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

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Distractions

Antonio knows he shouldn’t be on Facebook. He doesn’t need to see his ex post another status update about waiting for her Boaz.

“Where’s my Ruth?” he asks his empty bedroom. What does Elise even know about a Boaz anyway? She’s never read the Book of Ruth, doesn’t even know where it is in the Bible. Hell, neither does he, but at least he’s trying—five days born again. Elise is only Christian when it’s convenient for her, when a meme quoting scripture out of context is reposted on her timeline, confirming what her closed mind has already decided, that she’s always right, and that he ain’t worth the shit that comes out her ass.

She’s so vulgar. How did he ever kiss that mouth? How did he ever love her? The last time he asked to keep Ryder for more than a weekend, more than the end of a Sunday afternoon, she told him to suck her dick. Her dick. And she wonders why she’s still alone. Wonders why the closest thing she ever had to a Boaz walked right out the door. Wonders why she’ll still be waiting for her imaginative Boaz when Jesus returns.

Wives, submit to your husbands . . .

Antonio thinks he hears someone speaking, though it’s not really a voice, more of a feeling, like a pocket of air in his chest. “Is that you, God?” he thinks to say, though his lips don’t move. He wants to ask Him about his future wife, the woman who will fit in the gash in his side where his rib once was. She’s out there somewhere, already alive, already waiting, not whoring herself on social media for the likes, probably at home reading her Bible right now, like he should be doing.

Mitchell says not to rush it, that Antonio should get himself right with Christ first before he tries to find a wife. Easy for Mitchell to say. He already has his Ruth. And Renee and Bryan weren’t even saved when they married. Bryan still isn’t, though Renee has been working on him all year. Sometimes Antonio feels like a third wheel around them. Their perfect relationships with each other, with God—even Bryan, whom, Antonio presumes, believes at least some of the word Mitchell and Renee preach daily. Of course, he’s not completely excluded when he’s with the group. There is Rita, but the broad’s a basket case. She only dates white boys anyway. Figures. She’s probably like Elise. Done dirty by the wrong nigga, now she thinks they’re all the same.

The head of every man is Christ . . .

He knows he’s getting off track. One step at a time. Step one: Build a relationship with Christ. He’ll start by looking for that verse. He’ll write it in his prayer journal, pray on the word. He opens the composition notebook, reaches for the thousand-page concordance of Bible verses that Mitchell loaned to him (after they prayed together for his salvation) to find the book and chapter.

But the touch screen on his phone is still lit, and he can’t help but to look again. Another post appears on his feed. He knows he should turn it off, find that secret place Mitchell’s always talking about, but it’s a picture of his son, clad in the ugliest Christmas onesie he’s ever seen, Santa Claus’ pink face in tiled mosaic across Ryder’s chest and stomach. And he loses it. He fucking loses it.

The phone is ringing before he realizes his actions.

Slow to anger . . . 

This time he knows it’s God speaking to him, but then Elise’s voice drowns Him out, and he feels his temples explode as the fury rises.

“What, nigga?”

“Take that gay ass shit off my son!”

“Mmm, Renee told me you got saved last Sunday. I hate to call her a liar.”

He hangs up before she can finish her mocking in that high-pitched country twang he hates so much. He hates her. He hates that she has custody of Ryder, that he always has to fight her just to see him, that she blasts him on Facebook like he’s a deadbeat dad, that she never admits to her faults, like why he needed to get a DNA test when Ryder was born.

Vengeance is mine, I will repay . . .

He closes his prayer journal, the first page left blank. He’ll start tomorrow. Right now, he needs a drink.

—Nortina


Part of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans
——
Previous: Alone with the Clouds
Next: Driving Down Memory Lane

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?

The Lord Will Keep You

Bacon sizzled and popped in the pan. Leslie hovered over the stovetop, watching the bacon’s translucent pink transition to a deep, crispy red. She forked the strips out of the pan and onto a plate lined with a paper towel to trap the grease.

She cracked half a dozen eggs into a bowl, scrambled them with the same fork she used to flip the bacon, and poured them into the hot pan. She cooked robotically, not fully aware of her own movements, working on muscle memory alone.

She hadn’t slept at all the night before, tossing and turning until almost four in the morning, while next to her Antonio lay completely still but for the rise and fall of his chest under his heavy breathing. She envied how quickly he descended into sweet slumber, mere moments after kissing her goodnight and laying his head down on the pillow.

She had to coax herself into sleep. After hours of fruitless efforts to get comfortable, she clicked on the lamp by the bed and retrieved her Bible from the top drawer of the nightstand. God was keeping her up for a reason, and she desired to know why.

She opened the Bible to her favorite psalm, 121:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help / My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. / He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber / Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep…

She stopped, prayed, “Lord, why have you kept me awake? Why do you refuse to grant me sleep while you work on my behalf?”

She didn’t expect a response. He rarely answered her prayers, especially when she question His motives. She used to be embarrassed by that. She’d been saved since her undergraduate years in college, nearly three decades, but she had never heard the voice of God.

It was on their second date, when the conversation had turned to salvation and whether or not they both had a relationship with Jesus Christ, that Antonio assured her there was nothing wrong not being able to hear His voice. He doesn’t always speak to you, she remembered him saying. Sometimes it’s just a feeling, like butterflies in your stomach when you talk to your crush. When He wants you to do something, it’s like you get dizzy, and you can almost see yourself doing it in your head. Some would call that a premonition, but it’s not; it’s the Holy Spirit leading you. “That’s how I came to give my life,” he’d told her. “I saw myself walking to the altar even before I did it.”

She waited for that feeling, that vision, to see herself fast asleep, and then to lie back dizzy, pull the covers up to her chin, and actually sleep. But God startled her that night, His voice like thunder filling the room.

“Keep reading.”

And she could hardly keep the Bible steady enough to read, her hands shaking uncontrollably. She laid it across her lap, stuttered through the words as she read aloud. Her ears still rang from hearing him for the first time, and her voice sound minuscule in comparison, like those squeaky little cartoon chipmunks she used to watch on television as a child. But she kept reading as instructed, whispering low to herself the entire psalm, down to the last two verses.

The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul / The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

And as if by the snap of His mighty finger, she was asleep.

Antonio’s cold hands curled around Leslie’s shoulders, jolting her back into the present.

“Morning, beautiful.” He kissed her neck.

She shuddered out of his embrace. “Honey, your hands are like ice.”

“That’s because I don’t have you to keep me warm.” He wrapped his arms around her waist, rocked her side to side, and slipped one hand underneath her blouse to caress her stomach around her belly button. She closed her eyes, rested her head on his shoulder, and he dipped down, lightly pressed his soft lips against hers. After twenty years of marriage he could still swoon her off her feet.

“Ugh, get a room!” Tony said from the kitchen table behind them.

“Watch who you talking to, boy,” Antonio snapped. “And last time I checked, every room in this house belongs to me. Unless you want to start paying the mortgage.”

Leslie hadn’t even noticed the boys were already at the kitchen table waiting to be served their breakfast before school. Tony slumped in his chair. He returned his attention to something on his phone’s screen. Leslie hated they’d even bought him one. He was a teenager, growing more and more distant from his family, and a cell phone only expedited that, but he needed a way to contact them whenever there was an emergency. She was reluctantly forced to compromise. At least she could still control his minutes. Limited text messages and no phone calls after 7 PM.

Next to him Gregory wrote in a thee-subject spiral notebook. Across the page he had written out the multiplication table, up to 20. He had a math test that day, and she was proud to see him studying. She wished Tony would follow his little brother’s example, since he was at the moment failing History.

“Boys, make sure you have everything together for school. Breakfast will be ready in a minute.” Leslie cut the heat off the eye of the stove and stirred the eggs with a whisk. Some of it had begun to stick to the pan, and she sighed in frustration.

“You ok, sweetie? You seem tired,” Antonio said.

“Couldn’t sleep.” She thought to ask him if he had heard anything last night. Those two words God had spoken had been so loud, so clear, but while she could barely contain her heart, pounding through her chest, Antonio didn’t even flinch. The message was meant only for her. If God had wanted her to share it, he would’ve woken Antonio too.

“Here, go sit down. I’ll finish up.”

Leslie couldn’t help but chuckle. Breakfast was ready, all that was left was dividing it onto four plates, but if Antonio thought he was helping, she wouldn’t refuse him. Chivalry was far from dead when it came to their relationship. She only hoped her boys would inherit their father’s same kindness and respect toward women.

She sat next to Gregory and smiled. “Ready for your test?”

He closed his notebook and stuffed it in his bookbag on the floor. “I think so.”

Leslie nodded. “Confidence, sweetie.” She turned to Tony across. “Put that phone away at the breakfast table.”

He rolled his eyes.

“Keep rolling your eyes like that, and they’ll get stuck there.”

He sucked his teeth. “Whatever.”

Leslie stood and was about to reach across the table to pop him in the mouth, but she heard a loud crash behind her. She spun around. Antonio was no longer standing in front of the stove. She rushed around the kitchen island and found him on the floor unconscious, the hot pan on his shoulder next to the oven, the scrambled eggs split all over his chest.

“Oh my god!” She fell to her knees, cradled his head in her lap. She slapped his face repeatedly. “Come on. You’re alright, you’re alright.” She swiped the tears from her cheeks. “No, you’re alright. Come on. Come on!” she pleaded.

“Mom?” Gregory and Tony had followed her. They stood at the corner of the stove next to the fallen frying pan. She looked up at her youngest son, and all her fear transferred into his eyes. They curved downward like almonds and welled up with tears.

She shook her head and pushed his legs back. “Call 9-1-1!”

“I-I don’t—” He looked over his shoulder at his brother behind him.

“Tony!” Leslie screamed. “We gave you that phone for emergencies like this!”

He scrambled to tug his phone out of his front pocket, suddenly tight around his hand. He finally ripped it out but dropped it on the floor. Leslie snatched it up. On her third try, she got the operator—the first two times, her fingers moving too fast, she dialed 9-0-1-1 and 1-1-2-9.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

“Get me an ambulance!” She panted heavily, tried to swallow back the sobs and mucus building at the back of her throat. Her voice faded in and out as she tried to speak, her chest bouncing in rythm with the fluttering of her racing heart. She was too flustered even to remember their address. “It’s my husband,” she stammered

“Ma’am, try to calm down. Can you tell me if he’s breathing?” His voice was steady, smooth. He spoke at the same level as he had when he first answered, not raising even half a decibel. He was probably used to this, trained on how to handle frantic callers like her, deescalating as much as he could over the phone before the police and paramedics arrived.

Leslie squeezed two fingers against Antonio’s neck, but she couldn’t feel a pulse. The phone fell from her ear, and she fell facedown across Antonio’s stiffened chest. “Please, God! Please don’t take him from me!”

And again, He answered her. Two times in under six hours after twenty-seven years of silence.

“Remember what you read.” He was preparing her for what was to come, a trying of her faith in Him, like when He commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac. Could she trust Him to be her only source after the love of her life was taken away from her? Job tore his clothes, fell prostrate to the floor and worshiped Him when he lost everything. Could she do the same?

The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away…

 No, she couldn’t accept it. “Not this, God. Anything but this!” She prayed unceasingly, knowing He wouldn’t change His mind, but she continued anyway, while Tony and Gregory stood over her, frozen, and watched. Their lives were about to change catastrophically, and while she knew that all things worked together for the good to them that loved Him, in that moment, as she prayed and prayed for Antonio’s healing and deliverance, she wasn’t sure she could say with tenacious zeal that she truly loved God over the man who lay dying in her arms.

—Nortina


It is Short Story A Day May, and  all this week the prompts are geared toward novelists! Today’s prompt comes from Lisa Cron and asks us to investigate a turning point in our protagonist’s past. This was the perfect opportunity to explore more backstory for my NaNoWriMo novel, “Lost Boy.” Last month, I used the April A to Z Challenge to plan out the novel. If you missed it, read it from the beginning here

Saved by Grace

It wasn’t enough to sign, “We can’t see each other anymore.” He doesn’t take no for an answer, in any language. And when Felicity confided to her best friend that she feared Darrel was stalking her, Tippy scoffed and said she was overreacting.

But she’s seen his car drive past her window twice, and now there’s a light knock on her door, turned to a pound, turned to a kick. And then a sudden blast.

He has a gun.

It wasn’t enough that he had stolen Tippy from her. Tippy still thinks she’s clueless. Mute doesn’t equal dumb. She’s seen the naked photos, the video in his phone. Tippy was willing to do everything Felicity’s morals commanded her to forsake. Tippy could make as much noise as her stronger vocal chords could carry, egging him to press harder, stroke faster.

But he wanted them both.

Felicity dedicated her voice to the Lord the first time Darrel raped her. She speaks only to Him now. She offers her body only to Him.

But Darrel could never take no for an answer, and now no one but God will hear her scream.

She hides in the bathroom closet, praying for deliverance, fully aware that He could tell her no, like He refused to remove the thorn from Paul’s side—because His grace is sufficient. All things work together, she reminds herself. Not her will but His be done. His power is made perfect in her weakness. She was not given the spirit of fear, so she will not panic. She only wishes not be touched again, that she be made holy and taken into His glory.

Darrel taps the heavy metal on the closet door and rips it open. He’s always wanted to boast his strength, impose his dominance over her. He wields the gun in her face, and she exhales—closes her eyes and exhales—slow, smooth, as time freezes, and all of her breath flows from her body.

No words exchanged—his hatred has consumed him now. He pulls the trigger—a quick blast—and she is caught up in a cloud of fire.

—Nortina


It is Short Story A Day May, and today’s prompt, “Writer’s Clue” was kind of a cop out. No offense to LJ Cohen, but c’mon, girl, all you did was tell us to write a basic story! So I took a little inspiration from the Daily Prompt: panicked. It worked out in the end. Maybe that was her point all along…

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

BlaPoWriMo: Oh, How I Love Jesus

after “slaveship” by Lucille Clifton

not to be stripped
from Mother’s womb
chained to corpses
and the near dead
cargo traded for
tobacco and rum
in the Hope*  of our
Lord. the heat the
sweat the release
of bowels the stench
of food we never ate
filling our lungs.

Oh, how I love
Jesus*  shipped us
across hostile seas
tossed to and fro
with every wind and
torrent. flung
overboard some of
our own accord into
a world of red faced
savages**  who preached
divine providence—
Sons of Ham
predestined to bow
under the whip.

Oh, how I love Jesus
heard my back
break from the ground
heard arise a wail
song for deliverance
like those who
crossed the Sea of
Reeds on dry land
heard us sing low
from our bellies—
trouble the waters
flush out our pursuers—
and I’ll hope on
the Lord because
He first loved me.

—Nortina

* “Hope of the Lord”; “Jesus” — Hope and Jesus were names of slave ships

** “red faced savages” — in his Narrative, Olaudah Equiano described his captors having “red faces and loose hair” and behaving in “so savage a manner.”


Written for Black Poetry Writing Month, 2017— a fortnight of “black” love poetry. Join the challenge and share your love poems today!