Today’s Reality

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Let me tell you a true story.

One Sunday afternoon, I swung a wide arc and nimbly banked my little FORD Fiesta into our driveway, at a good speed. My daughters enjoyed the quick ride. As I jumped out of the car, a glance right pricked an alarm in my gut. Two cop cars were turning the corner and approaching slowly. Honestly family…I thought I was about to get pinched for speeding, right there in front of my daughters. The first car slowly rolled up to my driveway, while the second car cut off the intersection two houses down. I slowly walked toward the cop in my driveway, as his passenger-side power window lowered.

“We’re looking for a black male wearing an orange shirt,” the white officer said. There was a momentary awkward pause. “He just broke into a house, and was seen running through backyards.”

There wasn’t much for me to say, since I was clearly wearing the same green polo I’d worn to church 30 minutes prior. The officer slowly pulled off. There was no further incident or interaction between us. For me, that was just another moment in my life where I’d come into contact with the police. Nothing bad happened. In fact, I barely noticed when the same two cop cars slowly circled around my house several times.

But my white wife noticed. For the first time in her life, she really noticed…and it scared her. For the first time, she got a glimpse of what black folks all over this great nation of ours experience regularly. Reality upset her.

That police officer was (and is ) probably a good cop. I did nothing outside of the law. He didn’t harass me, and I never antagonized him. But watching them circle our block and constantly slow down in front of our home several times showed her something she never had to face before; something she’ll never forget. She didn’t like it one bit. And now–in light of recent events–my wife is genuinely afraid for her husband and sons. She sent me a text message this morning, when I expressed sorrow over the second shooting in two days. It was simultaneously sweet and heart-wrenching at the same time, because now I see that my love understands a harsh truth that most of America blatantly denies.

“You be careful out there. I NEED you to come home everyday!”


I am angry. I am sad. I am frustrated. I think it’s a shame that an underlying mentality still exists in which an individual race is constantly subjected to treatment that simply is not tolerated among other races. Since the shootings of both Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have gone viral, I’ve seen photos of Sterling and his children holding pistols toward the camera. I’ve read rap sheets. I heard people get on the radio and try to speculate about the events that led up to both shootings, before the “cameras began rolling”. I’ve seen and heard enough material over social media to recognize that people are actually trying to paint a picture of men who got what they deserved, based on their life choices.

That’s nonsense.

Not all cops are bad. But, there are always a few bad apples that cause enough damage to prove that bad apples do exist within the barrel of our government’s law enforcement. I don’t care how unruly a “suspect” may turn, lethal force should be the last resort; not the second or third option.

I witnessed the shooting video of Alton Sterling before I realized what I was watching, because the original footage had no flashy title across my social media feed. I had no idea I was about to witness a murder. I really wish I could tell you I was stunned and at a loss for words. But the truth is this: in recent years, this type of injustice has happened so much to my race that each new occurrence no longer invokes paralytic surprise. It invokes rage. Jesus help me, I’m angry. I’m not angry with those who actually uphold the law, no matter what color they are. I’m angry with a 21st century system that continues to fail at upholding equality for all of its citizens, despite their ethnicity.

If you actually believe racism doesn’t exist in the greatest country in the world, you’re blind. When I was a kid, and teachers would ask us what we might choose to be when we grew up, there were always a few kids who wanted to be cops. Today, I have to diligently teach my sons to respect authority, not only because it’s the right thing for them to do, but because their lives could literally depend on how they respond to officers. That’s a scary thought. The reality that a routine traffic stop could escalate to death by gunshot is troubling.

People, we have to do better. I’m not just talking about some of us. We all have to be better. I don’t know what that looks like in this day and age, so I really can’t offer advice. That’s not what I’m writing about anyway. I’m just tired of seeing or hearing about another case of injustice against folks who look like me. Let’s be clear: it is happening everywhere, whether cellphones are recording or not. And I’m sick of it happening. We’ve got to do better. We have to stop it from repeatedly happening.

I seriously don’t want my wife to get a call explaining the unthinkable has happened to her husband or one of her sons. I’ll bet to some of you, that sounds a little dramatic. Ten years ago, I’ll bet the idea of witnessing a murder seemed like the stuff of movies didn’t it? Tell that to Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Today is reality.

 

 

 

Change In Plans

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When I was a (relatively) young man, my life was naively charted toward easy success; so I thought. Instead of following tried and true methods of disciplined and consistent progression, I decided to magically become the exception to the rules. I didn’t need a plan . It was just going to happen someday. In hindsight, I was lazy; smart…but lazy. When you’re young, you’re invincible and time waits for you.

I’m a bit older now, and constantly face the consequences of my youthful mistakes. I can live with that, when I’m the only one effected by choices of my past. We all owe a debt, and time will always collect because it has a long memory. But…what’s hard to swallow is when I see the choices of my past burden my family. They deserve so much more than I can give them today. While I believe everything happens for a reason, in God’s economy, sometimes it’s really hard to fight off the demons of your past when you know things might have turned out different if you’d made better choices.

Let me digress here. Right now, my family and I are sitting on top of a hill. God’s been really good to us in providing for our needs and a few wants as well. For now, the valley is behind and below us. Lately, my prayers have been specifically for God’s wisdom. The best way for me to be a great dad and husband is to follow the Lord’s guidance in all things. That takes a great deal of wisdom to avoid repeating mistakes of the past. So, with that said, I am reminded of past choices made strictly in my flesh which led to unfortunate consequences.

I see youngsters of the Millennial age making some of the same mistakes I’ve made in the past. I just want to help them do better; stop them from chasing the same rabbit I’ve pursued year before, if I can.

“Stay in school; get an education,” I want to say.

“Don’t rush into love. You’ve got plenty of time to do it the right way,” I need to warn.

“It’s perfectly okay to let people know you don’t know. You don’t always have to be right, especially when you’re wrong,” I want them to understand.

“Don’t waste your time on silly. Time is relentless and will someday run out. What you do to make a difference, with the time you have, is all that really matters.” A lot of today’s kids need to hear that message. This idea of Y.O.L.O. is a farce.

“God is real. Jesus is alive. The Holy Spirit is still working today. Don’t let anyone convince you of anything otherwise.” The world is making real progress in convincing our youth that God is for the weak-minded. Our kids need to know better. We have to teach them.

That detour took a little longer than I anticipated, but it was good to get that out because it’s what I’m feelin’ what now. So, the consequences of decisions made in the flesh have long lasting repercussions. As I grow older and (hopefully) move closer to God, I see how blind and naive choices devoid of God’s wisdom have dictated the course of my life. But God is still good, and patient with me. I realize he’s always been there for me, through every misguided decision and ridiculous choice. He never let me fall beyond a certain point.

I think that once you see his presence in your life, from past to present–and you recognize the things he’s brought you through–you have a change in perspective. Maybe, you even have a change in plans. What once seemed so clear for insane reasons, now appears exactly how it is and was from the beginning: crazy. And what once seemed boring and square, is now the only path you really want to be on, because it’s truth.

 

*always*

Just Checking In

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Hey!

How’s it going tonight, wordsmith? How’s the writing coming along? You are still working at it aren’t you?

Now hold on a second. I just saw that shift in your countenance. I’m not gonna sit here at this computer and listen to you make excuses for why you’ve decided to put your writing on hold for awhile. What happened to the passion of last week? Where’s the creativity?

Oh, I see. You’re one of those writers. You know; the, “I’m waiting for inspiration” type. Well…let me let you in on a little secret. If the greats wrote only when inspired, they would have never made their mark in the literary world. Don’t believe me? Write a letter to Stephen King and ask him. You may be surprised at what comes back. I’ll give you another example, closer to home. I don’t even feel like writing right now! It’s true! But, I’m writing to you to find out how your project is coming along because I don’t want to see you fail. At the end of the day, we writers really have to stick together and support one another.

Recently, my assigned marketing representative, at Xulon Press, told me, “People love to interact with people. The best thing you can do to promote your book is to get out there and show your face.” You know, I believe that’s true in our writing as well. People love to read good writing, even when it’s not so good. The key is to get your voice out there. Let the people know who you are, and what you care about. Hey, you may not get many comments, but you’re honing your skills.

Sometimes, I find that writing when I’m not in the mood to do so actually produces the type of stuff people really want to read. It’s real life. I’m just a guy working pay check-to-pay check, just like 90% of the unknown writers in the world. I’m just like you. But, I refuse to give up on this dream no matter how old I grow. I’m gonna ride this dream until the wheels fall off, or until it explodes and changes my life forever. I’m hoping and praying for the latter.

So check in, friend. Pick up your pencil; tap those keys; let your thumbs walk the touchscreen. Write! Tell me how your project is coming along. I’m rooting for you, so don’t give up!

When You Were Young

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The gift of youth comes equipped with all kinds of standard features: strength, desire, persistence, and tenacity. For some, it comes with a few premium options as well: passion to strive toward a goal, brave abandon, spontaneity, and the feeling of invincibility. When you are young, the world is your playground, and nothing seems impossible to accomplish. Friends are loyal and family will always be around to support you. Death is the furthest reality from your mind. Youth, by and large, harbors a heroic heart.

Cancer, however, does not respect youth. Cancer respects no one. It is indiscriminate and attacks all races, both genders, all social classes and every personality with the same hatred and disdain for human life that the devil possesses. Cancer is a bastard.  It can torture the young for decades or claim the elderly within months. It has no heart.

Laura Smith was the mother of three children. A devoted wife dedicated to her family, she worked hard for my entire life. Laura was a pillar of strength in my world. She encouraged me to go after my dreams, when I was lost, and she cheered for me, as my biggest fan when my talents began to rise to the surface. You see, my momma knew I was destined to become a writer, long before anyone ever saw it. And, although we had our differences from time to time, I never envisioned a time when I would go on without her.

Cancer had different plans. From the time of her diagnosis, I failed to grasp the gravity of what we – the family – were about to endure. While eight months may seem like a lifetime to impetuous youth, it turned out to be a mere blink of the eye, for the Smith family. Cancer ravaged her from the inside out, reducing my once strong mother into a helpless victim, seemingly overnight, before claiming her. You can’t understand the pain of watching a loved one die by cancer, unless you’ve personally experienced it. It changes you forever.

One of the hardest lessons cancer taught me was this: no one is invincible. Once you’ve accepted that cold hard fact, the light of youth begins to fade from your eyes. Reckless abandon becomes careful planning. Spontaneous glory seeking often times is shelved indefinitely. Goals change from absurd to practical.

Here’s a truth we won’t be told by doctors. Cancer doesn’t just kill the body. It also kills the spirit of loved ones, forcing them to rearrange life to accommodate the gaping hole left by its presence. Sure, life goes on. But, it drastically changes. Youth are forced to face mortality head on, in the wake of cancer’s very personal visit. The old are strong-armed into a life of remembrance, reflection and reasoning as they learn to live on without.

Right now, the family of Rickey Shipp understand exactly what I’m talking about. For them, cancer isn’t just the incurable disease that claimed another victim. For the wife left behind, and the three grown children learning to go on without daddy, cancer’s visit was very personal. 59years old is just too early to meet the Lord, in my opinion. It’s the age in which grandchildren are just learning to adore Papa. It’s the age in which husband and wife should be making plans to rekindle the flames of youthful love, now that the house has become a nest egg. It’s the age when Godly men nurture youthful Christian men, destined to become great, under his guidance. It’s the age to look up and be thankful for the hard times gone by, because you see the fruits of your labor in the personalities of your blessed children, who have grown into fine young men and women. The Shipp family will endure sleepless nights. Banner days won’t be celebrated as grand, without Rickey in attendance. The very meaning of life may even come into question.

How do I know all of this, without spending a day with the Shipp family? I know, because I’ve lived it. In some respects I still live it. My Momma won’t be here, to celebrate the release of my first book next year. She missed seeing her grandson sing hooks on key, for the Lord. She wasn’t alive when her daughter gave birth to a second son, or to see her youngest son become a father for the second time. We have a hole within our hearts than can never be filled by the same stuff it once housed.

But, God has a way of dulling the pain. He makes it tolerable, so that we might go on with our lives, in her honor. I live each day with the faith that my mother would be proud of the man I have become, and continue to grow into. I trust that God will comfort me in the days when I miss her fiercely. Most of all, I trust that the day will come, when I see her again through glorified eyes, because the Lord keeps his promises.

We are survivors of cancer: family left behind. While cancer’s unwelcomed attack may force us to consider death’s reality, I would say to all the survivors out there, fear not. We are never more alive, than when we face our own mortality. Once we see death for what it truly is, we strive longer, push harder, change quicker and move faster toward that which drives us. Beloved Shipp family, our loved ones may be gone from our physical presence, but their spirit lives on within us. The hurt and pain you feel will never truly die. Instead, use it to honor our loved ones by living your lives to the fullest! After all, this is what they would have wanted for us. Remember when you were young, and live your new lives the best way you know how.

On behalf of the Ennis Smith family, you have our condolences for your loss…

The “ABC”s of the Simple Life of an Everday Writer

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This really is not an original idea. Why try and reinvent the wheel, when what you have is perfectly fine? The premise is simply enough: one takes every letter of the alphabet and writes a word starting with that letter. Then, one creates a post incorporating every letter written down. So then, let’s get started.

A Atlanta N Nobody
B Batting O Opposites
C Chiseled P Punish
D Dangerous Q Questions
E Exceptional R Right
F Future S Smith
G Games T Tales
H Home U Universe
I Instant V Vegetables
J Jersey W Wrong
K Kill X Xylophone
L Liar Y Yesterday
M Milk Z Zoo

So…my list is made up of some pretty basic words; nothing too fancy-shmancy. After all, I’m just a simple guy who never graduated from college. Now, allow me to tell you a short story of my life.

When I was a youngster, the world was my playground and imagination was my permanent home. Though I was a shy introvert, I harbored exceptional dreams for my future; dreams of success beyond measure. While I had no idea of how my plans would someday come to fruition, I didn’t bother to indulge in any questions that might kill the spirit of triumph within me.  When you’re young, anything is possible and the universe is obtainable.

“Someday, I’ll find myself signing books in New Jersey, Atlanta, San Diego, and Tampa Bay,” I used to think. Nobody could convince me otherwise. I was so sure that writing would take me places I’d never seen before. People would pay top dollar for my tales, and I would enjoy the benefits of a life spent earning a living doing what I loved.

That was my yesterday. Yeah…once upon a time, I could drink whole milk and eat vegetables without worrying about the consequences on my digestive system, too.  My today is much different. Unfortunately in the writing game, I am not batting 1000; not even close. Success as a writer has continued to elude me, giving room for doubt to set in, where exuberant confidence once took up residence in my heart.
“Man, whoever told you it would be easy is a liar,” I tell myself a lot these days. “That dreaming stuff is dangerous. Maybe we ought to focus on the realities of everyday life, Mr. Smith. No more daydreaming of instant success.”

Sometimes I think God has given Satan the green light to punish me with childish dreams that I can’t seem to turn off. That big dreaming kid I used to be and the cautious older man I am now are total opposites, but linked by the same hard headed dream.  Whether it’s right or wrong for my future, I can’t shake the fact that I’m supposed to write.

So I’ve come to accept the idea that maybe I will not become a successful writer, by the standards of the world. Hey, I accept the fact that I will never decide to learn how to play the xylophone, or take up bodybuilding to work on chiseled abs either. But, I think I can be happy by just writing for the Lord and affecting change in the lives of people around the world. If my writing can get them to at least think about Jesus and the after-life, then I can live with that.

Who’s got time for all the petty games associated with success anyway? Not this guy. I’ve seen the world of the rich and famous, up close. It’s a zoo! Most of those folks are so busy grinding, scheming and eating each other (figuratively speaking of course) for money, that peace is simply not an option. I think I’d rather be poor and content with my work for the Lord through the gift he’s given me, than to be filthy rich and miserable every day.

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…