by Ruth Ann Cramer
They called her The Zombie — they, being those people with moderate to serious dysfunctions who lived with us in our twenty-three roomed “home of healing” in a large city in Northern California. Both men and women clustered at kitchen windows and clucked over The Zombie’s stiff-legged ascent up the back stairs, dreading her shuffle through the doorway; resentful she’d upset their day just by dropping by.
The Zombie was neither loud and obnoxious as some; nor cruelly devious, conniving, mysteriously evil or weird as were others. Rather, she appeared so — dead. So cold. So . . . nothing.
Our guests gabbed around the butcher-block table in our centuries’ old kitchen, getting underfoot of those readying yet another meal for the 20 or so who “dropped in” for free lunch or dinner. When our guests became too noisy or rambunctious, we’d scchhoossch them with their coffee into our spacious dining room where they’d lounge in lime faux-leather chairs and compare, embellish or hint at their past lives and experiences. With great or dark emotion, they’d argue the best treatment for schizophrenia, compare their mental tortures — real or imagined — and expound on the absurdity of a world that neither understood, nor accepted them.
But Ann, the Zombie with the empty stare, didn’t fit. She wouldn’t discuss the stench of prison, the chaos of mental health wards, the unfathomable mire of public health, welfare and prison systems. She wouldn’t hint at the tragedies, betrayals and hates of life, nor the callous abandonment and mistreatment by others.
She just stared into an unseen nowhere. Was she trying to remember or see something or someone just past her sight? No one understood her words cackle-cracked in a high-pitched, droning, nasal-whining mumble that “made everyone crazy”. They stayed pointedly and cruelly as far from her as they might.
I immediately loved her. Painful to look at, in her mid-thirties, she appeared to be an old woman: Gray, parched skin stretched as papyrus over angular, skeletal bones; Coarse, colorless hair tangled about her thin shoulders; Deep-socketed, empty eyes, the only round shape in her face; Bony figure, devoid of curves or attractiveness, dressed in a miss-match of Salvation Army’s castoffs; And always, that nasal-droned mumble of a voice.
The guests at Casa del Christo Rey tolerated odd, eccentric, even erratic behavior in themselves and others; but how could they relate to this blah, hopeless nothing?
“Give her a chance.” I’d say. Ann had suffered fifty-seven electric shock treatments in three state institutions. The authorities informed us she classified as a walking vegetable, impossible for rehab or employment; but we saw a damaged human being wandering hopelessly alone.
While Ann was institutionalized, her husband abused their children. The oldest daughter fled, taking refuge in a church. Our friends took the child in, became her foster parents, and because they knew our work at Christo Rey, brought Ann to us when released.
“That Zombie,” our guests griped, “she’s zonked, she’s blitzed, she’s blighted! There’s no way back for her. She shouldn’t be here; this ain’t no asylum! “
THE POWER OF GOD
But we’d experienced the power of God and bought Christo Rey to reach out to those lost in mind, emotions, body or spirit. We let Ann wander in and out as she pleased, with quiet inquiries and unreturned hugs, but no pressure to pray, interact or listen to our “witness”.
One Sunday, as 30-40 people milled about the house, talking, laughing, grousing, Matthew and I discerned it was time to minister to Ann. She sat between us on a couch while others buzzed nearby. People were used to ministry in their midst and paid little attention — unless things got interesting or exciting — then, the noise level lowered as others nudged in closer.
Maybe Ann had heard of God, but after intense shock therapy that nullified all, she had no memory. The treatments were said to have “scrambled her brains”. She couldn’t think or reason, nor remember back more than an hour. But, she was willing to listen and let us pray for her.
We began ministry with praise and worship, asking Our Lord to guide us. Ann, statue-still, stared straight ahead, barely mumbling answers to our careful prodding. She was not hiding something nor being reticent; she just couldn’t think. The Holy Spirit led us to first pray for physical healing of her brain, to counteract the damage from shock treatments and drugs.
We held her hands and prayed for healing, restoration, renewal, and invigoration of brain function. Her face lost its ashen color and empty, haunted look. Clearly, something captive or dead was receiving freedom and life.
We asked the Lord to restore Ann’s ability to remember. Slight flinches twitched her face.
THE READINESS OF GOD TO HEAL
We explained there is no past, present or future to God; all is present to Him at all times. God had been with her always; though she’d not known He was there. He waited now to bind her wounds and set her free.
Gently, we led her to give God permission to bring to her mind events of the past that led to her insanity and being institutionalized. It didn’t matter that she had no previous relationship with God. She had only to be willing to cooperate with Him, as He ministered to her.
Ann said she wanted to cooperate, but her mind was clouded with cobwebbed confusion — she couldn’t think straight or focus on a memory. We continued praying. Then, the Holy Spirit gave Matthew a “word of knowledge”; He impressed, within Matthew’s spirit, the word “resolution”.
“Ann,” Matthew prompted, “did you make a resolution?”
“I can’t remember.” she mumbled. Listening closely, we could now decipher her words.
We continued to pray for physical healing of her brain’s faculty to remember, plus an increase in her ability to express herself.
The Lord gave me an interior image — a seeing within my spirit — of a girl about 6 years old. Running from a room, the girl threw herself onto a bed and sobbed uncontrollably. Deeply hurt and betrayed, no one consoled her; she cried alone. I shared this inner picture with Ann. She could not remember such an incident. We continued praying.
Very slowly, she glimpsed bits of the incident. We prayed for full restoration of memory, though we could see by her contorted body, remembering was causing great discomfort. Ann objected. Maybe she didn’t want to remember; her pain was growing too intense.
AUTHORITY OVER EVIL
We asked God to soothe her fears and pain. In the Name of Jesus, we took authority over any evil that might harass or torment her and commanded it to step aside. Immediately, we saw a change. Her eyes blinked, tears appeared — the first signs of emotion we’d seen. “Tell us what you’re seeing.” we prompted.
Ann struggled to articulate the story, and restarted several times. Finally, she plunged. “We were poor. We had hardly nothing. One day, we went to one of those carnivals that go round and I won a little china dog only about two or three inches long, the first thing . . . and last thing . . . I ever won in my life. It was my only possession, my only treasure. I kept it real close. I hid it from my sister. She’s real mean.”
“Then, what happened?”
She took a long moment, and then set her jaw. “My sister found it. She and her boyfriend threw it back and forth through the air. I begged them to stop, but they wouldn’t listen. I begged Mama to make them stop, but she yelled I was a selfish brat and had to let them play with it. I told Mama they’d break it, but Mama always let my sister do whatever she wanted. She loved my sister and hated me, so she let them throw it. They smashed it to pieces.”
“How did you react? What did you do?”
“I was crying and screaming.” A dark look shadowed Ann’s grave face. She started to speak but couldn’t. We prayed quietly.
“I ran to Mama,” she stumbled, “crying out what they’d done. Mama slapped me. Real hard. Right across the face. Told me to shut up, stop acting like a selfish crybaby. Or she’d really give me something to cry about.” Ann grit her teeth. She hadn’t wanted to remember, and now, seemed sorry she had.
We held her dry, papery hands. “Then, what happened?”
She shut her eyes and spoke unevenly. “I ran to my room and threw myself on the bed. I cried and cried. But I couldn’t let no one know, else Mama would’ve come in and beat hell outta me.” Her body stiffened as if readying for blows — as though remaining rigid would keep past beatings from affecting her.
We sensed she’d neared the crux. We waited. She seemed unwilling to continue. We prodded gently, “Ann, what were you thinking as you lay crying on the bed? What were you saying to yourself?”
The cords in her neck tightened so she could hardly speak. “You probably don’t want to know. I was thinking how I hated my sister, how she always did mean things, but never got in trouble. I always got blamed. I always got in trouble, always got hit. No matter what mean thing my sister did, Mama never did nothin’ to her. Mama loved her and hated me. It was always the same. It never changed. Mama’d always hit me.”
THE INNER VOW
She was so close; we urged her on, knowing that a vow, pledge or promise to ones self is important. “What did you decide to do?” we asked.
She clenched and unclenched her fists, forced herself to breathe evenly. With great effort, she stuttered. “I said to myself, ‘I will never love anybody or anything, ever again.'”
The root was laid bare. The rock-hard, carved-in-stone, always-and-everywhere resolution that directed, drove, determined her life to this point.
The Holy Spirit brought the root cause to Ann’s consciousness; we could now build on the revelation. However, before Ann’s life could be renewed and rebuilt, she must renounce, take back, and obliterate the resolution she’d made. Or else it would stand.
“No.” she said with determination. “That promise is mine. It’s my only protection. I can’t live without it.”
“What will happen if you rescind it, take it back?”
“They’ll hurt me. They always hurt me. Whenever I gave them another chance, they’d just do the same thing, hurt me all over again. First, my mother and sister, then my husband. I thought my husband would be different. That he’d believe me, love me, protect me. But no,” she gripped our hands in hers, “I had to remake that promise over and over, again and again to protect myself. There’s no way I’m taking back that promise.”
Though ministry had taken some time thus far, we sensed we must press through to Ann’s greatest challenge. Ann must renounce her vow, her resolution, if she was to get well. But her ability to renounce was blocked by her unwillingness to let go of the past and forgive those who’d hurt her.
A NEED TO FORGIVE
We spoke of forgiveness. Ann believed that to forgive someone is to “let them off the hook”. That to forgive them is saying, “What they did was not wrong or was not important”.
“No way I’ll forgive them.” Ann said. “What they did to me was wrong.”
We asked Ann to see in her mind, Christ on the cross. We spoke of His love for her, His ever-present mercy and forgiveness. We asked her to envision Him hanging there, dying for her sins.
Ann was moved in her spirit by this sight of Jesus. She said He reached down to her. She stepped forward to respond, to lift her arms. But something heavy and burdensome bound her, shackled her, and paralyzed her. “There He was, reaching down to me, but I couldn’t reach up.” she croaked. “Something’s holding me down.”
We explained how the lack of forgiveness of ourselves, of God and others, binds us in chains so strong, so tenacious, we can’t struggle free. Ann had a decision only she could make. Did she want to stay imprisoned in chains, or step out free? Free to be healed, free to grow? Set free to love, at last?
“I always wanted to love.” she wept. “Wanted to love so bad, especially my kids; I tried and tried but couldn’t make myself do it. Every time I wanted to love, something made me stop.”
We explained how her past vow chained her; that every time she readied to love, her pledge reminded her; she’d vowed not to love. And until, and unless, she renounced the promise — and forgave those who caused her to make it — she’d be bound.
Again, we led her before Jesus on the cross. Again, she saw Him reach down. After a momentous struggle, she managed to reject her vow and hand it up. Jesus took the vow from her.
ASK AND RECEIVE FORGIVENESS
Now, we encouraged, she must ask His forgiveness for making the vow, for harboring hate, bitterness and resentment. She must receive the forgiveness Jesus held out to her. Now, she must bring before Jesus those she hated, those she’d not forgiven — and not only forgive them for hurting her — but ask Jesus to forgive them, too.
Though Ann was afraid of standing naked and vulnerable without her vow to protect her, she now glimpsed the possibilities of being free. She became more afraid of never living at all. Painfully, she took steps as we led her. Then, our gracious God granted her freedom.
Over the next weeks and months, Ann struggled. It was as if she had stopped growing, emotionally and socially, when she made that vow at age six; and now, through continual ministry, she was aging one season or year, at a time.
At our weekly prayer meetings, she’d sit on the “hot seat” (the hassock people sat on while others prayed over them) and fret she was experiencing all these new emotions — anger and frustration, weepy caring; shyness and painful self-awareness — whatever was appropriate for her “now” age. She didn’t know what to do with emotions. We’d laugh with joy and hug her, saying she was just growing up! Growing through all the stages children normally do. Over the next year, she grew, changed, flourished, and became the fulfilled woman she longed to be.
As Ann healed and matured, she secured a job as — of all things — a telephone operator. (Gone! the “cackle-cracked nasal-whining mumble . . . “!) State rehab counselors reacted with shock and disbelief. She went to court and won back her children, who then moved with her to a small home she rented. Ann was living her first life.
As she and her children joined us for meals — singing, laughing, dancing at Christo Rey — no one could have guessed that this delightful, charming and affectionate woman, so warm, gracious, offering love to all, was once known as . . . The Zombie.