vouching for the strings: a call to inclusive musical worship

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You might be rolling your eyes at this post after reading the title.

You’re not the only one– I’m rolling my eyes at myself.

I keep asking myself, why can’t you let this go, Mary Madeline? Why can’t you just embrace the traditionalist Sunday morning style that you grew up on? Why can’t you just get over the fact that some churches are just probably never going to engage in less expand their musical worship styles on Sunday morning?

As the famous Flannery O’Conner quote goes, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say,” I suppose this post is less of me trying to persuade anyone to see things the way I do, but more of me trying to understand why an exclusive view point on worship style frustrates me and leaves me feeling disconnected in worship.

So, here it goes. My aim of this post is not to offend anyone’s particular musical worship style— it’s exactly the opposite. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a traditional preference, but I’m trying to shine light on the fact that there is a rich sincerity found in all types of worship music.

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I’ve never understood why I couldn’t just love the organ. Like, what was it? Why didn’t the words just really resonate with me in the same way that they did on other days? It wasn’t that I disliked the organ– I just felt a deeper connection when the music was sang in a more folkish style.

So here are my thoughts on why some churches might want to consider expanding their music style. I hope you can find some insight into what I’m referring to as a movement of “inclusive music.”

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For some people, one type of music is more personal than another.  

It’s almost as if music in general is a language, and the different generes are the dialect. Let’s take take a random guy named Matt for example. Matt might understand the lyrics of “Amazing Grace” when they are sung to the original tune with a piano, but when put to a new beat and add a banjo, the song resonates with him even more. When translated to Matt’s “dialect,” it takes on a deeper meaning, and he begins to notice phrases he’s never really noticed in the old familiar song before. It’s not that he didn’t understand “and grace my fears relieved” before, but with this new tune, it really sinks deep into his soul. With much effort and concentration, Matt probably could have come to the same resonating epiphany of lyrical depth. But it’s amazing to hear it in the music style he loves, not only because it feels so natural, but also because he begins to realize that God can be praised through his preferred style of music as well.

You see, for the average young person, we just don’t listen to organs, bagpipes, or handbells in our everyday life. It’s not how we relate to artists/lyrics. You would much more likely find our music taste more primed to drums, acoustic and electric guitar, bass, piano, etc. This is the music we hear in our work places, campuses, coffee shops, homes. This is the stuff we grew up on and these instrumental styles are the way we relate to the poetry that’s represented in song. The other instruments, though we might not mind them, just aren’t very personal the same way that they might be for the older generation.

And for the average immigrant, they probably really love listening to music in their own language. Latin or German or Japanese music might be the type they listen to at work, at play, at parties, in their homes. It’s not that they don’t understand English words, but knowing that they can worship God in their native tongue with other believers can create a new sense of awe and wonder, knowing that God speaks their language and knows their culture just as much as He knows the English language and the American culture. Hearing His praises in their language makes the personal attribute of God even more real. And I’m sure the the international community appreciates and feels supported by fellow believers when they sacrifice a few English songs here and there to worship with them in this way.

The same for an African American and gospel music or a hipster and their guitar/alternative music.

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The amazing thing about distinct music styles is that they build a metaphorical bridge from Sunday mornings to the rest of mundane life. For me, an organ is so far off and a “Sunday morning thing.” That’s the only time I (and I’m sure many other people) ever hear the organ, making it seem almost disconnected from the rest of my life. But guitars and drums are more personal, connecting Sunday mornings to the rest of my life, showing that Christ extends throughout every second of my week.

And for other people, this might not be guitars and drums. It might be gospel music or a more pop-ish version. It might be songs literally in their native or only language, which might not be English. And sure, maybe these people with much effort and diligence could begin to understand the same songs with pipe organs and harps with Old English lyrics, the way that you might relate to music. But wouldn’t you also like to give those people a chance to relate in their own way, in their own musical/literal language?

Wouldn’t that make them feel so welcomed? Wouldn’t that be challenging and a little sacrificial but also beautiful and life-giving to people who might feel a little like outsiders in the congregation?

Isn’t that, on a smaller scale, kind of what was represented at Pentecost? Everyone was united because they heard the same message in different ways. The gospel was in lots of languages. And it was absolutely beautiful. (Maybe that’s a stretch. If you think so, I can respect that.)

Isn’t that why we translate the Word into different languages, so that all people can know the gospel?

And isn’t that why we even translate into different word-play/usage with in those languages? (Think: NIV, EVS, NLT, etc.) Because it’s so neat to hear the same message in different ways? Because some phrases ring deeper when said differently?

I just think it’s at least something to consider.

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I’m not saying that your church or my church should start singing at least one song in Spanish, one with a guitar, and one gospel-style every Sunday. I’m not trying to convince anyone that one music style is more holy or more inclusive than another. It all depends on your geographical location, the people you serve, the people you are trying to include in your church that might not feel they have a place. Your music should be “inclusive” to your congregation and those you are trying to reach.

Our God can be worshipped in extensive ways. He doesn’t need to be confined to type A of music. He can be praised and adored through an expansive array of musical expressions. That’s the kind of God we serve. He speaks all languages, all dialects.

He made those dialects, languages, and preferences, and we can worship Him with all of them.

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And I think He would be extremely pleased if we gave up our musical predispositions to make others feel included and honored. I don’t think it would hurt anyone if we surrendered our musical bias to make others feel a little more at home at Sunday services. I think that would be counting others as more important than ourselves. I think we might even find ourselves a little in awe of the richness of that type of sacrificial worship.

So here’s a plea for all types: from the traditional organ-lovers, to the folksy (shout out to my preference group! 😉 ) , to the gospel fanatics, to the choir members, to the die-hard K-Love fans. When the lyrics are theologically sound and the focus is shifted on Christ and not performance, all of these styles of music are beautiful and pleasing to Christ, and can create a sense of community and understanding that Christ expands through all instruments, all cultures, all communities, all peoples. 

In Him who unites us all,

Mary Madeline

(PS: check out the bottom of this post for some of my favorite current praise music and send me yours if you want! 🙂 )

Disclaimer: I’m not in any way trying to put anyone in a box in this post. You might be a young person that jams to the pipe organ and the harp on the daily. You also might be an African American who doesn’t prefer gospel music. You could even be a hipster that loves a good K-Love song. Go you. You do you and break the pattern– but know that I was speaking in general terms in this post.

“Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,
  praise him with timbrel and dancing,
    praise him with the strings and pipe,
 praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.

 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.” – Psalm 150: 3-6 (emphasis added)


Kings of the earth and all nations,
    you princes and all rulers on earth,
 Young men and women,
    old men and children.

 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.
 And he has raised up for his people a horn,
    the praise of all his faithful servants,
    of Israel, the people close to his heart.

Praise the Lord.” – Psalm 148: 11-14 (emphasis added)

“Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!'” – Acts 2: 5-11 

Current worship favorites:

Though You Slay Me (Shane & Shane)

I Believe, Help My Unbelief Pt. 2 (Jason Gray)

Wedding Dress (Derek Webb)

Thy Mercy, My God (Sandra McCracken)



why escape a great reality: a christian’s response to escapism

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“Can’t find paradise on the ground” – Oh Wonder

This quote is by one of my favorite artists. I used to think it said “I’ll find paradise on the ground,” and that was the most exciting, intriguing statement in the world– because that’s what we are all trying to do, right? Find home and excitement and love right here in our little everyday lives?

I was wrong. I looked it up, was sad about the actual lyrics, but still so intrigued.

See, the song is about escapism. It’s about our generation, dying to click on the next thing, watch the next episode, turn the page, listen to the newest song. Living in nostalgia of lives we never had and drowning out the heartbreak with media, locking ourselves away from the world.

“All we do is chase the day.” – Oh Wonder

Funny and relatable memes capture this stamp of our generation with quotes:

“People say life is a thing but… Netflix.”

“I like characters more than I like the people in my actual life.”

Even the gorgeous picture at the top had this as the caption:

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This phenomenon isn’t unique to our generation; it’s an ache that has echoed since the fall of this world. Since the first bite of the fruit, our hearts have been in starvation-mode for the full communion, to walk in the garden with our Creator, to be with God in full. We have been deprived of paradise since then. We can’t find it on the ground. 

And so we taste all the fruits: the fruit of approval, the fruit of appearance, the fruit of career success, the fruit of money, the fruit of adrenaline, the fruit of nature and creation, fruit of lust and sex, the fruit of having a “clique,” the fruit of entertainment, the fruit of human family, the fruit of substance abuse, and each one seems to work for a second, maybe even for a season. But these fruits eventually fail. Though they tasted so ripe at first, they have fallen from the tree and rotted.

So, if you are a do-good millennial, you turn to this escapism, one fruit that doesn’t look so bad from the outside. A type of escapism that can be hidden behind words like “nerdy” and “a book fanatic.” A type of escapism that’s okay, that’s not bad stuff like pornography and drunkenness.

It’s looking for the a new fantasy adventure book to read, because Hogwarts is so much better than our world.

It’s daily pinning all those wedding ideas, because once he says “I do,” my life will be the fantasy I’ve always dreamed of.

It’s waiting for the next album to come out, because I can drown out all my feelings with headphones.

It’s looking for the Netflix show to watch, because I hate socializing and facing the rejection of others. I hate school work because it’s too hard. At least I can feel like I’m part of the (insert TV show) community, at least I get a sense of worth from these characters.

It’s being on the prowl for the next boy/girl to date, so I can create my own fantasy life through my Instagram.

It’s sometimes even “I can’t wait for the next mission trip” because for a little while, I’ll feel close to God. I’ll feel like the Church is actually working.

And no one says anything, because it’s so easily hidden; it’s accepted. It’s not even questioned. It’s honestly considered just fine.

The escapist moments are so sweet, but let me gently remind you: these are not real. They just aren’t. You can dream all you want (I’ve done it myself), but Hogwarts isn’t a real place. You might be called to singleness instead of marriage. The boy/girl friend can call it off with one phone call. The fantasy fiction is exactly that: fantasy and fiction. That artist isn’t going to make music forever. The episodes, beyond being fake, will eventually lose their luster.

You can run from it forever, but this life is what we are given.

And so it rings: can’t find paradise on the ground.

But in midst of this, I hear Christ’s promising words:

“Today, you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 23:43b

(If you don’t know the context of the statement above, feel free to look it up! Luke 43:26-43)

I realize this verse might seem to be used out of context, but allow me to explain. The criminal who Jesus was addressing was facing his reality: he was a deep sinner, in need of deep redemption and the way he did life was not what he had hoped. So he didn’t ignore the pain or run away from his reality, he simply asked Christ if he could be with Him in his kingdom. And Christ granted his request, naming this kingdom where God lives as paradise.

The present reality is yes, we will not find satisfaction here completely. There will only be momentary bliss that will fade.

“All we do is feel the fade” – Oh Wonder

But follow this criminal’s example, and don’t try to escape reality so quickly, friends.

The true reality, beyond what our tempestuous hearts can see is a much different story that this dreary story we paint our lives to be.

Paradise is here, partially.

It’s found in letting go of your plan for romance, and asking Him to walk with you today.

It’s found putting down the book, and holding fast to Him in the most ordinary parts of the day.

It’s found in cutting off the social media, and sharing His great rescue with the person sitting next to you.

It’s found in putting down Snapchat at the end of a hard day and emptying yourself before Him and boasting in nothing but the cross instead.

It’s found in laying down your pride, in stopping doing what you think is best for you, and laying down at His feet.

And in this, He will equip you on a journey to real paradise: communion with Him.

As we wait for Him, He has equipped you with every spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 1:7) to take on this life with full-force, to take on the hard days, to give Him your burdens, to let your guards down, to be taken advantage of and still have hope, to engage this world and all its nastiness and come out victorious. (Check out my “About this Blog” page for an awesome verse that correlates with this pouring-out.)

And maybe victory will look different than how we imagine it, but His victory will prove itself eternal, never fading, never ending, forever satisfying if we let it.

The reality is that if we stop hunting for the next most colorful fruit, we might find that He has been waiting for us to call out to Him to quench our thirst this entire time.

The reality is that we have been given all the tools you need to engage this dreary world with hopeful eyes and a cup overflowing with joy. Will we use them?

The reality for those that put their faith in Christ is that the God who spoke bones from ash is pursuing our beating hearts every second of every single day.

Now, dare to believe this reality, and ask yourself:

Why would I want to escape that?

With all love,

Mary Madeline


Disclaimer: There is nothing inherently wrong with fantasy fiction, dating, Netflix, social media, music, or anything else I listed. Nor is there anything wrong with being a “nerd” or a “book fanatic.”  I take part in most all of these activities! It’s just when we let ourselves turn to these things as a source of emotional-drowning vs. a source of recreation/a way to relax/a hobby, it becomes a problem, because we aren’t bringing forth our emotions to the true fountain of life that can quench all our longings and handle all of our insecurities, fears, etc.

It all goes back to this question:

For what purpose are you using the media/art source?

So don’t for a second think that I think you’re terrible and awful for doing these things. (Who cares what I think anyway? Haha.) It’s the intention behind it. And only really you and Jesus can come to terms with that for you. Only me and Jesus can really know that for me.

But, if you’re reading this, and you know this is something you struggle with, I encourage you to check out one of my favorite blogger’s post Why I No Longer Read Fiction, where she discusses her motives in quitting a draining habit and replaced it with a more life-giving one. Maybe you’ll feel inspired to take your desires before the Lord and do a cleanse from your “accepted” weakness! I know I’ve had to do this before, and the Lord really drew me close through it. 🙂 Best wishes.

a black musician thawing arendelle: the power of loving your enemies


Last night at RUF, I heard the most amazing story. I was floored. I’m not much of a hand-raiser in worship, but honestly, I couldn’t keep my hands down after hearing this story.

The gist is this: a black musician Daryl Davis in 1983 met a man at an all-white wedding reception he was performing for one evening. The man happened to be part of the Ku Klux Klan and gave Davis the number of Roger Kelly, the former Imperial Wizard of the Klan. Through conversation, the two became friends, and Kelly along with twelve other men eventually quit the group.

Guys, this man is black. He was either hated or considered highly inferior by these men. These people were part of an organization that sought to kill and persecute his race just years earlier, or sought to, in the least, make them second-class citizens. This was not in 2017… this was just a few years after the Civil Rights Movement.

All of this, and he decided to be their friend.

That’s the last thing I would choose to do. I wouldn’t even THINK “maybe I should befriend with these people.” I would immediately choose to give them the truth, to claim righteous anger, to voice my opinion, to show them my humanity, to fight for justice.

Yet this man, in all humility, chose to be their friend.

And because of that humble and gentle love, because of his kindness, walls of hostility and hatred were torn down.

Jesus talked about it a lot. Praying for those that persecute you, eating with the people that are different, loving your enemies, loving all neighbors as yourself, letting someone slap your other cheek when they’ve already damaged the first… I’ve always taken these statements, accepted them, without really choosing to do that in my own life. In fact, though I accepted them because they come from God, I’ve always been frustrated by them. I don’t want to be slapped on both cheeks. I don’t want my friends to be slapped on both cheeks. I want to fight back in the name of justice and righteous anger.

But Christ says that true love is being committed to care for those that hate you.

This is the kind of love that changes hearts.

So what does this look like for my life, for your life, friends?

The fact is that, I’m not persecuted in my everyday life. I don’t have many people coming and slapping me on the cheek. I don’t have that many “enemies” in the traditional, conventional sense (that I’m aware of, lol?). I live in the Bible Belt of America, where if you don’t claim Christianity, you’re probably the odd ball out. I don’t have to face much objection in my everyday life.

But there are those people that I am hostile towards. There are people that I don’t want to be associated with. There are those people that are rude. There are those that make unjust social accusations against me. There are those people that I want to see brought low, that misunderstand me. There are those people to whom my heart has grown cold as I watch their actions, the way that they treat other people, the words they choose, their callus political agenda. There are those that I do not want to call “friend.” And if they fall into these category of “not friend,” then the fact is that these people are (at least the closest thing I have to) enemies.

And you know what? The real Enemy loves this. It excites him when I choose to stay away from these people, instead of drawing nearer to them with a humble heart. He would love me to chose to hate Donald Trump. It would thrill him if I channelled hatred toward Hilary Clinton. It would make his soul happy if I considered myself superior to people that were not my race, and he would simultaneously love for me to hate racist people. Satan would be exhilarated that I chose to avoid the girl that has the RBF instead of asking her for coffee. He would take great pleasure if I hardened my heart towards people that look down on me because my blonde hair and enthusiastic attitude causes them to view me as unintelligent instead of approaching them with grace and a humble heart. These divisions and avoidances would make the chasm greater, and that’s exactly what he wants.

Our real Enemy would be delighted that we would choose to hate our earthly enemies, and relish that we would seethe in self-induced isolation from all those that we felt misunderstood and scorned by.

But this is the power of Christ, that while we are enemies, still defiled, still hostile towards God— He comes to us, and pulls us into His everlasting love. And we are reunited with Him. 

And now, what other might call “loss” (getting slapped on the cheek twice, being gossiped about, being called naive), we consider gain. Because in those moments, we get to love like Christ did for us, and we get to do this for others. Though we endure this present pain, we will be reunited with others and Christ by love. 

When we rejected Him, He chose to eat with us.

When we called Him “enemy,” He called us “friend.”

When we killed Him and caused Him to be descended to hell….

He called us “beloved” and claimed victory.

 What a God we serve, that to truly win over our enemies, we befriend them.

I will leave you with an analogy I realized in Chemistry class Friday. I’m sure it’s not original, but I was so blown by this. Our generation LOVES Frozen (for the most part), but why? What do we love so much about this story beyond the music and medieval theme?

It’s a story of the gospel.

(Note here: many fairytales and stories are, but check out details in this one. Also, spoiler alert if you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t seen Frozen yet. Please don’t read this if you haven’t. It won’t make sense and then you’ll know the end and I will just be really sad and might have to consider this post a fail.)

Think about it… a girl is born with this curse, a curse that causes her to hurt people, hide, and puts a wall between her and the world. Her sister, out of great love for her, constantly and gently tries to coax her into communion with others, and she might open up sometimes, but mostly she’s hostile and hard.

Her curse is found out, and she runs away. She builds her “kingdom of isolation,” all the while not realizing that her sister hasn’t given up on her. Elsa is the source of Ana’s pain, and she still runs after her, careless of her own well-being. She climbs over mountains, travels through valleys, encounters wolves, and finally reaches Elsa! Ana enters Elsa’s isolated castle, only to be rejected by her and struck in the heart, causing Ana a slow but evident death.

Elsa is captured, by trying to run from the one person that loves her the most in the entire world, and Ana is dying because of her. But Ana, when faced with the choice to save herself or save her sister, chooses to sacrifice her whole life for her sister, becoming a cold, lifeless figure to save her sister’s life– the same sister that caused her pain and grief her whole life, yet she took delight in selflessly loving her.

But then, against all odds, she is unfrozen. And Elsa realizes the solution to all her problems is what she was running from: love. She releases it into the air, and everyone is reunited.

Love thaws.

So what do a black musician, Princess Ana, and Jesus have in common?

They know this truth: love really is the most excellent way.

So go out, friends.

He has given you every spiritual gift necessary.

He has sent you to fight with prayer, petition, friendship, love…

and thaw the Arendelle of your life.

In Him,

Mary Madeline

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Matthew 5:38-48

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13


o come, emmanuel: a great hope in the midst of utter seasonal distress


O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Christmas is fast approaching, and it’s time to celebrate our Savior’s birth stress about making this holiday season perfect for the family and making sure everyone is here on time and the decorations are gorgeous and everyone has the perfect gift and the all the food is delicious and everyone is happy and laughing and the weather must be cold because that’s what Christmas is suppose to be and there must be good music that everyone likes and this must be the best Christmas ever.

Beyond prayer, breathing exercises, and the Christmas excitement that I really do embody, this is the mode my mind automatically switches to when I first think of Christmas: it has to be perfect. And I have to make it that way.

However, this Christmas season I really decided that I wanted to experience the Christmas season in its entirety by celebrating advent leading up to the day. As my home girl Taylor Swift says on her Christmas album , I just had this itching feeling that “Christmas Must Be Something More.” (yes, that was a promotion 😉 )

But really… it has to be more than the rush of anticipation and excitement that I get come Christmas Eve’s eve when family begins to come into town. It has to be more than the happiness of gift-opening and gift-giving that is great fun but eventually fades with time. It has to be more than cute little songs and spreading Christmas cheer by “singing loud for all to hear.” It has to be more than having a fun and jolly holiday season that eventually ends, continuing on with the daily grind. It has to be more for those people that don’t even have anything, any time, any food, any place, any gifts, or anyone to engage this Christmas season with.

In the years post-Santa belief, my heart has yearned with an angst that screamed, “Where is this great promise that You told us about, God? Where’s the gift? Where’s the rescue from this constant struggle to make it perfect, make it right? Where is the something more, Jesus?”

And in this season He has whispered to my heart, “it’s in me.”

You see, the media is constantly feeding us this idea of “Christmas magic.” That someday, somehow, someway the 25th of December makes the universe turn on our side and there’s no pain on this day. Family issues evaporate into thin air. Money suddenly appears blowing in the wind towards you in your time of need. Death doesn’t happen. Everyone is cozy indoors. Candles are lit and the whole town sings in perfect harmony to “Silent Night.”Christmas miracles are real if you only believe. One saint hears you and the other 7 billion people on this planet and handles all the requests in one 24-hour period. At least for 24-hours, everything can be a perfect miracle.

But it isn’t. By prayer, reading the Bible and various Christmas books, and candid contemplation, this is the conclusion I have arrived at:

Family issues are present and even more evident when everyone is together. Money is a problem, and it’s impossible to afford what everyone wants or even what one person wants. People die just days before or even on Christmas morning. Many people still go without shelter. Some hungry people still go without food. You find out that the magical saint they told you about for years isn’t even real. Everyone is singing “Silent Night,” but your heart is burdened with the weight of utter disappointment. Nothing is perfect– not even for 24 hours.

Yet into all of this mess:

the cycle of subtle sorrow and disenchantment and misunderstanding and loneliness

the madness of a season where the world tells us “this (community, family, food, gifts, decor, singing, etc.) will fulfill”

the tireless chasing of unsatisfying fixes.

Into all off this, a child is born.

And He is called Emmanuel.

And the government rests upon His shoulders.

And He is called Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

And He has come for our rescue.

He has come to be something more.

He has come to be the miracle.

Isn’t it just like humanity, to pervert a season with false hope when authentic hope is offered to us? Yet isn’t that just like our God, to come to us when we are at our ugliest? In the time of year when our fickle hearts look to everything else to fulfill, He enters into this mess of this world– the world that has abused His birth for profit and toxic fixes.

His love is that strong.

This season, I’m begging you: don’t take hope in “Christmas cheer” or other false hopes that this world so easily tries to sell us. Though initially enticing, it will leave you disappointed. I hate it for people that do buy into that; this season will leave them feeling beyond hope.

Instead, take hope that Love came down. If your heart is whispering “there must be something more,” your heart is right. There is something more, and it came to us. He came to us. He knew what He was doing. God entered into this unforgiving, racist, rude, unmerciful, nasty, paralyzing world in order to bring us into His kingdom of eternal love. This is our greatest hope: He came to live among us so that we could dwell with Him forever.

In the midst of this temporary mess, Christ came to be with us for eternity.

He didn’t disregard our anguish.

He didn’t say “I’d rather not.”

He didn’t leave us to the strivings of a deceased Saint Nicholas.

He didn’t abandon us to the grave.

He didn’t allow us to live in fear and loneliness.

The God of everything came to Earth because He knew we needed something greater.

And He came to be our something more… forevermore.


“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.”

– Isaiah 9:1-7b

the silent fool is called wise: the responsibility of our speech

( As a casual reminder, I want to emphasize that all my posts are written specifically to Christians. If you don’t consider yourself a Christ-follower, by all means, please read! I just want you to recognize the context of my posts.)


In the couple months, midst all the political speech, I have not had much to say about political matters (except in private conversations amongst my friends). I have felt that mostly everything that needed to be said had been, and there wasn’t much I should add to the conversation.

However, it’s come to my attention that there is something that needs to be said, and it’s about ‘saying’ itself.

As citizens of the United States of America, we have the right to words. Any and all words that we choose, at any moment, in any format– we have that those. (And boy, have we exercised that freedom.)

But as Christians, we also have one responsibility:

to love.

Let that sink in for a moment, brothers and sisters.

You have one responsibility, one calling, one holy work, one task above all else:

to love God and love others.

Now, love is not simple. You will never hear me claim that it’s not a complex action, but remember that we have a perfect example of love and a whole book to help us figure out what it is.

And in that book, I have yet to come across a time when it said that this is love:

to curse the governmental authorities

to call a fellow human stupid

to demean and discount the sufferings and concerns of another’s experiences

to associate a political party with Christ

or to claim that anyone not agreeing with your political agenda is subhuman.

On the contrary, the Word tells us that love is, though truthful, simultaneously patient, kind, gentle, hopeful, humble, forgiving.

So before you post your next status, share that article, or state your opinion to a peer, ask yourself:

Is this truthful?

Is this kind?

Is this gentle?

Is this hopeful?

Does this extend grace?

Is this something Jesus would say?

And act accordingly to your answer.


Lastly, may I remind you that there is wisdom in listening to your enemies.

There is wisdom in praying before speaking.

And, perhaps the most downplayed of all,

there is also much wisdom in choosing to say no words at all.

Choose carefully.

In Him,

Mary Madeline


A gentle tongue is a tree of life. – Proverbs 15:4

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. – Proverbs 17:27-28

[There is] a time to keep silence, and a time to speak. – Eccelesiastes  3:7

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. – Ephesians 4:29

Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone. – Titus 3:1-2

And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of Jesus. – Colossians 3:17







white christians: the danger of passivity & a call to repentance

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This one has been brewing in me for a long time. It’s been a long process for me, a lot of unlocking areas of my mind that I didn’t realize needed unlocking and pushing buttons that I wasn’t sure even existed. It’s been countless hours of hard conversations about racial issues and endless stories told in history class. It’s been extreme frustration, wondering why I didn’t care enough, and being utterly convicted at the fact that I have been passively oppressive/racist my entire life.

I’m prepared for the opposition I might receive for this post. It’s more than likely going to make you uncomfortable if you are white. So if you want to live a comfortable life, you should just stop here, but if you want what Jesus wanted for us—a completely uncomfortable but full and righteous life—keep reading, friend.


We are oppressors.


You’ve heard it. I’ve heard it. Our ancestors did all the enslaving; they were the ones to separate the families. Our grandparents and great-grandparents were the ones denying our fellow African Americans education and suffrage.

Yet we see the drugs, violence, homicide rates, poverty, broken families, and wonder: Why? Why is the African American community so broken?

I was recently told by an elderly black lady about her mother who, when orphaned at the age of 13, was denied the right to education simply because she was black. She worked as a housemaid (as a young, orphaned teenager) to earn her keep and finish high school, only to be told that teaching was her only option as a career simply because her skin was darker. (audible story)

Clyde Ross worked his entire life and served his country for his family, only to be completely cheated out of his home because of a greedy white man who also cheated plenty of other Afro-Americans in Chicago. (Clyde’s story here)

Not to mention those people who wanted only to not be under the authority of men who could separate their families in a matter of a few days. (The story of Mary Meachum: a little history here)

This is only an insanely minute portion of the injustices that past African Americans have faced.

Now, if you’re like me, your initial reaction to this is “well I didn’t do that; that was my ancestors. I haven’t oppressed the African American population.”

Well, let me offer the truth: there are no innocent bystanders in this.

I stand by this claim:

If you, as an able white Christian American, have not fought to right the repercussions of the injustices done to the African American community, then you have taken part in this injustice.

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This isn’t an idea of my own. Jesus specifically expresses the danger of passivity in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The Samaritan didn’t directly cause the man on the side of the road to suffer, but when he cared for the man, he fulfilled the most important law: love your neighbor as yourself.

If instead, he had chosen not to care for the man, he would be disobeying the commandment of Christ and ultimately choosing sin over righteousness. Instead of being the hands of healing, he would have been a participator in the man’s anguish.

So, yes. As an able white Christian, if I have ignored the cry of the oppressed (in this case, African Americans), then I have sinned greatly against God and my neighbor.

They have been and are oppressed. Sure, it might look different now, but the odds have been stacked against blacks since the beginning of America. I strongly believe that an extremely high majority of us have set aside, subconsciously thinking, well just don’t be poor; work harder. Just own land after being slaves for your whole life and owning nothing. Just outsmart the real estate owners who won’t sell the house to you. Just take out the loan that the banks won’t give you. Just go get paid for the jobs that you won’t receive. Just read, write, and count, with all the quality education you haven’t received. Just be confident in the skin that our society has deemed inferior. Just ignore the fact that your family has been torn apart by drugs and alcohol because we pushed many of your people to illegal measures and the habits have been passed down to the following generations. Just get your act together.

It’s hard to admit, I know. I don’t like admitting that I have done wrong. I don’t like saying that it was me that has been the oppressor. I don’t like seeing my race’s sin and the repercussions of it on the innocent kindergarteners in the low-performing 99% African American public school, but I can’t ignore the truth: As a person who previously did not actively fight against the oppression of the black community and instead stood on the side-lines, I have been the oppressor, and I have not shown the great and unconditional love of Christ in this situation.

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A repentant church is one with an open heart, one ready to let go of sin and to hold fast to true righteousness, even if it hurts us. A repentant church takes up its cross and bears the weight of our brothers and sisters. Repentance brings action, and action precedes healing.

So, this is my confession to you, African American readers:

I am deeply sorrowed.

I am sorrowed that I have not spoken out more harshly against the casual racism that infects my small-town smalltalk.

I am sorry that I have subconsciously perceived you—my fellow brothers and sisters—as “others.”

I confess that I have been the by-stander, and as a result of my lack of action, you have had to claim the title of disadvantaged. 

I repent of my barely-shaken apathy simply because I was on the upper hand of the deal.

I cringe and lament at the fact that I have subconsciously judged your character on the basis of skin color within the first glance of you.

I admit that I have not fought hard enough to make your voices heard, to fight for your equal treatment, and to make it known that your lives matter.

I’m sorry for my ignorance for so long; my belief that somehow, you didn’t work hard enough or didn’t care enough for the advantaged life that I have received.

I weep at the fact that I when I look at the sweet children from the Bible Club, my sweet two-year-old friend with a toothless, shy smile and a gentle spirit, that I have not fought enough for her right for quality of life as an American—really, as a human.

I pray, Lord, that You help me see the depth of my heart more and look to You more each day for the ability to see all colors, shapes, and sizes completely equal and to love them without restraint just like You do.

 And this is my challenge to you, fellow white Christians: let’s lay down our pride and humbly confess of the passivity many of us are guilty of. Then, we can step forward and fight for that justice God’s speaks of and loves so much. Then, we can set things right.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'”  – Matthew 25: 41-45

“The people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned.”

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”   Matthew 14: 15-17

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7: 9-10

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan,as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” – Luke 10:29-37


the danger of dreaming & never doing

Last year, I wrote a post about the importance and goodness of dreaming (see here). In this post, I am encouraging you to not stop there, but to continue through with those dreams, not settling for false sensations, because we were made to live for the gospel, not a trailer of it.


our days

I think most of us have probably been there.

We dream of the day when we will  ________________.

You fill it in. Pray without ceasing, live without a certain sin, climb that mountain, go to and serve Africa, pray deeply for that person, donate that money, write that book about that thing that needs to be heard, adopt that child, visit that place and care for that person, start that ministry…

The danger of all of this dreaming, along with the virtual sensations we have through modern technology is that it’s so easy to have the illusion of doing. Getting a little taste of our God-given desires can come so effortlessly through the endless inspirational articles, sensational pictures, heartfelt videos, and what have you found on the big World Wide Web. While it’s great to share these experiences, watching and reading all these things can give the illusion of reaching ___________, without really achieving it. Leaving you and me with a placebo instead of the real thing, and never knowing the fullness of Christ in that situation that we deeply yearn for. 

I’ve been thinking about the effect of this lately. The endless articles, telling me why I so need to travel when I’m young, what I should do in college, how I should read the Bible, which way to pray, how to simplify my life, etc. The list never ends.

And all the while, the world that is telling me, “Go! Do it all! Be the adventurer! Climb that mountain Make those A’s! Go to that med school!” isn’t doing much of that adventuring and mountain climbing themselves.

So I’m beginning to discover the danger in all this telling, writing, speaking, etc. without the doing world that we so often participate in, fellow Christians. It’s really a toxic cycle, this talking and never doing, this dreaming and never pursuing.

So all these thoughts are running through my mind, and I decided to see what Jesus said/did about this, and I began to discover that Jesus almost always began his words with action. He healed, and then ministered. He performed miracles, then he preached. He restored, then he gave his benediction. And those times when he didn’t act and spoke only, was usually to his disciplines who had seen it all anyway.

He knew that words without action were toxic, empty, and never fulfilling. 

He knew this world needed much more restoring than an “it’ll all be okay.”

He knew the crowds were much more thirsty for real water than a picture of a stream.

He knew that his children needed much more than good intentions.

He knew humanity was in much greater need of redeeming sacrifice than the thought of it.

I’m sure that there are multiple reasons that we don’t “do” as much as we talk about doing. Maybe we aren’t sure where to start. Maybe we aren’t moved enough. Or maybe it’s simply because we are just darn lazy.

As for me, I know the reason. I am so afraid of “doing” because I’m not sure where it leads. God promises it’s a good place. He says that so much joy is found in the struggle of doing, but my heart is so afraid of the unknown, of rejection, of failure. My heart can’t let go of what it knows in this toxic cycle of dreaming without doing.

St. Francis of Assisi once said “Preach the gospel, and when necessary use words.”

Choose to believe it or not, but we are living in an anti-Christian world. Very few of those that claim Christ love even a little like He does.  And the people of my generation, and really any person with a rational mind, have learned that talk is cheap. Although beautiful, it requires very little sacrifice. I’ve begun to learn myself that sure, the little things matter, but the big things matter the most. The big things say the most, because this broken world needs much more than a hand full of change thrown into the offering plate. This world is oozing blood, and no cutesy Hello Kitty bandaid is going to fix this gap.

This world needs men and women who tackle this hurting word with gentle passion, deep love, unwavering faith, and a yearning for true righteousness.

I could tell you what that looks like, but that might be for a different post. I think I need to figure that out a little more myself before I try to tell you. Just know God is faithful, and His kingdom stretches far and wide– so don’t hold back.

So dream on, dear friends. Dream, dream, dream, but I beg of you: don’t stop there. Don’t let fear get in the way. He didn’t give us that spirit of fear, but one of love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). Just do it. Do, do, do it.

Because He didn’t just consider us His children; He made us His sons and daughters.

God didn’t just say He was going to send us a Savior; He sent us a Savior.

He didn’t just accidentally go to the cross; He gave himself up for us.

It’s time that we give ourselves up to a God that didn’t just intend to.

He did.


What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. – James 2: 14-17

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. – 1 John 3:18

And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. – Hebrews 6: 11-12