I recently remembered this wonderful story my mom shared with us a few years ago about our ancestors. She was lucky enough to have it passed down from her cousin, Pat, and it’s too good to not share.
My Great Great Grandmother, Ava (1884-1975), whom my mom remembers well, was the wife of Hiawatha. Hiawatha was half Cherokee Indian, which makes me a solid 1/32 American Indian.
As the story goes, when Ava was a young girl in Georgia, she loved to dance. But the church that she belonged to did not approve of girls and boys dancing together. She was a tiny little woman with lively feet, so she went down to Atlanta to visit friends and to attend dances down there. While in Atlanta, she met Watha, as he was called, and fell in love.
Ava’s family did not want them to marry because of Watha’s Indian heritage. Another very well thought of man named Theodore Wardlaw was ‘courting’ her and her family wanted her to marry him. One time while Teed, as he was called, was visiting with her family in the ‘parlor,’ Ava snuck out the side door and ran off with Watha in a wagon to get married. Her corset flew out of the back of the wagon and one of the neighbors found it on the dirt road, washed it, and returned it to her mother. The neighbor said she knew it was Ava’s because it was so little that no other woman would fit in it.
Ava’s mother was very mad at her for running away to get married and did not speak to her for about 5 years! Watha and Ava had three girls – my Great Grandmother Vera, Lollie, and Margaret. I had the honor of knowing 2 of those women.
Sadly, Watha died before my mom was born. But my Great Great Grandmother Ava married again…And guess who it was…It was Theodore Wardlaw, who her mother wanted her to marry back when she was a young girl. My mom remembers Teed and Ava. My mom tells us that Ava ate cornbread smushed in buttermilk for supper every night and had a pet raccoon on a chain in her backyard named Pretty.
So, if my Great Great Grandmother Ava hadn’t followed her heart and jumped in that wagon with Hiawatha, I probably wouldn’t be here today. Their daughter, Vera, married Ivy Lee. They had my grandmother, Virginia. And the Lee name has been passed down to daughters as a middle name in our family ever since…My mom, Sherry Lee. I was named Lauren Lee and our only daughter is Hannah Lee.
I bet it made Ava sad to have to run off the way she did. Her parents didn’t approve of Hiawatha because of his background, his ethnicity. I’m so thankful that Ava was wise enough to see past such a trivial matter, and that social and ethnicity barriers have continued to be broken by generations to follow. But unfortunately, insensitive and disgusting acts of racism, discrimination, and oppression still happen every day. I can only pray that one day, all of God’s people will be loved, accepted, and treated equally within our communities.
Jesus told his followers that one day, “people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at the table in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:29) Wouldn’t it be nice if more people of different social backgrounds, sexualities, races, and cultures would see the benefit of sitting around proverbial (and literal) tables together more often now? Why wait? Jesus loves everybody. We should too.
Thinking about my ancestors also makes me think about the fascinating lineage of Jesus. In his article Knots in Jesus’ Family Tree, Mark Driscoll writes:
“The human ancestry of Jesus includes adultery, murder, incest, and prostitution. There are some serious knots in Jesus’ family tree! But the prevailing message is that no matter who we are, where we come from, or how bad we are, there is room for us in Jesus’ family.”
Driscoll ends his article focused on grace and an open spirit.
“By opening his book with an honest account of Jesus’ heritage, Matthew, the extortionist-turned-pastor, is telling us that there is room for all of us in God’s family, by grace. There is room for men and women, rich and poor, young and old, moral and immoral, Jew and Gentile, perverted and virgin, religious and irreligious, liars and truth tellers, murderers and their victims in the family of God, by grace. There’s room for you no matter what you’ve done or what your family history may be.”
Just yesterday at Christ Church Santa Fe, our Pastor, Martin, reminded us that Jesus was a magnet to outsiders. He broke social barriers because He wanted to give Life to all. God’s grace and God’s mercy are unending when we accept the love He lavishes on us and offer it back up to Him – and to each other…and to each other. Did I mention how important I believe it is to demonstrate acceptance and love to each other…to all of God’s people?
I’m personally thankful that God has blessed us through our colorful ancestry. My Great Great Grandparents, Ava and Watha, were willing to break cultural and social barriers to be with each other so many years ago. They followed their hearts and reclined around the table (or apparently in the back of a wagon!) together. Let’s set more tables for all of God’s people to sit around together. As Martin mentioned yesterday, “the Kingdom of God is here. It’s a party, and everyone is invited.” And there’s plenty of room at the table.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10)