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A Name from God

I recently attended a baby dedication ceremony in support of my cousin and his wife (their daughter is my goddaughter). There were about ten parents dedicating their baby that day, and a lot of family and friends there to witness it.

The presiding minister began the service with prayer before calling each parent to the altar with their bouncy, sleepy or cranky babies. Before he prayed for each baby, he shared his or her name with the audience and explained what it meant. There was Zachary, which means “remembered by God”;  there was Jacob, which means “he grasps the heel”; And there was my goddaughter, Vitani which means “I am war.”

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Since her name is not biblical, he prayed that she would grow up waging war against the enemy of her soul for the sake of the church.

It was clear to me that the minister had done his research on all of the babies’ names so that he would have some guidance in what to pray for regarding their unique journeys.

I thought to myself, what would he have done if he had to present a baby with a name like mines. Ifonia is not your typical Greek, Hebrew, English, Spanish or French name. I’ve done my research. My name cannot be found anywhere.

From my understanding, you will find a few women in Haiti (where my parents are from) with my name, but Haitian parents typically opt for names like Marie, Claudette, Fabiola and Natalie for girls. So not only is my name not popular in America; it’s not even widespread in Haiti.

Ever the one to want to fit in, I hated my name. From elementary to college — you’d think adults would have a clue — I got picked on daily because of it. My teachers could not pronounce it and my peers could not accept it. It got worse in my early adult years.

People would ask, “what does it mean?”

“I don’t know” I would reply.

Sometimes I wondered why God did not prompt my parents into giving me a familiar name like they had given my siblings, Eddy and Lola. Not just a familiar name, but a name with meaning (because I am deep like that).

Once, a man from Venezuela asked me if I knew what my name meant. I told him it did not have a meaning. He told me I was wrong and that my name meant “beautiful bird.” I looked this up and could not find any piece of information online (Google to be precise) to back his claim.

What I did discover is that the last three letters of my name spell, “Nia,” which means “purpose” in Swahili and “brightness; radiance” in Welsh.

For the first time, I felt like I belonged in the world of people with typical names (with meanings). But the ego boost was short-lived when I realized that my name still fell short, literally, because I could not find a meaning for “Ifo.”

I think my need to fit in had a lot to do with years of never belonging to a particular group. I was never part of the popular crowd, the geek club or the talented/athletic bunch. It was the same when I began my career. I had nothing in common with the mothers in the office, nor the party-goers, smokers or happy hour devotees. I managed to stick out as the church girl without once being preachy or acting self-righteous.

At some point I accepted my fate (or calling) as the outcast. I’ve learned that God has called and set us apart as the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” It is His desire that we do not conform to the patterns of this world.

In the Bible, when God chose someone, He often gave them a new name. He changed Jacob’s name to Israel, Simon to Peter and Saul to Paul, after each had an encounter with Him.

He has even promised to change ours.

“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. ” Revelation 2:17

With that being said, I am proud to say that I have accepted my name, calling and destiny no matter how far apart they set me from the world.

 

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The Promises of Spring

I love the spring season. It seems full of promises and new opportunities, especially after enduring a long, dreary winter.

I remember when I was getting married in the spring of 2008. I had a spring-themed wedding and stuck with colors like pink and green with yellow being the accent of our floral arrangements and decorations.

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At the time, I had no idea that the number “8” symbolized new beginnings  or that “3” represented the oneness (God in three persons) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When I learned this (I got married on 3-8-8), my wedding date took on a deeper meaning for me. It became more than just marrying the man I fell in love with in front our family and friends in my pretty ivory dress.

My husband and I were entering a holy covenant together as one, before God, and about to embark on a new journey. We were boldly — you have got to be bold to make a vow to God — leaving an old life behind and braving the unknown, all the while trusting God would be with us. In retrospect, we were taking a page out of Noah’s book.

Noah knew what it was like to experience a new beginning. And while the other saints in the Bible could also relate, Noah’s story is unique in the fact that he and his family were the only people standing as an old era came to an end.

God was pleased with Noah’s faithfulness, but disappointed in the sinful men and women of that time. He decided he would wipe the human race from the earth with a flood, sparing Noah, his family and “two of all living creatures, male and female.”

God told Noah to build an ark and gave him specific instructions on how to build it. It had to be 450 ft. long, 75 ft. wide and 45 ft. high with three decks, many rooms and just one door in the side. It took Noah 120 years to complete.

When the time came for God’s plans to unfold, Noah, his family and the animals entered the ark. God shut them in. For 40 days and 40 nights, it rained and the ark floated on the surface of the water. Noah and his family had no concept of time (no clocks or calendars) and had not heard anything from God while they were in the ark.

Noah’s faith in the Lord was probably the only thing keeping him sane and hopeful. And though God did not speak to Noah, he was mindful of him. In the eighth chapter of Genesis, the text states, “God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded” (Genesis 8:1).

It took a year for the flood to end and for the land to be dry enough for Noah to leave the ark. To test the outdoor conditions, Noah sent out a dove to see if it would find dry land. It returned to the ark. Seven days later, Noah sent the dove out again. This time it flew back carrying an olive leaf. But Noah waited to hear from God, which was about a month later. God said to him, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you – the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground – so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number upon it” (Genesis 8:16-17).

People often read the story of Noah and conclude that God messed up with creation the first time and needed to start over. However, that was not the case. Humans messed up (Adam, Eve and their descendants) and the wage for their sins was death.

The flood was a physical demonstration – and one of many – of God’s judgment toward mankind. In Noah’s case, the ark symbolized the salvation found in Christ. That is why scripture states, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10). It is important to note that the one door built on the ark represented Jesus being the only way to enter God’s rest (John 14:6).

Noah’s story is a prototype of our Christian walk and we would be remiss if we did not apply the lessons of his journey to our own. Noah’s relationship with God was the difference between his life and the life of the sinners during that era, and it set the course for Noah to experience a new beginning filled with God’s many blessings.

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More to life

I thought I was important when I got my college degree. I thought I was special when I got married. I thought I was unstoppable when I began my career as a journalist. I thought I was sitting on top of the world when I closed on almost got the house I loved (or so I thought). Somehow, the experience — the deal fell through — negated all of my previous milestones including my failure to become a mother.

Sidenote: I lost my baby a few months after I got married and it hurt…literally. I was in pain, found out the embryo was growing in my left fallopian tube (picture a cranberry inside of a straw), had surgery and healed sans painkillers because I cannot swallow a pill to save my life. I suffered emotional pain as well, but I got through it because in retrospect my pregnancy came at the wrong time. And the loss was no fault of my own as I initially felt. It’s just that God has other plans.

Not signing on the dotted line of that contract was another reminder that God was in control of everything, from my highest to least ambitions. It was as if I was one step away from the top rung of the success ladder, lost my footing and crashed on the ground.

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Before I continue, let me just say my husband and I are not renting. My husband bought a condo a couple of years before we tied the knot. I moved in after our nuptials and added a much needed feminine touch to the place. We remodeled and got some new furniture. It looks great if you ask me. Sure my name is on the deed, but it doesn’t feel like my accomplishment. It doesn’t even feel like ours. It’s his accomplishment. I guess that’s why not getting the house had such an affect on me. I wanted us to do something successful together…again. Why? Because it would lengthen my list of blessings. But the real reason is because I was a competitor trying to get ahead of those in front of me (and their lists). What a vain pursuit!

But thank God for failures. Sure, the disappointment of not becoming a homeowner messed with my confidence, but it also humbled me a lot.

I learned that a life in Christ is not about what I can get; it’s about what I can give. Unfortunately, society teaches us that fulfillment is tied to how much we own. That’s why we spend the majority of our lives pursuing success  at the expense of our souls. On the contrary, the Bible teaches us that only God can make us whole. We were not created to acquire and worship things. We were designed to worship God – to give Him all the praise, the glory and honor due to Him. And it’s not because of what He’s done, is doing or will do. We should  magnify Him simply because of who He is.

The things He blesses us with (He gives us power to get wealth) on our journeys are just the icing on the cake. And let me just say, too much icing, nevertheless, icing alone, is not good for our health. It makes the cake taste good, but the cake is still edible and appetizing without it. The cake (or bread) being Jesus, in case you missed it.

When I began living my life on purpose, all of my achievements did not matter anymore. Neither did my failures. There is more to life than academic, financial and familial achievement or letdown. The significance of our existence is tied to the evidence of God’s presence in our lives. Earth and everything in it shall pass away, but God is eternal. And if we have Him, we have everything we need.