Coronavirus Came in Like a Wrecking Ball

Ugh, hey friends. Has anyone else’s life been turned upside down by this pandemic and the resulting panic?

I spent the first half of the week hauling SASS to finish up the next newsletter for my district of United Methodist Women. Then, on Wednesday, Coronavirus was officially deemed an epidemic. We had a mission study on radical discipleship in the gospel of Mark planned for this coming Saturday and an event the first week of April memorializing UMW ladies who passed away last year–both of which we decided to cancel. Most of our ladies fall in the most vulnerable group who can contract the virus (those who are age 60+ and/or have underlying health conditions). Though I’m just 26-years-old, I have cardiomyopathy due to Friedreich’s Ataxia.

Postponing these cherished events indefinitely feels so defeating. I hope and pray we have a better grasp on this soon. I can’t begin to wrap my mind around our having to cancel even more events in our district, not to mention the big-time events for our whole conference.

I’ve felt annoyed towards God this week. I spent so much time and mental energy completing the newsletter, and now, we’re hitting “pause.” Some of the things I laid out so meticulously might turn out to be irrelevant. Every day this week has been stressful or disheartening. I’ve also fallen a few times, and my gym has been closed for renovation; due to my rapidly-progressive disease, my not walking for a while could have terrible consequences. [I’ve exercised at home, but there are many things–like walking–I can only do with my trainer in the gym.] When I thought things couldn’t get worse, someone close to me confided that they’re constantly exhausted and borderline depressed. Yay, more good news–not!

Having had a little time to process the event postponements, and especially after pouring out my thoughts (complaints) in this space, I realize that I’m just being dramatic. To be fair, I think we all are at times…especially if we live in a first-world country. None of what I’m dealing with even remotely qualifies as the end of the world. It is what it is. Qué sera, sera. Choose gratitude. Rather than being angry with God, I need to dwell in the hope and peace He offers in the good seasons and the bad, too.

FRIDAY MORNING UPDATE: I worked out with my trainer in a different gym yesterday. Walking around and feeling the blood flow through my legs was awesome and much-needed! Also, I’ve been so busy this week I didn’t have time for (prioritize) a full devotional time the last 3-4 days. A devotional time looks different for everyone (hey, look–a blog post idea!), but for me, the not-rushed-version takes about an hour–about 30 minutes praying, about 30 minutes reading scripture. I feel 10x lighter right now. The old hymn is true…

When you feel a little prayer wheel turning
And you know a little fire is burning
You will find a little talk with Jesus makes it right
(It makes it riiiight)

Thanks for reading, y’all. Maybe I’ll have the wherewithal to turn out a more polished post next Friday; this week has just been too chaotic and weird for me. So, are you taking precautions? Is your corner of the world infected yet? Does anyone else remember that hymn? Let me know in the comments.

Life Updates: Teaching a Lay Leadership Course, my Writing Career & What I Gave Up for Lent

Hi, friends. Stay tuned to see what’s going on with Retrospective Lily… 🙂

The last few weeks have passed by in a whirlwind. I tend to put blogging on the back burner when life gets crazy, but I guess that’s okay, since it’s been more quiet around here lately. [Or maybe I’m not taking time to connect with recent/active bloggers, or maybe my posts aren’t as good anymore…who knows!] Anyways, I’m glad for the opportunity to share my thoughts. I’m also thankful for the readers and writers who have stuck around on WordPress.

Lay Servant School 2020

The last two weekends, I (along with Sandrea) taught the introductory course to Lay Servant School, a program through the United Methodist Church that educates and equips lay leaders. I was honored to shepherd a new group of disciples in servant leadership, communication skills, caring ministries, and more.

I’m in the wheelchair; Sandy’s the black lady in the front row, one over from the left.

Changes at Work

While preparing my curriculum and attending the four sessions of LSS required most of my time and mental energy the last few weeks, my writing career is on a slow-but-steady upward trajectory. Praise God! FYI, I got a job as a contributing writer for a local newspaper last summer.

Sidenote: I’ve been reading Psalms for the last month or two, and it’s really boosted my prayer life. [My calm, rote prayers of the past seem so flimsy and unauthentic in comparison.] I prayed several times that God would enable my career to expand. I feel the prayer is being answered. Now, let’s hope my other buns in the oven (repeated petitions) are baking.

We are taking on a new venture at work (my boss keeps referring to it as “birthing a baby,” lol). We’re going to make our online presence a serious priority and push to generate more revenue. I will be taking on more responsibilities due to that.

A photo from “Helping Hands Peru”

I’m also starting to get more article assignments. Yay! I write two of the weekly installments–Calendar Events and Crime Report. Last November, I wrote an article about myself and another lady in our readership area with Friedreich’s Ataxia (crazy coincidence, BTW). I finally got to write another one in February for a lady from my church who turned 100. Then, I was assigned an article pertaining to a Peruvian immigrant, also a local business owner, who runs a charity in his hometown. Right up my alley!

What I Gave Up for Lent

In the midst of the chaos, I’ve somehow managed to pray and read scripture (pretty) regularly. For a long time, I didn’t understand why people gave things up for Lent; when I tried, I inevitably failed because it was a game to me. After my spiritual awakening and in the midst of ongoing sanctification, I now understand the reason behind fasting in general and especially during Lent. Some might consider what I gave up “cheating,” but if so, cheating’s never been so hard…

Bitterness

I like to think I’m sooo different from the FA’ers who sit around pitying themselves, but the struggle is still real. My own feelings of bitterness relate more to my inaccessible living situation and the lack of freedom and control that entails, but still. I have felt bitter towards my family for not helping me get into an accessible home. I have felt bitter towards the world that the housing market lacks affordable options. I have even felt bitter towards God for not making a way into a better situation yet.

As I wrote in a recent post, I do try to choose gratitude. There’s much pain and suffering in the world I don’t understand and will never have to. I know that my family loves me and God will lead me to an affordable home in His timing. So, it’s time for me to uproot this nasty bitterness from my heart once and for all. It is an unproductive, unhealthy emotion.

We are reading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis in my Sunday School class. Since my “Screwtape” has tormented me with bitterness for a long time, he’s not letting it go without a fight. Literally–there was a screaming match this week over a cup of coffee! (After which my “Screwtape” seemed to be laughing at me) Clearly, I’m going to have to recommit to this fast every day…if not every hour and every minute.


So, how are you, really? Let me know in the comments. And thanks for reading. ♥

Three Reflections from Reading the Old Testament for ~1.5 Years

Hi, friends. Click this post if you want to read about the good, bad, and ugly (or more like the strange, inexplicable, and wonderful) things about reading the Old Testament. 😉

In this time frame, I’ve read:

  1. Genesis
  2. Exodus
  3. Numbers
  4. Deuteronomy
  5. Leviticus
  6. Joshua
  7. Judges
  8. Ruth
  9. I & II Samuel
  10. I & II Kings
  11. I & II Chronicles
  12. Esther
  13. Ecclesiastes
  14. Job
  15. Some Psalms & Proverbs
  16. Some of the minor prophets
  17. Isaiah (currently reading)

I embarked on this journey for a couple big reasons:

  1. I wanted to pursue God and learn more about my religion (Christianity).
  2. Most criticism or misunderstandings about the Bible stem from the OT, so I wanted to dive into it for myself.

Below, I share three of my takeaways from my experience so far (still have a few books to chip away).

The OT is the predecessor of the NT

I’m stating the obvious here, but I think a lot of modern Christians (like me for most of my life) don’t understand the story of our faith. Jesus was not just a great moral teacher who randomly popped up in the middle of history; His timing, His message, His ministry, and everything about Him finds its source and meaning in the narrative of God’s chosen people that leads to Him. I now understand Christianity in an comprehensive, “A to Z” way I never did in the past.

The Delivery of Israel out of Egypt, Francis Danby, 1825

God promised Abraham he would eventually bless ALL nations, which happened when Jesus came to earth. In significant ways, the exodus mirrors the mission of Jesus (God releasing “His people” from an outside, oppressive, evil force…first, freeing the Hebrews from the Egyptians…later, freeing all people from sin and death). The propensity of the Hebrews to stray from God throughout the OT echoes humanity’s gravitation to pride/selfishness/rebellion (which is also illustrated through Adam and Eve) and demonstrates the need for Jesus to come and do exactly what He did (and, if analyzed deeply, reveals why Jesus subverted messianic expectations). Reading “the beginning” of this epic story brings “the ending” into full perspective.

Pursuing God leads to wrestling with God

Balaam and the Angel, Gustav Jaeger, 1836

To be absolutely blunt, there is so much in the OT that unsettles me…some (many) of the laws of Moses, a talking donkey in Numbers, the mass murdering in Joshua, the story of the virgin from Judges, extreme wrath in the prophets’ books, and the list goes on. [Granted, there are a few disconcerting things in the NT (not a big fan of the Ananias and Sapphira story), but still.] The margins of my Bible contain plenty of confused question marks and shocked exclamation marks. This is when it’s easier to be the Christian whose knowledge of the OT is limited to the creation, flood, and exodus…or, better yet, the Christian who just inherited their parents’ religion, never chewing on the meat, content with milk.

I don’t have a million justifications to plaster over every questionable story or rule; I could rebut some but certainly not all of a skeptic’s criticism on certain passages. I’ll let you in on a secret, though: wrestling with God lines up more with the Bible’s overarching message of loving humility than arrogantly believing you have all the answers. Hey, at least I’m pursuing Him hard enough to have questions and concerns at all! 😉

God & Jesus & the Holy Spirit have the same heart

This statement may initially seem redundant, but I find it extremely necessary, if not urgent, to clarify this. Many people–Christian and non-Christian–believe an over-simplified misconception that God is “the strict one” and Jesus is “the compassionate one.” Gah, the cognitive dissonance! But I discovered as I read the entire history of God and the Hebrews for myself that God exhibits the same heart for the poor/oppressed/helpless, the same mercy, etc. as Jesus does in the gospels.

Baptism of Christ, David Zalenka, 2005

While the law of Moses contains a loooot of tedium (and musings on the purpose of those rules is better suited for a separate post), God also mandates the Hebrews to care for the lowly (especially in Leviticus 19). I mentioned how the Hebrews repeatedly stray from the path in the OT, and neglecting care for the lowly plays a major role in that. In fact, most of the coming wrath displayed in the books from prophets is directed towards greedy, powerful people who exploit and neglect the lowly, while refuge is promised to the poor and needy.

So God sent His son Jesus, who has the heart of His Father, to reiterate the spirit of the law and extend it. The Holy Spirit is simply the spirit of God and Jesus, which guides us and stirs our hearts. If the three members of the trinity aren’t united in grace and truth, the whole concept makes no sense. As my blogging buddy Mel once said so profoundly, Jesus is the lens through which we should view God.


Reading the Old Testament full-force has somehow simultaneously challenged and strengthened my faith. Despite all the things I don’t comprehend and that stumble me up, I’ve felt God working on me through this process.

Thanks for reading! How much of the OT have you read? What’s your two cents? Let me know in the comments.

Doing What God Has Called Me to Do…Begrudgingly

Hi, friends. Today’s post is sort of off-the-cuff since my brain feels like a pinball machine lately, ha!

For the last few weeks, I’ve had my nose to the grindstone working for United Methodist Women, a women’s mission organization in the UMC. I serve as the Communications Coordinator for our district, which includes about 150 churchs–half of which have active UMW units. I’ve been merging a 2019 spreadsheet with the names/physical and email addresses/phone numbers of local unit officers (Pres, VP, Tre, Sec, etc.) with the spreadsheet of new 2020 info. If that already seems tedious, imagine the extra facet of complexity that comes with units who don’t send us updated info for years at a time. On top of everything, I have to decide how long to keep a unit’s non-updated info before deleting their unit from the spreadsheet (2 years? 3 years? Ugh).

I use the spreadsheet to determine who/where to send our quarterly newsletter. Given that we are a MISSION organization, I wanted to make some changes going forward that will save money on administrative costs. So, I decided we need to create an email group through which we can send forms, flyers, and other things we’ve been (superfluously, in my opinion) printing in the newsletter. [One of our newsletters last year was 24 pages–is that not overkill?!]

So, long story short, I’ve been merging the spreadsheets, compiling a newsletter, AND creating an email group–which has left me with only a few brain cells left to rub together. Some days, I fantasize about quitting because some of those I work with don’t share my vision (“But we’ve always done it this way”) or grasp how long things take (*someone asks nonchalantly if I can make a huge change to the newsletter when I’m almost finished*). In response to my griping recently, my sweet fiancee asked me a perfectly logical question–“Why do you volunteer to do this if it makes you miserable?”

In the midst of my work, I read a devotional based on Colossians that talks about how we should willingly, even eagerly work for the Lord in all we do (whether church-related or not). Then, this past Sunday, my pastor made the statement that if God puts a burden on our hearts, WE are being called to bear it. Applying this to my situation, God is calling ME to urge change in the face of inertia, to bring this organization more fully into the twenty-first century, to move us to a point of using less money wasting natural resources.

This is the answer to my fiancee’s question; I NEED to do this. But I should quit complaining and bear this cross with the grace of Jesus Christ. Plus, if I’m being fair, I know many ladies, including some of my teammates, see and appreciate my efforts. Also, I do enjoy what I do overall despite the frustrations.

Really, I should view God choosing me for this task as a blessing; it is a blessing to be a blessing. In the newsletter and in emails, I remind us all that what we do at the bottom of the totem pole enables those at the top to carry out ministry and mission projects that truly change people’s hearts and lives.

Thanks for reading! Do you have tough things God has called you to bear/see through/deal with? Let me know in the comments.

Why Small Groups Are Vital in a Church

Hi, friends. Today’s post centers on the importance of small groups in the church.

Many of those who still attend church nowadays prefer mega-churches with auditorium seating and thousands in attendance. I don’t have a problem with mega-churches in theory, but I am concerned that those church-goers can bypass all intimacy. However, even the members of small churches can skirt personal contact if they only attend the main service and zip out immediately after the preacher gives their closing words.

A two-birds-one-stone, ripple effect: small groups benefit individuals, and consequently, small groups benefit the whole church.

Small groups strengthen the church because they take listeners of the Word and turn them into do’ers who are genuinely seeking God’s will or learning how to be Christ-like in a selfish, cynical world or carrying out Jesus’s ministry or whatever else, depending on what the group is trying to accomplish. Small groups enrich the individual for the same reason–they propel said individuals into discipleship and help them grow in their faith. Can you see a sort of symbiotic relationship here? Real, nitty-gritty, bleeding-heart, energized disciples keep Christ at the head of the church, enabling its ministry to be relevant and effective. But actually walking the path that leads to that kind of discipleship is just as beneficial for the individual as the result is for the church. The individual is blossoming into a new, whole, healed creation with a galvanizing purpose.

Small groups also open up a crucial space for conversation that is closed when the preacher delivers a sermon on Sunday morning. In my personal experience, those conversations with fellow believers, where we wrestle with God and the world, are the spice of life.


I imagine there are plenty of churches that either have surface-level, boring small groups or have given up on small groups due to lack of interest. If your church falls in either of these categories, I hope you will prayerfully consider starting your own and encouraging others to participate. I’ll also mention that, thanks to technology, a small group that video chats could be formed across geographical lines.

I pray that more church-goers would go beyond “spectator” status and participate in small groups within the congregation. Growth cannot happen in stagnancy, and small groups tend to challenge inertia.

Thanks for reading! Do you participate in a small group? Let me know in the comments. I’m blessed to be in a few–

  • United Methodist Women (mission organization) unit at my church
  • District board of United Methodist Women
  • Lay Servant School staff and students (UMC district level–I’m a teacher)
  • Sunday School class at my church (surprise, surprise–I’m the teacher 🙂 )
  • Bible study group at my church

How Does God Speak to You? (& Sharing my Experiences)

Hi, friends. In today’s post, we’ll discuss how God speaks to people, and I’ll reflect on my own experiences.

God speaking in the Bible

Moses and the Burning Bush, Dierick Bouts, 1447

In the Old and New Testament, God speaks to people in a variety of ways. For most Biblical figures–Moses, David, Samuel, Elijah, Paul, Gideon, Jonah, etc.–direct speech from God is mingled to some extent with signs and wonders.

The disciples of the NT communed with God in human form, Jesus. After Jesus ascends to heaven, the disciples and others throughout the Book of Acts are compelled to action by the Holy Spirit.

God also works through situations without directly asserting His presence; the Book of Esther is a prime example. Many Biblical stories do not feature God outright, but His presence and influence are understood.

How God speaks to me personally

I feel that the Holy Spirit guides and shapes my thoughts. Often, certain ideas pop into my head at certain moments that seem significant, or I experience something which instantly produces the warm feeling inside me that God is present and working through my life.

I experience a lot of God winks–supposed coincidences and serendipitous moments that I know God orchestrated. Since I love to read, those winks are frequently intertwined with books or scripture. An example: I was led to preach a sermon that connects the exodus from Egypt to Jesus’s second coming (covering for my sick pastor), and my message touched on God’s initiating a rescue plan for all humanity by first calling Abraham. The day before church, when I picked up where I’d left off reading my Bible a few days earlier for devotional time (totally unrelated to the sermon), I “just so happened” to be in the eighth chapter of John, in which Jesus “just so happens” to declare, “Abraham looked forward to the day of my coming with gladness. Before Abraham was, I am.” What are the odds? This is the kind of “coincidence” I experience often.

[Another example: Two days before publishing this post, on the first day of 2020, I lost something wildly important. As I retraced steps and even drove to the places I’d been that day, I relentlessly prayed, “God, please. God, help me!” I even bargained in my hysterical fear–“God, I’ll never doubt Your existence again if you help me find it!” Well, long story short, I found it. And a thought came to mind, which I believe was put there by the Holy Spirit–“This experience is an omen for this year and/or decade that even when I think all hope is lost, God will be there to see me through.” The first day of 2020? The week I plan to post on the subject of how God speaks to me? Coincidences?? I think not!]

My insecurities vs. what I know is true

Since others refer to times when they “heard God’s voice,” I do sometimes feel insecure in my faith and my relationship with God. I wonder if I’m just not worthy; Satan whispers in my ear that maybe everything I believe is a lie. But then I think of what I know to be true…

A few years ago, I was submerged in the world of politics. I was divisive and aggressive, always ready for a social media debate, barely capable of engaging in conversation without mentioning (or at least thinking about) politics. While I was still in the height of my obsession, I signed up for a college course called Literary Study of the Bible. God’s word ignited a change in my heart, scales fell from my eyes, and I saw all my hypocrisy and inerrancy with a new clarity. I humbled myself and actually became a follower of Jesus (up to that point, I was more of a “church-goer” than a “Christian,” which applies to many others as well).

My belief in God is not some shallow shell of faith riding on the coattails of my parents’ traditions. Though I haven’t heard God speak to me in a literal way, God has spoken to me through scripture and other experiences in ways that have truly been life-altering. Considering that everything I watched and read at the time just provided confirmation bias, there is really no logical, non-spiritual explanation for the change that occurred in me. That lets me know that God exists and He loves me.

Maybe I haven’t had a prophecy in a dream or seen a burning bush or heard a voice boom from the sky. But in the whispers on the wind and the meditations of my heart, I hear God speak.

So I turn the question towards my audience–how does God speak to you–direct and literal commands, scripture, other experiences, answered prayers, God winks, etc? Please share in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

Books I Read in 2019 (Fiction, Non-Fiction, Christian & the Bible + Best of 2019 in Each Category)

Hi, friends. As 2019 winds to a close, let’s look back on my reading this year!

My habits fluctuated throughout the year. I didn’t spend enough time reading for the first few months…in my opinion, anyway (about 30 minutes a day, frequently skipping days). I grew weary because finishing books seemed to take forever, which made me even less motivated to read. Then, a few months ago, I reshuffled some priorities and moved “reading time” up the list, so my goal is to squeeze in at least 1-2 hours on the days I read.

Fiction books I read in 2019:

  • The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • The Age of Iron by J.M. Coetzee
  • Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  • Quicksand by Nella Larson
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (currently reading)

Three not-so-honorable mentions of novels I invested time in but couldn’t see through to the end: Howard’s End by E.M. Forster, Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert, and The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. [Apparently, trying-to-be-profound-but-actually-being-confusing-and-boring books aren’t my thing. 😉 ]

Non-fiction books I read in 2019

A few months ago, I started participating in the reading program through the mission organization United Methodist Women and quickly discovered a previously-unknown passion for books that address social issues. I posted a haul of recently-purchased non-fiction books on my Instagram, so I’m excited to dig into those this year.

  • Shifting into High Gear by Kyle Bryant
  • Shopping by Michelle Gonzalez
  • We’re All Fast Food Workers Now: The Global Uprising Against Poverty Wages by Annelise Orleck
  • Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth (currently reading)
  • Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute

Christian books I read in 2019

  • Make a Difference: Following Your Passion and Finding Your Place to Serve by James A. Harnish
  • The Apostle’s Creed for Preaching, Teaching & Worship by Rev. James Howell
  • The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (re-read)
  • The Reason by Lacey Sturm
  • Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament by Christopher J.H. Wright (currently reading)

Books of the Bible I read in 2019

Around summer 2018, I embarked on a quest to read the whole Old Testament; by the end of the year, I read Genesis through the middle of Joshua (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua). Here is what I chipped away in 2019–

  • The rest of Joshua
  • Judges
  • Ruth
  • I & II Samuel
  • I & II Kings
  • I & II Chronicles (skimmed the last half of II Chronicles bc it closely mirrored II Kings, which was tedious enough the first time around)
  • Ezra
  • Nehemiah
  • Esther
  • Job (skimmed bc it’s extremely repetitive)
  • Some Psalms
  • Some Proverbs
  • Some Ecclesiastes (have read in the past)
  • Daniel
  • Ezekiel (currently reading)
  • Amos
  • Obadiah
  • Jonah
  • Micah
  • All of the NT, multiple times (it’s waaayy shorter than the OT; just finished John, going to Acts next)

Wish me God’s blessing as I dive into the prophets, ugh….I mean, yay! 😉

Best of 2019 awards

Fiction: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is laugh-out-loud witty and packed with dynamic characters, exciting twists and turns, etc. I didn’t want to put it down. Possibly the best Victorian novel I’ve ever read…which is saying A LOT coming from the queen of classic lit.

Non-fiction: We’re All Fast Food Workers Now by Annelise Orleck provides a great blend of research and statistics with interviews and stories from the people who work in huge corporations, fast fashion factories, and farming. This book taught me a lot, broke my heart, and galvanized me.

Christian: The Apostle’s Creed by Rev. James Howell helped me comprehend and appreciate each line of the Apostle’s Creed; a rote recitation has become the condensed, A-Z story of my beliefs.

Books of the Bible: This feels like a weird choice to make, haha. As tough as it was to keep trucking some days, reading I & II Samuel followed by I & II Kings helped me understand the trajectory of God’s relationship with the nation of Israel–how they went from the glory of King David to the Babylonian Exile.

Thanks for dropping by! What did you read this year? Have you read any of these books? Will you join me in making reading a higher priority in 2020? Let me know in the comments, and Happy New Year!

P.S. Peep the ring on my finger in the featured image. ♥

Christmas: The Story Behind “Mary, Did You Know?”

Hi, friends. Today’s post is the last installment of my annual Christmas series. So far, we have analyzed the expectation of a messiah in Israel and tied the hymns “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus” to that concept. As we celebrate Christmas Eve, we will glimpse at one more hymn.

The history of the hymn

Madonna, Raphael, 1505

“Mary, Did You Know?” is a modern classic recorded by countless artists across multiple genres. Mark Lowry wrote the words in 1984, and after spending years perfecting them, he asked Buddy Greene to write the music in 1991. Lowry was a member of the Gaither Vocal Band (a famous southern gospel group), and Greene was touring with them. The song first appeared on a Michael English album in 1991; English was also part of the Gaither Vocal Band.

Lowry was inspired to pen these lyrics as he put together a Christmas program for his church. Here is a quote attributed to him–

I just tried to put into words the unfathomable. I started thinking of the questions I would have for her if I were to sit down and have coffee with Mary. You know, “What was it like raising God?” “What did you know?” “What didn’t you know?”

Though I can’t verify the validity of this, a supposed interview with both Lowry and Greene sheds more light on the back story.

[Random tidbit: A Madonna is a portrait of Mary with or without baby Jesus, and a Pietá is a depiction (usually sculptures) of Mary holding Jesus’s dead body.]

Connecting the hymn to the theme

Pietá , Krakow, 1400

Since Mary was a Hebrew and shared the messianic expectations of her people, I would assume she did not know all Jesus would be and do. When the angel Gabriel told her she would birth the son of God/savior of the world, I imagine she expected her son to be a prophet and king greater than any before him; however, she could not have anticipated the way his life, ministry, death, and resurrection unfolded. Some of the Old Testament prophets like Moses and Elijah performed miracles, so perhaps Jesus healing diseases or walking on water wasn’t completely mind-blowing. But when it comes to submitting to torture and a brutal capital punishment, who could ever think this was the fate of the savior of the world? When Jesus reconciles human sin, defeats death, and rises again, His earthly suffering pales in comparison to His ultimate, eternal victory. We are left with new definitions of freedom, love, and strength.

The song poses questions without answers since we are unsure what exactly Mary knew and expected. A detail to the nativity story which has always intrigued me is the statement that Mary “pondered all these things in her heart.” As we celebrate Christmas, I hope we will ponder HOW Jesus redefines freedom, love, and strength. No one could have predicted the path of the savior of the world, but thank God for the life, death, and resurrection of the world’s messiah!

Lyrics:

Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered will soon deliver you
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with His hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you've kissed the face of God
Mary, did you know?
The blind will see, the deaf will hear, and the dead will live again
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak the praises of the Lamb
Mary, did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding is the Great I Am
Oh, Mary, did you know?

Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas!

This version is gorgeous–talented vocalists and a crazy-good pianist!

Christmas: The Story Behind “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus”

Hi, friends. This is the second installment in this year’s Christmas hymn series, and as with “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” I’ll detail some of the song’s history and connect it to the theme “the expectation of a messiah in Israel.”

History of the hymn

Charles Wesley was the brother of John Wesley, and the two men started the Methodist denomination together; John was the preacher and primary leader, while Charles is best remembered as a prolific hymn writer. [My post on “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” provides more background on him.] In 1744, (Charles) Wesley was inspired by the scripture Haggai 2:7 along with class divisions in Great Britian to pen this prayer:

The Nativity at Night by Sint Jans, circa 1490

“Born Your people to deliver, born a child and yet a King, born to reign in us forever, now Your gracious kingdom bring. By Your own eternal Spirit, rule in all our hearts alone; by Your all sufficient merit, raise us to Your glorious throne. Amen.”

I speculate that when Wesley said, “rule in all our hearts alone,” the implication was, “don’t let forces of evil like greed and apathy to suffering rule in our hearts.”

He adapted the prayer into a hymn anticipating both the nativity story and Christ’s second coming, publishing it in a hymnal the same year. Oddly enough, part of what catalyzed the song’s popularity was its adoption into a sermon by the famous Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon.

The hymn has been paired with various tunes, and it is unknown what tune Wesley wanted. Two popular tunes for the hymn are “Stuttgart” by Christian Friedrich Witt (1710) and “Hyfrydol” by Rowland Hugh Prichard (1800’s). My Methodist church uses Hyfrydol, which we also sing with Wesley’s “Love Divine, All Love’s Excelling.”

Connecting the hymn to the theme

Jesus, with a crown and a dove of peace, pacifies two fighters, Berlin Cathedral, circa 1900

Wesley understands that Israel is expecting a messiah (“Israel’s strength and consolation”), but he also knows Jesus came to save all peoples (“Hope of all the world thou art”). During the Babylonian Exile and later under Roman rule, the Hebrews need a source of joy, hope and freedom, all of which are referenced in the first verse. The second verse goes on to explain what Jesus has, can, and/or will do as the savior of the world.

I’m fascinated that Wesley used the terms “strength and consolation” to describe Israel’s messiah. Though they assumed their messiah would be strong in a literal sense to overthrow their earthly enemies, Jesus defies that expectation with a compassionate ministry and a humiliating death. Yet, ironically, He accomplished something the strongest man on earth couldn’t–defeating sin and death. Also, He showed that strength in the fruits of the Spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control–is more powerful and far more honorable than a mighty fist.

Lyrics:

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart. 

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne. 

The tune is different here, but I just discovered this version, and I adore it. Give it a listen, and thanks for reading! Are you ready for Christmas? Let me know in the comments.

Christmas: The Story Behind “O Come O Come Emmanuel”

Hi, friends. This is the first hymn of three that we will analyze as Christmas swiftly approaches. The theme we are working with this year is “the expectation of a messiah in Israel.” [Please read the linked post if you are unfamiliar with this topic in order to understand my interpretations.]

History of the hymn

Narodenie, Slovakia, 1490. Depicts the inn outside the city wall.

The origins of this tune can be tied all the way back to the eighth century, which is when O Antiphons were created. O Antiphons are ritualitic chants that are used in Catholic church services in the week leading up to Christmas. The beginning of each verse in “O Come O Come Emmanuel” echoes each O Antiphon. The song’s original fives verses coincide with the first five O Antiphons–

  • “Veni, veni Emmanuel!” = “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
  • “Veni, O Jesse Virgula” = “O Come, Thou Rod of Jesse”
  • “Veni, veni, O Oriens” = “O come, Thou Dayspring, from on High”
  • “Veni, clavis Davidica” = “O come, Thou Key of David, come”
  • “Veni, veni, Adonai” = “O come, Adonai, Lord of might”

At an unknown point later, the remaining two O Antiphons were adapted into two more verses enticing “Wisdom” and “Desire of Nations” to come. [The last O Antiphon actually reads “King of Peoples.”]

The Latin text of the song first appeared in Germany in 1710. Intriguingly, an English version was first paired with the tune “Veni Emmanuel” in an 1851 hymn book (ironic name for it, right?), yet John Mason Neale didn’t translate the version we are familiar with until 1861. Neale only translated those first five verses, though; the full English translation with all seven verses appeared in an Episcopal hymnal in 1940. The origin of the melody is unknown, but evidence shows it was referenced in a 15th century document, so we can be sure it’s existed for a long time.

Connecting the hymn with our theme

From the Chapel of St. Andrew, circa 500. Depicts Christ as a warrior crushing Satan; the inscription reads, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

The lyrics to the first verse of this hymn reflect the expectation of a messiah in Israel as they call for a savior who will liberate the nation of Israel. This verse also refers to the Babylonian Exile. The fifth verse further echoes their expectations when it refers to God giving the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. If we put these verses together, we may say that the Hebrews repent for forsaking the Law of Moses and wish to be saved from the exile; based on the circumstances and the prophecies, they expect a messiah to free them from the political powers that constrain them.

However, the other verses expand the expectation of a messiah to include qualities of Jesus that came but were not anticipated–first and foremost, “giving victory o’er the grave.” A messiah who would defeat sin and death is not what the Hebrews expected, but Jesus is the gift God gave all nations in His radical love and mercy. As the last verse reads, Jesus can “bind all peoples in one heart and mind.”

Considering the repetition of “Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel” alongside clear references to Old Testament events yet also unique attributes of Jesus, the author (intentionally or not) asserts that even if Jesus is not who and what the Hebrews expected, He IS their messiah…along with all peoples.

Lyrics:

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.

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav'nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Adonai, Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel. 

In my church’s hymnal, the verses are out of order, and the words in each verse besides the first are tweaked somewhat. Let me know if you see any glaring differences between this version and the one you sing at your church. The lyrics in the version pasted below vary slightly from the lyrics here AND those in my hymnal.

Thanks for reading!