All posts by Jelise

Jelise Ballon is a communicator, educator, and writer. She has a Master’s Degree in Integrated Marketing and Communications, but more importantly, she’s seen The Princess Bride over 200 times and is arguably Michael W. Smith’s biggest fan. Ever. Like, EVER. She is also slightly obsessed with musical theater and believes life would be much more interesting if we all occasionally broke out into spontaneous song and dance. Jelise has been leading bible and small group studies for youth and adults for over 15 years and is the head of women's ministry at Compass Community Church. But the two roles she is most passionate about are those of wife and mother. She has been married to her husband for 16 years and has three children, ages 13, 10, and 10.

Does he know?

Today marks 17 years married to this guy.

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I’ll be darned if he doesn’t get better looking each year, while I just get older.

 

It’s been nearly 21 years since our fist date…officially together for more of my life than not. It’s crazy to think about. Last week I was thinking about what I wanted to say about 17 years of marriage with the only man I’ve ever loved. I had this nice story I was going to tell about the antique rocking chair he gave me when our first child was born, how it’s been broken and repaired, much like our marriage over the years. A sweet analogy, but I’ll have to save it for another time.

 

Because everything changed for me on Monday when I got the call from my husband that he was on his way to the ER. And then three hours later the text that they were admitting him.

He’d had a stroke.

I was in the middle of teaching a class when I read those words on my phone. To be completely truthful I hadn’t expected it to be anything serious. He’d started experiencing numbness on his left side two days earlier, but since he had absolutely no other symptoms we thought it might be related to a recent surgery on his elbow and didn’t worry too much. Then Monday, when the numbness hadn’t gone, he went to the clinic at his work and his blood pressure was through the roof.

That’s when they sent him to the ER.

Even at that point, while I was starting to get more concerned, I really didn’t think it could be anything too serious. Because until it happens to you, you don’t believe it will.

A stroke.

He’s only 43 and he’d had a stroke. The only person I ever remembered having a stroke was my grandpa but he was sick from before I was born. Strokes only happen to elderly and very sick people, didn’t they?

As I made arrangements with my boss to end my class early and jumped in the car to start the painfully long drive from Centreville to Winchester there was one thought that kept going through my mind: Does he know?

Does he know how much I appreciate everything he did for me the last two weeks?

Does he know how his presence comforts me?

Does he know how much I respect him and admire him for all that he’s overcome?

Does he know how much I need him in my life?

Does he know how much I love him?

Because the thought that plagued me and left a knot in my stomach was that I couldn’t remember if I’d said these things lately.

We’re pretty generous with the “I love you’s”, the hugs and kisses, and even the occasional cheeky text message. But they are scattered among lots of “did you remember to buy the milk?”, “have you seen the scissors?”, and the ever-popular, “what do you want to do for dinner?” So sometimes the other things seem to get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes you say and do those things every day and you wonder if the intent behind them is truly felt. Had I sat him down, looked in his eyes, and said how I really felt about him lately?

I thought about the night before and how we’d had a tense conversation about finances. It wasn’t an argument, but let’s suffice to say that there was frustration felt on both sides. While we hadn’t gone to bed angry, I couldn’t fathom the idea that that would be our last real conversation.

Oh God, please, don’t let that be the last thing we ever talked about.

I’m not going to sit here and tell all of you how important it is to tell the people you love how you feel. To never go to bed or part angry. To set-aside differences, forgive old wounds, and restore relationships before it’s too late. It’s been said a million times by every other person who has faced a medical scare, walked away from a near-death accident, survived cancer, or lost a loved one too soon. So I won’t say it again.

Because the truth I learned this week is that until you are driving like a bat-out-of-hell on the interstate to get to a hospital room; until you are there in that hospital room waiting for test results; until you hear the word stroke, or heart attack, or paralysis, or cancer, or worst of all, “I’m sorry we did everything we could,” the reality that last night’s conversation may have been the last one doesn’t fully settle into your heart, branding itself there forever.

Until that moment we may know intellectually all that is possible, but we don’t truly feel it. We don’t believe it could be us.

I’ve cried a lot of tears this week, taken a lot of deep breaths, and said a lot of words to God. I even laid in a hospital bed next to my sweet husband and told him that if he died and left me to raise our three kids on my own I would kick his a$$ when I got to heaven. Because humor is a coping mechanism for me.

But the heart’s intent behind all of those tears, and deep breaths, and prayers, and joking was simply this: I can’t imagine my life without you in it. I don’t want to do life without you in it.

I’m so very grateful that we get more time. That we are here today, celebrating 17 years of marriage. That today I can make sure he knows. And tomorrow, and the next day.

Because I don’t know which conversation will truly be our last, but God help me, whenever or wherever it is, I will not have to wonder again if my husband knows he is the love of my life.

 

The soundtrack

Forgive me for this slightly nostalgic and self-indulgent post. But it is my birthday. And my blog.

Earlier this year I wrote about 2017 being The Year of Living 40 and included a list of 40 things I planned to accomplish or do this year in honor of turning 40. I’ve been trying to keep myself accountable…I’ve even got a spreadsheet! (thankfully ridding myself of my A-type personality was not on this year’s list)

One of the items on my list was to make a playlist of my favorite 40 songs and listen to it often. Seemed easy enough, right? Until I tried to narrow it down to just 40 songs. I actually started with 130-something. After a lot of editing, I finally got it down to 75 and that’s as far as I can go. Because it turns out that music is innately tied to memories and there are some songs that are so visual in my mind’s eye that I cannot leave them off the list. Yes, as it turns out, my life has a soundtrack.

So, as homage to my first 40 years, here is the soundtrack of my life…in a somewhat chronological order of the memory the song is tied to, not necessarily the order of when the songs themselves were released.

  1. Country Roads – John Denver (1977 – born in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, this song has obvious meaning and connection. I also remember hearing this song playing on the radio in my dad’s old red Datsun 280z.)
  2. Superstar – The Carpenters (1979 – OK so maybe I don’t remember the exact moment I first heard this song, but I grew up on the Carpenters and to this day I have to belt this song whenever it comes on)
  3. Rainbow Connection – Kermit the Frog (Because I grew up on the Muppets.)
  4. Longer – Dan Folgerberg
  5. Beautiful – Carol King (Another one I grew up on. Still one of my all-time favorite girl-anthems)
  6. Imagine – John Lennon
  7. Yesterday – The Beatles
  8. Let it Be – The Beatles (I’m lumping together my favorite Beatles songs here. I honestly can’t remember the first time I heard them. Being born in the late-70’s it felt like the Beatle’s music was just always there and always special)
  9. Time After Time – Cyndi Lauper
  10. Piano Man – Billy Joel
  11. Eternal Flame – The Bangles
  12. One Moment in Time – Whitney Houston (My first cassette tape every was Whitney)
  13. Man in the Mirror – Michael Jackson
  14. In Your Eyes – Peter Gabriel (Because the movie “Say Anything” came out and every girl wanted John Cusack to stand outside her window with a giant boom-box playing this song)
    1988
  15. Angel Eyes – Jeff Healey Band (1989 – I was in the 6th grade and had my first slow dance with a boy at the middle school Valentine’s Day dance. His name was Jeff Brown and I’d had a crush on him since the 4th grade. His mom picked me up and drove us to the dance and he brought me a heart-shaped cake…because cake is way better than flowers! I can’t hear this song and not think of that.)
  16. Faith – George Michael
  17. Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison
  18. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ – Righteous Brothers (1990 – The movie “Top Gun” had just come out and I had one of the best weeks of my childhood at my favorite summer camp and we sang this song all. week. long. As a result, the following year I went to my first concert with my BFF from summer camp – The Righteous Brothers at Wolf Trap.)
    1990
  19. Place in This World – Michael W. Smith (December 1990 – I received my first Michael W. Smith cassette tape, “Go West Young Man” and that was all she wrote.)
  20. Beautiful In My Eyes – Joshua Kadison (Must have played this CD 100 million times)
  21. Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon & Garfunkel (1990’s – Even though I know I had heard their music earlier in life, it wasn’t until sometime in high school that I really discovered Simon & Garfunkel and I was completely changed forever)
  22. Hotel California – The Eagles (1994 – I was in the Color Guard all through highschool and for some reason every time we traveled to an away game somebody played this song on the bus.)
  23. Time in a Bottle – Jim Croce
  24. You Got It – Bonnie Raitt
  25. We Shall Be Free – Garth Brooks
  26. Somebody to Love – Queen
  27. I Still Believe – Miss Saigon Soundtrack (1993 – My Aunt Peggy took me to see Miss Saigon at the Kennedy Center and I bawled my eyes out for most of the show. This started my love-affair with Broadway musicals)
  28. This is the Time – Billy Joel (1995 – This was the theme song for our senior prom)
  29. It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday – Boyz 2 Men (1995 – High School graduation)
  30. Friends – Michael W. Smith (1995 – more High School graduation)
  31. Wide Open Spaces – Dixie Chicks
  32. Change The World – Eric Clapton (Summer of 1996 – met this boy named David on my first summer home from college. We only got to date for about 6 weeks before I had to head back to North Carolina, but those 6 weeks were the start of something big)
  33. Head Over Feet – Alanis Morissette
  34. Power of Two – Indigo Girls
  35. Least Complicated – Indigo Girls (1996 – I was introduced to the Indigo Girls by my old friend and college roommate, Mary, coincidentally the same girl who introduced me to Michael W. Smith back in 1990. I owe her a lot! The first — and only — time I camped out overnight for concert tickets was when Indigo Girls came to Boone)
    1997
  36. Drift Off to Dream in My Arms – Travis Tritt
  37. I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor (Our go-to karaoke song when I was in college and went out with my girlfriends)
    1999-2
  38. Haven’t Seen For a While – Pat McGee Band (1997, I think. David and I accidentally discover Pat McGee Band when they open for John Secada (who remembers him?) This became one of “our songs” because long distance relationships are hard)
  39. Wonder – Natalie Merchant
  40. Come Some Rainy Day – Wynona
  41. Strawberry Wine – Deana Carter
  42. Straight To the Heart – Michael W. Smith
  43. Meet in the Middle – Diamond Rio (1998 – My friend Jamie and I got to co-host the country radio show, “Kickin’ Country”, on our college campus radio station Thursday nights. Most of the time it was an alternative rock station, so the only people that tuned in to hear the country show were our friends, but we had so much fun! This was one of the songs we played a lot)
    1998
  44. Pray for Me – Michael W. Smith (1999 – College graduation)
  45. Carolina on My Mind – Jame Taylor (1999 – long time fan of James Taylor, this song took on a whole new meaning after living in North Carolina for four years. Truly some of the best memories of my life)
    1999.jpg
  46. Open Arms – Journey
  47. Dog & Butterfly – Heart
  48. Beautiful – Christina Aguilera
  49. Fat Bottomed Girls – Queen
  50. The Other Side of Me – Michael W. Smith
  51. Love of My Life – Michael W. Smith (May 20, 2000 – marry the love of my life)
    2000
  52. I Can Only Imagine – Mercy Me
  53. Seasons of Love – Rent Soundtrack
  54. Your Song – Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman (from Moulin Rouge soundtrack)
  55. Danny’s Song – Kenny Loggins (August 2002 – find out I’m pregnant with Hannah)
  56. Life Is Beautiful – Keb Mo
  57. Angel From Montgomery – Susan Tedeschi
  58. In My Daughter’s Eyes – Martina McBride (March 26, 2003 – Hannah is born)
    2003
  59. I’ll Stand By You – The Pretenders
  60. God Only Knows – The Beach Boys
  61. Hope for Me Yet – Marc Broussard
  62. One Boy, One Girl – Colin Raye (October 20, 2005 – Daniel and Olivia are born)
    2005
  63. Real Live Woman – Trisha Yearwood
  64. Live Like You Were Dying – Tim McGraw
  65. Stars Align – Jamie Prosser (My best friend writes this song and later records it on her first full-length CD)
  66. 100 Years – Five for Fighting
  67. Defying Gravity – Wicked Soundtrack
  68. For Good – Wicked Soundtrack (2010 – See “Wicked” on Broadway for the first time)
  69. Broken Together – Casting Crowns
  70. Blessings – Laura Story
  71. You Won’t Let Go – Michael W. Smith (2014 – Started my blog…and unbeknownst to me, the early seeds of ministry)
  72. Still the One – Orleans (May 2015 – David and I celebrate 15 years of marriage)
  73. Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) – Chris Tomlin
  74. Fight Song – Rachel Platten
  75. Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran
    family

 

Do I have any regrets?

Forty will be here in a few days.

Something happens when you start approaching a milestone birthday like this one. You spend a lot of time in quiet introspection, contemplating where you’ve been and where you’re headed. True, it happens at other times, too. But as I conclude the final days of my 30’s I’ve been feeling a surge of what I can only describe as equal parts nostalgic joy and quiet anticipation.

I take great pleasure in sentimental remembrance of all I’ve experienced and witnessed in the last 40 years, knowing there’s been far more good even in the midst of pain. But I also feel a measure of satisfaction when I evaluate where I’ve fallen short and made mistakes. Because I can only regret something once I’ve learned there’s a better way.

One of the things that has never sat well with me is the idea that to live a happy and full life you need to live without regrets…that looking back and wishing we’d made some different choices somehow keeps us locked in the past and prevents us from being happy and healthy in our present. This, coupled with the sentiment that we reach a point where we’re suddenly “too old to change”, leaves me baffled. Being dissatisfied, disappointed even, in certain decisions is an essential part of the gift of life experience that shapes us and our relationships. To refuse to live with any regrets is terribly short-sighted.

Looking back on the last 39 years I can tell you without hesitation I absolutely have regrets.

I regret I spent so much time worrying about what other people thought of me.

I regret the years spent dissatisfied with my younger, stronger, more flexible body, because it did not fit into a size 8 pair of jeans.

I regret being quick to lose my temper and slow to forgive.

I regret holding myself and my loved ones to such impossibly high standards and expectations that disappointment and failure were inevitable.

I regret all the times I lost my temper with my kids, especially over the little things, instead of keeping my cool and some perspective.

I regret not spending more time actively seeking God, and instead waiting for things to fall apart before seeking comfort in His word and love.

I regret all of the time spent looking ahead to what was next instead of just being content and fully present in the here and now.

“Because I can only regret something once I’ve learned there’s a better way.”

 

I look back on the past 39 years and there is so much that I wish I did more or less of, did differently.  But I’m thankful for that view of the past because it has led to a much healthier, more content person in the present. One who has learned a lot about what’s most important in life and where to focus her time and energies. She’s not perfect, but I like this me more than any previous version.

Forty will be here in a few days. And I look forward to entering this next decade with a little more patience, a little more grace for myself and others, a little more content to be here and present, and little more reliant on God.

I expect that by the time I hit 60, 80, (maybe even) 100 I will look back on the previous decades and see the things I should have, could have done differently, because God’s not done with me yet.

Isaiah 64:8

No matter how old I get I hope I never close myself off to allowing Him to change and mold me into the person He’s created me to be. I know this body — this life — is not my final destination, but I’d like to make the most of it while I’m here.

Yes, forty will be here in a few days and I’m quite alright with that.

 

photo credit: Big Grey Mare In Love With Clay via photopin (license)

photo credit: David Grandmougin Valentine via photopin (license)

The Greatest Love Story of All Time

Who enjoys a good love story? I know I do. Whether it’s in a book or movie, I love the experience of watching a love story unfold, it just feels good to witness that love.

When I think about some of the best love stories I’ve read or watched, there are a couple of things they have in common. And as it turns out there is actually a formula that authors and screen writers use to create the perfect love story. According to Writer’s Digest there are four crucial basics that every love story must have:

  1. A hero and a heroine to fall in love
  2. A problem that creates conflict and tension between them and threatens to keep them apart
  3. A developing love that is so special it comes about only once in a lifetime
  4. A resolution in which the problem is solved and the couple is united

Today is Easter, a day that makes up a key chapter in the greatest love story of all time. The story of a Father’s love that knew no limits.

If we look at those four basics of the perfect love story we can find each of them in the story of God’s love for us.

Number one: A hero and heroine fall in love. Of course, the hero in our story isn’t your average hero. It’s God. You might say He’s the hero of heroes. And before each of us was even born, He had already fallen in love with us. God created us specifically to be in relationship with Him and He has loved us from the beginning. Now, unfortunately we took a bit longer to recognize and accept this love. But if you are a believer, I want you to think back to when you first discovered God’s love and how you felt when you first accepted Him into your heart. And if you aren’t sure you’ve gotten there yet, that’s OK, it just means your love story is waiting to happen.

 

Number two: There is a problem that creates conflict and tension between them and threatens to keep them apart. Boy does our love story have this. In fact it has thousands of years of problems and conflict. But it all started in the garden when Adam and Eve chose sin instead of love. Over and over God’s people have chosen something — or someone –over Him. Often that someone else we choose is ourselves. Our own selfish desires. And if this love story were a movie or book, I imagine even the most devoted hero would have given up and moved on. But not our Hero. He continues to pursue us. He continues to forgive us. He continues to love us.

 

Number three: A developing love that is so special it comes about only once in a lifetime. Now this is the part of our story where we start to get closer to today’s chapter. Because while from the beginning God’s love for us could easily be categorized as “so special it comes only once in a lifetime”, it was really the day that God himself chose to walk on this earth in human form that changed everything. When our Hero decided that the best way to win our love was to meet us where we were, to become just like us, and tell us in His own words, from the lips of His own mouth just how much He loved us… I mean there had never been anything like it to come before, and there has been nothing like it to come since. Jesus Christ was that once-in-a-lifetime expression of love.

 

And so, that brings us to Number four: A resolution in which the problem is solved and the couple is united. Now remember, our conflict, the thing keeping us apart from our Hero is our own sin. So what did God do to resolve this? He made the ultimate sacrifice. He took all of our sin, nailed it to a cross and died. On a day, nearly 2,000 years ago, when the skies turned black, God looked down from that cross and said: “I love you more.”

And let’s pause for a moment and talk about passion. It wasn’t in our list, but every good love story has an element of passion in it, right? That day that God said “I love you more” and took from us the very thing that was keeping us separated? The Bible tells us that in that moment the “curtain of the temple was torn in two, the earth shook and the rocks split, and tombs were broken open!” (Matthew 27:51-52). There was so much passion in God’s love for us that at the exact moment He took away the thing that was tearing us apart, the moment He took on our sin, the whole world shook.

As beautiful of an example of love as this story is, it would be kind of a sad ending to the greatest love story of all time if it just ended there at the cross. Of course God, our Hero, doesn’t leave anything unfinished. He doesn’t leave us lost and alone, weeping in the realization of what love did for us.

No. He came back. He was resurrected. He made sure we knew that He was not leaving us for good; that His death was truly a resolution to what had been keeping us apart and now we could be together forever. Our Hero was raised from the dead and got up and walked among us once again so that we could hear from his very own lips these words: “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

He doesn't leave us lost and alone, weeping in the realization of what love did for us.

Today we celebrate the greatest love story of all time. And you know what makes it even better? We are part of that story. We are not simply moviegoers or bystanders to this love story. We are the heroine, the bride of Christ. We have been united with our great love, with our Hero because of Easter. Because of His death and resurrection there is nothing, nothing we can ever do to make him stop loving us, to give up on us, to leave us.

Now, go and live that story, it’s the story of your life.

 

 

Image Copyright: halfpoint / 123RF Stock Photo

You strike a woman, you strike a rock

Updated March 8, 2017. Originally published August 9, 2014.

Several years ago I was in South Africa on a business trip that happened to coincide with their Women’s Day. The national holiday, which is celebrated each year on August 9th, commemorates the day in 1956 when  20,000 South African women marched to government buildings in Pretoria to protest the inequality of women, including a law that required black women to carry “identity passes”. The peaceful protest marked a significant milestone in the women’s and race equality movements in South Africa. It’s reported that after marching to the Union Buildings the women sang a song called Wathint` abafazi, Strijdom that includes the line wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo, which translates to “you strike a woman, you strike a rock”.

The same strength, resolve, and courage of those women can be seen in women across history and geography. I think all the way back to 478 B.C. and Queen Esther, who stood up to her King and husband to save her people. I think of Americans Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony who paved the way for women’s rights in the United States in the late 1800’s. I think of women like Manal al-Sharif and Aziza Yousef who are fighting today  for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. And then…

I think of my daughters.

What will it be like for them to grow up as women in the 21st Century? Living in a world that is becoming an increasingly more global society, where the plight and struggle of women in foreign lands must become the fight and protest of women across the world. I wonder, will they take for granted the freedoms and equality they have in their land of birth? Or will they read about girls in India being raped and neglected, and cry tears for them? Will they see TV reports about the girls who have been kidnapped from their homes and schools in Nigeria, forced into slavery and marriage, and become incensed? Will they learn of the girls stolen or bought from their homes in Eastern Europe, Asia, and South America and sold into slavery right here in their own backyard and feel motivated to act?

Will my daughter’s know that they have the  power  responsibility to fight for women across the world? How do I raise my girls to understand that there has never been a more opportune, more precise moment than right now to take action and change the future for all women?

To know that when you strike a woman, you strike a rock.

It’s a staggering responsibility, but I’m comforted to know that there are those who have gone before, paving the way. Organizations like The Seed Company and their Esther Initiative, with the single goal of translating and sharing over 20 Bible stories that will teach women of their value, worth, and the love of God. The Esther Initiative

Companies like Noonday and Fashion and Compassion that are creating “pathways out of poverty” for women in underdeveloped and vulnerable countries around the world. And organizations like Days for Girls ensuring no girl misses school simply because she doesn’t have access to sanitary supplies.

Because, when you strike a woman, you strike a rock.

And I can teach my girls through example.

By shopping from companies that empower women artists and entrepreneurs, I can show them that what we buy and how we spend our money can make a difference in the lives of women around the world. By planning and leading a women’s retreat twice a year I can show them the importance of self-care and nurturing their relationships with Jesus and with other women.

When I speak of other women I can comment on their strength, their hearts, and their virtue instead of their clothing, their hair, or their size.  When I engage with other women I can treat them as equals, as sisters, and as friends, instead of as competition for men, or jobs, or attention.

I can show them through my words and actions that strength is beautiful, kindness is powerful, and education is the key to unlocking doors; that they deserve to be cherished and respected by the men in their life. And to always remember the One who envisioned all they could do and be when He created them with love.

Because, when you strike a woman, you strike a rock.

 

graduation
Education is the key to unlocking doors, girls

There is more. So much more that can be done, needs to be done so my girls grow up to be sisters of change. But this is where I start.

Because, when you strike a woman, you strike a rock.

To my daughters, and to all of the beautiful, strong, and smart women in my life and around the world: Happy International Women’s Day!