Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Maya Angelou: A Trophy of God’s Grace

I dared to do anything that was a good thing.
I dared to do things as distant from what seemed to be in my future.

If God loves me,
if God made everything from leaves to seals and oak trees,
then what is it I can't do?

These are the words of celebrated civil rights leader, writer, playwright, poet, and teacher Dr. Maya Angelou in a 2013 interview with The Times-Picayune.  Many of us have respected Dr. Angelou for her grace, beauty, reverence, and wise, articulate manner.  My favorite encounter with this lovely woman was in the Tyler Perry movie, Madea’s Family Reunion.  Perhaps you remember Ms. Angelou from her role in the 1977 TV Mini-Series, Roots.

Maya Angelou passed away on May 28, 2014 according to her only child, Guy B. Johnson who released a statement confirming her death and honoring her life:

“She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.”

Dr. Angelou's illustrious career testifies that it is possible to endure seemingly tragic experiences as a child and yet rise above them by the grace and power of the One True God.  According to Brownie Marie, writing in Christianity Today,  Ms. Angelou was born Marguerite Anne Johnson on April 4, 1928.   She and her brother were shipped between Missouri and Arkansas throughout their youth, and she was raped at the age of eight. The assault was life-changing, and it was in the dark years that followed that Dr. Angelou discovered her love of literature.

Maya Angelou and Cicely Tyson in the Mini-Series, Roots
Today, when it seems that Americans are becoming increasingly divided over race, gender, socioeconomic status, and a host of other factors, we must remember that many Americans distain the politics of division and patronization being spewed by those seeking votes, power, and position. Although their disadvantaged beginnings are undeniable, many members of ethnic minorities like Maya Angelou have become overcomers.  Instead of surrendering to adversity and its frequent companions, fear, hate, cynicism, and blame, Maya found peace, restoration, and courage through the love and redemption of God. 

Again, according to Brownie Marie, Dr. Angelou authored several autobiographies including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  She rose to positions of leadership in the Civil Rights Movement, and had close friendships with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Nelson Mandela.” 

How is it possible for a little black girl without the benefit of a stable home and family, neglected and abused, to rise above great adversity?  Today, there all too many children facing similar circumstances and many will not be overcomers.  But, for Maya Angelou, victory over adversity came as she surrendered to a loving God Who rescued her and restored her dignity.  In the 2013 interview cited above, Dr. Angelou says it was God Who “allowed her to achieve such incredible feats.”

"I found that I knew not only that there was God
but that I was a child of God,
when I understood that,
when I comprehended that,
more than that,
when I internalized that,
ingested that,
I became courageous."

Maya Angelou has encouraged many a downcast soul to look up in faith to a God Who has overcome this world of division and despair.  And God does lead those who surrender to Him in a “victory parade” in triumph in Christ, and manifests through [them] the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place (2 Corinthians 2: 14).   May God help us to be mindful of the downcast and needy all around us each day. 

Perhaps as a reader, you are struggling with adversity and are discouraged or in despair.  Don’t bear it alone, but reach out to God through a local Bible-teaching church in your area.  Or go to one of many online resources that explain how to become a child of God by faith such as this link provided by the Billy Graham Association.  God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life (John 3: 16; Romans 5:8).

If you are a child of God through faith (John 1: 12), the teaching of the Apostle Paul can be a challenge to you and to me to be Christ’s ambassadors to a needy world.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5: 19, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  May God help the tribe of Maya Angelou to increase; and, may God help members of the body of Christ to be “ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5: 18).

Related Oikonomia article on overcoming adversity:  Jackie Robinson -- “YOU Don’t Belong Here!”

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