16 01 Champ DeBrulerWith only a few years' exception, we have always had a family dog. On two separate occasions we were stationed abroad, and that's the only time in 40 years I can recall not having a four-legged family member.

It wasn't until recently, though, that we had a pet that used a crate in the house. When it was first suggested to us, I declined; the notion of leaving a family member in a cage while we were away seemed cruel to me. To my surprise, he warmed up
to it immediately.

Champ is a good-sized dog. He's an American Bulldog — and a bunch of something else — tipping the scales at almost 80 pounds, and we nearly go nose-to-nose when he stands on his hind legs. But something I've observed about him and the crate speaks to the need we all have for a place of refuge.

While I've attended more services since March of this year than I did in all of 2019, it's been five months since I've been to church. I miss it. I miss the camaraderie, the fellowship, the hugs and handshakes. Initially, the doors at my church and many other churches were closed as people moved to online church services in response to COVID-19.

During that time, though, I started working with local church leaders to facilitate drive-in services over the radio. But as my home church began meeting again, I found myself having to miss in-person gatherings for the new Sunday morning work obligation I'd created. I enjoy 'visiting' other churches online, whether it's my sister-in-law's church in Wichita, Kansas, or the congregation my friend pastors just outside Stedman, but I miss gathering with my church family even more.

There's something about the closeness of gathering in a church setting that makes me feel safe. Not meeting for Sunday morning worship service hasn't hindered my ability or desire to worship God at all, but there's something about the collective experience with others that adds an altogether different dynamic.

Observing my dog and his crate, in light of my longing to gather, I begin to understand the passage in Psalm 91 a little more clearly: “This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God, and I trust him.”

This hulk of a dog, whose size and appearance made neighbors choose social distancing before it was a thing at all, will run to that crate when he's afraid. He'll retreat to the seeming safety of that simple shelter when he senses anger, and he will voluntarily curl up and sleep within its four open walls whether we're home or away. It's his refuge.

He has the run of the house and yard, but chooses to return to something simple that promises a closeness and protection nothing else can.

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