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.
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).