In the middle of February, I will be taking a week off to go and visit my daughter Ashley and friends up in Canada. When I go up to Toronto, I usually stay with my friend, Seble, who I have known for over 40 years. We met when we were only 13 years old and have been friends ever since. We have gone through many things together. We were there for each other during all the ups and downs of teenage years, learning how to drive, dating, family dramas, and more. We were there at each other's weddings (she was my maid of honor and I married her). We vacation together with our own families every year and have had many long phone conversations. We may have moved away from one another but distance did not stop our friendship.
Seble has been a blessing to me and I learned long ago that friendship is truly a gift from God and we cannot take it for granted. As someone once told me when I visited her, "I prefer a visit from a friend than to eat." Friendship keeps us alive. Friends are those who love, support, and care for us. They help us to remember who we are and bring joy to our lives. God uses our friends to embrace us with God's grace and shower us with God's love. So often we see God in our friends and they help us to grow in our faith. God will use our friends to give us support. God will also speak through our friends to guide us. So, let us be grateful for this gift and appreciate them each and every day.
Just as Jesus turned to his friends when he was in need, as he asked them to come and pray for him in his last hour before being arrested in the garden, we also can turn to our friends. As Jesus shared one of his greatest moments with his friends when he was transformed up on the mountain, we can also share our joyous moments with our friends.
And, what better place to have friends than a church? It is not enough just knowing someone in the church but we need to become friends with them. It is essential for the life of a church that members truly love and accept one another, support each other, share their life stories, and grow in love and faith together. We need to be open so that God can use us to reach out to our friends in our church and in our community. Let us be instruments of love and friendship, as God gives to us through the friends in our lives.
Peace and Grace,
One of the things I love getting in Christmas is a brand-new calendar. I love that it is filled with blank and waiting to be filled in. It is a sign of new beginnings, a fresh start. I can start adding new events, programs, and even meetings. I'm excited when I can write it in carefully thinking about all the things we will be doing. However, when I look back at the calendar I used in 2019, it is a mess. There are many appointments, meetings, events, and even an attempt of taking some days off. There are lots of things crossed out, things written over, rearranged, and even completely illegible. Life in 2019 was complicated, messy, and, at times, wonderful. There were difficult times. Other times, it was joyous and wonderful.
2020 brings us a new possibility, a new beginning. What a wonderful gift! We can restart like a fresh blank calendar that we can fill with wonderful things.
So, I hope you join with me as we start a new year to let go of our past, anger, resentments, frustrations, and broken relationships. Instead, let us begin this new year with hope, love, and peace. As God has forgiven us and loves us for who we are, let us forgive others and love others. Let 2020 be a year of grace and growth! May God bless us as we live God's love.
Peace and grace,
Max Lucado writes about a six year old girl whose most treasured possession was a pearl necklace. It didn't matter to her that they were fake; she wore them everywhere and loved them dearly. She also loved her dad. His business involved traveling for days at a time, yet his first day home was always a celebration, family time at its best. Once, after having spent a week in Asia, he returned and they played together all afternoon. As he put her to bed that evening, he asked, "Do you love me?"
"Yes, Dad. I love you more than anything."
"Really more than anything?"
"Yes!" she answered.
"Do you love me more than your pearls? Would you give me your pearls?"
She wasn't sure about that. She really liked those pearls. He understood and he kissed her goodnight.
The next morning, the girl was still thinking about his question. Finally that evening, she went to him with her pearls. "Dad, I love you even more than these. You can have them." He was delighted to hear that and opened his briefcase. "I bought you a gift."
The girl opened the small box and was amazed. Pearls. Genuine pearls.
Like this little girl, God has given us the most precious gift, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." (John 3:16). God gave us the most precious thing, Jesus Christ, so that we can have new life. The best gift we can find under our tree this year comes from God. This Christmas, we get to open this precious gift and it is our opportunity to return to God with real pearls through our actions and faith. We have been given an opportunity to be blessed by God's love and in exchange to be in relationship with Jesus. So, do not take this gift for granted. Treasure it and share it this Christmas season and in the days to come.
A few weeks ago, both the choir and I were given beautiful robes from Liberia by Isaac Bonwin and family. We were all overcome and speechless with such generosity and show of appreciation. The Bonwin family had spent over a month in Liberia in July. At first, I thought they were just going over to spend some time with family. However, as the time came closer, I learned that they were not only going to go see family and friends but also go and help out at an orphanage. Before they went, Isaac came and bought more church t-shirts so that when they went to serve at the orphanage, they went not just as a family but representing the church as well. They went to the orphanage, cooked a meal, served, and spent time with the children.
It is not often that we ever do anything that represents our church in our daily lives. Unless you are going as a church group such as on a mission trip, we do not think what we do has anything to do with the church. However, the Bonwin family has taught us that whatever we do, we do it for God and one another. We are representing the church and our Christian faith. That is what it means to live in Christ's love every day, every moment. Everything we do is for God and as God's representatives.
They have also taught us to be grateful and shared themselves with us through the beautiful robes. I know that every time I wear them, I remember their love and what this church means to them. I am inspired to do better and be a better pastor. And, when I see the choir in their new African robes, I feel connected in this shared ministry.
Peace and grace,
June, July, August 2019
Summer time is when most of us take some time off and go on a vacation to unwind, enjoy nature, and spend time with family and friends. It is a great time to relax and enjoy time away. But for me to do that, I need several days to let go of things, stop working, and slow down my mind. It is hard for me to just let go and relax. And, I believe that it is the same for many people.
The other day, this picture showed up on my Facebook feed and I thought how profound it was. So often we hold on to things that do more damage than letting go of them. We hold on to abusive and harmful relationships. We hold on to anger, resentment, and regret. We hold on to jobs that are stressful and demoralizing. We hold on to traditions that are no longer relevant or meaningful for the new generation or time. We hold on to institutions that are full of laws, instead of peace and love. How many times we have hurt ourselves and others by insisting on holding on to things instead of freeing ourselves for new possibilities?
As we spend time getting away to Maine, New Hampshire, and other vacation sites, let us also spend this summer learning to let go and making room for God's Spirit. I know that this takes time and commitment. It also takes faith to let go of the things we are familiar with, even if it is harmful. However, as Jesus said, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28).
So, let us let go of our burdens, worries, and fear to God. Let us learn to let go and be open to new experiences, new blessings, and new opportunities. Trust in the Lord and live with faith. Live freely and fully.
Peace and grace,
In a few weeks, I will be attending our 25th Reunion at my Seminary in Chicago. When I first received a "save the date" postcard, I could not believe that it has already been 25 years since I started the journey to being a pastor. At times, it seems like it was just the other day I was walking the halls at the school. But, since I graduated, I have served in 11 churches in Northern Illinois and Massachusetts. I have lost count of how many babies I have baptized and how many funerals I have officiated. I have been there when a baby was born and sat with those who drew their last breath. I have served in a small church that only had 5 ladies, when I first started, and a church that had over 700 members. I have served as an associate pastor, co-pastor, sole pastor, and even a new church start. I have served in rural, a farming community, suburban, and urban areas. I have also seen youth who went on to become pastors.
When I started to think back on all the ministries, churches, and people I have served, I feel so blessed. I have lived a life that I never imagined when I left my seminary as a young pregnant 28 year old. God has taken me to places where I would not have chosen on my own, but there I grew, learned, and shared my gifts. I have met many wonderful people and had cherished moments that will last forever. Some people have become like family, loved me and my family. Not all of my journey has been easy. There were times when I wanted even to leave ministry, throw in the towel, and walk away. There were times I was hurt and even been harmed by words and actions of others. However, no matter what happened, I never lost my faith in God. God also never left me, and made sure I had people who reminded me of my calling and not to give up. And now, I have been at this church for the last 5 years doing amazing ministries with all of you.
God surely has been with me in the last 25 years since I walked out the door of my seminary and into the world to minister wherever God sent me. I'm looking forward to seeing my classmates and hear their stories and where God has taken them. I also look forward to where God will lead me in the next 25 years. I look forward to what God will do here at Grace UMC and Lynn. I hope that you will continue to pray for me, as I pray for you, so that we can live out Jesus' love and share his teachings with others. May God bless us in all that we do.
Peace and grace,
On New Year's Day, a friend of mine gave me a small plant and told me that it was a daisy. For a couple of weeks, it was doing well in my kitchen. When I finally got around to putting it with my other plants upstairs, it didn't get lots of attention, so it wasn't do-ing well. I brought it back downstairs to my kitchen and tried to bring it back to life. When my husband and my dad saw it, they told me to just throw it out because almost all the leaves had died. However, I refused to throw it away because I noticed that there was still one small green leaf in the midst of all the dead ones. For a couple of weeks, I watered it often and left it in the sun. Soon, I noticed that it was coming back to life, and now I have a beautiful pink daisy that not only bloomed but is still grow-ing tall.
Every time I look at my single pink flower, it re-minds me of the Easter story. Even though my husband and my dad thought the flower was dead, I had hope and waited patiently for life to come back. How often are we like this, ready to throw away things in our lives because we thought they were dead and hopeless. Jesus' disciples probably felt this way when they saw Jesus being arrested, crucified, and dying. However, he had told that he would come back; there would be a resurrection. And, for us Christians, we must hear Jesus' voice in the midst of darkness and see life in the midst of death. We need to have faith that God is work-ing in the midst of our darkness, hopelessness, and pain. God will bring life even when we have given up. God is here and about to do new things. So, do not lose hope but have faith. Trust in the Lord. Live with the Resurrected Christ who brings new life and new beginnings.
Peace and grace,
Usually by now we are in the middle of Lent, but this year it actually begins on March 6, on Ash Wednesday, and ends on Holy Saturday, the evening before Easter, April 21. Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays. Sundays in Lent are not counted because each Sunday represents a "mini-Easter", and the reverent spirit of Lent is tempered with joyful anticipation of the Resurrection. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means "spring". The forty days represents the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.
During Lent, we are to enter into a season of preparation, selfreflection and repentance, when we seek to literally "turn around" and realign our lives and focus toward God. It is a time to give up things as well as take on new life-giving practices, helping us rid ourselves of distractions and our own selfish desires. By doing
so, we seek to live and love as more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
Traditionally, most people give up something like chocolate, sweets, swearing, shopping, or things they like. Some try to take on something like doing devotions, Bible studies, prayers, etc. If you go online or on Facebook, there are many suggestions on what one should do or not do during Lent. One of the things I saw that I really liked that I think we can all try is to clean out our closets. Personally, as I am preparing to move, this will be a great exercise. Also, we all know we have way too many clothes in our closets that we don't even wear.
So, for the next 40 days during Lent, take an item from your closet that you do not need or have use for and place the item in a bag, and after 40 days, donate the bag to our Clothes Closet or other charity. So, pick up your bag from the church and let us clean out our closets and help others at the same time.
Peace and Grace,
On New Year's Eve, a friend of mine asked me what I want in 2019, and, after thinking about it, I said that I need to learn to be in the present. I'm always thinking ahead, planning, and busy executing what I have planned, that at times I miss what is happening at the moment. Well, as the New Year began, I truly had to live this out with a concussion that I have been dealing with since the day after Christmas. When I went to see a doctor a few days after the fall, I was told not to do anything but to rest my brain. I have found this is the hardest thing I have done in my life. I had been ill, even had surgeries before, but all those times I was able to do something as I recovered. I was at least able to read, go online, do some work on my laptop. But to do nothing, especially not to think or use my brain, has been very difficult.
However, it has been a great reminder and lesson for me to stop and be present with myself, my family, and God. I am learning to let go, trust others to handle things, and accept that not every-thing will go as I want it to be. I hope that I can truly be at peace and say these words in Psalm 131: 1-2,
"O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me."
I know that I am not there yet and it will be something I truly want to work on this year, so that I can see God's blessings even in the smallest things. I hope that you can also join me in this journey as we learn to stop and still our souls to be present. Let us keep each other in prayers, hold one another as we continue to grow in faith and love.
Peace and Grace,
Every year, we make resolutions for a new year. We make a list of all the things we would like to change about ourselves: lose 20 pounds, exercise more, eat better, etc. It is mostly about changing our appearance, or things we've been wanting to do that we just never got around to. They are things we want to control and think we can do something about. However, life is not like that. No matter how much we plan, it doesn't always work out that way. Life throws us unexpected things, a curve ball at times, and even celebrations. Looking back on 2018, I knew going in that I had several trips on the calendar and events that I was responsible for. However, I have grown, changed, and even been challenged in ways I never expected. So, for 2019, I think I want to look at the new year like this comic strip I found a few weeks ago on Facebook:
The new year is filled with new opportunities. It will give us new opportunities for us to share Christ's love with our neighbors, friends, family, and even ourselves. It will give us many new ways for us to be open to being involved, to grow and share our gifts. It will provide us many ways God can use us, bless us, and be with us, wherever the journey takes us. The new year isn't about what we write down for our resolutions, but being open to whatever God has in store for us. It is about seeing God each day, sharing Christ's love, and being blessed and blessing others. It is about waking up each day with a hopeful attitude because God is with us. So, let us live with anticipation of each new day, filled with opportunities for you to do God's work and to share God's love with others. May we all live each moment with Christ in 2019.
Peace and Grace,
2018 was filled with travels for me. I finally visited Hawaii, which was on my bucket list for a very long time, and I went back to South Korea after 43 years. I also went to Canada several times this year: Toronto for Ashley, Kingston for my niece's high school graduation, and Montreal on the way home. And, we vacationed at Cape Cod with my best friend's family this summer. We have put lots of miles on our car and accumulated many air miles. We have taken thousands of pictures. It was wonderful to see so many beautiful places, experience God's creation up close, and enjoy some much needed rest.
As I look back, I realize that what I appreciated the most wasn't the travel, but what happened in the travels. It wasn't where I went and what I saw that I will cherish in the days and years to come, but the people that I met, people with whom I reconnected, and the new friendships I gained. This year, I was able to find my places, my calling, and my being with people I met in my journey. They have helped me to remember where I came from, who I am, and who I need to be. Mostly, they helped me to strengthen my relationship with God.
God has been with me in all of my journeys, guiding me, sending people from my past to show me God's grace and love. The best gift of 2018 has been people that God had placed in my life. I didn't know what this year was going to be like, other than I had many travel plans or at least plane tickets to places. I had no idea what an amazing gift God had in store for me this year. I don't think I can ever get a better gift under a Christmas tree than the gift God gave me this year.
My hope and prayer is that you can also look back to 2018 and see God's gift in your life. I know that God has been with you in both the ups and downs of life. I also know that as we gather together to celebrate the greatest gift this season of Christmas, God continues to give us gifts of life and love that we need.
The month of November is usually Stewardship month. It is when the church asks members and friends to prayerfully think about what they will give the following year. This year more than ever, we need to seriously look at the finances of the church.
About 3 years ago, The Finance Committee discovered that, for a long time, our dividends from the church investments have all been going into the general fund instead of into specific program designated areas, such as to Music ministries, scholarship, trustees, youth, etc. In addition, in the past, some of the funds were used in a way that they were not designated for. We do not know how long this has been going on or how this happened. None of this was intentional or to mislead anyone. But once we learned of the issue, with the help of our church treasurer, Finance Committee, and Church Council, we have been able to fix and realign our financial situation.
Unfortunately, as we worked on it, we discovered that by moving funds out of the general fund and into the specific designated areas where they should have been put initially, we have been living in a deficit of the general fund for several years. We did not know this because we were using money that had been specifically designated for particular accounts but mistakenly put into the general fund. Legally, we cannot use these funds for general budget.
This year, as of now, we are short of $38,000 to balance our budget and pay all of our expenses. As you can imagine, this was a shock to the Church Council and the Finance Committee members. However, they have been working hard to come up with some new ideas and plans to reduce this and future deficits.
This is not a situation we like to be in, but we also know that God has been doing amazing ministries with us here at Grace. This is a bump in the road, but with faith, prayer, and working together we can overcome it. God is here and God will lead us.
If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me. Let us continue to pray for our church and for one another.
Peace and grace,
A few weeks ago, during our worship service, I was presented with 2 beautiful robes and stoles from Isaac Bonwin. I was totally overcome and speechless with such generosity and show of appreciation. In all the years of my ministries, I have never been honored with such a gesture. However, I also know that this symbol of appreciation was not only for me and my husband, but, especially, for this congregation. I was so overwhelmed by what was happening, I didn't even hear all the wonderful words Isaac shared. So, I asked him to write it out for me.
This is what he sent and shared with the congregation: "My family and I are blessed to be part of Grace UMC. Grace is a church of open arms, caring with a loving heart, diverse, open to all despite of their color, poor, rich, sick, disabled or status in life.
I see Christ in Grace UMC every day.
I saw Christ when the Siaffa's family could not sleep, worrying that their kids may not be able to join them. But because of the people here at Grace UMC, their kids are here, that is Christ. I saw Christ every Sunday in our youth, doing mission work in Canada, New York, Pennsylvania, helping total strangers and the most needed people in our society, that is Christ.
I saw Christ when I was going to Liberia, members of Grace came to me, asked if I needed anything else to carry, desire to help people that they haven't seen before, that is Christ.
I want the congregation to understand that under Pastor Sandra's Pastoral leadership, the church is spiritually and strongly growing, praying for the sick, taking Christ to the people in the nursing homes through music.
So, what my family and I have been thinking about is how to reflect the diversity within Grace Church. And, we decided to represent it in Pastor Sandra's appearance when she preaches. We had many choices, we prayed about it, and we concluded on pastor's gown.
Next question was how can we get her measurement unknown to her? So, I went to sister June St. Pierre and told her exactly what we wanted to do as a family. She was very much impressed and volunteered to find means to get me the measurements.
In designing the gown, we wanted the gown to touch the hearts of West Africa. So, we chose Nigeria for the first gown material. Nigeria has the highest population in West Africa, it is a developing nation in Africa and rich in excellent country and traditional clothing. Nigeria is the heart of West Africa. We wanted the gown to reflect that when you wear it to preach.
The second gown, we chose two countries, Ivory Coast and Togo, and took the materials from those two countries. Ivory Coast is a developing nation, while Togo is an undeveloped nation. Putting materials together from those two countries, one a rich nation, the other a poor nation, gives us a sense of what Grace is all about. The rich, the poor, the sick, black, white, brown, etc., are all welcome in Grace UMC.
For her husband, a traditional shirt, we chose Liberia for the material. Liberia is a poor country, 90% of the population has no college education although they gain their independence from America. They were used as slaves on plantations in America and Europe. Traditional clothes are made with hands, using cotton and tree bark with hard labor. It takes a long time processing and in low quantity, making it the most expensive material in Liberia. The reason for choosing this material was it takes hard work, patience and courage to build such a loving, caring and Christian family like yours. My family strongly believed that your family is an example of a true Christian with a fear of God, and through your light, thousands are able to come to Christ. Yes, we know no life comes so easy, only by the blessings of God through faith.
Thank you very much for allowing us to be part of Grace."
What Isaac, Mayo, and the rest of the family did was truly a testimony to what Grace United Methodist is all about. They truly helped us to remember who we are and what it means to be a Christ-centered church.
I am so proud and honored to be part of this congregation and to serve as pastor in this loving church. For days, I did not have words and I still don't know how to fully express what these gifts meant to me and my husband. All I know is that God is truly in this place and what a joy to be part of Grace UMC.
Thank you again to Isaac and Mayo for your generosity and love.
Thank you to the church who faithfully, tirelessly, and lovingly live out Christ's love here and in the world.
May God continue to bless us and show us how to serve.
Peace and grace,
This summer has been filled with travel, adventure, making wonderful memories, and making new friends. It was also a summer serving others in different parts of the country, lots of weeding in Queens, NY, and having fun with our children at VBS. It was a busy summer with lots of activities, coming and going. In the midst of all the amazing experiences and ministries, personally in my family, we also had to deal with my dad being diagnosed with bladder cancer and all that came with it. Luckily, the doctor discovered it early and was able to remove all the cancerous tumors, and all dad will have to endure for the next 12 months are treatments to prevent cancer from coming back.
The last couple of months have taught my family that life is unpredictable and that some things throw you a curve ball. However, no matter what happens, we can overcome it with love and faith. In the midst of joy there can also be scary moments. In the midst of serving others, you also need to be served by others. You never know what tomorrow will bring, but you can deal with whatever happens as long as you have your faith in God, who will always be there.
No matter how well you plan, how much you think you have control of your life, how smooth your life seems to be going, no one ever knows what is just around the corner. But with faith, one does not have to live in fear but with hope. One can live with confidence and assurance, for God walks with us each day, each moment.
May you pray this prayer that I love, and gives me strength, as you journey through life. It is called "St. Patrick’s Breastplate":
Christ be with me, Christ within me
Christ behind me, Christ before me
Christ beside me, Christ to win me
Christ to comfort me and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger
Christ in hearts of all that love me
Christ in mouth of friend or stranger.
Peace and grace, Pastor Sandra
The end of April, I went to Toronto to pick up my daughter, Ashley, from the University of Toronto. Two days before we had to drive up, we heard of the horrible news about a man who drove down a sidewalk, killing 10 people and injuring 16 others. It seems like these days, these tragedies are nothing new. Since January, there have been 22 high school shootings, including the most recent at Santa Fe High School in Texas, killing 10 people. And, every time we hear about another senseless death, we have slogans like "Parkland Strong," "Vegas Strong," and "Toronto Strong." It seems like this is what we do now every time there is some kind of horrible incident since the Boston Marathon Bombing. We add the word "Strong" to overcome what has happened and to bring others together.
While I was in Toronto, I also heard something which I haven"t heard before. Instead of "Toronto Strong," I also heard "Toronto Good." At first, I didn"t know what this meant, and it wasn"t picking up steam like "Toronto Strong." However, I really like this even better to overcome what I was feeling, and for how we can become a better community. One news channel interviewed those who were living out "Toronto Good" just the day after the incident. This statement was about being "Good" to one another. It was about creating a loving and caring community. It was about a florist who had a store just a few steps from where the van ran over people, and gave out free flowers to people who came to put them on the makeshift memorial. It was about a man, who went out of his way to be nice to strangers. It was about a woman, who helped a mother carry bags who was struggling with her children. It was about a student paying for coffee for others.
When I saw this on TV, I was moved by their simple actions and what we truly need to do to change the way we interact with each other. Yes, we need better gun control, we need to find ways to help those who have mental illness, and we need better protections. However, we also need to love one another instead of making others our enemies. As Bishop Michael Curry said:
"Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish sacrificial redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world.
If you don't believe me, just stop and think and imagine, think and imagine, well, think and imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way. When love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive, when love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the Earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more. When love is the way, there's plenty good room, plenty good room, for all of God's children because when love is the way, we actually treat each other well, like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all and we are brothers and sisters, children of God. My brothers and sisters, that's a new heaven, a new Earth, a new world, a new human family."
He also said, "It seems to me that this is the only way. As our eyes look to the future, as we look out across the years and across the generations, let us develop and move right here. We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make this old world a new world. We will be able to make men better. Love is the only way."
Love is what will make us strong to overcome anything in life. So, let us be "Good" wherever we are, sharing God"s goodness to others, living out Christ"s love.
Peace and grace,
Have you noticed that we have a new symbol added to our sign outside? You probably have seen it on our bulletin and newsletter for the last several years. For those who do not know what it is, it is a symbol of Reconciling Ministry. Several years ago, this church voted to become a Reconciling Congregation. A church that welcomes all people just as our mission statement states, which you can find in our bulletin and on the left side of this article. As a congregation, we have decided that no matter who you are, wherever you are in your journey of faith, you are welcomed here. This church will not discriminate or reject anyone based on age, race, gender expression, ethnic origin, economic reality, sexual orientation, family status, diverse physical ability or social standing.
The last few months, we have also talked about how we will let the community know that we are open and welcoming to all. One of the ideas we came up with was to put up a sign to let those who drive by know who we are. Since then, we have put up a sign on top of the ramp door to direct people, so that they can know and use it to have access to the building. We have also finally put up the reconciling ministry symbol, thanks to the Art Badger of National Welding and Fabrication in Lynn. They have generously made and donated it to our church.
Since putting up this symbol, some people within the church have asked, "Is it a "gay church"symbol?" First and foremost, it is not a "gay church"symbol. Instead, it is a symbol of acceptance and inclusion of all people. However, I can understand how people could misinterpret it, because for a very long time the Rainbow with these colors have been associated with LGBTQ movement. But, these colors actually mean a symbol of hope and promise. It has universal appeal - "opposite ends of the spectrum". The rainbow is a simple illustration of diversity, tolerance, and unity all at the same time. This is the reason when a group of people within the United Methodist Church first organized and formed the Reconciling Ministries Network, they used these colors and the flame, which is part of the UMC symbol, to emphasize that we are a church that welcomes ALL.
So, if you run into people who wonder about our symbols, I hope that it will be an opening for you to share about our congregation and invite them in, so that we can grow together in Christ. I also hope that as we live out our commitment to welcome and be in ministry with all, we work together to understand and support one another. May we truly be a symbol of Christ's love in our church as well as outside in our community.
Peace and grace,
A few months ago, I attended a clergy retreat. At the retreat, we all had to share about ourselves, where we came from, and what led us to be where we are today. After I had shared my life story, a pastor approached me and said that she needed to apologize. I asked what for, and she said that all this time she thought I was like a little princess who had an easy and perfect life. Every time she saw me, I was always upbeat, had lots of friends around, and was easy going. She didn't think I understood about real life, and that I was sheltered and maybe even spoiled. She had no idea about all the difficulties and struggles that I had endured in my life. She had assumed about who I was because I did not live like someone who had a hard life. I told her that I had actually only shared what I could in public, and that there are more stories in my past. However, I also have not allowed all the bad things to define who I am. Instead, I have learned to see the blessings in the midst of struggles. When I was afraid, I knew I had friends who loved me and were there for me. When I felt lost and alone, there were others who sat with me. I have seen God working in my life no matter how hard it got. At a young age, I had learned to trust God and see the good things around me, instead of focusing on the bad things. That day, she learned that we all have a story and that we shouldn't judge someone. We shouldn't make assumptions about someone without learning about their story. But, how often do we do this? We judge and place people in boxes. We assume they are bad or good by the way they look or act. As they say, we cannot judge a book by its cover. All of us have a story. All of us have struggles, difficulties, and blessings.
In the last few years, we have many new people in our church, and this month we will even have some of them joining our church. I think this is a great time for all of us to learn about each other. Weneed to go beyond just knowing names, but know their stories. So, I want to encourage you to find at least 1 person each month, and find out about who they are and share about who you are with them. Go have lunch or coffee with them. We have amazing people in our church. Let us not be just friendly superficially, but build a strong relationship with one another. Let us know each other's stories, know who they are as a child of God, and grow together.
Peace and grace,
For the last couple of weeks, I have been enjoying watching the Winter Olympics. From the opening ceremony to all the sports events, even, surprisingly, curling, we have been glued to TV as family. We love seeing all the athleticism, skill, and learning about new sports. But most of all, I love what this Olympics represented for me personally as a person of Korean descent. To see Koreans walk in together as one nation under one flag was one of the most moving experiences. To witness them playing together as one team gave me hope for peace.
This was truly what the Olympics is about as it is stated in the Olympic website: "The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world, by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play."
Throughout this winter Olympics, we have witnessed this in many places. In addition to unified Koreans, I saw it at the end of 15km cross country. It was when the Mexican athlete German Madrazo, a 43 year old who hadn't ever skied until last year, finally finished his race. During the final straight, a fan handed him a Mexican flag. He came in with a triumphant smile, waving it proudly as if he was about to win. However, he was the last competitor, finishing in 116th place, almost 26 minutes behind Dario Cologna from Switzerland. When he finally passed the finish line, fellow underdogs and late finishers, racers representing Colombia, Morocco, Portugal and Tonga's Pita Taufatofua (known as the shirtless guy), welcomed Madrazo with open arms. They hoisted him into the air to celebrate his finish. Then, the event's winner, Cologna, joined them in congratulating him.
These athletes have shown us that it is not about winning or being the best, but being the best human being. It is about working together, celebrating, encouraging, supporting, and loving one another. The Olympics is a symbol of what we can truly be, what we should be. This is what it means to be Christian and what Jesus came for. For us to love one another, work together for peace, and share the good and the bad with each other. It is about relationships and not medals.
I hope and pray that the spirit of the Olympics will continue beyond the 2 weeks. What was shared in Korea will grow and may it change the world. May we truly become the people God created us to be. May God's love and peace be fully realized.
Peace and Grace,
Someone once told Mother Teresa that not even for a million dollars would they touch a leper. She responded: "Neither would I. If it were a case of money, I would not even do it for two million. On the other hand, I do it gladly for love of God." (Mother Teresa: In My Own Words). What do you do each day gladly for the love of God? For most of us, it will not be living like Mother Teresa. Howev-er, we all can and must do something each day because of the love we have for God. We can spend our time visiting those who are ill. We can volunteer at a food pantry. We can send a card to those who are struggling or lonely. We can offer a ride to those who are unable to drive. There are limitless things we can do to show our love of God. It does not have to be big. All it needs to be is something that you do because you love God. For God has shown us the ultimate love through Je-sus Christ.
As we go through Lent, we need to remember that God has shown the world the greatest love. God sent Jesus because God loves us so much, and God wanted to give us a way back to God. God sent Jesus so that we can be forgiven, return to God, learn how we are called to live, and be given new life. There is no greater love than God's. This is what we celebrate on Easter. This is why we must live each day showing God's love, as Mother Teresa did. Our lives are not about material things, power, looking young, or even longevity. Our lives are about living as Jesus taught us to live, and expressing our love for God in everything we do. Let us be able to shout Hosanna not only on Palm Sunday and Easter, but every day of our lives. Let us live with joy and peace, for God's love is in us and all around us.
Peace and Grace,
The other day I went to Solimine Funeral Home for a funeral, and, as I was leaving, they handed me a calendar. I also went to a bank and a dentist office, and they also gave me calendars. And then, I went to a Korean grocery store and they gave me another free calendar. It seems like wherever I go, companies are giving out calendars. I don't usually have use for these small calendars since I use my phone and a church calendar. I do have a big calendar in our kitchen that I write in each month, so we can all see what we are doing.
My dad found the one I got from the Korean grocery store, and soon he was sitting down with me and wrote down everyone's birthday on it. He said as he gets older, he is forgetting everyone's birthdays, so he wants to make sure he doesn't this year. He also asked if there are any other events in 2018 he needs to know about, such as graduations as we had in 2017.
As we were looking at the 2018 calendar, I realized that it is filled with many new possibilities and wondered what each day will bring us. Will they be happy ones, sad ones, celebrations, or hardships? How can we make the most of those days? How will we live so that we do not waste the day away or wish we could get it back?
I think that one of the ways we can truly live to our fullest is by living with God's word in our hearts. If we live each day as Jesus lived, bringing joy and happiness to others, sharing God's peace and wholeness with those in need, and using our gifts to continue the ministry that Jesus has instructed us with, then we can end the day knowing that we did not waste that day. As we begin a new year, I hope that you can live with a renewed spirit and truly live each day with God. May we all live each moment with Christ in 2018.
Peace and Grace,
As you know, this year I was able to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving. Like American Thanksgiving, we had turkey and all the trimming that comes with it. We also said "Happy Thanksgiving" at the checkout in the grocery stores, to strangers, and to each other. However, in the French speaking part of the country, we said "Joyeux l'Action de Grâce." It literally translates to "Joyous Action of Grace". I actually like this better. This goes beyond just giving thanks for what we have but there is an action involved. It is more than just receiving but also giving. By saying "joyous action of grace," we are saying that we are to share God's grace joyfully with others. How marvelous is that!
Imagine if we lived each day giving grace to others, sharing God's love with joy, not just happiness but with true joy! I think we can truly change the world for the better. If we live each day, each moment with action of grace, we can truly bring peace and love to each other. Instead of bringing harm to others, ignoring injustice, living selfishly, we can truly be Jesus' hand and feet. Action of grace will bring hope to those who feel hopeless. Action of grace will bring love to those who are lonely and lost. Action of grace will bring peace to those who are struggling.
Sharing his grace with others is what Jesus asks of us each day. So, I want to challenge you all to join with me as we live intentionally doing this. This Thanksgiving, let us not only be thankful for what we have, but also that we have shared and lived out God's grace with others. May you be able to say, "Joyeux l'Action de Grâce!"
Peace and Grace,
For the first time in 25 years, I will be celebrating Thanksgiving in October again. I had it the first 3 years when I first moved to United States, but soon adapted to November Thanksgiving because it was so hard to find turkeys in October to make the Thanksgiving dinner. However, the first few years, I could not not have one in October, which is what I grew up with in Korea and Canada. Unlike the United States, most countries celebrate Thanksgiving in October in conjunction with the harvest.
This year, with Ashley being in Canada, we will be going up to celebrate it with her, my extended family, and friends. It will be the first time in a very long time that I will sit at the table with all of them. For some, it will be our very first time ever to share this meal. At first it seemed like it is no big deal, but as I thought more about what this would mean, I realized just how long I have known these people. These are the people who knew me when I was just a baby, we grew up together, shared both good and bad that had happened to me before I became who I am today. These are the people who loved me, argued with me, even challenged me. These are the people who stood by me through thick and thin, especially my best friend since I was 13 years old. They have nurtured me, helped me to grow so that I can fully serve and share my gift with others. These are the people I tend to forget and take for granted because they are my family and best friend. However, without them I would not be who I am today.
I'm sure there are those in your life who have walked with you, nurtured you, cared for you, and supported you. There are those whom you can always turn to even if sometimes you do not get along. It is amazing how many people helped us to be who we are. This month, let us remember these people, pray for them, and reach out to them. Let us remember how God has blessed you with family and friends who love you for who you are. Let us not take them for granted, but cherish them and give thanks to God for having them in your life.
Peace and grace,
The last weekend of May and the first Sunday in June both of my girls will be graduating, one from college and one from high school. As you can imagine it will be a time of celebration. But, as I reflect on each of their graduations, I realize that each brings a different perspective and future for my girls.
For Ashley, it will be a time to say goodbye to those whom she has grown up with and a time of new adventures. It will be the beginning of the next stage of her life. But in between high school and college she will take a much needed break. Isn't that what summer vacation is all about? You do nothing but relax and enjoy some free time. There are no worries, responsibilities or deadlines.
But for Amanda, this is not what is in store. We are hoping that there will be no break for her, but that she will have a job and start being an adult. As she and her friends have been saying lately, "I guess we have to be adulting soon." Yes, the word 'adult' has become a verb. She knows that soon she will not have school to fall back on. No more comfort of taking a break. No more relying on mom and dad to take care of her anymore. She must now start living and trying out all that she has learned from us and school. She has to spread her wings and fly. She may fall but will have to pick herself up and fly again.
As I think about Amanda, I cannot help but to see the similarity between what she must do in a couple of months to what we must do as people of faith and church. As followers of Christ we have been given all the teachings and guidance we need. We have heard Jesus' teachings over and over. We have witnessed his sacrifice and resurrection in our lives. We have also been given a commandment to go out into the world and make disciples. We have been told to spread our wings and fly! But just like Amanda and her friends, we are scared. We don't want to go and be adults, be true disciples of Christ. It is scary to grow up and leave our comfortable and secure places where others take care of us. However, in order for us to grow as children of God and be the church in the world, we must learn to fly by going out into the world.
The Good News is that we do not go alone. As we told Amanda, her dad and I will always be there for her; encouraging, supporting and loving her no matter what. She can always turn to us for help. This is exactly what we have from God and God will always do this for us as we go forth living as Christ's disciples. So, let us learn to live as true disciples of Jesus, who are willing to take risks, fall and then pick oneself up again and again. Let us move out into the world and share the Good News of Christ, bringing Jesus' peace and healing to our broken world.
Lent is a time most of us give up something for 40 days. We give up something to make room for God. Usually we give up things that tempt us or we like, for example chocolate or coffee. This year instead of giving up frivolous items, let’s give up that which may actually help declutter our lives. All of us have many items we live with that get in our way, especially around our houses. I don’t know about you but I know I have accumulated many items in my house that I do not need or want anymore. They just take up space and at times having so much stuff actually stresses me. I also have clutter in my life with responsibility and appointments. So, starting March 1st and for the next 40 days, I want to encourage you to join me in decluttering our houses and our lives so we can live more freely. Declutter so that we can truly make room for the things God wants us to do and be.
Each day, do only one (1) thing a day from the following list on the next page and see how much you can declutter.
Peace and Grace,
It seems like these days as soon as one holiday is over we have moved onto the next even before we are really done with the first one. Since the day after Christmas, stores have been preparing for Valentine’s Day. There are hearts everywhere and it reminds us to buy chocolates and gifts for those we love. However, these are not the things we need to love others.
Instead it is what I found as I was going through my email the other day. It is a wall art:
“10 Ways to Love”
Listen without interrupting Share without pretending
Speak without accusing Enjoy without complaint
Give without sparing Trust without wavering
Pray without ceasing Forgive without punishing
Answer without arguing Promise without forgetting
Love Never Fails
This is what Love is. It is how we live with our brothers and sisters, with strangers, with those who we do not like, with those we love and even those we hate. And, it seems like we need this kind of love much more than ever. So, let us go beyond getting cards, chocolates and flowers only on 1-day and see how we can bring Christ’s love to the hurting world.
Peace and Grace,
Every year, we write resolutions for the New Year. We write to change the way we have lived, strengthen our relationships with others, and to be healthier physically. We write so that the New Year will be better than last. We write them with hope and dreams. Sometimes, instead of coming up with a personal list, I think it would be nice to listen to those who have lived and learn from them.
A Friend of mine sent this list to me on an email and I thought it would be a great list for us to live by in 2017.
This is written by Regina Brett, 90 years old, of The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio:
May 2017 be filled with God’s blessing and new adventures.
Peace and Grace
The other night, Ashley reminded us that we need to go to beach this summer because we did not last year. We were so busy last summer that we never had time to go to the beach, hiking or to Boston Common for Shakespeare in the park. We didn't do anything we normally do to have fun the in summer here in New England. Last summer was filled with family and church events. And, it is looking like this is going to be another one like we had last year. However, we promised our daughter that we will take time no matter what to go to the beach and all the things we like to do. We will find time for us in the midst of the busy church schedule and family responsibilities.
It is so easy to get caught up doing what needs to get done that we forget to stop and enjoy. We run from one responsibility to another and miss the opportunity to be in the present. Sometimes, we need our children to remind us what is truly important. We cannot always be working but take time for some fun and relaxation. We need a Sabbath for our body, soul, and spirit. God created us to take some time to enjoy God's creation, be with the world, and to be with people we love. It is not always about doing God's work but being with God. So, take some time this summer with me. Help each other to take a break, to enjoy life, and be blessed. May this summer be filled with moments that we can cherish, be refreshing, and fun.
Peace and grace,
A few months ago, we heard lots about Syrian refugees, especially after a body of a three year old boy washed up on a beach in Turkey. It hit home to many people seeing the image of an innocent boy...dead. The seriousness of what is going on in Syria became more real to the world. It was not just some news, detached from our reality. It connected us in a human way. And, since then many countries have dealt seriously with the issues of refugees, while others still refuse to admit them - fearing terrorism.
Since we first saw the picture last September, many things have happened. There have been bombings in Paris and Berlin. We are in the midst of one of the craziest Presidential elections and we have moved on to other issues. However, people who are living in war -torn countries, cannot move onto the next headline in the news. They are still suffering, living in fear and trying to find a safe place for their family. In addition there are those who are helping these people, even when they do not have much.
One of those people was our tour guide in Jordan. On our first day, while on the way to the northern part of Jordan, he told us about many refugee camps for Syrians in Jordan. He even pointed out one as we were driving to Jerash. He said that 20% of the population in Jordan are Syrian, and at one point approximately 1000 Syrians crossed over into Jordan each day. Those living in these refugee camps must rely on the generosity of others because the government is not able to help so many refugees. So, our guide and his church, go into one of these camp every Friday to give out some essential items that they need, such as clothes, soap, shampoo, etc. The volunteers, themselves did not have much, because Jordan is a struggling country. Our tour guide is only able to work and get paid when there is a tour group to guide. These days, because of all the uneasiness in that part of the world, tourism has declined. So for months, our guide does not work. However, I was amazed that this did not stop him from giving to those even less fortunate. He actually was a little disappointed that he had to spend that Friday with us and not go and serve at a refugee camp. Actually, I think many of us would have liked to have gone and helped instead of sightseeing.
Yes, we saw many wonderful things in Jordan. The mountain, where they believe Moses stood and saw the land of Canaan after wondering in wilderness and desert for 40 years, and where Jacob wrestled with an angel. However, what we learned about Syrian refugee camps and what our guide and his church were doing each week, has made an impact in my life that I carry with me each day. These Christians were truly living out Jesus' love. They do not care what politicians say about the refugees or want to be recognized for their good work. They go into those unimaginable camps each week and bring Christ to them. They go to share God's love and help to bring peace and healing. They go and be Jesus' hands and feet. They showed me once again how God's work is happening everywhere by common people, just like you and me.
At times, we may feel like God is not in this world; especially when we watch the news. But, I tell you that I have seen it with my own eyes that God is here, in the midst of all the craziness that we have created. God is here to bring God's peace and uses each of us. All we have to do is be willing, share and give, as my tour guide is doing. Let us continue to do our part no matter where we are. And, let us pray for one another,
especially those in refugee camps - in the midst of war, and those serving them.
Peace and grace,
One of the wonderful thing that came out of my trip to Israel was meeting and getting to know other clergy in our conference. Some I knew from working together in various committees in the conference but most of them we only knew each other by name. There were a few people I liked before going on this trip but I didn't know anything about most of them. Some, I wasn't sure if I was going to like being with them in our bus for the whole trip. But, as days went by, we started to get to know one another, shared stories, and started to create bonds with each other. What surprised some of us was that we actually had lots in common and liked each other, even though at conference meetings we were on opposite side on issues and had different theological understandings. For a week and a half, we put aside our assumptions and perceptions about each other and truly got to know each other as people, children of God. We helped each other when we were in need, laughed, and explored together. After a while, we had forgotten