Spring/Summer 2011 Edition
Love in Disguise Souls with No Shoes
Also Inside: NEGLECTED,
SPRINGING into the Best Short SUMMER Fiction
Letter from the Editor
Celebrating a Milestone “A milestone passed, new things begun, dreams as shining as the sun, a goal achieved, a victory won!” -Author Unknown This issue marks the 1 year anniversary of Parables Magazine. And we are ecstatic that we have reached this milestone. The vision that was conceived in the spirit of our esteemed publisher, E. Claudette Freeman, gave birth to a wonderful collection of short Christian fiction, inspirational essays, and devotionals. Over the past twelve months, we have sought to bring you stories that would lift up your spirits and that would touch your soul. We hoped that our devotionals would enhance your study and your walk with the Lord. And as we enlightened, we also sought to entertain. We have found that sometimes, the pain of living creates a hunger for healing that only God can satisfy. We hope that by sharing an experience through an inspirational essay, the entertaining perspective of a biblical story written with a fictional twist, or a simple prayer at the end of a devotional will provide a link to the Lord that will fill a hole in someone’s soul. The feedback that you, our readers, give is essential to the success of the magazine. We continue to seek submissions and invite you to become a part of the Parables creative family. Parable: a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson.
Marie Talley, Editor-in-Chief
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Parables Magazine is published by Pecan Tree Publishing, Hollywood, Florida. It is a bi-monthly online publication devoted to short Christian fiction, inspirational essays and devotionals. Volume 3 May/June 2011 PUBLISHER E. Claudette Freeman EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Marie Talley CREATIVE DIRECTOR E. Chantaye Watson PRODUCTION COORDINATOR Jaen Kinyanjui GRAPHIC DESIGNER Jenette Sityar MEDIA/PUBLICITY Aloma George PUBLICITY/SOCIAL NETWORK COORDINATION Margaret Mucheru Aldith St. Marthe CUSTOMER SERVICE JoAn Bonjoc ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT Tameca Acree Pecan Tree Publishing is a Emily C. Freeman Holdings, LLC company. ISSN 2159-8568 Online and ISSN 2159-8444 Print. For advertising, marketing or submission information, please feel free to contact our offices at: info@ pecantreepress.com, 877-207-2442, fax: 954-272-7041.
Between these Sheets Authorsâ€™ Spotlight
When Love Finds You
Love In Disguise
Loving Me, Flaws and All
Souls with Dirty Shoes
The Undeceiving of Ourselves 42 A Blessing in Disguise
One Moment in Time
Out Of The Belly Of The Whale Love For One Another Neglected, But Not Defeated!
69 72 73
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Authors’ Spotlight Dorothy Valcarcel, so far, in her lifetime, has been someone’s friend, roommate and girlfriend. She has been happy and sad, unemployed and overworked, loved and rejected; a student and a teacher, a patient and a nurse and an employee and an employer. During the last twenty years, her work with non-profit organizations around the world has taken me into ghettos, orphanages, domestic abuse shelters, and food kitchens. She has been privileged to meet people who have the busiest hands and the biggest hearts. As she has personally witnessed the consequences of the worst side of love, she has also come to realize that Jesus’ love always wins. It may be battered and bruised – but His love will prevail.
L. Melissa Smith’s birthstone is pearl. And like a pearl, she is a by-product of struggle and irritation. But on the other side of that struggle comes beauty, strength, value and worth – whether it’s a pearl or Melissa. Smith is a former radio and print journalist, who has enjoyed a career in both fields in various cities across the country. She is the author of LOVE IN DISGUISE, and was part of a historical book on North Carolina.
Joseph J. Caro was born and raised in New Jersey just a stone’s throw away from New York. Through a series of amazing and traumatic experiences he managed to find out that God is alive and loves to pay attention to each and every one of us. An avid writer, he loves sharing his story in words as a means of encouraging others.
A native South Floridian, Marie E. Talley has been writing in one form or another since age 10. She has had careers in both Accounting and Social Services and currently works in Municipal Government. A mother and grandmother, Ms. Talley enjoys working with people and she has traveled extensively throughout the continental United States. She now directs her energy into her love of putting pen to paper and in addition to her editorial duties at Parables Magazine she has published two short novels: The Man and His Music and Love by Design.
Shara Siffort is a poet and freelance writer with numerous short stories and inspiring poetry pieces to her credit. Shara resides in South Florida with her husband Jean and their son, Caleb. Her work is also featured in the Pecan Tree Publishing offering BELOVED. Shara lives by this mantra: I shall have what I decree! (Job 22:28) Let’s get it!! Now is the time, dream big! Impossible is nothing! I am because HE is!
Denise was born and reared in the midst of a drug-infested environment on Chicago’s West Side. The oldest of seven siblings, Denise was reared by her grandparents in a sweet but bitter home. By the time she was five, she had been molested by several family members. Denise began shooting heroin at age twelve, initiating a cycle of crime and addiction that lasted 14 years. In 1986 Denise met the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave her a second chance at life and rewrote her destiny. Upon changing her lifestyle and connecting with positive people, Denise overcame the adversities that were controlling her life and has lived the last 25 years, clean and sober.
Pamela Bell English is a freelance writer, an aspiring author, educator, mentor, interviewer, blogger, poet, and avid reader. She is originally from Chicago IL and currently resides in Atlanta, GA. She has one daughter, Tiara and one grandbaby, she lovingly calls Coco. Pamela has been writing poetry, articles, and short stories since high school. She had a short story published in Parables, an on-line magazine. You can read her story at www.pecantreepress.com in the August/September 2010 issue. Also, she has a reflective article published in Angel Wings Publication, and re-published in Black Pearls Magazine. She co-wrote along with thirteen other writers a Christmas holiday story. She is a member of The Faith Based and Fiction Writers of Atlanta.
E. Claudette Freeman spent some 24 years in radio in South Florida, before leaving to start her own media corporation, Emily C. Freeman Holdings, LLC. Freeman’s honors include placing for two consecutive years in the Quest Theatre of West Palm Beach Loften Mitchell New Playwright’s Festival, being a featured reader in the Miami Book Fair International’s WRITE IN OUR MIDST PROGRAM, being chosen as an apprentice to famed African-American author Ntozake Shange, during the Atlantic Center For The Arts Masters Residency Program, co-authoring the touring production of CHARCOAL SKETCHES, and being commissioned to author a Black history production FROM THE PORCH starring Danny Glover by the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority. She is the author of a collection of short stories: PIECES AND ME. A COLLECTION OF LIFE; a novel SHELTERED DELIVERANCE, three literary CDs: DRAMA EXPOSED (fiction and poetry) FOR THE BROTHA YOU ARE (poetry) and SPIRIT AWAKENING (poetry); as well as several plays. Freeman has two boys, her son Isaiah Langston-Michael Freeman and nephew, Douglas Tirrell Freeman, Jr.
Jonathan Anthony Burkett is a writer with lots of extraordinary ideas. He is a self-motivated young man doing the best and being the best that he can be in life. Burkett is described as generous and thoughtful in many ways; and he believes he can be and achieve whatever he wishes as long as he maintains his great faith and courage. He loves to box and play football. He is the author of the book “My Life, My Story”; and wishes to someday be a great author/writer/actor/business man and more. Until that day, he is searching and exploring more and settling for whatsoever and whomsoever GOD brings and gives unto him.
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When Love Finds You Excerpted from the novel SHELTERED DELIVERANCE By E. Claudette Freeman
watched my husband peaceful in his slumber and praised God that I could see his steady breaths in the movement of his chest. His face was comfortable even in this state of sedation. There was something about him at this moment that wanted me to wake him up and cuddle him. I’ve seen women do that to newborn babies. I imagine that they, like I, want to simply love on that humbleness, that innocence, that joy that drapes them in their sleep. His chest gently rose and fell in a steady manner and I knew that he was all right. Not that he had been sick or anything; I was just thankful that I have a man, a husband, someone that has loved me in spite of my out of control inquisitiveness and my ability to do everything he tells me not to. Honestly, I don’t think I purposely do everything he tells me not to – I just understand that Ant and I see things differently. I understand that he does not see the need for me to buy two of the same dresses in different sizes - but there are certain days of each month that I am going to be a tad bit bloated, so the size 10 I normally wear would fit like a size 8 on me; while the second dress, which I bought as a 12 will fit like the size 10 that I really am. Anthony says that’s crazy and vain since no one really knows for five days out of the month I’m wearing a size 12 that looks like a size 10. I say women know and the 12 will hide the puffiness that the 10 won’t. So part of what’s in the bathroom (that doesn’t know it’s a bathroom) is a whole bunch of size 12 dresses and size 14 jeans. Marriage has done wonders for my hips. I also am fully aware that I can write, from a strictly qualified to do so perspective, articles on health and little flowery feature items, as opposed to my usual cutting edge crime, social dysfunction kind of pieces; but those are no fun and I get bored with them so quickly that it takes me three days to write one 750 words article. I cannot do those and he cannot understand it. For a period after we first got married I tried. I did several pieces on breast cancer which I liked. I did some book and movie reviews. Even did a column for awhile on life management principles from a Christian perspective. I honestly got a kick out of each of them. Yet, every time I sat down to write during what I now call my “housewife writing period” all I heard in my head was - blah blah, nothing juicy, blah blah blah, is anything major gonna happen here, blah blah blah blah, okay well can we just go to sleep now. It just was not me. I have to have something that is going to make me think, reason, look beyond and over every possible scenario. Anything that is going to thrill my mind, challenge my preconceptions, catch me off guard is what I’m getting into. What’s really funny about that to me is, while those are the things about me that drives Ant
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so crazy, those are the very same things that attracted me to him. He caught me off guard, gliding into my path when I had sworn off men. Challenging my preconceptions about men in Christ and to this day he thrills so much more than just my mind. After having my heart handed back to me time and time again or passed around like a bottle of gin in a brown paper bag beneath the liquor store tree – I admit, hindsight made me wiser. I mean think about it, any man that cannot pick up a phone to call at least twice a week is really not interested in a serious relationship. Any relationship that mandates you spend time together two counties away from where you live, may mean there is a problem. Any time you cannot go to a man’s house to spend time with him, you may need to question whether he’s still living with his mama, his wife or someone else. I had come to a point where I could not blame any of the men I had been involved with. The decision to get involved or stay involved was ultimately mine. So it wasn’t about any of them. It was about me. I had determined that
there had to be at least two things that I appreciated about each guy I had loved. I focused on those two positive things and decided because there was something good then the relationships - in essence - were good. And they each had shaped me into a better, wiser and higher esteemed woman. Maggie thought the process was futile. “They were jerks, call them jerks and move on.” Not. You see I believe when you end with anger, bitterness and resentment you hold to that relationship until you let that stuff go. Yet, if you can find the two good things you, instead celebrate the possibilities and in the process assemble a list of what really gets you and keeps you with a man. Especially if you don’t include sex as one of the two things. Like I said, hindsight made me wiser. Thanks be to God, He is still in the prayer answering business. Boy had I been praying, not for a man, but for my former men and for myself. I had to forgive me and them, and I had to pray that there was nothing that we would hold against each other that was against God’s purpose for each of us. Then I prayed that He would simply pre-
pare me for what His will was for me. That I would begin to love and be with Him the way I had been with my various lovers. He answers prayers. Because He does, I am glad and honored that I had finally been blessed. I appreciate the fact that I still feel like I have “finally” been blessed – although Anthony and I have been together in marriage almost five years. It is refreshing that I can still look at this man and think “finally”. People probably never really think about how awesome it is months, years into a marriage to look at the person you made this major commitment with and feel like you just fell in love. Of course, we hear all about the celebrity marriages that did not even last six months. We hear that you have to get through the first seven years to be sure the marriage would last. We talk about how two years into a marriage, you suddenly feel like you really were not ready for all that comes with being somebody else’s spouse. But, no, I look at this man time and time again and think I am finally blessed. I finally have the answer to that lingering, defeated question – are there any good men? The first year of our marriage I spent a lot of time being constantly frantic. I could not believe I deserved someone that would look in my eyes, and tell me that “unconditional is just the beginning of how much I love you.” Hearing those words made everything in my spirit tremble and for the first time in a long time, my heart felt like it didn’t need to hold on to the old band-aids just in case. I know, does that mean the two good things philosophy doesn’t work? No, it just means that sometimes letting go of the good things still cut. So even in hearing him say those words, there
was this nagging no-good voice in the back of my head that kept saying ‘you know this is not going to last’, ‘anything that good cannot really be good for you’, ‘just wait his true colors would show’. Why was that? I mean really why do people think that way? If you pray to be blessed with this awesome husband and then you are blessed with him, then why doubt it? Needless to say, a lot of those naysayers are no longer close to me. I mean why keep people around who are pessimistic and opinionated about your good thing when their thing ain’t even a thing and if it is a thing, it’s a thing they’re not spending enough time on because they’re too focused on your thing. I met Anthony Houston, amazingly not at the church we both attended each Sunday. I am not sure I ever even noticed him there. I met him at another church at a Vickie Winans concert. Vickie was right in the midst of one her comedic sketches before she gets to the next song, when I heard him apologize for having to step across me. I tried to ignore the fact that this brother was smelling good and was wearing, excuse my French, the hell out of that olive green linen suit. I mean wearing it to the point that it looked like every quarter inch of fabric was tailored to fall perfectly on the piece of body that it covered. What a piece of body it was too. Not that I hadn’t seen good looking brothers before, but this boy just ... took my whole attention for an amazing few seconds. I liked the sound of his voice when he called
me Miss. It wasn’t one of those heavy Barry White voices, nor was it a Maxwell kind of voice either. It was, I don’t know, a classic kind of deep male voice. That voice said yeah you can call me late at night and say my name over and over again. That voice was very humble, warm, smooth and confident. Needless to say for about thirty good seconds I don’t know what Vickie was singing or saying. While a gospel concert was probably not the place to start lusting, I have to admit that I was completely taken aback by this tall drink
of water in a major relationship drought in my life. And a drought following years of being caught up on countless relationship Ferris wheels was not very much fun. The carnival rides and the drought had made me very cautious when it came to choosing my own interest and very not wanting to get involved with anyone while I got deeper involved with me and God. That however did not stop me from watching him throughout the show, nor did it stop the desire to hold him when I saw him crying as Vickie sang, “Oh what love He has for me, that He would give his life.”
Watching him deal with whatever moment he was having with God, I found myself shaking my head. Not because I thought ‘what a wimp!’ But because I thought, “my God – that’s beautiful. How awesome it is to see a Black man so into you that in a room full of thousands of people, he doesn’t mind submitting to you enough to cry in public. What a beautiful thing.” Typically, the Black man, or men in general, are not ones for outward displays of emotion. Men are certainly not creatures that tear up in public, except for maybe a funeral here or there. Yet, here stood this giant, arms extending towards heaven in submission, tears streaming, not trickling, streaming down his face. Here, not even a good four feet from me, stood this beautiful brown angel, his body heaving as he released every bit of his soul. I felt myself entangled in his pain at that moment and it nearly spilled over into my own tears, until I redirected my attention to the song and quietly asked God to hold him in his sorrow. Okay, then I had to repent, because the next thought was, “Lord, can I have him?” By the end of the concert I was tired, between the three choirs that sang before Vickie and her making you cry with laughter and then cry in praise – I was literally exhausted. I thought about the nights I had spent rotating from club to club just a few years ago and could not remember clubbing to the point that I was this tired. That was cool. Number one, considering most of my clubbing
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nights I was supposed to be in church and number two, I know that what tired me out that night was the power and glory in the house. So I walked away from the building tired but spiritually and emotionally invigorated. I gathered my purse from the seat next to me and adjusted my dress as I stood. I glanced back at the green linen suit to see if maybe I could or should offer him something. A tissue, some kind words, something. When I did look back he had composed himself and was heading out the opposite side of the pew. I walked the two blocks back to my car only to discover that I had a very definite flat tire. A very definite flat tire on my brand new truck - which I was not in the mood to change. I fumbled through my purse, which was way too full of a bunch of stuff I really did not need for a gospel concert, in search of my cell phone to call road service and to find someone to pick me up. At 11:45 at night in an area close to Liberty City, one of Miami’s oldest Black neighborhoods and painted with strokes of rampant violence and drugs, according to the media, road side assistance would not put me on their priority list, so someone to pick me up was a good move. As I pondered my next move, I realized my keys were slipping from my hands rather quickly. So, in an effort not to drop my keys, I ended up dropping the cell phone which displayed its gymnastics ability by doing a nicely formatted bounce from the side rail and a nicely executed flip beneath the truck. Staring at the ground in a total state of “what is this, what is this” I was waving my free hand in the air like a mad woman. That’s when I heard that newly familiar voice behind me.
“If you move over a little bit, I’ll get that for you.” I tried to pretend like my heart rate had not just increased fourfold when I turned around to see that the tall, green linen suit looked even better up close. Baby boy was a nice pecan color, with these incredible deep dimples, warm brown eyes and these full well-formed lips. Truly not wanting to be embarrassed by the fact that I was lovingly watching his lips, I began to speak. “Thank you, I would appreciate it. I was trying not to drop the keys, and ended up dropping the phone. Wait a minute. Let me see if I’ve got something in the truck to put down there so you don’t get your pants dirty.” “Don’t sweat it. Clothes go to the cleaners. I pay them to get out whatever I get in.” He had a very shy smile and obviously a quick wit. I liked that. I liked the way he was actually able to extend his body in a push up form and reach beneath the truck with ease. “That would be true.” I suddenly thought about what I must look like to him. There was a nice breeze blowing and I certainly hoped that my hair was not all over the place and what he saw was a peacock with fully displayed feathers. I hadn’t freshened up my lipstick. I didn’t know if my dress was accentuating all the proper assets. Why is it you can never do your inventory before the brothers you want to notice you - notice you? That was the one night that I took extra effort and joy making sure Maggie felt bad about missing. Between her job and me meeting deadlines on three projects, one of which was a serious investigative piece on
community development corporations misusing grant monies and not providing promised services, Mags and I had not seen each other. That was unusual for us. We kind of kept each other going through the challenging days and the lonely nights. We covered each other spiritually, financially and I guess like girls do in every regard. I kind of missed her, even though at the time we only lived maybe five miles from each other. Life and its movements can make five miles seem like five thousand. We were going to catch up that night. We would probably have left the concert and went to my place - made a big pot of sausage stew and yellow rice and ate it all laughing and comparing notes on what we had and had not done. Then we’d talk about where each pound of sausage was going to settle on our bodies. She would probably assess that the kielbasa would show up in her upper arms, while the Italian sausage would add three more inches on her butt. Weight always settled in my thighs and along my waist - so I constantly worked out. I worked out because I love to eat and I was never the kind of person that figured I should not eat anything I enjoyed – because of calories or fat grams or any other gram. We had purchased these tickets three weeks ago, made a whole night’s itinerary and then three hours before the show and our night on the town, she decides to go to work. Oh, I could not wait to call that good sister up and vividly and slowly start describing this brother, only to suddenly drop the call. Which is what I did - followed by not answering when she called back three times in a row. I remember thinking, “I got a fine piece of man under my truck playing knight in shining armor and if I had not gotten saved, I would
have taken him home tonight.” Honestly, up until about a year ago, saved and all, I would probably have at least asked him to go home with me.
right?” He released his grip and stepped back as though looking at my whole body would bring something to his remembrance. All I hoped was that he was enjoying the view. Still, I did not know this man so the best thing to do was probably going to be to play it smart and keep my defense up.
“I said do you have a spare? Miss!” “A spare what sugar? I mean a spare what?” “Tire. You do know your tire is flat?”
“Mr. Houston, don’t knights in shining armor have better lines than that?”
His raised eyebrows seemed to indicate he was getting a kick out of my distraction. So he had noticed what I thought I was being very discreet about. “I’m sorry, my mind drifted off. Yes, I have one. I can’t ask you to do that. I can call road service, someone will pick me up.” “I can change it. I wouldn’t feel right leaving you out here like this. Why don’t you get in your truck and lock the door. I’ll go bring my car up here.” I didn’t even protest. Something was in the works and who am I to mess with God’s plan; especially if it meant I could get to know him. I watched him do a steady run about a block from where I sat. What a sight! A six foot three brother with slightly bowed legs in a well paced sprint. Have mercy! I have a thing for tall brothers. I have a thing for bald brothers. Here’s the thing - my attraction to men is weird. I cannot really tell you what my flavor is because it varies. I like tall skinny brothers who are deep and radical. I like thick, bald brothers with that ‘I’ll snatch you’ attitude. I like tall, good looking, thick men with broad smiles and general sex appeal. I like a brother that can expound on the Bible and leave you totally amazed
“If I was looking for a line, I’d just say let me take you to get something to eat after I change this tire. You go to Triumph Baptist Church don’t you? in his knowledge. Now, if it’s possible to get all of that rolled up into one, that would be - well - THE MAN. But what had fallen into my path after the concert seemed at least on the surface to be close. The smile, the height, the sex appeal, the male confidence, some kind of relationship with God – he was working the details on my list of desires. As he pulled his car around so that his headlights faced the flat tire, he motioned for me. “Sit in my car while I do this. By the way, Anthony Houston.” I was so caught up in the fact that he had a name I didn’t even see him extend his hand. When I realized it, I reached back hoping there was no sweat or nothing that was going to embarrass me. “I’m sorry.” His hands were warm and big. He seemed to swallow my hand in his, his grip pressing my ring into my skin. “My name is Anthony Houston. Don’t I know you from somewhere? We’ve seen each other before
“Yes I do. I’m usually there for the early service and/or the night service.” Is it possible that this brother had noticed me, but I had not noticed him? Honestly, it was possible, no actually, it was probable. I had been through so much drama and so many church-boy players that when I was in church, I kept my focus on God and the Word being taught. I did not stop for conversations. I did not stop for introductions. I know that I had been labeled a snob and probably even worse. It didn’t matter, after all this was my time, my heart, my body and I choose what to do with them all. I also knew that I had probably been labeled a first-lady-wanna-be to some degree at Triumph. While every woman I’m sure wants to be involved with a man of power and prestige, I did not think a relationship with my pastor was a good thing. I was wined and dined discreetly and very impressively for weeks under the guise of possibly doing a biography. Yet when the offer was to close the deal with a night in his arms and not a check, I
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had begged his pardon and let him know that would not be happening. Maggie said she thought that I should leave Triumph after that. How can you sit under a man that tried to get your stuff, she would ask. Because he did not get it, I told her. And his teaching is solid. “Then that’s where I’ve seen you. You’re usually with a young lady, right?” “She had to work tonight. But we had the tickets, so I figured one of us should enjoy the show. I know I’m a little scattered right now with the flat tire and all, but did you just ask me out? I mean to get something to eat?” “No. Not at all. I just let you know I’ve been watching you, and I want to take you to get something to eat. You would think a lady in distress would listen for a line a little better.” “Okay. You got me there.”
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He unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it away from his body and all I could do was hope he didn’t hear the gasp of breath I released in that moment of awe. Number one, I was in total shock that this man just took his shirt off in front of a complete stranger like it was no big deal. Number two, I was in total shock that what was revealed beneath the shirt was a lovely six pack that did not need to be displayed in front of a lonely heart like me, especially one experiencing that high level of sexual tension right before that time of month. And here is a six pack beneath a chest that I promise you had a reach out and touch me sign hanging across it. Number three, I was thrown off by the fact that he didn’t even seem to be concerned with whether or not I was checking him out. So was he just
that arrogant? Or was it just taking off a shirt to change a tire? “Will you lay that across the passenger seat for me please?” I laid the shirt across the leather seat and did a quick once over to see if there was any signs of family. No female slippers lurking around, no lipstick in the cup holder and no car seat or little toys. Good taste in music. Clean and tidy. No cigarette, cigar or reefer residue. “What is that you’ve got playing in the car?” “Kirk Whalum. The Gospel According to Jazz two. You like that?” “It’s calming.” I rested my head on his seat as he set about changing the tire. Allowing the calming sound of the CD to fill me, I closed my eyes to take in the moment. I heard Mr. Anthony Houston singing with who I was sure was Jonathan Butler accompanying Kirk Whalum. “Falling in love with Jesus, falling in love with Jesus, falling in love with Jesus was the best thing I’ve ever done. In His arms, I feel protected. In His arms, I’m never disconnected. In His arms, I feel protected. There’s no place I’d rather be. There’s no place I’d rather be.” He stopped singing when the instrumental praise rose and Butler ad-libbed the praise. There it was again, though I really was not trying to keep a tally. He had just picked up another impress point. Nice singing voice and not ashamed to sing Jesus as opposed to R. Kelly in the presence of a woman. “Do you want to go get something to eat? Or should I just follow you home or somewhere? And no, I’m not trying to find out where you live. Just looking out.”
“Okay. Don’t knock a girl for being cautious. I’d like to get a bite to eat. I gotta warn you though, I have a healthy appetite.” “Will you do me a favor?” “Pay for dinner? Just how much does changing a tire go for these days?” “I don’t know. How much does a private investigator go for these days?” “I’m sorry.” “I saw you checking out the car. I’m not married. I have no kids. I have an aunt and a cousin that I spend time with. And yes, I do work out regularly.” “How very arrogant of you Mr. Houston.” “Arrogant of me? Wow! You get snappy when you’re hungry, huh healthy appetite?” “Healthy...oh, okay smart guy. It’s Crystal. Crystal Adams. What did you want me to do for you?” “I want to change into a pair of jeans in my trunk. I’ll stand between the doors if you cover the middle.” I watched him pull a pair of jeans and a t-shirt from his trunk after he wiped his hands on a towel. He approached the two open doors and positioned himself between them. Once again I was thrown off; he was truly just too comfortable with me. “Okay, Ms. Adams, the shirt was one thing. But I’m not dropping my pants in front of you.” “What?” He circled the air with his finger. I blushed realizing I was facing this man with no shirt on and his belt and pants buttons standing
open. “There’s that arrogance again. Does it always just pop out like that.” “I gotta feeling it pops out about as much as yours does. By the way, I like that fragrance you’re wearing.” I turned around and caught this awfully interesting smile curling up on his face. While I wasn’t sure what the smile on his face meant; I had a feeling it had something to do with the way the ‘fragrance’ I was wearing looked from behind. Didn’t matter though because hearing the compliment felt good. I had been blessed to, at least, in the very least, have met a new friend on that night. There were nights in the beginning that Anthony would wake up drenched in sweat and he would have this look of utter terror in his eyes. But he would never talk about it. He’d just look at me and beg me to hold on to him. “No matter what sugar – I need you to never let me go – will you do that? Will you never let me go girl?” “I won’t let go baby. I promise you Anthony. You are mine.” “No matter what Crystal? No matter what.” “No matter boo. I’ll always hold you just like this.” I would speculate about what would trouble a man so much that sleep was not an option. What kinds of demons were chasing him? I remember hearing old folks say that kids who would toss wildly in their sleep were being ridden by the devil. He would toss for awhile, wake up drenched and beg me not to let him go. I started keeping a small towel next to the bed that I would use to blot the sweat from his face,
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his head, and his chest. Then quietly, as I would hold his warm head against my breast and stroke his smooth oily bald head, he would pray. He would pray and cry and then pray some more until God gave him peace. Then he would tighten his grip around my waist and fall soundly asleep. After awhile the things that would force him to wake up in his sleep must have dissipated. When I would press him about it, he would tell me that he was not the subject of one of my articles and besides, “when I wake up, I don’t remember anything, except feeling this real lightness. Like waking up was some kind of deliverance.” I couldn’t begin to fathom what happened in those dreams. After about a year of so the nightmares were gone. But Anthony’s desire to lay his head on my breast and pray never did leave. I love the fact that it didn’t. When I asked him why he still does that he smiled that same sly smile I remember from the first night I met him. “Something about hearing your heart beat and listening to the Lord at the same time lets me know that I finally understand that love is a real thing.” You know I am truly thankful that if you just believe and trust in His will God will give you the desires of your heart. And looking at Anthony now I can attest that while I received the desires of my heart, I have also been doused in that exceedingly, abundantly more than you can think or ask blessing thing. I saw a smile brighten his face as he struggled to open his eyes without allowing the rising sun to become uncomfortable. Kneeling next to him and kissing him softly on his cheeks I thought
about what was happening in our lives now that would cause the sweat episodes to return and why they would trouble me deep in the night. We were happy. We’d started talking about having a family. We’d paid off the house and were planning to take a trip to Africa, simply because it was somewhere I had always wanted to visit. Anthony was traveling a lot, but that was not unusual. The only thing that seemed a little out of place was that Anthony had begun talking about his mother a lot. He had never done that. All that I knew was that she died during childbirth and he has never mentioned a father. But with all of our conversations about having kids, I understood that part of him wanting to be a father must have ignited his desire to be a son too. Beyond his mother and an Aunt and cousin Nisa that I had met, Anthony didn’t discuss family. If the aunt was ever married I didn’t know about it. He was something crazy for Nisa though. At times when we would all spend time together, he would hold on to her like their lives depended on each other. I thought to myself one day that if she were not related to him, I would be jealous - that’s how strong his love for her is. She looks like Anthony too. He spoils her to no end and tells me once ours is born - there will be no stopping him. “Spoiling a child”, I chided him one day, “makes them lazy and too dependent.” He kissed me lightly on my neck and asked “and spoiling a woman makes her what?” Reminding me at that particular moment of his continual and daily spoiling of me was, in my opinion, unnecessary roughness on the play.
I could see very clearly in his relationship with Nisa that he would be a good father. Where he would learn what he needed to know in that role was unclear. Since he didn’t mention a father, and neither did Nisa - hers or Ant’s, I assumed that the father figures were absent and uncounted for and definitely not mentioned. Ever. Still, the more he talked about his mom, the more I watched him with Nisa - the more I knew I’d better quickly get rid of the birth control pills hid in the bathroom that doesn’t know it’s a bathroom. I also started to wonder if the nightmares that I was now experiencing were the same things Anthony saw. I mean I have never been one to have nightmares. I could remember maybe one and it was after seeing The Amityville Horror on TV when I was kid. I remember Ant saying before that he had not been one to be plagued with nightmares either and he assumed it was one of the new life side effects. So maybe the idea of becoming a mother, going to Africa and maybe moving to Los Angeles where Ant was spending a lot of time meant the new life side effects were now on me. I could see these night images so vividly. The reels of the real life movie would play viciously through my mind. It’s like they were urging me to get involved in the madness they portrayed. Over and over the scenes of pain tossed in my head, the anguish of these dreams or thoughts or nightmares would cause me to toss and turn and turn and toss and fight in bed. Vividly, painfully, urgently, these things kept playing in my head and somehow I knew they were going to disrupt what God had joined together.
Scriptures To Glean From: Psalms 27:5 (American King James Version) – 5 For in the time of trouble, He shall hide me in His pavilion: in the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me; He shall set me upon a rock. Ephesians 6:12 (American King James Version) – 12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. II Chronicles 20:15 (American King James Version) – 15 And he said, Listen you, all Judah, and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you king Jehoshaphat. Thus said the Lord unto you, Be not afraid or dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: 1. What, if anything, set Anthony and Crystal’s relationship apart? 2. Could their faith and trust in the Lord make them targets for the enemy? (Remember Job) 3. Do you think Anthony is being completely honest with Crystal about his past? 4. What does the title “Sheltered Deliverance” say to you? 5. Why is it important to let God lead in our lives?
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Love In Disguise L. Melissa Smith
ulian and Alexia spent a few more days with her family, visiting her neighborhood. The male members of her family “kidnapped” Julian early one morning. They wanted to show him the farm and to get his input on some business matters. Left alone, Alexia decided to visit with Vonetta.
“I saw firsthand how much he hurt you, remember? You don’t need that anymore.”
Alexia excitedly told her friend the good news about her and Julian. Instead of being pleased, Vonetta was totally disgusted.
“Your opinion matters to me,” Alexia acknowledged. “But it’s not going to stop me from marrying Julian. It’s not going to stop me from loving him.”
“You can do better than Julian Gerard,” Vonetta spat out contemptuously. “He’s broke your heart before. What makes you think this time will be different?”
“Well, go ahead and be with him, but don’t come crying to me when he lets you down.”
“I just know,” Alexia started. Vonetta rudely interrupted, “You’re just being stupid, Alex. He hasn’t changed. He’s going to chew you up and spit you out, and after he’s done with you, he’ll go back to that hussy, Jannelle.” “No, he won’t,” Alexia defended.
“I appreciate your concern, but there’s no need for you to worry.” “So, what I say doesn’t matter?”
“He won’t let me down. Not this time,” Alexia said confidently. “Whatever!” Confused by her rudeness and obvious envy, Alexia asked, “Vonetta, what has happened to you? What has made you so bitter? We used to be so close. We could talk to each other about anything. What happened to us?”
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“I just can’t believe how foolish you’re acting over a man. A divorced man at that! I hope ya’ll don’t plan on getting married at the church,” she said in a holierthan-thou tone. “You’ve got a big nerve, Miz Bun in the Oven on her wedding day,” Alexia retorted angrily. Just a few years earlier during the first semester of their senior year in college Vonetta attended a revival in their hometown where she met her future husband, Perry Boatwright. Despite appeals from her family, Alexia and others, Vonetta was determined to quit school and marry the first man who ever paid her any attention. “Vonetta, this is your senior year! You’ve come too close to quit!” Alexia pleaded with her. “Yeah Von,” Daria agreed. “If this many truly loves you, he’ll be there for you once you get out of college. “Perry doesn’t believe his wife should work. He’ll take care of me,” Vonetta bragged. “I know you think you’re in love and everything, Von, but what do you know about this man?” Alexia asked.
“All I need to know,” Vonetta snapped. “Von, you and I both know that the Boatwrights are notorious around home for constantly switching jobs or not having a job at all.” Alexia stated. “How will he take care of you?” “Is this man a Christian?” asked Daria. “You know you shouldn’t be unequally yoked.” “He got saved at the revival meeting this summer,” said Vonetta. “Well, he needs to be saved just a little bit longer before you think about marrying the man,” said Daria. “See, I knew I shouldn’t have told you two holy rollers,” Vonetta snarled. “You’re just jealous ya’ll don’t have a man who loves you enough to want to marry you.” “That’s not true!” Daria and Alexia responded simultaneously. “You had a good man, Alex, but you let Jannelle take him from you because you wouldn’t have sex with the man.” Vonette continued disdainfully. “The whole campus was talking about how stupid you are and what a fool Julian made out of you. So, don’t try to give
me any of your tired advice. I don’t need it and I certainly don’t want it.” “If I weren’t a Christian, I’d slap the taste right out of your mouth, Vonetta James!” Daria said angrily. “You have no right to say what you said. We’re trying to help you to avoid making the worst mistake of your life.” “I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself.” “OK, big girl, let’s cut to the chase” said Daria. “Are you and Perry having sex? Are you pregnant, Vonetta? Is that why you’re in such a big hurry to get married?” “That ain’t none of your business!” “Well, I’m making it my business!” Daria stated angrily, hands on her hips. “I want to know whether or not you and this so-called Christian man are fornicating.” “You ain’t my mama!” Vonetta snarled, her face glowering with rage. “I’m not answering a damn thing!” “And you aren’t leaving this room until you tell us what’s really going on,” Alexia finally replied, blocking the door.
“I will,” said Alexia. “Do you want to try me?” “I’m not scared of you, Alexia Kent!” Vonetta said with more bravado than she felt. She sauntered over to the bed and sat down. Vonetta knew that Alexia, if she chose to, could whip her like a dog, and this might just be one of those times. Alexia was a person with a long fuse, but if you lit that fuse, you’d better be prepared for the consequences. “Vonetta, I can’t tell you how to live your life. That’s between you and the Lord for that,” Alexia started. “But, I would be less than a friend to you if I didn’t tell you to really think and pray about this life-changing decision you’re about to make. You’re on the verge of graduating from college – of fulfilling your dream of being an accountant. I don’t know why you hold all this bitterness and resentment towards me, Von. I ask that you forgive me for anything I’ve said or done to offend you. I’ve always wanted nothing but the best for you. I know you want to get married, but I’m begging you to please not let that cloud your judgment. Even if you are pregnant, you still have time to complete your studies. You owe it to yourself. You owe it to your family, but most importantly, you owe it to the Lord to do His will for your life – to live to your fullest potential.” “Are you finished?” Vonetta asked nastily.
“Who’s going to stop me?”
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“Not quite,” said Alexia. “If you were going to ask me to be part of your wedding, count me out, and my daddy too.” “Does that go for you too, Daria?” “I can’t be a part of something that I know is going to bring you pain and heartache, Von,” said Daria. “Please, don’t do this!” “I don’t need either one of you!” Vonetta snapped. “And your daddy isn’t the only preacher in the world. Besides that, I don’t want to get married at your tired, broke-down church anyhow. Perry and I are getting married at the big white folk’s church at the top of the hill, and there’s nothing you can say or do to stop us!” Vonetta married Perry just a week before Christmas. It was the biggest wedding the small North Carolina town had ever seen. The color theme was purple and teal with a wedding party of fourteen bridesmaids and groomsmen and a host of relatives and friends. A sit-down dinner followed in the fellowship hall. After releasing the wedding doves, Vonetta and her new husband drove off in a rented vintage Rolls Royce. A few months later, Vonetta’s life began to unravel. All that Alexia and Daria had warned her was beginning to come true. Perry, a poor excuse of a used car salesman, didn’t believe that his wife should work, even though he needed all the help he could get. In the first six months of their marriage, he had four different jobs. Perry also didn’t believe his wife should use birth control, saying, “if the Lord didn’t want them to have more children, He would close Vonetta’s womb.” Six months after getting married, Vonetta had their first child, a son. The next year, she had a set of twin daughters. The next year she had another girl and the next year, she had a son; five children in less than five years. Vonetta’s parents loved their grandchildren but they were very disheartened that their beloved daughter, their only child, was nothing more than a breeder who lived in poverty in a two-bedroom shack with a trifling and controlling husband. Whenever she came home, Alexia would stop by to see Vonetta. Alexia would make sure that Perry was at work because he didn’t particularly want Vonetta to associate with anyone other than himself. Vonetta had always been chubby, but now she was sloppy fat. Her hair was unkempt; her house was a mess. She constantly yelled after the children, changed diapers and
cooked. She was tired and grumpy and looked at least ten years older. During one visit, Daria came home with Alexia to visit Vonetta before heading off to her new job as a hotel manager in Atlanta. Daria told Alexia that she would try to be on her best behavior and control her tongue, but she wasn’t making any promises. When they walked into Vonetta’s home, Daria’s face couldn’t hide her disgust or disappointment. “Alex, you and Daria warned me not to get married, but I wouldn’t listen,” Vonetta confided. It would have been easy for Alexia to say, “I told you so” but she wouldn’t do that. “If I had stayed in school a little while longer, I could have been working in a corporate office or even have my own firm.” “It’s not too late, Vonetta. You could still go back to school or find a job using the skills that you have,” Alexia encouraged her. “I want to work, but I don’t have time, and Perry won’t let me work.”
“Are you happy, Von?” asked Daria. “No, I’m not happy,” Vonetta said honestly. “I love every last one of my children, but if I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t have had as many or at least, I would have spaced them out more. Perry is a good man, but he doesn’t understand me. He barely finished high school. If only I had waited just a few more months, I would have graduated and wouldn’t be living like—like this! I don’t want to have another child we can’t afford.” “Have you talked to Perry about it?” asked Alexia. “I try to talk to him, but he won’t listen. He always brings up the scripture that says the woman is supposed to submit to her husband.” “Some men tend to take that scripture out of context,” Alexia responded. “The Bible also says that husbands and wives are to submit to one another. You are an adult with an opinion, Vonetta. You should express it.” “Does Perry treat you right?” Daria asked. “He beats me,” Vonetta admitted reluctantly, tears flowed down her face. “In public, he acts like he’s such a great man of God, but at home, he beats me and makes me feel like dirt.”
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“Oh, Von,” Alexia hugged her tightly. You don’t have to take this. It is not God’s will for you to be physically or mentally abused. How long has this been going on?” “Almost from the beginning,” said Vonetta. “At least with the mental abuse. The physical abuse started a few months ago when he found out about the birth control pills I had been taking secretly. He threw them out and told me the Lord hadn’t closed my womb yet. The next day, I went to the health department and got The Shot. “ “Why are you staying here putting up with this foolishness, girl?” Daria asked. “I love, Perry,” said Vonetta. “He’s my husband and the father of my children. He’s not much of a provider but he does try.” “So you’re going to stay here and continue to be a punching bag so he can feel better about himself?” asked Daria. “I have my children to consider, Daria!” “You could always go home to your parents,” said Alexia. “Or she and the kids could go to a women’s shelter,” said Daria. “There are options. It’s up to you.” “Perry is a good man. He’s just having problems right now,” Vonetta defended. “Perry is a wife-beater,” said Daria. “You just said so. We tried to tell your hateful self not to marry Mr. Perry, but you got all stank and nasty.” “You really don’t have to go there, Daria!” Vonetta gave her a hostile stare. “I thought you were supposed to be saved.” “Honey, I am saved, but I am also a work in progress,” said Daria. “Alex won’t say it, but I will. You did us wrong, Vonetta, and in the process, you wronged yourself. I hope you see now what spite work will do for you.” “You know what, Daria, you can get to stepping out of my house,” said Vonetta, angrily. “Fine, I was ready to leave this roach-infested hut when I stepped through the door,” Daria quipped sarcastically. “Ladies, what’s wrong with you?” Alexia asked. “I’m not letting some heifer come into my house and insult me,” Vonetta replied angrily. “Get out of my house and don’t come back!”
Daria hadn’t planned on saying what she said, but somebody had to be real. “That will be my pleasure,” Daria retorted. “Come on, Alex. “I’ve got a plane to catch.” “What was that all about?” Alexia asked Daria as they drove to the airport. “Vonetta needed to be set straight,” Daria replied. “I know you want to see the good in people, and that’s a good thing, Alex, but Vonetta isn’t your friend. I don’t know if she has ever been a friend to you. She manipulates you by feeding on your soft and compassionate side and you keep falling for her mess. But Von and I understand each other, because I see her for who and what she really is –jealous, selfish and unforgiving. No one put a gun to her head to marry Mr. Neanderthal. She made that choice. She chose not to listen to you or me when we begged her not to do it. I’m sorry Perry is beating her, and I’m sorry she’s living in poverty. She can get out of the situation, but she will have to make that decision. “We’ve known each other since childhood, Daria. We grew up like sisters. I love Vonetta, and deep down inside, I know she loves me too,” said Alexia. “She’s just having a tough time right now.” “Earth to Alex! Did you not hear what I said?” Daria asked incredulously. “You’re starting to get on my nerves with your Pollyanna attitude.” “You’re not being very loving, Daria,” Alexia scolded. “You know what, the word ‘love’ is thrown around too much these days. You love French fries and hamburgers, chocolate, your job, your dog and your car, but when you get down to it Alex, what is love?” asked Daria. “Love is patient and love is kind,” Alexia started. “I know about I Corinthians 13 – the love chapter,” Daria interrupted. “That’s the way we should act, but do we? What does patience and kindness look like, Alex? How is it demonstrated in your life and mine?” “Through the love of Jesus Christ,” Alexia answered. “Right,” Daria concurred. “Jesus Christ is the best example of love there is. Jesus loves us openly. There’s no hiding behind masks – no love in disguise with Jesus. That’s what I love about Him. He’s open and He’s for real! He’s not a fair weather friend. He’s true blue all the way.”
Scriptures To Glean From: Proverbs 3:5-6 (New American Standard Bible) – 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. I Corinthians 13:4-7 (New International Version) – 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: 1. As Vonetta’s friends, is there any more that Alexia or Daria could do without overstepping their boundaries? 2. If you were Vonetta, what would you do? If you were Alexia? If you were Daria? 3. What is your definition of LOVE? 4. What did you learn from “Love in Disguise? 5. Have you ever confused other things (attraction, lust, affection, etc.) for love?
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by Shara Siffort
threaten to pack his things and kick him out. She never did.
“Girl, calm down. You already have a man and as far as another baby goes, you…” Jordyn stopped short and took a deep breath.
“Well Cynthia, you’re the only one that knows how much you’re willing to take from Mack, but I think that you put up with more than you should.” Jordyn took another sip of her coffee and tried to think of something else to talk about.
’m 29 years old” Cynthia pouted, tossing the latest copy of O Magazine down in front of her. “By the time I meet Mr. Right, my eggs will be all dried up and I want another baby now.”
“As far as another baby goes, what?” Cynthia said, looking at her friend through curious eyes. Jordyn cleared her throat and took a sip of her coffee. “You just don’t need another one right now, that’s all.” This was definitely about to turn into a conversation Cynthia did not want to have. “Ok, before you Doctor Phil me, let’s talk about this man I already have.” Jordyn rolled her eyes; she knew where this was going. An all out “Mack bashing” session was in the makings. “Girl you know Mack and I are breaking up, the well has run dry and frankly, I’m sick and tired of putting up with him, he’s such a dog.” “No you’re not; he’s going to continue to be your dog as long as you keep letting him bury his bone in your yard.” They both laughed. “My yard, Jo Jo?” “You know exactly what I mean.” “Well, it doesn’t matter what you say, Mack and I are finished, I’m packing his things up tonight and he is getting out of my house.” Here we go again, Jordyn said to herself. Whenever Mack did something to upset Cynthia she would
“Jo, what if he’s the one and because we have had a few bad times, I miss out on my chance at happiness because I walk away from him?” Cynthia didn’t bother to look at her friend because she already knew what was coming next. “This is the last time I’m meeting you for coffee on a Saturday morning, Cynthia; you always do this to me. I tell you what I think, I give you the advice you ask for and then you turn around and forget everything we talked about as soon as he calls you and apologizes.” “So what do you think?” Cynthia asked, ignoring everything else Jordyn said. “You already know what I think, that’s why you’ve been staring at the table this entire time.” Jordyn stood up, finished what was left of her coffee, and walked away. Cynthia followed her, leaving her magazine and coffee on the table. “We’re not in college anymore, Cynt. You’re almost 30. We don’t get to make bad decisions, we don’t get to be with the wrong person and pretend like we don’t know any better because we do. We have children. We have daughters that are extremely impressionable and are at that age where they say what they hear us saying and do what they see us doing. Look at the example you are setting for Kadi,
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you think she isn’t paying attention but I’m almost certain she is. You have to grow up and learn to take life seriously and you have to know that it’s one thing if you don’t value yourself, but it’s a completely different thing when you choose to stay in a relationship with someone that doesn’t value you. It’s time to grow up, Cynthia.” Jordyn ordered another cup of coffee to go and waited patiently at the counter. “Thank you for being honest with me.” “I’m always going to be honest with you because I’m your friend, but at this point, you have to start being honest with yourself. I have to go; I have to pick up a few last minute things for Nala’s birthday party. You’ll be there with Kadi, right?” “Yeah, we will be there.” Jordyn gathered her things along with her coffee and left Cynthia at the coffee shop. *** “Marcus, you and I need to have a talk, as soon as possible!” his mother said as she entered the kitchen, through the back door of her home. Marcus heard the urgency in his mom’s voice and it frightened him. He quickly muted his conversation.
“Do you have to be so loud when I’m on the phone, mom? Geesh.” He clicked the mute button on his cell phone, deactivating the silence. “I will call you back a little later, my mom is here and she knows.” “Let me make this real clear, Marcus, you will not live under my roof and come and go as you please, and you will not live in my house and continue to parade around with boys. You think I don’t know, oh but baby I know everything that goes on in this house. Either you get your act together or you can get out; now help me with the rest of these bags, they’re in the car.” She stormed past him, not giving him a chance to respond. Marcus kept his composure and helped his mother unload the car. “Mama, I can explain, just give me a chance to explain.” “I don’t need any explanations.” She sharply replied right before she slammed the trunk of her car. “Mama that’s not fair, you always say if we ever need to talk to you about anything, we could.” “Yeah well you destroyed that theory when you chose to not talk to me about this. You kept it from me so I could find out on the street. I had to hear from
someone else that my own son is gay. Do you know how embarrassing that was?” Jordyn walked in her home, her heels clicking against the marbled floor. “Ma, why is that embarrassing? Is it because you didn’t know what everyone else knew or is it because of the fact that I am gay?” Marcus sat on the couch next to his mother and tried to console her. “Mama this is my life, I didn’t tell you because I knew you would not approve. You can pray for me to change if you want, but right now I’m happy being me. I’m happy mama.” Jordyn listened to her son with tears in her eyes. Even her Masters in psychology hadn’t prepared her for this moment. “Does your father know?” She blurted out. “No, I wanted to wait until his deployment was over before I told him. I didn’t want to distract him.” Jordyn got up and walked across the room. “The set up crew will be here to prepare for Nala’s party; you should go upstairs and get ready as well.” Unaware of what else to say to her son, she walked away. *** “Cynthia!” Mack yelled from the bedroom. “Come here, now!” Cynthia instantly dropped what she was doing. She recognized that tone in Mack’s voice. The last time he spoke to her like that, they got into to a fight and she ended up in the hospital on life support. As much as Cynthia tried to repress that memory, every time Mack yelled at her, she felt his cold, callused hands grip her neck. She felt herself gasping for air, only to find that there wasn’t enough oxygen. If she closed her eyes, she could see the rage in his. “Yes baby, what is it?” She answered, her voice almost trembling. “What is this?” He tossed an overnight bag at her. “You plan on leaving, is that what it is?” “Where did you get that from?” She asked, trying hard not to let her own fears and insecurities show. “Never mind where I got it from, but since you think you leaving, I’ll help you pack.” He walked over to the closet and yanked all her clothing out. Breaking
hangers and tearing garments, he didn’t stop until the closet was empty. Cynthia stood there in shock; she had never seen him react this way. Better the clothes and the hangers than me! she thought to herself. “When were you going to tell me about this?” Mack shouted. “I bet you been talking to Jordyn again. The two of you think you’re so much better than everyone else with your fancy degrees, nice houses, and expensive cars. Tell me this Cynthia, if you’re so much better, then why do you stay with me? It’s not love, how can you love me when I make it clear to you every day that this is not what love is supposed to be like. Can’t be the money, because you have your own; it must be the sex.” Tears streamed down Cynthia’s face. “Are you trying to teach me a lesson, Mack?” She managed to say through clenched teeth. She headed in his direction but he stopped her. “You have the nerve to try and leave now! After all this time, you may as well stay. Who’s gonna want you now?” He was so close to Cynthia, she could feel his breath against her cheek. “You may as well stay, you been staying so what’s different now?” His tone was harsh and his eyes were lifeless. It was like staring into the eyes of a dead man. Cynthia was shaking, she didn’t know what was about to happen. She actually preferred him to hit her and leave the room. At least that way she wouldn’t have to wonder what was coming next. “You have to get help, Mack. You have to change.” “You think you gon’ be the one to change me, don’t you?” Mack was getting angrier. “You can’t even change you. You’ve been in this relationship since before Kadi was born and she’s five years old. What does that say about you?” “That says a lot about me.” Cynthia yelled. “I’m a devoted mother and-” “And what?” Mack shouted back at her. “You wanna sit up in here, play house, and make it seem like you’ve got it all, but we both know that’s a lie. You convinced yourself that we’re one big happy family. Kadi isn’t even my kid!” Cynthia’s mouth dropped open. “Yeah, you think I didn’t know you were pregnant when we started messing around. Aside from the dates not adding up, she doesn’t even look like me.”
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“I’ve done nothing but love you and cater to you this entire time, and this is how you talk to me? This is how you treat me?” Cynthia walked across the bedroom she shared with Mack and sat on the edge of the bed. “This is how you’re going to treat me, Mack?” “Unpack this bag, Cynthia.” He threw the overnight bag at her. “And clean up this mess, you got your clothes all over the place.” *** Marcus pulled the string on the bus, sending a signal to the driver that he wanted to get off at the next stop. It was a clear day, the sun was shining, and it was the perfect day to be on the beach. Instead, Marcus was going to surprise his mother for lunch. She hadn’t spoken to him the last few days. The bus came to a complete stop and Marcus exited through the rear doors. Relieved that the bus stop was in front of his mom’s building, he quickly made his way inside. “I’m looking for Jordyn Phillips.” Marcus stammered. “And you are…?” The woman at the front desk asked, looking at Marcus suspiciously. “I am her son.” Her demeanor changed and she extended her hand. “I’m Gloria; you must be Marcus, it’s so nice to finally meet you. Your mom talks about you all the time.” He didn’t know why, but he was quite surprised to hear that. “It’s nice to meet you as well.” Marcus finally said. “Your mother’s office is directly behind me, you can go right in.” Marcus walked over, knocked on the door and opened it. “Hey, hope I’m not disturbing you.” He said, sticking his head inside. Jordyn looked up and smiled at the sight of her son. Even though she hadn’t spoken to Marcus in a few days, she enjoyed spending time with him. “Nope, not at all, come on in and have a seat.” She motioned for him to have a seat on the couch. “This office is almost as nice as your home office.” Marcus said, letting his eyes take in everything.
“Well, I try to create an environment that will make my clients feel comfortable enough to open up to me. So, what brings you here, Marcus? Is there something you want to talk to me about?” Marcus took a deep breath. “Mom, don’t try to Dr. Phil me, at least not until we eat. I’m starving, I came all the way out here on the bus because somebody took my car keys away, and on top of all that, it’s hot.” “First, I’ve heard just about enough of the Dr. Phil jokes and second, it’s not even your car, it’s your dad’s car and I’m letting you drive it. It’s a twenty minute bus ride and the bus puts you off right in front of my building so stop being dramatic.” “Well, it is hot; you’ve been in your office all day, so you wouldn’t know.” Jordyn stood to her feet and grabbed her purse. “Okay, let’s go, we can take my car.” “Thank you, Lord!” Marcus blurted out as he walked out of his mom’s office. “Gloria, I’m leaving for the day, going to have lunch with my son and spend the rest of it with him. Please forward all my calls to my voicemail and I will check them first thing in the morning. Try to enjoy the rest of the day.” “Will do, Mrs. Phillips, have a good one.” Jordyn pushed through the glass doors and instantly felt the sun against her smooth, golden skin. “It is hot out today.” She reached in her bag and pulled out a pair of Fendi shades. “So what are we eating”? “I don’t, I guess it doesn’t really matter.” “You mean to tell me that you came all the way out here on the bus with no plan?” She was being sarcastic. “You have five minutes to tell me what you want to eat or else we’re having sushi.” “Um, I guess we can go to Olive Garden, it’s the closest.” “I had a feeling you would say that; Olive Garden it is” The two of them walked silently through the parking lot until they reached the car. “Thank God for A.C.!” Marcus blurted out as he adjusted the vents.
“So, how was your day? What have you been doing?” “I didn’t really do anything, most of my friends decided to go to the beach, but I wanted to have lunch with you. I have all summer to go to the beach.” Jordyn quickly glanced at her son and smiled. Marcus was always a mama’s boy; he chose to hang out with his mom over his friends many times, even if hanging out meant that he, Nala, and their mom just sat at home, watched movies and played games. “Here we are!” Jordyn said as she pulled into the first parking spot she saw. The hostess greeted them at the door. “Will it be just the two of you this afternoon” Jordyn nodded. “Follow me right this way, please.” Jordyn and Marcus followed their hostess as she led them to their seats.
“When you’re ready to start talking, I’m ready to start listening, Marcus.” “I don’t know where to begin -” “Try starting with why you felt the need to not tell me what was going on with you. I’ve always told you that you can talk to me and your dad about anything, you know that, Marcus.” “I know that mom, but this is different, I didn’t want to embarrass you in front of your friends at church.” “Marcus, this has nothing to do with my friends at church. I can understand why you would say that, but baby if you were truly happy living your life this way, you wouldn’t worry about the embarrassment. You just wouldn’t.” “Mama, that’s just the thing though, I am not ashamed of who I am, I just don’t want you to be ashamed of me.”
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“I can’t say that I’m not ashamed, I never would have wanted this life for you, Marcus. I will say this though, no matter where you make your bed, you have to sleep in it. If at the end of the day, you can look in the mirror and still love yourself, for who you are, then that’s great. In my opinion, this goes beyond who you choose to date; you have to be happy with the person Marcus is. Despite anything I or your father did or didn’t do, you have to be able to dig deep beneath whatever hurt or pain you’ve felt and deal with it so that you can learn to love yourself in spite of it.” Marcus was shocked, that is not what he expected his mother to say. He wasn’t sure if she was advising him as his mother, or his therapist. Just as he was about to respond, the waiter walked up and they placed their orders. “What I was about to say was that I am happy with who I am, happy with myself. I know you don’t agree and I know it probably took a lot out of you to respond to me the way you did, but I appreciate you for not judging me.” “Marcus, I don’t judge you because I can tell that you’ve judged yourself enough for the both of us. Like I said, wherever you make your bed, there you must sleep in it. No matter what, I will always love you and so will your father. We just hope and pray that you learn to love yourself, regardless of which lifestyle you choose to live.” *** Cynthia searched both levels of her home and still couldn’t find Mack. “Macky!” She yelled, one last time before giving up. Still no answer; he hasn’t been home for three days now. This was not like Mack, he always came home, even when they had a fight, he would leave but he always came back that night. The doorbell rang and she rushed downstairs to open the door in hopes that it might be Mack. “Mama?” Cynthia said surprised. “What are you doing here; we didn’t have plans, did we?” “Have you even noticed that Kadi is standing next me, child?” Cynthia looked down and saw her daughter looking up at her. “Hey baby, go on inside and wait for mommy in the living room. You can watch Dora
the Explorer and I’ll come bring you a snack in a little while.” Kadi ran in the living room, clutching her Dora bag to make sure it wouldn’t fall. “Mama, what are you doing here and how did you end up with Kadi?” Cynthia backed up, giving her mom room to come inside. “Mama, I think Mack is gone and he isn’t coming back.” Tears streamed down her face. “If that’s the case, you should consider it a blessing. He showed up at my house with Kadi. He didn’t even bother to get out the car. He called and when I came outside, he let her out the car and sped off. I was surprised that he still remembered where I lived. If he’s gone, consider it a blessing.” “How could you say that? I love Mack.” “Do you hear yourself? You’re talking about a man that has been abusing you since my grandchild has been born. You love him? Baby girl, you don’t even love yourself, so I don’t know how you’re able to love him.” “Mama, that’s not true; I mean we had our ups and downs, but he’s a good man. He’s good to me and Kadi.” “You really think I don’t know what’s been going on, don’t you. Ever since your father and I divorced, you have been running around like a chicken with its head chopped off. You run off and get yourself pregnant and we don’t see you or hear from you for years. You don’t think I don’t know that this man that you say you love is abusing you? What about my grandbaby, has he ever put his hands on her?” “Mama no, he has never hurt Kadi.” “Well he may not have, but you sure are. You don’t even think about the example you’re setting for her.” “Well, it can’t be any worse than the example you set for me.” Cynthia took a deep breath and stepped back. “You’re right, Cynthia, I didn’t set a good example by staying with your father all those years, but the difference between us is that I had a plan. What’s your plan, what are you going to do?” “I don’t know, I thought I could change him if
I stayed with him. I thought that he would want to change, I thought he would want to do better.” “The one thing we can’t do is change someone, the only thing we can do is change who we are for the better. You have a beautiful five year old daughter; use her as your motivation to make better choices because everything you do affects her growth. Be thankful that Mack is gone; look at it as Gods way of getting rid of what He knew you were too weak to get rid of on your own. He loves you that much. Now you need to carefully examine your life. Stop focusing on who your father wasn’t and remember who he was to you. The longer you hold on to what he did to me, the more bitter you’ll become and you’ll find yourself in the same kind of relationship God just freed you from.”
you’ll carry it with you and transfer it over to Kadi and you don’t want that to happen. The bottom line is that we all make mistakes, but the silver lining is that we are not defined by them. There is life after the brokenness; you just have to want it. You have to learn how to love you, regardless of what you did yesterday or the day before. Know that you are more valuable than silver and gold. God said you are fearfully and wonderfully made. Just remember that the next time man tries to treat you like you’re worthless.” Cynthia wiped the tears from her eyes and hugged her mother. “I’ve missed you so much, I’m so sorry that things happened this way.”
Cynthia earnestly listened to her mom. “I… I just don’t know if I can forgive myself for staying for so long. I wanted to leave, but he wouldn’t let me.”
“It’s okay baby. You have been given a new beginning and not many are as fortunate as you have been. This is your fresh start, your chance to learn how to love you, flaws and all.”
“It’ll take some time, but all things happen in God’s perfect timing, so don’t beat yourself up about it. No matter what, you’ll have to forgive yourself. If not,
Cynthia held her mother a little tighter and let the tear flow freely. She knew it would take some time, but she was determined to love herself, flaws and all.
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Scriptures To Glean From: Ephesians 4:32 (New American Standard Bible) – 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. James 5:16 (American King James Version) – 16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: 1. What lessons are to be learned from Cynthia and Mack? 2. What lessons are to be learned from Jordyn and Marcus? 3. Is it easy to love someone even when you disagree with their choices? 4. How can the spirit of unforgiveness create havoc in our lives?
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S i m p l i c i t y S o fa S
h t i y w a s s E l a n o s i t a r i l p Ins u o S I
am going to tell you a story dear reader, a true story, an honest story, a first person story because it happened to me. But before I tell my tale I want to tell the ending first and explain the reasons that I am telling it this way. My story was an experience that I had several years ago that won’t let me rest until it is told. The story is not about ‘New Age’ Christian religious enlightenment or about a new ‘born again’ Christian philosophy, but rather a spiritual awakening and a one-on-one relationship with Jesus Christ that very few ever talk about, simply because you have to be dead to actually experience it, which is a subject that is on everyone’s mind and one that engenders much controversy . . . what happens after you die? My story is in truth, a near-death experience . . . or an unusual ecstatic vision of the hereafter that makes up the nucleus of my story, and one I doubt you have ever heard before and may not hear about again. I am an Italian/Polish Catholic raised on the streets of New Jersey; close enough to the Big Apple to feel I should have been cast in the musical-drama
“West Side Story.” I was taught to be tough by my Italian father, and was taught a line of verse by him that was straight from his personal Italian version of Luke 6:31 . . . “Do unto others . . . before they do unto you.” I was taught this with little regard of the Christian belief of “turning the other cheek” but rather as an element of personal survival. I embraced this philosophy most of my adult life and lost much because of it. Where was I? My appendix had burst in the middle of the night; I didn’t know what it was until I went to the hospital ER with severe stomach pains a few hours later. I was told an appendectomy these days is a simple thing to do. When I awoke from the anesthesia I was told I would be fine in a day or two. But instead, I took a turn for the worse; my body started to shut down. Before long the doctors were no longer smiling and I had tubes in my nose and throat and IV needles in both arms. I was quietly moved to ICU. I was not getting any better, only worse. I found out much later that I had contracted peritonitis from the burst appen-
s e o h S y t r i D o Car . J seph o J By
people did (and still do) as outlined in the Ten Commandments Moses gave us to follow.
dix and the resulting toxins that were still in my abdomen. I found this out after I had died. I also found out something else. Yes, there is a God. And yes, there is an afterlife awaiting each and every one of us . . . and yes, there is a heaven and a hell. And I’ll tell you exactly what each is for starters. Heaven is to be wherever God is, and to feel His love in every corner and in every atom of your soul, to feel the delight and completeness to be with Him at all times. And yes, we all have a soul, a “life force” if you will, that we must (but seldom do) guard unscrupulously to keep out of harm’s (Satan’s) way. Hell is, simply put, a place where God is not, nor ever will be. Fire and brimstone maybe, but the real torture and pain you will experience is never seeing God’s face or feeling His love. Total emptiness, total loneliness, and the realization of never reaching your true destination nor your true fulfillment which is to be with God. EVER! Think about it for a minute. . . NEVER to find happiness, never to smile, never to step into your spiritual home! There is one commandment that God has for all of us. Only one actually, Moses was kind enough to subcategorize it into Ten Commandments for us all during his Exodus from Egypt . . . that One Commandment is LOVE! Think about it a moment . . . love God, love your neighbor, love your wife, your children, your parents . . . everybody! If you do this one thing you will never kill, steal, covet or any of the other nasty things
UNCONDITIONAL love, total love, is what our Lord wishes us to practice not the Hollywood version or the sexual version either. You see dear reader, I learned that God does not punish us for our sins . . . we punish ourselves! Every sin that we commit puts a little stain on our once sparkling-white souls. Over the years the stains add up. Our sins, our stains. The fact is, you simply can’t get to heaven, you can’t be in God’s light or in His presence if your soul, your spirit or your ‘being’ has been stained by sin. Why? His aura and that of heaven is so powerful and pure that anything less than pure cannot enter or even stand near the light. God doesn’t do this to you . . . you do it to yourself! The Catholics (and other Christian religions) have a waiting room for souls with dirty shoes . . . called purgatory, a place where all traces of sin are removed . . . eventually. Some in a week, some in a year and some in a hundred years. It all depends on YOU, not GOD! If your soul is black with sin it may never get clean, and Hell will be your new forwarding address! Speaking of Hell for a moment, there are a few “New Age” religions that espouse a “community salvation” principle, in as much as if you are baptized a Christian, go to their church and render tithes that you are guaranteed Heaven, and that personal salvation has little to do with it. A lot like an insurance policy. Some other religions today reason that there is no Hell at all – it is simply an invention. The fact is that Hell is an invention . . . by God, to punish sinners! Now back to my story . . .
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I was floating it seemed, feet first, in what seemed to be a black ebony sky. There were no stars, just a warm, comfortable blackness. I could feel myself floating in a specific direction, but had no clue where I was going. I felt, for all intent and purpose – normal. No pain, no anxiety, not hot, not cold, just wondering where I was, and where I was going. It was then I saw a radiant white light in the distance that I was being drawn to. There is no word or words to really describe the color of the light – I have never seen anything like it. It was whitish but more crystalline pure and radiating a soft warmth of brilliance. As I remember thinking at the time, if you took the purest white diamond in the world and somehow turned it into light, it would not be as pure or beautiful as the light I saw. No color on earth can describe it. As I drew nearer, the source of the light seemed to be within a rainbow arch, far in the distance. The crystalline light pulsated from within this arch and flowed like a river towards me. I was not moving directly into the increasing brightness of this pulsating light but rather whatever current that was taking me was steering me to the right side of it. There was no twilight area from this source of light, no fading-off at the edges (like a flashlight or even a sunset would) as a normal light would weaken on either side. Either there was light, or there was darkness. The colors of the rainbow were breathtakingly beautiful, colors I couldn’t possibly describe. As I slowly drifted by to the right side of this light source, I actually felt my left arm briefly come in contact with it! The very instant I was touched by the light I knew where the light source emanated from. It was God! I was instantly made aware and knew that this light was actually radiance from His Power, from His Being!
His Aura! This contact, as brief as it was, happened in a microsecond and changed every molecule, every atom of who I was! I was instantly filled with an indescribable sense of peace and joy like nothing I’ve ever felt! It was like coming home for the first time. I knew what the light was then . . . not HIS power, but HIS LOVE! The purest, unconditional love that ever existed! The oasis of life! The beauty of spirit! A love so strong it touched every atom of my being! This I felt from the touch of just a particle of His light, of the most outer part – like where the river touches the shore. I now knew why angels praised Him and sang with joy forever! My soul exploded with joy and came alive! It was filled with understanding and knowledge of all things. Three words kept repeating over and over in the essence of my being . . .GOD IS LOVE! I wanted nothing else but to move into this river of light and tried with all my might to get closer, to get in the light as I drifted by. As I scrambled and clawed to get closer but continued to drift by it, I heard and felt His voice speaking inside of me resonating within every atom of who I was: “You cannot come any closer, you are not ready.” The words were
spoken as if by a summer wisp of wind, caressing and gentle. As I continued to drift past the light and the rainbow arch which I now knew was the doorway to heaven I still felt on fire with joy and love, my spirit actually vibrating with the goodness it had felt, from a contact that was ever too brief. I was drifting into the blackness again and suddenly felt the joy and love diminish in my soul, like someone was draining my battery. I then saw a dark ugly shape writhing and squirming on the ground in a fetal position as I drifted by and knew it was Satan! The feelings of beauty and happiness that had thrilled me were now being replaced with emptiness and despair as its blackness touched my spirit. The last thing I remember is turning and spitting on this vile thing as I drifted by. I awoke in the hospital bed looking at the concerned faces of the doctor and nurse bending over me. Streams of joyful tears cascaded from my eyes and an ecstatic smile was on my face stretching from ear to ear. It seems that some of the beauty and love that I had experienced stayed with me. My recovery was dramatic and swift. All systems began to function normally again and I was released from the hospital two days later, none the physically worse from this experience except I had lost close to 20 pounds. I still occasionally feel some of the love and beauty in my normal life as I did on that occasion; a few times during Mass I would feel the presence of God and the tears of joy would cascade down my cheeks – and the smell of flowers. Every so often I would detect a beautiful, sweet smell of some unknown flower wafting through the air, even when driving on the smoggy freeways of Los Angeles. I don’t know where it came from, but I do know it is somehow related to my “near life” experience. I have talked to several Catholic priests about the vision and they feel that it was authentic, and not a dream or an imagination. One night, several months later, I was reading the book of Revelation of John in the Bible and read 4:2-3. I
couldn’t believe what I was reading! I had experienced a similar vision to John when he wrote his visions in the cave at Patmos! “Immediately, I fell under the influence of the Spirit; and behold, a throne stood in heaven, and there was One seated on it. And he who was seated on the throne was like a jasper stone and a sardian to look at; and there was a rainbow circling round the throne, like an emerald to look at.” Reading further I found this writing in Revelation 4:6 which read: “Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.” I had experienced parts of the same vision as John of Patmos! Heaven, the rainbow, the sea of glass! The presence of GOD HIMSELF! Why Me? Why was I shown such beauty and experienced such love? I am not any more deserving
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Scriptures To Glean From: Revelations 4:1 (American King James Version) – 1 After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up here, and I will show you things which must be hereafter. Revelations 21:2 (American King James Version) – And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. Isaiah 6:1-3 (American King James Version) – 1 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. 2 Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he did fly. 3 And one cried to another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.
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The Undeceiving of Ourselves By Dorothy Valcarcel
eflection: Then Nathan said unto David, “You are the man!” 2 Samuel 12:7
“Before God can deliver us we must undeceive ourselves.” Augustine of Hippo “One of the most fundamental marks of true repentance is a disposition to see our sins as God sees them.” Charles Simeon Meditation: Definition of Deceive: To cause to believe what is not true. David sat on the throne of Israel. A man appointed by God to be the king of Israel. But on this particular day, a friendly visitor came into the throne room of the palace. This was not some crumpets and tea type of visit. Nathan had a message from God. While at first it appeared this prophet came with a simple story about a stolen ewe, it didn’t take Nathan long to get to the heart of the situation. As David, in anger, responded to the lack of pity the rich man had for the poor man, another voice was heard above David’s fury. “David, you are the man.” In some of the most unforgettable words in the Bible, Nathan “undeceived” the powerful king by opening his vision to the reality of his evil behavior. Throughout the Scriptures, God uses different ways to get the attention of His children. And still today, God reaches out to draw us to Him. But when we stop and consider the enormity of David’s sin, it gives us pause as to the Divine capacity for forgiveness. As I thought about how I would have felt if I had been in David’s shoes with God’s prophet calling out, “You are the one. This story is about you, Dorothy”, I came to recognize how I would have felt. I would have wanted to slink away and hide in shame, just like Adam and Eve did when they hid in the garden after disobeying their Father. Furthermore, I might have thought my Father would treat me like I have sometimes treated others who have fallen, or as others have treated me when I fell. I might have expected my Heavenly Father to put me on probation and watch me for a bit to see if I really would change my ways. However, there is a beautiful French proverb that taps into the message God’s Son, Jesus, brought to earth which states, “Years of repentance are necessary in order to blot out a sin in the eyes of men, but one tear of repentance suffices with God.” To better understand this statement, we need look no farther than an experience Jesus had when the holy men in His day, the Pharisees, asked His disciples
why Jesus ate and associated with publicans (tax collectors) and sinners. Upon hearing these words, Jesus responded that healthy folk don’t need a healer but sick ones do. And then He used two interesting words when He said that He “called” us to make us “whole”. In the Greek language, this phrase would be translated from the New Testament words in this way: Jesus calls us aloud by our name making us whole and strong, transforming us into individuals who will prevail. Now, let’s take our Father’s way of calling us back and apply this to the life of David, a man who at one point in his life had been referred to by God as an individual who had a “heart after God’s.” At this time in his young life, David was so in step with his Father in Heaven that their hearts beat in unison. They were one. They were unified in longing and desire. But then, as so frequently happens in all our lives, David began to rely on his own power, wealth, and strength. He thought he could “be good” by himself. He could, in modern-day terminology, pull himself up by his own bootstraps. However, there are, in all our lives, those moments when temptation can overwhelm our best intentions and before we know it, like David, we are overcome by some longing that draws us into a web of heartache and pain. If it weren’t for the unlimited mercy of our Father, we would be sunk. However, instead of letting us live a life of self-deception, our Father calls out, maybe in the voice of a friend or pastor or loved one or our own conscience, and says, “You are the one. I am calling you by name so I can make you whole. In My strength, you will prevail.” The author, Thomas Carlyle, wrote, “The greatest of all faults is to be conscious of none.” This is the self-deceit that can lead us to believe we are above and beyond the faults that can undermine the foundation of our life. As Nathan called out, “Thou art the man”, it was a call of personal repentance to David. And it is a call that still rings loud and clear today. Our response to our Father’s call, as William Taylor so eloquently writes, will not be just because we hate sin and its penalty, but because we have “discovered and felt God’s love.” Have I ever deceived myself about something I have done? If I asked God to open my eyes to the faults in my actions, what do I believe I would see? Prayer: May Thy grace, O Lord, make that possible to me which seems impossible to me by nature.
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by Pamela Bell English
A Blessing in
hat is that racket? You kids keep it down!” her husband Reginald bellowed from under the covers. He turned over and nudged her back. “Babe, wake up. The kids are up and they’re tearing the house apart. You need to go and feed them or something.” Maya groaned and scooted closer to the edge of the bed, put the pillow over her head, and went back to sleep. Crash! The noise woke the couple back up. They sat up and Maya shook Reginald to get up and go see what they were doing. “Stop, you go see what in the world they’re doing. This is my day to sleep in. You kept me up arguing about not expanding our family and now you want me to get up. I’m tired.” “What? Sleep in?” she asked incredulously, while searching for her robe. “What do we need with another
child? I love Reggie and Regina, but with everything I have to do around here, now is not the time for another child. Plus, we have Fluffy the dog and Denzel the fish. I want to go back to work next year when Regina is in daycare all day.” There. She finally said what was in her heart. Reginald was a loving husband and great provider. She hadn’t worked in the past five years. But with the economy getting bad, she knew she was going to have to get a job and help out eventually. But Reginald had old fashioned ideas about her working or doing other activities outside of the house. “I love you, but no more children for me. We agreed on two and that’s what we have,” she stated while slipping on her robe, tying a quick knot in it and thrusting her feet into her furry slippers; the ones with Bugs Bunny’s head. Reggie had gotten the kids to give them to her for a Christmas gift. Ha! Ha! She didn’t laugh then and she wasn’t laughing now. She
had wanted a ring with their birthstones in it. She’d hinted for over a month to no avail. Reginald didn’t take the hints and this is what she received. But not to hurt her babies’ feelings, she wore the ridiculous slippers only in the house. She exited the bedroom, slammed the door, and ran down the stairs. The kids and dog were wrestling in the family room and had knocked over a vase from the coffee table. As soon as they saw her they jumped up and got on the sofa, sitting like little angels. Fluffy the puppy went to her bed in the corner. “Hey babies, how are you doing?” she asked while winking at them both. She loved her babies something fierce. “Okay mommy. We hungry,” stated Reggie in his big boy voice. “I know sweetie. I’ll fix you some cereal and then we can watch cartoons.”
“Yea! Me! Me! Me!” She squealed as Maya wrestled them both down onto the carpet and tickled them until they screamed for her to stop. “Hey! Keep it down! I need more sleep!” Reginald shouted again. Maya shook her head, picked the kids up and deposited them onto the sofa, turned on the television to cartoons and whispered, “Daddy wants to sleep some more. So let’s play the quiet game and see who can win.” The kids nodded and smiled as she blew them a kiss and went into the kitchen. She loved that she was able to see into the family room from the kitchen to watch the kids. She whipped up some pancakes, eggs, and sausage. While the food was cooking, she put a load of whites in the washer and separated the various color clothes. Three more loads to go. What joy! With that done, she set out plates, glasses, napkins and forks. She made smiley faces on the pancakes with fruit slices and whipped cream. She knew they were
“Yea!” Reggie shouted as his sister tried to mimic everything she saw her big brother do and say.
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expecting cereal, but she loved cooking for her family and they loved eating. Reggie was big for his age. He tried to eat as much as his father. She poured orange juice and milk in small plastic cups. No more broken dishes today. “Come and get it!” The kids ran into the kitchen. Reggie jumped into a seat while Regina waddled and tried to get into her booster seat. Maya swept her up into her arms, planted kisses over her face and placed her in her seat. Their plates had cooled and she helped them say grace before they ate. She fixed a plate for Reginald and set it on a tray with orange juice and coffee. The phone rang before she could pick up and take her husband his plate. ‘Yes, Stacy.” “Hey girlfriend! I know you have your hands full so I am not going to keep you long. I need you to go with me to the mall to pick out a dress for my date tonight.”
dren for any length of time. I’m an only child and I love that special title. When I meet men with children, I find a way to break it off before it gets serious,” she stated with conviction. “See, that’s why Reginald wants to have another baby.” Because of you and your attitude. Plus, whether he will admit it or not, he has the opposite attitude about kids.” “What do you mean?” “He’s an only child, you’re an only child and my twin passed away when I was eight, so all of us are only children. He wants a houseful of kids. You and my husband are both spoiled.” She laughed shaking her head. “Girl, please. You have spoiled that man so much, he can’t do anything without you. Heaven forbid he has to watch those children for a day. He would be in worse shape than me,” snorted Stacy.
“Good morning to you too. How are you this morning? I’m fine,” she asked and replied to herself.
“Stop talking and get off this phone. I gots to take my hubby his breakfast before it gets cold. Then do my housework.”
“Stop being sarcastic. I need you,” whined her best friend.
“Okay, okay Cinderella. I love you. See you this afternoon.”
“Whatever. I can’t. Reginald wants to play golf with his friends and I won’t have anyone to watch the kids.”
“Whatever smarty pants. I know you do and I love you too. I’ll put the kids down for an early nap and will have to bring them with me.”
“Come on. Gimme a break. Why can’t he come back early and watch his own children?” demanded Stacy.
“Whatever. Just as long as you go with me,” reminded Stacy.
“Don’t start. He works hard so he likes to rest and relax on the weekend,” Maya said in defense of her husband. “Yeah, but you never have any free time and I don’t get to spend time with you anymore.” “Stop whining. If Auntie Stacy would come and babysit them, then Mama Maya would have free time with her husband and then maybe time for her BFF.” “Girl, whatever. I might be their godmother, but those little ragamuffins would eat me alive. No, thank you ma’am,” she said while laughing. Maya laughed. “Girl you’re a trip. I have never seen anyone so kid phobic in my life.” “We’ve been friends since college, so you know I have never wanted any kids or been around any chil-
“Bye girl.” Maya looked at her kids and knew it was going to be tricky to balance doing all of her housework; change the sheets on the beds, four loads of clothes, iron their clothing for the week, vacuum, and wash dishes. Thank God she’d done her grocery shopping already. Plus, she wanted to go to church tomorrow without the kids if Reginald wouldn’t go with her. If he did, then she would take the kids. Maya hurried to clean up the children and deposit them back in front of the television before going upstairs and taking Reginald his breakfast. “Hey baby, wake up. Breakfast is here,” she sang sweetly. She looked at the lump in their large king-size bed, bumped it with her hip, and nothing moved. She sat the tray down onto the night stand and pushed the large lump again. “Baby, wake up!”
Before she could stand and get the tray she felt a poke in her back. “Eeek!” she screeched as she whirled around to see her smiling husband dripping wet. She hadn’t heard the shower or the door open. He had a towel around his waist and one on his shoulders.
She looked at her husband sitting smugly in his recliner, snatched up the entire tray and walked out of their bedroom. She was fuming. Something had to give. This could not continue. She said a quick prayer for them and went to see about her babies.
“Morning babe. Thanks for breakfast.” He dropped the towels and reached for some sweats he had on the chair. He took the tray from her and went towards their sitting area. Before she could respond, he stated, “My coffee isn’t hot and the toast is burnt. I need more.”
Maya put the tray down and went into the family room with her kids. She took a deep breath and smiled at her sweet babies. They were the love of her life and she would do anything for them.
She looked at him and shook her head in disbelief. She went over and picked up the wet towels from the floor. “I don’t have time to redo your breakfast. I’ve been calling you and you didn’t come down to eat with me and the kids. I have to get back to them and start my Saturday cleaning.” “Well, you better hurry up and get on it then. I want more coffee and some lighter toast,” he stated as he pushed the tray back at her. “Honey, I…” “Don’t honey me. Go on and jump on it,” Reginald insisted.
“Hey mama’s babies. Who wants to help me clean the house today? Then later we can go shopping with Auntie Stacy.” “I’ll help you mommy,” her oldest child said. She smiled and kissed the top of his head. Reggie was a big help. He always wanted to please her and do little things around the house to help her out. His room was spotless. He helped with keeping Regina’s room clean. They had a large toy box in their rooms with too many toys. The next time they were at school, with Stacy or her husband, she was going to box up some of their toys and give them to the shelter for women and children she volunteered at once a week.
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She got out the natural cleaning supplies for the house and began to load the dishwasher, wipe down the table, stove, counters, and sweep the floor. She was on auto pilot. Her mind was consumed with thoughts of her husband and how selfish he was acting. She didn’t complain that they didn’t go anywhere or that he was hardly home, or that she cooked every meal, cleaned, catered and helped her family stay happy and full. He worked hard, yes, but he’d decided he didn’t want his wife to work. So when they found out they were pregnant with their first baby she had quit her job as an accountant. Then when Regina arrived she’d wanted to go back to work a few months later. Yet once again he insisted, no demanded that she stay home and take care of them. So here she was, feeling frustration, angry, and sad. When had Reginald stopped listening to her wants and needs? She made sure he was satisfied and happy in every aspect of their marriage. Each day she woke up early and went to bed late. She liked knowing her family was happy, safe, and her house was clean. They might have to go to counseling if things didn’t get better. She would pray and maybe fast about their marriage. “Mommy, mommy! What’s wrong?” asked Reggie as he tugged at her robe. She looked down and smiled. He was so precious and always thinking of her. Such a gentleman. He was gonna be a heartbreaker when he grew up.
I want to help her out,” she said quickly. “Sorry. No can do. I have my standing appointment of golf with my boys, then we go hang out at the barber and gym.” “What? No baby! Then take Reggie with you. He needs a haircut too,” she insisted. “No, he’s not dressed and I have to go. Love you,” and off he went without a backwards glance or thought for them. Maya looked upwards and prayed for strength. Scooping up her babies, they went into the bathroom. She ran some water in the sink, tested it and gave each child a quick sponge bath. No time for a sit down one today. Their clothes were laid out and she helped Regina dress. Reggie looked at her as if to say don’t you dare dress me. He smiled as he said, “I’m a big boy Mommy. I can dress myself.” And he did. She was so proud of him. They hurried through the chores and went to meet Stacy at the mall. The children were angels as they went in and out of stores. It was a good thing she was always prepared and remembered their book bags. Each bag had enough snacks, juice, water, books, and toys for each child with a change of clothing. Stacy was overjoyed that they were able to find the right dress and accessories.
“I’m okay baby. Mommy was daydreaming. I think it is time for you and your sister to get dressed. Let’s go upstairs and take a quick wash up.”
She bought the kids Sesame Street books and Maya a romance novel she’d wanted to read by Francis Ray.
As the trio walked up the stairs, Reginald was coming down talking on his cell phone while carrying his golf clubs. He paused, winked at her, kissed Regina and patted Reggie on the head. “I’ll eat out. See you when I see you,” he chanted.
When it was time to go home the children were tired and sleepy. An early dinner and bath were in order for them. Maybe she would get time to soak in the tub and start her new book. No such luck. After putting the children to bed, Reginald came home complaining he had wrenched his shoulder with a bad swing. She had to run his bath and massage his back and shoulders. No time for her. She prepared their clothes for
“No wait! I need you to come home early, so I can go shopping with Stacy. She has an important date and
church and by the time she went to bed she had forgotten about her new novel. The kicker came when it was time for Maya to go to church on Sunday and the kids had woken up with slight colds. “No, I won’t watch them. You need to stay home today. Church will be there next week.” “Look, I need to be there. It’s my turn to teach Sunday school.” “Well, too bad, the kids need you and so do I. I wouldn’t know what to do anyway. That’s why I told you, you do not need to work. This house would be a mess otherwise. I like how you keep house, take care of us, and have my dinner on the table each night,” he stated. Maya sighed. She wanted to cry. This was not going to be easy. She loved her life and needed the support of her husband. If he dropped a wet towel or left his dirty clothes on the floor, he would walk over them until she picked them up. She took a deep breath, straightened her shoulders and said, “I’m not trying to argue with you honey, but I need some help around here. The kids are getting bigger and the house is always messy with the puppy and fish. Plus my work at the shelter, teaching Sunday school, and wanting to do other volunteer work is taxing.”
“Well, you need to quit your volunteer work, don’t start anything new, and have them get someone else to teach those kids at church. You have your own kids to teach. I noticed Regina babbling. Isn’t she supposed to be talking by now?” “Babbling? What are you talking about? She’s been talking for a year now. She babbles because you don’t talk to her. You talk baby talk to her and she lets you do it.” “Whatever, you need to forget about doing anything else and remember you’re a wife and mother first. I have needs and you have to meet them, the kids and house too.” This routine went on for months. Maya doing everything and getting more fed up as time passed. The arguing between Maya and Reginald was putting a strain on their marriage. He made it a battle if she asked him to help around the house or to watch his kids. And God forbid if Maya needed to do something outside of the house. Reginald was adamant about no extra help or her working anytime soon. Maya suffered in silence. She didn’t even confide in Stacy what was going on. She loved her family and made sure everything was in its correct place with food on the table for each meal regardless of how she felt. Maya felt tears sting her eyes. This was going nowhere. She needed someone to talk to her husband. If
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she told Stacy or their parents, then he would blame her and say she let others into their private business. What was she to do? She looked at her husband sitting calmly watching a basketball game on television while the children played around his feet. He needed to take a more active role in their lives. Reggie wanted his father’s attention, but he sensed the moods in the house when he was home and always gravitated towards his mother making sure he and his sister were quiet. Maya knew their problems were affecting Reggie and Regina. That night, Maya waited until the house was silent. She crept into their bathroom with her Bible and read some scriptures about good virtuous women and wives being obedient to their husbands. Then she prayed for strength, help, understanding, and support from her husband. She wanted him to be more open minded about helping her and the children. After praying it was as if a heavy weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Feeling emotionally better than she’d felt in months, she went to bed. She was so tired physically. She felt achy and her stomach churned. She went to bed. “Where you been babe? The bed is cold and you know I can’t sleep without you. Come closer and warm me up.” Reginald reached for her and pulled her close
to him so they could spoon. She sighed and relaxed. Her prayers would be answered and the Lord would work this out. She loved her husband and prayed again he would come to see the light. Tomorrow she would feel better. The next morning, Maya woke up to Reginald shaking her. “Hey babe, wake up. I need a clean blue shirt. I only have white ones ironed.” Maya opened her eyes and tried to sit up. A sharp pain hit her in her side. “Oh, awww!” She fell back on the bed. Tears stung her eyes as the pain continued on her right side and became stronger. “What’s wrong with you? Stop playing and get up!” he demanded. “I’m not playing!” she struggled to say as another sharp pain hit her. She tried to sit up again and threw up on the bed. “Oh man, what is wrong with you? Are you pregnant? Let me help you up.” Reginald picked her up and carried her into the bathroom. He sat her on the toilet and ran cold water in the sink. He got a clean face towel and wet it. He wiped her face and felt her forehead. “You’re not warm and your eyes are clear, so you must be pregnant.” “Please honey, I don’t feel pregnant. I feel pain. I think I need to go to the doctor this morning.” She leaned on the sink and put her head against the cold tile. Reginald looked at his wife and didn’t know what to do. She was never sick. Except for having two babies, she’d never been in the hospital since their marriage. They had never been apart either. She was their rock whether she realized it or not. She took care of them. He needed her. He looked at his watch. He was going to be late for work. “Can you call Stacy to come take care of the kids while I drop you off to the doctor? I don’t want to be too late to work. I have a new project to complete,” he stated without much thought to her condition. Maya knew she didn’t hear her husband say he was going to work and to get Stacy to come over and watch the kids. She struggled to stand up and fell to the floor. Reginald ran to her and picked her up. He was getting worried now. “Call the ambulance. Something is wrong,” she said through clenched teeth as she talked through the pain. “I don’t feel well at all.”
“Okay, honey. I’m sorry. Let me lay you on the bed. I will get the kids and drive you to the hospital.” He stroked her face and kissed her hair. He was getting nervous. What was he going to do? He had never had to take care of his wife or kids. She did everything. He pulled out his phone. He dialed his parents, getting their answering machine. Darn, he forgot they were on vacation. Her parents were too far away. He thought and prayed quickly, something he hadn’t done in a while. He got Maya’s phone and hit the speed dial for Stacy.
When she arrived to her friend’s house, Reginald was pulling out of the driveway in Maya’s mini van. His car didn’t have car seats for the kids. He never wanted them to ride in his precious Beamer. She let her window down and looked at them, “What hospital are you going to?”
“Hey friend. What’s happening? It’s mighty early for you to be calling me. Has the king left the castle yet? How are the prince and princess?” she giggled at her own joke.
Reginald drove quickly to the nearest hospital, parked in a no parking zone and opened the door for the kids. “Reggie be a big boy for daddy and help your sister out of her car seat and get your bags.”
“Stacy, this is not Maya. Stop talking long enough to listen. This morning Maya woke up in pain and was throwing up. She says she’s not pregnant, but the pain continues in her side. So I’m taking her to the emergency room.”
“Yes, daddy,” he replied, scared at his mother’s quietness and her moans of pain. He didn’t know what to do, but he was going to be a good boy and do everything to help his mommy.
“What? Why didn’t you say so? Call 911! I am on my way. Wake up the kids and let them get their book bags,” Stacy replied as she searched for something to wear. “Why?” he asked confused. “Why what boy? They have toys and snacks to keep them occupied while we will be at the hospital. Maya keeps them full in case of emergencies. If you helped her out more around the house and with the kids, you would know these things.” Oh boy! She had done it now. “I don’t have time for you to tell me about my family. My wife is sick and if you aren’t going to help me, then stay away. I don’t have time to deal with your opinions. I need to call my office and let them know I will not be in today,” Reginald stated visibly upset and nervous. “Well, finally. If this is what it takes for you to miss work and help your wife, then maybe this is a blessing in disguise,” she suggested as she slipped on some clothes and grabbed her purse. “So you’re telling me that it’s a good thing that Maya is sick?” he was getting angrier by the minute with his wife’s best friend. “No, but you’ll figure it out, Mr. Know-it-all. Okay, now I’m hanging up and will be there in a few minutes.” She raced out the door and got into her car. Lord please help my friend, she prayed as she drove the few blocks to their house.
“The closest one, what do you think?” “Look, now is not the time for this. I will follow you all.” She waved at her godchildren who sat in their seats half asleep.
Reginald lifted Maya out of the car, careful not to jolt her. He slammed the door with his hip, looked back to make sure his kids were following him, and walked into the emergency room. Stacy rushed in on his heels and took the children to the waiting room. She held them, sang to them, and read books to them. They were still in their pajamas, but what the heck, this was an emergency. The emergency room wasn’t crowded and Maya was seen immediately. From the examination, the doctor surmised that her appendix needed to come out. He requested xrays to be taken to make sure. They sent Reginald to fill out the paperwork for Maya. While doing the paperwork, he watched how calm Stacy was with the kids. They seemed oblivious to their surroundings. She’d changed their clothes when he went with Maya into the examination room. Those bags came in handy. He would have to remember that. He realized then and there that he was going to have to support his wife and children more. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if Maya had a housekeeper come in three times a week. They would discuss it when she got well. He finished the paperwork, walked over to his kids with Stacy and sat down. “What did they say?” she inquired in a whisper. “She’ll be having emergency surgery and her appendix will have to be taken out.”
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“Awww man. That’s awful. But at least we know what is wrong with her.” She thanked Jesus while shaking her head in agreement.
“You expect me to cook, clean, and cater to you as soon as I’m well?” she asked in confusion. Maybe he hadn’t changed. She would continue praying for him
“Yes, that’s true. I hate this. We’ve never been apart except for when she had the children.”
and their marriage.
“Wow! Still thinking about yourself I see,” Stacy taunted.
ond honeymoon. When I realized you were sick I was so
“Stacy, please. I have to thank you for today and everything. I was so wrong.”
Bible too. He answered my prayers and healed you. He
“For what?” she looked around to make sure he was speaking to her.
“No babe, I’m going to take you away on a secscared. I started praying earnestly to God and read your is awesome! I apologize and ask your forgiveness for everything I said or didn’t do to help you around the house and with our kids.” He looked into her eyes for her reaction to his statement. “I realize I need to spend more time
“Because you told me some truths I hadn’t realized and how selfish I sounded. I wasn’t being the husband and father I needed to be to Maya and the kids. I apologize.”
doing things with Reggie and Regina. They’re growing
“Don’t apologize to me. It’s your wife who you need to be saying these things to. But I will tell you this, when she gets better, you need to take her on a second honeymoon or something. Pamper her and make sure she knows you love and care deeply for her and the children.”
this house wouldn’t run efficiently and we would not be
“You’re right. It took for her to get seriously ill for me to understand what she has been trying to tell me. I’ll beg her forgiveness as soon as she pulls out of this and is on her feet again,” he promised as he looked heavenwards. The doctor came out to tell them that the surgery would begin in a few minutes. Reginald called his and Maya’s family. The surgery went well and Maya was in the hospital for a week and then released. Stacy and his mother helped take care of the house and kids until Maya’s parents could travel to them. Maya loved having her family and best friend around. But she loved that her husband seemed to be a changed man. He was patient, gentle, and caring as he hovered over her. He picked up after himself and made sure the children were taken care of. She couldn’t burp without him rushing to her side to see what was wrong. Enough was enough!
fast and I’ve missed some important milestones in their lives by working and playing too much. But through it all you have been our rock, our safety net. Without you, taken care of so well.” He kissed her hand and smiled. “Honey, I’m so happy you feel that way because that has been my prayer for some time. I wanted us to be a family in every way; but also to have quality time for ourselves.” She didn’t realize she was crying until Reginald wiped the tears from her eyes and kissed her deeply. “No matter what happens babe, we have to remember life goes on. In sickness and in health. If you weren’t taking care of us, then we wouldn’t have a home. I love you and will cherish you and the kids forever. I’ll clean the house, wash the dishes, vacuum, you name it, and I’ll do it.” She laughed at that. “Okay buster, don’t make promises you can’t keep.” “I want to start going to church with you as a family and joining a ministry to help others. We’ll be partners and I’ll be more respectful of your opinion in the future. I don’t want to lose you for anything,” Reginald said as he took her lightly into his arms. “Oh, before I forget, I’ve looked into getting you a maid.” You need quality time for yourself as well.” He smoothed
“Honey, I’m fine. Maybe you should return to work or go golfing with your buddies,” she suggested.
her hair away from her face.
“No babe, I’m staying here and helping you get better. I’ve something special in store for you, once the doctor gives the green light for you to resume your wifely duties.”
time! Maya smiled as she leaned into her husband’s
Now that was something she would enjoy. Free embrace. She looked upwards and gave thanks. Prayer worked and life was good again.
Scriptures To Glean From: John 16:33 (King James Version) 33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. Romans 8:28 (King James Version) 8 For we know that all things work together for the good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: 1. How can adversity be a blessing in disguise? 2. What do you see as potential weaknesses in Maya & Reginald’s marriage? 3. How did Maya’s illness serve as a catalyst for the changes necessary to help their marriage? 4. How many blessings do we pass up because something looks different or is unfamiliar to us?
Can you identify a personal experience which initially appeared to be adversity but ended up a blessing in disguise?
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By Marie E. Talley
One Moment in Time P A R A B L E S |55
he will forever remember the day her life was changed irrevocably. She was driving home after a meeting when she saw him, poised at the rail of the bridge. At first, her attention swept past him but there was something in the way his body was tensed in anticipation that brought her attention skittering back to focus on the solitary figure. As he climbed atop the rail, she hastily reached for her cellular phone and instinctively keyed in 911 without ever taking her eyes off him. Surprisingly calm, she gave the emergency dispatcher her location and was assured that a unit would be sent immediately. The dispatcher asked her if she could try and talk to the man and keep him occupied until rescue arrived. Hanging up, she put her car in park, unfastened her seatbelt, and stepped out of her car. As she approached him, now perched on top of the rail, she was vaguely aware of passersby as they slowed down. She was also aware that no one actually stopped. She started to pray as she struggled to find the appropriate words. All she could come up with
was, “Hey, Mister”. He seemed oblivious to any and everything and, even as she drew closer, she realized that she was poorly equipped to deal with the situation. She stopped about six feet away from him and tried again to get his attention. “Hey Mister!” she called, at which he turned and pinned her with a stare that was so full of raw anguish that she couldn’t breathe for a long moment. In her peripheral vision, she noted the arrival of emergency vehicles, praying that their arrival would not precipitate a rash move on the stranger’s part. She spoke the next thing that came to mind. “Can I help?” He turned back to study the drop before him that would take him to the concrete highway below. Initially, she thought he might ignore her then she barely heard him say, “No one can”. Moments later, to her horrified dismay, he plunged headfirst off the bridge. Unable to look away, she followed his descent most of the 300 feet but closed her eyes seconds before he made impact. She felt her stomach protest, the bile
rising in her throat and the tears filling her eyes. Without opening her eyes, she turned her back on the scene, her ears filling with the sound of motorists screeching to a halt below her. She sat down abruptly on the side of the road and laid her head on her knees. As through a veil, she heard emergency personnel scrambling, sirens marking the arrival of more vehicles. She survived the questioning by police and was able to dodge being interviewed by the news station. An hour later, she arrived home, thoroughly sickened by all that had transpired. She took a shower then made herself a cup of tea, hoping it would settle her stomach. Finally, she went to bed. It was not until the following morning that she even learned the identity of the stranger with whom she’d had a brief, life-shattering encounter. Three Months Later…. The nightmares had stopped. Sanita no longer woke up in the middle of the night bathed in sweat. Then she received the letter. It was both a letter of introduction and an invitation. It was the name of the sender that struck her: Brantley. That was the name of the man who had jumped to his death a few months before. According to the letter, it came from the brother of that tragic individual. And the letter was inviting her to meet with this Mr. Brantley for dinner. The letter briefly outlined how the surviving Mr. Brantley had been informed of her heroic attempt to intervene and the invitation to dinner would serve a two-fold purpose: for Mr. Brantley to meet her and to repay her for her act of kindness during the last moments of his brother’s life. Sanita arrived at the restaurant promptly at the appointed time and was led to a table with a single occupant. The man rose smoothly to his feet as she approached and immediately Sanita stopped as the shock of recognition hit her. Standing before her was a living, breathing twin to the dead man. She turned as pale as the ghost she assumed she was looking at. It took her numb brain a minute to register that this was not Marvin Brantley, whom she had last seen plummeting off the bridge. Noting her distress, Lawrence Brantley immediately took her by the hand and led her to a seat at his table. After giving the maitre d’ instructions that they would need some time to choose what they would order, he then poured a glass of water, put it in her hand and softly commanded her to drink it.
Sanita despaired of being able to swallow anything, even the cool water. Visibly shaken, she searched her companion’s features, looking for something to distinguish the man sitting across from her and the man she’d watched fall to his death. Lawrence Brantley silently allowed Sanita’s examination, privately berating himself for not considering the probable impact his uncanny resemblance to his older brother would have on this woman. Had he considered it, he might have arranged for a less public meeting place. Then he philosophically shrugged his shoulders. What was done was done. Belatedly, Sanita realized that she was staring at this stranger. She lowered her eyes and cleared her throat. Reaching for her glass of water, she tried to relieve the dryness in her throat. Before either of them could speak, the waiter arrived to take their order. Turning her attention to the menu before her, Sanita was grateful for the reprieve. Seeing Lawrence Brantley had stirred up feelings that she could not quite identify. After taking their orders, the waiter left them alone. Reaching across the table, Lawrence Brantley picked up Sanita’s hand and said in a soft baritone voice, “We have yet to be properly introduced. I am Lawrence Brantley. I apologize for the initial shock. Marvin was a year older than me and our similar looks had always been a trial for both of us. And you are Sanita Thompson. I am honored to make your acquaintance.” And in a totally unexpected, ageless move that surprised even him, he carried her hand to his lips and softly kissed it. Stunned into immobility, Sanita could not even pull her hand away. Finding her voice, she returned the greeting. Then, as was her custom, she said the first thing that came to her mind. “You look just like him”, at which he grimaced. “Lord, when are You going to help me curb this tongue of mine,” she prayed silently. Sanita hastily apologized. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up painful memories.” Realizing he was still holding her hand, Brantley gently laid it on the table. Shaking his head, he said, “Your apology is unnecessary. People tell me that all the time.” Pausing momentarily, he swallowed. “At least, they used to tell both of us that. It’s still hard to believe that Marvin took his own life.” The waiter appeared with the first course of their meal. Sanita was grateful for the break in what had the
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was much more gratifying than his. He went on to say that while she had chosen a worthy profession in helping people, his was little more than a glorified hobby. Sanita could not help but add that it may be a hobby but it was definitely a lucrative one. Both Sanita and Brantley declined dessert but they both ordered coffee at the end of their meal. Sitting back, Sanita marveled at how comfortable she felt and how easy it was to talk to this man, who had been a complete stranger a little more than two hours ago. He seemed to grow increasingly discomfited and Sanita thought the time had come for them to discuss that event that had brought them together. Sighing, Brantley leaned back and unbuttoned his jacket. Softly he said, “This may be difficult for you but can you please tell me what happened that day?” Sanita thought for a moment that this might be more painful for him than for her. It was, after all, his brother who had taken his own life in such a dramatic manner. Sanita proceeded to relate everything that had taken place from the time she laid eyes on Marvin to the moment he said, “no one can”. potential to become an emotional moment. As they both turned their attention to the appetizer, Sanita took the opportunity to surreptitiously study the man across from her. Tall, over six feet she surmised, pecan tan and handsome in a thoroughly intriguing way, the sight of Lawrence Brantley raised questions in Sanita that she believed were probably best left unanswered. Like, is he saved? Is he single, and if so, why? She mentally shook her head to clear it of such wayward thoughts. As if he knew she was somewhat uneasy, Brantley made small talk as they ate. His smooth voice and the neutral topics he chose served to put Sanita at ease. He talked about his work as an information management systems consultant. Since Sanita was a computer novice, she found the topic fascinating. He explained that he has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a master’s degree in computer science. He drew her out, encouraging her to talk about her work as the clinical coordinator for a dual diagnosed residential treatment program. Somewhat selfdeprecatingly, he ventured to remark that her work
Years of boardroom negotiations gave Lawrence Brantley the uncanny ability to sit acquiescently without any outward show of emotion as Sanita related those final moments of his brother’s life. However, inside he was a seething cauldron of emotions, the least of which were guilt and remorse. On a deep personal level, Lawrence believed that he had somehow failed Marvin, that he had not been available for his big brother when he had needed him the most. Some subconscious insight told Sanita that Lawrence Brantley was not as calm and as poised as he appeared. To the trained observer, there was the tell tale tension around the mouth and the nervous habit of running his hand across his close cropped hair. Other than those two things, there was absolutely nothing to indicate that Lawrence Brantley was anything other than the confident, suave, high powered executive that he appeared to be. When Sanita was done, she leaned back and made a conscious effort to relax. At first, Lawrence Brantley sat silently trying to absorb what Sanita had just recounted for him. “God,” he thought to himself. His mind reeled with the thought of the level of de-
spair Marvin must have sunk to and the abject horror the woman sitting across from him must have experienced. Visibly pulling himself together, he tried to cast a reassuring smile in her direction but couldn’t quite pull it off. The pain was too great. Sanita watched his struggle and her heart went out to him. She reached across the table and clasped his hand in hers. “Are you all right?” she queried. He cleared his throat and with his free hand, picked up his glass of water and took a long swallow. Clearing his throat, he quickly apologized. “I’m sorry, Ms. Thompson. It is difficult even now to try and imagine what my brother must have been going through to make such a decision. It seems as if he saw no other way out. We were raised on the doctrine of hope and faith. Which makes it that much harder to understand. He wouldn’t even come to me for help. I guess that’s what hurts the most.” There was such a wealth of emotion in that well modulated voice that Sanita shivered. Releasing his hand, she wrapped her arms around herself as if to ward off a chill. Lawrence Brantley continued. “You would have to understand how it was for Marvin to constantly live in my shadow, always having my achievements held up in front of him as an indicator of how far he fell short. It didn’t matter what I did to try and support him. He was so bitter and resentful that he couldn’t see that I loved him and I wanted to see him succeed.” Without thinking, Sanita murmured, “It’s not your fault, you know. Whatever demons were driving your brother, they were his own.” Lawrence sat back. “Maybe you’re right, Ms. Thompson. But right now, it doesn’t feel good. I wasn’t there when Marvin needed me the most.” Sanita leaned forward to emphasize her point. “Mr. Brantley, there was no way you could know what your brother planned to do. People who intend to take their own lives do not advertise.” Sanita immediately expected a sharp response from the man sitting in front of her. Instead, Lawrence Brantley merely sent her a weary smile and motioned for the waiter to bring the check. Sanita could have kicked herself for being insensitive, but Lawrence Brantley had another surprise. After dispensing with the check, he looked directly at her and said, “I have a request to make of you,
Ms. Thompson. My family would like to meet you. They asked me to invite you to dinner next Sunday. It will be just the immediate family. But I should warn you that in addition to my parents, there will be my father’s sister and her husband, my brother’s wife and you may even get to meet Marvin’s children.” Sanita was at a loss for words. She didn’t think that she could handle all of the emotion she was sure to encounter at such a gathering. In her line of work, she understood the impact grief could have. It had only been a few months, after all. Sensing her hesitation, Lawrence Brantley reached into his jacket and pulled out a business card. Turning it over, he wrote several numbers on it. He then handed the card to Sanita. “Take a day or two to think about it, Ms. Thompson. It would mean a great deal to me and my family. You can reach me at any of those numbers. My home phone and my cell numbers are on the back.” Sanita took the card and slid it into her purse. “I’ll think about it and I’ll give you a call.” Lawrence Brantley stood and pulled her chair out as she rose to join him. He walked her to her car, and after handing her into the vehicle he leaned downed and kissed her cheek. “Thank you”, he said softly before turning and walking away. Sanita drove home trying to absorb the evening with this very attractive, very charming and very troubled man. She wondered about Marvin and the demons that possessed him, speculating whether or not she would meet some of those demons should she accept this second dinner invitation. “Lord,” she prayed. “I know I’ve always said I’m available for You to use me. But are You sure about this?” Laughing out loud, she shook her head at her own audacity. She also speculated on how involved she wanted to become with this family tragedy that seemed to be pulling her into its swirling depths. The Christian in her knew there was a need for healing and that’s what was pulling at her: the opportunity to facilitate healing. Getting to know the handsome Lawrence Brantley might prove to be a pleasant plus. The designated Sunday arrived with Sanita second-guessing herself about her decision to meet the rest of the Brantley family. It took her practically all day to decide on what she thought was an appropri-
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ate outfit. She’d chosen a pantsuit in a deep burgundy color. Her accessories were a simple gold bangle and hoop earrings. Her watch had a narrow gold band and her fingers were unadorned. As she was getting dressed, she recalled her conversation with Lawrence Brantley a few days before. She’d called him on Wednesday at his office. He was in a meeting but returned her call approximately 45 minutes later. She turned down his offer to pick her up but got the address and directions from him. It didn’t take long for Sanita to realize that the Brantley home was in one of the more affluent communities. She’d been told that dinner was scheduled for 6:00 p.m. and she timed it so that she arrived at the Brantley home at 5:45. She parked her car in the huge driveway taking note of the vehicles already there. Since she had no idea what kind of car Lawrence Brantley drove, she did not know if he was there. Walking up to the door, Sanita rang the bell. She could hear muted tones of music from somewhere within the interior of the stately home. The door swung open and she was greeted by the smiling countenance of a woman who could only be the matriarch of this aggrieved family. The features were similar to those of her two sons and her beautiful brown eyes held the same sadness that Sanita had noticed in the identical eyes of Lawrence Brantley. Ava Brantley greeted Sanita with a kiss on the cheek. “Welcome to our home, Ms. Thompson. Come on in.” She stood back allowing Sanita to enter the spacious foyer. She led the way into a room that was reminiscent of the elegant drawing rooms of the early 20th century. There were approximately half a dozen people gathered in the room. Some had drinks in their hands. The two teenagers that were present were deeply engrossed in the video game they were playing. Immediately Sanita noted the absence of Lawrence Brantley from this gathering and she pushed down the little nudge of disappointment. Ava Brantley made the introductions. Her husband, Victor Brantley, was seated in an easy chair. There was Bill and Rosalyn Bailey, Victor’s sister and brother-in-law. Then there was Melanie Brantley, Marvin’s widow and last, but not least, there were Melvin and Michael, Marvin’s sons aged 16 and 14 re-
spectively. Each adult had turned as Ava and Sanita entered the room and Sanita took a moment to professionally assess the situation. In Victor, Sanita encountered nothing but acceptance, as if he had come to grips with the fact that it was his son’s apparent suicide that had brought her into their lives. It was the same kind of acceptance that she received from Ava when Mrs. Brantley had opened the door. In the teenagers, all she encountered was the usual teenage reticence and shyness most strangers could expect. But when it came to Melanie Brantley and the Baileys, the open hostility and suspicion was a tangible force. Enough to make Sanita wonder what kind of drama she had walked into. “Okay Lord. I’m going to have to follow your lead,” she prayed. Ava explained to Sanita that Lawrence was running late because he’d been out of town and had just gotten in from the airport. But they would give him a few more minutes and then possibly start dinner without him. He would join them as soon as possible. Ava then went into the kitchen to check on preparations. Victor indicated that Sanita should come sit next to him. In hushed tones, he said “I don’t want to upset the boys. They’ve been through enough already. However, I did want to thank you for what you did for Marvin that day.” Sanita shook her head in denial. “Mr. Brantley, I feel like a fraud because I didn’t do anything. I didn’t have a chance. Your son did what he planned on doing anyway.” Victor smiled. “Ah, but you’re wrong, young lady. The fact that you stopped and you tried means so much to my wife and me. How many other people stopped to help? Not a one. Not until he jumped did anybody stop other than you. Thank you”. Sanita was very aware of the speculative glances coming her way from the other adults in the room as Victor kept a quiet, running conversation going. He asked about her work, her family, her goals and aspirations. He had such a quiet air of assurance that she found it easy to talk to him. He was the epitome of charm as he kept her engaged. Lawrence stood at the door and perused the room. His observation took in his aunt and uncle and their displeased expressions. He knew the instant his
sister-in-law became aware of his presence. He fondly ran a gaze over his nephews. But he became riveted when he found Sanita and his father comfortably talking together. His brow drew together as he wondered what they could find to talk about that had both of them unaware that he had arrived. As he moved into the room, his mother appeared to announce that dinner was ready. She spotted him and declared, “Lawrence! You’re right on time as always.” Sanita was jolted as she became acutely aware of him. Sidestepping his sister-in-law, Lawrence made a beeline to where Sanita and his father sat. All of the worry that had been etched on his face when he had arrived, partly do to his business trip, melted away at the sight of Sanita. She had been on his mind like a gnawing ache under his skin since their first meeting. Victor observed the interaction between his son and their guest and nodded to himself. When Lawrence had told them about meeting Sanita for dinner and his impressions of her, Victor had picked up on what his son had not said. Lawrence was attracted to her. Sanita had definitely left an impression on Lawrence and seeing them together, Victor confirmed what he had suspected. And after meeting her for himself, Victor was pleased. As Ava directed everyone to the dining room, Victor himself escorted Sanita, smoothly rising and tucking her hand in the crook of his elbow before Lawrence could make a move. Lawrence frowned as he found himself coupled with his sister-in-law, who held him back until everyone else had followed Ava.
Dinner was a subdued affair. Conversation was low key, although Victor kept Sanita entertained through out the meal, which turned out to be a wonderful four course affair. She surreptitiously observed the interactions between the members of this family as her training had taught her to do. It was easy to see that Victor was the head of the family, but Lawrence exuded the same air of authority as his father. It was also apparent that there was so much more to this family than met the eye. Her concern was for Marvin’s sons, but they did not appear to be having any difficulty adjusting to the absence of their father. At the end of the meal, they all returned to the library where Victor offered the ladies coffee and the gentlemen cigars. Since Ava had declined Sanita’s offer to help with the clean up, Sanita found herself again the center of the attention of all of the adults in the room. Victor and Lawrence were engaged in conversation when Sanita found herself being approached by Melanie Brantley. “Just how did you meet my husband, Ms. Thompson?” she queried. There seemed to be an audible pause in every other conversation in the room as it appeared that everyone waited for Sanita’s response. Lawrence made a move as if to intervene, but Victor held him back. Sanita considered her response carefully, understanding that an inappropriate response might
“I need to talk to you”, Melanie stated without preamble. Lawrence looked down at the hand that clung to his arm. Picking it up, he dropped it with a grimace of distaste. “Whatever it is, it can wait, Melanie.” “I need money”. Looking back at her as he left the room, he replied “You always need money. Come see me tomorrow at the office”. With that, he joined the rest in the dining room.
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cause more harm than good. “I met him the day he died Mrs. Brantley.”
over the lawn spread out under the cover of darkness. Sanita just stood silently, waiting for him to continue.
Melanie Brantley had probably consumed more alcohol than was good for her as it seemed to impair her judgment. She pushed the issue. “Are you trying to tell me that you hadn’t met him before he killed himself?”
“You can’t imagine how hard I’ve been praying for this family since Marvin died. I keep asking the Lord to guide me, to show me what He wants me to do. My parents have managed to handle their grief because of their faith. But I know it has been extremely difficult.”
At that point, Lawrence broke away from Victor. He grabbed Melanie’s arm and ordered her to stop. “That’s enough, Melanie. Ms. Thompson is a guest in our home. You will not insult her like that.” Sanita held up her hand. “That’s all right Mr. Brantley. I understand Mrs. Brantley is upset.” She turned to Melanie. “Mrs. Brantley. I had never seen your husband before that day on that bridge.” Melanie pulled out of Lawrence’s grasp and retreated to a corner chair. Sanita was extremely aware of how the Baileys were watching the entire interaction. She was also aware that the boys seemed to be embarrassed by their mother’s outburst. At that moment, Ava joined them and Sanita decided it was a good time for her to make her exit. Walking over to Victor, she leaned down and kissed his cheek. “Thank you Mr. Brantley for the hospitality. Especially at a time like this.” She turned to Ava and enfolded her in a warm embrace. “Mrs. Brantley, I really enjoyed myself”. She nodded at the Baileys and lifted her hand in farewell to Melvin and Michael. She glanced in Melanie’s direction but could not make eye contact. She then turned to Lawrence who offered to walk her to her car. Outside in the balmy night air, the palpable tension that Sanita felt inside the Brantley home seemed to melt away. Reaching into her purse for her keys, Sanita searched for a way to keep Lawrence’s company just a little while longer. “Thank you for your kindness, Ms. Thompson. You could have refused to come tonight. And personally, I wouldn’t have blamed you.” He looked away from her and
He swallowed. “Even though, on some level, I suspect my dad is a little relieved because he doesn’t have to worry about my brother anymore.” He seemed to shake himself, turning a paintinged smile on Sanita. “If it is all right with you, I’d like to set up an appointment one day next week to come see you at your office. My parents have a proposition for you.” Sanita was intrigued. What could the Brantleys want from her? She had no clue, but she did know that because she trusted the Lord, He would not steer her wrong. Whatever was in store for her, and to what extent it involved the Brantleys, it started one day on a bridge…one moment in time.
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Scriptures To Glean From: Isaiah 6:8 (New International Version) – 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Philippians 2:13 (New Living Translation) – 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: 1. Have you ever wondered what would cause someone to commit suicide? 2. Have you ever had to deal with the tragic loss of someone at their own hand? 3. Have you ever been urged by the Spirit to do something, but was resistant? 4. Have you ever found yourself faced with a situation that you know could only have been orchestrated by Divine Intervention? 5. Have you ever been given a task that you felt unequipped to handle?
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That 9 dollar lunch is worth more than you think. Like 19,000 dollars more. Pack your own lunch instead of going out. $6 saved a day x 5 days a week x 10 years x 6% interest = $19,592. That could be money in your pocket. Small changes today. Big bucks tomorrow. Go to feedthepig.org for free savings tips.
Remember Mama Dorothy Diaz
t is very cold, this Sunday morning on this side of the eastern hemisphere. I am debating whether I should go and visit my manic brother who lives all the way down at the bottom of the road. While trying to make a decision, I decided to dress as warm as I can and started trotting off in my grey fur coat and black steel boots. The journey to visit my brother Adam is made on foot. The decision is made then; because I am clearly already on my way. The walk is very unfriendly.
The ice-cold winds from the Alps mountain range are smacking my face and stinging my eyes almost freezing up my eyelids, and the depth of the snow forces me to pick my feet up high and drop them very hard as not to sink into the heavy snow. This is exhausting and I lose breath with each step I take. Finally, I arrive at around 11am, gasping for air and regretting my decision to visit my brother. We have
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very opposite beliefs and our judgment of what is real or not varies. I put aside all prejudice and in the name of family I gladly accept that this is my duty to my brother. This is “Ubuntu”, which is an ethical concept of African origin emphasizing community, sharing and generosity. Adam does not take care of his physical appearance, let alone his ill health. I have cooked us a late breakfast because I can almost guarantee that he has not yet had a meal for today. There he is. The crazy old man is sitting back so relaxed in an old wooden rocking chair that still rocks back and forth even though it is now over 50 years old. I step carefully onto the wooden porch trying not to alarm him as he sits and rocks back and forth. He does not take kindly to any sudden moves or sounds and it’s just my luck that the front porch makes the loudest and craziest sounds. Sort of like something out of a horror movie. My brother is more like a character in one of those scary movies. He has a deep and devilish voice, he hardly shares a smile and he is not friendly at all. Step by step, breath by breath I take, as I have to be cautious around him. Adam spends his time dreaming of the past. He has never gotten over the
loss of our mother and it is a ghost that haunts him everyday. He insists that he can hear my Mama singing to him. I insist that he is insane and needs to get help from a professional. Our mother died while giving birth to us and we never got to see her except through photo albums given to us by family members. We also got to know her through a journal that she kept which was also given to us. She must have been a gentle person because she only spoke soft words in her journal. I manage not to get so emotional about the loss. I accepted that I would live my life without any parents or family. We were adopted by an Eastern European couple at four months old. Adam on the other hand has suffered the loss since the first day he could remember things. I decided that our mother’s journal and photo albums were better off with Adam because he seemed to feel a connection to the past. Whereas I just wanted to forget about it and focus on our given reality. The sun comes up sharp and is blinding my sight as I stare up into the sky trying to get at least one ray of heat onto my face. The yellow- orange glow gets sharper each minute and I cannot help but close my eyes
and drift away for a moment. I come back from my dreams as Adam’s loud and noisy chair creaks. I look away from the sky and stare straight into his dark eyes. “What do you want here?” “I have come to visit my brother or is that forbidden?” “Only if you’re presence is not wanted. Then yes, it is forbidden. Did you bring me food again?” “Adam, my dear brother, when are you going to realize that I am the only family that you have left on this earth and that we should cherish the time that we have left with each other. We are both of age and could kick it any time soon.” “I would be happy when that day comes, and then I can be with the only person that loved me on this earth, my Mama. Do you remember Mama, Joshua? She was a beautiful woman and her eyes were majestically blue. The sound of her voice was godly, she had the softest hair and her skin was fresh and smelled of lilies.” “We never got to see Mama. She died the day we were born so stop your nonsense. I am too old to have this conversation with you day after day.” “I got to hear her voice, she spoke to us and I could sense her beauty.” Adam goes into memory lane again. He starts singing a lullaby that he claims Mama used to sing to us when we were in her womb. He continues to hum for hours on end and all I can do is sit, frustrated by him, on his porch and watch him dive into a past I do not believe existed. He gazes at the rising of the sun and so I decide to join him. For me the day we were born was a glorious yet bitter day. Our mother had birth complications and died the morning that we were born. The pain is too hard for me and I stop trying to remember anything. My grandmother took us to an orphanage because she was too old, extremely poor and could not take care for us. We have no memory of any of this except for the stories that we receive from Gogo, our grandmother. The sun is out. It is bright yellow and warm. Adam awakes from his daylight dreams of his mother and smiles as he enjoys the sun. Adam steps onto the porch and looks over at the lake that flows beneath it.
He sees a clear crystal-like reflection of himself. The shimmering waters are not still and so he cannot focus on a still image of himself. My brother is a grumpy old black African man with tough thick skin that has many wrinkles. His hair is coarse and afro-like. Not a neat or shaven appearance. A very scary and gruesome looking man. He hardly smiles and never shows any friendliness to people who attempt to make some overture of kindness. One can see the craziness in his eyes. The dark rings around his eyes are a reflection of the dark path that he has chosen travel on. Living in a memory that is not real. Adam looks hard at himself; he catches a still moment with a clear mirror reflection in the lake that flows beneath his porch. There is sadness in his eyes and a feeling of disbelief floats in the air. A sound of hope whispers in the water beneath us; hope that I will remember Mama the way that Adam does. My emotions for all these years have just been pain and anger. This harsh emotion may be the reason that I cannot remember, the reason why I do not want to remember. It hurts me deep in my soul to think that my being alive caused my Mama to take her last breath. I fall back and start to choke on my own breath. I stop breathing just to give her a moment to live again. I gasp and there it is; the sound of her voice so clear in the air. Adam glares at me and starts to sing along with the wind “Thula Thula Mtwana………” Mama sang this lullaby to us and now I remember. “Adam, is this a dream?” “No, Joshua this is real. Mama is here, and she is singing to us.” “Why did you leave us? We needed you… we were too young to be left at an orphanage… now we are in a strange country with no family Mama… we don’t belong here… we have no one, no one.….” “She never left us Joshua. She followed us all over even across the seas into these foreign lands and she is with us everyday, watching over us and singing to us. You are not alone Joshua, you have me and Mama.” At that moment I stood up and looked into my brothers eyes. He is not mad. He is just as sad as I am. He is just missing Mama.
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Scriptures To Glean From: Deuteronomy 28:65-67 – And among these nations shall thou find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest: but the Lord shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind. And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shall fear day and night, and shall have none assurance of thy life. In the morning thou shall say, Would God it were evening! And at evening thou shall say, Would God it were morning! For the fear of thine heart wherewith thou shall fear, and for the sight of thine eyes which thou shall see. 2 Timothy 1:7- For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: 1. How do you handle grief? 2. How do you handle fear? 3. Have you ever had to deal with an elderly or infirm relative? 4. Can you identify a situation where you may have been judgmental or overly critical of someone else’s differing beliefs?
Out Of The Belly Of The Whale By Denise Jones
hen the word of the Lord spoke unto Jonah to go and cry against Nineveh, Jonah went to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish to escape the presence of the Lord. The Lord sent out a great wind into the sea and there was a mighty tempest in the sea. The ship was in danger of being wrecked. Jonah eventually was cast into the sea, but the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. After spending three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, the Lord spoke unto the fish, and it spit out Jonah upon the dry land. Like Jonah, I traveled many avenues trying to escape the presence of the Lord. My Tarshish was shooting heroin, smoking cocaine, dropping pills, drinking cough syrup, and commit-
ting crime. I stayed in the belly of the whale for eight years. On Sunday, July 6, 1986, I finally gave God my will, and what was left of my life. By this time, I was as Shug said in The Color Purple, “You sho’ is ugly.” And believe it: I was whipped. My face was so bumpy it looked like the Rocky Mountains. I had big, black spots the size of nickels and quarters all over my face. My teeth were literally so loose that I could have performed my own dental extractions. Whenever I touched them, blood flowed from my gums like a mountain stream. My body was in bad shape. When I moved my head, I felt my brain shifting; for years, I experienced terrible headaches. My hands and feet were swollen to the size of footballs. I could not get any shoes on and had to tie my feet down on top of my shoes with a rope, belt or anything that was strong enough to hold them in place. When you think of the creature from the Black Lagoon, that was the old DJ. Every time I looked in the mirror, I scared myself. Actually, ugly is an understatement. I traveled down many avenues before I finally allowed the Lord to place me upon dry land. After God showed me my state through a most powerful dream, I hit the ground running. In the dream, I saw two mountains with a river of water running through the center of them. The water in the center aisle between the two mountains represented the Word of God. If I had only received the Word, it would have cleansed me thoroughly. Again, the scripture rings over in my mind, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word (Ephesians 5:26). God was showing me that I must allow His Word to saturate my spirit so that
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I may be clean and have sweet fellowship with Him and His Son in the Holy Ghost. My soul was thirsting and longing for that, but my flesh – the natural, degenerate side of me – continued to fight. When I finally submitted and got in the water, I did so grudgingly. It wasn’t that I wanted to please God with all my heart; I just knew that if I was going to have any kind of peace, I had to obey God. While crossing over I realized I could not swim. God was showing me that although I thought I knew it all, I really did not know a thing. He was proving that He was my source of strength. My help would come from Him. There are things in His Word that I cannot understand on my own, so I need His guidance and direction. The scripture says, Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth (John 16:13). In the dream, my mother represented just that. She gripped my hand, just as a mother does when crossing the street with her child, and led me to the mountain of sanctification. She was a mature saint, one who listens to the Spirit of God and walks according to His word. In the dream, my friend Wendy represented someone that would come to God after me and would have the same trouble I was presently having. I would be able to minister from the Word just as the mother figure did to me. After all my fighting and bucking, I still didn’t realize that my freedom and deliverance depended on my obedience to the Word of God. The words fornication and masturbation represented things I had to overcome, and the people I passed on the way up the mountain represented the souls God would allow me to help overcome those spirits. Lesbianism and lasciviousness protruded more than the others because they were my strongholds. I am easy prey to those snares unless I depend wholly on God, remain in His Will and allow Him to keep me. My looking back represented my disobedience and rebellion against God. It represented my backsliding. Suddenly finding myself on the evil mountain engulfed in flames showed me that I would have trouble and turmoil should I turn back on God. There will be no peace in my life, only catastrophe, great affliction and misfortune. God will allow the devil to be loosed on me like a roaring fire. The force of demon powers will consume me. My life and well-being will be on the line. Similar to actual fire victims, I would have physical handicaps and emotional and mental scars that would never mend. The glorious light that lifted me out of the flames, was Jesus Christ rescuing me once again from my sins. I
called on Jesus truly from the depths of my soul and He delivered me. The irony of it all is that when He delivered me, He placed me right back on the mountain of sanctification, which is the only way of life prescribed by God for man to life. I thought about the scripture in Isaiah 35:8 that reads, “And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.” Sanctification is a mountain, which every saint of God must climb. There is no getting around it. The Word of God says, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification….” (I Thessalonians 4:3). As far as my ups and downs, the lesson I learned is a simple one: be still and don’t move. I am grateful for this dream because it showed me the Grace and Mercy of God. Many times, I felt like it couldn’t be done, but when I thought about it I had to ask myself, “Who Said It Couldn’t Be Done?” The only answer I could come up with was ME. As I look back over my life, everyone who was significant in it always tried to help me and was hurt when I didn’t succeed. Through all my difficulties, the lessons learned far outweigh the tests and trials themselves. I am stronger and wiser, more compassionate, empathetic and understanding of the needs of others. My life’s circumstances have worked patience and endurance in me, but most of all, I have the assurance of knowing IT CAN BE DONE. In addition to my GED, I obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Applied Behavioral Sciences from National Louis University, then a Master of Science in Nonprofit Management, with a concentration in Human Service Administration from Spertus College. I am also a Certified Addictions and HIV Counselor and desire to open a sober living housing facility for women. Tender Touch, Inc. will provide services to women who are reentering society from prison and will offer GED classes, job-readiness skills training seminars and parenting classes. All of these skills are necessary to live socially productive and personally victorious lives. God has anointed me to be a deliverance minister, allowing me to preach to women in various drug treatment facilities, jails, and homeless shelters and on street corners from the northern streets of Chicago to the southern roads of Florida. Then, in 2005, God blessed me to minister during a Friday evening service at True Holiness Deliverance Ministry. In sum, I have twenty-three years of sobriety. Who Said It Couldn’t Be Done? I am living proof: IT CAN BE DONE!
Scriptures To Glean From: II Corinthians 5: 17 - Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
Philippians 4:13 - I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me.
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Elder M. J. Reynolds REFLECTION Many times we, as Saints of God, will say we love one another, but somehow we continue to hurt one another. Love is a word used by many and oftentimes most of our actions don’t display what our mouth is saying when it comes to love. Most times the love we display for one another does not add up to the love God has for us. God’s love is called Agape, a Greek word. The love of God for His people has never been displayed in more awesomeness than when He gave His only Begotten Son to die for the sins of mankind (John 3:16-18). Such love is the greatest kind of love ever known to man. Stabbing each other in the back is not love. Putting each other down is not love. Hoping the worst for each other is not love. Love for one another is desiring the best for each other and bringing out the best in each other, what do you desire for those that hurt and despitefully use you? Can you love them without judgment?
MEDITATION The Bible makes it crystal clear to us. Love is of God (1 John 4:7-8). Loving one another is not a request from Jesus; it is a command (1 John 4:21 / John 13:34-35). We can’t say we love God—whom we have not seen—and hate our brother / sister who we have seen (1 John 4:20). If we love God, we ought to love one another. If we love God, we will love one another with God’s type of love, that unconditional, Agape love. More Scripture Reference: 1 John 3:23; 4:7-21 / Hebrews 13:1 / Romans 12:10 / 1 Peter 1:22; 2:17
PRAYER/ACTION Father today I pray that you teach me to love each and every person with the pure, unconditional, gracious, tender and merciful love that you show me. Amen. Even if they do not respond, respond strangely or ask you why you are saying it - tell someone you love them today.
NEGLECTED, BUT NOT DEFEATED! Jonathan Burkett
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y mother tried to press eight different charges against me on several different occasions. She only succeeded with a destruction of property charge. During the trial, she told the judge I had been hitting her, threatening her, stealing money, and doing drugs on the street. I was already feeling stressed, so I just told the judge straight up, “Yes, she’s right.” I shrugged, telling Her Honor that she could believe everything that my mother was saying. I was at the point where I wanted to serve twenty-five years, or even life, because I would rather do time than do something really wrong and end up in hell. That is where I was headed. “Lock me up for life because I don’t want to be here no more! I hate my life!” I screamed at them. The judge, officers, and everyone in the courtroom just looked at me in silence as if I was crazy. The judge said, “You need some serious help, Jonathan! Because of what has happened you are mandated to attend family therapy and anger management with a psychiatrist.” I also ended up being prescribed medication. On the weekends, I attended anger management classes, and continued therapy. My probation officer felt sorry for me and decided that this was what I really needed because of how much rage I had bottled up inside me. It was as if I had something dark just waiting to be released. If I did not attend these classes, they would have locked me up in a mental institute. My therapist said that I seemed down, upset, and unloved, which was true because my girl Latoya was not as close with me anymore. I told her that I had nobody here in America, other than my brothers and my girlfriend and I worried that I would lose them because of the lies I had told in court. So my therapist wanted me to make plans to help get my life and mind back in order. She knew, above
all else, what made me down was my relationship with my mother. She said, “Go to your mother and ask her if she loves you, and when you hear the answer, come back and tell me how the answer made you feel. Because no matter what your mother tells you, she does love and appreciate you being in her life.” I decided to follow her advice the next morning. The day after we went to court, caseworkers talked with my mother about child neglect. So she was mindful to walk around me now and not through me. The next morn-
ing, I had to beg my mother to sit down with me. I said, “I’ve gone through a hard life with you, and I feel very depressed, and weak deep inside. I’ve always felt unloved and unwanted since I came here, and I don’t really understand why you treat me this way. I am just going to ask you this one question because you have never told me this before. Well, not since I was younger.” I then asked the big question, “Do you love me, Mother?”
She looked into my eyes and said, “No, Jonathan. I never did because I hate you. I never wanted you in my life, and I wish you would’ve just died instead of coming into my life, causing nothing but drama and pain for me.” “How can you put everything that you go through in your life on me?” I asked her. “Because I can, and if you have a problem with it, there’s nothing that you can do about it.” Then she got up, picked up her stuff, and left me sitting there with all of those negative thoughts creeping into my head. My brothers were at their grandma’s house, so I sat thinking alone with my head hanging down. I sobbed quietly. I balled up my fists and tears began to drop. My heart began beating hard, my mind felt like it was about to explode, and I began getting very dizzy. I let out all of that anger that I had been holding in. I
continued to let it out by breaking things and hitting myself and slamming my head against walls. I kept cursing my Father for not being there for me, and telling Him to strike me down right then and there. I went outside and looked up with fright but wanting and said, “Here, I am! I’m freaking ready! Kill me!” I once heard if you curse God, He will immediately strike you down. I started laughing, “I thought you were really up there, but now you have proven to me that not all of your words are true. I still believe in you and in spirits though, but I do not know if I can ever believe in your love for your children again.” I went back inside laughing and crying. I looked at myself in the mirror and started to wonder if I was really meant to be here on earth because my mother was raped and unloved by the man who was my father. I opened up the kitchen drawer and pulled out a knife and said, “Forget my life.” I woke up watching TV. When I collected myself, and my memory came back, I wondered how I had ended up asleep on the couch because the last thing I remembered was coming into the house and putting a knife to my throat. “Did the Lord strike me down?” I asked myself because I remembered that I cursed my Father. My body was in pain, especially my head and it felt like it was swollen. My fist, arms, and chest were bleeding and scratched. I looked around and saw that the cereal box, which I had taken out before I talked to my mother, was still on the table. I kept questioning myself and looking around my mother’s home in amazement seeing a lot of things that were broken. I had no strength left in me so I went to go lie down and fell asleep with it all on my mind. I woke up the next day with a huge headache, but I did not want to stay home so I went to school. I kissed my girl hello then went directly to class and put my head down on the desk before class had even started. I slept through that entire period. As I was coming out of class and heading to another, my head started pounding, and my mind started to spin. Getting dizzier with many thoughts running through my mind, I could not believe everything around me was moving, and I was seeing double. I said, “I am about to die.” I blacked out, right then and there in the school’s hallway. I woke and re-
alized I was in the hospital. They told me that I had a total of sixteen seizures since I was admitted two days ago but none today as yet. The doctor told me that I was lucky to be alive because that was a near death experience for a young teen of fourteen years. In the hospital, with all the nurses watching over me closely, I had no one there by my side. As a result, I had more seizures, so the doctors decided to increase the dosage of the medication that they were giving to me. With the increased medication, some of the dizziness went away but I could not stay awake. So they decreased it but I started having more seizures. The doctors said, “We are just going to have to keep you on a high dosage of medication because you can die anytime if you keep on having all those seizures like that.” I was taken to get an MRI because it seemed as if something had burst in my head, or I had a tumor of some sort growing in my brain. They called a neurologist to examine my brain. “Jonathan, we already know that you’re stressed and that is one of the problems, but also you have something growing in your brain. Therefore, you need to stop stressing out yourself. We are going to have to bring someone to watch over you because every time you have a seizure you always want to fight staff,” the doctor said. “So tell me, Jonathan, what has been bothering you so much, what has been stressing you out so much? And don’t tell me you do not have a guardian watching over you and helping you in life. Because no one has come to visit you since you have been hospitalized. May I have your mother or father’s number?” “I don’t have one,” I said, and all the doctor did was look at me and say, “OK.” The nurses then disconnected all the IVs because I kept complaining about them, and they were trying to avoid making me mad. So now, I could walk around feeling free until they got the results that the doctors were waiting on. The next day, the doctor told me that I had experienced another seizure and had wanted to kill myself during it, but I had no memory of it at all. The doctors no longer wanted me out of their sight or out of the hospital anytime soon. I prepared to leave the hospital as soon as I could because I felt there could never be anyone for me like Latoya and I did not want to lose her. I thought the
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best thing I could do to keep her was to get out of the hospital and see her. My mother still had not shown up at the hospital, so they told me that I could not be released until my parents signed papers for my release and follow up care that I needed. Unbelievable images were constantly running through my head of me getting killed and watching others look at me as I lay in a casket. Everyone was smiling and laughing and having a wonderful time, even though I was lying down dead in front of them. I did not cry though because I thought, at least I can see myself in a coffin before I get there, and I can see how others would look at me, if I even had a funeral. They finally released me when they contacted my mother. So I went back into my mother’s home after so many days in the hospital. “I wished you would have died while you were in the hospital” was all my mother had to say to me. I walked to my bedroom and cried because those were words that I would expect from an enemy. Those were the words that my friend’s father had said to a man, a day before he died in Jamaica.
After Cassandra left she just stood there staring at me and finally said, “I am going to get you back for that.” “For what, what did I do to you now?” I asked. My mother went inside her bedroom and I thought to take a shower, although it sounded like she was crying. Without me knowing, my mother had called the police on me. Sitting down watching television in the living room, I saw my mother come out of her bedroom in tears, with scratches and marks on her face and body. “She’s crazy,” I thought. The police came inside and turned off the television, ordering me to stay seated. “Why did you beat up your mother, little boy, and then try to rape her? You were having problems finding a girlfriend?” the police asked me. “What are you talking about?” I asked. “If you are talking about all those marks that she has on her body, she did that all by herself. If you want to believe her go ahead, you will be the fools for believing her.”
I thought, “If she really wants it, she is going to get it.”
“Why would your mother lie about something like that then, you tell me?” the police asked.
That night, my brothers asked what was wrong with me because I was lying on the floor with my mother standing over me asking me if I was finished yet. Unfortunately, I had begun having more seizures. However, it was not until I got up, got mad, and went outside that I ended up right back in the hospital because of all the thoughts that I kept in my mind about my mother.
“She hates me. Look it up in your computer system and you will see how many problems me and my mother have had in the past. I was sitting down right here on this couch, and I am guessing that she must have seen the girl that was visiting me here in the house when she came home. She told me that she was going to get me back for something and that’s probably it.”
The doctors told my mother that I would need surgery or else I would have an 80 percent chance of dying. She told them not to perform the surgery because I was the one that was causing it all, and what was growing in my head could just stay there. Plus there was a great chance of me dying during the surgery.
“Anyway, look at how big my hands and arms are. If I would have grabbed her, and abused her, and then tried to rape her, she would be in worse shape, fools! So don’t believe her lies. But, if you want to arrest me, you can go ahead.”
I asked my mother why she would not consent to the surgery. “Because I want you to die” she said. Weeks later, after more drama than I could even remember, I was back in school and only staying with my mother on and off. I should have stayed away. One afternoon, a new friend named Cassandra whom I was getting to know, dropped me home after school and my mother saw her car pulling into the drive way. We went inside the house and talked for a while but my mother never said anything.
“You better not be lying to us,” the officer said.
“We are going to go and talk to her about this,” they said. When the police finally left, my mother ran inside crying, saying, “Why can’t I get you out?” She ran to the kitchen and chased me with a knife. I moved out the way and saw the knife go into the couch. I thought, “She is not playing with me this time.” As she chased me she just kept telling me to die. So I held her down on the couch and told her that if she wanted to kill me, ask first and I might allow her. At
first she had a serious look on her face but then she started smiling and laughing. She told me to get off of her. Smiling also, I told her that she had no chance of fighting and killing me face to face. I would have to be sleeping for her to have a better opportunity to take my life. “I was not trying to kill you,” my mother told me. “I was trying to see if you knew how to defend yourself, just in case someone ever tries to kill you.” “Sure, you were! You were just trying to put new decorations, like holes, in your sofa and also in me so I had to wrestle with you and then hold you down to tell you no!” “What do you want for dinner?” she asked. She talked and talked about how she wanted to enjoy a big dinner tonight with me at her side, her son that she loves so dearly, ever since birth. I looked at her with tears in my eyes because I knew that she was lying to save herself from being locked up and I told her that she didn’t have to lie to me. Punching the wall, I said, “I wish that I never had you in my life.” Each time I thought that I was loved by her, I would find out that she didn’t love me at all, not even after every case was dropped.
HuNGER loVEs THE NEW HIT dRAmA, Too. 1 IN 6 AmERIcANs sTRuGGlEs WITH HuNGER.
“Do you know how it feels inside of me?” I asked my mother. “No! Because I do not truthfully care,” she said with no concern in her voice. “Thank you,” I said. “For what?” she asked. “For telling the truth. I wish you had told my grandmother and grandfather that same thing before they let me go,” I said, a second before I walked out the door.
Hunger is closer than you think. Reach out to your local food bank for ways to do your part. Visit FeedingAmerica.org today.
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Scriptures To Glean From: Romans 12:14 (New International Version) – 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Matthew 6:14-15 (New International Version) – 14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Luke 6:27-28 (New International Version) – 27 But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: 1. Have you ever felt like life was simply to overwhelming and you challenged God to end it? How did you apply your faith to overcome that feeling? 2. The young man in the story found himself hated because of an experience he absolutely no control over yet he was the seed of that experience. Can you relate to that kind of situation? How and what can one do to discover the love Christ has for them in spite of the situation? 3. There clearly needed to be a lot of forgiveness in this story, how can we apply forgiveness even in the face of such contempt and anger? 4. The mother in this story wanted to forsake her child, but God promises to never leave us or forsake us, if you were the writer how would drive this truth home in this story? 5. What are some tangible and practical things we can do to move from a position of neglect and abuse to a position of victory?
“up in my grill”
You may not understand everything kids say. But that’s ok. You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent. Because kids in foster care don’t need perfection. They need you. AdoptUsKids.org
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