#ThrowbackThursday Poetry: No Weapon

“Behold, I have created the blacksmith who blows the coals in the fire, who brings forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the spoiler to destroy. No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is from Me,” says the Lord.
Isaiah 54:16-17, NKJV

Photo by wu yi on Unsplash

God made dirt, dirt don’t hurt.
The blind blessing we recited
as children over spilled food
on the dirty linoleum before
placing it back in our mouths,
swallowing with the confidence
that because God made it,
we cannot die.

But did God not create man,
and does he not hurt me
every day? From his heart
brews my downfall.
Date rape—
White supremacy—
Mass shootings—
A black, bitter coffee
he drinks with grit,
though it’s still boiling.

Shall I eat this bread
retrieved from a floor
on which a murderer may tread,
dragging my family and me
in a trail of blood behind?
God made him, right?
He cannot hurt us.


A revised version of the untitled original poem published February 4, 2015…may revise again later.

Waiting on the Day, Christmas Day — A Novella

October is just a week away, which means the holidays are quickly approaching, and I don’t know about you, but whenever I think of the holidays, my mind immediately goes to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans, specifically, Countdown

I’d like to revisit the story of Natasha, Mitchell, Renee, Bryan, Rita, and Antonio this year, but in a special way…

Bound together in a short, self-published novella kind of special way.

Ambitious given it’s already the end of September, and I haven’t even begun to tackle this monstrous beast! Will I have time when I’ve barely had time enough to write anything other than my name this year? And what about the cover? As graphically challenged as I am, who will do it (for little to no money), or will I save that money and keep it simple—a picture and some text would do, right?

I’m not sure of all the logistics yet, but one thing I do know is that the story IS written. And just this morning while lying in bed, I thought of a synopsis to go on the back cover…

Six friends. Six personal battles they must all face and conquer before one Christmas wedding.

Natasha and Mitchell have been in love since college, and finally they are ready to profess their love in front of all of their friends and family and God most of all on the most special day of the year, but will one hastened mistake derail the life they planned together before it even starts?

Bryan and Rita both have troublesome vices Renee is desperate to have them overcome before the year ends. For Bryan, it’s cursing like his drunkard, retired navy sailor grandfather. For Rita, it’s a lifetime of bad choice, usually involving the opposite sex. Will they finish the year in victory, or will the pressure to turn their lives around for the better be too great to handle?

Antonio is recently saved and struggles to come to terms with his new Christian life and the remnants of his past, sinful life in the form of his ex-girlfriend and mother of his child, who repeatedly finds ways to get under his skin. Will he find a peaceful balance, or will he backslide into despair before he discovers the exuberance of being a follower of Christ during the most wonderful time of the year?

All of these stories come to a head on THE day, the day when most people celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world. Christmas Day.

Will it be worth the wait?

If you’ve never read the original Countdown series, does this synopsis interest you? Would you want to read more? Would you want to read it in book form (more like Kindle form)? Let me know! I’m eager to get started. Christmas will be here before you know it!

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Sober Reluctance

Rita won’t go to Mother Goose’s. She doesn’t want to see the disappointed Mama look on Renee’s face, although Renee has no reason to judge. She and Natasha both know that Rita still drinks. It’s no secret that she’s the problem child of the group, everybody wanting to fix her. Meanwhile, neither one of them have had a drink since college. Tash quit when she started dating  holier-than-thou Mitchell.

Rita hates how he presents himself as the perfect imitation of Christ, thinking that he’s better than the rest of them—sinners. She would love to one day snatch that soap box right from under his feet, watch him fall flat on his ass, maybe knock his head against the back of something sharp. Who’s looking down their nose now, Mitch?

Wow, listen to herself, she can’t even call him the name she wants to call him. Renee’s really done a number on her. Or maybe it’s someone else’s doing. Someone higher up, who sees all and knows all. Who hears her thoughts and has the power change them if she just opens her mind up to it.

But she can’t lie in her bed and stare at those four white walls another second, waiting for a miracle to happen. So she’ll go to Rico’s. Rico’s has the best spiked apple cider for the holidays, and the cutest blond bartender who works Tuesday and Thursday nights. If he’s nice to her, which he always is, maybe she’ll slip him her number along with a very generous tip. She hopes he’s wearing that teal blue button down tonight. The one with the sleeves that loosely hug his biceps, flexing whenever he mixes up a cocktail, a subtle hint to how built he is underneath. How she would love to have his arms wrap around her, feel the weight of his body pressed down against hers, taste the salt and liquor on his lips when she takes them between her teeth.

She’s not even interested in fucking, which is strange coming from her. But she just wants that intimacy right now. To roll over and feel the warmth radiating from another body in her bed. To intertwine her legs with his under the sheets, touch and kiss different body parts. Maybe she’ll go down on him. Maybe he’ll stay longer than a few short hours. Damn, now she sounds like Natasha. Hopelessly romantic, dreaming for something she’ll probably never share with Mitch, not even after they’re married.

“God, please don’t send me a nigga like Mitchell.”

There, she did it. She prayed. Probably not a prayer Renee would be proud of, probably not even one God would be willing to hear, but at least she spoke to Him, and that’s gotta count for something, right?

Her phone buzzes in her pocket. It can only be Jerome, texting her a third time to go half on a dime. He’s the real reason she out on South Tatum at 10 PM—when all the weirdos come out—looking for this damn bar. It’s not that she’s jealous of Renee and Natasha enjoying a few drinks at their old college hangout on Tash’s last nights of freedom. It’s not that she wants to take that white bartender back home with her, although she does.

As much as she misses being high, she wants to see this fast through. She wants to see if it will change her for the better. She knows Jerome won’t stop at unanswered text messages. He’ll show up at her apartment next. And he has a key. Fuck! Why the hell did she give him a key? She guesses to make their transactions easy. Come in, leave the weed, take the money, and maybe some pussy if she’s drunk enough.

Damn, she sounds like a fucking addict prostitute. No wonder she’s always high. She’s a hot goddamn mess. Sober Rita, would’ve flung herself off a roof somewhere. Her passion for saving lives gone. When did things get this bad? Six years studying to be a nurse wasted. She works part-time at the front desk at an urgent care clinic in the projects because she can’t pass a random fucking drug test. How pathetic is that!

Rita swerves off South Tatum onto Market, just as Rico’s Bar comes into view, then hangs a left onto Elm. There’s a Home Depot around here somewhere. If she’s going back home sober—maybe have that appointment with Jesus that Renee’s scheduled her for—she won’t do it while staring at the sterile walls of her bedroom. Too clean, too evocative of the atmosphere of an inpatient rehab facility. No, her treatment will be spiritual, but first she needs to buy some fucking paint. Anything but white.

—Nortina


Part of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans
——
Previous: There’s No Such Thing a Santa Claus
Next: Possibilities

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Booze Induced

I trace my middle finger along the edge of the three-ounce glass, half-drained of dark brown liquid. Jack and Coke—my drink of choice in my loneliness.

My phone vibrates against the table. Mitchell. Again. I can’t talk to him, can’t let him hear my words slur, can’t let him see how far I’ve fallen from grace, can’t listen to him apologize again and again. I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry. I try to convince myself of this truth as I let the last of my drink sit on my tongue, gulp it down.

Mitchell doesn’t like alcohol. He wouldn’t like that I’m here. He always hated this place, the noise from the bar, the fifteen different TVs along the walls on fifteen different sports networks, the pool balls clanking against each other, the occasional scream and body tumble from someone who had too much to drink—usually underage.

He came because of me. He was drawn to me. “You ever have that feeling?” he asked me one night. We were leaning against the wall, watching Bryan and Rita duke it out in pool. “To be with someone and then feel your heart tug, like on a string, whenever they walked away?”

I blushed. I never blush. But that night he made me blush, and Renee laughed that my cheeks had turned purple, like little blueberries freckling my face.

I thought he was flirting with me, that next he would ask me on a date, maybe to a quiet restaurant—Italian, I love Italian. And he was so cute. In his signature cardigan sweater, jeans, and converse sneakers. His slick black hair like waves in the ocean. I had my eye on him for weeks, but I would wait for him to come to me. “He that finds a good wife . . . “ Mama’s voice echoed in my ear.

Instead, he followed with, “Are you saved?” I paused, in the motion of closing my lips around the rim of a Yuengling beer, unsure if I should take the sip, unsure if he was judging me.

“Yes,” I finally told him, after putting my beer on the table. But it felt like a lie. Like I never accepted the call to the altar at age thirteen during youth night, like I never felt His presence within me, rattling my rib cage, filling my bosom as He spoke, “You’ll never feel alone with Me,” because He knew why I was on my knees crying into the pew cushion when I should’ve been praying.

But when I heard His voice, and rose—as if being pulled up, tugged by that heart string—followed the illuminated footprints in the plush carpet down the aisle to my Lord, suddenly it didn’t matter that my crush, Gary Zane, only wanted a blowjob, or that the girls in my gym class teased me for not having a boyfriend when they all did. I wasn’t alone anymore. I belonged to the King, concerned with His business, devoted to Him body and spirit.

Until last night, when I submitted myself, body and spirit, to Mitchell, who  reminds me that I am still married to Christ, that he isn’t my husband, yet. But I want him to be, I so want him to be. He’s all that is on my mind now. I will sit here, like on my knees in that sanctuary, and seek his rising and sinking chest to lay my head at the bottom of this shot glass, clouded with my finger prints. Already, the Jack tastes flat, like water.

“You can leave the Coke,” I tell the waiter, who works the floors until midnight, when the only service will come from the bar. He nods and dodges the bending back ends of the pool players to my left, on his way to drop two empty beer bottles in the trashcan behind the bartender, the glasses shattering against each other.

A draft draws me to the door, where Renee finally enters. She sees me immediately and slides into the booth across from me. She shimmies out of her coat and scarf and gives me a twisted grin. I wait for her to ask me what’s wrong, why are we back at Mother Goose’s four years post graduation, what drove me to drink again after being sober for Mitchell since the day he asked me if I was saved.

But she looks away, taps a knuckle against the window, points to the snowflake decorations attached to the street lamps outside. “Don’t you just love Christmas?” Optimistic, Christmas-loving Renee. I know she sees the storm clouds gathering over my head, but she chooses instead to look toward the blue sky just beyond them.

“It’s a magical time of year,” I say, and I throw my head back, downing the entire glass, holding my breath to keep it from rising again.

“Aren’t you excited? You’re getting married this Christmas! You and Mitchell proclaiming your love for each other before God, and on His Son’s birthday! It’s more than magical, it’s—” Her eyes widen, a glimmer in her pupils. Her chest expands, and it’s as if her whole body is levitating from the seat as she speaks of Christmas and it’s magic and my wedding and the ultimate display of love and of affection and, Jesus Christ!

“We had sex.”

Renee stiffens, frozen in midair, it seems. She says nothing.

“Me and Mitchell,” I add, as if that’s what she’s stuck on, but she’s quiet. She stares at me, and I start to think that maybe even this news is too much for chipper Renee to handle. Even she was a virgin when she married, and I had been saved five years while the only thing about God she knew was that He existed and that He saw everything. Now I fear she too will turn her back to me, and what does that mean for my carnal soul if all I have left to console me is one more shot of this whiskey?

But she surprises me again. “So . . . was it . . . bad?” I swear her obsession with always seeing the bright side of things will one day make her blind. But I laugh anyway. I can only laugh. And she laughs with me. And maybe it’s because of all the alcohol that my voice grows from low giggles, snickers under my breath, to cackles, and before I know it, we’re both howling like we’ve had too much to drink, like at any second, we’ll be rolling on the floor, spilled beer soaking our hair.

And it’s this release of the tension building inside me since last night that assures me nothing has to change. That if Mitchell were to call again, and I answer, I won’t be shamed by the guilt embedded in his unwanted apologies, but I’ll receive the words I yearn to hear exit his lips now. “I love you. I won’t leave you alone.”

I look down at the blank screen of my phone. I will answer, you baby. Just call, one more time.

—Nortina


Part of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans
——
Previous: Seeking Righteousness
Next: There’s No Such Thing as Santa Claus

Countdown to: 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Seeking Righteousness

Natasha still won’t answer the phone. Mitchell dials her number again for the twenty-seventh time. Or maybe this is the twenty-eighth. He’s lost count. He’s been calling since she left his house last night. He just wants to make sure that she’s alright, that she made it home safely, that she knows he’s not ashamed of her.

But he doesn’t want to lie.

Between phone calls, he gets on his knees and prays. “Father, please forgive me for giving into temptation. And forgive Natasha for the burden I’ve put on her shoulders by letting my flesh take over.” He swallows hard at this, as the memory of her deep mahogany skin, sweaty and pressing against his naked body, resurfaces. “Y-you s-said—” He stutters, shakes his head and tries again. “You said in Your word . . . that if we confess our sins, that You are faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” His eyes closed, he squeezes them tighter, unwilling to let the tears shed. “Lord, I do confess, and I ask You to forgive me and to wash me in your precious blood so that I am again white as snow, for my bride to be this Christmas, the birthday of the Lamb.”

His phone rings, but he doesn’t move. This is his secret place, his time to be alone in communion with the Father, even if the Father doesn’t respond—most times He doesn’t, and Mitchell falls asleep on the floor, waiting at His feet. However, there comes those rare occasions when Mitchell hears Him speak, clear and precise, as if He were kneeling right next to him. Mitchell heard Him when he rededicated his life—rejoicing in Heaven with the angels—and again when he proposed to Natasha. He yearns for that experience tonight.

The chill from the hardwood floor seeps through his jeans. The phone rings again. The thought arises that it could be Natasha, finally returning his calls, but the enemy would want him to think that, have him distracted worrying over Natasha and their one night of weakness when he should be listening for the voice of God, willing and ready to receive spiritual guidance from his Helper on the inside, his Counselor.

“Please, just give me a sign.” But what if the sign is the person on the other end of the phone? Ringing, now, for a third time. He tears himself from the Lord’s presence to answer.

“Tasha, is that you?”

“Sorry, bruh.”

“Antonio,” Mitchell sighs, but this could be a good thing. Antonio has been his assignment for the year. Their pastor, at The Revelation of Jesus Christ Christian Center, Reverend Murphy, has been preaching a series on discipling others for the Kingdom. In January, he instructed each member of the congregation to find someone the Lord draws them to evangelize.

Mitchell tries to remember who Natasha was assigned to disciple. She’s never talked about it, and he hasn’t seen her with anyone outside their group of friends. Maybe it’s Rita, but Renee’s working on Rita. It’s possible they both are. Rita could use all the help and praying power she can get, bless her heart.

“The harvest is ready, but the Lord needs workers,” Mitchell remembers Reverend Murphy saying. “Matthew twenty-eight and nineteens says, ‘Go out and make disciples of all nations.’ This is the one thing we won’t be able to do when we get to Heaven, which is why it is so important that we do it now!”

Antonio’s recent breakup with his son’s mother had him spiraling out of control, down the path toward destruction. All year Mitchell has been ministering to him, his ultimate goal to restore him to the path of righteousness. Antonio finally accepted the call to Christ on Sunday. Now the real work can begin.

“She just makes me so angry sometimes,” Antonio is saying.

“Who?” Mitchell realizes he hasn’t heard a word Antonio has said since answering the phone. Focus, he tells himself, try to get at least one thing right tonight. Maybe that’s what God needs to see.

“Elise, man. I don’t know why I let her get to me.”

“Have you prayed about it?”

“I can’t. I need to cool down.”

“That’s why you pray.”

There’s silence on the other end, and Mitchell checks his screen to make sure they haven’t disconnected. Then Antonio breathes a heavy sigh. “It’s hard, man.”

“Jesus never said it would be easy. In this life you will face trials and tribulations.” This is as much a testament to his own situation.

Antonio sighs again, the sound breaking, cracking, as if he’s blowing directly into the receiver. “Look, I actually didn’t call you to talk about my problems—”

“But I’m glad you did.”

“Have you talked to Tash today?”

Now it’s Mitchell’s turn to be silent over the phone.

“Hello?”

“Where is she?”

“Mother Goose’s. She’s on her third drink.”

—Nortina


Part of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans
——
Previous: Driving Down Memory Lane
Next: Booze Induced

Sunday Morning Word Has a New Home!

Sunday Morning Word has moved to a new site! This is a project I’ve been working on for years now, both here, and on another blog. It’s come and gone over the years as I’ve repeatedly put it on the back burner for months at a time, wanting to focus on different things. But God continues to bring it back to the forefront, and I’ve come to accept that this is my assignment from Him—to teach His word and simplify it in a way that others will understand. But instead of bogging it down and having it get lost amid the content of my other blogs, I’ve created a dedicated blog for it. And no, I won’t only be posting on Sundays; there will be much more content to come.

So head over and read my first post about why bad things happen to good people, and feel free to follow!

Source: Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Z is for… [Z]ealous Interviewer #AtoZChallenge

I’m feeling quite zealous today. Why? Because it’s April 30, and I’ve made it to the end of the A to Z Challenge without burning out. That deserves an applause!

I’m also excited to be starting on my novel, Lost Boy very soon. While I’m reserving the actual writing of the novel for NaNoWriMo in November, these next six months will consist of more planning, outlining, character sketching, and possibly a few more changes to the plot as things come together, and also a change in title (because I’m still not settled on “Lost Boy”).

I also hope to do more research so that the novel sounds as realistic as possible, because if there is one thing I cannot stand about the Christian fiction genre of today, it’s that the plots are so unbelievable, and the characters are more like caricatures.

One phase of my research will be interviews. Right now, my focus is on interviewing one of my fellow church members who’s in the prison ministry From Leslie’s character sketch, we know that she is very active in the church, including going out to the county jail to minister with the prison ministry. Unfortunately, I know nothing about prison ministries, so it’s time for a little investigation.

I’ve already contacted the church member about interviewing her. Now it’s time to put together some interview questions. Here are a few that I may ask in my interview.

  • How long have you been in the jail/prison ministry?
  • How often do you visit the jail?
  • When you visit the jail, do you go as a group? Do you need specific paperwork or documentation to enter?
  • Is there certain dress requirements you must meet before entering? Types of clothing, shoes, hats, purses? Will they let you bring your Bible? Are you searched/patted down? Do you go through a metal detector?
  • Where do you go to witness to the inmates? The cells? a chapel? Is there a common meeting area with many tables similar to a cafeteria? Are you separated from regular jail visitation?
  • Are you restricted in the types inmates you visit. For example, do you see people who have been convicted of violent crimes like rape or murder?
  • Do you talk to the inmates individually or do you stand before a group and minister?
  • What do you say to the inmates? Do you talk about them, how they ended up behind bars? How do you transition into talking about Jesus?
  • What major points in the Gospel do you like to hit on when talking with the inmates? Does the message change depending on the crime?
  • Are the inmates generally welcoming?
  • Do people get saved?

These are all the questions I have so far. Do you have any suggestions? What questions do you think I should ask?

I’m hoping that some of the answers I get to these questions will help me write an inspiring revival at the end of the novel, but if not, I’ll have great material to work with for one of my subplots.

And . . . that’s it for the A to Z Challenge! I’m glad I decided to participate after all. It has truly helped me get over my writer’s block. Not only do I have a new novel in the works, but I feel my mojo coming back. I’m eager to dive back into writing more poetry and short stories, and I’m even more zealous to return to the many flash fiction challenges I loved so much. So stay tuned! More to come soon!

—Nortina

X is for… [Χ]ριστός #AtoZChallenge

I got nothing. A big fat ZERO. There just aren’t enough “X” letters in the English alphabet. The dictionary agrees with me too.

My writer’s thesaurus skipped the letter “X” entirely, jumping from “W” straight to “Y,” and when I attempted to look up some words in a dated Webster’s Dictionary I found at work (labeled, “Best Reference Source 1989” by the American Library Association), it had one word, one word, for “X”: Xmas. That’s not even a freaking word! All it does is cross Christ out of Christmas. Of course, the dictionary had an elaborate definition for why the “X” is not meant to offend but to educate, apparently derived from the Greek letter chi (X), which is the first letter in Χριστός, which translated means Christos. So in fact, the “X” stands for Christ, not against Him.

Yea, yea, so you expect me to believe that everyone who says, “Merry Xmas!” is an expert on Greek language? Nah, I don’t think Leslie’s buying that excuse either.

But, since we’re here, let’s talk about Leslie, and her Christian foundation, and how on earth she’s going to bring her wayward sons back to her, and more importantly, back to Christ.

We’re down to the last three (and arguably the hardest) letters in the A to Z Challenge, and I’m getting a little anxious because I still don’t have a definitive ending to Lost Boy. I took a brief moment to revisit my outline, hoping to spark some inspiration—and laughing at how much has changed already since posting it (for example, Detective Maye has been reduced to a secondary character, and Gio, Clara, and Bethel are all out).

For today’s purposes, I want to focus on the Falling Action and how it can lead to a resolution. So what’s happening…

  • Leslie visits the scene of the crime
  • Leslie confronts Jacqui
  • Maye bails out Gregory

Already the last scene has to change, since Maye is no longer a main character, but there’s opportunity for me to add layers to the other two scenes. Eventually, I want to bring all the characters back together for a final intervention, or showdown, if you will. I think it will start with Leslie retracing Gregory’s steps, going to the gas station, talking with the bank teller who gave him the money. When she stops by Jacqui’s trailer, another character, whom she doesn’t expect, will already be there, waiting for her.

Being a member of the jail ministry, Leslie witnesses to complete strangers often. She’s gotten complacent in her message, telling people about the Gospel of Christ with the hope that she’ll probably never see them again.

You have nothing to lose when you’re talking with a stranger. If they reject you, or respond in an offensive matter, you just move on to the next person; you don’t let it affect you, because the goal is not to seek the approval of man, but to save as many souls for Christ as possible. But evangelism starts at home, does it not? What about your own family and friends who are unsaved? Will you pray that the Lord sends forth laborers (Matthew 9:35-38)? Will you be that laborer to reap God’s harvest?

Everyone in Leslie’s circle needs redemption: Will Gregory’s poor choices prevent him from reconciling with his family? Will Tony be able to quench the resonating anger he feels toward his mother and brother? Will Jacqui and Tammi turn from their selfish greed and seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness? Will Kerry learn to forgive? Will Leslie continue to put her hope, faith, and trust in the Lord?

Leslie’s going to need all of her prayer warriors plus the empowering presence of God to fix her family, and it will start in the most unlikeliest of places. A revival is coming to Pleasant’s Edge, a city in exile, but as scripture says, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but there is hope, for we are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Amen! Let’s hope Leslie can do it!

—Nortina

Left Behind

Pat and Lynn stood outside of the chapel underneath the sycamore tree, the alabaster branches radiating in the sunlight as if covered in snow.

“I hate this church. Why do you insist on coming here? There’s not a woman in the congregation the Bishop hasn’t slept with,” Lynn said, picking at the bark. She held her Bible at her side, the leather cover still firm as if she’d just plucked it from a store shelf.

“He hasn’t slept with you,” Pat said, winking. He switched his tattered Bible to the other hand and pulled her into him, kissing her forehead. “Today?” He whispered.

“Not to that sleaze ball?”

“You’re asking Jesus to be your Lord, not Bishop Reynolds.”

“If he’s supposed to represent Jesus, I ain’t interested.” She shrugged and walked inside.

The sanctuary was half-empty, occupied only by the Bishop, who wiped his forehead and neck with his handkerchief, and his former mistresses, who shuffled about in their pews anxiously.

“What’s going on?” she asked, but Pat was no longer behind her.

word count: 173

—Nortina


Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers is a weekly challenge where you write a story in 100-150 words (give or take 25 words) using the provided photo prompt as inspiration.

Click on the froggy icon to read other stories and add your own!

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