“Fire and Ice,” Chapter Nine: The Gates of Hell

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I had cancer 16 years ago when my son was just a baby.  Now Jonathan is 17 and facing his last year of high school.  I teach English in Turkey and miss him, hoping to sell more of my books and buy an airplane ticket back to visit him.

Sixteen years ago, after surgery and 4 months of chemotherapy, I suffered nerve damage and axiety.  The doctors gave me anti-anxiety medicine and morphine, and I eventually became addicted.  This chapter from my newest book tells how I stopped taking all prescription medication, suddenly, and almost died.

Nine

The Gates of Hell

“The battle is the Lord’s.”

1 Samuel 17:47

Edd stopped paying child support, and I had no money left for food or rent, so I did another stupid, senseless thing (in my hazy state of morphine and other medications) and moved in with a Mexican guitar player who had serenaded me in a restaurant a few months previously.  His name was Miguel, and he was cute and short and jealous to the point of insanity.  He locked me in a cage just like a bird and would not let me go anywhere out of his jealous sight, and that was so painful I cannot even write about it.  But he also helped to set me free.

He was the first one to call me a ****ing drug addict.  Though I protested that I never took illegal drugs in all my life, and doctors had written out quite legal prescriptions, I knew that he was right.  He told me I could choose the drugs or him.  And, finally, I realized that God required me to give up my addiction, so I let go.

The day after Mother’s Day, 2008, I gave all my colored pills to Miguel, like sand at the seashore.  The waves swirled around my feet, and I threw my fistful of wet sand into the water.  Then I knelt and thrust my hand into the waves until they cleaned them of every golden grain . . .

Since we were poor with just a barely furnished house in Big Bear, I could not check myself into a fashionable Drug Rehab Clinic.  So I went off all my pills Cold Turkey, without a doctor’s care.

That action took me to the Gates of Hell.

Miguel is playing his classical guitar in the next room, the door shut between us so I may sleep.  I am wrapped in a flannel nightgown, my long, green, velvet dress-up cape, and several blankets.  A fiber optic nightlight, low against the wall and shaped like a hummingbird on a flower, glows alternate colors of blue, green, yellow, and purple.  A light, both warm and bright–with a whiteness beyond this world–blazes half-seen above my head.  I stretch to see behind me, and I can almost spy the angel standing watch there, holding that light.  Others, also only partly seen, kneel beside me, anointing my forehead with spirit oil and touching my arms and shoulders.

But despite all this, with each breath I take, each loud beat of my heart, I feel alone and naked in the dark.

The only sensation that engulfs my body is a flame.  Red, burning, always swaying as if blown by a hot wind sent straight up from Hell, it sears my head, my neck, my back, my legs, my feet–each nerve ending, each pore, each piece of my soul . . .

I cannot sleep.  I cannot dream.  Yet what visions appear in that small room play out in greater drama and detail than a theater of images and sound.

I am battling at the Gates of Hell.  The air around me is darkness like black cheese I slice through with my sword.  Something like light, red from fire and smoke, edges the place I’m in but shows no boundaries, geometry, or escape route.  I see my sword, its silver blade–once smooth–now jagged from the battle.  My armor glints in the non-light, smeared with dirt and blood and ash.  My helmet weighs upon my sweaty head and stringy hair–like bat’s wings trying to suffocate me.  Where is the air to breathe?  Why am I here?

My left hand can barely lift my shield, dented and slashed so that the emblem etched upon it is unreadable.  My right hand hardly holds up my sword, and still I cannot see what attacks me.  I feel teeth nip at my body, hear slashing sounds . . .

Suddenly I am standing before a wall, so high I cannot see the top.  Made of thick stone with congealed black blood as mortar, it towers like an enemy above me.  Things fly at me from the wall, arrows barely seen and deadly.  I lift my shield to them, hold my sword up high, plant my feet against the blows, and whisper one remembered name.

“Jesus.”

One flash of white light sears this red and steamy darkness.  One hope.  One breath of oxygen amidst the stench of sulfur.

*******************************************

On a hill in a land by the sea, Jesus spoke to His disciples.

“Who do people say that I am?” He asked.

“Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets,” they replied.

“But who do YOU say that I am?” He inquired.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter replied.

“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah,” Jesus announced.  “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven . . . You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”

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We can battle to the very Gates of Hell in the name of God’s own Son, and they will not stand before us.  That name is my only true weapon in this fight.

My shield becomes a torch of white light.  I lift it high, hold it, and wait.  I am keeping the Watch.

“When can I lower my arm?” I ask the unseen Lord somewhere above me.  He does not answer, but I know He is watching me in silence.  I feel His love, like a breeze of sea air that moves one damp curl upon my neck.  He will help me get out of here, I tell my heart that beats wildly with the fever.

I hold the torch high for eternities.  My arm grows heavy with the burden, and I long to rest.  But there is no lying down in the unseen filth before Hell’s Gate.  Dust, ash, and many-legged, pale insects creep up toward my knees.

“Take the Watch; take the Watch!” I plead.  “Oh, someone, take the Watch from me and let me rest!”

Where is Miguel?  He will play his guitar beyond my door (I hear it somewhere in the distance), but he will not come and pray with me.

My throat chokes, sore with fumes.  My cheeks blaze, my dry eyes long for a tear, and I remember water.  Oh, its cool and soothing fluid, gushing down a waterfall, rising to the sky in mist, and freezing upon a mountain lake.  How it used to run between my fingers, onto my cheek, between my chapped lips!  Hydrogen and oxygen are not elements found together at Hell’s Gate . . .

I look around me, try to sigh, but cannot draw a breath.  Am I stuck here forever?  Did Christ sacrifice Himself for me in vain?  Did I repent of taking drugs too late?  I cannot sing or weep or die.

The muscles in my arm tremble from the long-held weight of my shield-turned-torch.

“Take the Watch; take the Watch!” I beg.

And then I see the reason for my excursion to this accursed place.  Lost Lonna, naked and pale and cold in all this heat, is wandering around, alone in the dark.  I see her shadow by Hell’s wall and step toward her.  She raises her face to me, surprised.

“I’ve come to rescue you,” I say–to myself.  I drop my sword and grasp my bare arm (opposite me) with my armored one (attached).  I look up into my eyes.  The color blue surrounds me.

I can breathe!  Gone is the torch from my hand, the filthy armor, the choking smoke, the sullen sights of Hell.  God took the Watch at last!  He heard my prayer like a Psalm sung out of tune, the desperate cry of a lost soul who has heard of salvation once before, and now again.

****************************************************

I’m on a mountaintop at sunrise.  Pink and orange clouds weave above me, sunlight like liquid gold shining through them against the green and blue horizon.  Wind blows the sweat from my curls, cools my cheeks, soothes my eyes.  I am climbing a castle tower, its stones set through with sapphires and rubies, crystals at the pinnacles!  I pass such glowing gems and reach for the colors of the sky, gasping breaths like water.

God’s Spirit like the wind fills the air around me, fills my lungs until I know such joy as birds know, their wings gliding on a current.

“Fill me; fill me more!” I cry, climbing higher to the very top of the tower.  He fills me with unexplainable joy and tells me,

“You will shine for Me.”

“Thank you; thank you!” I sing to the Lord of the clouds.  “Let me stay here always with You!”

Wind blows through me, and I become a spirit rising toward the pink and orange sunrise.  Clouds part before me, opening a door.  At any moment I will see the face of Jesus . . .

****************************************************

“Lonna, wake up,” Miguel says in my ear.  He is kneeling beside me, holding a plate of strawberry and banana pancakes.  “Eat to get strong again.”

“I was not sleeping,” I tell him, turning my face toward the dimly lit doorway.  “It was . . . something else.  I battled at the Gates of Hell.  I found Lost Lonna wandering in the dark and rescued her.”

Miguel’s chocolate eyes look misty.  He lowers his head, the thick black hair cut above his Aztec earlobes, the thick bristles of a needed shave upon his high cheekbones.

“I was worried about you,” he says.  “You screamed.  I could not wake you.”

“I was on a castle tower at sunrise, filled with God’s Spirit like the wind.  I was about to see Jesus . . .”

Tears fill my eyes, and the fiery pain–that smoldered for awhile–blazes again.  “Why did I come back?  What will my life be now?  What if, under all the lawyers of drugs and cleansing, there is only PAIN?”

Miguel surprises me, gets on his knees, and prays in Spanish, a language so rich and beautiful I’m glad I studied it since I was a teen.

Miguel dips a washcloth in the cold mountain water that comes from our local lake and runs freely in our facet, and puts it on my pillow, at the back of my burning neck.  But then, as good moments so often turn to bad, he leaves me alone in the room again, but not before saying, “when you are well, I will not let you leave this cabin.”

*****************************************************

And though I later had to go by ambulance down the mountain to the county hospital emergency room, where they admitted me to the Intensive Care Unit because I was bleeding internally and needed two blood transfusions, and though I looked as pale and thin as death and spent days in the hospital and months recovering, my battle at the Gates of Hell was over.

Now I know what Redemption means.

I know how a slave feels, too.  Naked and dirty, her wrists chained, she stands before the world.  Her eyes focus on the dust at her feet.  She cannot bear the sight of well-robed people who stare at her.  She has no hope of being clothed again or stepping off her platform.  If she had been a mere victim, a child captured by bandits and sold against her will, she could bear the shame.  But she was caught by her own mistakes.  She sold herself into slavery.

Then, unexpectedly, a stranger approaches the master who holds her title firmly in his fat hands.  The hooded man hands him a bag of gold coins to redeem her.  She gasps as her chains are loosed, and she follows the stranger off the platform.  Instead of compelling her to his Great Hall to serve him, the redeemer lets her choose which path to take.  Such is the mystery of grace.

Selah, my little slavegirl, was freed this way:

Selah dressed slowly, half afraid of the dark and half comforted by its secrecy.  She paused before emerging from the shadows.  Her stomach growled with hunger.  Her tired feet wanted to find a blanket on which to rest.  Her head spun with Micah’s words.  Still, she hesitated to join the camp.

Finally, music called her from the darkness.  A flute–its voice both sad and joyful–invited her to join the band of strangers who sat down to dinner beside the oasis, ringed by torchlight and stars against the night.

She followed the flute’s voice, walking as unnoticed as possible among the laughing, chattering travelers.  In the middle of the group she stopped.  Micah sat cross-legged on a red blanket beneath a purple canopy.  He looked beautiful in his green cloak sewn with silver.  He held a silver flute in both hands, his fingers moving gracefully on and off the holes along its side.  In his lap lay a scroll unrolled as if he had been reading it.  Selah stared at him until he waved at her, then beckoned with his hand.

She stepped gingerly over feet, yellow pillows, and pitchers of water.  All eyes turned again toward her and Micah, and she suddenly realized that he was the leader of the group.

She stopped near his feet and stared down at him as if seeing him for the first time.

“Who are you?” she asked, shaking so that the hood fell once more from her head.

“I am a Prince of the Mountains,” he replied.  “Come to lead you home.”

“The Maker sent you,” Selah realized.

“Yes.  He made me a Prince and has shown me the High Places.  I must show you, little Selah–you, and all these others.”

She stood, still trembling.  Beside Micah was a water pot.  She bent to lift it up, ready to serve him and the rest of the band.

“You do not need to serve us, Selah,” he said, motioning for her to sit down next to him.

Selah set the water pot back down, and her cloak fell off one shoulder, revealing her bronze armband that glinted coldly in the torchlight.

“But I am a s-slave and not worthy to sit beside a P-Prince,” she stuttered.  “Surely I must w-work to earn my keep.”

Micah put the flute and scroll into his mysterious green bag.

“I was not always a Prince,” he said.  “To become a Prince, one must first be a servant.  You have worked all your life, Selah.  Now you will learn the value of what is not earned–the value of a gift.”

He stood, towering above Selah.  He lifted his arms high, toward stars that shone bright above the oasis and the rocky foothills along its eastern banks.  He spoke words Selah did not understand–he seemed to be asking for something.  Then he bent down and touched her bronze band with both hands.  It fell off her arm, cracked from side to side.  She stared at her bare arm where a circle of pale skin contrasted with the sunburn.

“You are no longer a slave,” he said, keeping his hands on her arm.  Selah could hardly bear to look into his fierce, glowing eyes.

“Who are you?” she asked again, afraid, wanting to turn and hide in the darkness.

He did not answer her this time.  She stared at his eyes that had turned from blue to white–then blue again.  His whole body seemed to glow with light that spread through his fingertips, up her arm, and to her own eyes.  She felt something wonderful inside her–joy like sunrise, like a cool spring of water bubbling up from deep rocks.  She could not help but smile, and she began to dance–unaware of all the strange eyes watching her.  She lifted her arms above her head in a graceful arch, whirled in a circle inside a circle, then sat down beside Micah on the red carpet, buried her head in her hands, and wept.

Micah put his arm around her.  Exhausted, she leaned against his shoulder, closed her eyes, and slept until morning.

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Read the whole story here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007U7KYJ8

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