Rev. Jessica McDougald
When I was growing up, I spent countless Sundays learning about the biblical fathers of our faith. From a very young age I could tell you whatever you wanted to know about Daniel and his lion friends, about Jonah as a main-course dish, Moses leading a group of restless Israelites through the wilderness, Paul and his beloved rants. I knew there were women in the Bible – there was Mary for sure, at least, but the women were never presented to me as the heroes of anything. Best to leave the heroic heavy-lifting to Abraham and Isaiah and the like.
You can imagine what it did to me when I stumbled upon Esther. Here was the story of a Hebrew girl in an occupied land, called upon to do something scary. A girl who, when the hero baton was thrust in her hands, grabbed it and ran. Finally, the heroine who earned the title not in spite of her womanhood, but because of it. Suddenly, I could see the Bible in an entirely new light. Now I was ready to sit with Leah and Rachel, to weep with Hannah and Bathsheba, to roar alongside Jael and identify with Mary Magdalene. Once I’d seen the heroine in Esther, I couldn’t stop seeing it in all the other Matriarchs.
When I finally accepted the fact that I was being called to ministry, despite all the reasons I could come up with as to why I was the absolute wrong person for any ministerial capacity, it was Esther’s lead I followed. And who knows, I thought as I sat for my Divinity school admissions interview, but that you have come into this position, I thought as I met with my church’s personnel committee, for such a time as this, I thought as I approached the pulpit before I preached my first sermon.
The same words that prompted Esther to act have guided almost every step I’ve taken since I felt my own calling. They are engrained so deeply in my heart that I had them tattooed on my arm last year – a permanent, undeniable reminder, should I ever doubt my own God-given bravery or the mysterious ways in which God moves in me.
These words tattooed on my arm serve also as a reminder to spur me into being another Esther’s Mordecai – bless the heart of the woman who comes to me with her own well-crafted list of reasons why she’s not fit to do what God’s calling her to do. Too old? Too young? A past too sordid? A family that won’t understand? Please friend, sit down so I can remind you about a girl who came before you, a girl who broke royal law to stand before a king with a history of discarding Queens on a whim, a girl who was called to do a hard thing and did it. She too, had to have been scared, had to have felt like she was the wrong girl for the job. And just like Esther, we can’t ignore what God calls us to see and do.
Rest assured, sisters, the same God that held Esther’s trembling hand as she entered the king’s inner court is the same God that will be holding ours, as we face new and scary possibilities. It is that very same God who beams with delight as we step bravely into our callings.
May we forever throw off the tendency to discount the possibility that we find ourselves where we are for such a time as this.
Jessica McDougald lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with her husband, daughter, and two dogs. She’s a full-time MDiv student at Campbell University Divinity School and the Minister to Youth at Millbrook Baptist Church.
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