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(Editor’s note: This is the first column in a three-part series.)
On Aug. 15, 2005, I awoke precisely at 6 a.m. I jumped out of bed, put on some sweatpants and a T-shirt and went into the kitchen to brew up a pot of coffee. Twenty minutes later, I was sitting in my favorite chair, reading a Bible.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Pretty normal.
Not so. In fact, there was something very wrong with this picture.
I normally never get out of bed until sometime after 11 a.m. After awakening, it generally takes between one and three hours to get out of bed. During that time, I am in a state of complete fear. It’s not a fear of anything in particular. It’s simply a fear that attaches itself to anything and everything. The thought of doing even normal things – like going to the grocery store or the post office – is impossible.
There are many days that I’m unable to leave my house. On one occasion, there was a period of six months when I didn’t go outside. (Thank God for take-out.) When I do leave, I function in the outside world on a highly restricted basis. I do what I have to do; then I get back home as quickly as possible. Moreover, if I do read something in the morning, it’s much more likely to be the sports section than the Bible.
There’s no mystery to the above-described behavior. In 1980, after a series of breakdowns, I was diagnosed with manic-depression (currently referred to as bipolar disorder). According to the experts, this illness is the result of a lack of a certain chemical (serotonin) in the brain.
Twenty-five years down the line, I have the certitude of knowing that I’m going to be afflicted with this illness until I die. I’ve been on virtually every medication in existence. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. That’s just the way it is.
But as I was saying, on this day, something was different. Something was missing. Then I realized what it was. I wasn’t afraid!
I looked around for the old Fear Demon and – lo and behold – he was nowhere to be found! As I made a pot of coffee, I kept waiting for the panic attack to slam me against the wall. I hadn’t had a morning without one in months.
It never came.
Over the next few days, not only was I able to get out of bed free of the fear that usually crippled me, but I actually experienced something I hadn’t felt in years: peace of mind. I had a newfound sense of joy. Rather than hiding, I now looked forward to encountering the adventures of each day. On a deeper level, I felt a new hunger for “the truth.” After muddling through a stack of books, I stumbled across an old King James Bible that was gathering dust on the bookshelf.
As I read the words, something happened. I don’t mean to sound corny, but the words literally seemed to leap off the page, where they would go directly to my heart (rather than my brain). Every word, every phrase, was bursting with new meaning and richness. I had the sensation that I was eating the words, rather than reading them.
That first day, I did nothing but read. When I looked up, the clock said 5 p.m. I’d been reading nonstop for more than 10 hours.
What was going on? What had happened to me? More than anything, I needed to see if this experience would stand the test of time.
On the fifth day, I decided that I would stop taking all my medications. If I could last without them, I was ready to accept the fact that a miracle had indeed occurred.
One morning, about a week into the experience, I got a phone call from a friend of mine, who we’ll call Chris. I’d met Chris on the Internet, after he responded to one of my columns. Over the years – though we lived in different states and had never actually met face to face – we’d come to be friends. Chris was a Christian; he was actually the only Christian I knew.
I’d promised myself that I wasn’t going to tell anyone about the experience I was going through, but somehow, I felt compelled to tell Chris what was going on.
“You know,” Chris said, “in a way, I’m kind of jealous of you.”
“Why is that?” I replied.
“You know what’s happened to you, don’t you?” he queried.
I told him that I had absolutely no idea.
“Clearly, you’ve had a visitation from the Holy Spirit. There’s no doubt about it. You mustn’t try to understand it intellectually,” he cautioned. “Just stay alert and listen. Surrender yourself to whatever happens. You are dying to your old self. A new one is being born – and this is the real you.”
Chris cautioned me that I shouldn’t be disappointed if the experience faded. “God is like that,” he said. “Sometimes He’ll go away from you because He wants to see if you’ll come after him.”
I told Chris that I’d quit taking all my medications. “That’s fine,” he said. “If you find that you need them, you can simply start taking them again.”
Chris explained that once you’d been indwelt by the Holy Spirit, you would always have that intimate connection with God – that gradually He would become a larger presence in my life.
I was made to understand that the acceptance of Christ was only step one in a two-step process – that only after the indwelling of the Holy Spirit could you actually come to understand what God had in store for you. “This is the very beginning,” Chris said. “Now you’re truly on the path. Don’t fight it. Amazing things are going to happen to you.”
Over the forthcoming weeks, I went through a gamut of emotions. My sense of strength and clarity continued to grow. Every little thing, no matter how insignificant, had new depth and meaning. I soon entered a state of ceaseless prayer, in which I was in constant communication with God.
At that time, hurricane Katrina had just hit. I sat mesmerized in front of the TV as the images of devastation passed before my eyes. The horror that I witnessed was more than I could bear. I often found myself on the floor, weeping and praying for the release of the suffering of the victims.
As I watched, I couldn’t help thinking of the Flood, of the great trials that Noah had encountered. I was led to see that while this new flood was a horrid situation, it was somehow in God’s plan.