Tag Archives: calling

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)

 

Who am I?

“But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?'” – Exodus 3:11

This was Moses’s response to God when He called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. It was the first of several creative excuses or arguments as to why he wasn’t qualified, ending with a raw and honest plea for God to pick another…anyone but him.

“Pardon your servant Lord, but please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13)

This past Sunday I stood up in front of our little congregation at church and taught about these verses. About God’s call to Moses; about Exodus 3:1-4:19. I went through each verse and discussed the importance of trusting God’s plan, remembering that God will use us for His purposes, even if we don’t feel qualified. We examined how Moses let his fear and self-doubt almost lead to missing his calling. I encouraged everyone who would listen not to let fear get in the way of answering God’s call. I reminded my church family that it’s not about us and our qualifications, but about God’s plan, His power, and His presence.

I have a special place in my heart for this section of scripture. And I believe every word I said.

But then Monday came. And I found myself alone in my bedroom, sobbing, feeling inadequate, less-than, and incapable. I asked God if He is really calling me into ministry; is that really His plan? And if it is, am I really equipped for that call? Who am I to stand before others and teach them Your word?

I know this routine well by now, having taught a handful of Sunday services and leading a few women’s retreats. It’s what I refer to as the “day after attack.”

When I speak or teach I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, and in that moment it feels palpable and beautiful, like God is doing something big and letting me be a part of it. But then Monday morning comes. And I return to my normal routine, working my normal job, packing normal lunches, looking at my normal reflection staring back at me in the mirror.

And the enemy whispers in my ear: who are you? What makes you think you are qualified to teach others? I recall the yawns and bored looks during my talk. I remember the surprised expression on the neighbor’s face when they found out I was teaching at church (you know the kind of surprise that says “what are they thinking?” not “isn’t that wonderful!”). I recount every person or article that’s declared women aren’t supposed to preach God’s word. I play back the recording of my message and cringe at every “ummm” and “uhhh”, seeing every flaw, hearing every flub.

And the enemy says, “See? You are not very good. You are not anything special.”

I think of all the practical reasons I cannot answer this call. I need seminary training. That costs money. I’m still paying off that Master’s Degree in Marketing and Communication, a degree I’ll never use if I go into ministry. I have a family to support, kids to put through school. We love our town, we can’t move just so I can go to school. Maybe in a few years…maybe when the kids are out of the house….maybe.

And the enemy says, “You’ll never be ready for this. You are just a middle-aged woman who wishes she was being called to serve God in some big way, but that is not your life.”

I am not equipped. Please, Lord, will you call someone else? Someone smarter, stronger, younger, older, richer, better?

And then the irony of this day-after beat-down by Satan and my own insecurities strikes me. I can’t even go 24 hours without succumbing to the very thing I just encouraged 45 other people to resist.

There is one thing that gives me hope, though. The fact that God never gave up on Moses. Even after he tried to deny his call five times, even though he was 80 years old, God still used Moses for the good of His plan. Even though Moses didn’t speak well and needed his brother’s help, even though Moses got overwhelmed when the Israelites complained and fought, God still used Moses to lead His people. Even though Moses lost his temper, even though he continued to questioned God’s plan along the way, God still spoke to Moses. He still loved Moses.

I know I’m not equipped to do anything. And, honestly? I don’t know exactly how God plans to use me. But I cling to the knowledge that He will use me in His time, according to His purpose.

He will never give up on me.

The work in waiting

Waiting. It seems like a passive activity. I mean the idea of waiting is that you aren’t actually doing anything. The waiting is what happens before or in between action.

You wait for the bus.

You wait in line at the grocery store.

You wait for the microwave to ding.

There are rooms built just for waiting and they usually involve magazines and/or TVs to help people sit quietly and…well, wait.

But of course assuming that waiting is always easy or comfortable is false. Just ask anyone who’s waited for the doctor to call with biopsy results. Or the 17 year old girl waiting for that college acceptance letter. Or the parent waiting for the phone call that her son arrived at his destination safely after flying alone for the first time.

Sometimes waiting is arduous, even agonizing.

I’ve never been particularly good at waiting. Patience does not come easily and waiting for big news, a decision, or even for my kids to get their shoes on can start to give me anxiety.

I like deadlines and predictability. I am a planner and need to know everything that’s going to happen and when. Back when I was a senior in college, my then-boyfriend and I had been dating for over 2 years and were talking about marriage. I knew he was going to propose, but not knowing when, where, or how was killing me! I would look for hidden meaning in every phone call or letter, trying to figure out his plans. Every time he came to visit me at school I would get incredibly anxious thinking this may be the day, only to be disappointed when the visit ended and there had been no proposal. Finally, one day I said, “are you EVER going to propose to me?” Just what every guy wants to hear, right?

Thankfully he didn’t scare easily and finally got down on one knee two months before graduation. We’ll be married 16 years this month.

Some things are definitely worth the agony that comes with the waiting. And some things just shouldn’t be rushed. I know this intellectually, but in my heart I struggle to be at peace in the midst of waiting.

When I was a teenager, God put a calling in my heart to be a writer. A few years later, God put another calling in my heart to serve Him in ministry, although I wasn’t sure exactly what that would look like. As I entered the great big adult world after college I applied for countless writing or editing jobs and got no response, not even an interview. And because I said yes to that proposal, I put on hold any plans to go to seminary or do missions work.

Being young and impetuous, I decided I had misunderstood that call to be a writer. And I thought maybe the calling to go into ministry was misheard, and I was really just supposed to volunteer at church more. I gave up waiting for God to reveal any more, and did the practical thing: I got a job in corporate communications and moved forward with my life as a wife and, eventually, as a mother. But every few years I would feel restless. I would start to think about those two callings I felt early on in life and wonder: what if?

Then, two years ago, I found myself in a bit of a perfect storm. I was finishing up grad school and thinking about the next chapter in my career. At the same time I was part of a group of people planting a church in our community. What had started out as a small group Bible study was turning into a new church, and God was working in my heart and spirit in big ways. For the first time in years I felt the familiar tug of that call to go into ministry.  At the same time, I had been writing for my University’s student blog and remembering how much I loved writing.

Suddenly, I felt so certain that God was saying: “Now! This is the time. This is what you’ve been waiting for!” Things moved quickly for the next few months. I started this blog, I met with an editor who showed interest in a book idea, I went to a conference and learned about book proposals and building a platform. The rate at which it all started to come together, made me certain God had something big planned for me, and it was just right around the corner.

But it wasn’t long before momentum slowed considerably. The editor I’d spoken to left the publishing house and no one could tell me what had happened to my proposal. While I continued to write for my blog, readership did not grow as I had expected. Inquiry letters to literary agents went unanswered, or I got the “thanks, but no thanks” email. I applied for all kinds of jobs at Christian schools and non-profits. But any leads I got fizzled quickly.

I started to question again if I had heard the call correctly. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to write, or maybe it was never going to be more than a “hobby”.

the waiting might just be the journeyBut while the things I thought were part of the plan weren’t happening, God also presented some unexpected opportunities in my life. My husband and I started to lead a small group Bible study. I had the opportunity to plan and lead my first (and second) women’s retreat. I was called to go on a mission trip to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. I was encouraged by my pastor to start a women’s ministry at our young church.

Then, about three months ago I was invited by some friends to join in an Experiencing God class. At first I almost declined because I felt I just didn’t have time for it. But after some prayer I decided to go forward. (I won’t go into too much detail about all the ways this class has impacted me and my spiritual walk, because it deserves a post all on its own, but let me just say I highly recommend Experiencing God to anyone seeking to know God more intimately.) A recurring theme in Experiencing God is that God will invite us to become involved with Him in His work, but it will lead to a crisis of belief, requiring both faith and action, and ultimately a major adjustment in life.

Faith and action. I’m really good at the action part, but faith requires waiting and trusting. And that is where I stumble. Because letting go of control doesn’t come naturally. And because waiting can be hard work.

I felt the call to make big changes and adjustments, and I was ready! But I couldn’t discern exactly what it was God wanted me to do. I kept waiting for some clear direction and in the waiting I grew increasingly frustrated.

Then I read something in my Experiencing God book yesterday that really hit me: “Let God use times of waiting to mold and shape your character…God’s great task is to adjust His people to Himself. It takes time for Him to shape us to be exactly what He wants us to be…The key is your relationship with God. The God who initiates His work in a relationship with you is the One who guarantees to complete it” (Blackaby, 2007).

And it finally seemed so clear. My struggle with waiting has been that I’ve always seen it as wasted or lost time, taking away from the important things, the getting on with life. Time spent in line, when I could be at home cooking a meal; time spent reading a magazine, when I could be talking to the doctor; time spent waiting to hear God’s call, when I could be out there doing His work.

In my haste to get to my destination, it never occurred to me that the waiting might just be the journey. And in the journey, there is anticipation and excitement. There is time spent with those travelling with you. In the journey there is beauty and there is joy.

Yes, there is work in waiting, but the real work isn’t mine; it’s the work God is doing in the midst of the waiting to refine me, to prepare me.

A few weeks ago I hosted the second Renew and Restore Women’s Retreat. Our verse for the weekend was Isaiah 40:31. For the retreat I used the NIV version, which says “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Then last week I discovered a slight, but poignant difference in the New King James Version of the same verse, which says:

“But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

So, I wait. But I wait with anticipation and excitement over what is to come. I find renewal and relationship in the midst of the wait. And I look for the beauty and the joy that is unique to this journey.

 

photo credit: sit and wait via photopin (license)

 

My burning bush

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ And the Lord said to Samuel: ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.'” 1 Samuel 3:10-11

A dear friend used to tell me “sometimes God gently pokes you with a stick and sometimes he has to knock you over the head with a 2×4.”

Believe it or not, I’ve been praying for the 2×4 lately. I’ve felt like I just wasn’t seeing the subtle hints and nudges, so my prayers had turned to down-right pleading with God to spell it all out for me. Stone tablet, burning bush, angel, a giant hand writing on the wall…any Old Testament method of communication would be awesome, as long as it was loud and clear.

After waiting months for a clear sign and not seeing one, I decided to start bargaining with God. “OK, Lord, if you make this happen by such and such date, then I’ll know this is what I’m meant to do. But, if you don’t, then I’ll take your silence to mean I’m not really supposed to do that thing.”

Pretty arrogant of me, huh?

And so, this is how the last 6 months or so have been — struggling between the call I knew God had laid on my heart and my inability to accept that it didn’t look the way I thought it should. Or at least that it wasn’t happening as quickly as I needed it to.

Did you catch that? It wasn’t happening as quickly as I needed. Because I have been, in fact, making it more about me than about God.

“I want to serve you God and do all of your works, but if you can please just make it fit into this perfect little box I have envisioned, that would be awesome! And if it doesn’t look like this box, then you must not really want me to serve you in this way.”

I can so clearly see the absurdity of it now, but for the last several months I was completely blind to my self-seeking.

Thankfully God had enough of that, and this weekend He whacked me with that 2×4. But in His awesome, gentle and loving way, it didn’t feel like a blow to the head so much as a message poured straight into my heart. My burning bush came in the form of the She Speaks conference.

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This was the second year in a row I’ve attended She Speaks. Last year I learned so much and walked away feeling confident of my calling. But now here I was, a year later, and that calling wasn’t really manifesting itself the way I’d imagined and I was starting to question the direction God wanted me to take — starting to wonder if God had really placed me with a calling or a hobby.

Over the course of two days I attended multiple key-note addresses and workshops, all with completely different speakers and topics, yet I kept hearing the same message over and over again: when God calls, He determines the when, the where, and the how. All you need to remember is Who, (and it ain’t you).

As I was faced with questions like:

“Would you do it for one?”

“Are you testing God or trusting Him?” and

“Do you want to be a woman who chases after God, or after goals?”

I could no longer pretend that I had been seeking only God. The “who” in my plans had become me and not the One who had called me. I was completely wrecked, but in all the right ways. In all of the necessary ways to wake up and choose a different path.

1 Samuel 3:10

God had to call Samuel four times before he was ready and listening. Maybe I can learn something from ol’ Sam and stop at two. Or maybe I’ll mess this up again and forget Who this calling is about. I honestly don’t know. But one thing I have learned for certain is that God doesn’t stop calling just because we’re not listening. As the fabulous Lisa Jo Baker said to me this weekend, “God is forever second chances.”

I’m thankful for this second chance to follow His call, and I trust His plan is so much greater than anything I could map out for myself.

Because when you know whose you are, the when, where and how are just minor details.

When God Calls

This post was part of the #LiveFreeThursday link-up at: http://tsuzanneeller.com/2015/07/30/completely-wrecked/

One year and counting…

One year.

A lot can happen in one year.

On June 26th, 2014 I took a deep breath and officially launched Neither Height Nor Depth. Not sure at the time what it would turn into, who would read it, or exactly why the Lord was calling me to do this, I took the leap of faith and, wow! What a ride the past 12 months have been.

Firstly, I want to thank everyone who took the time to read, comment and share. To date I’ve had over 5,100 visits to Neither Height Nor Depth, with 613 Facebook followers and 56 people subscribed to receive posts via email. You can imagine my surprise and excitement when I started to find out people other than my mom were reading my blog!

But really, what has meant the most to me are the personal messages. Every time one of you sent me a private email or message, or even stopped me in person to say how something you read touched you. Or how you had “been there, too”. Or even how you were struggling alone to heal a marriage, keep your cool with your kids, forgive a family member, or recover from sexual abuse, and my openness helped you feel less alone…this made all the difference. These notes let me know that God has a plan, and you and I are part of that plan. It reminded me that my writing isn’t really about my words at all, but it’s about His word.

Thank you for that.

I don’t really know what the coming year will bring, except that I plan to keep writing, keep sharing, keep encouraging, and hopefully keep laughing! And maybe sneak in a post or two about Michael W. Smith. Hey, some things never change!

I’m working on planning a women’s retreat in September in Strasburg, VA (more details coming very soon), and still working on that book proposal and trying to own the title of writer. But the rest I will take as it comes, and keep working on giving it up to God and letting Him lead the way.

Thank you for being here for the first year. I hope you will continue on this journey with me.

Lots of love,

Jelise

 

 

photo credit:  via photopin (license)