The Morning After
Kendra Norman-Bellamy and Hank Stewart
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
To all of those who are reading this book and know the pain of losing a loved one that meant the world to you; remember this:
. . . weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
Â (Psalm 30:5b)
To my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ: You are my life, my breath, my everything. Thank you for continuing to allow me to “walk on purpose.” I am humbled to be able to take the gift you've bestowed upon me and use it for your glory. How blessed I am!
To my husband, Jonathan: Thank you for being my loudest cheerleader and my greatest supporter. If you didn't do what you do; then what I do would be a much harder task. Brittney: I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that the world now calls my firstborn child a national bestselling author. Thank you for choosing to follow in my footsteps and use your gift for God. To my baby girl, Crystal: You are so naturally creative and talented that it amazes me. Thanks for never allowing there to be a dull moment in our household. To Jimmy (1968â1995): Thanks for being my guardian angel year after year. Bishop Harold & Mrs. Francine Norman: Thank you for my righteous upbringing. Much of who I am is because of who you were . . . and still are. Crystal, Harold Jr., Cynthia and Kimberly: Thank you for just being the best sisters and brother a girl could have. I love y'all.
To Hank: Thanks for the concepts of
The Morning After
. I enjoyed assisting you in becoming a bestselling published novelist through this two-book series. Aunt Joyce and Uncle Irvin: Thank you both for allowing me to continue to be your “little goddaughter” even at this stage of my life. Heather, Gloria and Deborah, you are my best friends forever. And ever and ever and ever....
To Bishop Johnathan & Dr. Toni Alvarado: You are two of the most amazing preachers I've ever been blessed to meet. Thanks for the covering of Total Grace Christian Center. To my Anointed Authors on Tour sisters (Michelle, Vivi, Tia, Shewanda, Norma and Vanessa): Thank you for being my sisters of the pen. Working in ministry with you is a blessing. Dwan and Toschia: Thanks for being true author-sister-friends. To Terrance, Rhonda, and Carlton: Thank you for the intricate parts you play in the success of my career. I couldn't do it without you. Yulanda and Cooky: I just wanted to give a surprise shout-out to the two of you. Thanks for everything. To all of the creative talent who have joined me in The Writer's Hut, in The Writer's Cocoon, and on Cruisin' For Christ: Thanks for being a part of my expanded ministry.
To the women of the
Iota Phi Lambda
Sorority (especially Atlanta's Delta Chapter): You have become such a cherished part of my life. Thank you for adding more sisters to my life than I know what to do with. To my Urban Books family: Thank you for the opportunity to minister through fiction. To all book clubs and avid readers of my works: Thank you for being a constant blessing to my career. I appreciate each of you.
Finally . . . (y'all know I always go out on a musical note) . . . To Melvin Williams, Brian McKnight, Fred Hammond, India Arie, Antonio Allen, Melvin M. Miller, and Joss Stone: Thanks for the wonderful music that streamed from my stereo system and from my computer as the writing of this project took place.
I want to first thank the head and foundation of my life . . . my Alpha and Omega, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! Without Him my life would be lost. I want to thank Kendra Norman-Bellamy, first for her friendship, and then our business relationship. Kendra, you are the best and I am glad the Lord allowed our paths to cross.
I want to take this time to thank Maureen Stubbs, my personal assistant. Mo, you know I can't do it without you. I believe people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Well, Gwen Mason, I pray our friendship is a lifetime, you have made me better! You have taken The Stewart Foundation to another level, and with you as the Executive Director, it will go even higher. I also want to thank The Stewart Foundation Board, the volunteers, and all of my A.L.O.T. (A Leader Of Tomorrow) youth. This world is going to be so much better when each and every one of you share the gifts that God has put in you.
Now, I have the best mother in the world (Ruth Stewart) who is the source of my strength, and she has just celebrated her Eighty-first birthday. Momma, I love you! Thank you for telling and teaching me about God all of my life. Thank you for not only telling me to pray, but showing me how to pray. There are family members that if you had the opportunity to choose you would not choose them. Well, I have four brothers and sisters, and given the chance, I would choose them over and over again. Bobbie, Bernard, Valerie, and John, thank you for your continued support, I love you all. I love the word family and it comes in the form of friends and spiritual family. I have grown more being a member of Antioch Baptist Church North in Atlanta. Reverend Alexander, thank you for teaching the men of Antioch to be men. Thank you for supporting me and allowing Antioch Baptist Church North to be my first stage to share what God had placed inside of me. Thank you for being my spiritual father.
Now the Bible says “To be a friend you must first show yourself friendly.” This shout-out is for all of my friends. I have so many dear friends who are always there whenever I call. Thank you for supporting me no matter what I come up with. Thank you for making even some of my bad ideas look like good ones. I only pray that I have been just as good of a friend to you as you have been to me. Thank you.
Last, but not least, I want to thank my son, Austin O'Connell Stewart. Austin, I am happy to be your father, and I want to continue to live my life as a true role model for you. You have made me see life with a new set of eyes. Austin Boston, I love you more than words can say!
Ms. Essie was dead, but life still had to go on. How to make that happen, no one was exactly sure. Somehow the people she left behind had to find a way to pick up the pieces and move forward. In the short time that her neighbors had come to know her on a personal level, Essie Mae Richardson had become the glue that held them together. Now that she was gone, so was their adhesiveness. Slowly but surely, they were falling apart. She had lived a long, full life, but for those who had only recently gotten to know her, Ms. Essie had been taken away from them way too soon.
The morning after she slipped away peacefully in her sleep, all of the newly established friends of the seventy-seven-yearold woman tried to muzzle their emotions in order to honor their promises to her. Just a day before Essie went to join her beloved husband, Ben, in heaven, several of the residents of the Braxton Park subdivision agreed to put all of their plans on hold and go to Sunday morning worship with her. They'd had no idea that Essie wouldn't be there with them, but a promise was a promise.
It seemed like the entire city was mourning the death of the community's pillar; or maybe that's just the way it felt to the people who loved her the most. The funeral home where her body was still being prepared for burial had hung a beautiful black satin wreath on her door, and dozens of the people who lived in neighboring houses had placed roses, cards, and stuffed animals on her porch. It was clear that Essie was adored; loved, perhaps, even more deeply than she'd known.
Whether they had a personal connection with her or just remembered her as the wise old woman who sat on her front porch waving at nearby neighborhood children, knitting a new blanket, or swaying in her rocking chair as she sang songs or read her Bible; everyone who had been touched by Essie's life had also been affected by her death. At times, a sense of hopelessness seemed to encircle her former neighborhood. Her vacant porch, the car that no longer left the driveway on Sunday mornings, and the absence of the tantalizing aromas that used to seep from her kitchen all the way out into her front yardâall of them were signs that Essie no longer lived at 216 Braxton Way.
The morning after her death, the forecast didn't warn of rainfall, but right when that Sunday morning's service was just getting into full swing, water fell from the sky and delivered a wave of flash floods to the whole of Georgia's capital.
“Listen at that,” Reverend Owens said, gazing at the ceiling of the church as he took the podium and opened his Bible in preparation to deliver the sermon of the day. “Jesus and the angels done shouted so hard in celebration of Sister Essie's homecoming, 'til heaven done sprung a leak!”
Those simple words immediately lightened the dismal mood that had encompassed the sanctuary from the moment the announcement was made that the church's oldest member had passed away. As soon as Reverend Owens had finished his declaration, the bow-tie wearing organist rolled his fingers across the keys of the ten-year-old Hammond 926 Classic Organ, and the music that burst forth seemed to light a fire under the behinds of more than half the worshippers. From the pulpit to the back door, men and women, old and young alike, began dancing to the music and the beat of the drums. All of a sudden, the gathering that had started out as a dignified service to honor Essie's memory turned into a shout-a-thon worthy of a video clip on YouTube.
Men sprinted around the building like they'd suddenly become Carl Lewis. Women danced out of their hats, wigs, and even a few half-slips. Most of the choir vacated the choir stand and congregated on the roomier pulpit so that they could get their praise on too.
“That's right, that's right,” Reverend Owens urged into the microphone as he skipped his short, rotund frame across the pulpit in jubilance. “That's what Sister Essie would have wanted! Praise Him, everybody. Another one of God's children done made it in. Praise Him!”
That took the service to a whole new level. The few ushers who hadn't gotten caught up in the spirit themselves, raced to keep the runners from colliding into one another and the dancers from becoming an entangled pile of flesh. Even the children took advantage of the opportunity to scream and jump around energetically without being reprimanded or made to take a seat. The fact that Essie's death was no reason to mourn or weep had all at once become clear to almost everyone in the fifty-year-old edifice.
In all of their spiritual rejoicing, the pastor and members of the Temple of God's Word didn't detect the still heartbroken first-time visitors who sat together on the padded pew in the rear of the church. With just over two hundred members, the five guests, four of which hadn't been on the inside of a church in years, went unnoticed. Neither the pastor nor the members saw Elaine's tears or Mason's confusion. They didn't realize Jennifer's despair or T.K.'s anguish at seeing the suffering of his friends. And not one of the dancing worshippers noticed the fourteen-year-old boy who was so angry at their joy that he couldn't stand to spend one more moment inside the walls of the church where Essie used to spend her Sunday mornings.
Before his mother could stop him, Jerrod dashed for the exit doors, removed his new dress shoes and ran barefooted; more than five miles toward home.