It was 1985 on a warm humid spring morning in the small southeastern town of Marbury, Alabama. Early morning fog rested just atop the bean fields across an old dirt road, while the piercing sound of Periodical Cicadas, (13 Year Locusts), filled the air with their endless song just outside the sliding glass doors of the small wooden blue house which sheltered myself and thirteen others. On our side of the house there was one counselor and six of us girls with one bathroom…(you heard me right). On the other side of the house were the house parents and their 4 kids.
I had arrived to live there after a relatively long stay on the psychiatric floor of a hospital in Birmingham, AL and a not so long stay at a secondary treatment program following that.
But let me back up a bit. I had been placed in a double lock down psychiatric unit following a lengthy binge of cocaine, vodka, pot and pills, which left me both homicidal and suicidal. In route to end my life, with a loaded gun and suicide note, an intervention (which one could have viewed as an abduction), by my family occurred, which resulted in my admission to the hospital for an extended visit. Once being transferred to a less secure wing, my family spoke to me about a Christian Girl’s Home that I should consider going to with a 1 year free program. I wanted no part of it. Upon leaving the hospital my parents had been given a grim prognosis that they needed to get me placed on disability, put me in a group home and that I would never be capable of functioning independently.
Following the hospital, I was admitted to a secondary treatment program where I lasted only a few weeks. One day I became aware that my mouth was telling one story, while my mind was planning something totally different – how to get out and use. My level of functioning was very low and I found myself unable to verbalize the fear I was experiencing. As I sat in my room I found a Bible and hoped that it would somehow give me direction with the “open and point method”. So I opened it up with my eyes closed and pointed my finger, which landed on Psalm 69: 1-20 and saw before my eyes the words for exactly what I was feeling. I read it out loud; as they were the only words I could speak as a prayer to a God I had long since run from. Upon finishing, the name of that girl’s home came into my mind like a flashing billboard. I ran downstairs, (just as crazy as could be), saying the name of the home, (Cannan Land), over and over and over – along with – “Call my mom! Call my mom!” My counselor did and off I went to the girl’s home.
I arrived with a cigarette in each hand; having smoked several packs on the ride down, being it was a non-smoking program. Getting out of the car, the pastor of the home came up with a big smile and told me my life was going to change. I took his statement with cynicism thick enough you could have cut it with a knife – but I was at that moment, willing to go to any lengths. However as days passed, filled with “group” morning prayers and multiple Bible studies each day I was fast reaching my limit. The tipping point came on this particular morning as our counselor declared that we could pray and ask God for things that mattered to us and if we did so believing He would answer our prayers. Well, there it was…I had reached my limit and I thought, “THAT IS IT! I’m taking her down!”
Now before I go any further, let me say that this program was fully supported by donations and the income of the pastor and his wife. It was during this time that some pretty negative issues had been becoming public knowledge with a certain television evangelist, resulting in, (apparently), a drop in donations to faith based programs. As a result we had not had fruit to snack on in a good while and being that this program also didn’t allow any “sugar products”…I was really missing sweet fruits.
So back to the story: Upon our counselor’s previously mentioned claim I spoke up and called her on it. I said, “Oh really? Anything we pray for, you’re saying that God will answer it?” To which she said, “If you are willing to believe and trust Him, yes that is what I’m saying. Do you want to pray for something Rebecca?” Feeling very defiant towards this woman and her claims, as well as attempting, (with what little faculties I had), to think of something that would surely prove her wrong ~ I said, “As a matter of fact I do – let’s ask God to bring us fruit!” She replied, “OK, let’s pray!” and all the girls bowed their heads. I thought, “No! This was TO EASY…to possible!” So abruptly I said, “STOP! Wait! I want to be more specific – let’s pray for oranges!” The counselor didn’t skip a beat and said, “No problem – oranges it is!” I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I thought, “The only reason they are acting like this is because it’s not that impossible!” My heart pounding and mind racing I said, “STOP!! No! I want to change it…let’s pray for Tangerines!” (Surely this would get them!) But no…not this lady and certainly not this group of girls – incredibly they actually bowed their heads to start praying. I just couldn’t take it anymore – every bit of anger, bitterness, fear and frustration bubbled up at one time and I screamed, “STOP IT! STOP IT! I want to make it REALLYspecific…I want to pray for TANGELO’S!”
For those of you who’ve never enjoyed the experience of tasting this delicious fruit or perhaps never even heard of it ~ A Tangelo, (also known as a Honeybell), is a hybrid of a tangerine (Mandarin Orange) and a Grapefruit (closely related to the Pomelo). The Honeybell citrus fruit is believed to have originated in Southeast Asia around 3,000 years ago, while the hybrid Tangelo it’s self is said to have been first made by Dr. Walter T. Swingle (Florida) in 1897. Tangelo’s are best known for their easy to remove peel and, (when ripe), their high concentration of juice and I LOVED them!!!
But I digress…returning to the moment that changed my life:
They all just stared at me, initially saying nothing. Feeling quite proud of myself, I was certain that I had made them all realize the foolishness of this “exercise in prayer”. The counselor softly said to me, “Are you sure that is it?” Quite defiantly and with a sarcastic grin I said, “Oh yeah, I’m sure.” Incredibly they all bowed their heads and prayed for me to get my tangelos. I couldn’t believe it! While at the table following the Bible study meeting, a horn honked outside. The girls and our counselor went outside and as I followed I observed a rather large man in worn out denim overalls explaining to our counselor that he had produce to unload, had heard about our program and thought we might like it. I noticed the other girls, many of whom were giggling, were all looking directly at me. My counselor, (smiling), said, “Come on down here Becky – you need to see this.” As I rounded the corner of the truck what I saw caused such a reaction that my entire body began to tremble and my skin to perspire…there before my eyes ~ was an entire truck load of TANGELOS! My head spinning and heart racing, I could only think to do one thing ~ I ran for my bedroom and fell on my knees, (sounding like Donkey in Shrek), telling God “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! ~ I believe! I believe!!
Yes, I’m a firm believer that God, in all of His goodness, meets us right where we are and often with good humor. Needless to say, after that day I became willing to believe He could restore even my mind…and you know what? “He did!”
©2010-2014 Rebecca Balko