Today we want to welcome back Noël Piper for the second part of our interview…
Noël, when did your children come along and what was the most important lesson you learned as a young mother? What do you enjoy most about being a mother?
Our oldest was born when we had been married almost 4 years. On their birthdays this year, our sons will be 35, 32, 28, and 24. Talitha came to us when she was 2 months old, one month before my husband’s 50th birthday.
During their young years, when my days seemed to be shaped by interruptions, I’d often think: wiping runny noses and messy bottoms is not my calling; calling the refrigerator repairman and rescuing the spoiling contents of the fridge is not my calling; washing dishes is not my calling, walking through the dried remains of spilled koolaid is not my calling. At the end of a day, when I had done nothing—except those things and others like them—it could be pretty depressing. What’s the point when that’s all there is in life?
My only hope was remembering that when God gave me children, he called me to be a mother. His calling to a mother is that she be his servant, his tool, toward raising little boys and little girls to be godly men and women. One important thing for me to realize was that God is the only one who can bring our children to himself. But he gives me the privilege of being part of what he’s doing.
It helped to remember that every job has un-fun parts, including mothering. It really helped to look at somewhat older mothers and remind myself that there will be other chapters later, when I’m done with crushed cheerios underfoot.
Nowadays, one of my great pleasures is seeing my children and their wives enjoy each other.
You’ve raised four boys. What is one piece of advice you would give to mothers of sons?
Don’t get sucked into arguments, so that it starts to sound like 2 children squabbling instead of a mother with her child. For me, this was especially important with teenagers.
One important thing I learned was that I didn’t need to respond to every outrageous thing a son said. When my 14-year-old said he was going to buy a motorcycle as soon as he was 16, I gave myself a second to think, “Well, that’s not tomorrow.” And I said, “Mm-hmm.”
If it wasn’t something that needed imminent action or decision, I might say, “Well, you and Daddy and I can talk about that sometime.” But mostly, I’d just say, “Mm-hmm.” That’s non-committal and gives nothing for your child to argue about (Except when your son explodes, “That’s all you ever say—“Mm-hmm!”).
Tell us about adopting Talitha. How did this come about? What would you say to other couples contemplating adoption?
The short version is that we had been active in the pro-life movement for several years. Then when the opportunity came to adopt Talitha, we talked and prayed and consulted with our children and close friends for a couple of weeks. I had been wanting to adopt for some time, because I had felt a yearning to do something that involved more of my whole life than simply picketing in front of abortion clinics or gathering at rallies at the capitol, as right and good as those things were.
There were important factors to consider. One was our age, for instance, facing our child’s adolescence when we’re in our 60s. One was race; from the moment Talitha entered our family, we became a mixed race family and could never again complacently just be satisfied to let others live with and deal with difficult color issues.
Through adopting, I’ve realized things about parenting that I hadn’t thought about before. It’s an awesome thing to see the questions the court gives to adoptive parents, to pay attention to the pledges you make about the care and upbringing of this child and the responsibilities you promise to carry. Nobody ever asked me such pointed and particular questions before I up and got pregnant and had children that way.
I saw new significance and emotion in the Biblical picture of God’s adopting us. For example, the first time baby Talitha threw her arms around my neck and squeezed, my reflex thought was, “She knows I’m her mother!” I had never had that thought before about any of my other children. I just assumed they knew me as their mother. Now, think of God and the moment we “throw our arms around his neck” and know that he IS our Father.
You’ve been a pastor’s wife for 26 years now. We have many pastors’ wives who read our blog. What would you say to encourage them if you had the opportunity?
Several years ago, the wife of one of our young pastors was working full-time at a demanding job. As we talked about the stresses in their family, some other pastors’ wives and I raised the possibility that she should resign or at least cut back to part time. We knew how erratic a pastor’s schedule can be, which makes it valuable for his wife to have a more dependable time at home. Otherwise, they are both stressed by their work outside the home, and may never see each other.
On the other hand, if the wife is not employed full-time, she is able to participate in appropriate ways with or alongside her husband, which is a great encouragement to him. This is an intangible, that we couldn’t describe to her exactly or measure out what its value would be.
She named the factors that made it impossible for them to live on just his salary. We told her to pray about God’s will here, because we couldn’t be sure we knew what was best for her. We encouraged her not be be afraid about finances, that if it was good for her to cut back at work, God would provide money in ways she couldn’t expect.
Later, she did cut back and eventually resign. God has provided. And they have been part of our staff for all the years since. And she has been an active part of her husband’s ministry.
So, I guess my encouragement is this: Your presence and support and availability is an intangible but vital ministry to your husband, and therefore to your church as well.
What would you tell women about how to best support their pastor’s wife?
When we first came to Bethlehem in 1980, we were in our early 30s and the church was mostly people over 60. They were eager for a young pastor and his energy. It would have been easy for them to expect lots from me too. But they were kind to me. Lots of people approached me about working in their ministry area or leading another ministry area or taking on one responsibility or another. But always they asked the question in a way that did not assume I should be doing this because I was the pastor’s wife. They would let me know about openings and opportunities, but in a way that left me free to say, “Thank you for telling me about this. I will pray about it,” or just to say, “I’m glad to know about what’s happening in that area, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to be involved right now.”
In other words, the people of Bethlehem gave me the gift of letting me follow God’s leading into or not-into specific ministry areas, rather than feeling like they were expecting or pushing me.
Your husband is not only a pastor, but an author. You have a writing gift yourself (which we’ll get to in a moment) but I’ve heard John say that you are his most valuable editor. How have you been able to use this gift to serve your husband?
Here’s one of the many differences between my husband and me. He depends heavily on spell-check. But I can’t stand the squiggly underlinings questioning me at every turn when I’ve said exactly what I mean to say. In any case, spell-check can’t tell you when a sentence is ambiguous or when an extra word has slipped in that changes the meaning of a sentence. It takes a human reader to do that.
At some point in a book’s production, I read it through carefully. My husband is such a good writer that there are seldom, if ever, major changes to be made. But every writer needs someone else to proofread and edit, because an author knows so well what he intended to write that that’s what he tends to “see” instead of what he actually did write.
After being a part of Johnny’s speaking, teaching, and writing life so long, it can be easier for me to catch things another editor might not recognize as a mistake. But I’m familiar with what I think he meant to say, so I can check it with him.
It can be perversely pleasurable as a proofreader to search out and highlight other people’s errors. So I try to be kind in my corrections and comments.
OK, I’m going to put you on the spot here…what is your favorite John Piper book and why?
I especially enjoy reading the books in the Swan Series—the biographies. I often find it easier to see how God is working in my life (or how I want him to be working) when I see it happening in somebody else’s life.
Please join us tomorrow for the final portion of our chat with Noël Piper.