This is the last pre-publishing “teasers” of my upcoming book, Divided, the first book in a trilogy set 45 years after a devastating civil war fought over racial issues. Enjoy! And leave a comment!

Chapter One

 January 3rd, fortyfive years later

Marcos

Marcos bolted upright in bed and leapt to the window. Clear. No snow. He tensed up unconsciously and checked the clock on the wall. 6:17am. The only one who would be up at this hour on this particular day was who he wanted to talk to right now. He threw on a sweatshirt over his pajamas and padded barefoot out to the kitchen.

Sure enough, Abuela, Marcos’s grandmother, was already awake, staring into space over a cup of café.

“Abuela…” Marcos began awkwardly, plunking down into the chair opposite her.

“You’re up early,” Abuela observed, getting up to refill her cup. “Need some cafe?”

Marcos nodded. Abuela knew him well. He generally spoke in single syllables until he had a cup of café in the morning. But today, he needed answers. “Abuela,” he began again as she set the steaming mug in front of him, “why are you always sad on this same day every year.”

“Mijo,” Abuela sighed. “I guess it’s time for you to know. Let’s go to the roof. Put warmer clothes on. Esta frio.”

As Marcos headed back to his bedroom, he was shocked. She had always dodged his questions on this topic. He wasn’t blind or stupid though. He knew January 3rd was hard for her. It was a puzzle he just hadn’t been able to solve. He had tried pleading, throwing tantrums, yelling and one time he had even run away.

Marcos had been eight that year. When Abuela had gotten up and left the living room at his questions, only to be heard later weeping in his sister’s bedroom, he had lost it. He had run away; all the way to Tio’s two blocks away. He’d even packed his bag. Tio, his mother’s younger brother, had laughed at him. Then Tio had kept him occupied all day making tortillas until it was dinner time. At that point he had politely, but firmly, escorted his nephew back home. Mami had fret over him for hours, trying to make him feel guilty, until Flavia had let leak that she, only five years old then, had known the whole time. That experience had made him certain he needed to know about whatever made January 3rd hard for Abuela. He couldn’t believe he had finally won.

Marcos followed Abuela to the roof, impressed by how well she balanced the mug while climbing the emergency fire escape ladder to the roof one-handed. He realized how little he knew his own Abuela in that instant.

She’s done this before, for sure.

They sat down against the barrier around the edge, their backs to the wind. Abuela wasn’t wrong. It was really cold. He wrapped his hands around his mug and quickly began gulping the café before it was cold.

“Marcos,” she began, “you know how dangerous it is to ask questions about the past, right?”

Marcos nodded. He was always getting in trouble in Historia classe for challenging the teacher about things that didn’t make sense. He was convinced most of the official narrative of the start of the Replublic of America was fiction, but Marcos had never found hard evidence for it. The history had too many inconsistencies.

“You know, you can’t tell anyone about what I’m going to tell you. They would execute me in an instant and you in the very next. It would bring down so much trouble for your family. These things are absolutely forbidden,” Abuela explained, as if Marcos hadn’t known. There were edicts issued every year about how saying anything but the accepted history of the nation would mean execution on the basis of treason.

“I swear secrecy, Abuela. I won’t talk about it,” Marcos promised.

“So, schools teach you nada about the history of this nation before what they call the Great Civil War. So, I need to give you un poco context first,” Abuela said in Nueva Havana, the formalized language that mixed the old language, Spanish, with the official national language, English. This language was how their area got its name, or so he’d been told in school. There were also strict rules for how they spoke Nueva Havana, rules that had been designed by men wanting to make sure they couldn’t secretly organize a rebellion. Every word of the language had been approved for use by the first Martin government.

“Our nation used to be called the United States of America. We have only cities now, like the one we live in, but back then there were big areas of land grouped into things called states. There were fifty states and a population of hundreds of millions. We were a strong, prosperous nation, proud of our army and our wealth. We had peace within our nation and with our neighbors…”

“Wait a minute, Abuela. How big exactly was our nation?” Marcos asked, interrupting. He thought the population of his area in this one city was less than ten thousand. A population of hundreds of millions was an outrageous, incomprehensible number to him. He imagined people everywhere you looked, stacked on top of each other.

“At least three hundred million, Mijo. Our city, that we live in now, was over two million,” Abuela asserted. “I know this is hard to visualize.” Abuela brushed her hair out of her face where the cold wind had whipped it out of her bun.

“But let me continue. Like I said, we were a strong, proud nation, but it all came crashing to an end forty-five years ago,” she said, her gaze far away, as if she could still see the city in those days. “No, really, forty-six years ago was when it started. The nation was very diverse. People of all colors, races, backgrounds and types all living in grande cities together, mostly in peace. But under the surface there were issues, muy grande problemas. They all erupted when there was a brutal killing of un policía, kind of like our patrols, in this very city. He was dragged from his car and beaten. Then it became uno a otro, one racial group retaliating against another, mobs everywhere.”

She took a long sip of her cafe and looked into the distance.

“Then one day,” she continued, “an enemy nation decided to take sides. They helped one ethnicity, whom I guess was most closely-related to them, take over out a city out west by the ocean. Then another enemy nation dropped a big bomb, called a nuclear bomb, that completely leveled the biggest, most prosperous and most diverse city in our nation. Almost twenty million people died within six months, most from the explosion but then many more from the fallout and radiation. More bombs fell. More enemies took advantage of our chaos. Within five years, our great nation was reduced to rubble on both coasts, with a core of hardy survivors in the middle and a great flood of refugees fleeing across our borders. As far as I know, those cities, and many others like them don’t even exist anymore.”

Marcos’ jaw dropped open. None of this is in our textbooks. Not even close.

“And that’s why you cry every year?” Marcos asked. This couldn’t be the only reason, even though it sounds like a horror for her to have lived through. He could see how all of that could bring sadness, but really couldn’t see why it would still bring tears for her all these years later.

“Oh no. And some years are better than others on this day. But that’s just the background. If it had only been the trauma of surviving all of that, I think I would’ve been fine a long time ago. After all, I have a wonderful family, and you to help me cope,” she said, pinching his cheek like he was that eight-year old boy again. “It’s far more personal than that. It all happened when I was twenty-one, on a very cold, clear January 3rd, a lot like today.” She paused to drain the last of her café. Marcos kept his silence not wanting to interrupt her narration.

“I saw someone I loved very much, more than maybe anyone I have loved in my whole life, be killed right in front of me. He was my best friend and my fiancé. That’s an old-fashioned term for someone who you are planning to marry. His name was Korey.” She sighed, as if the man’s name was sacred.

Confused, Marcos felt all the color drain from his face. As a Havana, he had the trademark olive skin, even if he towered over most of the other residents of their area, because of the tall men in his family. Because of this and his super curly hair, Maros stood out among his friends.

“But Abuelo…” Marcos whispered, having trouble imagining Abuela loving anyone other than Abuelo, his loving grandfather. Sure, his Abuelo had been much older than her, but he had clearly loved his family. Marcos always thought of his Abuelo as a gentle giant. Abuelo looked like he could break you into pieces, but he much preferred to smother you with hugs and laughter. And wow, could that man salsa, even when arthritis debilitated his knees. And he had loved Abuela fiercely, saying she was his “preciosa”.

“Your Abuelo came later. Korey was my friend when I was a little girl,” Abuela explained. “Our fathers worked together. Korey was a Kink. Tall, muy guapo and inteligente. He was a manager at a store that sold food and had fired a man for stealing. The man wanted revenge though, and brought a mob with him to exact it. They surrounded Korey’s house, killing his mother. We barely got out alive, Korey, his brother Moses and I. Korey was then killed while we ran down an alleyway trying to escape. He bled out right in front of me and it was everything Moses could do to get me away. He made sure I survived the night while we ran to my parent’s house. I was so scared, but that was the night that changed my life forever, Mijo.”

Marcos had trouble imagining his Abuela terrified. She must’ve been very different back then, because now she was one of the most courageous people he knew. She defended others and stood up to people trying to take advantage of them. He began shaking with anger. How could the government keep all this from being known?

“I never saw Moses after that night,” Abuela went on. “The fighting got worse and worse. My father joined a Havana militia trying to protect our neighborhood. He fought alongside his best friend, your Abuelo. One night, my father was killed in the fighting. While he lay dying, he asked Abuelo to take care of me and my Mami. Abuelo had never married. Despite our age differences, I agreed to marry him when he asked.”

“Why?” Marcos asked, his voice trembling by this point. “Why did you marry someone you didn’t love?”

Marcos could hardly breathe. Did she know how horrible it was for him to hear she hadn’t loved his Abuelo?

“You see, things were very dangerous,” she explained. “My Mami and I were no longer safe in our own home, so he took us in. Abuelo protected us from many things, but he and I were forced to marry once the first Supreme Commander Martin came to power and set in new edicts.”

Marcos was still tense, though. Had she really never loved Abuelo?

As if answering his unasked question, Abuela said, “Oh, I grew to love Abuelo with time, Mijo, and we had two amazing children. We both had our nightmares we had to endure, though we tried to help each other cope as best we could. And now, I not only grieve for Korey on this day, but it is my day to mourn my dead as well as everything this nation has lost. In grief and in prayer to God, I pray He will hear and answer me from heaven, even after this long time.” Abuela finished, a silent tear making its way down her cheek. Marcos reached out and stroked it away before it had a chance to freeze.

“Thank you for telling me, Abuela. I promise to not tell a single soul,” he said, unsure of what else to say.

What else was there to say? He scooted closer to her, until they were hip-to-hip against the wall and slung his arm over her shoulder. His Abuela, the one woman in his life who he thought was invincible and would never need his protection, rested her head on his shoulder and cried softly, praying in a hushed tone in her native Spanish. Even in her tears, Marcos still thought her the strongest, most solid woman he had ever known.

Abuela drew in a deep, steadying breath and Marcos felt her sit taller next to him. “There are so few people who know that story who are still alive. Not even your parents, Mijo. Only Tio anymore,” she said sadly.

He supposed it had to be true. He was still shaking with anger though. Anger at the government. Anger at the nations who had attacked them. Anger at people for fighting in the first place and ruining a great nation. Anger at his teachers for not telling them the truth. Anger at all the lies and manipulations.

“I don’t tell you all this for no reason, Marcos,” Abuela said. “I tell you so that you can help bring change. Your next step is to talk to Tio,” she added cryptically.

“Tio?” Marcos asked.

“Yes Tio. He will tell you more,” Abuela said, struggling to pull herself up to stand.

Marcos leapt up, a hand at her elbow. “Thank you for telling me all of this, Abuela.”

Want more? You’ll have to wait for the book to be published! Thanks for coming on this short journey with Abuela and Marcos!

The alley was deserted and eerily quiet, with only the chill wind and their footsteps for noise. Anyone still living in the surrounding houses must be staying hidden tonight. She didn’t blame them.

Dark shapes loomed everywhere Isabella looked, seeming far more threatening the further they moved away from the familiar Reynolds home. The night was moonless and clear, but very cold, winter having come hard this year. Snow still lingered next to the tall apartment buildings bordering this part of the alleyway, not having melted yet from the last snowfall. It was like bright splashes in the midnight black of the night, reflecting the scant lights from windows on the upper floors of the buildings. Isabella realized Moses had been nervously scanning the windows of the apartment buildings as they passed by, almost as if a sniper were going to fire down on them from above.

Was this really what a war zone was like? It still didn’t seem real to Isabella that this was her city and not some far-flung war-torn nation or even a live action video game.

They made it halfway down the pitch-black alley to the next street before Isabella heard pounding footsteps in the alleyway behind them.

“They snuck out!” a rough male voice shouted.

“Run zigzag and stay close!” Moses yelled as he took off running, leading the way toward the next street.

A gunshot rang into the night and Isabella heard Korey cry out and stumble behind her. She whipped around and saw him sprawled on the pavement, not moving. Before she could even get to Korey’s side, Moses shoved her behind a nearby dumpster, quickly dragging Korey out of the line of fire and leaning him carefully against the building wall behind the dumpster. Moses then crouched by the dumpster corner and began retaliating, darting around the corner to fire on their attackers.

“No!” she shrieked when she saw where the bullet had hit. Korey had a gaping tear in his coat near where Isabella knew his heart should be. She began to panic, tearing at his coat, buttons flying everywhere, as gunfire echoed loudly from all directions off the building walls.

“Put pressure on the wound, Isabella!” Moses shouted instructions to her. She pressed her bare hand to the entry wound, Korey’s warm blood quickly covering her hands.

Korey looked up at her, pain evident on his face. “I love you Bella. You were always the one, the only one.” And then his head fell to the ground and her world went silent along with him. She didn’t know what she was screaming, only that grief and rage exploded through her in that moment. Korey was gone, taken from her. She was vaguely aware of Moses reaching down and ripping off Korey’s cross necklace from around his neck, tucking it into her zippered coat pocket.

“You can’t bring him back, Bella!” Moses shouted, but all Isabella could hear was the roaring silence of her grief.

Korey’s gone.

She vaguely felt strong, roughly calloused hands scooping her up, throwing her over a shoulder. Isabella was crying and screaming Korey’s name, hands reaching back toward his lifeless body.

Why wasn’t anyone listening?  Why wasn’t anyone helping him?  Where were the police or ambulance to take him away to a hospital?

She felt her feet abruptly pound into the ground, hair flying out from a gust of icy wind and feet stinging from the impact. She just stood there, stunned. They were already a hundred yards from where Korey had fallen.

“Listen to me, Bella,” Moses began, his face close to hers, hands on her shoulders pressing her into the cold hard pavement.

Real, this was real.

As if she could take anymore, an explosion rocked the entire alleyway, heat hitting them in a wave. She threw herself to the ground, covering her head with her arms. When the wave of heat passed, Isabella looked back down the alleyway to see several houses, including the Reynolds home she knew and loved, up in flames. A scream tore out of her lungs, a primal, animalistic raging sound.

“Mama,” Moses whispered.

Gunfire erupted all around them again, bullets raking the alley, echoing off the trash cans now strewn against the walls. Moses pulled her against a wall, shielding her body with his as he returned fire. She knew she was screaming still, but couldn’t think of how to stop. A man cried out and she heard a thud, the gunfire silencing.

“Bella,” Moses said, slapping her face and leaving her left cheek burning. “Get a hold of yourself. We have to run or they will kill us just the same. I got two of them, so that will delay them, but I need you to focus…”

Isabella cut him off with a high-pitched shriek. “We have to go back and save your mom, Moses! She could be dying in that fire!” She could hear the hysteria in her voice, but that’s how she felt.

Moses shook his head, looking at her with resignation. He squared his shoulders, as if bearing up under an impossible weight of responsibility. Moses put his hands, with both guns still clutched, one in each hand, on her shoulders. She could see where tears had already dried up on his face, but they were gone from his eyes.

“No, Bella. People don’t survive explosions like that. We need to move out and not make Korey’s and my Mama’s sacrifices in vain. They’d want both of us to keep on livin’, keep on fightin’… there’ll be a time for grief later, but right now we need to move it, or we will be just as dead as they are. Now, come on. You can do this. You’re stronger than you ever thought.”

He removed his hands, giving her Korey’s gun. It was still warm from his hand and she could feel slick liquid, Korey’s blood, on the barrel. Isabella shuddered and forced the thought away. Finally, she nodded, tamping down the grief and rage and terror that threatened to paralyze her, as the wind dried her tears on her cheeks. Moses took off at a run and Isabella forced herself to run at the same pace as Moses, clinging to the only thing that mattered to her anymore – her family.

Stay tuned for the first scene of the book, set forty-five years later…

Author’s Note: For those of you just joining us, go read Prologue Installment #1 first…

Her heart climbed into her throat. She looked in alarm at Korey. “Pay day? What’s this about?”

Moses didn’t even wait for Korey to reply, but bolted into action, snapping off the lights in the room to plunge them into relative darkness. The only light now was coming in through the kitchen at the back of the house.

Korey ran his hands over his short black twists. “A letter was waiting for me on my desk at work when I arrived today. Of course, it wasn’t signed. They said they would be stopping by for a ‘conversation’ tonight about the man I fired last week. I guess this is their way of talking.”

Rough voices were shouting outside. Even with the smashed-in window, Isabella couldn’t make out all of what they were saying. The wind seemed to whip their words away. But a few words came through loud and clear.

“Torch it!” and “Inside!” along with a few names, who could’ve been anyone or no one.

She dashed toward the living room windows that looked out on the front lawn, stepping on the shattered glass with her tennis shoes and hugging herself against the blast of icy wind.

What she saw took the air from her lungs- people, no an angry mob, dark shapes running up and down the street carrying long, brightly-glowing torches. It was too many for her to even count. They were everywhere – on the street, the sidewalks and even walking on some of the lawns. As she watched, her car was lit afire on the street in front of the house. It was her prized possession, her birthday present from her parents last year, a bright yellow VW bug. A muffled sob escaped her lips reflexively.

“Kill the rest of the lights!” Moses shouted from over her shoulder where he had been perched to assess the situation. She hadn’t even noticed him coming up behind her he was that stealthy.

Korey and Mrs. Reynolds began running around the small ranch home, turning off the other lights. Moses opened the hole in the window further, using a brass candlestick from the side table, glass spraying outward. Not even a minute later, Mrs. Reynolds emerged from her bedroom, her face fixed in angry defiance, three handguns in her arms.

“Isabella, keep your head down in front of that window and you three listen good,” she ordered.

Korey and Isabella ducked under the windowsill and waited for her instructions, while Moses’ eyes remained fixed on the scene outside. Mrs. Reynolds handed a gun to each of her sons. “You three, get out of here. The cars are torched by now, so you’ll have to go on foot.”

Moses and Korey both opened their mouths to protest, but she shushed them with a hand held up in a stop sign. “Ah ah. Just listen boys. And don’t argue. Go out the back before they figure out where the alley is. Take Isabella to her father’s house. Moses, Korey, don’t come back here for at least a week. Hide somewhere, anywhere. Moses, take all the money from under my bed. Do me a favor and live great lives and don’t do anything that would dishonor the memory of your father, God rest his precious soul. I’m ready to join him. Lord, I still miss him.”

Moses clenched his jaw as if biting back words, even as he rose to go get the money his mother mentioned.

Korey’s dark face had paled several shades. No one ever really argued with Mrs. Reynolds. It was pointless. But it looked like Korey was going to try.

“Mom, please, be reasonable. You can come too. Moses can take you with us to Bella’s house. Her parents will protect and shelter us. I know it! Please, Mom, I’m begging you. Come with us. Those people outside are out for blood! My blood, really! They’ll absolutely kill you without a second thought,” Korey pleaded, wrapping his hands around his mother’s arms, his entire body trembling. Isabella had never seen Korey terrified before. But the thought of his mom staying here clearly terrified him.

Mrs. Reynolds wrapped him into a tight hug and planted a kiss on his forehead. “I’ve lived a long life and I have no desire to continue living now that the world’s gone upside down. I’m gonna join your father where peace reigns. I’ll distract the mob outside. You all escape out the kitchen.” Mrs. Reynolds turned away, embracing both Moses and Isabella and giving them similar kisses before heading for the gaping hole in the living room window.

She held her gun ready and her eyes scanned the situation outside. “Go on! Get out of here! Goodbye and I love you all.”

Moses shook his head at Korey, muttering under his breath, “she’s set on this. And I don’t really blame her, do you? Now go to the back door, Kore.” Moses shoved the paper lunch bag stuffed with bills into a backpack, pausing long enough to also dig out two knives, one of which he gave to Isabella.

“Tuck it into your belt like this,” he said, demonstrating. She felt stronger, less vulnerable now that she had a weapon, even if she had no idea how to use it. Guns terrified her, but she knew she would shoot someone if it meant surviving.

I wish I had a gun. Isabella blanched at the very thought, but knew it was true.

Gunfire erupted from the street, bullets hitting the bricks and siding of the house and blowing out the other living room window. They all threw themselves to the ground. The sound was deafening and Isabella threw her hands over her ears. Movies didn’t capture how loud and terrifying gunfire really was, she thought.

When the gunfire had stopped, Isabella began crawling back toward the kitchen, trying to ignore the deaf feeling in her ears, following Korey as he wove by memory through the furniture. Moses had joined his mother at the window where both of them were now returning fire. By the screams coming from outside the house, it sounded like at least a few bullets had found their targets.

“I’m serious, Moses. I’ve got it,” Isabella heard Mrs. Reynolds yell.

“But, Mama…” Moses pleaded. Moses’ begging Mrs. Reynolds made Isabella realize just how dangerous this situation was for them all.

“Do me a favor and survive this, ok? I love you, but they need you. They won’t survive the night without you. Now go!” Mrs. Reynolds yelled, admonishing Moses.

Isabella heard heavy footfalls behind her and Moses joined them in the kitchen, his face set like stone in a scowl. Korey took his ball cap from his head and roughly shoved it over her thick curly hair, bringing her in for a quick kiss as he did so. Isabella savored the feel of his lips on hers.

“Wear this,” he said, pulling away. “It will keep people from realizing you’re Hispanic, at least until you open your mouth.” Isabella was amazed he could joke right now, but wondered if maybe he was doing it to try to calm her nerves.

Isabella tugged the hat further onto her head, tucking loose strands of her hair up into it, then slung on her winter coat from where it had hung on the back of her chair at the kitchen table. She was thankful this coat was black instead of her usual hot pink or baby blue.

“All clear,” Moses said, moving the kitchen curtain back into place and opening the back door. He turned back to them, two fingers pressed to his lips.

As if I could even talk right now.

Moses grabbed Isabella’s hand, dragging her out of the house and through the backyard to the alley at a run, his gun ready to defend in his other hand. Korey was behind them a few steps, having silently closed the kitchen door behind them.

to be continued….

January 3

Anxiously twirling her fingers through her dense dark curls, Isabella watched the nightly news in the darkened living room. She had just finished weekly Sunday family dinner at her fiancé, Korey’s house. She fought a mixture of rage, shock and horror at the images on the tv screen. Even the usually unflappable ethnically diverse collection of anchors and reporters looked wary and anxious themselves. Really, it looked like they were struggling to hold themselves, and their team, together. She was regretting having eaten so much, as she felt her stomach roil in its own protest to her anxiety.

What was their nation doing? Had the world gone mad?

Whole sections of the city were now under mandatory curfews. Not that a measly curfew stopped the mobs who wanted payback, or the gangs that drove around following them, looting stores and homes in their wake.

Life was supposed to be like a fairy tale right now for Isabella. She was graduating college soon and was now engaged to the boy she had known and had a crush on her whole life. Korey Reynolds had grown up to be the most gorgeous, kindhearted, wise man she had ever met.

But life was now layered in chaos and confusion. Just that morning, all classes at her college had been suspended indefinitely, the area around it literally on fire. Massive riots, looting and clashes spun like a tornado around their lives, making school and even the formerly peaceful neighborhoods of their city perilous. At first the riots were more like peaceful protests aimed at the government and police. Now, though, it had spread to involve almost every area and every ethnic group in the city. The University Village, formerly quaint rows of shops, houses and apartment buildings on tree-lined streets immediately surrounding the university, was now almost leveled from fighting and the fires that followed.

As if All that wasn’t enough, throughout the city many stores were closing, even those selling essential goods.The grocery store just down the street, where Korey was the newly promoted shift manager, was on lock down with hired security personnel and mandatory pat downs for weapons for anyone coming there with legitimate business.

How had the situation gotten so out of control in such a short time?

Korey’s mother, “Mrs. Reynolds” as Isabella called her, threw the embroidered couch pillow at the TV and shut off the remote in frustration. She raised her plump frame off the couch and began pacing, her house slippers slapping in time on the hardwood floor. They had only come in to watch the news after dinner to see the new street closings and areas under curfew. But now Mrs. Reynolds was as agitated as a caged bear by the parade of deadly images.

“How long can we bear all this? Riots, mobs, protests, attacks, and counter-attacks. Blood for blood, eye for an eye. Where does it end?” Mrs. Reynolds raged, hands flying around animatedly.

“I just don’t understand people,” she went on. “I mean, look at you Isabella. A fine-looking young Hispanic woman, smart, in college, first generation born here, going to be married to my Korey, a fine strappin’ black man, going places in leadership at work.”

Mrs. Reynolds paused, puffing her chest out in pride for her son. She pointed to each of them in turn. “You two fell in love despite different skin colors. Why does everyone have to fight and get so ugly, all over the color of our skin? Their mamas didn’t raise ’em right and they should all be ‘shamed of how they’re acting. I would’ve hit them upside the head with my iron, teach them a thing or two about humility and working together. After all, it is said, and it’s truth, a ‘kingdom divided against itself cannot stand’.”

She was now pounding her fists into each other, grinding them like a boxer warming up. She turned to her oldest son, a tall, strong, broad-shouldered man who had just finished his last stint in the Army Rangers and been honorably discharged with many medals and awards. Moses was now part of a National Guard unit quartered twenty minutes away in a suburb on the north side of the city. As she watched Mrs. Reynolds pacing, Isabella could almost see the bold colors of Moses’ emotions spanning across the room, black for rage and red for shame.

“Moses, is your unit going to be activated again?” Mrs. Reynolds didn’t pause to allow Moses to answer. He didn’t even try. When she was like this, it was best to let her give her speech to its completion. “The way I see it, with the Hispanics havin’ taken back to the streets in central after one of their children was murdered by our people, the white mobs startin’ those fires over in Woodcreek where I grew up, and the Asians up and leavin’ the city for fear of being caught in the middle, I don’t see how they can’t bring in the guard. And then there’s the immigrants…” she trailed off.

Oh, Dios. Yes, it’s looking bad when you say it all in one sentence like that.

Still pacing the floor in front of the TV, Mrs. Reynolds began pulling off layers of clothing, clearly working up a sweat despite the chill. When she was down to her bright red T-shirt that read “BBQ City Championship”, she began fanning herself with a kerchief that had formerly been tucked in her bra strap.

Moses looked away and rubbed his chin as if wanting to tell her something other than the truth. Isabella knew that her future brother-in-law could never do that though. “Truth” was literally his middle name, Moses Truth Reynolds. Brutal honesty had defined him as long as Isabella had known him.

Korey reached his hand over to hold hers, lacing their fingers together with a light squeeze while they watched Mrs. Reynolds pace back and forth again. Isabella pressed her lips together to keep her silence.

“Ma, my unit’s in chaos. A bunch of guys got into a brawl last weekend, even though our commander threatened dishonorable discharge to anyone fighting our brothers. There are rumors of army generals marshaling their own troops to capture areas for their own races and by now San Francisco has surely fallen to the Asians, who clearly had help from outside our nation. LA will be next because the Asians kicked the Hispanics out of Northern California last week. What does that say to you, Ma? The country is falling apart, fast, in my humble opinion. I’m not sure I’m going to have a unit or a guard left to be activated. Even if it were activated, would anyone bother to show up?” Moses replied.

Isabella had known the situation was getting bad, but she had no idea it was this bad. If what Moses said were true, it seemed a second US civil war had broken out and other nations, their enemies, could smell blood. The news hadn’t reported about San Francisco. Moses must’ve heard that on his scanner. It seemed only yesterday when everything went careening to crazy, when the police officer had been hauled out of his car just down the road from where they were right now and brutally beaten by gang members, but it was almost a year ago.

Of course that had been in retaliation for what the community called an unjust murder, which had happened on the heels of an attack on a white man walking his dog in another area of the city, which had followed the shooting of a black man by a Hispanic police officer in a city down south. Sometimes, she wondered if anyone remembered the first grievance anymore. And if that had been forgotten could their nation ever truly find healing?

A crash in the living room snapped Isabella’s attention back to the present.

A heavy black bowling ball rolled across the floor toward the kitchen, crunching glass on its way. Mrs. Reynolds beat everyone to it. Isabella stood on her tiptoes to see over her future mother-in-law’s thick shoulder as they all crowded around Mrs. Reynolds.

It’s payday, nigger had been written in bright yellow neon paint on it.

To be continued…

a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away….oh, oops. Wrong story. Well, it was a long, long time ago – I was 18 and lets just say I’m well past that age. And it was far, far away from where I live – the Himalayan Mountain range in Nepal, Pokhara to be exact (see image below, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Meph). I was doing a trek that some famous British monarch had done. It was December, rivers were swelling but there was snow in the upper mountains. One of our guides, called a “Sherpa”, told me about living in the valleys between these high mountains. He talked about the floods that washed down almost yearly with snowmelt, overwhelming the lake and the river banks. The people who live in the valleys just pick up and go into the mountains. Their life is disrupted by the floods, so why do they live in the valleys? Why not live in the mountains?

  
In the valleys is where the floods deposit great amounts of silt, making the soil rich to bear crops.  In this particular valley is where millions of tourists come to access hike trails into the Himalayas, just like we did. In the valleys is provision, shelter, and community.

The same is true of our spiritual lives. Most people look for the mountain-top experience. But what makes the view from the mountain so beautiful? Is it not the beauty of the valleys? Is it not seeing the bounty of nature set against the harsh barrenness of the rising rock?

See, I’ve come to discover that while the mountains are great for a time, the valleys are where true fruitfulness is born. It’s in the valleys of our life that we find creativity, passion, and purpose. It’s on the valleys of our lives that we find community and shelter from elements, even while we endure floods and dark shadows.

I’ve walked through a deep valley recently. Burnout, otherwise known as stress overload, is amazingly common. I see people teetering on its edge all the time, flirting it seems with it; bouncing from vacation to vacation trying to fight it. But burnout and its many cousins of trials and tribulations are really just valleys. If we pay attention in these valleys, God will bring us into new levels of creativity and fruitfulness. And this is the real reason we all get to endure valleys: God wants us to be fruitful and multiply spiritually. But fruitfulness doesn’t happen in the mountains, remember. It happens in the valleys.

Psalm 84 hit me like a ton of bricks a few days ago and a friend even shared it with me too, confirming this whole revelation I was undergoing.

Psalm 84: 4-7 (New Living Translation)

What joy for those who can live in your house, always singing your praises. Interlude. What joy for those whose strength comes from the LORD, who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs. The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings. They will continue to grow stronger, and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.

If you are in a valley, just coming out of a valley, or maybe getting ready to enter a valley, ask yourself: “What is God trying to accomplish in me during this valley? What is he trying to either get out of me or put into me? What could he be trying to birth in me that will bring great impact to His Kingdom?”

Answering those questions is really the key to walking through the Valley of Weeping. Draw closer to God and He will tell you. He told me and now I’m writing a new fiction book series. I don’t think I would’ve had the courage to undertake that project had I not walked through the Valley of Weeping and been broken of a few things. So take heart, you are not alone; there is a purpose to the Valley of Weeping. Persist until you find it.

So, I’ve taken a really long break from blogging here as I’ve been busy in other creative endeavors: writing for our church, Bethel Cincinnati, on our blog (www.bethelcincy.org) and even more exciting news, writing my first fiction novel. But this morning in my devotional time, as I was struggling to wake up properly by listening to bluegrass and salsa music and reading in 1 Samuel, it hit me like a ton of bricks: blog inspiration! Let’s start with my reading, which is kind of long:

1 Samuel 8:4-20 (Holman Christian Standard Bible translation)

4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and went to Samuel at Ramah.
5 They said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not follow your example. Therefore, appoint a king to judge us the same as all the other nations have.”
6 When they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” Samuel considered their demand sinful, so he prayed to the LORD.
7 But the LORD told him, “Listen to the people and everything they say to you. They have not rejected you; they have rejected Me as their king.
8 They are doing the same thing to you that they have done to Me, since the day I brought them out of Egypt until this day, abandoning Me and worshiping other gods.
9 Listen to them, but you must solemnly warn them and tell them about the rights of the king who will rule over them.”
10 Samuel told all the LORD’s words to the people who were asking him for a king.
11 He said, “These are the rights of the king who will rule over you: He will take your sons and put them to his use in his chariots, on his horses, or running in front of his chariots.
12 He can appoint them for his use as commanders of thousands or commanders of fifties, to plow his ground or reap his harvest, or to make his weapons of war or the equipment for his chariots.
13 He can take your daughters to become perfumers, cooks, and bakers.
14 He can take your best fields, vineyards, and olive orchards and give them to his servants.
15 He can take a tenth of your grain and your vineyards and give them to his officials and servants.
16 He can take your male servants, your female servants, your best young men, and your donkeys and use them for his work.
17 He can take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves can become his servants.
18 When that day comes, you will cry out because of the king you’ve chosen for yourselves, but the LORD won’t answer you on that day.”
19 The people refused to listen to Samuel. “No! ” they said. “We must have a king over us.
20 Then we’ll be like all the other nations: our king will judge us, go out before us, and fight our battles.”

Here was the issue: Israel wanted a king, like their neighbors. Now, lest we think we are any better than them, we want human kings too. Notice Samuel’s warning to them, they were not just asking for a king, but they were rejecting having the Lord God as their King. Only the Lord can be a perfect King, unaffected by greed, thirst for power and other such nasty attitudes and behaviors that human kings are subject to.

Samuel gave them a serious warning: taxes are coming, a draft for the army is coming, forced labor and conscription to serve his agenda, building big monuments and castles is coming. But even worse than that, when you, Israel, cry out from the injustice and thievery of the King, God won’t listen. Why? Because you asked for a king.

You see, when we reject a God as our King, someone else has to take His place. Humans are all too willing to be that. If you doubt me, just look around in our culture. Kings abound. There are kings of music, kings of industry, kings of fashion and I haven’t even started on government! Next year, we will be choosing a new President. If you ask people in other nations, they will tell you that every American acts like we are kings of the world and our leader is widely revered as the most powerful person in the world. Sounds like another King to me. But we have an issue- we are just like ancient Israel. When we disagree with our leaders and get angry about taxes, wars, labor pay rates, how much our leaders make a year and everyone else’s poverty, who do we really have to blame? Ourselves. We asked for a king and rejected Jesus as our rightful King.

What’s the solution? Jesus needs to be our King. We need revival in America so that righteousness and justice can be given an opportunity to change culture. Pray for our leaders to rule justly and without greed, yes. But even more importantly, pray for revival. Lord, come, we need you!

Question: Is Jesus your King or do you look to the kings and leaders of this world to rule you?

We just made a huge family move from Nashville, TN to Cincinnati, OH where the family is part of starting a new church, termed “church planting”. It has been quite the process: selling a home, buying another, packing, unpacking, finding new friends for the kids, fixing major issues with the home, new schools, new jobs, family, you name it. This morning was the first time in about ten months I even felt the room in my soul to try to write. Yes, it has been whirlwind, but maybe the winds are slowing down a little.

At times, I have felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Picked up by a tornado from my comfortable home and placed into this strange place where the old rules don’t apply and I’m just trying to figure out how to find someone who knows what is going on. Thankfully, I think I’ve discovered my own ruby red slippers, to find my way back home, except they won’t be taking me back to Nashville.

Philippians 3: 7-8
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.

The Apostle Paul wrote those verses from prison, where he was shackled 24-7 to a Roman guard, one of the elite fighters responsible for protecting the Emperor. Many of these killers came to know Jesus as Savior because they were shackled to the greatest evangelist the world had seen.

But, I just let that sink in today. If Paul can consider everything he had ever done in life as loss, or better yet some translations say “rubbish”, or trash, compared to the greatness of simply knowing Jesus, then certainly I can too. At the end of the day, we must let the past pass away. We must let go of the past, with all of its achievements, disappointments, hurts and highs. And we must look forward, embracing our current circumstances and asking God how He wants to glorify Himself through us, even if we find ourselves chained up to professional killers like Paul did.

My eldest daughter and I recently went back to Nashville for a quick 40 hours to attend a wedding. We both agreed, it no longer felt like home. That was a little upsetting to me, because Cincinnati didn’t yet fully feel like home. But it hit me today, I must make this my home. Just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz always possessed the way for her to get back home: clicking her ruby red shoes, so we possess the way for joy in the midst of circumstances: our faith and trust in God’s plan.

Question: What circumstances is God asking you to trust Him through? What from your past needs to be let go and allowed to pass out of your life, so that something greater can come?

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