Chapter 20

No cutting corners. No half truths. No cheating the system. Every “t” crossed. Every “i” dotted. Everything by the book. That’s how I lived life. That’s how I pressed on through high school; but, in spite of playing by the rules, my life felt like one gigantic, disgraceful mess. The target on my back seemed to scream, “Attention! She’s over here. Make the next attack your final blow.” But, giving up didn’t make my list of options; so, I fumbled and floundered and fought to keep my head above water. Miraculously, somehow, I survived the onslaught of most oncoming waves.

Pressing the phone to my ear, I waited for a sound. One ring. Pause. Second ring. Another pause. I anticipated Val’s familiar voice as I waited. Exhaling slowly, guilt churned my stomach into massive knots. Hope, it’s late. This is a bad idea. Your problems can wait till morning. Hang up the phone and go to bed.

“Hello?”

Too late. Val’s timeliness interrupted my internal argument. “Hey, Val. It’s Hope. Hope I didn’t wake you up.” I glanced at the clock on my nightstand then bit my lower lip. 10:05PM? This is so selfish of you. Why didn’t you think this through first? You should’ve never called.

“Hey, Kiddo! It’s been a while. What’s up?” Val’s tone held confidence. Encouragement. Promise.

My heart possessed heaviness. Sadness. Shame. “Sorry to be calling so late. It’s just that, well, it’s kind of important.” I grappled with my words.

“No worries. I wasn’t asleep, but it wouldn’t have mattered even if I was. I told you to call any time, and I meant it. What’s wrong?” Her tolerance of my lack of etiquette only made me feel worse.

Drawing in a deep breath, I summoned courage. “Remember how you told me to never do anything stupid?”

“Yeah, I remember.” Concern wrapped itself around Val’s words, heightening my own anxiety. “What’s going on, Hope? What stupid thing are you thinking of doing?”

The hairs on the back of my arms prickled as the seriousness of the moment became real. “I think I’m at that breaking point you were talking about. I don’t know what to do; but, I remember promising that I’d call if it came to this, so that’s what I’m doing.” I paused and let out a deep sigh, realizing for the first time I had been holding my breath. “Do you have a moment?”

“I do,” Val answered with a steady voice. “What’s on your mind?”

Flipping off my bedroom light, I crawled into bed and pulled the sheets up around my legs. “I don’t know where to begin. Life just feels like…too much.”

“What do you mean by ‘too much’?” Val nudged. “Got any examples?”

“Yeah, a big one.” I bit my lower lip. “Did you hear about the scene Colleen made this week at day camp? I lost my job as camp counselor because of her. Can you believe it? Two words out of her mouth and my life is upside down again. Again!” Wadding a handful of bedding into my palm, I squeezed my frustration into the sheets. “She marched herself into the camp office, threatened to picket the camp if they didn’t fire me; and, just like that, I’m on desk duty in a building across town. Seriously? Alicia doesn’t even go to that camp.” I could feel my scowl deepen into pronounced grooves on my forehead. “I don’t understand why the camp isn’t standing up for me. How does Colleen keep getting away with stuff like this? It’s not fair!” I clenched my jaw, trying to control my anger.

Val’s calmness subdued my outrage, my grief seeming to pain her. “The devil sure does appear to have it in for you, doesn’t he?”

“Seems that way,” I sulked, feeling sorry for myself. Misery ate at my words. “Why doesn’t God just step in and make it stop? He could, ya know? He has the power. That’s why they call Him God.”

“I know,” Val sympathized, “but maybe He knows something you don’t.”

“Yeah, right. Like what? What could possibly be so much more important than making this go away?” I defied her to answer. “I want out of this hell—like yesterday. I did absolutely nothing to be in the middle of this mess, and making me have to deal with it is just…MEAN.”

Val chose her words with care. “Kiddo, I can tell you one thing. God sees a bigger picture—one that you and I obviously aren’t seeing right now. Have you ever thought that maybe He’s sparing you from something?”

I copped an attitude. “I have a very hard time believing that; but, regardless, He can go pick on someone else. I’m done being His test subject.”

Patience accompanied Val’s earnest plea. “Hope, please don’t give up on God. Just look at how far He’s brought you. He’s not done looking out for you. That’s not how He works.” An awkward silence followed.

Intense. Formidable. Aggressive. An undeniable presence infiltrated my room, a sudden staleness penetrating my surroundings. Blackness darker than night etched its way into every corner and crevice, a suffocating pressure weighing on my lungs.

“Hope, is the devil harassing you?” Val’s words seemed strange. Contorted. Out of place. I struggled to make sense of her meaning.

“Huh?” What felt like a physical blow to my stomach drowned out her concern.

“I asked you….” Muted sounds replaced coherent conversation.

Mouth gaping open, I began to pant. I need air. I need to breathe. I can’t breathe. Why can’t I breathe?

Apprehension drifted over the line. “Hope? Are you still there? Say something.”

Of course, I’m here. Where else would I be? Can’t anyone hear me? What’s going on? “God?” I tried speaking. “Help me! Please! Something’s wrong. I need Your help. Now!” I begged. No audible words surfaced.

A shrill cry pierced the darkness, and a swirl of motion materialized in the middle of my room. A demonic cackle rose above my numbness, saturating the atmosphere and blurring my surroundings. My breaths came in short, jagged intervals—pain in my stomach flaring, stabbing, almost burning from the inside. “What’s happening to me?” I gasped. “Where are You, God? Please! You promised. You promised You would never leave me nor forsake me. So, where are You?” I moaned and groaned, clinging to Deuteronomy 31:6 as though my life depended on it. Still, a deafening silence lingered—one that produced paralyzing fear.

Whimpering, I forced myself onto my side, wadding myself into a ball and securing the covers under my chin. I rocked back and forth like a seasick passenger, big red lights blaring 10:12 on the alarm clock on my nightstand. A few moments passed before I felt the devil’s presence again. He lurked in the shadows, his dark, beady eyes threatening to devour me.

“NO!” I screamed, lowering the sheets from my face. “You don’t get to win! I won’t let you.” Another jab in the stomach begged to differ.

My throat constricted and anxiety dampened my brow. Panic set in as my body yearned for air. “I don’t want to die. God, please stop him!” My body shook, and my hands trembled. I pulled the covers back over my face and squeezed my eyes shut. “We’ve come so far together. Please don’t let this be the end of our journey.” A couple tears strayed down my cheeks, wetting my hair and dampening the pillow, yet the room remained quiet. “Did you hear me? Are you even there? I need Your help! I’m all alone here. Please, do something!” Still, no answer. With heightened desperation, my panic turned to fear then fear to anger.

“You promised You would be here,” I lashed out. “You promised until the end of time. Well, this feels like the end of my world, and I need You. Now. I’m claiming that promise. That means You have to be here.”

I looked for a sign—any sign. Nothing.

The longer God refrained from responding, the more frightened I became. “I need You to intervene. Please send Your angels—ten thousand of them. I’m giving you my permission. Do whatever it takes, but pleeeeease! Do something.” My lower lip began to quiver.

“You can take me right now—this very minute,” I continued. “I’m not afraid of dying, but I am afraid of living without You. Life’s not worth living if You’re not in it. Lord, please make this stop!”

I peered over the edge of my covers, a hint of courage wavering inside me. Inhaling a large portion of holy boldness, I looked the devil in the eye and poised for battle. “Satan, get out! You have no business here. In the name of Jesus Christ, GET OUT!”

An aura of light appeared at the foot of my bed. Its presence shattered all forms of darkness. “No! Not Christ!” The devil slurred his venomous words, his arms extending out to me. His fingers curled, grasped, reached longingly my direction. “I want her!” he raged.

“No,” I whispered, drawing into myself. Squeezing my eyes shut, I turned my head and buried my face in my pillow. God didn’t say a word. In His presence, all hatred, anger, fear, and sadness disappeared. A calm filtered into the room, and the devil’s wounded shrill faded into nonexistence. My breathing returned to normal, and a blanket of peace cloaked me in warmth. It’s OK now. You’re safe. Rest. My soul resonated unspoken words. Opening my eyes, I found the room empty.

For some unknown reason, I started singing to myself. “Jesus loves me this I know…. Jesus loves me this I know….” I repeated the words to the well-known song, humming the tune quietly to myself while tears slipped haphazardly from the corners of my eyes. “Jesus loves me….” I sang again. Nestling deeper under the covers, I rocked back and forth and started to cry. “He’s gone. He’s really gone. The devil’s not here any more.”

“Hope, are you all right?” Val’s voice startled me.

“Huh? What? Oh. It’s you.” I stumbled over my acknowledgement, not realizing I still had the phone in my hand. “How long have you been listening? Have you been there the whole time?”

“Yes. You’ve been quiet for quite some time,” Val acknowledged. “What’s been going on? Feel like sharing?”

I tried bringing myself into the present, blinking strongly to clear the fog from my brain. “You mean what just happened?” I questioned. “Yes. No. I mean, I don’t know what just took place.” My mind reeled, unable to sort the details. “Did you hear anything? Did I say anything that made sense?” Embarrassment pooled in my stomach as I remembered the yelling, the demanding, the bargaining. I must’ve sounded absolutely childish.

Val’s tone turned serious, and she answered slowly. “Hope, you weren’t talking. You were moaning, making these deep, guttural sounds that were kind of scary. It was eerie—almost demonic.”

My brow furrowed as I adjusted the phone against my ear. “You mean you didn’t hear anything—nothing at all?” I tried wrapping my mind around her words, but they didn’t make sense. I screamed. I demanded the devil flee my room. I begged God to intervene. Was all that my imagination? I shook my head. It couldn’t have been. God heard me. I saw the reaction in the devil’s eyes. I witnessed him leave my room. My mind swarmed with disbelief. What went on here?

“You didn’t say a word,” Val repeated.

I continued shaking my head. “That’s so strange. I just don’t understand.” I dabbed at the wetness under my eyes, using the sheets to absorb my tears. “If I haven’t been talking, then why are you still on the phone?” Glancing at the time, I realized forty-five minutes had passed since I had placed my call. “Why didn’t you just hang up?”

Val’s tone held reverence when she responded. “I’ve been praying.”

I didn’t even try hiding my awe. “All this time? Really? Praying for me?” Her love and loyalty outweighed any earthly comprehension I may have had.

“Yes,” she answered. “I have never prayed for anyone like I did for you tonight.” Her dedication exceeded normal boundaries and melted whatever hardness remained in my defenses. “Something told me your life was at stake, so I asked God to send His Holy Spirit to surround you, to protect you. I also asked for a hedge of angels to stand guard over you—lots and lots of angels, as many as it would take. I then petitioned God to intercede on your behalf, to give you the strength and courage you didn’t have on your own; and then I waited.”

Tears streamed down my face, undeserved love overwhelming my emotions. “He came through,” I finally spoke, air stuttering from my lungs. “My whole life depended on a decision I had to make tonight, and God was bigger than the devil—thanks to your prayers. I know they saved my life.”

“I know,” Val responded. I could almost hear tears forming in her eyes. “Tonight was very important. The whole universe was watching you; and, WOW! What a demonstration of faith!”

Her praise flustered me. “But it wasn’t me. It wasn’t me at all,” I insisted.

“I know that, too.” Pride reflected in her voice. “You made the choice to surrender to God in a whole new way tonight. That means your life is never going to be the same, but just wait and see. That’s a good thing. That’s a really good thing!”

“Yeah,” I echoed. “Life is never going to be the same.”

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