Out of Place – Heather’s Story
There was nothing atypical about that first day of physical therapy school. But the next three years would be filled with heartbreak, success, failure, and some of life’s greatest lessons. Twenty-five of us sat in a medium sized classroom; each equal parts excited and nervous at the same time. We knew some of us would not make it. We had been warned when each of us expressed our commitment to the process. In one semester, twenty-five would become eleven. Eventually, eleven would become five.
Being the odd one out
Our class of five was initially a close group. But with an odd number, someone is always going to be left out. As two students began dating, another married, and one engaged, that left me. In the beginning, we were a fairly tight group but sometime within the second year, the dynamic changed and it was clear I was not considered an equal part. I wish I could tell you why but to be honest, I didn’t know then and I don’t know now.
At the time, I had my own personal matters to deal with. I had been struggling with some strange neurological symptoms that sent me in for multiple medical appointments and testing. It was a season of unknown as I suddenly couldn’t feel my legs after being in a hot tub for five minutes, my reflexes were abnormal, and a level of fatigue I had never experienced before began to show up. My body felt as though it was short-circuiting with lightning bolts of tingling randomly firing. I was twenty-five and heading into the prime of my life. God, why now?
I was fairly private about my struggles, only sharing my potential diagnosis with my anatomy professor after having a mental breakdown in her office. Our neurology papers were due soon and my topic was multiple sclerosis. I could easily write a paper about it considering I had been researching and testing for months. However, the emotional toll was too much. She granted me a one-week emotional break followed by a week of spring break to pull it all together.
During the weeks that followed, I was alienated from my classmates. Most of my medical appointments were in Baltimore two hours away. I never disclosed details to them, as it was not something I wanted to share and I suppose they drew their own conclusions. I recall an assignment that needed to be done with a partner. I was out of town that Friday for an appointment and had plans to remain out of town with friends who had become my support network for the weekend. No worries, it wasn’t due for another two weeks. We had plenty of time.
The sting of rejection
When I returned from the weekend, I asked when my partner would be available to work on the assignment. His reply: “I already did it.” As we sat in the hallway waiting for the classroom to be opened, another student took the opportunity to express his discontent that I was always traveling out of town and unavailable on weekends. I went home that day stunned by his reaction. What gave him the right to dictate what I did or didn’t do with my time?
I would soon find out he had assumed the right to dictate pretty much everything about the group and I was the only issue. It wasn’t my time away that was a problem; it was my failure to conform to the new group dynamic and expectations for followers. The line was drawn that day showing me where I stood, and it was not in the classmate group led by this individual.
Over the next two years, I spent more time in prayer calling on the God I knew was there but didn’t know much about. I knew He could heal whatever was going on in my body. During this time, I had become even more alienated from my classmates who were now tightly bonded into a square knot. There was only room for four. I still participated in class events and as graduation time approached, paid my money for class photos and gifts showing up at the appointed times.
Weeks later, I would see the photos I had helped pay for on faculty desks only to see four students instead of five. My face was included in the class photo on the wall but the gifts I had contributed to for faculty were quite exclusive. I could understand how a group of students in their twenties could be cruel, but what I couldn’t understand was why a faculty full of intelligent professors never questioned it.
Nevertheless, the end was in sight. Graduation was only a few weeks away and I was getting excited about moving to a new area and starting my career. I inquired at the front office regarding graduation and doctoral regalia, as I had not yet heard anything about ordering. To my surprise (and hers), this had already been ordered without me. I was met with the words, “It has already been ordered and your classmates had the order form. They said you wouldn’t be there.”
My heart sank as her words fell and we both realized what had happened. In hindsight, I’m sure I could have found a way to be there and make it work by borrowing regalia from elsewhere but truthfully, I just wanted to be done. By this time I had felt betrayed by students and faculty alike. I was ready to say my goodbyes to this season and move on with my life.
I packed my apartment a few weeks later to start the next chapter. I would eventually learn I did not have multiple sclerosis as initially expected but rather a viral infection that had attacked my nervous system and would leave symptoms in its wake for a few more years to come until it finally resolved.
Our eternal belonging
Over the next two decades, my faith would grow and I’m now able to look back at this period of rejection as an outcast and realize it had a purpose just like every other season of my life. Jesus was rejected and outcast by Jews of His time, a people He longed to connect with. Just as I had wanted the lifelong connection with classmates and faculty, Jesus wanted lifelong relationships that would lead to eternal relationships.
As an adult, I have experienced other forms of rejection and have learned to be quite content as an outcast in this world. It brings me comfort to know it is not permanent. There will be a day when we are welcomed home to an eternal feeling of inclusion, belonging to our Savior. This world may reject us for a variety of reasons, but we know where we belong.
As we are adopted into His presence for eternity, there will be no rejection or condemnation, only love and welcoming. That is something worth showing up for, and my favorite part is this: He will present us with our royal robes. Our heavenly regalia awaits and no one can block it.
If you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong, this series is for you! Every Monday, we’ll hear from someone who has also struggled to belong. Be sure to subscribe below to get The Scoop so you never miss a post! As a thank you, you’ll receive access to belonging-themed scripture cards and adult coloring pages in the free for you library!
Meet Heather Jeffery
Heather Jeffery is a Christian writer, mom, and full-time physical therapist. Her blog, Straighten Your Crown, is a place to find encouragement grounded in Biblical truth to navigate the challenging circumstances we encounter in a broken world. The title was given to her several years ago when God rescued her from a pit of intense grief and disappointment. Heather writes to share this same hope with others who are walking through difficult circumstances and defeat with the goal of redirecting focus from our circumstances onto God’s promises. She is very passionate about empowering women with truth and inspiring others to share their story. Heather lives in Maryland with her two daughters and loves spending time outdoors, preferably by the water. You can receive truth filled encouragement by subscribing to her blog at www.straightenyourcrown.net, and follow her writing on Instagram, or Facebook.