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 3 adolescent girls who are victims of childhood sexual assault, 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 confused, at best, and at worst, a liar. I felt like I didn’t belong any more.
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, new state. I had left behind my sister, my friends, even my furniture. Everything was new and unfamiliar. To my 13-year-old self 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. I felt the lump in my throat and willed the tears back down. I didn’t belong.
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 (one they didn’t attend). I walked up the unfamiliar sidewalk to the never-before-entered red doors. Why was I here? This church was not home. I didn’t belong here.
Then I walked through the doors and a man with a white collar came up to me. “You must be Jelise.” He knew my name. He was expecting me.
“It’s so nice to meet you,” he said. “Come, let me show you the way to the classroom and introduce you to everyone.”
I don’t belong. Three small little words to represent such powerful emotion.
Whether you went through foster care as a child, moved to a new town where you didn’t know anyone, landed in jail, landed in divorce court, moved countries, schools, houses, or families, I would wager a guess that every single person reading this blog has felt like they didn’t belong at some point in their life. The reality is the world can often seem unfamiliar, cold and scary. We can feel abandoned, judged, 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 is with us always, and when we are with Him we not only belong, we are His beloved.
I love the book of Isaiah because it is essentially a passionate love letter from God to His people. Over and over He tells us that He is with us; He knows us and we belong to Him.
“But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” Isaiah 43:1-2 (NLT)
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. And through my relationship with Christ I learned to forgive. With time and counseling, I was able to heal from the events of that night. I made friends at my new school. I was loved and cared for by my dad and step-mom and they became home. And eventually my relationship with my mom was healed and made new.
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, let us remember that we always belong to our Heavenly Father. We are wanted. We are loved.
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.