Stephanie Wood delivered this story at Women of Excellence Brunch – November 2021
My name is Stephanie. I graduated from Teen Challenge in April of 2017, and I’d like to share my journey with you all in order to show the way God has used Teen Challenge to save my life.
I was raised in church, but came from a broken home abandoned by my father. I felt unloved, unwanted and unlikable. I wasn’t sure of much except that I wasn’t enough.
I had a very painful health condition and was prescribed copious amounts of narcotic pain medicine starting at age 14. When I took them, I didn’t feel any of my insecurities. I felt confident enough to speak to people and believe they wanted to talk to me too. I didn’t feel bothered that I’d been letting men use me so I could feel accepted. I could be the person I really wanted to be.
The cycle continued into my 2s as abusive relationships and more experiences of rejection reinforced my belief that I needed drugs to function and be happy. The hold it had on me was so strong that not even becoming a mother to a beautiful son could break it. In fact, Children’s Services became involved, and I lost custody of my child; the court had deemed me unfit to be a mother. My own mother had to put a restraining order on me because of how violent I’d become when confronted about my addiction. I was homeless and had nothing left. After several failed attempts at recovery through traditional rehabs and 12 step programs, I’d finally become so weary of crying myself to sleep every night unable to bear the pain of being away from my child that I was ready to die. I was too ashamed to turn to God, as I knew I was such a disappointment and burden to him. I cried out to God only to ask him to take my life as I knew that would be best for my son.
God heard me, and He absolutely took my life, but not in the way I’d asked.
Psalm 18:16-19 reads, “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.”
The Pink House was that spacious place for me. When I first arrived, I felt like I was in jail with warmer toilet seats and better food. Of course, I believed Marty was the warden. As time went on,I realized that being ‘stuck’ at Teen Challenge was God’s way of helping me find freedom that could not be confined by bars. I could slow down and not have to worry about when I’d eat again or if I’d have somewhere to sleep. I wasn’t searching for my next fix. I could let the amazing women there love me and lead me with GREAT patience. Most importantly, I could hear God’s voice. I could see evidence of his working in everything. God used my time at the Pink House to expose the lies of self-hatred and condemnation and replace them with truth. I learned that he was not ashamed of nor disappointed in me, but that he was there through all of my mess the whole time. He never turned away from me – he was always there shining upon me, pursuing me, loving me – I’m the one who had turned from him out of shame, the same shame Jesus despised as he moved toward the cross. And because he did, I no longer have to be ashamed. I got to know God and what a good, kind, gracious and loving Father he is to us. He WANTS to be with us and to bless us. I also learned that Marty didn’t expect so much from us because she didn’t think we as students were enough – it was because she KNEW that we were.
I can’t say that life got easier after leaving Teen Challenge; In fact, it got much more difficult. However, because of the foundational relationship I was able to build with Jesus while at the Pink House, I’ve been able to overcome abuse, rejection and abandonment without turning to illicit drugs or to men. I have been far from perfect, but now I run TO God when I’m in trouble, rather than from him. I’ve learned that in the deepest of sorrows, when everything is shaken up, we realize our faith is genuine and we really believe in the One we say we believe in – the Lord shows us that He is unshakable within us. I have partnered with God in walking as the mother he called me to be. He has helped me earn my bachelors degree in Criminal Justice with a 4.0 and without any financial debt. I had been employed by the same court that told me I was unfit to mother my child for 4 years. I now work as a child welfare caseworker for Montgomery County Children’s Services alongside the caseworker who held me accountable when I was at my worst. I have full custody of my son and we live in our own home. We belong to a beautiful community of believers who show us continually what it means to love like Jesus. I praise God for how majestically he has orchestrated our story and I’m still in awe of his goodness and power to save.