Friday, January 28, 2011

Yes, winter's back, now help somebody!

Through this bitter cold we're enduring in the midwest, the east coast, and even in the south, we're "suffering" and complaining, but most of us are getting through it. Many of us have high-tech equipment to make snow plowing easier (i.e., some even have mats/special surfaces that actually melt the ice and snow as it falls to the ground); or snow blowers so we don't have to shovel manually; or we may have automatic car starters to warm up and defrost the car before we get inside, so we can comfortably conquer our commute.

And yet, there are larger parts of the world that have never even seen snow. Many have never oopsed, slipped, and fell to the ground on a hidden patch of ice. I've met many people from around the world who came to the Detroit metro area, actually eager to see their first snowfall and feel the cold crystals fall on their tongues and faces. You know, kind of like how we native Michiganders are during the first snowfall before Christmas. However, by the time February gets here, we're grumbling about the harsh winter elements, cringing at the relentless dirty snow, and succumbing to cabin fever. Where's the sun and warmth we used to know?!

We become jealous of our family, friends, and associates who may be able to leave this blistering cold atmosphere, even temporarily. We get Facebook notices from our "friends" telling us they've escaped to LA for awhile, and how warm and wonderful it is out there. They're wearing flip flops and t-shirts and they "truly" wish we were there. (Yeah, right) We forget that California endured endless brush fires this past year; they're always on the cusp of who knows what size earthquake and when; and that most areas of the U.S. have to endure something "harsh," in terms of weather or natural disasters. Have you ever stopped to think that God gives us moments to pray through our "hardships" and become closer to Him? Perhaps He continuously lets us know just how much we DO have...even in the cold.

Oprah Winfrey recently dedicated a show to military families who must endure without their spouses who are deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, and countless other third-world countries in service to our country's freedom. First Lady, Michelle Obama, is passionate about this issue, opening our eyes to just how many of these mothers and fathers must raise their families as single parents  while their spouses are thousands of miles away in the most volatile countries of the world. We know tomorrow's not promised for any of us. But, the military, they're honored to put their lives on the line each day without complaint, and they pray to just come home safely when their deployment is over.

Oprah also introduced us to a family who's father was severely injured while in the war, returned home blind, with a severe brain injury, and now the family has a new normal. Thank God, the father is making his way back physically, and he has a very devoted wife and loving children, but their lives have changed drastically. On that show, Oprah and First Lady Michelle gave us ways we could help the families who are still here, and not seen because they're not whearing a uniform. It's surprisingly easy to find military families who live nearby, and could possibly use our help. We all can contribute. We all can do something.

In the Old Testament, God tells us to give a portion of our tithes to the widows and orphans. We can take that to also mean give a portion of what we have to military families, the poor, and others in need:
29 Give it to the Levites, who have no inheritance among you, as well as to the foreigners living among you, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, so they can eat and be satisfied. Then the LORD your God will bless you in all your work. [Deuteronomy 14:29 (New Living Translation)]

Wouldn't it be wonderful to take our minds off our winter woes and tithe our time to help others? We can ask them how we could pitch in to make their lives a little easier. We could say, hey, our church is available to you, how can we help? Do you need a babysitter? Would you like to get your hair or nails done? Do you need a ride to go shopping? Can we cook you dinner? Do you have enough winter clothes, warm coats, and boots? Would you like to join us in church? Would you like to worship with us?

Can we shovel your snow?

God bless!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sober Judgment - The Nina Chronicles

Presenting the first few chapters of my Christian novel: Sober Judgment - The Nina Chronicles. The doors of the church are now open - enjoy the journey!

***

Sober Judgment

A Novel by
Pamela McCree Sampson
© 2011 Writers’ Blaaq, Inc.


3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8if it encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
[Romans 12: 3-8 (NIV)]


VICTORIA FALLS
Victoria Falls, affectionately abbreviated to Vic Falls by anyone who’s ever been there, is one of the world’s greatest natural spectacles. Declared a World Heritage Site, the falls – and much of the town of the same name – fall within a 23,4km² national park, which neighbours onto the 573km² Zambezi National Park. The falls are the stuff of legends, romance and myth. Long before the Scottish missionary and explorer, Dr David Livingstone “discovered” the falls on November 16, 1855, the local Batonga people had named them Mosi-Oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders”. The more prosaic Livingstone named them for his queen, but departed from his normal, pedestrian writing to observe in his diary that “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”

Today, the town of Victoria Falls can rightly claim the title of “Adrenaline Capital of Africa.” Still essentially a village carved out of the African bush, Vic Falls is home to a seemingly endless variety of adventure sports. Bungee jumping off the railway bridge and white water rafting through the Batoka Gorge downstream of the falls (said to be the world’s most exciting stretch of rafting) are just the two most obvious attractions. For surfers, a new addition to the attractions is a chance to bodyboard the huge standing waves set up as the river bounces off underwater boulders. Floating above the falls in a tandem microlight is perhaps the ultimate way to see what Livingstone’s angels saw, but for the less adventurous, there are regular helicopter and light aircraft flights for a similar perspective. Sublime sundowner cruises on the broad sweep of Zambezi River upstream of the falls while sipping a Zambezi Lager, are an exquisite way to experience an African sunset, while the more energetic can hire canoes for gentle, guided paddling trips – steering well clear of the sweep of current leading over the lip of the falls (and the many pods of hippopotami).

But perhaps best of all is the constant lure of the falls. A network of trails leads through the rainforest surrounding the smoke that thunders. Hire an umbrella and raincoat, and happily spend a day or longer simply gazing at the incredible vistas of one of the natural wonders of the world. When the river is at its lowest, as little as 20 000 cubic metres per minute flow over the lip of the falls, but when the mighty Zambezi is raging in April and May, as much as 500 000 cubic metres a minute smashes down into the Devil’s Cataract below, and then powers its way through the Batoka Gorge.



Prologue
I felt the joints of my legs and soul crack and pull apart as the Beast tore his way into me. His once soft and gentle hands now harshly gripped me into a carnal cage. The soft caress that used to be was no more. I had suffered through countless days and nights of physical torture trying to somehow please him. Two years before, I had finally summoned the courage to protest. At first, he seemed to listen, or did he? We had always enjoyed our outings and classes together, putting on the expected smiley faces for everyone else’s benefit. Perhaps if I faked it well enough, the seemingly perfect pre-marriage would become real.
However, I felt guilty of betrayal and couldn’t admit from where the nagging feeling had initially emerged. It ate away at me emotionally and mentally, ultimately manifesting itself physically during our lovemaking. At first it was an extreme burn, then tearing, then blood that never seemed to stop. Many nights in the dorm I’d feign sleep, but he’d come in and nudge me until I opened my eyes.
In a matter of seconds, his manhood would rise and the Beast would roll on top of me, plunging past my opening, ovaries, and finally hitting the “back wall.” My immediate tears would stain the pillow as he held down my hands and wrists to keep me still. No amount of begging, no amount of kicking, no amount of my soft screams about the unbearable pain could stop him. He just kept going...he...just...kept...going.
Then, one day, my tears just stopped. My bottomless fountain of sorrow was finally emptied, unbeknownst to me, also taking away the laughter, fear, surprise, and any other emotion that formally comprised my soul. My homely physical features, coupled with the Beast repeatedly mangling me with his persistent pitches into my feminine soul, would keep me stained for life. And I wasn’t able to stop it. Take the punishment. I deserve it. Who the hell is gonna want me now anyway??? I was finally able to block out all that was happening to me. Images of Victoria Falls became my refuge. So beautiful…so peaceful…

 
Chapter One

           

We must commit ourselves to the purpose of the Lord and the purpose of faith.


This morning’s service was like all the others, and so was Tyrone’s objective – to get folks out of their seats and into his world. Last week, he alone brought the whole congregation to their feet, then to their knees with tears in their eyes. His fingers elicited hypnotic melodies on the keyboard and once a few of the choir members got the Holy Ghost, he knew he had them all. Blessed Assurance had always been a labor for him to get through, so last year, he introduced his own jazzy arrangement – or, rearrangement, rather. This morning, the keys seemed hotter than ever.

This is my story, this is my song

Praising my Savior all the day long…


Yes, this was Tyrone’s song. His fingers glided effortlessly across the keyboard, giving the listeners something exotically different with every stanza, every phrase. He commanded the old hymn to do what he wanted, putting the notes in a lilt his audience had never heard, and would never hear again. See, what kept them coming back was the way Tyrone never played songs the same way twice. At one point of the song, he held up his hand and the choir knew that was their cue to stop singing and simply sway to the rhythm of the music. It was now that Tyrone was the star, no need for vocal accompaniment.
At 24, he was the youngest Minister of Music in the Northern Baptist Council of a church that size. During his last five years, he had created a devoted, mixed following of parishioners and for lack of a better word, fans. No one at the church wanted to admit it, but the pink elephant in the sanctuary was that Tyrone was the reason the congregation had swelled to a membership of 10,000 people — 5,000 of which never missed a service. Tyrone had demanded, and the church had agreed, he should be paid at least $50,000 annually with cost of living raises, of course. How else could the church survive without his powerful deliverance of musical entertainment? That’s why people went to church anyway, isn’t it?? Yes, it was a phenomenal show every Sunday, every Wednesday night, and every special occasion. And to think, they were all getting a free performance. Heck, perhaps he should demand an even higher compensation. But, he didn’t think too hard on it. He knew his nightclub would be taking off soon.
After his performance, and three encores with nine people still screamin’ with the Holy Ghost – would the song ever end??? – he packed up his things and motioned discreetly to Nina, his premier alto. She had a voice that could move even Satan to seek the Lord. Tyrone used her whenever he needed to put the crowd over the top. Her voice was orgasmic and he couldn’t wait to be with her this afternoon. His music always put him on a natural high and he wanted her to join him on today’s wave of emotion. He was the star and he knew she wouldn’t mind being his #2 today. Nina allowed him to be himself. She listened as he talked about his dreams, about his accomplishments, about how great everyone knows he is. She never got tired of hearing about the greatness of Tyrone and his natural gifts. She knew he was beyond gifted and she would never let him go. She believed Tyrone was hers. Hah! Silly girl…but, she served his purposes for now. With his talent? There are so many women out there, and so little time. Today, however, she was his to have however he wanted. Hmmm…perhaps he could get her to “sing” in the park today, and without all her usual, melodramatic protests.

***
     “Hey T! Where ‘ya goin’? Church ain’t over, Daddy’s about to preach!”
     “Yeah, well, um, Nina and I got somethin’ to do, today,” Tyrone flippantly answered his older brother. Terry was always dippin’ in his business, why can’t he just leave him alone?!
     “Hey, Nina,” Terry finally acknowledged her presence.
     “Hi, Terry, I enjoyed your Bible study this morning, as always. Could I come by sometime to talk to you a little more in depth about the women we’re studying?”
Terry could see his brother was getting anxious as he replied, “Of course, you can stop by my office anytime tomorrow. I’ll be around. You know I’m always available to my students. Any woman in particular you want to discuss, or just Biblical women, in general?”
Tyrone interrupted, “Look, Terry, you all can discuss that tomorrow, let’s go, Nina!”
As Tyrone yanked Nina toward the door, Terry forcefully asked, “You know, Tyrone, Dad’s counting on the both of us to be here for this afternoon’s appreciation. I know you’re going to be here, right?
“Yeah, yeah, whateva, man. Right now, I’m outta here!” Tyrone answered. He had one thing on his mind, right now, and it wasn’t his dad’s 45th anniversary celebration at the church. He knew somebody else would have to fill in for him—well, at least, try to just provide some music. He knew no one could ever take his place.
     “But, Tyrone! Daddy needs you!”
     “For what, Terry???” Tyrone shouted, “He’s got you!!! You’re his #1. You’re the man who’s gonna follow in his footsteps. He doesn’t want me here and you know it. He’s ashamed of me, he just wants to pimp me for my music. Now, if I show up, I show up. If I don’t, I don’t. I’m outta here. Peace!”
Tyrone grabbed Nina’s hand and hastily sauntered out against Terry’s wishes. Why he gave his older brother such a hard time, he didn’t know. Especially when he knew he’d return for the 4 o’clock celebration. Nobody could deliver the music like Tyrone could. Perhaps it was time his brother recognized that.
What Tyrone didn’t recognize was just how uncomfortable Nina had become. She wondered to herself how she could be so caught up with such a childish egomaniac like Tyrone. Though he indeed was all that in her eyes and in the eyes of the congregation, she hoped he didn’t think he could get her to go against her wishes…again.

***

“Nina! You comin’?!” Tyrone bellowed from the car as the afternoon’s musical program occupied his mind. He had already gotten up and dressed as her ever-shaky hands fumbled with the buttons on her dress.
The yelling of the anxious Beast beside his latest new car brought reality back into sharp focus. It was the return trip to the here and now that hurt her more than anything the Beast could have ever done to her physically. Victoria Falls, or at least some spiritual semblance, needed to come soon for her. How long could she endure this Satan, masked in the beautiful BA-holdin’, musically gifted body of man whom she called her own for so long? Could she really be saved, even though she continued to take the easy way out, knowingly and willingly doing wrong ‘cause she was too scared and lazy to do right? Nina closed her eyes and prayed for a new day, not feeling the fresh bruises and ripped flesh the Beast left in his wake of passion.
“Yeah, um, okay, I’m ready,” she answered as she brushed the dirt and blades of grass from her body. She hoped she didn’t look as frazzled and pathetic as she felt on the inside. She took a deep breath and walked toward Tyrone’s BMW. She faked a smile and wiped at her puffy eyes as she once again approached the man of every woman’s dreams.

Chapter Two
Nina Forest was 24 and stunningly beautiful. However, no one could ever convince her of that. Somehow, somewhere, quite some time ago, Nina lost anything resembling self-esteem. Through the years, however, she’d learned to hide the saddest heart in the world under a mask of activity. To get away from anything that could possibly let others on the inside, she threw herself into her work. She excelled in anything academic, making the Dean’s list at the private high school, where she graduated two years early, Harvard undergraduate, Princeton graduate, as well as the National Conservatory of Music where she’d spent every summer since she was 16 as a vocal prodigy. When she wasn’t in school, she hid within the walls of the church. Having been there since being in her mother’s womb, she now belonged to five different service organizations, where she was president of four. The only reason she wasn’t president of the fifth is because she was sick the night of the election and couldn’t get the papers in on time.
Today, perhaps she’d worked up enough courage to speak to Reverend Gables about whatever it was that seemed to be killing her on the inside. She’d kept it hidden for so long that much of it she didn’t even remember herself. It had been nagging at her for years, yet every time she got the nerve to get it out, she’d just throw herself into another project to ease the pain quickly rising in her soul. She’d lose her breath and start hyperventilating, and then the hives would begin. It was just so much easier to discuss something else, anything else. As she walked through the door of the classroom, Terry greeted her with his big smile that should have put her at ease. She hoped he wouldn’t notice her hands beginning to break out. With the exception of Sunday mornings, she long ago stopped wearing dresses. The scars on her legs from old hives she’d scratched beyond healing needed to stay covered, for her sake and for everyone else’s.
“Good morning, Nina. What’s got you here so early? You’ve got another hour before class begins.” 
“Good morning, Reverend. I just thought I’d um…well, maybe, just get a head start, I uh…”
“Nina, is there something wrong? You know you can talk to me about anything, and in the strictest of confidence.”
“No! I mean, yeah, I mean…nah, nothing’s wrong, Reverend. I’m just…just tired, I’ve got a lot going on right now. I probably just need to slow down,” she said as her skin began to heat up and tingle.
Terry immediately noticed her uneasiness as she started shifting from her right leg to her left, then itching her hands and arms as if something visible only to her was biting her. He wanted to put her at ease, but he didn’t want to risk saying the wrong thing. She needs to talk, but he didn’t want to push.
“Well, Nina, so what’s been going on, well outside of let’s see, your choirs, the silent ministry, the youth ministry, the church orchestra, the…”
“Okay, okay, I get it, I get it,” Nina smiled in resignation. “Yes, I’ve got an awful lot going on here.”
“Yes, not to mention your teaching position at the university and all the job offers you’re pondering. How do you do it all?” Terry asked genuinely amazed and bewildered with his student’s phenomenal accomplishments.
“Well, I have to keep busy, I mean, I need to keep busy, rather, I just like having a lot to do. Don’t they say idle hands are the devil’s workshop?” Nina nervously asked, while still scratching her hands and nervously fidgeting at the door.
“Nina, why don’t you have a seat? How’s your spiritual journal coming?”
“Oh, it’s um, it’s going great. You did say the journal entries were private, though, right? I mean, we don’t have to share them with the class or anything, do we?” Nina asked with an air of desperation in her eyes.
“Oh no, Nina, your journal entries are between you and God. You only need to share something if you feel comfortable doing so. Is there something you’d like to share with the class? Or, even with me? Remember, nothing goes outside of this classroom.”
“Well, no, I’m not quite ready for that, Reverend. Besides, my journal would probably just bore everyone to death anyway. There’s nothin’ in there worth anything. So! What’s today’s class about?”
“You know, Nina, it’s funny you should ask. Until a few moments ago, I didn’t know myself. While walking through the grounds, I ran across Pheneas, the new groundskeeper. He gave me one heckuvan idea.”
“Pheneas? New groundskeeper?” Nina asked as she pondered the books, and the staffing of Mt. Maji. Being involved heavily on the finance committee, she would have known whether the church had hired a new groundskeeper. To her knowledge, there were no hirings or firings going on at the church.
“But, we haven’t hired…” Nina tried to explain.
”Today’s class will explore the spiritual map.” Terry interrupted.
“Spiritual map?”
“Yes, kinda like when you’re in a mall, you look on the directory, and you find the spot that shows You Are Here. From there you decide where you want to go, then how to get there according to the map.”
“Well that sounds easy enough,” Nina replied.
“While it may seem that way, but forming and following a spiritual map is much harder than you may think. So, today we’re going to discuss doing just that. Actually, your spiritual journal is a big part of it. You’re already well on your way. Nina,” Terry asked gently, “Are you sure there’s nothing you’d like to discuss with me privately?”
Nina took a deep breath…”Well, maybe.”
And Terry indeed wondered where Nina is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Where would she like to be, and how could she get there? Could Terry help her? Terry continued to pray for guidance in helping Nina and all of his students.

Chapter Three
We must conform ourselves to the principles of the Lord.

Nina kept her mind off of Tyrone for the time being. In fact, she didn’t even recall the previous Sunday’s afternoon events. Unbeknownst to her, her psyche had long ago set up an intricate web of defense. One day, she’ll remember, she’ll have to remember.
She thought about the Bible study and the interesting new character in her life – Pheneas. Terry said he was a gardener, but Pheneas seemed much more knowledgeable than just someone who brought floral life to the church landscape. Just who was this Pheneas, and was he indeed a real person, or just someone Terry invented to teach the lesson of the spiritual map? All Nina knew for certain is the church had not hired any new groundskeeper, nor had the church brought on any new volunteers. Well, she’d check it out Monday when the church office re-opened. Whoever Pheneas was, she thanked God for him. She couldn’t wait to get back home and write in her journal again. She was excited to get something down on paper. Just where was she and where was she trying to go? Where did God want her to go?
Oh well, it would have to wait just a little longer.
Right now, she had to meet Kimberly at the bridal salon for the second fitting. Now there’s a happy couple. Kim and Roderick have been dating since their college days. Kim was only a freshman when she met the handsome senior, Roderick Bretton Lesure. Kim was so incredibly intimidated when they first met. Now, after eight bumpy, yet glorious, years, she just couldn’t imagine herself with any other man. Rod was truly her soulmate. Nina wondered whether she and Tyrone would ever really share that kind of happiness. Kim and Rod had the perfect relationship, coming through all kinds of growing pains together successfully. No doubt, they’d have a perfect marriage.
Nina easily pasted on her smile as she walked through the doors of the bridal salon. Kim was already there talking to the salesperson about the bridesmaids’ dresses.
“Yes! They’re absolutely beautiful, I just don’t like the bows on the front,” Kim said as she plucked the bow off the front of the sample.
“Ms. Dixon! That dress costs far too much money for you to just go around ripping the fabric!” the saleswoman gasped.
“It’s okay, I’m buyin’ it, along w/five others…and I want the bows off all of them!” Kim screamed.
Nina knew Kim could be a little more than assertive at times, but the wedding plans had definitely put her in rare form lately. Kim was used to getting what she wanted, but she was usually a bit nicer about things. What was making her so frantic? The wedding was still three months away and the plans were nearly complete. Kim was an organizational fanatic. As maid of honor, Nina had taken care of most things, the girls had been fitted, the parties fully planned, menus selected, everything had been done. This was the point where the bride could relax, yet Kim just wasn’t herself.
“Kim, what’s wrong? Is there something I can do?
“No, Nina, I’m just, oh I don’t know, I’m just not myself today. Truth be told, I haven’t been myself for awhile.”
“What is it? Something I can do to help?”
“Well, I hate to even bring this up…I’m just stressin’ over nothin’. Things are just fine, really.”
“Um, well, lookin’ at the way you bit off that woman’s head and spit it back at her, I know there is something wrong. Now spit it out, what is it? Are you getting nervous about the wedding?”
Kim motioned for Nina to have a seat on the sofa next to her. Her voice became quiet and sullen as Nina took a seat ready to listen. Seemingly right on cue, the saleswoman brought a small tray carrying two dainty cups of herbal tea. Kim began to talk as Nina blew away the hot steam before slowing sipping the welcomed beverage.
“No, Nina, nerves have nothing to do with it.”
“Well then if not nerves, what’s got you so on edge?”
“I really hate to even say this, but I just feel like there’s something wrong between Rod and me…something really wrong.”
“Well, what do you mean? How could there be anything wrong? You two are the perfect couple.”
“Nina, things are not always what they appear to be on the outside.”
Nina nodded in agreement, completely understanding the gravity of Kim’s statement. Sheesh, if Kim only knew what Nina was feeling about Ty.
“I just feel like the closer this wedding gets, the more Rod is becoming distant.”
“Go on,” Nina gently pushed as she felt Kim trailing off.
“Well, it’s just that I love Rod so much. We had so many plans for the future, and now when I bring up actually putting the plans into action, he blows me off and tells me to stop worrying; that things are fine. He acts like he’s doing me a favor by marrying me. He makes me feel like I’m a mosquito he wants to swat away.”
“Kim, you sure you’re not just letting the stress of the wedding get to you? Maybe you’re just reading him wrong. Rod loves you! You two are made for each other and there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for you!”
“Well…”
“Well, what?! Girl, you’ve got an awesome man in Rod, you betta hold onto him ‘fo you lose him! You’ve been together eight years! I know you not gon’ throw all that love and all those special memories away just ‘cause you feeling a little jittery before the ceremony.”
“Okay, I guess you’re right. It’s just that he seems so…so…”
“So what?! You know what it is? I bet Rod is feeling just as nervous and as jittery as you are. Now is not the time to push him. Just comfort him, love him, soothe him when he comes home, and wait for the magic of the wedding. Girl, you are going to be Mrs. Roderick Bretton Lesure!”
“You know what? You’re right. I’m blowing things way out of proportion. I’ll try and relax, all I have to do now is wait for the magic…oh, and make sure those stupid bows are off those dresses!”
The two women laughed and exhaled in glorious anticipation of Kim’s future. Things can only get better from here. Kim has a phenomenal fiancĂ© and she wasn’t going to do anything to mess this up. They have come too far for it not to work and she was going to do everything in her power to make sure Rod knew she was by his side for the long haul. They had too much invested in one another. She had given him her life and she was sure it was mutual. She had waited for this her whole life. She had prayed and prayed for a good man and she finally got him. There’s no way this wedding wasn’t going to work.
Life could not be that cruel.

Chapter Four
We must conform ourselves to the principles of the Lord.

Slightly buzzed from last night’s Happy Hour specials, Nick’s determination sped him across town to the club where he knew Tyrone would be anxiously waiting for the band to rehearse before the first set at 9:00. He wondered to himself why he should be racin’ across town just to please Ty. Since he’d gotten out of college two years ahead of schedule, Ty had been a thorn in everybody’s side. Nick was just sick of it. Sick and tired of havin’ to follow Ty’s lead, sick of him over-performin’ in church, sick of him gettin’ all the credit for the band’s performances, sick of him paradin’ around as if he’s God’s gift to women, music, and church. One day, Nick would be the star…it was only a matter of time.
Being Nina’s twin, Nick was always in the shadows, never out in front getting at least a little of the attention. Nina was always perfect. Straight A’s. Dean’s list, even where there was no Dean’s list. Shelves full of first-place awards from the National Conservatory of Music, long ago overshadowing anything Nick did while at the same institution. Community service plaques and citations. Five church groups, at last count, while headed for a great new career in…in…just what the heck was Nina studyin’ these days anyway??? He knew his sister was someone you couldn’t help but love. Heck, everybody loved Nina. The usual “big brother protects his little sister” mindset never had the chance to kick in. She was the actual protector. While growing up, she had gotten him out of so many scrapes with neighborhood bullies; she gained a reputation of someone you didn’t mess with. Killing part about it was she didn’t have to raise her voice nor her fist to make people understand that they should never again threaten Nick, nor anyone else in her family. Then, she’d end up inviting the thugs over for cookies and Kool-Aid. She had a way of making her brother look like a real punk! She was even born first, by a measly ten minutes!!!
He always felt that that few ten minutes somehow had snatched all the confidence, beauty, talent, and intelligence from their mother’s womb. Nick got the leftovers. He lived in Nina’s shadow. “Are you Nina’s brother?” “Are you as smart as Nina?” “Are your grades, talent, vocals, and service as good as Nina’s?” “Don’t you want to be more like Nina???”
He was NOT going to live in Ty’s shadow, too. He just couldn’t take it anymore. It was time to take things into his own hands. But, then again, how could he? When it comes down to it, neither Tyrone nor Nina ever did anything to Nick but care for him. Ty was his best friend and in fact, it was Ty who encouraged Nick to take more advantage of his inherent ability to make the sax sing the silkiest songs, from classical to jazz. And it wasn’t Nina’s fault she was so perfect. She worked hard at everything. Although, he wondered whether anyone else noticed during the past few years how Nina seemed to become more solemn and introverted. She just didn’t seem like the Nina he knew growing up. Oh well, she’s 24, and maybe the pressure to be perfect all the time is finally getting to her. She’ll be okay, though. Nick was glad when she started dating Ty, the best guy for the best girl. He knew Ty would take care of her, no matter what. When it came down to it, Nick loved them both tremendously.
But, tonight, the two of them made him sick to his stomach. He continued to push his Nissan Pathfinder through the streets. He knew if Tyrone were to even think about yelling at him tonight, he wouldn’t be responsible for what would happen.

Nick took another swig of Hennessy and closed his eyes periodically to dream of tonight’s performance.

***


Monday, January 24, 2011

If His Grace is Sufficient, What's for Dinner?

Living in a small(er) college town years ago, I was in my mid-20s and happily single. The town didn't have much going on in terms of culture or "life" for my age group, so, I easily got into a routine to stay sane. I arrived at my downtown office before the downtown awoke...well, to the coffee shop outside the downtown office...then opened the office doors while sipping my hot java, worked eight to ten hours, including a plethora of meetings outside the office to make the day go by faster, and then headed to the local grocery store to decide what would be for dinner. I lived alone, but cooked a huge dinner each night, in case any of my friends were to visit.


Now, almost twenty years later, I realize going to the grocery store each night after work was probably not the most efficient activity in terms of budgeting, but I felt like that town was just so small there was nothing else to do. I was active in at least three church activities, my sorority, three business organizations, and who knows what else just to fill the space. I was living from Friday to Friday...the day when I'd leave work, jump in my SUV, and get on the highway headed back to Detroit for the weekend. "Friday night, just got paid, party's jumpin', feelin' right..." The best thing, though, was with all that cooking, I became a much better cook! Friends did come by for dinner, especially my neighbors in the building who could smell the aroma from my second-floor abode each night. I was popular and loving it...but, after dinner, my mental-emotional space was empty again.


But God! was always there...and He was the only One I wasn't inviting to sit at my table. I was an "adult" then, with a great career, with two degrees, and my sites set on maybe someday becoming an attorney. I had SO much to be thankful for, and yet, I was ignoring Him, not saying thank You nearly enough. I was discovering my spirituality, as a baby Christian, as I've heard it called. If I had known better, I would have come home each night, gotten down on my knees immediately, and simply spent all that "entertainment" time praising Him and thanking Him for the day. Lord knows I would've saved thousands in my bank account, and countless gifts in my spiritual account, instead of "investing" it in the super market and my fleshly ideas of popularity. I wasn't building my pantry...I was just throwing away money on one-night meals. I wasn't investing in God, I was investing in me. As much as I could, I was "living the life."


3Whether my body was there or just my spirit, I don't know; only God knows. 4But I do know that I was caught up into paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be told. 5That experience is something worth boasting about, but I am not going to do it. I am going to boast only about my weaknesses. 6I have plenty to boast about and would be no fool in doing it, because I would be telling the truth. But I won't do it. I don't want anyone to think more highly of me than what they can actually see in my life and my message, 7even though I have received wonderful revelations from God. But to keep me from getting puffed up, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from getting proud. 8Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9Each time he said, "My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness." So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. 10Since I know it is all for Christ's good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. [2nd Corinthians 12:3-10 (NLT)] 


At 25, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis...my ultimate weakness. All these years later, I've come back to the big city, become even more "popular," made even more friends, lived an even better life, and yet, my MS has gotten worse. Like Paul, I prayed many times for God to cure me, to remove the MS thorn from my brain stem and nervous system; for God to work through the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to do more than just host annual walk-a-thons, but to go further to push doctors and researchers to find the cure. Many times, my MS has gone into remission, but God has not "removed the thorn." As the disease has progressed, I have learned to "boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ may work through me." More often than not, people say they never even knew I had MS. They say, "How do you stay so positive?" "With all you've endured physically, how do you stay so at peace?" I simply respond, "His grace is sufficient...would you like to stay for dinner?"

Friday, January 21, 2011

Who says so?

Remember asking for something when you were little, your parents said no, and you had the nerve to ask "why not?" My mom always replied, "Because I said so!" And for those of us who know old-school parenting, that was the END of the conversation. Unlike with today's children, when our mommas said no, that was it...to ask/beg again came with corporal consequences, if you know what I mean.

Now, if we could learn that so quickly from our earthly parents, why couldn't we learn that same lesson when we know "God said..." The Bible has 500 references to that phrase, and yet, many of us ignore Him daily.

I remember growing up wondering what I would become in life. I didn't want to do one thing...I had a list! I knew I wanted to check each "career" off and then keep moving to the next. Never did I have a fascination with making money, and I knew whatever I wanted to do had to make me happy inside. I never knew God had in His master plan that I'd end up working for Him. Wow, what a blessing it has been. But, it hasn't come without its bumps and bruises along the way. The most wonderful thing is that God has shown me that I must completely trust in Him...why? Because God said so!

I also came to know that my life always seemed out of order when I was not doing what God said. You ever notice that? When I was caught up in "finishing my list;" "doing my own thing;" ignoring the little voice I knew I heard in my head, heart, and soul;" whenever I was not listening to "because GOD said so," I wasn't feeling settled inside. For me, I dreamed of completing a career list, and then writing about each item on that list. Well, during all those years, I became really comfortable with what the world said, and not what God said. "Get that job, girl," "Make that money, girl," "Get those benefits, girl," and on and on and on. Meanwhile, I ignored God saying "Read My word daily, My child," "Draw closer to Me and I will draw closer to you, My child," "I am here for you in both good times and bad, My child," "You are My child and I love you as if you were My only one, My child!" Can you imagine ignoring all those phenomenal blessings? Who do we think we are??

We're all God's children, because God said so!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Do You Have a Prayer/Bucket List?

This morning, on Good Morning America, Sam Champion reported from Disney's newest cruise ship - the Dream. Immediately, I was plummeted into my past dream of taking a Disney cruise for my honeymoon when Frederick and I were married in July of 2004. We'd decided to take the cruise the following February when it wouldn't be too hot in the Caribbean, and my MS symptoms wouldn't become exacerbated due to the extreme temperatures. Unfortunately, we were in a horrible car accident the month after we were married, causing us bodily injury, enough where we had to cancel the honeymoon. So, every time I look at the Disney cruise ships, I admit I still feel more than a little pang of disappointment.

But God! held us together through extremely rough times these past six and 1/2 years (prostate cancer, MS, job loss, house loss), and God has gotten us through it all, and with joy. We're closer than ever...to Him and to each other. So, now, I'm starting my bucket list, which in all actuality is a prayer list. So, according to God's will, before I'm 60, I would like to:

1) See the ocean. I've never been to an actual ocean. I want to walk barefoot on a beach, during sunrise or sunset with my husband. The Disney Cruise destination to Castaway Cay will definitely have to happen in my lifetime. My other dream destination is Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. After that, I pray we can reach out to other married couples who could never afford a honeymoon...perhaps a Make-A-Wish type thing for low-income couples who never had the finances or opportunity to celebrate their marriage on a journey by themselves.

2) Have at least five Christian novels published. I pray my novels can show others the way to Christ. I pray my fiction will touch readers' hearts, sparking them to search God's word, ask questions, seek fellowship within a church where Christ is present that feels right for them, get involved in fellowship with other believers, and service to others in need, and then witness to others, passing it forward.

3) Begin a foundation for people who want to become published Christian authors...in essence, have Writers' Blaaq become an actual organization where established authors help budding writers get their careers started. The weekend before I was married, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend a Christian writers' workshop. I will be forever grateful to Ms. Denise Stinson, author, and publisher of what was WalkWorthy Press. Ms. Stinson felt the importance of giving back to new writers who needed Biblical foundation as to why God chose us to tell His message through fiction. That was the first time I actually said out loud "I am a writer!" Eleven of us were chosen from hundreds of applicants across the country, and it's an experience I will never forget. I pray I can also do this for other writers. God gave us this gift to open the doors of the church through our writing. This is how I want to fulfill the Great Commission. Praise God!

4) Get another ranch-style home with at least an acre of land. I would love to be a homeowner again, but in a home that's paid off, never to be snatched away again. It would have to be handicap-accessible, and this time actually decorated. All my life I've lived within beige walled apartments until the house I owned. My dear sister had it beautifully painted, and we thought we had the 30-year mortgage to decorate it. But God! gave us a handicap-accessible, spacious apartment for now, and we're thankful for it. There are so many who are homeless after foreclosure, or living in a shelter, in someone else's basement, or wherever they can have a roof over their head. God provided for us, and continues to provide. Thank you, Lord! And now, I pray someday I can bless someone else. Anonymously, I'd love to buy someone's mortgage who's facing foreclosure...SNATCH it back from the bank or mortgage company, and then remodel the home for them. So, THERE, take that, satan!

5) Get back into United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH, and complete my doctoral degree. Right now, this is a dream deferred, but God! says it will happen. I want to study God's word, study theology, and draw closer to Him academically, spiritually, and emotionally. I pray to someday actually become colleagues of Dean Dr. Harold Hudson, my mentor Dr. Albert Thompson, all my fellow mentees - my brothers in Christ, the fellas, as I call them - and all the phenomenal people of that seminary. I pray ultimately someday, to begin a scholarship for those who couldn't afford to answer God's call in a seminary structure...not a loan, but a full scholarship!

6) Write a book about people who've lost their jobs and now feel like they've been dropped out of society. There are so many days I want to scream to my friends, Oprah, and the millions of others in the world that no, I do NOT have cable television, I chose instead to have a cell phone. When you have to choose between things you used to take for granted is really something. But God! showed me how having cable is indeed frivolous, and there is enough on regular television to "entertain" us. Besides, it's an idiot box anyway. I actually get to see enough quality programming through my converter box...so please don't ask me whether I've seen OWN, yet; I'll have to say goodbye to Oprah through my TV when the Oprah show goes away after this year, her 25th season. I applaud all she's accomplished, and it's because of God's gifts to her, and many others, that I know we'll be back on our feet someday. I pray we will help others along the way, as well, and never forget our valley God brought us through.

7) Play the cello! My beautiful husband surprised me with a cello, who I named "Camille" on my 40th birthday in 2009. The cello has been my favorite instrument my entire life, even though I played the violin and piano for ten years. I dreamt someday of being first chair violin for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. What can I say, I was a little girl with big dreams. During those years, I spent a lot of time competing and trying to get the best scores, instead of just enjoying the music. So, I began taking cello lessons a couple years ago, 20+ years later. It was a joyous few months, and then our financial troubles hit, so I could no longer afford the lessons. But God! has told me I'll pick up Camille again someday, and even be in another orchestra in the future. I pray to someday start a music foundation where kids (and adults) can discover instruments, and have access to music teachers who love their craft and want to pass on the blessing to others for free.

8) I pray to help my hubby develop his church, GreatCommissionMinistries.Net, to grow it and really get it off the ground and successful in God's eyes. God gave Frederick the idea to reach out to people through the Internet who are sick/shut-in, separated from the church, or scattered throughout the world searching for God.

There will be much more added to my prayer list...according to what God has in store. This blog was also on my prayer list, so this is one I can actually say is checked off! Whoohoo! Hallelujah!

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze." (Isaiah 43:2)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I Now Pronounce You...

Top ten things I never understand about marriage:

1) Why people are so nervous going into it. If he/she is the One, then it should just be the happiest day of your life, and you should be at ease.

2) Why people spend soooooooooooooo much money on the event, and then have no place to live after the honeymoon.

3) Why "Bridezillas" exist. What in the world is WRONG with you?! You should be overjoyed. Get over yourself...and trust me, no one even remembers the centerpieces, party favors, or whatever else you acted like a fool to get for your big day. And you are not the only bride in the world.

4) Why people argue before, during, or right after their ceremony. God is blessing you with the happiest day of your life. What's up with that?

5) Why people put 1st Corinthians 13 in their wedding program just to fill up space, and then completely ignore what it says marriage is and what it is not. We insist on treating each other our way, and we forget to treat each other the way God says; why, why, why?!

6) Why people go out of their way to find the perfect church because of how pretty it is, and yet, they don't even let God into the marriage.

7) Why people don't actually plan a marriage nearly as well as they plan the wedding.

8) Why bridesmaids dresses still look so horrendous!

9) Why people spend so much money on the wedding if they know they truly can't afford to do all that. Just 'cause you spend a lot of money on a wedding doesn't make you any more married than couples who eloped.Why are you trying to "keep up with the Jones'?" Instead, try keeping up with Jesus!

10) Finally, why is it such an oddity that couples are not only happy and in love after many years of marriage, but that they still like each other. Why is it so unusual my husband and I hold hands, laugh together, flirt with each other, and truly are best friends? This is what God intended for our marriage. No, we don't argue; no, we don't want to be apart from one another; and when we are apart, we absolutely can't WAIT to see each other again as soon as we can!

"What therefore God hath joined together , let not man put asunder." (Mark 10:9 [KJV])

"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." (Ephesians 5:21 [NIV])

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Not My Will, But Thine

Greetings! This blog is based on whatever the Lord Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, directs me to write. That means, I may begin with a topic I have thought about, but then Jesus may re-direct me to something completely different. As we believers know, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," says the Lord. "For as the Heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9 [NKJV]) So, here we go.

My Lord and Savior saved me when I lived in Lansing, Michigan, back in the early 90s. I had successfully graduated with honors from the University of Michigan, and then went to Michigan State University for grad school. While I had grown up in the church, I had kind of put Jesus on the back burner through my school years. So, after all the "me-me-me-ness," the Lord pulled me back, and for that I am eternally grateful. He literally saved me from my dumb mistakes, countless times, and I will never forget that. I will forever praise Him, without apology, and without shame. Hallelujah!

I began my career wanting to make commercials. I didn't know how, but when I was a little girl growing up in blue-collar Detroit, I knew someday I could make the "dumb little boys" buy toys that did NOT actually fly. LOL! I saw the Faygo man on the big white cruise ship sing Faaaaaaaaygooooo...I watched the Vlasic Pickles stork crunch those pickles so loudly, and for some reason, I thought that was just too cool. But, what I also knew was that the KoolAid Man NEVER came to the 'hood, and I wanted to ask him why not? So, someday, I was going to meet him and personally invite him to burst threw the walls of my living room and deliver that cheap, sweet red drink my friends and I drank so often. Did he not like the darker colored, working class neighborhoods? Hmmm...we'd have to investigate that one.

Anyway, I went to grad school at MSU, which had a fine advertising reputation back in the day. I learned a lot, and fought with the MSU graduate administration to get internships so I could learn what the real advertising world was doing, and how advertising had changed since the Jolly Green Giant and Tony the Tiger. Advertising had indeed changed and become much more fast-paced, digital, 3D, you name it. Advertising turned out to be extremely fun, hard work...but it was also a cruel, cutting industry. Corporate people just didn't care about one another as I'd hoped. Everyone was out for themselves. So, if an ad agency lost an account, say with one of the Big 3, an entire staff who'd worked on that account for 10 years could be cut, just like that.

In my last semester of grad school, I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Ned Hubbell. He was one of the most memorable, brilliant, and pleasant professors who'd leave an unforgettable mark on my life. He pulled me into public relations, telling me, "Pam, you're more than a writer, you're a problem solver. You're wasting your time on 30-second and 60-second spots. It's time you learned more about PR." So, I became one of his TAs, and I learned all I could in my final semester. After that, Ned introduced me to one of Lansing's premier PR practitioners in the city. I worked for her company for about a year, maybe two. It was one of the hardest, most fast-paced positions I'd ever had, and I loved it. But, it stressed me to no end.

I was then offered another position as a marketing specialist for a local non-profit. I had to tell my PR boss I was leaving. She literally yelled at me and slammed her door. She was angry and frustrated that I'd leave her...I'd won three crystal Pace awards for the PR firm during my time there, and it was a wonderful experience, but it was time for me to go. The new job offered a much more livable salary, plus health benefits. The next day, my boss apologized and sincerely wished me well. I thanked her for all she'd taught me, and I will truly never forget her.

At the non-profit, the atmosphere was completely different. It didn't feel corporate; it felt much more relaxed, but impassioned. It was a disability rights organization where attorneys and advocates fought for people with disabilities, ensuring they received the accomodations they needed to do their jobs, receive their education, or whatever. I loved it, loved it, loved it. I began that job on a Monday, and strangely enough, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis the following Monday. God had placed me in the right job at precisely the right time. From my non-profit, I learned all I needed to know about the Americans with Disabilities Act, and insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. At that time, I learned that Blue Cross Blue Shield was the only insurance carrier in Michigan that provided health care to people with pre-existing conditions. So, whenever I was to get another job, I had to have BCBS. Needless to say, that's one of the most expensive insurance plans available, but I couldn't complain, that's all there was for me, so that's all I could get.

Fast forward almost 18 years later, and I'm now laid off from the staffing company where I worked for almost ten years; my beautiful husband has been laid off for more than two years; we've lost our beautiful home to foreclosure; I've had to drop out of seminary because we have no money for tuition; and I'm struggling to get MS health care coverage under Medicaid; but God!!! God has kept us, and has provided for us, and has directed us on our new paths. The main thing I've learned is that when it seems you hit "rock bottom," that's when God does His best work. That's what it means to count it all joy. We have no choice but to COMPLETELY trust in God, and hand it all over to Him. He loves us that much, and though we don't deserve His mercy and grace, He's continuously there for us. He provided us a place to live, a handicap-accessible place, at that; our marriage is stronger and more love-filled than ever; and I simply couldn't be happier. The "stuff" we used to have really doesn't matter. What does matter is we are to focus on God's will, and try to help others who are worse off than we are. Acknowledge that He's our Lord and Savior, accept and expect His blessings, and give Him all the glory!!!

So, I pray I can become the prolific, published, Christian author I've longed to be for many years. Through my writing, I want to show others the way to God. Through fiction, I want to "open the doors of the church," so people can experience God's love in their lives. I'm starting with this blog. I'll feature chapters of my first Christian novel, Sober Judgment; as well as a book for suddenly unemployed/out-of-work souls who are still making it and relying on God; and finally a book that gathers the memories of those who during their college years protested for an established, national MLK Day, as well as Nelson Mandela's release from prison - those of us in our mid-30s through mid-40s who fought as hard as we could on our college campuses and city streets. Those were the days, and I'd like to get that all down in a book. Whew! Three books on the list...but, I'm excited to do God's work, and all the research that'll be involved, the people I'll get to meet, and the places where I'll get to travel.


Come back tomorrow to read more commentary on hot topics, a prayer list to which you are more than welcome to add your own prayers, and the first chapters of Sober Judgment: The Nina Chronicles. I'm going to keep this blog going and see what becomes of it. I pray for God's holy hand in it all. In Jesus' name, Amen.