Not the Avengers. Not Thor. Not crazy mind games. Not the mystical white druid against the crumpled, dried-apple face, old hag.
No capes. No pointy hats. Not even a Patronus Charm.
The battles fought on cheap carpet and in prayer closets. Where fasting matters and perfect love casts out all fear. Valiant charges into enemy territory are led by little old ladies on arthritic knees and strong young men broken and weeping while garrisons of the heavenly host are released to war on our behalf.
Spiritual warfare is real. More real than you are, sitting there, reading this and wondering where this is going.
The Captain of the Host prefers authority birthed through intimacy, humility, peace, and relationship to flashy demonstrations of power, but, the other guy?
Masquerading as light, he doesn’t mind fomenting chaos and destruction while manipulating simple humanity from behind the scenes. Knowing he will ultimately lose, the goal isn’t to win the war but to take as many to hell with him as possible.
Sadly, many Christians are cannon fodder. Naive and blind to combat, they thrash about on the field unarmed. Cut down in droves when they could have stood as giants among the Lost they are no match for an enemy they won’t believe is real.
This isn’t a tale of some poor, deceived Gretal wandering innocently into a cabin made of candy. I’m writing about an intently focused individual purposefully choosing to follow the theatrical production of deceit instead of the reality of the Cross.
Don’t pity her. Don’t employ the usual suspects of empathy and compassion for her. She didn’t need a hug.
She needed Truth and she needed to see a God who Fights For Her.
There are parts of this next bit of story you may find unbelievable. Hard to read.
As you read, remember these are experiences I invited. Flirtations I enjoyed while intoxicated on secret knowledge and empowered by the rebellion and bitterness in my heart.
I was addicted to this new thing for a time and it was thrilling right up until it wasn’t.
This girl, with a diamond hard, murky heart, has kept me silent. She was the best liar, the best double-agent she could be. Playing her role in the public eye, she looked the part she was supposed to look. Said the things she was supposed to say. Judged the things she was supposed to judge.
As hard as the other elements have been to share, this is harder. This is harsher. This is is inky smoke creeping under the door and the smell of sulfur clinging to bitterness written bold and defiant on claimed property.
There weren’t any flashes of light, pentagrams, or flames curling up from the abyss when I gave my life to the devil. Handed my whole self, all my abilities and talents along with my soul’s desires up to the silence and waited to feel…something.
You might not believe it but there weren’t any tears or hystrionics. This wasn’t an emotional decision it was a strategic alignment with the side that could impact my life and give me what I wanted the most quickly at the least obvious cost.
Void of any declarations of revolt against church ladies and long lists of acceptable behavior, I sat, cross-legged on my blue bedspread against the pale blue wall and waited in the quiet light of a bleak winter’s afternoon.
Then it was time for dinner.
Why would the preacher’s kid, the missionary’s daughter, the die-hard kid from a Christian home do such a thing?
Oh, Jesus, I am so sorry. I didn’t know. I just didn’t know. I was so convinced You were the enemy. You were cold and terrifying to me on the one hand and weak on the other. Either way, I believed I wasn’t worth Your care, beyond Your reach, excluded from the circle of the sanctified.
I didn’t know You then but I can see now how You wept over me while demonic laughter echoed through the walls and ricocheted like bullets through my spirit.
You were always so close. Just a step away through it all but I was blind. Arrogant.
Lost, yet, I believed I had found all I needed.
How different could this life have been if I would have looked up instead of in, reached out instead of pulling back, looked for truth instead of assuming I had all the answers when I only condemned myself over and over and over and over…
If, only once, I would have cried out, “I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.”
What a difference even mustard seed faith would have had.
Sitting on the chairs beside the slanted table at the cheap hotel, my friend pulled out the board and handed me the triangle with a glass cutout to see the letters.
“You have a deep spiritual connection. You play first.”
We closed our eyes, invoking some kind of call to the spirits, and, under my hands, the piece moved around the board predicting boyfriends and someone’s impending demise.
We were certifiably freaked out and giggled in the dark.
“You belong to me.” said the board.
“Well, that’s weird.”
“Yeah. This is dumb. Let’s go to the movies around the corner. I think there’s a new Steven King movie thing showing. It’s rated R but I’m pretty sure we can sneak in.”
Whispers barely registered. Really, I justified, suggestions were all they were and they seemed like such good ideas. It was nice to stop overthinking and questioning everything. Read that book. Cut lengthwise, not across. Wear the black shirt. Steal the lipstick, no one will ever know. Lie.
I felt like I could pick and choose. Yes, I’ll do that. Nah, not interested in that. It was like having a really devoted, invisible, BFF.
Don’t let anyone tell you what to do. Keep this hidden. It’s our secret and only the gulf that yawns below, blackness looking soft and comforting, can truly understand this transformation.
Velvet ribbon by velvet ribbon the control got tighter. I grew thankful I didn’t have to make so many decisions. It seemed easier this way. Like sleepwalking through life.
Nothingness and numbness were a welcome relief from the agony of feeling so many things and I embraced it all.
Situations and people no longer mattered on a personal scale, they were my cogs. Means to the end.
Before long, filth from inside poured out in obscenities and crude humor. I wasn’t funny anymore. I wasn’t clever anymore. I was mean. And I felt powerful in my sharp and cutting words. Sarcasm was a weapon. Knowledge my arsenal. Being right mattered at all costs. Righteous? Didn’t even register.
Fixated on controlling my life the way I saw fit, it was my turn to dictate the rules instead of following the patterns scratched into a clearly established social contract. Masterfully manipulated as an unseen hand showed me the way.
Whispers turned to murmurs and then to a dull roar. Suggestions became insistent, repeated orders.
I walked as I was told. I spoke when I was told. I blended in like I’d never blended before so I could maintain something that looked normal. Whatever that was.
Then orders became demands and until, sporadically, days disappeared into a grey void.
I’d hand in assignments I didn’t remember doing, perform music I didn’t remember rehearsing, find bruises I couldn’t remember getting.
Someone else was in control. Someone else was using me like a suit.
But, instead of me just freezing and my spirit hiding behind my fantasty world, I was just…gone. I didn’t think it mattered until I disappeared long enough to allow for the illusion of control to shiver.
Quickly, the cracks formed in my delusion and the shiny new liberty twisted back onto itself creating a labyrinth of mayhem.
This wasn’t fun anymore. This wasn’t what I thought I had signed up for and it was enough.
Appalled at what I’d become and feeling the icy fingers of insanity pricking at my mind, along the scarred lines of a seared consience, I vowed to become, however I could, the Christian Girl that I was supposed to be.
How hard could it be? It was all about what you didn’t do in public and what you did do at church.
I had the skills.
The white dress, borrowed from a tall girl with shiny, flesh colored lipgloss, whose name I have forgotten, fit poorly. Lace insets and cheap sewing amplified my physical flaws and the extra length dragged on the floor.
But, in spite of the glasses and craft-scissor haircut, I was Juliet.
Pretending I was someone I wasn’t came naturally to me. But dramatic acting? That was hard.
Every Saturday for 4 months I committed suicide, collapsing onto dirty classroom floors with the words,
“Poison, I see, hath been his timeless end:
O churl! Drunk all, and left no friendly drop
To help me after? I will kiss thy lips
Haply some poison yet doth hang on them,
To make die with a restorative.
Polite, sporadic applause, the few words by a bored adjudicator, and I advanced through the ranks gradually building experience. I liked this group of weirdos. It seemed I had found a tribe that gave me a purpose and an outlet for the fantasy.
Juliet. Theresienstadt. Beaches. All those skits. All that time getting to pretend I was someone else.
After an awards ceremony, I caught him looking at me and I wondered about him too.
He was tall. Braces. Boyish, almost-man, features under brown hair and an easy smile. I liked him. He looked less complicated than me. He looked nice.
I didn’t know nice. I didn’t know men who were, well, nice.
Introductions were made… He’d been watching me. He wanted to get to know me. He thought I was dating the guy who did the fishing mime and won All. The. Awards.
Um… That guy was my brother. So, yeah, no.
I was intrigued. We were miles apart on the map and that seemed, somehow, safer. So, in this time before email, Facebook, even free long-distance, we exchanged addresses and phone numbers and got in our respective buses.
He went north. I went southeast. Over the next months, folded letters flew from the little house on the farm toward a glimmer of something good.
It was a courtship of ideas and dialogue with no room for dark corners and shame. Just his mind and mine through a flurry of juvenile philosphy as we toyed with the ideas of love and romance, friendship and understanding.
He was nice. He was good. He knew a version of God that I didn’t and talked about Him with simple words and an easy, comfortable, turn of phrasing.
There was a Valentine’s Day card, just sweet enough to be exciting, but not demanding. My fears began to soften, my heart flirted with the idea of opening up and telling him about myself.
Was he safe enough?
Those few months were quiet, for me. I felt…wanted and I was eating it up like the love-starved girl I was. I took and took and took. Waiting every day to see if the mail had been delivered. Was there the scrawl of my name on the front of a plain, white envelope?
The faintest stirrings of the thing I know now as hope began to push against my self-hatred. If this person thought I was worthwhile, maybe their belief could be strong enough to kill the ghosts and raise the dead.
It seemed that doing everything I could to look an be Just Like All of Them was the key to finally fitting in and belonging. The added blessing of this friend, this almost-man, validated a suspicion.
Maybe doing what I was told was enough. Self-determination wasn’t part of this package. Good things come to the ones who do what ever it is that everybody else does. Whatever doesn’t shake the status quo.
Could it really be that easy? Was the nightmare over?
It seems obvious that just making a decision to “do better things” couldn’t possibly be the answer to finding freedom. If that was the answer, there would be no need for Grace, no need for the Cross, no need for a Savior.
So, no, the nightmare wasn’t over. The voices were giving me just enough rope to hang myself and my foolishness gave them coil after coil.
Why did I see God as so weak? Why didn’t I turn to Him?
Because of how His people related to Him and to each other. They argued over dumb things like the color of carpet and the length of shirt sleeves. They gossiped about each other and played favorites. They were mean.
“We don’t need you.”
“You are so dramatic.”
“You wear your heart on your sleeve. Get over yourself.”
“If you could see yourself from behind, you would see how bad you look in that outfit.”
“Stop doing that.”
“Can you just quit talking?”
“Sorry, there’s just no room for you.”
“You aren’t invited.”
The little girl at the bottom of those stairs relived rejection so many times that arguing seemed pointless.
Oh, there were moments of almost goodness but camp meeting conversions disappeared under the realities of the boring and simple mundane-ness of living.
I wept at the altar. I spoke the words. I played along. Yet, my heart didn’t believe God was strong enough to influence my heart or to change the situations.
He wasn’t a Redeemer to them, how could He be a Rescuer to me? It appeared the only difference between me and the rest of humanity is that I knew I was screwed. They pretended they were ok.
That was dumb. I couldn’t respect dumb.
The orange and red mingled like flames under the title on a book cover left on the end table next to the sofa. The summer day stretched out long in front of me so I curled up on the brown velveteen couch and began to read.
Stories of demonic possession and one woman’s radical fight to set captives free captured my attention as page after page the battle raged on. Endlessly ingenius, the demons would always find a way “in” and the woman would go back to her room, throwing herself to her knees and begging God for a strategy to defeat the enemy.
But most things failed. Or weren’t quite the right idea. Or just lacked…flair.
While the tormented woman remained in control of the situation, the Christian looked inept and foolish with her binding and casting that didn’t work. All the salamahanda’s in the world weren’t going to save her.
“Obviously, God and Satan were well-matched”, I thought.
The teachings of how Good triumphed over Evil at Calvary were always so one-sided. It must have been a Real Fight and Jesus won, barely. Because this power? This authority I heard about?
Was absent in every Bible-Thumper I knew. Especially the ones who had to be red-faced, sweating, and screaming at me to get their point across.
I wasn’t deaf. Or stupid. I got tired of being yelled at by fat men in pin-striped suits while their big-voiced wives sang about sparrows and mystical holiness. They read words from the old book that didn’t make sense to me.
In fact, even while I was doing my best to Be Perfect, I couldn’t read the Bible. Completely asleep in minutes. My mind would cloud or wander as thoughts scattered and more interesting thoughts filled my inner conversations.
But this Christian sub-culture? I t wasn’t real life any more than my fantasy world.
Real life was fighting with your siblings and doing homework. Working a job and navigating the mine-field of female emotions. Real life was…hard. These people were escapists and intellectually inconsistent.
I finished the book in one afternoon. Not a great feat, I read voraciously and very quickly. Closing the front cover, I began to consider that maybe, just maybe, I was on the side of the losers. Sure, some day, in eternity, when Jesus comes and stuff, blah, blah, blah. But that was so far away and I needed strength NOW.
Suddenly, I knew how to get it and it only, apparently, required a few words and I could have everything I wanted.
I know, in the end of that book, God breathed freedom and wholeness into that poor woman. The conclusion and epilogue told of a woman who found peace. It wouldn’t have been much of a Christian book without it.
But then, if the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, wasn’t strong enough to bring freedom and wholeness, I wouldn’t be here either.