Nachos and Cheese [Cold Sweat Series]

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I walked in and I heard music. It was faint but it wasn’t gospel like I expected. It was all melody, all instrumental, no words. He said words complicate things. The floors shone. They weren’t wood. They weren’t marble. They weren’t glass. They weren’t concrete. You could feel something solid under your feet but you couldn’t see anything. It was like walking on water.

When I saw him I was surprised. He was thin. He was small. He was wearing a Polo t-shirt and some linen shorts with white slippers embroidered with the initials “J.C.” He said, “I heard you had some grievances. Come sit with me.” When I looked in the direction He was pointing in, I immediately knew where I was. There was the loft bed my parents bought me when I was 14. My old karaoke radio was on my old dresser with my old word processor on my old desk. There were roses from my dad on my desk and a looney tunes tweety bird figurine.

We climbed the ladder to the bed and He sat at the head and I sat at the foot. I didn’t hesitate. I said, “What’s going on? !”

     Why am I on a constant uphill battle?
     Why do the rich get richer and the
     poor get poorer?
     Why is there war?
     Why do babies die?

He sighed in exasperation. He rolled his eyes and sucked his teeth. Then he kicked his slippers over the bed and replaced them with gold leather moccasins with his first initial engraved on the sole. He waved his hand over his head and his cherry wood locks transformed to a baldie. I stared in amazement. I reached for his head subconsciously but he politely bobbed and weaved out of my grasp. He said, “No one touches the fresh cut. Not even my mom.” Then he said, “What do you really want to know?”

I didn’t know what to say.

He took out a bag of tortilla chips and salsa con queso and he said, “Let’s bond a little. What do you really want to know? What keeps you up at night? Like I know you have a good heart, I made it! But I know you aren’t stressing over war and poverty.”

My palms started to sweat.

“Okay, why did my sister die on July 4th? She was so young. I often wonder what she would be like as an adult.”

He finished the chip in his mouth. He said, “I needed her here. Her strength, her curiosity, her innocence was too good for the world. I needed her here…sorry.”

I asked, “Why don’t I feel beautiful?  Why can’t I see what others see? Why didn’t I get a high round ass…”

I stopped and became flushed with embarrassment. Did I just curse in front of Him?

He laughed heartily and snapped his fingers. A golden toothpick appeared and he picked his tooth with it. Then he snapped his fingers again and it vanished. He said, “Its cool. Proceed…”

“Why isn’t my skin flawless? Why can’t I just wake up perfect?”

“Has it ever occured to you that you are perfect. That everything you want to correct, I purposely placed meticulously just the way I wanted it. You waste so much time trying to be something adverse to what I designed. Frankly it pisses me off!  Just relax. You’re good.”

Then I said, ” SOMETIMES I feel like I am stark booty butt naked, standing in the middle of the street, painted neon green, screaming and people just drive/walk past me. No one looks. No one tweets what they saw. Invisible. No one flinches. Why does everyone save their ‘I love you’s’ for funerals? Why do people wait for occasions to buy flowers? Why don’t people write letters anymore? Why are we so social but completely disconnected????? Its like standing in a storm bone dry. Surrounded by people but no one connects. We’re too busy. We’re too vain. Too busy with selfies and gossip about celebrities we’ll never know.”

I was screaming.

He stopped eating.

He said, “Eat because I don’t want you to say nothing.”

I couldn’t help but laugh.

He was funny. I kinda always knew He would be.

He said,” SOME People have always been ungrateful ungrounded and ungodly. However,  what you’re describing is different. You’re describing a self centered nature. Not to be confused with selfish! They are just absorbed. Too absorbed to see your love,  loyalty or friendship. You’re not exempt by the way. You’re thinking of what you need and how you feel. How do you know there wasn’t a time when they felt the same way and YOU dropped the ball? A call you missed. A visit you never rescheduled, you just cancelled…”

I tried to speak but he politely offered me more dip and said, “Eat.”

“There have been fires, floods, and other sacrifices.”

He showed me the scars on his wrists. He showed me where he was beaten.

“Look for the rainbows. Look for the cycles in life. Wait for the up after the down. Wait for the downhill where you dont have to petal hard, you just coast. If you can’t run down the hill, then just roll but keep moving. I don’t give up on you so you can’t give up on yourself. Forgive. You have to forgive. Forgive the flaky people who never showed up. Forgive the broken promises. Forgive divorce. Forgive addiction. Forgive mistakes no matter how ugly they are. Forgive the things you can’t forget. Let go of the times you zig’d when you should have zag’d. Forgive abandonment. Free yourself from cowardice. Accept loss. Fill the void with hope. Everything cycles. Pain is received and pain is inflicted…”

I began to cry. I whispered, “Please stop.”

He continued, ” The truth cuts with a jagged knife. We can be very self righteous. We can be selective and relative about black and white situations and try to make them gray. Our opinions of people are a glass menagerie but we heavy handedly and clumsily handle our loved ones. We hate what we don’t understand. We flee from the thought that we possibly deserve everything we get.”

“PLEASE STOP” , I yelled.

I jumped out of the bed. Frantically looking for the exit. I always imagined this conversation would be different. I felt alone. I felt misunderstood.

He followed me. I was running. He was walking. I ran and He chased. Most of my life I was chasing answers and He was running from me. He hugged me and said, “This is what you wanted. Why do my brothers and sisters get so frantic when I am giving them what they want?”

I said,  “Can I leave?”

He said, “You have free will.”

As I waited at the gate for the access code to exit, I sobbed silently.

He whispered , “I feel so alone. I feel so misunderstood.”

The gates closed behind me.

By:Shaun Nickens

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What Did I Miss?

A high school buddy of mine gave me the number and access code to a group prayer line. Her church started it to encourage its members and keep them on a spiritual journey throughout the week when they are away from the sanctuary. At the time, I myself needed an extra kick in the butt so I would call in occasionally.

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Normally, I would call in at noon. There is a 6am conference, noon and 6pm. At 6pm I am at the office so that doesn’t work. I remember thinking, ” I damn sure ain’t gettin’ up at 6am.” So noon was my only option.

Yet, when I call at noon I am getting myself ready for work. I am busy with the hustle of family. I am not focused. The TV is on in another room. I’m folding laundry or washing dishes. I’m doing everything but calming my mind and spirit to join the presence of God. Also, sometimes it would seem like the facilitator was busy too. Or maybe they were just praying routinely. No disrespect but it didn’t move me. I still called because I just needed to feel closer to God and his believers.

The other day, I got up at 6am. I was restless. My heart was disgruntled. I wasn’t dreaming so I wasn’t sleeping.

I got up and called the prayer line at 5:57 and waited with my phone muted. A male voice came on the line and began with verses for us to review at our leisure. He went over the meanings of the verses and how those scriptures are related to one another specifically to guide us. There was a theme and he led us in reverence and meditation for 15 minutes. I felt like I went to a church drive thru! It was like a microwaved sermon! I immediately felt a new energy and vigor and POSITIVITY that had been absent from me (or I was absent from it) for some time. My pastor calls that “Preaching and teaching!”

I say all that to say…

What are you missing out on because you are too lazy, unfocused, or undisciplined to attain? What blessings are you “sleeping on?” Sometimes you are experiencing an earthquake in your life because He has to force you to move out of the house of complacency. Your feet were planted there. You wouldn’t move unless he knocked down your glass menagerie and seemingly destroyed everything around you. Why don’t you see that he never destroyed YOU?

You …no WE have to get it together!  Do you eat right? Do you hydrate? Do you restore your temple by getting enough rest? Do you lay your clothes out in advance?  Is your car clean? I went to private school and my father was in the military. I had to be up at 6:30am, room spotless, uniform ironed,and shoes shined.  I ate Special K with a half of grapefruit, Farina or grits and eggs every day. What the hell happened to me?!

Life! Luxury! Laziness! Loss! No excuse for catching up instead of keeping up. Ask yourself what you aren’t disciplined enough to attain. Decide if you want abundance or a life of sleepless nights because He is trying to move you out of misery.

Please don’t wake up at 80 and say, “What did I miss?”

By: Shaun Melissa Nickens

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Good Morning

I’ve never been big on New Years resolutions.  They always seemed counterproductive. People would make them and then break them so quickly. However, I’ve noticed that some of the most successful people (or at least more positive people) are individuals who set goals for themselves.  We live in an age of motivational speakers and affirmation creators.  Social media, bookshelves, and infomercials are flooded with people who claim they can “fix” you.

I’ve had a difficult 2013 and I’m sure I’m not alone.  What happens if what doesn’t “make you stronger” kills your spirit?

I had dinner at my favorite restaurant with my mentor on Sunday.  We laughed and she was excited to see my 6 month old (yes I’m one of those parents who bring kids to restaurants!) We talked about ministry, evangelism, and motivation.  She was glad I was skating by at work, still singing in choir, and squeezing in time to write.  The compliments and praise were pouring in so I was a little stunned when she said :

“So what’s stopping you from really taking it to the next level?  Make your book a reality.  Establish yourself as a writer.  You were published when you were 10! Don’t you want to be more recognized by now?  You qualify for the recognition but do you deserve it?  You want more money at work but do you get there ontime?  Do you dress professionally DAILY? What sets you apart?”

As I picked my ego off the floor, she continued to talk to me about commitment.  She talked about being busy with the Creators work and less self involved.  She said to think about the people who need a word or a push and not to take my blessings for granted. 

Then she challenged me.  It was time to make a pact with the Father and with myself.  She said she practices fasting from time to time, meditation, no devices for a few hours to remove the voices of others so she can hear the answers to her questions.  She tithes regularly to put her money in His “storehouse” and let him decide how to allocate her treasures. 

I’ve been thinking all week about the disciplined commitment that’s right for me…

I LOVE sleep.  I work hard and I look forward to a soft pillow and a warm comforter at the end of the day.  I got lucky because our infant loves sleep just as much as I do.  In fact, right now my typing is interrupting her beauty rest and pissing her off. 
I’ve decided that no matter how late I go to bed due to work schedule, family obligations, etc…
I’m still going to rise at 8am everyday. No excuses.  No rushing. No dodging speeding tickets.  More time for writing. More quality time.  More time for prayer and reflection. 

Its time to take it to the next level.

What commitment do you need to make?

-SMN

Long Overdue … (Shout out to Catholic school, Higher education, and Incense!)

“I believe in God.  I believe in Zen.  I believe in Karma.  I believe in myself…”~ My Daddy

I don’t know if I’m the only one, but I have prayer templates.  Template 1:  “The Telegram Prayer”  (i.e.  “Thank you Father for waking me up. Amen.”  “Bless this food. Amen” “Stop me from smacking this idiot. Amen”  Template 2: “The Bargain” (i.e. “Dear Lord, if you get me through this I promise I will never _________________”) Template 3: “Begging” (i.e.  “Dear God, please let me get home without this car breaking down. I know the gas light has been on for 2 days but payday is tomorrow.” )  These templates are that of a lazy/”lukewarm” Christian.  What is a “lukewarm” Christian, you ask?  It is a term, I find offensive but one that I must admit describes me from time to time.  Scripture speaks of the “lukewarm” Christian quite often but the bible quote I never forget is the following:

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would rather that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

~Revelation 3:15-16

When I was about 16 yrs old my friend who lived down the block from my house was having an argument with her mom.  Her mother was always a firm and somewhat serious woman.  She was thick and German with a slight accent.  When she was angry, thunder couldn’t compete!  I don’t remember what my friend did but I vividly remember her mom saying, “I have had it with you.  You are hanging from my throat and I am going to spit you out!!”  I had never heard a parent say anything like that before.  It stunned me.  My friend was unaffected  but I was crying!  All I could think to myself was, “Damn!  That’s some hurtful s*%t!”  So now as an adult, when I do something wrong, I imagine the Creator saying that to me.  I imagine being discarded by God.  It’s a scary feeling.

Why am I “lukewarm”?  Probably because I’m still “finding myself” (that location cannot be found on google maps but for those of you who made the attempt…thank you.)  I’m 27 so if my calculations are correct, I’ll probably find myself around age 89.  Cool with me!  As long as I have a legacy for my children, as long as people still say “Shaun’s deep”, and as long as at least 1 person sort of kind of gets me…I’m good!  Why am I “lukewarm”?  I was a baptized practicing Catholic up until age 19. I am soooooooo grateful for that foundation but I wasn’t encouraged to ask questions about FAITH and DELIVERANCE in Catholic school.  In fact, I will be bold enough to say that compliance, obedience and fear are the fortified teachings of my adolescence.  My favorite part was confession because to me it was like going to a therapist for free and I was an odd child so I had a lot to talk about.  Also, they would always burn incense after you said your assigned number of hail mary’s.

   Why am I “lukewarm”?  Blame higher education.  My first year at Pace University, I had  a tree-hugging,incense burning, bike riding,emotionally  damaged, hippie!  To date, he’s the best professor I’ve ever had and he challenged me to read more, become a more open-minded person, appreciate everything I have in life, and never judge a book by its cover!  That year, I read “Assata” by Assata Shakur, on my own free will.  I studied Emerson and Thoreau (if you don’t know who these people are then its time to do yourself a favor and hit the library.)  I read, “The Forest People” by Colin Turnbull and I swear I wanted to wear loincloth and live off the land like the pygmies!!  

The things I learned led to me becoming more “worldly.”  Good church folk know that being “worldly” is frowned upon in Christianity.  By definition it means you are “contrasted with heaven or spiritual life” (dictionary.com) but the second definition is “experienced, knowing, and sophisticated.”  I was a walking oxymoron!  I went to church every Sunday, had sound Christian values, and knew all my prayers and old negro spirituals just as my mother taught me.  On the other hand, I wanted to learn about other cultures, history, I respected other practices of Faith and knew that it was ok to be different.  I couldnt ignore the obvious similarities between Greek mythology, Egyptian history, Native American Proverbs, and The Bible.  We are all so different and yet we are all the same.

“Lukewarm” isn’t good but its the most comfortable temperature for most people.  I wash my hair in lukewarm water.  I take a lukewarm bath because hot baths hurt and dry out your skin.  I like my food lukewarm.  However, I am well aware that walking the fence doesn’t produce impressive results.  The most successful people are those who make decisions and step outside of their comfort zones.

In conclusion, I’m still “finding myself” but I’m getting “warmer” in life’s game of hide and go seek!  I converted to the United Church of Christ in 2004 and I have some uncompromising beliefs.  I started this post for a completely different reason though.  I kind of went on a tangent (sorry.)  I started this post because I have some  template prayers to address:

  1. Thank You God for curiosity.
  2. Thank You God for a significant other who tries to understand me and relate to me and love me no matter how hard it must be.
  3. Thank You God for my family.  I’ve seen other families on TV and I know you gave me a good one. 🙂
  4. Thank you God for my health.  The hardest thing I dealt with this year was Memorial Day in the ER for Strep Throat and that’s not too bad. Plus, I really like those hospital socks!
  5. I promise to use my love for writing more often to profess your grace and favor.

Are you “lukewarm”?  Do you have any template prayers to address?  Leave a comment….share….follow me on twitter @shutyamouthnow or email me at :Shutyamouthandcallmeugly@gmail.com

~By: Shaun M N