My Letter to Wade

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https://twitter.com/djwadeo


My brother, Wade:

For me, writing is therapeutic. It’s an activity I’ve consistently engaged throughout my life, yet I’ve never been able to make a profession out of it. A lot of times when I write, the focus isn’t about attention for the content in and of itself. No, the writing is my way of working things out; pulling them from the inside and allowing them to flow externally. There’s something about writing that actually forces me to methodically and even prayerfully face my personal issues constructively and intentionally. I hope that makes some sort of sense, because there is purpose behind this letter to you.

I had an opportunity to watch the round-table discussion you participated in, alongside Lecrae, Tedashii, Ben, Sam and Shanti. Man, it was such a powerful discussion with a lot of great incite into what everyday people deal with on personal levels. It also highlighted the need (for me) for the body of Christ to really support one another, because you never know what folks are going through personally. Although we may look like we have it altogether on the outside, people are truly dealing with serious issues on the inside. You spoke about your struggles in constantly dealing with church-hurt; how it seems to keep happening to you. I think what really resonated with me, was when you followed up with, “Sometimes, it’s hard to get out of bed.”

Fam, that struggle is real. And what’s amazing about it, is I didn’t even realize I was numb to that reality within myself, until someone else admitted to having the same struggle. Wade, I’m a God-fearing husband, father and brother. I’m a deacon in my church; I read my Word constantly; stay prayed up; reach out to my brothers in need; teach the Discovery Rangers age-group of the Royal Rangers at my church; I use my God-given talents to write and create music. With all of that stated, I struggle with joy regularly. I know I’m supposed to be content knowing that my Salvation is intact, by the atoning work of Christ’s sacrifice. But brother, sometimes man…I find myself asking God, “Lord, what’s the point of all this? I’m not completely happy in my profession; we continue to struggle; I feel like I’m wasting the gifts you’ve given me, because I see no fruit; the older I get, the more I realize time is short. Did I miss a window of opportunity to do something great? What am I really doing here? Jesus, where are you?”

A couple of weeks ago, my church hosted a night-of-worship, on a Friday evening. Earlier that day, I went to work bitter over not being able to write anything within recent months. I’d had it out with God that morning. My attitude was literally like this:

“Okay, here’s the deal, Lord: since I can’t seem to find anything to write about lately and you don’t seem to want to give me anything, I quit. Right here, and right now. I’m done writing, period. It hasn’t made any difference, so maybe it was all just my dream anyway. If you want me to stick with it, for some unforeseen reason, then you’re gonna have to make it clear to me.”

And with that, I’d officially decided to put down my pen, figuratively speaking. That night, I went to church, for the night-of-worship celebration, without so much as a single word to my wife of what I’d said to the Lord. It wasn’t any of her business, as far as I was concerned. Brother, the atmosphere was truly Spirit-filled. Our worship team cranked out song after song, and the presence of the Holy Spirit was evident throughout the night. Shortly after, our lead pastor broke into prayer over the congregation and over folks who’d made their way to the alter. And then, he pointed at me. He found me, at my seat, three rows back from the alter and announced, “Wait a minute. I don’t normally do this; I don’t normally call people out personally. Brother Ennis, the Lord wants me to tell you, ‘Don’t quit on your gifts.’ Don’t quit, brother. Don’t quit. I don’t know what that means, but He knows you’ll understand.”

Dude. I lost it. My strength left me. I fell into my chair and let the tears flow free. God had just called me out. Wade, He spoke to me personally through my pastor. Seriously, what it looked like, was exactly what it was. The Lord had answered my gripe.

Despite that very personal miracle, each day is another choice for me to remember the promise and choose to get out of bed. I have to choose to remember the continued-blessings the Lord bestows on the Smith family daily. My marriage is strong; my wife and children are healthy. We have a roof over our heads; the bills are paid; the refrigerators are full; the cars are operational; the jobs are still providing and we have His favor in our lives. Each day, I have to choose to deny the desire for “more”: more stuff; more free time; more fun; more excitement; the superficial. Each day, I have to choose to remember there are people out there in the world going through serious issues. When I do, my personal gripes against life in general don’t seem so important anymore. I have to choose to remember He really is in control of everything.

So, what’s all of that got to do with you personally? Maybe nothing, Wade. Or just maybe, it has a little to do with you. I’ve followed your ministry for quite a few years; followed you over various social media platforms and even had the pleasure of holding a conversation with you over the phone, once. You’ve always been open in sharing your life experiences with your fans, whether good or bad, and it continues to set an example of the type of people we should try to be. Celebrity has a way of widening the gap between famous public figures and the average Jane/Joe. But, I think some folks find a way to speak to the average citizen simply by sharing their life experiences and intentionally reaching back every once in a while, to personally touch a life. The round-table discussion did that for me. It clicked something within, forcing me to consider what I struggle with deep down. Lecrae said something to the effect of folks misinterpreting James’ verse on “counting it all joy” when we face trials. I think he was right; I think…until you face something earth-shattering, whether it is extremely public or secretly private, you really won’t understand the significance of James 1:2. But, I believe God continues to use His people to help one another through trials, even when the far-reaching results of simply sharing testimony cannot be seen. Tedashii has no idea how many people he continues to speak to, by simply sharing his testimony. I hope that by being brave and continuing to share, healing continues to be perfected in the young brother’s life. Likewise for Shanti, Lecrae and yourself. I hope you all realize and recognize the Lord’s work through you all, by sharing your testimonies. You need to remember that for the days when getting out of bed in the morning seem like a Mount-Everest climb, brother.

Today, I slept late because there was nothing particularly exciting to wake up for. But, I got up, Wade. I got up, and I remembered that somewhere in the world, others might be struggling to grab hold of joy and rise out of bed, too. Why not let them know they’re not alone? Why not remind them, through whatever talent I have, that joy comes in the morning? You just have to choose to believe in it. And, it’s okay to let others know that the struggle they’re battling is real, but there exists strength in numbers. God doesn’t makes mistakes. I believe…what you may be going through can be used later as a ladder or bridge to help others hurdle the same thing. That’s the power in testimony.

Music is Life

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Music’s in my veins

Everyone has the song; not just a song, as if something randomly picked from a mental library of compositions over a lifetime of music. I’m talking about that one song–uniquely special to every individual. It’s that one tune with the power to transform your entire mood, from the time your ears register the opening bars of melody, or the first measure of the beat. It’s the song. If you had to make out your last will and testament right now, the ending line would read, “And on my deathbed, I want to hear…playing in the background.” You feel it right now, don’t you? As you’re reading this, the song is filling your subconscious with joy. That’s the power of music. I honestly feel pity for folks who don’t genuinely enjoy melodies and harmonies. They’re deprived of one of life’s treasured gifts.

Music flows through my veins. My wife once asked me, “Do you hear music inside your head all the time?”

Yep. I can’t turn it off; even at night when I lay my head down. I usually drift off to the beating of my heart, ringing in my ears. I hear a kick drum.

My heart beats music…

Everyone’s got the song. But the problem with most musicians–whether novice or professional–is they covet more than one song. Sometimes, I can replay significant events in my memory and they flash across the back of my eyes like movie scenes complete with soundtrack music.

For instance, whenever my wedding day is mentioned or thought of, Luther Vandross’ “Here and Now” automatically dominates whatever scene is replaying in my memory. That song will forever be fused to that special day, within my heart. It was my wife’s choice and simply became a permanent fixture for every scene of our marriage.

I don’t care where I am in the world, or how I’m feeling at a given moment; Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock’s “It Takes Two” will jump-start my mood every time. I was in the 9th grade, the first time I heard that explosive drum beat drop, and was instantly hooked. Today, when no one’s watching, I still dance and recite the whole song.

Music has that power to inspire and ignite. That power is timeless. Some of my all-time classics stir something deep within me today, just as powerfully as they did decades ago.

Some assembly required…

When I was a kid, I was tortured with different types of sounds and tones constantly running through head. I used to love to sit and listen to my uncle D pound away on the keys of my grandma’s old stand-up piano. It was the only time I really felt like music could be controlled, because he made it look so easy, stringing the different keys together creating melodies. As I grew older, my Mom bought my first drum machine–A Casio 4-pad player complete with drum sticks. My dad bought my first keyboard–an entry level digital Casio with basic voices and a single record function. Through the years, I fumbled around those pieces of equipment trying desperately to recreate the sounds in my head.

But, it wasn’t until the turn of the new century that I finally got hold of something that would help my struggles–rather…someone. Jesus. When I came to Christ, I met a brother named Rob who introduced me to chords. And once I figured out that the sounds I had been playing around with my entire life actually had names, designations and patterns…well my friend…I suddenly learned that I could make my own music. I just needed to practice assembling chords to make melodies. Music and I became best friends.

Be careful what you’re listening to…

There is a legend within Christianity, that says Satan–once the Archangel Lucifer–was heaven’s choir director. He was the leader of eternity’s most awesome group in charge of worshiping the Lord. But, he got gassed up on his own talent and decided that he should be running things instead of God. Well…that didn’t turn out too well for him and his constituents. They found themselves evicted. Down here on earth, there is a belief that he’s using music (to this very day) to sway the hearts and minds of many, turning them away from God.

I believe there’s truth in that. Do I believe ALL music is bad? That’s absurd! But, I do believe there exists music that breathes life just as there is music that promotes death. We have to be selective in what we allow to come into our hearts.

Once upon a time, I was completely drawn to the type of music that made me angry inside; wrathful and arrogant. I bought into the culture surround this type of music and it dominated my life, changing me into someone very different from the man I am today. People try to label things to get a grip on what they really don’t understand. I just call it what it is: death music. Whether it was gangsta rap, trip-hop or death metal, I sampled it all with the misguided belief of being a “student of all music”.

Today is different, though. I’m pretty selective in what I listen to and well aware of how some genres affect the Spirit within me. Music with God-edifying lyrics moves me in a way I hadn’t experienced early on in life; it doesn’t matter if it’s Christian Contemporary or Christian Rap. I can vibe to Chris Tomlin or Bizzle; Kari Jobe, Lauren Daigel; Datin; or Selah Tha Corner.

Just as easily, I can still vibe to old school Motown, Golden Age hip hop, 80’s pop and classical music as well. Some Christians are bothered by secular music and choose not to listen; and that’s totally okay, if it’s what you need to do to remain close to God. I’m a Christian man who still listens to some secular music. While I’m very selective in what I listen to for personal reasons, I’m not worrying about Jesus condemning me. Everyone has to work out their own relationship with the Lord, individually. What works for me might not work for someone else. What speaks to me, might not for others. But there is no judgment in me, when it comes down to someone else’s choice. A guy who struggles with N.W.A. lyrics will eventually have to make a choice. I gave it up long ago but it took time, and I had to be ready. Even in music, the struggle is real.

The song speaks when I can’t

I believe everyone’s got a song. Some people simply haven’t heard it, yet. Sometimes in life, things happen and there are no words to express the resulting feeling. There are times when music knows exactly what to say. Have you ever seen a woman cry at the sound of a beautiful voice? Have you ever seen a baby stop and listen to the sound of his/her mother singing in another room?

“The Greatest Showman” was a pleasant surprise for me. Watching Hugh Jackman prance around in tights, singing show tunes was not my idea of an awesome movie night. I really wanted to watch something explode onscreen, but the boss called the shots that night. And so, I watched…and was amazed. There was–in fact–one particular scene that blew me away.

Jenny Lind took the stage, and sang “Never Enough”. Dude. From the time she sang the first verse of the chorus, my mouth literally fell agape. Yeah, I get it; the actress wasn’t really singing. Her acting only added to the beauty of the voice behind the lyrics. Barnum’s facial expression must’ve mimicked my own. It was amazing watching that scene for the first time. The words simply escaped me.

Some songs just know what to say and how to say it, when words fail us. The wonder of music is that when instruments combine in just the right way, the heart flutters. When a voice hits the pure tone attuned to your heart, heaven opens for a brief moment in time. Music is just that powerful. The world would be a drab place without it.

Too Many Opened Doors

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Hi! How’s it going friends?

We’re almost through the winter of 2018/2019. Actually, by the time many of you read this, Spring 2019 will have officially hit the calendar. Yay! I think Spring brings about the optimism of new beginnings. The cold temperatures (of Michigan) gradually climb the thermostat. The robins return to wake us every morning. The trees bud, certain flowers (particularly tulips) sprout and bloom quickly. The windows and doors–once closed off from the frigid air–suddenly open to inviting fresh breezes and ambiance of new seasonal sounds. The days grow longer, earlier.

Can you see it? It’s down-right inspiring, isn’t it? The onset of Spring invites change in so many different ways. It gives us the hope that we can change things for the better with the new year. My wife has a particular word she’s decided to apply to life this year:

Intentional

Ooooooo! Say it with me one time, and just let it roll off the tongue. In its simplicity, it holds power.

In-ten-shun-al

That word reminds me to ask myself, “What are you gonna do about it, Smith”. See…I can say I’m going to be intentional in my decisions this year; but unless I purposefully act, I’m simply leaving the decision making to chance. We all know that chance is lazy. Chance dupes us into saying things like:

“I’ll start tomorrow.”

“I’ll do it when I’m motivated.”

“As soon as the Lord makes it clear to me, then I’ll move on it.”

“I don’t feel like it’s my time for that, yet.”

Lazy. Pitiful. Sorry. Whiny.

Do you know I put off a flu shot for years, because I was afraid of the sting of the needle? True story. I can’t make this stuff up. The day I went in to get an updated tetanus shot and  a flu shot, I actually began sweating just before the nurse stuck me. Turns out, I never felt a thing. How dumb was that? Wasted time, man. I put up with seasonal illnesses for years because I was too stubborn to literally take my medicine.

This leads to the doors up there, in the picture. I really want to talk about closing a few doors in your life. I hope by the time I’m done, it makes sense to you friend.

You see the red door, center-photo? Let’s say that door represents the possibilities of Spring 2019. Let’s say you’ve jumped on the Misty band-wagon (like me), and decided to secretly adopt her word-of-the-year for yourself. You’ve decided to be intentional this year, so you’re standing in front of that door anticipating its opening. But…

You have a small problem; in this example you have four problems.

You’ve left a couple doors, from your past, open. One of them’s letting in a draft; another’s allowing a foul stench to cloud the air; another seems to be sucking the light right out of the room while the last door–well this one’s cracked just enough for you to hear the voices of last year’s failures snickering at you.  I think the beauty of this example is, you don’t need me to point out which colors represent which problems. You’ve subconsciously already done that, haven’t you?

There’s a saying in the Christian world. It goes something like this: “When God closes one door, He opens another.”

Yesterday, my doctor officially told me, my knees are shot. No more basketball for me. Rather than be depressed over never being able to run a full-court game again, I’m gonna (watch this, now) intentionally close the door on that chapter of my life, and turn the knob on the door that leads to me taking up the game of golf. Yeah…I’m gonna do that on purpose.

So, somebody might say, “Hey! That’s a great story, Enn. What’s that got to do with God opening up a door after closing one?”

Well…let’s revisit YOU standing in front of the red door of Spring, patiently waiting for it to open.

Have you ever noticed, sometimes it seems like God simply isn’t moving in your life? Maybe He’s just waiting for you to make an intentional move of your own. Maybe–just maybe–God waits for us to shut a few doors and cut off a few things we don’t need in our lives anymore, before He decides to open up a new opportunity; a new ministry; a new life-change for us.

You can waste as much time and energy as you have available, trying to turn the knob on that red door. But buddy, if you don’t shut the door on last year’s failures; slam the door on that foul stench; cutoff the heat-stealing drafty door and secure the light in your room, that red door may never open to the goodness of what’s behind it. Why should you allow the wretchedness of all the other open doors to pollute the optimism and joy waiting behind the red door of Spring?

Be intentional. I mean really. If you’re only going to be intentional with your lips, and not with your actions…forget this whole message. It’s a waste of your time. You’re obviously content with your complacency.

I’m saying be truly intentional. Start shutting some of those doors you brought into the new year. Make some decisions and stick to them in heart and mind. If you commit there, your actions will follow. Be intentional.

Yep, I’m talking to you. Don’t just talk about it. Be about it. It’s time to shut some doors. Spring’s tomorrow.

 

That Moment When God Reminds You…

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A good life is like a fantastic roller coaster. High peaks slowly creep, and the anticipation is scary-exciting. Then, the rush of the downhill race takes your breath away. Life throws a few speedy curves into the ride for good measure. The truly great coasters will even surprise you with quick peaks and valleys in succession, just to add witty surprise to the experience. Then, in a blink…it’s all over.

A mediocre life is like a drive along a dessert highway. The asphalt is slightly bumpy and quite often the anticipation stems from a need to arrive at the destination. The scenery is dull. The road is straight and yields no surprising twists or turns. The journey is so mundane, it seems to take several lifetimes before the end arrives.

The thing about life is, it’s often a combination of both the good and the mediocre. We experience the highs of the hilltops at times, but we also endure the lows of the valleys: the success of a promotion and the grief of a lost loved-one; that first kiss, and that first bee-sting; the triumph of broken spiritual chains, and the deflation of facing personal weak faith.

It’s the duality of life. Hills and valleys. Highs and lows. Ups and downs. It never stops. But one constant is true.

God’s always there.

I know, it may not always seem like it and some might have a genuine right to argue against my claim. There are real monsters in the world. There are tragedies everywhere. And sometimes, things don’t exactly have to be earth-shattering to bring you down from the hilltop. Sometimes, it’s just a series of little things subtly chipping away at your joy and confidence.

But, God is still there, too.

I believed God had given me specific talents, uniquely crafted for me. Sure…anyone could do what I can do. But no one could do it exactly the way I can. Surely, He had to have given me these talents for a reason. It’s a high point, when you realize your purpose.

But as the years continued to roll by, I didn’t seem to recognize any forward movement with my talents. My gifts just didn’t appear to make any difference in my life, or the lives of others. Despite the countless encouraging scriptures of faith, I really struggled to continue believing my apparent gifts were from God. More and more, I started to believe they were a product of my own design and that I was now wasting time with them. Where I’d once vehemently believed God had spoken those gifts into my heart, I was suddenly contemplating giving them up.

Friday morning, I was ready to stop writing altogether. And then…Friday evening came.

My home church–River of Life–hosted an outpouring service, and despite my secret decision to pack up my pens and journals, I came to church expecting to see God move in the lives of my church family members. The church was alive with the sounds of praise and worship, and the presence of the Holy Spirit was heavy in the sanctuary. For almost two hours, we sang and prayed, before my Pastor took to the pulpit.

Pastor Eddie launched into intercessory prayer; boldly praying for folks to receive the blessing of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The place was electric! As he prayed, and pronounced blessings of healing for people he didn’t know personally, I simply basked in the presence of the Lord, watching the Spirit work through the lives of my church family and visitors alike. And then, something unexpected happened.

He called my name. Pastor Eddie called my name, and caught my eye.

“I don’t normally call people out,” he announced, “but the Lord wants you to know, don’t quit on your gifts. Brother don’t quit on your gifts.”

I broke. I lost strength and fell to ground. He could not have possibly known that very morning, I’d decided to stop writing. My Pastor had no idea what I had been struggling with since the beginning of the new year. He couldn’t have known I’d given up hope. There could be only one explanation.

God was still there. He was…He is…still watching me. He knows my name, and He knows my heart. And on that Friday, among so many different people coming to Him with their own issues–looking to be set free–He took the time to speak to me in a way that could not possibly be mistaken for anything other than what it was: miraculous.

I was completely undone. At some point, my wife came to my side and held on to me as every ounce of guilt and shame poured out through hot tears and naked sobs. When composure returned, it came with a renewed sense of purpose. With that purpose came freedom. I have no idea what God wants me to write, but He told me not to give up. I have faith in Him. I’m riding the hilltop.

I don’t know what you’re struggling with right now, at this very moment friend. But I can say this with fresh confidence: God sees you. He knows where you are, and knows exactly what you’re going through. I know life is hard sometimes, and it becomes easy to lose sight of what’s true; what’s good. Despite my struggles, I think the best thing I could have done was to go into that outpouring service with expectancy. I had no idea what I was looking for. I just wanted to be in His presence. And maybe–just maybe–that’s all you need. You just need to be in the Lord’s presence. You seek Him, even in your struggles, and I promise you He will find you; not that you’ve ever been lost to Him. I lost my youngest son once. It was a nightmare. I don’t wanna talk about it. But God never loses His real children. He’s always there. Sometimes, He just wants us to come to Him; to seek His presence.

So don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t quit. I believe He’s rooting for you. You just have to keep on believing…

 

 

*always*

Happy Valentines Day, ft. Crys

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Every once in awhile, I get the chance to share some wise words, witty quips or entertaining interjections written by some truly talented writers. You all know my style by now. I’m not one to use super-duper dictionary language. I like to keep it simple, and that’s what I look for in talent.

Today, while scrolling through Facebook, I came across a heartfelt post written by my sister’s best friend–Crystal–to here husband. It was brilliant, so I told her I planned to share it with my reading/writing friends. With that, let me introduce you all to the work of Mrs. Crystal Nickson.


“Let’s talk about Marriage.
It’s pretty great. 👍🏾
It’s also pretty damn hard. 👊🏾

Like forreal it’s simultaneously the most beautiful–yet humbling experience I’ve ever been a part of…if that makes any sense. 🤔

It’s so easy in this day to say ‘To hell with it,’ whenever something doesn’t go the way you think it should. But we don’t.

That’s the humbling part.😔

It’s hard being who and what I am in this world, knowing that I’m part of a group that is pretty much last on the list to be genuinely cared for, nurtured, respected & listened to.

Sometimes I get angry at–and agitated with–my husband (and the world at large) because of this.

But we reset. We always seem to reset.
So:

To the man who still says ‘Excuse me; I apologize baby,’ whenever he slips up and curses in front of me…🤬

To the man who has never once sent me a ‘Good Morning, Beautiful’ text, because he instead chose to be able to slide in the bed next to me, kiss me and say it to my face every morning…(okay 4 outta 7 days ain’t bad, hell)…💋

To the man who still asks me to dance whenever an old school jam comes on (even though his rhythm is questionable😁)🕺🏾💃🏿

To the man who supports every BIG & small decision I make in life…and is still there, loving me, after the smoke clears…😫

To the man who literally thanked me for never leaving him (like, forreal y’all, that one got me last night) 😭

To the man who has always chosen faithfulness over fickleness; patience over pride & benevolence over bullsh*t…

🗣TO MY STRONG, KIND, QUIET, BEAUTIFUL, BLACK MAN….✊🏿

HAPPY 15TH ANNIVERSARY, BABY.
I LOVE YOU & I LOVE OUR LOVE.❤
Marham Nickson”


Beautifully said, Crys.

Happy Valentines Day, all.

Note To Self…

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The health of both in-laws is in jeopardy. A childhood friend is literally fighting for his life. Two brothers in Christ decided to turn away from truth. Marriages are unraveling before my eyes. Tensions between co-workers (at work) are at an all-time high. Border-wall talk is continuing to further divide our nation. James Ingram died.

It’s just February. What surprises will the remaining 10 months hold for 2019?

Sometimes I look around, and it seems as if the enemy is winning. But I know better. I know that…while times and trends may change, God is still the same today, as He was yesterday. Tomorrow, He’ll remain the same: forever faithful; forever in control of everything.

It’s not always easy to remember that truth when everything around you appears to glorify tragedy. But, if you look close enough and remember what truth really is, you’ll see God hasn’t gone anywhere.

Last week, a total stranger was miraculously healed of cancer. Last Sunday, I witnessed a father, mother and son each get baptized and publicly profess their love for Jesus. Today, another childhood friend left the hospital after almost two weeks inside, due to congestive heart failure. God’s given him a new lease on life, and my old buddy is taking it seriously. A couple at church is experiencing a renewed relationship, through a life-group. My wife and I see the change in them both, and it’s amazing to see God refreshing their zeal and passion for one another.

God’s still in control.

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…