hope

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)

Love And Fear: Campaign Update 2 by Michael Nichols

We're about to close the first half of our crowdfunding campaign! If you haven't heard, I'm making a record with some amazing musicians and friends, and we're raising money for gear. When you pre-order the record for just $10, you'll get an instant download of one of the singles, "Find You In The Light." We're currently at 12% of our goal, which is amazing! When we first launched this campaign, I was as nervous as ever. Correction: I am nervous! But the response so far has been great, both in feedback about our music and in the generosity of friends and family. We've raised $580 of the $5000 we're shooting for to make this the best record it can possibly be. We actually crossed that 10% mark by the end of week 2!

As awesome as that is, we've hit a pretty big slump since then.

We have barely over a month left to go, so if you can help by preordering our record "Love And Fear," picking one of our perk packages (including anything from downloads to signed CDs, to t-shirts, posters, and microphones), sharing the campaign on social media, and most importantly praying that God will make a way for this to happen and that His will would be done.

As much as we love making music and having fun, though, this is our ministry above all else. We want to reach a world that is afraid by offering them the love of Jesus Christ. We're just looking for the means to do that the best way we know how. :)

ALSO, here's some exciting news! A fantastic friend of mine asked to interview me about the new record. She has an amazing devotional account on Instagram, so head over there and check out @shinejesus_ for some excellent words from the Father, and watch out for the interview, coming soon!

Be sure to check out our campaign on IndieGoGo and head over to SoundCloud to listen to our brand new track, "Find You In The Light."

Thanks for all of your support! :)

--Michael

https://igg.me/at/loveandfear/x/9877524

https://soundcloud.com/mnicholszero/findyouinthelight

https://www.instagram.com/shinejesus_/

The Irony of Sad Songs by Michael Nichols

For those of you who don't know, I'm making a record in 2016. I'm really excited. I've spent the past two months recording some basic demos for 14+ songs while I wait for responses from potential session musicians and make plans for the crowdfunding campaign. Since my vocal coach got a hold of me in the beginning, what was once just a passive and casual outlet that was little more than a mimicry of my favorite bands at the time has become something much more.

I've been on one of the longest journeys of my life since the middle of 2009 when my walk with Christ really got underway. But things got especially bad in the beginning of 2011. A lot of the song that are on this record were either written about that time, during that time, or because of that time.

One song in particular has been difficult to write, but was one of the first ones I wrote after probably the most significant event, the one that started the 2011-present time period. I'm not just talking about the song was mechanically hard to write. I'm saying it took everything out of me. I poured out more pain into that song than I've ever poured into any other song.

It's called "Closure (If You're Hearing This)." The whole premise of the song is that after a falling-out, it's really easy to just leave things unsaid in the same place that we leave the people who've hurt us... Okay,  should say that the whole emotional premise of it is that. But the story is bigger.


I believe that we will all stand judged before the Lord one day, and that everything that is hidden will be revealed. So, say that I left things unsaid. If I did, eventually, that truth will be revealed, no matter how hard I tried to hide it. Things left unsaid will be said. That is just when it's the Lord doing it.

It starts out very sober. Single piano hits that hold for a measure at a slow tempo. Lyrics that are very objective, factual, stating the likelihood that she would never hear these words until we were both dead and in God's hands. The "chorus" sees a change in the chord progression, still with the same single hits, same tension, but now posing a question: "Was I wrong to react the way I did? Was I capable of more hate for those who hurt me than I'd previously believed?"

Then the mood changes. The undercurrent of legato cellos, the pulsating beat of the piano, gently, yet tensely. I say how enamored I was to begin with, and how devastated I was at the fact that I was abandoned because of my feelings for her. As the second chorus begins, I solidify with certainty that my pushing her away was the only way to protect what was left of my sanity and self-esteem.

But as the bridge begins, the piano notes ascend, a slower pulse with more suspense, acknowledging that my distress, turned to hate, had turned me into something I never wanted to be. Made to feel despised, I despised everything.

As the bridge begins to build, I exclaim that I felt helpless, without an alternative. I never wanted to push her away or let her go, and that if doing so hurt her, I was sorry, without regard to my own personal feelings.

The ending is a sober plea for things to return to the way they were. The tension lessens, and the tempo slows at the very end. The music itself ends with a bit of optimism, a lot of longing, and no resolution.


 

I began the song in late 2011-early 2012. Even if the story behind the song had not seen two friends reconciled, I'd still have kept the song. I was allowed to feel that pain in order for God's strength to show through an inherently weak man.

As I've begun wrapping up the orchestration to this song, the pain hasn't fully subsided. Memories fade, but never completely. Even healed scars are still visible.

I've found a sweet solace, though.

Sometimes, it's good to think about the past and feel the pain of it so we can remember why it stayed there.

Imagine what it would be like to bury someone alive, who couldn't die. A scene from Heroes comes to mind, in which Hiro Nakamura digs up the grave of Adam Monroe, a man whose superhuman ability to regenerate allowed him to revive on his own upon exhumation. That's what happens when we bury our experiences. It's not really a memory that we've buried: it's us. You can't bury a memory without burying the pieces of your heart that bear its weight.

I think that's what makes sad songs so sweet, ironically. They allow us to open up the ground above us and let in new air, allow the healing of the soul to begin. The tension, the suspense, the animosity, resonates with the parts of us that feel the same way.

But it's not that we listen to songs about pain in order to perpetuate it. It's like magnetism. We use magnets in compasses to tell which direction we're going, because the earth is also magnetic. How else can you find people who are in pain? How can you expect to reach people who are in darkness, yet refuse to acknowledge darkness, refuse to bring light into the dark? It won't just magically show up. They won't simply wander out of pitch black.

Just north of here is Mammoth Cave. On several of the tours, once you're deep enough in, all of the lights that have been installed in the cave are turned out for a moment so that tourists can experience what it might have been like for the original explorers to wander the depths with only a torch. For a brief moment, before a tour guide's flashlight comes on, you experience total blackness. Nothing. No point of reference. No way out.

It's terrifying.

It's even more terrifying that you get used to the dark, so much so that you have to adjust to the light.

It's comforting to hear voices calling out to you, telling you that you're not the only one down here.

It's electrifying to see dim rays of light bouncing around the corner.

It's overwhelming to see a map in the hands of your rescuers.

Songs like "Hymn For The Missing" and "Pieces" by Red, "It's No Secret" and "I Found My Way Back Again" by Nevertheless, "Wrapped in Your Arms" and "All I Need To Be" by Fireflight, "Breaking You" and "Run Forward" by Audrey Assad, and many, many others... they've saved me more times than I can count. Most of my own sad songs, including "Closure," have been the most therapeutic to write. It's one of the reasons I'm so excited to share them with you in 2016.

If you're like me, you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. It's okay. If you know the darkness, it's okay. But there is a way out. We're calling out to you. Jesus is calling out to you. He knows. My God, He knows darkness. Let Him come find you. Call back to Him.

New Frontiers In 2016 by Michael Nichols

Hey, everyone! So, I've spent the past few months planning, praying, etc. And I've come to a decision. Beginning early 2016, I'm going to launch a crowdfunding campaign to begin recording an album that I'm hoping will be a defining move in my music career. If you've known me for any decent amount of time, you'll know that all I care about is giving back that which was given to me in 2007, when I first became serious about professional music, and when it began to have serious personal impact on me. I think God both made me for this and called me to it. All I can do is respond to that in the way that I best know how. So save this. Bookmark it. Find me on the interwebs. And pay attention, because I'm gonna start putting things together ASAP. Thanks for all of your support, and I'll be seeing you very soon.

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.

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.

Revisited: Identity Crisis by Michael Nichols

What sets you apart? What makes you an individual? What is the basis for your existence? These are all ways we tend to define "identity," that thing that we hold so dear. It's the most personal thing about us. We like to call it the sum of everything we are and the difference between us and those by whom we are surrounded. At some point, and really through our whole lives, we're constantly working out who we are, and it's a necessary thing because we'd go bonkers if we couldn't distinguish ourselves and our lives and boundaries from that of others...

...but is it possible that we've become too concerned about our personal identities?

It's me. It's who I am. It's how I feel. It's what I do. Who are you to question it? (**REMEMBER this question.)

Part 1: The Question

We've all asked that question before, right? Or maybe it was asked of us. Let's be fair though--and I want to be fair for you as well, so you can ask this of those who challenge you. "Who am I? I am me." If you have the grounds as a human being to do what you want, then so do I when I identify us both as human. Consider the playing field level. So identity isn't confined to one and only one individual at a time. Identity is also collective. We can identify with each other. We can also identify too much with each other. That's something we call co-dependence, when we identify so much with someone else that it inhibits our ability to function on our own for sensible periods of time. We can use the same criteria to identify us that we use to identify me.

It's generally not a question of what identity is, but what are its components? What is it made of? What is its substance? Let me be blunt about the subtext of the question: is your identity made up of things that change or things that are constant?

Part 2: Your Identity Rides on Change

If you relate to that initial question, "Who are you to question me?" you probably feel like everyone else has at some point or another: feeling threatened. Someone observes you and probably has some kind of disagreement with you, or maybe a concern for you. If this is how you feel, you may identify yourself with things that change. Not long ago, I published a poll to see what people thought about what makes up their identity. Here are the results:

[polldaddy poll=7784543]

I purposefully selected those things, and left out other things, because the list could go on forever. None of these things are invalidly used to identify a person, but can they really suffice for the core of our identity? I've tried a few of these myself, and though I haven't been alive enough to personally experience them all, I have definitely witnessed them. Bear in mind that I don't make this list to make anyone feel bad. In dealing with my own identity crises, I've had to be extremely honest with myself, and that's why this list exists.

*Impulses and thoughts. (You may only have them for the moment as perspectives change with experience.)

*Substance abuse/addiction. (They always leave you wanting more, but more is never really enough, is it? and what is the cost to having a fuller, more satisfied life by satisfying our addictions and lusts?)

Actions. (You may regret them.)

Tastes and preferences. (They may erode with constant use.)

Physical traits. (Age and accidents happen, as does change in health.)

Personality. (Life events can radically change a person's demeanor and behavior patterns.)

Careers. (They can fall through with or without our consent, with or without the rest of the economy, with or without our health.)

Accomplishments and abilities. (Do they really stack up when death comes knocking?)

*Friends and family. (People change, whether they choose it or not. We are blessed to have them at all, let alone have them around until the day we die.)

Beliefs. (Someone may challenge them, circumstances can make you question them, and you may lose them.)

*Sin and sorrow. (Everyone makes mistakes and eventually sees a malicious side of themselves, and while they do lead to death, often in a slow way, and in both a spiritual and a physical sense, we're not dead yet. That goes for both the sinner and the victim. While we are still alive, there is always hope for recovery and redemption. We also all experience heartache, but I promise that it is not the end-all.)

(*These weren't poll answers.)

It's a lot to take in, I know. Maybe you're also reading this and feeling offended. I'm not one to apologize for the gospel, but if any of that is hurtful to read, I sincerely apologize. That having been said, I hope you will take time to think about that and ask yourself if something you read has some basis in reality. I am not the great corrector nor the judge of anybody: God is. Speaking of Whom...

Part 3: Your Identity Rides on Constancy

If the initial question, "Who are you to question me?" didn't upset you, you may identify yourself with something constant. At this point, though, you may have gotten through that list for Part 2 and had a change of comfort. So here's my only question for you: does your identity ride on something constant?

I'll tell you one thing I've learned in my brief two decades: identifying oneself is exhausting. Circumstances, weather, health, and people are so dynamic, so quickly changed or distanced. The most constancy a person can experience is their own life, and even that is tentative at best, but there is still hope.

Jesus' love, death, and resurrection are a fixed fact, giving hope to those who have a hard time believing it exists. When everything and everyone around points the finger to tell us we're hopeless, there is Jesus, interceding for us and lifting us up by the message of His cross and the power of the Spirit. When who we are crumbles and everything we've known is lost, He IS. He is the one that gives us our identity, and by resting in Him and in His constancy, we find peace for our souls and rest from our fears. Much peace and love to you, readers, in Jesus' name.

"My eyes will flow unceasingly, without relief, until the Lord looks down from heaven and sees. What I see brings grief to my soul because of all the women of my city. Those who were my enemies without cause hunted me like a bird. They tried to end my life in a pit and threw stones at me; the waters closed over my head, and I thought I was about to perish. I called on your name, Lord, from the depths of the pit. You heard my plea: 'Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.' You came near when I called you, and you said, 'Do not fear.'"

--Jeremiah the prophet to Israel (Lamentations 3:49-57)

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.

Writing on the Mirror by Michael Nichols

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A mirror is a place we use to examine ourselves to see if we're prepared to go out, to see whether or not we look decent, be sure the hair is laying right or that you don't still have tomato sauce on your face from that delectable lasagna. It's also a place where we a lot of things wrong with us, question ourselves, and often times can be a source of negative self image (or pride on the flip side, if we're unwilling to see the important flaws).

I've never really been 100% confident in the way I look. I'm always asking for advice on different clothing, different hair. It may be that way because I used to be ridiculed for my face, for my slender figure (which isn't typically a man's desire, but hey, that's the way I'm built naturally). It doesn't help that I'm susceptible to the occasional anxiety attack. I don't know whether they are a result of the ridicule or if the ridicule I used to face simply exacerbated the anxiety that may have surfaced eventually.

About a week ago, I suffered one of these attacks. This one was triggered by my tendency to base my feelings about my relationship with God on my ability to make good choices and also to abstain from sins that are particularly tempting to me. When I have an anxiety attack, the worst symptom I experience is the racing thoughts. They just don't stop. They are many. They are negative. They are violent. The are self-deprecating. They are scary. They are also false. Even if there is something wrong with you, they are false and scary because they destroy.

... But why? Why do these thoughts happen? If God is good, why do I have the spirit of fear? Either one of two things must be true: either God is not good, or someone else gave me the spirit of fear. So I remembered something that I should not have let become trapped in a dark, unregulated corner of my mind: the enemy comes to destroy. Jesus comes to give life! So I prayed, "Lord, protect me from demons, protect me from the enemy."

The racing thoughts dissipated immediately.

I'm nothing special, but sometimes, the enemy tries to put us in a place where we think we're worthless because we're sinners. Jesus begs to differ. He died and lives for us. He knows what we need when we need it, so when we as His adopted and highly dysfunctional kids are scared and need Him, He will step in and say, "Child, I love you, and I will keep you safe from the enemy." I needed to remember that. I needed to be reminded that the One who's in me is greater than the one that is in the world. At that moment, I needed a miracle, and I wanted Him, my heavenly Father, back.

So since then, I've had this thing where I write on mirrors with dry erase marker. I write my sins, insecurities, and my remedy. There's something powerful about that to me. Maybe the words over my reflection help me to see myself in the context of Christ's love and truth. By doing what He did a week ago, He gave me a reason to give back into His Spirit and fight the spirit of fear in Jesus' name, because even though I'd never lost the reasons or lost my faith, I lost my fight and gained some doubts and baggage. But praise God that He is greater than any anxiety and greater than anything I see in the mirror.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCO8XLs5TOY