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We were somewhere in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Probably 2021 or so. I was in the East Village of Des Moines working with my friend Marlene. Partway through the day we walked down the block and around the corner to a small shop called Ephemera to pick up some pretty paper for a project. That was the first time I walked under the red and white striped awning and heard the bell jingle on the front door. I immediately loved the little shop filled with hundreds of cards for every occasion, candles, fun notebooks with pens to match, and so many other carefully curated treasures for sale. 

Marlene and I got what we needed and returned to the office and later I drove the hour home to Pella. But I knew I needed to get back to that sweet little shop. In the weeks that followed I started spending my Friday afternoons in the East Village, mostly at Ephemera. For many Fridays it was Karen behind the counter. After a few visits we began remembering each other’s names and (masked) faces and whenever I walked in she would say, “Has the world been kind to you this week?” 

After a few weeks I finally met Arin – the other shop owner and Karen’s best friend. The two of them are magic and that magic is infused into every corner of their shop. At first I thought I liked going to Ephemera to buy pretty cards and candles. But I quickly realized I went because I wanted to spend time with Karen and Arin. I wanted to hear about Arin’s kids and Karen’s funny dogs. I wanted to talk about the ways the world had been kind to us and the things that felt hard. As the months went on I found myself driving the hour to that little shop on some of my hardest and best days. I cried at the counter about things that were hard. I shared the excitement about a new relationship and the disappointment when it ended. We laughed about so many things. 

One day after sharing about some particularly hard things, Arin pulled out a bag and handed me a small pin with a gold star on it. “This is an Ephemera gold star!” she proclaimed, “We hand these out to people who are doing hard things so they know that we are proud of them and cheering for them!” Two years later I still carry that little pin around in my wallet. 

Eventually I hung around long enough that I got asked to help out a few Saturdays a month. A dream come true – I became a shop girl. I come in about twice a month and hang out behind the counter. As I stand behind the counter, Brandi Carlisle or The Head and the Heart playing through the speaker, and a candle burning, I hear person after person walk in and talk about how much they love this place. Many folks come in looking for Arin or Karen just to say hi and give and receive updates on life. 

Earlier this year Arin and Karen started “Therapy Dog Thursdays” which is a gathering of anyone and everyone who’s available to come to the back room of the shop for free hot dogs on Thursdays. Some people bring sides to share or desserts to pass. Others show up empty handed ready to receive whatever Ephemera has to give that day. We all gather around the work table eating and sharing the wins from the week – big and small. New friendships have been made around that table, wins celebrated, losses named out loud. 

The Kingdom of God is like this. 

Like a place of respite and delight in the midst of a pandemic.

Like handing out tiny gold stars so people know someone is in their corner.

Like strangers turned friends around a feast of hot dogs and cheetos. 

Like sharing the ways the world has been kind even in the midst of all that is broken and painful.

Like finding life and friendship and belonging in a stationery store when I felt my loneliest. 

As I grew up in largely Evangelical spaces I somehow caught the idea that God was found in God places – church, youth group, other Christians. The rest of the world was in desperate need for God because well, God did not reside in non-Christian spaces. For too much of my life I didn’t know to look for God all around me. 

Ephemera is one of the places I experience God most fully. I have been loved freely. I have experienced deep generosity. I have been cared for in sadness and celebrated with delight. 

The Kingdom of God might be like a pearl and a mustard seed and yeast and banquets and hidden treasures. The Kingdom of God might also be like stationery stores under red and white striped awnings serving free hot dogs and handing out gold stars to strangers-turned-friends. 

May we all find our corners of cities and neighborhoods to find rest and joy. May we all help create those corners too. 

Katie Alley

Katie Alley serves as the Associate Pastor for Youth and Formation at Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. She loves taking long walks with her dog Twyla, driving with the windows down, and sipping chai lattes with friends. You can find more of her writing at 


  • Rowland Van Es, Jr says:

    A nice take on finding the kingdom in everyday places today. We can find it everywhere if we believe it is so.

  • Lori Witt says:

    Beautiful, Katie! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • Emily Jane VandenBos Style says:

    Indeed, the Queendom of God is like this. Thanks for saying so. Being so. Bowing to all the ways Creativity Comes Close and the Agency we have to notice and enact. Grace & her ways, so lovely, so needed.

  • Sherril Graham says:

    What a fun and interesting sales pitch. 😉 Thanks, Katie. I want to go there now, and to help create spaces where others can feel safe and comforted. I have work to do. ❤️

  • Christopher Poest says:

    Thank you for this, Katie.

  • Deb Mechler says:

    As Fr. Greg Boyle and others call it, the kindom of God. I need to find that shop on my next trip to DM! Thanks for this.

  • Kris H says:

    Thank you for sharing this. As a psychologist, I strive to create a safe, sacred and beautiful space for people to put words to painful and uncomfortable things. I have taken the phrase “has the world been kind to you?” and use it with almost every client instead of “how are you?” As people leave, i leave them with “I hope the world will be kind to you today.” Continued blessings to you in your journey to make and find these beautiful places of love and healing.

  • Ann Conklin says:

    I love this post and the beautiful image of the KOG! What a blessing ~ Thank you!!

  • Ruth A. Kuhn says:

    Katie, I heard your joy reading of Ephemera mirroring the kingdom of Heaven! Beautifully written, thank you!

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