How Jesus Turned Me into a Pirate Queen

Written by Kathleen Schwab

Related Post: Kidnapped by a Pirate Queen

“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Romans 11:29

 On my father’s side I am descended from Grace O’Malley, notorious 16th century Irish pirate. I learned this from my paternal grandmother when I was a little girl. She gave me a book about Grace O’Malley’s life, and also told me a story about her that stayed with me and helped shape my life. My grandmother, whose maiden name was Peg O’Malley, was an American, and she learned this tale while visiting relatives who still live in Ireland. I haven’t found this particular story in any books or websites about Connacht’s famous pirate queen: what you are about to read is strictly family oral history told to me by my Grandmother.

In the 16th century,  Grace O’Malley was the leader of her clan. The English demanded tribute from Irish clans during that time, and once a year, an English ship would arrive to take a cut of O’Malley products: wool, flax, grain, salted meat, and anything else that looked valuable. The clan was struggling under the resource drain, but the English were too strong and too organized for Grace to resist them directly. If she didn’t cooperate, they would simply take what they wanted by force, and probably hurt some of her people. So she made another plan.
 The English ship was loaded up for another year, and Grace waited until it was well out to sea. Then she and her fighting men disguised themselves as pirates, took the O’Malley flags down from their ships, raised the skull and cross bones, and set out after the English. They boarded, and took back their goods. When the tribute ship reported being robbed by pirates, the English government had to accept the loss. The O’Malleys kept their possessions, and they avoided the kind of direct confrontation they could not win.

I found this story intriguing and inspiring, and it became a theme in my life. We all lose things to powers greater than ourselves, and I lost a great deal very early. My father returned from combat in Vietnam in the grip of PTSD, and he and my mother conceived me into an already crumbling marriage. My mother suffered a nervous breakdown months after my birth, and our fledgling family scattered. The three of us would never be together again. I lost my father completely, my mother periodically, and my chance at a secure home for good. But Grace O’Malley taught me that what is taken away can be reclaimed.

Jesus came into my life, and He planted in me the desire to recapture my birthright of strength, security, and belonging. With His help I found companions; I found things I was good at. I started my own family, and we found all the happiness and success that had eluded my parents.  

But there was something I lost along the way. One night when I was in college, I heard God call me to ministry. I was thrilled, and so excited. I thought this meant I would be helping people be closer to God, which I thought was the greatest work in life. But then I hit that problem: many Christians feel very strongly against women in ministry, and they feel an obligation to explain how wrong you are, how calling a woman is contrary to God’s nature, and how you are sinning by saying He called you. It got so intense that I shut up and shut down. The pushback was too hard and too aggressive. Grace O’Malley taught me that no matter how tough you are, there are things you don’t confront directly, because the cost is too high.

That was half my life ago. Then about two years ago during a prayer time I was talking to Jesus about how I felt that my focus on being good and doing the right thing had made me less like the person He intended me to be. I had become so careful, so restrained.

I wrote in my journal, “Most people are trying to get Your help to be a better person, but could I ask You to help me be not so …overly tamed? You know, turn me wilder?”

I felt Him smile.

“This will be fun,” He said.

I didn’t feel any wilder, but I did start doing things I had shied away from in the past. Sometimes I found myself speaking up in situations where I had always kept quiet. And I decided I was going to have a try at writing a book that would help people be closer to God. He had called me to this work, and I was going to pick it up again. I was a quarter century older, chronically ill, with a business to run and a family to look after, but somehow the timing seemed right.

I needed a partner to work on the book with me, so I prayed for one. Therese wrote about how she was swept along into this project by my enthusiasm or momentum or the great opportunity I offered to do tons of unpaid work. I didn’t realize I pulled that off; I didn’t think I was strong enough to kidnap anyone, let alone an artist who I needed to keep making more art.

But I think, after all, Jesus brought out the wild pirate queen He made me to be. Somehow I swashbuckled this book together, against the odds.

“I have intentions for you that have not seen the light of day yet. They were crowed out by the troubles of the world, the pain you experienced, the work and struggles of your life. …These parts of you, plans I had for you from long, long ago, they belong to you, and I want you to have them.” – Messages from God

Have you met with resistance over His call in your life?