InHo Kim – My Faithful Journey

Life Stills of a Korean-American Man/Husband/Father/Pastor


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“I Promise To Visit Soon”

Italy Earthquake

Just last night we began our gatherings for Holy Week. It was also the beginning of the 8 day celebration of Passover. Rabbi Arik Ascherman writes that “Pesakh (Passover) is a time where Jews traditionally clean their homes of khametz (leavened grain products) and that many speak of cleaning our souls of khametz as well.” For us, it was a time to de-clutter our lives, our hearts and our spirit so that we can journey with Christ during the darkest of times and also rise joyously with him. We read scripture, acted out a Holy Week Play, celebrated communion, discussed how our lives connected to this time of the liturgical year and sang together. Then we ended the night in prayer, silently and aloud, for those dark and troubled places in our lives and in our world that is so in need of God’s love, grace and redemption.

We prayed for the 15th anniversary that commemorates that genocide in Rwanda that killed more than 800,000 innocent lives. We grieved over another mass shooting at a Korean Christian retreat center, a center that helped the orphans and the homeless. It is no less than 8 such mass shootings in the past few months. We prayed for the continued unrest and wars around the globe. We prayed for these difficult economic times and for the growing homeless population that includes 1.5 million children, 45% of which are below the age of 6. We prayed for one of our elderly members who had a horrible fall and fractured her elbow and her knee. And finally we prayed for the hundreds of deaths and thousands of displaced families in the earthquake in central Italy.

As I was driving home from this wonderful and spirit filled gathering, I turned on the radio to listen to NPR. The announcer stated that as of last night, there were 272 dead and 28,000 displaced residents in this town of L’Aquila, Italy. After all the news detailing the horrible destruction of that city, the announcer ended this segment by saying “And Pope Benedict has promised to visit them soon after Easter.” Upon hearing those words last night, I felt anger from the tips of the toes to the top of my head. Ok I was hungry, sleep deprived and visibly tired, and I could have been irrational in my feelings, but anger was all I felt.

Here is a town that has been torn apart by this earthquake. As of today, there are 279 dead, countless others missing, just fewer than 30,000 displaced with 17,000 living in tent cities just outside of town. 10’s of thousands of others have fled the city and are lucky enough to have family close by where they can live temporarily. One can not enter its churches, its schools, or most other public buildings because of structural damage. The newly built hospital that was suppose to withstand earthquakes is also crumbling and with one more shake, the experts say that it could come down also. In a country where 96% of the population is Roman Catholic, the Pope says he “will visit soon after Easter.”

Many times, when tragedies happen, the goodness in people shines forth. I remember while working in a nonprofit in downtown San Francisco that worked with underprivileged youth, a young girl was hit and instantly killed by a school bus two blocks from her middle school. Knowing some of the youth who attended that school, several of us went to the school to see if we could be of help, but already gathered were religious leaders, counselors, youth oriented non-profits to help any way they can. When I walk my dog Chewy, I find people walking several dogs at a time, and several of those people, I later found, are pet sitting for those families whose lives have been turned upside down in New Orleans until they can get back on their feet again. I know of scores of churches in the area who still continuously send people to work on homes to rebuild the towns and lives of people of New Orleans.

The Pope, who some say is the incarnation of God on earth, or the second in line to Peter, the rock, the foundation on which the Church is built, will not visit this little town in their time of need. So I thought maybe he is not in Italy or anywhere close for him to visit before Easter. No, he is in the Vatican. Maybe this little town of L’Aquila is too far away even in Italy for him to travel to during Holy Week. So I Google mapped it from Rome and it is only about 100 km away. That is about 62 miles. So in the Pope’s eyes and for the powers that be in the Vatican, it is far more important for the Pope to be part of the Holy Week services than sneak away for even a few hours to care for one of their own just 62 miles away. It reminded me of George Bush flying over New Orleans during its hurricane decimation and never landing. Call me unfair for the comparison but it’s just what I am feeling at the moment.

This also reminds me of the religious leaders who rebuke Jesus for bringing God’s love and healing to those who especially need it on the Sabbath. As the Gospel of Mark states:

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ 4Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. 5He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. (Mark 3:1-6)

The Pope’s inaction is a reminder to me, even in my difficult, sleep deprived, busy week, to not let the work of the church hinder the work of God’s love and grace to those around me. Or else verse 5 should be ringing in my ears when Jesus “looked around them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness . . . “


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My Daughter’s Not So Gentle Reminder Towards Holy Week

IsabellaMy 4 year old son and my 9 month old daughter have already taught me much about myself and life in general. I have learned of the depth of my love, the width of my patience and the height of my endless joy. I have learned to see the world anew especially through the eyes of my son. I have recaptured my creative side in making up stories with my son at night, drawing and coloring all that he imagines, and even molding fantastical worlds with play-doh and moonsand. Through my daughter, I have learned to laugh even in the most serious of moments, and to put down my laptop and Blackberry to focus on what is the most important in life, the attention that she oh so demands. And finally, as I enter into the final week of Lent and Holy Week, she is reminding and teaching me of something else.

You see, my daughter is teething. It is the time when her sharp little teeth are breaking through her tender gums. I hear that if adults have to go through this process, none of us would be able to bear it. She is feverish, in pain and just downright uncomfortable. I remember my son going through this process, but it wasn’t so bad for him. For my daughter, it has been awful. Her normally happy go luck disposition, laughs and smiles are gone. She is cranky all day. She has problems with naps and especially sleeping at night. Just last night, my wife and I had to take turns for three hours just to put her to sleep for the night and of course, she would still wake up 4-5 times throughout the night. And isn’t it just perfect timing since my wife and I are both pastors at separate Presbyterian churches during one of the busiest ecclesiastical times of the year.

I can honestly say that I am suffering. No I am not equating my suffering to Jesus’ suffering during Holy Week, and my wife is definitely worse for wear since our baby girl only cries out for her mother, but I am suffering nonetheless. There is the lack of sleep, the sore and tired back from carrying her constantly, a patience that is running thin, the crunch time of the busy week ahead and the lack of “cave time” that I desperately crave and need as an introvert. Oh I am suffering and can’t wait for Easter for the most obvious of reason that Monday comes right afterwards and I can take a little breather from work and in hopes that my suffering daughter might be over her teething and onto happier times.

During these hectic church seasons, I at times forget to take the time to breathe and journey through the liturgical season myself. In creating and helping our faith community experience this season of Lent and Passion Week, I either ignore and/or forget to experience it for myself. But this week, it is my daughter who won’t let me forget. As she suffers, I also suffer along with her. I suffer mainly because of the residual symptoms caused by her teething, but in caring for her, I also journey with her in her pain.

One of the most amazing experiences that I have had in my life was when I participated in a group that practiced the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius for 5 months. It was during my third year at San Francisco Theological Seminary, when I was immersed in an internship at a local church. The exercises began in Advent and ended with Easter. The 20 of us gathered together for 4 hours each week to learn from and talk with each other about our experiences of the exercises and how our lived lives connected with the Jesus of the Gospels as he lived it. Being a Presbyterian all my life, I have always known and celebrated the liturgical calendar, but I had never fully and truly lived it until I experienced these exercises. I remember Lent being the most difficult time as we delved deeply into the darkest of places in our lives, our community and our world.

As I enter into Passion Week, a prayer for myself is to not be a bystander during this time as if I was just reading a story or viewing a movie. It is that I would fully enter and participate in the Jesus story even in his darkest of times. So I want to thank you Isabella for your gentle and not so gentle reminders.


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All About the Experience

newtraditions

This past Friday, with a huge sigh of relief, my wife and I enrolled our son in the San Francisco public school of our choice, New Traditions Elementary.  The published statistics showed that only 60% of families had an opportunity to enroll in their 1st school of choice this year. It is a crazy public school system here in San Francisco, but we made it through all the meetings, the school visits, making decisions on what our 7 top choices would be and the four months of waiting after submitting all of our papers to the school district. As we sought the best school for our son, we really just had one criteria in mind. Is this a place where my son, with his particular personality, strengths, affinities and needs will be able to thrive?

Out of the plethora of schools that we visited last fall, New Traditions Elementary was our last visit. It wasn’t the newest building or the nicest. It didn’t have the latest technological equipment, spotlessly clean and sterile hallways or the highest API scores in San Francisco. The playground was not much to look at and really, neither was their website. But as I set foot into the school, there was a warmth to the place that was very palpable. It felt very homey. There was a familial feel within the staff and between the families of the students. We walked in to the sound of children singing in the auditorium and entered the Kindergarten class where the children were working cooperatively by reading together, building structures with toothpicks and marshmallows, helping each other with computer programs, painting and drawing, solving several puzzles, and putting on a puppet show. These methods were all used to study the single theme/subject for the day and it was all happening at the same time! Does it sound chaotic? It definitely looked like organized chaos and I loved it. The school’s website states:

We value the diversity of our community and recognize the importance of the creative arts in education. A holistic education recognizes that children learn academically and socially through all their senses. Students have the opportunity to learn through several modalities. For example, the required California Academic Standards are not only taught in the traditional way, but with projects integrating visual arts, music, poetry, and drama, taught by professional artists of our community.

Doesn’t that sound like a great way to teach and to learn. To engage the whole being, mind, body and soul and to experience fully what one is learning. I felt as if I had fully experienced their mission and vision and, again, I thoroughly loved it.

As I walked away from the school, I began to think about all of the churches that I had visited in the past and how many I can equate with this experience. I can honestly say not many, and sometimes, sad to say, not even at churches where I had served. The church is the place where God’s mission and vision comes alive. A church is the embodiment of Jesus on earth. The church makes visible the Holy Spirit who sustains, moves and empowers us to speak and show love and justice in our world. As Jesus eats with and invites all, the church is the place that welcomes everyone to the table. In how many houses of worship have I/we experienced this?

This school is the embodiment of its mission. We too as the church should be the same. It is something that I constantly strive for not only as a pastor, but especially as one who is part of a faith community that tries to follow in the ways of Jesus.


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Java Love

3-in-1 coffeeI have been going through morning coffee withdrawals the last three days. On Sunday morning, I performed my once a year ritual of cracking the coffee carafe of our automatic drip coffee maker, the one that you can set it to begin brewing early in the morning so that it can awaken you with the sweet aroma of what my brother keeps calling, “the nectar of the gods” every few mornings on his twitter status. So until I had the time and energy to drive to the local replacement parts store,  on Sunday evening during my trip to the local Asian market, I decided to buy a Korean 3-in-1 instant coffee packet. You know the instant coffee packets that also include the cream and the sugar. I remember these were my drink of choice during my two week trip to Korea a few years ago, and I swear they tasted great at the time. But I have to say that I must have lost all of my taste buds when I was in Korea, maybe due to all of the spicy dishes and kimchee, because these were absolutely undrinkable. Tasted like dirty dish water flavored with cream and sugar. I even tried pouring several packets into only a half cup of hot water and I still ended up spitting it all out.

So on Tuesday afternoon I finally made the trip to purchase a new carafe. With the smell of Java whafting through my house on Wednesay morning, with my shaking withdrawal laden hands, I ended up drinking two huge cups before leaving the house, another when attending the meet and greet at my son’s new school and then one more when I went to my office. I am an addict and it’s been my drug of choice since college. As I sat in my office, now shaking due to a caffeine rush, I turned my chair around to work on my laptop only to see a poem that I had put up beside the bookshelves. I have no idea who wrote it or where it came from but it spoke to me yesterday. Maybe it will speak to you, all of you fellow java addicts:

Addiction is Bad Bad Thing

Caffeine is my shepherd, I shall not doze.

It maketh me to wake in green pastures:

It leadeth me beyond the sleeping masses.

It restoreth my buzz:

It leadeth me in the paths of consciousness for its name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of addiction,

I fear no Equal(tm):

For thou art with me, the cream and the sugar they comfort me.

Thou preparest a carafe before me in the presence of The Starbucks:

Thou anointest my day with pep, my mug runneth over.

Surely richness and taste shall follow me all the days of my life

and I will dwell in the House of Java forever.

Yes there are a few words that I would change, including Starbucks (the evil empire with coffee that tastes slightly better than my instant packets) and Equal (which might actually kill you), but the sentiments are there. So hope you are having a great morning/day with your one or two or several cups of your favorite coffee of choice. And please, no interventions for me necessary. I am not in denial and do not try to hide it. Instead, like right now as I try to type with one hand while holding a cup with the other, I fully embrace it.


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Caring with a Click of a Mouse

calvary-logoI am remembering from my last blog entry the quote by Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams when she said, “I don’t care where you volunteer. Just be passionate about something and then get off of your butts and do something about it.” Well, with the help of the internet, there are times when one can help, be passionate about , raise awareness and even raise money for something you care about without having to raise your butt. Just keep your butt glued to the couch with your laptop on your thighs “and do something about it.”

A friend of mine who is the executive director of Calvary Women’s Services in the Washington DC area needs your help. This nonprofit organization provides housing and support services to homeless women. In these difficult economic times, more and more people are losing their jobs and their homes. At a time when nonprofits such as this is desperately needed, they also face a challenging financial future. So please check out Calvary Women’s Services, and if so inclined vote for them here, so that they may be awared $5000 to continue the good and important work that they do.

Here is a note from their executive director, Kris Thompson.

As you know, I work at Calvary Women’s Services.  It’s a great organization that really does make a difference for homeless women in this community.

Calvary is also 1 of 10 local organizations that just received a $10,000 Leadership Award from the Washington Area Women’s Foundation.  We need your help to win an additional $5,000.

From March 17 to March 27, the public will vote to decide which of the 10 organizations will receive a $5,000 grant.  At Calvary, $5,000 makes a big difference.  It can:

•  Purchase 6 months worth of food for the dinner and breakfast programs
•  Support 2 months of Life Skills education programs
•  Provide 22 women with a year’s worth of mental health services
•  Run all three of Calvary’s housing programs for 2 full days!

Please vote now.  And tell your family, friends and co-workers to vote, too.
With one click you can change women’s lives!

In these challenging times, Calvary’s services are needed more than ever.  With so many people out of work, losing their homes and seeking services, Calvary’s 25 years’ experience of successfully helping women recover their independence is greatly needed.

Thank you for your support – it means a lot to me!

Kris Thompson
Executive Director
Calvary Women’s Services


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Disruptions

disruptionAs I pondered this past Sunday’s gospel passage in John 2, Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, the word that came to mind was “Disruption”. I usually think of disruption as something negative, but at times it is this disruptive Jesus who makes me feel and think about something that I hadn’t thought about or have forgotten about. Jesus shows me wrongs and injustices that anger me. Jesus makes me view the world in a new way and be transformed to live my life differently, or at the very least, moves me in a positive direction. So here are my disruptive moments/thoughts for this past week:

1. A 9 year old girl in Brazil who was pregnant with twins had an abortion this past week. It was soon found that the father of her twins is none other than her 23 year old stepfather who had been abusing her for some years. They are all catholic. In hearing this news, the archbishop of this town, with the backing of the cardinal in Rome, immediately excommunicates the doctors and the mother of this child. The young girl was not excommunicated since according to catholic law, a minor can not be excommunicated. And there was no mention of harsh words or excommunication of the stepfather. As the writer Mary Hunt points out,

at a time when a family most needs pastoral care, love and mercy (not to mention counseling and legal help), their church responds with a theological slap in the face. The Church is the cause of scandal. . . .In Roman Catholicism, according to these men, the law rules; letter over spirit, teachings over persons. One could ignore it, write it off as meaningless, except it’s hard to pass over the harm done to the people involved. They have suffered enough. They don’t deserve it. No one deserves it.

It saddens me that any Christian church and followers of Jesus would treat God’s people in such callous and uncaring way. How was God glorified in this instance? I wondered how angry Jesus would have been in this particular temple.

2. I was recently directed to John Piper’s thoughts on female wrestlers by a few bloggers that I read, including Eugene Cho. I am not talking about women flying off the top rope WWF style, but actual high school competition on the wrestling mat. It seems that Elissa Reinsma of Minnesota, is the first female wrestler to ever compete at the state level in wrestling. And John Piper, a well known name in Christian circles, doesn’t like it. And really that’s fine, because I now have a daughter of my own, and don’t know what to think if she ever wanted to be a wrestler, though I would be supportive and never stand in her way of trying anything. But I do not agree with his theology, scriptural usage and use of belittling language to describe how women should act or how men should treat women. Here is some of what he says,

Wrestling obliges you to grab, squeeze, and pull with all your might. If a boy tries not to touch or grasp a wrestler around the chest, or not to let his legs entwine with the other wrestler, or not to slam his full body length on hers, he will wrestle with a handicap. Of course, he is being taught that handicap is not a virtue. . . Get real, dads. You know exactly what almost every healthy boy is thinking. If a jock from Northern Minnesota encircles her around the breasts and twists his leg around her thighs, trust me, he will dream about that tonight. Only in his dream she won’t have clothes on. And if he doesn’t dream it, half the boys in the crowd will. Wake up dads. You know this. .

He goes on to say by using 1 Peter 3:7, “woman as the weaker vessel”, that fathers should teach their sons to honor and protect girls/women.

I do not know John Piper, except for a few articles and blog entries, but I do know that if the only thing a son thinks about when he is in competition with a girl is sex, a father has much more to teach his son than honoring them a “weaker vessel”, which certainly he is not. Blog entries such as this from a very popular Christian leader makes me think that women’s viewpoints and voices are needed in all facets of society, and needs to be heard just as loud and clear.

3. Which brings me to the excellent blog entry written by Julie Clawson on women or the lack of women’s voices in the emerging church movement. It is a much needed read and something that should be heard by both men and women. The part of the blog entry that hit me the most as a man is:

I think men and women need to work together, mutually making sacrifices, to ensure that the conversation is a welcoming place for all. Men should take the time to extend invitations to women. They shouldn’t just assume that if women aren’t showing up to the conversation that they don’t want to be there. Taking the time to make room for women, going out of their way to extend invitations, and showing a willingness to learn from women are just the sorts of encouragements that many women need.

An invitation, so simple, yet powerful and difficult to do. It is not only about making room with an extra chair at the table, but also about giving up your power, giving up some of your time, opening your mind to new possibilities and giving up your voice so that other voices can be heard, encouraged and empowered. This idea is not just appropriate to the emerging church but to churches and society in general.

4. And finally, I came across a short article in CNN about homelessness in America. 1 in 50 children in this great country of ours is homeless. This is from a 2005-06 analyzed data. At that time, 1.5 million children were homeless and they are sure that number has increased. Just heard on NPR a few days ago that in the town of Richmond, California, just across the bay from where I live, the number of homeless children enrolled in public school has doubled this past year, from around 350 to now well over 700. We know of the many problems associated with homelessness including the physical and the emotional, and most of these children will never finish high school. I know that homelessness and hunger issues are difficult and multifaceted problems to solve, but as I work with my church to forge a way for the future and to be missional in reaching out to the world as Jesus did, I feel that we must do something. I recently heard an interview with Jody Williams, a woman who won a nobel peace prize 1997 for her work with International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and who continues to work for other causes said, “I don’t care where you volunteer. Just be passionate about something and then get off of your butts and do something about it. Just imagine what this world could be like if everyone just gave 1 hour a month to a cause they feel passionate about.” This has given me the impetus to work towards opening a food pantry at the church building for those who are hungry and with needs around our neighborhood. I am sure it will not be easy since this I serve a church that built tall iron fences around the courtyard 10-15 years ago to keep out all of the homeless in the area, but when Jesus disrupts, one must follow.

In many ways, the Christian life is about disruptions. It is about Jesus disrupting me from passivity and apathy to action, new possibilities and hope. So as I live my life, I will continue to be open to Jesus breaking in and disrupting my life over and over again.


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International Women’s Day – Faith of Sarah

sarai1Today, March 8th, is a celebration of International Women’s Day. It is a day to celebrate the achievements of women around the world. In the Presbyterian Church (USA), today is the Sunday to celebrate the gifts of women. A while ago, I came upon a blog by Julie Clawson, that challenged people to synchroblog or synchropreach about women in scripture. As I was doing some research about International Women’s Day on the web, I stumbled upon a timeline of the suffrage movement in the United States. As I quickly browsed the timeline from its beginnings 1776 to 1920 when the 19th amendment allowing women to vote was ratified, one thing became adundantly clear. It is that with any movement, there was much pain, tears, sweat, toil, moving forward then taking two steps back, but all along the way, there were women like Susan B Anthony, who wanted to make the world a better place for all and who held on to the promise that God created all people equally, “in the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them (Genesis 1:27).

The lectionary passage for today was from Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16. Instead of focusing on Abraham and the continuation of the promises that had been made a few chapters ago, my focus began to wander towards Sarah, not only what it says in the bible, but what she must have been going through; the pain, the suffering of not being able to have a child. At a time when having a child as a woman was of the utmost importance, and even knowing of God’s promises of descendants, Sarah must have felt much shame and even ridicule.

This makes me think of my mother and what she went through, especially the first 7-8 year of her marriage to my father. Fortunately, or more unfortunately for my mother, she happened to marry a man who is the first son of the first son of the first son and so on going back generations to a king in Korea. Talk about pressure to have a child, and not just a child but a son. She did not have problems conceiving, but had many complications carrying to term. For years, she would talk about her first pregnancy, of carrying to term twin daughters only to see them taken away immediately after the birthing because they were no longer alive. Since that first time, she subsequently had 5 more lost pregnancies before I came into the world. Though none of them were carried to term, most lasted past 4-5 months. Not only did she endure the pain and sorrow of losing these babies, but had to withstand the ridicule from my father’s extended family. My mother, though small in stature, is and continues to be a strong, devout woman, who did everything for her family. Even when she went through horrible morning sicknesses, her in-laws would make her get up 5am in the morning everyday to cook a big Korean meal for breakfast. I witnessed my wife go through morning sickness with both our children. She couldn’t stand the smell of water next to the bed. And here is my mother, cookings, stews, soups, meats, side dishes, though tasty, all smells to high heaven. While living at my father’s parents home, which was customary in Korea, she took much verbal and emotional abuse, much of it caused by her inability to have a child. Of course, she found out after my birth, that the verbal and emotional abuse did not stop. But that’s another story.

I have heard her tell her story many times, and I would always feel hurt and anger for my mother, but I would also feel a tinge of anger towards my father. How can my father, who is medical doctor, let her go through such hardships and pain, physically as well as emotionally. If it was my wife, after a few times of going through pregnancies which so taxes her body so heavily, I would want to stop the process altogether or at least have that conversation. But I also know how strong willed my mother is, and this devout woman always hung on to the hope, no, more than hope, a promise that she would indeed have a child and the child would be a son. If one is counting, I was number 7 and my brother was number 13.

I see Sarah as a devout woman who lived with the promise, the promise that Abram would have many descendants. She is advanced in age. She is still barren. The only thing that she can do to see the promise happen is to give Hagar, her servant to Abram, which was customary at the time. It was not a lack of faith on Sarah’s part, but her willingness to what is necessary to fulfill the promise. This is true of the women who had gone before in the suffrage movement and the women who are continuing that journey to this day. They also hold a promise to make the world a better place for themselves and especially other woman who will come after them. It is the promise that as we are all equally made in the image of God, we should all treat each other in the same way in all spheres of life.

It is intersting to note that in Chapter 17, the promises of God is given equally to both Abram and Sarai. Abram will be the father and Sarai will be the mother of nations and of kings. Abram and Sarai are given new names in this endeavor, Abraham and Sarah. Even God calls Godself by a new name, El Shaddai. Just as in the first chapter of Genesis, here again in Genesis 17, God is again creating anew God’s community and views equally valuable the man and the woman. God continually calls both the man and woman to work together to further God mission and God’s kingdom here on earth. Not only on this day, but the gifts of women should be honored and celebrated everyday.