Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Seeing Yourself Through God's Eyes

Leslie Basham: As a five-year-old, Nancy Stafford loved her ballet class . . . until she overheard these words from her teacher: “The girls are doing beautifully, except for that little Stafford girl. She’s the most clumsy, awkward child I’ve ever seen.”

Nancy Stafford: And that was the day that I think a lie lodged in my little heart that said, “You’re ugly, you’re clumsy, who do you think you are? You don’t have any value and worth. Nobody wants you.”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, for Friday, September 15, 2017. 

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: A few years ago I was attending the National Religious Broadcasters convention. I stepped into a program already in process. It was an awards presentation, as I recall, and I saw a woman speaking. I didn’t recognize her; I had never met her before. Her face was projected on a large screen.

She was telling a story that, as it unfolded, I realized intersected with the story of my family in a way that was really remarkable. Afterwards, I had the privilege of introducing myself to the woman who had been speaking, and we were able to get acquainted. Now, we have the privilege of sharing her testimony here on Revive Our Hearts.

Her name is Nancy Stafford. Nancy, welcome to Revive Our Hearts.

Nancy Stafford: Thank you, Nancy, it’s a privilege to finally meet with you.

Nancy: For those of you who may not be familiar with the name Nancy Stafford, she’s been an actress for many years. She’s starred in several TV movies.

She’s a former Miss Florida in the Miss America pageant, and now she’s an author and a speaker. God is using her and her husband, Larry, in some really very special ways. Nancy, take us back to your early days growing up, as I understand it, in a Christian home.

Nancy Stafford: We grew up in a wonderful, loving Christian home. I received Christ when I was eight years old. Even from the start, I had this intimate and really tender relationship with the Lord. I remember at eight years old sitting in church singing hymns and feeling this sort of warm blanket of God’s love descend.

I would weep in the presence of the Lord, just loving to be with Him. But even though I had this tender and intimate relationship with the Lord, I had a lot of insecurities in my life. I think it started for me because I was physically rejected and ridiculed.

I was this gangly, gawky, unattractive kid, and I was teased an awful lot. The good news and bad news was that God had made me sensitive. So, yes, I was sensitive to His Spirit and have been all my life, but I was overly sensitive to the stuff that everybody throws at you from the outside world.

Nancy: What kind of things did kids say?

Nancy Stafford: Oh, you know, “You’re stupid,” or “Isn’t she ugly,” or “Oh, I knew you wouldn’t get that. Nobody wants to see you.” It started with a particular incident when I was five years old, in a ballet class. This was a place that I just succeeded and I loved, and I was totally non-self-conscious.

I would go there expressing myself. And one day, the teacher turned to the mothers in the back and said, “The girls are doing beautifully, except for that little Stafford girl. She’s the most clumsy, awkward child I’ve ever seen.”

Nancy: And you heard this.

Nancy Stafford: I heard it, and it devastated me. That was the day I think a lie lodged in my little heart that said, “You’re ugly, you’re clumsy, who do you think you are? You don’t have any value and worth. Nobody wants you.”

Nancy: And you replayed this how many times over the next years?

Nancy Stafford: Countless times, in every situation in which I didn’t feel comfortable. So by the time I got into high school, I was even having problems at church. I felt like even the folks in church, who should be understanding me and accepting me for who I was, told me that I wasn’t really quite enough. It hurt my feelings, and I didn’t know how to talk to anyone about it.

So when I off to college. I just thought, It’s me and God. I can do this by myself. I don’t need church, I don’t need people, I don’t need this hypocrisy thing. Unfortunately, like too many kids, I couldn’t do it by myself.

I went five hundred miles away to the University of Florida. Little by little, my relationship with the Lord eroded. The tough part for me was, I was a good kid. I always wanted to do what was right, in my heart.

Nancy: And did you stay a “good kid?”

Nancy Stafford: For the first few years of college, I did.

Nancy: So outwardly, you’re doing all the right things, but really, you’re far from the Lord.

Nancy Stafford: All the right things but still feeling very insecure, still battling a lot of insecurities. This whole time, though, on the outside, I started to blossom.

Nancy: So people would not have known what you were dealing with inside.

Nancy Stafford: Never would have known. It was very well concealed and very well shrouded, as most of our feelings are. I ended up finishing college, graduated, and boys had started talking to me. I was real popular by that point.

I got involved in the Miss America pageant, then I started getting drafted into doing commercials and modeling, irony of ironies.

Nancy: So by this time, this gangly, gawky girl had matured. Were you still feeling ugly?

Nancy Stafford: Inside. My self-perception was still that gangly, gawky girl. I didn’t think I was ugly so much, but I didn’t think I had very much to offer. I didn’t think I was very valuable. And it played out, also, in how I conducted my relationships.

I found that I would go from boyfriend to boyfriend to boyfriend looking for somebody to make me feel valuable and make me feel worthwhile.

Nancy:  . . . looking for acceptance.

Nancy Stafford: Yes. So when I got drafted, sort of, by an agent, to do some modeling and some commercials, I thought, This is great! I’ll do this. I began to succeed at this immediately. I mean, God had His hand of favor on me. This whole time, though, I’m not walking with God.

This has been such an interesting and enlightening realization for me, to understand that God’s favor on a person is, so often, to ultimately I believe, draw them to Himself. He gives us success even when we are walking away from Him. It may even take us down a very long and dark road, but He knows the end of the road, and He certainly did in my life.

Nancy: He is always sovereign and always providentially orchestrating circumstances to draw us into relationship with Himself. So where were you spiritually? You weren’t attending church?

Nancy Stafford: Nope. I hadn’t renounced Christianity. He was still a part of my life. I think I shot up prayers all the time, but God did not determine how I lived my life, and He certainly did not determine how I felt about myself.

I was still a kind, good, and moral person, but I started finding love everywhere I could. I was not promiscuous, but I would grab onto and stay in relationships that were not good, not healthy, simply because, “This person loves me. This person wants to be with me. This makes me feel good for a little while.”

So I started doing all these commercials and modeling. I was very successful. I moved to New York to pursue acting . . . to see if I could do that next thing called acting. I was there for about six months. Then I got a phone call from Ilene Ford, who asked me to come and join her agency to do modeling.

My very first audition in the acting world was for a soap opera, which I got. I did one-hundred-and-fifty national commercials in two-and-a-half years, tons and tons of print work. I was at the top of my game.

Nancy: Were you fulfilled?

Nancy Stafford: No, I still didn’t feel good about myself. The soap opera I was doing in New York ended, so I moved to New York. Then began a series of events that began to really shatter my world. There was a spot on my face that had been giving me fits for years.

It was a little spot on the flat of my left cheek that would kind of come and go and change and get crusty, then fall away for awhile, and it would get painful. I would try to cover it with make-up. I’d gone to Eileen Ford’s big dermatologist—to her model’s faces—who told me, “You’re twenty-four years old. This is nothing.”

Well, I didn’t think it was nothing so I went to a dermatologist in Los Angeles who took one look at me and said, “This is severe skin cancer. It has gone long undiagnosed."

He took my hands in his, he looked me deep in the eyes and said, “Now, young lady, I have to tell you that I cannot guarantee what you’re going to look like. You’re in surgery tomorrow.” And now my world is shaken to the core.

The real reason it was shaken, Nancy, was—I was scared of the surgery, of course. You know, “What’s going to happen?” But more so I was horrified with how important this face and this body had become. All I could think about were my precious mom’s words echoing in my ears, all my life growing up.

“Nancy, honey, you’re beautiful on the inside, that’s what counts.” My mother would say that to me all my life.

Nancy: But you’d never really believed that, had you?

Nancy Stafford: No, and we don’t, because that’s our mom. That’s our family; they have to say that. So that day when I began to realize where I had placed my confidence . . . the irony did not escape me that the very source of ridicule and rejection my whole life, this physical self, had now become my source of affirmation and attention, of income.

Nancy: It was really your god.

Nancy Stafford: It was. I was humbled, and I was very ashamed, and I began to hunger after a spiritual life again. But, to tell you the truth, I didn’t want Christianity. I thought, Been there, done that. There were these hypocritical things that had happened in the church.

“I just don’t want that. People in church are supposed to be like God, and these just aren’t."  So I began a search, a spiritual search. I’m a student; I’m a voracious reader. So I began a search that brought me through Buddhism and Hinduism, Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, metaphysics, the whole New Age gamut.

I studied for years, and I found it fascinating, intellectually stimulating, I have to say. But I had no peace in my life. I had no joy. I found that it did not change the way I lived my life in any way. It didn’t change the way I treated other people, and it certainly didn’t change the way I felt about myself.

I still didn’t think I was worth very much, on the inside. But this whole time, God just kept blessing my career. Right after the surgery, I got a show called St. Elsewhere. I did that for three seasons. Then I guest-starred on every other show in the mid-eighties: Riptide, Remington Steele, Who’s the Boss?, Hunter, all these shows, and I’m on my eclectic search.

I’ve got my Bible on my nightstand every night. I’m reading it, right there next to the Koran, and the Baka Bakhita, and the Course in Miracles. I’m mixing it up.

Nancy: And did you think you were finding truth?

Nancy Stafford: I did. I thought I was seriously finding truth. I’m mixing it up. I’m on this eclectic spiritual search. I was booked to do a show called Magnum P.I., with Tom Selleck. I was heading off to Honolulu. I stopped by my mailbox on my way to the airport, and a book—this book that I’d seen on television, that looked fascinating to me—had arrived in my mailbox. I’d ordered it.

I popped it in my backpack, and I headed off to Honolulu to discover that somebody in Magnum production had made a mistake. They’d brought me in three days too early. Now, I had just had skin cancer, so I’m not going to sit on a beach in Hawaii. So I had nothing to do for three days but sit in my hotel room and read this book I brought.

Nancy: Which was called?

Nancy Stafford: The book was called Power for Living.

Nancy: And here’s where I need to insert something. I do want to hear the end of your story. But this book is the book that was produced, first, back in the mid-eighties, by our family, the DeMoss family, after my dad went to be with the Lord back in the late seventies.

You never had the privilege of knowing him—you will one day. He left most of his income designated to be used for reaching people for Christ, and gave direction that that was what was to be done with it. One of the things that my mother and our family did was to develop this book called Power for Living, which you’re going to tell us about in a minute, and to make it available through these national television commercials.

So when you saw that television commercial back in the mid-eighties and ordered that book, it was in the first wave of that book going out. Millions of people have written back to say, that as a result of reading this book, they came to faith in Jesus Christ. We had no way of knowing how, one story after another, God was going to use that book.

So tell us, you’re sitting in Hawaii . . .

Nancy Stafford: I have three days, and I only have this slender little volume called Power for Living and nothing else to do. So I just thought (I was into reading), “All right.” Little did I know that God had made an appointment with me through your precious family’s book.

Nancy: And caused somebody to give you the wrong date . . . how God in His providence orchestrated that . . . and put it in your mailbox the day you were leaving.

Nancy Stafford: Yes! Only God. If anybody ever wonders if He’s in the details of our lives, an intimate God who really does know me and cares about me and loves me and wants me, this answers the question for all of us.

Nancy: And many times when we can’t see that, we hear a testimony like yours, and we say we know it’s true.

Nancy Stafford: Yes, and it “revives our hearts,” literally.

Nancy: So tell me what was happening as you were reading this book. It’s not that long. It couldn’t have taken you three days.

Nancy Stafford: It didn’t, although it was a very busy and full three days. I began to read this book. For those of you have not yet seen it, it is a simple book. There’s a forward written by Jamie Buckingham, who’s now with the Lord himself.

Story by story, maybe one page stories, it’s people’s encounters with God, people’s testimonies of coming to faith in Christ. And they were people I could relate to, politicians, famous people, people who I thought, Well, these people are cool, these are my peers. I’m in the industry, I can relate to these people. This isn’t just somebody whose life I can’t relate to.

And the amazing thing, Nancy, that’s about to happen . . . from the moment I open that small book, I feel as if the Holy Spirit entered that room with me. For three days I had an encounter with God like I’ve never experienced to this day. Because as I read the stories of these people’s encounters with God, a pain that I didn’t even know I had started to well up in the deepest place of me.

It was a physical pain. I felt like I was going to die, because they were describing the thing I so desperately wanted . . . and needed. I began to see my life, for the first time in years, as it really was. Though it looked to everybody else that I had it all, suddenly, even the way I’d deceived myself became clear, and I saw how absolutely destitute I was.

I began to cry out to God and say, “Lord, I thought I knew You. I thought I was on a track to You. I read these people’s stories, and I realize I don’t know You at all. I used to know You. Show me who I am, show me who You are, or help me find You. As I cried out to Him, He began to answer me.

He began to show me three things in those three days. First of all, He showed me what He thought of me, how much He loved me.

Nancy: In spite of the fact . . .

Nancy Stafford: Yes. In spite of the fact I was living a very ugly life. I was living with a guy. I was living with my rich producer boyfriend. I was a party girl. My language was not great. I was not living any kind of godly life at all.

But He whispered to the deep place of my heart, “I love you. You’re mine. You’re beautiful to me. I’ve done all this just to draw you back home to me.” I felt His broken heart for me. I think that’s what the physical sensation was, this ache, this thing that almost caused me to call paramedics.

I was having the privilege of feeling His broken heart for His lost ones. I was a serious prodigal, and He was coming after me. I’d never thought about God’s heart breaking for us, only about our hearts breaking, needing Him, but not His heart breaking over us.

It rocked me, it blew my mind that He cared that much.

Then, the second thing He showed me was who He was as my Father. He was not some distant, cosmic universal God, like I’d come to believe, in the New Age. But He is my infinite Abba, Daddy, and He just wanted me to crawl up on His lap. I didn’t have to cleaned up first.

Nancy: You didn’t have to perform to earn His love. That’s grace isn’t it? That’s what grace is?

Nancy Stafford: I could come to Him just as I was. And then I just fell on my face, sobbing, because of grief. I think I cried for days. Grief and repentance, and then, what was amazing is, the third day He flooded me with peace and joy . . . those other things that had been missing in my other search for Him. After all those years, the peace and the joy of the Lord came.

Nancy: It was really a search for Him that couldn’t be satisfied with anything less than Him.

Nancy Stafford: No, until I ran smack into His lap. I felt like the prodigal kid. I felt like I had grabbed His sleeve, and now I wasn’t going to let Him go. I was rushing home again.

Nancy: And, of course, what was that prodigal’s dad doing? He was hugging. He wasn’t going to let go, either.

Nancy Stafford: He was running toward me as hard and as fast as I was running toward to Him, and that is the marvel of our God.

Nancy: And of the gospel. It’s for sinners, it’s for failures.

Nancy Stafford: It is. One of my favorite verses—actually I had brought my Bible with me during those three days—and after I put down that book, I picked up the Bible. I think one of the first verses I stumbled upon was this little verse in Titus. It has remained one of my favorites.

Titus 3:7–8: “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of His great mercy.” (paraphrased)

Initially, it was an immediate change. I felt this immediate heart connection to God. In fact, I was sort of disappointed because I’d been wanting to work with Tom Selleck for so long on Magnum, and after three days with God, Tom was pretty anticlimactic.

So I came back to L.A. and I said, “Okay, God, I’m going to pray for work I can be proud of, that’s not going to compromise me, and, Lord, I’m going to pray for a godly man.”

Nancy: So you had new desires.

Nancy Stafford: I had new desires, but here’s what’s interesting. I didn’t want to go to church. Here again, I thought, It’s just me and God. I had this encounter by myself on a beach with your book and with God, just the two of us. I didn’t know I needed to be in fellowship, in a body of people, and I wasn’t.

It wasn’t until several months later that I ran into somebody. In the course of conversation this man said to me something about, “So, you’re a Christian?”

And I said, “I am!” I lit up like a Christmas tree and said, “Are you?”

And he said "yes" and asked me where I went to church.

“Oh, I don’t go to church,” I said proudly.

He said, “Well, you’ve got to go to church.”

And I said, “No, I’m fine just the way I am, thank you. I don’t have to go to church.”

And he broke down some of my walls. We got to talking, and pretty soon he convinced me, “Let me pick you up and take you to my church.”

I thought, Oh . . . I don’t want to do this. But he picked me up on Sunday. He took me to the Beverly Hills Hotel, and we walked into this grand ballroom with the chandeliers everywhere. I’m just getting ready to leave because I’m thinking, I have found myself a nut case.

And all the sudden, there was this little tiny church meeting there. The music began to play, the people stood up and they lifted their hands up to the Lord, and they began to worship. It was a sound and a worship like I’d never experienced.

For six months I did nothing but cry in that church. I sat there (I wouldn’t even stand up). I sat sitting on my hands, and the Lord began a cleansing process in me. I didn’t even understand it at the time, but I believe He was cleansing me of all the residue and the debris and the lies and all the wrong self-perception.

Nancy: It wasn’t just wrong things you had done, it was wrong beliefs about yourself, about the Lord.

Nancy Stafford: Yes. It was wrong perceptions about everything. And the teaching from the pulpit . . .

Nancy: Which was renewing your mind now, with the Word of God . . .

Nancy Stafford: . . . and with worship . . . women who came around me. I will never forget that group of women who came around me. I was this attractive early thirties actress-type. It would have been easy for them to be jealous or intimidated, but these ladies just pressed into me, and they surrounded me, and they prayed with me.

They understood where I had come from and what was happening, and they loved on me. The Lord used them and this little church to start a healing process in me. That part has been a slow process, but every now and then, it’s like any walk with Him. Sometimes it feels like you’re taking one step forward and five steps back. But when you look behind, you realize how far you’ve come. You don’t even begin to recognize yourself anymore

Remember when the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness and the enemy was trying to harass Him, questioning His true identity, and trying to derail Him from the fullness of who He truly was?

Nancy: “If you’re the Son of God . . .”

Nancy Stafford: Yes. He responded with the truth, “It is written . . .” And that’s what we need to do when the lies plague us and we are riddled with self-doubt and warped self-perceptions. We respond with the truth by renewing our minds. When we do that, we begin to walk in wholeness and fullness and freedom, and that is my heart cry, for women especially.

Leslie: That’s Nancy Stafford, talking with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth about the power of the truth to set women free. If you missed any of that conversation, you can hear it again at ReviveOurHearts.com. The story we heard today is a reminder that women are hurting and in need everywhere around us. Even women who look like they have it all together are desperate to hear the truth.

At Revive Our Hearts, we want to help you help women around you to know the truth. So, we hope you’ll watch the livestream of the conference Revive '17: Women Mentoring Women the Titus 2 Way. The conference is sold out, but you can watch the entire livestream September 29–30. Even better, get a group together and watch together. You can register your group and sign up for livestream updates by visiting ReviveOurHearts.com.  

Jesus had some strong words to say to a church that was tolerating sin. Nancy will tell you about when she returns to our series on the letters to the churches in Revelation. That’s Monday on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help your love to spill over to a needy world. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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