This is the fifth chapter in a series about 21 years of overcoming conflict and opposition as I’ve tried to learn how to minister and speak the truth in Garland, Texas. You can read the first four parts at www.deorl.wordpress.com or in my notes on www.Facebook.com/deorl.
In the early years of our church’s existence we were seeking an identity and a home. I thought we knew who God had called us to be and to whom he had called us to speak and serve. We were refugees who had been called to the rebellious who didn’t like church. We started out meeting in a rented house in Richardson, Texas, as well as hotel ballrooms. Regarding the house, there was some conflict with neighbors and the City of Richardson over our Bible studies and band practices. We were told by the city that we couldn’t have worship services in the house. Well, we were only doing Bible studies there, but there were complaints about that. We had two neighbors that liked us and two that didn’t. Complaints get the attention of city officials and they use zoning laws to limit free speech and free exercise.
We found an old movie theater in Garland, Texas and moved everything there. It was large, which would work well for our dramatic productions, but it had been unoccupied for at least 10 years. Many things had to be done just to bring it up to code. We took out a loan to do the necessary renovations. I really thought we’d be able to grow enough to pay the loan back quickly. However, as it turned out, the age of the building and an uncooperative owner kept us from having an inviting facility where people would worship.
We spent a lot of money getting the air conditioning to work in the building, but when the first winter hit we discovered the building did not have working heat either. This was something an unscrupulous leasing agent had kept from us. When we requested help from the owner, he offered to loan us money to fix the heating in his building. The payments for this five thousand dollar loan would conveniently be added to our rent. Even if this were fair, it wasn’t feasible for us. We were already struggling to pay the rent.
So, our little community froze through two winters in the old theater. During one of those winters I and our worship leader were living in the building as a cost saving measure. It was shortly after the movie Fight Club, and we saw this as our version of the dilapidated old house in which Edward Norton’s character lives. Did I mention it was cold? If you’re from a Northern state, then you probably think Texas cannot get that cold, but living in a building without heat in 30 degree weather is still harsh.
Worship services during these winters were interesting. We did a noon Bible study with brunch, and that happened either in the lobby or outside in front of the building. Our main worship time was at 6:00 P. M. Sundays. We tried various portable heaters, but the ceilings were 34 feet, so it really never got that warm. The few intrepid youths who came to worship huddled around those heaters and tried to pay attention to the service. This was not the best environment for worship attendance growth.
To compound the heating challenge, we also got flooded several times. Once during a drama production, it rained and a drain behind the building failed. Several of our scenes were flooded and we had to cancel the show that night. Neither the owner or the leasing company was willing to take responsibility for this. They did dig out the drain, but wouldn’t compensate us for lost revenue. At this point a little relief from the rent is all we were seeking. It would have even been financially wise on their part because it would have helped us remain in the building.
We had a three year lease, but there was a six month opt-out clause, which was put there by the owner, who was seeking to sell the building. After two years, and two cold winters, we had had enough. We gave our six-month notice in July, which meant we would be out of the building by December 31st.
On December 1st of that year I spoke about spiritual warfare during our Sunday evening worship time. I remember that it was a long message, and sitting on the floor to my right was a young man who would soon be shipped off to the war with Iraq. Warfare is primarily spiritual, even when it appears to be against material foes.
The next morning dawned a beautiful day; the sun was out, temperature was mild. Life, it seemed, was great. By mid-morning my perception of the day changed dramatically. The hearing in my right ear suddenly began to diminish. If I could make a visual analogy, it was as though I was inside a cave with bright sun coming in through the entrance. Then a door began closing like the iris on a camera, and it grew dark. As it got darker, I became more deaf. By 1:00 P. M. on December 2nd, 2002 I could no longer hear in my right ear.
To be deaf is a challenge. However, it was a shock to me because I’d always had good hearing. I do have tinnitus, loud ringing in my ears. This was the result of listening to a youth garage band years earlier. It was cold that day, so the teenagers in the band closed the garage door and turned up the amplifiers. I left with my ears ringing and they’ve never stopped. Up to this point, however, this affliction had not been overwhelming because outside noise usually drowned out the ringing.
Now my right ear was completely deaf to outside sounds. Complete deafness on that side would have been hard to take, but ironically I could still hear ringing in the ear, constant shrill ringing. Imagine if you were in a room where a loud smoke alarm is going off next to one of your ears, but you cannot stop it, or leave the room.
As I grew deaf, I also grew dizzy. I experienced a severe case of vertigo. I had to lay down to keep from vomiting. For a week, whenever I moved my head the room spun in the same direction. This was hell. In fact, as I lay there, perfectly still, I had time to think about hell, and what many Christians say it will be: eternal conscious torment. I could not imagine something so horrible. It changed my perspective. Something I may write about another time.
Thankfully, I believe in a good and loving God who hears prayer. I complained. I cried out. I begged God to help and heal me. I went to the doctor and received minor relief in the form of anti-vomiting medication, but the vertigo continued. I read the Bible and believed God directed I apply a promise from Revelation 2:10. It was originally a promise for the church in the ancient city of Smyrna. It reads: “Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you in prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.” I was surely imprisoned by this strange affliction. I came to believe that the torment would last no longer than ten days. By the tenth day the vertigo was barely noticeable, so perhaps this was an accurate understanding of what the Holy Spirit promised me through the Bible. However, I wasn’t completely healed.
To this day I am almost completely deaf in my right ear. The ringing is loud and incessant: every waking hour, every single day since December 2, 2002. Thankfully, God grants me sleep and I do not hear the ringing then. I often have to strain to hear what people are saying during a conversation because the ringing is as loud as most people speak. When I try to play music or direct sound into that ear through headphones it irritates something and the ringing will become briefly louder.
On several occasions tinnitus in my left ear has flared up and become so loud that I have been terrified the same thing might happen. That would be for me the realization of hell on earth: not just deafness, but constant torment because of unimpeded ringing in both ears. I am trusting God not to allow something so horrific to happen. When I fear the other ear may close up, I cry out and trust my good and loving Father
The only thing that keeps me sane in the midst of constant affliction is the hope that God is good, he loves me and does not intend to harm me. He will not permit evil to overcome me. I remember his promises. I cling to them. I hold God accountable to keep his word.
” So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
“All who rage against you
will surely be ashamed and disgraced;
those who oppose you
will be as nothing and perish.
Though you search for your enemies,
you will not find them.
Those who wage war against you
will be as nothing at all.
For I am the Lord your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.”
(Isaiah 41:10-13, NIV)