I don’t belong here

When I was 13 years old I was molested by my then-step-father. There are really no words to adequately describe the fear I felt that night. While my short-term memory fails me every day, I can still remember that night in vivid detail. What I remember most are the thoughts going through my head “How do I get out of this? How can I get away without making him angry? I should not be here. I don’t belong here.”

Somehow, God gave me the courage and fortitude to make an excuse and get away from the situation. I consider myself one of the fortunate ones because unlike many of the 1 in 7 girls who will be sexually abused before they turn 18, I was not a repeat victim.

The next morning I had to call my mom, who was away on a business trip, to tell her about what had happened. I think I knew deep down that she wasn’t going to believe me, but knowing it didn’t make it any easier to hear.

It was not just my mom who didn’t believe me. Many immediate family members also could not accept what had happened. I felt like the family outcast. In their eyes, I was, at best, confused, and at worst, a liar. I felt like I didn’t belong anymore.

I moved in with my dad and step-mom immediately. They worked hard to incorporate me into their lives, to make me feel at home and loved. But the reality was that in the span of one week I had lost my identity as part of one family, one household, and was suddenly placed in a new house, new town, and new state. I had left behind my sister, my friends, my pets, my school, even my furniture. Everything was new and unfamiliar. I felt like it was all a bad dream and I was just waiting to wake up and realize none of it had happened. I felt like I didn’t belong in this new reality, this new life.

I was enrolled in a new school a few days later, only weeks before my 8th-grade year began. The school was huge and intimidating. I knew no one. I remember walking through the cafeteria on the first day, looking across the sea of unfamiliar faces, trying to figure out where I should sit. Watching all of the other kids sitting with their friends, laughing and talking, totally oblivious to my presence, I felt a lump in my throat and willed the tears back down. Everything about that cafeteria screamed, “you don’t belong here.”

Because I had already completed one year of confirmation class, my dad and step-mom signed me up for my second year at a local Lutheran church, even though neither of them attended the church or knew the Pastor. I walked up the unfamiliar sidewalk as slowly as I could to the never-before-entered red doors, sweaty palms reaching for the handle. Why was I here? Another place where no one would know me and I wouldn’t fit in. Another place to be reminded that I didn’t belong.

I hesitated and then walked through the doors. Just as I entered the narthex a man with a white collar and kind eyes came up to me. “You must be Jelise,” he said.

“It’s so nice to meet you. Come, let me show you the way to the classroom and introduce you to everyone.”

He knew my name. He was expecting me.

Isaiah 43:1

I don’t belong. Three small little words to represent such powerful emotion.

Each of us has our own story, our own experiences of feeling like we don’t belong. Maybe you were placed in a foster home as a child; maybe your dad was in the military and you moved to a new town every few years. Maybe you made some bad choices and landed in jail or rehab. Maybe you found yourself sitting across from the person who promised to love and cherish you and their lawyer, signing divorce papers. Maybe you sat alone during lunch every day when you were in 5th grade. Maybe you walked into a church and people looked at you funny, and told you that you weren’t welcome because of how you dressed, how you looked, how you were raised, how you lived your life.

All of us. Every single person reading this has felt like they didn’t belong at some point in their life. Because we live in a broken world that often seems unfamiliar, cold, and scary. We feel abandoned, judged, unworthy, or just different.

But there is One who calls us by name. Who knows us and loves us for who we are, who He created us to be. He sees every desire of our heart, and every scar that we try to hide. He is with us always, and He promises that we not only belong with Him and in His family, but we are His beloved one.

In a passionate love letter from God to His people, Isaiah 43 says,

But now the Lord Who made you, O Jacob, and He Who made you, O Israel, says, “Do not be afraid. For I have bought you and made you free. I have called you by name. You are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you pass through the rivers, they will not flow over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned. The fire will not destroy you.” Isaiah 43:1-2 (NLV)

Just like that Pastor who called me by name all those years ago, God has already called each of us by name; He calls us every day. When we feel like we don’t belong in the earthly world, we can cling to the knowledge that we always belong to Him — our Heavenly Father.

We are His. We are wanted. We are loved.

That night, in that unfamiliar church, a seed was planted. I didn’t know it at the time, but that church and Pastor, those other kids in that confirmation class, they would be a huge part in helping me heal and start to feel like I belonged somewhere. God was using them to call me by name — figuratively and literally. It was a pivotal moment in developing a life-long relationship with Christ.

In the following months, I made friends at church and my new school. I was loved and cared for by my dad and step-mom and they became home. With time and counseling, I was able to heal from my abuse and all that transpired with it. Through my relationship with Christ, I learned to forgive my mom, and eventually, our relationship was healed and made new.

There is no happily-ever-after in this world, but there can be joy rising up out of the ashes. Through Christ, all things are indeed possible.

 

(This post was originally published September 19, 2014. It was edited and updated on May 22, 2019).

Featured image by Artūrs Ķipsts on Unsplash

She didn’t know He loves her, even though

Last week we had some hard days in the Ballon household. It was an especially hard week for my 16-year-old. And of course for dear old mom and dad.

I’ve written frequently about the joys of raising teenagers, and for the most part, it is a joy. It’s really so much better than people tell you. But then, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes the problems feel so enormous and grown-up that it’s hard to reconcile the fact that this is your “baby” facing all of these big feelings, big mistakes, and big choices.

One good thing that came out of all of last week’s hard (and there’s always something good to come out of it) was that I bought a 40 day devotional written for teen girls, to do with my daughter.

Because even though she’s been going to church since she was in diapers,

Even though she’s been in a Christian school most of her days,

Even though she lives in a home where we pray and talk about God, and her parents have told her multiple times how broken we once were, but also how we were saved by the love of Jesus,

Even though she’s served as the hands and feet of Jesus on two different mission trips and I saw it change her,

…even though…

She is still her own person and she is walking her own faith journey, which sometimes takes detours, and looks a little sidewinder-ish.

So I bought this devotional and we are only on day 3, but it has already paid for itself ten-fold. Because last night we read all about grace and how God knows we will fall short and we don’t have to be perfect to win His love. And when I asked my daughter what she thought about it she said, “It’s such a relief. Because sometimes I feel like it’s not true. Sometimes all I hear is everyone telling me I have to be like Jesus and follow the rules to be a good person, and I feel like I have to be perfect. It’s a relief to know that He doesn’t expect perfection. To know that He will love me anyway.”

And my heart broke into a million pieces.

Because how did we get to 16 and she still not know?

How have I failed to make sure that if she knew nothing else — literally nothing else — she knew about grace and the unfailing love of our Father?

How have I forgotten that there is so much pressure on her, so many rules, so many boundaries, and sometimes we talk about those things ad nauseam until grace sounds like a footnote instead of the headline?

How is it that I write a blog called Neither Height Nor Depth that is based on the very verses that confirm that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God, and she didn’t know?

So I held her and we both cried and I told her out loud that there is nothing she could ever do that would make God stop loving her. And there was nothing she could ever do that would make me stop loving her.

If that is the only message she takes away from our 40 day study, it will be totally worth it.

So, in case no one has told you recently — or ever. In case you hear more about rules, and being “good”, and not messing up, than you do about love. In case you feel forgotten, unloved, unworthy, or unclean. In case you didn’t know that the price was already paid, and you have a Father that loves you so much He would go to the ends of the earth to find you, here are the words I want you to hear:

For I know that nothing can keep us from the love of God. Death cannot! Life cannot! Angels cannot! Leaders cannot! Any other power cannot! Hard things now or in the future cannot! The world above or the world below cannot! Any other living thing cannot keep us away from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, NLV)

Nothing from your past, nothing you are going through today, nothing in the future, nothing you have done, nothing that has been done to you, nothing you can imagine. No. Thing. No hurt, no failure, no mistake, no illness, no fear, no person, can separate you from God's love.

Featured image by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Guest post: My first contact with the racism virus

At 9, I had an up-close and personal look at the racial divide.

It happened during my family’s trip to a suburban Chicago shopping mall. As we exited a large department store, another child got my attention.

He was with his family, too. I wondered if he was just as amazed by being in the 1970s megastructure.

But he was amazed by something else. He yelled, “Mommy, look at all the Black people!” I looked to see the people he saw.

Being African-American, I saw Black people all the time. As the obvious conclusion sunk in, I knew the boy was looking at my parents, my three siblings, and me.

My would-be playmate became my White audience instead. Our child-to-child connection was tainted. It felt like he was on vacation and I was on display — for all the wrong reasons.

My mother’s face grew concerned. I’d been exposed to the racism virus and it was too late to give me a vaccine. I’d have to build immunity over time. I’d need doses of truth to counteract the attempt to inject me with insignificance.

The boy’s mother made a poor attempt to hide her embarrassment. Avoiding eye contact with us, she grabbed her son’s hand and hurried away. But they left the insidious residue of an “us and them” mentality. It stuck with me and tried to mutate my thinking. I fought back hard because racism will try to confuse you, confine you or make you a carrier.

I’d seen images of the civil rights movement on television and heard snippets of my parents’ conversations about the need for racial equality.

I’d sat attentively in the classroom learning about African-American contributions to our nation as we observed what was then Black History Week (now it’s the entire month of February).

And yet, I held a naïve hope in my childhood heart. I thought any child I met could be my next friend. A lie said no. However, truth wouldn’t let things stay that way.

I’d later become best friends with a girl of biracial heritage. Her parents’ marriage reminded me love wins. A few years later, through my high school’s student exchange program, I’d become friends with white kids who weren’t startled by the appearance of black people. We shared hopes, dreams, and the common teenage longing for acceptance.

Because at its worst, racism robs a person of any chance of being accepted — as a person. Instead, it limits them to a color, a stereotype, or a statistic.

Decades later, I’m much less naïve and more infused with biblical truth. I’ve endured countless exposures to the racism virus.

Some people still look at my skin color as the first or only consideration for who I am or what I have to offer. But categorizing people solely based on our perspective can cause us to miss God’s heart. He never intended for His mosaic creation to lead to the mistreatment of others.

Historically, our nation missed God’s intentions and we remain stuck in the mire of slavery’s legacy and today’s racially tinged rhetoric. And yet, my childhood experience, or your similar experiences, reminds us we need to move forward.

Some people have.

Some people struggle with racism’s confusion or confinement.

Sadly, others have become unwitting or uncaring carriers of the divisive and hateful strain. However, improving race relations won’t matter to us, if we don’t sense God’s purpose for us.

Otherwise, at best, we’ll settle for a politically correct stance instead of a true change of heart. But if we are to walk in God’s purpose…
“The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”(1 Samuel 16:7 NLT)

“For anyone wanting to receive God’s forgiveness, His perspective or His healing, it’s made possible through faith in Christ.” (see Romans 7:21-25)

His power is just a prayer away.

With a sincere heart, go ahead and ask Him. The results will surely bring hope for the heart and joy to the soul.

Scriptural Reflections:
1. Genesis 1:26-31
2. Matthew 22:37-40
3. Acts 15:11
4. Ephesians 4:2-6 and 31
5. James 2:1, 9 and 10
6. 1 John 4:7 and 8
7. Revelation 5:8-10

The Lord doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

Joy A. Williams


Joy A. Williams is an author, blogger, and speaker. She has served as a small-group Bible study leader, Women’s Conference and Retreat speaker for over twenty years. Joy encourages sincere or sidetracked truth seekers with “joy to the soul” on her weekly blog.

You can also connect with Joy on Twitter or Facebook and on Pinterest.

 

Featured image photo by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash

When children with special needs can’t get the help they need

We knew from the time my son was in pre-school that he was not like the other kids. He was only five the first time we took him in for testing. Over the years my sweet boy has been tested and evaluated for everything from ADHD to Bi-Polar to Autism. After a few misdiagnoses and false starts, I’m so grateful that with the help of a wonderful doctor and supportive school we now have proper diagnoses and treatment in place, but it hasn’t come free of struggle.

In November of 2017, we began the IEP process at the recommendation of my son’s doctor. Even though he attends a small private school, where an IEP is not required to receive accommodations, she thought it would be of value to have one in place both to help guide our current school on what additional accommodations he may need, and in case he ever does attend a public school we wouldn’t be starting from scratch.

The IEP process was arduous, incredibly frustrating, and at times made me feel like we were the very last priority of our local school system. One day I’ll write a separate blog post on my feelings about the process, but our experience is still a bit too raw for me. However, one of the good things to come out of it was to find out that my son has a learning disability called dysgraphia. One of my son’s teachers had begun to suspect something might be going on, and the educational psychologist was able to confirm his suspicions through a variety of tests and observations. This was good news for us because we now understood that his challenges with writing were not related to his other conditions. The diagnosis also came with specific recommendations on how to help him in this area.

While all of the research pointed to the benefits of occupational therapy for children with dysgraphia, when we finally had our meeting with the county school system to review the IEP there was no mention of occupational therapy being offered. Even when I questioned this and insisted on further evaluation by their OT, we were offered only one 30 minute session per month. As a result, we have had to supply the necessary therapy my son needs through private means.

I share this with you to bring awareness that children with special needs often are not afforded the treatment(s) that are most beneficial due to a combination of limited state and federal funding for schools, outdated standards for evaluation, and a sea of red-tape. My family is fortunate that we live in a town with a University that offers a free OT program. But many parents do not have access to these kinds of resources and are left paying most of the cost out-of-pocket, and/or limiting the amount of treatment their children receive due to insurance coverage restrictions.

That is why organizations like Orange Effect Foundation are so important. Their mission is to make sure children with speech disorders receive the speech therapy and technology they need. The foundation was started by Joe and Pam Pulizzi, who have a son with autism. When they witnessed first-hand how critical early intervention speech therapy was in their son’s verbal development, they knew other families with autistic children should have the same access.

“While there are many wonderful organizations that focus on autism and research into speech disorders, there are very few that focus on providing grants to children who desperately need consistent speech therapy or equipment,” explains the Orange Effect Foundation’s website.

Every quarter, Orange Effect Foundation receives grant applications from both providers and families. Applications are open to any and all families. The leadership team researches and reviews each case and delivers financial grants to those who need it most. Since they began awarding grants in 2015, the Orange Effect Foundation has purchased 24 speech generating devices and provided over 2,500 hours of speech therapy to children needing these services.

If you would like to donate or find out how you can support Orange Effect Foundation, visit their website.

 

This blog post was written in partnership with the Blogging for Better Supporters, a collective platform to raise awareness and money for a different charity each month. #bloggingforbetter

 

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What you miss by being a Christian

Today as I was walking into the grocery store an older gentleman, with kind eyes, handed me a pamphlet. The front of it said in big bold letters: “What you miss by being a Christian”. As a chronic people-pleaser I have a hard time saying no to people handing out fliers, samples, or anything else that’s given freely and with a smile. So I stuck the pamphlet in my purse and later, when I got back to my office, I pulled it out to throw away. But curiosity got the best of me and I opened it up to see what it said.

In big bold letters it read HELL! (complete with exclamation point). And then it proceeded to list a number of Bible verses that describe hell.

Um, OK. That will get a person’s attention. Although, probably not in the way this gentleman was hoping.

Yes, of course as a Christian I believe the only way to eternal salvation is through Jesus Christ. And yes, I believe in hell, and based on the descriptions I’ve read in scripture, it does not sound like a fun place to spend eternity. But, is that the best message to send non-believers? Is a message meant to motivate with fear and threats really the best way to draw people to Jesus? Forgive me, but if I was a non-believer, I don’t think that’s the message that would do it for me.

I don’t mean to dismiss the truth behind scripture, or make light of it, but I do think there is more to the complete picture of Christianity that needs to be shared with non-believers, and would probably better serve to pique their interest.

So, I decided to come up with my own list of 4 things I miss out on by being a Christian.

  1. Condemnation – Romans 8:1-2 says, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.”

    I don’t know about you, but there is plenty in this world already telling me I am not enough — I’m not smart enough, thin enough, rich enough, successful enough, pretty enough, etc. As a believer, though, I know those are lies from the enemy. I am not enough on my own, but through Jesus Christ I am freed of all my short-comings and sin, and that means no guilt for all the ways I fall-short, no shame for my past mistakes, and no condemnation for the mistakes I have yet to make.

     

  2. Being unloved – “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10)

    As the Beatles said, “all you need is love.” But so often we believe that love needs to come from a spouse, a friend, a parent, or a child. When we don’t feel like we are loved the way we want, or don’t have those relationships, it can make us feel completely unloveable, or even unworthy of love. But scripture says that I am loved, and you are loved, by our heavenly Father. And he has proven His love to us in the most spectacular way, by giving up His own son in order to save us, to spend eternity with us. Once you know and accept that truth, it’s hard to ever feel unloved again.

     

  3. Fear – Being unloved leads to number three, fear. In 1 John it goes on to say that “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them…Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” (1 John 4:15, 18)

    Fear comes in many forms. It can be a fear of punishment, as John mentions in this scripture, it can be a fear of failure, a fear of death, a fear of loneliness, fear for our children’s future, etc. But whatever the source of our fear, it can always, always be declared a lie. Because God’s love has no room for fear. To know Him and accept His love is to accept that we need not be afraid of punishment, failure, death, loneliness, the future, or anything else! His love protects, it has our very best interests, and it will never leave us.

  4. Having to do it all on my own (aka self-reliance) – For me this one goes a little bit with condemnation because when I fall into the trap of thinking I have to “do it all” alone, the guilt and condemnation are usually quick to follow when I inevitably realize I cannot do it all. But this is also about casting aside the loneliness that comes with thinking “it’s all up to me”. Anyone who has ever felt like success or failure was riding on their shoulders knows it’s a lonely place to be. Whether you’re a single mom, the CEO of a company, or just an introverted overachiever (raises hand), it can be easy to feel all the weight and pressure of being “the one” responsible for it all. But God says: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord. They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness in an uninhabited salty land. “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat  or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:5-8)

    We have a choice — try and do it on our own and feel like dried up shrubs in the desert, or rely on God and be perpetually replenished, strengthened, and productive. When we become Christians and learn that we are never alone, and do not have to rely solely on our own strength and abilities, then the pressure and loneliness no longer have a place in our lives.

These are four things that I no longer have room for in my life because I know God and have a relationship with Jesus. And I can tell you that I don’t miss them one bit.

Featured photo by Robert Koorenny on Unsplash