culture: where flying solo takes focus and courage

Our culture may not define us but it affects how we think and act, what we become accustomed to and decide to join in with or not. We can deliberately set ourselves apart from the norm or allow the thoughts, words and opinions of others to shape how we behave and react to a certain extent. It can be hard to walk an independent path.

As a Christian in a mostly secular society, I’m often made aware how my inner life can differ from others. Because my faith affects how I think, what I believe, the choices I make, and what I decide to allow into my life. Although we cannot totally gate-keep our souls from every unwanted influence or temptation, it’s always worth trying, with God’s help.

Jesus lived a singular life. He wasn’t completely a product of the society He grew up in. He flew solo with courage and focus, walked an often lonely path of total integrity and obedience to the Father’s will. Jesus lived a life of deepest compassion, with a selfless kind of love we’re not fully capable of.

Yet the Good News He came to proclaim reveals the way to a changed life, mind and heart.  We can experience transformed thinking and have the gift of Holy Spirit living within, empowering us to be the best possible version of ourselves by God’s mercy and grace.

Countercultural

You were bold and unafraid
to challenge the status quo
the culture you grew up in
the way of life a Jewish man
would follow as closely as he
said his prayers and read the Torah

To outside eyes you seemed
reckless sometimes, different
from the others, one of a kind
because of how you lived and loved
and welcomed women disciples
into your teaching and your heart

For you appreciated each person’s
uniqueness, what made them tick
even if they couldn’t always behave
in ways the culture and society itself
condoned or thought was appropriate

Your very self-possession led others
to mark you out as special, unafraid
to challenge the wrongs you saw
and the injustices you knew deep
down you had come to right at last

As our Messiah, not everyone would
welcome you with open arms but you
didn’t let it deter you from your task
of living out God’s mission, and revealing
his glorious grace, forgiveness and love
© joylenton

culture - countercultural poem excerpt - As our Messiah quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

My poem has been inspired by this week’s five-minute-friday prompt of “culture” and also by viewing the History channel’s part drama and part documentary series about the life of Jesus. It’s well worth seeing because it offers a perspective from a selection of the gospels’ major characters, plus thoughtful comments from ministers, theologians and historians.

Each episode uncovers a personal insight into what it might have been like to encounter Jesus during His time on earth. You can find out more here. And you are warmly welcome to join in with the fabulous #FMF writing community here.

Let’s be confident in God’s ability to be here with us, to make a way no matter what obstacles and challenges we might face. He will equip us to live in the world without being one with the world in the areas where faith says no.

practice: managing the art of life and faith

It takes determination and dedication to practice until we become masters of an art. I lacked the ability to do it well with the violin when I was a child. Or maybe the pained and irritated expression on my parents’ faces was a deterrent.

And I have never overcome my fear of water or been able to swim with any confidence or ease. Sadly, my life is littered with the taking up and laying aside of numerous activities I felt insufficient at.

Somehow, the thought of not being good enough (or perfect) meant I was unwilling to persevere with gaining proficiency. My insecure soul was easily crushed and deterred. Except in my career as a nurse, in being a mother and in one creative area alone.

I’ve never lost the desire to wrangle with words and write out the poetic. I am content to practice because I love it. Writing makes me come alive on the inside and it’s also where I feel reasonably adept. Though I’m as prone to bouts of insecurity, doubt and comparisonitis as anyone else.

practice - baby with tambourine - God gifts each one of us with talents quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

God gifts each one of us with talents, and He also instructs us in the art of living itself. God’s grace means we are forgiven when we mess up, and we can learn to forgive ourselves and move on. Our progress in the spiritual life is far from linear but it is progress, nevertheless.

We’re often not aware we are practising becoming Christ-like but that’s exactly what is happening every day of our lives. As we yield and yield over again to God, we submit our souls to His authority and supreme love. And allow Holy Spirit to do a transforming work in our hearts.

Though perfection is overrated, it’s also an unattainable goal for imperfect people to reach. Maybe if we spent most of our time and energy on being faithful followers of Jesus Christ, then the rest would fall into its rightful place. We could accept being imperfectly perfect in God’s sight, and those who are daily practising the art of a surrendered life.

Let’s seek to practice the art of life, the art of loving others, as we hone the music in our souls and release our gifts freely into the world. Don’t worry about being perfect. Simply rest in being perfectly loved by God.

practice - child playing piano - Let’s seek to practice the art of life, the art of loving others quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Practice

Practice makes perfect
or so they say
but I’ve been practising
the art of living
for six decades
without perfection
in any way.

As I reflect, look back
down the long, dark corridor
of time, what has saved
my soul has been
life’s poetry, metre,
rhythm and rhyme.

It’s revealed in holy script
in my very breath
in wonder and awe
in remembrance
of the One who holds
it all—with great reverence
in the palm of his hands.

And he releases tiny glimmers
of grace into our hearts
and minds, our everyday lives
so we can receive, believe,
think and pray, live out
our lives with gratitude
and hope and joy.
© joylenton

I’m grateful for the weekly practice of flexing my poetic muscles by writing for the fabulous five-minute-friday community. This week’s prompt is “practice”, and you are welcome to join us here as I link my poem with the great variety of posts being shared.

practice poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

reward: setting our course with courage and faith

reward - ships in calm waters - setting our course with courage and faith @poetryjoy.com

From infancy, we have a tendency to spend our lives looking for reward in one way or another even when we’re not aware of it. Because reward of some description is usually freely given to us by those we love. And it is fed to us daily in the form of social media affirmation, whereby we seek approval from others, as we want to be accepted and belong.

If we add faith into the equation, we see how even there we can be tempted to chase down reward, rather than making a secure relationship with God our top priority. His word is lavish with promises but it also has guidance for the way God wants us to live.

“…and when the Head Shepherd comes, your reward will be a never-ending share in his glory and honor.” — 1 Peter 5:4 TLB

Faith is often referred to as a walk, a way of life, a journey, and a wilderness kind of experience at times. Faith is also as an anchor for our souls and a guiding compass, as we steer a course through this world’s landscape. We need faith, trust, courage, wisdom, discernment and deliberation to avoid the many distractions and obstacles in our path and press on regardless.

reward -compass - ship - anchor - Faith is an anchor for our souls and a guiding compass quote (C)joylenton @poetryjoy.com

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” — Hebrews 11:6 NIV

We require strong hearts, courageous spirits and stout shoes to stay on the rocky road-less-travelled, and maintain our hope and trust in God. Maybe we make it harder than it is. Maybe it’s more about yielding our souls to the Captain of our ship, than trying to keep going in our own strength.

Set my course

I seek simplicity because I’ve dwelt
in complicated for far too long.
I have allowed difficult

to define my days
and ways of perceiving
my life, my faith, my song.

Let me set my course in fair winds or foul,
by steering faithfully, aided by grace, by
Holy Spirit breath and compass within.

And if I get blown off the right course
and scent of my true home,
may I return again,

battered and bruised, perhaps,
by a secret bent
known only to the soul.

I want to stay the course, discover
new lands, have my courage
rewarded by what I may find,
as stars shine bright

and a full moon beams,
lighting the way
for me when it’s too dark
to steer or see.
© joylenton

reward - set my course poem excerpt (C)joylenton @poetryjoy.com

What if we could see ourselves as being enough and believe that God is more than enough for us? How might it look to view God as our great, unmerited reward as we walk through life by His grace? It’s a challenge to our preoccupied, insecure or self-absorbed souls but it’s also a wild adventure to seek to trust as we journey with God.

“After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” — Genesis 15:1 NIV

It’s reward enough today to be able to write and share my belated five-minute-friday poem with the fabulous writing crew over at Kate Motaung’s site. Come join us here and read the great variety of posts being shared, as we pour out our words for this week’s prompt of “reward.”

confident: gaining the courage to write by faith

confident - gaining the courage to write by faith @poetryjoy.comCan I tell you a secret, friend? Listen close and I’ll whisper it to you: I’m not a confident person. Not. At. All. Just ask my family. Although I wrote reams of poetry in my late teens and 20s, shared them in church magazines and had a few published, any belief in myself vanished soon after.

Because I splintered inside after a major mental health breakdown. It took years of cooperating with God and counsellors to slowly piece myself back together again. But some things went missing. Including my ability to write like I used to.

My creativity became diverted into mothering and making a home. The writer inside lost her voice. She died for years. And it wasn’t until one of my sons began to write poetry himself and started a blog that my poetic fire was reawakened, if not the courage to begin again.

Thankfully, God (and family) gave me the impetus, courage and confidence to make a start. Now I can write about personal stuff in a public sphere and don’t get too anxious before I press publish. Because I’ve learnt to trust. To believe words will come as and when they need to. To rest my shaky confidence in God alone, while seeking to exercise the gift He has given me to share.

And I want to encourage you too. Especially if you’re at the hesitant stage of wondering if you dare release your words. If timid old me can do that quite happily, manage two blogs, write a book and be working on my next, then so can you. Or something similar, of course.

As we ask for God’s help, and trust it to come, we’re enabled to take the first step forward and so on. Your calling might look very different from mine, and that’s okay. Our part is to stay faithful to the unique-to-us gifting we have been given.

Courage to write

Thank you for the gift and grace
of newly formed words
taking shape in my head,
for the wisdom you give to decide
which to retain or reject,
what to discard or include
in a future work.

Thank you for these fledgling things,
these tiny chicks
with tender covering and barely
formed wings, these baby steps
towards a mature offering
and the joy they already bring.

Thank you for providing insight
and inspiration to my mind
and the courage to write,
the confidence that comes
from knowing you are on my side,
giving grace and giving light.

Thank you for the community
of fellow wordsmiths, who dip
their toes into the water with mine,
and for the love and concern we share,
the hopes, dreams and prayers.

Thank you for reminding me
of my place
in this vast ocean of creativity,
the smallness of it,
but how each tiny offering is
magnified and reaches all
who need to see and receive.

Thank you, too, for the dry seasons
when I lack energy, strength
or inspiration to create,
because then I sense you holding
me closer than before, while I rest,
become refreshed and restored.
© joylenton

confident - courage to write poem excerpt (C)joylenton @poetryjoy.com

PS: Another little secret: I wrote this poem a while back. It took more than five minutes but I’m sharing it in response to this week’s five-minute-friday prompt of “confident”. You’re welcome to join in here and read the great variety of posts being shared.  🙂

mantle: Mary’s covering and our own God-given calling

mantle - the virgin mary @poetryjoy.com

Mantle is a quaint, rarely used word that still has relevance for us today. As well as being a literal coat or cloak, mantle also means the passing on of an important role or responsibility from person to person.

In a biblical sense, mantle can imply a covering of grace, a specific calling on our lives, as in Elijah’s prophetic mantle falling onto Elisha in a literal and metaphorical handing over of his cloak and anointing.

“So he departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Then Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him.” – 1 Kings 19:19 (NKJV)

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was cloaked and enveloped by God’s grace. She was overshadowed by Holy Spirit for the pivotal role she would play in bringing about God’s purposes on earth.

mantle - Mary's covering and our own God-given calling @poetryjoy.com

Mary’s mantle

Her charisma,
a divinely conferred
gift, was pure, bright,
a vibrant inner light
to bathe heaven’s child.

Her character brooked
choice of none other
for she was resilient,
demure and mild.

A willing and yielded
obedient servant,
a fledgling woman,
youthful, innocent,
betrothed while still a teen.

Whose womb was home,
whose heart was rent,
who hosted holiness
quietly and unseen.

A young woman
full of divine favour,
subject to rejection
and society’s reproach
for her great faithfulness
to Father God.

Became chosen
earthly mother
for our Saviour,
to give him birth
and spread his love abroad.
© joylenton

mantle - mary's mantle poem excerpt (C)joylenton @poetryjoy.com

How does Mary’s mantle relate to us? I think it shows that God always prepares people for the specific tasks He has appointed them to do. God fully anoints, equips and qualifies us for everything He calls us to.

Years ago, my major responsibilities were as nurse, wife and mother. Then I developed M.E and chronic illness which made it impossible to work and fully take care of myself, never mind the home and family. My perceptions of role, calling and identity shifted to meet my limitations and reduced expectations.

I am still sick and struggle with tasks, but my calling has morphed into being a writer, poet and encourager to others. Those gifts lay dormant for years but God resurrected them at just the right time.

God never forgets the mantle He has chosen to place over us. Mine might look very different to yours, because we all have a unique offering to bring to the world. One thing I have learnt: Our inner landscape can be vast, unlimited and rich even if our physical capabilities shrink.

mantle - Our inner landscape quote (C)joylenton @poetryjoy.com

This Advent, as you sit with hope and wait with increasing longing in your heart, try asking God what His desires are for you in the year ahead. What assignment has your name on it? What is He birthing in your soul? Is there a specific word that will define 2019 for you?

I’m currently hearing a call to rest myself more and lay aside my pen for a while. So I am taking a writing break until early January. May God bless you and keep you in His loving care until we meet again. Meanwhile, you can catch up with the poetic Art of Advent series profiling on my Words of Joy blog. 🙂

mantle - advent - trees - wreath - Christmas greetings (C)joylenton @poetryjoy.com

one: encouraging incidences of the number one

one _ encouraging incidences of the number one - magpie on the edge (C)joylenton @poetryjoy.com

So many of us mistakenly think that our lives don’t amount to much. We wonder if we make any mark on the world at all, or if we simply exist as lost and invisible souls. No more than a fleeting mist or blip in the universe.

Can I encourage you today, my friend? Can I help you to see past the easily swallowed lies of the enemy? Because the holy truth you need to hold on to is that you are infinitely important and precious. Yes, you really are. Despite what your unhappy upbringing, challenging circumstances or painful past might be saying to you, you are very much loved and wanted by God.

The mathematics of heaven are totally different to the arithmetic of earth. Here, one as a number seems too small, too insignificant to count. But in heaven? One person, one act or thought becomes highly significant in God’s economy.

one - Mother Teresa quote - “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” @poetryjoy.com

Here’s what I have discovered:

  • A word of encouragement can turn a day, if not a life around.
  • A whispered prayer can summon angels, demolish evil strongholds, heal and bless souls.
  • A thoughtful act can alter a person’s perspective for life.
  • A kind deed has the power to sow kindness seeds in others.
  • A single person can become a precursor for change.
  • A solo individual is never as alone as they may feel.

Incidences of the number one

We have one solo magpie,
one solitary bird,
quite happy in his loneliness

as he sits upon the tiles,
gracing our neighbour’s rooftop
edge with his dancing moves.

And we have one small child,
who lives across the street from

us, whose smiles and constant
chatter are like joy personified.

We also have one precious grandson in
our lives, who gives us deep soul delight.

And there’s far more than one chance to live
aright in this one wild and glorious life.

But most of all, I am grateful to know
the One who holds the world within his
hands, who spins planets and stars and

pours his grace out on one and all, with
joyous abundance and exuberance.

For he spreads his arms cruciform-wide
to encompass every nation and tribe.

And he treats each and every one of us
as his precious, esteemed and redeemed
child – one who is unconditionally loved.
© joylenton

We may feel inadequate and small but we can still have an influence and make a difference in the lives of others. Don’t let thoughts of lack deter you from pressing forward in life and faith. You count. 

I’m grateful to be sharing my poetic thoughts with the fabulous five-minute-friday community today. Just click here to join us there. 🙂 

one - Mother Teresa quote _We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop._ @poetryjoy.com

moment: changing our lives by small increments

moment_ changing our lives by small increments @poetryjoy.com

Our lives are lived in a series of small moments. Microseconds of breath and being. Although our major focus tends to be on the larger issues that preoccupy us, it’s life’s small moments that matter the most. They’re the ones we need to savour and build good memories from.

Each moment can be life defining because they have the potential to be soul altering. The decisions we make and the ways we act and react are a result of tiny, incremental drip-feeding over years that we are giving to our minds and hearts.

If we feed ourselves with positive, life enhancing thoughts, absorb and put into practice the teaching which the Bible gives us, then we are better placed to live more mindfully. Which will give us a deeper moment by moment awareness.

By living more in the moment, we can develop a better appreciation for all things. A greater gratitude. And closer relationships with God and others, as we practice being in His presence and being more present to them.

It only takes a moment

it only takes a moment to hurt a person’s heart
or crush a soul with a harsh, ill-judged remark

it only takes a moment to think, pause and pray
before we rush blindly, heedlessly into the day

it only takes a moment to cause another
pain, to wound them with our words and deeds
and give them reason to feel ashamed

it only takes a moment, tears, a mere breath
to repent, and seek a different route instead

it only takes a moment to inflict another
with the lashing from our tongues, and watch
as they shrink down low inside themselves

it only takes a moment to stop and weigh up
our words, and give our mouths a holy pause

it only takes a moment to show those whom
we love how very precious and valued they are

it only takes a moment to care, esteem another
higher than ourselves, and want to serve them well

it only takes a moment to live an open, grace filled
life—providing we’re aware and willing to oblige
© joylenton

moment - it only takes a moment poem excerpt (C)joylenton @poetryjoy.com

I’m grateful that a few moments spent praying for the gift of words have given me a poem to share with you today. It’s inspired by this week’s five-minute-friday prompt of ‘moment’. Just click here to join us there. I’m even more thankful it only takes a moment for God to begin to fix what is broken in us. He doesn’t delay in pouring out His grace and love! 🙂