Everyone belongs

Friends gather to celebrate Matt's birthday in August, 2009

Friends from church gather to celebrate Matt’s birthday in August, 2009

No one is a stranger here.
Everyone belongs.
Finding our forgiveness here,
we in turn forgive all wrongs.

Bryan J. Leech

On a recent Sunday during worship in northern Virginia, we sang one of my favorite songs before communion.  A verse from the song is quoted above.  Having entered the assembly that day feeling burdened with various worries and sorrows, the song touched me deeply and reminded me why we keep coming back to meet with other believers.

All of us want to belong. I can think of few things more painful than feeling excluded.  One of the ways our younger son Matt has blessed us has been the way his presence opened our eyes to so much that we couldn’t fully see before, and among the things we’ve learned is the hard lesson of how sad it is to feel excluded.

Seeing Matt largely disregarded by his nondisabled peers over the years has been a sorrow that stabs at the heart again and again each time it happens. Yet there is also consolation in the deep love of those who can see past the disabilities to treasure the unique person Matt is, and patience with those who aren’t quite there yet, but are trying to get past their obvious discomfort with anything that is not typical. It’s easier to be patient as we recognize that we, too, have excluded others, often without intending to do so.

I’ve heard people admonish others that forgiveness is its own reward; that holding onto our anger or grudges does more damage to us than it does to the objects of our hard feelings.  I agree with this totally. But forgiveness is important for other reasons as well. Forgiveness teaches us patience and understanding. It implies humility, as this quote suggests, and the realization that we cannot expect the forgiveness of others until we are willing to offer it ourselves. This humility is what transforms a group of diverse people into a family where everyone belongs.

This kind of relationship with others is more easily talked about than practiced, of course. It’s an ideal for which we strive, but as with so many desirable traits, we often fall short of what we are striving for.  I think the important thing is to keep trying, keep opening our hearts to others, keep reminding ourselves that what unites us is greater than what divides us.

That is the spirit that I hope to maintain on this blog, and I sincerely appreciate all the wonderful and supportive comments of those who visit us here.  I hope that all who read this blog will find something helpful.  My gratitude goes out to all who take the time to stop by.  If you are seeking optimism, hope, and a spirit of gratitude, respect and caring, YOU BELONG!

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Judy from Pennsylvania

    Your last sentence is what brings me to your blog over and over again during the past few years, ” If you are seeking optimism, hope, and a spirit of gratitude, respect and caring, YOU BELONG!” I appreciate the positive, encouraging words that you bring as your gift to us, your readers.

    Sometimes the world throws things at us that cause us to lose our balance, to feel upset. For example, my husband and I are elderly and have medical conditions. So we only go inside a grocery store once a month. This morning we went to a nearby smaller store that reserves the first hour for people like us. Sad to say, they have removed the “masks required” sign from their front door. We encountered 6 customers without masks and 2 employees with masks not covering their noses. We said nothing but will no longer shop there. Our county has a high number of cover 19 cases, and our state has mandated masks in public places. But there seems to be a spirit of rebellion in our county. It’s upsetting to those of us who feel vulnerable.

    I tuned in to another one of your sentences today, ” I think the important thing is to keep trying, keep opening our hearts to others, keep reminding ourselves that what unites us is greater than what divides us.” As we hear news reports of how divided our country has become on so many issues, we have to work even harder at remembering to be gentle in our hearts toward one another. I need to focus on what I do and not what others do. And coming here helps me do that. Thank you, Julia.

    I hope you and Matt are having a good week. It sure has been hot in Pennsylvania and Virginia lately!

    • Judy, thank you for this gracious and generous comment. I so appreciate your encouragement. I don’t think of you and Stew as “elderly” any more than I think of myself that way, but we are wise to be mindful of our physical vulnerability as we age, especially with medical conditions. I’m so sorry about what happened at the grocery store. I wish I was there to go shopping for you. I don’t get it about resistance to the mask thing. I usually say nothing when I see others not wearing them in public, but once it really got on my nerves that there was a big “you must wear a mask” sign on the door and yet the customers inside (it was a small fast food place where it was hard to keep much distance) were not wearing them. I said (kind of loudly, through my own mask) “Is a mask required or not? Because your sign says it is required.” The girl behind the counter said “that’s only for employees” which made no sense because the sign was clearly on the door where customers entered and it didn’t say “employees must wear masks.” But I said nothing more about it. In fact a lot of people would have thought me tacky to make the loud remark. I think Virginia requires masks in all public places now, although they didn’t in the beginning. I think the Surgeon General messed up big time when he first told everyone not to wear masks but to save them for health care workers and those who were infected. For better or worse, that idea stuck with some people. I love what you said about being gentle in our hearts toward each other, and needing to focus on what we as individuals do ourselves, and not on what other people do. It reminds me of the quote from Goethe that was featured in this post. Thanks for being here! YES, it is HOT. I keep reminding myself that I prefer warmer climates, but as with most things, a bit of moderation is sorely needed!

      • Judy from Pennsylvania

        I clicked on your link re the quote from Goethe: “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door and the whole world will be clean.”
        — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe”

        Wise words in these days of division. But how do you remember a quote from something you posted so long ago?! I can’t even remember what I ate for supper 2 days ago!

        • Oh dear, if you only knew how many such aphorisms are playing in my head all the time, for years on end! That particular saying is one of many that ended up on the blog because I already liked it, probably long before the blog was even thought of. Plus on WordPress I have the search function to go looking for which ones I’ve used in a post, and which ones I haven’t. Since the phrase itself was already in my memory, I had a vague notion I must have used it somewhere in the 1100+ posts (some with more than one quote, as in this case) that I published over these 7 years. Often over those 7 years, I’d decide to use a quote for a post and get about halfway through writing it when I’ll get the uneasy feeling the quote had already been used in a previous post. And the search results would prove that hunch right, and it was back to the drawing board…

  2. MaryAnn

    Julia, I LOVE this photo! Matt’s smile speaks volumes about the love he feels there.
    This quote from the blog is very NEEDED in our current world situation!
    “I think the important thing is to keep trying, keep opening our hearts to others, keep reminding ourselves that what unites us is greater than what divides us.”

    • Thank you, Mary Ann. You will always stand out in my mind because you totally “got it” about Matt’s need to be included. I didn’t have to ask you or tell you. It just came naturally to you. And I am forever grateful! ❤

  3. Chris

    Julia, it’s a good observation about life. Certainly not to the extent that Matt has endured, but everyone encounters a situation at some point in life where they feel excluded, alone, or simply rejected. I think it’s in people’s nature to want to belong. Building good relationships with positive and uplifting interchange is worth striving for. Your blog does set a good example! Keep on keeping on! Cheers!

    • Chris, thanks so much for the encouragement. Despite all the trendy talk about “inclusion” and “diversity,” people with cognitive disabilities are mostly left alone an forgotten on the margins of life. Since, as you say, rejection is a sting that almost all of us have felt at some time or other, one would think that there would be more sensitivity and compassion. But living one’s convictions has always been much harder than simply talking about them. And perhaps the ultimate way to combat any of the “isms” that get so much debate– racism, sexism, ableism or other forms of discrimination– is to become a one-on-one friend with someone whose background, culture, ethnicity or ability level is different from one’s own. Based on my experience, being willing to become part of someone’s everyday life involves a form of give-and-take that’s becoming increasingly rare. But also based on experience, I’d say that such close friendships will, cumulatively, do far more to erase deeply entrenched biases than all the demonstrations and media coverage in the world. Real day-to-day existence is, after all, where we all live. Thanks for being here!

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