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Alive Again

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Music has been hard for me for the past year or so. I know this seems strange coming from someone whose career is fully entrenched in worship, but at some point it simply stopped bringing me joy and singing started to feel like work. Music the medium from which my very soul and essence were molded no longer brought me alive. I drove to and from work in complete silence and rarely played songs simply for enjoyment while I cooked or cleaned.

This is the second time in my life when this has happened, and I know myself well enough to recognize that this is a cry for help from my soul. I should not be surprised, because last year was the year in which I faced something no one dreams of, yet many experience. My marriage came to an end.

Divorce is terrible. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis likens a divorce to the amputation of both of your legs. Like an amputation, you wake up feeling phantom pains of the parts of you that are now missing. However, rather than limbs, it feels more akin to the removal of part of your soul, your identity and your future. In a world that once felt secure, you suddenly feel completely off balance as your finances, living situation, friendships and identity all change in an instant. In marriage, you open yourself up to trust another human being with your most intimate and vulnerable pieces, so to realize that person is possibly someone else entirely creates a chasm that is incomparable to any other type of grief.

I've spent the last year alone as we worked through the separation. The year prior was spent in very serious spiritual discernment. This decision did not come lightly and followed years of counseling and professional guidance. I would not recommend or wish this outcome on anyone, yet I can say without hesitation that I have learned a tremendous amount about life, relationships, and myself through this journey.

I have learned that you should never judge another family's decisions, because it is very possible that you have no idea what is going on behind closed doors.

I have learned that some couples are able to work through hardship and breaches of trust, so long as both parties are committed to growth and true repentance.

I have learned that I do not have the power to change, fix or save anyone no matter how much I want to.

I've learned that no one knows how to act around grieving people, but really the best thing you can do is simply show up over and over again. Listen -love – repeat.

I am slowly learning the beauty of community and vulnerability. Unfortunately I walked a lonely path for a long time by isolating myself and carrying secrets that felt too shameful to share. However, once I opened myself up to sharing the darker parts of my life, I was able to find a community of women for whom this is also a reality. I found that I can in fact trust others with the darkest parts of myself and that this is what God wants for us. If you are currently harboring pain alone, I beg you to find someone you trust.

The past few years will not make it to my top ten list of favorite years, but I have hope for the next one. My goal for 2018 is to focus on rebuilding my life and becoming the person God intended for me to be. I hope to stop pleasing people and start pleasing God. I will strive to heal and recover from the brokenness I have experienced, and to use it to minister to others. As clich as this sounds, I truly need to spend some time getting to know who I am and learn to love myself.

Divorce feels like a death and I can't say that I feel fully alive yet. However, last week something beautiful happened. Alone in my new apartment, I turned on a gospel station on Spotify. Slowly, I found myself tapping my toes, then singing along, and eventually I was fully dancing to the music in my kitchen. I may not be there yet, but as the music, God, therapy and healthy relationships continue to heal me, I know that soon and very soon I will be alive again.

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Tags: music, recent

What God Would Want for the Christmas?

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What is the first Christmas you remember?

The first Christmas I remember was when I was four years old. It was also the first time I went to church after being invited by my childhood best friend and her family. I think it was a Christmas Eve event for children, complete with a children's pageant and nativity scene. I don't remember all of the details, but I do remember Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. Amazingly, I also remember what we sang that night: "Silent Night". And of course, I remember getting gifts and goodies.

Going to a church on Christmas Eve wasn't a tradition for my family at that time. Even though there were tons of churches around us in Seoul, South Korea, my dad and his family were strong Buddhists. My mom was a Christian, but she couldn't go to church or even tell anyone that she wanted to go. The culture was male dominant and the father's religion was the primary one to be observed by the family. However, I was able to attend church with my friends during my early childhood, although I didn't know much about faith until later, when I was in upper elementary school. I remember I started praying for my family's salvation around that time, especially for my dad and grandma. My mom started sneaking out to the early-morning prayer service each day and because I was an early riser from a very young age, I started following her to the service. As Christmas approached, we would often see beautiful morning stars on very cold, clear winter mornings. I used to ask my mom which star was the one directing the Magi to baby Jesus. She always pointed to the brightest star in the sky and told me that one must have been it.

I still regularly go to the early-morning prayer service and look up at the sky as soon as I get out of the house, just like I remember doing in my childhood. Especially this time of year, the memory becomes more alive when I see bright morning stars.

As we have been learning more about the God of Surprises through this Advent, the idea of God as Emmanuel fills me with wonder. It's amazing that God would even think of coming down to earth as a baby and being born in a manger in the small town of Bethlehem through a virgin named Mary. But this surprising story doesn't end with an unexpected birth. As we all know, it leads to the Cross and the even more surprising resurrection. However, I think there is one more surprise that came just before Jesus ascended into heaven. He reminded his disciples that he came to save the world and told them what they needed to do. If I had been one of his disciples, I would have panicked at hearing the great commission: "Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."

Because the disciples were all Jews who didn't associate much with gentiles and because they also grew up in local, small towns, they must have been shocked and maybe even a little frightened at the thought of doing what Jesus was asking. What would the great commission mean for them? What exactly was Jesus talking about when he said "all nations"? They didn't have a globe or map of the world. But they all accepted the great commission, as evidenced in the book of Acts. And because the disciples obeyed, the Holy Spirit opened doors and expanded their vision and understanding of all nations. What if they hadn't obeyed Jesus? Perhaps I would have never heard about Jesus in Seoul, South Korea.

Between today's media and the Internet, we live in the most connected era of all time. Our physical view of all nations is truly global. However, I feel that our hearts' view of all nations has rather shrunk. Even though I get news from all over the world from my tiny laptop, I hardly feel for any of the people I hear about, even those in my own country. Especially in the busy hustle and bustle of Christmas, I hardly think of anything other than my church, family and friends (and if there is any wiggle room, maybe my neighbors).

When I was preparing last summer for this year's Christmas cantata, God strongly reminded me what truly needs to be celebrated. Jesus came to earth to save the world. John 3:16 clearly tells us that, "For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." Have you thought about what God really wants for Christmas? I have, and I truly believe that he wants all of us who live on earth to have a relationship with him, calling him Father through the salvation in Christ Jesus.

I pray that this year's Christmas cantata worship services will help open our hearts to receive the meaning of Christ's humble birth. You will hear carols from all over the world. I would like to invite you all to be a part of this celebration and to invite your neighbors, particularly those from countries where Christianity is not the primary religion. I also want to encourage you to go beyond the invitation and open your eyes to see who they really are. Who knows if there is another Yoon for whom this could be the first Christmas experience and who will grow in faith through this simple invitation? This could be our first step in following the Great Commission.

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Thank You for Letting Us Sing to You: Confessions of a Choir Crasher

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You've heard of party crashers and wedding crashers, but perhaps you have never heard of a choir crasher. That's me, the person who, back in the doldrums of September as election campaigns were still in full swing, shorter days and longer nights were just beginning to descend and Christmas trees were not yet at Lowe's, I began to wonder in earnest What can I do to make this season feel more like Advent?

Aclear and undeniable suggestion came to mind: join the Floris UMC Cantata choir.

Don't get me wrong. I'm no solo singer. I have an average voicea congregational voicethat's mostly on pitch and works well in a crowd. Harmony is a stretch, but I can make a joyful noise.

So, I emailed the choir director, Yoon Nam, who told me they were welcoming seasonal singers for the Cantata and told me to come for the last partof their Wednesday evening choir rehearsal. I did and they were expecting me. My name written on a sticky note marking an empty seat saved for me.

"You're an alto, right?" Yoon asked.

"Yes," I said, as I took my seat, wondering how she knew.

And frankly, I was pitiful. I couldn't find the notes, couldn't hear the pitches, didn't get the rhythms let alone the words, so I spent most the time lost in the music, scanning the pages, frantically looking for the alto line shuffled among the four parts and the piano accompaniment. Oh my, what had I done?

After rehearsal, I thanked Yoon, apologizing for my dismal performance, wrong notes and poor sight-reading. Ever honest, Yoonsaid, "That's okay. You have other gifts."Haha! Thank God I do. Just point the microphone away from me!

At the end of that first night of rehearsal, we dismissed from our seats to form a large, hand-held circle to pray. The choir, you see, is actually the largest small group you'll ever be a part of, nearly 70-strong. Not only do they sing together in worship, but they care for each other, share devotional reading and always, they pray together to conclude their rehearsals.

Yoon prays and the room falls silent:

"Lord, thank you for letting us sing to you."

That says it all. It's the reason we're here, the reason we practice and the reason we are admonished to take care of our instruments, which in this case are our bodies and, in particular, our voices.

Unfortunately, I immediately realize that I brought very flabby praise muscles. My vocal chords are sorely out of shape. My harmony is hard of hearing. After thirtyminutes of singing, I'm hoarse and exhausted. This is ridiculous! What kind of praise is this?

Week by week of Wednesdays, I showed up for just a wee bit of practice with this small group disguised as large, where a chair welcomed me by name, faces smiled when I arrived and strong, confident voices surrounded me. With Mandy and Erin, the dual Rocks of Gibraltar in the alto section verily ringing out from behind me, all I have to do is open my mouth tolet the angels sing!

And Yoon there's just no describing singing for her. She is hilarious, mimicking and imitating us in practice, yet, serious about drawing it all together perfectly. As we prepare for what is not performance, but offering, she is generous, forgiving and heartfelt. Her direction is awhole-bodied, whole-hearted, full-minded, soul-filled affair.Notes travel, phrasing moves forward, sound grows and diminishes, and praise, praise, all of it is meant to praise. Yoon teaches us to praise through song.

"Open your mouth like this," she showsus. Because when we sing reluctantly and without confidence, our lips tighten and the sound is raw and quenched. Opening your mouth lets the note ring beautifully. "Listen to how it sounds. Listen to how it blends. Open your mouth and let the Holy Spirit sing in you."

The Light of the World is coming and has come.Words just can't quite say it completely. This calls for singing, as if there is a microphone in every pew, which surely is how God hears us.There's just nothing quite so true as singing Glory to God,double forte.Oh my goodness! Thank you, Yoon, and new choir friends. It was amazing praising God together.

Lord, thank you for letting us sing to you.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:16-17

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A Celebration of Light

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When I grew up in Seoul, Korea, there were war drills. Yes, war drills. On the fifteenth of each month, we had a short 30-minute war drill. Sirens went off, and cars and people had to stop in the middle of the streets, or wherever they were, to hide.

Also, there was a special drill at night once or twice a year for an hour when no one was allowed to turn any lights on in their homes. When I was very young, the night drills scared me.

My mom, who took the Korean War very seriously, was adamant about hiding the light. She covered all the windows with dark fabrics, even door cracks. And if you turned any light on by accident, patrols yelled at the door, "Turn the light off!" I think I was more terrified of their voices than the darkness itself.

When I reached elementary school age, I went to the roof with my dad one night during a drill. It was early summer, and our roof was built with a mini terrace area so we could walk up and lie down on a blanket to watch the stars and look around our neighborhood. I still remember that night. I was shocked to realize how dark the city could be. And how bright stars really were. Amazed at how many stars were in the sky.

I asked my dad, "Where they are coming from, Dad? I've never seen them before."

"They were always there, my darling." He answered. "You just didn't see them well because of the city lights around you."

I learned that night that stars could be revealed more in the dark.

Our Christmas cantata this year is "Celebration of the Light." I collected beautiful music composed by several different composers. You will hear a range of music from a beautiful a cappella song to songs that use a full orchestra, children's choir, soloists and a handbell choir all together.

In the Gospel of John chapter one, John describes the light: "The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of Godchildren not of natural descent, but born of God."

From the Gospels of John to Luke, we will illustrate the story of the Light through our cantata. We will hear why the Light came to us and who truly recognized the Light, and we will celebrate the Light with a joyful response: "Gloria in Excelsis Deo!" (Glory to God in the Highest!)

"Gloria in Excelsis Deo" is originally from an early hymn, known as the angel hymn, sung during Christ's nativity scene in Luke 2:14. "Glory to god in the highest, and on earth peace among men of good will," has been sung in churches since the third century. Many composers created beautiful, celebrant melodies and instrumental music using this lyric throughout history. One of our cantata songs is "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" by Mark Hayes. You will find the line "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" not only in this one song, but also throughout the cantata in many songs and hymns that proclaim and praise his glory and acclaim peace on earth.

You will experience a beautiful celebration through the stories of Mary, angels and shepherds and the prophet Simeon, who will all use beautiful songs to proclaim the joy of the Light.

Christmas is a season of hope, peace and joy, which are things not found in department stores or shiny decorations. We can find them only in Christ Jesus who was born in the lowest place but also as the True Light. I believe that when our hearts become truly humble, we can find the hope, peace and joy of Christ even in the midst of darkness.

As I experienced on that roof in Korea, the Light can be recognized more clearly when the darkness is darker. An amazing part of the story of the Light is the birth of it isn't the end of the story. It continues through us. Jesus called us to be the light of the world. He calls us to shine out from the darkness.

I pray that the story of the Light brings us not only a night of celebration but that it empowers us to be the light in this dark world. I hope you will join me at our Christmas Cantata, December 11, to celebrate the True Light who came for everyone.

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Open Mic Night

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Open Mic Nightwhat does that mean? For some, you might envision karaoke night at which a gaggle of girls climb on stage to sing Shania Twain. Others might picture a local comedy club or a coffee shop evening filled with aspiring songwriters. However, for some of you, the thought of an open mic night might be terrifying. Perhaps you associate the term with more painful memories as you recall a time when you stood up to share a new piano piece at your school talent show, only to be mocked by friends later. Others could recount an evening in which a new song you wrote fell flat on a disinterested crowd.

Anytime a person shares an artistic gift, it comes with a level of risk. Art is vulnerable. It is rooted in a part of your core being that is deeply connected to your soul. Believe it or not, there are still times when an element of fear accompanies me as I lead worship. Any time I try something new or share a song I've written, I guarantee that my hands are trembling. It is because art opens you up to others and shows the true self. The thought of exposing this piece of you to a group of people can be intimidating.

It is for this reason that we created Open Mic Night at Floris UMC two years ago. The purpose is to provide an open and welcoming forum in which members of the church and greater community can come together and share their gifts. At first we didn't know what to expect or who would come, but it has grown into something truly magical. There has not been a single Open Mic event that I have walked away from without feeling some form of inspiration or a Godly touch.

The beauty of Open Mic Night is that no two events are ever alike. We have enjoyed a high school improv group, newly budding songwriters, an Indian drummer, songs from various languages and an Italian aria. Ballerinas, hip-hop dancers, Bollywood dancers and modern dancers have all graced the stage at one point or another. Actors have shared monologues before magicians dazzled the crowd with a new trick. There is no experience required, as you will see brand new performers mixed in with people who have spent their entire lives honing their craft.

Recently I asked some participants to share with me why they are involved in Open Mic Night.

"I love open mic because it gives my [dance] group an opportunity to share with others about the beauty of God while presenting it in an entertaining and fun way!"

"Open mic is one of our favorite events in Floris. The reason being, it has helped my kids a lot to share their talents for the Glory of his kingdom. Looking back at the very first open mic in 2014 I attended with my family, until the last one, it has made a big difference in the way they have grown with their musical skills. This skill that they developed has helped [our kids] to perform at various other events in Floris. Last year we even did a neighborhood Christmas caroling!"

"Variety of performances, coffee house feel and free snacks is a hard combination to beat!"

"For me, Open Mic is a joyful event to experience what happens when God encourages folks to share their gifts with others."

If you are an artist of any flavor, or merely someone who respects the arts, this is a place for you. Come take that leap of faith with others by sharing your gift in a community built to embrace one another as we say, "I see you. I feel you. Your art is special." This is a safe space, void of any judgment, and filled with nothing but love and acceptance of the creativity with which God has gifted each person.

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