This is a guest post by Jill Atogwe.
Two years ago, I walked through a lush park in Atlanta, Georgia with my mocha latte brown baby boy on my hip, following the lead of my sweet friend doing the same. We were visiting for the weekend and tagged along to a one-year-old birthday party in the sunshine. My mocha latte baby quickly found all the vanilla latte babies and the caramel latte babies and made himself comfortable, as he does, asking for their snacks. A lovely woman came up to me and after we exchanged pleasantries, she asked my son’s name.
“Oshiolema,” I said.
“Oh, you’re going to have to shorten that. That’s way too long for the teachers,” she replied, with her faced formed into a proper question mark.
Just as the words left her mouth, they spread through my mind like a drop of ink in a glass of water. I knew this feeling well.
I was born to a white mother and a black father. My mom was from the suburbs of Michigan and my dad was from the ghettos of Houston. A Hall-of-Fame NFL career led them to Barrington, Illinois; an upper middle class town with what felt like 8 people of color in it.
I should mention, I’m one of 7 kids.
On top of that, I towered over the boys and girls in my class, I spent weekends at etiquette classes, trips, and conferences. I had the muscle tone of a seasoned female wrestler and the hair of a trolls doll left in the water too long. As you can imagine, I didn’t quite fit in.
Fast forward to meeting my husband, Oshiomogho. Oshiomogho is the youngest son of Nigerian parents who left everything in Africa to bring a few dollars, his older sister, and their rich Nigerian history to Canada. Oshiomogho was more sure of his identity in Christ and his place in this world than anyone I had ever met, which further revealed my own identity crisis. After we married, I was the first Atogwe woman to carry the name without being 100% Nigerian. I didn’t understand the traditions, and I didn’t identify with the culture. I still didn’t know who I was, but I did know I’d entered another circle where I didn’t fit in.
Soon after we found out we were pregnant, I realized I needed to mourn the loss of another piece of my identity. In the Atogwe family, tradition says the grandparents name the babies. The names must be in their language and stand as a blessing over the child’s life. The Sloanes, Haydens, Micahs, Chloes, and Whitleys of my dreams were laid to rest. My father-in-law called us to say,
“You don’t have to use this name, but I’ve had it set aside since Oshiomogho was in high school and was saving it for his first child. The name is ‘Oshiolema.’ It means ‘God has made him perfect.’"
I rolled the name around in my mouth for the rest of my pregnancy, whispering it to myself, writing it on scraps of paper, and plotting ways to make it my own—to make it fit.
When the midwives shouted, “It’s a boy!” and Oshiolema was laid on my chest, his name didn’t matter. I knew who he was. He was mine.
And twenty months and six hours of labor later, I had another Atogwe baby to call my own.
They pulled her up out of the water and sweetly said, “It’s a girl!" Keogena Na’Airah, meaning “Beautiful girl who seeks the Lord.”
These littles of mine certainly stand out. They’re both different like their mama was different. Different like their daddy was different. And when my son asks the hard questions, I’m elated to assure him that his Savior was different too. Jesus knew what it was felt like to be unlike his peers, and unlike any human that ever lived.
Jesus was born of a virgin mother and laid in a manger. By the time he was two years old, the king already ordered a manhunt to have him killed. Jesus flipped everything the world had known about religion on its head by offering grace in place of judgment. Relationship in place of rigorous requirements of the Law. He was the King of kings, yet he made himself a servant. He was fully God. Fully man. Born to be crucified for the sins of all mankind and to rise from the dead to live forever.
He certainly didn’t fit in. And yet, even though he’s different, Jesus securely knows his identity.
On the evening of Jesus’ death, we find a Savior pouring out his heart to His disciples, teaching even to the final hour. He gets down on his knees, takes a basin of water and begins washing the feet of his beloved friends, preparing them for his death. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives the one who sent Me.” Philip, who walked by his side for three and a half years, said: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” And Jesus’ response warms my soul. Jesus says, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know Me, Philip?”
For so much of scripture, I see the Jesus that is fully God. Bringing sight to the blind, healing to the lepers, strength to the lame, and raising people from the dead. But there are these moments in tiny sections of scripture where I get to see my Savior as man. Fully man. And I see him here, cocking his head to the side, staring into the eyes of his dear disciple. “You still do not know Me?”
And just there, all my qualms about not fitting in are laid to rest. Instead of entering into either extreme of prideful disappointment or shame-filled insecurity, Jesus plainly responds to Philip, "Believe Me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.”
Christ proudly stood firm in his identity, and in a beautiful exchange, Jesus humbles himself once again, choosing to say whose he is. Fully God, fully man, the way he lived his life here on earth speaks powerfully about who he is.
Whether or not we fit in—if we are accepted or rejected—the deep desire to be understood is fulfilled when we remember Who is in us and what he has called us to do. As followers of Christ, we are called to be the lights of this world, and I’ve never once known a light to blend into the darkness.
My children will likely face moments of wrestling with their identity. When they struggle with not blending in with the person to their right or to their left, I pray the names that stir up confusion for others would stand as clarity to themselves. When they seek their identity in the Lord (Keogena) they’ll always find the truth: they have been made perfectly (Oshiolema), and it is by his own beautiful design these two don’t "fit in.”
No two of us are alike. We will all face moments where we don’t feel like we fit in-but in Christ we can walk in secure and beautiful identity until we meet him face to face.
Jill Atogwe and her husband Oshiomogho live in Northern Virginia with their always busy toddlers, Oshiolema and Keogena. She is a stay-at-home mom that fills every minute of the fringe hours with illustrating, writing, and creating content for her lifestyle blog Gold and Graphite. Her mission is to 'work heartily as unto the Lord' with each passion and person he brings in her life. You can follow along with Jill on Instagram or on her blog.