Soon after my wife and I were married, and our daughter was born, we moved into low-income housing. Although living in the mid-1980's, we'd decided to raise Beverly the 'old-fashioned' way so that my wife could be a full-time mom, staying home while I worked. It was an easy decision to make; a difficult one to live. We sacrificed things we would've liked, such as a new home of our own, full-course meals, luxurious vacations and culinary treats like gotta'-do-it-to-be-normal trips to McDonald's.
While living in those tightly crowded townhomes, we were surrounded by neighbors of many different lifestyles and situations. At least one un-wed parent lived nearby, as did drug abusers and alcoholics. Several of the units were inhabited by the elderly, whom only ventured outside during daylight hours. Often, I'd leave or come home from work while, or hear from my wife that, one neighbor or another was having - or had - a raucous party; strangers were running to and for on the sidewalk outside our door, and the occasional police siren or walkie-talkie blared when local law enforcement officers rushed or sneaked into the complex.
Often my wife and I were awakened during, or kept awake throughout, the prowling hours of darkness by fighting couples, loud, unsupervised children in adjacent units, loud stereos and people shouting all around. One evening, my wife and I interrupted a fight between a girl and her live-in boyfriend. She'd stabbed him in the hand, and he was standing outside her door, arguing with her! I cautiously walked up beside him while my wife walked into their townhouse; we managed to separate them and get medical help for him, and a 'quiet-down' time for her.
I often wondered where God was during those times. Why didn't He help my wife and me like others had been helped? Why wasn't I able to procure a high-paying job; why didn't any of our relatives help us out? I was down-trodden, bitter, and tense. Life was no better for my wife. We had to hover around or constantly watch our daughter outside at play to ensure her safety. More than once, our townhouse door and front windows were 'egged' by teenagers whom had gotten upset with us for reporting their loud nocturnal behavior to the non-resident manager's office. More than once, we appealed to neighbors to "hold down the noise" so we could sleep, or just enjoy a peaceful meal or television program. The longer we lived there, the more I questioned God.
As a way to cope (in a way that wasn't readily available to my wife), I'd tune the radio to a Christian talk show, or listen to gospel and Christian music CD's in the privacy of our car on my way to and from work. I'd sing along with the music, and often - especially during an especially trying time at home - pray aloud inside the car. Being more of a quiet brooder, a prayer and crier than a fighter, I'd take out my frustrations on God. Boy, did I ever assault His ear with complaints, fears, depression and anger!
Then, one night driving home from my job at the naval base in Dahlgren, Virginia about 11:30 PM, I was speeding through the darkness where no lights shone outside the car. Around me acres of wild grasses waved, small stands of trees swayed, an occasional corn field rustled. I was about 15 miles from the nearest population center, and at least 2-3 miles away from any house or building. As I sang, I realized I was enjoying one of those precious times in my life when I felt extremely close to God and sensed that He was near. My heart was full of love for God - because ultimately I knew that He cared about me and my family. Suddenly, out of the darkness, over and behind my right shoulder, I heard a voice.
The voice said "Michael". It came from outside me but also reverberated inside my head; it pierced my skull like a knife pierces flesh. It was calm and serious, unlike that of anyone I knew and not my own. It was clear, explicit and commanding. Not knowing why, I began to tremble; I gripped the steering wheel with both hands. I slowed down. I turned down the radio. A response arose within me; I felt like I was shrinking.
I timidly uttered the sole questioning word "Lord?".
I heard the voice again, "Michael".
Without thinking, perhaps by instinct, I asked "Is that
"Michael," He said, "tell my people".
As I quaked inside, I asked "Tell them what, Lord?".
"Tell them about me".
I pulled onto the side of the road while my eyes poured tears. I was filled with such a sense of brightness and lightness that I felt as if I were suspended in air and time. I sobbed in gratitude and relief from all that had been on my mind, and as I continued to tremble, I heard a continued whisper "...about God".
I immediately felt that I had just been visited and blessed in a way that surpassed every visit, each conversation, every moment I'd ever spent in the presence of any other human being through all my years. (The only things that have come close were the first time I fell in love, the day I married, and the day our daughter was born).
- What I learned soon after that night, beside yet another affirmation that God is real, is that God doesn't necessarily choose to heal or to change our circumstances. When I was younger, I used to ask God why He didn't or couldn't or wouldn't make me or my life different and better. I used to pray for a 'normal' voice (I was born with a cleft lip and experienced humiliating nasal renditions from classmates in the way I sounded to them when I spoke). I prayed until and throughout my adult years for relief or healing from another proverbial 'thorn in my flesh', yet God did not remove it or cure it. I prayed for a better, easier life for me and my family.
After that night, the Lord helped me learn more about Him. He didn't say "I'm going to arrange a home loan for you and your wife". He didn't say "I'm going to give you lots of money". He didn't say "I'm going to make you perfect" (that night). What he did do was help me see that suffering is a part of being human. Jesus Christ suffered for me, beyond anything I have yet to endure, and if I am to be anything to and like Him, I must be willing to suffer, too - and should do it without complaint or self-aggrandizement. Further, that my questions to God should no longer be "Why me, Lord?" or just "Please help me or please heal me", but rather, "Now that You have given me this to deal with Lord, what should I do with it? How can You use it, or how can I bear it, to bring glory to You and to help others whom suffer?"
God helped me that night to realize that, as I've tried to share with others, our suffering - and our joys - are not about us. They're about, and have always been about, God.