Monday, December 28, 2009

And That More Abundantly

It was the summer of 1985. I was thirty-two years old, way too young to have a nervous breakdown. I was sitting at my desk in my bedroom sanctuary, a terracotta-colored room in a two-story brick house on a quiet residential street. I lived a block away from the Lipscomb University campus in Nashville, Tennessee. That was the physical location. Allow me also to locate the moment in terms of my recovery.

For me, recovery had not begun. I had just hit my first “bottom” and quit my job. I had completed six years in the music industry, working for a company in which every single person but me was the adult child of an alcoholic. (My parents had made up for the lack of alcohol in our family life by using religion - "churchianity" - as our drug of choice.) We were all hurting, struggling with the demons of the past and some in the present, but we never talked about it. Most of us were in our twenties, striving in spite of immaturity and inexperience to be known as dedicated Christians in a highly secular industry. This led to obfuscations, complications and hurts that would not have occurred if we had just admitted, “I’m mostly here to make money.”

None of us had read the literature or gone to Adult Children of Alcoholics support groups, because they weren’t yet available. None of us understood why we were addicted to excitement, why we felt we were at our best amidst drama and chaos, why we therefore created unnecessary pressures for ourselves and each other, why some of us manipulated and dominated and others of us served and suffered silently, and why frustration and resentment festered. We were expected to be unquestioningly loyal to the company, but I didn’t experience the company being loyal to me. I felt used and, even worse, used up. None of us had seen our common characteristics openly and clearly described, like you can today by looking on the internet. (See a one-page description, known variously as “The Problem” and “The Laundry List” at

In the midst of my struggles with that job and those people, I had sought help from a church friend who was “older in the Lord.” I was hoping for help, wise counsel and – honestly – sympathy. After pouring my frustration and confusion out to her, I was more than taken aback when she declared, “Your heart is black.” I didn’t really believe her, but it was so painful to hear nevertheless. I felt rebuffed, misunderstood, accused, and certainly not helped.

Most Saturday mornings I would sit in that terracotta colored room and read scripture and Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. I had learned the value of journaling, and I also enjoyed copying scriptures and favorite hymns in calligraphy. I was beginning to learn the meaning of the Hebrew word Shabbat. Taking a Sabbath rest was becoming more and more important to me. One morning I was reading in Proverbs when a verse jumped out at me I had never seen or heard before. “He who is loose and slack in his work is brother to him who is a destroyer and he who does not use his endeavors to heal himself is brother to him who commits suicide.” (Proverbs 18:9)

What? I never knew the word suicide was in the Bible. My Amplified translation explained that the second part of the verse does not appear in all manuscripts, but is found in the Septuagint, so named because seventy scholars worked together to translate the Hebrew scriptures into Greek. This translation of what we call the Old Testament would have been generally available in Jesus’ day.

I pondered the verse and asked myself why it struck me with such force. In a flash I realized that though I had never been tempted with thoughts of suicide, as friends of mine had, still I was not “using my endeavors to heal myself.” I was working under a great deal of stress and constant deadlines. I was not sleeping enough. I was not eating healthily. My eating was geared to emotional comfort rather than fuel. In addition to unusual stress at work, I was involved in several other creative pursuits.

I had chosen a church community that demanded commitment and attendance at large and small weekly meetings as well as private weekly meetings with a spiritual advisor. (At that time, I was meeting regularly with the woman mentioned above whose words had been so hurtful.) I had a married couple living in my home, and two other women each stayed with us for months at a time, in addition to many others who came and went. I loved the idea of an open, hospitable home but all that activity didn’t leave time for quiet, reflection, refreshment.

I realized that in order to choose life I would have to make changes. I would have to set limits. I would have to learn to say “No” to myself and others. I would have to miss out on certain relationships and experiences and opportunities. They would be hard for me to release, because letting go would feel like a death to me, a falling into the dark unknown. I knew I would have to change my ways regarding eating and sleeping and exercise. I began to chip away at these tasks, but it was very hard to deny myself short term satisfactions for these long term, unfamiliar goals. Health – emotional, mental, physical health – had never been a priority in my family, and at first it really seemed unattainable to me.

Then I contracted hepatitis A. I used up my sick time and vacation time and then went unpaid. When I even thought about responsibility, I wanted to throw up. Years later, I learned about the symptoms of burnout and realized I had come very close to a nervous breakdown. In this same terra cotta colored room I sat in the bed and wept with the surprising realization that I was free. I suddenly knew that I could leave that nutty company and that crazy industry, that I didn’t need to be a part of that system to survive, that I could separate from that “family” and be an individual and choose a more peaceful life. They didn’t own me any more. When I returned to work, I knew I could not long remain there.

During further rest and recuperation, I was sitting in my porch swing reading my Bible. A quiet awareness came to me that God wanted meet my needs Himself. I felt He was gently challenging me to trust Him. I sensed that I was not to work, I was not to seek regular employment, I was to look to Him to pay my bills instead. And amazingly I thought He might be saying this supernatural intervention would last for two years. I could hardly believe it, and yet it was so clear I could not really doubt or ignore it.

This is the scripture I was reading. “And [Hezekiah, says the Lord] this shall be the sign [of these things] to you: you shall eat this year what grows of itself, also in the second year what springs up voluntarily. But in the third year sow and reap, plant vineyards and eat their fruit. And the remnant that has survived of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and a band of survivors out of Mount Zion. The zeal of the Lord of hosts shall perform this.” (II Kings 19: 29-31)

So much resulted from that moment on the porch. The married couple who had shared my four bedroom house with me for three years, paying rent and buying all the groceries, now decided to move out. Over a long period of prayer and seeking I became convinced that God was calling me to live in Jerusalem, so I had to sell my house. (Conveniently, my mom who co-owned it was in agreement with the need to sell the house, as she had decided to move to Vienna, Austria to help her friends Irene and Otis Gatewood in their work there.) But the house was slow to sell.

I would wake up in the morning and my situation would hit me. “I have no income. I have no renters. I have no one buying food. I had a hard time meeting all my bills when I had those things. What have I done??” It felt like a panic attack. Slowly, slowly I became aware that nothing had changed but numbers on paper. God was still on His throne, I was still His daughter, I was not being slothful or irresponsible, I was being obedient to what I believed He wanted, and I could trust Him to show me if I were wrong about that. The panic attacks grew briefer and fewer until they went away and I learned to float in the not knowing…with occasional lapses. It was a process of taking it back and letting it go, again and again.

Then the house sold, after five months of showing it, and though my mom recouped her down payment, the unexplained and unexpected affect of previously paid “points” on the final profit brought me a total of $500. The realtor handed me the check and I almost cried on the spot. I came home from the closing so devastated I simply curled up on the living floor in fetal position and sobbed my heart out. “But God!” I cried. “I thought You wanted me to go to Israel! Now I have no money to go. Now my house is sold. I have no job. What do You want from me?”

Knowing I was selling it, I had already given away, stored or sold most everything from my big house. I moved my remaining stuff into the basement room of a church elder’s home, with the agreement that I would clean their house twenty hours a week in exchange for the room and utilities. The church office shared that basement, so there were mornings I would exit my room and walk through a church staff meeting on my way to the shower. I babysat the elder’s youngest daughter, and we watched “Annie” and “The Sound of Music” probably fifty times each that summer. I ironed. I dusted. I scrubbed. I cleaned out closets and drawers. Five months later, around my birthday, on the Sabbath of Comfort (according to the Jewish calendar), friends called to say that they wanted to give me $1000 to use as I saw fit. They knew about my previous Israel plan but assured me that if I wasn’t prepared to go now, the money was still mine.

Ironically, I now had as much cash in hand as I had five months before, but now my attitude had been changed and this same amount was now “enough” for me. I bought the airline ticket, and then more money was released from various sources. I went to Jerusalem knowing that I would participate in a two-week Feast of Tabernacles Christian Celebration through the International Christian Embassy. After the first two weeks, I would be on my own. I went believing that I had the promise of a job from a Messianic Jewish man who knew my advertising and music background and said he really wanted to work with me. I didn’t know where I would live, but I had several invitations from people I had met on a six-week exploratory trip the previous year.

Two weeks into my stay there, I was informed that the job was not available because the man was no longer hiring non-Israelis. I had a cordial conversation with the man and his Israeli fiancĂ©e in a hotel lobby, and they took me back to the place I staying. I let myself cry a few tears. I was pretty deeply shaken, as I still didn’t know where I would be living, now knew I had no job, and my new friends, the other Feast people, would soon be leaving the country. As I stepped into the dark forest where our cabins were, I heard a voice inside my heart. “My little sister.” That’s all He needed to say. It was the voice of compassion and reassurance that met me in my trembling and fear and held me still.

That summer I had read the autobiography of a Jewish woman who had become a believe in Jesus as her Messiah. The book outlined the many struggles and losses and challenges she had faced with her family, the Jewish community, the Christian community, and on her world travels. Since arriving in Jerusalem, I had been taken to her home by a friend. I found myself standing next to her in line at a bank. She asked if I knew anyone who could help her administratively, and I said, “Well, there’s me.” I had been introduced to another woman who now decided that wanted me to stay in her flat while she spent a few months in the States, so I had a temporary home.

God had spoken to my heart that He wanted to pay my bills, but I had conveniently forgotten the part about “two years”. I figured that now I was in the country, it would behoove me to be productive and have a job. The author hired me at a promised salary of so many shekels per hour, but as the weeks turned into months it seemed that she was without income herself. For that whole year, donations to her ministry dried up. She was never able to pay me the promised wage. And God kept seeing to it that I was able to pay my bills.

I could write a small book about the financial aspect of this adventure. There was the stunning fact that the raise my boss had denied me was mine anyway by the grace of God in spite of the fact that I had no regular employment for seven months that year. There were people who handed me a check, or left money on the table, or mailed me an unexpected gift. One couple sent me $50 each month. (They were my only regular “support”, unsolicited.) There was the Canadian woman who approached me at a church in Jerusalem. She told me she had dreamed while preparing for her trip that she would see a woman singing on a stage in Jerusalem and she should give her money.

Occasionally there were residuals from jingles I had sung during my employment. One can never predict whether there will be residuals (which are payments made each time a commercial airs), or when they will come, but Armour-Star and Pepsi and several other products paid part of my way through this period with no salary. Remember that the scripture had said God would feed me with “what grows of itself, also in the second year what springs up voluntarily.” I was flying blind the whole time I lived in Israel, using a credit card. My credit card bill was being paid by a bookkeeper in Nashville, who helped me for $10 an hour. I tried to “listen” and then spend by faith, trusting that resources would be provided to pay for what I needed.

In May of 1987, I was sitting in a church in Jerusalem when I heard inside my heart, “You gave up trying to fix your mother and turned your energies to healing my people Israel.” It wasn’t a rebuke, it was just a truth that stopped me in my tracks. I knew that evening, sitting in the auditorium at the YMCA on King David Street, more clearly than I had known to come to Israel, that God was releasing me to return to Nashville. He was sending me home to seek healing for the cracks He had revealed in my emotional foundation. (Upon my return, I was surprised to discover a whole new section in my favorite book store called “Self-Help”. Books on codependency had hit the market while I was in Israel. The stage was set for recovery to begin.)

Days later I was in Vienna visiting my mom along with my brother and sister-in-law. My brother handed me a check and said, “This is your share of Mom’s surplus.” At first I thought it said $300, but then I was shocked to see it read “Three thousand dollars.” That was much more money than I had held at any time in the past two years. I knew God was giving me my airfare home and something to start with once I got there. I knew my two-year sabbatical was ending.

God gave me the priceless gift of time. He gave me the adventure of learning to trust Him, replacing my old thinking that everything was up to me. He showed me that He valued me in practical terms, even if others did not. He proved to me in dozens of situations that He was paying precise attention to my circumstances. He gave me the privilege of falling in love with His people and His Land, and literally walking where Jesus was born and lived and died and rose again.

He did me untold good by taking me out of an unhealthy job and a destructive church situation, changing me enough so I no longer fit when I tried to return to it. And He began to teach me how to “use my endeavors to heal myself.” It’s a life-long lesson, apparently, because I’m still in school. I thank Him that He intervened so long ago to show me that He came to give me life, “and that more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

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