California is a vast territory. Mountains covered with evergreen. Oceans lined with sand. Forests impaled with redwood. But at the heart of it all, like a spine connecting the various parts of life, a central valley stretches across a taut expanse of farmland.
Here in the valley, my hometown is like an island on a sea of rice fields. Flat terrain extends as far north and south as the eye permits. To the east and west, mountain ranges function like the sides of a canoe while cement canals systematically divide the land in between.
This is not the California everyone thinks of. This is where cows graze.
And this is where I’m from.
All of my friends’ dads were farmers. My father, however, was not a man of the plow, but a man of the pulpit. Every Sunday morning, my dad preached, my mom led worship, and my grandma played the piano.
Church was like a family business, albeit a modest one.
My earliest memory is on stage. At church. During the week, I would drag the drummer’s stool over to the podium, and while teetering on its wooden legs, I would preach to my imaginary congregation.
I would “play church.” Passing out communion trays. Collecting the offering plates.
At the time, I had no idea how much “playing church” and “performing on a platform” would become my life. How I would wear a mask and play a role and receive applause. And this applause would become my life source. My idol.
And it all began on a platform. A place to perform.
I’ve played many roles in the church. My first role being the pastor’s kid. And through each role, God has revealed another part of Himself to me. It was during those early years I sensed something during worship I couldn’t articulate. As we sang old hymns, I experienced a peace and wholeness I couldn’t describe.
It was His Presence.
And it was real. Palpable.
No play making. No pretending.
No matter which roles in the church I would eventually play, it was His Presence that would always draw me back. His Spirit tethered me, anchored me, and at times, protected me.
Whenever I tell His story, I will always come back to His Presence. For everything starts with Him.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is spoken by Nathaniel. Having just heard Andrew’s report about Jesus as the Messiah, he said:
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46).
Nazareth was a small, blue-collar kind of town. Nothing remarkable. Which is also true of my hometown.
Where I’m from, life is down-to-earth. Literally. People’s livelihoods come from the earth.
Can anything good come from Nazareth? Well, the Creator of Earth did. He was born in a barn. Like the ones I used to play in.
From the beginning, God has chosen “the lowly things of this world . . . so that no one may boast” (I Corinthians 1:28-29). If there is anything good in me, it’s because of Him.
My role as the pastor’s kid would not last forever. Another role was coming.
But the Anchor would hold.
Have you experienced His Presence?
What is your earliest memory of Him reaching out to you?
Click here to read PART 2.
PHOTO CREDIT: By Sadie_Girl (Creative Commons)