Hannah hung the last evergreen bough and stepped down off the ladder. Finished. She collapsed into a chair and closed her eyes. It had taken weeks of preparation and days of setting up. The church glistened, sparkled, twinkled, and shone in every possible way. She made a quick decision. She could make it home for a nap before the ladies came with the food. She looked around for her daughter. She was asleep, curled up beneath their coats. “Poor sweetie,” thought Hannah. She gathered up 7 year old Elizabeth and headed for the door.
The evening, however, did not turn out as expected.
When Hannah and her family returned to the church, the Christmas lights were gone. In fact the whole church was gone. It had burned to the ground and the firemen were just finishing their own unique addition to the lovely decorations. Smoke was still billowing from where the church stood. Everything was gray and dingy. Families stood nearby talking in hushed voices.
The pastor rushed over to Hannah. “We are so glad that you weren’t still there when it happened . The cranky old furnace is the suspected culprit at this point.” He lowered his voice and his eyes gently searched hers.”This is only a temporary hitch. I know it hurts, but we will get through this as a family.” He stepped back and bolstered a grin at her. Then he called out in his cheerful, hearty voice. “Come folks… We’ll let the firemen clean up and move the festivities to the town meeting hall. Them’s the perks of having the mayor as one of our own!” His laughter seemed to push back the smoke and chaos a bit.
As people gathered in the meeting hall, Hannah slipped to a balcony office and sat in darkness. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she stared out the window at the stark room harboring the stranded church people. The church was gone. She had been going there since her birth. She had become a Christian, been baptized, rededicated her life to Him, been married there. And so many heartaches and joys that had been a part of her life had been experienced or worked through in the church. People that had passed away or moved on had become so close to her there. How could it all disappear so abruptly?
The door creaked open and footsteps approached haltingly. “Mommy. Are you ok?” Elizabeth always seemed to know when someone was hurting, especially her mother.
Hannah couldn’t answer. Elizabeth mashed her nose up against the window. “The church was so pretty, I wish your decorations didn’t burn Mommy.” Hannah still couldn’t force any words past the tears. They were both silent for several minutes.
“So pretty… ” The whisper came out so soft Hannah almost didn’t hear it. She gathered herself and managed to speak for her little girl’s sake. “They were pretty, Honey, but we can do it again another time.”
“No, Mommy, not those decorations.”
Hannah looked out the window. The people gathered below had settled in and continued their festivities in spite of the tragedy down the street. Then Hannah felt a shock course through her. The faces below shone with peace, smiles sparkled with joy, their clothing was a jumble of festive color, and laughter rang throughout the building.
“Mommy, they look like your decorations. “
The tears Hannah now wiped away were different. God’s church wasn’t a building that she was responsible to decorate. God’s church was in front of her right now, and He had spent many years and lots of work decorating it. “And there is lots more work to be done on us,” she thought with a smile. She turned that smile on her daughter. “Those are God’s decorations, Elizabeth. Shall we go join them?” The two entered the festivities with lights twinkling in their eyes and dancing in their hearts.
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