Slow Down| By Zuzana Niedelova

Have you ever thought about the incredible creativity of Jesus? Only very few of His teachings are not accompanied by an illustrative story, analogy or a metaphor each of which is so fitting and relevant. He was able to capture people’s attention, captivate them, interrupt their lives and point to a better alternative they can have in God. He offered tangible and familiar pictures to help people understand the Kingdom. 

In our busy lives, surrounded by technology and unceasingly working on our tasks, there is no time to observe wild flowers and birds so no wonder we cannot use them as an analogy! We do not stop and contemplate on how people work; Jesus did and it enabled him to see the parallel between a sower and God which later helped people understand the Kingdom of God.

Taking time to notice our surroundings and reflect on it is crucial for our personal life and ministry alike. If we want our words to be relatable for people who do nott know Jesus, if we want to be quick to hear God’s voice and notice his work in this world, we must take time to to see these things first. 

It is alright to slow down. Take time to appreciate the little things and bring them to God – ask Him what they speak about Him. Put your phone away for a few minutes and look around; find one thing that catches your attention: a huge tree, a homeless man, an unfamiliar smell, warm wind or the sound of the crowd. Slow down and really see it, feel it, hear it – be really present with all your senses and then think, what is God saying to you through it? You won’t believe what amazing things He will reveal to you! He has so many things to show us and to get excited about with us if we just give him the attention.

Slow down, observe, contemplate and talk to God. It is that simple. Be truly present in everything you do and expect God to speak to you because there is nothing better in this world than seeing the world through our Father’s eyes.

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3 (NIV)

Unplug to Recharge| By T’eoria Murray

In today’s society we move a mile a minute and I am no exception to this rule. With my phone in hand, hours can pass by in the blink of an eye. Even while having devotional time, my phone is within arm’s reach. From the moment we wake up in the morning we are flooded with sensory stimulation- phone alarms, music, news, social media. We interact with people and ideas almost 24/7.

Informatics professor Dr. Gloria Marks stated in an interview that the average person checks their email 74 times a day and switches tasks on their computer 566 times a day. 90 percent of young adults in the US actively use social media and 50 percent of people use social media while driving. With high speed internet literally at our fingertips, it is no wonder that many of us have lost the art of solitude and silence. 

Given the choice of stimulation or being left to our own thoughts, it is a no-brainer. A study was published in the July 2014 edition of Science in which students surrendered all their belongings, including their smartphones and spent 6 to 15 minutes alone in a room with nothing to do but think. Not surprisingly, more than half of the participants reported the task was difficult. What surprised researchers was that when instructed to occupy themselves with their thoughts and given the option of administering themselves a mild electric shock if they wished, 67 percent of men and 25 percent of women voluntarily gave themselves at least one shock during the thinking time. The baffled scientists recorded, “Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.”

It’s easy to become addicted to stimulation without even realizing it. Noise is the new normal and boredom is to be avoided at all costs, but what are we missing out on when we are constantly plugged in?

Austin Phelps, a 19th century pastor, noted, “It has been said that no great work in literature or in science was ever wrought by a man who did not love solitude. We may lay it down as an elemental principle of religion, that no large growth in holiness was ever gained by one who did not take time to be often long alone with God.”

This principle is illustrated in the scriptures several times. Perhaps the most memorable illustration was in the life of Elijah. After facing off with the pagan priests at Mount Carmel, then running for his life from wicked Queen Jezebel, Elijah was physically and emotionally spent. After meeting his physical needs, God taught him an important lesson. There was a mighty windstorm tearing rocks loose from their places, then an earthquake, then a fire, but God was not in these things. He was in the gentle whisper that followed them.

God can speak in the noise, but He often chooses the silence. In His life on earth, Christ was often alone with His Father (Luke 5:16). He would spend whole nights in prayer (Luke 6:12). Silence and solitude was His place of strength. So what happens when we step away from the notifications and viral videos for a while?

  1. It reminds us that life will go on without us.
  2. It clears the clutter from our minds to allow for wise decision making and planning.
  3. It creates inner space to hear the voice of God.
  4. It allows us to disconnect from the world and deeply connect with our soul. We can get to know ourselves without the voices of friends, family, television, podcasts, books, technology, work and everything else that vies for our attention.
  5. It helps us with other spiritual disciplines such as Bible study, prayer and fasting.
  6. It boosts creativity.
  7. It creates increased appreciation for our relationships.

Finding time to escape alone and experience solitude and silence can feel almost impossible in our busy world, but it can be done if we are intentional.

If you’re a mom, this may mean waking up an hour earlier or staying up an hour after the kids are asleep. Spend your lunch break alone. Go on a retreat. Have a social media fast for a set period of time. Just a few minutes of purposeful quiet each day can benefit us more than we could imagine.  It may be difficult at first but hang in there. God wants you to have the blessing of silence.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it.” Isaiah 30:15 (NLT)

All He Says I Am| By Jasmine Beard

Who are you?

I recently had the opportunity to share with some high school students, and we chatted about identity.

There are two questions that people young and old ask themselves at sometime in their life.

1.) Who am I?

And

2.) Why am I here?

When I asked the students the first question…

One student  cheerfully and confidentially responded, “I’m a football player.”

I responded, “Well, what if you get injured really badly, and you’re never able to play football again? Then who are you?”

I didn’t say that to stump him or to belittle his answer, but to simply get him thinking.

We are not what we do.

As people, we like to identify ourselves with everything except God, whether it be in what we do for a living, in our past, what has happened to us, or in what others have to say about us!

 “But you are God’s chosen treasure—priests who are kings, a spiritual “nation” set apart as God’s devoted ones. He called you out of darkness to experience his marvelous light, and now he claims you as his very own. He did this so that you would broadcast his glorious wonders throughout the world.” 1 Peter 2:9 (TPT)

What lies are you believing about who you are today?!

“Worthless.”

“Ugly.”

“Won’t amount to anything.”

“Trash.”

“Rejected.”

“Abandoned.”

“Forgotten.”

“Not special.”

It would be impossible to walk throughout life without having someone say something hurtful to you!

Sometimes things can be said so often to us that instead of rejecting those words we accept them and begin to wear them as our identity.

As we accept those words as our identity, we go throughout life trying to prove those words wrong or by self-medicating to numb the pain, overcompensating with makeup, numbing with alcohol, or hopping from relationship to relationship.

But all these things are only a cover up – a cover up to a truly broken and hurting heart!

Today, I want you to break-up with those word curses and refuse to speak them to yourself or agree with them again!

YOU ARE NOT WHAT PEOPLE SAY ABOUT YOU!

You are a daughter or son of the most High God!

And He calls you:

“Beautiful.”

“Worthy.”

“Forgiven.”

“Free.”

“Bold.”

“New.”

Think on these things instead because what God says about you is TRUE!

The Bible tells us that we are made in the very image of God. Meaning our looks, characteristics, and personality all derive from Him!

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27 (NLT)

So today, if you are questioning “who you are?” and “why you are here?”, look no further than to the One who created you in His likeness.

Once we know Whose we are, we will have a better understanding of who we are and what we were created to do.

When our identity is solidified in The One who is identity we no longer have to waiver or fret in the question of who we are because we find out who we are only in Him. 

How to Deal with Fear| By Sarah Koay

Fear creeps in as we lose our confidence and start to doubt. Many times in life we lose our confidence because of the circumstances that we are in.

We can learn from Paul who faced many challenges in the Bible.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NASB), Paul mentioned – But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Knowing this, we can learn from Paul to stay confident and always put our hope in God because one day, all that we are going through right now will come to pass and as long as we walk in God’s ways, we will be able to see victory and let His glory be revealed. 

However, it is always easier said than done, so let’s be really honest for a second.

How often do we go to God first?

God always seems to be the last resort in many of our lives whether we want to admit it or not and whether we realize it or not.

We always try to solve things our way and when things get out of hand and we are at our breaking point, then we go to God. But this should not be the way.

One thing we can do is to admit our fears and our shortcomings to God. 

Run to Him first. Not to your family, not to your friends, and definitely not to social media. Don’t run away from your problems. Don’t run away from God. Run towards Him and face your problems head on. 

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV)

The only kind of fear we should have is the fear of God. A fear that regards God with reverence and awe.

“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the LORD your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul.” Deuteronomy 10:12 (NLT)

It is okay to be afraid at times as long as we know how to go to God and gain our confidence in Him. Even if it means going to Him a million times.

Insecurity Has A Voice| By Jasmine Beard

Insecurity is like a sneaky snake. It presents itself at the least opportune times and masks itself behind pride, cynicalness, and busyness. If we are not careful, we will miss it and mistake it for something else.

Insecurity is the uncertainty or anxiety about oneself; lack of confidence.

Insecurity is lurking behind your critical comments of your sister’s new business, best friend’s husband, and maybe of people placed in authority in your life.

I once read a quote that says, “Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?” 

Insecurity always has something to say whether it be about others or ourselves.

One place in my life that insecurity rears its ugly head is in my relationships or in relationships I want to pursue.

I will think to myself, “she doesn’t want to be my friend. I’m not cool enough. I’m not spiritual enough” and so on and so forth! 

We have all been there. We say phrases like these to ourselves:

“I am not enough.”

“I am not pretty enough.”

“She is prettier than me.”

“I am not smart enough.”

“I am too prideful.”

“I can’t wear that.”

“He’s too good for me.”

I cannot tell you how many times I have been on the phone with a friend and he or she is going on and on about something they feel inferior doing or about something or someone they don’t feel good enough for.

But today I want to tell you, whatever your “not enough” is, you must recognize that you are the voice of your insecurity. You are the voice that is stopping you.

Your voice is the reason you have not taken that business venture, called that person to build a friendship, or become the woman God has called you to be. 

Moses is a person in the Bible that I identify with so much. I have had many conversations with the Lord that have mirrored the insecurities, fears and concerns that Moses had.

Exodus 4:8-12 (NLT) gives a great example of these conversations. Maybe you can relate, it reads:

8 The Lord said to Moses, “If they do not believe you and are not convinced by the first miraculous sign, they will be convinced by the second sign.

9 And if they don’t believe you or listen to you even after these two signs, then take some water from the Nile River and pour it out on the dry ground. When you do, the water from the Nile will turn to blood on the ground.”

10 But Moses pleaded with the Lord, “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.”

11 Then the Lord asked Moses, “Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the Lord? 

12 Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.”

Even with God giving Moses instruction and telling him that He was with him, Moses still doubted. He still felt inferior despite the security God gave him. He spoke insecure words about himself and neglected all confidence and strength that dwells inside of The One who called him.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV)

The Bible says, God’s strength is made PERFECT in our weakness. It says “PERFECT” my friend, not “just okay” or “not enough”, but perfection.

Sometimes our insecurities are true about us, but our insecurities are never true of God. He uses the weak to do mighty. He uses little to make much.

Stop the self-hatred and self-ridicule and choose today to listen to what God says about you. Let that be the voice that pushes you towards your destiny.

Do not go one more day being the voice that ridicules and criticizes. Choose to listen to the voice of God and let His confidence be your guide in all that you do.

His Daughter| By Gabby Jones

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalms 139:13‭-‬14 (NIV)

When things have been taken from you, and you lose yourself, what do you do? Who do you turn to? Who do you become?

Many of us go through seasons that rock us to our core. When we lose someone or something, we forget how we operated before tragedy struck. Who we are can get so wrapped up into a person or idea that once they are gone, we become different people to compensate for the pain.

We are not meant to operate like this. When we come to the end of ourselves, that is where God begins. 

Growing up, I never had any major identity issues. Usually my identity was based on the group of friends I hung around at that time, but it rarely changed until I got saved. When God stole my heart, my identity was in Him, and it was simple; I was His daughter. Anything I did or said after that usually reflected the fact that I was the precious daughter of the most High. Once I planted my roots in that identity, God began overflowing my life with unique gifts and seasons.

After years of operating and training in the gifts God had given me, I started to lose that simple ‘daughter’ handle and picked up other identities that were given to me by friends, mentors, and pastors. These other identities were never negative, but they piled up and gave me the sense that if I did not continue to be the person I was to everyone, then who was I? God was still using me and training me, but I became so wrapped up in the idea that I was doing all of this work for people, that I forgot that it was being done for God. 

During the season that I was depressed, I still pushed myself to continue to be there for people and do many things, but I became exhausted. Month by month, I stopped serving in different areas and ultimately stopped leading at my church’s college ministry. I stopped using the gifts God gave me, and I let the sun set on the things I used to do for people, myself, and God.

Now that I am no longer depressed, I am still in a season where even thinking about doing the things I used to do for people makes me completely exhausted. I do miss how outgoing and extremely loving I used to be, but now I feel like people need to take a ticket just to hang out with me. 

Lately, I have not been embracing the woman I am now, but I am steadily trying to cling onto everything I was a few years ago. I recently spoke to one of my mentors, and she opened my eyes to realize that I do not remember who I was before all of the gifts, the tasks, and the positions I was put in.

Before God placed me in those different seasons, I was first and foremost HIS daughter. When I sit and worship, pray, or simply wake up in the morning, I am His daughter first before any other label.

After this stunning realization, I began to ask God to strip away any and everything from me that was not of Him, everything I tried to hold on to, and everything that tried to hold on to me. I wanted it to be just me and Him; Father and daughter; back to the beginning.

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” Ephesians 1:4‭-‬5 (NIV)

This is not a one-time prayer, and you have to face it everyday.

Before you go out into the world today, tomorrow, and every day, pray for God to remind you that you are His before you are anyone else’s.

The title of being HIS child will triumph over any president, king, or CEO. Whatever season you are in, cling to the hope that God does not just see you as you are. He sees you as His precious child, and there is nothing you can do or will be that will change His mind otherwise. 

You are His child.

I am His daughter.

Why We Need the Church| By Emily Lawson

This world is all about identity.

“Don’t put a label on me, but if you refer to me incorrectly, I’ll be upset.”

Everyone wants to be there own person – unique in their own way.

And while I think we should never try to conform to be someone else, God does not call us to be a singular person!

He calls us “the flock”. We are a peculiar “people”.

Yes, each of us is seen individually in His eyes, but if we go out on our own, we do not have the protection of the united front with all His children!

“For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body.” 1 Corinthians 12:14‭-‬20 (KJV)

You are a leg, and I am an arm. Without each other, we are not going to get very far.

The church is such an important part of our Christian walk. It is about the fellowship that we gain, the support system that comes with it, and the cheerleaders rooting for us. These all allow us to walk confidently among those of the world.

The church helps us to grow, when we learn from the preacher who is lead by the Holy Spirit. It helps lift us up when surrounded by prayer warriors, and it helps keep us connected to His people by allowing us to pray for others!

At my church, our covenant ends by saying that when we feel led to find a new church that we will seek a new church as soon as possible to be able to carry out “the principles of God’s word.”

This is such an important point to remember, because sitting out on one church service can seem simple. With your second missed service, you feel guilt, but you have that excuse ready. By the third and fourth, you do not feel AS bad. It is a slippery slope.

If we stick with God’s teachings and choose to be in His presence and with His people, we grow, and it becomes easier to hear His calling for our life.

So, where are you finding your identity? Is it in your style? Is it in your job? Your label of mom/dad?

What if you seek to find your identity within the church? Within the community God has placed around us to keep us strong?

God gives us a community so that they can lift us up to find our personal calling in His kingdom. The world around us only wants to drag us further and further away from Him.

This “Me” focused world is not, and cannot be, a “God” focused world!

Be the peculiar people. Stand out from the world and stand strong with the Kingdom!

How Bad Do You Want It?| By Chelsea Verdin

What does desperate faith look like?

For me, it is the story of the paralyzed man in the gospels. 

“A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” Mark 2:1-5 (NIV)

Most recently, after hearing this story for what seemed like the millionth time in service, I could hear Jesus ask me, “How desperate are you? How far are you willing to go?” 

It was kind of like a “what would you do for a Klondike bar” moment. 

What would I do to meet with Jesus? How far would I go to see His glory? How desperate am I for His presence? 

I was baffled, and honestly, I wanted to say “Lord, I would do anything, go anywhere just to be with you.” 

That was my heart’s intentions and cries because of how much I love Jesus, but as I have looked at my life, I have seen where I have fallen short. It has made me reevaluate my desperation for Christ.

You see the level of our desperation depends on the level of our want. How bad do we want it? 

If a drug addict can sell everything they own for something that ultimately destroys their body, then why are we not more desperate for Christ who is good and ultimately the giver of life? 

Maybe our problem as Christians is not that we are addicted to Christ’s goodness and the work of His glory, (it is very easy for most of us to pray about things we need or want), but maybe it is that we have not spent enough time with Jesus to have developed an addiction for more of Him. Just more of what He can give us.

Just as the four friends who carried their friend on a mat showed Jesus their faith, we must also be willing to go the extra mile in our actions. They could have spoken their desperation and later brought Jesus to their friend, but that was not good enough for them. They needed Jesus to see him, to see their hunger, to feel the intensity of how badly they wanted their friend healed. When our actions match the intent of our heart, we have stepped into pure desperation.

Those friends could have seen the crowd and the impossibility to get through, but they reasoned in their minds that turning back seemed more impossible than getting to Jesus. We have to come to a point when we are so utterly desperate for the presence and glory of Jesus that the impossible seems logical.

We have to be willing to climb those mountains, dig those openings, and lay ourselves paralyzed by the world, but desperate to sit at the feet of Jesus.

Shutting the Mouth of the Enemy| Bethany Anding

“Rejected.”

“Worthless.” 

“Will never equal to anything.” 

These are some of the thoughts I dealt with in the past. As a child, I was bullied in school. I was told that I would never measure up to anything because I was “fat” and that I “would never get married” because I was so ugly. These words scarred me. I would get in the car every day after school and just cry to my mom.

I would say things like “am I really that ugly?”

“Why are they so mean?”

I would take these words and meditate on them. I would think to myself, “Maybe they’re right. I may never get married. If I do, I’ll probably marry an abusive man and have a daughter who resents me.”

And I would get carried away with all these lies. Due to my choice to believe the lies, I dealt with severe depression. I was very insecure about the way I looked. I hated who I was. I wanted to die.

And as far as getting married, I would think that since a man probably would not love me, maybe a woman would. This led to me questioning my sexuality. 

All of this was tied together by one thing; I did not know who I was in Christ. I did not recognize that this was the voice of the enemy. I thought all of this was me.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 (NKJV).

This scripture basically says that Jesus loves us, no matter what we do. He loved us before we even knew how to love Him back. There is a song that I love, that many are familiar with, called “Reckless Love”. 

In the bridge of this song, the artist sings the following: “There’s no wall You won’t kick down, lie you won’t tear down, coming after me!”

I love how he says that there is no lie God won’t tear down to get to us. This means that if the enemy puts a lie in someone’s head, God will tear it to bits. All we have to do is believe what God says about us, instead of believing a silly lie Satan puts in our head. Sometimes, it may be difficult. The lie may seem rational. It may be logical and line up with our circumstances, but God’s word is true, no matter what may surface. 

There was another song I was listening to not too long ago. The artist went into a little spontaneous worship, and she sang these words: “Just a whisper, and You shut the mouth of the liar!” 

Let’s say I am going to get in my car, and someone on the street, who I don’t know, and have never seen before comes up to me and says, “Your mom said I could buy your car, give me the keys.” 

He is obviously lying, but he takes circumstances and tries to twist them to make me believe him. I would have two options: believe this guy and hand over the keys to my car. Or, I could just choose not to believe him, take my keys, and drive away. 

It’s the same way with the devil. It seems so easy to just believe what he is saying because he has “evidence”, but it is just things he is perverting to make it look like he is right.

Just like in the Garden of Eden where the serpent (who is really the devil) tells Eve that God does not want her to eat the forbidden fruit because it will make her more powerful than God, when that is far from true. The truth is that it would give her knowledge of evil and separate her from God. 

So, the enemy takes what is factual, not necessarily truth, and twists it to make it look the way he wants. For example, someone could go to a doctor, and the doctor could say they have a mass, but only one in a million of these are cancerous.

The devil will take it way out of proportion and say “You are the one in a million! You have cancer! You are going to die,” when the truth is that Jesus is the God of miracles, and He is stronger than any mass, malignant or benign.

“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10 (NKJV) 

This means believing the lies of the enemy will not get anyone anywhere. It will result in death and destruction whereas pursuing Jesus and believing His word will result in an eternity in heaven. 

In the end, everyone has a choice. Believe the lies of the enemy or walk in freedom and truth. Personally, I am done believing the lies of the enemy. Satan has taken a big enough toll from me, and I am going to take back my authority and say “SHUT UP DEVIL! You are a liar!” Because Jesus is the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, and I have chosen Him.

Share Your Story: Two Faces| By Corrinn McCauley

I grew up in one town that had two faces. One face was the glossy McMansion playground fully equipped with Trader Joe’s, an outlet shopping mall, and a Starbucks on every street corner. This upmarket face is a magnet for San Francisco foreigners hoping to take their Stanford or Berkeley education and retreat a small distance from The City with their children. 

However, the second face came first. It is the remnants of a railroad town established in the Gold Rush. The former shanty town’s main drag by the river was converted into a quaint tourist attraction with its brothels and trading outposts repurposed into antique shops and old timey candy stores. The dingier remains lurk in the neighborhood next door. 

Both faces of this town are imprinted on my very soul, and both faces are represented in my spiritual development. 

My best friend Megan attended a megachurch on the new side of town. It was a typical model of two church services where those at the nine am service never saw anyone from the 11 am service. In fact, there was not much interaction between those who attended even the same service.

Attending Megan’s church made me feel small and anonymous. I liked their children’s program because they had great snacks and so many other children to play with. The worship seemed really professional, like a concert, and the people stood and listened. Very few people raised their hands which always struck me as strange. Twice, I gave poor Megan’s mom a challenge by revealing that there is a Devil, and that we will all die. The existence of evil in the world and life’s transience seemed natural to me. Megan’s church primarily taught on the blessings of following Christ. 

My childhood church was lodged in the old part of town. It was housed in an old converted warehouse sandwiched between a print and mechanic shop. The bowling alley across from us reeked of stale beer, and bums lounged in the parking lot with their paper wrapped bottles. A large sign hung at the end of the street, “Where the West Came and Stayed”. Later, city council would remove this sign, and the western boots shop beneath it would close as we increasingly wanted to forget that we’re the Wild West and instead pretend to be in the 90210.   

I spent at least half of my childhood in this building. The congregation was a family in all the best and worst ways. We were brought together by the strong convictions that God not only can but will heal and perform miracles, the day of Pentecost unleashed the Holy Spirit on earth, and prophecy is not just for the people in the Bible.

Pastor Don was a square-jawed software salesman who received no salary, but still took on all the burdens of a full pastorship. Instead of taking any of the money that we occasionally scrounged up to help support his family of five, he used it to bring in guest speakers. These guest speakers were often missionaries who made me cry with stories of starving children, but they were otherwise uneventful outside the four hour sermons they gave. However, I’ll never forget my first experience with a traveling prophet. 

I left with my dad as usual that Sunday morning. His idea of proper church attire was a baseball cap and 49ers sweatpants, whereas my mom always arrived a solid twenty minutes late from taking so long on her hair. Dad and I stopped for coffee beforehand because the church coffee pot was continually used but never cleaned. He let me share his orange mocha with him and read the news to me. I loved being treated like an adult. We picked up our normal box of donuts to share and lounged about in the church kitchen with everyone before service.

We started every sermon by breaking into prayer circles insuring the whole congregation was personally prayed over. After, Pastor Don announced any larger prayer requests from the pulpit. If someone was sick or struggling we took volunteers on the spot to make sure they were consistently fed and had company. People always raised their hands to chip in. Pastor never had to ask twice. He personally filled in any remaining gaps. Looking back, I wonder how he had time to do so much. I guess he didn’t have time. People don’t have time laying around, they make time for what they care about. He cared about us. 

The Pastor’s wife led worship and his eldest daughter played the piano. Worship was a raucous event. We danced in the aisles, some pounding the ground as if they were trying to stomp Satan right down into Hell where he belongs. Since the spirit was particularly present, Pastor broke out the shofar. People clapped and cried. A few of the more spiritually sensitive fell to their knees, faces lifted heavenward. The last speaker taught us about flag worship, and its power to usher in spiritual breakthrough. My favorite flags to grab at the start of worship was the set depicting a lion and a lamb. They looked like trembling watercolor when you spun them around. The pastor’s youngest daughter, Lydia, my nemesis, caught on that I loved those flags and always tried to beat me to them.     

Lydia wielded her considerable hierarchical power to make my life miserable. She formed her own club with one entry requirement: to be one inch taller than I was. I was the shortest kid in our age group. All the kids in her club sat together in Sunday school, but Lydia exiled me to the little kids table. I usually ended up next to TJ who liked to squirt Capri Sun in my ear. My mom told me he did this because he had a crush on me, but that seemed like a really stupid reason to make the inside of my head feel sticky. I wanted to get out of Sunday school and into service as quickly as possible. 

I was particularly excited for this sermon not just because it got me out of having snacks dumped on me, but because my mom told me that at the end the prophet would do an alter call and prophesy over those who came forward. I’d told her that I was excited to have my fortune told– like some lost princess stumbling upon a crystal ball. She corrected me saying that fortune tellers use the demonic to see the future, but prophets hear from God. 

I can’t recall exactly what the prophet preached on, but I remember it having a “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” tone, and my mom wincing between her Amens’. My dad fell asleep. I, on the other hand, was eager for the actual prophesying to begin.

Towards the end, the prophet started hand selecting people out of the audience and giving them words the Lord laid on his heart for them. I was envious when I wasn’t chosen. I guessed those people just needed it more than I. A few of them fell down in the aisles, and I thought this was strange, so I asked my mom about it.

“Sometimes, when a word is given, the Spirit is released and knocks a person to the ground.”

“But not everyone is falling”

“It’s different each time you’re prayed for. God knows where you’re at and what’s going to move you.”

It seemed like an awful lot of trouble to fall. There were people standing behind whoever was prayed for to ease them to the ground, so it wasn’t like the impact was doing any damage. But I had fainted before and that wasn’t fun at all. I started to feel my excitement drain out of me.     

Searching her face, I asked,  “Have you ever fallen before?” 

She smiled and nodded.

“Does it hurt?” I whispered.

My mom stroked back my hair, “No, it doesn’t hurt. God would never hurt you.”

I nod slowly, feeling consoled but still a little uneasy about the whole thing.The altar call begins and I get in line to receive my prophecy. Lydia and her crony, Lauren, cut in front of me. I hoped the preacher wasn’t too worn out by the time he got to me, but since God doesn’t get tired I decided not to fuss about it. Turn the other cheek and all that jazz. 

They were whispering to each other in line. 

“Is it cool to fall?” Lauren asked.

Lydia paused, “You get more attention if you do.” 

They’d taken it too far this time. Falling down shouldn’t be some cool trend like the latest Hannah Montana song. If it’s supposed to happen, it should just happen. Leave it to Lydia to be such a fake, making a joke out of the whole thing.

Sure enough, when Lauren and Lydia got prayed over they both fell down. Lauren collapsed so quickly and dramatically the poor people behind her hardly had a chance to ease her to the ground. This received a chorus of “Hallelujahs” from the church. Lydia performed her fall with a bit more grace. Lauren’s was a cannonball; Lydia’s a swan dive. I wondered if God came to them at all or if the entire thing was a fake. If it was just a big joke, shouldn’t the prophet have caught it? My uneasiness returned, and it was my turn. 

The prophet wore a starchy suit which struck me as stuffy and intimidating since Pastor usually wore Hawaiian shirts and Levi’s. He smeared oil on my forehead. My mom always hated when they did that because it’s bad for your skin, but I figured if it has symbolic meaning it’s worth it. I tried to focus my thoughts on his prayer. I was finally getting my chance to know God’s plan for my future. 

I don’t remember the words the prophet started to say over me, but he took the palm of his hand and started to push into my forehead. I began to lose my footing, but it was in no way related to the Holy Spirit. It had everything to do with the considerable amount of force this man was applying to my elementary school sized skull. He was trying to knock me down. 

He was a fraud! But I wouldn’t let him get away with it. He spewed a bunch of generic garbage to buy himself time until he could knock me down. I was infuriated that this joke had smeared oil onto my forehead and was now pressing it in with his stupid hands. I could picture a line of acne forming underneath his palm as he pressed. But I pressed back. His pressing turned to shove, and I had to take a step backwards. The people lined up to catch me stepped forward, but I dug my heels in and regained my balance. The prophet met my eyes, and I scoffed defiantly up at him. In that moment, we recognized each other as adversaries. He kept up his show “Hallelujah” and “Thank you Jesusing” onto the next schmuck. 

I fled angrily to the bathroom. A cocktail of fury and shock fogged my mind. Had he pushed everyone down? Or, like Lydia and Lauren, were they all too willing to fall, so he didn’t have to bother? Where did it end? I wished he was a fortune teller even if that’s evil. At least then, he would have been honest. This man made a joke of something I believed in, and now I did not know who else was a joke too. I stuck my forehead in the sink and scrubbed off the anointing oil.

I sulked on the car ride back to the suburbia side of town where we lived. Mom could tell something was off with me, but I didn’t want to try and talk about it over the local sports station dad played in the car. When we got inside, I fell to the ground where Shiloh was jumping at my knees, and she bounded into my lap. I petted her somberly. My mom sat down next to us. 

“How’s our honey?”

“She seems good. She’s wagging.”

“And how’s my other honey?”

I paused for a long time tracing the tiles’ grout lines. “He pushed me.”

Her eyes bulged, “Who pushed you?”

“The prophet. While he was praying over me, he tried to knock me down.”

To my tremendous surprise, she laughed.

“Yeah, they’ll do that sometimes. You didn’t fall though.”

“Of course not, he was nothing but a big stupid fraud! I’m not going to let him push me around.”

She smiled widely. “Good for you. I’m proud.”

I just stared at her, confused. I had expected her to be shocked, for this to change everything. 

“But he was supposed to be a prophet! Everybody said so!”

She nodded. “We thought he was going to be a prophet. God may even speak through him sometimes, but with situations like this, it’s important to be very careful. You can’t assume people are who they say they are, or even always trust what your church says.”

“So our church is a joke?”

“No, I didn’t say that. I’m just saying that churches are run by people, and people mess up sometimes even when they try their best. You always have to take everything people say with a grain of salt. That’s why it’s very important to know the Bible for yourself, so you don’t end up being pushed around.” She smiled jokingly, but it was too soon for laughter. 

She kissed my cheek. “You are my smart, strong girl. You have your own discernment. Use it. Prophets are real, and they can provide insight, but never forget that Jesus speaks to everyone. You don’t need some prophet to tell you your future. In fact, relying on prophets can be dangerous.”

“Because they can be frauds?”

“They can be frauds, or they can just rely too much on their own false interpretations. People never have all the answers, and if they say they do, something is wrong.”     

I felt like I understood the world a little more after that. Although, this would start me on a path of distrust in people and preachers, it never once made me question the existence of God or the Holy Spirit. It is strange to look back and consider since God’s powerful presence in my life wouldn’t become apparent for years.

Believing in God always seemed the most natural thing in the world to me, I just couldn’t believe in people. The best you could ask for seemed to be loyalty and follow through, and I had those things in the congregation of Victory Life Church to a degree I may never find again.  

I saw the world’s two faces. The face of mankind aiming for God, and the face of them missing the mark. The face of an undistinguished church on the wrong side of town, and the face of a steadfast family. The face of a large congregation worshiping in a beautiful building, and the face of those isolated by a crowd. The face of pioneers who braved the west, and the face of those who civilized it. I cannot reject any of these faces, because I wear them all.