I've always loved Langston Hughes' "Harlem." Rich in symbolism and similes, it's a classic in the literary canon. Every time I read it, I'm drawn to one word in particular: deferred. According to Google, the word defer means "put off (an action or event) to a later time; postpone." Even worse than a dream deferred is a dream unwatered. In life, substantial growth happens gradually, like the growth of a tree. You don't have to check it everyday to know that it's growing. Once it's planted in fertile ground, as long as it's adequately watered, it will grow. If you plant a tree on Tuesday and check it on Saturday, the growth will not be noticeable, but that doesn't mean it's not growing. If you plant a tree tomorrow and come back to it a year from now, you'll be able to see the growth with the naked eye. The growth you feel is just as important as the growth that you can physically see.
One of the most frequently quoted Bible verses is Proverbs 18:21, "The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit" (NIV). This applies to every aspect of life. If you speak life to a thing, it will live; and if you speak death to a thing, it will die. So, logically, if you command your dream to live, it will do so; but if you allow it to die, it will die. If you speak to a thing the way God would speak to it, it is guaranteed to live. If you speak to it according to human emotion, which is often negative, you run the risk of cursing it. God always causes us to triumph, so the only way you'll fail is if you speak failure over yourself. The quickest way to fail is to tell yourself what you'll never be and do.
Speaking negatively over your dreams is the equivalent of planting a seed on Tuesday and pulling it up on Saturday. Don't uproot your tree just because the process is taking longer than expected. Nothing worth having comes easy. Give it time. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Speak what you seek until you see what you've said! You might feel weak now, but if you only knew the strength and the height of the tree that is planted in you, you'd understand why you can't quit. Where you're going is SO much better than where you are! If you want to see a thing manifest, you've got to continue to SEEK and SPEAK that thing! You will see the fruits of your labor if you just hang on!
When I started writing poetry back in 2014, husband and wife duo Jackie Hill Perry and Preston Perry were among the first spoken word artists I studied. Jackie, an ex-homosexual, and Preston, an apologist, present Jesus in a very uniquely unapologetic way. Jackie speaks openly about her journey to deliverance from the gay lifestyle (even in spaces where her views are considered controversial), and Preston uses his BOLD Apparel clothing company to spread the gospel through hoodies, pants, and t-shirts inspired by bible verses and Christian doctrine. His best selling pieces feature the "Jesus is God" design, which, quite literally, speaks for itself. The words "Jesus is God" are fittingly written in bold print, and just underneath them, in a smaller font, is an invitation to challenge that statement: "I dare you to tell me otherwise." Talk about a conversation starter!
The Perrys are phenomenal as separate artists (Jackie's sophomore album, Crescendo, is available for pre-order now), but together, they are a force to be reckoned with. Their electric chemistry and superb poetic delivery brings life to "The Fall," a piece the couple co-wrote for Passion 4 Christ Movement (P4CM)'s 2014 Rhetoric showcase. "The Fall" is an imagined dialogue between Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. In the piece, husband and wife are arguing, each shifting the blame of original sin onto the other until they realize that both of them are at fault. I'd like to offer commentary on the piece (lyrics courtesy of Genius), but first, check out the Perrys' performance below:
Eve (Jackie) begins the conversation in confrontation, "So I guess it was convenient for you to turn your back on the woman who held your spine," to which Adam (Preston) responds, "Woman, you were brought forth from my side--created to support me like the gravity-stricken moon does to the brisk breath of nightfall--but when fear clawed its way into my heart when He called my name in the garden you shrunk and hid your shameful body--" Then, together, "Where were you?" There are so many things to unpack here. First of all, let's talk similes and metaphors. Jackie's reference to the spine refers to how Eve was created from Adam's rib. The first seven rib bones are connected to the spine. Preston's "moon" simile refers to Eve's role as help meet to Adam, suggesting that she was taken from his side to stand beside him and support him. The conflict here is that neither Eve nor Adam felt supported, asking each other, "Where were you?" I love that they say this line (and several others in the piece) together. I think it speaks to how relationships were then, and how they should be now. Even when Adam and Eve were at odds, they could not deny their oneness. That's so powerful.
The dialogue continues. Now it's Eve's turn to blame Adam. Jackie interjects, "Where were you when the prince of night found his way to your star? You watched him lie…I watched you sit and set like sun you morning of a man. You can't even see the nightmare you have become." This is the most clever play on day and night I've heard in a long time, an extended metaphor that caused my inner word nerd to leap for joy. The "prince of night" is Satan, and Eve is the "star." Here, Eve is saying that the fall was Adam's fault because he watched the serpent lie to her, and, like a sunset, he shrank down. In that moment, in her eyes, Adam transitioned from "morning of a man," the embodiment of light, to a "nightmare," dark, and even frightening. At this point, Eve feels like she can't trust him to stand up for her.
Several times, Eve speaks to Adam's inability to lead her. At one point, she says, "[God] gave you authority. He made you the head of us but you became neck. I can still see the apple stuck in your throat, Adam. Swallow your pride." At that moment, I had to pause the video because the wordplay was too much (in the best possible way). God made Adam the head, the leader, but he became neck, the body part beneath the head, and men have Adam's apples. I was DONE!
Throughout "The Fall," Adam and Eve express their concerns for what the consequences of their actions will be, not just for themselves, but for their posterity. They wonder how their wrongdoing will affect how brothers will treat sisters and how wives will submit to husbands. Eve talks about how she--and other women after her--struggle to make themselves attractive to men for validation, and speaks to Adam's inadvertent, albeit, toxic idolization of her. The entire poem is an amazing commentary on a lot of heavy subjects related to how men and women coexist. Ultimately, though, it is a model of what a godly relationship should be: Two imperfect people serving a perfect God. At the end of the piece, Adam and Eve tackle the root of the issue: Forgiveness. They had to forgive each other because they realized that neither of them was solely responsible for the fall. They resolved to share the blame because they were guilty of trying to be their own god, and they had to ask forgiveness from God Himself. The symbolism and intensity of "The Fall" make me fall in love with it each time I watch it...and it was even more incredible watching Jackie and Preston perform it live at The PIA Tour in 2015.
PIA Tour 2015
Fun fact: When the Perrys performed "The Fall," Jackie was pregnant with their first child (and she's currently pregnant again, due in May). After writing this powerful piece, it was only fitting that they named their now-3-year-old daughter Eden.
Standing at the corner of no-more-ideas avenue and memories-i-don't-want-to-revisit lane. The light is perpetually red and right turns aren't allowed. Wrong turns are always easier.
I watch as cars pass by. Lights flash, horns blow. The red hand blinks. I wait a few seconds for the "WALK" sign to show, and look both ways. Just as I step off the curb, a car comes straight at me out of nowhere, and I hop back out of harm's way by the skin of my teeth.
No wonder writers are always stuck between a rock and a hard place, the rock as solid comfort zone and the hard place where every room has an elephant in it that's impossible to ignore. The best poems come from the hard place. I should know. I've been around that block a time or two. I've also been under it, over it, and almost there but not quite.
Each time I find myself at this intersection, I'm reminded that the only way out is through. I'm taking it one word at a time.
A moment of honesty: I had decided I wasn't going to post today simply because I felt like I had run out of ideas, and I pride myself on putting out quality content. I needed inspiration, so I scrolled through my arsenal of previously-written poems and found the one above, written in 2016. When I wrote this poem, I was challenging myself to write a poem a day for 30 days, and it was one of the most frustratingly beautiful exercises I've ever done.
I've been writing since I was 8 years old, but for a long time, I just thought it was something I was good at. It wasn't until I saw how my writing impacted people that I realized it was a God-given gift. Now that I know I'm anointed to write, everything I release takes on a deeper meaning for me because I'm conscious of the fact that I'm doing it to glorify God. That's why I'm so fascinated by the idea of writer's block...because it doesn't exist in Him! Just when I think I've exhausted all of my best ideas, God gives me something new and fresh...or in this case, He breathes new life into an old thing. I said I would post two times a week this month, and God is holding me to that...even if that means writing about not having anything to write about. Each time I finish a poem or click "Publish" on a blog post, I'm in awe of the fact that He continues to use me as mouthpiece and pen. A word of encouragement: When you think you're all used up, all you have to do is ask God to refill you. He'll do it every time.
Nowadays, it seems like everybody has a somebody except for me. Everyone around me is getting engaged, married, settling down...settling. They seem happy, but I can't be sure. Are they settling down because they're in love, or because they want to be somebody's somebody? Sometimes, I wonder where my somebody is, but I refuse to settle.
I live by the motto, "Attract what you expect, reflect what you desire, become what you respect, mirror what you admire." I desire to be like the One who is higher. I strive to be a direct reflection of the Master of perfection, but I don't seek the admiration of man. The One who holds tomorrow holds me in the palm of His hand. I'm already "somebody" before somebody finds me. I'm the somebody that God's called me to be. When you know who you are, you'll attract what you need. I'll be the kind of person I want my somebody to be while I wait for the somebody that He has for me.
Transparency time: I wrote "Somebody's Somebody" when I was 19, a sophomore in college feeling pressured to be in a relationship because "everybody else" was in one. After I got out of my feelings, I took a step back. I considered the quality (or lack thereof) of the hookups and "situation-ships" my friends and acquaintances were in, and I asked myself an important question: Is a college relationship (or any relationship, for that matter) worth the compromise? The answer was, of course, no. All of my girl friends who were in relationships were sexually active, and most of them pursued their boyfriends. #NoShade, and to each her own, but I knew that wouldn't work for me. Society tells women that to "get a man," we have to dress a certain way, walk a certain way, talk a certain way, do certain things, etc. That's true, but the model for a relationship looks different for Christians.
If I just wanted to get a man, I could've had a few by now, but I've chosen to stay true to my core morals and values. I'm a daughter of the King. I don't just want a man, I want a Godly man, the Godly man that God has purposed to be my husband. Since I want a husband, I make every effort, even in singleness, to carry myself like a wife. Why? I recognize that in order to be adequately prepared for marriage, I have to already have a covenant with God. The covenant with Him is the blueprint for the marriage covenant. Commitment to Him proves that you're ready for the marital commitment. I carry myself as a wife in reverence to God, but it also helps me weed out counterfeits: Simply put, a husband knows a wife when he sees her.
I also strive to live virtuously because I know my worth. Sis, it's not your job to "get" a man. You're the prize. The prize doesn't present itself to the prize winner. The winner works to earn it. When you know your worth, even if you're presented with potential, you have to keep in mind that potential is just a "maybe." There were a few potentials in my college days who were "good," but not Godly. As far as I'm concerned, I can't afford to settle for "good!" If I'm holding myself to a Godly standard and I attract what I expect, then I need to raise my expectations. When my man of God finds me, I'll know, because there won't be any "maybes." Ladies (and gentlemen), we need to break the cycle of compromise. Stay the course, and stay strong. If no one has told you lately, let this post be a reminder: You are worth waiting for.
I wrote "Masterpiece" almost three years ago in the summer before my senior year of undergrad, at a time when I didn't know what I wanted to do in life. I felt so lost and unsure of myself, but I knew one thing for certain: I wanted to be on fire for God. I knew what gifts I possessed, but I wasn't sure how to utilize them, and as I watched others around me achieve what I thought was success, I began to doubt God and myself. I asked Him over and over, When will it be my turn? His reply was short and bittersweet: In My timing. There was no way I could argue with that. I was reminded of Isaiah 45:9, "Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you making?' Does your work say, 'He has no hands'" (NIV)? I had to realize that while God's hand is not always gentle, it is steady. The Master knows the masterpiece before the sculpting process even starts. In the years since this poem was written, my faith has grown exponentially. I can testify because I've been tested, and I know I'll be tested again. I'm still a work in progress, and I always will be, because every time He completes a work, He begins a new one. I used to have a fear of melting, because back then, I thought I was ice. Turns out, I'm more fire than I thought...and there is so much more to ignite.
I think the reason why a lot of relationships fail, especially in my generation, is simply because humans are selfish by nature. In a relationship, you have to give what you expect to get. To build trust, you need to be trustworthy. If you value honesty, tell the truth. If loyalty is important to you, don't walk away the first time things get hard. Be willing to try to work it out.
Most importantly: C O M M U N I C A T E
If you want your partner to listen to you, you have to be willing to talk AND listen. Don't expect your significant other to be able to read your mind. If something's bothering you, say so. Before you jump into marriage with someone, you should make sure your fundamental values match up. Similar value systems = a solid foundation...but before you build that foundation with someone else, make sure yours is solid first. Poor foundation will crumble. A house divided cannot stand.
I like to think of relationships like boats sailing on the sea. I've never been in a relationship or on a boat, but I have seen Titanic. After watching a few relationships sink, I was inspired to write a poem called "10 Ways To Avoid a Shipwreck."
10 Ways To Avoid a Shipwreck
1. Trade in two small boats for one big one. Allow room to grow and space to breathe. 2. There should be three people in the boat at all times: you, your partner, and God. No parents or friends allowed. Your business should stay between the two of you, especially if there are sharks nearby. 3. There will always be sharks nearby who either want the person in your boat or just don't want to see you happy. Hands and feet should remain in the boat at all times. Settle all conflicts inside the boat. Passengers may experience a whirlpool of emotions if bitten by a loveshark--which could ultimately sink the ship. 4. Ladies, as hard as this may be, let him steer. Be prepared to co-captain, and/or take over if he gets weak and weary. When the world tries to tear him down, build him up. Don't judge him when and if he cries. Vulnerability manifests itself differently in men. Communication is key. Remember that just like the sea, there is salt in his tears. 5. Men, let Him steer. You are the captain of your ship, but God controls the wind. It is okay not to have all the answers. Lean on God and lean on your woman. She is called a help meet for a reason. Talk to her. Tell her if you need her to help you steer. Communication is key. Remember that just like the sea, there is salt in her tears. When the world tries to tear her down, build her up. Be her shoulder to cry on. 6. When the waters get rocky, and they will, pray--together and separately. The boat may rock, but your faith cannot waver. 7. Keep a bible on board. Read it together. Every ship needs an anchor. Without the anchor, the ship can capsize, and one or both passengers will drown. 8. If you see a hole in the boat, don't ignore it. Ignoring it will only let more water in. Don't let your problems overtake you. Denial can sink a ship. 9. Perhaps the most important rule: Do not bring small passengers onto a ship with holes in it. If the ship sinks, they will drown. They cannot swim on their own. Be their anchors. 10. In any relationship, partnerSHIP, friendSHIP, etc. know when to abandon ship. If the ship has too many holes, if you feel like you're drowning, if it's not moving forward, there's no use staying on board. Find a life boat nearby, even if you have to steer it on your own. Be strong enough to do so if need be. If you're not in a relationship right now, there are still plenty of fish in the sea. Follow the charted course, listen to the wind, and keep hope alive. She floats.
As a poet, I study a lot of contemporary writers, and as a Christian poet, I'm particularly interested in writers who use the poetic medium to glorify God and speak specifically to the issues that Christians face. One of my favorite poetic voices is Janette Watson, professionally known as MissTerious Janette...ikz (pronounced "genetics"). I look up to Janette not only as a poet, but as a person. I had the pleasure of meeting her in 2015 at the Poets In Autumn tour, and although we only spoke briefly, I'm inspired by her willingness to live out loud.
Everything about Janette...ikz makes a statement, from her huge afro (complimented by a lone dreadlock) to her unique style of writing...and singing, AND playing guitar. She's a jack--or, Jill--of all trades. All of her work is candid and raw, and she writes passionately about relationships--both romantic relationships and relationship with God.
Through poetry, Janette...ikz shared her decision to wait for God to send her a husband, and when He sent him, she wrote a follow-up piece...and recited it as her wedding vows (I have a lot to say about that, but I'll save it for another post because...😭). One of the things I love about Janette is the way she uses her poetic gifts to empower women. The poem I'll be highlighting today is one from 2012, entitled "31 To Be Exact," which reminds Christian women of their worth. I'd like to pull a few excerpts from the piece and really break down the meaning of it. Before I get into my analysis, check out the poem below:
"31 to be Exact" is a contemporary nod to Proverbs 31, the chapter in the Bible that outlines the standard for the Christian woman. Janette...ikz's poem begins:
…And God said it was not good for man to
So He created you,
But somewhere along the line,
Someone changed your perspective, shifted
Like Eve, you listened to the wrong voice
and took a huge tasty bite of deception,
Now your stomach is upset 'cause your
spirit won’t digest it.
No longer the woman that works in the confidence of ultimate artistic design.
Submit your name change: we’ll call you compromise…
Straight out of the gate, we already see that "31 to be Exact" is a heavy hitter. First and foremost, Janette...ikz makes sure to highlight that women are necessary to men. Alluding to Eve, she emphasizes that since the beginning of time, women have been deceived, but here, she refers to deception in terms of identity. The next few stanzas are deep:
This is what happens when your gospel is according to whoever is at the top of your playlist
And the media has become your Bible, Searching scripture of magazines to be told you are a dancing lead in Satan’s recital
But you are not her and she is not you,
'cause we are called to so much more than makeup, hair, clothes and shoes
and dropping it like it’s hot...even if we’re able to.
We are women of a different status, 31 to be exact.
In this day and age, we read magazines and tabloids more than we read our Bibles, always concerned with what's "hot." As Christians, we know that we are not of the world, but the pressure to fit in is still very real. If we don't look like "that" or listen to "that," we're not considered "cool." The woman who aspires to reach 31 status needs to understand that cool is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to live like Christ. The piece continues:
So we eat, we live, we breathe, we give, we
even sweat love,
Always ready to hear from the women with
Seeds have been sown,
and their wisdom saturates our soil,
clipping our dead ends for growth.
In order to achieve 31 status, we need to take the time to learn from our elders, the women who have "been there, done that." Their advice will help us grow to embody the Proverbs 31 woman.
The next few lines delve into who the Proverbs 31 woman is:
You’ll find us always promoting unity
Serving in our communities
Using our gifts and talents as an all-glory-to-God opportunity
Wake up in the morning with a grind
For the Most High on our mind
Constantly being refined
To be the exact of our Architect’s design
This is a 21st century adaption of the Biblical description of the Proverbs 31 woman, outlined in Proverbs 31:17-20, "She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy" (NIV).
Proverbs 31:30 (NIV) tells us, "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." Janette...ikz admonishes us to recognize that:
Yes, we are beautiful
And barefoot in the kitchen of grace
Pregnant with purpose,
Baking to praise
Jesus is who we crave
Awaiting to come to full-term so we can deliver back what has been deposited...
Society (and even the church) feeds single women the idea that we need to be the perfect woman to attract a good (and Godly) man, but that's not where our focus should be. As Janette...ikz reminds us, "We have no hearts" (meaning that our hearts are not our own),"So here’s the answer before the question: / Any man who wants our heart will go to Christ knowing it’s in His possession..."
Yes, the Proverbs 31 woman was married, and yes, she provided for her family, but the reason her husband and children "arise and call her blessed" (31:28) is because she not only serves her family, but above all else, she serves the Lord. Women of 31 status are not concerned with the world's standards because we hold ourselves to the Proverbs 31 standard. We have a commitment to Christ first, and most importantly, our purpose is to serve Him wholeheartedly. Even before marriage, as Proverbs 31 women in the making, we are already worth more than rubies (31:10). We should start acting like it.
To learn more about Janette...ikz, follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @iamgenetics, or visit www.iamgenetics.com
Have you ever gotten hooked on a song after only hearing part of it? That was the case for me with Cory Asbury's "Reckless Love." I had seen a few covers of the song on YouTube, but for a while, the bridge was the only part I knew:
I kept singing it over and over. The more I sang it, the more peace I felt, but then I wondered, Why is this song called "Reckless Love"? How could something so peaceful be labeled reckless? I looked up the word in Webster's dictionary and found that it means, "marked by lack of proper caution: careless of consequences; irresponsible." My initial reaction was, God is the opposite of reckless...
I listened to it again in full, trying to unpack it. This time, I zeroed in on the chorus:
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending,
reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights 'til I'm found,
leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn't earn it
I don't deserve it
Still You give yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending,
reckless love of God
Suddenly, I got it. God Himself is the opposite of reckless, but His love is reckless because He cares. This revelation led to a poem called "Chasing."
Sometimes I feel like I don't know what love is because I've never been in it, but the truth of the matter is, I know it full well...I'm just running in the opposite direction. See, all girls want to be chased, but from an early age, we're taught to play hard to get, to be chased, but not caught. I'm not used to being pursued like this. I am overwhelmed. Who am I that You'd care enough to leave the ninety-nine for me? What did I do to deserve a love that fights for me even when I fight against it, a love that sees my shadows and still dares to light me on fire? You don't have to climb mountains for me anymore. I want to be caught this time.
In Your pursuit of me, every lie has been dismantled, every wall has been torn down. What earthly love can be compared to this? The answer is none. The love that is found in You is exactly who You are: boundless, limitless, eternal. It cannot be earned; it can only be graciously given. It cares so much that It does not care who sees. It exposes and covers, breaking me down to build me up again. If I must be broken to be reckless for You, I am ready and willing to be wrecked. This time, I'm the one chasing.
If you read that and thought, This sounds like a relationship poem, you're right. It is. When earthly love is reckless, it can be dangerous, but God's reckless love is perfect. He pursues us without regard to consequence because He knows that the result of pursuit is obtaining something. When He obtains us, we obtain the promises He has for us, including the reward of eternal life. He doesn't have to be cautious in His chase because He knows what the outcome will be when we are caught: salvation. That's why He leaves the ninety-nine. His love relentlessly overwhelms us because as our Father, He is responsible for us. It's not because we deserve it or because we did anything special to earn it. It's simply because He's God. There's no shadow He won't light up, no mountain He won't climb up to get who is rightfully His, but He shouldn't have to chase us down. We should be running toward Him.
Check out my a cappella cover of "Reckless Love" on SoundCloud:
Happy Resurrection Day, everyone! Not only is it Easter, it's also the start of National Poetry Month, and I'd like to commemorate that by incorporating poetry into my posts for the month of April. Poetry is a very important part of who I am as a writer. In many ways, it has helped me find my voice, and even in my blogs, it has major influence on my stylistic choices. I classify myself as a writer and categorize myself as a blogger and a poet, but before I am any of those, I am a Christian. Since this blog is called Music, Message, Messiah, I figured it would be cool to highlight poetry that glorifies God, especially since I see poetry as lyrics without melody. I won't be posting every day this month, but I'm hoping to post twice a week (pray with me on that one lol). To start things off, I thought I'd explain what poetry means to me. What better way to emphasize the meaning of poetry than in a poem?
The Art of Poetic Creation
Poetry is more than words on page. It is psalm, songs from the poet's heart to the ears of the One who hears, to the Potter who has given the clay the gift of creation.
Poetry is created from crisis, compassion, comtemplation of questions that may never have answers, problems that may never have solutions.
Poetry is praise, whether in the midst of lamentation or celebration. It is an offering up, a pouring out, of the issues at the core of the soul. The Creator, who made it possible for poetry's painful beauty to exist, is always and forever listening...
Poetry is a unique way to express yourself to God. Often, if I find myself at a loss for words while praying, I'll write down what I want to say to Him. Sometimes it's a jumbled mess (but He hears anyway! 🙌🏾) and sometimes I'm surprised to find that what I wrote turned into a poem. That's a gift within itself.