Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family with Jim Daly

You’re Special to Jesus

You’re Special to Jesus

Speaker Donna Linville discusses the power words can have to build others up or tear them down, and how God has helped heal her heart from the devastating words spoken to her during her youth.

Original Air Date: April 5, 1999


John Fuller: The American novelist Ernest Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone and afterwards, some are strong at the broken places.” On this edition of “Focus on the Family,” we’ll hear from a woman whose experience in school as a child almost broke her, but who found support and encouragement in an unexpected way to go on and flourish. Your host is author and Focus president, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, many, many children and even adults can go through a real struggle with self-worth and parents can exacerbate the problem for their kids or they can be a big part of the solution. I can remember playin’ football and I had the physical ability to be a good quarterback and maybe play college, but I didn’t have the emotional stability. I even knew it, but I didn’t know how to change it.

And my football coach, Paul Moro, really helped me in gaining confidence and that’s what I needed–greater confidence that I could run the play the way it needed to be run or run the team the way it needed to be run. We’re going to hear a recorded message from a woman who felt like she was worth nothing at a child and maybe you felt that way as a child and you’re still suffering some of the lingering effect of that. She was called names and picked on and she felt stupid. I guess they were convincing her that the things they were saying were true. But as we know, God doesn’t make mistakes and you’ll be encouraged as you listen to this story today.

John: And we’re gonna hear from Donna Linville. She and her husband, Gary, have been married for over 40 years and they serve at the First Church of Portsmouth, Virginia. She speaks around the world and it’s a privilege for us to share part of her story on today’s “Focus on the Family.”


Donna Linville: When I was a young child, I don’t know what happened to me. I’m laughing with you and I’m enjoying being with you, but there was a time in my life that something happened to me. And I’m looking at some beautiful young people here and I’m looking at them, young people that I know without a shadow of a doubt that God has something dynamite for you. But I don’t know what it was. I don’t know if it’s because my father moved to another state and I was about 10-years-old. I don’t what it was that happened to me as a little girl.

I’ve always been plump, and when I moved and went into a new school system there in that city, I was behind academically. And also, I was real plump. And so, I started going to school, and I was involved in classes that I didn’t understand. I was behind. I didn’t understand where they were, and before you know it, as sometimes children do, children started saying, “Hey, Big Mama; hey, Fatso,” when I was around 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. But during that time, I started closing up. My mom and dad noticed that when I would leave the front door of our home, I became a very reclusive, shy, backward little girl. I made straight Fs, Ds.

And I begged mother every day of my life, “Mom, don’t make me go to school, please.” And oh, listen, I have had so many illnesses that I faked. I would just say, “I’m sick. “(Sound of pop) “But you don’t have a fever.” “I know I’ve got a fever.” I would fake every sickness. I said I’ve got a rash somewhere on my body. I know [there] is. (Laughter) They said, “There’s not a rash.” I said, Mother I’ve[been] around somebody that had measles. I feel the rash coming on the body.” “Baby, you’ve got to go to school today.”

But when I would go to school, they would say, “Donna, what’s the answer?” And in my mind and in my soul and in my being, I knew the answer, but I was so locked up and so shy and so inferior and lack of self-esteem, I would go, “Uh … I … I …” And they would go, “Uh! What’s the answer, class? Give Donna the answer.” And then I would start to go inward more and more.

But when I would come home, I couldn’t wait. I remember walking home from elementary school and … and from Mike’s school and I would run home. I didn’t have friends. I never played with anybody. I was just that really reclus[ive] little girl. But when I went home, I was loved. And when I got at home, we had a weeping willow tree in the back, and I dreamed, just like all those other kids did. I would say, “Star light, star bright, I wish I may, I wish I might.” And I would go to a youth meeting, or I would go to a service, and I would see somebody sing and in my private world and in my mind, I would dream. I would love to sing like that, or I would love to [to do this]; I would love [to do that]. Oh, no, no. I’m not good enough. I’m fat, and I can’t think right, and I’m stupid.” And so, when I left the front door of our home, I just lived in a shelled, broken, closed world.

Well, to such a degree that my school brought my mom and dad and I together, and my principal and my teacher told my mom and dad, [he] said, “Well, Mr. and Mrs. Shepard, we’re sorry to tell you, but we feel like your child needs to go to special education school and she’s not academically able to ever go any higher in school.”

Well, so in that room with the school principal and everybody sitting there, I just was stunned by it. And we got in the car, cause see, I didn’t say nothin’. I didn’t ever talk. I never talked. Got in the car. My mother was quietly, silently [crying], tears. I remember in the backseat, I saw tears going down her cheeks. And all of a sudden, I saw the greatest fan club in my life turn her head. She said, “Sweetheart, you’re brilliant. You’ve got it in you, Baby. It’s gonna come out.”

Well, the school said you can’t go any higher in school until you have physical tests done in a hospital and you have to go to a school psychiatrist. Well, they took me to the hospital and was admitted in the hospital and they did tests on me. Thank the Lord, they found grey matter. I was happy about that. (Laughter) There was some up there. And when it was over with, all of my physical attributes were okay, eye up. Now I was still a little plump, but for academics’ sake, physically I was okay.

Well, then they took me to the school psychiatrist. Oh, boy. They would give you all these numbers, 1, 9, 3, 8, 7, 4, 3, 8, 4. Repeat them. (Laughter) 1, 9, 8, 3, 7,8, 4, 9, backwards. (Laughter), 9, 8, 7, 4, 3, 1, or 1. All right. Turned and look at his paper. Well, mine was nice. They weren’t that harsh with me. I looked at scribbled stuff. They said, “What do you see in this?” “A scribbled mess.” (Laughter) No, there is a picture in there. “I don’t see a picture in there, but I know there is one in there.” Grass, ‘scribbleness.’”

And well, I went through it. We built blocks. I love block playing. Since then I’ve really enjoying playing with blocks, but (Laughter) they want you to play with blocks and they want you to add and subtract and they want you to look at you and they say, “How are you feelin’ at this moment?” “Good.” (Laughter) “Are you mad at anybody?” “Uh-um, not that I know of.” “Is there a reason why you’re plump like this?” “Uh-hm.” (Laughter) “What is it?” “Food.” (Laughter and Applause) “Do you have a deep thing in here against your mom and dad?” “No, I love ’em.” “Have they done somethin’?” “No, never have; they love me.”

Well, that’s not it. That’s not causing you that, right? I don’t know what it was. They dug around inside of me tryin’ to figure out and they were wonderful. They really were kind to me. When it was all over with, the reckoning day was comin’. I remember drivin’ up in front of that psychiatrist or psychiatric ward, whatever it was. We got out. We sat in that room. My mom, dad and I and he said something. He said, “You know, Mr. and Mrs. Shepard, Donna, something has happened to you. I don’t know where you were locked inside of you, but something’s locked you up. But Mr. and Mrs. Shepard, inside of her is a butterfly that wants to fly. She wants to come out. For my side of it and everything’s fine, she can go up to another level.”

Well, I come out of there. I was so ecstatic. I was, “Mother!” (Laughter) I didn’t do that, ’cause I was quiet I went (softly) “Mother, oh, good.” They hugged me and I said, “I can go up higher. Well, I went to summer school, had three tutors that summer.

But let me tell you what happened that summer about my biggest fan. Mother came home, and she said, “Now, next year you’re going to high school, and you’regoing tobe different.” I said, “Mother, how can I be different?” She said, “Next year, this September, Donna Sue, I cannot wait.” My mother’s real demonstrative. She said, “You’re gonna be the ooh! God is gonna change you. I said, “How?” Oh, I couldn’t wait. (Laughter) [Size] 22 down to a 10? Oh! In two months I tried to lose 50 pounds. Last week (Laughter), I went on a no-fat diet cookie deal. I gained! I didn’t know you were only supposed to eat two at a time. (Laughter and Applause) I don’t know about you all, but there [are] not enough cookies in that thing. (Laughter) There [are] only 12. Twelve is enough for one meal, so I gained.

But anyway, I was thinkin’, I was gonna lose that summer, but I noticed something. Every day, starting the end of May, I noticed that my mother didn’t eat supper with us. “Oh, Mother, come and eat with us.” She said, “Oh baby, you’re gonna change. God is doin’ somethin’ inside of you.” And I was tryin’ to figure out what it was.

And then the next night, I would hear somebody in the living room saying, “Jesus. I don’t know what it is.” My mom is a nursing supervisor, retired nursing supervisor. She worked all day long. But at night she would come home, and she said, “Lord, I don’t know what it is that has got my child closed up that she cannot be all that You always wanted her to be. But God, please, break it.”

You see, she had been convinced like I am convinced, that not one creation that God has created, thatHe does not want you toan excelling flying eagle. God has in His mind a purpose and plan for every child, every teenager and every adult in here.

Program Note:

John: Donna Linville is sharing her experiences from her teen years on today’s “Focus on the Family.” And a CD of this presentation is available when you call 800-A-FAMILY or at In fact, if you’ll make a generous donation to the work of Focus on the Family today to strengthen your faith, we’ll send that CD to you as a thank-you gift for your support. Let’s go ahead and keep going now as Donna continues her message on “Focus on the Family.”

End of Program Note

Donna: So that summer, all year, I’d be out there in the yard. My mom would come in. She’d say, “Whoa, you are going to be great!” And I’d go, “Good, great.” (Laughter) And so, here we were at the end of the year, summer. I go to school the first day, and my mother says, “It’s changed. God is going to change you.” So I get out at school, absolutely terrorized. I hated it. I got out, walked in my high school, and when I walked in that foyer, those kids that I’d gone to school with all those years [said,] “Hey, Fatso, you’re back again.” Oh, deep inside of me I thought, “Oh, it hadn’t changed.” “Hey, Big Mama, come on, you came. We heard you [were] done.” And, oh, I just was oh!

Well, at the end of the day, school was over with. I hid in the women’s bathroom. I wanted all the kids to leave. I didn’t want to see [anybody] ’cause I was so hurt that nothin’ had changed. It was the same. So, in our bathroom in that school of about 1,300 kids is the best acoustics you have ever been in. It’s a long corridor, big ceramic tile, an old school. And in my secret world, I loved to sing. I would go in my bedroom and just sing and pretend. Star light, star bright, I would pretend.

Well, in that bathroom, away, away from the school of children, of the kid’s area, I decided I’m gonna sing. Just me. So in there I was pretending again. [Sound of Singing] ‘Cause I would do that in my house. My dad loved opera, so I heard opera all the time. [Sound of Singing, Hitting High Notes] (Applause) Well, I walked down that corridor and I was going’ (Singing), you know, (Singing), when all of a sudden I heard “Cush-un.” “There’s somebody in here!”

I grabbed my books, and I ran. I started to run out when all of a sudden a woman came out. She said, “Hold it. What? Come here. What’s your name?” And I said, “My name’s Donna Shepard.” “Look at me. Look. Pick your face up. Look at me. What’s your name again?” I said, “Donna Shepard.” “Be in my office in the morning.” I said, “Well, what do you want me to do?” She said, “I want you to try out for chorale.” I said, “I can’t. I can’t sing.” “I don’t ever want to hear from your mouth again, ‘I can’t do something.’ Do you hear me?” She was a Marine sergeant. (Applause) I said, “Okay. What’s your name?” And she told me her name, and I said, “Okay.”

And I ran to the car, and my mother’s out there. She said, “How was it?” I said, “Well, everybody’s the same to me, but, Mother, this woman wants me to try out in the morning for chorale.” She said, “Oh, do, I want you to do it.” I said, “Mother, I can’t.” “Oh, yes.” “I can’t, but I’m not; I’m not; I’m not going to. I can’t. I can’t.” But when I went home and went in my bedroom and shut the door, I looked in the mirror and went [Sound of Crying/Singing] (Applause) in my secret world [Sound of Singing].

So the next morning I walked in there, trembling totally. And she said, “Sing a song.” I said, “All I know is a Jesus song.” “Sing a Jesus song, okay?” That’s how she was. I went (Singing), “Amazing grace.” But I didn’t sing like that. I went, “A-ma-zing-grace.” She said, “Higher, higher. Look at me. Breathe.” I went ,”Uhm.” She said, “Higher.” “Amazing.” “Higher.” “Amaz[ing].” “Higher.” “Ama[zing].” “Higher.” “Ama[zing].” “Higher” “A ….ha.” (Applause) She said, “Good. I want you the first chair, first soprano in my chorale.” “I can’t.” “I am tired of hearing that from you. Enough is enough. I never want to hear, ‘I can’t.’”

Well, I went home trembling. “Mother, I really can’t believe it. I’m first chair, first soprano.” She said, “Oh, Donna, that’s great.” Well, six weeks later my report card came. Well, before all those years, it was a death march. (Laughter and Applause) “I’m sorry.” Well, I brought that report card, and I went home. I said, “Here, Mother.” My dad and everybody [were] there. Gave it to my mother. Well, my mother’s real demonstrative. She looked at it. She went, “Oh! Oh, Shep! Oh, Shep! Oh!” My dad’s nickname was “Shep.” “Oh, Shep, Shep. Oh, oh, my Lord, my Lord.” I was on the honor roll. (Applause) “Oh, Shep, oh, oh, my baby, my baby, oh, my baby.”

Well, when I graduated from high school, I graduated with honors, and you know how they nominate the “most friendliest” person? Well, I wasn’t the No. 1out of [all], but I was the [third] out of 1,300 [who] was picked as the “most friendliest.” (Applause) I was still chubby, maybe a little bit more chubby than plump, but when I walked down that aisle and got my letter and when I was offered a scholarship to a university,I decided that the Lord drew me another route. And that’s where I met this sweetheart at Bible college, my husband and I sing for Jesus now.

But when I walked down that aisle to get my letter, I told my friends behind me and in front of me. I said, If you hear somebody crying, it’s my mother.” But I remember walkin’ down this hall. We had about 370 in our graduation class. As I was walking down, behind me they said, “Hey, Donna, Donna.” What?” “I hear your mother.” (Laughter) “I hear her, too.” And you see, when I got up and got that honor letter, I knew who did it for me. The greatest fan in the world reached Someone that loves me more than her. And you know, mom, you taught me. It’s hard for me to believe that Jesus loves me more than you. It’s hard for me to be knowing that God; how much more your heavenly Father loves you.

And I am so glad that I will never hear from Jesus, “Hey, Fatso, you’ll never do nothin’. You’re no good.” I’m so glad, Jesus, You’ll never say that about me. You’ll say, “If I’m for you, who can be against you? (Applause) If I’m for you, who can be against you?” (Applause)

Oh, when moments of discouragement come, and yes, sometimes I feel that old feeling hit me again, but then, all of a sudden I think, “Jesus, I’m special to you. And God, one day I want to come home, and I want to come home,” and I pray instead of a T, Tupelo High School, I want to graduate with honors, H, heaven, heaven. (Applause)

And as an adult, I have found out that my mother claps every time in an audience like this, the first one. She’ll stand up. And I say, “Mother, everybody knows you’re my mother. Wait till the audience [claps].” She said, “If you don’t be quiet, I’m gonna get pom poms.” (Laughter) Total adoration.

But Jesus has in the clouds a cloud of witnesses that’s your fan club, that’s saying, “You can do it. I’ve already done it. We’re behind you. You’ve got a grandstand full of fans. You can do it. Come on up. You can do it.”


John: Donna Linville, urging us to press on and to never give up hope. And by the way, her mother is now 94-years-old and still praying for her and encouraging her. And that kind of adoration is just somethin’ else.

Jim: Oh, it’s true, John. That is great and you know, the truth is, we could all use someone like that in our corner, praying for us and encouraging us. But as Donna said there, Jesus and those who have gone before us are pulling for us to thrive and to succeed spiritually in this life.

In fact, Romans 8:34 says, “Who then is the one who condemns. No one. Christ Jesus who died, more than that, who was raised to life, is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” And I’m sure there are millions of people who have identified with Donna’s story about being rejected and treated the way she was.

Thankfully, I wasn’t bullied like that, but I did see it happen from time to time and I tried to do my best to right those wrongs, but what a difference a praying mother made in Donna’s life. Young people who get bulled and made fun of can end up in all kinds of bad situations. Bullying and it seems to be on the increase with digital and all the other ways that a person can be bullied, but bullying can lead to drug abuse, alcoholism, early sexual activity or other social problems, maybe even suicide. We’ve heard of those situations, too.

We need to stay on our knees for our children and also to be their cheerleader, to encourage them, to be that important influence that lets them know we care about them and love them.

John: Well, it’s a great reminder for us as parents and teachers and mentors that God is using programs like this in people’s lives. And one young woman has let us know that this testimony has really connected with her and that God has brought her hope for the first time. And all through elementary school she was passed on to the next grade without really learning much. And now she believes God can bring new growth in her life and she’s asked us to pray for her and we’ll invite you to pray for her, as well.

And then please let us know what you thought of this presentation. We’d like to know how it’s impacted you. And when you get in touch, please know we’re offering a CD of the message by Donna Linville. If you’d like that or you’d like to consult with a counselor, our number is 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or online we have these resources and more at And please consider a generous gift to our ministry so we can reach out and produce programs like this and offer helpful resources like our counseling team’s insights and help. That’s only possible because you give generously. And when you contribute a gift of any amount today to Focus, we’ll be happy to send a copy of the CD of today’s broadcast to you as our way of saying thanks.

John: Well, on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I’m John Fuller and I’ll invite you back tomorrow, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.

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