This past weekend, I went into the Behavioral Observation unit from Saturday until Wednesday. I tried to take my own life… twice. However, what would seem like a tragedy actually became a blessing from God. The ever present, gnawing voices of pain and agony in my heart from years of loss, hurtful words, and grievous disappointments that culminated into PTSD.
You do everything you can do to seek to get free from the pain, but it never relented. I came into ministry in 2012 in a tight bind: I was developing PTSD but I was at the same time set to return to ministry and had nothing else to do if I were to not step into a ministry position. Prayer, praise, Scripture reading, etc. were all part of my life, but I felt the slow throbbing pain continue to ever progressively pulse, with the only way to move forward is to learn how to work through and dissociate from the pain. I tried talk to others about it, I saw a counselor and a couple of therapists. I did everything one can reasonably expect someone to do, but the flashbacks, the fears, the struggles all were pervasively flowing throughout my life. I had become split into two Owens. It wasn’t a dissociation of identity, as there was still a continuing central core to who I was, but it was a dissociation of “personality” you might say, going right down to a split within my heart.
Upon later reflection, one of these Owen’s was saved by the blood of Christ, living faithfully before God. This was the Owen that I was before the events that took place. However, there was another Owen that felt utterly abandoned and distant from God, reasoning out about life from that place. The first Owen was relatively as peace, even as he heard the pains from the other Owen. The second Owen, however, was feeling in chaos, as if there were a swirl of different fragments of things about me, things heard, things experienced, that all came to the forefront.
These past few days has been a healing from this, but of a particular sort. While I was in St. Andrews, I had an odd dream. In the first part of the dream, I was looking around with full vision. Then I woke up from the day, only to discover that I lost vision in one of my eyes, causing me great distress. Then, I woke up from that to find my vision was fully returned and I felt a great relief. Then I woke up from that to the real world. A dream within a dream within a dream; one that I was confident was a dream from God given to me.
This symbolism of this dream came to fruition this week. Previously I could see and understand the world through the lens of analysis: theological, philosophical, psychological, etc. There was, however, a blind spot that I could not see that I recovered this week. An eye for the Spiritual and the demonic. What follows is my story and comments on how I have come to see what happened.
I had arrived at the observation unit because of a belief that I was a miserable wretch, forsaken by God. In the midst of all of this, I heard a message in my mind: “The only way to save yourself is to take your life.” So, I reasoning that I would jump into the lake at my parents house. Hesitatingly, I first jumped in, only to discover the lake was only about 4 feet deep. I had never actually been in the lake before. This presented a deterrence for me, so I came out of the lake. But, then, I resolved to do it again, this time going fully under. However, I was right then stopped by my parents who had just arrived outside.
Looking back, even though my intent was one things, my actions symbolized something else: the first jumping in was a symbolism of my present state. Most of me was baptized into Christ. However, there was still a portion of me that had strayed from the Lordship of Christ. Then the second jumping in became a new baptism (I know as Methodist’s we don’t rebaptize…) that would consecrate my heart out for the events that followed.
My father took me to the ER in order to do some observations for the next few days. I went to bed that night in the observation united. Early the next morning, I got up and tried to hang myself because I felt like my life was doomed. I can look at it like Judas must have felt like, as I felt I had a calling from Jesus to follow Him and I had grievously failed. However, my attempt failed, instead, making a loud noise in the room that the nurses came in to investigate. Looking back, I can see this as an event that speaks: “You aren’t a Judas.”
It was because of this event though that I ending up outside in front of the nurse’s desks and I received two books to look through. One book was a Prayer version of the Psalms and I just flipped it open randomly to Psalm 69: a fitting Psalm for my plight. Praying this Psalm lead me to begin to open my eyes that God had not abandoned me, even as I did felt utterly stricken.
Later that day, I took the Gideon’s Bible they had given me to read Revelation. I happened upon Revelation 14.7, which reads: “He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.’” I had written in a blog post previously that it is not creation that says “Worship God or else…” Here, I heard these words affirmed because the worship of God from creation is affirmed because of God’s judgment, which was a judgment that would bring redemption. Part of me feared I had spoken falsely then, but no: it is God’s action in the word to redeem and judge that bring us to worship God through the blessings of His creation. Romans 1.18-32 shows the futility of trying to build one’s worship on God from just knowing God in creation, as it so readily devolves into idolatry and social disarray.
Meanwhile, I was going through a constant remember of my past, both my sin and my wounds that had accumulated over the years. I went through a time where I had alternating thoughts of condemnation and defense of myself, wondering if I was a child of God or not. With my sins ever before me, I saw things that I had overlooked and yet I also saw my sins were sins that had been forgiven and that did not undo or cancel out all of the desires I have had to do what was good, just, and upright.
The next morning I woke up and began to feel a deeper sense of peace. A type of peace that I had not felt for years. I felt free from worry and anxiety. I felt like I was finally made whole. I felt like God had brought me into a new state of heart and mind. Meanwhile, I had come upon randomly one of Wendell Berry’s poems in a collection my mother had dropped by for me to read. The poem I read was “The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer:”
I am done with apologies. If contrariness is my
inheritance and destiny, so be it. If it is my mission
to go in at exits and come out at entrances, so be it.
I have planted by the stars in defiance of the experts,
and tilled somewhat by incantation and by singing,
and reaped, as I knew, by luck and Heaven’s favor,
in spite of the best advice. If I have been caught
so often laughing at funerals, that was because
I knew the dead were already slipping away,
preparing a comeback, and can I help it?
And if at weddings I have gritted and gnashed
my teeth, it was because I knew where the bridegroom
had sunk his manhood, and knew it would not
be resurrected by a piece of cake. ‘Dance,’ they told me,
and I stood still, and while they stood
quiet in line at the gate of the Kingdom, I danced.
‘Pray,’ they said, and I laughed, covering myself
in the earth’s brightnesses, and then stole off gray
into the midst of a revel, and prayed like an orphan.
When they said, ‘I know my Redeemer liveth,’
I told them, ‘He’s dead.’ And when they told me
‘God is dead,’ I answered, ‘He goes fishing every day
in the Kentucky River. I see Him often.’
When they asked me would I like to contribute
I said no, and when they had collected
more than they needed, I gave them as much as I had.
When they asked me to join them I wouldn’t,
and then went off by myself and did more
than they would have asked. ‘Well, then,’ they said
‘go and organize the International Brotherhood
of Contraries,’ and I said, ‘Did you finish killing
everybody who was against peace?’ So be it.
Going against men, I have heard at times a deep harmony
thrumming in the mixture, and when they ask me what
I say I don’t know. It is not the only or the easiest
way to come to the truth. It is one way.
This poem reverberates within the deep recesses of my hearts. In these words, I felt the gravity of what the Pharisees said about John the Baptist and Jesus in Matthew 11.18-19: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” In Berry’s portrayal of the Mad Farmer, it is a person who goes against the every contradictory expectations, where goal posts are constantly moved so as to satisfy others. Some might choose to follow through, but not me: if I had to choose the path of being the contrary, it is a way to bring about the truth of Jesus into the lives of other people. To be despised for saying “no” when people want to hear “yes,” or to say “yes” when they want to hear “no.” God had shown through providential circumstances that my somewhat contrary character is an important characteristic of who I am.
Later that day (or maybe the next day, I can’t not precisely remember) I had a brief conversation with one of the elderly women in the unit that was commonly referred to as “Mama.” She shared with me her story of struggling with bipolar and having faith in the midst of her difficulties. A great pain had come upon her and, from the way I remember the story, she thought about taking her life. However, she was brought to the unit and she said these words that rung loud and clear to me as if a direct word from God: “our life is never ours to take.” Those words which I knew to be true, those words which I was hearing about taking my life, those words that had brought me into a place of utter despair, feeling that God had abandoned me were not from God: they were demonic in origin. I had prior to arriving begun to deeply believe in the existence of demons, but now I had a word that helped me to discern.
The next morning (Tuesday) I woke up and I saw Hurricane Isaias had hit the United States and in that present state of mind I determined to open up my Bible to Isaiah and read. I came to a deeply emotional passage in Isaiah 53.4-10:
Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed;
do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the disgrace of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the Lord has called you
like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit,
like the wife of a man’s youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing wrath for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,
says the Lord, your Redeemer.
This is like the days of Noah to me:
Just as I swore that the waters of Noah
would never again go over the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you
and will not rebuke you.
For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
This passage brought together the intersection of so much of my pain and disappointments of the past and present. On the one hand, at 36 years old, I have been unable to marry. There were three points in my college years where I felt a word from God about getting married. One night when I was 19, I believe, a deep fog covered over the lake in my parent’s back year. I feel compelled to go out there onto the dock and I heard n my heart “You will get married.” As I had never had a significant relationship, I felt like I was always going to be on the outside of having any relationship, but this word spoke to me. Then, at another point around 20, I heard a word from the Lord “It will be someone you already know.” Then at 22, I heard the word “You will meet them in the first year that you move,” but since I didn’t move that year it wasn’t something that was true for that time. While there had come to be a person to whom these two things would have applied to that I had thought and hoped would want to be with me, but to seemingly no avail, this week I discovered it was God. I already knew Him then, but then while I was in the behavioral observation unit, I had grown to discover that I am part of the Bride of Christ, married and restored to Him.
These words further affirmed that what I went through was a temporary swell of feelings of abandonment and deep shame, only for God to restore me. That the next verse in v. 11 talks about storms seems like a convergence of events and circumstances with God’s Word.
Yet, if God was making Isaiah 54.6-10 to become in these moments God’s word specifically for me, something digs deep into my soul: it what is happened is like the days of Noah, are we heading towards a coming of Christ. As Jesus said in Matthew 24.37-39:
For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.
This is not to suggest we are having what is known as the Second Coming (of that day, only the Father knows) but rather the emergence of another day of the Lord in human history, even if it is not necessary the final summation of all things. As we stand with a world that has come into submission to a virus named after a crown, Coronavirus, I am left wondering are we actually facing a day of our Lord Jesus Christ? More on that later.
Soon after coming upon Isaiah 54.6-10, the chaplain approached me for the first time and we had a deep conversation about spirituality, demons, and living one’s life in service to God. As I shared that passage, we realized it was a Holy Spirit moment because she was herself a widow. We both in that moment shared a common bond with this word from God, affirming that God was leading me in this time, including through other parts of our conversation.
Later that afternoon, I was in my room reading Isaiah 40.3-5. Given that I got my name from an angelic vision just like John the Baptist did (my mom had it in a dream), I have always had a sense of a connection to John the Baptist in my own life. After all, my name Owen may even be a derivation from the name John. To that end, I reflected on these words:
A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
I myself had been living in the wilderness for the past eight years and it became particularly pronounced in the past three years. Is my life intersecting with the mission and ministry of John the Baptist? I had audibly heard “Follow me” and “Owen” during the summer after my freshman year of college, so certainly it seems the hand of God has been laid upon me to lead and guide me. So, is my life and purpose connected to the type of work that John the Baptist did?
I further read what was to be spoken by this figure in Isa. 40.6-8:
A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.
More on people as grass in a moment.
Soon after I had began to reflect on other matters, a nurse walked in and we struck up a long conversation about Scripture. As I told her about what I was reading in Isaiah 40, she shared with me a word from Zechariah 4:8-10:
Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel.
I myself had identified deeply with Jesus as the original referent of the parable of the mustard seed: the one who was regarded as if nothing but yet became the source of salvation to the Gentiles, the birds that flew to the trees. Yet, I despised myself for being so insignificant. My one gift, intelligence, was nothing really, even as I invested myself into that one gift to bring as much good as I felt I could through it. Even then, I had felt like I was nothing when I arrived at the unit. But her word provided encouragement to me in that time. She further reminded of the story of Elijah in 1 Kings, who upon facing many struggles grew tired and weak, but needed nourishment to be able to continue his journey. For me, the trip to the unit had become a time for needed nourishment as I was absolutely depleted (although, the food was nourishing, though not a lot else to say there!). There I found the strength to move forward for the days to come under the confidence that God’s hand is leading and guiding me, even as I feel so much of what I personally wished and wanted for had been lost for naught.
After this conversation, I was later prompted to read further in Zechariah, finding these words in Zechariah 5.12-13:
Thus says the Lord of hosts: Here is a man whose name is Branch: for he shall branch out in his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord. It is he that shall build the temple of the Lord; he shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. He will be a priest on his throne, with peaceful understanding between the two of them.
With these words, that the Branch is simultaneously king who builds the temple and priest, I could see myself in analogy being made whole between the two parts of me: the analytic person and the deeply emotional person in a Spiritual fight with demons can be brought together into a peaceful union. Or, as Christ can be both King and High Priest, maybe in my life I can be both the intellectual and Spiritual teacher. As God has brought the two parts of me together, I am now beginning to realize the possibilities.
Then on Wednesday (today as of this writing), I met an elderly woman who was disabled, just recently divorced, and frustrated and unsure about where her future was going. As we sat, suddenly the “pastoral” instinct kicked in in and out conversations and I began to talk to her about Jesus, who she believed in, and the pathway she can take herself to begin to find a light to take her out of the darkness she was experiencing.
So, in finding the will of God over my life, bringing to me a place of wholeness, one might even say sanctified, I have been given the eyes to see: to see my calling, my past experiences, and a sense of the pathway that God sets before me to walk on.
Throughout the time there, however, a sense of God’s inspiration came over me over about a couple poems I wrote. While the content of these poems reflected personal matters of my own that may be interpreted differently based upon the degrees of purity and impurity of the reader (Titus 1.15: “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure.”) I will offer the theological reading of them, as my poetry tends to be that which expresses both personal, earthly concerns and also theological matters. Because God cleansed my heart, I could see emerging what I was writing was not simply about myself, but was something God gave to me to say.
Christ stands at the door of the Bridal threshold
Longing to be close and intimate with His People
But will to walk among the grass of humanity will make him unclean? (see Isa. 40.7)
But Christ remembers God’s creation covenant that made the earth good
Christ stands ready to take the next step into our world.
What does new creation look like?
As the first creation as Adam ground and then Eve Life
So the bride New Jerusalem will come to the ground, with the Bridegroom Jesus then coming to give life
The last shall become first
Our lives are parables that demonstrate the kingship of Jesus Christ
So, with all those in tow, I offer these words, prayerfully and hopefully as words of insight that came about from these events:
You who long for awakening,
To see and for others to see:
What is it that you think you will see?
The nations coming to Jesus’ throne?
Or, is Jesus coming with judgment
to redeem His people from the impurities?
What will you see? Will you see life?
Or will you see the demons surrounding?
Will you see Jesus coming to make war with those realities that are not seen in flesh and blood?
Repent, you who have celebrated joyously over money!
Discern, you who have lifted up human power over God!
Then maybe you will see the world as it is.
Crushed by the pursuit of knowledge,
Brought into subjection by human powers.
Exchange your impure mind with a pure one,
Then you will see; then you will be awakened.
Praise the God who redeems! Praise the God who sanctifies! Praise the God who restores! Jesus is His name and He is coming to make war with the spiritual forces that have surrounded the city of God’s People.