Category Archives: Laws Mennonite Church

The Littles

We’ve started the new Sunday School year in our congregation.  Even before Mama fell in May, I had planned to take the month of June off from teaching The Littles because of family vacation and a Yutzy reunion.  With the passing of my Sweet Mama, it was easy to just let other people take care of things and to soak up time with my peers in an adult class of women.  I needed them.  I needed the time.  And it was healing and good.

But I missed my littles.

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We had many good times in the crowded room beside the kitchen at Grace Fellowship Church’s gathering place, where our church body has been meeting since the fire damaged out building on the corner of Carpenter Bridge and Canterbury Roads.  This picture was take the night we got together to pack a goodie box for another child.  It was only taken seven months ago (Actually seven months ago today!) but I cannot believe how much they have grown and matured in these short months.  Katie is a self assured kindergartener, Judah is talking and paying much better attention and Charis is more aware of the needs of her classmates and is less jealous of her Grammy’s attention.  All three are more participant.

The summer had passed so quickly, and I thought often and prayed that God would show me whether I should offer to teach the class for the year coming up.  We have some talented young blood coming up in our church, and teaching is a blessing that is often overlooked in the maturation process.  I know that not everyone is cut out to teach, but I also know that choosing to teach has been one of the ways that God has used in my life to encourage growth, personal study and reliance on HIM for wisdom and courage and strength and even results.  The blessings that I have reaped have been beyond what I have deserved.  And quite honestly, though I really wanted to teach this particular class again, I also didn’t want to step in and  volunteer when God had laid it on someone else’s heart to teach the class.  He may have had blessings abundant in store for someone else, I reasoned, and it would be wrong for me to grasp someone else’s opportunity.  And so, even though I thought the end of summer was coming quickly, I decided to hold my peace and wait and see.

Then one of our superintendents, Davey Burkholder, approached me last Sunday and asked if I would be willing to teach that class of Littles.  I was suddenly unsure of what I should do.  I asked for some time to think about it.  He said that was fine, and in the reorganization part of our Sunday Morning service, it was announced that they were looking for a teacher for the class and they asked for volunteers.

“Whew!” I thought.  “That will be a defining event.  If someone volunteers, I will know that it isn’t for me this  year.”

But I kept mulling it over and over in my head.  I asked Certain Man what he thought  I should do.  He didn’t know.  And he didn’t feel strongly one way of the other from what he said.  I asked Middle Daughter whether she had any advice for me.

“Well, Mom,” she said carefully, “I think that wanting to teach the class is a pretty good indicator of what you should do.  It’s something you enjoy, and if you want to, then I think you should!  I’m taking the year off from the young women’s class, and if you need me, I can help you out.”  And that pretty much did it for me.

So I waited a few days, then called and got the curriculum and found myself back in one of my favorite spots yesterday morning.  The lesson that we used on Sunday was one from the last quarter that hadn’t been used, and it was called “A song for walking outdoors.”  One of the activities that I decided to do was to take the three on a walk outdoors looking for different things that they could pick up in nature to put in their ziploc plastic bags to take home with them.  A flower, a leaf, a seed pod, bark from a peeling tree, a stone, berries. Grace Fellowship Church is located in an industrial park, and is surrounded mostly by concrete and asphalt, but there were stones, a few trees, lots of weeds, and  a couple of patches of grass.  Around a corner and past a chain link fence divider there were some landscaping bushes around another building that I hoped would provide some berries for variety.

I checked the time and then said, “Let’s go over there and see what we can find.  There might be something different over there!”  The three of them were delighted and we headed out across the asphalt patch that separated the us from the other building.

“We have rules,” said Katie confidentially.  “We aren’t allowed to go anywhere on this pavement over here without a grown up.”

“That’s a good rule,” I told her.  “You should never go anywhere without a grown up unless your Daddy and Mommy say it is okay.  And this isn’t a good place for you to go unless there is a grown up with you.”

“Yup,” she said happily.  “But you are a grown up!”

I laughed.  “Yes,” I said, “I guess I am!”

“You are a very old grown up.” She said. (Emphasis Katie’s.)

And I laughed again.

Oh, my Katie-girl!  If you only knew how it is.  Just yesterday, my own girlies were five years old and learning family rules.  The day before that, it was me.  I only turned around twice before I got “very old.”  But you and your brother and my granddaughter, all growing so fast, remind of once was and I feel the eternity of the spirit in these old bones.  You cannot imagine how it is to feel five years old in your heart, but almost 62 in a body that will not run and jump and dance to the music of our incredible world.   But I promise you this.  There is coming a day when this body will dance to the music of Heaven.  And my spirit, eternal and free, will be as young as yours.

And what is inconceivable to me now will be an actuality.

My heart sings grateful praise.

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Of Ruins and Hope

A sign sprang up on the front lawn of Laws Mennonite Church last week.  It is strategically placed so that it is seen by traffic at the corner of Carpenter Bridge and Canterbury Roads.  I looked at the bright red against the clean white siding and thought about how GOOD the outside of our church building has been looking.

Laws Mennonite Church Warfel Sign

Certain Man has been keeping the grass trimmed and has been weed eating and spraying the weeds and trimming the roses that he planted around the church sign last year.  To see the outside of our church, it would be difficult to tell how devastating the destruction was inside.

IMG_1598  IMG_1714I looked at the pictures, and thought that my heart would break.  But it didn’t take too long for people to get in there and get things cleaned up.

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The thing was, I didn’t go in for even a casual glance until about a month ago.  We’ve been waiting on insurance and blueprints and approvals and permits until it has seemed like a never ending battle.  And I really didn’t want to see it.  But when our offspringin’s were all home for our stay-cation, we decided to stop by the church one afternoon and see how things were coming along.  I had looked hard at the pictures, imagining how it looked, thinking about our empty church, but nothing could have prepared me for the wave of emotion as I stood and looked about the church.  The hardest thing of all was that, as I stood there that day, I felt so strongly in my heart that my Sweet Mama would not live long enough to see things put back to right and it made me almost sick.

It wasn’t the dirt and the smoke and the smell as much as it was just the barren emptiness and the lack of anything familiar.

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I stood in the emptiness and wept for all that had been lost and for all that was so uncomfortable.

The other day I was reading in Psalms in my Bible reading and in Psalm 74:3, I was stopped cold by these words:

“Make your way through these old ruins: the enemy wrecked everything in the Temple.”

I felt God nudging at my heart, and I thought about the ruins of my heart, and how completely devastated I’ve been feeling at times.  I thought about how the enemy seeks to steal and to kill and to destroy.  How he seeks to wreck everything in the temple of my heart.  I thought about how it can look like everything is okay on the outside, when inside there is this barren emptiness and ruin.  And so often the ruin of our hearts is not at our instigation or even the intention of others, but rather the enemy of our souls.  Just as the plan to torch our Church had less to do with Joseph Skochelak and Alex Harrington than an insidious master design that has left a lot more in ruins than a building.  Last week was the sentencing for these two young men, and my heart aches for them and their families.

“Oh Lord Jesus!  Make your way through these old ruins:  the enemy wrecked everything in the Temple.  In the ruins of my heart, in the ruins of our church building, in the ruins of the lives of Joey and Alex, may you make order and beauty from the chaos, devastation and destruction.  Even as the sign has gone up on our church property to indicate remodeling and repair, may Hope and Peace and Love and Forgiveness all be the signs upon Your Territory, our hearts, so that those watching may see that you are in the business of walking through ruins and bringing something new and strong and beautiful where there was only ugly emptiness.”

IMG_1634. . . I will not leave you comfortless.  I will come to you.”  John 14:8

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The Feetwashing Tubs

When our church burned almost six months ago, one of the things that did not melt was our stack of tubs for feetwashing.

Our church family still practices feetwashing.  For those of you who are not acquainted with this tradition, it is usually held in connection with two of our communions a year, in keeping with the passage in John 13:4-17, where Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.  In verses 14 and 15, Jesus said, 14 “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash each other’s feet. 15 I did this as an example so that you should do as I have done for you.”  We have chosen to believe that there is value in taking these words literally and beautiful symbolism in this act of humility, servitude and vulnerability.  Many, many sermons have been preached on what this really means, and I have found it incredibly precious in different ways at different times,

That being said, as we were preparing for communion this spring, Certain Man was under the impression that the elders were planning for feetwashing, and as the deacon, it is his job to take care of the physical preparation for the celebration.  So he stopped one evening on his way home from work and looked for the stack of eight, gray Sterlite tubs that we use for feetwashing.  He found them, alright.  For some reason, they were not melted as were most plastics in the church that terrible morning.  But they were blackened by smoke and dirty from water.  He brought them home.

“Hon,” he said.  “Someone has to clean these up.”  (“Someone,” I took it to mean, was his wife.)  They sat on the cupboard in my laundry room and I looked at them with distaste and dread.  I really didn’t want to scrub them up, but communion was only a week away and I knew I didn’t have much time.

Then the Elders decided that, given the shortened time frame, Sunday school being such a big part of our Sunday morning service, and us not being in our own place, that they were going to forego the feetwashing part of our communion this time.  And I, glad for the reprieve, did not scrub the tubs up.  They sat on my counter sometimes, in my laundry sink sometimes, sometimes being moved so I could work in the area that they were, and for some reason, they did not get any cleaner.  They just sat there and waited.  I kept thinking that maybe someone would get tired of seeing them and would do something with them, but it did not seem to be the case.  Last night I looked at them again (probably for the hundredth time at least) and decided that I would do something with them.  TODAY!

So this morning I drew a big sink full of water with bleach, fetched myself a magic eraser and set to work.  I watched the black spots come off, saw the smooth clear gray come clearer and clearer as the black water was rinsed down the drain.  I thought about our church and about feetwashing and how the brothers and sisters there are such an integral part of who I am and what I do.  I prayed for Alex and Joey and wondered what they would do differently that December night if they could do things over.  I thought about redemption and how, even though it seems so simple, it is never easy, and how, even for them, there is Grace enough, if they would only choose it.

The last tub was especially covered in soot and grime.  I thought about how washing these feetwashing tubs was something that came down to me being willing to do it, and I prayed that in this washing, God would reckon it as a way that I washed the feet of my sisters and brothers.

I took the tubs out, stacked them on the steps to the upper deck to dry.  They were so common in the morning sun, but so glorious in my eyes.  Another thing set wrong by the arson was back to order.  Slowly, one step at a time, things are getting done– not only in the building, but in our hearts.

And I give grateful praise.

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Sunday Grumpies

This was the Sunday morning when I felt just plain grumpy.  It’s a ridiculously beautiful day.  I had a wonderful lesson for my little people at church.  I had made fairly good preparation.  We moved Youngest Daughter home from Philadelphia yesterday. Certain Man and I had a very nice afternoon together, walking by the water at Delaware City, stopping for a quick supper at Chick fil a, and coming home in good time after our Philadelphia run.  I was terribly tired last night, to the point of finally going to bed early and sleeping soundly most of the night.  But I woke up grumpy and irritated.

It shouldn’t have mattered that Nettie was up and dressed by 6:30.  This was a good morning for her to do that, but she looks at me so reproachfully when things don’t move according to her schedule, and things did not move  according to her schedule  this morning.  And she didn’t like the music I put on for her.  I was in no mood to hear Johnny Cash or Conway Twitty or The Oak Ridge boys while I showered and dressed Cecilia.  Usually I just keep the music off on Sunday mornings but this morning, I felt like my spirits could use some music, so the choice was classical.  She didn’t want that.  It didn’t have words.  After I left the room, she asked Deborah to change it.  Deborah, not knowing that I had chosen the station with intent this morning, called out to the kitchen that she was changing it for her.

“No, you’re not,” I said more sharply than I intended.  “I do not feel like hearing country music this morning.  I put that on on purpose.”

“But she doesn’t like it,” said my surprised Middle Daughter.  “It doesn’t have words.”

“I know it doesn’t,” I said testily.  “I don’t feel like hearing words.”

“Oh.  Okay, then!” Said Deborah, and went and told Nettie that she wasn’t changing it after all.  Whereupon Nettie came out to the kitchen to tell me that she wanted the channel changed.

“No, Nettie,” I said, again, more firmly than necessary, “I don’t want you to change it.  You can listen to that this morning.  I don’t feel like hearing Country.  You listened to that all day yesterday.  This is Sunday morning music.  You can listen to this for a change.”

She looked at me like I had just told her that I was withholding her daily sustenance.  Disgusted she went back into her room without another word.  I felt even more out of sorts.  Probably in part from the exchange immediately preceding this. (Which went like this:)

“Hon, we need to get the holders for the communion cups out here.”  It was Certain Man, helping to get stuff together for communion.

I looked at him blankly.  “Um.  I think those are up at church,” I said.

“We never kept them up there before,” he said emphatically.

“Yes, we have,” I said just as emphatically.  “I never thought to tell someone to get them, but I’m sure they are up there.”

“Hon, we always bring them home and wrap them in plastic and put them in there on the shelf.”

I knew they weren’t in there, but I went in to check anyhow.  ‘I think,” I said, “That I have been storing them up at church ever since I forgot them that time  and you had to run back for them.  But I never thought about it when we were getting things together.  I’m sorry.”

He came and looked  over my shoulder at the empty spot where they should would have been if they were there.  “Well, they certainly aren’t there.  I’m going to have to run up to church and see if I can find them.  Hard telling where they are.”

“Why don’t you ask Deborah.  She would know if they were up there.”

“She’s still sleeping.  I don’t want to wake her up.  I’m gonna’ go do my chores quick and then I will run up there and see.”

“Whatever you think, Daniel.”

That’s what he thought.  And he went out to check his chickens, feed his livestock and check on the general state of affairs at Shady Acres.  He came back in shortly.

“Is Deborah up?”

“I haven’t seen her yet.”

“Well, I’ve gotta get going.”

“Wake her up, Daniel.  I’m sure she would go with you”

“Hon, I can’t wait that long.  It will take her a good 20 minutes to get ready and I can’t wait that long!”

“I think she would throw things together in a hurry and go with you, Daniel.  She and Chris and Amy did the sorting up there after the fire, and I think she would know right where they were.  You could at least ask her if she knows where they are.”

I went back to my morning things, but noticed that he did go over and call quietly from the bottom of the stairs.  I heard them converse for a  bit and then he left, and Deborah came down to the  kitchen to help out with morning things.  She worked at ironing the linens for the communion table, talked to Nettie, and did any of a number of helpful things for me.

I got lunch into the oven and kept thinking about Nettie, stewing in her room over the music.  I finally went in.

“Nettie, I am going to turn your music on, but I am closing the doors.”

She made little response except to acknowledge that she heard me and to act like it was about time I saw the light.  She said she didn’t care if I closed the doors.  And I did.  I did not slam them, but It was a pretty firm closure.

I went out to the kitchen to finish class and communion preparation.  Our lesson this morning was from the parable of the yeast.  How the Kingdom of Heaven is like the measures of leaven that the woman put into the dough and how it grew and grew and grew.  I had been looking forward to this lesson for some time.  I love working with yeast products, and it fell on communion Sunday, and there was this simple recipe for making bread in my teacher’s manual.  I had made arrangements to use the bread from the lesson for the communion celebration. I had made a batch ahead of time, and wasn’t very impressed with how it turned out.  However, it held promise, and I knew instinctively of some things that I could do to make it better.  It was imperative, though, that I make a batch ahead of time that would be for our communion service this morning, and then the children would make a batch in class that would be theirs to take home.  I stood at my kitchen counter and thought that it just wasn’t such a great idea.

“I don’t know about this,” I said to myself.  “I’m thinking that this is going to be  a hot mess.   The Sunday school room isn’t all that big.  There will be flour and water and who knows what else on the floor before I’m done and the kids will be dirty.  If I make this first batch at home and take it in, it’s liable not to turn out if I’m moving it around while it’s rising.  And how am I going to liken the Kingdom of Heaven to baking bread, anyhow?   Besides, what does the “Kingdom of Heaven” mean to these kids?  I am not sure they really are understanding what this is trying to say.  And I am using yeast when it should be unleavened bread.  And I don’t know how to make yeast bread out of Gluten-free flour, so what am I trying to do?  Someone is likely to feel left out or rejected or not part of the body.  This just feels like such a mess!”

I looked at my ingredients and kept plugging away.  Partly because I didn’t know what else to do.  Partly because I had promised the children.  Partly because it was too late to try to do something else.

And then, at the edge of my conscious thought, came that familiar nudging.  “It just might be a mess.  It might not turn out right.  But think about this.  The crucifixion, to borrow your vernacular, was a hot mess.  There was nothing predictable, easy, clean or orderly about it.  It was messy.  It was awful.  It was anything but nice. Somewhere, you’ve gotten this idea that communion has to be perfect, aesthetically pleasing, tasting just right, looking just right and inoffensive to anyone — particularly you!  That’s not how it was . . .you need to let this go.  Think of why you wanted to do this in the first place and remember that ‘nice and easy’ and ‘discipleship’ are not synonymous.”

It was a thoughtful Delaware Grammy that finished mixing up the bread, and got ready for church.  Certain Man found the cup holders and got home in plenty of time,  He loaded the van with the communion supplies, Sunday school supplies, checked to make sure everything was packed that was needed.  He was his usual pleasant and kind self.  Middle Daughter helped and encouraged and the rest of the morning went quietly along.

And things went well at church, too.  The Three Littles were their usual exuberant selves, and participated heartily and happily and even shared with each other. The bread baked beautifully golden and smelled wonderful, and the Kingdom of Heaven was talked about repeatedly as we mixed yeast, watched bread rise and repeatedly checked the baking process.  What a special time we had together.  How I love these three little people.  They make me laugh and they teach me things about human nature, and they cause me to dream dreams about what they will be someday and how they might change the world.  And they compel me to pray for them by the newness of their raw materials, the light of Heaven in their eyes and the prospect of the world that they will live in.  Charis, Katie and Judah:  You cannot imagine how much Jesus loves you.  How I pray that you catch just a glimpse of what you can do in this old world for Jesus’ sake.

And then our communion service was sweet and celebratory and the church family was so kind.  Not a single murmuring word against the leaven or the gluten.  We remembered our Lord’s death and celebrated the sacrifice that was made for us.  We celebrated our church family, and the love that holds us together, causes us to overlook the irritations, and even hears honest confessions of repentant hearts with reassurance and encouragement.

For this and so much more, my heart gives grateful praise

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I just get that same old feeling . . .

There is a feeling I get, heading up Canterbury Road, that I’ve come to realize is a joy-mixed longing, accompanied by a familiarity. It has caused me to want to stop (in years past) at the white church on the corner of Canterbury and Carpenter Bridge, to unlock that front door and step inside, to sometimes pray a little, think a lot, and to drink in the smells and sights that are the physical embodiment of the building that houses our church. I’ve written on here before about how I miss our church building and how homesick I have been for that place of worship.

Earlier this week, I was caught flat-footed by that same feeling. Excepting that I wasn’t anywhere near Felton, DE. Nope, I was rounding that corner from Woodyard Road onto U.S. 13 South on my way to my Sweet Mama’s house, when I had this warm and sweet familiar feeling, and an urge to turn into the Nanticoke Business Park Drive. It startled me, as my mind was far away from this temporary gathering place that we’ve been using the last three and a half months.

“What in the World???” I thought as I kept my van on the forward mode. It was so strong that it jolted my thinking about this group of believers that I call my church family. I realized with a start that we are making warm and good memories in this “Place of Grace.” It has been an adequate, full of light and comfortable place of worship for us, and more than that, we’ve been the recipients of such open handed generosity that it blows my mind. The congregation that owns the facility has been so unselfish with everything and gone the second mile with their kindness. We’ve been free to be ourselves and we’ve been encouraged to “do church” with as many familiar routines as possible.

When the fire was lit on December 2nd, the intention was to hurt and to destroy. But as the old building is being renovated and restored, something stronger and more serviceable and beautiful is rising from the ashes. And the things that hold us together as a church family were impacted, but strengthened in the time since that unsettling morning. Especially encouraging has been how the people of the broader church family have rallied around us, prayed for us, given gifts of time, expertise, and money. It isn’t “too good to be true,” because it is true! And these responses come as a God of Truth moves on the hearts of ordinary men.

What I felt when I rounded that corner was just a feeling. And we all know that feelings are not to be trusted. But may I just say that feeling a sense of delight when I am near to the place where our church family meets, even though it is temporary — well, that’s the kind of thing that I call a bonus gift. Something extra special that God does for His child in situations that challenge, reminding me of His care over, not only our church family as a body, but over His daughter and the emotions of my heart.

And this daughter’s heart gave grateful praise.

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Tears in the night

We are traveling a familiar road, Certain Man and I.  I knew when we set out on this Deacon call that we would be going this way, but I was not prepared.

We came around the curve and came up a small hill.  Far away in the distance, the lights of our church building shone through the Sunday evening cold.  It took my breath away.

“There are lights???  At the church???” I asked Certain Man.

“Sure are!”  He replied in his off-handed way.  “They’ve had them on ever since they got electric back in after the fire.”

“But how???” I am still more than a little incredulous.  “The lights were all taken down!”

“Oh, they just strung them up however they could.  They want lights on, especially at night.”

Oh.

We come on down the road, closer and closer to the church, and my eyes drink in the light shining out of every window.  As we get closer, it was plain that the lights are from various wires, strung all over the empty, gutted church.  Up close, it isn’t half as beautiful as it was from the distance.  I look hurriedly and hungrily through the dusty windows.  It is full of light, but without life.

I am sad and reflective on my side of The Silver Chariot.  “I’ve not been in,” I say quietly.

“What???  You’ve not been in since the fire???”  I feel Certain Man’s disbelief spearing me through the darkness.

“No.”

“Why not???”  There was so much coming and going in the days following the fire, so much traffic from our house in particular with Certain Man being the first on the scene from our congregation and then both Eldest Daughter and Middle Daughter playing a part in the aftermath and the clean-up that it had been so easy to hide the fact that I didn’t go.

I feel the tears welling up in my eyes.  “Because,” I almost whisper.  “I just didn’t think I could bear it.”

“Well, Hon, I think you need to go,” says my steady spouse.  “I really think it’s something you should do.”

“Why?  I feel so terribly sad, and it is something I just don’t want to see.  Maybe after it is all fixed up, I won’t hate it so much.  But for now, I have no desire to go in and see it.”

He doesn’t push me, and we stop at the four-way stop sign at the corner of Carpenter Bridge and Canterbury Road and then go on.  I sit in the dark and think about this church family that I call “mine” and I think about the strength and courage and grace and forgiveness that has marked these days since that early morning call on December 2, 2014.  Our people have not wallowed about in despair or self pity or been immobilized by this bump in the road.  They are still gathering for worship, encouraging one another, doing the things that have been a part of our lives for so many years.  We are still praying, singing, giving to needs outside the congregation, some of us are teaching Sunday School, some are volunteering at Stevenson House, some are preparing and delivering sermons, and last week, in the middle of the coldest, icy-est, darkest time of our winter, most of us gathered together for renewal meetings and the majority of us didn’t miss a night.  And this doesn’t cover the everyday lives of our people who work and play and raise families and maintain their homefires.

And so I remind myself that we are not defined by that damaged church house there on a country road in Kent County, Delaware.  These people are The Church, and though we are certainly re-evaluating and seeking to hear what God is saying to us through these difficult times, we are very aware that God has something so good for us through this fire that has truly proved to be a Refiner’s Fire.

And while I may shed some quiet tears when I look at a building that holds the church memories of almost 50 of my 61 years, I will not hang my heart on a structure that can, well — be destroyed.  This made me think about a passage in 2 Corinthians that goes something like this:

1-5 For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less. (The Message)

And so, when it is all said and done, it isn’t a church structure.  It isn’t even these earthly bodies that are so prone to letting us down.  The Hope is in that Home that will not be destroyed.  Heaven.

How my soul wants that to happen!  Job 19:27b

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