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This past week I was blessed to attend the “Fierce” Women’s Gathering event in Tipp City, Ohio. This event was held for the first time this year when Pastor Rachel Billups of Gighamsburg Church discerned a need for women in leadership in the church to connect and empower one another. So, the Holy Spirit started nagging me. “It looks like a great event Jessie.” Then the excuses came: “It is too far away, how will I find childcare for Dean for that long? I don’t want to be away from the charge.” And yet, the Holy Spirit persisted and made everything fall into place so that I could go.
Once I was there, I understood why God had called me to that place. So often in ministry we only hear of each other’s successes. It is so easy to compare ourselves with our amazing colleagues in ministry and feel like we are not doing anything for the kingdom of God. It was amazing for me to see these very successful women of God share about their failures, their struggles, their hopes, and their journeys as they continue to answer the calling that God has placed upon their lives.
The talk that was the most influential for me was by a Nazarene pastor, Rachel Kuhn. She shared about the power of telling our stories, and that our original story comes from the story of God and God’s people. She gave this beautiful analogy of a school bus. She said, [paraphrased]“Imagine that all your stories live in a big yellow school bus. As you walk onto the bus you first see your favorite stories in the front, the stories you love to tell. As you get to the middle of the bus you see your best friend and share your secret stories that connect you.” Then she said, “Many of us do not want to tell our back of the bus stories.” These kinds of stories are ones that scare us, that make us sad, or that may even make us view ourselves as a failure. These are the stories we have not quite worked out for ourselves, but these stories are powerful and show Christ’s redemptive work in our lives.
This imagery of the back of the bus stories was powerful to me. We all have stories like this and yet so often we do not share them with one another. Not sharing our stories can cause conflict and warring within ourselves as we fail to process and let go of negative things we have experienced or bad choices we have made.
Throughout the Bible we see people at warring with themselves, God, and one another. In Genesis 25, we see Jacob and Esau warring together even in the womb. This war continued as Jacob stole Esau’s rightful birthrate and blessing through deception. All of this came to ahead a Peniel where Jacob was at war and wrestled with God.
This is my call story. This is my back of the bus story. God called me to ministry and time and time again, I wrestled with God. I said, “No, not yet.” I was called to ministry in Gadsen, South Carolina on a mission trip at sixteen years old beneath the ashes of a church that had been burned down by the KKK.
This calling was clear, it was direct, but I discounted it for many years. I thought: “I am too young to decide to devote the rest of my life to God in this way.” I thought, “I am not good enough.” I thought if only other people knew all the mistakes, I had made they would not want to follow my leadership.”
Just like going to this conference, I made a million excuses of why I was not ready to say yes to God’s calling upon my life and yet, God pursued me, God forgave me, and God redeemed me.
What an amazing God we serve! I am been so blessed over the years to hear so many share with me these holy back of the bus stories.
Remember you are not alone. Your stories are important. God works through our stories and continues to bring redemption in our lives every day.
I hope to see you this Sunday as we continue our beatitude sermon series “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” where we remember that even though we may feel at war with God, with one another, or with ourselves, Christ continues to offer us peace through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
Prayer: Amazing God, thank you for working through our stories. Even though we may not have asked for the stories we possess, we thank you that there are those who are willing to listen to our stories of joy and sorrow. Help us to not be afraid to share our lives fully with others in the body of Christ. We thank you that we are part of your story, where you continue to offer us grace, and save us from ourselves, one another, and sin. We love you God. Amen.