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…