A Great Start

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

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

I did it. I finished one class.

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

It’s a great start.

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

My Reason

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

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

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

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

 I am a sinner

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

My sin should have killed me

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

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

God adopted me, through Jesus

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

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

Jesus forgives my sin

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

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

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

 

Merry Christmas.

 

Stronger

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Exercise to gain strength

At 27 years old, I purchased a new weight bench, an 80-pound heavy bag and a 250-pound free-weight set complete with a 15-pound bar and 10-pound dumbbells. Oh brother! I was buying meal supplements at GNC, for $50 a box; drinking whey powder every morning; ingesting creatine monohydrate and drinking water…a lot of water. The mirror was my closest friend. All of that lifting paid off in the field, went I had to do a full day of carting around heavy testing equipment, for work. 

By the time I was 30 years old, I weighed 155 pounds, had roughly 5% body fat and was able to bench-press 210 pounds. I thought I was strong and sexy! But, for all of that physical strength, my spiritual strength was super-weak. I can actually remember having a conversation with my best friend, Eric, telling him I was a spiritual person. I had glanced through the entire bible just to be able to say to myself “I’ve read the good book.” My prayer-life was only active when I needed God to do something for me. Despite all of my physical strength, I wasn’t strong enough to give my wife the kind of marriage she wanted and needed. As strong as I was in physical might, I was a weak father, because my kids were more afraid of my short temper (creatine-rage) than they were comfortable with my loving personality.

Take a look at the two photos up there for a second. It looks like both men are engaged in separate activities, doesn’t it? The brother on the left is seriously gettin’ his buff on; steamy background and all, right? While the Average-Joe on the right is enjoying a leisurely morning read; a short coffee by his side, ya? Actually–dear friends–these two men are both working out; training muscles; inducing strain and growing stronger by virtue of the repeated process. The first time I paid attention to what the Apostle Paul said to his young disciple, Timothy, regarding physical exercise in relation to the study of the word, I shirked it off as nonsense. In 1 Timothy 4:8 (NIV), Paul said this:

“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

What exactly was Paul telling Timothy? Was he saying, “Kid, don’t worry about tightening your body; read your scriptures instead!” Not at all! The bible also tells us our bodies are the Lord’s temple and, as such, we should take care of the temple. That’s a whole different topic for another day. I think what Paul was trying to tell Timothy was to concentrate more-so on the spiritual exercise of studying and communing with God, because that type of activity has lasting affects not only in the here and now, but in the afterlife as well.

Physical workout activity definitely has its benefits. But, as a Christian, I have come to believe the spiritual strength of my relationship with Jesus falls higher on my personal priority list than how many reps I can push under the chest-machine. The more I learn about the Lord, I see changes in my earthly relationships; I see changes in my conduct; I recognize change in my thinking and my actions. The more I spend time exercising my faith, the stronger my faith becomes.  

At 45 years old, I am happy to say you can find me spending more time seeking the Lord than running the treadmill at Planet Fitness. I still have the same intensity toward working out that I had at 27, except I shifted the type of working out I engage in. Paul told Timothy physical training has some value, and I believe that’s true. But the day will come when I can no longer push 150 pounds. The day will come when I can no longer lift myself physically. Time catches us all. But time has no hold on the things of the spirit. Once I accepted that truth, the Lord became real to me. Suddenly, gaining a real relationship with him–and maintaining it–became more important than my looks. 

Hey, I’m on the Lord’s team. When my time on earth is over, he’s going to gift me with a new body that will never perish. These days, you can catch me working out like the brother up there, on the right. And I’m pretty okay with that. I’m pretty strong in my faith. But there is always room for me to grow stronger. 

What Up, Pounce!

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“What up, E?!”

“What up, Pounce!”

Whenever I heard that call, shenanigans were afoot. His voice will forever haunt me. He was never Darion. He was never Pouncy. Not to his crew. No sir, to his WMU friends—comprised of native Flintstones, cats from Detroit and a lil’ dude from a small town called Ecorse—Darion Earnest Pouncy was simply “Pounce”. He was the glue that kept us together. Sometimes, attitudes would flare between boys, and Pounce would always be the voice of reason to bring us back in sync. He wasn’t boisterous; wasn’t loud or larger than life. He was cool. His demeanor was quiet confidence; never really one to take the spotlight, but always alongside his friends supporting the plan, whether it was taking the game to the court, or breaking into the dorm cafeteria after hours. Yeah, we did that. I’d never met anyone like him, and there will never be another to take his rightful place in my heart. Had I known the last time I saw him would in fact be the last time I would ever speak to him, I most likely would have said something a bit more profound. You can never go back. Today, my friend is gone.

In the Fall of ’91, I moved away from my family, and into a first-floor dormitory room at Western Michigan University’s Garneau Hall—Valley Two; an uphill climb, both ways between the housing dorm and the main campus. The first night of my freshman year was the loneliest night of my young life. I remember feeling utterly alone and homesick. Tough guy that I am now, I think some tears were shed that night. Long before I ever found the Lord, I remember actually praying to Him to make the next day better. True to His character, the Lord came through. That next day, I was walking out of my dorm room, when I literally bumped into a young cat from Flint, Michigan who was passing through the hallway, on his way back to his own room…two doors down, on the left. His name was Darion Pouncy. That fateful encounter led to a friendship that would last until the end of his days.

I remember a night in the late Fall season of that freshman year, when the crew assembled for a road trip to Detroit. Pounce’s beat-up hatchback was gassed and ready to make the two-and-a-half-hour trip from Kalamazoo to Detroit’s infamous dress-to-sweat “Club Inferno”. It was a different atmosphere in the 90s, and we were ready to cut loose and blow off steam on the dance-floor. A small portion of the crew—which included Alford “Gene” Harris; Bobby Johnson and Dante Carter—had packed into that little car and bounced; Tupac Shakur’s first album, “2Pacalypse Now” blaring through the screechy front and rear speakers of the rust-bucket, followed by Uncle Luke’s (that’s Luther Campbell to you squares) gig album of the year. That night, we partied until the club closed at 4AM, before making the long and tiresome ride back to Kalamazoo. While everyone slept during the return drive, I sat in the backseat as Pounce quietly navigated the darkness of westbound I-94. Occasionally, his head bobbed in time with the bassline of “Soulja’s Story” crackling the busted woofers of the little car’s taxed speakers. During that trip back to the dorm, I periodically checked on our driver, just to let him know someone was up awake with him.

“What up, Pounce?”

“What up, E? Did you have a good time?”

I remember glancing around the car, at my sleeping brothers and realizing these cats were my new family. “I did. I had a good time. What about you,” I asked. He answered in what would become trademark Pounce fashion.

“It was straight.”

The trip took a little longer than expected, and I remember crawling into my dorm-room bed as the sky was changing from midnight black to pale blue, with the rising of the sun. It was the first time I’d ever stayed awake for over 24 hours. I crashed, exhausted yet grateful for my friends; my brothers; grateful for the chance encounter with Darion Pouncy.

Somewhere along life’s path—after Western Michigan University—I took a turn that caused me to lose touch with my brothers. At the time, I figured leaving those relationships behind was probably for the best, because the change in trajectory had brought my wife into the picture. As a consequence, distance created a gap between me and everybody else who I’d once considered WMU family. Although social media provided a way for us all to reconnect, it just wasn’t the same. As we grew older, we lost touch—I lost touch. In spite of me, time and distance, some true friendships endure.

In August of 2015, I was sent to Kalamazoo to complete a professional project for work. It had been years since I’d last seen or spoken directly to Pounce but like a true friend, when I called, he came. I opened the door of my hotel room and was greeted by that familiar voice. Suddenly, years melted into yesterday.

“What up, E?!”

“What up, Pounce!”

The dap was strong and the love transcended time. In that moment, we were simply brothers catching up with one another after a short stint apart. I told Pounce about my life after Western Michigan University: kids, career, marriage, music, writing and God. I gave him a copy of my recently published book, and a CD of my music. He listened and brought me up to speed on his life, his lady and his dog. The reunion was short. He had things to do and I had a job to prepare for. We promised to catch up again, stepped outside of the hotel and snapped a selfie on his phone. Somewhere between the count down from “three” and “cheese” I flashed a goofy grin. I regret it now…because it was the last time I saw Pounce in the flesh. It was the last time I would hear his voice. I guess I figured there would be more time. It never came.

Darion Earnest Pouncy was my first true friend, in the land of Kalamazoo. He didn’t know it then, but just knowing him changed my life for the better. When I danced in public, he cheered me on; when I ran guard on the court, he was by my side; when I was down, he had quiet and simple words of encouragement. Darion never knew I struggled with anxiety as a kid, right up into my first year at Western Michigan University. If he’d figured it out, he never made fun of me. He never laughed at me. He laughed with me. I regret the time I wasted out of touch with him; with Al; with Doug; with Dante; Jeff; Bobby; Redic, James “Book” and Jesse. I missed my friend. I will miss my friend. I wish I could have thanked him for bumping into me in the hallway. I pray he’s with Jesus; no more suffering; no troubles. I hope he’s straight.

What up Pounce…

 

 

Acrostic

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Hell is real, bruv.

Ask any saint, and he’ll tell you so.

Lives are cut short;

Lasting only as long as sin entertains, persuades and deceives and destroys;

Oh, the agony of the eternal fire!

When exactly did this happen?

Even now, I regret some of my past decisions; actually…

Every decision to ignore the truth of God;

Never to breathe a peaceful life again.

Sometimes, You Gotta Just Go With God

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“What does that mean, Enn?”

Yeah, I know…

“Sometimes, you gotta just go with God; what exactly are you saying?”

Well, see, that’s the thing. I don’t exactly know.

“What do you mean, ‘I don’t exactly know?’ What am I about to read here?”

I can’t rightly answer that question. But, I can tell you this: there are seasons when the Spirit moves in me and I recognize it’s time to sit down at the keyboard. Usually, I’ll turn on some inspiring music and wait for Him to put words into my heart. Tonight is no different. He’s moving, and I’m trying to listen.

One of my favorite songs is “Hymn of Praise” by William McDowell, featuring Julia McMillian and Daniel Johnson on lead vocals. Man, whenever I hear this powerful worship song, I can’t help but to fall in line with the Holy Spirit. Tonight, this song is on heavy repeat…even as I write. As I listen to the praises of God’s people, I’m trying to see the words forming in my heart. This special message is for someone tonight.

You’ve been trying so hard to make things work out in your favor, doing everything you think is right. You’ve been working hard, taking care of your responsibilities and doing everything by the book. Yet, for every step you take, it seems like something or someone pulls you two steps backward. When’s it going to be your time to catch a break, for once?

God sees you. He heard that prayer of desperation, last night. He knows exactly where you are and precisely what you’re going through right this moment, as you read these impossible words. Yeah…He sees you. He sees your struggles.

Mark 9:23-24 records a powerful exchange between Jesus and a father. “Jesus said to him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!'”

That last verse is personal to me, because I know what it feels like to struggle with unbelief strapped to weak hope. But Jesus doesn’t say, “If you wait until your emotions line up with your head-belief, then I’ll act.” No. He simply tells us to believe. You may not feel it emotionally. It may not make any sense to you. It’s a leap of faith.

Tonight, I need you to believe, even if you don’t feel it in your bones. Just trust in God and know that He’s got you exactly where he wants you. Maybe it’s time to leave that job. Maybe it’s time to be brave and put yourself out there. Maybe it’s time to ask for help. Maybe it’s your time to pursue you calling. You’ve been struggling so hard. Believe. He is with you, and knows where you are.

 

*Always*

Find Your Space

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Proverbs 16:9 (NKJV) – “A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.”

Everyone is born to do something. Everyone has pizzazz. Everybody has a unique gift. Yes; even you. The problem is, life has a tendency to strangle our calling. We might be sidetracked by alluring distractions, causing us to forgo the search for our niche. Maybe we’re born into a life full of never-ending challenges that literally choke the hope of fulfillment out of our hearts. Or just maybe…we’re too darned lazy to find our space in the world.

You ever see those images of a square peg being forced into a round hole? That image perfectly sums up the lives of many people. We busy ourselves trying to fit in where we don’t belong. In the process, life moves forward and we grow complacent and bitter.

What if I told you that Proverbs 16:9 is real? Would you believe me? If I said to you, “Hey Kim, you know that hobby you can’t seem to turn away from? God sewed that into your heart before you were ever born, and he wants you to use that to glorify him.” Would you call me nuts, and turn to another website? I hope you wouldn’t, because my favorite proverb is real. God is in the business of planting His design into your heart, and then causing you to chase after that very desire.

I’ve been writing since I was 12 years old. Trends, fads and styles came and went as I grew older–and actually still do. But, I always had a desire to write. It wasn’t until I submitted to Jesus, that I discovered I was born to write. Not for fame, money or notoriety. I was born to use my God-given talent to glorify Him. When I write about God and the kingdom, I honestly do my best work. It’s the perfectly shaped hole this square was born to fit into. And, I believe it happens easily because God planted that seed into my heart, to fulfill His purpose for my life.

Let’s look at it another way. A Suzuki GXS-R1000 crotch rocket was produced on the assembly line for a very specific purpose. If you try riding that motorcycle on a frozen pond, you’re going to have troubles making it up to 20 miles-per-hour. But if you throttle that sucker along twisting roads and open straightaways, you’re going to effortlessly peak 120 miles-per-hour without even trying. That’s because the bike was made to go fast and grip dry roads with precision. That’s its design, and it wants to go fast. If it wanted to go slow, it would have been made a moped. Round hole; round peg.

So here is your homework assignment: take a moment and look back at your life. What’s that one thing you’ve never been able to stay away from, and that you actually do pretty well? Trust me, everybody’s got one, so find yours.  Once you think you’ve got it, I want you to take an actual leap of faith. Ask God what you’re supposed to do with it. After you do that, start doing that one thing. If it was truly sewn into your heart, watch what God does in your life through His gifted talent in you.