“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.””
When I was a junior in high school in 1984 I gave my heart to Jesus during a work retreat in West Virginia. I’d been attending the church youth group for a few months as the result of losing a bet with my mother. On that trip, God had been working in me and I remember looking up at the mountains and knowing that, beyond the shadow of a doubt, He’d created them along with everything else. If I’ve ever heard God audibly speak, it was in that moment on the roof of a church in North Fork West Virginia.
Miraculously God had gotten hold of me and I couldn’t wait to confess, even BROADCAST it, to my friends and family. I’m sure I was pretty annoying, but that really wasn’t a big change from before Jesus. Somehow He had cemented in me an unshakable belief in His presence in and love for me and all of his Creation. It was awesome – and just in time.
A series of events in my senior year blew my family as I knew it to pieces. As my friends left for college in the summer of 1985 I felt more and more alone and full of despair. Thankfully I had my youth group and church family, from whom sprung adoptive brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts. As I flailed and fought with myself and others, I felt the loving arms of my church family around me literally and figuratively.
While I never doubted that Jesus was with me, I struggled with what to do with that knowledge. The best I could do was to think that instead of talking to myself all the time I guess I would talk to Him. I went to church and the College and Careers group every week where we did Bible study and prayed for each other.
And God began to use me. The director of our church day camp, Summer’s Best Two Weeks, asked if I’d be willing to be a counselor. Before I knew it my whole year was built around the 10 or 12 weeks of summer camp at various locations in Pennsylvania and New York. I was leading the kids in prayer and song at lunch, teaching bible study and sportsmanship through athletics and coaching one of our teams. Then one summer there was a new girls senior counselor named Becky…
As it seemed likely that Becky and I were on a path to getting married, one of the ladies in our church told me that God had given her a verse for me: Jeremiah 29:11-14. As I read that verse, God cemented in my brain that He had a plan for my life, and that as He’d promised, I found Him when I searched for Him with all my heart. I looked back on the dark years and saw His presence more clearly than ever. I’ve gained strength from these words ever since. This was 35 years ago.
And I say to you: God loves you and has a plan for your life. He restored whatever I lost times 10 or more and He will do the same for you. Hit me up and let’s talk about it!
Written by Dave Holdridge