Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Child Is Born

On December 10, 2013, Barbara Kaye Harrington came into the world. She is the daughter of my husband's son and daughter-in-law. Family and friends were quick to respond with congratulations "grandma!" I must confess that I have struggled with feelings of disconnection. I have felt it to be somewhat dishonest to receive Mother's Day cards and wear the moniker "grandma" when there is no biological connection. Ironically, I often counsel clients struggling with the same issue telling them, "Biology doesn't necessarily define a relationship." I can honestly say that part of the struggle was a need to emotionally protect myself from rejection. I convinced myself that I was only loved as long as I was married to my husband. Once he passed away, I reasoned, his relatives would have no further use for me. Moreover as a black woman marrying into a white family, I couldn't pretend be a blood relative. I figured that little Barbara Kaye would just love me for who I am until that fateful day when she was old enough to recognize that my skin tone was a little bit different. Or perhaps she might show a family picture to a peer as they ask the question,"Why is your grandmother black?" or worse, "She's not your real grandmother!" The biological mother of my husband's son passed away 5 years ago from cancer. I'm sure on some emotional level my husband's son wishes his mother was alive to see the birth of her third grandchild. (She had already had two grandchildren from her daughter who was fathered from a previous relationship.) For whatever reason, God chose to leave me as the "grandmother" on the paternal side. In the meantime God had been doing a work in my heart over the 9 months prior to Barbara's birth. An excitement had been growing in my spirit as the day of the birth grew closer. Friends would tell me that my feelings would change once that little girl was born. I still had a hard time believing them so I began to pray and ask God to show me how to let go of the feelings of insecurity. The Lord led me to the familiar Christmas story from the gospel of Matthew chapters 1 and 2. My attention was directed to the plight of Joseph and his struggle upon learning that Mary was pregnant outside of wedlock. Even though the angel reassured Joseph that God through the power of the Holy Spirit was responsible for Mary's pregnancy, I wondered how Joseph felt having no biological connection to Jesus? It was already difficult enough listening to the gossip and seeing the questionable stares as Joseph decided to go ahead and take Mary as his wife. However in his quiet moments did he grieve the fact that he would never be Jesus' real father? As I read the Scriptures in Matthew and meditated on Joseph's response and actions, I came to realize that Joseph was humbled and blessed. Although he was not Jesus' biological father, God had chosen him to participate in raising the Messiah. His name is alongside Mary's as set apart to a special calling in God's redemptive plan. Rather than feeling sorry for himself I suspect Joseph was awestruck and perhaps wondered if he was up to the task. And although Joseph and Mary went on to have other children, the birth of Jesus dramatically changed Joseph's life. In a similar manner, the birth of Barbara Kaye has dramatically changed my life. God has come to me and reassured me not to be afraid to draw near as a grandmother to this little girl. I have been chosen to be like a "Joseph" in her life. I am to share with her about that little baby who came into our world at Christmas and changed everything! Moreover, although as human beings we are not biologically related to Christ, believers in Him are called His children and God has adopted us into His family making us co-heirs with Christ. (John 1:12-13; Romans 8:17; Ephesians 1:5; Ephesians 3:6; Galatians 3:26-4:7) My prayer is, like Joseph, I will be faithful to the special calling God has given me. My prayer for you this Christmas is that you will draw near once again to the manger and see how the birth of this child not only can change your heart but can change your world!
Merry Christmas!
Pastor Sheree

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tata Madiba

Christmas is almost here and I confess I still have some shopping left to do. However, in the midst of the Christmas frenzy, my mind has been focused on the passing of Nelson Mandela. One never knows the impact of our legacy until we see the fruit it has produced. In Mandela's case, he was a very fruitful man! To fill a stadium with people who love you and see leaders from all over the world pay their respects certainly makes a statement about the life he lived and the legacy he left behind. As I thought about Nelson Mandela, I could see reflections of some Biblical heroes of the faith. I thought about Abraham as the "father of many" which is the meaning of his name. Prior to this name change, the patriarch was known as Abram meaning "exalted father." In the Ancient Near East, one's name carried a lot of significance. Obviously Abram earned the respect of many people. However when God changed his name to Abraham, he became marked in a special way as God's servant. (Genesis 17) When God sets someone apart to His service powerful things take place in the individual's life and the lives in which he/she comes into contact. Similarly, Nelson Mandela had a "name change." "Madiba" is the name of Mandela's clan. The name of one's clan was considered more important than a surname. It refers to the ancestor from which a person is descended. "Madiba" was the Thembu chief who ruled in Transkei in the 18th century. It is considered very polite to use someone's clan name. Like Abram, Mandela or "Madiba" commanded great respect given his connection to a tribal chief. However, like Abraham, Mandela became known by the people as "Tata." "Tata" is a term of endearment meaning "father." Many people regardless of age used the term to describe Mandela who became a father figure to the nation. Both Abraham and Tata Madiba became "fathers of many." I also see similarities between Nelson Mandela and Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul was a hater of Christians and spent many years persecuting, arresting, and killing them. (Acts 8:1-3) As a young idealistic man filled with anger and impatience towards the Afrikaners and the system of Apartheid, Nelson Mandela began to use violence against his enemies. However both men had a heart change and were transformed by the power of love and forgiveness. Paul's transformation came on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19) and Madela's after spending 27 years in prison. There is only One who has the power to change bitterness and hatred into love and healing. His name is Jesus. As a result of the heart change these men experienced, many people's lives were also dramatically changed. During Paul's ministry, Jews and Gentiles alike came to know the Savior. In Nelson Mandela's case, the system of Apartheid was dismantled and black Africans and white Afrikaners began to share power equally, living and working together in peace. This is the power of what Christ can do if we are willing to open our hearts to receive Him. When we believe in Christ and accept the gracious gift that the Father has given us, we are set apart to serve God in the world. As His servants, God transforms us from the inside out. He equips us with gifts by the power of His Holy Spirit to touch lives with His love and bring honor and glory to His Name. Additionally, we will be given "new names" as revealed in the book of Revelation. John in speaking to the seven churches says this to the church in Pergamum, " He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it." (Revelation 2:17) And to the church in Philadelphia he writes, "I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name." (Revelation 3:11-12) You and I may never have "descendants as numerous as the stars" or people filling a stadium to celebrate our lives but as we share the gospel, we give an even greater gift that will result in eternal life for all that receive it. Well done Tata Madiba, rest in peace!
Blessings In Christ,
Pastor Sheree