On Hallways and Excellence

On Hallways and Excellence
Photo by Jessica Furtney on Unsplash

My neighborhood is a bit of an oddity. It’s somewhat old and dignified and there are lots of famous Detroiters who grew up here. There are parks, houses, eccentric people, and old trees like any other neighborhood. But unlike so much of the rest of the city, some people never left.

A sad part of the history of Detroit is after its height in the 50s and the riots of the 60s, most of the population with any financial means left for the suburbs. Mostly, it was the white people that left and the African Americans that stayed. It has been called the “white flight.” The city fell on hard times and earned its reputation because of the high crime rates and how hard life had become for most of the people in it. Except here, in my neighborhood.

Here, people moved in and stayed. They watched each other's homes, backyards, and cars, and planned BBQs and went to church. They raised their kids and competed for the best high schools left in the city. They trick-or-treated and planned garage sales and took camping trips together. I’ve heard story after story of this type of thing from people around me.

And as the older ones passed away, the next generation continued being here. They cut their lawns and complained to the city if a property was getting overgrown. They were regular people – teachers, handymen, salesmen, and nurses. I have met a vast array of people right here in these few city blocks. Together, they preserved a gem of a community. They open every neighborhood meeting in prayer and, yet, they have a reputation among the LGBT community as being the best and most hospitable cookout to attend.

Together, as the city crumbled and more and more people left, as crime rates skyrocketed, they waited for better times. And they stayed. Now, as young people and professionals start to move back in, as kids start using the cracked sidewalks for chalk and riding bikes again, they sit on their porches or walk their dogs and say, “Oh, it's sooo good to hear the kids again.”

“Finally, brothers…whatever is honorable…whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

Just like my neighbors waiting in a crumbling city, we find ourselves waiting in a crumbling world. But we’re never just sitting are we? We’re living and raising kids or praying for our spouses or grown children. We’re saying goodbye to our loved ones as they go home to glory. We feed people, earn money, clean our houses, and sell and buy new ones. We move on from some friends, and we learn and grow and meet new friends. And still we find ourselves waiting on God.

Maybe we’re waiting on something essential. Like our husband to see spiritual things as important. Or a child to be saved. Or to finally be able to obey a call that God has planted in our souls. Or to meet someone we can truly share our entire selves with. Something that just has to happen for other things to move forward. But we can’t do these things. Only God can. So we pray. And it seems Red Sea impossible. But He’s done it before, so He can do it again.

So we wait. And hope.

And find ourselves in a hallway in between where we were… and where we long to be. We’re really not in either place, but we’re moving through. Maybe, our destination needs adjusting. Maybe, we didn’t quite see God’s picture. But usually, what we want are good things. So how do we thrive in a…hallway?


And I’m not talking about our own excellence – the bootstrap DIY kind – I’m talking about the excellence that we find all around us like wild flowers. Excellence that we had no part in the making of. Like the gem of a neighborhood we stumbled into. Gifts that we pluck from God. Sparks that focus our hearts again and again on Him. Excellent things. Honorable things. Things worth praising or worth praising God about. Praiseworthy things.

To think on them, we need to look for them. And what we look for, we find.

“Blessed are those whose strength is in You,
In whose heart are the highways (hallways?) to Zion,
As they go through the Valley of Baca
They make it a place of springs
The early rain covers it in pools.
They go from strength to strength;
Each one appears before God in Zion” (Psalm 84:5-7, parenthesis added).

I’ve been living in these hallways since I stepped off a plane from China 12 years ago. That is nothing compared to some of you – but in the meantime, I’ve found excellence in the most unexpected places. Here, here and here for example. What has He been doing in all the hallways?

Teaching me that hallways – the in-between times – are really just highways to Zion. To Him.

Sister, there is richness in the waiting. I hate in-betweens. I am so anxious to get on with it and get to it. But there are pools from His rain, and springs from the endless places you find excellence. Sink into it, embrace the waiting, and look around you. Choose to revel in the good, the excellent, the praiseworthy, and choose to make the valley a place of springs.

I always read that as “He” would make it a place of springs. But it's you and me – by His strength – that can make this barren place a place of springs.

Are you in a hallway right now? Then pick some flowers, work for the good of your Babylon, keep pruning your hope to keep it fresh, and draw your springs of water in the Valley of Baca (which means weeping).

It’s mowing your lawn even though it's not worth what your dad paid for it. It’s staying when everyone else is leaving. Excellence. It is this quiet defiance of despair that enrages Satan most. It is how we fight fear and anxiety. Make your hallway, your valley, your in-between a place where heaven touched down.

You’re not just in a hallway, the verse says there’s a path to the promised land in your heart. You may not know how to get there, but you know you will be there. The waiting will end. Maybe in the short term, “the promised land” is the house you have been waiting to buy. Or the husband you want to marry, or the prodigal you’re waiting on to come home.

The thing is, we’re not denying that wanting and not having is a hard place to be. But somehow, all these desires will be fulfilled – some in heaven, some on earth – and we don’t know which or when or how. In the big picture, life is a hallway between what Christ did on the cross and the calling home of His bride to heaven when all our hopes will be fulfilled in Him.

So, in the meantime, in the hallway, we gather excellence. We defy the dark and bring springs up in the valleys of our tears. In our souls, we know where strength comes from – Him. And one day in His courts is better than 10,000 elsewhere.

Sink into Him in the valley, Sister. Bring up those springs intentionally. Hunt for the honorable, the excellent, the praiseworthy with all the hope of heaven.

Here’s a list of the excellent that I found in my hallway today. Please share yours in the comments. Let's find excellence in the in-between. Friends, think on these things.

  • My neighbor, Julian, that plays his trumpet on his porch. His house is in front of the park so we all hear while we walk or play.
  • The power turned back on after a storm knocked it out. The shock of lights and cold air that reminded me how blessed I am.
  • My girls – they are growing so fast, but Elise especially. She’s kind and suddenly mature and beautiful.
  • News of missions far away. This one was from sensitive areas of China and the publication couldn't even share the location. Faithful people in valleys drawing up springs.
  • The tender piercing of birdsong in the morning.
  • The collaboration of generations of my neighbors. They are busy planning our summer cookout.
  • The specific way He gives strength and light and happy for one day at a time. Not for tomorrow, or yesterday, just today.
  • A loaded salad that makes me thrilled to eat more vegetables.