As we conclude celebrating Black History Month, our guest speaker, Sharon Ramsay shares a message from Philippians 4:11-13 entitled "Both Sides Now".
Sharon is well known at Tyndale as an award-winning alumna, instructor in the Clinical Counselling program at the Seminary, and a long-time contributing member of the Wellness Centre.
Good morning. I have to admit to you that that was quite moving, to hear songs that would have been part of my childhood, and also to be in a space, to actually be in a church building. This hasn't happened for quite some time for me because of the pandemic. So I am grateful for the hearty few who are here in person. I'm grateful not to have to wear a mask right now. And I'm grateful for those of you who are watching via live stream, or on-demand later on. My name is Sharon Ramsey. And before I speak more, let's just bow our heads for a moment.
Father God, Your Word tells us that where two or three are gathered in your name, the Lord Jesus is in our midst. So Lord, although you've already been here, we take this chance to welcome you. And thank you for your presence. And I pray, Lord, that you would use these few moments that I have to encourage and bless your people. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
So this is the last Tuesday of Black History Month. It's always been a bit of a strange month for me, that we have 28 days, every now and again 29 days, to talk about the contribution of the people of the African diaspora, past and present, and hoping for the future. And then the rest of the year, there is this sense that, you know, we've done our bit, it's okay. So I find that a little bit marvellous, to have the spotlight, and a little bit maddening, to not have it just woven into the fabric of who we are. So what I thought I would do today, the task, the assignment, was to talk about somebody who was part of the African diaspora, who has influenced me professionally and personally. And as I told George, that's kind of hard because I wasn't really raised to hold other people up, to have someone else be an example for me. What I was raised to do, was to pay attention to daily acts of character, and figure out who is doing what they're meant to do. And so as a kid, looking the way that I do, there were folks on television that seemed kind of cool. There was Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson, Diana Ross, both on, in movies and in music, and the fabulous Miriam Makeba. Every time I hear PATA PATA I am moved to tears. And then, in and around 1999, I read a book by Austin Clarke, who is he's now deceased, but he was a Barbadian Canadian author. And he wrote a book called "Pigtails and Breadfruit". That was the memoir of his life growing up in Barbados before he came to Canada. What so delighted me about this book, is that he wrote in the cadence of the person I love the most. He wrote in the voice of my black history heroine. Her name is Gwendolyn Louisa Adesa Barrow, and she was born in 1914, and then she died in 2014. She was my paternal grandmother. And for all those who loved her, she was simply "Gran". And so I'm going to ask for a picture of Gran to be posted, so you can see this fireball of energy and love.
Gran, here, is situated between my husband Jamie and I on our wedding day in 1992. Gran, as I said, was born in Barbados. Barbados, at the time, was still under British colonial rule, which has been a favourite part of the transatlantic slave trade. Barbados came into independence in 1966. And it's just recently that Barbados has claimed its own head of state, it's no longer the Queen. But there is now a president and a prime minister. Gran was married at 16, widowed by 28. And she had six children under the age of 12 at that point. She had to make a life for herself, knowing that she wasn't getting married again. Who wants someone with six kids? By virtue of the education system in Barbados at the time, she would not have had the funds to send her children on to advanced education. Although they all can read and write and went to school, opportunities were limited. You see in that time, by the time my father came around, there were pretty distinct places where you could and could not be as a black Bajan.
However, my grandmother was also a woman of faith. As I think back to my time with Gran, there was always this astonishment, look at the life the Lord has given me. Who would have known I would have seen this and that because she knew that she was a daughter of the King. There were limitations on her children, and yet the opportunities for her grandchildren were boundless. So let me tell you a little bit about why Gran is my black history heroine. She left Barbados and I think around 1973-74, before the birth of my brother. If you've never been to Barbados, I believe the average year-round temperature is 28 degrees Celsius. It rains, but then it stops, and it's dried up in no time. The beaches are beautiful, the scenery is spectacular. And she, on the invitation of my father, took on the task of crossing the Atlantic in an airplane. And going for what I can only describe as a drastic, drastic encounter with climate change, by coming to Canada. Gran was the constant caregiver in our home, both of my parents worked. And my brother and I had the distinct pleasure of learning about Gran as a person because she was with us all the time. She expressed her faith in care, and I always knew, always knew that I was loved. My grandmother had a very simple faith. She carried herself with dignity, knowing that she was a daughter of the King. And despite the circumstances in which she grew up, she never let anybody else feel like they were not worthy of dignity, that they were not worthy of the highest level of hospitality and grace she could muster. In her hands were the spices of the island, and so everything that Greg made was spectacular. A cup, a teaspoon, a whole chicken, part of a chicken, no matter what she did. Those hands imparted a sense of love, hospitality, welcome, inclusion. She always always made space for everyone.
When I think of my professional life, I am rather shocked that she is my counselling hero. Gran did not go on to any kind of really formal education. Her career was to raise her children and to earn money by being a seamstress. But her welcome of people, her acceptance of people, is something that I treasure in my professional life. I see people in my practice, from every walk of life, people who are having great days and bad days, folks who have never known they've been loved, or folks maybe who have lost that knowledge. For me, I want people to know that whatever they have done, wherever they have been, I will wait with them. And I believe that that is part of Gran in me. In my personal life, the ability to cook for folks, to welcome people into my home, to go for that walk, to hear the heart story, to share a tear, are imprints of Gran. In this picture, I'd like you to imagine that she because she has both of her hands behind me and Jamie, she's a little ticklish, right, that look on her face is classic, impish Gran, who had nothing to leave to other people, but the gift of her presence, and the hope that we would know Jesus. I have named this talk "both sides" now.
Because I want to point out what can happen in a generation or two, by virtue of the goodness of God. In 1914, when my grandmother was born, life was very different on that island. By the time my father was born, life was different again. And her love enabled him to make a trek across the ocean, to establish a life here in Canada.
By the time my parents married, and my brother and I came along, we were no longer facing the limitations of a society that would not necessarily grant us grace, hospitality, and welcome. Who might not presume that these little black bodies could learn and thrive? And yet my grandmother's love through my father, and my grandmother's love through my brother and I, meant that in the span of, you know, 60 years, maybe 70. There were families established in Canada, there were grandchildren going to school, without limitation or barrier. There was another generation established, who knew of the goodness of God, because of Gran. As a kid, I would tell my grandmother that she had to live to see my children and my children's children. Because they needed to know how great she was. I can only tell you what a shock it was to me as a full-grown adult with two children when my grandmother died, because I said, Lord, not yet. Not yet. And yet, I know that he probably wanted her back, because she's pretty spectacular. This woman, who is here 78, went on to take care of both of my children, who are now 25 and 22. I can hear peals of laughter as my son is being chased by Gran, when she was 85. Running down the hallway, I can hear my daughter saying, Gran, "tell me again", or "this is what I want". And knowing, in those arms, she had complete and utter welcome and safety. So let me tell you why "both sides now" makes sense.
I'm reading from Philippians chapter four. And I'm going to read verses, I'll start at first 11 and go to 13. "I'm not saying this, because I am in need. For I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances. I have learned the secret of being content. And in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry. Whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength".
My Black History heroine knew something of a struggle, knew something of barrier and knew a lot about faith. Her prayer for her six children, and I'm pretty sure she had at least 20 grandchildren. And Lord only knows how many great-grandchildren, because we're spread all over the earth, but certainly four great-grandchildren in Canada. My grandmother knew the secret of contentment. She knew the reality of both sides. Even if life is hard here. There is a God who loves cares for her. And she has a now in the midst of the hard and looked forward to it even better when she crossed over. I don't, it's not that I don't need a Martin Luther King, or even a Rosemary Brown here in Ontario. What I have had the grace to have in my life is a living example, that God is faithful in the now, and in the next. That it's possible to be happy, whether you are in difficult circumstances, or have everything you could possibly ever want. I've learned through my Gran, that the gift of hospitality is one to be shared with abandon, and abundance, because that is the gift that we have each received through our Lord Jesus Christ.
So when you finish out, as you finish out Black History Month, and go into the rest of the year that's ahead of you, my prayer is that you would be looking, and finding, and seeing the examples of faith and faithfulness, inclusion and welcome, goodness and joy, and perseverance that surrounds you. That you would know the folks who, even now, are demonstrating both sides of the Kingdom now.
Shall we pray? Lord, I thank you for the everyday heroes of faith that surround us. I thank you that we can look back. We can look around us. And we can look forward to the people you bring to us, to show us that you are good and that your mercy endures forever. Father, as my brothers and sisters here, and online, returns to work and school, and the tasks of everyday life. It is my fervent prayer, Lord, that You would give wings to the feet that spread your good news. That you would give beauty for the ashes, the oil of joy for those of in who are in mourning, a garment of praise for those who are in a period of heaviness. Help us Lord to be trees of righteousness, a planting for the God of all, that you Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit would be glorified. Bless us as we leave, Lord, remind us of your presence with us in all things. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen. Blessings to you all as you continue your day.
We are dismissed.
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