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.