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.
We are so excited to welcome Noël Piper to our first girl-to-girl talk interview.
Noël has been married to pastor and author John Piper for thirty-eight years. She has also served alongside her husband at Bethlehem Baptist Church for the past twenty-six years. Noël, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with the girltalk readers!
First of all, Noël, we’d love to hear a little about your growing up years. I know you grew up with nine brothers and sisters! What was it like being a part of a big family? How would you describe your childhood? What about your early life at home prepared your heart to receive the gospel?
What was it like being part of a big family? Perfectly normal, as far as I knew. God gave me to my family and my family to me and that’s the way it was. Being the oldest of 10 was probably my best training for being a mother. The regular Christian traditions in my family and the examples of my parents were the most important human factors in my becoming a Christian. We had family devotions each night before the youngest went to bed, and we went to church every Sunday and Wednesday.
I can look back now and realize that those steady practices were like anchors when our family was going through rough times. We kept doing what we’d always done, sometimes maybe just because it was too hard to say, “Let’s don’t.” I learned that even when we don’t really feel like being together in God’s Word or praying together, God uses those times to bring healing and reconciliation and peace—even when it takes a long time.
(In this picture I’m the cool college girl in the middle with way too much bangs. The 1957 Ford wagon off on the right is the car that suffered my first accident.)
When and how did you become a Christian?
I was very young and can’t remember much of what I was thinking or feeling. Here are some “shapshots.”
I’m 5 and telling my Daddy I want to be baptized just like my cousin Jane, who is a couple of years older. He pulls me into his lap, explaining there’s more to baptism than just deciding to do it.
Some time after that, I’m sitting on the kitchen steps, weeping. Mother hurries out to see what’s wrong. “I’m so sad about all the bad things I’ve done.”
Another time, I am standing in my closet (Literally. Isn’t that what the Bible says to do?), wanting to confess my sins to God. But I’ve done this before. Does the Bible mean that I have to remember every sin I’ve ever done every time I confess to God. What if I can’t remember everything?
On my 7th birthday, I am baptized in Milner Baptist Church. Afterward, the whole congregation files by to shake hands with the ones who had been baptized. They are singing “Oh happy day, oh happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away.”
How did you end up in Illinois at Wheaton College?
That’s a story that shows how God uses our less-than-spiritual desires to bring about his good plans in our lives. Hardly anybody in my rural 36-student senior class was going to college, and if they were, they were staying in Georgia. I was writing for information from colleges I found advertised in Christian magazines at home. Mainly I wanted to go far away—I was ready to be on my own without my parents telling me what to do. Interestingly, as I look back I realize that I chose a college that had pretty much their same standards. So while I could indeed make more choices for myself instead of my parents telling me what to do, still those choices were within boundaries that were comfortable to me.
What were your hopes, dreams, and plans for your life as you embarked upon your college experience? How did those plans change once you met John Piper?
My mother and both my grandmothers were examples of women whose liberal arts college degrees were excellent preparation for all that God gave them in their lives, sometimes job or career, mostly marriage and family. I assumed and hoped that one day I would be married and at home with our children. I also held out the possibility that I might have a career (which changed every time I changed my major), without thinking through how the two would mix.
Would you be willing to briefly relate the story of you and John’s relationship from the time you met until you were married? Were there any funny/memorable moments you’d be willing to share?
Maybe the funniest happened before I met him. When I was a college freshman, I declared to my friends that I would wait a few years after college to get married, so I could see the world first (Assumption: nothing happens after you get married). AND, I would certainly never marry a preacher.
So, I met Johnny Piper the day after that freshman year ended and we got married during the Christmas break just as I was finishing college. (Since then, I’ve lost count of the number of states and countries I’ve visited). At the time of our wedding, I had my wish not to marry a preacher—that didn’t come until 11 1/2 years after we were married.
Everyone would probably ask…what’s it like being married to John Piper? I mean, is he sharing profound thoughts at the dinner table? What do you love most about your husband?
The answer is similar to a couple of the earlier answers. First, perfectly normal, as far as I know. God gave me to Johnny and him to me. And second, it’s an even better story of how God uses our less-than-spiritual desires to do wonderful things for us.
I was a silly, fairly shallow girl who wanted fun more than much of anything else. I don’t think I would have gotten involved with a non-Christian, but I wasn’t much more discerning than that. So when I met a cute, curly-haired guy who liked me, that was enough for me. In fact, it was extra cute how he thought so seriously about things, on the one hand, and on the other, how he played a wild game of charades and sang and moved his arms and shoulders (we didn’t dance) to the Beach Boys.
God was gracious to give me a man who would be his main tool for bringing toward maturity both me and my spiritual understanding.
Yes, sometimes Johnny’s sharing profound thoughts at the dinner table. More often, he’s figuring out how the father who’s used to boys shifts gears and communicates with an 11-year-old daughter.
And that is one of the things I love most about him. He cares about being a good father and husband, and he doesn’t let our moods and attitudes put him off. He cares about our being happy. And I know that at the root is his love for God.
Come back tomorrow to hear Noël share about her children and her reflections on being a pastor’s wife…
We are very excited about a new feature here at girltalk. On occasion we will introduce you to godly women who are making a significant difference in the lives of others both in the church and in our culture. We’re calling it girl-to-girl talk.
Today we want you to meet the first of these godly women: Noël Piper. Noël is a pastor’s wife, mother, and author, and over the next few days we have the delightful opportunity of getting to know her better.
To begin, we want to share a brief profile of Noël’s life along with several pictures. Then, over the next three days, we will post portions of an interview with Noël.
So pull up a chair if you will, and join us at Noël’s kitchen table. We know you are going to thoroughly enjoy learning and laughing along with this godly woman.
You probably know me as: John Piper’s wife
I’ve been married for: 38 years
My children are: 4 adult sons—all married with 7 children among them, and our 11-year-old daughter
I was born in: Norfolk Virginia and grew up in Barnesville, GA
The best “spiritual” book I’ve ever read (besides the Bible) is: ...and besides my husband’s books . . . Combining bad memory with too many books, I’ll mention authors instead: Elisabeth Elliot, Joni Eareckson Tada, Edith Schaeffer. One with long-lasting impact is Schaeffer’s Hidden Art (now with the unfortunately-limited title, The Hidden Art of Homemaking.
The “non-spiritual” book I most enjoyed reading was: Bad memory again—it would probably have been a historical fiction saga or a multigenerational family memoir/saga.
Right now I am reading: Whatever I can find about Betsey Stockton and her early-1800s settings in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and Princeton.
The movie I’ve watched more times than any other is: The Princess Bride (my children made me!)
The music (genre/artist) you’re most likely to find me listening to is: Mountain/old-time country gospel (when I’m by myself) or maybe 1960s folk.
My favorite food is: Chocolate eclairs (filled with custard, not cream)
My favorite morning beverage is: Strong coffee with cream or Yorkshire tea with milk
The household chore I most enjoy is: Enjoy? I’ll have to think on that—- a looooong time.
If I have free time, you’ll most likely find me: Reading or—more recently—you’d find me online arranging my computer “piles” of photos into photobooks that, when I’m done, we can actually hold in our hands, turn pages, and see the best pictures without plowing through hundreds of others.
My favorite place in the world is: Anywhere with a book and the sight and sound of water.
A Bible verse I return to often is: Romans 8:38-39—“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Woman I most want to be like: The one who’s on my mind right now is Joni Eareckson Tada. Probably no one but she and Ken, her caregivers and God really know how limited the hours of her day are once her basic physical needs have been dealt with. And only she and God know how limited her strength and stamina are. I find myself dragging at the imagination of it. And yet she travels frequently, and whenever she is with people, she gives herself wholeheartedly, smiling, greeting, giving an appropriate and upbuilding word. When you see Joni, you see the joy of the Lord. It has to be his, because she has every legitimate human reason to be a quiet, stay-at-home, reserving her strength.