For Pryce

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Pryce,

You don’t know me. You’ve probably never even heard the name Ennis Smith cross the lips or roll through the voice of your dad. That’s because he and I never hung out together. Despite that fact, I think there was respect between the two of us because we were friends. Whenever we did see each other, in or outside of school, there was nothing but love: a pound; maybe a fist bump; a, “What up, Ennis?” in that trademark voice of his, followed by my own, “What up, Whimp?”. There was never any animosity between your dad and I. He was one of the coolest, most down-to-earth cats I ever knew. A testament to that will be the shear number of friends who will–and have already–paid their respects to your family, in his honor.

One memory that comes to mind is my senior prom. On the night of prom, your dad and I–along with our dates for the evening– shared a white limousine, to the Pontchartrain in Downtown Detroit, where legendary DJ Waxtax-N Dre would cut the Ones-N-Twos all night long. The four of us were all decked out in white and ready to celebrate. As soon as we arrived, the two couples split up to enjoy the atmosphere and the music. It was a good night. I can also remember bumping into him one or twice in Downtown nightclubs, back in my 20’s, when I would come home from college to party. He was a good brother, and judging by the many photos I’ve seen of you two together, he must’ve been an awesome dad.

Cancer is no respecter of persons, Pryce. It doesn’t discriminate. There was nothing your dad did to bring this beast into his life. It does what it does, and leaves a hole in our hearts after its damage is complete. I know personally, because 10 years ago I watched it take my Mom away from me. Eight months between diagnosis and death. There are no words of true comfort that can ease the pain of your loss, young brother. Folks will try their best. You have to understand they will genuinely want to help you through the difficult time. They will mean well, so try not to get angry at any of the well-wishers that pass through your life in these following days. I tell you that, because I really do understand what you’re going to face. I know about the different emotions you’ll struggle with.

I can promise you this, Pryce: the brokeness; that hole in your heart will mend in time. For me personally, I cursed God for allowing my Mom to die at a young age. But, somehow, in spite of my anger and rage at him, he walked me through that pain and actually drew me near to him for healing. I would probably still be mad today, if not for his love and patience. I don’t know if you’re ready to hear or process that, but what I want you to understand is that in time, the pain of loss will dull. You’ll have that one piece of your heart that will forever belong to your dad, but it just won’t hurt so much. We never forget our parents, when we lose them, but in time the pain goes away and is replaced by all the great moments, laughs and memories we shared with them.

My bible teaches me that Fathers are the spiritual heads of the household, so I’d like to think that you and your Mom are going to be okay, young brother. Pryce, I’d be willing to bet that your dad prayed for you and your Mom while he was with us. And men don’t pray unless they believe in God. So, I’d like to think he’s living peacefully with the Lord. The bible teaches that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. It also teaches that Jesus wipes away every tear, in heaven. I hope the day will come when you realize that he’s not gone forever. He’s waiting, young brother. That’s the encouragement I want to leave with you. He’s waiting, Pryce; waiting to see you again.

Pryce, on behalf of the Smith family, you have my condolences and my deepest sympathy for your loss. Your dad was a good man, who has my respect to this day.

Sincerely,

Ennis

I, The Pharisee…

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I have a close friend in church who lives day-to-day just like the rest of us. His past is full of hurt, shame and disappointments; no different than us all. Some days are easier than others, when it comes to following the Lord. I think we can all relate to that struggle.

I have another close friend in church, who grew up the product of a church-going family. This brother never struggled with addictions. He never endured the pain of watching his parents dissolve their marriage. He gave his heart to the Lord at a young age, and has diligently followed ever since. His is the story of many God fearing Christians in the world today.

Both of these brothers share my love and respect, for different reasons but also for the main reason that links us: their love for Jesus Christ. Both men are fathers, doing their best to raise their young sons to be godly young men. Both men are faithful husbands, awesome dads and active members of the church family; just as I am.

And there is where my disobedience surfaces. I, the Pharisee, have the audacity (from time to time) to consider myself better than them. Luke 18:11-12 reads, “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess’”. In my own translation, that could read something like this:

“God, I thank you that I am not like other men–foolish spenders of money, unable to reflect on drunken days as a youth because you know I’ve had many to reflect on, fearful of my roll as head of household, without recollection of days as a thief because there were many examples, constantly double-minded, yet rigidly narrow minded in my vision. I read at least a chapter of the bible, almost everyday; I sometimes begrudgingly tithe 10% of my wages. But don’t hold those traits against me Lord, because I know I’m doing better than a lot of folks.”

That sounds totally ridiculous, doesn’t it? And yet…that’s what’s within my heart. As wretched and self centered as those sentiments sound, they are lurking within me. Just as the Pharisees judged others who were not like themselves, so I do the exact same thing against my brothers, without compassion for their struggles or lack there of.

I once asked another good friend of mine, “Brother, how are you able to look past the blatant wrongs of some folks?”

He told me, “I have to constantly remind myself ‘you don’t know the whole story’. I have to remember that I don’t know the circumstances that they may be facing. Besides that, Jesus warns us not to judge, because judgment is the Lord’s.”

When I began to take a good hard look at the way I see others in relation to my own life, I found that judgment is more prevalent within me than I would like to admit. Everywhere I looked, I found evidence of me measuring folks against my lifestyle. The harder I looked, the more I hated what I was doing. The reality is that I’m not leading a Christ-honoring life at all, as long as I look at the faults of others without considering my own faults.

I can recall one such instance where I simultaneously condemned one brother for his lazy lifestyle, and then judged another brother for teaching on the dangers of teen sex, knowing he’d never experienced it himself. The killer in all this hypocrisy was that I felt totally justified in my behavior! I face lazy moments in my life today. And I remember being a teen involved in sex, long before I was ever married. So, what gives me the right to have any sort of feeling–one way or the other–on someone else, in relation to circumstances they may be facing, that I myself can totally relate to? That’s not love. That’s hate.

This is hard for me. It’s transparent. There will be those within my circle who may read this and gasp, never knowing that one of my biggest struggles in life is the battle against judgment. But, it’s also refreshing for me to air it, because there is power in admitting your faults and giving them over to the Lord to cover. That’s what I need. I need his mercy and grace. I need him to soften my hardened heart and grant compassion where judgment sits.

I don’t want to be a Pharisee any longer. I want to give all my faults and weakness to the Lord, and have him walk me through the process of laying them down once and forever. I guess if there is any lesson to be learned from this–for you, dear reader–it would be to take a serious hard look in your own mirror and find out what you may need to give to the Lord. For years, I thought my silent judgment of others was a harmless trait reserved for only me. But as it turns out, it’s the one thing I never really wanted anyone to see.

I am flawed. I am judgmental. I am a Pharisee.

But today, I’m trying not to be anymore. Lord help me…

 

 

Keep Your Eye On The Ball

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In sports, particularly those involving a ball, the coach always lays down the fundamental rule of the game.

“Keep your eye on the ball.”

Wide receivers can be distracted by defensive players, in football. Soccer goalies can likewise be distracted by opposing team players’ orchestrated chaos. Every center-fielder knows the dangers of losing the baseball in the open sky. And free-throw shooters can easily be distracted by those multicolored shakers folks rattle from the seats behind the backboard. It’s amazing the things that can distract us from the goal–the ball.

This year’s election is shaping up to be no different. Now, now…before you make any assumptions family, this is not apolitical debate post. Quite the opposite. While I would expect people to pick a particular side, this late into the election year, what I find really fascinating, and disturbing at the same time, is the display of blatant hatred between folks of differing opinions. What’s really got me baffled is how rampant that hatred is flowing through the Christian community!

As this political race continues to heat up, I’ve seen friends “un-friend” each other over choices in candidate backing. I’ve read some of the most un-Christianlike commentary written about people over the red vs. blue debate. I’ve even read flat out lies quoted by people who are supposed to be shepherds!

Let’s be clear. If your pastor says something to this effect, “If you back *blank*,” (feel free to insert your choice), “you’re going to burn in hell,” chances are you might want to start seeking a new church.

The race for the presidency isn’t the only distraction today. Race is also making Christians lose focus. Look…it’s no big secret that we’ve got a race problem in this country. It’s always been here. Some folks are simply tuning into reality late because now it’s being filmed everywhere. It’s a really important issue, that upsets me just like it probably upsets a lot of you. Here’s what it’s doing to us, as the body of Christ: it’s dividing us. Many multicultural churches are now finding an ever increasing challenge of being sensitive to all of its congregation members. That should always be a given anyway, but once cultural sensitivity is thrust into the forefront every Sunday, we drop the ball.

Let’s look at the presidential race for a minute. Now, we Christians believe in what the bible says; am I correct? I mean if you doubt the word, you should probably stop reading this blog right here. God’s word tells us how the story ends.

“What story are you talking about, Enn?”

That’s a fair question. The answer is simple: the only story that matters! Life and the end of the age. We know that in the last days, things are going to get slightly weird for us all. But, in the end…we win! Yay! By “we” of course I mean those who truly follow the Lord. Which leads to my next point. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gave an awesome commission to us all:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

But that wasn’t all he said. If we back up a bit, before he gave the great commission he gave the disciples these awesome commandments found in Matthew 22:37-40. Jesus said:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Here’s where these come into play today. Family…tomorrow I want you to conduct an experiment. Watch social media. Look at how people are treating each other over their differences in candidates, then ask yourself if this is the love Jesus told us we need to display. Honestly, Hillary and Donald are distractions from the bigger issue. As believers, we should recognize this fact: Satan is dividing us, and winning! So many people are concerned with Joe backing Hillary and Jane backing Donald that we don’t see the division in progress. As believers, we should be focusing on bringing folks to Christ. Our mission hasn’t changed! Keep your eye on the ball! Jesus is the ball!

The same holds true for the race issue. Yeah…I know its bad out here. I get it. Again, take a step back and look at what’s really going on. Satan is dividing us! I’ve got white friends who are now uber sensitive to what comes out of their mouths out of fear of offending me. Watching them struggle with words is uncomfortable to me, because we’re supposed to worship together in the same place every Wednesday and Sunday! Dude, stop being afraid to talk to me! II Timothy 1:7 says, “For God did not commit to us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Get back in your right mind and have a decent conversation with your brother! I’m black; you’re white; we love the Lord. That’s it! Again…Jesus is the ball. Keep your eye on him.

This wasn’t supposed to go 900 words long but apparently, I’ve had it on my heart for some time. Christians, now is the time for us to unite and share our beliefs with a hurting world. I honestly don’t care who you decide to vote for. I’m not going to erase you from my friend list, and dodge you on the street. Yeah, that stuff is really happening out there. I know we’ve got racial tensions out there. This isn’t new despite what the media keeps throwing at you. Let’s heal each other with the love the Lord told us to display. I just told you guys a few nights ago, my cousin’s an atheist. She hates Christianity. I love her anyway. She’s my blood, and any so-n-so who raises a hand against her will have to come through me first. Our differences will not cause me to hate her.

As believers, we seriously have to keep our eye on the ball. we’ve got a mission that is super relevant today. The mission isn’t new, and hasn’t changed in centuries. We simply have to stay focused on it, despite the distractions of our time.

Smith out. Good night.

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*

Pink-Eye Epiphany

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Okay. Admittedly, this is a pretty bad photo. Clearly, I could use a shave around the lips, under the nose and around my head. Yeah, that’s my sleep shirt; orange and worn down to its perfect stage of maximum comfort. But the bullseye is that glaring bloodshot left eye of mine. I’m into day three of viral pinkeye. The crust; the constant leaking; the swelling; blurry vision; yeah man! Life is awesome right now.

My pastor once told a story he’d read about a famous person snapping 100 selfies until she found the perfect one to share on social media. Doesn’t the world do that all the time? Television, music and social media always seem to paint a picture of perfection and our kids eat that stuff up. But, how many photos do professional photographers have to snap, before they capture the perfect scene? How many setups does the musician have to go through, to get that perfect sound? How many Twitter stars actually hire folks to post social media photos and tweets on their behalf?

We don’t often see the behind the scenes activity associated with “perfection” and could care less, because we’re too enamored by the allure of the finished product. Often times, we chase after that “perfection” not realizing that we have to experience life along the route. Sometimes, the route of life is ugly. Trust me when I tell you Beyonce is not Cover Girl beautiful all the time. There are days when I’ll bet she looks just like a regular Mom on the outside. That’s no disrespect; that’s real life.

Rather than crawl into a hole and hibernate until my eye clears, I decided to share my ugly discomfort. Hey, we’re going to encounter setbacks from time to time. Just don’t let them take you away from the path toward your goal, whatever that might be. And…don’t allow the things of this world to deceive you. The chase for perfection–or whatever is closest to it– will require you to walk through some pretty ugly scenery from time to time.Remember this: if God brings you to it, he can bring you through it.

I gotta go swab my eyeball. Fun times…

Tom(a)to – Tom(o)to

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It’s 12:20 am in Lincoln Park. Now depending on your perspective, it’s either late night or early morning. Did I waste a day, or am I getting an early jump on a new day? Isn’t that what life really boils down to? Perspective.

A guy loses his job. In his mind, the world just came to an end and now he has to figure out what to do next. At the same time, a girl loses her job; same position at the same firm. In her mind, this is the perfect opportunity to chase after a fresh start. Perspective, friend. It’s all about how you look at life.

The old saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. I believe that works if you have an optimistic slant on life. Things don’t always work out the way we plan, but we can react to change in difference ways. In the end, it’s all about how you see things playing out.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of my book published and going live on Amazon. It hasn’t broken any sales records but…I’m celebrating the realization of a dream come true. Every writer wants to see that finished product available to the public right? So, is it a commercial failure or a private success?

You say tomato; I say tomoto.

Check It Twice

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Hi family. I wanted to drop a quick note before I head off to bed. Throughout the day, my phone pinged letting me know folks were reading my recent posts. That’s really encouraging to know the content touches lives. At the end of the day, I finally had an opportunity to go back and read the latest post from this morning. Oh man, was I horrified!

I had so many typos and run-ons throughout that post, it was ridiculous! How am I supposed to be taken seriously if I let grammar slip past the radar? Despite the grammatical and structural infractions, a few of my friends still “liked” the post. I appreciate the support, and in the future I intend to give you a better a product.

So, for any new aspiring writers out there, let me urge you to spell check, sentence-structure check and fine-tooth comb check your work before publishing it. Your audience may be forgiving, but minor infractions could make the difference between you attracting some attention versus a lot of attention. When it comes to sharing our craft, we want to attract A LOT of attention for the all the right reasons, so be sure to proof before you publish. That’s my public service announcement for the evening. Hope it helps.

Goodnight family.

 

*Always*