When I was twelve I preached my first sermon. It was about hell. I said as everyone knew we were all going there unless we accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. I described the torments of hell. They had been revealed to me in a terrifying dream. I had woken up sweating, screaming. Christ had chosen to show me this revelation so I could describe it to all of them so they could be saved.
My vision of hell consisted of many rooms, I told them. Inside those many rooms were torments reserved to each person. Each room was run by a demon, some more ferocious than others. Demons took delight in designing tools of torture for the unbelievers. In one room a demon would pull out your fingernails if you had stolen or were a thief. Once the nails regrew he’d do it over again. For all eternity.
In another room, reserved for atheists, demons would let the sinners glimpse the light of heaven. Just the light and only for a second but that was enough to inflame their hearts with the knowledge of how they had sinned by denying the existence of God. Then the demon would touch a hot iron to their eyes as punishment. The demons liked this one. They laughed when the hot irons touched the eyes and sizzled and the atheists screamed in pain.
I was well known in my church. I had laid hands on old Mrs. Gordon and she had begun to walk without a cane. She was also in physical therapy as well, so there might have been that, but God works with man, even though man was corrupt and dirty and sinful. I become known for my healings. I laid hands on the Emerson’s youngest baby who had a fever and his fever went down almost immediately. I laid hands on Marisa who had broken her arm and prayed for a speedy recovery—she was healed in half the usual time, the doctor said. I was a true prophet of God, many people said.
The trouble came about when I preached my sermon on chastity. It was when I was thirteen. Some objected that I was too young to be preaching about such things, but our pastor said that even the young had wisdom beyond their years when touched by the hand of God. The real trouble came about afterwards, when Molly K. found me and Susanna making out in one of the Sunday school classrooms. I knew that Molly K. had liked me but honestly she smelled weird and I really wasn’t into her. She saw us and screamed and I said, Molly, it’s not what you think it is, but she wouldn’t listen. She ran and told her father, who yes, was our pastor. He came to speak to me and said, Molly has just made a very serious charge. Is it true?
I said yes.
I was not a liar.
I was immediately demoted from my official position of Jr. Pastor and in a letter to the congregation that the pastor read the next Sunday, it said I was taking a step back from ministry to focus on my schoolwork and being with my family and friends.
A few weeks later my father got a job in the next state and we moved. I didn't like them anyways, I reasoned. They never appreciated my sermons. Even though when collection time came people gave the most money when I spoke.
I was walking in our new backyard. It was lot bigger than the one we used to have. Full of trees and shrubbery and flowers. I came upon a bird on the ground. His wing was broken or hurt, he was struggling on the ground to take off but he couldn't. I thought of the verse I memorized: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”
I squatted down next to that bird and knew this was my moment again to be God’s prophet. I focused my inner strength. I summoned all of my faith like I’d done with my other healings. I put my two fingers on the bird, a whole hand might have hurt him. I said, Through the power of the Lord Jesus, I command you to be healed and fly. I opened my eyes and looked down. He was still struggling, still flapping his one wing on the ground. I said it again. Again I summoned all my energy and faith. All I could possibly have.
I command you, little bird, I said, through the power of Jesus Christ to fly again and be healed!
I looked again. He was still struggling. One more time I commanded the bird to be healed and fly away. But he was not healed.
I went back into the house. I knew where mom had hidden my BB gun. I found it and loaded it and went back outside. I shot the bird in his heart. But he was still moving. I shot again. And again. He was making noises. Little gurgling noises. I shot again. But he wouldn’t die. I grabbed the still warm body. Its wings fluttered hard against my hands. I shook it. I threw it on the ground. Still it moved. I threw it against the shed. It was still alive. I took it behind the shed and buried it.
I went inside and ate dinner. In bed as I went to sleep I heard the bird calling. I don't know how, but I heard him warbling. He was in pain. He couldn't breathe. In the middle of the night his cry became too intense for me to ignore and I went out and dug the bird up. He was still breathing somehow. I took him and I squeezed him as hard as I could. I put him down and grabbed a brick and to crush him. I lifted the brick. He was still struggling, moving on the ground. I ran back inside to bed. I tried to fall asleep. I said a prayer, like I've never prayed before.
Please, God, let the bird die. Let him die. Please, God, please!
I traveled with the bird. I called him Elijah, after my favorite prophet. We went to church meetings, revivals, wherever they'd take us and wherever I could get a ride. Elijah walked a little funny, he couldn't fly, and his head was a little crooked, but I kept him, I fed him, I cared for him. I brought him out when I talked about the miracles of God. God can do anything. He saved this little bird, he can save your soul too.