Category Archives: Family

Unplanned and perfect

Have I ever told you about my favorite day? Maybe that’s weird to you that I have a favorite day. I don’t know if that’s a normal thing or not. But I do, and you might be surprised to learn that it’s not my wedding day, or any of the days I gave birth to my children (although those days are etched in my memory and tucked in my heart forever).

No, my favorite day ever happened on a Tuesday in June, during the summer of 2017. My family and I were taking a big two-week road/camping trip throughout Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and Wyoming. We’d flown into Denver and rented a 30 foot RV and we had 14 days to see and do as much as we could fit in.

As you can imagine, a trip like this doesn’t just happen. There was an entire year’s worth of planning that went into this trip, which I’d been dreaming about for even longer. And if there’s one thing I love to do, it’s plan. I had mapped out our route carefully, estimating the driving time for each day, how long we’d stay at each destination, reserved camp sites, booked fishing trips, ordered a National Park Pass, and even tried to build in “extra time” in case things went wrong, as I new surely something would.

It didn’t take long for the first set-back. After 2 days exploring Denver and Colorado Springs, and visiting with my sister-in-law and her family, we were scheduled to pick-up our RV on a Monday. The plan was to pick it up by 1 p.m. and hit the road by 2, getting a solid 4 hours of driving in on day one. But when we landed in Denver I discovered an email from the RV rental place asking I call to book a pick-up time. When I called I was told that the earliest slot they had available was 4:30 p.m. I knew that getting the RV back to my sister-in-law’s house, loaded up, and then dealing with Denver rush hour traffic meant the earliest we could possibly hit the road would be 6 — if we were lucky.

Frustrated at the early set-back, I revisited our itinerary for the first two days and decided we’d have to find a campground closer to Denver for our first night, which would mean cancelling our plans to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park on Tuesday since we’d need to drive at least 6 hours to get to our next destination, Cortez, CO, by Tuesday night. It was disappointing, but I tried to be flexible and luckily found a campground with space that was only 2 hours from Denver.

We pulled into our site in Buena Vista after dark on Monday, had a quick dinner and went to sleep. Tuesday morning we awoke early and got to finally see the beautiful campsite in the daylight. We hiked down to the Arkansas River, which ran along the edge of the campground, had breakfast, and hit the road. Since we were no longer going to Sand Dunes, I found a more direct route from where we were in Buena Vista to Cortez. The goal was just to make good time and arrive in Cortez by dusk. What I didn’t realize at the time was that our more direct route would take us across the Wolf Creek Pass, a stunningly beautiful and historic route (and also part of the route the Griswold’s took in National Lampoon’s Vacation).

The first half of the day brought us great weather and a beautiful drive through Colorado farm land, with the mountains making a stunning backdrop. Around 12:30 p.m. we rolled into South Fork, CO and stopped for lunch at a little Mexican restaurant where we ate burritos the size of our heads!

Then we began the ascent to the top of the San Juan Mountains, where you cross the Continental Divide. As we got higher in elevation we saw snow covering the ground, which my kids thought was crazy since it was the middle of June. By the time we got to the top – at 10,000 feet elevation — we decided we had to pull over and enjoy it. In our flip-flops and shorts we hopped out of the RV and ran through the snow, and even had a snowball fight. It was the most unexpected moment of sheer joy and laughter.

We continued our drive and a few miles later saw signs for a waterfall, Treasure Falls, and decided we had to stop and explore. That stop turned into a 40 minute hike to the middle of the falls where they had a misting deck. My kids danced and twirled, getting soaked from the mist of the powerful water. A few more stops to enjoy the view as we descended the pass added to the day and we finally pulled into our campsite in Cortez about 7 p.m. that night — several hours later than planned, but full on happy memories.

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It was, without a doubt, a picture-perfect day. Nothing was planned, everything was unexpected, and our hearts were full of joy as we took in the wonder of each new discovery. I often look at the photos from that day and smile, reminiscing about how much we laughed, how much we loved one another, and how effortless it was. There were a lot of wonderful things we did and saw that trip — things I had dreamed of doing my whole life, like seeing the Grand Canyon at sunset, and standing in front of Old Faithful in Yellowstone. But the day that stands out most to me is that Tuesday when we had no plans.

For this Type-A personality, who likes writing lists, and making plans, and crossing off to-do lists, the lesson is not lost on me. When I think back to this day and what made it so perfect, sure it was partly the beautiful scenery, and lack of incident. But I think it was more so my lack of expectations, the not-knowing what lie ahead, and being surprised by the gifts God presented to us along the way. Too often in my life I plan and work to craft these ideal experiences — perfect date nights, perfect parties, perfect ministry events, perfect holidays — and too often I am left feeling disappointed by all that didn’t go according to plan.

God reminded me on a Tuesday in June that often He has something even better waiting for me. But it’s only after I let go of expectations and control that I am able to experience these gifts.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

Not just a wife and mother – a love letter to my family

I never wanted to be known as a wife and mother. I wanted to BE a wife and I wanted to BE a mom, but I didn’t want those to be my defining labels. I guess I was afraid of losing my own identity and that scared me.

From a very young age I had this idea that I was meant to be somebody. You know, make a name for myself. Maybe as a famous writer, or high-powered executive, or motivational speaker. If not famous, at least known for all I accomplished and contributed to the world.

Jelise the missionary who shaped communities and brought people to Christ.

Jelise the small business owner who brought joy to her community and served with love.

Jelise the college professor who shaped young minds and encouraged them to follow their dreams and do their best.

All things I thought I might be at some point. None of which I became.

Instead, I became David’s wife. I became Hannah, Daniel and Olivia’s mom. I became known to many as Mrs. Ballon, instead of Jelise. It’s what I was afraid of.

At 23 years old instead of heading off to join the Peace Corps, I headed down the aisle. I stood across from that handsome groom and promised myself to him forever, no matter what would come our way. And boy did stuff come our way. So much ugly, scary, knock-the-wind-right-out-of-you stuff. He needed me and I him, and we mostly clung to each other through all of it. Then one day it occurred to me that God chose me to be David’s wife because He knew.

At 25 years old instead of laying the foundation of my own business the mid-wife laid a beautiful baby on my stomach. A week late entering the world, I swear she tried to pick up her head as she stared at me with those great big chocolate-brown M&M eyes. And for nearly 16 years I have loved her, cried for and with her, and prayed so much it that if printed to paper it would make War and Peace seem like a Reader’s Digest. Then  somewhere along the way it occurred to me that God chose me to be Hannah’s mom because He knew.

At 28 years old instead of delivering a great lecture or speech, I delivered a little boy so anxious to enter the world he hadn’t even finished growing in my womb, followed quickly by the feistiest little 5 pound bundle of red faced, screaming girl you’ve ever seen. And my heart grew three sizes larger, even though the days were hard and the nights were long and I thought I would never leave the house again. But at some point over the next 13 years it occurred to me that God chose me to be Daniel’s mom and Olivia’s mom because He knew.

 

God knew that man would need me to love him when he struggled to love himself, to stand by him as he fought addiction, to care for him when he was sick, to forgive him when he fell short and to cheer him on when he felt like he couldn’t.

God knew that brown-eyed girl would need a mom who understood what it was like to dream big, to want to do it all, and try to make everyone else happy in the process. That she would need someone who could be her biggest fan, and also push her to try harder when things didn’t come easy. Someone who understands what it’s like to feel everything, and that sometimes a good cry over a bowl of ice cream just because it’s Tuesday is all that’s needed.

God knew that anxious little boy who entered the world with a larger-than-life spirit, but broken body would need an advocate. He’d need someone to hold him before and after two surgeries when he was just a baby, and years later take him to see countless doctors and specialists until there were proper diagnoses and treatments. He would need a mom who saw the absolute best in him, even when he was at his worst, and who was determined to pick up the pieces of his heart every time it broke, even while hers was quietly breaking all the while.

God knew that red-faced, screaming little bundle would need a mom to hold and cuddle her at all hours of the night when she refused to sleep. Someone strong enough to walk away as the girl screamed and cried at each goodbye, but who always came back (sometimes just 20 minutes later). And she would need someone who could listen and listen, and listen, for the little girl liked to talk a lot and needed to know there was someone there she could count on to always listen.

And God knew I needed them. I needed that man to teach me what real love looks like. Deep, in the trenches, 100% all-in, God-centered love….

…And I needed that brown-eyed girl to remind me what it was to dream-big and love fiercely, and bring people together by always seeing the best in them…

…And I needed that little boy to teach me patience and perseverance; to show me if that much strength and tenacity could come in a lanky 80 pound package, how much more did I have…

…And I needed that itty-bitty girl with the loud cry that echoed off walls so that my lap would never be cold, and so every single time I heard her sweet voice say, “mama” (she’s 13 and still calls me that) my heart would melt into a giant puddle and every bit of tension and stress from the day would be washed away.

 

I never wanted to be just a wife and a mother. But gosh dang it I needed to be his wife and their mother.

As Jelise, David’s wife, I’ve brought joy to my home and served with love.

As Jelise, Hannah, Daniel and Olivia’s mom, I’ve shaped young minds and always encouraged them to do their best and follow their dreams.

As Jelise, wife and mother, I’ve shaped our little community of five, doing my best to keep our hearts fixed on Christ.

And it is in this way that I became more myself than ever before.

 

 

“I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.” Philippians 1:9-11 (NLT)

 

Five ways to celebrate Advent with children

The Advent season officially kicks off this week. Many churches celebrate Advent every year as a fixed part of the church calendar. But if you didn’t grow up in one of these churches or aren’t sure what Advent is all about, here’s a simple definition, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Advent is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

I love this definition because it describes the season (December 2-24) as both a time of “expectant waiting” and a time of “preparation”. What a wonderful way to view the Christmas season! Not just as a time to prepare our homes with decorations, presents, and cookies; not only as a time to wait expectantly for the big guy in the red suit. But a time to prepare our hearts for Christ and for whatever God is calling us to do, as well as a time to reflect on the glorious gift He gave us, excitedly counting down the days to when we declare “for unto us a child is born”!

If you’re like my family, sometimes the other side of Christmas can get in the way of true Christ-centered waiting and preparation. But here are five ways you and your family, no matter what age your kids are, can celebrate Advent this year:

1. With a daily Advent devotion

A few years ago I bought Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift to read with my kids. It’s a beautiful book that takes your family through the journey of God’s people leading right up to the birth of our Savior on Christmas Day. Each day’s reading includes a story and related scripture, and it was a great way for us to all come together as a family each evening and focus our attention on the reason for this season. I would recommend this for families with children 8 years and up as the readings are a bit long for little ones. However, since buying Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Voskamp has come out with a pop-up book called The Wonder of the Greatest Gift that looks like it would be more suitable for younger children, although I personally have not seen it in person.

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Photo credit: “Reading” by Sarah Elizabeth Altendorf

2. A Jesse Tree 

I first heard about the Jesse Tree when reading Ann Voskamp’s book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. The Jesse Tree is an interactive way to tell the stories of the Bible that lead up to the birth of Jesus. Each day there is a scripture reading and an associated ornament to represent that day’s lesson. Your family can either hang the ornaments on your Christmas Tree or have a small separate “Jesse Tree” just for this tradition. There are lots of places to buy Jesse Tree ornaments, but you can also make them yourself. I especially love this tutorial from Faith and Fabric.

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Photo credit: Weihnachtsdekoration mit Rentier-Kissen und Weihnachtsbaum by marcoverch

3. With an Advent Elf or Kindness Elf 

By now we all know about the “Elf on the Shelf”; but if incorporating that little North Pole spy and all of his crazy antics into your Christmas traditions is not for you, here are some alternative ideas that stick close to the heart of the Advent Season:

  • My friend Lauren from Blacktop to Dirt Road has the Kindness Elf show up to her house each year, beginning December 1st and staying through the Advent season. This cute little guy encourages Lauren’s family to do something kind each day, reminding them of the kindness and character Christ first exhibited for us.
  • Another friend of mine, Anne from Once Upon a Mom has introduced the Advent Elves into her family tradition. These elves help her family with their Jesse Tree by showing up each morning with that day’s ornament. So cute!

4. Intentional prayer as a family

Sometimes something as simple as time set-aside each day to pray together as a family is all you need to keep your heart focused on what’s truly special about Advent. Ask each member of the family to report on how they saw Jesus in action that day, what they did to shine His light to others, and who they saw that needs help or is hurting. Then pray together, praising God for His faithfulness and action, and lifting up those in need. This is simple and requires no pre-planning or materials.

However, if you’d like something a little more structured, check out this Advent Prayer Guide from my friend Bailey Suzio at The Thin Place.

Family hold hands around the kitchen table before their meal

5. Seek Peace Together

Let’s face it, this time of year can be one of the busiest we face, and in our rush and haste it’s easy to lose focus on the real reason for the season, coasting into December 25th exhausted, grumpy, and stressed out. A simple way to combat that is to be intentional in seeking peace. This will look different for each family. For some it may mean cutting back on extra-curricular activities and/or saying no to certain events in order to be home more in the evenings and on the weekends. For others it may mean scheduling family dinners a few nights a week. For my family it means protecting Sundays as our day of rest, as much as possible.

Take it a step further and use that down-time to read what God has to say about peace. You can download my free 31 Days of Seeking Peace scripture calendar and use it as a guide for you and your family. The readings are short, so this can easily be incorporated into prayer time, a Jesse Tree, or other Advent tradition.

 

31 Days of Seeking Peace

Whatever you do, I believe by spending a little bit of time each day to come together as a family and remember the special gift that God gave us not only keeps us focused on the reason for this season, it prepares our hearts to celebrate and accept that gift today and throughout the year.

If you or your family have other traditions for celebrating Advent, I’d love to hear about them!

 

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Is there a reason for everything?

When I was in college at Appalachian State University, I was super involved with the campus Lutheran Student Association (LSA). It was the first group I joined when I got to school and in many ways the friends I met in that group were a life-line during those four years. They were my people and they helped me get closer to Jesus. I loved being a part of the group and the larger church community that supported them.

Each year I became increasingly more involved — serving on leadership, helping to plan and lead events, mentoring other students, etc. By my senior year it came time to hold elections for the group’s leadership and I decided to run for president. There was another girl who was younger, had not been a part of the group for as many years, who also decided to run.

I remember sitting in the fellowship hall of the church after the voting process and hearing the announcement that the other girl had been elected. She had won and my heart sank. I won’t lie, my ego was bruised, but I also felt like the group that had been “my people” had turned away and said, “you’re not the one that we want, we choose someone else.”

I know a leadership position for a campus church group doesn’t sound like a big deal or something to get upset about, but at the time I remember feeling devastated, hurt, even cast-out.

However, I’ll never forget that moments after the results were announced the pastor of the church and leader of our campus group — who had become a great mentor and surrogate father to me during my time at Appalachian — came over and rested his hand on my shoulder, leaned down and whispered in my ear, “I really wanted that for you.” Then he gave my shoulder a squeeze and walked away.

In that moment it was like he said, “I see you. I see what your heart desires, and because I care about you, I want you to have it.”

I’ve thought about that moment a lot over the years and what it meant to know that someone saw me and saw my heart.

A lot changed for me that year. Partly because of the hurt I carried from that event, I pulled away from LSA and church. Some other really hard things had already been happening in my life and it became a bit of a perfect storm. I slipped into a deep, deep depression my senior year. I didn’t go to class, I started getting migraines and had to be taken to the emergency room because of one that was so bad I couldn’t stop vomiting. I even contemplated suicide at one point. As my friends struggled to understand what was going on with me and how to be around this changed person, I withdrew from them. I was angry, I was lonely, and I was scared.

But during this time I stayed in touch with that same Pastor. Even though I wasn’t going to LSA meetings or to church much, I would stop by his office every week and we would talk. He would encourage me and pray for me. In many ways he was the life-line that kept me from completely severing my relationship with God.

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We often say, “everything happens for a reason.” I have said this frequently over the years. But as I get older I’m starting to question if that’s true, or is it just a nice platitude we tell ourselves? Does everything really happen for a reason? Is there a reason a mother has to bury her child? Is there a reason a husband and father would lose his entire family in a car crash? Is there a reason the young, healthy newlywed gets a cancer diagnosis on her 26th birthday?

Do I believe God creates good out of every situation? Absolutely, without a doubt I do. I have seen it time and again where beauty has risen out of the ashes and joy and love have transformed the ugliest, darkest situations and sorrowful times. But that still doesn’t mean those things — those desperate, break-a-person-in-two things — were ordained by God and happened for a reason.

Of course God can make something beautiful out of life’s ugly, and create strength and redemption from weakness and brokenness. In the midst of tragedy He can bring together people who otherwise would not have come into each other’s lives. But I cannot sit here and say God caused a tragic accident so that He could do those things. Or that there is some bigger purpose for a mother and father to bury their child. The reality is that sometimes hard, devastating, crappy stuff happens.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not trying to compare me losing some silly election for a college student group 25 years ago to these other real-life tragedies. But I can look back and tell you that I don’t see any reason why that happened. I don’t see any reason why God would have created that situation, with a darkness already looming in my life. But I often wonder how or if that year would have been different had I not pulled away from my friends and from church. Had I not felt a little bit cast-aside.

And yet, I do see where God made sure there was someone there in the midst of that who said, “I see you.” And that created a life-line for me to get through a really difficult time.

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Recently my daughter had a pretty disappointing thing happen to her. Something she wanted badly and had worked hard for, and due to a simple mistake — a forgotten deadline — she lost the opportunity. When she came home in tears my heart just broke for her.

Being a mom I wanted so badly to look for the reason. I wanted to say to her, “there must be a reason, let’s look for it together. What’s the good that can come out of this, how is God going to use this?” But I couldn’t bring myself to say it because the truth is, I don’t know if there is a reason. Maybe it’s just a really crummy thing that happened.

Will she learn from this experience and never miss a deadline again? Maybe. But I’m not sure that her feeling badly about herself and the sense of failure and disappointment she is carrying were intended for some loftier purpose.

So instead of pulling out the mom advice on what’s the big lesson we can learn here, or what’s God’s reasoning, I was just honest with her and said, “You know what honey? This sucks. I know it hurts and you’re disappointed, and I’m so sorry. I really wanted this for you. Because you wanted this, I wanted it for you.

I see how hard you are working and what you’re working towards. I see you. And I want you to know that.

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There’s probably someone in your life who, right now, just needs to be seen. Maybe it’s one of your kids. Maybe it’s your spouse. Maybe it’s a sibling, a parent, a friend, or a co-worker. Maybe a teacher or a next-door neighbor. But I want you to find that person. Find someone who is going through something really crummy and please don’t give them that sad, old platitude that everything is happening for a reason when they start to pour out their heart to you. Instead, just come alongside them and simply say, “I’m so sorry. This sucks and I wanted better for you, because I care about you. Because I see you. I see your heart and I see that you’re hurting.

Maybe if we spend more time seeing each other and loving each other rather than trying to put quick fixes and patches on everything, then instead of wasting so much energy trying to understand why tragic things happen, we can simply be a beacon of light and love in the darkness.

Matthew 25:35-36

photo credit: alexandermazilkin Moscow’s summer via photopin (license)

The failure of trying to be everyone’s person

I’m going through a phase right now where I feel like I’m constantly failing. I say it’s a phase for two reasons: 1. I’ve been in this place before, and 2. I trust God to never let me stay here for too long.

The problem really isn’t so much about failure to accomplish goals or tasks (although there is an element of that). The problem lies in my desire to be everyone’s person.

The mom who shows up for every game, concert, and recital for my kids while also making healthy meals, helping them study and prepare for school, predicting their needs, comforting their hurts, and creating space to snuggle, cuddle or talk about life so they always feel connected to me.

The wife who prays for her husband daily, offers an empathetic ear when he’s had a bad day, acts as his biggest cheerleader, supportive of all of his endeavors and interests, all while trying not to be too needy or selfish with my own stuff.

The employee who thinks creatively and innovatively, never misses a deadline, maintains 100% focus while at work and doesn’t let her personal life interfere with her work life.

The daughter/niece/sister/grand-daughter who remembers to call, to visit regularly, to send those thank-you notes, to let everyone know how much they mean to her.

The friend who listens, who shows up with soup when you’re sick, and prays with you when you’re struggling. Who remembers to call or send a text to say “good luck at that interview/doctor’s appointment/meeting/etc.” Who never cancels lunch plans, or misses out on celebrating a big life event.

The women’s ministry leader who makes every woman who walks through the doors of that church feel welcomed and loved. Who prays for each woman by name, knows who is struggling and needs help, and makes time for coffee, to offer up encouragement and friendship to each woman, and always says just the right thing.

Some days I get some of the things right with some of the people. But most days I just get it all wrong and feel like I’ve failed all of the people. The forgetful friend, the frazzled mom, the tired wife, the absent daughter, the rushed ministry leader, the distracted employee. None of it feels good.

And the thing is, I don’t do any of it for a pat on the back or praise and thanks. I do it because I’m a relational person. I value relationships immensely and I’m incredibly grateful for each relationship and role I’ve been blessed with in life.

I genuinely love people (yes, introverts can love people, too). I especially love the people in my life. For so many years I felt terrible loneliness so I don’t take it for granted that I have all of these beautiful people in my life. When I think of how much I love them it knocks the wind right out of me and I want them — want you — to know it.

But instead, what ends up happening is inevitably someone feels left out. They feel slighted, shorted, overlooked, or forgotten. Or they don’t. But because there isn’t enough time for me to invest in the relationship the way I want to, they move on. They can’t wait for me to make time, so they find someone who can.

So here I sit. In this place of fear and worry of disappointing and failing them all. But even more so, I sit with fear of being left behind. That I tried to do so much I was left with nothing.

Then all of the thoughts come: I should have said yes to that; I should have said no to that; I should have called her back sooner; I should have double checked that date; I should have gotten more done yesterday; I should have gotten more rest last night; I should have stayed up later; I should have…

It’s overwhelming. It can be paralyzing. It makes me tired.

So, so tired.

Just before my head hits the pillow I read my daily devotional and it speaks like it was written just for me at this exact moment. God’s voice comes through the words on the page and says, “yep, life is pretty crazy right now. I know you don’t like it this way. I know you do better when everything is neat and orderly. I know you feel overwhelmed and like you are failing. I know you are worried people will leave you or be angry. I know.

But I’m here. You can’t do it all by yourself. You have to trust me. I will help you. I will comfort you and give you rest. I will help guide you on what to do next. I will never leave you to do it all alone.”

For a few moments I have peace. I am able to sleep.

Until the morning when it starts all over again.

Thankfully God has an infinite supply of patience.

Thankfully He never lets me stay stuck here for too long.

 

photo credit: Silvia Sala  via photopin (license)