The Blood Tears Of Jesus
Elizabeth Odom talked to an angel. At least, that’s what she told me after a series of bizarre tragedies changed her life. There was no reason to doubt her extraordinary account of events. After all, she had the gray eyes and red roses to prove it.
The first time I saw Elizabeth Chantel Odom was during a Sunday morning worship service at my little church on Sheldon Road. An athletically built, seventeen year old track star with high cheek bones, dark brown eyes and an effervescent smile, she sat toward the back of the sanctuary between her stone-faced parents. She appeared uneasy that day, clinging intermittently to her mother’s arm.
Sometimes from the pulpit, you see things. Though the old preachers used to say it with a hint of mystery in their voices, I wasn’t a big fan of mystery. I didn’t believe them until it happened to me.
The first time was quite awkward and unnerving. I saw a man sitting near the back of the church, suavely decked in his double breasted Easter Sunday white suit. Halfway through the sermon, I saw his face turn into a woman’s face and his suit turn into a beautiful white dress. This was a momentary flash that reversed itself in the twinkling of an eye.
I didn’t understand it until his wife requested counseling … more confession than counseling. She had filed for divorce. She felt an obligation to explain to her pastor why she had decided to go against the family, the sanctity of marriage and every vestige of belief associated with the holy union of man and woman.
“He’s going through the process,” she told me.
She meant the process of becoming a woman. He had begun taking hormones, minimizing his facial hair and augmenting his breasts.
The second time it happened, an old man dying of cancer, exposed his demon face. The two daughters who had brought him to the church against his will, seated him on the front row. He twitched and squirmed and finally exploded into a pumpkin face of parched skin and fiery eyes.
I knew a lot about demons, a dark and unfortunate intellect I had acquired during my own family struggles years earlier. They were spiritual parasites, drenched in pure evil, void of pity or remorse, pushing through the invisible creases of darkness and light to impose their dominant will upon humankind.
That day, I stopped in the middle of my sermon, went down and prayed for him, and dashed his brow with the holy water a deceased colleague had brought back from Jerusalem.
No one saw the pumpkin face, except me. But glory be to God, everyone saw the changes that came over him that day and all of the days that followed. He settled down into intermittent spells of peaceful whimpering and ultimately accepted Christ as his Savior. He lived seven months past the time the doctors had given him, and up until the very end, never missed a Sunday.
That was the thing about prayer. You never knew what you’d get. I prayed for healing as well as liberation from the demon. God slayed the body, but saved the soul. In the spiritual realm, you learned as you went along. The final lesson was always the same: God knew best.
With Elizabeth and her family, I saw three vague lanterns of light. The lantern in the middle shone brightly. But the lanterns on either side had all but gone out. The flickering freeze frame seemed to identify her as the spark in her family, the bright light emanating from a dark corridor.
Of course, that was my interpretation. A pitiful earthen vessel with a limited spiritual perspective, what did I really know for sure?
Three Sundays later, they officially joined the church. I couldn’t explain my overwhelming sense of relief. But as Elizabeth waded into the baptismal pool, I saw something else … a gloomy, inexplicable fog hanging over her, over them. It was the same grim canopy that had covered my wife and me during our season of tribulations. I had seen it in the mirror. I had felt its agony creeping through my soul.
I prayed with them and for them and over them. I coated their faces with oil and had the deacons to form a prayer circle around them. I assigned Sister Winston, the church’s premier prayer warrior, to call them and pray with them once a week. I didn’t understand my own sense of urgency. As a pastor, you come to realize obedience to the Spirit doesn’t require understanding.
Despite all that we did, tragedy outmaneuvered us. Two months later, the father, a borderline alcoholic and wife beater, lost his job. On his way home from work, he purchased a pistol, came in and shot his wife and then himself.
He intended to kill Elizabeth. But he couldn’t find her. In a counseling session after the tragedy, she told me an angel had hidden her in the attic. I didn’t question her version of the story. In their innocence, children find ways to deal with the horrific storms of life.
Still, one thing stuck with me, and to this day, lingers in the deep crevices of my mind. She said, in gazing upon the brilliant pinholes of light that emanated from the angel, her eyes had begun to burn. When she looked into the mirror the following morning, their color had changed. They were no longer dark brown, but a hazel gray.
They were indeed gray. I noticed the difference the moment she entered my study. But in an era of hyper-LASIK surgery and exotic contact lenses and fancy cosmetic dyes, I had chalked up her odd makeover to a teenage fashion craze.
Lingering curiosity spurred me to called a psychiatrist I knew from college. She told me survivors of extreme trauma could experience hormonal shifts that altered the melanin buildup in their retina. And so I left it there, dangling between a spiritual transformation and a medical reaction. With so many other legal, social and psychological challenges facing us, who really had time to dwell on the color of her eyes?
We found a stable home. Presenting her as a popular cheerleader, track star and honor roll student, a British couple gladly took her in. The deacons created a special fund to cover all expenses for her senior year. We even received the church’s permission to pull some money from the renovation and building fund. Knowing the congregation had reached a level of spiritual maturity to place the love of people over the love of big buildings was a personal blessing I relished in secret. Money matters had a way of putting churches on edge.
It would’ve been more than enough … except for the accident.
Seven months before her graduation, she and two other members of the cheerleading square went to a party. On their way home that night, they collided with a dump truck. The two girls died instantly. But Elizabeth miraculously survived.
It took the Jaws of Life hydraulic cutters to remove her from the mangled wreckage, a sixteen hour operation to extract the glass and steel from her shattered rib cage and two months of rehabilitation to teach her to walk with an artificial knee joint. Her left arm was severed at the elbow. The doctors fitted her with a high tech prosthetic hook arm.
We prayed for her and raised more money and visited her whenever we could. But nothing seemed to brighten her dismal spirit. Vicious rumors began to emerge. A student at the church told me many students were embarrassed to be around her. They poked fun at her limp and gave her the nickname: The Hook.
A few weeks before her scheduled graduation, the British couple came to my office. They had taken Elizabeth to a small clinic and placed her under a suicide watch.
“The poor young lass has suffered enough for ten lifetimes,” growled the husband. “When does God say enough is enough?”
“Only God knows how much we can bear.” That was the answer I gave him. That was the only answer I had to give.
“You must go and reason with her,” the wife begged. “Please, she trusts you. See if you can reach her before it’s too late.”
At the clinic, sitting next to her bed, I listened with spiritual ears as she explained her life’s journey, old and new.
“They think I want to kill myself. I did. I did want to do it. But not anymore. You know why?”
I shook my head obliviously.
“Because I know my purpose now.”
“What, what is your purpose, Elizabeth? Can you tell me?”
“Suffering,” she spouted out with an unexpected boldness. “It’s my privilege to suffer for His name’s sake. Of all the smells in heaven, suffering has the sweetest smell of all. Did you know that, Pastor?”
“No, I-ah, I didn’t know that.”
She reached over and handed me a small flower pot filled with beautiful red roses. Cluttering the window sill and parquet floor were other pots, baskets and vases of roses, all red, all vibrant and impeccably grown. Their sweet scent was mesmerizing, almost hypnotic, a pungent, seductive smell I would’ve expected to inhale while chasing butterflies through the Garden of Eden. There was something unusual about them, beyond their appearance and smell; something I couldn’t put into words.
“They’re gorgeous,” I finally remarked. “Did you grow them yourself?”
She nodded modestly. “Yes, sir.”
“Must have taken a while.” As a child, I had learned a bit about my grandmother’s flowers and their predictive stages of growth.
“These, only seven days.”
My eyes swept the cluttered room for confirmation. Some of the flowers were fully grown, an obvious contradiction in time.
“Is that possible?” I asked.
“All things are possible with God.”
I couldn’t help but smile. I had preached the sermon so many times.
“So tell me. Growing these beautiful roses; Is it just a pastime?”
“More,” she answered demurely. And then she handed me a folder with assorted articles and notes. Within the stack were several personal profiles of famous missionaries. She had used a red marker to underline how each of them had died.
Ann Haseltine Judson had died of smallpox in Burma. Lottie Moon had died of starvation in Japan. Sister Lucia Pulici had been raped and murdered in Burundi. The list went on.
“I had the pills,” she confessed. “Who could blame me for not wanting to go on like this? But the angel came back to me. He told me I was highly favored by God and had a great purpose. He said my suffering would be remembered throughout eternity. Do you believe him, Pastor?”
“I-ah, I suppose.”
“I believe him,” she declared. “He said the flowers grew from the seeds of suffering. He said they’d serve as a reminder of my purpose for the journey ahead.”
“To Africa,” she replied. “I’m going to Africa to become a missionary. That’s what the angel told me.”
“I, I see.” I was careful not to discourage or condemn.
Christian counseling was a tricky business. Everything came out of or led back into the spiritual realm, an invisible space that hosted both good and evil. Satan could appear as an angel of light, stirring the tender minds of young believers, leading them down a trail of deception that eventually crushed their faith.
Every ounce of her battered countenance said she was certain about her calling. Her hazel eyes and red roses said the rest.
And so I asked the question all pastors should ask young believers sharing their aspirations in the Kingdom. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
I will never forget the expression on her face, the reflection of a child with a juicy schoolyard secret to which she had sworn the highest oath. “Yes, Pastor. You can prepare yourself. For, you have a journey too.”
She wouldn’t elaborate, and considering her fragile condition, I didn’t press. Still, her prophetic tone was unmistakable. She seemed to know something that I didn’t know.
After graduation, she and her British parents moved back to London. Except for a single postcard from a Catholic missionary school in South Africa, I never heard from her again.
Elizabeth Chantel Odom had cheated death, talked to an angel and found her purpose in life. Who would’ve imagined it had anything to do with saving the world?
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