Out of nowhere, a wind of grace blew over me. It wasn't the lyrics that got me ("I waited patiently for the Lord / He inclined and heard my cry")—I had no idea they were based on Psalm 40. It was the music and the people singing together. Up to this point in my life, I felt like I had been standing in the middle of a circle, punching wildly at the air so no one could hurt me. But here I was drenched in a universal love, and immediately sobered. The mass of voices carried me toward the arms of God.
Psalms with Street Cred
This moment was profound, but it was fleeting. I carried on, chained to voiceless anger. I graduated from a state college, the first in my family to do so, became an RA, landed an internship at NBC, started a business—I was starting to come into my own. But my stabs at a few different careers didn't pan out, and I ended up working for my dad selling garlic for a couple years, then kicking around dead-end jobs. I was starting to realize I couldn't manufacture my own joy.
One night in 1995, I was driving around listening to Nirvana, flipping off people who were lined up outside of bars. My middle finger was my life statement. With my mouth sealed shut, I was saying that their games were meaningless, even though I couldn't have told any of them what was meaningful.
Later that night, lying in my bed in my apartment in San Jose, I heard a voice. It both was and wasn't audible. Give me 100 percent. You've never given me 100 percent. I knew right away that it was the God I'd heard about in churches growing up, the God I had started to believe might exist at the U2 concert.
I realized then that I had never talked to God. I had only talked to God's people. And I had been judging him based on Christians' attempts, however well intentioned, to save me. In that moment, he was asking me to see him for himself, just like I wanted to be seen for myself. I said aloud, "All right. I'll give you 100 percent." I had nothing to lose.
I got out of bed and grabbed a Bible from the leather-bound, gold-embossed, soft-cover, youth-version, study-version, latest-version pile I had collected over the years. The majority of what I had heard in church had no staying power, but I did remember that the Psalms were in the middle of the Bible. I devoured their words like the lyrics on the liner notes of a Cash album. They were deep and rich. They had street cred. I started to think, Man, thismight be true. Even though I hadn't slept well for years, that night I slept like a baby.
The next morning, I was driving around listening to U2's Rattle and Hum when the song "Hawkmoon 269" came on:
Like a desert needs rain
Like a town needs a name
I need your love. . . .
Like coming home
And you don't know where you've been
Like black coffee
I need your love
I pulled the car over and started weeping. I didn't just hear Larry Mullen's drumbeat at the end of the song—I felt it with my being. His bass drum was smashing Satan in the face, each hit loosening his grasp on my life. It called me from violence to chivalry. It called me to a strength that was for justice and gave me hope. All the chains I'd been dragging around, all the screaming and no one listening—it all shattered and fell away.