Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Chasing Empty Trophies

Leslie Basham: Toni Lee had achieved the kind of outward success a lot of people wish for, but it didn’t fulfill the longings of her heart.

Toni Lee: I was chasing external trophies and no human thing, no human being, nothing was going to be able to fill that hole.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, May 20.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Do you ever find yourself imagining what it would be like to have more money or more prestige or more power, to be better connected or to feel like what you’re doing is more important? I think when we imagine scenarios like that, what we’re really saying is, “If I could just have, fill in the blank, then I would be more happy.”

Well, we’re about to hear from a friend of mine who knows what it’s like to meet a lot of her goals, to make a lot of money, to have a lot of power and influence. We’ll get her perspective on whether or not that truly made her happy.

We’re going to be hearing from a woman named Toni Lee. She gave this message to a group of Ambassadors and dignitaries from the U.N. There were women in this audience who represented twenty-five different countries. They were invited by a ministry called The Christian Embassy. They were challenged to evaluate what really satisfies in life. I was so blessed and challenged by this message when I first heard it, and that’s why we wanted to share it with you. Here’s Toni Lee.

Toni: My passion is Micro Enterprise. I’m a business woman. So it would be very logical that Toni Lee would be recruited to go around the world teaching people how to manage the money that they’re given. I never touch the money. What I do is I go around and come along side these women and teach them how to price something, how to promote it. Do you give it away for free? Do you have a twenty-two for type of sale for your rice? Where do you place it? Do you map your community and assess where your competition is?

And you’ve got price promotion place. And what product do you choose? Do you choose a product like a rice or do you choose something that’s perishable? Or do you choose a product that is made with lots of families assembled?

I was in Ghana two years ago at a hundred women leader conference in Accra.  One of the women that I was working with was named Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s sole focus was starting a tie dye business. What we teach is you start small with where you are with what you know how to do. It’s not about leaping in like Superwoman trying to start at the top. You choose what you know how to do, where you are, and with what products you have.

Elizabeth was a very talented tie dyer. But her whole reason for this passion was because what she did is she took impoverished children off the street and she taught them a trade. Then what she did is she taught them to be multipliers of that trade. When I met Elizabeth in Accra, we were analyzing all these different vehicles for these leader women in their various countries at this conference.

Elizabeth was leaking somewhere. She was losing her business. No matter how successful it was when it was coming in, she never had enough money to pay her bills because she was basically eating her profit. She thought when the money came in it was hers, and she hadn’t learned to do the basic accounting—very innocently, nobody had showed her. Money comes in, you have all these bills, you pay the bills, and then that is money you put back in the business to pay the business.

Now what we do also in my projects is that we have the nationals follow up on their own people. I’m just a white, sixty-five-year-old woman who comes over there and delivers a concept to them, and then I disappear after a month. So I’m not much good unless I can leave something that is multipliable and sustainable and transferable.

When I leave, we have some of the tent pegs in place for this system. But it’s up to the nationals in these different countries, whether it’s China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Africa, wherever I go, to take this responsibly and implement it, because we don’t want to create victims. We want these people to be self-actualized people.

While I’m at it, I also bring God’s Word, because that’s what I call the Manufacturer’s Handbook. These are the rules: Don’t steal. Don’t lie. What are the caliper and qualities of women in the Bible?

We do a lot of studying about women in the Bible. What we teach are qualities that God has written about His precious women that are so important that it was written down and handed down through the generations in God’s Word about His women.

Then what I do is I also remind them who’s our Employer. Because if your employer isn’t someone who sees and knows everything, you want to maybe fudge on your profits a little bit and not tell the truth about something thinking that maybe nobody sees, I remind them that we serve a God who sees.

So I have a story to tell. I know that each of us has a story, but I’m going to be pretty transparent with mine because I wanted to show you what I was like before I was introduced to the Man who saved my life. That’s what I call the Lord, the King of kings, because I want you to know who I was before, what happened, and what I’m like now because of what I know.

So imagine arriving at the age of fifty-two and discovering that your entire value system had been a lie. I came from a privileged, wealthy, New England family where being smart enough and being the “Deb of ‘66” and going to the right schools and running in the right social circles and being well-married and well-manicured also, you must say. (laughter)

If I went to the right university, and I had the right husband and I had the right amount of children, my whole life was going to be fantastic. So I really believed it. Okay? It put a lot of pressure on me to perform.

You have a “try harder” kind of heart. How much do I have to do before I do it right? Has anyone ever had that where good isn’t good enough? I’ve got to try harder. So I tried to be excellent at everything. I loved sports. I was a terrific horseback rider. I pursued trophies in the jumper world of horses. I think you’ve probably seen them. They jump over these huge fences. I fell off a lot. Okay? I wasn’t one of the superstars. But I did get to be sixteenth in the country in my little tiny division of competition.

So I had lots of blue ribbons hanging around the barn. I had twelve horses when I was finishing. I had lots of grooms and fancy trailers and all the props that go with looking fabulous because that was one of the outside trophies that I had to have before the world was looking like I was a success.

I also pursued career trophies. You know those long titles that just mean you work like crazy, and you never get any sleep? I had a lot of those like “international marketing director” and it was a “quakonk.” Who knows what it was? It was something very important. Because you happen to speak a lot of languages, it means that you can just go wherever they send you. So you can morph into another big job with another big title that just means that you just work harder at it—not that you make any more money—you just work harder.

Then I even tried to be a trophy wife. I married the founder of a multi-billion dollar company. Yes, I’m in the money now.

Pascal, the renowned physicist and physician once said: “There’s a God-shaped vacuum in every heart of every person which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only the creator Himself made known through Jesus Christ.”

Now, I didn’t know yet that the emptiness I felt inside was meant to be filled by God Himself. I was chasing external trophies and no human thing, no human being, nothing was going to be able to fill that hole.

In the Bible there’s a verse in Romans 3:3 that talks about the question “What if man is faithless? Will God still be faithful?” And the answer is yes. “Let God be true and every man a liar.” Now, I want to tell you about this faithful God and this faithless woman He loved. Me.

Thirty years ago I walked into a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous which is very popular in the United States. Basically, it is is a group that will help you if you have a drinking problem. Well, I certainly had a drinking problem. Let me tell you. My nights were my days because I was partying all night. I was holding a big job, and I couldn’t get up and focus in the morning. There were issues happening to me that the penalties were going to be pretty big after a while.

So when I walked into that room, it was March 6, 1982. I walked into the room of Alcoholics Anonymous and I prayed to a God I didn’t believe in. I said, “Dear God, if there’s a God, please help me because I’ve never been able to beat this.” I didn’t know what “this” was because I thought everybody drank like I did. Because when you’re a fish, you swim with fish. So you don’t know there’s any kind of fish except the drunk fish, so to speak.

I went in to that room, and I walked out changed. I never picked up another drink again. But what did the queen do? I forgot about the prayers that I had begged God. I did it, not God, right?

Twenty-two years ago I stood in this city in New York Hospital next to the bed of my son, Shannon Adrianne. He was twenty years old. He had just had a severe brain bleed, an aneurysm. His front left temporal lobe had exploded. I was called up. I was working with Donald Trump at the time or something important like that.

I came up from Palm Beach and I stood by the bedside of my only son. I grabbed the bedside and I said, “Dear God, if there’s a god, please help me. Save my baby. Please. I’m supposed to die. It’s not supposed to be this way.”

I prayed a desperate prayer of a desperate mother. Nine months later, my son was out of the coma. There was no physical impairment. There was no memory loss. My son went through physical rehab to get some strength back, but he came out of that bed perfectly. And what did I do? I forgot. You’re quick. I love it. This is a smart group! We get A’s in here. What did I do? I walked out of there, and I forgot all about it once again.

Fifteen years ago I was galloping across the fields of a farm in Virginia with one of my big horses, and I got dumped. I did a faceplant into the earth. I snapped my neck. I ripped my face up. I flipped over, and I lay there. My horse was fine, by the way, as if anybody’s worried about my horse. He was fine. I lay there paralyzed, unable to feel my left side and this side of my face was shredded to the bone.

I remember lying there as they transported me out saying, “If there’s a God . . .” You guys are so good. “Dear God, if there is a God, I am begging you. Please let me walk again.” Three months later, that happened October 3. Three months later I was back in the saddle in competition with all my four reins in my right hand with my foot hitched up like this because I was still paralyzed on this side a little bit. But I gathered up those reins, and I rode right back into my self-will. I forgot about the God who I had begged to let me walk again.

Now, I look back at my life . . . You know when all of a sudden you get "you’re a dumb blonde," so you get an “aha” moment. I got a lot of “aha” moments. You’ll see if you know me more, you’ll see I always wear pearls. When I look back at the story of my life, I see that there were all these seemingly unrelated answers to the prayer of a non-believer woman that one day would be strung together as evidence of a woman who God loved, who answered her prayers. Even when she didn’t believe in Him, He believed in her.

January 2000, I was back in Palm Beach still looking for the new, better thing to do because nothing satisfied me. I was restless, irritable, discontent, the trophies on the outside were getting larger but I was really, really restless. I was invited to a luncheon; kind of like one of these dinners where there was an assembly of really nice people. I was really suspicious because don’t forget, I come from the Armani warrior-type world where you win by slicing people’s legs and heads off.

These people were nice. And I’m wondering, What’s the matter with them? I’m super suspicious and my antennas are up. I’m looking at them, scanning the group going, They’ve all got to be fakes. Nobody can be consistently this nice all the time. And this was at least an hour into this reception, and they were still nice.

I usually break down after about forty minutes (I get “Grinchy"). So I’m looking around, and there was this wonderful woman up at the front. She was talking about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This was the first time I’d heard anybody say anything about a personal relationship. She said to me that God loves me and has a plan for my life.

Don’t forget I’m the one with the mask. I’m the poser, the looking good on the outside and dying on the inside. I was thinking to myself, How can anybody really love me? If they knew who I was behind this mask. And I was dying on the inside because when you hear something that provokes a truth in you, you chew on it.

Then she went on to say that I was separated from this loving God, this relationship because of my self-focused priorities and my willful choices. I was thinking to myself, Well, would He still love me if He knew all the mistakes that I had made? How could He ever forgive me? I came from having to be perfect. I often hid my mistakes because I was taught to look good on the outside, and you may not show anything about what your insides are like.

Then this woman went on to describe the relationship with Jesus as a bridge back to the personal relationship, that there was God. You have Jesus as the bridge. And then I would take Jesus’ hand to bridge back into a personal relationship with Jesus. And I was thinking, I wonder if that’s really true? Why hasn’t anybody told me it was that simple?

I’ve watched people donate money. I’ve watched them. I was in the Azores, and they were crawling on their knees in worship. There were all sorts of things that I had seen as far as actions on the outside, but nobody had said to me, “This is a personal relationship. You choose. You’re separated because of your willfulness. Jesus is the bridge back. But the hitch is, You have to ask Him into your life. He’s a gentleman. He’s the woo’er.”

I love that because I never had a man that courted me lovingly with flowers like she was describing the way that Jesus would court us all and love us individually as His precious created women.

So I sat there and I went, “Well, okay. That’s good. So what do you think I did? There you go. I forgot about it. Absolutely. I went charging out the door. It’s not hard to see my pattern with all my detours is it?

I come sliding in and I have this incredible experience, and then I go racing out with my self-will. I have another one of these wonderful “my son walks” and then I go out with my self-will again because I was so busy. It’s all about me. There’s nothing else except me.

Nancy: We’ve been listening to the first part of a message that Toni Lee gave not long ago to a group of ambassadors and dignitaries from the United Nations. I know many of them were challenged that night as they listened to her story.

Perhaps you relate to some of what Toni experienced. You’ve seen the hand of God in your life. You’re aware that He’s been merciful to you. He’s given you time to repent. He’s let you hear programs like this one over and over and over again that have pointed you to Christ. And yet there’s always one more distraction.

Well, I want to encourage you today. Don’t let one more day go by without getting real before the Lord. Confess your need to Him. Admit your sin. Ask for His forgiveness, knowing that you can be right with Him through faith in what Christ did for you as He died on the cross, in your place, for your sins.

If you’re doing that for the first time, placing your faith in Jesus Christ, and you want to know what it means to grow as a child of God and in that faith, we’d like to send you some free information. Just give us a call at 1-800-569-5959 and just ask us for the resource on how to grow as a new child of God. We’ll be glad to send that to you at no charge.

Now, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported Revive Our Hearts so far during the month of May. This month marks the end of our fiscal year. That means that we close up the accounting books and prepare for a new budget cycle. It’s really important that we end the year strong and that we’re also able to prepare for the summer months when donations are typically lower.

We’ve been asking the Lord to provide $350,000 or more in donations this month. If you’ve given toward that goal, thank you so much. The reason why we’re able to bring you testimonies like Toni’s and to send free resources to help people grow in their faith, the reason we can do all that is thanks to listeners like you who pray for this ministry and who give financially to help make it possible.

Leslie: Thanks, Nancy. This month when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount, we’ll send you a CD that has been encouraging a lot of listeners. It’s called Hidden in My Heart, vol. 2. Here’s an example of the Scripture set to lullabies you’ll find on this CD.

Music from the CD:

Our Father who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name.

When you help Revive Our Hearts reach our fiscal year-end goals with a gift of any size, we’ll say thanks by sending Hidden in My Heart, vol. 2. Ask for it when you call 1-800-569-5959, or visit

Tomorrow we’ll hear part two of this message by Toni Lee. When we left the story, she was trying to fill an empty hole in her life. Find out what changed tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts. 

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.