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…

gun

…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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3 lessons I’ve learned from women

Competing in intramural sports. Yelling, screaming and chest bumping at football and basketball games. Drinking beer. Hiking. Whitewater rafting. Paintball. Poker. Wrestling around the house. Arguing over nothing of substance whatsoever. This was the testosterone laden world I knew as a 21-year-old living with 26 fraternity brothers under one roof. If it involved adventure or the slightest trace of an opportunity to one-up someone else in the name of friendly competition, we made it our duty to partake at full throttle.

Pike

I never could have fathomed how drastically different the makeup of people around me would soon be upon returning home from the hospital after the accident. One evening, I reflected on the people I had interacted with that day. Nurse. Mom. Physical therapist. Girlfriend. Sister. Neighbor. Aide. Three middle school girls for tutoring and their moms. I counted 12 females in one day. With my dad out of town for the day, the closest I had come to male interaction was a talking head on ESPN.com. It suddenly hit me: my social circle had taken a seismic shift towards being exclusively females in any given day.

Aspire 4-2 2014 group

Don’t get me wrong, a great mix of guys have been around me since the get-go and plenty have played a pivotal role in my journey. However, it’s almost humorous when I look at the contrast from my life before the accident. Due to the female dominated nature of the caretaking community, it’s not uncommon for a portion of my day to be spent hearing those around me talk with each other about husbands, boyfriends, worries about their kids, The Bachelor, sororities, shopping, and getting nails and hair done. Not exactly the fraternity house conversations I was accustomed to.

This past week I had the opportunity to speak to a group of women about my story. I couldn’t help but laugh when the lady interviewing me posed the question, “What can we take away from your story as mothers?”

A weekday morning spent speaking to a group of moms. Who would've thought?
A weekday morning spent speaking to a group of moms. Who would’ve thought?

I often wonder to myself if the days of being in a house full of 27 guys actually happened. It seems so distant. However, regardless of the current lifestyle alteration, I feel incredibly blessed for the role that women have played in my life. God has allowed me to grow in ways that I never could have if I’d simply stayed around guys 24/7. I would be amiss if I did not take time to evaluate the blessing so many women have been in my life and what I’ve learned along the way.

The top 3 lessons that have come from being surrounded by women:

I do not have to be a tough guy.
Recognizing the power in being vulnerable has been a huge part of my journey over the past four years. Observing vulnerability on display in the countless women around me has played a significant role in letting down my walls and experiencing a key element of human interaction. In addition, while every fiber of my being wants to remain a closed book in the name of masculinity, getting drilled with questions from women encourages (and forces) me to open up. (Although, it is highly unlikely I will make a dent in the fact that the average man says 13,000 less words per day than the average woman.)

A new outlook on dependence.
In general, I’ve seen the women around me being the most likely to go straight to prayer in times of need. Through this example, I’ve developed a strengthened relationship with God through dependence on Him. I’ve learned that going to God is not a sign of weakness, it’s actually evidence of realizing that I cannot do it on my own- and I don’t have to.

Crash course on listening.
I’ve learned the hard way…sometimes people simply just want to be heard rather than having something fixed for them. Spending time around women in particular has revealed this to me and has stretched me in new ways. It’s always a nice reminder seeing the deep truths interwoven in this classic YouTube video. Take notes gentlemen:

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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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