Dear Alleyway

“It all counts. It’s all life. And God is with you in every bit of it.”
– Emily P. Freeman on mornings

This summer, the gravelly alley a block south of our house has become one of my favorite places.

The dual-rutted lane is fringed with sunflowers peering up at passing clouds and morning glories climbing lattice. Old bookshelves wait for the donation trucks that will whisk them away to new homes. The sound of kitchen coffee-making spills out of back windows as weeds spill out of cracked pavement. 

As the sun is coming up, our neighborhood is magicals. Tall trees nod gently to dog walkers. Chipped paint scatters under the tiny feet of squirrels and doves, their cooing and clucking murmuring a gentle soundtrack.

On summer mornings, I join this dance.

I wake early, grind coffee beans, sleepily don my shoes and head out into our neighborhood.

I turn down the alley. Driveways and garage workshops and garden beds seem tucked happily on each side of the lane, creating a kind of communal backyard. The air holds echoes of neighbors tinkering with cars and humming hello to one another.

Our stuff tells stories about us, I remember thinking when I first saw the amount of discarded junk dotting the alley. The piles of wood. The old cars. The sagging trampoline.

The stuff of the alleyway is the stuff people don’t want to be displayed inside or out front. It has lost its purpose, or it has been replaced. Maybe it carries a painful reminder or has simply been forgotten.

The stuff of the alleyway is the misfit stuff. The stuff that doesn’t leave, but settles into the dusty background, nestles into the gravel, resigns to be overgrown with vines.

Ever the optimist, I find myself drawn to the misfit things that end up in the alley, in a rooting-for-the-underdog kind of way.

However. It’s harder for me to acknowledge my own stuff that I’d rather tuck into the back of my focus.

I would like my neighbors to see only the things that are displayed in the front yard of my life. I would like to ignore the things I want to hide in the alley. Like the stuff I have equated with shame in my life; the traits in me that have invited heartache or a sense of personal failure; the habits that fester.

I walk the alley, and I am convicted. My love for forgotten things contrasts so strongly with my rejection of my own outcast emotions.

Maybe, the invitation of the alley is to see beauty in the once-discarded, to accept God’s invitation to hold space in me for the things I’d like to toss. To respond to shame with a simple choice to listen to my life. To let the little plot of heart space I’ve been given on this earth to include many rooms, some shinier than others.

If the front yard is for the display-worthy, the kitchen for satisfaction, the table for gathering, the windowsill for reflection and the sitting room for rest, then maybe the alleyway is still for the things I don’t want to make space for.

But they have a place, nonetheless.

It all counts. It’s all life — good and hard, front yard and back — and God is in every bit of it if he is anywhere at all. Building a life, and building a faith, must be comprehensive if it is to transform us at all.

It all counts, my sneakers seemed to say this morning as I entered the alley again. I picked a sunflower and a tangle of wildflowers to take home.

I will pull out a vase. I will give them space in our front room, moving them from the alleyway to the entryway.

As the alleyworks its magic in my life, I will allow myself to be comforted by the familiarity of lawnmowers and laundry lines.  I will feel the grounding effect of gravel under my feet. I will let the corridor of discarded things shed a little light on my discarded stuff.

And I will believe in the space — and grace — for it all.

Dear Breathing Room

Dear Breathing Room,


We haven’t always known each other well, but you’ve become my friend in this season.

Two years ago, we were mere acquaintances. My days were full of hard work and lots of activity. It was good  — sweet and full and just what I needed.

But what I need now is different. What does it mean when we need something different than we used to need? What does it mean when we crave things we didn’t crave last month or last year?

It means we’re human. Our tastes change and evolve, and what a beautiful thing that is.

I have a lot of wonderful friends in my life who remind me that it is beautiful for us to be different. It is rich and good when groups of people are diverse in their perspectives, backgrounds, personalities and opinions.

It is good that one person needs more alone time, whereas another person needs more activity to help them feel alive. It is good that one person needs movement and another needs stillness. It is good that one needs shelter and another needs to not be sheltered anymore.

We can celebrate these differences in ourselves and each other, because the differences make us better equipped to serve others. When we know our own diverse needs, we are better equipped to see and meet the diverse needs of our neighbors. When we are brave enough to say what we need (even if it’s different than what someone else needs), we are better able to receive love and care from God and others.

Like us, maybe seasons are meant to be diverse.

Maybe it’s good for different priorities and rhythms and even appetites to come and go. Maybe it’s good for winter’s needs to be different from those that were true this fall. Maybe it’s good when we allow ourselves to be diverse in our tastes, evolving in our needs and growing in our strengths and weaknesses.

Maybe this is the work of becoming.

One thing I know to be true about my life with God is that he uses words and metaphors to tell me who he is. He uses my love language (words) to teach me and to reach me when I need it most.

He has used the language of adventure to challenge me to try new things. He has used the language of art to show me his color and creativity. He has used the language of legacy to remind me that I am not an island, and that my words and actions will impact other people for better or for worse.

Now, he’s reaching me through the language of breathing room. Not just chilling out about stuff and confessing my perfectionism (which is certainly part of it), but even allowing enough space to feel my lungs expand and contract and let the silence ring a little bit in my ears. He’s reaching me by letting me just be and trust that there’s enough space in life’s long journey for both rest and activity. 

For years I thought I knew how to speak the language of rest, but I think I was keeping up appearances. I am only conversational so far. My vocabulary is shallow.

I didn’t start off 2019 with any goals or resolutions, but I like the idea of walking into this new year with the attitude of learning a new language. Practicing the vocab. Asking for help. Making flashcards. Feeling the shape of the words on my tongue. Working towards fluency. 

This year, whatever our season, may we learn the vocabulary that will help us to own what we need and listen for the needs of others.

This season, whatever our circumstance, may we expand our collective language to celebrate the diversity we see both around us and within us.

In today’s circumstance, whatever it’s flavor, may we be people who make room for God to teach us and reach us in both the joy and the challenge.

Thank you, breathing room, for teaching me to find the beauty as I accept and welcome the change.

Dear Authenticity

Watches. Jerseys. Jeans. Car parts. Autographs. Mexican Food.

What do these things have in common?

This assortment of ideas all appeared when I typed the word ‘authentic’ into Google this week.

I didn’t know what was in store when I started looking for a definition of the word. Authenticity is a bit of a buzzword these days. We want our jobs, our writing, our websites and our social media feeds to feel “authentic” to who we are. Maybe, we mean that we want to be genuine, or transparent, or whole in the way we present ourselves to the world.

After more Googling, I found a more satisfying definition.

The word authentic literally means to be made in a way that faithfully resembles the original.

I love that.

To be made in a way that faithfully resembles the original.

What does it mean for us to resemble the original, whole, genuine selves we were each made to be?

As a recovering perfectionist, I often struggle to believe that my authentic self is worth bringing to the world. I struggle to believe that my ideas are worth sharing, that my voice is worth hearing, that my heart has something to offer to those around me just as it is.

I have often felt God inviting me to contribute or speak up or lead but then I battle the belief that I have to address my bad habits and get more sleep and look nicer and altogether clean up my act before I can be effective.

Being authentic is harder for me than I’d like to admit. 

What might it look like for me — for us —to fight the temptation to manage our appearance and practice true authenticity? To explore the beautiful mystery of being made in God’s love and image, and thereby share our true selves? To faithfully resemble the original?

A couple weekends ago, I was in a room of young professionals, and we were studying the concept of calling – what it looks like when God gives a person a specific calling to do something for his people at an exact time in history. Together we read the story of David’s call in 1 Samuel.

At this time, Saul had been ruling the nation of Israel, and the Lord told Samuel that a new king was going to take his place.  In 1 Samuel 16 the Lord talks to Samuel about who will lead, and he says, “Go to Bethlehem. Find a man named Jesse, for I have selected one of his sons to be my king.”

Samuel arrives in Bethlehem. He finds Jesse. And they look at the lineup of future kings Jesse’s oldest sons.

These are men of stature, you might say. Tall, experienced, accomplished.

But they are not the ones chosen to lead. David the youngest, skinniest, lowliest by all accounts is the chosen leader.

And in 1 Samuel 16:7 we are given one explanation: “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Let us take clues from David’s calling. Following God faithfully isn’t about appearance, but about heart. It isn’t about showing off our best self but slowly having the bravery to share our one, true, authentic self.

God calls not the likely leader, but the authentic leader.

In that same group of young professionals, last weekend, our leader gave us this analogy.

When it comes to leading, we all want to be Jesse’s older sons. The ones that look the part, that have the stature and the accolades. The ones with the right timing, the right outfit, and the right social media campaign. We all want to be the story’s superheroes.

But what if what we actually need are more leaders that resemble the men and women behind the masks?

The everyday Bruce Waynes and Clark Kents, not the batmen or the super women.

What if we believe that change comes not from the superhero, but from the everyday hero.

“The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

To practice authenticity, and fight the temptation to clean up our appearance first, I’ve written down these reminders to take with us :

  • Look at the heart. I know how tempting it is to focus on cleaning up your appearance, or waiting for the right timing, or having the right experience to lead well. But the truth is that we already serve and lead other people today in our homes, communities, schools and jobs. Look at your own honest heart. Look at the hearts of others. Who is someone that you already interact with who could use a friend this week? How could sharing a piece of your imperfect story give someone else permission to be imperfect, too?
  • Offer grace to ourselves. I told you I’m a recovering perfectionist, so I struggle with this. But we must remove the masks of perfection, busyness, speed or cleverness. God does not expect perfection from us; we don’t need to demand it of ourselves. In giving ourselves grace, we are better equipped to extend that grace to others. And we allow God to be our sufficiency in weakness.
  • Celebrate our roles as the the everyday superheroes of the world. Whatever your sphere of influence, steward it well. Commit to your daily tasks and close relationships. Believe that your everyday faithfulness will powerfully and beautifully affect those around you.

God calls us to be authentic  as leaders, friends, supporters. Why?

Because authenticity  is a practice in faithfully resembling the original. Discovering and sharing our most essential selves, made beautiful and complete in God’s image.

The Sound of This Season

He was wearing a blue collared shirt, and a kind expression skirted around his wrinkled temples and blue eyes.

My college girlfriends and I were gathered around a table at a breakfast restaurant. The man in the blue shirt and his wife were seated next to us, within earshot of our fits of giggles.

Our table was experiencing the pure joy you feel when familiar, good friends gather to catch up after many months apart. We laughed and laughed in between sips of coffee and bites of omelettes. We brought up shared memories – late nights spent in our college town, favorite professors, campus characters and spring break trips. We remarked on how fast the time goes, and also how quick we are to pick up where we left off. A true gift.

After some time, the man in the blue shirt walked over to our table with a gentle shuffle and spoke up.

“I want to thank you all,” he said. And we all turned to face him, curious.

“It’s such a pleasure to enjoy one’s dinner to the sound of such laughter,” he said with a big smile.

I was suddenly so proud to be sitting at our table – the table of laughter.

“We are in our 80s,” the man continued, gesturing to his wife. “When we were young, we used to have a record. One of the tracks was called ’16 women trapped in a lavatory.’ And when you got to the track, all you could hear was laughter! That’s all the song was!”

He chuckled at the memory, and all of us laughed with him, smiling at his willingness to share.

“You all reminded me of that today. So, thank you.”

I imagined what the sound must have been like, and then I realized that I already knew it well, that sound of a laugh track.

It’s the sound that underlines my deep, sweet friendships, new and old. It’s the sound that defines each and every interaction I have with my sister. It’s the sound of my parents catching each other dozing off in front of the TV. It’s the sound of brunch with college girlfriends.

The words of that kind gentleman reminded me of something that’s important to me.

As we look forward to the fall season, I’ve been spending time prioritizing – deciding what activities are important to me, and what things I’m going to say ‘no’ to in order to make the important stuff happen.

This is not a pattern that I’m very good at. Ordinarily, I want to dive right into each new season (fall especially so, because it’s my favorite) with gusto and fervor and a ‘yes’ to every invitation. Savoring and enjoying has, historically, meant agreeing and planning and filling my calendar with friend dates and projects.

And this fall, I want to do as many of those beautiful things as possible. But I am realizing that, in order to make room for the good stuff, I have to say ‘no’ to stuff that’s less important. I have to say ‘no’ to the voice of frantic hustling – the voice of one more commitment, one more spot in the schedule.

I’m practicing that this fall.

For example, here are some things that I am saying ‘no’ to:

  • Spending time on social media on the weekends
  • Committing to more projects than I can handle at work

And here are some things I am saying a big, loud ‘YES’ to:

  • Inviting friends over for dinner around our table, rather than going out
  • Making space in my schedule to pray and practice silence
  • Spending time outside, admiring the changing light & leaves
  • Reading
  • Resting

And last, but certainly most vitally:

  • Laughter

Just as laughter defined our reunion breakfast this weekend, I want laughter to be a memorable and distinct thread, connecting my fall activities and meals and plans.

I want to be known for my laughter. I want it to be the sound that defines this happy and full and growth-filled season.

Laughter is hard-fought, and it’s worth fighting for. A true gift. The man in the blue shirt at breakfast taught me that.

It’s a sound that calls us back to what’s most important – these friends, this time, this place around our tables and in our homes. Laughter requires us to live in the moment, to double over and pause in the joy of connection.

Let’s keep the laugh track going this fall. Let’s gather and say gracious and necessary ‘no’s in order to focus on the good stuff. Let’s make space for ourselves and our people to breathe, to rest, and to share – laughter as our soundtrack.



It’s Monday, and the little world around me is waking up groggily, sipping coffee and scrolling through Twitter, trying to wake up and wondering where another wonderful summer weekend went. Poolside afternoons have faded to pagers beeping and printers whirring and emails interrupting the 90-degree heat.

Hello, new week.

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I ride the train on these Mondays, these weekday mornings, and – although it could be partly the coffee talking – my heart is soaring. I look at all of these people, all of these faces, rumbling towards downtown on the light rail with me. Going to work and college. Some napping. Some reading. Some looking out the thick train windows, watching the pink sunrise cast the downtown skyline in a silhouette.

A lady is swaying gently to the beat of whatever is in her headphones. The man across from me is attempting to disarm the voice activation feature on his smartphone…and is thus speaking loudly to an inanimate object in the middle of a crowd of strangers (LOL). A jolly-looking guy with just a tiny bit of a belly is laughing heartily at the screen of his iPhone, and I wonder if he was watching Netflix or simply reading text messages from his wife.

Something about this time is extraordinary.

To think…God knew these would be our movements this morning. He fashioned us perfectly, purposefully, so that we could do these little things. Fill these spaces. Ride these trains. Be a part of the pulse of this city. Once upon a time, God drew a circle on the map of my life in the exact spot I am standing now. And the same goes for you.

I often wonder to myself, “did God actually do it all, sacrifice it all, craft it all…just so that we could do this? Live ordinary lives? Ride the train and shop for groceries and corral kids into classrooms and answer emails?”

“Did God make me so that I could listen to Phil Wickham on my afternoon run?” (current fav)

“Did God so love the world so that I could snap at my friends and snap at my parents, and then come to Him, repentant?”

“Did God give His One and Only so that I could stumble out of bed into a broken world every Monday morning?”

Answer: Yes.

This, I think, is one of the things I was put on this earth to tell you. Yes. God made, and God loved, and God gave so that we could live lives that are full – full of both big moments and ordinary joys. It all matters.  

Here’s the thing. God didn’t just plop us on to this earth as if by an afterthought. He didn’t just birth us in this country, in our cities, in our homes, and with our families as if by accident.

And here’s the thing – if you believe, as I so strongly do, that these things were not by accident, then it follows that nothing is an accident. Nothing.

I mean, it wouldn’t make sense if God the Father divinely chose certain events, certain encounters, and certain meet-ups to happen, but allowed other things to just slip through the cracks. Then he wouldn’t be the all-knowing, all-good, all-purposeful, all-powerful God that He is. And friends – HE IS. He knows. He’s good. He’s full of purpose. He’s powerful.

And yes, I believe that even the things in life that are SO hard, the fires that we’re thrown into, the bruises that we don’t feel like we deserved, the news that changes everything. Even the things that suck. These things are not God’s choice for His children, but He still uses them. Even our mistakes and the times we make big messes. God gives us the freedom to choose, but He still uses that stuff. It becomes a teachable moment, not treachery.

Why? Because everything is designed to draw us nearer to the Father. The good teaches us to know Him, and the bad teaches us to lean on Him with everything. The happy teaches us to praise Him, and the grief teaches us to question Him again and again and again until we come out trusting. He promised to make us more and more like Jesus, closer and closer to Himself, our whole lives long. And He is faithful to do just that.

He is crafting us into the finest Gold. The tools He uses take all kinds of shapes and sizes – good, bad, ugly and everything in between. But I believe so strongly that he chooses each and every shaping tool on purpose.

Friend, I’m talking to you today. Imagine I’m sitting beside you with a cup of coffee, or imagine that I’ve just sent you a letter in the mail.

I know how badly it hurts. That news, that person, that shattered dream, that anxiety. I know that ache. I’ve known it before, and I’ll know it again.

But I believe more than ever that you are gold. You are being refined with an undeniable beauty by a trustworthy and good craftsman. And that stuff that you’re made of is gonna shine brighter and brighter your whole life long, polished by moments of all kinds – ordinary, extraordinary, excruciating, and all. It all matters.

It’s a new week. The Craftsman is at work. So, take heart.

You are Golden, shining brighter with every passing Monday.