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 that we were from different camps and started to become one. We were becoming a true body of Christ in Holy Land.
However, we came back to United States where there is further divisions between political parties, the craziest presidential race in history, and politicians acting like spoiled rotten children who need a good time out or grounding. It is sad hear as soon as President Obama announced his nomination for Supreme Court Judge, Merrick Garland, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed again to block his nomination. Instead of doing what they have been elected to do, there is nothing but a fight and the digging in of heels. No wonder this country is going crazy. No wonder so many people are looking into moving to Canada these days and people I met in Israel and Jordan are wondering what is going on in the United States.
How did we get to this place where we allow racism, hatred, and selfishness guide our country? How can we say this is a Christian country and not act as Jesus taught us to live? We live as if we have forgotten that Jesus said to love your neighbors as yourself and love your enemies. We want to tell Muslims that they are bad and yet we do not act as the loving and forgiving people Jesus died for.
In this unusual political time, I think we must remember what it means to be true Christians, following Jesus' examples and living by his teaching. We need to listen to each other, help one another, and build each other up. We must hear the pains of those who are struggling and stand firm against hatred. No matter what side we are on politically, we can still come together as brothers and sisters in Christ if we learn to love one another as Jesus taught us to. Unless we start doing this, there cannot be any healing in our lives or in our world.
So, pray with me for this country and our political leaders. Let us pray that God will show them how to truly be a great leaders, compassionate, caring, fair, and forward thinking. Let us pray that we also learn to love those who are different then we are, share Christ's love to all no matter who they are. May God guide us in this troubling time.
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. However, 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. Or, we can simple be nice to each other. Instead of being rude or impatient, we can share a word of encouragement. We can help one another, listen to what the other person has to say, and put the needs of others first. We can learn to let go of our need for power and control. Instead, we can embody the love of God and share it with others. 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 Jesus Christ.
As we go through Lent and celebrate Easter this month, 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 materialistic things, power, beauty, 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,
This year, as we begin our Lenten season, I will have an opportunity to join our Bishop Devadhar, Bishop Fisher and other clergy and laity from our conference, on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It has been over 28 years since I was last in Israel. Last time I was there, I was a young woman still in college, naïve and clueless of the world. I was there for 5 weeks on a study abroad program. I had visited all of the sites Jesus was born, lived and died. I did not understand or know what those significant places were because I did not know much about the Bible or Jesus' ministry. But now, I will return and revisit those places with more life experience and knowledge. I will return with a more mature faith and understanding of what it means to walk where Jesus walked.
At first, when I found out that the trip was set during the start of Lenten season, I was not happy with the dates. As I get closer however, I realize how appropriate it is to enter the Holy Land as we contemplate and reflect on our faith during this Lenten season. At first, I looked at it as going on a tour. As we were preparing for the trip, I received an email explaining that this was not a tour but, in fact, a pilgrimage. They explained that "pilgrimages to holy places have been made as acts of Devotion, Penance or Thanksgiving. Also, to seek blessings or miracles. A pilgrimage is a sacred journey in which God is encountered through the places, people and situations a pilgrim meets. The physical journey coincides with an inner spiritual journey, that reflects the concept of life itself, as a pilgrimage towards heaven." This is also what Lenten season is about.
For those who do not know what Lent is: Lent, the period of 40 days before Easter (excluding Sundays), begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Saturday (the evening before Easter). During Lent, we enter into a season of preparation, selfreflection and repentance when we seek to "turn around", realign our lives and focus toward God. It is a time to give up things, as well as take on new life-giving practices. This is to help 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.
No matter where you will be during this Lenten season, I hope you will join me in reflecting on our relationship with God and others. Take some time in prayer, read the Bible and work on areas in your life that need to be healed. In addition, I ask that you pray for me and all those who will be on this journey to the Holy Land.
Peace and Grace,
This year, I went down to Mississippi twice. Once, to celebrate my in-law's 50th anniversary and again, to attend one of my husband's oldest friend's wedding; who finally got married after being together for 12 years. 2016 will begin with us attending another wedding down south, in Dallas, for a close friend's daughter. We have seen Jennifer grow up in last the 13 years, from a teenager to an amazing young woman. Weddings are wonderful, full of excitement and love. There is hope and joy for a new beginning. There is anticipation and even a little bit of fear. But, no matter what, we enter it with love and faith.
I believe that this is how we also should enter a new year. We enter this year together with hope and excitement. We enter not knowing what the future holds, but with faith that God will lead us. We enter believing in the love of Christ that will guide us to be faithful in all that we do. We enter, trusting in God, who will provide all that we need; spiritually, physically, and emotionally. We enter, most of all, with the love of God and each other. If we work together, sharing ourselves with each other, and commit to do God's work; this year will be filled with blessings—as was last year.
Like all relationships, there will be times it will be difficult and we may even have disagreements. However, as long as we love one another as Jesus commanded us to do and stay focused on God, I truly believe that 2016 can be a wonderful year. So, let us jump in like all those who blindly, but with love, do into a marriage. Let us build a wonderful family of our own here at Grace UMC.
Peace and Grace,
What is your favorite part of Thanksgiving? Is it the cooking, eating turkey, watching football, or spending time with your friends and family? For me it is all of the above. My first Thanksgiving in the US, I actually had celebrated Thanksgiving twice, once in October to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving and one in November. I invited all my new friends that I met that first year at the Seminary, and did all the cooking in my tiny little apartment. Over the years, I tried to do both Thanksgivings but as I started serving a church and had children, it become harder to have 2 Thanksgivings.
Once we moved to Massachusetts, except for the first year, we have been going to our friend's house for Thanksgiving. So, I put my love of cooking the Thanksgiving meal aside and enjoyed the amazing cooking of our friends. However, this year I will be cooking once again because my friend's family will be going to Italy to join their daughter who is doing her study abroad this semester.
Once we found out that we were on our own, I started thinking about the menu and got excited about doing it at our house once again. However, Thanksgiving is not Thanksgiving without friends and family. So, we started asking our friends who were in the same situation. One whose children live in another state and won't be coming this year. Another who will not be traveling to their family because they will be getting together after Christmas for their daughter's wedding. And, my youngest sister who lives by herself in Vermont. We gathered those who would be on their own, for no one should be alone on Thanksgiving.
At our last nurture and hospitality meeting, we wondered if there are any in our church who will be alone this Thanksgiving. So, we would like you to let me know by Nov 16th if you or know anyone who will be alone this year. And, if you have room at your table, please let me know as well. For Thanksgiving is time for us to be with one another and share Christ's love; to truly appreciate and be thankful for God's blessing in us. It is time for us to be reminded that when we gather together around the table, we are with Christ. Sharing a meal is key to our relationship with each other and God.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus ate and shared food with his family, friends, and those who were sick, lonely, and lost. Jesus nourished body and soul, for Jesus said, "I am the bread." Jesus understood what happens when we are sitting around the table, eating with each other. We not only do we share food but love and understanding. We open ourselves and welcome each other. We share our joys and concerns. We come to heal and be made whole. So, this Thanksgiving let us make sure we are sharing a meal with one another; sharing Christ's love and giving thanks.
Peace and Grace,
The other day, I came out of the church building using the fire escape from my office and I noticed that there was a long branch of cherry tomatoes by our fence. At first I thought it was a strand of branch from the other side. But, when I looked, I realized that our neighbor did not have a tomato plant, instead it was a rose bush. I don’t know how and where this cherry plant came from. All summer, no one ever noticed or took care of it and yet, here is one long strand with a few cherry tomatoes on it.
On the other hand, I planted a few tomato plants and other vegetables this spring at my house and we have been trying to water, weed, and take care of them all summer. But unlike other years, this has not been a very good year for my vegetables. My zucchinis died after only yielding 2, my pepper only had 3, and my tomatoes have been dismal.
As I thought about these two situations, I could not help but think of how we do our ministries at church. So often, we think we need to plan, organize, and control how they are done. And yet at times it does not go as we want it. Sometimes, I think we try too hard to plan and take care of it that we do not leave room for the Spirit to come and lead. We focus so much and make sure everything is taken care of the way we think we need it that we forget to let God lead us. We created committees and groups to control what we want and forget to hear Jesus' Words.
However, like the tomato plant that is growing at our church only by God's wonderful work, we need to allow God to work in us. We need to make room, let go of our control and power, and let the Spirit move in this place. In the last couple of months, I have seen people getting excited about ministries, youth coming back from their mission trip all fired up, and people stepping up to help out with ministries we are doing. Some of them even came to me and asked if they can start a ministry and wondered who they need permission from. To them and others, I say that if God is calling you to a ministry, go and do it. As a Pastor, I believe in permission giving and guiding, not controlling. All I need to know is what people are doing, help them connect and give guidance. I believe that each and every one of us are called into ministry and when God calls you to a specific ministry, go and serve.
The Spirit is moving in and out of our church. Make room for the Spirit to lead you. Listen to God's voice and let us serve together, trusting in God, and growing in faith.
Peace and grace,
As I began this summer, I was anxious about all that was going to happen in next 3 months: Annual Conference; 2 mission trips; VBS; trips to Mississippi and Toronto; and both Kitchen and Bathroom renovation. Well, as I predicted and feared, it turned into one crazy summer. I just plugged along one thing after another, dealing with one problem at a time, and at times wondered if my house will ever be normal again. Even my daughters were looking forward to September and going back to school to find some normalcy once again.
Summertime is to relax and refresh. But, if you did not get the chance like we didn't, what do you do? When my daughter Ashley complained the other night, "This has been one hard and crazy summer." I reminded her that it was not all bad. In the midst of the craziness, we still found time to visit with our families who live far away, visited a couple of colleges for her, she had fun being in a show, and found few a quiet moments in between. It may not have been what we wanted or have done in the past but it does not mean everything was bad.
I know I saw God in the joy and transformation of our youth who went on the mission trip. I saw God in the children who were having an amazing time at VBS and dedication of our volunteers. I saw God in a woman who could not thank us enough for helping to rebuild her church after the flood. I saw God in my friends who gave me a hug when I needed, an old friend who I talked with until 3 am like we were still teenagers, and texts to remind me I am loved.
If there is anything my family learned this summer it is to find a glimpse of God in the midst of the craziness of life. Instead of dwelling on the bad, see the blessings. I believe that if we learn this skill, then no matter what happens in the future, we can make it through. I know that I was able to get through this summer with all your prayers, my friends who check up on me, and God's strength.
As I now look toward what we have planned for this fall and rest of the year, I know that it is not going to slow down but keep going as if it never stopped. But, no matter how busy we get, what curve ball may come into our lives, with God's help all things are possible. And most of all, trust in God who is in control and will guide us. See God in our midst. Be blessed by God!
Peace and Grace,
One of the things I learned being here at Grace UMC is that many people go away for the summer if not at least on the weekend as soon as the weather gets nice. People have been coming up to me since early May telling me that they will be gone for the summer and will see me when they come back in the fall. Such is life here in New England. Starting Memorial Day weekend until Columbus weekend, many New Englanders head to their summer homes. After all we had a very hard winter and who does not want to get away even if it is for a few days to relax and enjoy God's creation. It is time to slow down and be with family and friends. It is time to reconnect with our loved ones, make new memories and spend some time doing what we enjoy.
However, many people, who go away during summer tend to forget the most important things about taking a time off: Sabbath. We forget that it is not only about getting away from the demands of life but also taking those times to reconnect with God. That is why even Jesus, who went away from the demands of life, spent time in prayer. Getting away does not mean forgetting about God or being a follower of Christ. Just because it is summer, it does not mean that church is closing down. Instead, it is time to live out what we believe in very concrete ways. This summer we will be going on 2 mission trips, one for youth and one for adults. There will also be another exciting Vacation Bible School for children. I will also be preaching a sermon series based on the Lord's Prayer starting at the end of July. We will also start planning for the upcoming church year so that we can continue to live out our callings.
Just because it is summer, it does not mean we will be slowing down. After all, God does not take a break from us so why should we? So, as you spend some time at your camp, laying on a beach, or going on hikes, whatever you are doing, remember that God is still with you and wants you to be in relationship with God. Pray for those who are going on mission trips and if you are in town, come and help out at VBS or just join us on Sunday.
Let us make the most of this summer by doing God's work and being renewed by the Holy Spirit so that we can continue to live sharing Jesus' love wherever we are.
Peace and grace,
What does summer mean to you? For kids, it is about no more school, no more homework, and playing outside. For some it is about cookouts and camping. For me, it is time to spend some time with my family and friends. It is about getting away for a couple of weeks to relax and rejuvenate my soul and spirit. And this year, it is going to start a month early. The first 2 weeks in June, we will have guest visiting us and after the Annual Conference, we will be flying down to see my husband’s family and give a 50th wedding anniversary party for my in-laws. And then, we will be driving up to see my family and friends in Canada as we begin a college tour for Ashley. When I finally get back to Massachusetts I will be taking our youth on a youth mission trip. As I look at the itinerary for what we will be doing for next 2 months, I feel like that summer is already over. I have so much to plan, prepare, and organize before I go on all the travels. I know that it will be fun to see old friends and spend time with family but it also is starting to stress me. I am also wondering will I have time to decompress, find time to relax and refuel myself so that I can come back to serve fully.
Thus, I know that I need to be intentional