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Quarantine Sermon - Salena Thut Witmer, December 6, 2020

“There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there, too … And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves.” - Etty Hillesum

There is a well inside of all of us, and sometimes it feels very deep, dark, and empty. But, that’s not entirely true. God is within us all the time. God is there within ourselves.

I would like to share with you some experiences that I’ve had where I have experienced God. Today, we lit the peace candle on our advent wreaths. And the experiences I want to share with you have given me a sense of peace within this chaotic, uncertain time.

In the early months of quarantine, I was having terrible abdominal pains, for four days I didn’t eat much or sleep. I couldn’t walk because of the pain I was experiencing. It was horrible. After 4 days, my mom and I had a doctor's appointment. The doctor recommended I go to the ER to get it checked out. So, I did. I had a cyst growing, it grew 10cm and I needed to get it surgically removed. I was scared, I never had a surgery before and I didn’t know what to expect.

The next day, after it was removed I was told I couldn’t dance for two weeks, in order to allow the stitches to heal. I sat through dance classes, hating the fact that I couldn’t dance. Not dancing is the hardest part for me, because when I dance I feel freedom and I feel as though I can fly.

During that week, many horrible things happened in our world. Killings, coronavirus, our president, and many more. That night I took out the bible I got for my baptism, and I prayed to God, I prayed that things would get better. That night, as I was sleeping an angel came to me. I wasn’t dead, I was very much alive because I was breathing.

This wasn’t a dream, because my mind was blank. An angel came, she had long black hair, with a robe of white and large white wings. She smiled saying, “Salena. My goodness, we are waiting for you.” I was honestly terrified. I mean, I had every right, I thought I died in my sleep. She reassured me that I didn’t. Still, I was terrified out of my life.

After a while, we arrived at the gates of heaven. The gates were large, gold, and super beautiful. They opened and standing there is Jesus, he holds out his arms to hug me and I slowly walk up to him. I hug him and he hugs me back, stroking my hair he says, “Salena. You’ve grown into a gorgeous, amazing girl. I can’t wait to see where life takes you.” I start crying, and hugging him harder. Eventually, he releases me and I step back, looking around.

All around, I see angles with brilliant white wings, very large, and they were all different races not just one. Some were white, african american, latino, trasngender, and gay. It goes to show God loves everyone no matter what. Every one of those angels smiled at me, and stepped back for me to see God.

Now, God isn’t a person, God is a spirit. They aren’t just a vision of one person, they are a mix of every person on this earth. A clash of different looks and colors. I stepped to them, and they had a smile on their face. They led away from the angels and Jesus, into this large green grassy field with flowers growing all around. We sit down, and God says to me, “Salena, I know it’s been hard on you since your grandpa Witmer died. I hear everyone of your prayers about wishing to turn back time so you can talk with him. You probably think I haven’t heard, but I have so, now you can talk with him. Anything you didn’t say 11 years ago, well now you can.” Tears form in my eyes, and I look into the clearing and see my grandpa walking towards me with a smile on his face. I break down, and run to him giving him the biggest hug I can. “I’ve missed you, Grandpa.” I say to him. He hugs me back, saying, “Oh, how I’ve missed you too.”

We walk towards the center of the field and sit down. I can’t hold back my tears as I cry my eyes out. My grandpa hugs me and I feel as though nothing in the world could hurt me.

As a child, learning about God I used to think they were so amazing. I mean, God created a whole Earth from nothing and then they created the Human race. Growing up, I heard about Jesus’s disciples leaving home, to join him. I was confused. I didn’t understand why they left, but now I do. Jesus isn’t someone who is just there, he watches over us everyday. He guides us through difficult times.

I know the images I described sounded like they were what we see from heaven in movies or tv but it wasn’t about that. What is important to me was the peace, and comfort I gained from this experience. Even though it happened months ago I keep reflecting on it, and it’s making me see and understand more about myself and about God.

One way I've changed is my feeling that my relationships and connections to people are so important. Over the summer, I started writing letters to people, because I was feeling disconnected from everyone, and I wanted to strengthen my relationships and make new friends. I was planning on going to Guatemala with a group of high school students from across the country. This never happened due to the virus, but I reached out to them this summer by writing to people in the group. Even though I've never met them I’ve become pen pals with several people within this group.

I have also written to my second cousin who’s family is very politically different from ours. We have written back and forth, and through these writings I have learned about more of the things we have in common.

I have also written to a woman named Mary Bender who was my Dad and Grandma’s former college English professor. She lives alone and doesn’t have a big family. In our letters, we’ve talked about books, but also community and how the world is so divided by people’s thinking. I’ve also talked about my dreams for the future.

I’ve also written to my Great-Grandpa and even though he’s not a big letter writer he wrote me back. He told me about his life growing up on a farm, and he told me about how they got through the Great Depression, and the whooping cough epidemic. The things he told me in the letter he wrote to me, made me have a sense of peace because I know we can get through hard things too.

Writing is a way for me to feel hope and peace not only from God, but other people. Waiting for the mail to arrive, and checking for my letters is something that I really enjoy.

I never really used to pray to God before, but now I do it every night. For me, it’s a way of finding a sense of calmness before bed. When I pray, I tell God what happened that day and how it not only affected me, but how I feel about it. It’s a way for me to further understand and cope with how my day went.

When I pray, not only am I expressing my vulnerability, but also my problems. I know God holds them always. I greatly enjoy praying and being able to talk with God. When I tell God about my day, whether good or bad, they listen. Jesus listens and so do the angles of Heaven.

Another before bed ritual, for me, is journaling about stressful situations from that day or that week. It’s a way for me to know that only God and I know what I write in the journal daily. I also have little dolls I put under my pillow. They are my worry dolls. I usually place them in the palm of my right hand and cup the other over top. I tell the dolls to hold my worries about the world, and difficult things. Or major school projects and tests. For me, these worry dolls are another direct pathway for me to speak to God.

You’ve probably heard more than once already, that the Coronavirus pandemic is an uncertain time for all of us. And it is. It might also be a time when peace and hope aren’t easily seen. Sometimes, God doesn’t have peace only within the world but within us as well. When we find our inner peace, God is there with us. But the most important thing to remember is, God is always there. Even through difficult, uncertain, chaotic times God is there and they walk alongside us through it all. Holding our hand, and reassuring that all is going to be well. God is there, always.

“There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there, too … And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves.” - Etty Hillesum


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