On May 22, 1992, a letter arrived that devastated me. It was from someone who is very special to me. It was mainly his reaction to Theophilus and the One True Church, a book that Art Thompson and I had written and illustrated several months before.
I have no doubt that this person honestly believed that the hurtful things he said to me were expressions of love and concern for my soul, written to fulfill an obligation to God. A few years earlier I might have written a similar letter to him if the circumstances were reversed. Nonetheless this letter hurt me worse than anything that had ever happened.
In so many words, he said I could not think for myself, I always had to be following someone, he was "disfellowshipping" me, and I was going to hell.
At first I admitted being shocked, but denied that I was hurt. It would be two years later before I acknowledged how deeply the wound had gone. When I no longer denied the pain that I still felt, I wept.
I turned it all over to the Lord. He turned my focus from my own pain to my brother's pain (his strong belief and concern that I would burn in hell). Every time Satan brought this letter to my mind, the Lord said, "Pray for him." And I did. I prayed for him several times a day for weeks. Now that I had admitted that he hurt me, I could and did forgive him.
Satan has helped us twist the scriptures and has deceived us into thinking God is pleased when we start pulling what we perceive to be weeds out of God's wheat field. We're not qualified to do that. It's not our job. That task is reserved for God's angels at the end of time. (Matthew 13:36-43)
Serpents, Butterflies, and Evergreens
A few weeks later Sylvia and I got ready for a special weekend. We had no idea just how special it would be!
It was the holiday weekend of July 4th. I had finally finished our basement and the new bedroom and bath were ready for guests just in time. Our friends, Art and Alice Ann Thompson and Dan and Cheryl Clark, were coming for a visit. They planned to arrive the next day. I had finished cleaning the house and came upstairs to go to bed. I stopped by the kitchen where Sylvia had been preparing some food in advance.
I said, "Let's take a moment to pray." This in itself was unusual, because while my prayer life was improving, I still felt more comfortable praying privately. And Sylvia prayed privately as well. Now and then we prayed together, but not daily.
My prayer went something like this: "Father in heaven, please give our guests a safe trip. Let our visit together be spiritually uplifting. Remove all demons from our presence. Thank you, in Jesus name."
During the night I had a dream.
I saw a two-dimensional symbol of a house, a triangle above to suggest the roof and a simple square bottom with openings for a door and windows, much as a child might cut out of construction paper with scissors. I didn't see anyone, but I heard someone say, "We're here to honor Him."
Then I saw a cluster of fat orange and black striped snakes working their way through the doorway to the outside of the house and then on out of the scene. At the same time, what appeared to be a crude butterfly flew out of the house through a window toward me and then disappeared off the right side of the scene. Its wings were rectangular and thick like pieces of wood. They were white with bold black stripes, and flapped slowly. Simultaneously with the snakes and the butterflies, an evergreen branch floated out another window toward me and then to my right until it was out of view. Just before these were gone, another group of the same elements worked their way out the door and windows, followed by still another group of the same.
As this was happening there was a Voice from above that said, "It is being swept clean of evil spirits."
The next morning I told Sylvia how the Lord had used a dream to tell us He had removed all demons from our presence in response to our prayer. We could hardly wait until our guests arrived to share our excitement with them.
As I told them about the symbolism in the dream, no one had trouble associating the snakes with Satan or evil spirits. The butterflies also made sense to us, for God had used a butterfly one day to let Dan know the presence of an angel.
(During his noontime walk in the hills near where he works, Dan was approached by a hostile dog. When the butterfly appeared, the dog looked up at it, became frightened, and backed away. Apparently what appeared to Dan as a butterfly appeared to the dog as something much more powerful.) A beautiful butterfly would remind us of angels after that.
The crude butterfly in my dream was an imitation of the real thing, much as you might expect from Satan, who disguises himself as an angel of light.
But what about the evergreen branch? That puzzled us. It seemed out of place with the other symbols in my dream.
Even so, we were all amazed and excited about what the Lord had done.
The next day Art, Dan, and I were walking in our woods. As we passed a big evergreen tree, Art asked what kind of tree it was. I turned to see which tree he was talking about. "Oh, that is a hemlock," I said.
Then as I stared at the branch right in front of my eyes and recognized the leaves, my mouth dropped. "That is the same branch that was in my dream!" I exclaimed. "What do you suppose the significance of that is?"
"Hemlock is poison," Art replied.
Dan and I both said, "Oh."
Then all three of us shouted, "WOW!!!"
"Let's go tell the girls!"
That weekend was so restful and spiritually uplifting for each of us. We sensed God's presence in a number of ways. It is a weekend we will never forget.
Truth, Freedom, and Fellowship
On October 30, 1992, Christians, some of whom we had met at forums attended by those who were on a similar spiritual journey, came together from Florida and nearby states for a weekend of Bible study, prayer, and fellowship. One of the couples had reserved a motel conference room in Lake City, Florida, for the gathering.
Some had been getting together like this about every three months. Sylvia and I had never attended one of these gatherings. We were told that they had been structured somewhat like our traditional church meetings and lectureships. That didn't appeal to me enough to make an 18-hour round trip in the car in order to attend. I had a desire to be with some of the people who would be there, but I still was not motivated enough to make the trip.
When the time was near, we decided to drive down for this weekend anyway. Sylvia was experiencing excruciating pain in her right shoulder. I guess I thought if folks like the Clarks and the Thompsons could anoint her with oil and pray for her that the Lord would heal her like He did me. That was my motivation for going.
Before we left home, Alice Ann told me over the phone that she was not surprised that we were going, because she believes I am supposed to tell the story of my healing to that group. I said, "Oh, no! I could never do that!"
Some of our fellow Christians were already at the motel when we arrived on Friday afternoon. We had a joyous reunion.
There were about 50 adults, plus children, who came. I had never met most of them. We had our evening meal and then met together in the motel meeting room to sing some hymns and get acquainted. Just before we dismissed, Monte Baugh, who had been leading the singing, said we did not have a defined program scheduled and encouraged us to let him know what we wanted to do the next day. I found myself telling him that I MAY have something to share.
After I went to bed that night, I kept thinking about how the Lord had healed my bowel movement problem, and that maybe He wants me to tell these folks about it. But these people are strangers for the most part, I thought. This would be very embarrassing to me. I didn't want to do it.
The next morning as I sat down next to Monte, I told him, "If you HAPPEN to think of it, and IF there is time available, I may want to tell the group about something."
He said, "Okay."
I decided that I would put the subject out of my mind. If he called on me, I would know the Lord wants me to tell about it. If he didn't call on me, I would know that the Lord was not requiring that of me, and I would be greatly relieved.
All morning long, people read scriptures and discussed scriptures. We dismissed for lunch and I was beginning to relax. It didn't look like Monte was going to call on me.
After lunch, Monte led us in a song, and then suddenly without warning, I heard him say, "Bob West has something he wants to tell us."
I was shocked! All of a sudden, I was "on stage." Every eye was instantly on me. I always dreaded having to speak publicly, but this time I didn't have time to get nervous. I didn't even have time to think about what I was going to say.
I just started talking about my accidents and the two years of enemas, then being told by the VOICE to tell Sylvia and the Clarks about my problem, the prayer, and the healing that followed. The words seemed to flow without hesitation. I have never heard myself talk so smoothly. It was almost as if I was listening to someone else tell the story. I started to get off on a side issue a couple of times, but a whisper deep inside reminded me to stay on the subject. Everyone listened intently as I made myself vulnerable and quietly told my intimate story.
I went on to tell about the sign that I had asked God for, so that I would know for certain that He wanted me to tell my son about the healing. When I told how God responded, most laughed so hard they had tears in their eyes.
I also told how the Lord used Cheryl to get me some prune juice to help with a problem only God and I knew about. Then I told how God weaned me from the prune juice after it had served its purpose.
I was amazed at what happened next! I could almost see the Holy Spirit working in the room as I witnessed the effect of His power. One after another, people started opening up and sharing their most intimate hurts and shortcomings. So many of those present apparently needed to confide in someone they could trust, someone who would care, and someone who would reach out to them in love.
A man, whom I had not met, opened up his heart to us. He said he wanted to thank me for sharing something so personal with them. He said he had been going from church to church, looking for a group that he felt it was okay to confess his sins and his problems with. He had found none.
He said that after what had just happened, he knew he could tell us his story. He had been on drugs and had abused his wife, but had repented and was trying to be the kind of husband and father God wants him to be. But it wasn't easy to know what to do sometimes.
Two days before this meeting, his daughter had tried to commit suicide. She and her mother were not present this time, so he could talk freely without embarrassing her. They almost didn't come to be with us. He asked for our prayers and encouragement to be the man God wants him to be.
Another man looked across the room toward Alice Ann and asked her if his sermon on prayer (sometime in the past) had helped her any. She said, "Oh, yes! That's what opened up this whole experience of a deeper relationship with the Lord for me."
With tears in his eyes and mouth quivering, he confessed, "I'm so thick-headed, I didn't listen to my own sermon."
This sort of discussion continued all afternoon. Before we dismissed, we agreed to come back after supper for a real prayer meeting. Those who wanted to be prayed for made it known. And someone went to the store to buy a bottle of olive oil.
That night we prayed for almost three hours. Sylvia was one of the ones who asked to be anointed with oil and prayed for. After we prayed for the ones we laid hands on, we prayed for our country and our elected officials, and took turns praying for others with specific needs that came to our minds. This was a new experience for many, if not all, of us.
During the prayers, I sensed the presence of demonic forces coming against us. Even while I was taking my turn to lead in prayer, I was bombarded with evil thoughts -- flaming arrows from Satan. There was absolutely nothing else present that could have triggered those thoughts.
Sylvia's pain wasn't better the next morning. It was worse. In spite of her pain, she forced herself out of bed to assemble with the rest of us for the Lord's Supper.
Alice Ann told Sylvia, "I have a word of knowledge about you. Satan has really come against you. You're worse this morning, aren't you."
After lunch, Sylvia went back to our room and spent the rest of the day in bed.
After we returned home the next day, Sylvia had less pain, but she was still hurting. As I stood before the mirror shaving the following morning, I thought about our trip to Lake City and what had motivated me to go. I had thought that the prayers of Spirit-filled friends would cause the Lord to heal Sylvia, but she was no better than she was before we made the trip.
As I thought about this, a strong thought entered my mind. I was hearing, "Bob, don't you think I can answer your prayers?"
I realized at that moment that the Lord wanted me to have confidence in my own relationship with Him -- that I was just as important to Him as anyone else, and He would respond to my prayers too.
And later I would begin to understand the authority He has given me as head over my family.
Unlimited permission to copy text without alteration or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.