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.

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