Change and Constancy (2): Repeat by Michael Nichols

They say you get better as you get older. Wiser, kinder... Really, you just get "er," though. You become more of what your heart desires. It's like that song that becomes stuck in your head. Even though they say you can get it out by singing it or listening to it, most times, it just gets more stuck.

I've always had trouble being myself. It can take on so many forms. I can be a jerk because I don't want you to know how much I care. I can be arrogant because I know how small I am in the scope of things. It gets really bad when I'm convinced I'm going to screw something up. I'm torn between doing anything to get out of a scenario in which I'm terrified to fail, and doing everything I can to keep what I have because of how much value I place on those things. This fear can keep me stuck in a kind of limbo--I don't quite act like myself, yet I don't quite hide myself.

The question I always come back to is simple: which is worse--being myself and living with my failures that naturally come with that, or sacrificing everything that makes me marginally unique for the sake of not making things worse? And regardless of which option my mind chooses, will my heart let me get by with that? Here's an example. I have people in my life who expect/want me to do brainy things with my career. "You should be a mathematician, or design computer applications." Yeah, that's nice. I'm a nerdy guy. I could probably do it. Thing is, I have no desire to do so, nor am I convinced that I'd be utilizing my full potential. I'd be missing something. However, I'm pursuing a career in music. Why? Because that's where my passion lies, and that's where I believe I can be the most effective and do the most good. I have my reasons for that.

What if, however, I didn't pursue a career in music? What If I chose computers or math? Well, there wouldn't be anything wrong with that besides a few things: 1) I'd be defying my conscience, 2) I'd be defying God's calling for me, 3) I'm not the same person when I'm pursuing the head over the heart, caught more in perfectionism than love.

It's never just isolated to one thing, though. This mental limbo is like gravity: it affects everything within that system, only to smaller and smaller degrees as you travel away from it. While I no longer suffer greatly from career choice limbo, I find myself very often in social limbo. I know there are some people who I can be 100% myself around without consequence (or I've just become gradually more apathetic to those consequences); but then there are others whose relationships I value so much that it terrifies me to think that I could say or do something to disintegrate us. While moving on and going separate ways seems to be the modus operandi eventually with most relationships, there are always a few that we shudder to lose. The reason for that is simply that relationships like that are rare, like diamonds in the sand: how does one manage to lose a diamond back into the sand?

So it's worth thinking about to me. Do I build walls and keep people who could come close--keep them at arms length for fear of losing them to time, or do I bite the bullet and love knowing that inevitably I'm probably going to lose them? I think I lose more by creating distance, not calming down and simply taking them in like a breath of fresh air. Still, I find myself caught in the cycle of asking myself these same questions every single time I meet someone who I know could break me, wouldn't, but life might force that breaking upon us. I'm that song, stuck in my own head, looping, repeating, and it's always the typically-brokenhearted second verse that hits me. Why can't it be the bridge? Why not listen to the turnaround?

We're all sinners. We're all liars. We're all afraid of something. Even when we finally choose to follow Jesus in His perfect love, we run into some cycle we've been stuck in since we emerged in this life. Just like open doors are meant to close, though, cycles begin to end. For me, it always comes back to a choice: live alone and lose everything, or love and learn to live fully. Option two is the beginning of the end of my cycle. What's yours?

Rev(ital)ised: Adulthood by Michael Nichols

I was eighteen years old by the end of 2009. Everyone always makes a big deal about it. It's sort of a cultural thing, and who can blame a guy for being a little excited? You gain the right to vote, join the military, and do plenty of other things legally, some of which are wiser than others.

A few months in, I wasn't the most ecstatic person on the face of the planet, though. It seemed to me like just another number, but I was thinking about this number on much different terms. A lot of what I wished for has come true since then, to my gain and detriment. This is how I began my legal adulthood.

20 March 2010 at 2:34am -- from Facebook Notes, revised 24 February 2014

I'm eighteen years old. Milestone? I giggle at you. I have the ability to [legally] buy tobacco products, pornography, lottery tickets, and am deemed by the state/nation to be a "legal adult". How does this benefit me? If you have a theory, please enlighten me because I've got nothing. At sixteen, I gained the legal right to test for a driving instruction permit and the ability to consent to sex. At twelve, adolescence happens. Let's not go there, I think we all get it. And at random years in between we actually do this interesting thing called living our lives.

Day to day, whether we think it through at any degree or not, we make simple this-or-that decisions. Drive, or don't drive. Work, or don't work. Eat, or don't eat. Worship, or don't worship. Pray, or don't pray. Honor the Lord, or don't. Share, or don't. Get up, or don't. Love, or don't. Hope, or don't. Believe, or don't. Fear, or don't. Give, or don't. Take, or don't. I could ramble on about all the different this-or-that decisions that make up every single move we make as living souls, but I think you get the point by now.

I'm eighteen years old. What changed? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. "Legal" means nothing. Whether a government says, "We recognize you as an adult when you turn eighteen or twenty-one," does not make a difference. You choose the difference whether you're young or whether you have multiple college degrees. Is this too simple? Too easy to be true? No. As a matter of fact, simplicity is exactly what we need as human beings.

We're all just a bunch of over-sized, coffee-drinking, relationship-having, reproducing, job-doing, schedule-making children. Just because we paste on this facade of sophistication doesn't for a second mean that we're any better. Paul the apostle said, "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, acted like a child, thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things." He didn't hit a certain age and then magically become mature. He chose. He realized that he was a child and needed to grow up.

We believe what we believe because we were taught it. Our lives took the paths they did, and here we stand, believing what we do, be it true or false. We did not evolve into this voluntarily. We are not God. We do not have the power to breathe life into nothing. Show me someone who can besides the Lord Jesus Christ. Even from the beginning, we were taught by the Lord God Almighty in the truth, then we were deceived (taught a lie) by that old serpent called Satan (meaning: the adversary). Our sciences have been taught by the world around us when smarter men decided to listen to it.

No matter what, our existence has been nothing but a learning process... and this is where it gets ugly. When we think that we no longer need to be taught, that is when we are mere children. That is when we have failed. When we think that there is something about ourselves that is all we need, that is the exact moment we need to think again. If you jump in the deep end of your heart and swim around for a little while, you will realize this truth. You will know that there is this unquenchable thirst for something more than yourself, something solid, something that will last forever; but in this life only, we will not find such a love. "In Christ alone" will true hope be found, but I digress.

I know by personal experience that when you get that attitude of being the only one who matters, the only one of whole value, the only one who is worth fighting for, the only one without a flaw and with need of nothing... Well, let's just say that "pride goes before destruction." Eventually, life will teach you... [chuckles...] teach you that, even though you are of value, even though you do matter, and even though you do have something to offer, every single one of us having our own form of righteousness, we have nothing to offer before the Lord but "filthy rags."

But here is the thing: Jesus Christ said via His actions, "I love you. You have taken upon you dirty rags for clothing. You will be naked. But I have good clothing. Here. Take mine. From me, all who come shall be clothed." He traded His perfect life for every failure, every sin, every immaturity, every vulgarity, every curse of man behind the back of the blessings of God, every hate, every torture, and every unspeakable thing, all wrapped into one collective, united human slaughter, one ultimate sacrifice, the only one good enough.

I cannot do enough to repay Him, and that's not even the point of the cross because nobody can. But if we don't make a concerted effort in His name, then who are we, and what is the point? What love goes unreturned? What debt goes unpaid? Being a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, if I care that little to the end that I would blow off this gift, His will, everything He has given me... if I don't tell anyone, if I don't do everything within my power, including surrendering to His, how dare I stand before Him and say that I'm good enough, and I should get into Heaven, or even get a decent life on earth?

I've gone all the way around the block simply to say this one thing... Adulthood. It's not an age, a right, a license. It's a choice, a surrender, humility, letting our sins be crucified with Jesus, being open to being wrong. It's a gift, grace, mercy. It's in our hands.

This is adulthood. I want to grow up.

Renewed Life (2): Sing For Him by Michael Nichols

You may remember reading my previous post "Entering Rest -- Scripted". You may remember that I asked what your script is. Well, surprise -- another question: what happens when you lose the script? What happens when all of the premeditated thoughts and actions simply vanish when it comes crunch time? Matter of fact, if you've been out to do some karaoke, you probably understand completely what I'm talking about. Half way through the song, you completely blank on your line, so thank goodness the words are on the screen. Whew!

But what if they're not? What if it's all up to you to remember what it is you're doing? Simple. You have two options: leave the stage, or sing.

On the subject of stage fright again, a lot of times people will choke and forget the words simply because of the fear that they'll screw it up in some way. I think we've probably been scared of underperforming in some aspect of our lives, even if it's not an art form, something for which you must take the stage. Heck! Maybe you're just scared you're going to screw up a potential friendship, so you completely just black out everything you know about being a friend to avoid that failure, the letting down of someone we may grow to care for... but that was never really the point of friendship, was it?

Nobody is ever guaranteed a perfect friend, a perfect spouse, perfect parents, a perfect pastor, a perfect boss, president... We're not guaranteed a perfect world. Since when did that stop someone from doing what every fiber in their being wanted to do. I'm not saying, "Do what you want." Don't go around hurting people, or yourself for that matter. In fact, if what you want to do is curl up into a ball and roll off the stage and into some dark, riskless corner, I'd highly encourage you to do the opposite.

Everyone is going to screw up trying to live out love, speak the Gospel, be separated to God, be a friend to people around, hold a meaningful relationship. That's almost a guarantee, but an even better guarantee is that succeeding to do something good, especially your relationship with Jesus, is worth the risk of failure to get to the end of it.

Those questions from before: "What if I make some mistake and God kicks me out, or what if I'm laughed at for something I say?" -- I asked those questions once. I'd be lying to say that I have never asked them since. But now I know better. I know now that those are the wrong questions. The right question is, "Does Jesus really love me?" The answer is yes. The deeper you begin to accept the depths of His love, the more you'll realize that He's not looking for an excuse to push you away, and He's waiting on the other side of whatever it is you're going through, be it a hardship, or be it a sin you're trying to overcome.

So when you feel like you're on the stage and you're about to choke, just remember that Jesus loved you before you stood up, and He will love you still after it's over. Sing for Him.

How Could You? by Michael Nichols

Preliminary notes: 1, I'm titling this entry as a question, the first time I have done so; 2, I'm actually going to talk about myself and what's going on with me instead of being overly philosophical (GASP).

A decision comes in every persons life. This decision is not an easy one, but it is an inevitable one. It may not even be obvious, but hindsight will make it crystal clear that you have made a decision that you were not consciously aware of because you did not want to assume you were capable of making such an atrocious decision over something so fragile: friendship.

We don't even think about it at first, but every single choice we make pushes us in and out of alliances, groups us and regroups us, both uniting and dividing us. It happens. We are one big chemical reaction in a social cauldron that our culture has decided to use to cook up its potions. Inside this concoction, we aren't always aware of the chaos that surrounds us, but we are aware of the chaos that surrounds us personally - well, usually we are aware of that, but I'll get there in a minute.

I could beat a dead horse, ranting about all the different feelings and thoughts that ensue the making and breaking of acquaintances, friends, and more, but ... (I point at the preceding cliche...) I think it's safe to say that everyone has experienced love and loss, or at least seen it coming from a distance.

The thing that is so agonizing about the whole thing is that you have absolutely no control over what people do. I don't care if all your friends are 100% genuine and 99% perfect, nor do I care if everything has been staged from day one, people standing as spectators to watch you rise and fall and/or vice versa. People are going to do what they do regardless of what you say or do, be that they pin their heart on their sleeve or a script in its place.

At the same time, it can be such a joyous thing (especially for those of us who have experienced the stark reality of loneliness and the darkness that is the world that we have unfortunately as a race handed over to idols and the ideas they represent) to experience relationships, be they family, sibling, romantic, platonic, whatever. It can remind you that you've truly never been alone and that you were made to see this moment of beauty, where nothing and everything collide, and a connection is made, one that you hope to never lose.

This, readers, is the message I have to send: we choose who we lose. It may not be always, but in the end, we have all been there. We walk through life like it's nothing, and sometimes we walk through it like it's quicksand, every step pulling us closer to our inevitable doom. We walk into it with some who make it through with us at the end, and there are some that we lose along the way. At the same time, we pick up others as we wander, people who have either become separated or plainly rejected. Some of those people are serpents in disguise, damage waiting to happen. Some people still have absolutely no clue how to even handle people. They don't get how to be a friend in the simplest sense of that, so God help whomever they marry. We run from others still who threaten our safety. We also underrate people. How unfortunate. How arrogant. We save some people, and sometimes we just don't make it in time. Some of us are just along for the ride. Often, we find ourselves stranded... and how do you choose? How do you make that call? How is it that you explain to someone that they're going under the knife whether they like it or not?

Look, don't get me wrong, sometimes you have to create distance for your own protection. Sometimes, it's to sort through things. But when you look back at the past four years of your life...

When I look back at the past four year of my life, I cringe every time. The beginning of 2009 was when I truly began to own up to my life and try to be responsible, take care of myself, not let people push me around, not let people discourage me, rely as fully upon Jesus Christ as I possibly could. I got out from under my own roof, moved in with my grandparents, began a new relationship with a new assembly of Christ-followers, graduated high school, and turned a very icy shoulder to everyone who ever screwed me over. I had most of my thyroid removed later that year. Dreams that I'd had somehow spilled through to the waking world. I had numerous crushes, none of which I really pursued. I did end up in a relationship with the one I actually did pursue, but then I ran that into the ground. Let's see, then I got my heart ripped from my ribcage, shown to me, put back, and run from. A few months down the road, I finally had taken all I could, stopped running after the things I wanted... really just stopped in general. Conversely, I ran away from everything that hurt.

At that point, I didn't know how to hold a relationship or even a friendship, and I was convinced it was my fault. Well, there's always plenty of blame to go around, but I definitely started learning a very important lesson about people: they happen. They come, and they go, and - here's a thought - maybe they aren't all conspiring against me, and maybe it's not my fault! I'm not saying I'm faultless by any means, but rather that people leaving my presence isn't necessarily intentional nor is it directly related to something I've done or some ugly aspect of myself.

Two years later, I realized that running away was a huge mistake. I did the exact thing that everyone who was running me through with shards of shattered glass was doing for themselves: just trying to get away from the pain they had held onto for so long. I didn't realize that part first, and that was definitely not the most important thing I learned.

I've been guilty of handling lots of my relationships (that means friendship and romantic relationships) very poorly (which sometimes means simply not handling them or dealing with them at all) during these four years, guilty of a lot of the obnoxiously vague beginnings and endings of acquaintances I described earlier. I've really made an idol out of my relationships in general, what people think of me, how I feel about life, and that's not okay. Yes, they are important, but more important is eternal destiny, the Messiah who died and lives again to provide eternal hope for us, and the people on the other end of the relationships, than the relationships themselves, not to diminish the importance of healthy relationships.

The main thing that I realized is that we simply don't have the time - sorry - I simply don't have the time or energy to waste caring what people think, missing opportunities to make friends or keep them, or even worrying that I did something horribly wrong or am just hideous and will be stranded in a very lonely place for the rest of my life. First of all, God has a better plan than that for me. I know it even if it doesn't always feel that way. Second of all, hope lies more than in friendships on this side of death. There is another place where no harm can come and any separation we experienced here becomes an official non-issue. If that's not true, I and the rest of humanity are doomed to an extremely bleak and brief existence. "Friends forever" takes on a whole new meaning there.

Until then, I can't afford to let my longing for closeness overwrite what hope I have in eternity. I've had these idols for way too long. It's taken this long to realize that, and I can't afford to turn back now, although I'm sure I'll fall on my face a few times, or fifty...

...thousand. Haha.

I guess that, until then, I'll just live my life and not give up searching for someone who can love me as much as God helping me to be capable of loving them, because I can assure you that I don't really love well. I'm not waiting to become as good as Jesus because we're not capable of that. I won't deny that some nights I writhe both in the memory of things past and impatience for things to come, but I know I can rest in the fact that Jesus is God the Provider, and when He knows it's time, everything will be okay...

... as in phenomenal...

... as in... hmm... words are too lame to describe it. Oh well. Rant over... for now.

[Insert some new signature here. I haven't figured out what to put here yet, though. Oh well. :P]