I kept going to church with Cam. It was my safe place, my refuge. I was learning to love God and to love others. I was learning to focus on the joyous experiences in life and to love those who were hurting. I clung to those beliefs, that church, that youth group and those kids. I could be my silly, tomboyish self and was still loved.
I also had my first boyfriend during this time. He was my first real love. His name was Paul Love. Isn’t that the best last name? He was like McGyver to me. He could do anything, knew random facts…he was kind, gentle, thought the world of me and was a romantic. I learned what love was like with him. We had a pure relationship, no sex, no lusting. We simply adored each other and were deeply in love. We spent a few years together and at that age, it’s like being together forever. We wound up breaking up and he married his very next girlfriend right out of high school. He disappeared off the face of the earth and as we unfortunately lived back in the days of no cell phones and no Facebook, we lost touch. But, he will forever hold a special place in my heart. To this day, I still look at aged pictures of us and read old, worn out love letters from him.
In high school at the age of 16, I went on my first major missions trip. Cam was on the team, which made it feel safer. We went to Australia to build a camp for the kids there. Do you remember the last few days of the school year? The last couple of days are usually reserved for final exams and are sometimes even half days. It was one of those last few days, right before I was to leave on the trip that I think I had an encounter with an angel. This man came to visit my teacher…she recognized him as he was a former student and she chuckled as he explained that he was in seminary. She said he was such a terrible kid in her class that she was surprised he was following God. She pointed me out to him, stating that I was about to leave on a 2 month long missions trip. He asked my teacher if he and I could talk privately out in the hallway. She let us go outside and talk. He said he felt like he needed to tell me something. He wanted to tell me how to cast a demon out. Inside, I freaked!! I thought ‘this man needs to get away from me!! What a weirdo!’ But, I heard him out as I kept casting a longing eye toward my classroom. He told me three things were important. The first was that “the name of Jesus Christ” had to be used. The second was that we had the authority as children of God to do this and that our faith facilitated its effectiveness. The third…. well, I can’t remember the third one to save my life. 😦 He asked to pray with me and over me and he did. I never saw him again.
I left on my trip and within weeks, found myself face to face with demonic possession. Her name was Grace. She was a frail looking 14 year old girl who acted terrified of everything. At first, we didn’t notice anything was really wrong. She was covered in sores from head to toe, wore her frizzy, blond hair down in her face and over her eyes, and was thin and pale. She threw up every, single day as we opened our Bibles to do our daily devotions. She was timid, but had an amazing ability to draw. The guys on the team would flip through her sketch book in awe of the ‘cool’ creatures she drew. I caught my first glimpse of her art and asked to see more. I remember thinking it was odd for a girl to draw such scary, scaly creatures in caves. We first knew it was real when one of the team members saw ‘it’ with her own eyes. One evening, we were bumming around our tents as the sun was going down. I heard a shriek and looked up to see one of our team members running wildly toward her tent, which she dove into head first. I ran to her, along with several other kids to see what was wrong and how we could help. She was pale white, shaking violently, weeping hysterically and could only mutter Grace’s name. I sat back, wondering where Grace was. I looked around and saw that she appeared to be on the ground in the middle of the field. A few of our leaders had huddled around her. I went over to see what was happening, but they wouldn’t let us near her, so I went back to our hysterical team member to find out what happened. She explained that she saw Grace on her knees in the field, looking up toward the sky. She saw another figure floating up in the sky, reaching down and strangling Grace. She said that at first, Grace was grabbing it’s hands that were around her neck and appeared to be trying to fight it off…but then, she gave up. Her hands dropped to her sides and the figure appeared to be winning. That’s all she saw. From there, it was made clear to us that we were dealing with something else. A few days later, I talked to Grace privately and asked about everything. I asked about her drawings. ‘It’s things and places they show me’, she said. I asked why her hair was in her eyes and covering her face. She shrugged that she didn’t really know. I asked her if I could cut her bangs and she agreed. I asked her what she thought caused this. The only thing she could only think of was playing with a Ouija board when she was younger. In retrospect, it all added up. The sores on her body, the throwing up as the Bible was opened. She explained it herself, ‘it won’t let me read the Bible’. Things seemed to happen more at night. One night, I remember my tent-mate frantically waking me up. I heard screams and animal roars. ‘It’s Grace!’ my tent-mate informed me. I flew out of the tent and came to a screeching halt. I saw multiple people huddled inside and half outside Grace’s tent, Grace flailing and thrashing around, animal roars coming out of her mouth. Two of our leaders were commanding the demon to leave her as they were trying to hold her down. Her eyes were rolling into the back of her head and she was yelling out in a deep, male voice incomprehensible things. Just then, from Grace’s thrashing about, a lantern got kicked over against the side of the tent. Within seconds the tent was up in flames. Everyone got out safely, but we were petrified. Nearly all of us had commanded the demon out in the name of Jesus Christ, but it didn’t seem to be working. On another evening, we had gathered outside for prayer…a special prayer time to specifically pray for Grace. We were in a circle and taking turns praying out loud. I heard a low rumbling that came from a distance and seemed to get louder and closer. A great wind came rumbling across the field and blew a giant metal pot off its hook in our outdoor kitchen and flung it into the center of our prayer circle. We literally had to duck out of the way! It seemed to be angry that we were praying against it and it was displaying a threat as it showed its control of nature. It wasn’t until halfway through the summer that I remembered this man and what he tried to tell me. Over the course of the summer, our leaders took her to multiple exorcisms in Australia. None of them seemed to work. It wasn’t until the end of the summer that she came to us all, looking like a completely different person. Her face seemed to glow and she couldn’t hide her smile. She said she must not have been giving herself 100% to Christ. She explained that she prayed, offering 100% of herself to God…and it was then, that moment, that she realized it was gone. I went home from that summer in Australia so joyous and relieved that God had rescued Grace. My faith was now cemented. When you experience things first hand, when you hear a man’s voice and animal roars come out of a 14 year old girl’s body, when you see her throw up on cue of an open Bible…it cements your belief. I was back at school only days after returning home. I had the same teacher again, but for a different class. I couldn’t wait to tell the guy she knew about what happened and that I was thankful he told me how to handle it. I asked my teacher the name of the man who visited our class and how I could get in touch with him. She acted like she had no idea who I was talking about. I reminded her that he was a former student, was in seminary now and used to be a bad kid. He was only here, visiting her class just two months ago. She couldn’t think of who I was referring to. I asked her repeatedly, tried to jog her memory and years later, I was still asking her…’you really don’t remember that guy that came to visit you??’ She’s not a Christian, but she joked that perhaps he was an angel.
After high school….
As I found myself graduating high school, I felt good and stable, even though I was too poor to go away for college like all my friends. I stayed home and went to the local community college. I stayed on with the youth group as a volunteer leader and was able to prolong my joy and my stay in my safe haven.
I met my next boyfriend at the time. He was the temporary youth leader for the youth group. We fell in love and were together for a total of 4 years. At age 18, I had willingly made love for the very first time. And the very first time, I wound up pregnant. We were scared, but excited and longed to do the right thing. As we discussed how to tell our parents, he said…”well, I was already wondering if you were the one.” As he clarified what he meant, he expressed wondering if I was the one that would one day be his wife. We decided that we’d get married and have the baby. Having the baby was never a question, just whether or not we should get married. His parents were out of the country, so we approached my mom first.
To say she flipped out is toning it down. She demanded we get an abortion and opposing her was not an option. Marriage was out of the question as well. And to my surprise, she got me out of my college class early one morning and drove me straight to an abortion clinic. She had already arranged for everything and it happened that day. I mourned the loss of my child, but in my 18 year old, immature brain, I told myself that the very next child I would be pregnant with would be the same one. I rationalized that I was just postponing the birth of our child.
The reality of what we did didn’t hit me until we broke up. I didn’t find out until after we broke up, that he had fallen for another youth counselor at the church. Apparently, he lied to her and told her we had broken up when we didn’t. But, when I lost him….that cemented the loss of our baby. I realized that baby was never coming back again if we would never be together again.
As he was at church and she was at church, going to church became agonizing to me. Seeing them together hurt me more than I could express. I felt so betrayed and thrown away. To make things worse, my church betrayed me next. I got called into the office of one of the pastors. He told me that my presence in working with the youth group made my very recent ex and the girl he cheated on me with “uncomfortable.” Ha! Made them uncomfortable?! I sat and listened as he explained to me that since the two of them were on staff and I was just a volunteer, that they would like me to stop volunteering. Hearing those words were like a hot knife slicing my entire torso open. I was in shock and was incredibly hurt that I was being pushed away from volunteering with the kids. That was one of my biggest joys in life. I walked out of that pastor’s office with my legs feeling numb…I was stunned. I never showed my face again in that youth group…and I decided to never show my face again in that church. I felt so ashamed that the pastor had asked me to stop being a volunteer. It made me feel like a complete and utter failure, completely and wholly unwanted.