Monday, April 17, 2017

20 years ago...

Despite being raised in a godly, loving home and becoming a Christian at a young age, I made some decisions as a teenager to turn away from what I knew and loved about God and my family, and went my own way.  I left home at 16 and felt wondrously FREE!
Except for when the guilt inside took over, but I was usually able to suppress it really well.  In fact, I got better and better at it as time went on.

Fast forward almost 4 years, and the Gospel Hall in Midland, Ontario, began a series of meetings.  My dad, and a young preacher I had never met nor even heard of before, John Dennison, were the speakers.  I was invited to go, most often by my mom, and although I  hadn't attended any meetings for quite some time, I decided to go on some of the nights I wasn't busy.  I have no idea why I went, nor why I kept going.  They sure didn't make me feel very good.  I can look back now at how the Holy Spirit was gently but firmly directing me.

I knew I was walking a wrong path already, but it's amazing how you can blind yourself to the truth sometimes.  One night, a dear lady whom I will always remember with great fondness, Mrs. Jean Gillespie, stopped me and told me that she was praying for me to get my life back on track again.  I'm sure I smiled and thanked her, while at the same time a little dumbfounded at what she meant.  I began to exam myself, and who I had become.  After meeting with the other preacher, John, for the second time during those meetings, he asked me where I saw myself a few years down the road.  For whatever reason, that was the question the Lord used to break me.  I knew the way I was living was wrong, and would pray, "Lord, I know I'm not doing what you want, but I can't right now!"  Finally That day I realized with God's help I could.  I mostly didn't want to change, but I could.

The following day I moved back to my parents' house.  They lovingly and immediately accepted me back.  I distinctly remember that night kneeling beside the bed in the small basement bedroom and forcing out the words that I was sorry and wanted to live for Christ.  Years later I read about C. S. Lewis being "The most dejected, reluctant convert in all England", and in a sense I felt that about my own restoration.  I wanted to be right with God again.  I wanted to live life the way I had been.  It was God Himself, I believe, Who carried me through those first few days and weeks, giving me strength I did not have myself.  He used that small seed of desire for obedience, and produced fruit.

My brother Jeff was living in Chile, South America, at that time.  He was living in an apartment, and teaching English in the capital city, Santiago.  It worked out for me to take time off of work, and go and visit Jeff.  I planned to go for 3 months, but extended my time, and came back after four.  

I don't remember the exact date of my restoration, and in a sense, there isn't one, because it was more of process anyway.  But I do remember the date I left for Chile.  It was April 17, 1997.  20 years ago - I can hardly believe it.  In one sense, it seems like a lifetime ago (and if I look at pictures, it's hard to remember the girl I see there), and in another sense, it seems like hardly any time has passed since then.   Being in Chile was an extremely special time for me.  Having no job or real schedule, I spent a lot of time reading my Bible, praying, and reading good books that helped me to grow spiritually.

My brother was my faithful friend, teaching me Spanish, showing me the ropes, encouraging me, exhorting me, and introducing me to beautiful Chile and the lovely people there.  It was in Chile that I was first introduced to the Spanish language, and I spent a lot of time with missionaries and other families with great zeal to share God's love and way of salvation with others.  I met many young people who were enthusiastic about serving the Lord.  

I grew a lot, emotionally and spiritually, while I was in Chile and I consider my time there as a gift from the Lord.  I wept many tears when I had to leave, fully intending that I would be back as soon as I could.  The Lord hasn't yet opened up the door for me to go back, but I have been able to see a few people since that I grew to love there.  I believe the Lord planted seeds in me then for work He would have for me later on.

Here are some verses that helped me to appreciate some of what God had in mind for me, some of what He wanted for me, and some promises He has for me:
"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."  Romans 12:1-2

"...But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."  Philippians 3:13-14

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  Romans 8:1

"Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.""  2 Corinthians 6:17-18

I praise God today for what He has done in my life.  He deserves All the glory, as none of who I am today is from any good that I have done.  I love this verse in Jonah 4:2, "...I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster."


Mom said...

Lots of memories Steph as you told your story! Will never forget the hymn that John gave out the last night of those meetings! 'To God be the glory, great things He hath done' We sang it with tears running down our faces as we truly gave God the glory and have ever since!
My birthday was the day that I think you fully decided you were going to live for the Lord! The day did not start out well, but when it ended, you were a different girl! God had been dealing with you for a long time and I think it was then that you said 'I want to live my life for the Lord'
Thanks for sharing your story! Twenty years have passed and the joy we have seeing you today with your lovely family, serving the Lord, just thrills us! It was a work of God and it takes a work of God to keep each of us living for Him and serving Him! I am thankful for the verse God gave me 24 years ago! I knew He would bring you back, I just didn't know when! Praying for you still and loving you with all my heart! <3

The Woodfords said...

Thanks, Mom! I love you, too! XO

dad sharp said...

I feel like I should say a lot of things but it's hard to write when I cannot see the lines through tears of thankfulness. Lots of Love always, Dad

The Woodfords said...

I love you, Dad! XO

Bruce Woodford said...

Dear Steph, The Lord certainly has done great things and to Him be all the glory! Thanks for reminding us today of His grace in your restoration! I'm reminded of Romans 8:32 "He that spared not his own son but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also FREELY give us ALL THINGS!" What grace! He not only gives us salvation freely, but ALL THINGS.... even restoring us over and over again!

Lots of love,
Dad W

The Woodfords said...

I love that - thanks, Dad!
Love, Steph

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your heart, Steph.
I didn't know you back then, but I can definitely see the way the Lord has worked in your life since then. I'm so thankful that He didn't give up on you, that He kept drawing you back and that somehow (years later) we ended up in the same family! I am so blessed by your example, your encouragement and your friendship, and I know you've been a blessing to many others too!
Thanks for sharing your story!
Rebekah :)
TO GOD be the glory, great things He hath done!

The Woodfords said...

Thanks, Bekah - love you!

Joia said...

Steph, Thanks for sharing this story - I had never heard it quite like this before. What a powerful testimony of His faithfulness, goodness, and POWER! Like Rebekah said, so glad you took the road that lead you to the life He has for you now and that We get to be part of it! <3

The Woodfords said...

Thank you, Joia! Love you!