All posts by Jelise

Jelise Ballon is a communicator, educator, and writer. She 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 18 years and has three children, ages 15, 12, and 12.

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

When a luxury item isn’t a luxury: How one organization is giving homeless women their dignity

I remember the day clearly, especially what I was wearing. I was in high school and Umbro shorts were all the rage. If you don’t remember these, they were a thin nylon/polyester short, usually in wild colors. I think they were originally made for soccer players, but seeing how I hadn’t played soccer since I was five years old, I was more concerned about the cool factor, than the practicality of these shorts.

I remember a classmate whispering in my ear  that I had a stain on my shorts and might want to go check it out. I went to the bathroom and discovered what every girl-of-a-certain-age dreads discovering: I’d started my period a few days early. At school, and without any sanitary products. My coveted Umbro shorts were ruined and I was totally embarrassed.

Looking back now, I realize I was lucky. Not only was I able to go home where I had a change of clean clothes and big box of tampons waiting, but I had a washing machine to try and salvage my favorite pair of shorts.

According to a 2016 HUD Report there are approximately 220,000 homeless women in the United States, and 50,000 of these women are between the ages of 18-24. These women do not have those same conveniences I did and while getting my period early was a nuisance, for these women it can become an issue that keeps them from being able to work, attend school, or even properly care for their personal hygiene.

Even though HUD found that 76% of homeless women were staying in temporary shelters or half-way houses, these places are often unable to provide anything but the basics for the women, and for many sanitary products are considered a “luxury”.  This is not surprising since the majority of U.S. state governments classify feminine hygiene products the same way. In 36 states these products are taxed as “luxury items”, often referred to as the “pink tax”.

This tax is on top of the already rising sticker price for these items that must be purchased monthly (a box of 50 tampons costs anywhere between $8-12 dollars and just 30 pads will run you $6-10 depending on the brand and style). As TV-show host Mike Rowe said, “A luxury?! Who’s going to treat themselves to a tampon?”

Rowe said that after learning about the “pink tax” and an organization called I Support the Girls, recently featured on his show “Returning the Favor“.

I Support the Girls is an organization that started in 2015 by a local DC-area woman named Dana Marlowe, with the core belief that “A woman shouldn’t have to choose between feeding herself and her personal health.” To-date, I Support the Girls has helped more than 320,000 girls and women retain their dignity by collecting over 1 million bras and 2,500,000 menstrual hygiene products and distributing them worldwide to 500 vetted shelters and organizations.

I first learned about I Support Girls in the fall of 2017 when I found out they were collecting bras and hygiene products for women living in communities devastated by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. I hosted a collection at the Renew & Restore Women’s Retreat that year to help provide these essentials to displaced women and girls who either lost their homes or were unable to return for many weeks due to the damage.

Yet I’m struck with the levity of the situation that 220,000 homeless women face every day. Every time I run into CVS or Walgreens to grab a box, I am reminded of how lucky I am that I don’t have to choose between feeding myself and my family or caring for the most basic of feminine hygiene needs.

I Support the Girls has approximately 50 local affiliates in 27 states, Australia, Canada, Pakistan, and the Philippines, and while that may make it sound like they are big international non-profit, the truth is they are very operationally lean and incredibly dependent on volunteers and donations. Director of Operations, Erin Persaud told me, “although we are able to attract and manage partnerships with major organizations, we do so with minimal staff and funding.” She went on to say that they “love product donations, of course, but truly being able to grow our impact in a meaningful way requires funding.”

Persaud also said that all of their local affiliates are low on hygiene products at the moment. I reached out to the contact for the local Northern Virginia Affiliate, Mia Jimenez and she shared with me that “The NoVA area is in need of more volunteers that would be willing to start local, ongoing drives. We’re also always looking for individuals to collect and sort donations and find shelters that are willing to accept these donations.”

If you live in the Northern VA area and would like to help, please message Mia via their Facebook page. If you are located elsewhere, here are four ways you can help:

  1. Contact your local affiliate and ask what they need
  2. Host a local collection or drive
  3. Order products off of the I Support the Girls Amazon wishlist.
  4. Donate financially

In the words of I Support the Girls founder, Dana Marlowe, “Sometimes when you learn something new, you get a nugget of information that you didn’t know before but it changes your mindset, your worldview…your perspective shifts.”

Now that I know about the real need to provide teens and women with their dignity, I will never look at a box of tampons or old bra the same. How about you?

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Designed by Kristen Gardiner @ drivingmomcrazy.com

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

 

Featured image by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

This hard season of parenting? It’s temporary

This year the journey to spring has seemed like two steps forward, one step back, with 75 degree days followed by 12 inches of snow two days later. And right now everything just seems like a big sopping wet mess outside.

It’s pretty much how parenting feels, especially lately. It’s been 2 steps forward, one step back, sometimes feeling like I am knee-deep in mud and muck. Maybe you’re there, too.

Maybe you have just come out of a hard season with one child, seeing light on the horizon, only to have another one completely fall apart.

Maybe you have a child with a mental illness, disease, or learning disability and after months of doctor’s appointments, teacher conferences, medication changes, therapy, etc. you start to see improvement. Maybe even a few good weeks go by and you start to exhale a little bit and think the worst is behind you, and then suddenly you get the call. Your child has a bad day. A really bad day. And it feels like you’re right back where you were, with no end in sight.

Maybe you have a baby who has been crying for 6 months and not sleeping and you are 100 days past exhausted and weary to your bones. But then 4, 5, 6 nights in a row she sleeps. You sleep! It’s bliss! You start to feel semi-human again. Then on night seven she screams for six hours straight and you are on the floor next to the crib sobbing with her, wondering how anyone could handle this.

And you’re thinking, “One month! All I want is one month where everything is smooth sailing and everyone is healthy and happy. Is that too much to ask God? Why can’t we catch a break? Why does this keep happening to our family? Why?”

You’re knee-deep in the mud and the muck. And the glimpse of easy, smooth, and happy almost seems cruel if it’s going to be taken away. What’s one warm and sunny day if it’s going to be followed by more bitter cold?

But then, where did we get the idea that parenting is a straight path and you have to choose to either move forward or go backwards? Or that the end of a harsh season signified the beginning of a warm one? Who sold us this picture of parenting? And for goodness sake, why did we buy it?

Parenting, like the weather, is unpredictable. Seasons come and go, but not in a neat and orderly fashion. God’s word tell us that to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

a time to weep and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn and a time to dance;

a time to get, and a time to lose;

It does not say, however, that the weeping ends when the laughter begins. Or that once you start dancing, there will be no more mourning. Nowhere does God promise that our time of loss will be short and our time of prosperity plentiful. Only that there will be time for both.

Maybe the point is not to simply endure the hard winters of parenting, while you wait for spring to arrive. Maybe the point is to look for the beauty that can be found in each, knowing that God has promised there is purpose in it all.

This post originally appeared on the Neither Height Nor Depth Facebook Page.

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Don’t let your dreams breed discontent

Reach for the stars!

Hard work and sacrifice pay off!

Don’t downgrade your dream just to fit your reality!

She believed she could, and so she did!

If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it!

I think most of us have heard some or all of these motivational phrases during our lives, maybe we’ve even said a few to encourage our friends or children. Maybe we have posters hanging in our office or classroom with these or similar maxims.

{raises hand}

Chasing after super-sized goals and bold dreams is a beautiful thing. I think it connects us to our humanity. It crosses the divides of age, gender, culture, race, and religion. It’s how progress is made and change is initiated.

But there seems to be a growing wariness around the connection between dreaming big and feeling discontent. Especially among women.

Never have women had more opportunities available to us than we do today. Thanks to better access to quality education, greater opportunities for start-up businesses, and, let’s face it, social media, there’s been a rise in successful, seemingly “self-made” women cheering on the rest of us with their mantras of “lean-in”, “stop apologizing”, and just “say yes”. Women can now “brave the wilderness”, “live beyond fear”, and discover that “the universe has our back”. It all sounds so enticing doesn’t it? Wrapped up in pretty paper covered packages, it seems like success is just within our reach.

But is it?

Now please don’t misunderstand, this is not a criticism of these books or the authors, some of whom I happen to respect and admire. Admittedly, I have not read most of the mentioned books, and for all I know some of them may be chock-full of sound advice and truth. But what I do read are articles, blog posts and letters from women who feel like they are not enough. I hear friends share the overwhelming amount of anxiety and pressure they feel to do more, be more, achieve more. I see my daughters, still teenagers, combating an image of perfection that they believe they must achieve in everything they try. And I have battled my own feelings of discontent and failure — both professionally and personally.

Here’s what I don’t hear or read much of:

“I’m so happy with my life, right where it is.”

“God has blessed me with a season where I can slow down and smell the roses.”

“I am enough. Right here, right now, just as I am. I am enough.”

And it concerns me that we’ve mistaken chasing after dreams as an obligation to be more. We’ve misunderstood our goals to be a yard stick showing us just how we measure up (or don’t) based on achievement. We’ve decided our resumes are a better indication of our value and worth than our hearts.

It’s so damaging. So detrimental. So not in alignment with God’s calling for our lives.

God has no problem with us dreaming big or achieving success. Some of God’s chosen were very successful in life — just look at Job, Boaz, Joseph, and David. But God does make it clear that any success we have is to bring him glory. Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

This is where I think some of the modern day mantra of chasing our dreams and striving for success falls short. So often the ones touting their own success — and their six simple steps to achieving our own — make it all about them, or me, or we. But never about He.

As long as we are dreaming big and striving for that glass ceiling as a means to bring recognition and praise to our own name, we are inevitably going to feel a sense of discontent. Even when we achieve a big milestone or goal, the feeling of satisfaction will be temporary, and we’ll already be looking at the next great thing; because when it’s all about us, it’s never enough.

When it’s all about me, having 2,000 people read my blog is not enough. When it’s all about Him, having one person touched or encouraged by something I wrote is enough.

When it’s all about me, having the same mid-level job for ten years is not enough. When it’s all about Him, working hard, demonstrating kindness and respect to my coworkers is enough.

When it’s all about me, staying home all day wiping noses, folding clothes, preparing meals, and vacuuming carpets is not enough. When it’s all about Him, loving on my children and caring for my family is enough.

When it’s all about me, pastoring a church with 75 members and never enough in the collection plate is not enough. When it’s all about Him, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and shepherding even one of those 75 is enough.

I’m not saying to throw in the towel and stop dreaming. I’ve still got big dreams for this little blog and my tiny, start-up ministry. But I also know that whatever success I have is only because of Him, and only so that I can bring Him glory. If my work leads to 10 more people knowing His name that will be a much greater success than 10,000 people knowing mine.

 

Success

Cover photo by Katrina on Unsplash

Guest post: The doctors said my son might never walk again

[One of the great blessings I’ve experienced since I started writing is getting to connect with men and women all over the world who read my words. Oftentimes it’s something simple like, “thank you, I needed that” or “me, too”. Sometimes I get asked to pray over a situation someone is going through, which is a true honor. And sometimes, someone reaches out and says, “I’d like to tell you my story.” A few weeks ago a reader I’d never met, named Lauren Findley said those words to me via Facebook. But I wasn’t prepared for what she was going to tell me. Her story, and that of her little boy, moved me to tears. Only a God as great as ours could do these things.

Lauren was gracious enough to let me share her story with all of you.]

My name is Lauren Findley, and this is a picture of my family.

Lauren findley 3

If you had told me a year and a half ago that I would be asked to write about the gift of trust, I would have thought you were crazy. I have struggled with crippling anxiety my entire life. Proverbs 31 haunted me when it talked about “She was clothed in strength and dignity and laughs at the days to come.” I didn’t understand how anyone could laugh at the future.

On the morning on August 6th, 2017 my son, Ethan, and his cousin were running around our house playing tag. Ethan fell down and wouldn’t get back up. It wasn’t long until we realized that he couldn’t get up. He was hysterical and tried to tell us that he had sand all over his body. We realized that he was numb.

Robby, my husband, and I carried him to the car and rushed him to Cook Children’s Hospital. Ethan was immediately rushed into a sedated MRI. We then sat around waiting for him to wake up to find out what was going on. There was a lot of prayer and asking people to pray, but I was in denial that anything was really wrong with him. We were brought into a little room in which they made us sit down and the doctors began explaining that Ethan had a stroke.

They had no answers for us.

We walked into the Pedi ICU to find our precious boy screaming and not being able to see, sit up, or use the right side of his body. Later that day we were told that he had a stroke in the motor skills part of the brain, and they had no idea what type of a recovery he would have. They told us that they didn’t know if he would be able to walk again, have short term memory struggles, or get his cognitive skills back. They also ran more tests than I can count and every one was found inconclusive for what caused the stroke.

Lauren and Ethan

It was at this time I felt God ask if I could trust him even for a minute. I told him that I could trust him only for that long. He was going to have to handle the next minute. The Holy Spirit placed Matthew 6:34 on my heart “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have enough trouble of its own.” I told the Lord He was going to have to do it for me.

He gave me the strength.

A friend sent me 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (NIV) “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I clung to this passage. I begged the Lord to make me strong, because I was at my weakest. He followed through in amazing ways. He kept me going when I could not go anymore. These were some of the worst days of my life. God showed me that I needed to take every thought captive. I had to constantly fight the “what ifs” and live for the moment.

It was also at this time that I felt led to start posting exactly what was going on to Facebook, which seemed crazy to me, but I chose to trust. We quickly began seeing the goodness of God not only in the Holy Spirit but also through the kindness and loving encouragement of others.

Ethan opening presents in hospital

We were finally moved out of the PICU and into the Neurorehab floor of Cook Children’s. We started seeing progress in Ethan’s motor and cognitive skills, but we were told not to get our hopes up. He was in speech, physical, and occupational therapy three hours a day. My parents had been stuck in California due to bad weather, so we had to rely on others for help with our other son and everything else. This was a blessing, because we were able to see God work out every little detail when we didn’t have our family around. And Ethan’s sweet friends loved on him in ways that reminded me of God’s goodness.

On August 8th, my mom’s birthday, my parents arrived. My devotion that day was about waiting for God and my lack of control. It touched on the fact that God is in control, and He is so good, things that I desperately needed to hear. On August 12th I was given Psalm 130:5, “I wait for the Lord. My soul waits. And in his word I hope.” On August 16th, we were shown how to work with Ethan to help him walk. We kept seeing huge progress, but we were told not to keep hoping.

After hearing that he may never walk over and over again, I felt God just saying “watch me, trust me.” On August 28th, Ethan looked and me and said, “Mom, look what I can do.” He proceeded to stand up and walk out the door all on his own.

The hospital staff freaked out and told me to stop him. They didn’t know what to do, because he shouldn’t know how to walk. I didn’t stop him.

On Sept. 1st, long before we were supposed to be released, we were allowed to take our boy home.

Not long after that we started him in an outpatient rehab for PT, OT, and speech therapy. I was asked what my long-term goals were for Ethan. I told them that eventually I would like for him to walk without a brace. They told me that wasn’t realistic, and once again I felt God tell me “watch this.”

A few weeks later, they asked Ethan to take his brace off and see what he can do, because his progress was so good. And he started running! The Physical Therapist started crying. She told me she had never seen any child with his type of brain injury heal like this before. She even admitted that it must be God.

We had many more scares that made his doctors believe that it was very possible that he might have another stroke. We scheduled a trip to the Mayo Clinic. Everyone was in a panic trying to figure out what was going on. Almost every day for a while I had to decide whether to take him to the ER or not. They knew us well in the ER. It was a dark, extremely emotional time. God gave me Psalm 94:18-19 “when I said my foot is slipping, your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”

One day, our neurologist told me that he was going to try a medicine that probably wasn’t going to work. Since that day, we haven’t had a real scare. When I asked the stroke team why the medicine worked, they had no idea. I believe God made it happen.

Every time I ask the Lord why he did these miracles, He tells me it’s for His glory. So here I am telling you that He is amazing. He is able to do more than we can ever ask or imagine.

May we never forget the goodness of our Lord. I saw first hand that God cares and provides for the crazy huge things and the details of life. He cares about all of it and wants you to rely on him. He won’t disappoint. He is good, faithful, and fully worthy of your trust. Fully trusting the Lord is true freedom.

Psalm 66:5: “Come and see what our God has done, what awesome miracles he performs for people!”

 

Lauren Findley is from Fort Worth, Texas. She has an amazing husband and two sweet boys that she stays home with.

 

Wheelchair photo credit: TheExplorographer.com The View via photopin (license)

All other photos and video courtesy of Lauren Findley. All rights reserved.