joy

Every Thought About Every Person All At Once by Michael Nichols

It's really interesting to see where your relationships with people go. If you're like most people, you see friends, enemies, in between, come and go. Some stay longer than others. Some just go. Some, defying all odds, seem to stick around. It's really cool when that happens. I've been blessed to spend the past almost-seven years with the same group of people consistently in my life in some way or another. My immediate church family is especially hugely important to me, along with a ton of the people I've met as a result of meeting them, even the ones who have moved away or I don't get to be in touch with as consistently. There still always seemed to be consistency there.

It's a fantastic feeling, welcomeness, wantedness, neither of which are actually real words. It's an awesome contrast to my life before. I won't say I had no friends. That'd be a lie, but they were few and far between. I look back on that time, and I'm glad I'm not there anymore. It makes where I am so much sweeter. Knowing that the people you've chosen to surround yourself with don't have some agenda, some mold, some criteria for you to fulfill in order to be kept--people who don't just want to use you--is liberating in so many ways I can't even list them all, and I'm just getting started with the list myself.

Not because intend to be this way, but it's taken me longer to grow closer to some than others. But it's happened, and I'm grateful. These are people that I will cherish for life.

After a while, the people who deserted you start to fade in the glow of Christ in the people who chose to stay. I will always remember the feeling of being alone, and that will be valuable in ministry to people who have felt the way I have, been treated the way I have, and those who will. I'm totally fine with that. It's not that I resent the past. I just have no reason to dwell in it.

The thing about that glow, is that it leaves an impression. By abiding in light, darkness seems darker when it comes, at least at first, if you don't get used to it.

People leave impressions. I'm so glad for that, but the whole idea about an impression is that it stays with you. So when I say that I've got a lot of people on my mind, it's an understatement. It's not that it hurts. It's a beautifully diverse picture full of tons of different people who have each meant something to me. I'm not unaware of the blessing of brothers and sisters that I have.

But sometimes, it does hurt. Eventually, you get around to those people you miss. Sometimes, you miss them a lot. Sometimes, life has you too occupied to dwell on it, which can be sweet relief, but it can make you question how much you care. It probably shouldn't. Or maybe it should. I guess it depends which is actually true.

The contrast between the time in my life before people kept me around just for me, and where I am now, just makes everything seem a bit more vivid. The joy of loving and knowing I'm loved is even clearer because I know what it's like to not know I'm loved, or to know what it's like to be hated, or worse, dismissed and ignored. And with such a vivid joy comes an equally vivid sorrow when those who light your life aren't near.

Don't get me wrong. I refuse to live consumed with either blind joy or blind despair, but they're both there. They're both present at all times, warring against each other. At least that conflict makes sense, even if it doesn't help.

It's times like these that the over-quoted words "the joy of the Lord is [my] strength" (Nehemiah 8:10) pop out of the mouths of people who seek to encourage you. It's good to have people who try to encourage you. They are gold. But I'm not convinced that most people think through the implications of that statement.

A lot of people claim "the joy of the Lord" in an attempt to make you (or them) happy. But that's not what it's really about. The joy of the Lord is not my happiness... okay, sometimes it is. I'm grateful for those times on a level I cannot convey with words. But let's not get it twisted. It can bring happiness, but that's not what it is.

The joy of the Lord is strength. It's not that you feel better, or your situation changes, because you have the "joy of the Lord." It's not a magic, cure-all happy pill. It's strength, meaning that when your mind is in chaos, when your heart is shredded, when you've been betrayed, when you're lonely, when you're longing, when you miss those you care for, when you hurt for those who are hurting, Jesus strengthens you. He stays with you "so that you will be able to bear" the weight you carry (I Corinthians 10:13).

It's okay if it doesn't go away. It's okay to feel joy and pain at the same time. It's okay if you have a lot of people and stuff on your mind. I do. All the time. All at once. And it's actually okay. It really doesn't feel like it sometimes. I don't always feel okay. But even that's okay, because somehow, I make it through, and that is joyous. I know my Father is with me, always, and that good will come of all things that face the people of God.

Semester Four, Week Six by Michael Nichols

I just finished my second response essay for Dr. Herman's MUS 206 (that's American Music History), and I must say that I've realized that I've done a lot of second guessing and freaking out over things I shouldn't have and overthinking, a process of which I am the undisputable master. I had a choice of four topics to choose from. My choice, in short, was to talk about the significant role a band has played in my life.

Now, I know what half of you are thinking. "Oh, no. He's going to ramble to his professor about every single Yellowcard record in existence." Shockingly, no -- I think it's relevant that I'm currently listening to their song "Only One" from their release Ocean Avenue Acoustic. Actually, one of the possibilities explicitly stated in the topic description was that I could talk about my own experience being a part of a band. So, that's what I talked about.

Everything came back to me, how we started out as a pair of strangers at a coffee-and-music event put on by a local church (which I'm now a part of). I remembered how I had this decades-old guitar with a broken saddle being held together by scotch tape and supported by a bottle cap. I remembered I sang a solo version of "Shadows and Regrets," also by Yellowcard, a mutual favorite band. I remembered being this lonely teenage cynic who wasn't sure who or what to trust or believe in, other than having learned all his life that Jesus is the main person to trust, and that He is trustworthy.

I remember writing all of these super angry-depressed songs but hiding behind an exterior that pretended everything was okay at home and at school and at a very old-school, conformed-to-tradition church, when I felt like I belonged in none of those places. But then I remember meeting this dude who liked to write and play music like I did, who believed in Jesus but didn't condemn me for not following every nit-picky little tradition to the letter, who treated me like a normal person. To this day, he's still a bandmate, co-writer, and one of the best friends I've had, who's been there through some of my darkest times, helped me make sense of stuff, been a voice of compassion and a fire under me when I needed both. I look forward to continuing to work with him and be a friend to him the same way he has been to me.

But there are some things I didn't remember. Not that I forgot all the mistakes I've made, all the good times I've missed, all the bad times I could have avoided, all the people whom I've betrayed or have betrayed me, all the people whom I've hurt and have hurt me, the ignorance, the idiocy, the immaturity, all of myself and others -- no, I haven't forgotten those times... but unlike what has been true of me since spring 2008, I think back on these times with this awesome friend of mine, whom I'd tag here if he were on WordPress, and I don't think about the dark times. I still hold them in the back of my mind as lessons I've learned, but they're just echoes now, things that have no more power over me.

When I wrote my essay, I related it to the music, but in writing that essay, I realized all of this other stuff. No matter how hard life has been so far, I haven't been stopped from living, pursuing what I love, being human, or believing that Jesus loves me and has a future for me both here and in eternity -- though, for those of you who don't know, I've come close to all these things over the past five years. That's the power that one single friend among billions of people on this planet has had...

... and that is why I believe in good, why I believe in love, and why I believe in God.

Nothing in this world has been able to take away my joy, and by the grace of God alone, nothing will.