“There was a definite oppression I was stuck under and was feeling suffocated by. It was manifested physically in headaches and emotionally in depression. Once that oppression was broken, they were replaced with a new perspective and a new life.”
Everyone has stories to tell. They may be about something particular, such as an intriguing adventure or a painful experience, or they may be about something more cosmic, such as an attempt to make sense of life or a struggle with suicide. Our whole lives, in fact, are stories. They are stories of our first gropings, of how our loves developed, of how we have come to make something of ourselves. For Christians, the stories include an account of how faith was acquired and how it has matured.
The following story is based on an interview I had with a former student of mine at Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois. I recorded the interview, transcribed it, then edited it for readability. I told "Lynn" that I would not reveal her name. I did this because I wanted a full and honest account with all details intact. October, 2003
Department of Philosophy
Deerfield, IL 60015
My headaches started March 5, 1998. I remember waking up feeling dizzy, nauseous, and with an upset stomach. For the first ten days I thought it was just the flu, but it didn’t go away. I had a headache everyday, all day.
After ten days I started seeing doctors. During the next five years, I went to at least three or four neurologists, a handful of eye doctors, and allergy specialists. I also went to dentists, because I had braces from when I was twelve, so they thought maybe my headache had something to do with jaw configuration. Eventually I went to psychiatrists.
There were a lot of symptoms. If I ran, that would increase the headache pain. Trying to read for any amount of time, especially anything over twenty minutes, would be almost impossible, because my eyes would get tired, my vision would get blurry, and I would feel sicker than when I had started.
If I didn’t get enough sleep, the headache would get worse. Getting to sleep was very difficult, and often the headache would be bad enough that it would wake me up. That would throw my entire day off.
Eating was rarely a pleasant experience. I would feel sick to my stomach trying to put something into it. If I were to eat junk food, or put anything into my body that would be unhelpful, even a piece of candy, I would more often than not feel really sick, very nauseous, and it would sometimes increase the headache. Caffeine was bad, too. So was orange juice. Then I would be just asking for more pain.
When I had more pain, more often than not I would push myself harder, because there were certain things that I would have to do. In some instances, I had a choice. Then I would often opt not to go through with whatever activity I thought I had to do. That made me feel that I was copping out on life.
So I had to monitor what I was eating and when I was sleeping. Could I come up with a diet or a sleeping schedule or exercise that would make me feel better? Mostly I found out what would make me feel worse. Every time I did something or didn’t do something, I discovered that it would make me feel worse, never better.
Through talking with doctors and specialists, I eventually came up with a headache scale of one to ten, ten being completely incapacitated. The average stress or tension headache would be at two or three. Migraines that keep you in bed for days on end would be at ten. My headaches, the ones I had day in and day out, on average were about a seven. They were consistently strong.
Some days, when I had gotten a lot of sleep, maybe some exercise, and had a healthy diet, the headaches would go to a six and I would feel slightly better. But as soon as I had a soda with caffeine in it or didn’t get enough sleep, I’d go to a nine or ten easily. Even little things like carrying my bag from class to class on my shoulders would tighten up my shoulder muscles, and that would tighten up my neck muscles, and that would trigger an even worse headache.
I often felt like giving up. But there were also times when I knew that God was going to provide me with the perseverance and strength I needed to get through. I became keenly aware of how little I was able to do on my own. So I built a huge dependence on God for his strength. That doesn’t mean I didn’t resent what was going on. I was being forced to depend on God. I remember reaching the point when I was thankful for that. I was thankful for the headaches. I was thankful for all the painful experiences, because I was learning through struggles. I didn’t know how anyone else learned, but I was learning through difficult times. I think in the back of my mind, though, I would always have been very ready to give up the headaches for a healthy lifestyle.
At the three-year mark, my body and my mind and everything about me gave up and broke down. I had spent those three years very much in denial, repressing all of the chronic pain and thinking to myself, “It’s no big deal. It’s just a headache. Lots of people have more intense pain more often.” So I ignored it, mostly, and pushed myself really hard to the point of collapsing. I came to the point where I couldn’t make even the simplest of decisions, because I didn’t know how. I couldn’t decide whether or not I was going to have a drink of water, because I didn’t know what the point was in drinking water. “Why would anyone drink water? What happens when they do?”
That was when I finally put my finger on a lot of internal emotional stuff like depression and anxiety and big fears. I started seeing a psychiatrist who said, “Okay, how about we put you on medication that aims to provide your body more chemicals to fight chronic pain, because your body is tired of fighting chronic pain?”
On top of that I was seeing a counselor to help me think through a lot of things. I had never thought of myself as a depressed person or an angry person or a person struggling with emotional moods. So I had to swallow that. I had to admit the impact that my headache had on me. It had got me very down. I was not the joyful person I used to be. I didn’t smile as much. I was very anxious about handling situations. Even something as simple as a class assignment would create an extreme amount of anxiety in me, because I would have a hard time grasping what it would take to fulfill that assignment and whether I had what it took.
Going to the psychiatrist and counselor helped, because I was being forced to think through everything. I had to pay attention to myself on a spiritual level, an emotional level, a mental level, as well as the physical level. I had to focus on those issues, because I had tried for so many years to tackle the headache issue and it wasn’t working. I had to look deep down into depression and realize that it comes from being a very angry, repressed person. I was angry at God and I was angry that I was sick and I was angry at various members of my family and angry at other people.
On May 9, 2003, I had had the headaches for five years, two months, and four days. On that day I met with Charles Kraft, who is an anthropologist and missiologist in the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.* I had heard about him from my parents. My dad said, “How would you feel about meeting with him so that he could pray for your headaches?” I wasn’t very comfortable with that, because I had had lots of people pray over me. It wasn’t a matter of a lack of faith so much, I thought, as not seeing that as being the answer. And if it was the answer, I didn’t want to find out that I could have done it years ago.
I had been told by my dad that Chuck had some theological views that I wasn’t used to and that it was going to be a little different. My dad classified it as weird, and Chuck knew that my dad thought it was weird. Mostly it was an annoyance, though, because it was final exams week, and I had other things to do. I had people staying with me and finals to take, and I was working a part-time job and moving out of the dorms. I didn’t have time to meet with this so-called Chuck Kraft who supposedly had this wonderful healing ministry. But I did.
I met with him and his wife. She sat next to me on the couch the whole time, and he was on the chair opposite us. I gave them a rundown of my headache experiences over the years, and he asked me if he could open up in prayer, which we did. I didn’t know what to expect after that, because I was under the impression that prayer was going to be the major part of it.
He asked me to close my eyes and visualize what he would then start to talk about. The first thing he asked me to do was to picture Jesus. He never called him Christ, it was always Jesus. “Picture Jesus and what he looks like.” I said he was smiling. He said, “Why is he smiling?” I said, “I’m not sure.” He said, “Is he smiling at you?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Do you think that’s because of Jesus’ love for you?” “Yes,” I said. “So Jesus is smiling at you. Can you still see him?” Throughout the whole experience, he kept asking me if I could still see him and if Jesus was still there.
Would I like Jesus to give me a hug? Yes, I would. Then he asked, politely, gently, calmly, “Jesus, would you please give Lynn a hug?” “So did you like that?” “Yes, I did like that.” “Now can you picture Jesus with his arms outstretched? In one hand he holds a sperm, and in the other he holds an egg. Lynn, this is the moment when you are going to be created. This is your conception. It’s one that Jesus has blessed and that he is excited about. He loves the person he’s going to create you to be. And he’s going to create you as a beautiful little girl. Can you bless that conception?”
After thinking about it for a moment, I had to say no, I didn’t think I could. “Is the problem that Jesus loves you and that he’s creating you on purpose?” I said, “No, I don’t think that’s it.” He asked me a series of questions about why I couldn’t bless my conception, but never in such a way that I felt attacked or threatened or unsafe. Finally, he asked, “Is it that you’re a girl and not a boy?” I said, “Yes, I didn’t want to be created as a girl.” He said, “What is it about being a girl that you don’t like?” I thought about that a little bit and said I didn’t know.
At this point, he had me recall my earliest memory. “Just call to mind, just picture, do whatever is easiest for you to do, to imagine that moment.” He asked me to watch it. “What is it about this earliest memory you remember most?” My earliest memory was having our TV stolen. I remember going home with my parents and having the feeling of being violated. I also felt ignored and not paid attention to, as if my feeling of being violated wasn’t very important.
He asked me if I could comfort little Lynn. “What would you say to Lynn?” I said, “I would tell her not to feel scared.” He said, “Would you like Jesus to give her a hug?” “Yes, I would.” Again came the polite request, “Jesus, would you please give little Lynn a hug?” And Jesus did. Chuck said, “Does she feel better?” “Yes, she does.” Then he asked me if I could forgive my parents or the robbers, whoever it was that made me feel violated. Could I offer forgiveness to those people in that situation? I said, “Yes, I’d like to do that.” And then I did.
That was pretty much the pattern he ran with through the whole experience¾having Jesus present and making sure that his presence was comforting and that it was not just okay for me to feel violated or ignored, but that what I needed to do was to forgive whatever brought about those feelings. As a 22 year old, I was kind of a fly on the wall, watching the whole scene.
After going through my earliest memory, Chuck walked me through some significant experiences in my adolescence that caused me not to feel respected or valued as a female. I grew up in a Muslim culture, and women in Muslim cultures are not valued. They are not respected, they are not treated like human beings. They are not offered any care or consideration and they are treated in very unhealthy ways. I felt a great threat every time I walked out of my house. I felt very unsafe. So I grew up with the idea that being a female is a bad thing.
This is what we finally got to in why I could not bless my conception, why I could not accept myself as being a beautiful baby girl. It was the first time I realized that I did not like the expectations that were on me as a female. I started weeping at the idea that that was something I had grown up with and that I’d kept in my life.
Then we went through the forgiveness process again. Could I forgive all of those men who had instilled in me the idea that I wasn’t worth anything and that I didn’t matter? I said yes, I could forgive them, because I knew at this point that it was part of being able to love the person God had created me to be and not hate any part of it because of what I had grown up with.
So we blessed the conception. He walked me through each month of the conception, saying, “Lynn, I bless you in your first month as you are growing inside your mother’s womb, becoming more of a baby than an embryo. And the second month, and the third month.”
After working through this, he said, “As I talk I would like to appeal to some of the powers or spirits that don’t deserve to be in you. Would that be okay with you?” I said, “Yes, that’s fine.” He said, “Would you feel comfortable answering one way or the other, whether it’s from you or from some voice that needs to be let out?” “Yes, I would.”
At this point he specifically and systematically walked through various spirits he felt were present. First, he appealed to the spirit of depression. He talked to it directly, as if it were a little demon living inside me. He said, “Is the spirit of depression there?” The answer was yes. The answer came from my voice, but not necessarily from my being. I didn’t feel disconnected from the situation. I was definitely conscious the whole time. I think the answer came because I knew that that spirit was there. And I think it was also in part the presence of that power coming out and saying, “Yes, I’m here.” It was more of a direct conversation between that presence or spirit and Chuck. He would appeal to those spirits. “Is the spirit of depression there?” “Yes.” “And who do you have with you? Do you have anxiety?” “Yes.” “Fear?” “Yes.” “Guilt?” “Yes.” “Self-hatred?” “Yes.” “Is there anyone else?” “Sadness.”
Deceit was a big one. He had a conversation with deceit. “Deceit, do you know that you have no place in Lynn’s life?” “Yes.” “Do you know that the power you believe you have over her is going to be broken and cannot exist with the presence of the Holy Spirit?” “Yes.”
He spelled everything out, then one by one asked the spirits to get into the box he had me picture. He had me picture a black box and told me we were going to put each one of these spirits into the box. “Anxiety and fear,” he said, “I’m asking you, no, I’m telling you, to get into the box.” Then one by one he would ask them if they were there. “Anxiety, are you there? Are you in the box?” “Yes.” “Depression, are you in the box?” “Yes.” “Deceit, are you in the box?” Then he would clarify and say, “You know, you’re all going to leave Lynn. You’re going to have no hold over her life.” “Yes, we know.”
The main spirit I’m getting to is what he called the spirit of infirmity. When he appealed to that one, it was probably the most intense moment of the whole experience. I felt more disconnected from that one. I felt kind of frazzled, as if I wasn’t quite following what he would say. I was leaning my elbows on my knees, with my hands folded in front of me. My lower back and the back of my head felt very heavy, and they increasingly got heavier and heavier. I pictured my hands, my lower back, and the back of my head as being very black. They were black and they were expanding, because they were getting heavier.
I remember thinking, “If I open my eyes, I’m going to see that my hands in front of me aren’t black and that they’re not blown up to some big balloon size.” But that’s what they felt like. They felt like they were growing into a big lead ball.
I was trying desperately to concentrate on what he was saying as he was appealing to all the spirits of infirmity¾the headaches, the nausea, and all the other symptoms that came with having the headaches, including TMJ in my jaw, tension, dizziness, all related to the headache. He referred to each one of these. He said, “Nausea, are you there?” And I said, “Yes.” “Do you know that you have no hold on Lynn’s life, no right to be there, that you do not deserve to be there?” “Yes.” I felt that the answers were coming more from whatever spirit or presence was there than myself.
I had not previously told him about most of the spirits that were controlling my life. I did not tell him beforehand that I had been struggling with depression and anxiety and guilt and shame. But he put his finger on them. To each of them, he said, “I’m going to tell you to get into the box.” He referred to them overall as the spirit of infirmity. “Infirmity, you know I’m talking to you, and you know that you’re going to have to get into the box.” The answer was yes. “You know that you’re leaving.” “Yes, I do.” “By the time I’m finished with my sentence, you’re all going to be in the box.” Silence. “Infirmity, are you in the box?” The answer was yes. Then he asked if infirmity was being punished. Infirmity said, “Yes.” I had no idea what he was talking about. He said, “Is that because you’re lying?” The answer was yes. “You’re nowhere near the box, are you?” The answer was no.
At this point, Chuck appealed to the angels of the Lord and asked that they come with their swords and cut any strongholds that infirmity had on me. He said, “Infirmity, I’m going to ask you again to get into the box.” He was very polite and gentle, never strong. He was strong in his authority, but very peaceful, almost gracious. He did get firmer with infirmity at this point. He said, “I don’t care how you get there, whether it’s in pieces or whole, but you’re going to get there.” Then he waited. There was no answer. He said, “What’s taking you so long?” The answer was, “There are lots of us.”
I had a picture—I don’t know if I pictured it myself or if this is what was going on—I pictured masses of shadows, shadowy forms, falling into, flowing into this black box. He said, “How many of you are there?” The answer was, “Carloads.” It was like some garage sale, with cars pulling up and opening the backs of their trunks and letting all the junk out.
At this point, Chuck relaxed in his chair. I still had my eyes closed, but I could hear him lean back and cross his arms. He said, “Well, could you hurry up, please?” I thought, “That’s interesting. I didn’t know you were allowed to be sassy with spirits.”
He waited a minute longer and said, “Are you there yet?” The answer was, “Almost.” He waited some more. “Are you all in the box?” The answer was finally, “Yes.” He said, “You understand that when we close this box, you’re going to have no hold on Lynn’s life and that that is going to be the end of your existence in her?” The answer was, “Yes.” So we closed the box at this point.
Then Chuck asked me, “Would you like to give this box to Jesus?” I thought, “Yes, that sounds like a good idea. Let’s do that.” So he asked me to picture that. He said, “What’s Jesus doing with the box?” I said, “He’s throwing it over a cliff.” He said, “Good.” Then he asked me if I still had my headache. I had to open my eyes and look around and think about it for a moment, because while I was having the heaviness in my hands and back and head, the pressure added to my headache. But as we were putting all the spirits into the box, locking them up and getting rid of them, that pressure lifted. I could feel it lifting when we threw away the box.
I opened my eyes and thought, “Mostly, I just feel very different.” I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was exactly. He waited. I said I did feel lighter. He said, “Hmm, I’ve heard that before.” I said, “I don’t know if my headaches are gone. I don’t think so.” I guess I had always imagined that it would be a black and white, night and day, type experience, where I would know instantaneously whether or not they were there. Because it had been so long since I had experienced what it feels like not to have them, I didn’t know how to recognize that feeling.
We had a brief moment of recapping. He said a few words about how I probably was going to feel different, almost like going into a doctor’s office and being given medication. He handed me his card and said, “We’d love to hear about it, but if you don’t get to it today or tomorrow or the next day, then don’t feel guilty about it, because guilt is in the box.” And then I left.
I woke up the next day not having had a lot of sleep, thinking, “Oh, I’m going to feel terrible. I’m going to feel really worn out.” But I didn’t. I didn’t feel nauseous or dizzy or any of that. And I felt very hungry. I couldn’t remember the last time I had woken up feeling hungry. I usually woke up with a tightness in my stomach and not being settled, thinking I might vomit.
Later in the day I lost my sunglasses. I walked outside in the sunshine and expected to be met with horrible pangs of pain, especially right behind my eyes, but I wasn’t. There was an initial squint, but as I looked around I realized that this is probably what most people did. They probably walked out into the sunshine and maybe squinted a little at first, then their eyes adjusted. I hadn’t done that for over five years.
During the course of that first week, I was very aware of how different my perspective was. Not only was I not discouraged and distressed, but my body was able to handle things more readily, everyday things like going from the cold outdoors to a warm room. Doing that before had sent my headache haywire. I also got hungry when you are supposed to get hungry. So I had to learn how to respond to being hungry, which was enjoyable. I started doing exercising type activities that I hadn’t been able to do for so long, like taking bike rides and running. When I did, I didn’t feel as if I was about to die afterwards. I was exuberantly joyful.
The idea of having my hundredth conversation of the day with someone used to be really daunting. I thought, “No, I don’t have any more energy, I don’t have anything left to give, because I’m so exhausted from everything else I’ve done today.” But conversations with people don’t exhaust me anymore. They’re not so emotionally taxing, because I don’t have all the baggage to sort through and deal with. I can concentrate on what we’re talking about for a longer amount of time. Concentration was a very difficult thing. It was part of the stress of being in the classroom.
I can remember a lot more than I used to be able to. All of the normal things that are involved in human interactions aren’t as taxing as they used to be, emotionally, mentally. And because they’re not as taxing, and because I’m a person who is built to enjoy them, I’m very excited at the prospect of being able to do them more and more.
I can read for hours on end. Not only that, but I enjoy it. I don’t experience the stress and anxiety I used to when I thought about reading for more than twenty minutes at a time. I’m excited about the idea of reading more, of having aspirations, of making plans for the future as opposed to just getting through one day at a time. That was about all that I could handle when I had the headaches.
In those five years, I missed out on the ordinary part of life, where people think to themselves, “What would I like to do with the rest of my life?” I didn’t have that, because I was too busy thinking about what I was going to do with myself the next day or making sure I was eating enough, or sleeping enough, or not doing this or that. It was survival mode.
When you’re not in survival mode, you have more energy to put forth toward other things. I can afford the effort to think about what I’d like to do next year. I can picture myself having some form of career. I can think through what it would take to get there. I’m not in a place anymore where I don’t think I would be physically or mentally able to do it. I have more reserves, as it were, to do whatever that job would entail.
I’m more hopeful about what comes next. I’m not as afraid of what every step will mean. I’m not held by the limitations of having to be cautious about everything. I have the freedom to think more openly.
I think lots of things happened during the hour and a half I was with Chuck. He pinpointed some things in my life that were hindering me in a very big, real way. I don’t think anyone is going to get very far in life if they don’t like themselves. What he did was help me pinpoint that and in the same breath tell me what to do to get rid of it. And now I’m aware that I was allowing people to disrespect me because that’s what I thought I deserved.
I think there was a definite spiritual boundary that was broken. There was a definite oppression I was stuck under and was feeling suffocated by. It was manifested physically in headaches and emotionally in depression. Once that oppression was broken and released, then not only were those things not present in my life anymore, but they were replaced with a new perspective and a new life. When you don’t have those limitations or boundaries, you’re left with freshness. It’s not a nothingness. It’s a newness.
I’m feeling like I was born six weeks ago. Now I have a chance to live, an opportunity to do something and be somebody. There are choices and opportunities, and I can have aspirations and desires. Before, I couldn’t afford to think about what I might want to do, because I probably couldn’t do it anyway, in my thinking anyway. All of those limitations are gone. I feel very freed.
When I had the headaches, what kept me going was mostly stubbornness and pride not to give in or succumb. I had lots of rocky up and down times and lots of spiritual struggles. I often felt that God was being unfair. There was a time when I didn’t feel that God was present, and I didn’t think that was fair. I remember thinking, “Whatever one of his children is going through, he should at least be there, even if they’re not acknowledging him or calling on him.” I didn’t know how to communicate with a God who was unfair and unloving and uncaring. He obviously didn’t care to heal me, because he wasn’t healing me. So I was left to do my own thing. Mostly I think what kept me going was some drive inside me that said, “If you give up, you’re worthless.” So it was a situation where I had to prove to myself and to others that I could do this.
Now what drives me is peace and joy, but mostly a peace and a knowledge that I don’t have to prove anything to myself or anyone else. I don’t live for the sake of what others will think of me or what I will think of myself. I’m not living for anyone or anything but God. This is a gift he has given me. I can’t spend my life trying to earn it or finding ways to pay him back for the healing. So I’m living under his grace, knowing that nothing I ever do will change his healing of me or change his nature as a good God or change that he loves me. Just living in that knowledge is enough for me.
* Professor Kraft’s name is used with his permission, and Lynn’s account of her experience with him is made public with his permission.