Sometimes when I walk into a room full of people, there’s a feeling that starts expanding under my ribs like a balloon full of nervous energy. It’s the you-don’t-belong-here feeling.
This is the exact feeling I had a couple years ago in Florida, when I was at a music conference and attending an event called Women in Radio. Normally I have Dave (my extroverted husband/human-shield) with me, but unfortunately for me, he did not fit the criteria for this particular event (the whole “he’s-not-a-woman” thing).
I stood outside the door, took a deep breath and walked into the room buzzing with conversation. It was packed to the gills with people I knew, but who didn’t know me from Adam. Oh hey! There’s Mandisa, Natalie Grant, and Francesca Battistelli, and there’s that balloon under my ribs again. All of a sudden, I was a sophomore in high school again, in that one random beauty pageant trying to learn choreography to a dance that was approximately twelve moves too complicated for my flailing noodle limbs. I know this feeling. I don’t belong.
And then, just when my courage began to fail, my eyes began to mist, and I was seconds away from turning on my heel and walking right out the door, a woman with a giant smile made a beeline straight for me. “Hi! You’re JJ Heller, and I’m Terese. I work at a radio station in New York. You can be my buddy tonight and I’ll introduce you to all of my friends.” And as she linked her arm through mine, it might as well have been a life preserver. I’m not sure if she knew I was drowning, but she rescued me just the same.
At one point or another, we all feel feel the weight of wanting to belong. We want to be seen, known, and appreciated for who we are. We want to be invited, welcomed, and celebrated by the people around us, just as Jesus invites, welcomes and celebrates us. He delights in all of our nuance, complexity, and diversity because it reflects the heart of the One who created us.
Terese reminds me how powerful it is to extend our hand to the people drowning around us and tell them there’s room enough for all of us. We are welcome and we belong.
Happy Thanksgiving, friends! May your tables be full of laughter, gratitude, and grace.