Church ministry, in some form or fashion, has been a part of my life since my early 20s.
I’ve worked in the nursery and children’s departments, in women’s, youth, and young couple’s ministries, and in homecare groups and missions. I’ve been on praise teams, functioned as a church/school administrator, an elder’s wife, a teacher, a counselor and as an associate pastor. For the longest time, I convinced myself that everything I was doing was for the sole purpose of advancing His Kingdom. However, I came to learn that wasn’t entirely true.
I think many of us feel a desire to “do something for God,” but it’s not just a matter of doing something (or even a litany of somethings), it’s a matter of recognizing our distinct gifts and responding to His personal calling on our lives. Unfortunately, I had to find out the hard way that I was not always listening to God’s call. I was just being busy about His Kingdom and He finally had to bear down hard to get my attention.
That said, what determines one’s “calling” to ministry? Is there an indicator that defines the area where we are best suited to serve? The area where God can use us the most?
For many of us the ability to answer these questions takes a great deal of trial and error—and we often have to reach the end of our own plans to truly understand God’s plans. That’s how it was for me many years ago when God stepped in and taught me a powerful lesson.
My Meltdown to Discovery
Evelyn was my personal assistant and nanny to my children. Dependable and always attentive to my needs often before I had to tell her, we sat in the living area of my master bedroom discussing the children’s schedules for the week when I felt a strange tingle in my left arm and even in my face.
“What’s the matter?” Evelyn asked.
When I explained the sensations to Evelyn, it was almost like an out-of-body experience as I watched her crisis intervention skills immediately commence.
“We’re going to the hospital now, Victoria,” she said firmly as she helped me stand and practically dragged me toward the door. “There’s something wrong with your heart.” Her voice (and grip) said it all, and I didn’t argue as she led me to the car with one hand and grabbed our purses with the other.
Things happened quickly as soon as we entered the Emergency Room where I was immediately seen by a cardiologist.
Dr. Li and her team acted fast, and when it was clear I wasn’t in an immediate life-threatening crisis, she began a more thorough examination and ordered a series of cardiac tests.
At my request, Evelyn called my D.O. and he arrived as the cardiologist was conducting her assessment. When Dr. Li discovered I had been fighting Lyme disease for over two years, she called in an infectious disease doctor who looked a lot like Luciano Pavarotti, the opera singer.
Then, this trio of exceptional professionals began to question me like a crime victim—taking copious notes of all my responses to their inquiries about my physical condition. It seemed they were jockeying for position—each determined to get to the bottom of whatever it was that caused this incident—and my systematic health decline over the past few years.
For the next five days I was poked, prodded, and strung up by my toes (figuratively, if not literally.)
Pavarotti couldn’t believe I was trying to fight Lyme disease naturally.
My D.O. couldn’t believe Pavarotti was unaware of how successful natural treatment had become, particularly in the realm of diet and nutrition.
And Dr. Li was frustrated with both these men as she listened to their differing opinions on preventative medicine while they virtually ignored the serious symptoms that brought me here.
A Guiding Light
I met with Dr. Li some days later in her office to discuss the results of the tests she ordered during my brief hospitalization.
After a warm and sincere greeting, she didn’t waste time getting to my results.
“You don’t have any evidence of congenital heart defects, or any type of cardiovascular disease. In fact, except for throwing PVCs, nothing is majorly wrong with you.”
She explained PVC’s to me, “premature ventricular contractions,” and said this irregular heartbeat issue is more common than most people think. She described reasons and symptoms, and said she wanted me to wear a heart monitor to determine how often this was happening. Only then could we get to the bottom of the puzzle.
“Why do you think this is happening to me?” I asked.
She looked at me thoughtfully before responding.
“I’m sure you know that stress in life is inevitable—and in proper proportion it is good, helpful, and even necessary for survival. However, stress overload puts our body and brain into negative distress, and this often results in wear and tear on both our physical and emotional health.”
She let her words sink in before continuing.
“Mrs. Sarvadi, have you been under any unusual stress?”
Have I been under any unusual stress? Ha!
I wasn’t certain how to answer that question, but it was like an emotional dam burst when she asked, and I think my combination of hysterical laughter and tears scared her.
When I couldn’t seem to stop rambling, it even scared me, and when I was finally able to contain myself, she got up from behind her desk and sat in the chair next to me.
“Okay, Victoria … may I call you that?” I nodded yes as she continued. “Why don’t we step back and take a quick little inventory and see what we’re dealing with, okay?” She reached into her pocket for a pen and turned one of the pages over on her clipboard.
“How about if you tell me some of the stressors you’ve had over the last two years or so, and I’ll jot them down. Okay? Can you do that?”
Could I do that? Sure I could. But where should I start?
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s see, in the last two years…three of my daughters have had miscarriages, and one of them is still mourning because it just happened. She wants a baby so bad, it breaks my heart…
Another daughter just gave birth to a little girl whose breach entrance into the world created the need for an emergency Cesarean. I guess you could say those two things were stressful.”
I took a deep breath and continued.
“I also have a son who has behavioral problems. He’s been kicked out of three schools and is now enrolled in a military school in Kansas City, but we’re already getting bad reports from them, so that might be short-lived.
And I have a daughter who’s in some kind of goth subculture—they call her an emu or is it an emo? I can never remember which one it is. She thought we were horrible parents and moved out of our house and in with her older sister for three months. She’s back home now, but she’s distant. I don’t know how to reach her—and I’m really afraid for her….”
I looked over at Dr. Li’s list to see that she was numbering my items.
“Then there’s my dad, who always had a big problem with me… he was dating this really mean lady and he started smoking, developed lung cancer, had surgery, coded, went into a coma for two months and then he died. Actually, he expired, which is what some insensitive nurse said on the phone when she called to let me know…”
“Oh my …” Dr. Li said quietly. “I’m so sorry…”
“You’re very kind … it was a pretty awful time. My sister threatened to never talk to me again if I enforced the DNR that Dad trusted me to enforce. Oh, and his really mean girlfriend called me a murderer.”
I refused to get emotional about this, so I forced down a sip of water as I watched Dr. Li write the number six on a new line and wait for me to continue.
“Okay, let’s see, what else … well, a few years ago I helped start a Hebrew church in my back yard. Today, I’m the minister of education for the same congregation at the beautiful Nathaniel Center, and I’m in charge of all the teachers, education, and curriculum for all age groups. I love my position there, but I guess it can be stressful at times.
I’m also the executive director of a charitable foundation. I write the monthly grant checks, execute all the orders of the board of directors, and communicate with all our grantees. I love this work, too, but there are times…
Oh, and I’m also on three very active non-profit boards. One of which is dissolving and there are very different opinions on what to do and I’m kind of in the middle of a couple very good friends and that’s challenging…that’s six, seven, and eight, right?”
I didn’t wait for Dr. Li to answer as I forged on.
“We were on a family vacation in December of 2001 when I tore my ACL while skiing on the bunny slope. You’ve probably got that listed somewhere in my chart. Anyway, I had surgery, months of painful rehabilitation, but my knee still bothers me.”
I glanced at the list again.
“Okay, number ten has to be the 4th of July picnic in Arkansas in 2003 when I got bit by the blood-thirsty tick that gave me Lyme disease, but you know all about that stressor, right?”
She nods as I continue.
“I really thought I was dying and it took a while before anyone could diagnose the problem. Did I tell you part of the natural approach to combating the disease is that I’ve been on a very strict diet for a year? I haven’t had any sugar in twelve months, and I would really like a piece of chocolate cake. That definitely counts as stressor number eleven, right? No cake?”
Dr. Li smiles and I notice she is now using a form of shorthand chicken-scratches as she jots down my responses that are coming faster.
“Speaking of cake,” I say, “we had a wedding at our Kingwood event center a few days ago where we served five-hundred slices of cake for dessert. I can’t remember if I ever told you that I founded and oversee a performing arts center in Kingwood? It’s officially called The Nathaniel Center for Cultural and Biblical Education, but I usually just call it the Nathaniel Center…any way, it’s a very popular venue for parties and receptions. The staff is great but I still take a personal stake in every event we have there. Stressful. Right?”
She raises her eyebrows as if to say, “I don’t know, you tell me…” and I see her jot down the number thirteen.
“Wow, thirteen? And I’m just getting started.” I nervously laughed.
“Okay, this next one is a biggie, it probably shouldn’t be so far down on the list—but we’re not numbering these in priority order, are we?”
Dr. Li shook her head.
“Good,” I said. “I’m married to a really successful businessman who is being courted by party officials to run for political office. If he decides to do that, I told him he would do it alone, I don’t want any part of that lifestyle. I doubt it will come to that, but I hate to even think about the pressure that would cause…
Oh, and my oldest daughter moved her family to Colorado, including my five grand kids. And by the way, she’s pregnant again.” I had to fight back the tears after thinking of my children and precious grandchildren. “Gosh,” I added, and sighed. “I really miss them.” I took a breath.
“Let’s see, what else? Oh, I currently teach two classes, a ladies Bible study and a Yeshiva class which is equivalent to a Sunday school class. I just finished up a young girl’s class, which was a prototype for my dissertation. That’s actually a relief.
I suppose we should count that as a huge stressor—my dissertation. I just finished my doctorate in theology. I turned in my dissertation a few weeks ago, on the same day my daughter gave birth to our seventh grandchild. I was in a lot of pain then from an ovarian cyst, but thank God, that pain is much better. Anyway, next month I’m going to walk the stage in Redlands, California and get both of my graduate degrees.”
I was on a roll by then and I heard my voice take on a more high-pitched timbre.
“Did I mention my husband is CEO of a big company in Houston that went public a few years ago? Between company events, travel, and spending so much time in Dallas with my kids and grandkids, I’m living out of suitcases and in hotels most of the time.
And you know I had a bad ear infection a week ago and now I have only 15% hearing in my left ear, right? Oh yeah, that should be added to my medical history.
Plus, I’m definitely in menopause and if harboring an alien life force inside you isn’t stressful, I don’t know what is!
And last but not least, we can’t forget about my heart that has been throwing PDQ’s or PFC’s or whatever the heck they are. I know you said it’s a somewhat common problem, but I have to say, anything that concerns my heart stresses me out more than a little.”
By this time in my recitation of possible stressors, I’m almost hysterical. I’ve nearly hyperventilated and fought back tears several times—certain if I start to cry I will never be able to stop. I leaned back in my chair and tried to look relaxed, but my hands gripped the armrests for dear life as I blurted out my final declaration.
“So, I think that about does it for my inventory, at least for now. How many is that?” I glanced over at her list. “Only twenty? I’m sure I’m forgetting something, do you want me to think about this a little longer and go on?”
She slowly put down her clipboard, took off her glasses, and leaned toward me as she took a deep breath and looked me straight in the eyes before saying six words that would inevitably change my life.
Time for a Serious Change
“Do you want to live, Victoria?”
“What do you mean?” I answered in an insouciant tone of voice that surprised even me and was accompanied by a dismissive shoulder shrug and a roll of my eyes at the absurdity of the question.
“I mean, Victoria, do you really want to live? Are you serious about staying alive?” Her stern voice brought immediate contrition to my heart as I realized she wasn’t joking.
“Well, of course I do.” I blinked through tears I could no longer control.
She held up the list and waved it in front of me. “Then, you must let go of all of this. Now. Any one of these things are enough to cause added stress in life, Victoria, and you’ve got twenty stress issues on your list. Twenty. Think of these stress points as individual fractures—one on top of the other. Then, picture them all merging together…Victoria, these individual fractures are going to break you!”
Dr. Li reached out and placed her hand on my arm. “You need to take a sabbatical and get away for a few months. Let go of the responsibilities that can be handled by others. And I suspect many of them can be handled by others.”
I knew she was right. There were things I could let go of.
I did my best to appear stoic and resilient, but Dr. Li saw through all my posturing as she handed me the tissue box from her desk. “Victoria, stop trying to do it all. Go spend time with your grandchildren and take care of yourself—those are the responsibilities no one else but you can handle.” Then, she asked me something I should have been asking myself all along.
“Victoria, what are the most important things in your life?”
Once I stopped to think about it, it didn’t take long to respond. “My relationship with God and my family.”
“Well then,” she said matter-of-factly, “you can’t very well be a testimony for God if you die, can you? And you won’t get to spend any time with your family if you are in a grave. It’s time to ask yourself why you have put so many other things in front of what is really important to you—why you feel responsible for doing it all?”
Her words affected me deeply and profoundly—and I could no longer ignore all the poor—albeit well-intentioned choices I had been making for years.
A Spiritual Epiphany
How did I get here? I wanted so much to please my Heavenly Father but I somehow got off track. I took the words of Dr. Li to heart and prayed for God to show me what things needed to be scrapped and who could pick up the reigns.
For six months, I talked to God from my bed as I healed. I respectfully complained to Him, asked Him how He let me get to this place—especially when I was doing all of this for Him! I felt isolated, my joy was gone and now I was sick.
But it was in my wilderness that God spoke to me and gently reminded me that though what I had been doing for Him these past few years was good, it wasn’t what He specifically wanted from me.
I wasn’t walking in my calling—my gifting. I had gotten off track.
Sometimes we as Christians do things that seem right to us. But operating out of our own understanding is lacking perfect wisdom. It felt right to me to work from 7:30 AM to 11:00 at night. But I was compromising so many things. My health, my relationships with my family and the tasks God was calling me—and others to complete.
God knew His plans for me. And I wasn’t totally walking in them. I was weary and I had great conflict of mind.
The Bible says, “For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jerimiah 29:11 WTB).
It was during that time of self-reflection that God seemed to be holding a mirror up and showing me some very painful realities.
Was I pursuing my own path? Was I doing everything for the right reasons?
It was hard to accept that I was being self-driven and maybe even self-righteous at times. I thought I was doing it all to the obedience of Christ. But it wasn’t until I stopped everything and began to seek His righteousness and not my own self-ambition that I found true peace. When I finally stopped and asked Yeshua to reveal what He wanted me to do—I mean really do—it was then He started speaking to my heart.
“Victoria, if you were hired for the marketing department of a company, would you march into the accounting department and start working? Or, if you were a beauty technician would you be likely to open a bakery? I’ve given all my children special gifts and blessings… how will they ever learn to walk in those blessings if someone else is always stepping in?”
It was then the force of realization hit me—somewhere I got off track and not only did I lose sight of my specific calling, but in my well-intentioned desire to “do it all,” I was robbing someone else of their ability to use their special gifts and make a difference.
I began to realize that even though all I was doing was a good attempt to advance His Kingdom, in many cases I had been doing someone else’s job—the antithesis of encouraging and empowering others. There are no soloists in God’s orchestra.
The Bible says, “So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all others, We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (Romans 12:5-6 NIV).
While Yeshua could most certainly have handled all the needs of His Apostles (and everyone He came in contact with when He walked the earth,) He focused on teaching and praying and left the preparing the cities for his arrival, collecting of funds, meeting organization, feeding, cooking, cleaning, and other prep work to others who were then blessed with the ability and opportunity to minister to the Lord and His Apostles. He never tried to do it all in order to please His Father—He focused on what He was called to do–to spread the good news that “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: “And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26).
Jesus was compassionate, caring and completely focused on His calling—and looking at my over-stressed life from this perspective opened my eyes.
Learning to Let Go
When I experienced a clinical death in the ICU so many years ago I was given the supernatural gift of seeing the timeline of my life—a timeline filled with incredible gifts and blessings. Over the years, the desire to share the Hebraic roots of our Christian faith with others has become the center of my life—a life filled with glorious blessings—particularly when I stopped trying to do it all and learned to focus on my own purpose and passions.
Yes, there are many things I love to do—things I know I’m good at—yet I finally realized that when we spread ourselves so thin that we risk burn-out we are only feeding in to the plans of the enemy. Doing ten things at 50% isn’t as helpful as doing five things at 100%. And we’re never going to fully develop into the people God wants us to be if we don’t acknowledge and develop our own calling and encourage others to do the same.
That said, I handed over the associate pastor position of the church where I ministered to a capable individual who flourished in his new role. I did the same with the administration of The Nathaniel Center for Cultural and Biblical Education, and my staff stepped in with flying colors as they picked up the assorted tasks with amazing grace and excitement. I systematically prayed over my countless projects for the wisdom and discernment to know what to keep and what to let go of. And the more I released, the more I began to see the talented and gifted people God was placing in my path—people walking in their own powerful purpose.
One of those people is a woman who has known her calling since she was a little girl. Although it took Allison Bottke years to make a living as a writer, she never faltered from knowing this is what she wanted to do—what she was born to do. Her life hasn’t been easy, but in staying true to her calling the Lord has enabled her not only to become a bestselling well-published author, but to assist others in developing their own books as well. Allison’s gifts of developmental editing and writing narrative non-fiction have been honed over years of dedicated work to her craft, and our paths crossed as a result of both of us ultimately listening to God’s still small voice speaking to our hearts.
The more I stepped away from the busyness of my life the more I felt called to write a book—a project I worked on for many months before I once again realized that I didn’t have to do it all alone. Working with Allison to record the story and testimony of my life further cemented the fact that Yeshua has bestowed special gifts on all of His children, and it pleases Him immensely when we come together to use our collective gifts to praise His holy name. And today, the story and testimony of my life is being shared around the world in my memoir, Just a Little Girl.
I also lead a small community of believers called The Nathaniel Fellowship.
Today, individuals from all walks of life are being called to our ministry and I am in awe at God’s miraculous plans. He has assembled spiritual seekers, respected scholars and authors, teachers, vocalists, graphic designers, social networking wizards, broadcast professionals, artists, contractors, and volunteers. As a born nurturer and teacher, empowering others has fulfilled me in ways that bring so much joy to my heart, and I imagine this is how Yeshua feels when His children follow their callings and live for Him.
I’m privileged to offer spiritual education through Christian Hebraic Roots classes and I’ve also been able to appear as a featured guest on national TV and radio shows. Several new books are in development and new things are on the horizon. All of these accomplishments are possible because the Father of all creation has assembled a group of amazing people with a shared vision to bring Him glory, honor and praise—and because God sent me a wise cardiologist who cared enough to ask me if I wanted to live.
When I think back to the time in my life when I was on the verge of a complete mental and physical breakdown I know without a shadow of a doubt that I wouldn’t be where I am today had it not been for the lessons I learned from trying to do it all.
Now healthy, and more excited than ever to see God glorified in my life, I hope to encourage and enlighten my brothers and sisters in Christ to experience their God-given potential. I’m blessed to connect His grafted-in children to their new covenantal commonwealth and position, and my prayer is that you will also be blessed.
To God be the glory, dear readers.