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ASCENT FROM DARKNESSHOW SATAN'S SOLDIER BECAME GOD'S WARRIOR
By MICHAEL LEEHAN
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 Michael Leehan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE EARLY YEARS
For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. —Ephesians 2:10
January 12, 1976 Edmond, Oklahoma
My best friend, Eldon Felch, had an apartment a few miles from my work, so when I got off around 5 p.m., I headed over to his place to hang out and knock back a few beers. I had four hours to kill before Eldon got back from his job at a local grocery store, so I did what many other nineteen-year-old boys would do: I polished off a six-pack. Waiting until 9 p.m. for Eldon to show up seemed like an eternity, so I walked down to a local 7-Eleven to pick up another six-pack.
As I walked to the store, pain began shooting up my left knee. I'd injured my knee playing football in a sandlot game, and my knee was wrecked. I'd had three surgeries already and needed another, so I had a bottle of pain meds handy. Popping pills to manage the pain in my bad knee had become routine; I had been doing so for about two years now.
I must have looked older, or the cashiers didn't really care, since neither of the attendants working that night asked for my ID. I took my purchased six-pack, left the store, and walked back to Eldon's apartment. The frigid January weather didn't help my aching knee one bit, so when I got back to Eldon's, I popped three pills—a full day's dosage—and washed it down with a fresh Budweiser.
I opened the last beer in my second six-pack around 8 p.m. and contemplated another trip to 7-Eleven. I checked my stash of pain pills and noticed I had ten pills left. I popped two more to brace myself for the long walk and the frigid night air. I lingered, sipping my last beer, waiting for the pills to kick in. My knee hurt, but the pain I was most trying to dull was the emotional pain of a recent breakup with a girl I was in love with.
Still lying on the couch, I took my last sip of beer. When I reached for my bottle of pills, it was empty. I don't remember taking those, I thought.
I tried to get up, but my legs felt heavy. I lay back on the tan couch and looked around the room. The TV was on, but I didn't hear the sound coming from it. A river of warmth rushed through me, and everything began to slow down. Better get up, I told myself. But when I tried to move, my feet were cinder blocks. My hands tingled, my face felt flushed, my heart raced, and I began to sweat. This is not good, I thought. I was in trouble, and I knew it.
I started to panic. I somehow mustered the strength to move off the couch but fell flat on the floor. I rolled on my side and tried to get to the phone on the kitchen wall. I needed help. I wanted to shout, but I had no voice. My head was clouded, and I struggled to breathe. But I had to get to the phone. I crawled a few feet, collapsed, then passed out.
When I came to a short time later, the room felt bitterly cold, but I still felt sweat gathering on my body. All my bodily systems were in overdrive, and I knew I didn't have long. I made it up on all fours, then to one knee, and began to stretch my hand up the wall. But, inches from the phone, I gave out and slid down the wall and lay facedown on the linoleum. I rolled over and stared at the ceiling. The room spun, my stomach churned, my heart was beating in my head, and my shirt was drenched. My body began to twitch uncontrollably. With rapid stomach contractions I gasped for air, struggling to breathe. Then the room went dark.
Scenes flashed through my head. I saw myself clearly as a five-year-old playing in my family's yard and talking with our neighbors, whose kind faces were lit by the brightness of the California sun. I recognized my mother and father, but they were moving away from me, and I couldn't see their faces. I wanted to call to them, but they were distant and out of reach.
Then I was at the beach, and I saw the face of an angry adult whaling on me for some unforgivable mistake. She held me under the salt-filled water until I took my last breath. I saw my tears and my fear and my helplessness.
I saw myself crying every night as I lay down to sleep. As a child, I had prayed to two statues, one of Mary and the other of Jesus, that were situated on my headboard. I prayed that they would rescue me from a life of fear and desperation I already found unbearable and from the emotions of fear and desperation that were too weighty for any child. I pleaded with the statues in the simple words of a brokenhearted child who just wanted relief. But relief never came. The statue of the sweet-faced woman, who I was told had the power to help me, did not. My cries went unheeded. The gentle smile of the man statue seemed to be laughing at me. I was alone and abandoned. One night after praying, I broke the heads off the two plastic statues, went to the backyard, and buried them in the soil of a nearby garden.
The next thing I saw was my body lying in an ambulance as it roared down Danforth Road on its way to Edmond Medical Center. I floated high outside the vehicle and saw the commotion that was going on inside as the medics attended to me. I saw the oxygen mask on my face and my shirt torn back as I lay unconscious on the white transport gurney. I watched my body jerk when paddles were put on my chest to jump-start me back to the world I'd just exited. But I didn't want to go back to the pain, to the confusion, to the loneliness and isolation. I saw fear on the medics' faces as my life began to slip away from them. Watching this scene, all I could think was, Good. It is over.
Then I heard a voice say to me, "Not yet, son. I have too much for you to do!"
I fell back asleep.
* * *
I opened my eyes to a dimly lit room. I was covered with a white sheet and a thin blanket. Am I alive? Where am I? I didn't know the day or time, and I don't think I could recall my name. Thoughts came to me so slowly. It was as if my circuits had been jammed and the synapses weren't firing. I felt a crushing fatigue as I tried to move my legs.
The back of my left hand had a tube inserted into it and white cloth tape bundled around it. There were electrodes attached to my chest on one end and to a monitor on the other. The room was warm and empty, save for a bouquet of flowers on my bedside table and a few get-well cards on the windowsill. I closed my eyes to rest. I had no strength. I'm alive ... but why?
"Michael, when are you going to come back to us?" I heard a gentle voice whisper. My eyes opened slowly, and I saw a young nurse changing my IV bag. The clock on the wall showed 2 a.m. The nurse had her back to me when in a raspy voice I asked, "Where am I?"
The nurse turned on her heels. "Oh, thank God!"
With tears in her eyes, she took my hand and held it warmly. She tried to get me to talk, but I had no energy. I tried to go back to sleep, but she kept talking to me and told me to stay with her. Then I heard her yell out for assistance.
I wanted to sleep so badly. My eyes closed. She shook me, calling my name over and over.
Then I heard another woman in the room. She asked the nurse, "Are you sure? It's okay. Let him sleep. Call the doctor on duty."
I heard a man's voice call my name. A bright light shone into my left eye as a hand forced open my eyelid. I tried to pull away. "Can I please get some sleep?" I muttered.
The unfamiliar doctor sternly said, "Michael, you need to wake up."
I struggled against waking because I was totally drained, but the doctor continued. "Michael, you need to stay with me. You've got to fight."
Through bleary eyes I looked at the doctor and was blinded by the large ceiling lights. I winced and shut my eyes.
A little confused and combative, I blurted, "Please turn those off." As the nurse dimmed the lights, I pushed myself up in the bed and then fell backward. Someone gently lifted my head and shoulders up as another placed pillows behind me.
The doctor asked me how I felt and asked if I was in pain. I told him I felt as if I had been hit by a truck, I was so sore. I asked him what had happened to me. Instead of answering my question, he asked me what my name was, who the president of the United States was, and what year I was born. I told him my name, but that was all I could remember. Tired of his questions, I pleaded, "Can I please just go back to sleep?"
"Sure," he replied. "Push this button in your right hand if you need anything, and your family physician will be in to see you shortly."
Again I woke to probing questions and yet another physical examination. My eyes opened fully this time to sunshine peering through the window. I felt much more awake and coherent than the night before. I heard the familiar voice of my mother saying, "Son, you scared me. Oh, I'm glad you came back to us!"
I turned to my right and saw my mother by my side. I looked behind her and saw Father Frances, the Catholic priest from her church. He greeted me and said he was so glad I woke up, that I had pulled a stupid stunt but God had forgiven me. My mom later revealed that Father Frances had given me the sacrament of last rites while I was unconscious. She told me that when I arrived at the hospital, my lips were blue and my skin was cold as medics rushed me on a gurney to the emergency room. She was sure she would never see me alive again.
* * *
Two weeks later, I stared out the window of the hospital that had been my home for the past month, overlooking the city several stories below. It was mid-February, and snow covered the streets and sat in large drifts by the roadside. It appeared to have snowed for months.
I heard a man say, "It was one of the worst snowstorms we've ever seen." I turned away from the window and saw my new doctor approach me.
"How are you feeling?" he asked.
I looked around the room, then back at the doctor.
"Good," I replied.
He looked at me curiously. "Was your overdose intentional?"
I answered, "I don't remember much of that night, Doc, other than being outside and then above the ambulance. I do remember being glad that I was somewhere else. I felt lighter. I felt somewhat at ease. I wanted to be out of this world and to stay in that place, wherever that was."
I paused, wondering if I could confide in him. "I also heard a voice, Doc."
He raised an eyebrow. "Oh? What did the voice say?"
"It was a male voice, maybe my dad. I don't know. He said, 'Not yet, son. I have too much for you to do.'"
The doctor scribbled something on my chart and then answered, "That was just your imagination."
* * *
A few hours later, I was riding in a car with my mom. We were headed home, my mind still muddled from an event that was now a month old, when my mom asked, "How do you feel?"
"I'm good," I said, tired of people asking me that question.
"The doctor said to keep an eye on you. He's not convinced you didn't try to kill yourself, son. Did you?"
"Dad is pretty upset, but I wouldn't tell him much. You know he doesn't know how to handle such things."
"Don't worry, Mom," I said. "I know how Dad is."
In my mind I cursed him. What a wuss! Dad is such a coward; he can't face any kind of emotional conflict. He can't even say "I love you" to his son who nearly died. He can't go to a hospital because it is too clean, too sterile. He fears doctors, fears women, fears conflict. He only thinks about himself. Don't think of your son, Dad! It might hurt too much!
Determined not to stick around the house long enough to talk to my father, I said, "I'm going to see Carol when I get home. Is my car still at the house?"
"Son," my mother said gently, "Carol broke up with you the day you went to the hospital."
My thoughts jumped to the last time I had seen Carol. We were intimate and sharing conversation. I walked out of her parents' house and was headed to work. Wait—did I? She was concerned about something. Why was she crying? My memory refused to stay still. I tried to remember the details of our last day together, but every time I pinned something down, another memory popped up and I had to rethink the whole situation. My mom's response shook me from my thoughts. "Yes, and you need to stay away from her. She's too young and doesn't know what she wants yet."
My mind started to once again whirl with justifications for everything behind my mother's heavy words.
Ah ... Mom just believes that because she thinks Carol is responsible for my overdose. She doesn't even know Carol. Carol knows what she wants. She's seventeen! ... Parents. Dad couldn't care less, and Mom pretends she does. All Mom cares about is herself—her gambling at the bingo hall, her smokes, and her controlling dad. How does she know what Carol wants? She's rarely even talked to Carol!
My mother pulled the car into the driveway of our small bungalow-style house. I noticed the yard still had melting piles of dirty snow spotting the yard and driveway. I glanced up and saw my dad open the front door and stand behind the glass storm door, awaiting my arrival. The morning sun pierced through the door and illuminated the can of Coors he was holding. It wasn't even noon yet.
"I need one of those pain pills the doc gave me, Mom."
"It's not time," she replied. "He said to not let you have another one till 2 p.m."
"Come on," I urged. "It's okay, Mom. One pill won't kill me. I have a bad headache."
After a sigh, my mom handed me the bottle. "Son, you are nineteen years old. I'm not going to treat you like a baby ... Here!"
"Thanks. I'm going to the car wash. See ya in a while."
"Aren't you going in to see your father? Besides, the doctor said you should take it easy for at least three or four days, so I'm not sure it's safe for you to drive. You were out of it for nearly two weeks and in the hospital for a month," she reminded me. "And remember, you have an appointment with your psychiatrist on Thursday. He wants to see you twice a week until he feels you are okay."
"Mom! I am in great shape. I just want to go somewhere, anywhere but here." I could feel anger rising in me as I continued. "I hate shrinks anyway. They don't know what they are doing. Dr. Knox is an idiot; I only tell him what he wants to hear. Forget him, Mom ... Forget this whole freakin' world! Why do you care, anyway? You never care about anything but yourself!"
I hardly had time to realize what was coming out of my mouth. My mom didn't respond to my outburst. She reached for the door and calmly said, "Well, I think you need to take it slowly. You need to get back into the groove. And you have to get back to work. Your grandmother called yesterday and said your job at LongBell is still there for you." LongBell Lumber was a local lumberyard where my grandmother had worked for more than forty years. When I moved from California to Oklahoma, she helped me secure a job there as a delivery truck driver.
"I'm sorry, Mom. I'm just a little agitated. I'm not a baby and am tired of the doctors and everyone treating me like one . . . This medicine makes me weird too. It's hard to think and talk. It's like it's slowing my mind down. Weird stuff, Mom."
"Well, the doctor said it can make you drowsy. That's probably what's happening, son."
"No, I'm not just drowsy. It's like I can't even think. I can't explain it. I feel like I'm not me anymore."
I reached around slowly and got a couple of bags from the backseat, a clear jug to urinate in—why did she bring that home?—the release papers from the hospital, a prescription, and some get-well cards. After gathering my stuff, I opened the door of the car and headed toward the front door. My legs felt weak. I still could not think clearly. It was as if my thoughts were not mine. I was thinking differently ... so slowly. It took longer to take in my surroundings. My mind seemed detached from my senses. I tried to walk the steps leading up to the door, but I stumbled. My mind was out of sync with my legs. It must be the drugs, I thought.
Excerpted from ASCENT FROM DARKNESS by MICHAEL LEEHAN Copyright © 2011 by Michael Leehan. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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