‘A NIGHT WITH MESSY WOMEN’, the invite said.
It had been a crazy week but on a cold, wet Friday night I met my friend, weefrizz, outside Queens for a storytelling event, part of the 4Corners Festival. I felt tired and hurried but I was also giddy with anticipation. Sometimes I think it’s wise to intentionally put myself in the way of the good stuff. It usually means being a little bit brave and heading to places I’ve never been before with ‘new’ people. And it is nearly always on evenings I feel a magnetic force drawing me to the fire and the sofa.
But there’s a time to just get my coat on and say ‘Yep, I’ll see you there.’
So that’s what I did.
And the storytelling was indeed incredible. It featured the stories of five women listed in the genealogy of Jesus- Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary. The storyteller, Wendy Johnston, had the most fascinating delivery and her capacity to memorise all that scripture was astounding. Each story I had read and listened to before, probably a few times, but that evening it was completely different.
Perhaps it was a new awareness that these women had really existed. They were not fictional characters in a story I had once heard as a child, whilst sitting on black tarpaulin at a summer club. No, the experiences of these women were not only real but full of injustice, horror, fear, pain and loss. And the gravity of their hardship and struggle was shocking, uncomfortable even.
After the event, I briskly walked back to my car, handily parked beside the union. It was early enough and I was in no rush back home to make up bottles. So I sat for a little while in the quiet. And thought about the women I had just heard about. Their stories. Their place in history, in Jesus’ family tree. I thought about their bravery and the faith they embraced. A faith that surpassed their hurts and the world of horrors they existed in. I thought about the mistakes they had made and yet how they were so wonderfully used by God, seen by God and loved by Him.
It struck me that their God then, is my God now. The Father they cried out to, the One who knew their pain and their story, He knows mine too.
And I think the upside down nature of the Kingdom of God might be something I understand but don’t really believe in. There’s a part of me that is pretty sure God loves the bright and shiny people just that little bit more. And so, I try to be bright and shiny. Because, you know, I don’t want to be a disappointment to God.
But Jesus’ own family tree is not filled with high-flying aristocracy – it’s filled with messed up people like you and me. REAL people. People who are broken. People who on a good day believe there might actually be something in this faith malarkey. People who stumble about with good intentions and a whole heap of questions. People who vaguely try to make a good impression and toss a few half-truths out there, now and again.
And God has enough grace for all of it. The ordinariness, the questions, the overwhelming effort. He meets us right there, wandering around in the fog and He offers us hope. God miraculously heals, restores and turns our mess of a faith into something beautiful.
And it may take me a lifetime to get a firm grip on this truth. Yet it is all I need.
So, I drove home from Belfast city centre, thinking still about these five women. And about the broken and the beautiful and everything that exists in between. I wondered about faith as small as a mustard seed and my struggle to embrace the freedom that is offered to me.
And I murmured a little prayer of thanks to God for all of the stories and all of the grace.