Fix Our Division, Lord…

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I want to speak to the church today. It’s Sunday afternoon, and pastors all over our nation have been actively preaching a message of peace, getting back to God and loving one another as we love ourselves. The message is warranted; it’s true and it’s definitely needed. But there is an underlying problem with the act of putting the message into practice. Please don’t misinterpret what I just said. God’s Word is not the problem. The issue is us…the church.

The world is experiencing interesting yet frightening and frustrating times right now. In the second half of 2020, things seem to be increasingly worse at face value, and as we are accustomed to doing, we tend to point fingers at the problem to place blame; as if identifying a culprit might bring some sort of closure. And there is where the problem surfaces. We—the church—are actively participating in the blame game, just like the world.

Social media is rife with the “righteous” arguments of some believers spouting their opinions on how well the current president is doing; but also saturated with the opinions of other believers—who speak about serving the same God—who are just as passionate and “righteous” about the horrible job the same president is doing. These two sides are so split on their views, that’s it actually causes unspoken division within the church. Now, I say unspoken, because in many instances, these differences of opinions never surface when the brethren meet face to face. But the differences are blatantly displayed in social media; the hatred for one-another apparent; all over a man of flesh and blood.

The same can be said regarding the hot-button issue of racial injustice. There are Christians who choose to turn a blind eye to the inequalities within the church, while there are those who are outspoken regarding these issues. Let me back up for a minute. Did you get that? Within.The.Church. Some Christians tend to forget that this very same issue was addressed in the early years of the first church. It didn’t just magically disappear. It’s still a thing.

The point I’m making is this: these are only two examples of the big issue we have. We—the church—are not united. We are, in fact, divided. Because of this division, we are having a hard time influencing those around us, because we’re too busy behaving the way they do. Most “church-folk” are familiar with the scripture of Mark 3:25, but how many of us actually believe in it? I would go so far as to say, not many because I see the social media arguments; I see the rhetoric; I see the written jabs between two Christians on opposing sides of any given argument. We’re divided. We can’t make a difference in the world this way.

Now, I’m not writing this to say, “We’ve failed”. I’m writing it to open up dialogue. There will no doubt be brethren who will be offended at the words written, and feel the need to either defend their opinions, or worse, say nothing at all, but harbor a secret hate for my own opinions. And honestly, either is okay. I think there was a reason Jesus chose 12 very different individuals as His apostles. I’m sure they didn’t always see eye to eye. But when it came to following Him, they were of one accord. That was the key. When it came to following Jesus, they put their personal opinions aside and locked arms in support of Him. Church, we’re not doing that today. Today, we’re willing to side with whichever brother or sister best sides with our own personal world views.

I’m not excluded in this perversion of our human failures. Those who know me best know my feelings on politics. I’ve lost “friends” and “family” because of my political beliefs. I’ve harbored hatred in my own heart over political comments written by “church-family”. I’m just as guilty of contributing to our division as anyone else. And these days, I feel that burden heavy on my heart like never before in my lifetime. I’ve placed God second to the influences of the world. And when faced with trying to put Him first, the enemy is quick to remind me of what sister so-n-so said about my chosen-candidate, or how brother so-n-so commented on black folks’ complaints of injustice. These are real feelings coming from people I’m expected to love and trust as I love and trust myself. This is the church. And I’m contributing to that yeast.

We—the church—have to change that. It can’t be superficial; it has to be deep. We have to make a conscious effort every day to put aside our personal opinions and really seek God’s grace; His mercy; His wisdom. Right now, our house isn’t dividing; it’s divided past tense. The message of “trust in Jesus” has to be more than mere words for all of us, because truthfully, we’re not living that out. If you’re offended by that statement, then there’s your proof. We—the church—have to be united under the banner of Christ.

If I can really keep it 100% with you today, I’ll share what my wife already knows. This thing is so heavy on my heart today, I find it hard to pray for America to be blessed. When I hear the words, “We need to pray for America,” that sounds foreign to me. I find it comforting instead to pray for God’s will to be done in all of our lives; whatever that may look like in the coming days, weeks, months…or years. I trust Him to do what He’s going to do. I’m trying to place Him first, over the prosperity of our country. I’m trying my hardest to pray for God to soften my heart to well-meaning brothers and sisters of faith, in these troubling times. I’m trying to pray for us to be united under Him, first. If we can do that, I think He can fix us. If we can be fixed, maybe we really can change the world. But, that change is only going to come when we–the church–start at home. We have to search our own hearts and give whatever divides us over to the Lord.  Only then, can there be real and lasting healing.    

There Is No Title

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I think the best thing about having a blog is the spontaneity and honesty of a post. I’ve been told by a lot of really good writers—including a few professionals who shall remain nameless—that serious writers never print anything without thinking it through. Personally, I don’t believe that. Sometimes, my best work comes out of whatever happens to be on my heart in the moment. It took me years to build up the courage to share my personal thoughts with the general public, and now that I am comfortable with expressing who I am through my writing, I try not to follow the advice of what others may think. I also try not to care too much about how my message is received. You can’t please everyone, after all. Someone’s bound to be offended by what’s written or said. And with that, I’m ready to talk about it. You don’t really need to ask what “it” is.

By now, if you don’t know the name George Floyd, you’re in a coma in some hospital; or you’re part of the problem whether you want to believe that or not. Yeah, it’s really that simple. Even the Amish know who he was, and are actually showing support. Racism isn’t new to this nation. It’s always been here, since the first colonists arrived, and forcibly took the land from its original owners. Facts…as the cool kids like to say today. Chances are high that if you are a man or woman of color, you have or definitely will experience some form of racism—subtle or blatant—in your lifetime. Racism didn’t just magically appear with the murder of George Floyd. The sad reality in the black community is that he’s the latest high profile victim. That statement doesn’t diminish the importance of what happened; it doesn’t blanket the significance of the impact on Mr. Floyd’s family who have to go on with life without him. It doesn’t soften the hurt of an entire race of people who have to once again bury their collective feelings and get on with the business of life. No…that statement is our way of life. It keeps happening. I don’t think a lot of my white friends and family truly understand that kind of hurt. It.Keeps.Happening.

The first time I was called a nigger, I was too young to understand the pride of my skin tone. So when it happened, and because I was surrounded by so many peers who were the same color as the kid who spouted the slur, I felt ashamed. I never told my parents. I buried it. Just about every time after that one, when I faced racism, I buried it…deep. But I want you to understand I didn’t just get it from white people, you see. Over my lifetime, I’ve been called many things by my own people, because of my wife’s skin tone. I’ve been told I wasn’t black enough; or I hated myself so much, I had to go out and get “one of them”; or (this is the one that NEVER gets old) I’m the whitest black person ever. The point here is that racism isn’t exclusive to the white community. People of all races believe in it. People of all races wield it like the weapon it was designed to be. It happens to hurt me personally as a black man, living in a country built on it.

Honestly, I believe the church is struggling to deal with this. Don’t get me wrong, and don’t take anything out of context. I believe a lot of good pastors out there in the world are really trying their best to address the issue of racism using God’s Word, as they should be. They have a difficult task ahead of them. I pray for my own lead-pastor constantly, because he’s the shepherd of a diverse congregation. I can see how many pastors are overwhelmed or frustrated with the continued division plaguing the world despite their best efforts. “How in the world did the church of Antioch do it,” I imagine many of them asking God. The problem isn’t God obviously. I think it may be difficult for some pastors to truly understand how hard it is for some of their congregation to find—and hold onto—faith when they (the pastors) haven’t lived the life of someone perpetually discriminated against because of the color of their skin. It’s hard for them to fully empathize with our—my—deep hurt. While I understand the message of “Give it to Jesus, and He will heal” that message doesn’t always know how heavy that burden really is for some of us.

This past weekend, I watched DJ Jazzy Jeff do his usual live set, from his home studio. But this session was different. Jeff labelled it “Resist” and for the first few moments of the set, Jeff simply sat behind the turntables, played a Donnie Hathaway song, and broke down in tears right there on camera. Man…I felt that. Thousands of miles away from this brother who doesn’t even know the name Ennis Smith, I really felt his pain. That pain was deep. As I wiped my own tears away, I remember thinking, “I’m so tired of this happening to us.” In that moment, I remembered the first time I was called a nigger; and I remember the first time I physically fought back. From my own basement, I was with Jeff. Jeff was with Dr. King in that moment spanning time. Dr. King was with Malcolm. Malcolm was with Colin. In that one moment in time, every black man who has ever experience some form of systemic racism throughout time’s history was with Jeff; was with Ennis; was with LaDon; was with Steven; was with Eric; was with Maurice; was with Dave; was with Shunbe; was with Marlon; was with Van Alan; was with Kovan, was with…∞

Family, we can’t just turn it off, and bravely hand it over to the Lord. It’s exhausting. It’s especially hard for us, because when we try our best to give that pain—that deep pain—to the Lord, we’re quickly reminded of its continued existence with another fresh incident. And just like that, the hurt is back in full color. Do I now have to seriously worry about jogging in my predominantly white neighborhood? Do I have to worry about the validity of the $20 bill in my pocket? Do I have to even reconsider participating in any form of a civil and peaceful protest? I don’t personally doubt the Lord; let’s get that straight. I just find it extremely disappointing that I have to see, hear and experience another instance where a man who looks like me is treated less than his peers of an opposite color. It gets old. Jesus’ timeframe is not the same as my own. I don’t doubt Him. I struggle with patience.

The irony of the backlash of the George Floyd incident is that just a few short years ago, Colin Kaepernick used his celebrity platform to stage a personal protest against this very issue, and America at large refused to listen. America at large labelled him an uppity negro; a spoiled and entitled NFL Superstar who should be thankful for his place in the world. He was cast out of his profession because he stood up for and against the very oppression that killed George Floyd. Today, social media is flooded with photos and stories of some of those very same people who shunned him for his stance, now kneeling in agreeance with his original protest. Instead of joy over this turn of events, I feel anger at the fickle behavior of the born-privileged. This newfound disdain for racism is suddenly appalling to many folks who have never experienced it before. It’s not new to me, or to people who look like me. The photos are nice. They make for good fuzzies. But the question beckons, are people—ALL people—finally ready to do something real about erasing it? Or is this just another thing for people to get behind for the moment.

One more thing. America, since you’re now on the bandwagon, you owe Colin a sincere apology.             

The Tongue

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Scripture uses the human body to represent the living body of Christ–the church. Each hand has a function; the feet have a job to do; the eyes do their part by giving sight; ears contribute hearing; so on, and so forth. Then, there is that one body-part; the black sheep of the family; that one cousin in the family everyone knows about. When it behaves, everything is great. The problem comes when it misbehaves and, if we’re honest with ourselves, that happens more often than we’d like to admit.

James 3:9-10 (CEV) says, “My dear friends, with our tongues we speak both praises and curses. We praise our Lord and Father, and we curse people who were created to be like God, and this isn’t right.” This historic pandemic has really put control of the tongue to the test for a lot of us. Whether we’re dealing with the confinement of our familiar surroundings, or simply growing weary of seeing the same people every single day, how we respond in speech to our loved ones can have a lasting impact on them. Short tempers tend to give the tongue permission to fly off without caution.

I know I’ve personally said some pretty harsh things to my family over the last three months. Like James said, it just isn’t right. We–as the body of Christ–are supposed to speak life and affirmation into those around us. Especially those we love the most.

Today, be intentional with your speech. Let your spouse know how much they mean to you. Tell your kids how much you love them. And, when you feel the negativity of confinement creeping up the back of your neck today, do your best to stifle it, and speak words of encouragement instead.

We have a choice in how we use that small yet power member within our mouths. We can either speak life or speak death. Choose to speak life today.

*Always*

For My Ma

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April 22, 2020–She went home

Lord, I wonder if it would be alright for me to go ahead and write to her. I’m trusting that you have her in your company, and that she’s in the presence of family and friends; celebrating you for eternity. So…this is for me…

Ma,

Almost twenty years ago, I picked up an old tattered bible you had given to me, at a time when things in my life were looking pretty bad. I sat alone in my bedroom—in the dark—holding on to that bible; terrified of actually opening it. I remember speaking the words, before I ever believed.

“God, if you’re real, I don’t want to be afraid of this book anymore.”

That night, I started reading…and never really stopped. That date was June 26, 2000. If you’d never given me that bible, I might not be the man I am today.

The first time I heard you sing, was at Faith church, back when the building was small and the means were meager. You sang a solo, accompanied by a small radio playing a cassette recording of instrumental music. I remember how nervous and fidgety you were, gripping that small microphone for dear life. But, once you began to sing, it was like the fear melted away, and you suddenly found the strength to use the gift God gave you, to do precisely what it was made for. In that moment, I was blown away.

Ma, your obsession with collecting knickknacks was maddening, let me tell you. I don’t know how you were able to maintain such a collection and manage to keep everything clean over the years! But, where your knickknacks stressed me out, your cooking made me feel right at home. No one will ever be able to recreate the greenbean casserole that became a personal staple (for me) of our family holiday get-togethers. And, I’m convinced that over the years, you made it just for me; because you loved me so much.

In all the years you were a part of my life, you never once said an angry word, or expressed a disapproving sentiment to me, about my life. You always found a way to encourage me, no matter what my latest “thing” happened to be. When I wrote, you were one of my biggest fans. When the church voted me in as a deacon, you were so proud. And I took pride in knowing how proud you were of me. You always gave me positive encouragement on being a dad, and that really meant a lot, because it was something I never really received from my parents. You always made me feel worthy of being with your daughter. I needed that approval.

Ma, I wasn’t the best son. I should have visited more often. I was critical of your health at times. I was vocal, when I felt that you weren’t trying your best. And during those periods in your life when you were out of church, I was resentful. You knew me well enough to know that’s how I was and yet, you still loved me unconditionally. Instead of being bitter about my behavior, you kept on loving me.

I will miss your loving hugs. I’ll miss our deep conversations, even though they were few and far in between. I’ll miss your voice, telling me you love me after every visit. I’ll miss your birthday texts. Every year, you were always the first to get to me. Ma, I’m gonna miss your encouragement. My hope is that I never lose sight of the Lord, because I hope to see you as one of my first family greeters, when my time comes to join you in His presence.

Love, Enn

Thanks Lord. Make sure she gets the message, please.

 

Cabin Fever

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I’ll tell you what people, if planet earth were a person, he’d be laughing at Michigan right about now. Not only are we three weeks into our Social-Distancing routine but, on top of that, we have to deal with a freak Spring snow storm? Okay…I’m sorry. I retract my previous statement. In the great state of Michigan, we’re used to dealing with fluctuating weather patterns, so this really shouldn’t be a shock to us. Nik Estermyer and Nate Smith are both probably walking around in summer-shorts right now, and Donna Sherman is probably getting ready to post a picture on Facebook, celebrating early Christmas 2020–if it isn’t already up.

P.S., I love you three, and I miss you.

So…here we are. It’s Friday the 17th of April. Tax season is suspended. Tigers Opening Day: suspended. Malls: closed. Sit-in restaurants: closed. Seems like just a week ago, I wrote about some of the beauty seen in this quarantine-season of our lives. Now, I’m not retracting from that message at all. Today, I just want to talk about the other side of that message; the dark side, if I can call it that. If the beauty can be found outside, I think it’s safe to say we’re all starting to feel the effects of the dark side within.

I’m starting to notice my kids are bravely telling me, more and more often by the way, “Dad, bring it down. Your authoritative voice is on again”. Yesterday, I was looking for my son, and was calling out his name, as if we live in a 150,000 sq. ft. home. Zeek appeared from the bathroom and said, “Can you hear yourself right now?”

I’m doing it again, aren’t I?”

“Yeah, you’re so loud.”

My bad, lil’ dude. I’ll bring it down.”

So, yeah. There’s the raised voice thing. But that’s just one symptom I’m picking up on. Here’s another. How come all of a sudden, all junk food seems to be appealing to me? Three days ago, I went out to the grocery to pick up a few items. Among those, were a bag of my daughter’s favorite “Cheddar-Cheese” potato chips. At home, I brought the bag out.

Jordynn took a glance at that bag in my hand and said, “You’re not gonna eat all of them this time, are you?”

What?” That’s all I had. She had a point. I couldn’t rebut.

Let’s review the list, thus far. Irritability: check. Binge-snacking: check. Here’s the big one.

I’ve always been somewhat of a night-owl. As a writer and a musician (if I can call myself either), it’s really no problem for me to work until 12AM and still get up for work around 6AM. But this is different. These days, I find myself staring in the direction of the ceiling at 3AM, wondering when I’ll finally drift off. When I do, it’s pretty tough to raise up by 8AM. One day, this week, I actually slept until 9:50AM! Morning nuked. It’s not even so much the late hours that I’m up; the problem is…I’m not doing anything constructive! I’ve got no motivation to accomplish anything at that hour. I just want to sleep! Even my cats are out by the time I make it to bed.

Cabin Fever people. Cabin Fever. The irritability, the snacking, the insomnia; it all adds up and it stinks. I don’t think it would be so bad, if the weather were more…oh…I don’t know…Springy, maybe? Is that even a term? But this late winter push, we’ve got going on is a real downer. So I think it forces me to come up with alternatives. I’ve got nothin’. And the “nothin'” is driving me insane.

Anybody remember “The Neverending Story”? Bastian’s fight against “The Nothing”? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Sorry. I digress. Sleep-deprivation and all.

So, what do we do, and how do we go about combating Cabin Fever? Well, I can’t really answer that question for you, because I’m no expert. I’m just coming to terms with the fact that I’m actually dealing with this very real syndrome, in the first place. But let me give you some parting words of encouragement. You’re not alone. Chances are, if you’re up at night, so am I. You’re not the only one barking at your family these days. And don’t feel too bad, if you notice junk food wrappers in abundance. We’re all fighting the fight now. But, we’ll all get through it together…at a distance of course.

In closing, I work for a great company, with some truly talented people. One guy in particular–Mr. Mark Holloway–heads up our company Health and Safety program. Mark’s a pretty cool guy, who genuinely has the best interest of his peers in mind. For our monthly safety meeting, Mark took the time to shoot a YouTube video on the effects this pandemic might be projecting on all of us. I definitely thought this was worth sharing with my supporters, friends and family. While I may not have any real answers for you, I think Mark might. Take a look; be safe; keep reading; keep praying; and I’ll catch you all on the next one.

Coolest Safety-Officer I know. If he says it, you can believe it.

The Long Sigh

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It’s no secret; COVID-19 has infiltrated every aspect of modern-day life. “Social Distancing” has evolved from a once obscure term, to an over-used tag-line associated with day-to-day activity. Medical masks are now as common as sneakers among citizens. News-radio has shifted its programming to 24-hour-a-day reporting of updates on the latest casualties and restrictions associated with the virus. Toilet-paper—for whatever reason—has become a hot commodity. Schools and universities are closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 season. Small businesses have shut their doors; some may never recover. And, all around the world, people are afraid. The times are truly unprecedented; yet another commonly used term for the turn of the new decade.

Despite the “doom-and gloom” reality we’re faced with today, I see something else. I see people turning to God, in prayer for one-another. I see pastors all over the world—the world—using social media to reach not only their own congregants, but a drove of new seekers-of -truth, in these uncertain times. While “Social Distancing” keeps us apart, party-goers are turning to Instagram and Facebook Live, to listen to—and watch—DJs throw live sessions of every genre of music imaginable. ZOOM, Skype and Duo platforms are not only keeping business meetings on track, but connecting families together in ways that were not seen before the pandemic.

Despite the “Stay Home; Stay Safe” order, I see families bike-riding the streets of my neighborhood. I see couples taking leisurely walks. I see families posting photos and videos displaying their renewed family-household dinners; family game-nights and family puzzle sessions. I see neighbors interacting at a distance, in ways formerly prevented by the daily hustle and bustle of normal work-hours. And, I hear children outside. Sure, kids are still playing video-games online, but the constricting air of indoors is causing them to get out into the fresh air of the Michigan Springtime. Backyards are abuzz with the sounds of laughter, the smells of burning charcoal and searing meats.

I see more of my favorite authors taking to social media to interact with fans, in ways previously hindered by demanding schedules. I see you Janet Boynes. I see some of my closest author-friends using the internet as a platform to not only display their work to the masses, but to entertain their adoring fans in new ways. I see you Lindsay Marcum.   

Around the world, marine wildlife is returning to areas previously dominated by human presence. Dolphins are swimming the canals of Italy. White swans are congregating in park-lakes. The few brave fishermen daring enough to take to the pole, in defiance of the “Stay Home; Stay Safe” order, are reporting fish biting like never before, now that the human presence is removed from their natural habitat.

The world is slowing down. In spite of the devastating pandemic, and its life-altering affects on our modern society, civilization is collectively taking a much-needed pause. We didn’t ask for it. We certainly didn’t want it like this. But, underlying the tragedy taking center-stage is a quiet beauty; something I find comfort in seeing every day, in our new reality. I truly see that God is still in control. In this time, when the future of our society as we’ve known it seems to be at the brink of permanent change, God’s hand is still moving over the earth, bringing families closer together and friends into a more compassionate sense of caring. We’re reaching out to one another more. We’re checking on our elders. We’re smiling in the midst of sorrow. We’re laughing in the sight of death. And we’re praying more than we were just 365 days ago.

I didn’t realize how beautiful my new neighborhood was, until my wife and I made it a priority to take walks together. I didn’t realize how grateful I am to have her by my side, to weather this temporary world-wide storm with. I didn’t realize how much I love my family…until I was put in a position where I have to spend time with them. I didn’t realize how blessed I am to have God in my life, until He slowed down the entire world, just to get everyone’s attention.

Are you paying attention? Or…are you waiting for things to go back to “normal” and missing out on what He’s trying to tell you? Look beyond the fear and the anxiety. Listen for the whisper. Look at what’s happening just underneath the veil of mass panic. Trust me; God’s got this.       

Yep, I’m A Cat-Dad

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I grew up a dog-lover. Dog’s are simple. You love them, and they love you back unconditionally. Some dogs learn tricks, while others are content to pee on the living-room carpet no matter how much time you spend trying to train them. Dogs are loyal to a fault. Once they love you, they love YOU. Everyone else, they just sort of tolerate. Dogs are natural defenders…most of them anyway. I can’t really speak for Chihuaua’s. Dogs understand simple commands such as, “No”, “Stay”, Come ‘ere” and “Stop”. Dogs will sit and wait for you to feed them. And no matter how your day away from home was, your dog always seems to make you feel like the most important person in the world, when you come home.

A cat, on the other hand, is a totally different animal–literally. Cats are temperamental. One minute they want all the love and affection you have to offer and in the next minute, they’re attacking with their teeth and claws. Cats are territorial with everything that doesn’t belong to them. They have no problem with wiping their spit across your laptop screen, placing paw prints all over the giant flat-screen TV, opening the cabinets and cupboards, rummaging through your boxes, and anything else they feel like getting into. Which leads to my next point: they’re not very bright but have lots of attitude. You can tell a cat “No”, and he’s gonna do whatever the heck he wants to do anyway, just to show you who’s really boss. A cat will walk right up to your sandwich and try to take it from you, as if she’s got every right to have it. Cat’s are conditionally affectionate. She hops in your lap, turns on the motor and starts begging for attention. Chances are, her water-bowl is empty. Or, you walk in the door and he starts speaking and figure-eighting through your legs. He’s not really happy to see you. He wants a cat treat, and he’s yelling at you for making him wait so late. How about this? It’s 2:30am. Why in the world is a marathon happening on the hardwood floors downstairs?! Oh! Because those two felines spent the whole day asleep in my chair, that’s why!

Somehow–I’m not quite sure when it happened–I slowly became a cat-dad. Despite their attitudes and general lack of loyalty, they grew on me, and family now includes them. Atticus–that’s gray boy up there–is a true Momma’s boy. Since birth, that kid follows Misty everywhere she goes. He’s genuinely curious of everything and will probably meet an accidental death, because he has to stick his nose into everything. He loves to eat, and tends to think he’s the alpha male by claiming my side of the bed when I’m not around.

Ekko is his sneaky yet timid twin sister. She likes her butt rubbed just above the tail; that’s not weird. She jumps at every sound, and is cautious of every closet door that appears cracked-open. She loves the computer-chair and tends to get into a mood if someone forces her out of it. As you can see from the opening picture, she was staging a protest against me claiming the chair to do homework yesterday. Such a brat.

These two have become my babies. Although they each have unique personalities, they’re an intricate part of my family. I miss not having a dog around, but the two of them keep life pretty interesting without a canine. They’re not built to learn like dogs but that doesn’t mean they’re not as intelligent. They definitely have more attitude to go around, but that just makes for some pretty funny life moments .

So for all the dog-lovers who find themselves inadvertently trading teams, I feel you, dogg. I get it. But give the felines a chance. You just might grow to love them, even if they are sassy, bourgeois, snotty, etc. They really do have love to give, too.

Share you favorite feline-family photos, friends.

#Teammeow

Happy Holidays!

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Jesus is the reason for the season

Hi family!

Okay, okay…I know. It’s been a few months since my last post. In fact, I’ve had more than a couple of people actually ask whether or not I’d given up on writing altogether. The short answer is “no”. But, the explanation is a bit more involved than that simple answer explains. Let me say that my family and I are doing just fine ; we’re more than fine. We’re truly blessed.

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God keeps His promises, and His memory is long. I think I’ve written those words before, but toward the latter part of 2019 these words became reality not only for me, but for my family as well. After years of praying and believing in His word, we got an answer. And I’ll tell you what I learned during the entire process. We praying people spend a lot of time and energy asking God to perform miracles on our behalf. When the time comes that He says “Yes” to your prayers, you absolutely have to be ready to move. This really shouldn’t be a surprise to those who read the Bible because its full of stories displaying God’s answer to prayer and immediately commanding His people to act on His decision. But, when it actually shows up in ever-day life, some of us have a tendency to react in slow motion.

See that house up there? That’s the new Smith-Family home; 996 New York Ave, Lincoln Park, M. 48146. It’s beautifully aged–built in 1950–but it has everything we asked for in a home, plus blessings we didn’t know we needed. The neighbors have gone above and beyond in welcoming our family into the neighborhood. Y’all, we had a married-couple knock on the door to bring a tray of cookies and a “welcome” card! We’ve had neighbors stop by to introduce themselves and tell us about the neighboring neighbors! A few weeks ago, we had an early snow storm. When I went out to shovel the next day, all the neighbors were out, like one big community! It was like Pleasantville in real life around here! For my wife and I, this home is an answer to prayers, and represents a new start for a new season of our lives just in time for the New Year.

The scriptures I keep revisiting center on the times when God prepared the children of Israel to take the promised land, under the command of Joshua. He told them they would inherit a land not their own; they would eat of vineyards they didn’t plant; live in dwellings they didn’t build; enjoy a land flowing with milk and honey. They didn’t do anything to deserve it. It would be a gift to them from God.

It’s what the blessing of our new home feels like. We did nothing to earn the house, and we certainly did nothing to deserve it. As people who know us personally continue to congratulate us on our move, I keep on replying, “It wasn’t us. This was all God.” Some folks understand completely. Others…not so much. Whether you believe or not, we’ve seen first hand what God can do for those He loves. Over the last few months, the move process–while exhausting in some respects–constantly reminded us of God’s promises and His plans. Now that we’ve officially been settled in for a month, I can get back to some of the things I love to do.

Alright, alright, alright…

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I got the bright idea stuck in my head that taking three construction courses on top of a full time construction job, during a move process would all work out just fine. Boy…am I stupid. I can’t remember the last time I was ever this busy! The fall of 2019 saw me enroll for my third consecutive semester at Eastern Michigan University. To try speeding things up a bit (mind you, I did NOT pray about this before I committed to it), I enrolled in three courses, despite the understanding that a major construction project was looming. I took that challenge head on. And, I’ll tell you what. God showed up to bail me out, because I definitely fell behind. Within the first three weeks of the semester, I realized I had taken on more than I could handle. When a man stretches himself thin, something is bound to fall through the cracks.

My grades began to suffer as I tried to get into a groove of juggling the work load and school commitments. But more importantly, my time with God began to take a backseat to the new challenges of what had quickly become my new life. As my God-time waned, I put writing on a back-burner and turned the gas off. I tried to handle the load all by myself. In doing so, I purposely let an assignment (maybe two) slide while I tried robbing Peter, to pay Paul.

But God is patient. He is kind. He is compassionate, and has a sense of humor. He let me bump around juggling the load until I realized I couldn’t do it on my own anymore. By the end of the semester, He had helped me out of a real pickle. I’ve got the grades to prove it.

So, the last few months of 2019 have been an interesting time. Through the challenges of moving permanent addresses, completing another semester of school and rounding out another year in the construction industry, God’s carried my family through it all. And I’m happy to say we’re in a better place and doing just fine. I hope you enjoyed your Christmas celebration this year, and I’m looking forward to sharing with you all in the next decade.

Happy Holidays, friends!

Rest Easy, Son of Krypton…

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My cousin Van Alan loved Calvin Ellis. The black Superman of Earth 23 personified the brains and brawn of Mr. Smith.
Last words of affirmation, from my family.

Dear Van,

People turn to terms such as, “Gone too soon,” when someone dear passes away unexpectedly. These days, I tend to believe God knows the day, hour, minute and second of everyone’s appointed time. We all have one. No one is exempt. Death is a guarantee.

And yet it stings anyway, knowing I’ll never receive another message; another movie; another call from you, cuzzo. In retrospect, had I known that three days after sending that last message you would be gone, I most likely would have said something profound; maybe told you how much I looked up to you when we were kids–even if you were a few months behind me. Maybe I would have told you how amazed I was, that you stuck with track and fitness all these years. It’s astounding that at 46, you were still keeping lap-times with the youngsters. Maybe I would have told you how envious I was of your comic-book collection, and how awesome it was that even now we still had a love for all things Super-Hero related.

Van, I never got to tell you that I still have the very first comic you ever introduced me to, when we were twelve years old: “The Doom Patrol”. I’m still holding on to the books of Shazaam!, back when he had a brother and sister. I never told you that, after we saw BATMAN in 1989, I took to the Dark Knight like a kid loves candy. To this day, I’ve got “The Killing Joke” wrapped in plastic, and card-board backing, just like you taught me, all those years ago. That type of care for my books paid off last year, because I actually sold my Amazing Spider-Man 300 issue for a nice chunk of change, just before the movie “Venom” hit theaters.

I wish I would’ve spoken with you about God. I would’ve wanted you to know about what He did for me; how He brought Misty and the kids into my life; how He changed my actions without making me a prude. I still love 80’s and 90’s music, same as you did. I still watch Marvel and DC movies, just like you. But, I guess I just figured we had time. I knew the day would come when I would get back down to Florida to visit, and that would be our time to talk about Him–about Jesus–the ultimate Super Hero. But I waited too late. And now, you’re gone.

I hope to see you again, in the company of the Lord, family and good friends long gone. I hope, one day we’ll be able to run together: no bad knees; no respiratory setbacks. Just clean air; the Light of the Lord shining on our glorified faces and the wind at our backs. I’m praying for the family down south and those of us up north, who will miss your smile.

I’m a bit late on Calvin Ellis, and the stories of Earth 23. Maybe in honor of you, I’ll look into his story. Maybe I’ll see what the black Superman really meant to you. And just maybe, I’ll see a bit of you in him. Rest easy, son of krpyton. You will be missed.

~ For VanDiesel 2019 ~

Don’t Go Back

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Romans 6:1-2 (CEV)–“What should we say? Should we keep on sinning, so that God’s wonderful kindness will show up even better? No, we should not! If we are dead to sin, how can we go on sinning?”

Yesterday, I read an interesting post written by an extremely talented young lady concerning the portrayal of modern-day Christianity in mainstream television. While I don’t watch the show, I was intrigued by the subject.

(Check out her post here: “Woke Christianity & The Bachelorette“)

Our culture is moving at such a fast pace, it’s amazing we’re able to keep up with the ever-changing tide. Fads come and go at the speed of the internet. And everywhere we look, Christianity is being attacked as some sort of outdated, dogmatic religion with no real place in today’s super-sophisticated society. The culture attempts to “tolerate” our faith by changing some of its doctrines a little bit each day. On the surface, it seems to be working, because we now have a generation of young and old “believers” who try to walk with one foot touching the gospel and the other foot touching the soils of the world’s culture.

What’s more, this behavior is justified (by those straddlers) by using God’s word in error. They say things…let me bring it home for a minute…we say things like,

“I can do whatever I want to do; God still loves me.”

“I’ll just do it once more. Jesus will forgive me when I pray about it tomorrow.”

“God understands I still mess up, so He’ll forgive me for this later.”

We can’t accept the free gift of undeserved grace and then turn around and trample it, by continuing to live in our sinful nature that Jesus paid for in the first place! That’s like being freed from a life of drug addiction, only to keep going back to the addiction under the false belief that every time you return to the clinic, you’ll be freed permanently.

Look, we all have baggage, and my bags may be heavier (for me) than yours are for you. When God frees us from the burdens of those bags, we’re truly free. We don’t need to go back and pick them up; carrying them with the false notion of, “Jesus will help me put them down again”. Yeah…He might. But why pick them up again?

When the woman–caught in adultery–looked up to find no one but Jesus standing over her, she was freed in that moment. But Jesus made it clear to her, “Go, and sin no more.”

Once God frees you from your “it”, leave it behind for good. Don’t go back.