Posted in In My Opinion...

For you are Standing on Holy Ground…

“Do not come any closer,” the LORD warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.”

-Exodus 3:5(NLV)

This verse follows Moses seeing the burning bush and hearing God call out to him. As Moses began to approach the burning bush, God calls out, “Do not come any closer…. Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.” The message of removing sandals upon the entrance of holy ground is found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Churches in the east, especially Eastern Orthodox churches, usually have a sign posted outside the church asking for visitors to remove their shoes. Some will quote this very Bible verse in one translation or another. Churches in the west have seemed to abandon this practice. In fact, many church circles see it as disrespectful to remove one’s shoes in the church.

I am a girl of many flip-flops. I really have enough to change my flip-flops depending on my outfit (I am just too lazy to do so). I also am more likely to be found carrying my flip-flops than I am to be actually wearing them. When sitting in the pew, I always take my shoes off and move them to the side. This carries on to when I preach and or am helping lead worship in some way. I take my shoes off and either leave them behind the pulpit or under the first pew depending on where I am and the set up of the worship space.

Why do I prefer to be barefoot in church? It all goes straight back to the verse in Exodus. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.” For me this is a little more literal being an avid flip-flop wearer. I choose to not wear my shoes in church because for me the church is holy ground. The church is not the only place of holy ground but it is indeed holy ground.

Do I believe that the west does it wrong because this is not a common practice? Absolutely not. I do not think there is a right or wrong practice for wearing shoes in church. What I do believe is that there are ways to make a space more guided towards God during worship, and for me, personally, I find removing my shoes to be just one way to guide my attention towards God in worship.

 

Posted in In My Opinion...

Self-harm doesn’t mean suicidal

A very common misconception is that a person who self-harms is suicidal. While a person who has suicidal tendencies may have a history of self-harm, there is not a direct correlation between self-harm and suicidal tendencies. Actually the core motivation behind the two are actually quite different.

Those who self-harm do so for various reasons: to feel again, to punish themselves, or to release all the feelings they have bottled up inside. All of these come from a desire to cope with whatever it is they are experiencing. In fact, recently they have changed self-harm language to NSSI (Non-suicidal self injury). Here it is literally in the name not suicidal.

Those who do experience suicidal tendencies have a distorted view of what the future looks like and do not see an end to whatever it is they are experiencing. There is no desire to cope because they do not see any other way. Suicidal tendencies are not a coping mechanism; they are a way out.

Assuming everyone who self-harms is suicidal is not only wrong but it can be incredibly dangerous. The reason why a person is harming themselves and the emotions they are experiencing are tossed to the wayside while they are interrogated about suicidal thoughts. Leaving a person in their discomfort and inability to cope healthily can lead to feeling there is no way out, but it can be prevented from getting that far.

**Trigger warning**Story of how I have experienced people convinced self-harm is suicidal**

 

I started down the road of self-harm at about the average age of 13. It was not until high school that people began to realize that I was coping through self-harm. The excuses were not lining up with the type of injury and the frequency set off some flags.

I mainly scratched at my skin until it bleed, but that didn’t always provide the necessary relief. it also caused quite a bit more scaring than when I experimented with other tactics. Once I started college I realized that I wasn’t coping healthily and began to reach out for help.

It was when I started reaching out for help that I was meant with people relating self-harm to a sin because I was purposely maiming the temple of God. Those who weren’t condemning me wouldn’t believe me that I wasn’t suicidal. They were throwing readings at me that told me that I was looking for death because I was cutting. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

For me I cut to gain control. I cut to release the mass of emotions that build up inside of me. I cut because I cannot get myself out of the spiral of thoughts. I cut so I can get outside of these feelings and move back to the happiness I was at before all this happened. I cut so I can move on.

Please note I am not validating those who cut. I am not saying that it is something you should do. Please know that cutting is an unhealthy way to cope, but it is a coping mechanism for so many. Those who cut do need help finding new ways to cope. Healthier ways to gain control of themselves and the emotions that have completely flooded their systems.

Please know if you have not reached out to someone, I am here. Send me an email, message me on social media, comment. Whatever it is that you feel comfortable with. I am here for you and so are so many others. You are loved!

Posted in Reflections

The God Who Stays- Matthew West

 When the going gets tough, we find it hard to believe God hasn’t given up on us. We find it hard to believe because we feel like giving up on ourselves. When we feel broken, we don’t see the reason of pushing on nor do we see the possibility of being fixed again. God is the God who stays.

We tend to feel ashamed and we hide from the people around us. We attempt to hide from God as well, but it is not possible to hide from God. If you have tried, you know this is true. God is the God who stays.

The truth is that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). Nothing we have done, said, or thought can separate us from the love of God. No one has the power to remove us from the presence of God. No matter how hard we try to hide from God, God is still there. God is the God who stays.

God is the God who stays. God is always welcoming us with open arms. God is there even when we feel the most alone. God is always reminding us that nothing can separate us from God’s love. God is the God who stays.

How do you know God is the God who stays?

Posted in Devotion

New Year, New Me?

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All of this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:17-18

The time leading up to the New Year is filled with reflecting on the past year and planning on making the New Year even better by creating resolutions. We think resolutions to eat healthy, work-out more, or declutter our lives will create a new us. However, most of these plans fail before January ends.

This review of the past can also be dangerous. Focusing on the past does not allow for us to be in the present moment. We are not able to see what God is doing in the here and now because we are focusing on what God has or has not done in the last year.

The past can be improved. The story is yours to write. However, this can be done at any point. We do not need the New Year to decide to do what is best for ourselves. There is no New Year, New Me. The way we become new is not the hours between December 31st and January 1st.

We become new in Jesus. In our relationship with Jesus, we are reconciled with God. The old versions of ourselves pass away and we become new in Christ Jesus. There is no need for resolutions or unmet goals. There is only a need for preparing room in our hearts.

As the New Year greets us, do you have room in your heart for Jesus?

Posted in Devotion

The Prince of Peace

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.

Isaiah 9:6-7

Christmas is not all joyful and stress free for everyone. The stress of seeing family, of having money for the best presents, the anxiety the day brings and so much more cause this day to be less than joyful. However, unto us a child is born, a child who will be called Prince of Peace.

Peace. Christmas doesn’t seem so peaceful all the time. But peace is not a promise that things will be good all the time. Peace is knowing that even admits the bad that there will be good that comes later.

As you celebrate with your families and friends this holiday season I hope you are able to have peace. A feeling that no matter how this season plays out that good is coming. God is with each and every single one of you! God is never going to leave you.

The Prince of Peace has been given to you to remember to accept this peace into your hearts. Do you have peace in your hearts this holiday season?

Prayer: Almighty God, we thank you for the Son that you have given us on that first Christmas night. That you didn’t want to be without us, so you made sure you never were. Grant us peace this Christmas season and the days to come. In Jesus name, Amen.

Posted in Devotion

Don’t Carry the Burden Alone

“Let them judge the people at all times, and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.” -Exodus 18:22

Let me set the stage of this passage for you. Moses is appointed judge over all his people. At this point, Moses’ father-in-law is coming to visit. This visit doesn’t relieve Moses of his duty as judge. He was sitting as judge all day, by himself.

Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, questioned Moses on why he was doing this huge task alone. Moses answered that his people needed him. Jethro offered Moses some advice. He said that Moses should appoint some of his people as advisers to oversee the small disputes. The large disputes would still be brought to Moses, but he wouldn’t be carrying the burden alone.

What burden are you carrying alone? Are you like Moses and taking on responsibilities that could be delegated? Are you holding on to secrets you feel you can’t share with anyone? Are you finding daily tasks to be your burden?

Whatever the burden is for you, you are not meant to carry it alone. There are people out there that will rejoice in being able to help you. There is a God who is waiting for you to hand it over, so you are not carrying it alone. Start by laying it at the foot of the cross.

I know that reaching out is scary and usually avoided, but there are people out there who will listen to you and love you all the same. I am not saying that everyone is going to accept your story in a non-judgmental way. i wish I could promise you just the opposite, but I can’t.

Those people are the minority though. The majority of people want to see you succeed. I want to see you succeed.

What burdens will you be placing down to allow others to help you carry?

Prayer:

God, our strength comes from You. Sometimes we carry burdens that are too heavy for us to carry alone. Give us the strength to ask for help, guide us in reaching out to others, and comfort us in our decisions. Lord, You never meant for us to suffer alone. You never leave us even in the toughest times. Thank You God.

Amen.

© 2019 Kiersten Smeal

Posted in about me

The Next Steps…

It isn’t just about what you love. It’s about what God created you to love so that you can use it to honor Him.

-Unknown

I graduated from Messiah college in May. It’s crazy how fast four years have gone by. I now have a degree in Christian Ministries.

I got a taste of what it’s like to lead my own ministry this summer when I worked in two different state owned campgrounds as a chaplain in the park. I led two services every Sunday. It was an incredible experience to worship in God’s creation every week.

Raystown Lake

When the summer came to an end, I packed up my car and drove down to Texas. I started at SMU Perkins. I’m on my way towards a Masters of Divinity (a pretty pretentious title if you ask me).

Perkins School of Theology

When I arrived in Texas I began doubting everything. I wasn’t sure that I was meant to be here. I felt lost. I attended orientation for school, and everyone seemed so sure that this is where they were meant to be.

I was overwhelmed. I was scared.

I made a quick decision that I wanted to go home. Thankfully, some of the faculty at Perkins stepped up and talked me down. They answered my questions, showed me they actually wanted me to be here. They showed me that they cared about me. Me, a person they didn’t even know.

I spent the weekend praying that I could see that I was on the right path. God took that prayer and opened my eyes.

God showed me that I am surrounded by amazing people. From the students, to the professors, to the faculty. God showed me that I am at a place meant to allow me to flourish. I’m being academically challenged while having the room to be me.

Not even a month went by when I hit a brick wall pretty hard. I had an unfortunate experience. I began to doubt again. I wasn’t sure how that fit into the picture. Plus I was still hanging on to the signs that God wanted me here. However, throughout that experience, God placed people even closer.

Through this experience, I have realized that I am loved here at Perkins. People want me to succeed. The “Perkins Hug” as I call it. I’ve been wrapped into the arms of all those around me.

Now it’s been two months, and I am beyond sure that this is where I am meant to be. God’s plan for me includes being here at Perkins. It’s a wonderful feeling to be back in the known and not lost in the unknown.

I am another step closer to reaching my goals. It has not been a perfect journey in the slightest, but it has been a journey in the arms of our savior and I couldn’t ask for a better journey.

So, friends, that is where I am.

One step closer to the calling I’m discerning daily.

One step closer, and yet onto the next steps…

Posted in Seeing God in the Struggle

Seeing God in the Struggle: He is there

A story from Kathy Brown:

My brother Rees Harris II was born in December of 1982. He was soon diagnosed with Werdnig-Hoffman Syndrome, the infantile form of spinal muscular atrophy. It was very rare. Only a handful of kids were diagnosed with it. The nerves don’t send impulses to the muscles so they don’t work. He could not move. He had a tracheostomy tube and a ventilator to breathe for him. He had a feeding tube so he’d get nutrition. He had around the clock nurses to care for him because his condition required suctioning of his trach & use of an ambu bag while not attached to the breathing machine. He passed away exactly 22 1/2 years after his birth, outliving his life expectancy by 22 years. He also outlived several of his doctors and our mom.
So where was God in this struggle?
Rees had a smile that kept you from seeing his problems. God was there.
Rees had a fabulous mind trapped in a terrible body. God was there as he not only went to school, but excelled and was inducted into The National Honor Society.
To have Rees live 22 years longer than expected was truly of God. He was sent home to die on July 1, 1983. Our parents were told early on to just let him go, to enjoy their three healthy children and live their lives.
They did not.
God was in their decision to keep him alive.
God was there when they didn’t sleep, worried his condition would kill him sooner or later.
God was there when our Mom died unexpectedly and we had to carry on without her.
God was there when Rees finally could not fight anymore, when it was his time to go to heaven and join our mom and Jesus.
As Rees was dying, my husband joined two of his nurses and me around his hospital bed. We prayed him up to heaven and Ken remarked, “Can you imagine your mom’s face when Rees WALKS to her in heaven?”
How could we be sad? God won! Rees won! Every day was a miracle from God and we got well over 8000 of those days.
God was always there and He is always there. He’s there in our struggles and our celebrations. Thank you God for always being there.

Kathy Brown

Posted in Seeing God in the Struggle

Seeing God in the Struggle: Healing

A story provided by Martin Kolb:

Healing

I believe that God heals. Isaiah 53:5 writes prophetically about Jesus, the Messiah who would redeem all of humanity, and notes that “He was beaten so we could be whole; He was whipped so we could be healed.” This passage coupled with the numerous healings Jesus and the apostles did, as well as a few healings I’ve seen personally, solidifies this belief.

But what happens when God doesn’t answer prayer? What happens when we don’t see the healing that we desperately seek? Is God still a God of healing?

On May 23, 2016, my family began to explore these questions when my mom was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. I was working on campus at Messiah College for the summer, with few friends to confide in, and I was mad. I was mad at God. I was having some difficulties with my faith at the time, and I didn’t know what to do. After an hour of talking with God, yelling at Him and crying to Him, God reminded me of a verse from the book of John: “In this world you will face many troubles. But take heart, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). I had a choice: to either give up hope and turn from God, or to turn to Him and cling to the hope of this promise. Choosing to trust God, as I had in years prior, our family clung to His promises and prayed for Mom’s healing.

Mom started chemotherapy and was discouraged for the first month and a half. However, she found that living in fear was not only a hopeless position to have, but physically damaging for her health. When we are afraid, our body has natural responses: our heart rate increases causing our blood pressure to go up, our breathing becomes heavier, and adrenaline starts flowing through the body. While these symptoms of fear are typically used for a fight-or-flight scenario, when battling cancer it actually weakens the body and gives the cancer more strength. Mom put her hope in Jesus instead, and we saw her rapidly improve thanks to a lack of fear and the many prayers that were sent her way. By the end of August, three months after the initial diagnosis, her health was where most patients would hope to be six to nine months into chemotherapy. Mom was able to go back to work at our church in September.

We were grateful for God’s providence, and even during this time of better health, Mom continued to seek God for complete healing in her body. She declared Scriptures over herself, read various books about healing, and spent a lot of time in prayer. Our church was also very supportive during this time, in ways we had never seen our church work before – providing meals for our family, sending people to our home every night to pray, and even doing things that we hadn’t thought about, like yard work.

However, our time of rejoicing was short. Near Christmas, Mom had another scan that showed the cancer had grown. We were disappointed, but Mom chose to be thankful for the healing work that God had done, knowing that the growth was small compared to where her journey had begun. We recognized that cancer was not just a physical battle, but a spiritual one as well, as any sickness or disease is. However, we also knew Who held victory over sin, death, and disease, and we continued to trust Jesus.

The Spring of 2017 was a fairly consistent season with little change in Mom’s condition. For the most part, she was feeling well with the occasional bout of symptoms with each chemo treatment. In this strange season of seeking health for Mom, my parents went on a retreat together as they did every year. During that retreat, they felt God was saying something kind of odd: to make plans for the summer and to not change them. So Mom and Dad took that to heart and made their plans for the summer: they planned to help with a summer camp in June, attend a conference in DC in July, and visit missionaries in Thailand in August.

In May, a full year since Mom was diagnosed, she received bad news. The cancer was growing again – and we saw similar symptoms to what happened the year prior: the cancer in her liver was sending funny signals to the kidneys, and the kidneys were essentially telling her body that she was not retaining enough water. Thus, her body started to balloon with excess water weight, so much that she looked pregnant and had swollen feet and legs.

Despite these symptoms and the difficulties they presented, she did not fear and fully trusted God. Even though she was sick, she held onto what God told her to do and did not change anything. She helped out with camp in June and delighted in ministering to the campers and other counselors. She attended the conference in DC in July and enjoyed her stay, holding firmly to faith. Several of the other conference guests would approach Mom and, seeing her ballooned belly, ask “Are you expecting?” Mom would smile and say, “Yes, but I’m not expecting a baby. I’m expecting a miracle”, and would proceed to tell them her story. At the same time, she quietly made preparations in the scenario that healing would not occur – organizing her files, making sure people knew where things were, and having people at the church take on responsibilities she could not do as easily in her weakened state.

The closer the day to leave for Thailand came, the worse Mom’s condition became. Family, friends, and doctors asked her if she really wanted to go, but Mom was adamant: “God said not to change anything. I’m going on that plane.”

Mom passed away in a hospital in Japan after the plane stopped for a layover there. She passed in perfect peace, as if God’s Spirit had enveloped her in His love. Her story ended with her repeating a single phrase while on her deathbed:

“Just trust Jesus.”

There are many cliché things that can be said – “she was healed in heaven”, or “she received her healing differently than we thought”, which is true. However, it doesn’t help the heart ache of losing someone you loved. It doesn’t help to overcome the pain, the longing to see her and hear her say “I love you”, things that over a year later I am still wrestling with.

What it does do is beg a question: does God really want to heal?

Even now, I say yes.

Mom’s testimony of faith was to trust Jesus with everything. Jesus healed everywhere He went, and He delighted in restoring identity and wholeness into those around Him. Jesus also says that God hears our prayers, and desires to answer them, for a good Father will always have compassion on His child, and gives good gifts to His children.

However, I recognize that God is not the only unseen power. I think a better way to understand the world is to recognize the battle behind this reality. Life, both physical and spiritual, is often a battle, and sometimes, people die in battle. In mom’s case, she died valiantly and will full confidence in Christ. I am glad to know that I can take her words to heart and hold the same bold confidence in Christ and His power.

Besides, if she was able to fully trust Jesus in the midst of sickness and death, why should I not trust Him while I still have health and life?