Hallucination or demon? Time to go to war

The man would not go away. His presence made my skin crawl. I lay flat on my back with tubes in my body as the machines continued to provide life in the intensive care unit in the days following my accident. I couldn’t get a look at the man’s face because he was standing behind my hospital bed but he seemed to be wearing a black trench coat. In a panicked state, I would alert a family member and ask who this was. I was told not to worry, that no one else was in the room. I sensed people were writing it off as yet another hallucination brought on by the morphine and other drugs being pumped into my system. It felt different than that but I reluctantly agreed, attempting to ignore the fear that gripped me.

trench coat

A few years later as I was reading through the Bible, I flashed back to my time in the ICU. I was convinced that what I saw was not a hallucination. In fact, the more I read about the schemes and tactics of Satan and his army of demons, the more I was convinced that what I experienced in the ICU was an exposure of God’s enemy when my body was in the weakest and most compromised position it has ever been.

Not quite this guy
Not quite this guy

It’s a taboo subject. Talking demons, angels, or supernatural in our science and reason based culture will cause people to look at you with a questionable glance. However, Satan and demons are unmistakably, absolutely, and unequivocally real. In fact, the Bible tells us that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against a spiritual enemy (Ephesians 6:12), a thief that comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10), and a roaring lion roaming around looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). This sure doesn’t sound like somebody with a pitchfork or the smiling red demon that sits on your shoulder.

What does this look like practically? It’s the series of lies that echoes in my mind in the middle of night, telling me that I don’t have what it takes to succeed, that this trial is too big for me, that my best is behind me, and that it would be easiest to just throw in the towel and give up.

I was overlooking the staircase on the two-story deck in my backyard one day when I first noticed what seemed like foreign thought: “Just roll down the steps and end it now, it sure would make everything easier.” The thought surprised me, as I have never actually felt the desire to do something like this. (I do, however, enjoy rolling my wheelchair close to the edge to freak people out for my own amusement.)

Jesus tempted

I hesitated sharing this with anyone until I started hearing from a few others that my thoughts were not that foreign. One friend shared of constantly getting a notion to crash his car intentionally off the side of the road, another frequently finds himself thinking of ideas on how to end his life. These are not depressed individuals with obvious struggles looking for an easy way out. In each case the person is completely mentally healthy and has an excellent outlook on life. Are we crazy? I don’t think so. In fact, Satan tried to get Jesus to commit suicide by jumping off the top of a building (click here for that crazy exchange ).

The enemy’s plan is not only to try to get us to harm ourselves but to harm others as well. Seeing the massive ramifications for all parties involved in marital affairs, sexual abuse, and various acts of violence has made me understand more than ever how the enemy carries out his mission to steal, kill, and destroy marriages, families, and lives by getting people to agree with subtle lies or temptations.

So is all hope lost? Absolutely not.

Satan is not an all-powerful being like God. It can be tempting to attribute too much power and importance to Satan, but there frankly is nothing to be afraid of. The Bible says clearly that greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4). Jesus conquered Satan, death, and sin when he busted out of the grave with the keys to hell in hand. He also promises that He is faithful to strengthen and protect us from the evil one (2 Thessalonians 3:3).

How should I respond to all of this?

I will fight, knowing full well that anything in my life that the enemy intended for bad, God has and will continue to use for good. I will rely fully on the heavy artillery that the Bible speaks of:

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world…


…On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

The YouTube video below elicits goosebumps every time I hear it. It’s a fiery battle cry I like to go back to often as a reminder of the fact that deciding to follow Jesus ushered me into the battle of epic proportions. “I’ll never turn back. I’ll never give up. I’ll never settle. I’ll never stop short. I will press towards the mark for the prize that is already mine… I will fight.” Time to load up my weaponry and go to war.

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Iron sharpening iron

josh pre-accidentA 6’4” musclebound guy that looked to be about my age outstretched his tattoo covered arm, unsure of how to shake my hand as many often are. “Hi, I’m Josh,” he said before taking a seat near me. That was about the extent of our conversation over the course of the next few weeks in early 2012 during a men’s Bible study before going our separate ways.

Nearly a year later, I was wheeling into church when the leader of our group approached me asking, “Do you remember Josh?” Barely, I thought. I was then informed that Josh had recently had a drug relapse and was now in a coma with a serious brain injury. Due to the fact that I barely knew the guy or anything about him, this information exited my mind fairly quickly. However, I found myself thinking about it again later, not only that morning but for days following. I sensed the two of us had not seen the last of each other.

josh hospitalLittle did I know how much of an understatement that was. Our two worlds were about to collide. Within a few weeks Josh and I were sitting motionless in our wheelchairs across from each other at the hospital where he was staying. Josh’s eyes were shut, and not a sound was coming from his mouth. I wasn’t quite sure how to interact with someone who I wasn’t sure could even hear me. His parents had initially been told he could be in a vegetative state for the rest of his life.

God had other plans. Within weeks Josh unexpectedly began opening his eyes, formulating sentences, and even asking me to bring him Chick-Fil-A sandwiches. His progress has been miraculous. Over the next few months he went from being in a coma to the progress seen in this video:

After Josh’s speech returned the rest was history. We quickly developed a friendship. While our injuries were different, our battles were similar. Through hours of talking with Josh, I came to intimately know the truth found in 2 Corinthians 1:4: “God consoles us as we endure the pain and hardship of life so that we may draw from His comfort and share it with others in their own struggles.” Initially I had thought I was going to be the one to encourage Josh but in fact I always left inspired at the way he went out of his way to interact with and encourage fellow patients.

In the Cincinnati Bengals weight room, the words of the wise King Solomon stand above: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Whether in the world of sports or in the trenches of similar trials, Josh and I were able to empathize with one another, connect in the unlikeliest of circumstances, and in the process attempt to bring out the best in each other.

I cherished the six months we had together in Cincinnati, but this past summer Josh was transferred to a brain injury rehabilitation site in Illinois. Our communication is limited to the mail and interacting on the phone via a third party. I miss seeing him on a weekly basis but know it will not be our last time together.

Josh and I shared with one another an understanding of the challenges of relying on others for nearly every daily task. We were able to joke around about trivial matters while also celebrating the forgiveness Jesus offers for the lives we used to lead. We shared our passion for seeing how God will write the rest of each of our stories. There were conversations that will remain between the two of us in the four walls of that hospital room that I will cherish for years to come. Overall, we were able to share about the sweet rewards, realizations, and perspectives gained on the road of trial.

josh awakeheadrestThis story is not over yet. I conclude every letter to him telling him that I am looking forward to the day when we stand next to each other for the first time. An unfinished handshake from the first day we met still needs to be completed.

Click here for more info on Josh’s CaringBridge site

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What are you going to do with the time you have left?

I read an article on CNN this past week about a man who was left paralyzed after falling 16 feet. He was faced with a decision to make after learning from doctors that his chances of full recovery were slim to none. Did he want to continue on living when odds were that he would not regain his mobility? His decision was an emphatic no, and he asked doctors to disconnect him from the ventilator. He died at the age of 32, leaving behind a wife who was pregnant with his child.

His wife spoke to the root reason behind his decision: “The last thing he wanted was to be in a wheelchair. The quality of life would have been very poor.” There may have been more to the story than a brief news article let on, but from a surface level, I was deeply saddened by his decision.

I have been asked a similar question multiple times. People are curious as to if I would have rather died in the car accident than live in the condition I currently do. I touched on the answer to this in “The fleeting nature of positive thinking,” but I would be amiss if the story did not cause me to reflect again on how thankful I am for life itself.

Grateful to be alive in the ICU just days after my accident
Grateful to be alive in the ICU just days after my accident

Over the past four years, God has been challenging me to reexamine my priorities and, consequently, has gradually reshaped my view on what denotes a “good quality of life.” That begs the question: What am I going to do with the time I have left?

Being forced to slow down from the business of the nonstop college life as I knew it has caused me to ask questions and reevaluate how I’m allocating my time. After taking inventory on how I spend my time and what I allow to consume my thoughts, there are certain aspects that I can point to and wonder: Does this really matter?

I am challenged by Matthew Kelly’s statement on the topic in The Rhythm of Life: “What are we all too busy doing? For the most part, we are too busy doing just about everything, that means just about nothing, to just about nobody, just about anywhere…and will mean even less to anyone a hundred years from now.”

My time left on this earth is limited, regardless of how much of that time will be spent in a wheelchair. Many times I get frustrated at the amount of time taken away from my days simply because of paralysis. On top of being incredibly humbling, having someone assist me with getting out of bed, showering, getting dressed, and eating breakfast seems to take an eternity compared to doing the same at 21-years-old in my fraternity house on the way to class. With less hours to leverage each day, it is often tempting to make excuses for not making good use of the time I do have.

Jonathan Edwards, a pastor from the 1700s, came up with 70 resolutions for living life effectively. One that sticks out to me is: “Resolved, never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can.” Talk about a man with a plan for efficiency.

I wonder how profitable the time Edwards spent on his hair was
I wonder how profitable the time Jonathan Edwards spent on his hair was

Edwards’ objective may seem extreme, but the more I realize how limited my time here is, the more practical this advice seems. When I look to the Bible, I see time and time again references to how fleeting this world is. My life is portrayed as “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14). I’m reminded that the time is short, this world is passing away, and I am to live always consciously with that in mind (See 1 Corinthians 7:29 – 31).

Paralyzed or not, I want to take advantage of every moment I have now. I don’t want to just sit around accepting my circumstance, letting the days idly pass by as if to say, “Looks like I had bad luck in this life. Hopefully the time speeds up so I can just hurry up to heaven.” Instead, I want to invest in life-giving relationships, learn more about the world around me, leave an impact that continues beyond my last breath, and experience God’s kingdom on earth as much as possible before I meet him face-to-face in heaven having run the race of life to the fullest. In doing so, I believe I will find deeper meaning in the days ahead, as I’ve learned “quality of life” does not have to depend on physical capabilities.

This video breaks down how our time is spent, and ends with an incredible challenge:

Donald Miller, author of A Million Miles in A Thousand Years, a narrative that has challenged me to live a better story with the time I have, said, “Our lives have a countdown clock that we can’t see. Mine reminds me to only do what matters”. I am thankful that my life did not end in a car accident or in the days thereafter, and thus, my countdown has not completed, but I know that the clock is ticking. How will I spend the time I have left?

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