Happy Valentines Day, ft. Crys

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Every once in awhile, I get the chance to share some wise words, witty quips or entertaining interjections written by some truly talented writers. You all know my style by now. I’m not one to use super-duper dictionary language. I like to keep it simple, and that’s what I look for in talent.

Today, while scrolling through Facebook, I came across a heartfelt post written by my sister’s best friend–Crystal–to here husband. It was brilliant, so I told her I planned to share it with my reading/writing friends. With that, let me introduce you all to the work of Mrs. Crystal Nickson.


“Let’s talk about Marriage.
It’s pretty great. 👍🏾
It’s also pretty damn hard. 👊🏾

Like forreal it’s simultaneously the most beautiful–yet humbling experience I’ve ever been a part of…if that makes any sense. 🤔

It’s so easy in this day to say ‘To hell with it,’ whenever something doesn’t go the way you think it should. But we don’t.

That’s the humbling part.😔

It’s hard being who and what I am in this world, knowing that I’m part of a group that is pretty much last on the list to be genuinely cared for, nurtured, respected & listened to.

Sometimes I get angry at–and agitated with–my husband (and the world at large) because of this.

But we reset. We always seem to reset.
So:

To the man who still says ‘Excuse me; I apologize baby,’ whenever he slips up and curses in front of me…🤬

To the man who has never once sent me a ‘Good Morning, Beautiful’ text, because he instead chose to be able to slide in the bed next to me, kiss me and say it to my face every morning…(okay 4 outta 7 days ain’t bad, hell)…💋

To the man who still asks me to dance whenever an old school jam comes on (even though his rhythm is questionable😁)🕺🏾💃🏿

To the man who supports every BIG & small decision I make in life…and is still there, loving me, after the smoke clears…😫

To the man who literally thanked me for never leaving him (like, forreal y’all, that one got me last night) 😭

To the man who has always chosen faithfulness over fickleness; patience over pride & benevolence over bullsh*t…

🗣TO MY STRONG, KIND, QUIET, BEAUTIFUL, BLACK MAN….✊🏿

HAPPY 15TH ANNIVERSARY, BABY.
I LOVE YOU & I LOVE OUR LOVE.❤
Marham Nickson”


Beautifully said, Crys.

Happy Valentines Day, all.

Note To Self…

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The health of both in-laws is in jeopardy. A childhood friend is literally fighting for his life. Two brothers in Christ decided to turn away from truth. Marriages are unraveling before my eyes. Tensions between co-workers (at work) are at an all-time high. Border-wall talk is continuing to further divide our nation. James Ingram died.

It’s just February. What surprises will the remaining 10 months hold for 2019?

Sometimes I look around, and it seems as if the enemy is winning. But I know better. I know that…while times and trends may change, God is still the same today, as He was yesterday. Tomorrow, He’ll remain the same: forever faithful; forever in control of everything.

It’s not always easy to remember that truth when everything around you appears to glorify tragedy. But, if you look close enough and remember what truth really is, you’ll see God hasn’t gone anywhere.

Last week, a total stranger was miraculously healed of cancer. Last Sunday, I witnessed a father, mother and son each get baptized and publicly profess their love for Jesus. Today, another childhood friend left the hospital after almost two weeks inside, due to congestive heart failure. God’s given him a new lease on life, and my old buddy is taking it seriously. A couple at church is experiencing a renewed relationship, through a life-group. My wife and I see the change in them both, and it’s amazing to see God refreshing their zeal and passion for one another.

God’s still in control.

A Great Start

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So…here I am, sitting alone in my empty classroom, just 30 minutes away from turning in my final writing portfolio for the Fall-2018 semester of writing class CRTW-201. Eastern Michigan University welcomed me back into the swing of college gently by tossing a straight pitch for me to wallop out of the park. I mean, it was writing. This is what I do. That’s not to say the class was easy. In fact, my instructor–Jesse Eagle–challenged everything I thought I knew about writing characters, scenery and drawing the reading audience into the story.  I honesty believe I’m leaving this class a better wordsmith, than  when I began the semester.

I think the class did more than boost my confidence in my ability to write. You see, until about mid-semester, I wasn’t 100% sure the act of returning (to EMU) to finish what I’d started was set in stone. There was a part of me vying to squash the vision of earning my degree, after so many years of starting and stopping. But, I think the Lord reminded me to focus on one step at a time, rather than the long journey ahead. One class session; one week; one assignment; one month; one semester; one more class completed toward the goal. When I took that approach, you know what happened?

I did it. I finished one class.

Heck, if I can complete one class, then I can surely complete another next semester; maybe even two. That leaves 11 to go…

It’s a great start.

2 Timothy 4:7 (NLT)–“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.”

My Reason

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It’s that time of year again, when we focus on the true reason for the season. During December, arguments are always made by people focusing on the wrong aspects of the Christmas Holiday. I hear things like:

  • I’m not celebrating that Jew.
  • Christmas was really a pagan holiday, you know.
  • Jesus wasn’t even born in December.
  • Christmas is just a man-made holiday to celebrate western commercialism.
  • Easter is the holiday we should really celebrate.

The list can go on forever. I think folks lose sight of what the season is really about. Admittedly, even I am guilty of complaining about how much money my wife spends on presents every year. But then, I remember why we celebrate. When I do, the joy I see in my family on Christmas morning trumps all complaints. We celebrate Jesus, what He did and what He continues to do for us all.

One trait I love about Jesus, is His undying love for the sinful. That’s each and every one of us, by the way. We all sin; we are all sinful by nature. The Bible teaches me that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It also teaches me the very wages of sin, is death (Romans 6:23). That means from the time I (personally) was born, I deserved death because I could never live up to God’s standard of what holy really means. In spite of my naturally doomed life, the bible teaches me “To all who receive Him, to those who believe in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). It also teaches me that, “If we confess ours sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Now, someone might ask why I’ve brought all this scripture into this one-sided conversation. Well, let me break down why these particular scriptures are important to me. Here is my reason for the season:

 I am a sinner

Romans 3:23 teaches me I was born to make mistakes worthy of death, in the eyes of my Holy God. I could never be a “Good Man” in His eyes. That’s just the way it is. Adam and Eve ushered sin into a perfect world, essentially damning everyone who would ever be born. I could never do any acts or behave a certain way that would clear my debt to God. It’s like this: I could never naturally change my skin color. I was born a black man. In like fashion, I was born into a sinful world. As such, I’m a sin-filled man by nature.

My sin should have killed me

Romans 6:23 further explains that my sinful nature is worthy of death. Whenever I ogle an attractive woman, who isn’t my wife, I’m committing adultery by God’s standard of perfection. Whenever I wish death on a mass murderer, I’m committing murder in my heart. By God’s standard, He’s the only one qualified to commit a man to death. Since God is extremely serious about His standards, my very life is worthy of death, because everything I do is in violation of His standards. Based on these two scriptures alone, God views me as an outsider, because He’s holy and I am not. Sure, He loves me but, by nature, I have no part of Him.

This is where Jesus comes into play, in my life.

God adopted me, through Jesus

John 1:12 explains to me, that when I received Jesus into my heart, and actually believed in the power of His name—there is actual power in the very name of Jesus, people—I was granted, by God Himself, the privilege of being adopted into His family, as one of His very own children. Think of adoption, as you know it, on a Spiritual scale.

When my close friends—the Estermyers; a white family—adopted tiny brothers Avery and Omari—brothers born of a black family—into their natural family, Avery and Omari, joined Haley, Noah, Wyatt and Mattie as children of Nik and Tosha. They receive the same love and attention because they are now Estermyers, and always will be. These boys will grow up knowing they belong to this loving family of five boys and one girl. On a personal level, I will live out the rest of my days knowing I have been adopted into the family of Jesus, Moses, and Adam! They are my people. Because they are my family, Gd gives me the same love He granted to each of them. I did nothing to deserve it. His love was a free gift, just as Avery and Omari received the free gift of Estermyer love simply by being who they are.

Jesus forgives my sin

1 John 1:19 further explains this to me: now that I’m in the family of Jesus and because I love and trust Him, I can freely confess all of my sins to Him—past and present—and He will not hold them against me. The death I deserved before ever knowing the Lord Jesus? He died in my place, simply because He loved me before I ever knew Him! Because He still loves me, He forgives my sinful nature even as I continue to walk through life. Since my sins are forgiven, I don’t have to live a life of regret and shame, wishing I had not committed some of the acts of my past. I’m not condemned by them anymore. They are forgiven; paid in full!

This is why I celebrate Christmas. I was—and still am—a sinner deserving death, by God’s holy standards. But, because He loved me so much, God sent His son—Jesus—to take the penalty of death in my place. Because Jesus loves me just as much as God does, He forgave all of my past sins, and even forgives the sins of my present. Does that mean I can go on doing the same things that dishonor the Lord? Certainly not! Because I love and respect Him, I try to live a life separate from the things I used to do; things I fully know dishonor the Lord. My walk with Christ isn’t about following a bunch of rules. It’s about loving and trusting in Him because I understand that He has a plan for my life that’s better than anything that I could ever imagine. Because He loved me before I knew Him, He paid the ultimate price—His own life—just to free me from the slavery of damnation. Sometimes I forget what that really means. But, it always comes back to me and the truth is overwhelming. I was made for something greater than I can imagine. And although I fear the physical pain that might be associated with death, I do look forward to spending eternity in the presence of the man responsible for my salvation.

Christmas isn’t just a happy holiday. Christmas is a celebration of Jesus Christ. Never forget that. He is the entire reason for the season. Despite what other faiths may believe, if not for Jesus, the human race might have faced an unimaginably different and terrifying fate. So, don’t lose sight of the holiday. The gifts are nice. The parties are fantastic. The family celebrations are wonderful. But, remember the true family you belong to, as a believer. And even if you’re not a believer, know that Jesus loves you and will battle hell for you.

 

Merry Christmas.

 

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…