Washing away the river of tears, thanks for the message Dad!

The river’s been up for last week or so, that same muddy Marais that swallowed my big strong Dad. I knew that I would be writing on a somber anniversary today. Been wondering all week, what emotions would float up, 32 years, after he’d drowned.

Truthfully, it has been a jam-packed day, no alone time, or down time to ponder at all. I’ve awoke to my beautiful and pregnant bride on her first morning of summer. We talked and talked. Setting off for work, the pile of projects overflowed. Late to get back to the restaurant for a big evening rush, we served several large groups and performed well.

All day, my mind wanted to dive deep into the darknesses and be sad for myself on May 21st. It wanted to relish and lather up in the sadness of a young boy, who’d lost his Daddy… Too bad, I didn’t have time for that :)

Nope, I just worked along, with action following action until the day is finally ending here at 1:40 am. My fingers are finally flexing enough to click these keys…

Flashes did spark as flew through this day. I’ve thought of my sister, just 2 years old, when our Dad was taken away. I’ve thought of how differently and separately we’ve coped with our common loss. I’ve thought of my Mother, such a beautiful young woman who’s world must’ve been ripped apart today… 32 years ago. I thought of my aunts and uncles and my grandparents too. I was delighted to serve dinner to my only living grandparents this very evening. Wow, how they’ve cradled our little lives ever since I can remember…

I think of my step-dad Joe and all the troubles we’ve tangled together. I know this man is full of so much real love. Yet I also know, our combination of personalities has been toxic at times to us both. I think of my sister Amanda. She’s grew up with these two other kids, brother and sister, us the Nichols’s and her the Tucker… still we all shared all of our families together, with so many good times and some bad.

I thought of my Dad’s friends. His best friend Jim. A man I love so deeply. A man who pains as I pain too, today. I will see him this weekend. I’ve been riding his case hard lately :) I’m sure my Dad would’ve been too, he may be the one providing the inspirational ideas for the constant stream of jokes lately :)

I think about this loss and hold the facts of it in the palm of my hand. If I squeeze it and roll it around and around. I look at it from lots of angles now, not just one or two.

I see the rippled effects of this ‘accident’ and I study it up close. I look with a magnifying lens and see thousands of chips and flaws and cracks were left in the wake. As long as I stay zoomed in tight, I can notice each hairline fracture and tiny divot left from this almost lifelong void of growing up without my Dad. That is, as long as I stay zoomed in.

If I step back, and I give myself some room, it becomes harder to remember and to catalog the thousands of tiny emotional cuts I’ve felt over these 32 years. If I step back even a little further, I can relate my own issues and life experiences to things I see so clearly with the next generation.

I love to watch my nephews play and romp. I see the vigor of youth and rambunction incarnated in them. I watch them too switch from fits of laughter to wailing tears almost instantaneously at times. I notice the truth in their cries. They sincerely are upset. They express quick angers and sad pouts. They want what they want sometimes and cry if they don’t get it. As their uncle, I understand their immediate issues, but I don’t worry they will never recover. These are small potatoes in the big big picture. They will recover and move on. They will snap back, maybe in the next minute or two even.

And yes, tonight, I saw myself through similar eyes. Maybe even the eyes of our Almighty Creator. I saw myself being upset and crying. I saw pain and tears and selfish emotional fits. I saw my own wounds being rehashed over and over, ever since that day in 1983. I wonder if God watches me cry, and that same deeper understanding that even yet, all will be okay.

I think about being a child and losing a parent, and think about the kids in Ohio. My cousin Megan left behind two beautiful little ones. Just 6 and 4 when she died. I think about how I have barely talked to them in years. I am guilt-ridden. I wonder if someone out there was like I am now, as I grew up as a child. I wonder if someone was loving and well-meaning, but just didn’t know what to do or to say. I wonder if they too lived on, and hoped the kids were doing alright. I know I hope that every day.

I figured tonight, that over this lifetime of mine, I have carried an elaborate sack of despair and hurt and anger, embroidered with emotions concerning the death of my father. To me, the sack can seem like the world itself sometimes. It is all-encompassing even, to the point where I don’t know the difference between the world of sadness of death, and the opportunity for life.

Tonight though, a tiny voice spoke again. It mentioned something to me, through the onslaught of activity while I worked at the restaurant. It served up an idea while I let the night wind down here at home… I recognize this wise whisper. I’ve heard it before.

Tonight it was friendly. Not a bubbly blabber-mouth buddy, but a smart and confidence-inspiring companion. The tone was so encouraging. It was matter-of-fact too. I wasn’t shaking a finger at me. It was helping me to recognize something. It showed me an obvious truth. It did not pass judgement, it didn’t illicit remorse in any way. This was the voice of God, but I still hardly noticed as the sentence crossed my internal radar screen…

“I think you’ve grieved enough”… it suggested…

I felt better, hearing those words in my own head. I believed them instantly. I wondered about the origins of my sadnesses and depressions over losing my Dad at a young age. I wondered about where I got the big idea that my life would be kinda ruined by this event? I could see this question curiously and lightly. Nothing could feel condemning or condescending in the flash of that almighty reassurance.

I could so quickly run through new scenarios for myself and for my outlook toward others. What if I really decided that I had grieved enough? What would that mean for me? How could I now operate and articulate and go about agitating up some ferver and vigor and excitement for life! I could have experiences, just like a ‘normal’ person! One who didn’t lose their Dad when they were 4 years old. I could do a lot of new things, if I didn’t have more grieving to accomplish from now till the end of my days!

I could maybe laugh and sing and dance and smile real real big. I could maybe walk lightly and upright in posture. I could bounce through my days, instead of dragging along heavy-footed and heavy-hearted.  Funny thing is this. I know that lots of people have told me about the live-loving attitude my Dad seemed to always carry with him. Maybe if I wasn’t so stuck in grief, I might even resemble him more and more. Maybe he sent a gift my way today with this little mental message.

I’ve written here, a simple and powerful idea. I’ve told you it’s not mine, but I did receive it. I may not be strong enough to really live into it today. I may still curl up in a ball in and cry to myself sometimes. I may still visit the cemetery and talk to the rocks instead of a real person. I may never really fix myself up, all the way, and be that spark of life, like my Dad was…

But, I can move forward. I can live today. I can take this tiny little message and curiously discover what happens when I attempt to believe it. Maybe I have grieved enough. I’ve lost more that just my Dad. I have plenty of people to keep on grievin’ on, if I wish. I wonder though, if those same people are on the other side, wishing I would enjoy my today’s and the good memories of them together. Maybe they want to show me how too, I will take that help :)

I will take this little tiny seed of an idea and plant it. I can water it and watch to see how it grows. I wonder what wild bushy tree of life can sprout from it :)

I will leave you all tonight with this. If I have been grieving, then maybe I have grieved enough. Maybe I can move forward in love. I can remember in love. I can laugh again without guilt that I shouldn’t do so, because of the all the sadness that I ‘should’ carry around…

Thanks Dad. I Love You. I Do Miss You. I think I may be ready to laugh again and introduce your new grandbaby to fun and happy new world. I want to do that for You, and for the Little One, but especially for Me :) It’s time to be okay again :)

Sincerely,

Aaron Nichols

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Hunks of Metal in my Brain

Took some extra keys off my key ring today… Actually, ‘extra’ couldn’t be accurate because I had obviously not carried multiple matching keys at any time I can remember. So if they aren’t extra, I could at least say they are unused keys. These little metal shapes had served a purpose at one time, but now I can’t seem to recall for what?

Now only three keys remain on a ring that carry every day. I have my house key, my garage key and a key to the restaurant. That’s it. I do have a car key also, but it has it’s own ring, with an electronic-door-unlocker-doohickey on it. So in total, I have 4 keys with me at all times…

Real freakin’ interesting, right?

Nope, not really. I am intrigued however at those ‘unused’ keys. I don’t remember when I officially stopped needing them for my normal activities. I look at them and beg my brain to recall something useful they could do for me now. I then pop open a junk drawer in the kitchen and find another older set of unused keys that I had saved years ago. I guess the ‘new’ unused keys can now live with the ‘old’ unused keys.

It does amaze me that this day in age, with all the technology that we possess in our portable super-computer communication devices, that these hunks of bumpy metal are so integral to our standard living operations.

To have the right key is a wonderful thing. To not have the right key, can mess up almost any plans. These objects hold great power, and yet they are dead simple, rudimentary devices. A key is just Data, and it is almost useless without the Information to operate it.

At one time I worked for a college professor. He shared some of his teachings with me almost every time we talked together. He showed me some differences between Data and Information. I thought about that today, when I dropped the extra pieces of metallic data off my key ring, since now the information about them is gone.

He explained that Data was like a compilation of numbers and letters. Tons of them maybe, all held together. This list could possibly be accessed and utilized, but not completely on it’s own. Their grouping of black and white shapes on paper, or zeros and ones in a binary format, couldn’t exactly accomplish anything just by existing.

Like a drawer full of keys, the raw Data, is almost completely useless without the ‘information’ that matches certain keys to certain locks. See the information is the thing that recognizes context. Information can make connections. Information is able to make a big wad of letters and numbers into an old-school phonebook. Information is the way in which we process the data of the phonebook, we read the letters in order, we understand language, we translate the numbers to another device and make a call to someone we love. That’s not just data, it takes the information to partner with it, to be useful at all.

My teacher explained that he wanted to use his brain for informational purposes. He wanted it to help him to understand context, see options, weigh out decisions and connect with people. He did NOT want to use his brain to store and retrieve Data. The data could be held elsewhere. A piece of paper can hold data, or a computer or a cell phone or a bar napkin. Technology is wonderful for storing data, waay better than our brains are.

Technology however, cannot to our informational processing like we can. I wouldn’t trust a computer to auto fill our restaurant schedule. It may try to anticipate a pattern of spreadsheet entries, but it takes my own noggin to process the multitude of factors that go into this important and delicate restaurant managing task.

The keys I pulled off my key ring today, have fallen outside of my information processing abilities. I don’t know what they are for. I don’t use them anymore at all. I may someday want to open the lock they match up with, but at this point, I don’t know what lock that would be. So there. They are rubbish.

A piece of data is trash, without the information that connects it to usefullness.

I wonder what else in my life, I carry around with me, that has lost all connection with usefullness? I probably have loads of facts and memories and impressions of experiences that I carry, for no good reason. I am past the point of remembering how they are serving me. I am talking about negative memories, self defeating re-run mental records and the like. I hope you don’t have heavy jangling janitor-sized keyring of this kind of metal crap swinging and banging around off your hip everyday. I’m sure I pick that heavy thing up and haul it around often.

Today though, in my real life, I cut it down to four total keys. That’s all I needed today. Probably all I will need for awhile.

I wonder how I could pare down my mental keyring the same way. I wonder about the professor’s advice to leave the data storing jobs to something besides my own brain. I think he was saying to have a place for the data, but don’t carry it everywhere. Use the mind to navigate and operate and decide and to powerfully move forward. Instead of mulling through files full of junk.

Good advice that I will remember for awhile, as I notice my keyring with it’s few useful keys, and nothing more… Except a flashlight, and a dogtag with my name and phone number… :) Ha! Yes, other stuff that I have almost never used!

Sincerely,

Aaron Nichols

Easy to sleep with…

I’ve been training my brain lately. I’ve been training it to let me sleep. Someone mentioned to me, that I might want to get some sleep now, in the months before our bundle of joy arrives :)

No matter how late I get to bed, no matter how tired or exhausted I might be, I read. Well first I start by strapping on my camper’s headlamp, and killing all the other lights. I grab my book and get comfy. Sometimes it takes a couple pages, sometimes only a paragraph or two. I find that I have been crashing directly into a very deep sleep when I do this little routine. Another interesting thing, is that I do not wake up during the night at all.

On just a couple occasions in the last month, I figured I was too tired to need to do my reading, and I tried to skip it. Basically, I toss and turn, and become restless. For some reason I now am only able to achieve a nourishing restful sleep, after reading. I do enjoy the knowing that I have a method to employ, to help me with this important human activity.

Speaking of which…

If “I” can stumble upon this trick that elicits a specific response and desired outcome, then I have proved to myself that I am not a mere slave to my own brain.

See my mind/brain/noggin’ wants to continue the spin cycle as soon as the room goes dark and it has nothing to do but to think… So I simultaneously possess thoughts that I want to get real sleep, and thoughts of the kaleidescope of the craziness of the day. I experience the peculiar separation of two opposite concepts living side by side. I find it a little worrisome that in this particular instance I have found a solution by which the greater good is serviced by tricking myself into deep slumber.

There are other human experiences that I most certainly wish I could trick myself into. Even though the value of good sleep ranks high on anyone’s list, there are things I need even more.

I would like to have a method to trick myself into almost instantaneous cheerfulness. Self-motivation and maybe no-calorie intake hunger satisfaction would be cool. I would like to trick my brain into wanting to exercise or to wake up ready to tackle the day instead of dreading it. There are lots of things that ‘I’ wish, I could hogtie my mind into creating for itself, instead of the bad habits it currently seems to want to hold onto.

What a strange thing. I see the clear separation between me, myself and I. I rely upon the grey matter inside my egg-shaped skull, but it is yet my enemy at the same time. Straddling and struggling between the loosely leashed angry wild bobcat, and my spiritual soul that yearns for peaceful purposeful progress, I know which one wins more of my mental battles. I have the scars to prove it.

Anyways… there are lots of people who can give advice on this topic. Plenty of books are already written. I can probably sign up for a weekend intensive seminar series right now, that will ‘fix’ all these issues and more. Except, that I have already done tons of that stuff, and yes I still fight it, day-in and day-out.

The book trick is working for sleeping better. I wonder if the Good Lord will show me some more ways to train this feisty fleshy-ness that He sewed me up into, when he stitched my life together at that most fundamentally finite of moments.

Simple, predictable and true happiness is all everybody wants, right? It’s not too much to ask for? Is it? Maybe I should just appreciate the good sleep right now, and the other things will take care of themselves in due time :)

I’ll send out prayers for God’s will to be done, and not mine. For you, for me, Amen.

:)

Until next week, take care.

With Love,

Sincerely,

Aaron Nichols

You say tow may tow, I say I’m scared

Better can hurt sometimes. My little tomato buddies told me that this week. I’d been tending to them for about a month. I had been watering them regularly. I would bring them from inside the house on a cool night, to outside during a sunny day. I moved them around in their crinkle-sounding plastic 4-packs. I’d been ‘hardening’ them off, but it turns out, they may not have become ‘hard’ enough, for the transplantation moment…

I had decided to plant my tomatoes this week. Yes it is early, I know… But I felt like I wanted to try to get them in. I am on my second year of the heavy-mulch style garden bed, and the potatoes, peas, onions and garlic are growing along nicely.

The method I used to plant, I learned from a neighbor, who used to come over and help. She showed me how to put my trigger nozzle on the end of the hose, and shoot a stream of water directly into the soil. The water pressure ‘digs’  a perfect little cylindrical scoop into the soft ground. I then took my granular fertilizer and dropped it in. I even added the epsom salt this year, that I bought last year and forgot to use.

The new little home for each of my 20 tomato plants was a dandy spot. Water, food, a thick mulch to lock in the moisture and protect the base in a breeze. I was sure it would serve them well. Or so I thought…

One morning this week I spent a couple hours settling my peppers and tomatoes into the dirt. I mounded hills for squash and zucchini too. The cucumber seeds went in, and some green and yellow beans found spots. By the time I was done, I noticed that my vibrant tomato teenagers had already fallen limp onto the hay…

What?

Shock set in quick with them this year. They didn’t take the transition too well. I was hopeful they would spring back quick, but honestly, only a few are looking real good even three days later. The rest of them? I don’t know. Maybe they aren’t strong enough. Maybe they will lay limp until they dry up and die.

One thing about my thick hay mulch garden is that the soil underneath it, is in amazing condition. It is wet and crumbly, full of worms and rotting compost. But, since the sun cannot sit down on the ground, it is quite cold as of yet. I wonder if the temperature has caused the embarrassing shrinkage and shock, in my formerly happy little plants?

As I saw them in their sad condition, I was disturbed of course. I had spent time and energy and fixed up their spots with all the nutritious goodness I thought they needed. I gave them new homes to sprawl out in. A place to really grow and develop. I freed them from their little plastic prison cells. They have quite a sturdy trellis that they will get to climb… if they can recover from the shock of the transplant, that is.

I know the feeling that these little seedlings are suffering through. I think the lesson sent to me that day is from God. I think that our Almighty Creator sometimes replants us. I think we can be dropped into a new location, a new paradigm, and we can be shocked by it. I think sometimes, this upgrade actually feels like torture at first.

My little plants were happy and lively and standing tall, in their baby plastic ice cube trays. They could never really develop into their full potential living in that one little cup of dirt. They could not grow thick trunk-like stems and produce succulent red fruit without being planted for real. Maybe I planted them early. I did it when I could though. I did it when I thought it was best to do it. Some of them are standing tall again. Even though I buried them up to their necks. :)

God does this to us lucky kids. I think our spiritual journey mimics this tomato-moment exactly. When we step out in faith and ask Jesus Christ to come into our hearts, we get uprooted out of our little, old, plastic lives. We get planted into the deeeeeeper soil. We are nourished with a new, living water, that quenches in amazing new ways… We are given the opportunity and privilege to grow waaay beyond the scope that our old little container-life could have allowed.

You should have seen all the white wiggling stringy roots fighting for space in their bundled bases. I know that those same roots will now be able to extend and reach and dig deep into the real earth, instead of just the two inch cube of potting moss. The old life of these plants probably would have seemed better to them, after I had stuck them into the cool wet soil and shrank back in a survival reflex motion.

Just like Jesus getting ahold of my life, I want to shrink back. I want the old ways again, please, oh please! I want to reverse the action and climb back into my little protected plastic shell…

I know that the sun is coming. I know that the plants will thrive. I know that I have given them all the opportunity now, to produce wonderful fruit. I will continue to nurture them too. All through their lives. I will take care of them at the end too. I hope that they will be strong through these tough initial days.

God wants me to be strong too. The gift of a new shot at everlasting life is worth the struggle. I can’t imagine the possibility of the new garden I’ve been given to live in. I mainly just want to curl up and shut my eyes and pray for the olden days.

I am sad, that my little plants are taking the transition so hard. I bet God is sad for me too sometimes. Not sad that the effort and gifts and blessings are wasted on me, but that I have failed to breathe deep and relax and enjoy the comforts of my new home enough.

I am missing out on my own new life with God’s abundant love and mercy and grace, because I want to, and that is all. I hope I am one of the few, who are still hanging on, when the sun really starts to shine on me. I hope I haven’t begun the irreversible giving up process when that moment arrives.

God has faith in his plan for me. His designs are flawless, only always. My own fear constrains and pains me. I struggle against myself, usually almost always too. Thanks be to God, for the lessons provided me. I hope I will decide that I am okay enough to survive till spring and summer. And with prayers of expectation for His gentle guidance, I will.

Thanks be to God.

Sincerely,

Aaron Nichols :)

A friend on the doorstep, is a friend indeed

The wailing sirens of the ambulance and a couple patrol cars sounded closer and closer, one Wednesday afternoon at my house on the corner of town in Princeton. Just as the vehicles arrived at my street, they cut the noise, turned slowly past my place and parked across the street. I knew that something serious was happening at my neighbor’s house.

That day, my neighbor Gary, was out working in the yard and his heart gave out. I had just seen him driving around in Ottawa the day before. Two days before, he was walking through the parking lot of Wal-Mart. He couldn’t have known then, that his time was almost up, here on this earth. I want to express my condolences and wish blessings for his wife, Peggy, and family, some of whom may read this blog.

I wasn’t always a great neighbor to Gary and Peggy. The last few years around here though, I’m sure were more pleasant for them. There are no more late loud nights, or too-many trucks tearing up their grassy ditch.

It is quiet over there now. Peggy hasn’t been back home much, and she may not return, I don’t know. There is a void in the neighborhood for sure…

I have setup this story, not to tell you as much about my thoughts on losing a neighbor, but there is someone else who is missing him more. I was talking to his family who has been coming to take care of the house and the yard. I heard a story about the day Gary passed. As the family was coming and going that afternoon, people were in and out of the house. They were helping pack up some items for Peggy, so that she could stay with her sister.

All through the late afternoon and evening they had a visitor. The friend came over and just stayed there, at the front door. She watched people come in and out and according to the family, she appeared to be waiting to see Gary, and somehow maybe knew he was gone.

“My” big, black half lab/half shepard, Roxy, and my neighbor Gary, must’ve been better friends than I ever realized. Over the years, I can remember seeing her hanging out in his yard, and I would call her home. Eventually, I did notice that he would sometimes be petting her, or she might be walking along with him. He was out in his yard, working on it and working in his shops much of the time. Roxy is a loose dog, she too is out and around our yard much of the time. I wonder how much of her free time, and of Gary’s free time, they spent together?

The James family, who is taking care of the property, told me that Gary had a pocket full of dog treats, the day he passed away. I don’t think they were all for Roxy, but some surely were. I have since heard that he made the rounds and had morsels for several of the neighborhood canines. That late Wednesday afternoon, when Gary had moved on, to a better place, Roxy came by to get some of her treats. Since she stayed on his porch and waited for him, I think maybe she was just as much ‘His’ dog, as ‘Ours’.

I can get so caught up sometimes, looking only through the grimy and broken lens of my own little perspective. I am riveted and bound tight to the world, just as I see and experience it. I notice only the stimuli that are transmitted through my own personal sensory organs. I feel futile and feeble, as the center of my own small crumbled universe.

Lucky for me though, I am not the center of it. I am only one of the many cogs, and lots of other cogs out there are moving along just fine, with or without me. Roxy, ‘my’ dog, has a life beyond me. She does her own thing. She has friends and pals and adventures all of her own. Roxy isn’t even the name she always goes by. Turns out that my neighbor, Gary, called her Rolley. He apparently was following me down the highway, the very day and time, that she fell out of the back of my truck at 65mph and ‘rolled’ across the tarmac. Tough girl, she survived that and picked up a well-earned nickname too.

I am pretty sure she has another name too, down the street to the south. A business there called Sensor-1 has a group of employees who take breaks a couple times a day. I am almost certain that Roxy knows exactly when those breaks are. She visits those folks too. Treats? Well, I can only guess. She isn’t going hungry, I can tell you that for sure.

The whole idea, that I may not be her only ‘human’ that is caring for her, is comforting in a way. It reminds me of a story, retold often by Dr Wayne Dyer: “Carl Jung said at the same moment you’re a protagonist in your own life making choices, you also are the spear carrier, or the extra, in a much larger drama. You’ve got to live with these two opposite ideas at the same time”

Sometimes I’m just the ‘spear carrier’ in the background. Even to my own dog. Sometimes, like on the evening that Gary passed away, Roxy showed that she wanted to be at home, with her family. It wasn’t at “our” house. But it was at her house. She was missing her master, and maybe still is…

There is a big beautiful dance going on, far beyond what my own mind can comprehend. I got a glimpse outside of my own personal drama, when I heard the story about Gary and Roxy. I am glad they had their special relationship. I hope he helps keep an eye on his ‘Rolley’, from his heavenly views now.

God Bless :)

Sincerely,

Aaron Nichols

Cutting it close

So what if I haven’t used aftershave in loooooong time. Maybe it has been 4 years, maybe 5. Is that really a fact worth writing about here tonight?

I do shave my face and neck every day. I do it in the morning, after a shower. I don’t completely cut away all my facial hair, I leave a *stylish* goatee and sideburns. I like the faux chin line and visual enhancement to my otherwise doughy face…

So, yes, I am a man who shaves and uses shaving products, like shaving gels and (too) expensive triple razor blades… BUT, several years ago, I ran out of aftershave lotion, and I just never bought any more.

I am sure the timing coincided with a super-strict budgeting routine. Back then, I was counting every red cent, and refusing to let go of even one, if I thought I could avoid it. I wanted to save a few bucks a month by not buying little plastic bottle of stingy stuff.

Sure it smelled good (which is how I prefer to smell). It also probably imparted some moisturizing skin benefits. Overall though, since I’ve quit using it, I really notice no major difference… at all.

I don’t know about other guys out there, but I can remember growing up and watching commercials for aftershave. They would show cool blue animations of little fresh spring raindrops landing on a male model’s face. The drops would spread and combine to form some sort of jelly-like moisturizing layer of protection. The guy would then look into the mirror proudly and smile, ready to tackle his day.

I’m sure I watched my grandpa use aftershave too. I remember being with him, while he would get ready for work in the morning. I probably was encroaching on his personal space, but I can still vividly recall the sink full of water he’d splash the razor back into, over and over. He had a small arsenal of shaving supplies. I would watch him and wonder when someday, I would get to stand at the sink myself, like a grown-up and use sharp objects on my face.

Well sure, lots of guys shave, and I do too… The thing about skipping the last step, as the commercials and I guess traditions would have me follow, is that I miss nothing, which I can really notice.

I do question what we truly need in this life. I do wonder about the list of ‘things’ that actually matter. I struggle and fight with myself over the truths that tradition has handed down. I can get sincerely scared when I turn my attention to the ‘supposed to’s’ of our consumer culture.

If making all the right purchases and avoiding all the wrong ones, is my life’s purpose, then I am truly a sorry sad sack. That grain of salt, may be losing it’s flavor. I wonder if there is a pervasive notion out in the meat of the American population, that we can make decisions and operate ourselves within boundaries and parameters set up by our own creative imagination. I wonder if the advertisers have truly won, when the context of our concrete-clad upper-middle-class stylish-strip-mall trips are the highlight of our week?

I may be just insecure, that I don’t own a mini-mansion. I may secretly want to have a pintrest-decorated commercial kitchen overlooking my backyard infinity pool and an ocean-view. I am talking about stuff here, yes, but also the lifestyles of celebrity and success. The tv can tell me that these houses exist. I can see that someone out there has achieved beyond my dinky imagination. I watch and wonder, I may want to partake in the smallest of ways, a material rich life.

See those smallest of ways may include my aftershave. Maybe I can buy a nice brand of it. Maybe I can wear a higher-end cologne than they sell at Wal-Mart. Maybe if I start with the small things, then I will be on my way to the big things… Maybe if I can get everything bought just right, life will be perfect.

Or not.

It is easy to see, here on this screen, that these concepts are silly-bo-billy. I have had them though. It has occurred to me, that if I can get this next ‘thing’ then my life will be better. If only I had ‘it’, then I could finally have ‘it’.

Truth is, I don’t really truly believe deep down, that any of the things in this world actually matter. I can’t even prove that things actually exist. I can explain my observation of these things. I can prove my opinions and judgments and like and dislikes. However, those ideas reside within the boundaries of my mind, within my own brain. They don’t exist out in the atoms or the matter of that object itself.

The stuff is neutral. Completely neutral. The companies who produce the neutrality are dying to inject the drama and the desires into their gray chunks of plastic and wires. Some flashy lights or the fake curl of a sliver of a chocolate bar can touch your senses. A tv commercial, viral video or a print ad can inspire your brain to make up stories about a product. The amazing grey-matter of your mind can convince you that these things possess powers. We can be sad without them, and remain hopeful when we think we may acquire it.

I know, I know. I am just as stuck into this mindset as almost anybody. I want ‘things’ I do. I want stuff and I want clothes and I also too, want the world around me to take notice and see what nice items I have acquired. Too bad, the spoils of my wars, are puny compared to many.

I have lived however without some stuff. We also are in the richest country in the world. We aren’t talking about basic human needs here. In America, we are blessed with safe drinking water, available food and a solid roof over our heads.

I know that going without some little extras is okay. I have decided to pass on many of today’s consumer creature comforts. A tingly-fresh aftershave is just one. I suppose that I could have had at least a bigger house, or nicer cars or maybe even a lake view with an above-ground pool. Maybe I could have had the best stuff too. Maybe that ocean-view mansion is still in my future…

These days I tell myself that whatever the stuff of our lives is… It really isn’t anything at all… I mean it just isn’t.  The stuff has nothing to do with our worth, or our contributions to the collective consciousness. The self-pleasing pile of plastic we obtain, from the first page of our life, to the last, is soo irrelevant in the big picture.

Just like the bottle of aftershave I didn’t buy this week. It makes no difference to you. My wife may have noticed another odor on my neck, but even then, probably not.

I can use it. I can skip it. I can decide what works well for me, completely apart from the cultural consumer conversation. I don’t need commercials to tell me what these little moments of life should look like.
I can decide. I can be happy with. I can be happy without.

Usually, I find that I fall between. I want the things I don’t have. I take for granted the stuff I do.

But that’s just me. That’s just a guy who doesn’t even use aftershave… And who could listen to anything this guy has to say J

Sincerely,

Until Next Week.

With Love,

Aaron Nichols

My Preciousssssss!!

Protecting the pennies is a good way to ruin a business. True?

I do know that this week, I had run across some conversations about situations that seemed so petty. I was telling my stories, they were relaying ones they’d heard. Overall we were basically bitching about protecting our pennies.

In one sense, money is tender we trade as proof of a business transaction. In another sense, there is so much more exchanged, than just the loose change.

I was telling someone a story. Actually it was a rare little incident, that didn’t go well. He was telling me one similar that he’d heard of. We swapped stories of worries and ‘well it’s always sumpthin’s’. It wasn’t a constructive conversation, but it was friendly and cordial and we bonded over our small-business woes…

Small business?? Yes. Pennies are small. Smallest coin we got. I was looking at my pennies and pouting. So was he. Is it responsibility that contains our focus on these details? Are we being good stewards and noticing wastefulness where it lives? Should we be proud that we could maybe save a few copper-colored circles in the future, by complaining today?

Nah, I don’t think so.

I think we are both small business guys because we’re looking at the smallness of it. I think we’re fighting any growth of a fortune by dwelling on the piddly-diddles. I am king of seeing tiny minute mistakes. They infest the sphere of my vision. Swarming and mating even, they multiply and cloud the clear blue sky.

The pennies can poison.

Business is like life, life like business. ‘How some things work, is how all things work’, according the wise Mr. Steve Chandler.

There was a book called ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff” – I didn’t read it. Probably too busy, noticing my lack of motivation, or interest or (laughably) time to read, and complaining to myself about that. Instead of just opening the cover and starting.

I know some guys and some gals who dream big. They seem to speak into existence wide swaths of projects and grand illustrations of service. These life artists seem to endeavor to create beyond the microscopic. They do, and they keep doing. They don’t seem to salivate over succulent little stories of small delicious complaints.

I wonder when I will see that it’s the protecting of my pennies, that is slowing me down? I want to cherish all of the tiniest of troubles. I want to count and admire each one. I want to collect and preserve them, from the beginning of life till today. I couldn’t let my pets out of their cages. Where would they go? Who would care for them like I do?

What would I spend my attention on, if I didn’t have these little pests in my life? Oops! Did I just say that? I couldn’t have meant it. Oh no…

When we play a game of coed rec league volleyball, lots of little moments happen. The points go quick sometimes. The frantic juggle of a long volley can just continue on and on and on too… Lots of little mistakes are made. The point ends. We get one, or we lose one. Then we move on to the next.

I sometimes grip the tiny microsecond of time in which I get to decide whether to hold onto my failings of the last few moments, or let them go, start fresh, as the new serve sails my way. Usually, almost always, I let a twitch happen and a release. My brain blanks out. I play the next new point, from a loose and lively space, wanting to win the one point we are on, right then…

I do it in volleyball I said…

In our business, in my jobs, in my marriage and my spiritual life, I may protect my pennies too often. I want to worry and tend to them. I ache to see every one, shined up and sparkling. I ignore the blessings that bunches of them bring.

If a penny is a tiny fraction of the greater whole, then we have illustrated the duality of life. It takes tons of little pennies or little atoms or little moments or even mistakes, piled together to show us the bigger picture.

I can zoom out sometimes. I can choose to do it. I could see the greater possibility, the pictures yet unpainted on the massive blank canvas of the life in front of me. I could choose that.

I pray that today, I try it. I pray that today, I let the penny be tarnished and bent even too. I pray that instead of painstakingly processing the microscopic, I take a step back to observe the enormity of the blessings enveloping my soul.

I won’t ever forget the pretty petty problems, but I can get loose, shake them off, and proceed toward one next step, without totally slowing down… At least I want to give it a shot, today :)

With love and spiritual wealth in my prayers for you, I will speak to you again next week. I will then again share something that tugs at the inner-me, hopefully it touches the inner you. So that, we all know we don’t exist alone, as it can feel so often, when we pet and ponder our precious little pennies…

Sincerely,

Aaron Nichols

This is a Jesus Post, on Easter, Don’t bother to Click Here

I took a picture every mile for a 5000 mile walk, and you can watch it all in two minutes! I shot a selfie at 1000 world landmarks, the journey lasted 3 years, and you can see it all in the next 90 seconds! I had a baby back in the eighties, and every month I took her picture, wearing the same dress. She is in her thirties now,  I put all the images together and you can watch her grow from an infant to a grown woman with children of her own, in just the next minute! WOW! You… Must… See… Thissssss………!!!!

C’mon, you know what I’m talking about, right? Just this morning Lindsay found a link online, where a man hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and shot a picture each mile. It is an amazing video, his journey was epic, and he took the time to make a quick easy presentation that I can watch in a flash. I experience a glimpse of hundreds of gorgeous vistas. I can see his face transform with exercise. I imagine briefly, the countless steps he took, the wear and tear on his feet and the smiles from the friends he made. All this action, and I don’t even have to hardly shift my comfy position within the fluffy folds of blanketry, nestled on our king-sized bed.

This week has been the first Easter in the last 5 years, that I have experienced without the spiritual shepherding of Tim Soule. Our former church pastor, always invested time to develop and flesh-out and reiterate the importance of Holy Week. We’ve been in transition mode at Church, and although there is work and activity and worship, I miss his guidance at this time.

I have felt my heart tugging my attention away from trivial matters at little moments though. Thursday night, I thought of the Last Supper. Early early in the morning on Friday, I was considering the Garden. I know that there is something so earth-shattering and cosmic-shifting about this week, that I just wanted to contemplate at times a sliver of a glimpse of the gravity of Jesus’ sacrifice for me, for you.

Truly however, I was tucked comfy in my bed. I walked my familiar paths of laziness and procrastinations. I laughed at the shortcomings of other people. I complained and gossiped. I let my eyes and my mind wander to darkness and lust and anger, probably greed too. I was just as base and rooted in my flesh as ever. Stone-cold broken. A sinner through and ever through.

I wanted to watch from afar, an amazing feat. I wanted to witness the profound, the unimaginable, and holiest moments to come, all in just a 30 second flash of thought.

I want to experience the breadth and depth of the the crucifixion and the resurrection, with the smallest possible investment of my time and my true engagement.

Back to my ‘regular life’ please! As quickly as possible please! Very very busy today! Lots to get done! I’ll catch up with ya later Jesus! Thanks for dyin’ for me, I do appreciate it! Redemption and salvation are awesome! Rock on, man! TTYL!

Well, funny thing is, even if I really wanted it to work that way, Jesus does not let me off the hook that easy. See, I have found that his impact on my life is grindingly difficult. The changes are complex and soul-shatteringly exhausting. Only everything transforms when you ask for his embrace.  He gave more than I ever will, but he’s asked that I give too.

I want nothing more than to return to my old ways. I want the false freedom and immediate peace that comes from living in this material world with it’s elementary rules. It seems easy now, looking back, to find a moment’s happiness in a bottle of wine. I could laugh and carry-on, scratching the itches of jealousy or insecurity, all while pointing fingers at other people. I can find camaraderie, friendship aplenty, speaking of imaginary limitations, and locking myself into repetitious cycles.  The hunger of our flesh is quick to satisfy.

If the finest feat we could accomplish would be to experience the greatest earthly gratifications, he would have shown us how. He could have had every earthly desire. All within easy reach, for the Son of God.

He asks us to consider a greater endeavor, by committing himself to the ultimate humiliations, betrayals and real pain. The one who can touch our lives today, is not just the king of the world, he’s the King of Kings.

His ways are plain and profound. He walks the countryside and talks to people. He asks men to leave their lives and follow him. He sits by himself and prays. He makes sure that people eat. He wants those that are sick to be healed and then go and sin no more. His truth is being beaten and laughed at. His life is given away in a terribly bloody black-comedy. They make him a crown of thorns to belittle him, and attempt to stomp out any possible dignity to his lonely Friday afternoon death.

A man like this has changed me. Both man and God. I am lost now. Caught in-between this world and His world. I want back into my old life so often. I hope tomorrow morning I want to want the resurrection, and the new covenant. Straddling and struggling, this week of Easter reminds me that I will always be a human. I am watching it happen and laughing too. I am not stepping in to help. I am adding to the pain. I act like one of the Roman soldiers slinging a whip. I embody one of the Jews who shout “Give us Barabbas!”.  I am a disciple hiding in fear of my own life, nowhere near him, not coming to help.

And he died in Love for me, and for you, and for the Roman and the Jew and the Disciple too. He did all this for us. I hope I remember to thank him today in some small simple Jesus-like actual action :)

Sincerely,

Aaron Nichols

Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”  – John 18:37

Don’t hate the player, Don’t even hate the game

Last weekend, in the deep Ozark woods of Missouri, my wife and I were unplugged. For a deeply relaxing day and a half, our technology devices became paperweights. The internet couldn’t penetrate into that holler. Not even a single bar of cell reception showed up onscreen. That may have been the very best part of the place we picked to camp and hike.

That spot allowed us to unlatch from the leash of the streaming information that we habitually tether ourselves to, in any given downtime moment.

I read a book. Almost a whole book. Between Friday night and Sunday morning. Since then I have read some more, but not too much more, back in the ‘real world’ of home and facebook and youtube too.

Flash Boys by Michael Lewis, has been sitting on my shelf for many months. I bought it after seeing Michael on Charlie Rose one night. He also has authored books that became famous movies, like Moneyball and The Blindside. Really interesting guy, who digs deeply into amazing true stories.

Flash Boys is a book about people using the stock market and technology to make untold millions and yes, billions of dollars. High frequency traders employ the fastest computer technology available. They exchange stocks in tiniest of fractions of time and currency. The risk is essentially low, and the reward is outstanding. They make money in down markets and up markets. They exploit new government regulations, and the result is a massive skim of the American investor since the mid 2000’s.

Actually, the skim and the loophole and the ‘gaming’ of the stock market system, is nothing new at all. One researcher in the book, has found evidence of these issues since the very beginning. This newest version, happens to be exponentially quick and extraordinary lucrative.

Really, the author’s research and the people he writes about, detail a complex picture of fantastically intricate moving parts, BUT, it all boils down to morality. The book paints a picture of Brad Katsuyama, he notices a problem. He cannot let the problem go un-investigated. He is troubled as he finds wrongdoing, he fights against it. He is one man, against an army. He builds a team. He searches out others who see the injustice. He eventually takes it upon himself to reinvent a stock-market exchange. They try to build an ‘un-gamable’ system. A place where fairness is simply the goal, instead of making money for the insiders.

‘The system’ is something that crosses my mind all the time. I have always seemed to want to question the structures and rules and reasonings that ‘the world’ around me seems to live by. I often find myself interested by conspiracy theories or radical reinterpretations of seemingly concrete truths. I love it when science, or the Bible, can re-frame a sturdy and unquestioned idea, and show me another view behind the curtain.

Hardly ever though, do I remember myself intentionally working and striving and trying really hard, to ‘game the system.’  I see the deceit and exploitation and card tricks maneuvering pointed out in this book, as something that other people do, and I don’t.

I’m probably giving myself too much credit here. I am sure there are times that I have tried to work the least amount, and to get the most money. I didn’t find myself with billions of dollars… darn. But, I’m sure I have done it on some level.

I find my management moments at work, concerned about these very issues however. What is the nature the systems we’ve created? Do they create a balanced and fair environment for the guests who dine with us, for our team, for the business itself? Are the systems in place, fortuitous in a healthy way for everyone involved? Is someone ‘gaming our systems’?

I certainly can see the distrust in some customer’s eyes, as they may think we are attempting to ‘game’ them. Some may believe that our small family run business is an actual gold mine. They may feel ‘took’ and that we have overcharged them, given an cheap product, and we happily haul our rewards to the bank. Actually, these moments are quite few indeed. But the idea exists, that businesses are inherently bad or crooked or somehow stealing people’s money right out of their pockets.

I actually laugh at myself sometimes, for noticing the hilarity in that thought, as it relates to our little restaurant. So much effort, tons of time and money investment is required to maintain quality and excellence. The rewards are easier to count in smiles and appreciation than dollars at the end of the day. Satisfaction of a job well done, is the best reward, when we sometimes, get almost all of it, almost all right.

I am now re-awakened to the idea that ‘gaming a system’ is part of our humanity. Trying to squeeze out the most reward for the smallest risk, is just something that seems to reside somewhere in our consciousness. How much of that ‘gaming’ we partake in, or allow to exist in our own world, shows our personal boundary set-points.

The hero of the book, Flash Boys, is Brad, and he is little David, standing against Goliath’s bigger, uglier and wealthier brother. But stand and fight he does. He is trying against amazing odds, to do the right thing. We all have a Brad inside us. He isn’t gaming a system for personal gains, he’s rebuilding the system to level the field. His purpose is noble and whatever the eventual outcome, he can rest at night, knowing he used is energy to try and serve his fellow man in a profoundly fair way.

May I be richer for knowing that courage does exist; David’s rock-and-sling courage, in the modern world. May it well up in you too, from the deepest springs. We all have a Goliath in our life, the battle is before us every day. Godspeed my friends.

See you here next week :)

Sincerely,

Aaron Nichols

Running A-Way for Life

Of course, packing up for a weekend away makes me think of the upcoming birth we are expecting in August. I will probably pack bags, when it’s delivery time. I will probably pack bags and load them for a long time after that too.

We’re leaving in the morning to go to Johnson Shut-Ins State Park in Missouri.  I cram totes and duffels and snacks and a cooler into our truck and I am excited to be camping soon. I remember being a young kid and loving these kind of trips. I examine my choices of gear and of supplies, I remember my best friend as child, James Barkley.

We had great conversations together, walking home after school. Just a few blocks, literally over a (tiny) river and through the woods, to my Grandmother’s House we’d go. I remember talking about school, or testing out dirty cuss words, or planning out how we’d manage to get to stay that night at one or the other’s houses.

Also, I recall the exact feeling of our discussions about running away. At the time, we planned our escape riding a small four-wheeler. I remember wanting a little cargo trailer to hitch onto mine. I also spent lots and lots of time thinking about all the things I would pack into the trailer, and strap on the racks of the quad. I wanted camping stuff and food. Drinks and clothes and snacks. Probably a knife and an axe too. I wanted everything I might need for my journey, all lashed onto my go-anywhere vehicular rig.

Well, that is just about what I have, right now, sitting in my driveway. It’s not a quad-runner, but it is a 4Runner. I don’t have the trailer, but I do have plenty of room for my stuff. Speaking of stuff, I have a bunch of it; camping gear galore. I don’t have James with me, but my best friend in the world, Lindsay will be by my side. I can rest happy tonight, knowing we will ‘Run Away’, bright and early tomorrow morning.

We’ll even have our 20 week old baby on board :)

Packing up for a journey, makes me wonder about that little one. I wonder about the origins of life. I wonder about our souls. I question the biggest ‘hows’ that my mind can imagine. I have come across lots of different schools of thought, concerning how our lives work. Some seem sure that we pop out fresh; we have this one life and that’s it. Others seem confident that our essence has had many incarnations and repetitious spins around the carousel of life.

I know that Dr. Wayne Dyer’s words connected with me, years ago, when he marveled at the fact that we all started out as an impossibly small dot of existence. We then grow and double in size until eventually we become something amazing; a complete human being.

He illustrates that from an infinitesimally microscopic spec, the wholeness of our lives is produced. That tiny dot contains all the information needed to construct our entire being. Something thousands of times smaller than the period on this sentence was the source I came from, and you came from, and James and Lindsay and even this little new baby comes from too. Amazing. The journey, the adventure we embark upon, in this place we call the world, is compacted so simply, efficiently and elegantly.

I guess that the art of taking a trip is inherent, down to our core. Acknowledging our needs and our wants, making a plan, and setting out to see something new. It’s the kind of fun, that I habitually require. It may help explain the blueprint for our very existence: A self reliant but well-equipped adventure, forever created, ultimately and supremely by God.

Here’s to playing 12 years old again. Here’s to running away for a bit, and to coming back home, to begin again and again with the family I love.

Sincerely,

Aaron Nichols

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