Living downtown has transformed my theology. I am confronted every single day with the richest and the poorest on the very same block. Wealthy older women with grape-size diamond rings push their poodles in a stroller down the sidewalk past a wheelchair-bound man asking for spare change. The contrast is startling.
I'm not out to sensationalize what I am about to tell you. If you live where we do, you've probably experienced something very similar. But what I witnessed today was a reminder that the spiritual battle that is being fought in heaven is even more real than life here on earth. It's difficult to wrap my mind around it, and I need concrete examples like today's events provided.
There is a city block just down the street from our apartment that I know in my spirit is a dwelling place of Satan. It houses a "hotel" that has, for years, served as a brothel with prostitutes occupying the rooms. It is not uncommon to see men stumbling out of its doors and zipping up their pants. It is disgusting.
Just last summer, I was walking on this particular block along with a crowd of people when I heard the most horrific sound that has ever hit my ears. It came from a woman with filthy, matted hair and torn clothes. She was screaming from her gut and when I looked at her, I saw that her wide, glazed eyes were fixed in my direction. I tried walking faster, but she began pushing through the crowd to get closer to me. The screams intensified and sounded like another language. I felt chills from the top of my head to the tips of my toes - it was as if the devil himself had taken complete control over her.
I've never felt spiritual warfare thicker than I did in that moment. The battle waged in the heavens is so real, and I believe she was possessed and could somehow see that I was a child of God. Maybe she saw angel armies surrounding me. Do I sound crazy? Maybe. But I think we can never underestimate the war that is being waged for our souls, even if we can't see it. We shouldn't be afraid because Christ has already won the final battle and is on our side, but we must be vigilant.
That episode, as you can imagine, stuck with me for days. I would relive her gut wrenching screams and envision her bloodshot, terror-filled eyes. I'd pray for the Lord to take those images and those sounds away. Sometimes he would. Other times, he allowed me to experience it again to remind me of the combat that continues. Still, that woman has never left my mind.
And today, I saw her again.
But this time, for some reason that I couldn't discern, she was in handcuffs. Two Chicago police officers were standing on both sides of her and writing down information while she flailed on the sidewalk. She screamed that same horrible scream, but today it was peppered with profanities. A small crowd gathered on the opposite side of the street, disturbed by this shocking episode in their otherwise peaceful neighborhood. I stood there in unbelief. How could I forget her? As I continued walking, I saw her throw her whole body forward onto the sidewalk as she writhed and shrieked. When she pulled her head up, there was a puddle of blood streaming from her lip.
This time, I felt no fear at all. Sure, she was contained and was clear on the other side of the street. But this time, I felt deep pity for this woman.
I wished for a moment that she had lived in Jesus' time and if he had passed by, surely he would have commanded the demon to leave her and she would be healed. Maybe he would gently touch her face and tell her to go in peace. Tomorrow I would see her bathed and dressed and praising the Lord for her newfound freedom. Jesus healed so many of demons while he was on the earth. He even cast seven of them out of Mary Magdalene and she became one of his closest friends. He never criticized the victim for being possessed, but had compassion on them and brought immediate, complete healing.
I pleaded with him to do just that today. "You can heal her, Lord. Bring glory to yourself and just heal her in an instant."
But as I walked by, the screams just echoed until I was too far away to hear them anymore. I was shaken once again by the experience, but reminded once again of the battle.
On my way home from work a few hours later, my day took a sharp turn for the better. You may remember Pops. Well, Pops continues to spent most of his days right outside our bedroom window and every time I get the chance, I make my way across the street to have a chat with him. Pops is always an encouragement. I can't say that about many people in my life, but I can say it about Pops. Despite having one leg and spending his days rattling a coin cup, he has a deep contentment and joy for life because he knows Jesus. Just last week when Mom was in town, she went over to meet him and after a few minutes of chatting, he said, "I'll be praying that you have a blessed day." The thing is, he meant it. The next day, we saw him and he asked us how the day had been.
So on my way home from work, I happened to see Pops in another part of town and he waved me down to get my attention. It made my day. I asked him how his day was, and for the first time I can remember, his response was something other than "Blessed." He pulled up his empty pant leg to show me what is left of his leg from the Viet Nam war. His "stump" had gotten infected, so he'd spent most of his day at the VA. We talked about our upcoming move to Dallas, and Pops closed his eyes and said most sincerely, "Man, I'm gonna miss y'all." Sweet Pops, we will miss you too.
Fridays are my day off, and I usually try to bring him something baked if he's outside. He loves soft, moist coffee cakes and muffins that his teeth can handle. But this time, I wanted to know if he had any requests. I asked him if he had a favorite, and he motioned for me to come closer, then whispered with a smile, "Can you make banana nut bread?"
Well, of course! I knew from that moment that we were true friends because he actually requested something of me. I was honored. First thing tomorrow morning, the most delicious banana nut bread (Paula Deen's recipe, y'all) will go straight from the oven, across the street, and into the open hands of our favorite neighbor.
I, for one, cannot wait.