memoir: an impressionistic voyage around my aunt

Today’s poetic offering comes straight from the heart. It’s an excerpt from my ongoing part poetry and part prose memoir writing. I’m sharing an impressionistic voyage around my Aunt, trying to capture an essence of who she was.

Aunt Madge was quite a character, and I haven’t depicted more than a fleeting impression of her here. I vividly remember coming across my Aunt in the subway of our main shopping precinct decades ago.

From a distance she looked like a mysterious Russian spy to me, with her sumptuous real fur coat (considered acceptable then) and matching hat, darkened glasses, stooped frame and patterned cane. But on seeing me, she swiftly reverted to being my beloved Aunt again.

My Mother’s elder sister, a Mathematics teacher by profession, she lived and taught locally and always had time for children, though she remained childless herself. Madge devoured books as if they were going out of fashion. She always had a ready, somewhat conspiratorial smile, full of warmth, impish charm and love.

memoir - We shared a great love of books, especially poetry, and a desire to retreat into them at the slightest opportunity quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

We shared a great love of books, especially poetry, and a desire to retreat into them at the slightest opportunity. 📚 Her home housed its own library—as in lots of shelves, books and accessibility—and I loved spending time in it. It’s where I first encountered poetry, and my love affair with it endures to this day.

Maybe it was the fact that she’d served abroad, including time in India during the Second World War, that gave her a certain aura. It certainly gave her an abiding fondness for Assam and Darjeeling tea! 😉

Most of my memories of her stem from when I was a girl. I was in awe of this magnificent woman who seemed to have come straight out of the pages of a novel herself, and who introduced me to Jesus by giving me a Children’s Bible to read when I was small. ✝️

memoir - a poetry book aunt madge bought and inscribed for me (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

My Aunt

A mountainous paper stack
sat beside her cluttered chair,
just tall enough
to rest a cup of tea, and maybe
space for an ashtray in-between.

Walls were decorated
floor to ceiling with books,
and piles sat precariously,
like fidgety children,
not wanting to be overlooked.

I remember how
cigarette ash wobbled tremulously
on her open lips, resembling
a volcano about to erupt,
ready to spill its contents.

She had a hacking
cough, a real blue-lipped, watery-eyed,
red-faced, grimacing
endless stream, as if to cause
her imminent demise.

Her bent body
wracked and shuddered alarmingly,
until the ship
finally righted itself and steadied,
as each spasm sank to sea.

What I remember most
about my Aunt
is her curious, twinkling
blue-eyed smile, her infinite warmth,
her endless kindness and love.

And she helped
instil in me a passionate, enduring
love of books,
spiritual awareness and burgeoning
faith, a trust I hadn’t yet discovered
with adults anywhere else.
© joylenton

memoir - my aunt poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

I hope you’ve enjoyed this slight deviation from the usual offering. Do you have any special memories of a relative who is no longer with you? Feel free to share below. I think their essence lives on in our minds and hearts, don’t you? 🙂 ❤

pilgrimage: a journey of faith, hope and trust when the going gets tough

pilgrimage - mountains and valleys - a journey of faith, hope and trust where stout shoes are required @poetryjoy.com

“Life is a pilgrimage. Each moment is to be lived in depth, because each moment contains God, hidden within it.” ― Banani Ray

pilgrimage - mountain top view - God never said that the journey would be easy quote by Max Lucado @poetryjoy.com

“Happy are those who are strong in the Lord, who want above all else to follow your steps. When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of springs where pools of blessing and refreshment collect after rains! They will grow constantly in strength, and each of them is invited to meet with the Lord in Zion.” ― Psalm 84: 5-7 TLB

When we’re struggling with life’s many challenges, and the road ahead looks steep, daunting and dark, we can still rest in the fact that God is with us every step of the way. He is always able to come to our aid, fill us with His peace, rescue and save.

God holds us close, pours out His love, gives us His mercy and grace, whispers solace to our souls, calms our fretful hearts, and encourages us every step of the way. May we hold onto that thought when we are weary and the going gets tough.

We might get to the end of our rope but we are always given the means and strength to cope and go on. When we go through deep waters, Jesus is the lifebelt we need to stay afloat.

Pilgrimage

this pilgrimage
this journey we are on
has its twists and turns
there are potholes and caves
places where we will be safe

we’ll face high crags
and mountainous terrain
for us to traverse
if our shoes are stout enough
and we refuse to give up

endure the desert
barren, dry, dusty places
where our feet will burn
and our souls become parched
as hope dips low in our hearts

we might get to swim
in refreshing ocean depths
in purer air
calmer waters than before
glimpsing sight of land and shore

let us not give up
when heavy tests and trials come
when life gets tough
but hang in and hold on tight
victorious in the fight
© joylenton

pilgrimage - desert island - beach - poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

God dries our tears when we cry, comforts us when we’re anxious and afraid, and gives us His Hope in the darkest circumstances of our Christian pilgrimage. We can fully trust in Him, as in the song below. May it bring you hope, my friend. ❤

“When You don’t move the mountains
I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters 
I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers
As I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You”

― Trust in You by Lauren Daigle

healing: from broken shards to restful heart

healing - mosaic - labyrinth - stained glass - from broken shards to restful heart - poetryjoy.com

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” ― Rumi

Healing

it’s a mystery
all I had to offer you
was broken shards
you made it a thing of beauty
a shimmering stained glass

now it reflects
the light of your presence
hidden deep within
this life of mine is hid in Christ
because I trust in him

sometimes I sense
a pricking of the pieces
in my heart
where your healing takes place
though incomplete in parts

at times like that
I am apt to hurt, forget
this mending process
is ongoing and prolonged
it can take years and years

but if I stay calm
and trust in change itself
the rest will come
trailing your peace and joy
just as darkness yields to sun
© joylenton

Healing is a process. It’s also a mystery as God takes our brokenness, our shattered shards, and turns them into something of great worth. Beauty can arise from the ashes of our lives if we turn to and trust in Jesus Christ. He will freely give us His rest and peace in exchange for our problems and pain.

healing - True Healing quote by John M Sheehan @poetryjoy.com

“The church is not a select circle of the immaculate, but a home where the outcast may come in. It is not a palace with gate attendants and challenging sentinels along the entrance-ways holding off at arm’s-length the stranger, but rather a hospital where the broken-hearted may be healed, and where all the weary and troubled may find rest and take counsel together.” ― James H. Aughey

healing - circle of stained glass - cross in the background poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

“People start to heal the moment they feel heard.” ― Cheryl Richardson

enchantment: regaining our sense of wonder and awe

enchantment - sky - trees - landscape - sunset - regaining our sense of wonder and awe @poetryjoy.com

“Practicing enchantment is a commitment to seeing the world through new eyes. It means shaking off our cynicism and numbness and rediscovering the world that shimmers behind the everyday.” — Christine Valters Paintner, Earth, Our Original Monastery: Cultivating Wonder and Gratitude through Intimacy with Nature

Life can quickly become humdrum and routine, can’t? Especially after several weeks of the same old same old of being in lockdown. The novelty of being at home full time soon wears off, as those of us used to being housebound know all too well.

With the disenchantment that sets in or the stress of life with covid-19, we can miss the ordinary wonders before our eyes. So as I browsed my poetry files, wondering what soul soothing words I could share with you, I found myself drawn to a poem which features the daily glory of sunset.

My nature poems remind me how dulled my mind has become over the last few weeks, and my heart neglectful in noticing the daily beauty that exists. Maybe you, too, could use a reminder to pay attention?

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes – The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.” — Elizabeth Barrett Browning

It’s good to look outside the window or take a walk if you’re able to, and really notice sky, clouds, leaves, trees, birds and flowers, and appreciate each ordinary day, filled with holy enchantment, for the miracle of creation it actually is.

Evening

it begins
slowly, hushed silence reigns
twilight comes
the poet’s pondering hour
sky is midnight-blue wool skeined

it gives way
yields to misty dove-grey hues
dusk invites
lifting the thin curtain
listening to heaven’s news

I watch and sigh
sky gazing, looking lazy
magnetised
by all this night offers us
and let it amaze me

warm rose tint
seeps into my consciousness
filling clouds
I drink in pale burgundy
while tumbling into rest

ash and embers
tangerine glow tinged with red
a burning fire
vivid sky lit up for miles
I put my troubles to bed
© joylenton

enchantment - evening poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” — Rachel Carson

Relax, kick back, my friend, and enjoy these soul soothing sights of nature’s sunrise and sunset. May you regain awe and enchantment at the wonder of it all. 🙂 ❤

hope: it’s closer to home than we might think

“Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

hope - Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher - quote @poetryjoy.com
Finding hope

Can my soul dance
at the sight of a single, gently
swaying, humble dandelion?

Can I see hope
in such a small, small offering,
more a weed than anything?

Some days it is
beyond me to catch the briefest
glimpse and be fully satisfied.

Because I hunger
after beauty and colour, of which
my yearning soul never tires.

I long for hope
to reveal itself in the bold, whereas
it often comes unawares.

It winds itself
into our consciousness
waving a filmy, fragile flag.

No sudden white
flare or something more rare
but a simple garden sighting.

A tiny thing, perhaps,
a mere slender seedling, and yet
it calls us to pay attention.

Here, here, it says,
I have arrived again,
I never completely disappear.

Let your eyes scan
the world or come closer now
and find me in the infinite.

Maintain openness
and you will soon discover
hope never leaves you bereft.
© joylenton

Yellow is not only a humble dandelion’s distinguishing hue, it’s a colour associated with the positive traits of happiness, optimism, hope, creativity, sunshine and spring. It cheers our hearts and adds a welcome dash of brightness wherever it appears, especially when we encounter it in daffodils.

“Just living is not enough… one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” Hans Christian Andersen

hope - solo dandelion - garden - finding hope poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Dandelions—those persistent, thriving little wildflowers/weeds and intrusive curse of gardeners—actually come with a vibrant message of hope for us. They symbolise the warmth and power of the rising sun and healing from emotional pain, to name but two of their suggested characteristics. You can find out more here.

I love dandelions because they’re such a cheerful colour and often the only flowers in our tiny garden for months. They’re also a hopeful sign of spring’s imminence. Maybe it’s worth leaving them alone for a while so we can enjoy their vivid brightness before we replace them with more favoured flowers and plants to grace our gardens with, like sunflowers, perhaps? 😉💚🌻🌺

hope - Where flowers bloom, so does hope quote @poetryjoy.com

light: illuminating and offering us hope in the darkness

“However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.” ― Jeffrey R. Holland

Illuminating

Just as the soft rays of light
spill down a rock face,
gently probing each surface
when dawn breaks,

slowly illuminating, revealing
its many cracks and crevices,
may the hardened exterior
of my soul respond

to the light of holy love
shining on my flaws, my mistakes
with laser-light precision,
marked by mercy and forgiveness,
handled with so much grace.

And in this slow
awakening, may I not resist
its dart of golden beams
but yield to their inspection,

knowing their purpose
is to lead me deeper into
self-awareness so God can sift
the chaff of my circumstances,

as he notes where risen ears
of wheat might reside among
the tares and sharpest thorns

which require his infinite
tenderness, his wisdom in knowing
what to heal, to keep or reject.
© joylenton

Holy love illuminates our lives, illustrates our need for change, shines with glory and brilliance and offers us Hope in the darkness. God’s light is revealed to us in Christ and in a thousand tiny ways as we go about our daily lives.  May He give us eyes to see it and respond. 🙂 ❤

light - dawn breaking over rocks - illuminating poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

light - Anne Frank quote about light - candle - @poetryjoy.com

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” ― Martin Luther King, Jr.

interlinked: how mourning and joy are closer than we think

interlinked - how mourning and joy are closer than we think - girl dancing in sunlight @poetryjoy.com

“For everything there is a season. . . . a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” — Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4 NRSV

Interlinked

We mourn,
thinking we might never
rediscover joy, never
laugh or dance again,

but we are wrong
because they are all
interlinked, entwined

parts of one another,
shared segments
of our soul’s deepest needs.

While we weep
we also prepare
to dance, to feast,

although it doesn’t
necessarily cross our minds
that one could follow on,
like day follows night,

or be the shadow of the other
as we try to hold these
disparate thoughts together.

Even here,
even now, when grief needs
closure, there are glimmers,

conjoined glimpses of hope
which support and enable
us to look up,

to go on with courage,
because a slight lifting
of lockdown might signal
a slow return to peace.
(C) joylenton

interlinked - woman watching the waves - poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Once we return to a semblance of normality in our nations, our “ordinary” might feel scarily different but it will have a fresh lustre and glow of grace about it too. Because we are limited in what we can do now, we appreciate the joyful, sacrosanct and sacred moments that exist and long to keep them fixed in our hearts.

“Mourning and dancing, grief and laughter, sadness and gladness—they belong together as the sad-faced clown and the happy-faced clown, who make us both cry and laugh. Let’s trust that the beauty of our lives becomes visible where mourning and dancing touch each other.” — Henri Nouwen, in Faith That Matters: 365 Devotions from Classic Christian Leaders

Maybe we will dance in our hearts or gardens, if not in the streets. Like a butterfly being joyfully released to fly freely, instead of being restrained and shut away, confined to a limited environment, mourning the freedom it has lost.

A lingering sadness and wariness will exist because so much has changed, so many lives have been cut painfully short, so many of us are in a prolonged recovery mode. We will need faith and trust to carry us through the days of difference that lie ahead.

“I have told you all this so that you will have peace of heart and mind. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows; but cheer up, for I have overcome the world.” — John 16:33 TLB

Where are you seeing glimpses of joy during these unsettled times? What makes your heart sing or helps keep you comforted and calm? 🙂 ❤

hope: listening for the sound of hope in your soul

hope - blackbird singing on a tree - listening for the sound of hope in your soul @poetryjoy.com

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words — And never stops at all.” — Emily Dickinson

Notes of hope

A blackbird’s throaty warble
rises above the voices
on the street, making conversation

because we’re all hungry
for company, for solace,
even at two metres apart.

But I’m listening more
to the notes of hope and joy,
bringing a reminder
that this too shall pass,

time will move on as it
always does, and we will return
to a new normality at last.

My solitary blackbird
friend has no soul companions
but it doesn’t deter him

from belting out his song,
from shrugging off the sadness
because he’s on his own.

He is staying put—for now,
to bring cheer to our hearts,
hope for the housebound
and isolated, while he sings

of spring, of life and birth, burgeoning
earth, of newness, of growth and hope
continuing beyond this moment.
© joylenton

hope - blackbird on a garden fence - notes of hope poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” — Corrie Ten Boom

calm: practising gratitude during the pandemic

What if we refused to join in with the grumbles, moans and complaints on the internet and other place during the pandemic, even in our own homes, perhaps? We could choose to keep calm, encourage others, and speak of hope, faith and love in adverse circumstances.

How can we best support our souls during these stressful and strange Covid-19 days? Maybe by enjoying the little things: feed our faith, practise gratitude, aim to savour extra time with our loved ones, rest for our health’s sake, maintain our creativity, and withdraw from information overload and overwhelm.

We can pray for family and friends,  health care workers and governments, as well as the world situation in general. Another thing that might help keep us sane, especially if we can’t exercise, is stepping outside now and then for a slow, 30 seconds or more, fresh air inhale/exhale.

Because nature has healing powers. Yes, even if our garden or balcony growing space is a tiny or weed-ridden plot! 🙂 Size doesn’t matter. What counts is seeing living greenery.

Creation’s calming beauty helps soothe our frazzled souls, and opens our hearts to the simple gratitude of being alive. I always appreciate rare days when I can get outside for a while because enjoying the little things counts.

converse - landscape - hills - sky - sunset - Creation's calming beauty helps soothe our frazzled souls quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Life in the time of the coronavirus

I hear the flaxen-haired toddler
from two doors away
chattering nineteen to the dozen

as I peg light laundry to line, with sun
warming my arms for the very first time
this year, this spring, in a sudden
burst of seasonal heat.

She is running, running, running
the length of her small garden
and back again, as if her tiny feet

don’t know how to stop
their forward momentum, their racing
along to an inner beat.

We’re meant to be avoiding others
as our country struggles
with the coronavirus and its effects,
and I think we are far enough apart

even though I can just make out
the top of her hurrying head
across our low garden walls.

Her parents smile up at me and speak
in their broken English, nuanced
as it is with a Polish dialect,

while I reply and smile at them
and watch their delightful
little daughter running again.

Such sacred holy ordinary moments
still exist but we have to make
a deliberate effort

to notice them and let our anxieties
slip, as we converse at a distance
with the international language
of hope and joy and love and peace.
© joylenton

calm - woman looking out a window -practising gratitude during the pandemic (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Gratitude helps us appreciate all our days, whatever they might bring to us. Because the altitude of our hearts determines the attitude we will have.

If we’re able to live more in the moment, then we can welcome it, whether outwardly good or bad, as we seek to live with our eyes open to the potential it might bring.

You might benefit from these 10 soul care suggestions for maintaining calm. Brother David Stendl-Rast also offers a glimpse of how we can be gratefully mindful for each new day.

What’s helping you feel more like a human being and less like a potential repository for a horribly invasive virus? What’s aiding you to stay calm and keeps you on an even keel in these shaky, uncertain times? Do share below so we can help one another.

window: finding an opening for joy to flourish

window - blinds - sunset - trees - what your longings and feelings might be saying to you - (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Joy is a bit thin on the ground at the moment, isn’t it? So many of us are feeling overwhelmed by individual and collective sadness and grief, with longings for change going unmet and unaddressed.

It’s like the whole world is in a state of mourning and we don’t know how to get through it or where to find joy anymore. Or maybe we do. Perhaps joy is much closer to home than we anticipate.

Indoors with our loved ones, or just outside our window, perhaps, even if we can’t see a great deal because it resembles a concrete jungle. You may be wondering: What kind of joy can those things bring to me?

More than you might think, my friend. Due to decades of being housebound by chronic illness, and suffering episodes of depression, I try to discover any window, any opening to joy I can find.

I seek to focus on my heart’s longing for joy and what encourages it to flourish, which means looking at the simple, small, and often overlooked. And it includes developing a deeper gratitude for my loved ones.

window - wildflowers - I seek to focus on my heart's longing for joy quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Longings

Window watcher that I am,
let my gaze linger with sacred awe
longer than before,

to truly see each tree
and flower and leaf as portents
of hope and promise.

I want to drain
the last ounce of joy I find
in every day,

drink the cup dry of it,
keep memories as dregs.

I long to hold
the wonder found right here
and right now,

like a fragile butterfly,
let it loose to climb the sky.

I seek to find
the holy ordinary
in people, trees

and leaves, clouds, fiery sunsets,
in everything light reflects.

I desire to dream
with intentionality,

let purpose unfold
like a story I have known,
full of hope beyond this world.

I yearn to touch
earthly things stamped with grace,

trace God’s footprints,
sense them moving in my soul,
where I will never grow old.
© joylenton

window - butterfly - longings poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

The view outside my window is far from scenic, but I do take pleasure in watching sky changing colour, seeing variable shape and type of clouds, noting emergence of greening tips and flowers on plants or observing a solitary tree as its leaves alter with the seasons.

Even a concrete wall can be interesting because it attract insects, has different patterns of stone within it or changes shade, depending on where the light falls and catches it.

Having chronic illness has taught me not to despise the tiny, mundane things of life. Whether in lockdown or not, it helps to appreciate the blessings before us rather than dwell on what we’ve lost.

Your longings are a window into your soul too. What are you longing for, my friend? Where are you experiencing your longings being met in these challenging times? May the joy of the Lord be our strength today, and always.

PS: This post was inspired by Chronic Joy Ministry’s Poetry Prompt: Windows and TreesDo check out their great resources! 🙂 ❤

window - longings - solo poppy - wooden fence - having chronic illness quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com