponge in hand, staring at the purple stain. I remembered Madelyn’s excitement at finding her favorite color in a marker, I remembered the mud fairy, I thought about Jesus living right alongside the mud of humanity. And I turned and walked back to the kitchen.


Words by Ashly Hilst.