Six years ago, a war that began in the Heavens thousands of years ago intensified, as a battle line was crossed and a group of missionaries walked the streets of Flint, Michigan. It was during this week that Satan reared his ugly head and attacked with a vengeance, angered that the name of Jesus was being spread on the streets he claimed to own. And I had a front row seat.
Time to Revive, the ministry founded by my younger brother Kyle, had coordinated this week-long effort. Over 700 volunteers walked the streets to spread the word in one of the poorest cities in America and I was among them. I couldn't be in Flint for the entire week, but the short time I spent in this hurting city marked my life forever.
It was a week unlike anything I had ever experienced. I'll show my ignorance to much of what was around me and say that I was amazed that poverty in this form existed in the United States. Every other house was burned to the ground, mailmen wouldn't deliver to certain areas for safety reasons and the neighborhoods were run by gangs. It was a dark place and being there stretched every part of my being. But it was another one of those moments when I knew I was right where God was asking me to be.
Every day we went to those places no one else would touch and we stood in driveways, in homes and in parks, holding hands and praying with people who were so desperate for something different. It's strange though, because as dark as the city was, the hearts of the people were tender and craved so much more. I'll always remember following a car we saw racing down the street to a house where it stopped and then standing in the driveway as the driver and his three companions tried to fix something in the engine. It turned out they had just stolen the car and their lives were in total chaos...but we didn't know that at the time and, honestly, none of that mattered the minute we asked them how we could pray for them. Before we knew it, we were circled up in the driveway, praying, connecting and loving. It's those times that I believe made Satan the maddest. When we were claiming lives for Jesus Christ that he thought he had won. And so he began to protest our efforts...
During one of the evening worship services Kyle, in obedience to God, was sharing a message and scriptures from the Bible when suddenly his words were stopped by a pain in his chest that he later said felt like an arrow. He fell to his knees, the wind knocked out of him. Catching his breath, he stood and attempted to read scripture again, only to be "shot in the chest" by another unseen arrow. Prayers by those present ensued, Kyle attempted a third time...and a third time, he fell. This time, he was taken from the room...
And this is where the battle for my soul began...
As Kyle fell, my insides started to tense. Maybe because it's hard to see your brother suffer? Or because the atmosphere felt suffocating? But it seemed to be much deeper than that. By Kyle's third fall I was on the floor, overcome by nausea and an overwhelming onslaught of tears. My amazing friend Corri, seeing my condition took me upstairs to where Kyle had been taken and we stood outside in the hallway trying to gain some composure. It was then that I believe with all my heart that Satan decided to take his best shot. Shaking and crying, I felt like someone sucker punched me in the stomach, knocking me to my knees. Standing up and trying to figure out what on earth was happening, I was again "hit" in the stomach and again dropped to my knees. A third time had me crying out to God to make it stop. I was taken into the room with Kyle and what followed was one of the scariest nights I have ever experienced. I shook, I wept and I questioned what was happening. Was this God? It didn't feel like it could be...was it Satan? And if so, how? I thought God protected us from that kind of battle...and for it to be so physical? The questions came all night, and as people prayed and scriptures were read, I knew there were going to be a lot more questions to come and that I was going to need some answers. It shook me to my core and I now had a brand new overwhelming sense of fear.
That night, I went back to where I was staying - a dimly lit and lonely home on the outskirts of town, where chickens roamed the inside freely - and I couldn't control my fear or my emotions. I was scared, confused and wanted nothing more than to be back home with Garth, wrapped in the safety of his arms and all I knew to be comforting. That night proceeded to be one of the longest nights I can remember -all night I was awake and trembling, with dark images flooding my sight.
Honestly, it took a while to move forward from that night. It was hard to carry on and share God's word with the people of Flint who so desperately needed to hear it. That should have been the first red flag for me...Satan had snaked his way into my life, causing my fear to halt what I was there to do. In the most subtle of ways, or maybe not so subtle in my case, he did what he is infamous for doing, stopping people from spreading God's word. And I'm ashamed to say that for a time, it worked. Fear got it's nasty grip on me for months to come and slowly I let it bring me to a place of immobilization.
Bags packed, I headed back to our temporary home on St. Simons Island, scared, confused and feeling more than slightly alone. The questions I had for God flowing in a constant dialogue....What WAS that? Why did it happen? What was I supposed to do with it? I really didn't understand spiritual warfare, but I was beginning to get a picture and believed I was smack dab in the middle of it. Interestingly, frighteningly, those "arrows" that Kyle felt were later described by an 11-year-old boy who saw "red arrows" shooting into the man on-stage.
Knowing now what I was in the middle of, I was determined not to let Satan get the best of me and I delved into scripture with a vengeance and cherished my time with God so much more than ever before. The more I learned and read, the more I craved. And that's when I think I might have ticked Satan off...out of nowhere, just days after returning from Flint, my year-long journey of sickness began. Weakness set in and I could almost not bear the weight of my own arms and legs. I had nausea, headaches, stomach pains, low back pains and fatigue that knocked me down for months at a time.
I went to the doctor and found I had two ruptured cysts on my ovaries. It could explain some of the pain, but not all of it, so I continued the search. Another test result found that I had Barrett's Esophagus, a pre-cancerous state of the esophagus known to affect older males. I was troubled by that diagnosis, but still didn't feel like it was the actual problem. Doctor after doctor, test after test, diagnosis after diagnosis, I was up to 8 or 9 things...infections, mono and chronic fatigue were among the many diagnosis given to me. And still I continued the search, pretty sure we didn't have it figured out. One of my doctors constantly said "it sure would be bad luck for you to have this...whatever "this" was that we were testing for. Then the results would come back and I would have it. At one point, my gall bladder was in question, my skin test looked like it was positive for TB, my vision got worse and I had to get glasses. My lymph nodes went crazy and we did a PET scan checking for lymphoma. More exams, more blood tests, and I was diagnosed with Sjogren's Disease, an autoimmune disorder. Another test found an allergy to dairy and beef. The fact that I had zero good bacteria left in my body began my journey of rehab and nutrition, trying anything I could to feel better. It was a roller coaster of misery and doubt and now in retrospect, a journey of quiet anger with God.
All along, I tried to keep my head up, but I couldn't see an end in sight and I felt trapped. It was harder than I could handle and every now and then a wave of sadness, tears and loneliness would hit. I felt like God was so quiet that He couldn't possibly be doing anything...or even paying attention, for that matter. What I didn't know was that He was waiting for me to be completely ready, that He was allowing growth and that He had different plans. And when that time finally came, He showed up in a way that only God could...one year later...
These are pictures from a photo shoot with Corri during my year of sickness...it is a reminder for me of my family rallying around me - surrounded by my favorite people and my 'favorite things"...celebrating ahead of time the day God would step in.
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” - Joshua 1:9