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.

reliquaries: how our hearts become repositories of God’s grace

reliquaries - x-ray fingers - how our hearts become repositories of God's grace @poetryjoy.com

When I think of reliquaries as defined by shrines or ancient holy relics, then it causes me to marvel even more at the way God entrusted His sacred self to be housed within our souls. The bare bones of holy breath get to take up residence in souls of dust. We cannot ever measure the depth or extent of it in our minds or lives.

But we can become aware of the measures God has taken to connect with us. Because the bible reveals the awe-inspiring holy wonder of Easter, when Jesus came to live on earth, die for us and dwell forever in our hearts. Though we have our part to play in receiving His presence, as we recognise the barriers of our bad behaviour, turn away from those things and embrace His mercy and grace.

God doesn’t force entry into our hearts. We can resist, ignore, tell Him to go away. Or we can open up, confess our sin and failure and invite Him to come in. God gave us life and breath, and He waits patiently for us to recognise our need of His immeasurable, unconditional love so that He can fully inhabit our hearts.

“…I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed. I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands…” — Ezekiel 36:26-27 The Message

Reliquaries

containers exist
buried within our hearts
they’re time capsules
holy reliquaries
recessed deep, accessed by faith

bare bones
of old truth eternal
sit beached
inside our dusty souls
hidden but within reach

tablets of stone
were split, separated
at Moses’ hands
cast down in anger, breaking
of God’s holy commands

no relic now
we’ve been given a new law
it’s written on
human hearts as conscience
which we can choose to ignore

love becomes
the measure of his given grace
our sentience
is not a sentence we bear
but a state that spells release
© joylenton

Reliquaries poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com - heart image

I’m grateful to be linking my poem with the fabulous five-minute-friday writing crew gathering at Kate Motaung’s place. You are welcome to join us here as we write on this week’s prompt of “measure”, and read the great posts being shared.

Friends, I’m needing to pause my poetic thoughts for a few weeks in order to visit family, celebrate Easter and rest. Meanwhile, you might like to take a look at my latest book, which is an eclectic collection of poetry, soul exhale reflections and blessings. Perhaps you could treat yourself to it for Easter or Mothering Sunday/Mother’s Day? It’s called Embracing Hope: Soul Food to Help Chase Away the Blues and it’s available now on Amazon Kindle. A paperback copy will follow in due course.

Embracing Hope book (C) joylenton

“Are you in need of a fresh infusion of hope? Could you use some help to regain the hope you’ve lost? Because when life gets tough, especially if we’re chronically sick or simply low and discouraged, hope can be hard to muster or hold on to. This gentle soul companion guide will help steer you in the right direction..”

May you have a blessed Easter break. I look forward to catching up with you again on April 26th or soon after, God willing.  🙂 ❤ xox

reliquaries - Happy Easter - cross - bright sky @poetryjoy.com

inside: how Ash Wednesday reminds us of God’s grace

inside - Ash Wednesday - smudge on forehead @poetryjoy.com

As I considered how to start this season of Lent, what struck me forcibly was the symbolism of Ash Wednesday, which is where we begin. Even though my home church doesn’t participate in Lenten practices, I see the value in them. A smudge of Palm Sunday’s ash pressed on the forehead is a visible and powerful reminder of why Jesus came to earth.

I’m truly grateful to have my sin largely concealed on the inside. It’s not always evident to those who know me or strangers who might come across me. Although much is revealed in our behaviour. Because our actions and words often speak for themselves. We can become adept at concealing our inner darkness, of course, but it’s a relief that the worst of us is known only to God. 😏

Safely tucked inside

What if God asked us to dare to wear
our sin, not like a hidden, dark, secret
stain within, but on the outside of us
instead, where it would be made visible
to all—would it bleed scarlet-red?

Or might we resemble bodily black-rimmed
coal miners, with thick, choking clouds of
dust ingrained deep into their skin, which
won’t wash off under the tap, rather
like an indelible tattoo, perhaps?

Or splattered in splotches, like scars,
as if we were pigs rolling around in mud,
up to our ears and all. Or battered, brawny
rugby players after a match, before we
went for our cleansing hot bath.

Maybe it’s better how it is now,
with a mere smudge gracing our
foreheads, and all the rest safely
tucked inside our souls, where we
keep the dross God only knows.
©joylenton

inside - safely tucked inside poem excerpt - coal miners (C)joylenton @poetryjoy.com

We can delude ourselves into thinking we are better than we are. Or we can become deceived into believing nothing good resides within at all. The truth is a mixture of them both. Left to our own devices, we are fallen and lost. But God… picks us up, heals, redeems and restores our souls, calls us His precious Beloved and makes His home in our hearts.

That’s what Easter is all about. A Divine exchange takes place. Our filthy rags for His royal robe of righteousness. Our sin for His grace. Our pain for His peace. Our tears for His oil of joy. God excels in bringing beauty out of ashes. He isn’t fazed by our brokenness because He alone can piece us back together. God’s holy glue makes us better than before, with a gradual sanctification process as we surrender our lives to Him.

“To all who mourn in Israel he will give: beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning; praise instead of heaviness. For God has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for his own glory.” – Isaiah 61:3 TLB

begin: for when you can’t quite hit the new year running

begin - for when you can't quite hit the new year running - @poetryjoy.com

Dear reader, I’m curious about something: did you hit the new year running, eagerly embracing resolutions, ready for the new and the next, planning and pushing ahead to your heart’s content? If so, that’s great and I rather envy you. 😏

Or are you more like me: crawling on your knees, flattened with illness and fatigue, and sighing because January finds you less than fit and able? The latter? Please raise  or vaguely wave your weary arm in my direction. It’s good to know we’re not alone.

For years, without fail, I’ve always succumbed to flu or a heavy cold before the Christmas and New Year celebrations are over. Each January I’m hugging the duvet, coughing into my pillow and barely surfacing.

Sadly it’s not due to enjoying myself, but because I have a faulty, inefficient immune system that easily succumbs to viruses and overexertion of any kind. I keep hoping things will improve. But they haven’t. Not yet.

Experience has taught me to listen and act on the information I hear from my depleted body. Namely to rest and take care of myself. Because trying to press on in the face of increasing debility has never been a good plan for me. It only exacerbates my pre-existing chronic conditions.

One thing that never stops being active and running like a mad thing is my mind, even when my body stills due to increased sickness. Yours too, perhaps? It chunters on like it’s got something really important to process, while my weakened body is trying to shush it into silent, restful submission.

begin - god replenishes, restores and revives quote (c)joylenton @poetryjoy.com

And I’ve been mulling over what to write. How do we begin again when we’re feeling lethargic, muddy-headed or uninspired? The wonder is that whenever our well, our energy, inspiration or abilities run dry, we only need to ask and God replenishes, restores and revives our limited supplies. And we can begin again with Him any time we need to.

The poem below came to me as I was resting. May it speak to all who are in the throes of illness or lack creative inspiration. I’m also rejoicing that my current ailment seems to be more of a persistent cold than full-blown flu this time. Hooray! Progress!

Writer’s woes

I want to begin
make a mark on this page
this year
on the lives of others
with my thoughts and words

I don’t know how
to begin to write a thing
without assistance
because my brain is muffled
and my thoughts are befuddled

I am uncertain
wondering how to choose
what will speak
louder than my husky voice
of love and grace, hope and faith

in the end
all I have is willing hands
empty though they be
just waiting to be filled
before a drop can be spilled

holy whispers
encourage me to start
right where I am
with surrender, trust and truth
as inspiration filters through
© joylenton

begin - writer's woes poem excerpt - new year (c)joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Praise God for gifting this snuffly writer with something to say when she felt empty! Hopefully normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. 😉 Do let me know how you are, especially if you’re also below par, and we can pray for one another.

Never forget that rest, recovery and healing are vital soul and body work. You and I might begin this year slow like tortoises but we can still end strong by the grace of God. With love and virtual (germ-free) hugs to you. xo 💜

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

table: a place has been reserved for you

table - a place has been reserved for you - thanksgiving dinner @poetryjoy.com

As families gather for Thanksgiving celebrations across the pond, they come invited to the table, with no standing on ceremony. Because there is always a place at the table for loved ones, family and friends. It goes without saying.

Yet as they meet and greet, eat and feast, sometimes a ghost sits at the table with them, unable to join in the meal. A silent ghost who should be present with them but is no longer with them. It might be someone currently absent from home. It could be someone who was once a part of this loving gathering but is now missing or deceased.

As I thought about lost loved ones and those who might not be as close to their family as they want to be, making it impossible for them to join them at the table for Thanksgiving or any other meal, I remembered a time to come when a banquet feast will be held. And all are invited. You too, my friend.

Because Jesus died to secure a place at the table for us. A place to sit and eat and feast and experience a joy beyond any we have yet known or can experience. A table lovingly set with the finest of things.

A warm welcome awaits. You are expected. You and I can gain access to this banquet, this feast beyond all feasts. All we need to do  to enjoy the best Thanks-giving feast ever is to say yes to the Host’s gracious invitation of sacrificial, unconditional love for us.

“He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” — Song of Solomon 2:4

Banquet

I didn’t stand outside like a pauper
or beg for a seat at the table, for I
was given full rights as a daughter
who felt so unworthy but grateful.

I had received a personal, gilt-edged
invitation, written by the host himself,
with a truly irresistible offer,
sealed with his own precious blood.

I hesitated, found it hard to believe
I had any right to be there, but my host
was at pains to remind me of grace and
point out his cross-marred palm scars.

Though I may have hovered, uncertain
and shy, I was drawn by his smile, his
welcoming joy, and the undeniable
warmth and love in his eyes.

His eyes shone like stars as he spoke
my name, framing me within their orbit,
embraced me hard, led me to my seat,
gently ushered me to sit and feast.

As I sat down it seemed as if the table
spread itself infinitely, with no clear
beginning or end and no boundaries,
his previous foes together as friends.

One by one, before very long, large crowds
of people had come, and I was joined by
an exuberant and wonder-filled throng, who
joyfully laughed, held hands, sang praise songs.
© joylenton

Come let us worship and praise God now with gratitude in our hearts for all that He is and all He has done!

table - Jesus died to secure a place at the table for us quote (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