Free short story: Sand

kelli at the end

Sand

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The ocean this morning is that special blue, deeper than any color can be alone, truer than the sun playing golden on easy waves, warm and inviting. The sweet breeze and the singing feeling in my chest and the taste of salt and life and the way light and shadows dance against a vast horizon are all part of one color.

I am an artist, feeling what I see, seeing what I feel, and right now in this moment I have discovered a new color. Hope.

Standing in the surf, hard packed sand beneath painted toes and wind tossing my long hair, hope embraces me, a brilliant color and emotion I have yearned to find. There is freedom and forgiveness and exhilaration in it, but it is more than those things, for it is akin to explaining the sunrise to a blind woman or the joy and pain of childbirth to a man. There are some things that only make sense with color and context.
Henry launches himself into a wave, laughing and carefree and seven, bursting with light and potential, and I am filled with joy and gratitude as I gaze upon my son, and for a moment a cloud passes overhead and there is regret mingled with wonder at his resilience and my own.

“Momma, did you see that? That wave almost got me. It didn’t though.”

“I saw, honey. You beat that wave.”
“Look out,” he shouts, grinning with his hands in the air. “Here comes a big one. Get ready.”

Yeah. I know about that.

Behind us, the castle surrenders to the water, walls sliding into the sea, a work of art doomed to memory from its inception because it was built in the only place it could have been with the materials at hand: Hope and love and sand.
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I saw something in him when I first laid eyes on him, and part of me still wonders about that. Doubts my sanity. That’s a man, I thought. Tall and handsome and cocky, a guitar on his back and a searching kind of loneliness in his eyes at the same time. A road trip with some girlfriends to Panama city with a detour to Nashville cast ripples I never could have imagined. Probably we should have gone to the beach.

I’m from a little shithole southern town where everybody knows everybody, even though they never really do. They think they do, and make up lies to fill in the blanks. Don’t get me started. That’s a whole separate ball of wax. It’s part of it, though. Part of why I stayed when I should have left after things went like they did. There is hope now, and for me back then in those hard years between the folds, I saw hope in that guy with a guitar and wounded eyes and silver words.

You work with what you’ve got, and sometimes it’s sand. You build where you can, and if it’s the damn beach, then that’s better for the moment than anywhere else if that’s the only place you think you can build.

Worse, if that’s where you want to make something lasting even though you know better, because there is that thing that you can’t explain to anyone with a brain, including yourself. That love and passion and color and self-delusion wrapping around each other in a heady mix of blue sky and Cinderella and faith and kisses.

There are hotel rooms where people to this day cannot go because of us. We fucked like wild animals and it was glorious, mattresses askew and cushions on the floor and people calling the front desk. It was like that; that was the good part, the beginning, that thing that was real in its own way but painfully elusive in the life I eventually lived. The life we lived for a damn decade.

I wasn’t happy where I was when I met him, raging against the small town and small minds and big egos, and there was this huge man with song and gentle touch. A caress and a look around the eyes that unlocked parts of me I didn’t want to face, but which ignited a tingle and desire and a longing for something I’d almost given up on believing could be real. I wanted to believe. I truly did. I was divorced, he was divorced. I had a boyfriend, he had a girlfriend. We lived 550 miles apart…here we go.

I should go back and slap myself upside the head, but it’s a little late for that. I try to tell my daughters not to make the same mistakes I did, and I pray they hear my plea. They likely haven’t learned the things I wished they would, the right lessons that could have been lived and not said, and it makes me sad still.

That son of a bitch. The man I loved destroyed me and he hurt everyone I loved. There was darkness in me and surrender because I didn’t see anything else.

I am better than that. I remain undefeated, and with the sky true and the ocean sweet, I feel it. He was my enemy, implacable in the way of the tide claiming a castle built upon the sand. He did what he did, hurting and acting and reacting. Hurting me. Harming our family. The tide has no choice, serving the moon, but he made choices the ocean never has. Later, I made choices too. I don’t have many regrets. He can keep those.

The bitterness in my heart devoured me, and that I lay at his feet. That he fell in love with me for a second time when I wasn’t in love with him doesn’t matter anymore. I’d already moved on before I moved on, he just didn’t see it. Truth is often painful but always worth the price, even when it’s paid in heartache.divorce-2

I am a woman, a mother, and an artist, and my past does not define me. I fought like hell to get here to this moment and feel these colors. I earned this ocean and this light. I paid the price with tears and years and parts of me I should never have surrendered.sand3

I hear a laugh behind me, a joyous hearty thing, and I spin, my toes digging in the sand and the sun on my face and smile at the man I love and want to spend the rest of my life with.
He is not the same man I built castles in the sand with.

And that makes all the difference.
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Dawn comes slow and warm, the surf an easy whisper on the beach. Lying on my back beneath a sand dune, the sky is turning from black to gunmetal gray, becoming something new, painted with swirls of pink and orange until the sun breaks on the horizon. I’ve always loved to watch the sun rise; it’s a wondrous transformation, as darkness surrenders to light. A kind of rebirth which only comes through time.sand2

Endings are really beginnings; I often forget that. I remember it now.

The fresh sea breeze soothes my soul and there is the taste of salt and the coming sun on my lips mingled with peace. The kind of peace you don’t know you need until you find it again and see how much you’ve been missing it.

I am a writer, and I’ve sacrificed much at the altar of love. The love of words, and the love of a woman.

Maybe that’s how it had to be.
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Sometimes when you meet the love of your life you know it right away; that’s how it goes in the movies. It wasn’t like that for me.I didn’t know it until it was too late.

I met her in Nashville years ago, rebounding and hurting and she helped heal me. Made me feel loved and safe. There was a whirlwind romance with this unlikely woman from the deep south with wild hair and blue eyes and a hunger in her I found intensely desirable. Within six months of divorcing my previous wife of many years, I found myself married again, an expectant father and stepfather of two girls, living far from home in a new town.
I wanted to be that guy. I really did. I wanted to believe.

I wasn’t ready to meet her, but it happened the way it did and went to hell from there. I hung on through kids and demons and heart break, inflicting my own upon the way. Resentment grew in that void and bitterness festered. There were actions and reactions until it was impossible to know what was true and what was false. It’s not an uncommon story, and I wish I’d written a better one for my life, mine and her’s.

We hung onto eachother and our children through years of quiet desperation. Clinging to the hope that one day things would change, that light would break through the looming clouds and we would feel that shine on our hearts again. That God would bring purpose and healing to us together, not individually. To our family. That our faith would sustain us.
It happened for me, but it never did for her. I only thought it did.hourglass

On a perfect day right before the blue sky fell, the sun was gold dust glittering on the water and in the air and we were a family. I recall the sense of wonder and glory, savoring that moment with my children in the waves, holding hands with my wife, a deep gratitude and awe in me that things were good. I can wrap those memories around me now and hold them tight

Just because we wish a thing to be true does not make it so.

I defined myself as a father and a husband and an author, and it’s been a process to remake my life and my existence. I will always be a dad, and being away from my boys for any time has wounded both me and them. I’ll always be a writer, too and I embrace that part of me. Words don’t keep you warm at night, though, don’t hold you when you are crushed.

She was my muse and best friend, inspiring me, making me a better man and better author. It’s an anguished thing to loose, knowing that that has faded away. I hope forgiveness finds me. For the moment, there is peace. There is hope in the growing light.

The tide eats the beach and blue waves claim the sand as they have forever, and when the wind blows right and the ocean calms, the sand blows up onto the rolling dunes and the beach is born again.

The sky is bright now and I turn away with a certain wistful sadness; I’ve got pages to write. Later, I’ll come back with my boys and we’ll build a sand castle. The memories will remain long after my footprints are gone, and they will be true and good.

The End

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http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00IK7MH9M/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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At Hell’s Gates | AHG3 Author Lineup & Cover Art Announced!

At Hell's Gates III Cover

At Hell’s Gates | AHG3 Author Lineup & Cover Art Announced!.

Where Was God?

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A twisted gunman burst into a church and murdered Christians in an act of hate and cowardice. My heart aches for the fallen, and weeps for my country which seems broken. Where was God when the bullets tore through believers in His house? How is it that darkness appears to be defeating light?

The struggle that I’ve been through the last few years, the problems that I’ve faced, pale in comparison to those of others. I’m not looking at imminent death. Still, it’s been a brutal road for me and my family, with poverty looming, the loss of a job, and emotional battles raging. I have found myself asking, more than I’d care to admit, where was God?

In my novels, this is a central theme, the ongoing erosion of faith in the face of evil and despair. For the Fox family, there are epic battles and catastrophic losses, and still William and Crystal are never truly destroyed. Their faith is stronger than my own has been, the sort of belief I long for and which I see in some of the strong Christians I know. I’m praying, learning, trying to guild myself with the Armor of God.

Often, the hardships we face make us question the beliefs we hold most dear. I believe that God uses times of tragedy, loss, and inexplicable pain to draw us closer to Him, to bring us to a better understanding of His nature. Jesus says in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

It’s easy to blame God when terrible things happen. I know, because I’m guilty of this arrogant, human act. The truth is, evil in this world is committed by man. God did not cause that crazed, racist nutcase to enter a church and kill people. That was a decision that kid came to all on his own, one of free will. Our actions have consequences, for good or for bad.

God is alive and at work, and I’ve seen miracles with my own eyes. I’ve witnessed it in my life, and the lives of those that I love. Too often, I forget, for my faith is not as strong as it should be. In a world of seven billion people, there are tragedies every day, and the news will focus on the ten worst things and beat it into our brains, giving the impression that the world itself is bleeding and slipping into madness, that evil and peril lurk around every corner. We hear the bad but not the good, and this creates a pervasive, ongoing illusion, a destructive one, a lens through which we view the world shaded by darkness, one that filters out truth and light.

For the ten stories of accidents, shootings, disasters, and fires (the media is obsessed with fire of all sorts, from bombs to brush fires) there are a hundred stories we never get to hear. Lives saved, random acts of kindness, hope restored, faith found, and illness cured.

Where was God? He never left. He didn’t move, I did. Sometimes I forget.

“For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Ephesians: 5:8

A Christian Writer’s Journey

Journey

I’ve always been a dreamer, something that my father instilled in me from a very young age because he would say things like, “son if you work hard, you can be anything you want to be. Follow your dreams.”  I saw my old man write books, toil as a carpenter, and then go to law school. He practiced what he preached, rising from abject poverty to success through discipline and years of burning the candle at both ends. When I left the University of Florida to pursue a songwriting career, my dreams were vast and my ability limited. I had no idea how hard my road would be.

It occurs to me that I’ve had a lifelong problem managing my expectations, and this character trait has tarnished my relationships, my career, and my soul. When you shoot for the stars, mostly you don’t wind up where you thought you were going. The heart of the matter is pride. Leaning much upon my own understanding rather than upon God. So here’s my story, and perhaps some other folks can avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made, and perhaps with the telling of it, maybe I’ll finally wrap my head around the truth.

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I moved to Nashville way back in 1992 with a heart full of dreams and a cheap guitar. Those first years were heady, back when I knew I would  “make it,” and I figured that within a few years, I’d be living the dream. I played the Bluebird, penned hundreds of songs with fellow songwriters,  and wrote every single day. I saw, quickly, that I had much to learn. I’d been in town for about a month when I saw a writers round with Bob DePiro and Mike Reid… they slayed me with their talent. Every song was perfection, their vocals were mind-blowing, and their musical ability was so far beyond me that I saw there was an entire mountain yet to climb. I embraced it, and I learned, worked on my craft, mentored by some great writers. I had songs on hold for major artists, went to number one parties, and rubbed elbows with the movers and shakers of Music Row. Then I started doing a dangerous thing.

I began spending too much time gazing at where I wanted to be rather than what I needed to do to get there, and worse, whether that was where I should go. Enter the bitterness, the, sense of betrayal and the resentment. The great Harlan Howard, whom I had the great pleasure of spending time with, once said to a disgruntled songwriter, “well, nobody called and asked you to move to Nashville.” Right.He didn’t say that to me, but it would have bee spot on. Nobody told me to decide to become a writer..that was my choice. But the desire to succeed was eating my soul, clouding my vision and ultimately hurting my music. Some of my fellow writers nicknamed me “Doctor Doom.”

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I moved back to Florida following a divorce and the feeling of being let down in my songwriting career (or lack thereof,) thinking that I could leave writing in my rear-view mirror. I was wrong, and I started writing fiction, which didn’t require the same sort of schmoozing and glad-handing that songwriting seems to. When I got my first publishing deal, I was ecstatic. I’d signed a contract for a trilogy, and I hadn’t even written two of the books yet. I decided I would be a wildly successful author within perhaps a year or two. I’m hard headed, obviously, though my wife uses more colorful words to describe my frequent and woeful lack of understanding.

It takes years of hard work, multiple books, and networking, and talent to make it as an author. Like any other artistic endeavor, it’s a subjective thing, and people will buy what people buy. I find the writing in Fifty Shades of Grey to be awful, but tens of millions of people strongly disagree; E.L. James reached the stars by connecting with her readers, and more power to her. I could undoubtedly learn a thing or two from her. So, I’m writing, working, knowing it takes time, and trying not to chafe against that knowledge. Trying to enjoy the journey, and not focus on the destination.

During these decades of writing, I burned down one marriage and almost destroyed another. One of the central reasons this happened is because I expect things to go my way, and when they don’t, I get rankled. My essential impatience, my propensity to reach beyond my means to grasp. Marriage is hard work, and when things go south, which they will in any marriage at some point, I’ve had the feeling that things should be right again quickly. Wounds should heal, others should change, I should change…if not overnight, then within a time frame that I deem acceptable. Utter nonsense. It’s destructive. Because, once again, that resentment sets in and things only get worse. You end up feeling like you’re wasting your time, and when a sense of futility becomes pervasive, it’s already almost too late. It takes discipline and hard work to make it back from that.

Against this backdrop, I’ve experienced the same sort of impatience with God. It sounds as dumb as it is, yet when I’m in the midst of it, I can’t see it, missing the forest for the trees. I cry out to God, asking for help with more selfishness than humility: Help me make it as a writer, help my marriage, please send a briefcase full of money from the sky!  When I don’t get the quick results I desire, I feel betrayed. Like no one is really listening. Like the songs on the radio are full of false promises, and that the Word itself has misled me. But I have misled myself by choosing to focus on the wrong things, by hearing what I want to hear instead of the truth.

The truth is, life can be terrible, hard, and mean. And there is no assurance of a good outcome for any of us on this earth simply because we choose to follow God. The whole idea of abundance theory preached in many mega-churches is dangerous drivel.  It’s connected to Calvinism and the idea that success is predestined, a concept which helped to form the Protestant Work Ethic and build a nation, but which in many ways undermines the deeper message of the gospel. This Calvinistic attitude spawns the belief that poor are poor because God has decided it, and conversely that the wealthy are wealthy because they have earned favor in the eyes of the Lord. This belief system is insidious. Ask the Paul, Peter and Timothy about that.

Because the assurance and peace Jesus and the Apostles talk about is the eternal kind, not the earthly kind, and the our peace on this rock is found in knowing this and feeling fulfilled and joyous despite our circumstances. Salvation, peace, and joy are not things we have earned, but which come, ultimately, through the grace of God. Apart from God, I can do nothing. I am worth nothing. And this, perhaps, is the central truth I’ve missed over and over again.

The story isn’t mine. It never was. Paul extolls us in Hebrews 12:2 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our fate…”  I’m an author, yet I’m not THE author. I focus on the things which I want, the tangible trappings of success, and I fix my gaze upon that which I cannot obtain alone. I cling to my pride like a talisman and wonder why I become disillusioned. I truly want to reach people, to touch lives and be a force of light, but I’ve been going about it all wrong, putting my own story ahead of the most important story.

It will take hard work and discipline, and faith, but when I look back twenty years from now, I pray I will be able to say that I was living and writing for the right reasons, not the wrong ones, and that I released my foolish pride, my selfish expectations, and human arrogance. By emptying myself, I pray that God will fill me with His spirit and that the kind of peace which matters is the peace I will have found.

I still have a mountain to climb, and my way is unclear. I have much to learn, and am certain I will falter. I am not alone, and in this knowledge I will rest assured, striving to fix my eyes on Jesus, my sole destination.

http://www.amazon.com/Wrath-Redemption-Sean-T-Smith-ebook/dp/B00SXOLOEQ/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Remembering Silver Hill…My Magnolia

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The woods are lonely and empty there now, but in my mind there is a place which will always remain as it once was. A house on a hill surrounded by forest and filled with laughter and generations and love. My grandparents called it Silver Hill.

In the spring and summer the air of Upstate New York has a sweetness to it. As if the maple trees and rocks, the flowers and the sun breathe new hope into the land itself. Little things take me back. The smell of fresh-cut hay, the clink of ice in a glass of tea on a hot day, the aroma of pipe smoke, the sight of an old orange tractor.

For me, Silver Hill was magic. It was a place of safety and refuge, a constant in a childhood rife with upheaval. My folks moved many times, and I attended about twenty schools, but Silver Hill remained a beacon of hope and stability when things got dark and mean. I remember riding the lawn mower with my Grandfather when I was about four or five, and later being allowed to mow the whole yard myself, a thing I enjoyed. It’s where I learned to shoot, love the woods. I recall reading an entire series of Piers Anthony books over about a week, perched in a comfortable nook of a towering tree, surrounded by twittering birds, the wind whispering through the leaves, and the branches rocking me gently.

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There were family reunions and birthday parties during the warm months, and I’d roam the woods and the yard with my cousins, all of us with skinned knees and dungarees. Catching frogs and tadpoles down at the pond, always on the lookout for a snake or Bigfoot, who was rumored to inhabit the area, and whom I was fairly certain I’d seen at least once. Building forts of increasing complexity. The adults would join in games of softball, and football, and there was this wonderful togetherness. That’s how I remember it, and that’s the truth which remains.

We ate blackberry pies, hot-dogs from the charcoal grill, and stacks of steaming pancakes from the griddle, my Grandmother making them as big as we wanted. Eating was a kind of celebration.

In the fall there was a bittersweet, fleeting explosion of color, as the woods came alive in red and yellow and every breath held the promise of the coming snow, a sharp, tingling sensation, a singing feeling in my soul.

Winter meant vast snowbanks, crackling fires, and Christmas. The aunts and uncles and cousins would migrate to Silver Hill, and we’d eat turkey and stuffing and tear into presents, savoring each one. We opened them one at a time, and it was a joyful thing, anticipation and wonder all wrapped together. We built igloos and had snowball fights, epic battles when the wind was cold and the snow was deep, knowing a warm fire, hot chocolate, and a slice of pie waited inside.

Silver Hill became a part of me, and looking back I realize that it’s because of the people, my family, my blood, and the memories which live there for all of us. We’re spread out all over the country now, but Silver Hill, and those black and white and faded picture still recall.What I remember most is love, unconditional and true.

Before every meal, my Grandfather would lead us in a short prayer, the same one every time,and it is etched indelibly into my heart.

“Lord we thank you for this food, and for thy many blessings.

We pray you will bless this food to our use and us to thy purpose.

Amen.”

http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00IK7MH9M/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

kinned knees

Don’t Hold Your Breath

Don’t hold your breath unless you’re under water, because while you’re waiting for the next thing, life is drowning you and all you end up doing is choking for air.

It’s the quiet that defines a man, not moments of fleeting wonder and raucous triumph, for the real glory lives in the little things we overlook and forget, the mundane and true. It’s in the Sunday sigh of a woman in love while the rain comes down outside and the moan of the wind and the lazy smiles and wrinkled sheets. Walks in the woods when the world is still and the air is sharp and right and the leaves are turning with bittersweet autumn, death and renewal and the promise of spring, possessed of a magnificence all its own.

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The glory in life is found in the simple things. Changing diapers at two in the morning, dancing around the living room with your baby to sooth him back to sleep, walks to the bus stop at dawn, tying shoes and bed-time songs. The laughter over silly things and inside jokes, late-night trips to the hospital.There is glory there, There was. We often miss it along the way, for our eyes are on the wrong things, and then we ache for it when we remember to remember.

We’re constantly bombarded by images of success, and what it means to be happy. It’s the bigger house, the newer car, the promotion, the vacation, the next thing. We live in a world of instant gratification which seems largely bereft of true happiness and contentment. Our technology is miraculous and gives us the ability to talk to friends around the world with a few clicks, yet we are lonely, for the cell phones and ipads, video games and social media which provide this so called “connectivity” lead to a disconnect with our souls. It’s a hollow feeling.

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It’s hard for Christians, who are exhorted to be “in” this world but not “of” it, for the lessons Jesus taught go completely against what the world continues to tell us. Christians are supposed to surrender to be victorious, lose in order to win, give to receive joy. It’s hard to keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus when the world comes crashing in, howling and loud, tempting and insidious.

The lasting, true glory is there, though, in a relationship with the Creator, and in those mundane moments, if we listen, he is whispering to us. I admit I’ve been holding my breath my whole life. It’s time to breathe.

http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00IK7MH9M/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1425568247&sr=1-1&keywords=objects+of+wrath