Walking Through the Open Door

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1 Peter 5:10 (NLT) – “In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.”

Just because we are believers doesn’t mean we are exempt from trials and suffering. Peter knew this more than most, because he had endured countless attacks due to his belief in Jesus Christ. But he always kept the faith that God was at work within his life, despite his many encounters with opposition. Peter knew that he would be restored someday, even if that “someday” was the day of the Lord’s return. I want to share a true story, that brought this Scripture verse home for me.

For quite awhile, I was unhappy on my job. The original company I’d worked for had recently been acquired through merger with a larger firm. Dynamics were changed, new policies were enacted and generally speaking there were some challenges. All in all, it ceased to be a good fit for me. I prayed diligently on the matter, and before too long, I was presented with several prospective opportunities. While the first two just didn’t seem right for me, the third choice lined up as if God had specifically spoken into my life. It lined up so well, that I doubted it. So, before lunging head first at the opportunity, I took time to pray even more. I believe God confirmed that third choice through several ways: speaking with my pastor; bible scriptures pointing toward following the Lord’s direction; and there was a peace I felt over the whole decision. The time came when I signed the necessary documents and set a date for starting my new career. At the same time, I drafted a profession letter of resignation from my existing firm, and offered a timeframe of 3 weeks notice.

The day after I submitted my letter of resignation, I contracted viral pinkeye, and had to take days off from work. Four days after the submission–and incidentally four days into my sick leave–I received a call from the Vice President of my division. He wanted me to reconsider my decision to leave the company because it “looked bad” for me to leave after the company had invested so much into my developement. I respectfully declined, and thanked him for the time spent working together. The VP suggested that I take the weekend to reconsider the resignation. Here, I’ll divert.

Faith requires us to believe even when we cannot see the outcome. Oh, sure we read about it all the time in bible stories and listen to testimonies and T.V. shows with happy endings, so we know faith is real. But, it isn’t until you’re truly faced with tough decisions that you find out just how strong your faith really is. That weekend, I struggled terribly with the 11th hour decision. Do I stay put, and retain the company car and all of my health benefits, especially at a time when I’m dealing with a progressive health issue? There is safety in the known. Or, do I follow what I believe to be the Lord’s direction, honor the signed documentation of a new company and start a new career at 43 years old: no health benefits; no company car; no seniority. For a brief moment friends, I chose to stay right where I was, because logic dictated that to be the smart move. But, once again, God confirmed. My wife reminded me that we had prayed for months for God to open new doors of opportunity for me, professionally. And I was reminded that once he opens one door, he shuts another. How can I claim to love the Lord if I do not follow his direction, even in the tough times?

The follow Monday, I gave the VP my final answer, and was immediately terminated from my job. The day was May 2, 2016. Because my last day of physical work on the job had been Tuesday, April 26, 2016, I would received no sick leave time from that point (I had apparently run out), and my health insurance benefits had effectively expired on the last day of April. No benefits, no company car, no income for at least four whole weeks. When God opens one door, he shuts another for good. We have to decide whether or not we are willing to walk through the new door.

Today, my pinkeye has me irritated and I have to beat my flesh into submission because it constantly wants to run contingency plans for the tough times ahead. But, I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe I made the best decision for my family. I believe that what Peter said in the Scripture above is truth, and God will restore, support, strengthen and set my feet on a solid foundation. The physical and spiritual struggles I’m enduring right now are only temporary. I look at it as the enemy attempting to get me to doubt God’s deity. But, we have to always remember who we truly serve, and he’s not a failure.

I didn’t want to write this story to put my business out into the wind for attention. I actually didn’t want to share this at first, because part of my battle with my flesh is dealing with the reality of being fired from a job. The circumstances surrounding the shut door don’t even matter. My ego was bruised. But…if sharing this story encourages one person out there to look to and lean on God’s word during sufferings, sharing this story was worth it. Since this was such a long post, let me share that verse with you once again. And, be encouraged friend. When you’re going through the struggles, recognize that you must be on the side of God, because Satan is persecuting you so heavily. My vision is blurry, and I struggled throughout this entire writing.  But I finished it, for someone out there beyond my keyboard. Be encouraged because God is still with you.

1 Peter 5:10 (NLT) – “In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.”

 

*Always*

Everyday Struggles

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This morning, I walked into my supervisor’s office fully planning to plead my case for a merit review. In my opinion, I think I deserve a decent raise based on my consistent performance for the past few years. After 30 minutes of conversation, I left his office with the realization that he’s fighting to keep me busy, for the upcoming winter season. The idea of a bump up in pay never entered the conversation. For the first time in my professional life, I’m facing the possibility of temporary unemployment.

The struggles of everyday life are real for us all. I tell you this because I don’t want you to think that I live an extravagant lifestyle, far removed from the average Joe’s daily problems. I am the average Joe. There are times when I seriously have to decide between paying the utility bill and buying groceries, because my check isn’t enough to cover both. I worry. I deal with sleepless nights. I pray angrily. I’m just like you.

Despite my relentless trials, I still praise the Lord and thank him for his blessings. Every time a need surfaced, he was there. Whenever I was backed up against the wall, God never let me fall to my enemies. His blessings may not have been ridiculously abundant, but they were always exactly what I needed.

Isaiah 26:3 says, “You keep in perfect peace, him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in you.”

Tonight, I received a rejection response from a literary agent. It’s one of many. Agents just don’t seem to be interested in my book.

Instead of sulking over the rejection and allowing fear to demoralize me, I’m choosing to thank God for the ease in which my book came about its self-publishing history. I’m thanking him for the blessings yet to come. I’m thanking him for giving me the strength to persevere through the everyday struggles.

*always*

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P.O.V.

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  • One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
  • The glass is half empty; the glass is half full.
  • This is a setback; this is an opportunity to regroup.
  • I can’t get any lower; I can only go up from here.
  • I quit; now watch me get started.

Point of view (or P.O.V.) is vital for success. The way you view a situation or circumstance tells a great deal about your character. If there are truly two sides to every story, your version will determine your own outcome.

Do you look at your life challenges and see the obstacles standing before you? Can you look beyond those giants? Or…are you the kind of person who faces the giants, and recognizes the opportunities beyond the challenges? Can you see the victory just after the trial?

Long before David was crowned king of Israel, he faced off against a Philistine giant of impossible size and strength. Yet, David never faltered. He saw victory where others, much stronger than he, saw only defeat. David’s P.O.V. was different from that of his countrymen despite looking at the same challenge. Because of his difference in perspective, God gave him a great victory.

We all face giants. How you respond to yours depends on your point of view. Instead of fearing the circumstances, look to God and recognize the victory on the other side of the challenge.

*always*

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Strength In Weakness

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2 Corinthians 12:9

“’But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

It doesn’t naturally or logically make any sense that Jesus chooses to use us in our weakness. But, from a spiritual standpoint, that weakness within us is exactly what he wants. Think about it: if God takes our weaknesses and uses them to minister to others—through us—can we honestly say, “Look at what I just did”?

I hate the sound of my own voice, outside of my head. Yet, I sing when he tells me to. I’m afraid of crowds. But, I charge toward the alter if God calls me to it, right in front of a full congregation. I second guess my written work all the time. But, God continues to flow through my words. Folks, I’m a coward by nature; always afraid of what someone else might think of me; always afraid of my human inadequacies. But, the Lord uses my cowardice and transforms it into a strength I don’t possess on my own. Through his power, I’m able to do marvelous things.

You’re not the only one afraid to step out on faith. Whatever your secret talent is, God wants to use it to glorify his kingdom. You simply have to be willing to give him your weakness. That’s what the Apostle Paul was saying. In boasting of his own weaknesses, he recognized his willingness to give himself completely to the Lord.

  • Jim, don’t be afraid to share your music. It’s time. God will love your sound.
  • Gus, it’s time to write. Jesus will smile on your heart displayed and shared on paper.
  • Mike, it’s time to claim headship of your household, brother. God won’t allow you to fail.
  • Kovan, you’re becoming the husband and father you were meant to be.

*always*

My True Story – For Tasha

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Tasha,

What I am about to share with you is a true story. It was written in dramatic fashion simply because I’m a writer at heart, and that’s just what I do. But, make no mistake: the events played out in our marriage and ultimately led us to a life of love in Christ Jesus.

Tasha, the devil will stop at absolutely nothing in his efforts to destroy a marriage. After all, if he can get to the parents, the children will most likely be affected as well. “Steal, kill and destroy” is not just some snappy catchphrase, sister. That’s exactly what the enemy plans for marriages and relationships.

Sister, I want you to fight for your marriage. When I say “fight”, I’m not talking about airing your private emotional reactions all over social media. Believe it or not, by doing that, you’re actually doing precisely what the enemy wants you to do! I’m talking about genuinely and diligently seeking the Lord’s guidance in all matters concerning your marriage. You’ve gotta pray unceasingly and trust in the Lord to work out what is good for you both. It’s the hardest task you will ever undertake, Tasha. Honestly, a lot of couples don’t make it. But those who survive the fire come through it stronger than ever.

And so, I want to share our story with you. Misty and I decided to share this story with the world last year. It was included as one of 40 testimonials published in a book called “Trials and Triumphs“. My prayer is that this story encourages you (and Zack) to dig in and fight for your marriage. You’ve both been through so much together. I believe that together, there is nothing the devil can throw at you both, that you cannot handle with God’s grace and mercy. This story is called “Going The Distance“.

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Hearing the family van park in the driveway, I typed out the last words of my text message. I pressed SEND, and stuffed the phone into my pocket. My wife, Misty, opened the front door, glanced in my direction, then diverted her eyes elsewhere.

“Hey,” she said, disinterested.

“’Sup,” I replied casually.

“So…can we talk? I have something on my mind.”

“Sure, what’s—” My phone buzzed. A return text had come in.

“No, not right now. Besides, someone needs you, obviously.” She pointed toward my buzzing pocket. “Maybe we can go out tomorrow, for a drink.”

As she walked away, I reached for the phone.

‘She’s a liar, and you need to leave her,’ read the message from a female colleague. Recently, I had taken to confiding in her regarding my marriage. ‘You can do so much better, Ennis. You deserve someone who can take care of you.’

The next day, Misty and I drove to the riverfront. We walked along the boardwalk making small talk for awhile.

“All right, we’re here, Smith.” I turned toward her. “What’s on your mind?”

“Our marriage,” she said solemnly. “I think…maybe…we should try separating for awhile.”

And there it was. We were now talking about the pink elephant in the living room.

“It’s really not… you. I just think I need time to myself to discover who I am, and where I need to be.” She stared out over the gray rippling waters of late fall.

I didn’t put up a fight. I agreed to the separation. In truth, I was tired of the nagging feeling that my wife might have embraced a life of infidelity. I had also begun to believe in the soothing words of my newfound confidant, who continuously shared her own marital problems with me. Our stories were similar, and I had come to view her as a shoulder to lean on.

Two days later, my fears were proven correct. The phone bill arrived. I scrutinized Misty’s cellphone portion and discovered dozens of calls made to a specific number over the past month. I dialed that number, and my heart sank when a familiar voice from her past answered the call. It was him. The man I’d had to deal with almost ten years past. Once again, it seemed he’d returned to her life. I couldn’t speak; could only end the call with a trembling hand. Hurt immediately turned to rage. I called her, demanding an explanation, and insisting on a divorce.

“I want you out of my house!” I yelled. “If you want to be with this idiot so badly, you can leave tonight. I’ll let the kids know you won’t be coming home.”

“You can’t take my kids a—” she started.

I abruptly ended the call. Spitefully, I gathered up our five children and announced our divorce. The three oldest were rocked to the core, understanding fully what that meant for the family. The youngest two didn’t understand. Having to explain divorce to my three- and six-year-old children only intensified my rage toward Misty.

She never left the house, and for a week, we tip-toed around one another. I spent most of my time drinking myself into a stupor to cope, while she openly continued her separate life. One weekend, we sat in our bedroom and talked candidly about our failing marriage.

“I can’t understand why you just can’t be honest with me,” I said.

“You want the truth? I don’t know why I don’t love you anymore,” she said. “I don’t even know why I see other men. That’s right; other men. It’s not just one. I think I love him, but I’m also seeing his best friend unbeknown to him. I can’t stop it.”

My knees buckled, and I collapsed to the floor. My pride broke and I cried out to God. In that instant I rationalized that this whole situation was payback for the thousands of indiscretions I had perpetuated over the years. I had once given my heart to the Lord, but had backslidden and become worse than before. I’d lied to my wife, behaved selfishly, cheated and stolen to get my way, so many times. I deserved everything that was transpiring now. My tears flowed and I pleaded with God for forgiveness. I apologized to Him for everything I had done.

Two weeks later, I found a small home to rent. My wife had settled for an upper flat to move into. As we packed our belongings and prepared to go our separate ways, she came to me one afternoon.

“Dear, are we doing the right thing?” Her eyes seemed so sincere, but emotionally, I had already departed from her.

“Yeah, I think we are. People divorce every day. The kids will adapt.”

“Can we try one last time? I think maybe we should give church a try.”

I was appalled at the idea. It was the fact that she had come up with it. I stalled for time, having already fixed my mind on starting a new life without her.

“Sure. I guess a few visits wouldn’t hurt.”

Six months later, Jesus recaptured my heart. Up to that day, we had church hopped until settling on a large congregational Pentecostal church. I struggled to accept the worship music, and often fought against the messages of the pastor. Because of my hard-heartedness, our marriage sputtered along slowly. By all appearances, we were fine: still in the same house together, still one big family. But, we each fought our personal demons, maintaining one foot in the world while trying out Christianity. And then it happened.

I attended a men’s ministry meeting, one Wednesday evening. The speaking guest, Bill,  was the author of a small book entitled, 30 Minutes in Hell. During the altar call, I reluctantly approached, fell to my knees and immediately felt the sensation of burning pressure fighting to remain over me. I remember pounding my fists on the altar. Bill approached and laid a hand on my shoulder.

“Woo!” he screamed. “Brother, I don’t know what you’ve got going on but some burden you’ve carried for a long time is lifting off you, right now. Don’t fight it! Let that thing go!”

It was hard, but I did. I released years’ worth of misguided anger against my wife, that very night. God set me free, and almost immediately I saw a change in our marriage.

On January 31, 2010, Misty and I were baptized together. For a few months afterward, Satan came against us with vengeance. Misty struggled to severe soul ties with other men, and I struggled with forgiveness, drinking, and releasing my own negative ties. But we maintained our dedication to the Lord and He has continued to strengthen our marriage and family.

Recently, I got the chance to witness our two youngest children, now seven and ten years old, raise their hands unabashedly in worship to the Lord. I cried tears of joy, knowing the Lord blesses and keeps us.

On our return home from the two-day children’s rally, my wife wrapped her arms around me and hugged me close. “I didn’t realize how much I loved you until you were gone away from me.”

“Me too. I really missed you.”

Today, I’m giving God the praise for helping us to go the distance.

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Fight for your marriage, Tasha. Satan is the father of lies and we cannot defeat him on our own. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Tasha, you have to recognize that this is THE battle of your life! Your faith comes down to right here and right now. Dig deep and seek the Lord’s Divine counsel. He will tell you what needs to be done, and he will walk you through his will, Tasha.

I’m praying for you and Zack, sister.

What Comes Out

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If you’ve been a faithful follower, and read any of my work (all five of you), then you know what to expect when I publish something new. I’ll bet you didn’t know I moonlight a secret identity, however. You see, I not only write short stories and random thoughts. I also write song lyrics and produce my own music. In a business flooded with wanna-be entertainers and aspiring artists, I do it for the love of the Lord.

Even though I’ve been singing in the shower for 40+ years, I still can’t sing in front of anyone. It’s like some sort of cursed stigmatism I suffer from. But, if the spirit really moves me, I rely on my own mantra before I step in front of a microphone:

“Don’t be surprised what comes out, when you lend your voice back to the Lord.”

Even if the world hates my voice, I know God loves it when I sing to him and about him. Part of my moonlighting involves loosely maintaining another blog (here on WordPress) entitled, “Bro.E On The Beat“. I say loosely, because I rarely contribute unless I’m sharing written song lyrics or my take on a particular song I like. While writing is my passion, the music is a close hobby. I love to plug in my instruments and program beats and melodies. And when it all comes together to glorify the Lord, it sounds like this:

Did you feel that?! Goose bumps! My sons, my daughter and my pastor came together to lend a hand on this track, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. When we come together and sing for the Lord, something amazing happens.

Sometimes, all we need to do is sing unto the Lord and he brightens our day. I encourage you to try it friends. Don’t be surprised what comes out, when you lend your voice back to the Lord.

*Shameless plug time*  If you look to your left (on screen), you’ll see a music player labeled, “The Sheep In Wolf’s Clothing”. Click on any of those tracks to hear more of my music. God bless.

Watch Your Step

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Have you ever tripped on a flat surface? Oh c’mon! Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about! You’re walking along the smooth pavement of the local asphalt-paved track, or leisurely strolling the polished concrete floors of the mall, when suddenly,

“Shqueak!”

You catch your balance after a quick double-time-step recovery. What’s the first thing you do after the trip? You look around to see if anyone saw you break stride. The second thing you do is look back at the pavement as if it physically reached up and tapped the toe of your shoe. The last thing you do is laugh at yourself for tripping where there was no obstruction to begin with.

Have you ever backslidden without an obvious temptation? Don’t give me that look! You know what I’m sayin’! You went back to that one thing that kept you bound. But, you recovered pretty quickly, didn’t you? Maybe you jumped back into the word, or revisited church after a brief stint.

The first thing you probably did was look around to see if anyone noticed you slip. You know how judgmental church folk can be. Next, you probably looked back at the thing that caused your slip.

“Pssh, I don’t even know why I did that again.”

Then, you probably laughed at yourself because you know better. Look, don’t be too hard on yourself. Jesus knew we would fall from time to time, during our walk. That’s why he gives us grace.

The truth is, we have a tendency to be harder on ourselves than anyone else could ever be. Sometimes we backslide, and the guilt of our failure keeps us bound in a state of perpetual pause; unable to move forward, past the guilt. Friend, that’s not what God intended for us.

Can you imagine how odd it would look if you tripped over thin air on the walking track, and (instead of continuing on) stopped and stood right there, grief stricken over a simple stutterer step? All you lost were a couple of cool points, not your salvation! If you didn’t fall on your face, keep it moving.

Friend, I trip everyday. No, seriously, I do. Today, I chose to eat beefaroni instead of fasting lunch, like I had originally planned. What can I say; I’m human. I am far from perfect. Occasionally, I trip over smooth pavement. For me, that metaphor comes into play as reality whenever I make a dumb decision for no good reason; something I definitely didn’t pray about first. But, I usually recover. And I know the Lord’s grace is sufficient.

If you’re a new Christian, try not to be too hard on yourself, when you trip. It happens. We do live in a fallen world and none of us are ever perfect. The trick is to watch your step and keep moving forward. Never stop walking.

The Writer’s Closet

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Every writer has a closet. It’s a special place we tend to mentally travel to, drawing upon inspiration and ideas. For some of us, the ambience, of our closets, dictate what is translated into our writing voices.

I know of a very talented writer whose closet is a very dark place. He described it to me this way: He sees himself seated naked and sweaty at a splintery wooden table, surrounded by a dense fog. One ankle is shackled to the rickety old chair he’s sitting on; rough splinters cutting into his buttocks. His left wrist is shackled to one of the legs of the ancient, table. The chains and cuffs are heavy and rusted from years of wear and tear. The restraints squeeze his extremities uncomfortably. The dark room is musty, lit by a single candle floating in the fog, in a corner four yards away. His right hand scribbles feverishly across endless sheets of loose leaf paper that constantly materialize as one sheet is completed. Sheets of paper litter the dirt floor beneath his feet. Like the table and chair, his pencil is really nothing more than a splintered piece of bark; the tip sharpened to a deadly point and dipped in an endless quill of black ink. When his mind travels here, to this secret place, he knows the time has come to write. As you can probably guess, his stories and poems tell of heart-wrenching sorrow, painful memories and terror beyond the imagination.

I think…we have to recognize who we are, and what we are called to do, as writers, before our closets can truly bring out the best of our stories. For me, my closet hasn’t changed much over the years; it was always abstract. Up until recently, it looked somewhat like this:

I saw myself emerging from total darkness onto a white-sand beach. The grains of sand illuminated a space about 100 feet long by 30 feet wide, shaped like an elongated volleyball pit. I stepped up to the edge of the pit, where a golden line appeared before my leather-clad feet.

Standing before the line, I was clad in matte, white leather armor, feet to neck. Thick soled boots and heavily padded gloves; tight-fitting pants; a bulky leather belt with an oversized buckle; and a leather flak jacket, heavily padded in the chest, over a tightly fit full leather shirt, made up the bulk of my ensemble. Over the vest and shirt, I wore a weighty layer of chain mail, that draped across my shoulders and hung loose just below my waist. The seams of a thick leather cape had been attached to the back of both shoulders; its flared train hung loose below my calves. Over my head, I wore a white, stainless steel helmet, buff polished to a mirror finish. Faceless and formless, it’s only discernable feature was a chain-link tassel hanging from the crown of the helmet.

I carried a broad shield over my right arm. It was polished to a mirror finish with the inscription of four words across its exterior face: Disciple, Faith, Love and Trust. In my left hand, I wielded a magnificent short sword. Its ornate hilt was crafted with precious stones, and fit my small hand perfectly. Its cross guard was simple and polished. Its doubled-edged blade was razor sharp and seemed to hum with power. Within the fuller of the blade, was an etched inscription that read, “The LORD is my shield; the Lord is my sword; none shall stop me.”

Across the sand pit, I always faced an adversary in black. I think this person represented opposition and loathing. As I wrote, I envisioned the two of us in conflict as only master swordsmen can be; swords clanging; fists punching; parries and lunges; shield blocks and counter moves; swift strikes and flashy jabs. Sometimes, I lost and had to retreat. In the real world, this usually resulted in writer’s block. But, most of the time, I defeated my opponent and went on to write something to be proud of.

My closet allowed me to write many an inspirational short story, positive article, song lyrics, and even a poem, but I was never able to pull a novel from that closet. It’s like the closet was only built for short hand-to-hand combat; not an epic battle. I know how that translates into my writing, personally: the elusive novel. I haven’t been able to write one yet. But recently, something has changed within me. I think God downloaded and upgrade for my closet. I’m now working on patch 2.0.

I see myself standing on top of a grassy, mountainous peak overlooking a huge army far below. Overhead, the day is crisp like early spring in the woods. Blue skies and a radiant sun shine down on me.

Instead of leather, I’m clothed in silver living-steel body armor, resembling a one-piece suit, from my feet to my neck. Its form fit is feather light against my skin, but appears to add 20 pounds of muscular bulk to my small frame. There are no discernable seams in the suit: no belt or gloves; no boots or removable apparel. There are no obscene body dimensions outlined.

The armor, though smooth and shiny in appearance, is made up of thousands of tiny interwoven steel scales that seem to breathe and move in unison with my every movement. Even though the suit moves freely, its exterior reflective surface is as hard as any tempered metal known to man. Blades cannot penetrate. Fire will not burn through. Water is repelled.

In my hands, I wield an exquisitely crafted two-hand sword. It closely resembles the small short sword I once held. The same inscription adorns the fuller of the double-edge blade. The hilt is crafted of white pearl. The cross-guard shaped like a cross. Not in use, the sword instinctively attaches to the back of my suit, magnetically.

This closet is a battlefield built for war. The landscape is vast and the enemy is many. This is the type of closet where novels are written, I think. I have yet to take to the battlefield below, but I feel the anticipation of war rising within my heart. Fear is not an option because the conflict is imminent.

It’s only a matter of time before I attempt a great body of written work. For so long, I’ve convinced myself that I don’t have a novel in me. That’s simply a lie from the pit of hell. The more I realize that truth, the tighter my grip clenches the sword. The more I tell myself, “I’m going to write something great,” the deeper my treads dig into the grassy peak. I set my sights on the perfect landing spot below and I’m poised to jump. I’m ready…