I can still remember the feeling I had when, at age 16, I first dared to tempt evil. My friend Sara and I had just passed through the front door of what was once Clark Gable's hunting lodge. The large vintage home now belonged to our friend Angie and her family.
Sara had already been here and had told me about her disturbing observations. I followed her inside the rustic living room and stood opposite a floor-to-ceiling antique mirror and a stone fire place. The mirror made me nervous, so I turned away and spoke to an unseen yet vaguely perceptible entity. "I hear there's a ghost living here!" I called out. "If you're real, show yourself!"
Sara and I waited, straining to catch a response. We heard nothing but the hot Santa Ana winds blowing outside.
"I told you there's nothing here," I cajoled her.
"But I saw the kitchen cupboards open and shut, and the dishes moved," Sara insisted.
"Ever hear of earthquakes?" I laughed.
"Earthquakes make everything move . . . not just one cupboard."
I only shrugged and kept walking to where Angie was waiting.
It was the summer before my senior year of high school. My parents and I were still new to the lakeside community just outside Malibu. It was a beautiful, idyllic place with a glamorous past and plenty to do, but many of its residents led a dark existence filled with witchcraft, existentialism, free sex, and lots of drugs and alcohol.
My parents, both scientists, had raised me without God. Despite that lack of religion, I'd managed to stay out of any real trouble, only dabbling in a bit of after-football-game drinking. But at the lake, with old friends far away, older siblings out of the house, and my parents busy working, I found myself drawn to this seductive lifestyle like an animal seeking shelter. I knew it was dangerous, but I yearned for a niche where I could fit in and belong.
A week later, when Sara came to my house and asked to play with my old Ouija board, I was eager to please her. Besides, I'd always loved scary stories.
"If the houses here are haunted, this will bring out the ghosts," I agreed. We set the game up in the round guesthouse that functioned as my bedroom and overlooked the lake. Soon the wooden triangle was flying across the Ouija board, spelling out information. We were hooked.
Over the next few weeks we played again and again, gradually piecing together a profile of who we thought was communicating with us, a woman who had lived there in the early 1900s. As the game got more interesting, it also grew more complicated. Other things started happening when we were using the board: the radio would turn on and off on its own, the plant overhead would sway in circles without a breeze, and the dog would fearfully look past us at things we couldn't see.
Playing with fire
When summer ended, the Ouija board was mostly ignored, but weird things kept on happening, increasing in occurrence and severity. By the time graduation came around, I was a nervous wreck, burdened and harassed by what I perceived as ghosts that apparently had come to stay.
I tried to explain the situation to my parents, but their closed minds couldn't make sense of what I described. When my belongings started to regularly disappear, they blamed it on carelessness. When those items-including entire baskets of clothes and my house keys-reappeared on their own after days of us searching, they said I must have been mistaken.
My friends weren't much help either. They didn't like the fact that apparently they were no longer welcome in my room. They got put off when the front door curtain of the guesthouse would move back as I put the key in, as if someone were looking out. If I was there, the lock would open. If anyone else tried it, the key wouldn't work.
Even Sara was shunned.
One night when she tried to use the guesthouse bathroom while I did laundry in the main house, she got the scare of her life. She entered the unlocked house just fine, but before she could finish using the bathroom, the sound of fingers strumming loudly and angrily on the television outside her line of vision made her leave in a hurry. She never went there alone again.
Then it was my turn.
On a calm, sunny morning I was showering in the main house when something started pounding fiercely on the wall behind the shower. It finally stopped when I got out to dry off. Through the open bathroom window I could hear my father and neighbor talking outside, but they never heard the loud pounding. In contrast, when I let the dog in from the hallway outside, her eyes were frantic and her body trembled with fear. She had heard it.
During that same year, I began suffering unexplainable attacks at night. When I slept, I had frequent nightmares that turned into awful visions when I tried to wake up. Sometimes I'd be awakened several times a night by a pressure on my chest, as if someone were lying on top of me. In those moments the room took on a strange visual distortion, and I couldn't move or speak until the power controlling me chose to let go.
One morning when I overslept after an especially bad night, I was gently awakened by an apparition. It was a smiling young man standing at my bedside, offering his hand. When I took it, he pulled me slowly up and out of bed, where I suddenly found myself fully awake, standing upright and alone.
Many other things happened that year, some frightening, some just weird. But they all left me bewildered and scared. Was I actually living with ghosts? If so, why were some vicious and others seemingly kind?
I tried to find answers. I dragged Angie to a paranormal psychiatrist we found in the phone book. He was fascinated, but not much help. I went to an est* seminar hoping to gain peace, but that only made matters worse.
Finally, at age 18, I moved out on my own, renting a small bedroom in a home in Los Angeles. At first, all was fine. But then one night after a party, it started again. As I lay in bed waiting to fall asleep, the sound of raucous, demonic laughter filled the room. It was horribly loud, and went on and on.
I left after that to stay with friends for a few days. When I returned, my room was in shambles and the houseowner upset. In my absence, she'd heard nightly footsteps and banging in her usually quiet house. The problem that I thought was connected solely to the houses at the lake had followed me.
I moved again, several times, trying to get away from the "ghosts," but each time they followed. In the end, I returned to my parents' guesthouse, where I soon reached the breaking point. I desperately needed help.
Desperate for God
Thankfully, that's when God stepped in.
Salvation came after I experienced the most frightening event of all. Angie and I were driving home from the beach after the sun had already set. As we rounded a sharp curve, the car headlights illuminated what looked like a severed head in the road. I swerved to miss it, and then it vanished.
After confirming that we'd both seen it, we raced to tell her mother. Providentially, she was entertaining Tim, a Christian friend.
When he heard what had happened, Tim offered to help. Angie wasn't interested and went to bed. But I grudgingly listened as he explained that these ghosts were actually demons. Then he prayed and had me read the Bible out loud, told me to pray to Jesus whenever attacks came, and said to clear the guesthouse and my life of anything having to do with the occult.
He also told me to find a church.
Tim recommended his own Seventh-day Adventist church, but suggested trying several denominations before choosing one I liked. I started searching immediately. Since I knew nothing about religious faiths, I was open to any church that followed the Bible.
First, I tried a small Baptist congregation. The preaching was sleepy, and so were the parishioners. Concentration was difficult throughout the dry, complex sermon.
Next, I checked out the Pentecostals. The preaching was very lively, and I may have come back again, except for the chorus of loud weeping, wailing, and speaking in tongues at prayertime. I made a hasty retreat.
More denominations followed, including a dark, unforgiving Catholic church with a formal service and sad looking statues. So far, nothing felt right.
Finally, I tried Tim's church. I was delighted to discover that it was the perfect fit with friendly people, beautiful music, an interesting sermon, Bible based doctrine, and no sad statues.
Eventually I had Bible study and was baptized. In the process, my body felt cleaner and my life happier. The demons and other dark aspects of my existence slowly fell away. I felt irresistibly drawn to God's people and the safe, warm mercy of His love.
Mine was a long and sometimes frightening road to finding Jesus, my Lord and Savior. My conversion from a demonically oppressed atheist to a full-fledged Christian didn?t happen overnight. But peace and joy did come. It's been more than two decades since I've been bothered by Satan. But the good part about seeing and hearing evil firsthand is that it leaves zero doubt that Jesus is just as real.
I've touched the other side and have come through it miraculously and wonderfully saved by grace.
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground" (Ephesians 6:12, 13).
* est stands for Erhard Seminars Training, which were weekend workshops that began in the early 1970s. Promising to help participants achieve "personal transformation," they often taught transcendental meditation.
Cheryl Porter lives in Bakersfield, California, where she works for a Bible college doing public relations. She is also pursuing her master's degree in theology and has written numerous articles for magazines and newspapers, as well as a children's cookbook for Random House.