People are commenting something particular about 2020: “This is not the year to get everything you want. This is the year to appreciate everything you have.” And in such a year we’ve come to count our blessings on Thanksgiving Sunday.
A bag of winter radishes was delivered to our kitchen on Friday. It was a freshly picked harvest that our church members brought back from our farm. FUMC women’s group came in early Saturday morning to clean the radishes and prepare them as a gift for other church members. Those who know the story of our radishes just couldn’t stop laughing and said, “Radishes are nothing special in grocery stores, and it’s just crazy how much time and energy we put in to grow these on our farm. But it’s still so fun.”
Looking around the neighborhood in Flushing, it’s easy to notice that yards here grow more veggies than flowers. I wasn’t sure what to think at first. Bad landscaping, I thought, for such an expensive neighborhood. But enter 2020, and container gardening in our church backyard became one of my newfound joys. The four planter boxes that previously grew only flowers became a new nursery for edible greens and vegetables. The yield wasn’t high, but even just one fruit would be so delightful. Gardening provided with the daily anticipation that we all needed this year.
I remember reading in Nelson Mandela’s autobiography that, after being released from 27 years of imprisonment, one thing he missed was watching his tomatoes turn red in the corner of the prison courtyard. Touching, breathing in the soil, and seeing its fruits does lift one’s spirit. Perhaps it’s because we have been formed out of the dust of the ground. And it was on the ground that Jesus walked, ate and drank with people of the land and proclaimed the Kingdom of God. The basic group that made up the Hebrew people in the Old Testament was “Am ha’aretz” (people of the land). In the New Testament, Jesus called them “the least of my brothers and sisters,” and that what we do for them we do for Jesus. That’s what church is about – participating in the heavenly blessings of the Kingdom of God here with the people of the earth.
A few days ago, I heard the news of the passing of Mr. Jeon Seong-do, a member of Astoria KUMC. Mrs. Jeon asked if I could take a part in leading his funeral service. I first met this friendly couple through their daughter who attends the church I previously served. Mr. Jeon would always approach me like a good old friend. I remember their visit to our Wednesday evening service, not long after I came to New York. I greeted the couple but much to my surprise, Mr. Jeon no longer recognized me. Only his wife nodded in reply. At that moment I wondered why Mrs. Jeon chose to bring Mr. Jeon to Flushing when his memories of me were no longer with him. At Mr. Jeon’s funeral, however, I think I finally understood. We had known each other only briefly, but we had grown to appreciate each other for support and understanding. I was thankful to be reminded of what I had shared with him.
What makes us a church? Recently Rev. Sunyung Lee called from Denver and said, “Happy Thanksgiving, I can imagine a lot must be going on in your thoughts this week.” I had no clue what he was talking about until after we hung up the phone. It turns out, Rev. Lee who officiated my mother’s funeral remembered the week my mother passed. What a caring pastor he is. I was very grateful and a bit challenged too.
“I saw a flower on the way down; a flower that I had not seen while going up,” writes Korean poet Ko Un. This verse felt so vividly true this year. I hear concerns for the coronavirus spread over the holidays. This year was a lot more about enduring than achieving. We had to come down rather than climb up. Not to hit rock bottom, but to place our feet firmly on the ground. What I am grateful for is the ‘the flower’ that I saw, the flower that I could not see while running faster and higher. Just as Paul’s conversion happened after falling hard on the road to Damascus and meeting the risen Lord, each of us has been blessed with our own respective Damascus experience this year.
Only those who were thankful even in the wilderness could enter Canaan. We give thanks not as an option, but through obedience. “Thanks to God for my Redeemer, thanks for all Thou dost provide… Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered, thanks for what Thou dost deny… Thanks for roses by the wayside, thanks for thorns their stems contain… Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow, thanks for heav’nly peace with Thee; Thanks for hope in the tomorrow, thanks through all eternity!” May we lift up our thanks to God for everything, in everything.