From this week 8 years ago….
Originally written on the evening of March 16th, 2007
Rain, rain falling down…continuously cascading out of the atmospheric ceiling of gray clouds. Might I say miserable, dismal weather? Weather that makes one perhaps bored, lonely, or depressed?
As I looked out of my apartment window early this afternoon I noticed the gray wisps that had been hanging over the Dallas area for the last four days had finally given up there holding pattern and had decided to let loose with a good downpour. As I peered out through the glass and storm screen, I was inspired to tell you something that the Lord had placed on my heart quite a while ago, but maybe out of fear, or simply the lack of time, I neglected to do so.
But now as I sit here done with most of my seminary assignments (for now) at quarter past ten, and it’s still raining, the Lord has again prompted me to tell you about a time in my life when it kept raining, in fact it seemed to rain for more than six months…
At the Top of My Lungs
At five years old I can remember loving to sing, and when I mean love, I mean everyday at the top of my lungs. Of course five year olds can’t sing very well, but I sure tried, in fact there’s even evidence through the witness of my mother that I tried when I was in her womb, (as attested by all the kicking and punching going on in her stomach during the song service at church). As I grew older I continued singing. I sang to my piano teacher as I pounded out my lessons, I joined the kid’s choir at church, and I screamed around the house with a five gallon bucket used as a percussion instrument, vocally reverberating something that referenced the mystery of the Trinity.
As I grew into my teen years my love for the Lord deepened, and my desire to sing and worship Him through instrumental song only grew. At fifteen years old, I remember when our music pastor asked me to sing a solo…yikes; I still can’t believe they let me do it at the green age of fifteen. But, as nervous as I was, I loved it…I just knew this is what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing.
The church we attended at that time gave me many wonderful opportunities to use my gifts to glorify God. I began not only playing the trumpet in their small orchestra ensemble, but also leading worship on Wednesday nights, and then even on Sunday mornings. I participated in choirs, more solos, and other community concerts, and God was blessing my ministry! Through a variety of circumstances I ended up leaving that church when I was twenty, but soon God opened other doors through which I could minister in music. I returned once more to leading worship at a couple small churches, along with other various music opportunities in the Eternal Vision program, and other various music classes etc…
My only point in saying all these things up to this point is not to blab about my musical background, but simply to share with you how large a place music has always had in my life.
To me worshiping God and music were synonymous and inseparable. How little I knew…
In the fall of 2005 the Lord clearly directed me to go on a missions trip to the faraway land of India. And, what was supposed to be a three week trip ended up being a great five-week “baptism” into real life ministry. I had a wonderful, awesome time. I saw God work in so many powerful ways, to think about it still blows my mind. But this trip was not without difficulty.
During one of the largest crusades we were involved in, we went forward to sing a few songs…no big deal I thought. Me as the “music guy” had prepared a few selections and I thought we could do a decent job. However as we were starting to sing the first song, I noticed something didn’t seem quite right with my voice. I deduced it to be merely some slight association with the congestion I was dealing with at the time, and thought it would eventually return back to normal. The only problem is that it only grew worse. But you know me, I didn’t completely lose my voice so why not keep going? So that is just what I did. I actually preached an hour long message right after we finished that series of songs…
As my time in India drew to a close, the problem with my voice started to bother me more, but at the time I was sick with so many other ailments, I figured things would heal up when I got back to home turf…
“and it’s still raining…”
I was quite green around the gills when I finally stepped foot on American soil, but within a few weeks of having my mom’s great health food and a heavy dose of vitamins everyday, I started feeling well again. The only not so funny thing was ahem…was my voice was in really bad shape. I couldn’t figure it out. It didn’t matter what vocal exercises I tried to do, it simply would not get any better. My loss of voice was right in the pivotal, power center of my range…it would go from a grating sound to sometimes completely nothing. You may laugh, but I certainly wasn’t.
After three months of wondering, I finally decided to get back with my voice teacher and see what he had to say. After hearing me try to sing a little bit he recommended that I go to a specialty clinic at the University of Michigan. Now, you have to realize that I had now gone more than three months without being able to sing (at least like I used too)…My heart was starting to really sink.
“and it’s still raining…”
As I made my way to this vocal clinic for a diagnostic exam, I couldn’t help but be filled with despair. Why would God send me to India, and then take away the gift that I was so sure he had given me? Why does it have to be my voice? “God, why does it have to be me?” As the doctor showed me the video from the stroboscope he had put down my throat and said, “Well Michael, what you have is a laryngeal asymmetry caused by the apparent viral damage of your upper superior laryngeal nerve…in other words a semi-paresis of your left vocal fold”…I don’t remember crying outwardly, but if I wasn’t, I certainly was weeping on the inside.
Get out of the Way
It didn’t get any better either, the doctor then graciously said that there was NOTHING he could do about it accept to wait maybe a year or so to see if it would clear up. Then he recommended that I start vocal therapy to learn how to best utilize what I did have. Hmmm…what did I have anyway? The therapy proved to be insightful, but also very expensive, something I’m not always akin to, especially when it comes to giving it to hospital bills.
But I must say one thing they did tell me in therapy really jumped out at me and hit me right across the forehead…it was from Mr. Leslie Guinn (I retired, but still famous classical singer), he said, “Michael, if I can get you out of the way of your voice, you then will be able to actually use it.”
Now, this may sound really crazy to some of you who are not singers, but to me it not only applied to my voice, but to everything God was trying to teach me. You see, for so long I was doing what I thought was my gift. I was controlling and guiding, but now it seemed God was desiring something very different from me. He wasn’t desiring for me to do anything for Him, but instead He wanted me give Him control and stop trying to hold on….even to the things I held most dear, even my voice.
I would say, “Lord, you know all I want to do is worship you with my voice, why would take this away!! God, I would rather have my right arm completely cut off than lose my ability to worship You!” But…
“It’s still raining…”
“Lord, why me? Why now?” And then through my tears I would hear my Lord whisper through His Word, “Michael I want your heart, all of your heart”…He told me that I had been trying to doing all these things for Him, as if I had something good to bring to the altar, when in actuality the things I thought I had to bring to the altar to please Him were simply from Him in the first place. All my righteousness was seen as filthy rags…And it didn’t matter to God, He simply wants to know me. Really?
“I barely hear…You whisper through the rain…I’m with you”
Through spring and on into mid-summer I continued to go to the vocal therapy sessions down at U of M, and then cry at least part if not all the way home during the hour and fifteen minute drive…I was progressing, so they said, but the problem was still there. But, you know what? As little as I could sing, I was learning to wait at the throne of grace and talk with God, worship God and find joy in His presence no matter how I felt physically.
I then remember quite distinctly driving home from a business meeting and attempting to break into a song of joy for the Lord’s blessing and finding my voice still not there…
I banged my hands against the steering wheel in frustration more with myself than anything else, tears began to roll down my face. I again asked Jesus the “why” question, but this time something maybe me stop short. With my eyelids wiping back and forth the rain in my eyes…I whimpered, “Lord, I love you, and if I am never able to sing the way I used to ever again…Praise to You. And, if you do restore my voice, it is yours…Praise to You. I will only look to glorify You in everything that I say, sing, and do from now on….
“I’ll raise my hands, and praise the God who gives, and takes away…”
It was late August or early September when I noticed that I could once again seem to be able to do a little bit more with my voice here and there. My voice teacher also commented on it and said that he felt I could begin working on some real songs again, not just vocal exercises. Boy, was that a relief… However, I still knew that my singing ability was still limited, so I simply kept trusting. It was this matter of trusting that allowed me to release all the tension, worry and anxiety to the Lord.
God once again starting opening doors through which I could minister in music, and as I prepared, I again found my voice feeling a little stronger. It was as though God was giving me just enough grace for each opportunity…the first solo I sang coming back was “His strength is Perfect”…But, I really shouldn’t say “coming back,” I still feel that this voice that I do have is not what it used to be, it is what God wants it to be, and I am totally dependent on Christ for each situation.
I knew that according to the doctor my “paresis” was not too much different than it was in May, but as the Christmas season rolled around I felt the Lord giving me direction to be involved in whatever God-glorifying music opportunities that might arise. So trusting Him, I ended up participating in a whole myriad of events over the holiday season…Praise to Him.
And that was when I noticed it wasn’t raining anymore. The Lord had taken my heart and I had no desire of retrieving it. He was not only my Savior, but now my Lord, my God and my King. He was gracious to restore my voice in the way in which He chose and I can honestly say that God did something in my heart and life that could only be done through such an experience as this. Just a couple of weeks ago when I returned home for spring break, I went to the last scheduled session at U of M for a final check by the doctor and to my pleasant and truly complete surprise he said, “You know what Michael? If I had not known of your previous condition and had not been looking really hard for the asymmetry of your vocal mechanism, I would not have even noticed that you still have just a slight problem. It’s barely even there now Michael” ….Praise to God! Oh, Praise to You my King. And this time I didn’t hold my feelings inside…
I hope and pray that this little yet sort of long story from my life has made known to you in a more evident way the true character of our loving, holy and sovereign God. Whatever you are going through right now…it may be raining and thundering, but know that He is with you and He will never leave you or forsake you. He is working in your life for His glory to be known and His power to be shown to not only you, but to as many as will listen to you share.
“But I am afflicted and in pain; May Your salvation, O God, set me securely on high. I will praise the name of God with song and magnify Him with thanksgiving. And it will please the Lord better than an ox or a young bull with horns and hoofs. The humble have seen it and are glad; You who seek God, let your heart revive. For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise His who are prisoners.” – Psalm 69:29-33
“O God, You have taught me from my youth, and I still declare Your wondrous deeds. And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come, For your righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens, You who have done great things; O God, who is like You? You who have shown me many troubles and distresses will revive me again, and will bring me up again from the depths of the earth. May You increase my greatness and turn to comfort me.” – Psalm 71:17-24
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Lyrics from headings borrowed from Mark Hall’s song “Praise You In this Storm” (Casting Crowns):
In Christ Alone,
…It stopped raining.