encourage

I Don't Care by Michael Nichols

Once upon a time, I found Jesus. More accurately, He found me. After spending a really long time not knowing how much I need Him, I finally saw myself for who I was, and I called out to Him in response to His call to me. That was almost seven years ago. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I knew that I didn't love, not truly. I knew that in order to love, I needed to accept His. I needed to really believe He loved me. So I did. My whole paradigm changed that day.

That doesn't mean anything else changed. I was already on a trajectory away from Him. I was on a road I didn't belong on. As an excellent Wavorly song says, "Turning around was never so hard til I found us far apart." At that point, I was really far away, heading further, and had no idea which way to turn. Imagine yourself lost on a dark night with a broken light and a broken compass, and nothing but two ears and a voice guiding you home. Even better: imagine yourself in the Millennium Falcon, crashing toward Starkiller Base, unable to pull up, not knowing the defector storm trooper was a janitor and new nothing about blowing the place up.

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I had no idea what was in store. I really didn't. I knew things would be difficult, but I had no clue of the depth of it. I don't remember being as bombarded with temptations and heartaches as when I started following Christ. Yet I don't know that I've seen more personal growth happen in me than when I started following Christ.

I'm not going to blather on about all the things that happened between 2009 and 2013. If you've read my blog before, you know. If you want to know, read it.

In one respect, I'm glad for how far I've come, but it hasn't been without cost. That cost has been my ability to care.

I don't care.

Those are three words no one wants to hear. "I don't care" is giving up. On what? Anything.

Have you been told that before? It hurts, doesn't it? Knowing that you're not seen, not heard, invisible, inconsequential.

I hate that about me, which is great because that means all hope is not lost. But right now, that's a problem. The whole reason I decided to follow Jesus was so I could love, not so I could withhold love in apathy.

I'm not sure entirely how I figured it out, but I suddenly noticed lately how much of what has been happening in my life indicates that I don't really care.

The stagnancy of my romantic relationships?

Because I didn't care about anything beyond the moment, escaping the rest of my life.

My lack of reading scriptures or praying in a meaningful way?

Because I didn't care about anything beyond the moment, escaping the rest of my life.

My isolation from people I claim to care for?

Because I didn't care about anything but my own problems.

My inability to focus long enough to do successful studio takes?

Because I didn't care about them as much as I care about the things distracting me.

My inability to loosen up?

Because I don't care enough about living healthily enough to stop obsessing over the things I want.

My jealousy?

Because I don't care about much else than what I want.

Why I don't try hard enough to change any of this?

Because I don't care to keep failing or hurting, which is, by default, keeping anything good from coming of anything I'm going through.

I don't want to run away from my issues, but I also don't want to run into a worse place. Another song, by Linkin Park this time, says, "Sometimes I think of letting go and never looking back, and never moving forward so there'd never be a past."

Relatable? Too much.

Good way to live? Not ever.

The irony of the whole thing is that we tend to stop caring because of the weight that caring becomes. But to stop caring means your heart has to stop working, and if your heart stops working, you really can't go anywhere. You collapse. You stay where you are. You die.

When you stop caring, you are dead. And it definitely feels the part. At least pain lets you know you're alive, even though it means you're fighting to stay that way. When joy happens, you know you're alive and free.

That's what I think is so powerful about the "joy of salvation" that people talk about. Not only are you alive, not only are you free, but you are now set on a path of becoming more like Christ until His coming, when everything corruptible in us will be replaced with something incorruptible, and we enter eternal life and eternal freedom, where all darkness ends and the light only grows, extending into every corner of creation. It's unstoppable. It's unstoppable good, unstoppable beauty, unstoppable life.

That's something that's actually worth caring about. When we lose sight of that, it's not hard to stop caring about things, especially the more we know about evil and hurt.

I guess that's what I've been missing. With something lasting to care about, whatever else is valuable to us, whatever else brings joy, although temporary, finally gains its true meaning. We finally have a reason to care about it.

A reason to care about him.

About her.

About anyone, anything.

But without context to something eternal, how can anything temporary have meaning?

"Our light affliction, which only lasts for a moment, is working toward an eternal glory that far outweighs anything else. That's why we look not on the things that can be seen, but the things that cannot be seen. Why? Because the things we can see are temporary, but the things we cannot see are eternal." --Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 paraphrase mine)

Head Shot: You're Wrong by Michael Nichols

Our culture hates negative talk with good reason. The world has no need for bullying. But has this thought process gone so far that we are unable to accept and deal with the reality of the darkness?

Ask any scientist. If something doesn't make sense, either your formula is wrong, or you executed it wrong. In the scientific, analytic, performance based world we've always had, it is important to know the difference between right and wrong. Remember how people thought that the sun revolved around the earth? They were wrong, and when someone figured that out, it revolutionized (no pun intended) the scientific world, did it not? Finally, we had explanations for how and why things work the way that they do. Without the understanding the fundamental truths of our world, how can we function in it?

Is it better to preserve our all-important feelings, or to embrace the harsh truth of wrongness in order to find something more reliable? No, this philosophy that "what is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me is true for me," simply is not true. Though one's experiences cannot be undone, not a single person's perceptions takes into account every factor, and the whim of no man can undo the nature of the creation. It is arrogant to think that, just as it is arrogant to think that our own ways of thinking are flawless when only the Creator of the universe could possibly shine light on the questions we ask in darkness.

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?

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.

Nominated by Michael Nichols

Last week, I was blindsided (in a good way) by a fellow WordPresser/Jesus freak by nominating me for a "Field of Flowers Award." I had no idea something like this existed, let alone that I'd receive a nomination, so naturally I was shocked and radically humbled by the nomination. No, I don't get something to put in a case or on my wall, but the fact that something I've written has had an impact on a single person is in my opinion nothing short of an act of God--I do not say this in vain. I never would have imagined that I'd be writing, let alone having an impact for the only one who really has the deepest impact in the end: Jesus Christ.

So I just want to say thanks to you who made the nomination--yes, I'm totally about to turn it back on you!--and thank you to ALL of you who have read articles here at Our Light Affliction.

This nomination was not without stipulations, however. Don't worry. I don't have to sacrifice a limb or my firstborn. Here in just a second, you're going to see those stipulations; but first, I'm going to make my own nominations! I've have doubtlessly been impacted by the other writers on this site, and I want to give you my seven picks (in no particular order). First, the rules, if you've been nominated:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you;
  • Place the award on your own blog;
  • Nominate 7 other bloggers and write a little something about why you would give these bloggers “A Field of Flowers”;
  • Let your nominees know that you nominated them.

Now, for my nominations. Brace yourselves.

  1. Limbiley's Blog. I majorly appreciate this guy's openness about his own struggles and willingness to express how he feels about injustice within the body of Christ while balancing that with an obvious desire to live the love of Christ in all sincerity.
  2. confessionsofableedingheart. Poems, poems, poems! As a lyricist, I love her style. As a believer, I love her passion and her willingness to show darkness with all intent to kill it with light.
  3. Karina's Thought. I think she was my first international subscriber, which in and of itself means a ton to me personally. More than that, I appreciate her passion for personal growth and the obvious increase of the magnitude of her faith in height and depth, melded with a desire to see the same happen for others.
  4. The Recovering Legalist. Just click the link and go to his "About" section. I feel like a chord has been struck here. I still struggle to relinquish Heaven to the Lord, along with the working out of my salvation and the perfecting of my faith. Modern Christianity seems to be at one of two extremes: either salvation happens in a moment and the rest doesn't matter, or it's all up to us to earn Heaven. But that isn't the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He preach spirit and truth, word and deed. We can't earn salvation, but then it doesn't just stop at the altar. It changes your life, hence the word "salvation." This guys encapsulates that Idea so well.
  5. From the Inside Out. Oh my gosh. Wow. If anyone is willing to challenge the intricacies of her own thoughts and, transitively, those of her readers, it's her. Nancy Ruegg. Go there now, please.
  6. The River Walk. Now, besides the fact that here in my city, we have a very serene place called River Walk Park (crossing the Barren River), and notwithstanding that I feel like I can super-connect with Jesus and be calm there and okay with being by myself, and forgetting that this author has done a much better job using the Fontfolio template than I when I tried it... Besides all of that, I feel like this is one of the best-executed, most personally engaging magazines I've ever read. He does a really good job at relating scripture, dismantling common church misconceptions from within, and... Just go there and be filled!
  7. Amanda Christine. Last, but most certainly not least, we have the author who nominated me/my site to begin with. Her words are straightforward. Her points are straightforward. Her passion is straightforward. She loves Jesus. Period. She is clearly unafraid to take stands and live her faith loud. I'm seriously impressed, and I've been challenged in many ways by God's word alive and moving in her.

Now, it's your turn. Spread the word. Nominate someone. Let someone know you've been touched. It could change their life. Peace.

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.

Beyond the Logic of Sin and Insecurity by Michael Nichols

The movement of the Holy Spirit is a funny thing. He's not just our heart rate during worship, nor is He just the force behind an armada of supernatural events, nor is He simply your conscience when your own sense of reasoning fails, nor is He just the lifeline that God throws to us when we're drowning in the world's system. He is all of these things and more. What I'm about to explain is what happens when we don't latch onto Him when He moves.

Like anyone, whether it's in my own mind, radiating through my fingertips, or lashing out through my tongue, I have, and, as certainly as the night will come, will deal with sin. Will every thought be corrupt? No. Will every thought be pure? No. Thankfully, I have a Heavenly Father who trains me daily in the way I should go despite me, and who reprimands me clearly yet lovingly when I need it.

I've said so before, but I'll say it again: I micromanage myself sometimes, especially with spirituality and sin. I'm hypersensitive and hypercritical of what I do and how I feel and what I think and believe, often times to my detriment. That having been said, it's easy to justify the sin, the distance, the lack of direction, the lack of passion -- really, without wanting to admit it, the lack of Him, in an attempt to quell hypersensitivity with insensitivity.

The fact about me -- really all of us -- is that I desperately, utterly need Him, but I don't always run to Him. I tend to make excuses, to justify what I sometimes do so that I won't feel as guilty, but the cover up that we impose upon ourselves is worse than whatever sins and insecurities we hide. We only start to make excuses when we run out of reasons, to rationalize when we've done the irrational, to justify that which is unjust, to fabricate false answers for the ones we refuse to humble ourselves to seek out... and after all of those simulations of salvation fall to pieces, we are left to either accept the truth or scream in its face.

When you get past the reasons, the justifications, the excuses, and finally dismantle a sin, and you can finally see it for what it is, something will happen. You'll ask yourself, "Why do I do these things?" to which you will quickly reply, "I don't really know." But since when was the purpose of sin to be understood? Sin exists for one reason: to kill you secretively. When all of the other "reasons" we ascribe to it fall away, it's okay to say, "I don't know," because that's the moment you realize you've fallen and need help to rise to your feet again.

Don't panic. You can rise to your feet again. To do that, we must latch on to God's hand. Sin's purpose may be to kill you, but your purpose is to kill sin, and the victory is already won. We often define our chances in life as the sum of our sins and insecurities, but these things are small, and they collapse eventually -- the Lord doesn't. Don't tell God how big your chances are; tell your chances how big your God is.

"For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." -- Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:9-10 NIV)