Five Years Sailing These Seas

Danny Silk once said something in one of his teachings about how storms, not calm seas, are where we really learn to sail a ship. I later discovered that the idea came from an old English proverb:

“A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.” – English Proverb.

Regardless of its origins, though, the idea of embracing storms because they force us to learn to navigate deep waters encouraged me at the time (and still does), particularly because the seas of our marriage have been anything but calm.

Yesterday Derek and I celebrated five years of marriage. As I reflect on these five years of sharing home (five different homes, in fact) and life, I feel a deep sense of appreciation for the storms we have encountered (hard though they have been) because of what they have taught us about communication and forgiveness, about addressing our past wounds and walking in more wholeness, about loving unconditionally and giving vulnerably, and about trusting the Lord in every season and process.

Out of that reflection, I wrote this poem for Derek and gave it to him for our anniversary:

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Stormy Seas and Skillful Sailors

To the one who has sailed stormy seas
with me.

We embarked in a burst of champagne
and the resounding cheers of well-wishers,
glided out of safe harbor
and into roiling waters.

We felt the deck roll beneath our feet,
lost our balance,
fell flat on our faces,
our breath knocked out by the gale,
the salt of these seas on our tongues,
our first taste of open waters.
We wondered if we would ever rest
on solid ground again.

But in the churning and tossing
we learned the rhythm of these waves,
tuned our ears to every creak of this ship,
unfurled our sails to harness these tempests.
Our hands learned to grasp at solid wood
or a swinging rope
each time the ship threatened to fling us down.

And we came to trust our Captain
the One who steers this ship
and calms the seas.

Now, side by side,
we gaze boldly into the sunrise,
fiery hope spreading
rosy and golden on the horizon,
Heaven above reflected
in smooth seas below.

And we are not afraid
of the storms yet to come
for we are learning to sail this ship.

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So, It’s Been A While….

I know I’ve been pretty silent her in the blog world for quite a while (for almost two months, actually, if anyone has been keeping track….oops). My life, on the other hand, has been anything but silent. I don’t have adequate words yet for some of what has happened in those two months (and some can’t be shared in a public forum like this anyhow), but I can give you a brief list of some of the major life events since I last wrote:

  • We did a lot of wondering and praying about how we were going to pay rent and bills at the end of July.
  • I found a job (quite shortly after I wrote that last post about being discouraged by the fruitless job search, actually). Now I work as a server/cashier/dishwasher at a breakfast café in Westport. I really love it (except for working every weekend…). And it has been a reminder of God’s attentiveness to my heart and desires. During my final week of work with the after school program, I was praying and asking God to provide work for me and Derek. I felt God ask, “Well, what kind of work would you like?” The first thing that came to mind was a little breakfast and lunch café, full of bright colors, where I could serve cheerfully. That picture opened the door to a lot of lies in my heart about how I would never be good at the things that I wanted to do (some yucky heart residue from the after school job). About a month later, when I received the call for an interview at this breakfast place, God reminded me of that conversation with Him. Sure enough, the job opened up.
  • We contemplated a major, life-changing decision, ultimately deciding to say yes to what we felt was an invitation from God. That following month was an emotional roller coaster, careening though drama, phone calls, urgent meetings, a good deal of heartache, and then eventually ending with all our options exhausted and all the doors closed. God spoke to us deeply in that process, though, and assured us that He always brings forth life. Though we don’t know or understand what that might look like in this and we still carry a fair amount of grief over how things turned out, we’re still believing His word in that. (One of these days I may write a password-protected post sharing some more details of what happened and the ways God spoke in it).
  • Derek found a job (just in time to confirm the aforementioned life-changing decision). Now he works three days a week doing apartment maintenance and grounds keeping at an apartment complex near the Plaza (which fits perfectly with his school schedule).
  • Derek and I celebrated our second year of marriage by going out to our friend Autumn’s farm out in the middle of nowhere in Kansas. It was so peaceful and perfect. (I came home to discover that my engagement ring was stolen from the house while we were gone, though we got it back later that night, but that’s a whole different story….)
  • Derek returned to school for his second semester in CISCO networking. Don’t ask me what that is exactly. I just know it has to do with computers (and nothing to do with facebook) and that now he knows enough about routers to set up a home wireless network for us (pretty handy!).
  • I started school full-time. After almost five years out of school (which I still don’t regret, by the way), I’m a student again, this time working towards my associates in child growth and development. The classes are proving to be pretty intensive so far (more so than I expected for me first semester). I’m learning a lot already, though, and growing more and more excited about learning to teach young children well.
  • We moved out of the Tracy House and into our own apartment. We had been looking towards this move since the beginning of the summer (we were finding it increasingly difficult to live in community as a married couple, especially in a community with such a diversity of ages, life stages, and values). We felt like God was inviting us into a season of more intentionally establishing the foundations of our family. Somewhat unexpectedly, Lindsay decided that the season of the Tracy House was coming to a close and we all moved out at the end of August. So now, for the first time since we moved to Kansas City, Derek and I have our own space, a huge (and cheap!) third floor apartment, complete with a sunroom and its share of old building quirks. The building is named Isabel, which means, “God’s promise” or “Our God is a vow.” It feels like a significant name for our new home. We are mostly unpacked now (except for the second bedroom, which has become a temporary storage space for everything that doesn’t have a more permanent spot yet). Now I often find myself distracted, dreaming about ways to make the space lovely and home.

So there you have it: the reasons behind my silence over the past couple month. And now, I have some homework to do (or procrastinate on…) and some beautiful weather to enjoy….

What’s Cooking Good Looking?

(note: I’m chuckling/wincing at the cheesiness of that title. But I can’t come up with anything more creative right now, so there it stays)

I know I haven’t been writing much lately (more because of lack of time than lack of things to write about) but I have been cooking a lot.

Several weeks ago Derek and I sat down with our budget and decided we needed to go back to buying our own groceries to have a little more control over what we spend on food each week (rather than doing mostly community groceries like we had been, which was getting expensive and usual didn’t cover all the essentials for the week). So for the past three weeks, I’ve been making a weekly menu and doing our grocery shopping.

Now, instead of half-heartedly rummaging through the refrigerator and cupboard when I get home from work to see what I can possibly throw together quickly, I’ve been making dinners in the mornings so Derek has something to eat when he comes home from class and I don’t have to worry about it when I get home from work. I’ve been spending more time cooking, but trying new recipes and enjoying being a little more creative with what I make. It’s been refreshing, actually, having things planned out like that.

I’ve tried a number of new recipes in the past few weeks, but I’ll just share the one (based off of this recipe but altered to fit what I had and like) for Guinness stew that I made for our date night. Derek is a fan of beef and Guinness, so this made his list of top recipes recently:

Guinness Beef Stew

Ingredients:

1 lb. lean beef stew meat, cubed
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. flour
salt and pepper to taste (I used seasoned salt)
dash of cayenne pepper
1 1/2 c. Guinness (or other stout  beer)
2 large onions, chopped
2 parsnips, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 large potato, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. rosemary, crushed

Directions:

Mix together the flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Heat the oil in a skillet. Dredge the meat in the flour mixture, then brown on all sides in the oil. Transfer the meat to a crock pot. Add about a cup of water to the skillet where you browned the meat and bring it to a boil, scraping the pan. Add this to the crock pot as well, along with the rest of the ingredients. Cook on low 8 hours or high 4 hours (I did a combination of the two).

Shaking Foundations

When we came to visit Kansas City in November and God first started speaking to us about moving here, He highlighted the word “foundational”. I felt like He was reassuring us (and me in particular, as I grappled with such a huge move) that this move — and even the decision to move — would be foundational in our lives, in our marriage, and eventually in our family.

I’ve experienced the truth of that assurance already and I feel that this latest season is bringing out another layer of God’s fulfillment of that promise.

On that note, I’d like to share the note that my husband wrote yesterday:

Best description of my life over the last 6 months: SHAKING.  I guess I can’t complain about it, because I asked for it.  I guess this is what happens when you pray,

“Take me through the fire, take me through the rain, take me through the testing, I’ll do anything.  Test me, try me, prove me, refine me like the gold.” (Fling Wide, Misty Edwards)

The problem is when you ask to undergo a shaking and everything you have built sits on shifting sand.  The result is utter confusion, disillusionment, and ultimately death.  A friend recently came up to me and said, “No one ever told you that you come to Kansas City to die.”  I realize how true that is now.

I was in the middle of building my own little kingdom (with a hand-painted “Kingdom of God” banner pasted over my selfish ambition), neverminding how pathetic it was, and thought that coming to Kansas City would catapult me to the place I really wanted to be in my work, in my marriage, in the church, in the world.  Enter the shaking.

In one of my recent rants to God, I stumbled across the realization that everything was shaking and I was trying to grasp onto something that was stable.  The problem was, there wasn’t anything stable, and I was just becoming more and more bitter and cynical.  So…after a few conversations with some men in the Boiler Room community and a timely email from Floyd McClung, God saved me, and showed me enough of what He was doing in the midst of all this to steady me and give me hope.

Before I go any further, I need to apologize for the complete and utter jerk, loser, and drain I have been on my wife first and foremost, as well as many others in my life.  I am so sorry for how pathetic I’ve been; I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to be within 100 feet of me.  I wouldn’t want to be.

But anyway, Hope.  Everything is crumbling because I have not built anything on the Rock.  It is extremely embarrassing to admit that I am nearly 18 years into my walk with the Lord and I haven’t built anything on Christ, save my marriage which has probably been the only thing that hasn’t crumbled (though not really due to anything I’ve done, only the amazing faithfulness of my wife).  The hope in the midst of all of this IS the shaking.  If my kingdom falls, His can rise in my life.  If I abandon my faulty foundations for the true Foundation in Christ, my life can matter; something that I build can actually stand in Christ.

The Lord showed me that I have sought my identity in one of the roles that He has given to me, rather than placing it in Christ.  As long as I place my identity in one of the roles in my life, no matter how important it may be, I will be subject to destruction when everything is shaken.  The email I received from Floyd said that:

“85% of Christian leaders don’t finish well… And it’s not just a problem for spiritual leaders. I am amazed at how many ordinary Christians consistently struggle, fall, or just plain give up. They don’t “finish well”. Something is wrong!  After 45 years of discipling new believers and equipping spiritual leaders, I am convinced the reason for this tragedy is that godly foundations were not laid well in people’s lives. Jesus said He would build His church. Paul said he was a wise master builder. Godly foundations don’t happen by accident – they are built into people’s lives intentionally through personal discipleship. It is how Jesus modeled building His church.”

God showed me that nothing was standing because I was building on faulty foundations.  I refused to build out of a solid identity only in Christ and instead sought identity in my role as employee, as husband, as brother, as ambassador.  As everything was shaken, it becomes apparent that I am not rooted in Christ, and in fact that is the entire problem.

So what is going on?  God is shaking all of it, for the same reason that He will shake the entire earth, that every kingdom that stands in opposition to Him will fall and their rulers will bow their knee to Him alone.  He is tearing down my kingdom and restoring my foundation in Christ.  I believe He is also repairing smaller foundations in my life.  He has been showing me that finishing a degree is going to build a better foundation to hold the weight of the career that I’ve been looking for.  I believe there’s been a connection between the lack of a degree as a occupational foundation and the lack of a foundation in Christ as a building ground for my entire life.  I’ve tried to be a shrubber, a barista, a carryout, a carpenter, a welder, putting my identity as an employee into one of these places, and come up empty.  Why?  I’ve tried to build without a foundation. And it is the same thing with the larger picture of my life.  I’ve tried to find my identity in so many different things, and come up empty.  Why?  I’ve tried to build without a foundation. It’s time to set the proper foundations in my life.  Nothing will stand when the wind and the rain beat against my “house” except what is built on my foundation IN CHRIST.

So many things have fallen…I have fallen…my heart is singing the words to a Jason Morant song…

Bless the Lord, with all that’s in me
Bless the Lord
May kingdoms fall
And rulers crawl
Before Your throne

I want to give all of me
I’m giving You all of me…

August 22

Yesterday was our one year anniversary. One year ago, Derek and I stood before our families and friends, made a solemn covenant before God, and were joined as husband and wife. That day I vowed:

I, Rebecca, take you, Derek, to be my husband. I promise to be faithful to you always, in sickness and in health, in poverty or wealth, in my thoughts, in my words, and in my deeds. I will be your dearest friend, your lover, and the mother of your children.

I am humbled that you love me enough to share the rest of your life with me and I am honored to take your name as my own. I promise to respect and honor you as the head of our household and the father of our children.

I promise to be your ezer, your strong helper and partner in the kingdom of God. I will pray for you and encourage you in your walk with God. I will show you grace. I will rejoice when you rejoice and weep when you weep. Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you make your home will be my home, too. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God. Every day I will choose to love you and remain faithful to you. I will strive to be a blessing to you.

From now on we will share our joys and sorrows, our struggles and hopes. We will trust God to meet our needs in every situation. Together we will live as joint heirs to His gift of life and bear the image of God’s love to the world.

I know these are lofty promises and that at times I will fail to live them out as I should. I ask for your grace and patience in those times as I look to God to transform me in His love and teach me how to love and serve you better.

I love you so much and I am excited to share the rest of my life with you. I know God has amazing plans for our future.

So joyfully today, with these vows, I commit myself to you.

And so started one of the most intensely personal years of my life so far, both for us as a couple as we learned to grow together and for me as an individual.

It was a challenging year. When people would ask us (as many people did), “How’s married life?” I felt like they expected us to answer something like, “Great! Fantastic! Wonderful! The best time of our life!” But in reality, married life was hard. I remember one evening, though, when I was sharing some of my struggles with my small group at church. Linda piped up and said, “Didn’t anyone tell you how hard the first year is?” That made me feel better, more normal.

I didn’t struggle with navigating the day-to-day details of living with Derek, like I expected, the dirty socks on the floor, empty toilet paper rolls in the bathroom, or learning what he liked to eat. Instead, the hard part was meshing our lives together, taking two lives and joining them together into one family. We wrestled through what we believe (and don’t believe) about the roles of husband and wife, about authority and submission, and struggled through the question of what church we should commit to (an issue we strongly disagreed on for five months at the beginning of our marriage). We had to work through fear and hurt and rebuild trust. We plowed through multiple job transitions and three moves together, one that took us half-way across the country and over seven hundred miles away from friends and family.

And in that year, I spent more time focused on one person, one relationship, than ever before in my life. When we first got married, we had planned to continue on as part of the Lewis House community (where I lived for the year before we got married), but as we stepped into marriage together, we felt the need to step back for a while to seek God on more specific vision for us as a couple. We wanted to refocus before we jumped back into ministry together. We knew we needed to build our identity as a couple and learn to discern God’s will together (which is quite different than discerning God’s will for ourselves as individuals, we discovered). So though we still longed for community and deep friendships and still maintained ties with several communities, the bulk of our time was spent with just the two of us.

As we waited on the Lord for vision as a couple, I felt called to wait on job searching as well. Busyness had been my default mode for years. I tend to fill my time with doing to feel significant and so much of my sense of self-worth was wrapped up in what I did, particularly “ministry.” I felt like God wanted to break that mindset in this season. And He did, but it wasn’t an easy break. Take away all my doing – my job, my “ministry,” my position – and I felt devoid of worth. In that first month especially, I struggled daily to fight off the lies that I was lazy, worthless, purposeless, a bad wife, a bad Christian a bad everything. Derek would come home from a full day of work and I would cry on his shoulder: “All I’ve done today is clean and read!” It became a crash course in learning to rest on the grace and goodness of God and understand my position in Him that can’t be earned.

Those first seven months of marriage felt particularly brutal, as everything I cared about, every dream in my heart, everything I am as a wife, a woman, a follower of Christ, a friend, seemed attacked and beaten down. Even beyond the outer circumstances and people involved, it was an intense spiritual battle for our hearts and for everything God has planned for us.

But then, like spring after the harshness of winter, with gentle breezes and fresh growth replacing harsh winds and bitter cold, this season in Kansas City has come as a time of healing and refreshing and growth. It’s been the best thing for our marriage. As we’ve started over in a new city, a new community, we’ve clung together and begun learning to rely on God and each other as we walk in unity. We’ve talked over and over about our hopes and dreams and where we’re headed.

And for me, I feel like these last five months in Kansas City has been a time of reawakening a lot of things in my life, a time of letting God gently pick me up and coax the sprouts back to life in my heart. Even just over the summer, with all its cooking and gardening, reading and writing, quiet and reflection, somehow I feel more rooted grounded in God’s love for me. He’s been weaving together the threads of my character and giftings, solidifying my sense of who I am and why I am that way, revealing ways that I reflect His heart, and simply showering His affections on me. I feel more confident and comfortable with myself than I ever have before.

Yes, this first year has been hard. But it’s also been good. It’s been good in the growth and intimacy that it has produced in us and in our marriage. And it’s been good in the simple, beautiful little details of sharing life together: not having to say goodbye and part ways each night, coffee together in the mornings, being home – in our home – to greet Derek after work, talking in those quiet moments where it’s just us, exploring the city together, coming home to hear the sound of Derek playing guitar and worshipping, and so much more.

I’m grateful for this first year together, the good and the bad, and look forward to many more to come!

“Marriage was designed by God to grow you, not necessarily to make you happy and content. However, this growth can provide a great deal of happiness and contentment as you become the person the Lord designed you to be.”
-Tom and Beverly Rodgers

(P.S. All pictures are courtesy of Lisa Cleland)

The Brutal Reality About Children?

Today a friend posted a link to this article on facebook and I couldn’t pass it by without commenting. The article, titled “All Joy and No Fun; Why Parents Hate Parenting”, cites research claiming that kids make parents depressed, anxious, stressed, and generally unhappy. It suggests that the source of the problem may lie in a change in parenting techniques from previous generations or an unrealistic expectations of parenting. At one point it suggests that perhaps a stronger welfare system, which extended paid maternity leave, state-subsidized childcare, and free education and healthcare, might make parents happier and less stressed (“We’ve put all this energy into being perfect parents,” says Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, “instead of political change that would make family life better.” – p. 4). It ends by admitting that perhaps the problem is a faulty definition of happiness, that perhaps the sense of purpose that can come from raising children is more important than moment-to-moment happiness, which edges towards a hopeful view, but all in all the article seemed to present parenthood as a trap of drudgery that sucks the happiness out of life and “shrinks your outer world to the size of a teacup” (p. 4).

I had so much trouble reading through the article (six pages of depressing statistics and interviews with unhappy parents, not to mention the seventeen – and counting – pages of comments from readers, including statements like “The world is overpopulated as it is” and “Get a nanny and enjoy your life!”) I almost didn’t make it to the tentatively positive second-to-last paragraph suggesting that “The very things that in the moment dampen our moods can later be sources of intense gratification, nostalgia, delight” (p. 6).

I cringed as I read terms like “economically worthless” and “economic assets” applied to children and  phrases like “diminishing returns” and “purchasing power to buy more child care” tossed into a discussion of parenting. How can we talk about the rewards of children and family in economic terms like that? It made me both sad and frustrated.

And then the article delved into how “couples’ overall marital satisfaction went down if they had kids” (p. 3), “with children invariably reducing marital satisfaction” (p. 1). It boldly states, “Healthy relationships definitely make people happier. But children adversely affect relationships.” (p. 4). It cites a study that documented disagreements in 100 long-married couples that showed that “nearly 40 percent of them were about their kids.” The article went on to interview a father of two, who shared the strain his children put on his marriage and how neglected he felt. Parenting meant saying goodbye to “an old way of life, one with more freewheeling rhythms and richer opportunities for romance.” He admits that one of the reasons he loves being with his wife is that he loves the family they have, but he says ““There’s nothing sexy or intimate between us, based on the old model” (p. 4-5). ““This is the brutal reality about children,” the article concludes, “they’re such powerful stressors that small perforations in relationships can turn into deep fault lines” (p. 5).

As I read all this, all I can think is: it doesn’t have to be this way. It doesn’t have to be this way. And kids are not the problem.

I know that there are so many layers to the issues here and I don’t mean to be simplistic, but perhaps part of the problem is our consumer culture. We tend to focus on what we can get out of any given thing, experience, or even person. If you’re not satisfied with what you got out of a deal, you’re encouraged to switch to a competitor (I’m sure we’ve all seen advertisements along the lines of: “Unhappy with your current  _____? Well, here at _____ we promised to provide you with more _____ and better _____” and so on).

If someone approaches parenting with this what-do-I-get-out-of-it consumer attitude, they will doubtless end up unhappy. Can you imagine? “What can I get out of parenting? Sleepless nights, stinky diapers, higher grocery bills, less freedom….um, no thanks…maybe I’ll look into the no-kids deal….” Even (perhaps especially) if a person looks to their kids to fill their need for happiness and fulfillment, they’ll end up disillusioned and, ultimately, unhappy.

The same can be true in marriage. If you look to your spouse as the source for all your fulfillment and a remedy for all your needs, you’ll end up disappointed and unhappy (and perhaps divorced and looking for a new-and-improved model?).

A lot of this reminded me of some of the things we discussed in our pre-marriage counseling. We went through the book Intimate Encounters by David and Teresa Ferguson (definitely a worthwhile book). In one chapter it discussed the different stages of marriage and the unique challenges that come with each one. In the stage where a couple starts to have children, it’s vital that the couple feels secure in each others love and in the knowledge that they are still a priority for their spouse. If the couple hasn’t invested time and energy into making their spouse feel emotionally secure (which requires sacrifice and a putting aside of selfishness), adding kids to the family probably will cause tension and insecurity, not because the kids are the problem, but because they can magnify problems that already exist (so in that  sense, the article is right in calling children “powerful stressors” that can turn “small perforations in relationships…into deep fault lines”).

But again, it doesn’t have to be this way. The Fergusons go on to talk about how, if the couple has taken the time to develop a healthy relationship (I’m reminded of what George and Sarah taught us early on about the importance of setting aside a weekly “date night” and guarding that time jealously), the addition of children can actually help them grow in intimacy through a sense of joint accomplishment (not just in the act of producing a child, but in the whole process of raising the child together and forming a family). This is a valuable season of marriage.

I don’t think any amount of research and statistics will convince me that parenting is an unhappy state, merely a necessary evil for the preservation of humanity. I’ve watched friends and family have children and have seen a profound joy in it, even among the stresses and frustrations.

But I’m curious: what do you think about this article and the ideas it presents?

Windows to My Soul

They say dreams are the windows of the soul–take a peek and you can see the inner workings, the nuts and bolts. – Henry Bromel

The other day Derek and I were talking about the dreams we have for our family (a good thing to do periodically) so I thought I’d share some of the dreams on my heart. Some of these I’ve found already, but some are hopes for the future (in no particular order):

– I dream of making a home for our family and opening wide the doors to share it.

– I dream of a big house, with room for lots of people to gather, and a guest room for visitors. I dream of a welcoming home.

– I dream of a spacious kitchen where I can cook and can and talk with lots of people (it’s not so much about the food as it is about the fellowship).

– I dream of a garden – preferably a community garden where I can work alongside friends and neighbors – and local farmers markets in the summer.

– I dream of an endless pot of coffee to share with visitors (of whom there will be many), along with fresh baked bread and a pot of soup simmering on the stove in the winter and fresh fruits and vegetables from the aforementioned garden in the summer.

– I dream of a prayer room open al the time, where I can invite people to come and meet with this amazing God I know.

– I dream of quiet times with God in the soft morning light. I dream of a quiet corner in our home – and our lives – set aside to meet with Him.

– I dream of kids to fill our big house. I dream of our own kids, but also foster kids and adopted kids, and neighborhood kids coming to us and finding love and acceptance.

– I dream of our lives lived as ministry, loving the least of these, the unlovable, the broken and orphaned.

– I dream of friends within walking distance so I can run over and visit and they can spontaneously visit us.

– I dream of friends who will cook with me and make things with me, friends who love to use their hands creatively to make something of what is on hand, to draw beauty out of everyday, seemingly ordinary things, to transform the old and make it new. I dream of friends who share my desire to see this same reality in the spirit, too, who long to see lives transformed and made new.

– I dream of a community of people who gather together to pray for and with each other, sharing their joys and sorrows, triumphs and weaknesses. I dream of a community that worships together and reads God’s word and who actively encourages and challenges each other in the Lord (I don’t care so much about titles, but I suppose you could say I dream of a house church).

– I dream of a community that shares time and resources to make sure everyone has what they need.

– I dream of a place that draws together all people, all races, ages, social classes, denominations, all drawn together by the love of God.