©Will Spicher 2008
August 14, 2008
reeling from failure
hiding in shame
feeling dejected and small
try as you might
deeper and deeper you'd fall
Running in circles and pulling your hair
clinging to any relief
in your final despair
somehow you came to believe
then came the light
and carried you through the night
telling your heart it's alright
leading you on
making you strong
then one day a storm
brought you weakness and fear
with nowhere to run or to hide
but quiet and still
that voice whispered deep inside
time marches on
the light grows to the dawn
though darkness will often bring doubt
in ever-increasing amazement remember the hour
For many people, perhaps most, coming to faith is a slow awakening, like sleeping in on a Saturday morning as the sun gradually pulls one to waking as it streams little by little into the window. For me, however, it was--to follow the metaphor--an explosion. Most of the people who read this will find it hard to believe that I am describing events that involved myself, for I changed drastically on that day, and I would continue to change much in the years that would follow. And I do not easily speak of these things unless specially prompted to do so by circumstance or conviction. But someone recently suggested I should make this stuff known (and Jeremiah was right). Therefore, I do so now.
It was my eighteenth birthday--July 23, 1984. I had flunked and dropped out of high school and could not get a job. Plus, I had a drug and alcohol problem along with other issues. In short, my life was a major mess and at major risk. I celebrated this birthday with LSD--the powerful hallucinogenic popular in the sixties. By this time, I had done the drug perhaps a hundred times, but this time was different. It was not the usual paranoia or self-consciousness that often plagued me; something was really going wrong. As I slipped further and further into uncontrollable panic, I realized it was just "a bad trip," but there was nothing I could do to stop it or relax. And I was outside in the streets of Pasadena alone. I knocked on doors hoping to get help; no one opened. I tried to call the police from a payphone to turn myself in; I could not communicate with the operator effectively. Then I slipped fully into the awful hell of a psychotic break running heedlessly through the congested traffic of Southern California streets.
Yet all this time, a remarkable process was occurring in my thinking. When I had awoken that morning I was, at best, an agnostic with respect to God, and, at worst, a pagan with deep occultist beliefs and practices. But as this horrible state of mind descended upon me, I feared that the Devil (who I did not believe in) was deliberately trying to destroy me (though I was aware that my thinking was highly distorted, I had little power to change it through mere willpower). I realized first that I had no one to blame but myself. I had ingested the drug and was responsible for my decisions. This led to the notion that perhaps sin was not just an abstract concept advanced by theologians to make people feel guilty, but a very personal and real principle. And if sin was real, then so was judgment and, therefore, God (also whom I did not believe in). And if God was real, perhaps I could appeal to him to save me from this nightmare. Then I knew he had no reason to do so. Sin had warped me so that I was an offense to him. Then I remembered the claim of the street preachers and Jesus freaks: God had sent his son to pay for my sin. For once it did not seem so silly.
My heart ascended and descended a roller coaster of hope and despair, and even this thought had a problem: somehow I realized that receiving Jesus' offer of payment meant surrendering myself to him completely. This was not anything I had ever heard; it just came to me intuitively--if he had bought something, then the thing was his. And I believed it and could not go through with the exercise; something in me resisted this with horrible tenaciousness and first had to be broken. But the horror deepened within me. The earth heaved and swayed beneath me and the sky darkened and swirled above me, and I knew that I was at the decision point. Soon I would be dead--somehow I knew it.
In anguish I reached for the lifeline at the last available second. In a dirty alleyway behind a water-treatment plant, I fell to my knees and through tears said the most difficult words I can ever recall speaking: "Jesus, please forgive me. Please come into my heart. Please help me." Suddenly I had a very real sense of a luminous and virtuous entity descending out of the sky at light speed and filling my being--I would later describe the sensation as "taking a shower on the inside." Whether it was a hallucination or not, the sensation was overwhelming and brought such sudden peace, in marked contrast to such awful stress, that I fainted and lay in the dirt.
I don't know if I was out for seconds or minutes, but when I came to, the drugs played out their part. I was again plunged into the "bad trip" (a.k.a., psychotic break) in which I ran into trees, walls, moving cars, and living-room windows. My memory once included every detail of the trauma for months afterward (LSD is not an anesthetic or even a pain-reliever), but it soon dimmed, and all I can now recall was the taste of my own blood and wrangling with monsters that were choking me. In reality, a half-dozen policemen were merciful enough to do the hard work of restraining me rather than kill me on the spot (I later read their report to my great shame). And who would have blamed them?
Hours later I came to. I was hand-cuffed in a bed as a doctor pulled glass out of my head after shaving half my hair off. My clothes had been soaked in blood to the point that they were destroyed, and I had been dressed in a hospital gown. I found that I had at one point been given a 50% chance of survival. At this point, I had two prominent thoughts. One made sense: You really blew it this time! The other was foreign to my thinking and made none whatsoever: Everything is going to be alright. The first, while true, eventually faded. The other has only increased through the years and is a focal point of this song.
After a few days in the hospital and a couple more in the Los Angeles County Jail, I appeared before a judge on my arraignment. I was still clothed only in a jumpsuit without even shoes. My head was half shaved and my hair matted with dried blood, and my arm was full of stitches from someone's window glass. But on the inside I was clean--in a way that can only be comprehended by those that have known the joy of being "born again." Looking back, I now see that never was I more beautiful than on the day I was most wretched.
The judge released me on my recognizance (no bail required) provided that I submit to treatment. I recall humorously arguing with the hospital staff as they tried to convince me that I had a problem (denial is a river in Egypt). They eventually prevailed, and I entered the inpatient program but did not apply myself as I should have. Two weeks into my residency, my roommate escaped, got caught and returned. The next morning he told me he brought a joint back in with him and asked if I wanted to share it. Incredibly, I said yes. I had three hours of fun and three days of pure hell as I realized what I had done and the potential consequences--after all I had already gone through! Finally, I could not bear the guilt and came clean. Then, being truly humbled by my addiction, I went to work on the twelve steps in earnest. I include this incident to answer a question I am often posed: "Are you sure you were really an addict? After all, perhaps you just dabbled in drugs and alcohol but were never truly addicted." This incident shows that I had, if nothing else, the insanity that accompanies this sickness. Fortunately, that was the last time I would ever ingest a mind-altering substance. Eventually, I came to view alcohol the way a diabetic views sugar: it is OK for you, but for me it is poison.
To make a very long story very short, I was the seventh to enter and, four months later, I was the first to graduate the program. One day during my first days back at home a friend, Arch, was at the house with me. He told me, "If you open the Bible at random, the first scripture you see will have meaning for you that day." I was too young and naive to know that God doesn't work that way, so I tried it. In perhaps the most stunning miracle I have experienced, I opened to Isaiah 52:11:
"See, I have taken out of your hand
the cup that made you stagger;
from that cup, the goblet of my wrath,
you will never drink again."
I soon got a job waiting tables and returned to school and earned my high school diploma. I paid restitution and stayed sober. A year later the same judge told me, "You are one in a million," and dropped all charges and probation. Though I rejoice, I wish that were not true. It has now been fully twenty-four years since I have used a mind-altering substance (that includes alcohol), and I could not be happier to say so. I eventually went on to discover that I enjoy math and science and earned my bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering through which I am now employed with Caterpillar (at least, until they read this and find out what I used to be like!).
What actually happened on that day? Old friends have suggested that I merely had a powerful hallucination with religious overtones. Perhaps. But I enjoy asking them to explain how the drugs ceased and yet the hallucination continues. And if this is a hallucination, I should gladly choose it over the "reality" I had before succumbing to it. After all, that quiet, still voice has sustained me through some very dark tunnels in a way that drugs could not. However, I truly believe in it. At the very least, I must conclude that I hallucinated my way to a very real salvation. Honestly, my conviction grows with each passing year that there is only one way to interpret the events on July 23, 1984: God revealed himself to me, not because of the drugs but in spite of them; I accepted his gracious offer in his son; and he took up residence within me by his Spirit. While I must acknowledge the role that some wonderful people played in my recovery, as well as that of the twelve steps and other resources, looking back, I see one overriding principle connecting and harmonizing them all together and working through them for my good: The Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to whom I surrendered myself that day.
I am far from perfect (ask anyone who knows me--the better they know me, the worse the report will be), but I am forever changed. This song is a way of telling him thanks. I have written the lyrics to apply vaguely to my situation while focusing on the real, underlying issues, which are a theme common in many believers' experiences: Often our greatest trial contains the seeds of our greatest triumph. But there is often a breaking, as there was for the apostle Paul, to whom Jesus said, "It is hard for you to kick against the goads."
I recall trying to learn Phil Keaggy's Fare Thee Well--a challenging piece in a very alternate tuning (E-G#-D-F#-B-E) with the capo on the third fret. I had put the song down and was fiddling with the guitar in this state as I stumbled on the notes for the chorus and realized I had found something special (I later discovered it cannot be played in standard tuning). I knew immediately it was somehow about The Light, but it would take nearly three years to narrow it down much further. I struggled with the lyrics for a long time before understanding that the song is about my salvation experience. But even then I had trouble writing lyrics that connected adequately because the material is simply so intimate. Deep down I think it was difficult to be this honest. But the song could not survive with anything less. Of course, I recall that I once told The Lord that I would never hesitate to tell this story given the opportunity. The music presented the opportunity to tell it through WillSongs.
Not being content to let an out-of-tune guitar be the only odd thing about this song, I pursued instrumentation that really made it a departure.
The first addition was a djembe. And not just any djembe. This one had to be a fully produced sample kit! Back in March, 2007, Rob Weber, Ken Broy, and I recorded samples of Ken's playing with the intent that we would assemble the raw recordings into a SoundFont sample kit. However, after sitting on the recordings for nine months, I purchased Battery 3 to improve my drum sound. So, as a learning tutorial, I built a simple kit from our recordings. Finally, while writing Came The Light, I realized that the djembe was just what the song needed, so I put real blood, sweat, and tears into the kit and made it part of the song. I now refer to the kit affectionately as "Ken in a box." (Send a note if you are interested in licensing the sample kit.) Here are notes on the kit's development:
Djembe Sample Development Notes
Besides the djembe, I knew I wanted bass. But not just any bass. Of course, I needed a bass I neither have nor play--a fretless upright (I have held them before but could not get beyond where the fifth fret was supposed to be). But, having been a bass player, I have long believed that there should be a law against sequencing the bass, and if a bass player does so, there should be a declaration of war by Congress! So, of course, I proceeded to sequence the bass. Perhaps this, more than any other token, indicates that I am no longer a "bass player" (since I won't file my fingernails--I need them to be an acoustic guitarist). But, being unable to completely leave the thing in mothballs, I used the Fender Jazz Bass Plus V to write and generate the solo during the bridge. I wanted the line to be realistic and driven by my instincts as a bassist. To do this, I recorded the real bass, converted pitch to MIDI data, edited the data to convert slides into pitch bends (to simulate sliding without frets), and drove the sampler with the results.
Finally, I needed a synth. I thought about strings, but strings are dangerous territory for me. Fellow musicians tend to hear how inauthentic sampled strings tend to be, so even my best attempts only create a distraction from the music's message. But as I thought further, I concluded that strings weren't really what I wanted anyway. I wanted an analog synthesizer. But, not having one, I turned to Analog Factory which digitally models seven classic synthesizers and offers literally thousands of patches. I waded through hundreds of patch types called "pads" and narrowed it down to one. After I had settled on the final patch, an irony occurred to me, and I wrote, "It just 'dawned' on me: the song is about The Light brightening 'to the full light of dawn.' I just realized I chose a patch named 'Rising Sun' from a library of thousands!" Analog Factory offers real-time control of selected parameters, two of which are manipulated in the fade-out at the end to give the song some motion.
In the end, the song is like nothing I have ever written, recorded, or even conceived. Following The Muse can take one to some interesting places.
Besides my grandmother, I remember only one other person that reached out to me with the love of Jesus Christ during my turbulent adolescence: Jennie. I was fourteen when we met in the local theater where kids drank and watched rock & roll movies, and we both liked Tommy and Quadrophenia by The Who. Jennie had a great voice, and I enjoyed backing her up on my guitar as she sang. Jennie later came to accept Christ, and she urged me to do so also. Something she saw inside me prompted her to say, "I know you would make such a great Christian." Her words sank deep into my soul, but I did not yet believe, and we went separate ways. After my catastrophe I wanted to thank her, but I did not get the chance. Then I moved away. Years later I would think of her from time to time. She appeared in my dreams occasionally. In one, she wept for joy as I introduced her to my family and she saw the good things God has done for me. I still wanted to thank her for her kindness and concern, without which I may not have survived the ordeal described above, but I thought there would always be time.
I was wrong. Through the magic of Facebook, I learned last week that Jennie died on May 31, 2012, after a long battle with a brain tumor. This is as close as I will come this side of Heaven.
Thank you so much, Jennie.
Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 8:12
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright. Ps 112:4
The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. Pr 4:18
For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 2 Cor 4:6