Feature

The Voice

Listening is the first step to transformation

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There is a time in all our lives when we hear a voice. Sometimes the voice is clear and direct; other times, it’s a faint whisper. Either way, you listen to it or you don’t.

On the morning of December 12, 2010, the voice that I heard through a throbbing fog of alcohol poisoning was my son’s.

“Stop drinking, Papa. I don’t want you to die.”

An epiphany moment? You can bet your last dime it was. Only I didn’t know it at the time.

I grew up in a rural midlands Irish town that was well known for, eh, nothing. It had five pubs, two shops, and a big Catholic church in the middle of it all. Oh, and the roundabout was called “the square”! My memories are of being an outcast with a fertile imagination. I wrote stories to escape the mundanity of school, and instead of being on the football team (like all the popular guys), I was out exploring nature and all its beauty.

We went to Mass every Saturday night. As I sat there, third row from the front, I listened to the priest with about as much interest as I had in listening to my school teacher during the week. It was all very uninspiring. I thought that a priest representing God was kind of silly. God was outside with me on my adventures. He was the wind that caressed the barley fields and brought lightning to the skies, not some boring old dude who smelled of incense and wore a dress.

I started drinking alcohol when I was 13. Even though it tasted gross, it made my head feel kind of cool, like I had an escape from the boredom. Unfortunately, though, the escapism took over as I grew into adolescence. I moved to Australia to party for a whole year at the age of 22 and then on to London after that for six years, which took my drug and alcohol abuse to a whole new level. I drank beer for breakfast and did cocaine to wake me up in the evenings. I was a pub manager living the high life, but inside I was dying.

When my wife at the time put in for a transfer to Paris, I thought my troubles would stay in London. Wrong! Paris was alien to me—the people, the culture, the language. I started hitting the bottle like never before. My marriage suffered, and sadly, we separated. I had two young kids and was wondering what on earth I was becoming. I was a high-functioning alcoholic—able to hold a job and hide my illness from all but those closest to me—but I was losing control and saw death as the only way out. Whether it would be through my addiction or suicide, I didn’t know. Following my son’s terrifying utterance, I knew my days were numbered. After 15 years of hardcore addiction, the infamous “rock bottom” had made an appearance.

I had to listen to that voice.

When I got a few months of sobriety under my belt by going “cold turkey,” I decided to become more social. Being an addict means a lot of secrecy; basically, the only relationship that matters is the one you have with your beer can because you think it is the one thing that will always be there for you. I had been trying to get fit so I joined a running Web site in the hope of meeting ex-pats. I “friended” a few guys—including one named Tim Meier. He looked fairly normal, and I had nothing to lose. He was also an absolute stud on the running scene, seriously fast.

As soon as we started pinging messages to each other, I just knew he was different. We talked about music—him being a guitar player and I, a drummer—running, books, and faith. He told me he was a pastor, and I was taken aback as he was only 29. He seemed too cool to be a man of the cloth (what we called priests back home). He told me about his adorable wife and boys and that he had moved to France from the United States a couple of years earlier.

We met for lunch a few times per month. Then, on a crisp Thursday afternoon in spring, he asked me to come hear him lead worship. Lead worship? Sounded kind of cultish, but I had nothing better to do and maybe there’d be food involved (we runners eat a lot). So, off I went to Trinity International Church of Paris and arrived to find Tim at the center of a group of musicians, bouncing around with that trademark enthusiasm I have come to know and love so much.

I was really shy, which was probably a first. He introduced me to an awesome guy named Todd, who Tim explained would be delivering the message. During the sermon, Todd kept going on about how he was fallible and had made mistakes and was nothing without Jesus. I thought all these priests and preacher guys—at least the ones I’d been exposed to—were perfect. After a few months, Tim asked me to play drums on the worship team. I’d go to rehearsals, drop a stick, swear, and then find out much later from Tim that the team members would flinch at my loose-tongued outbursts. It was gonna be a long road.

I felt encouraged by the people at Trinity, but I wasn’t totally sure they were the real deal. I thought they had an agenda, and the only one I really trusted was Tim. He didn’t try to bowl me over with Bible verses; he just loved on me in a way my soul really craved. I was a broken and imperfect human being, but Tim would have done anything for me. I kept going to church, and although I was part of the scene, I was not quite there with the people who threw their arms up toward God and worshiped with an otherworldly devotion.

Tim Meier (L) prays for Malcolm along with Josh Whiteman (R) before baptizing him in a creek during a visit to Colorado last summer.

Then, one day before Christmas, a guy on a motorbike knocked me off my bicycle in the city and left me there.

For seven months, I battled a fractured foot and asked this God of Tim’s why He did nothing to help me heal. I was going to church, playing on the worship team, even cutting out the swearing and using His name in vain. And here I was, broken and beaten—again.

Then Ron Walborn walked in the door. It was just another Sunday service at Trinity, and this guy I’d never heard of—who had come from Alliance Theological Seminary to preach—starts into this big thing about how Jesus heals. “Great, what’s this guy selling?” I muttered to myself. After he told a few stories, he asked if anyone would like to be healed. Ah, yeah! I thought. Broken foot here; need to get back to running!

I was skeptical and sat back to check this guy out when that voice told me to stand. I reluctantly got to my feet, and my neighbor and good friend Tony prayed for me. As the music reached a crescendo, I felt my heartbeat quicken and a force rise up inside my chest. I broke down, the fragmented pieces of my past falling away like a cliff face crumbling into the sea.

Within a week, I was running again, and everything looked different; the trees and flowers were revealed to me as if for the first time. Tim had moved back to the States by this point, and it took him a few e-mail exchanges to calm me down and explain that, yes, Jesus had healed not only my foot but also my heart and soul. That was the day I realized that the voice had been His all along—I just hadn’t been listening.

I now see that Jesus sent Tim to teach me to listen. By surrendering my life to Jesus, it is now my turn to teach other nonbelievers about Him, to show them that He loves them in ways they may never know unless they too truly listen. I do this through language exchanges here in Paris, by letting the Holy Spirit guide my drumming, and by walking recovering addicts through the perilous early stages of recovery.

I am now married to a wonderful Alliance worker, my beloved Valary, and we walk His path together. My life can be summed up in Acts 20:24: “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”

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