Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Time In Between (Part 2)

I've debated whether to write this second installment to my last post.  A part of me would rather keep it to myself.  Writing about supernatural things is bound to put me in danger of being considered a possible loon, even amongst my dearest Christian friends. However, I will point out [again] that unseen things were not uncommon when Jesus walked on the Earth. Is life really so different now or have the rules of engagement changed? If demonic activity has been eradicated from our daily experience, why does the Bible speak of it so frequently and give us clear instruction on how to address it. I'm pretty sure I've spent the past 40+ years not giving it much thought, but I can tell you it never leaves my mind now. So here it goes...

A few weeks after I got back from Costa Rica, I had this strong desire to pray over our home. I hadn't really pursued an understanding of spiritual warfare yet; however, I was fresh off an experience that led me to believe that it is very real and that evil spirits/demons can inhabit places. I was certain it would lead to nothing, but I did it anyway. I waited for a day when my husband and kids were not around. I prayed in my room first asking for the Holy Spirit's guidance. Then I put on some worship music and went into my daughter's bedroom. I started in this particular room because there were some things going on with her that made me feel like it was the most urgent place to start. I began in the center of her room asking God to bless the space that is hers. Then I went to her bed and prayed over it asking God to give her rest and refreshment. I went to her closet asking God to bless her clothing choices. While in prayer something happened to me. I felt cold and got the chills. The hair on my arms stood up. I had a bad feeling. It was nothing like Costa Rica, but it wasn't good either. I left the closet and went to her desk. I prayed there but nothing happened. I felt warm again. I continued around the room. I headed back to the closet and had the same chilling experience. I decided to leave her room.  After a while I returned. Every time I got into the closet the same thing happened. I started touching things and praying out loud. I wasn't scared, but rather determined. I felt like something unpleasant was in there and I wanted to know what it was. I touched many things but nothing stood out. Then I spotted a shell necklace hanging on the edge of the shelf. I put it in my hands and my body grew cold. "This is it! I don't like you," I yelled forcefully. I opened the garage door and threw it out. I came back to pray in the closet and the cold feeling was gone. Later I asked my daughter where she got the necklace. She said it was a gift from her grandparents when they were on vacation in Mexico. I know we've had the necklace for many years. I'm guessing it wasn't the kind purchased at the airport but rather something handmade by someone. I'm not even sure if it was the necklace itself that had a spirit attached to it or if something came in and was hiding in the necklace. I really couldn't say but several months later I read book after book that warns about bringing trinkets home from foreign countries. And to advance the story further, we ended up repainting my daughter's room from very dark purple to a bright white and added verses to the wall as well as other pleasant decorations. It's now a space that sets a very different tone, and I think it's made a huge difference.

And speaking of prayers in the closet... I did have a strange one in my own closet many months later.  By this time I had researched spiritual warfare more fully and had a much better understanding of what kinds of things satan can use to access people. I was in the middle of an intense prayer about what - I can't remember - and all of the sudden I got this very real image of flies buzzing around in a circle in the top corner of my closet. The image startled me, but it did not deter me from continuing my prayer time. When I was done, I got very curious about when was up there. I had to get a step ladder because it was in such a tucked away spot. When I went through some boxes I discovered I had some miscellaneous things from the past. It's not worth mentioning what they were because it really doesn't matter. The point is that it was stuff I didn't need to hold onto anymore. Out it all went. Another thing I pitched not too long after was a patio decoration that had been hanging in my house for years. It was a metal wall sculpture of a sun with a face on it. My husband never liked it and even poked fun that I was worshiping the "sun god". I thought it was silly because I got it at a home decor store and I knew I was clearly not worshipping it. I just thought it was cute. Then one day I stumbled on a website that listed many things that a Christian home really should not have in it. Among the items were things that had a face on the sun, moon, or stars. I have to admit I thought it wasn't a big deal, but since I've grown more sensitive to things that might offend God I figured I'd get rid of it. I was cleaning the area around it and every time I walked by the sun there was this horrific smell. At first I thought it was the cat litter box, but it wasn't. Then I thought it was a nearby plant, but it wasn't. I cleaned and cleaned but couldn't find the smell. Eventually I smelled the sun decoration itself and it didn't smell either, but every time I left and came back it was there. After several hours when I was done cleaning I got a screwdriver and removed it from the wall.  I threw it in the trash (it was actually getting old anyway) and went back to the patio.  I walked by the exact same place where I first noticed the smell and the odor was gone. Completely gone.  I have no explanation.

My final two experiences were with people. The first one happened in late June when I was on vacation in Chicago with my extended family. All 16 of us took the train to the city for an afternoon of fun. My daughter and I remembered how many homeless people are downtown and wanted to have something to pass out to them. I spotted a CVS and picked up a few boxes of Kind bars which we handed out to people on the streets.  As we were walking the group got separated and I ended up walking alone with my son. The streets were so crowded with people it was hard to get by. I was deep in thought when my eyes glanced over at a sign that advertised tarot card readings. At the same time as my brain was thinking that that wasn't good I saw a lady sitting by herself under a tent. Apparently she had no customers at the moment. I looked at her as I got closer and wondered if maybe she would be able to tell that I was a Christian. She never looked at me. Instead, as I got closer I started to feel a sense of evil, doom, and darkness around her. It wasn't just close to her it was moving out towards the walkway. I got frightened and had to change my path so I could give the demons around her even wider berth. I panicked. I look at my son and said, "She's evil. She's evil." It was so surreal because people were just going about their business walking right through the spirits which I could feel as plain as day. I kept looking around to see if anyone else would notice. No one said anything. I quickly came to my senses and realized it was only me that noticed. We kept walking but they didn't follow. They stayed close to her. I was completely floored. The experience came out of nowhere and was gone shortly after we passed. It was noticeable like a cloud of darkness but it didn't take my breath away or hold me in place. I would like to tell you that the verses I had memorized came in handy, but honestly I was just dumbfounded. Despite all my studying and preparation, the event still blind-sided me.

The next time however, I would stay and fight.  This opportunity arose last month while I was attending Sunday church service. My family and I were standing up with the congregation singing. We were towards the front right side of the building. I glanced over and noticed a couple walking up the aisle and taking a place in the front row. I had seen this woman before and she was hard to forget. She looked like someone who might be comfortable at a punk rock concert or perhaps a goth event. I saw a tattoo on her neck and something about it made me concerned. It reminded me of a story I read in a book about a pastor who regularly had people coming into his church to pray against him. I didn't think that's why the woman was there but something wasn't right. I started to have the sensation that a cloud of darkness was coming off her and moving back a few rows towards me. It was the same evil feeling I recognized from previous experiences. I started to pray for her. I prayed and prayed. The music kept going, but I was intently praying for her. During this time I had the intense realization that I was in the middle of a battle. Whatever it was it was inside our church, and I was not having any of it!  I kept praying until the feeling slowly went away and the warmth came back to me. Again, I have no explanation for it. It's quite possible the woman was just there to worship, but in my humble opinion, something from her past was attached to her and it didn't want to be in church.

So none of these examples are earth-shattering and if you are a skeptic you've already come up with reasonable explanations for everything such as "the air conditioning in the closet was blowing on you" to "the cat passed gas on the patio" to "it is the power of suggestion"... and maybe that's all true. But like someone who has a medical condition that knows the onset of their symptoms, I'm beginning to see patterns develop. I don't have it all figured out but here are two observations I've made thus far. First, any physical perception I have of evil is completely at the direction of the Holy Spirit. I have no special skills or qualifications. And second, the events seem to occur when I have a sincere and deep interest in doing God's will (such as praying over our home, passing out food to homeless, getting rid of icons, worshipping at church, etc.). What I don't know is what is the end purpose. Is it to be personally protected from evil? Is it to warn others of the evil that lurks around us? Or is it in preparation for something in the future? It has definitely changed the way I live and the way I see the world around me.

Here's a final thought. The first microscope was invented around 1590. Prior to that, the smallest thing people could see was something about the thickness of a human hair. Suddenly, with the help of a  microscope people could see bacteria and micro-organisms that live in water, on skin, and on every surface. I'm sure they never considered how something that was invisible to them was actually responsible for sickness and death. The bacteria had been there all along, but with the discovery of the microscope they could now be seen and thus believed. I hope the connection is clear. Just because you can not see an evil spirit with your naked eye does not mean that it doesn't exist and isn't causing problems in your life. There are so many resources that explain this better than I can so I'll let the experts speak on this topic.

My purpose for sharing this entry is merely to continue to answer the question that I have been asked several times which is:  "How did your mission trip to Costa Rica change your life?"

"Well..." I answer. "Let me tell you..."

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Time In Between (Part 1)

It's been eight months since I've left Costa Rica and three months till I go back. I'm so thankful God has given me a long time to process my last experience... not that I'm done thinking about it.  A life changing event like that tends to stick with you daily even if you don't speak of it openly. It's often running in the background of my mind shaping my thoughts, actions and perspective. It has led me to pursue a deeper understanding of verses and passages in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, that deal with such unseen issues. I mean really, what Christian hasn't heard of angles, demons, and spiritual warfare? It's right there in black and white, yet I'm not sure why I tend to think of it in an intellectual way rather than practical advice for daily living. The Bible speaks of the seen and the unseen, but I confess I have been more willing to believe in the former. As for the latter, I just try not to think about it too much, yet we read that Jesus spent a fair amount of time dealing with the latter. Why would this be if not to instruct us on such matters?

With that question, I dove in deep.  I started reading book after book about understanding the enemy. Who is satan? [not giving him an uppercase letter] What are demons? What does an attack look like? Under what conditions is it likely to occur? So many questions. I also started studying the Bible with new vigor. With highlighter in hand, I zeroed in on all the places where it mentions demons, satan, and the Holy Spirit's role in all of this. While I know it is not right to become too overly focused in this area, I also know that for far too long I have chosen to under-accentuate it. My prayer life has also taken a place front and center. It is by communication [prayer] directly with God through Jesus that my eyes have been opened to things my brain has become dull to. It's not surprising living in a secular world that some things have become acceptable to us (speaking of Christians) even though they are really opening the door for demons to attack and oppress. Am I sounding wacky? Let me clarify.

A Christian can not be fully possessed by a demon because we have the Holy Spirit in us; however, we can open areas of our life up to attack because we invite them in. Here's an example from my life of something that illustrates this point. Over the course of time my thought-life became polluted. I didn't even realize it was happening until one day my kids asked me why I listened to 80's music all the time. "I don't know," I answered. "I guess it's because it reminds me of the parties I used to go to." Trust me when I tell you that nothing of God was going on at those parties worth remembering! The more I listened to it, the farther my thoughts were away from anything spiritual. Even worse, I had thoughts of guilt and shame even though I know that when I came to Christ I've been forgiven for past sins. I had thoughts of what might have been if things worked out differently. I had thoughts that tempted me to reach out to influences from the past that would be best left in the past. I was thinking constantly about stuff I hadn't thought about in years almost to the exclusion of what was going on around me in the present.  Satan found a weak spot in me yet in the beginning I dismissed it as just music on the radio. Now I see it as spiritual warfare. I innocently invited one of satan's minions (called "the demon of past sins") to mess with me by conjuring up memories of the past. What did I do? I confessed my sin to God, I demanded the 80's demon to leave me alone (I pictured it sailing away like Duran Duran in Rio), and I filled my soul with lots of Christian music. Am I saying that 80's music is evil? No of course not. But for me, it just might have been. And remarkably, since my prayer time, I have had a peace that passes all understanding with no thoughts of that decade marked with so much willful sin.

My next question is in what other areas of life have I (or my fellow Christian friends) compromised on that might carry more weight? Movies, TV, books, music... those things are obvious. But I wonder about the not so obvious things that our culture has made acceptable or "Christianish" like yoga (which promises to be a good way to stretch especially while done on the beach during sunrise), essential oils (which promise to help with many medical issues, depression, focus and concentration), taekwondo (which we did for a few years at a place with a Christian logo on the window), and karate (which my son also practiced). What are the origins of these things and can they be separated from their occult beginnings? If you are uncomfortable with me characterizing them as 'occult' I understand; I am to. But the Bible says the occult is any practice that tries to gain supernatural power, abilities, or knowledge apart from the creator God. The aforementioned practices all come from Eastern based religions.  Feel free to do some research because you will not find Jesus practicing yoga, wearing a gi, or using a diffuser (although I understand oils were common in Biblical times but not with the same promises made today). These are examples of things that are challenging my comfortable Christian suburban homeschooling way of thinking. What if these things invite unwanted spiritual warfare into my life?  What if some of the things I've pursued are actually offensive to God?  or at very least... how many things can satan take credit for? Before Costa Rica I blindly went along with the research and testimonies of success with no consideration for the source. Now I can't help but be convicted that the choices I make every day truly do make a difference in the unseen world that is all around me (and all of us!).

Speaking of the unseen world, isn't it interesting how our culture in America is just obsessed with Harry Potter, Halloween, vampires, zombies, paranormal/ghost reality shows, mediums, teenage werewolf's, etc? It's not just secular people who are partaking in these things. My kids have dressed up every year for Halloween. It's almost the most popular holiday in America. But what does it honor? Or who does it honor? Can it be separate from the real-live satan? When I was attacked by some kind of evil spirit in the nursery in Costa Rica, it was not cute and fun like some kid with a white sheet over his head dressed up like a ghost. It was dark, powerful, ugly, forceful, menacing, and evil.  It reminded me of some of the things I've seen in a Halloween shop. How must God feel when he see me dressing the kids up for some family-friendly event in honor of his biggest enemy? Have I become comfortable being double-minded, i.e. a professing Christian most of the time but sometimes, when it's convenient for me, a person who pays more attention to popular culture and wisdom than what the Bible teaches?

And on a final note, what about kids? Are they exempt from this spiritual battle until they reach 18?  To tell you the truth I hadn't thought about it much. I never considered that when a young child is abused in some way that it is open for spiritual attack through no fault of their own and this experience can haunt them (literally) for a life time if not properly addressed even if a profession of faith is made at a later time. I never considered that my own kids, who have grown up in a loving Christian home, can be open to spiritual attack from something simple like a trinket from a foreign country to something more serious like obsessive video game playing, pride, anger, or selfishness. When I hear one of my kids say they are not smart, no good, or not interested in anything, I know that those thoughts are not from God. Who's talking to them? Who told them that? It wasn't their dad or I. Why is it that a young Believer, who knows that they are a daughter or son of the King, still believe that they are worth so little? Is it possible that through an experience/music/relationship/etc. that something unseen was allowed to gain access and continues to speak lies to them even though they are Christians who show up to youth group each week? I am beginning to see the connection between daily choices and how they can open us up to thoughts and attitudes which eventually can turn into behaviors that are devastating (and quite common) like eating disorders, cutting, drug/alcohol abuse, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, sexual promiscuity, and many others. Would my kids make better choices if they could see the enemy with their own eyes? Imagine a swarm of flies buzzing around a Rated R DVD. If I told them the flies would transfer from the movie to them while they are watching it and would buzz around them mercilessly day after day, would they still watch it? The flies wouldn't kill them, but they would make life difficult and would hinder their desire to be around people who have no flies buzzing around. I know they would think twice. That's why our family has spent a great deal of time learning about spiritual warfare. I want them to understand the enemy, recognize an attack from a mile away, believe that the choices they make do make a difference, and know how both to pray for protection as well as pray for victory over past events.  Jesus has already won the war, but the battle continues in the unseen world and unfortunately no one gets to sit on the sidelines. You are in it even if you find this blog to be completely ridiculous.

My experience last year in Costa Rica was not an isolated incident. Since I've been back in the States, I have had other encounters with the unseen although none quite as intense as my first experience.  For those with a curious nature I'll share what has been going on in Part 2 of "The Time In Between". If you are interested in further study on spiritual warfare, I can provide a list of books and lectures that explain it clearly from a Christian perspective without hysterics or Hollywood drama. And finally, if you find fault with my logic or don't agree with my summation, that's okay. This entry is merely me putting words to my thoughts while I try to make sense of a super natural experience.