The Essence of Faith

The Essence of Faith

The Essence of Faith

The freshly painted clapboard church sat near a small creek, its white purity glorified by the neatly trimmed hedges surrounding it and the smell of newly mowed grass. The four big oak trees on the church property added a symmetrical elegance to the pastoral scene. Four Oaks Baptist Church, lined up in a photographer’s lens or portrayed on the painter’s canvas, would present a nostalgic and peaceful essence of faith and Americana.

It was a special Sunday morning with clear skies and a happy sun washed all that it touched with spring freshness and sparkle. There were few cars parked along the country lane as most of the congregation and visitors came on foot to Four Oaks, and today the numbers in attendance would break all records… It was indeed a very special Sunday. One member of the congregation had just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Jimmy Chadwick was fourteen years old when he was baptized in the Four Oaks Baptist Church. He attended elementary and high school in the county school system, played his basketball and football here, married his homecoming queen sweetheart in this prosaic place of worship. Jimmy worked on his family’s farm, plowed fields for barley, wheat, hoed the endless corn rows, and worked on the side for the county’s agricultural cooperative. Jimmy sowed some of his personal oats, played some petty pranks and even tried at times some bitter brews of John Barleycorn. In the total tally of Jimmy Chadwick he was a happy kid, a generous, kind adult, and a near-wholesome human being.

Jimmy Chadwick’s real claim to county fame came not on a football field or basketball court at home but on dreary sand and scrub in the distant country of Afghanistan. Jimmy, a marine, was stationed in Helmand Province at a USMC installation where aircraft hangars housed Harrier Jets. One quiet and sweltering night, a group of Taliban fighters dressed in US military uniforms penetrated the perimeter of the camp, killed two US service men, and destroyed a number of Harrier jets with explosives and rocket-propelled grenades. With only his pistol, Jimmy led an attack against the infiltrators and eventually all of the insurgents were either killed or captured.

By the time the Sunday service began, The Four Oaks Baptist Church was filled beyond its capacity for seating. The walls were lined with the simple and sweet inhabitants of the Four Oaks hamlet plus residents of the other nearby settlements. A virtual silence fell upon all those congregated there. Only occasional sobs and soft moans were heard. The preacher stepped to the pulpit and spoke:

Today we welcome home one of our own, Jimmy Chadwick, a young fellow we knew as a freckle-faced kid pulling the pigtails of giggling girls, a handsome lad always with a smile and the rough hard hands of a farm worker. We knew him as the young fellow who usually got the touchdown to win us a football game or a final-second dunk to win the basketball game. We knew Jimmy as a prankster, a devoted son, an honest and good man… So, welcome home, Jimmy. We love you and we are proud of you.

Let me just say that here in this little corner of the world our simple ways will not match the world’s big cities’ glamour and glare, their hectic ways and their belief systems that vary from our own. We hear and read about those who don’t believe in God and in the man, Jesus, who came among us, gave us some spiritual wisdom to live by, and died a cruel death for our sins. Today we see the book of Revelations coming to pass: we have wars and rumors of wars; we have the atrocities of history repeating themselves; we have nuclear weaponry that can annihilate civilization; we have miracle machines that can do so much good but can also wreak havoc upon us; we have enough people enraged by the Satan that runs loose inside of them who are too eager to smite their brothers and sisters; we seem not to have enough time to help and provide for those who truly need our help… We live in a perilous time, a time when a man, woman, and child can only deal with the darkness of the world with the hallowed light of faith. If not faith, if not a belief that transcends these ugly truths, that these mountains we gaze upon, these prairies, these oceans, seas, and desert are there by another’s hand and not our own… If not faith, what can we conclude from the pendulum swings of our lives? That we live but for the folly of a piece of gold and the dark pleasures that can only in the end seduce and leave us wantonly scarred? If not faith, why is there the warmth of sunshine? Why the evening stars upon which to wish? Why the meticulous nine months ritual of our births? Why the love and unity of family upon which to persevere?

Today, here in our little corner of the world, we welcome home our heroic son and brother who went to a foreign land because his nation called upon him, a man who wore his faith proudly and served his country with courage and valor.

May the sobs and tears of this congregation convey not only the sadness of his passing but a joyful recognition of our faith that Jimmy Chadwick has truly gone Home.  

Let us pray…

Flash fiction by Billy Ray Chitwood – From my Archives

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In the Dark of Night

-Image by Mathew McQuarrie on Unsplash-

In the Dark of Night

Sleep eludes me on a nightly basis, the tossing and turning a much too familiar motif, the lyrics seemingly a ritual that has haunted me for so many years, I can almost hear the imagined violin’s soft, undulating rhythm.

This malady stretches long into the night. Hours pass, and my body seems to be rejecting me, near an imploding crescendo, until, in a mad tossing of bed covering, I rise and take a long shower.

I allow the harsh shower stream to pound my body as I sit curled on the tiled seating shelf assessing for the millionth time my life, my brief brush with some modicum of fame and glory, but, more self-indulgingly, my southern heritage and the early bucolic years of my existence.

This midnight maudlinism, this mushiness of a grown man, is captured by a wry grin of acknowledgement and a mere nod of the head in the darkness.

It is a large 8’x8’ steam shower, but I only use the shower’s sharp thrusting streams to quell my mawkish musing, and, to some small extent, it is quelled.

I open the glass shower door, turn the light off, and sit for some moments in the humid enclosure. My manic mind is still active as I consider once again the chance for sleep.

It is in those ultra-quiet moments that an epiphany comes…write…write about your feelings, your thoughts. Let that be your saving coup.

I’m about to rise when the sound reaches me – a sound that resembles a weak roar of a power drill. No, not a drill. Just a metronomic sound like an energy of some sort being applied to a part of the house…OMG, like, someone trying to break open a door.

Still wet and dripping, I almost slip on the tiled shower floor getting out of the enclosure. I don my pajama bottoms and stand at the large opening into my master bedroom.

The sound comes again, a bit louder this time…

It’s difficult to isolate the area of the house from which the noise is coming. Is it the cellar? The back door? The front door?

There is an abatement to the noise.

I sit on the edge of the bed, lost in listening.

Tippie won’t be home until Sunday. She flew to Arizona for a family wedding. I begged off going and stayed home. My body cannot withstand the hustle and cacophony of crowds of people in an airport, some rushing, bouncing into others to catch a flight they’re late for ‘check-in’. Arthur and I cannot abide too well crowds of people…another issue of my manic mind.

I sit on the edge of the bed for several minutes, take some deep breaths of the cool air. The sound does not come…has it simply been an anomaly of sounds in the night?

I return to my ‘undercover’ sanctuary for sleep but more often ‘for distressful thoughts’, turn on my right side to try again for Sandman’s visit , adjust my head to the pillow, and try to direct my thoughts to Paradise Island in Nassau – a memorable trip for Tippie and me early on in our marriage. Atlantis has become one of our favorite memories – along with an NCL cruise with our kids.

Finally, there comes that roar-sound, this time much more prominent than before in the shower. It sounds like it’s coming from the upstairs guest bedrooms…not the basement.

Again, I leave my bed, grab a flashlight from the bedside table and slowly move to the hallway, into the front foyer, and softly climb the winding steps of the ancient and beautiful staircase…circa 1800’s.

The sound stops upon my rising from the bed. Certainly, my quiet movements cannot  be overheard by a potential burglar.

My gosh! Do we have ghosts who can discern our moves?

Okay, not rational, but with age comes the return to childhood where realities are not always so real.

I make my way quietly up the stairs…no squeaking of the stair steps. At the top of the stairs I turn on the flashlight. We have five bedrooms for family and guests on our large home’s second floor.

No sound.

I go quietly on bare feet down the hallways and shine my flashlight into every room, bath, closet, and there is nothing. No sounds. No evil of any kind awaits me.

Downstairs again, I inspect the den, the parlor, the sunroom, the dining room, the kitchen, and every inch of our master bedroom, closets, and bath. I also check all our back and front doors…locked, secured.

I am stymied.

The sound has not returned.

Just a dumb oddity? It must be. The house is thoroughly inspected in my own Detective Clouseau way.

Back in my King-size bed, my sanctuary, I again reach that point of drowsiness where sleep comes.

The damned roar-sound comes again, like feet stomping down the upstairs hallway.

“What the hell is going on?” I mutter to myself.

I take a few more deep breaths.

The roar-sound stops.

I wait…

The sound returns.

I take a few more deep breaths.

The sound stops.

As I sit on the edge of the bed, the thought comes to me: It’s your own heartbeat you are hearing.

Okay, I have MES, the acronym for Musical Ear Syndrome. My ear doctor informs me that little is known about MES, but I am not to worry… His diagnosis failed to report that a loud roaring of one’s heart is heard quite often in the wee hours.

It begins to make some sense to me. When my music isn’t playing in my ear, my heartbeat can entertain me.

Well, it was some sort of relief. Thankfully, there were no thieves in the night…

Then, again, it’s kind of scary to hear your very own heart roaring loud and clear like hoof-beats in the dark of night!

What a great life! All these wonderful little anomalies I’m learning about.

BR Chitwood – November 14, 2019

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When Dreams Collide

-Image by: Johannes Plenio – Unsplash-

When Dreams Collide

It was early AM. Darkness still ruled the night, and the dream I was having collided with an aberration, a rather obediant traitor to my sleep on occasion.

Many of my dreams are bleak and dark, depicting scenes of me trying to reach my kids, my mother, my wife for some urgent reason…an example might help me here:

My aged and infirm mother, having finished her day job for the day, is walking laboriously with bags of groceries up a sidewalk in a big city. She is also caring for my children, and I’m rushing to reach her, to help her with her bags of groceries. I’m also worried about my young children, arriving home from school and finding no one home…

So, I’m harried in a hasty rush to reach my Mom and help her with the bags of groceries, but I keep finding my way blocked by some crazy twist in the dream – I’m on the wrong street… I’m out on the outskirts of town, trying desperately to find my way back to the city, and a speeding train is coming toward space that I must cover to reach the city… There are also scenes of the kids, about to end the school day, but it is a bizarre dream laced with anxiety, fear, and desperation. 

This sort of dream comes to me here in Twilight, and I can make a certain deductive reasoning for the dreams, to remind me of something, to make me feel guilty, to mostly agonize about the grayish tone of the dreams…

So, I awake. I’m all fuzzy in my head. My cat, Lady Gray, is at my side in the darkness, obviously concerned about me, with either talking in my sleep or my movements. (I’m thinking she’s prescient, in my life her form but an embodiment of my Mom…) Okay, call me loco en la cabeza.

Anyway, I stroke Lady Gray’s soft furry back and whisper, “It’s okay, Sweetheart.” As my eyes venture in the dark toward the end of the bed, I think I see Julie’s face in the deep gray darkness. “Julie!” I yell.

I hear a weak reply. “Are you alright?” I yell.

“Yes,” she replies.

Then, it occurs to me to pat my side of our kingsize bed and I feel the lump, the lump that is Julie already back into her sleep… Julie can sleep with the best of sleepers – even, standing up, she has informed me.

A few minutes pass and I decide to get up and dressed. I want to see if I can capture this nighttime episode in a blog…you’re reading it.

While alone with my laptop I’m wondering if Julie might be worried that I’m… Well, I’m not, but I did cry a little when I read an ‘I Love You’ card she sent to me before we retired for bed last night.

Thanks for the audience. I had to get this out of my mind.

Who the hell needs ‘reminding’ they are getting older?

They know.

They feel.

Into the ‘knowing and feeling’ creeps memories and a life not all bad, but, certainly, the edges are frayed.

Life is still great here in Twilight.

BR Chitwood – November 2, 2019

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The Midnight Call

The Midnight Call

The lights of the city were being slowly swallowed up by a darkness made more visceral by thick clouds-covering the moon and an electrical grid outage. The silence became a partner with the black void creating a ménage of desperation. Fear, and panic.

Sandie arrived at her apartment seventy-five minutes earlier from a ‘girls night out’ Thursday, a ritual between her two college girlfriends and sorority sisters, Bea and Jan. The three young working women were more like real sisters, having known each other through middle school, high school, and college. They shared their secrets, their love-interests, and their problems.

The eerie phenomenon began after her short ‘bath soak’ and one more Chenin De Blanc. The ‘bath-soak’ was the favorite part of her day as she reclined in the big tub, listened to lovely piped-in music, and thought of all the topics the girls discussed.

Sandie was only in bed for some short moments when her attention was drawn to the big bedroom window high above Manhattan. The lights were slowly going off and her room was becoming darker by the moment. She quickly left her bed, went to the window, and watched the amazing scene unfold…block after block, lights were gone leaving a macabre chill to pulse through her body. The few car lights below her window seemed to be omens of something terrifyingly real about to invade the great city.

Sandie staggered back to the bed, sat momentarily in an odd paroxysm of pending evil. She finally willed herself to grab the bedside phone.

Total silence.

Oh, my God, the phones are out as well… My God, I don’t even have a flashlight.

Her hand trembled as she tried to coordinate both hands to replace the phone in its cradle. She dropped the receiver onto the lush carpeting, and it hardly made a sound. She found and replaced the phone.

Then, she sat on the edge of the bed. It was not cold in her bedroom, but she trembled.

Oh, come on, Sandie, the power has gone off before. It might take a while for the city to fix the problem. Just relax. Go to sleep. When you awake, the lights will be back, or, it will be daylight.

What was that? That noise? It’s coming from the great room. Oh, my God, has someone gotten into the apartment.

Easy, easy. It’s an apartment complex. Other people are up and about. You hear noises all the time in apartment buildings. Try to relax.

Did I lock the apartment door and put the latch on?

Of course, I did, I always do that, first thing, lock the door. Plus, silly girl, only residents can get into this building. You’re safe to sleep off this blackout. Now, go to sleep. Think about Danny… No, I’m mad at Danny. He made a fool of me. He says he didn’t, but he did.

He couldn’t reach you. His boss put his hooks into him to work-up a big proposal for submission to the city. He had a deadline to meet. You made a mountain out of a mole hill and hurt his feelings. You were being selfish, Sandie. Yeah, maybe I was. But…

But, what?

He teased me about my virginity. He’s always coming on too strong. And, you don’t do anything to cause that, right? Well, sure, I enjoy our ‘making out’ with the kissing and feeling stuff, but sex is going too far.

What was that noise?

It was just another apartment building noise… I think I might have had too many drinks tonight, plus wine when I got home.

So, what about Danny? You like him?

Well, of course, I like him. I think I might even love him…

So, it’s the sex thing? You don’t want to have sex with him, right?

Oh, it’s difficult for me. I’ve never done sex, so I don’t know how I’ll feel when it’s over…

But you like the parts that lead up to it, right?

Well, yeah, right.

So, you thinking of marrying this guy, right?

Yeah, I think I love him.

You think you ‘love him’?

Okay, you finally marry the guy, and the first night, are you going to back off sex? That’s sort of a ‘coronation’ kind of thing.

Sex will be okay then. We’ll be married.

Are you sure?

Yeah, I’m sure.

What if you don’t like having sex with him. That’s a hellava long time to wait, only to find out you don’t like sex with him.

But I will because I love him.

So, let’s say you wait all this time and comes the big night. You prepare with a bath, just a dash of body lotion on the nape, under the arms, and maybe just a bit at the thighs… Now, this is your wedding night, never had sex before that night – just ‘made out’ with kissing and touching – and Danny comes out of the bathroom cleanly shaven, showered, and you slowly make out, you slow it down to mutter some ‘love you’ words, then the big climactic moment comes. You finally submit to your one and only love…but…

But, ‘what’, for God’s sake?

He goes too fast. He goes too slow. He’s too ‘small’. He’s too ‘large’…And, you’re turned off sexually to the guy you just promised to love, honor, and obey – TIL DEATH DO YOU PART.

Sandie took several deep breaths, stretched out on the bed, her arms and hands embracing the pillow holding her head.

“Oh, Danny, I do love you, and I need you…you are none of those things. You’re perfect.” Sandie said the words loudly and wished Danny was with her at that very moment.

The darkness still prevailed outside. Some generators had brought light up and down the city streets.

She reached for the phone to see if it was working.

Just as she reached, it rang and made her almost shriek. Sandie picked up the phone and spoke tentatively into it: “Hello.”

“You okay, sweetheart? I was worried about you. Lights out all over.”

“Oh, I’m so glad you called, Danny. I wish you were here with me this moment. I love you.”

“Well, that’s quite a wish, and I love you. I’m with the Concierge in your lobby, and I can be with you in one minute if you will give the good man the ‘okay’.”

One hour later, Manhattan’s lights were on. Horns were honking. People were squealing. It was like the Ball had dropped in Times-Square announcing New Year’s Day.

Short Fiction by BR Chitwood – October 24, 2019

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Her Eyes Held My Heart

Louvre Museum in Paris, France

Her Eyes Held My Heart
*
It mattered not my direction
Her soft mysterious eyes
Followed each step I took
Until my heart gave pause…
Until I stopped, turned, and
Faced a hint of smile she gave.
*
Not just a smile held me bound
In some exquisite thrall whose
Spell I wished not to break
But her face held me there…
Her eyes seemed to hold many
Secrets, or, were they desires?
Her lips spoke to me of other
Wispy dreams unfulfilled or
Too long delayed or forgotten.
*
Her raven hair fell easily with
No discernable salon-style.
I stood now in front of Her,
This wondrous Objet d’ art
Where countless others eyed
This marvel of Art and History,
And, perhaps, as I do now,
Fall in love with Mona Lisa.
*
©BR Chitwood – October 20, 2019

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Above It All

©Above It All

The fire was dying down to flickering embers, and the sudden coolness of a clear night slowly burrowed into my slender frame. My body shivered with its knowledge of my stupidity in coming this far up the slope…

Damn, I don’t know how far up I am. Why is it the man is always the one who gets pissed and stomps out of the house? Well, anyhow, I wouldn’t have let her leave with daylight almost gone. But that woman sure knows how to push all the buttons to get me so riled I could almost get mean and physical with her, but, dang it, that’s not the way I’m made. She just keeps on going over everything I’ve said, putting her own spin on my words, until I leave before my words won’t be enough to satisfy my anger. A long hard walk usually calmed the soul and made ‘making up’ a wonderful experience.

The house looked so small from this distance, the lights adding some sense of size and building style Lara and I spent countless fun hours designing, adding extra rooms for her sewing and quilting, adding a room for my pool table and a most stylish ‘Man-Cave’.

Here it comes…

Here comes the guilt…it was all my fault, with the wise cracks, while she was being serious and pleasant. When would I learn to keep my clever little ‘bon mots’ to myself? She is trying to make her serious points, and I’m being cute. She stressed several times the importance of the conversation, asked me to be serious, but, no, I had to show off my distracting attempts at humor for far too long.

Until…until she looked at me, nay, glared at me with lips tightly pursed and eyes dispensing tiny daggers of disgust and a scary cloud of vitriolic displeasure that swept over me, frightened me, and made me feel suddenly all alone. In fact, Lara walked away from me with unmistakable disgust, and I felt like something very special had left our marriage.

Standing mutely alone there in my ‘Man-Cave’, I encountered waves of uncertainty, a sudden panic that scared me, an urge to quickly go to Lara and ask forgiveness for my glib behavior in front of something so important to her. Then, that thought gave way to some inane ‘macho’ nonsense of male superiority thoughts…

I started for the kitchen and Lara, but I quickly made a sharp left-turn to the front door, pulled it open, walked out, and slammed it in a brutish display of petulance. The walking path up to ‘Monk’s Peak’ was just steps away, and I would show her…I would go AWOL for a while. Maybe that would teach her a lesson on how to deal with her husband. But…

But, sitting there for two hours, my mind did some ‘mind-jerks’ that surprised me. Darkness all around me, save for the cloudless night sky with its beautiful void filled with planets, stars, galaxies that had firmly fixed themselves for countless Millenia to guide those of our world who might have navigational needs, I suddenly grasped what fools before me must grasp, life is temporary, ephemeral, where, at the end one wonders where did all the years go – one life, a grain of sand on Millenia’s beach. Of course, came the word likely most despised in the world languages, ‘mortality’… Did a life end when the last breath was drawn? Were all the emotions felt for a lifetime, all the dreams fulfilled by the lovers, dreamers, movers, shakers of the world. Love given, taken – did it with death all just, go poof? Or, did a Continuum exist to usher us back in different forms, on and on, until we ‘get’ it and become one with the Supreme Host?

Sitting there on a hard rock above my home, my wife, my future, this all came to me – and, I cried, smiling like a fool, tasting tears that held in some miraculous way a validation.

I started to rise from the rock, eager to get back down that walking path and convey my love and thoughts to the dearest woman in my world, my precious Lara.

Then, I saw a light coming up the trail I had not noticed in my moments of serious thought. The light came closer until…until my eyes again clouded over and emitted their tears.

Lara rushed into my arms, and never has my heart filled so overflowingly with love.

“People in love can do some silly things. Here, put on your jacket and let’s go home. I made you a special dessert…Oh, and I love you.”

Lara grabbed my hand.

We kissed long with a soft, unhurried, promise.

©BR Chitwood

Flash Fiction by: BR Chitwood –October 10, 2019

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Not To Be Again

Not To Be Again

*

Long auburn hair bouncing

In gay amusement

Upon sun-tanned shoulders,

So casual,

So impetuously serene,

So provocative,

And,

So delightfully tormenting

To a nascent longing

In her merry laughter and stroll

Along the tide’s ending wave.

Her white bikini so enjoys

Its rhythmic stroll

Along body curves

That sway in the breeze.

Ah, so much a Goddess

This creative design

Of a Deity’s brush.

I remember her well…

*

©BR Chitwood – September 30, 2019

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Hail, The Neon Beacon of Debauchery

(-Image art: Aziz Acharki – Unsplash-)

Hail, The Neon Beacon of Debauchery!

(Short poetic prose)

*

Hail, the neon beacon out ahead

Guiding, leading the man onward

Toward wakeful dreams aspired.

Hail, the beacon is subtle in its

Duality of promise and purpose.

Its laser flashes In frenetic frivolity to

Elixirs and forlorn witches of the night.

*

So, the shadowy evening passes hastily,

‘Last Call’ too quickly ends the charade.

Awaken, ignoble knight of no honor

To a brutal morn of rueful regret.

Face the gallows of vicious thoughts

Cascading mercilessly against the

Dull temples of intemperance.

*

The new sun gives way dimly to

A pitiable litany of remorseful chattel

And self-indulgent curses to the

Demons of meek, repentant mockery.

Meager, modest work efforts ensue,

A duplicate day of detritus, alas.

Then a misty miracle convenes:

*

Hail, the neon beacon out ahead

Guiding, leading the man onward

To yet another night of wistful witches.

Hail, The Neon Beacon of Debauchery!

*

©BR Chitwood – September 26, 2019

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Corrupted Memory

Corrupted Memory

*

Through the worn pages of a simple Past

My slow and labored steps wander

With memorable moments no longer

Relevant or necessary to invoke,

Always to return to Now, this moment,

Passing as I breathe and wonder…

What was it all about, these cluttered,

Fanciful swipes of frivolity and time?

What Muse am I to discern follies and loves?

The mere poetic nothingness in the more

Noble distribution in years of memory?

Still, the mind continues its laborious stroll

Down through the trough of Time

Beckon me onward down these dusty paths

To the utter halls, I fear, of Madness.

*

BR Chitwood – September 12, 2019

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Life

Life

Life cannot begin

Lest you live it!

Awaken your dreams

Get out of the pit!

Find value in you

Don’t seek it in me!

Look inward/outward

Set yourself free!

Awaken to sunlight

Though dawn be gray!

Expand your horizon

Give in to the day!

Create your mantra

To repeat on the go!

Steady your rhythm

Go with the flow!

Walk with sublimity

At a joyous gait!

Reach for the stars

Therein lies your fate!

At day’s end

Rejoice in your worth!

Finding love heralds

Your peace on Earth.

 *

Billy Ray Chitwood – September 9, 2019

*

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