My name is Vanessa. My father is John. And my grandmother (my father's mother) is Della.
When asked in my recent trip to Lebanon what my family name was, this is what popped into my head. The individual names of my family. The names that pulled each member apart from the other and made them to stand separate.
It took me a minute to grasp the question that was being asked. "What is your family name?" And then I realized they meant my last name so I responded accordingly.
At the moment I blanked on some details but now that I am back in the US and the information is not as useful as it would have been, I remember. My family that immigrated from Lebanon was Tegreene (from a place called Hamat). That was their family name, their last name but it was also my history, my heritage, and the story of how I have come to know America as home.
Because two families made a journey across a vast ocean in an age when it took more than a 17 hour flight. Because, what is a plane?
No, my great grandparent's families sailed over with other families in what I am sure took days if not weeks. I don't know if I could have been so bold to make that journey; sea sickness is a real thing. And not to throw anyone under the hypothetical bus, but I know a certain man who is fathering two really cute boys that I might have birthed who definitely could not have made that journey. The urge to throw up is strong with that one. But I digress.
As I stood in the land of my family's past, I smiled. I couldn't help but feel I was coming back for all of us. I was reclaiming a part of us that had been left long ago. And I am sure it was a bit redundant for the team I was with to hear me proudly say, "I am Lebanese! My great grandparents are from here", to anyone who would listen. But I was proud, thankful, to be back. To walk the streets and see some of the remnants of things my family could have seen. It felt like I was finding out about a part of myself that had been long forgotten.
I ate the food - well most of it, I didn't attempt to stomach the tongue that was offered to us but our fearless leader may or may not have jumped at the opportunity.
I danced with the women - which I would like to say I was pretty gifted in considering most of the moves I had learned while mimicking shakira in a high school musical.
And I even learned some Arabic - some of which came natural but most of which was just hysterical to watch our team attempt.
These women taught me, about me. Well, about the one quarter of me that is Lebanese.
And I realized that every time I was asked about "my family name", I was being reminded of how I belonged. How I was accepted. And how I was included in their stories.
It wasn't just my family's history, it was my history. It wasn't just their family name, it was my family name too. And this legacy, this revelation of identity, sparked something so spiritual in me. While we are known by our names, the names that set us apart and divide us, we also carry the family name (the legacy and heritage) of Christ.
It is a name that shouts YOU BELONG, YOU ARE ACCEPTED, YOU ARE A PART OF OUR STORY.
It is a name that brings us in closely and teaches us how to dive into the world differently and move differently and speak differently. It is a name that seems foreign until we find ourselves standing amongst others who share in our common family name and we feel at home. It is a name that holds great pride and joy when it is not being forgotten and shoved in a corner of our lives.
We are, all of us who believe that Christ is who He says He is and did what He said He did, bound together as family. We have this common thread that gives us equal access to not just our Heavenly Father, but also the inheritance left for us. The victory that is ours to share in.
Do not be confused, it is not all rainbows and butterflies, I can assure you. Just like this land I now found myself in was filled with the remnants of war and garbage piled high, this life we are living as sons and daughters of Christ will be filled with reminders and hardships as well. This is not the easy life, but there is no such thing as escaping such suffering. Suffering is for all. Scripture says “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45)
Our inheritance then is not escaping such trouble, but persevering through the worst of times so that we can share in the glory of victory in the end.
It is standing up after you feel you have been beaten down, with an assurance that God WILL redeem this too. He will cause it to work for my benefit (Romans 8:28), your benefit, because our Father is faithful when life is faithless. This is our legacy. This is our story.
So, brothers and sisters, it is my utmost prayer that you cling to this understanding with great intensity. That you would feel the love of family and the joy of belonging. And just as families tend to bicker from time to time, you would be quick to forgive and "love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." (1 Peter 4:8)
After all, we are family, and family means no one gets left behind.
Romans 8:10-17 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.