The following is a way-too-long excerpt from "Exodus from Zion".
When I was 17 I had a rough, uncomfortable year. I took off one day shortly after buying my first car, a red '88 Ford Escort hatchback. I drove up to North Carolina to see Michael from Christian summer camp nineteen months earlier. My car broke down on the drive home a few days later and after walking and hitchhiking the rest of the way home, I discovered my mom had packed up my things. She told me I couldn't stay with her and I had one week to move out.
I spent the week looking for a place. Once I realized that a high school student working part-time at the mall move theater couldn't afford rent, I called my estranged dad. He drove up to get me on the last day of my third quarter exams at school, and I spent the next seven months living with him and his girlfriend Linda, and experimenting with drugs.
Linda and I went shopping my first week in Venice. She bought me new shorts and shoes and pajamas. But when we got home, she wanted to throw out the clothes I'd brought with me from Tampa. As time went on, she let me know how much she resented me for the time and space I occupied in my father's life and for what I cost them, including those clothes.
Three months after I arrived she decreed that I couldn't stay on her couch any longer, and my things and I were moved out to the unattached shed in the back yard. I started building a runaway kit. Each time Linda yelled at me I placed one item into my suitcase. I thought that by the time the suitcase was full, I would be ready to go. As it turned out I left without needing to run away.
After a night of drinking ended with an ambulance ride for alcohol poisoning, my dad's girlfriend told him that I was too much of a risk, and that I had to go. Time and time again the adults in my life let me know what a burden I was. There's a story in my family of a time when I was very young, maybe only five or six years old, when I was moody and withdrawn. One of my aunts asked me what was wrong and I replied, "No one is enjoying my existence." This story is always told as a humorous one, but I must confess, if there's a punchline, I can't see it.
I begged my mother to take me back. I swore I'd do anything to prove to her I was repentant. My dad and I hadn't been able to find a single juvenile inpatient drug treatment center in the state of Florida. In the end, it was Gig who proposed the solution. I would go to her friend Geri's farm ministry in Texas to receive deliverance and have any unholy soul ties broken.
The Abiding Life Ministries farm in Lindale, Texas was horrifying even to me. Geri, who owned the farm and lands, made all the rules and could change them at will. Four other women lived in the three bedroom double-wide trailer I stayed in. I shared my room with Deborah, a dark-haired, thin diabetic woman who had been a member of a blood sacrifice cult before coming to Abiding Life. She screamed in her sleep and I cringed when she stabbed her legs with insulin injections.
Carrie was only a few years older than I was, but acted younger. She had schizophrenia and could go from nearly comatose to hysterical in no time at all. During the three weeks I was on the farm, the local pharmacy misfilled her prescription and she had hallucinations one day. I talked her through it, and tried to convince her that this was an entertaining and enjoyable experience, but I was furious with the pharmacist, and with the medical incompetence of the staff and residents of Abiding Life at handling her condition.
The third woman, Barbara, was morbidly obese. She probably weighed close to 400 lbs and although I'd grown up with my obese Giggy, I was awed and appalled that human flesh be stretch to her dimensions.
Tammy was the fourth woman, there for drug abuse, like me. She was a kind, brassy, redneck woman in her mid-thirties and we smoked cigarettes on the front porch together. I remember thinking that she didn't belong here, and that Geri had it out for Tammy. She had recently decided that Tammy could not see her four-year-old son, because Geri did not want her leaving the farm for longer than an hour at any time.
Being told that you're demon-possessed isn't exactly flattering. In a way, it was very much like being told by my mother in my teen years and my husband during my pregnancy, "You're just hormonal". It's saying your perceptions are invalid and your complaints unimportant. There is something wrong with YOU and that's why people treat you badly.
My grandmother was a great believer in demonic activity and possession and, unlike hormones, having a demon was often your fault. All kinds of things could let demons in - having insufficient faith in God, listening to secular music, watching certain TV shows, engaging in hedonism, reading about witchcraft or other religions, or soul ties. A soul tie is an evil spiritual connection with another person, and it was impossible not to acquire these.
You get them through the bloodline in the form of generational curses, from every person you'd had sex with and every person they'd had sex with (sort of like an STD), from any doctor who touched you, and from anyone you'd ever "broken bread" with. I met a girl on the farm who took this last example to such extremes that she believed that if you ate popcorn in a movie theater you had formed a soul tie with - and acquired the demons of - every other person in that theater. She refused to eat in restaurants are at picnics, concerned that with each bit of food, she risked becoming more and more possessed.
Once a demon had you, it could ride along inside your head, tempting you to all manner of wickedness, and it could cause you illness or injury. The only way to rid yourself of these demons was through "deliverance". Abiding Life was a deliverance ministry and for each of the three consecutive weekends I was on the farm, I attended deliverance sermons at the church.
These would begin on Friday evenings with a sermon on the dangers of demon possession and the absolute certainty that everyone of us in the pews was infested with these spiritual vermin. We each received a packet listing all the ways we could become possessed. Then for each item on the list we were supposed to detail each example we could think of. These crazy, scary strangers wanted me to write down for them the name of each boy I'd kissed, blown, or screwed; every person at any party I'd attended where drugs or alcohol was present; every secular song I'd ever listened to; and any non-Christian book I'd ever read.
At the time I thought it was ridiculous. Surely God didn't need this level of detail. If I just said, "Lord, please break all the soul ties from any boy I've been with, and rid me of demons from any books, TV, or music," he'd know what that meant. And what if I forgot something? Would God leave behind a demon if, despite my best efforts and intentions, I neglected one song or one kiss?
Now I know the true purpose of these lists was to shame us. Look how long my list is. See how wicked and secular I've been? Surely, I am covered in filth, and unworthy to be in God's presence. What a miserable wretch of a sinner I am! You have to first convince people they have a problem, before you can peddle your snake oil cure.
Saturday morning we returned to the clapboard country church for hymns and prayer warfare. We sinners held our folded lists of sins in the air as Geri prayed out against the influence of demonic forces. She prayed in painstaking detail, "against sexual immorality, premarital sex, homosexuality, adultery, masturbation, pornography, fornication, lust, erotic literature, filthy and unclean thoughts, impurity, unchastity, prostitution, petting, kissing, incest, oral sex, sodomy, and abominations of the flesh."
She prayed each such list, out loud, multiple times. If she'd gone by simple categories and named each thing only once, it might have taken an hour. As it was, we were there - praying, moaning, crying, and begging for forgiveness - all weekend long. As she prayed her deputies would roam the aisles looking for someone "in struggle", either crying too much or not enough, and bring them to the front of the sanctuary for the laying of hands.
I was brought to the front and as Geri's voice carried on in the background her litany of transgressions, an overweight, illiterate former prostitute, her son, a "cured" lesbian, and three farmhands touched me. They babbled incoherently, speaking "in tongues", and began to gently push me around, bouncing me from one person to the next, trying to rouse the demons inside of me. For an hour they did this, as I cried and begged God to make me clean, make me not a disappointment to my family, make me acceptable in His sight.
But the demons wouldn't come. I began to doubt, in the quiet corners of my mind, that these people had any idea what they were doing. None of them had any great theological experience, and with the exception of Geri, none even seemed to possess either great knowledge of the Scriptures, or a charismatic weight of authority. Tired of standing on my feet, I realized they would not stop and let me go until I gave them some sign that their efforts had worked. So I began to fake a seizure. I quivered and quaked and shook and babbled as if I too was speaking in tongues. I fell down upon the church floor, writhing and wriggling, and their prayers got louder and faster in response. Finally, after several minutes of this, I lay still. They clapped. They had cast the demons out of me, or so they thought.
It was emotionally manipulative, physically invasive, and a complete waste of time. But at the end of three weeks of this, I was allowed to return to my mother's house.
To get a clue how wacky this place really was - check out their website!