Sheila Jacobs had been studying with London Bible College and felt God was calling her into Christian service, but she fell sick during her early 30s and was diagnosed with Ménière’s disease, a rare disorder that affects the inner ear. She became desperate to find an agoraphobia cure.
“Being stuck at home – I lived with my mum, couldn’t work, couldn’t do anything – I got more and more agoraphobic,” she explains. “I couldn’t go to church for a couple of years and when I did I’d have a panic attack. I could just about walk my dog to the fields, and actually Jesus became very real to me at that time.”
Sheila had always wanted to write novels, but although some of her non-fiction had been published, she had been unable to interest anyone in her fiction. “I’d actually failed a writing course and got my money back shortly before this,” she says.
Sheila Jacobs was cured of her agoraphobia
”So I gave it up. Then three weeks later I saw an advert in a Christian magazine. They wanted new writers for Christian fiction. I had something in the drawer so I cobbled a couple of chapters together, sent them away and forgot about it. Then they wrote back and said they’d like to see the rest of the novel. That was a bit of a problem because I hadn’t actually written it!”
But within a few weeks, Aliens and Strangers was ready.
“I gave up in around the April and by the following October I had a contract,” Sheila says.
“They accepted the first novel and then the second one got the CBC Gold Award for published children’s fiction.”
Successful but still suffering
Sheila went on to write seven novels but she was still ill. And even when her health started to improve, she still suffered and wanted to find an agoraphobia cure. Finally she went forward for healing during a church meeting.
“Although I got ‘slain in the Spirit’ – I went down and hit the deck – I got up and I still had tinnitus left over from the Ménière’s. That’s what I’d gone up for healing for, and I thought, ‘Oh well, nothing’s happened.’
But the next day I couldn’t stop praising God. For nine days I praised him solidly. I couldn’t do anything else. I didn’t ask for anything.
“Then on the ninth day I got a phone call from somebody I was connected with to do with writing and she said, ‘Do you ever edit books?’ From that day to this I’ve had a full-time job editing books and magazines. It was totally God.”
Another book, Watchers – which Sheila had written during her abortive writing course – was published and she recently completed a series of resources for Christian singles agency Friends First.
Last year Someone To Believe In was released – an Advent course Sheila based on the much-loved Christmas classic ‘Miracle on 34th Street’.
Although she had been introduced to Jesus as a child by her grandma, Sheila didn’t become a Christian until she was in her 20s. A series of unfortunate events ultimately led to the decision. Her parents split up and her father remarried. Then her ex-boyfriend was found dead at just 28.
The man she wanted to marry wasn’t ready at that time and the company she was working for relocated, so she was out of work. She set up a business, which failed, and she was suffering from anxiety.
“I thought, ‘Oh, this is all we need. Jesus!’ ”
It was at this point that her granny came to stay.
“I thought, ‘Oh, this is all we need. Jesus!’ Although I’d liked the stories about Jesus when I was younger I didn’t really want to hear it in my early 20s,” she recalls.
Her grandma goaded her into visiting the local Christian bookshop and, while there, Sheila was drawn to a copy of I Dared to Call Him Father by Bilquis Sheikh. “What really caught my attention was that she was divorced. And I thought to myself, ‘We’ve just had a divorce in the family, let’s have a look at this. Because I needed reality.’
“I’d heard about Jesus and believed in him to some extent, but it didn’t make any difference to my life. But I read this book and I thought, ‘She’s talking about Jesus as if he was her friend.’ And I thought, ‘Well if this is true, I want it.’ I just got down beside my bed and said, ‘Jesus, if you’re really there will you handle my life? Because I can’t handle it any more.’
“I got up and felt a sense of peace. I went downstairs and mum looked at me and said, ‘Hmm, what’s happened to you? You’re smiling!’”
Sheila joined Elim Braintree, where she now serves as a deacon, after feeling immediately at home there. “I walked in, they were speaking in tongues, they were prophesying and the presence of God was so huge I couldn’t sleep that night,” she says. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this is real, this is true! Life’s being lived on another level!’”