Sunday, February 22, 2009

Listening for the Voice

My friend Melissa and I communicate quite often, technically.

Or really that “technically” should be technologically.

Rarely a week goes by lately that we don’t text one another via cell phone at least a half dozen or more times. And we’ve been fairly consistent about sending emails since we first became friends during my Walk to Emmaus almost two years ago.

But, until last Friday, we haven’t actually talked since we left Tombigbee State Park that warm Sunday afternoon in June 2007. That’s why I wasn’t really offended when she didn’t recognize my voice at first when I called her up. I mean, it HAD been almost two years since she had heard it and I really didn’t give her a clue to my identity with my warm and emotionally moving conversation of “Hey! What are you doin’?”

When Melissa did figure out who she was talking to, the seemingly sound of joy in her voice made me feel really good and glad that I had taken a quick moment to call to tell her something I felt she needed to hear at the time. Although I enjoy the messages we share from time to time, no method of communication can really replace hearing the voice of someone whom you know cares a lot about you. And there are times when you really just need to hear the voice of someone you know who loves you for one reason or another.

That brief conversation reminded me of one I had experienced about 16 or so years ago. I don’t talk about that conversation very often because it’s basically hard for me to verbalize exactly what happened. And I’ve tried on numerous occasions to write about it, too, but finding the exact words for it has been difficult. Even for someone who once made a living by stringing together words to make stories to inform or entertain.

This conversation happened in another friend’s kitchen. It was a spring afternoon; a rare Saturday I had off from work with no out-of-town plans. I’d eaten lunch with this friend and we were going to bake cookies and a few other desserts for a reception at church the next day.

While looking at the recipes, my friend realized she was missing some ingredients so she went to the store and left me at her house to wash up the lunch dishes.

Sylvia’s kitchen sink sits below a window that allows you to overlook her oak tree-shaded back yard. I was standing there washing dishes and gazing across the yard, watching a slight breeze move the daffodils and thinking about how beautiful the world was at that time. That’s when I heard a voice say, “Your mother is going to die, but I am in control.”

For a brief moment of time, it seemed that the world stopped turning on its axis. And I seemed to stop breathing for a few minutes as well.

See, I was the only person in the house – or so I thought – and I hadn’t spoken. And I knew I didn’t make up what was said because I literally heard it with my ears. It wasn’t a thought or something that came from within me. It was someone who spoke those words directly to me.

And I recognized the voice immediately although I’d never heard it with my physical ears before. I’d heard it numerous times within my heart and soul, where you normally hear the voice of God speak. But this was the first time I’d ever actually HEARD Him. Surprisingly enough, I wasn’t afraid nor was I confused. God had spoken and I knew it was Him. There was no doubt that it was God.

I’ve thought about it hundreds of times since and have tried to figure out exactly how to describe what the voice of God sounded like. It wasn’t similar to the roaring of the sea or the howling of stormy winds as others who have heard Him speak have described it. There was no obvious accent or dialect in the few words He said. It wasn’t a booming statement He delivered; instead it was a calm, almost reassuring one. Basically, I guess the best way to describe the voice was that it was simply God’s voice.

When I finally caught my breath and the world seemed to start revolving again, my first reaction was to laugh although the words He had spoken weren’t funny. It wasn’t the laughter of nervous reactions or hilarity that I used, though. It was a somewhat spiritual laugh of unbelief. That what the God of the universe had chosen to speak to me on that warm spring day was so utterly ridiculous to me that I had to laugh about it. Why? Because my mother wasn’t even sick. So how could she be about to die?

Sylvia finally returned home and I calmly told her about the experience. A Christian herself, she asked what my response to it was and I said, “I don’t really know if it’s true, but let’s just wait and see what happens.”

Several months later, my mother began complaining of some pain in her neck. A doctor ordered an MRI for her and she had the test done. My sister, my nephew and I were able to find out the results of my mother’s MRI before she did. It was not a ruptured disc as Mama had thought it might be but it was, instead, a diagnosis none of us really expected: cancer.

Since we didn’t feel it was our place to tell Mama about the results, we opted to wait until the weekend was over and she returned to the doctor to have him tell her. That was the most difficult weekend I think I’ve ever had. I mean, Mama was the person in my family who I went to when I had troubles or trials to discuss but this was one time when I couldn’t do that. And I was miserable.

Late that Saturday night as I lay in my bed with hot, silent tears sliding slowly down my face, I felt more alone than I have ever felt. I began praying and asking God – no, begging Him – to help me. All of the sudden, a warmth came over my body and I felt as if someone had just picked me up and placed me in my lap. And a peace that can only be compared to the one Paul wrote about in Philippians 4, that peace that “passeth all understanding,” came over me.

I won’t say the next six months were easy. I have described it many times as a never-ending roller coaster ride. For you see, I didn’t understand why my mother had to be diagnosed with cancer. Why someone I loved had to suffer such a cruel and debilitating illness. But every time life seemed to get the worst for my family, that peace would wash over me again.

It was that same peace that I held onto during Mama’s last moments on Earth. It was that same peace that helped me hold it together as I stood by Mama’s bed side with her thin hand grasping mine as she told me that she knew where she was going and how proud she was of the woman I was becoming. It was that same peace that helped me recall weeks after her death the last words she spoke as she looked up at me and said, “I have always loved you.” It was that peace that helped me get through Mama’s death at 11:41 p.m. December 15, 1992, and that same peace kicked in throughout the visitation and funeral a few days later.

I was strong because I knew who was in control despite the fact that it seemed life as I knew it was suddenly out of control.

And it’s that same peace that comforts me on those random days almost 17 years later when I miss Mama more than I sometimes think I can bear it and more than I can attempt to verbalize.

Although I haven’t heard God’s voice with my physical ears since that spring day in 1992, I still remember how it sounded. I continually hear Him speak to me on a daily basis, and I’m trying to learn to discern His will and become more obedient to what it is that He will have me do.

Yep, 17 years later, I still believe in the One who guides my life and still trust that peace that passeth all understanding. I still don’t understand it or even fully comprehend it, but I’m holding onto it day by day by day.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

Absolutely the most beautiful story yet!!! Not because of me, but a reaffirmation of hearing God's voice, and yesterdays sunday school lesson was on hearing the voice of God!! Wow, what a God thang!!!!