believe

Head Shot: Alone by Michael Nichols

Do we alienate people because we hate them or because we hate ourselves?

Is it better to be surrounded by oblivious, apathetic souls, or to be alone?

At the end of the day, can you live with pushing everyone away for the sake of staying safe inside, free of criticism, free of failing others, free from the hurt of missing those absent?

...or is failure found in the alienation of everything and everyone we ever deemed important?

No. Failure means that there is no hope to change.

Is it worth the effort to believe and hope that genuine albeit imperfect love exists between two human beings? Is fulfilling our calling in Jesus' name a greater gain than the connections we lose in defying those who deny the dreams we've been given? Is victory over our own soul's shadows worth the struggle?

Yes. Undeniably, yes. It is worth it.

Bring Out Your Dead by Michael Nichols

One of the most difficult things anyone can do before they die is admit they were wrong about things. We all do it, right? You make a math error in class or in your checkbook, or you misread a bill and pay it late. You're repairing a car part and misplace a screw. Anything. Small or big.

I've had this dream of playing music before audiences, releasing CDs, writing, opening a label or recording studio, designing music tech, teaching music -- music stuff. My greatest passion out of these things is to sing and write as the front man of my own band, playing alternative rock gospel music (gospel being applicable to the lyrics and not the southern genre). I've done that. I'm no celebrity, obviously, but I've achieved some of these goals with my band. Unfortunately, however, we recently agreed that it was time to disband.

We started strong, then life happened. We got jobs, we faced issues. It became difficult to remain coherent... yet that was never the issue because we somehow always knew how to find a way. Through it all, we've always managed to play shows and even released an EP. Mechanically, everything seemed fine, dandy. The more I've thought about it, though, and contemplated my walk with Jesus, I've realized that even if the band isn't the problem, and even if our circumstances are making it difficult for us to do what we love, and even if I've got my motives straight, I've realized that I need to give it up because God still has things for me to do and learn first.

The "dead" I'm bringing out is not just my band but the soul that carried it. In 2009, I was awakening, and as I took in the day, I shouted about the night to say that I had come out of it and that one day we will all be going into a greater one. I was one of those young believers who was ready to go all-in, and in ways, that's what I did. Don't misunderstand -- I'm not tooting my own horn in any way. I was also inexperienced and naive. I was willing, and I was ready to run headlong into whatever I needed to do, or so it seemed; but in reality, I was ill prepared, and the next five years of my life were spent learning that. I learned how much I was willing to compromise, how unstable, how raw, how inexperienced, and how hollow my devotion was to anyone let alone God.

I had no idea how much growing up I had to do, how much I had to go through to do it, and what God had in store for me after all of that; and honestly, I'm not sure that He's even done. Sure, in a way, He'll never be done, but I feel like I'm just now wading into deep water. Again, don't misunderstand -- there was a point in my life where I was drowning in its depths, but this time is different because I'm learning to swim, and being taught that only He can make me walk on water.

I've said a million times to Him, "If you want me to give up music, I will," but the more I think about it, the more I realize that it was just my lips talking. Music is my solace, my release, my offering, my way of not feeling alone, and my way of making sure no one else ever does. That having been said, if I had to give that up to somehow reach someone, would I really? Not too long ago, I'd have said, "Yes," but I'd really have meant, "No," and that has helped me uncover the reasons behind a fact that has disturbed me for a long time: I find it very difficult to worship. It's not that I can't, but it often times takes so much effort. I've wondered why. Again, the past five years have taught me that I haven't had my priorities straight. I've had my sights set on things that can't satisfy me or save me like He can.

Even though I want to serve God, and I want Him to be in total control, if I'm being honest, I really haven't done the best job relinquishing that to Him. In effect, He has allowed me to go through things so that I can genuinely see the state I'm in, and by seeing that state, I can finally truly let Him have His way with me and let go of this arrogant chasing after things that fade. For me, that means musical success, romance, social prowess, and more (not to say these things are evil, but my lust for them tainted me). This arrogance is the ingrowing of oneself: selfishness, empty ambitions. By growing inward too much and not growing up to soak up God's light, eventually, our souls start to in-grow and die.

You can only spend so much time in a box before you start to grow into yourself, just like that. There must be a Sabbath, a season of rest. The music must stop for a second for you to truly bask in the glory of the Lord and remember why you're even allowed to do what you love to do. When you step out into that light, you have to be honest about what things in your life you've let die -- that's the only way they can be brought to life again, maybe even with a new name and a new face.

Bring out your dead. Bring out your dead. I bring me.

Extent of Encouragement by Michael Nichols

Think for a moment about everyone you know or have known and can still recall. Think. Think slowly, clearly, and thoroughly. Okay. Good. That's enough of that. Now comes the difficult part. I want you to pick which one of them most adamantly denies encouragement. Yeah. You've got it. You know.

During high school, I was definitely that kid. Despite constant bullying and exclusion during elementary school, I still had confidence in certain of my abilities, primarily academic. That having been said, between 6th and 9th grade, a transition took place that I didn't understand was even happening, nor did I recognize until recent years. That transition was into self-consciousness. It was the point where the back of my mind slowly began to realize that I was different, and that either made me invisible or a third-eyesore to people. I don't say this to mope, but it truly was the reality in which I lived.

During this transition, what I once perceived as mere perfectionism morphed to become self-enslavement. If I caught flak at some point, I gave myself hell. If I missed a note, I gave myself hell. After feeling that burn for enough time, you start to lose your senses, your nerves, your feelings. What once was self-enslavement turned into apathy, and I was still enslaved.

By the time all of this change had permeated my heart, I was in high school, doing my own thing, taking care of my studies and branching out into fiction writing, music (privately), and a little bit of art (sculpture, painting, etc.), so naturally when a few [crazy] people paid me compliments--well, frankly, I didn't care because there's no way those compliments could have been real, right? Certainly these people were simply setting out to deceive me, yes? But were they?

I remember one specific instance of denying someone's encouragement. More specifically, I remember their reply: "Just take it," said anonymous with a smile.

Those words stuck with me. The skeptic I'd become didn't believe in genuineness, yet aware of [and despite] my skepticism, anonymous insisted that I just take the encouragement and run with it. This person acknowledged that I didn't believe her, yet didn't try to convince me of her transparency, nor did she overcompensate by smothering me with more compliments, nor did she take back the words she said. What really happened is that she saw the bigger picture of who I was and what I was going through (even though she didn't really know specifics nor were we particularly close, but she understood what was happening). This allowed her to truly and genuinely encourage me in the best way. She knew she couldn't force me to believe it, yet she wasn't going to deny the truth, either. That's the bigger picture.

One can only encourage another to the degree to which the other accepts the fact that there are bigger things at stake in life than the problems we face in a day or even a lifetime. If that degree does not exist, our attempts are in vain until the person in question is shown otherwise. In that moment, I was the bigger thing at stake. It was my soul she was after, that also Christ in her was after. I encourage you to recognize something bigger in the moment that you're in, that the truth is the truth regardless of whether or not you believe it. This is true philosophically, scientifically, theologically, but most importantly personally. Take it. Run.