Stronger

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Exercise to gain strength

At 27 years old, I purchased a new weight bench, an 80-pound heavy bag and a 250-pound free-weight set complete with a 15-pound bar and 10-pound dumbbells. Oh brother! I was buying meal supplements at GNC, for $50 a box; drinking whey powder every morning; ingesting creatine monohydrate and drinking water…a lot of water. The mirror was my closest friend. All of that lifting paid off in the field, went I had to do a full day of carting around heavy testing equipment, for work. 

By the time I was 30 years old, I weighed 155 pounds, had roughly 5% body fat and was able to bench-press 210 pounds. I thought I was strong and sexy! But, for all of that physical strength, my spiritual strength was super-weak. I can actually remember having a conversation with my best friend, Eric, telling him I was a spiritual person. I had glanced through the entire bible just to be able to say to myself “I’ve read the good book.” My prayer-life was only active when I needed God to do something for me. Despite all of my physical strength, I wasn’t strong enough to give my wife the kind of marriage she wanted and needed. As strong as I was in physical might, I was a weak father, because my kids were more afraid of my short temper (creatine-rage) than they were comfortable with my loving personality.

Take a look at the two photos up there for a second. It looks like both men are engaged in separate activities, doesn’t it? The brother on the left is seriously gettin’ his buff on; steamy background and all, right? While the Average-Joe on the right is enjoying a leisurely morning read; a short coffee by his side, ya? Actually–dear friends–these two men are both working out; training muscles; inducing strain and growing stronger by virtue of the repeated process. The first time I paid attention to what the Apostle Paul said to his young disciple, Timothy, regarding physical exercise in relation to the study of the word, I shirked it off as nonsense. In 1 Timothy 4:8 (NIV), Paul said this:

“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

What exactly was Paul telling Timothy? Was he saying, “Kid, don’t worry about tightening your body; read your scriptures instead!” Not at all! The bible also tells us our bodies are the Lord’s temple and, as such, we should take care of the temple. That’s a whole different topic for another day. I think what Paul was trying to tell Timothy was to concentrate more-so on the spiritual exercise of studying and communing with God, because that type of activity has lasting affects not only in the here and now, but in the afterlife as well.

Physical workout activity definitely has its benefits. But, as a Christian, I have come to believe the spiritual strength of my relationship with Jesus falls higher on my personal priority list than how many reps I can push under the chest-machine. The more I learn about the Lord, I see changes in my earthly relationships; I see changes in my conduct; I recognize change in my thinking and my actions. The more I spend time exercising my faith, the stronger my faith becomes.  

At 45 years old, I am happy to say you can find me spending more time seeking the Lord than running the treadmill at Planet Fitness. I still have the same intensity toward working out that I had at 27, except I shifted the type of working out I engage in. Paul told Timothy physical training has some value, and I believe that’s true. But the day will come when I can no longer push 150 pounds. The day will come when I can no longer lift myself physically. Time catches us all. But time has no hold on the things of the spirit. Once I accepted that truth, the Lord became real to me. Suddenly, gaining a real relationship with him–and maintaining it–became more important than my looks. 

Hey, I’m on the Lord’s team. When my time on earth is over, he’s going to gift me with a new body that will never perish. These days, you can catch me working out like the brother up there, on the right. And I’m pretty okay with that. I’m pretty strong in my faith. But there is always room for me to grow stronger. 

Truly

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The turkey was eaten. The stuffing was awesome. The green-bean casserole, mashed potatoes, collard-greens and baked beans all went down easy, fulfilling my vegetable requirement. The old home movies took center stage, invoking laughs and cherished memories. And…my Lions lost another Thanksgiving game. By all accounts, another successful holiday celebration has come and gone. And now, many are already out braving the chaos of the annual Black (Thursday) Friday shopping experience.

At the day’s end, I’m comfy in my plaid pajamas, Marvel T-shirt and Nike flip-flops typing away at the keyboard. My wife is tucked away sleeping peacefully, in preparation for another day’s work. It’s the first time today that I’ve taken a serious moment to think about what I’m truly thankful for.

  1. I’m thankful for the last 10 years of marriage to my Misty. A decade ago, we were both far from God and on the brink of divorce. John 6:44 (NKJV) says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” I really do believe the Lord drew us both into Himself. I see so many of my own friends struggling through tough marriages, and often forget what a blessing it was for God to not only grab hold of one of us; but both at the same time. 
  2. I’m thankful for God’s mercy and grace. I came from a good family and never had to want for anything, because my parents worked hard and sacrificed for their three children. But, in my young-adult years, I made poor decisions that could have easily landed me in jail or the grave. I realize God always had a hand on my life. He’s always been watching over me. The bible teaches that even though I never knew Him, and blatantly disrespected Him, Jesus willing went to the cross and died…for me personally. He did it because He loves me more than I can ever fully comprehend.
  3.  I’m thankful for my dad. Gathering at 4269 12th Street has been a tradition for the Smith family. Over the years, we’ve lost family members: cousins, aunts, uncles, my mom. But my dad keeps the tradition alive. At the end of tonight’s celebration, my wife and I washed dishes at my Dad’s house. She searched for a drying-towel to wipe and store the clean dishes. Without thinking, I instinctively made my way to a hall closet where the towels were stored; just as they were when I was a kid. In that moment, I realized how much I loved my Dad and the house I grew up in. I haven’t lived there in years, but the important things are still right where I know to find them. Relatives thanked Misty and I for cleaning the kitchen, but it really took me back to a time long forgotten; a time when it was my job to wash dishes in that house. It didn’t seem like such a special job tonight. The fifth commandment teaches us to “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”
  4. I’m thankful for our children. Throughout the celebration, I watched my children eat, laugh and even dance with their extended Smith family. One day, their grandfather will be gone. The house on 12th Street may be different without him. But for now, they enjoy the family get-together celebrations. They love their Poppa, and it shows. I’m blessed to have them. I’m blessed to have my dad be a part of their lives. I’m blessed to be able to watch them grow day by day and year by year.

My marriage, God’s grace & mercy, my dad and my children. Tonight, these are the most important aspects of life…for me.

 

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, friends.

 

 

*always*

What Up, Pounce!

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“What up, E?!”

“What up, Pounce!”

Whenever I heard that call, shenanigans were afoot. His voice will forever haunt me. He was never Darion. He was never Pouncy. Not to his crew. No sir, to his WMU friends—comprised of native Flintstones, cats from Detroit and a lil’ dude from a small town called Ecorse—Darion Earnest Pouncy was simply “Pounce”. He was the glue that kept us together. Sometimes, attitudes would flare between boys, and Pounce would always be the voice of reason to bring us back in sync. He wasn’t boisterous; wasn’t loud or larger than life. He was cool. His demeanor was quiet confidence; never really one to take the spotlight, but always alongside his friends supporting the plan, whether it was taking the game to the court, or breaking into the dorm cafeteria after hours. Yeah, we did that. I’d never met anyone like him, and there will never be another to take his rightful place in my heart. Had I known the last time I saw him would in fact be the last time I would ever speak to him, I most likely would have said something a bit more profound. You can never go back. Today, my friend is gone.

In the Fall of ’91, I moved away from my family, and into a first-floor dormitory room at Western Michigan University’s Garneau Hall—Valley Two; an uphill climb, both ways between the housing dorm and the main campus. The first night of my freshman year was the loneliest night of my young life. I remember feeling utterly alone and homesick. Tough guy that I am now, I think some tears were shed that night. Long before I ever found the Lord, I remember actually praying to Him to make the next day better. True to His character, the Lord came through. That next day, I was walking out of my dorm room, when I literally bumped into a young cat from Flint, Michigan who was passing through the hallway, on his way back to his own room…two doors down, on the left. His name was Darion Pouncy. That fateful encounter led to a friendship that would last until the end of his days.

I remember a night in the late Fall season of that freshman year, when the crew assembled for a road trip to Detroit. Pounce’s beat-up hatchback was gassed and ready to make the two-and-a-half-hour trip from Kalamazoo to Detroit’s infamous dress-to-sweat “Club Inferno”. It was a different atmosphere in the 90s, and we were ready to cut loose and blow off steam on the dance-floor. A small portion of the crew—which included Alford “Gene” Harris; Bobby Johnson and Dante Carter—had packed into that little car and bounced; Tupac Shakur’s first album, “2Pacalypse Now” blaring through the screechy front and rear speakers of the rust-bucket, followed by Uncle Luke’s (that’s Luther Campbell to you squares) gig album of the year. That night, we partied until the club closed at 4AM, before making the long and tiresome ride back to Kalamazoo. While everyone slept during the return drive, I sat in the backseat as Pounce quietly navigated the darkness of westbound I-94. Occasionally, his head bobbed in time with the bassline of “Soulja’s Story” crackling the busted woofers of the little car’s taxed speakers. During that trip back to the dorm, I periodically checked on our driver, just to let him know someone was up awake with him.

“What up, Pounce?”

“What up, E? Did you have a good time?”

I remember glancing around the car, at my sleeping brothers and realizing these cats were my new family. “I did. I had a good time. What about you,” I asked. He answered in what would become trademark Pounce fashion.

“It was straight.”

The trip took a little longer than expected, and I remember crawling into my dorm-room bed as the sky was changing from midnight black to pale blue, with the rising of the sun. It was the first time I’d ever stayed awake for over 24 hours. I crashed, exhausted yet grateful for my friends; my brothers; grateful for the chance encounter with Darion Pouncy.

Somewhere along life’s path—after Western Michigan University—I took a turn that caused me to lose touch with my brothers. At the time, I figured leaving those relationships behind was probably for the best, because the change in trajectory had brought my wife into the picture. As a consequence, distance created a gap between me and everybody else who I’d once considered WMU family. Although social media provided a way for us all to reconnect, it just wasn’t the same. As we grew older, we lost touch—I lost touch. In spite of me, time and distance, some true friendships endure.

In August of 2015, I was sent to Kalamazoo to complete a professional project for work. It had been years since I’d last seen or spoken directly to Pounce but like a true friend, when I called, he came. I opened the door of my hotel room and was greeted by that familiar voice. Suddenly, years melted into yesterday.

“What up, E?!”

“What up, Pounce!”

The dap was strong and the love transcended time. In that moment, we were simply brothers catching up with one another after a short stint apart. I told Pounce about my life after Western Michigan University: kids, career, marriage, music, writing and God. I gave him a copy of my recently published book, and a CD of my music. He listened and brought me up to speed on his life, his lady and his dog. The reunion was short. He had things to do and I had a job to prepare for. We promised to catch up again, stepped outside of the hotel and snapped a selfie on his phone. Somewhere between the count down from “three” and “cheese” I flashed a goofy grin. I regret it now…because it was the last time I saw Pounce in the flesh. It was the last time I would hear his voice. I guess I figured there would be more time. It never came.

Darion Earnest Pouncy was my first true friend, in the land of Kalamazoo. He didn’t know it then, but just knowing him changed my life for the better. When I danced in public, he cheered me on; when I ran guard on the court, he was by my side; when I was down, he had quiet and simple words of encouragement. Darion never knew I struggled with anxiety as a kid, right up into my first year at Western Michigan University. If he’d figured it out, he never made fun of me. He never laughed at me. He laughed with me. I regret the time I wasted out of touch with him; with Al; with Doug; with Dante; Jeff; Bobby; Redic, James “Book” and Jesse. I missed my friend. I will miss my friend. I wish I could have thanked him for bumping into me in the hallway. I pray he’s with Jesus; no more suffering; no troubles. I hope he’s straight.

What up Pounce…

 

 

Acrostic

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Hell is real, bruv.

Ask any saint, and he’ll tell you so.

Lives are cut short;

Lasting only as long as sin entertains, persuades and deceives and destroys;

Oh, the agony of the eternal fire!

When exactly did this happen?

Even now, I regret some of my past decisions; actually…

Every decision to ignore the truth of God;

Never to breathe a peaceful life again.

Sometimes, You Gotta Just Go With God

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“What does that mean, Enn?”

Yeah, I know…

“Sometimes, you gotta just go with God; what exactly are you saying?”

Well, see, that’s the thing. I don’t exactly know.

“What do you mean, ‘I don’t exactly know?’ What am I about to read here?”

I can’t rightly answer that question. But, I can tell you this: there are seasons when the Spirit moves in me and I recognize it’s time to sit down at the keyboard. Usually, I’ll turn on some inspiring music and wait for Him to put words into my heart. Tonight is no different. He’s moving, and I’m trying to listen.

One of my favorite songs is “Hymn of Praise” by William McDowell, featuring Julia McMillian and Daniel Johnson on lead vocals. Man, whenever I hear this powerful worship song, I can’t help but to fall in line with the Holy Spirit. Tonight, this song is on heavy repeat…even as I write. As I listen to the praises of God’s people, I’m trying to see the words forming in my heart. This special message is for someone tonight.

You’ve been trying so hard to make things work out in your favor, doing everything you think is right. You’ve been working hard, taking care of your responsibilities and doing everything by the book. Yet, for every step you take, it seems like something or someone pulls you two steps backward. When’s it going to be your time to catch a break, for once?

God sees you. He heard that prayer of desperation, last night. He knows exactly where you are and precisely what you’re going through right this moment, as you read these impossible words. Yeah…He sees you. He sees your struggles.

Mark 9:23-24 records a powerful exchange between Jesus and a father. “Jesus said to him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!'”

That last verse is personal to me, because I know what it feels like to struggle with unbelief strapped to weak hope. But Jesus doesn’t say, “If you wait until your emotions line up with your head-belief, then I’ll act.” No. He simply tells us to believe. You may not feel it emotionally. It may not make any sense to you. It’s a leap of faith.

Tonight, I need you to believe, even if you don’t feel it in your bones. Just trust in God and know that He’s got you exactly where he wants you. Maybe it’s time to leave that job. Maybe it’s time to be brave and put yourself out there. Maybe it’s time to ask for help. Maybe it’s your time to pursue you calling. You’ve been struggling so hard. Believe. He is with you, and knows where you are.

 

*Always*

Find Your Space

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Proverbs 16:9 (NKJV) – “A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.”

Everyone is born to do something. Everyone has pizzazz. Everybody has a unique gift. Yes; even you. The problem is, life has a tendency to strangle our calling. We might be sidetracked by alluring distractions, causing us to forgo the search for our niche. Maybe we’re born into a life full of never-ending challenges that literally choke the hope of fulfillment out of our hearts. Or just maybe…we’re too darned lazy to find our space in the world.

You ever see those images of a square peg being forced into a round hole? That image perfectly sums up the lives of many people. We busy ourselves trying to fit in where we don’t belong. In the process, life moves forward and we grow complacent and bitter.

What if I told you that Proverbs 16:9 is real? Would you believe me? If I said to you, “Hey Kim, you know that hobby you can’t seem to turn away from? God sewed that into your heart before you were ever born, and he wants you to use that to glorify him.” Would you call me nuts, and turn to another website? I hope you wouldn’t, because my favorite proverb is real. God is in the business of planting His design into your heart, and then causing you to chase after that very desire.

I’ve been writing since I was 12 years old. Trends, fads and styles came and went as I grew older–and actually still do. But, I always had a desire to write. It wasn’t until I submitted to Jesus, that I discovered I was born to write. Not for fame, money or notoriety. I was born to use my God-given talent to glorify Him. When I write about God and the kingdom, I honestly do my best work. It’s the perfectly shaped hole this square was born to fit into. And, I believe it happens easily because God planted that seed into my heart, to fulfill His purpose for my life.

Let’s look at it another way. A Suzuki GXS-R1000 crotch rocket was produced on the assembly line for a very specific purpose. If you try riding that motorcycle on a frozen pond, you’re going to have troubles making it up to 20 miles-per-hour. But if you throttle that sucker along twisting roads and open straightaways, you’re going to effortlessly peak 120 miles-per-hour without even trying. That’s because the bike was made to go fast and grip dry roads with precision. That’s its design, and it wants to go fast. If it wanted to go slow, it would have been made a moped. Round hole; round peg.

So here is your homework assignment: take a moment and look back at your life. What’s that one thing you’ve never been able to stay away from, and that you actually do pretty well? Trust me, everybody’s got one, so find yours.  Once you think you’ve got it, I want you to take an actual leap of faith. Ask God what you’re supposed to do with it. After you do that, start doing that one thing. If it was truly sewn into your heart, watch what God does in your life through His gifted talent in you.